OMG! Miley Cyrus is Racist!!

I should start by stating that Miley Cyrus is not racist. This is just the latest moron meme in a series of increasingly moronic attacks on Cyrus from the Guardianista ex-liberal tendency. Cyrus isn’t the real target, but she has become a convenient scapegoat. The real target is black music and dance.

I blogged a couple of months ago on the Guardian’s opening shot in this story, in which Hadley “I Have Black Friends” Freeman launched an attack on Cyrus for her “racist” twerking episode at the VMAs. The claim was that Cyrus was racist. Because – wait for it – she’s white and had black backing dancers.

Since then, the Guardian, in true bullying tabloid fashion, has wheeled out one has-been after another to condemn Miley, or to patronise her. Yesterday, they outdid themselves, producing 73 year-old Christian singer Cliff Richard to express the hope that Cyrus “grows out of it”. If you’re starting to wonder where the line is between the “quality, liberal” Guardian and the “gutter, right-wing” Daily Mail, you’re not alone.

Perhaps realising that a parade of white faces screaming RACIST! at Cyrus was looking a little strange, the Guardian recently found a black person to do the same thing. Ikamara Larasi helpfully pointed out that she is a black woman, and she doesn’t twerk, but complains (in straw-man style) that she thinks people expect her to twerk, because she’s the same colour as Rihanna.

Don’t worry Ikamara, I don’t expect you to twerk. You see, Rihanna is a stunningly talented international music artist. And you’re not. Nor do I expect you to play tennis like Serena Williams, or be the First Lady like Michelle Obama. I don’t expect you to read the news like Moira Stuart, nor do I expect you to write incredible, moving novels like Toni Morrison. You see, while that kind of stereotyping does still exist, it’s fading fast, and it mostly exists among people like your Oxbridge-educated, Home Counties-raised, Guardian journalist chums. Most of us are perfectly aware that not all black women are amazing singers and dancers like Rihanna, and we’re happy to accept that situation. In fact, the only people I can see stereotyping anybody are you and your ignorant “lynch Miley” mates, who think that the average person is too stupid to tell the difference between you and Alexandra Burke.

Of course, this has absolutely nothing to do with race. It is a continuation of the “ban all sex, help, we’re all being sexualised!” campaign which some individuals at the Guardian have been nurturing for years, and now appears to have reached fever pitch. Those who have been paying attention will know that much of the noise comes from a small group of individuals: Kat Banyard of UK Feminista, Julia Long of Object (who, together, are competing to be today’s Mary Whitehouse) and a small group of Guardian journalists who have somehow managed to turn a quality newspaper into the Object house journal. Ikamara Larasi, who stuck the latest knife in Miley’s back, comes from a “black feminist” group called Imkaan, which appears to be (like Lose The Lads’ Mags) another group linked to Object, and thus can claim Object privileges, including Guardian column inches.

Sadly, Larasi’s intervention seems to have confused people who might have been more skeptical had a white woman penned such obvious nonsense. On Twitter, I was told (by a white woman) that I, as a white man, should pay attention when a black woman writes about race. Because, of course, ALL black people believe the same thing and Larasi is black, so is therefore a spokesperson for black people (or “people of colour” as she tweeted… I kid you not). I wonder what would happen when such a person encounters two black women with opposing views. Would her head explode? A (black) friend of mine commented, “Miley isn’t the first. Might as well burn Madonna at the stake for having black and gay dancers then…”

Another tweeter posted a link to a page showcasing The 9 Most Racist Miley Cyrus Moments, which I still can’t tell is a parody or not. Gems from this page include she wants her new album to have a “black sound” (OMG Amy Winehouse, Joe Cocker and Elvis were RACISTS!) and she pretended to perform analingus on a black backing dancer (only pretended? Damn… I’d pay good money to see that).

Miley is playing the morality brigade perfectly (this week, she allegedly smoked weed on stage in Amsterdam, and was met with fake shock from the coke-snorting journalistic fraternity), and I applaud her. When society becomes as pathetically (small-c) conservative as it has become again today, the best response is to shock the fuck out of it. That’s why the Sex Pistols topped the charts in 1977 with God Save The Queen (despite it being banned), and the Prodigy’s wonderful Smack My Bitch Up (watch it!) video won awards 20 years later (despite it also being banned).

Rather than scream at racism-that-isn’t-racism and sexism-that-isn’t-sexism we should take aim at bullying-that-is-truly-bullying. The moronic British media loves to destroy people, especially young women. Doubtless Guardian and Mail journos alike are salivating in anticipation at the moment Miley appears drunk in public, has a messy break-up, or is rumoured to have a drug problem. I’ve cancelled my Guardian app subscription, and will be investing the savings in Miley’s latest album. Why don’t you do the same?

Moral Panics: a useful political tool?

In 2010 I found myself in the middle of a moral panic, so began reading around the subject and watching how moral panics unfold. The panic was around East End strip pubs where I worked and that had been in the area for decades. Usually family businesses, run by the matriarch of the family, and an accepted part of the East End. Then a panic hit and suddenly these places were the gates of hell and all that was evil in the world emanated from them. People who had previously been oblivious to them were suddenly on a crusade. I went to a ‘debate’ in October 2011, called ‘Lap-Dancing: a choice or exploitation’ which demonstrated the mechanisms of power and politics perfectly and shocked me.

A small lobby group whips up fear until they create a panic. The narrative then moves on to ‘Something must be done!/Won’t anyone think of the children!’ and when it gets to this point you have manipulated your audience correctly and you will be able to legislate. But there was also a lot of manipulating being done to those who were creating the moral panic. A group that called it’s self Communities Against People Exploitation, that claimed to be helping the East London community, had a ‘feminist’ spokeswoman. This woman would give the full dramatic performance about the evils of ‘pornification’, ‘objectification’, ‘sexualisation’ throwing out all the fashionable buzzwords to appeal to her audience. However a little investigation using the Land Registry and the good old Internet showed that she was not running this organization. It was actually run by a man who lived in leafy Surrey but, surprise surprise, owned property right next to one of the strip pubs he was trying to close down. From this moment on I lost what little respect I still had for the 3rd wave feminist movement. Was this all about property development and investment? Were they being manipulated by the ‘patriarchy’ that they so despised in order for that ‘patriarchy’ to make money? Were they complicit or ignorant?

So it seems that moral panics can be very useful. They are generally created by pressure groups and lobby groups, often through good intentions and a genuine trigger, which is then picked up by media as they have a lot of space to fill. Column inches, 24-hour news, websites etc. There is a lot of content to be generated so even if the journalist or editor doesn’t really believe in the panic it’s their job to explore all the angles. They run opposing editorials asking ‘Is this right? Is this wrong?, look for the human angle, can they get a confessional piece from someone involved? Run the story for a bit as it gives you something to talk about, to fill airtime with, to fill column inches. These mechanisms of the media are borne out of necessity but do our governments look at these panics and view them as useful? Are they a very convenient smoke screen? Can they use them to implement certain policies that the public may find unpalatable?

The panic of the moment is porn on the internet, the very thing that drove the early development of the internet, and it makes sense if you look at it in an historical and political big picture way. So let us look at the timeline of the last 3 years, the changes that have happened and the role of the Internet in all of this. Three years is a really short space of time for governments to lose control and I’d take a bet that there have been some fraught behind closed doors meetings.

1.The first strand is that too much classified information has been freely distributed online beginning with Bradley Manning. The decorated US private released around 750,000 restricted documents to Wikileaks causing major embarrassment to the United States government and many of its allies. Including of course the UK but also allies such as Saudi Arabia when it was discovered they had been urging the west to go to war with their Middle Eastern nemesis Iran. Then between April and November 2010 Wikileaks and news outlets around the world published these documents to all their readers and viewers. To these news outlets this was like striking gold (or oil). Julian Assange is now running from the US government rightly fearing a fate similar to Bradley Manning. So first it was Bradley and Julian and then when all had seemed calm Edward Snowden struck. Releasing all the details of the Prism surveillance operation that included America spying on it’s European allies and once again causing great embarrassment to the US and UK governments. (As GCHQ had also been implicated.)

I would take a guess that western governments and especially the UK and US governments are no longer enamored with the idea of a free and open Internet.

2.The second political and historical strand that has been a feature of the past three years is revolution. The Arab Spring began in Tunisia in December 2010 and quickly ignited the Arab world into demanding freedom and democracy. From the success of Tunisia to the disaster of Syria, the Arab world has been finding it’s voice, and this has been coordinated on social media. Syria has been especially bad as Iran and Hezbollah are now involved and this could result in years of trouble. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Buzzfeed have allowed those protesting against their governments to organize and sometimes win. Western politicians have been watching, and saying carefully vague sound bites in support for democracy, as long-term allies like Mubarak were toppled. Even prosperous and relatively secular Turkey has seen a popular uprising that no mainstream media reported until the din on social media got so loud they couldn’t ignore it.

I wonder if there is a general fear in governments that us normal people are starting to get a little too knowledgeable and possibly feeling a little too empowered?

3.The third strand in recent years is the recession, which has hit Europe particularly hard. Countries like Greece are languishing in a terrible depression with lots of anger amongst people and extremist groups growing popular. There has also been a raising of awareness in the United States with the Occupy movement starting in November 2011 with Occupy Wall Street. One of the causes of the Arab Spring was youth unemployment and cost of living. The world is getting more and more populous and those at the top are not releasing any wealth so an anger is fermenting. Many young people in Europe are unemployed and over qualified with no hope of attaining the future they dreamed of. What if revolution is not confined to the Arab world? Which can be understood in terms of freedom, what if a European nation is the next to fall? Then it is no longer an ‘us and them’ situation it becomes something bigger? Maybe something about social justice in general?

Again, I can’t imagine our governments feeling very easy with all of this anger, and the information in the hands of the masses.

Information, revolution and recession; it’s like a perfect storm of poverty, over population, inequality, empowerment and access to all information and the ability to communicate it. I’m pretty sure these three strands have made our leaders feel rather uneasy. So what are the governments of the world going to do about this potential dangerous set of circumstances that have evolved in only three short years? Conveniently for the UK Government, the ‘sexualisation’ moral panic has been rumbling away for around a decade, and conveniently it has reached the ‘Something must be done!/Won’t anyone think of the children!’ stage. The groundwork has already been laid which is very handy indeed. So could it be that David Cameron’s recent attack on Internet porn is in fact a smoke screen?

The porn panic has been fuelled by supposedly well-meaning but extremely foolish people and lobby groups and will now come back to bite. After all we are not party to the late night phone calls from Washington that may go something like this,

‘The United States may be unable to work with the United Kingdom unless …… (insert instructions here)’.

It seems like this has everything to do with limiting access to information in general and protecting the power structure. The clamp down on Internet porn is, in my opinion, all about censoring the Internet brought to the fore due to recent world events and absolutely nothing to do with protecting the innocence of children. It may also be run by Chinese Internet filtering firm Huawei, who are no doubt censorship experts.

So beware of moral panics, as there may be a hidden agenda behind them. All is not what it seems on the surface and be aware of new ones forming. What is the end game of these panics and who exactly benefits from them?

Dear Co-op …

A letter from Edie Lamort, feminist and sexual freedom activist, to the Co-operative Group about their latest censorship decision.

Just over five years ago I bought a flat in London SE1. One of my local shops happened to be the Co-op and on my first visit I picked up a Co-op membership form. Loyalty cards can come in handy after all, you get discounts and bonus points. This week the Co-op announced that they had given in to pressure from extremist groups and decided that Lads Mags must come in modesty bags. So as a Co-op member I decided to write a letter to Chief Executive, Steve Murrells. Here it is:

Steve Murrells
Co-operative Group Limited
PO Box 53
New Century House
Manchester
M60 4ES

31st July 2013

Dear Steve Murrells

As the Co-op is one of my local stores I decided to become a member and to use it when I can. I prefer use the independent shops and the Co-op rather than give yet more money to the ubiquitous Tesco. However with this weeks news that the Co-op will be demanding that Lad’s Mags to be sold in modesty bags I will no longer be shopping my local Co-op. The reasons for this are as follows.

As a woman I find the current trend towards more puritan values very disturbing. Lobby groups such as UK Feminista and Object represent the more extreme and fanatical end of this trend and I am very disappointed that the Co-op has buckled under pressure from them. With the proposed censoring of the Internet last week and the general moral panic at the moment about ‘sexualisation’ this is another retrograde step. It is almost like we are experiencing a sexual counter-revolution.

I am worried about this overall message that demonises the female body and buys into centuries old patriarchal tradition that female flesh is sinful and corrupting. It is this mentality that spurred the Witch Trials of the 16th Century and in more recent times has cast a veil of silence over sexual abuse. It leads to an environment where people are made to feel shame about a perfectly natural urge leading to anger and frustration rather than self-awareness and understanding.

The message the Co-operative is sending out is that it agrees with the backward idea that female sexuality and the female body is essentially a corrupting and bad thing and therefore must be hidden. That the female body is dirty, wrong, and bad. It is also extremely hypocritical as celebrity magazines such as OK and Heat are far more salacious and negative about bodies. I find it bizarre that you are ok with these gossip mags that ferment insecurity around cellulite, weight etc but are not with ones showing confident and liberated women. Will you also require them to be covered up? What about videos games that regularly feature violence?

We have come along way since the 60s, and the emancipation of all of us to wear what we like (a woman will not longer be branded ‘tart’ for wearing a short skirt) and to explore our sexual selves, which has been a very important social force. I can guarantee you that if this trend towards puritanism continues we will see a rise in sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. This is because the message you and others are sending is that sex and especially of the female kind is inherently wrong. This will make zealots more confident about chastising the ‘temptress’ or slut-shaming women who dare to be emancipated. The train of thought that goes ‘oh she’s a slut look at her she deserved it’ will be encouraged by actions such as modesty bags.

It also seems like a cheap publicity stunt, similar to David Cameron’s unworkable Internet porn ban. I am aware that the Co-operative Group is not the best financial shape and that a sensational press release will raise brand awareness for far less money than a broadcast advertising campaign.

I would urge you to reconsider your actions; meanwhile please find enclosed my membership card, as I no longer wish to be associated with your company.

Regards

A member

Please feel free to add your voice at steve.murrells@co-operative.coop or write a letter to the Manchester head office address above.

Gifts For Strippers

An update from our Stripping Correspondent Edie Lamort, who is thinking about “objectification” and the gifts she receives from her fans.

One of the reasons I find the term ‘objectification’ doesn’t fit with my job as a stripper is in the gifts we receive. Sometimes you find yourself being taken by surprise by the things the regular customers say and in what they buy you. A good example of this, is if you learn some new pole tricks, or maybe change a tried and tested routine on the stage. Someone in the audience is bound to point this out.

“Oh you did the spin before going upside down this time.”

“Eh?! You noticed that?!”

“I love that new trick you did on that pole on the far side.”

“Really? Thanks.”

There are a couple of men that come in who I have named ‘The Dance Critics’. They should come in with scorecards because they sit up the front and critique the stage shows. (The front row is known as Gynaecology Row in the stripper argot) I think I might make them big score cards just for fun. Numbers 1 – 10 in bold black ink on white A4 paper.

‘Oh you were a little bit unsure about that new move weren’t you? But your shoulder mount is improving.’’

‘What?!?!’

I usually receive rather odd or thoughtful gifts from punters, some are baffling and some have proved to be great. I sat with a regular customer one day and said ‘why do I get these odd gifts?’ His reply was, ‘because we can see who you are.’ So here are some of the odd gifts I and others have been given over the years.

Very Spiritual Water

I have mainly worked in East End strip pubs so there are a lot of Asian men who come in on their own and some of them will befriend us and become regulars. There was a Pakistani guy, who owned a leather shop in London and had a factory back home, who became our quasi-stylist for a while. He would tell us which of his jackets or coats would suit us and then make them and sell them to us at cost. Pretty soon a lot of sexy strippers were sporting leather jackets of all styles so this could have been a canny sales technique on his part.

I had an Indian customer who I would see fairly regularly. He was always very polite and earnest, would have a chat, a few private dances and then go. He was interesting and told me a lot about the hippy side of his homeland and the various spiritual pilgrimages he would do. He recommended drinking ‘very spiritual water’ from the source of the Ganges. The pure H2O goodness from the Himalayan snowmelt, and the thawing of the Gangotri Glacier, that was supposed to sooth the soul.

After Christmas one year he went back to India for a few months to visit family and soak up that famous spiritual atmosphere so I didn’t see him for a while. When he returned he brought me this famous ‘very spiritual water’. He walked into the dark cavernous pub with a couple of shopping bags looking pendulous and heavy and set them down by me. He then pulled out a bag of ‘very spiritual water’, which was a sealed plastic bag full of water. It was ornately decorated in reds, golds, oranges and yellows and looked very Indian. I was surprised and flattered that he’d made the effort to carry these heavy bags of water half way across the world in order to assist my spiritual well-being. I took the water home and drank it as recommended and no, I didn’t get ill, but maybe my spirit was cleansed. Who knows?

Books

I have more of these than I can possibly fit into my house. My bookshelves are bowing under the weight of book after book piled on top of each other but, like shoes, they are so pretty I can’t bear to part with them. Some of the books I get from customers are just really odd and about things such as corporate management. What puzzling motivation inspired that purchase? I am certainly not someone who easily fits into the corporate world; I am one of those arty hippy types. Other books have been really interesting. Sex and Punishment by Eric Berkowitz was a good read and I do recommend it. Now when I see the book-buying customers I tell them what I’d like to read next. I find it quite amusing that whilst I’m stripping, apparently being objectified, there are men sitting there thinking, ‘nice arse, I wonder what books she likes to read?’

Shoes

Well of course! Shoes are a must but I usually approach this in a practical way. Shoes are a necessity. Stripper shoes get scuffed and easily wrecked on the poles and stage so you are reluctant to spend lots of money on them. A tube of superglue is an essential item in your workbag as is a black marker pen to colour in all the scrapes on those cheap plastic shoes. There is a particular regular who will always oblige me with shoes. I tell him what needs replacing, my size and what colour I’d like and as if by magic they arrive!

Jewellery

‘Well, I was in the jewellery shop and bought my wife a pair of earrings so I thought I’d better buy you a pair too’, said a regular who then handed me a small neat box, wrapped with a silver ribbon. I smiled and thanked him, pulling the bow open and taking out the long amber earrings.

Why did he think he needed to buy me a gift as well as his wife, it’s not like we were ever going to cross paths? Was he overcome with a moment of guilt for the stripper he liked to visit, when buying his wife a gift? I was puzzled by this sense of obligation. It’s not as if I was his mistress but they’re nice earrings, I get complimented on them.

Documentary DVDs

The giving of documentary DVDs is along the same line as books. Usually after you’ve been talking to a regular customer about a particular topic. Some guys have no one else to talk to like that and do appreciate conversation. Some are also very intelligent, just unlucky in love and lacking in confidence. So you usually have a few customers that are a nice relief because you can actually have a conversation beyond ‘Where you from? What’s your name? No what’s your real name?’ These men are also the ones who buy you books and documentary DVDs are a natural complement to this. Most recently I was given a documentary featuring author Jared Diamond. This is because I recommended his books to a customer who’s now a fan.

Chocolate men and feeders

I can’t imagine we look undernourished, we are dancers not models, our job is a workout. There are quite a few voluptuous strippers around but some men feel the compulsion to feed us. At a Soho strip club I worked in we were frequently visited by ‘the chocolate men’. There were two of them who would eagerly arrive with supermarket bags full of chocolate and sit themselves down on Gynaecology Row. They were always eager and wide-eyed despite years of seeing the same things again and again. They looked pretty dodgy, and like they lived on Pot Noodles and rollies, so I always assumed they’d been shoplifting on their way to the club. I couldn’t imagine them buying all that chocolate; surely they’d been out on a week long thieving spree before coming to see us.

They were awkward and geeky, and it was clear why they were single, but they were harmless. They didn’t tip in actual real money but they eagerly handed out boxes of chocolate. Sometimes a little too eagerly so you found yourself conflicted between ‘what a shame, he’s a bit simple/come near me again and I’ll fucking knock you out’. Charmless as well as harmless.

They would only stay for the first hour or two of the evening as there would come a point where the charity of the strippers and the management would wear off and they would have to go. The strippers would point out that ‘we want to be rich not fat’ and the manager would need them to buy more than one beer only. So off they’d scuttle, probably on their way to rob Tesco.

Poetry

When you work in a strip pub you get used to all kinds of eccentrics. Everyone is fairly relaxed about them and just leaves them be. In fact it’s probably one of the only places they can just sit and have beer, have a pretty girl say hi and be left in peace. One odd character is someone we call ‘red wine and poetry man’. I have no idea what his real name is, no one does, but he buys whole bottles of red wine, sits at the bar with an A4 pad and writes poetry. As the night progresses he gets more and more drunk, the poetry gets worse and worse and he ends up crying. It’s strange but he does it again and again.

Of course he’ll give his verses to the dancers as tokens of affection. In the changing room one night a Brazilian girl showed me what he had written for her. I read it through with disappointment, it was an Oasis song and he was hoping she wouldn’t realise, as English was not her first language. We both laughed and said ‘oh dear, oh well’.

So to say the customers all look at us only as mere sex objects doesn’t quite fit if someone has taken the time to think about a gift for you. It also ignores the fact that people are often wrapped up in their own world and their loneliness, so are looking for any kind of connection. ‘Feminist’ groups shrieking ‘objectification’ ignore the humanity in these situations. And if someone does look at me and simply think ‘phwoarrr nice tits’ rather than ‘goodness I wonder what she thinks about art/ history/politics/theatre etc? Well, who gives a shit? I certainly don’t have time to contemplate everyone’s inner workings, and I do have nice tits.

The Guardian And The “Sexualisation” Panic

According to Wikipedia, a moral panic is defined as: “…an intense feeling expressed in a population about an issue that appears to threaten the social order.”

Most societies experience panics on a regular basis, but Britain, thanks to the trashy level of our press, perhaps experiences more than most countries. Moral panics have a simple purpose: to convince a citizenry that something must be done. And that something is almost invariably bad, when viewed in hindsight.

A good moral panic needs a simple message so that commentators can easily push it into the public mind: a good panic needs good branding. Thirty years ago, a moral panic was in full swing under the label “Video Nasties”. For those who don’t remember, a Video Nasty was a term coined by the media for what we now call a horror video. Led by morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse, the media and politicians set out to convince the public that, unless something is done, British society would be engulfed by a tsunami of torture, rape and murder. Something was done: the Video Recordings Act (1984) imposed on Britain the most draconian system of video censorship in the democratic world. The Video Nasties panic may have been subsequently exposed as a fuss over nothing, but the censorship system, run by the BBFC, still operates today.

The “Sexualisation” panic has been in full swing for five years or so, and is reaching a point of saturation; it is regularly repeated throughout the media, and has been adopted by politicians not just from the religious right, but also from the left. As I blogged a couple of years ago, Sexualisation is an almost meaningless and certainly unmeasurable concept. It was largely brought into the public consciousness in 2010 by an evidence-free government report which was (bizarrely) carried out by a Christian organisation. It has become an umbrella idea that encapsulates various morality causes including (but not limited to) censoring music videos, censoring pornography, removing bare breasts from the Sun newspaper, banning “lad’s mags”, shaming parents into dressing their children more “modestly”; in fact, it is used to attack any kind of sexual expression, or even innocent nudity. Those leading the panic – including the pro-censorship “feminist” group, Object, politicians, and Christian morality campaigners – have learned from Mary Whitehouse’s “Video Nasty” success, and are turning up the level of hysteria until the government is pressured into taking action.

The scary thing about Sexualisation (as opposed to Video Nasties) is that it is undefined and undefinable. Thus, when we reach the something must be done moment, that something will be sweeping and draconian. Given that Sexualisation is a “disease” that allegedly affects men, women, breasts, children, shops, TV, video, the Internet and even (shock horror!) high streets, the only valid response to it must be a cross-society attack on all sexual expression. Perhaps we need a Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice? That might work.

I’ve expressed my sadness before that the normally liberal-ish Guardian becomes conservative and censorious when sex is on the agenda. This week, The Guardian entered full moral panic mode by inviting “the public” to submit “sexualised imagery from the high street”. The question is, how does the Guardian decide what “sexualised imagery” is? I’ve walked down my high street today, and have seen the following:

  • Women in mini-skirts. Yes! Women are revealing not just their ankles, but their knees and their thighs!
  • Women revealing cleavage!! Low-cut tops are surely the devil’s work, designed to “objectify” breasts and thus cause men (who as we know, have literally no impulse control) to rape people.
  • A teenage girl in shorts and fishnets: because the perverts who see Sexualisation everywhere are particularly (and disturbingly) obsessed with the way children and teens dress.
  • Builders with no tops on: False alarm – topless men are actually OK, because the neo-Whitehouse crowd (in common with all morality campaigners) only want to cover female flesh. Men, of course, can dress however they like.

But I could find no recent explosion of “sexualised imagery”. Of course, there are porn mags, but there have always been porn mags; in fact, porn magazine sales have collapsed under the pressure of competition from DVD and the Internet. The term Sexualisation implies that things are changing for the worse. But unless I’m missing something big, they aren’t. Indeed, the debate has moved away from “harm” to the far broader measure of “causing offence” – and the reason for this is simple: the pro-censorship movement can provide no evidence of harm.

So why not submit your own images? Since the Guardian has joined the “anything that offends anybody must be bad” brigade, photograph things that might offend somebody and send them in. Seen gay men holding hands? Muslim women showing hair from under their hijab? Mixed-races couples kissing? All those things represent Sexualisation, and are offensive, right? To somebody?

As we are led headlong into a new wave of censorship, it’s saddening to see Mary Whitehouse’s Mediawatch-UK organisation joined in its endless morality campaigning by “feminists”; and the Daily Mail joined in its “cover up women” fetish by the Guardian. These are conservative times indeed.

Conservative Feminism and the Right to Offend

This week, the fight to censor British media and art – even more than is done already – took a bizarre new turn, as pro-censorship “feminist” groups Object and UK Feminista launched an attack against Lads’ Mags. This attack can trace its roots to American morality campaigners in the 1980s, and it’s worth exploring a little history.

From the 1960s all the way through to the 90s, the British media scene was haunted by a pro-censorship figure; a devout Christian who believed her faith entailed the right to stop any British person from seeing anything that she personally found offensive. Mary Whitehouse was widely mocked throughout her campaigning life, which coincided with the greatest upswing of liberal attitudes in modern British history. She railed against the “permissive society”, in which her Christian morals came under assault from every side: the second-wave feminists were declaring the rights of women to enjoy sex without censure; abortion and homosexuality were legalised; TV and the theatre risked showing nudity, and society failed to collapse. There was plenty of work for a morality campaigner to do, but Whitehouse undertook it with a ferocious energy that gained her admirers, even among her enemies.

Although she was a figure of fun for most people, Whitehouse left her mark on British society: we became, and remain, the most censored country in Europe, other than Catholic Ireland and Poland. Her lobbying organisation, Mediawatch-UK, outlived her, and actively campaigns against “permissiveness” to this day.

But in the 1980s, the pro-censorship cause gained surprising new supporters. The feminist movement, once as far removed from Whitehouse as could be possible, split, and a new conservative wing of feminism emerged. The new, pro-censorship feminism was as moralistic as the 1960s feminists had been libertarian, as determined to cover up all female flesh as the previous generation had been to flaunt it – whether as a political statement, or just because…

Now, post-Whitehouse, media morality campaigns are spearheaded, not by conservative Christians, but by conservative feminists (though it must be suspected that many Christian morality campaigners have sought camouflage in the puritanical feminist movement).

This week’s salvo from the morality crusaders works as follows: they declare that any public display of sexuality – nudity, semi-nudity, or anything they deem to be sexual – “demeans” women. All female flesh must be covered up, in order to “protect” women.

The tactic they employ is to declare that any shop that sells potentially “offensive” material – lads’ mags in this case – constitutes sexual harassment, and thus an attack on civil rights, against any female employee in the shop. Women are, according to this doctrine, weaker and more delicate than men, and thus must be protected. This message is, of course, an anti-feminist one. But amidst the hysteria, many middle-class “feminists” seem not to have noticed, and are embracing this deeply patriarchal concept.

The tactic means that any woman who feels “harassed” or “offended” by having to even share a building with “sexualised” material can sue her employer. This isn’t an original idea; it was invented by a US lawyer, Catharine Mackinnon, who was one of America’s leading conservative feminist morality campaigners in the 1980s. This “civil rights” approach to attacking sexual expression turns censorship from something the state does, into something anybody can do. Any woman who feels she is offended, or “demeaned”, by a smiling photo of a semi-naked woman can claim that her rights have been violated, and sue for damages.

The Mackinnon attempt failed; to allow such challenges would fundamentally undermine free speech, and this is clearly protected under the first amendment of the US Constitution. What Object and UK Feminista are not making clear is what should be obvious to anyone: if a person can sue for finding something “demeaning”, then anything can, and will, be censored. Offence is taken, not given, and almost everything offends somebody. Religious groups will find lads’ mags offensive. And Page 3 of the Sun. And gay publications. Some atheists will find religious material offensive, and surely a Christian bookshop worker could sue for having to sell The God Delusion? Fundamentalist Christians could find Muslim or Jewish publications offensive, and vice-versa. White and black supremacists may object to imagery showing mixed-race couples.

Art galleries will be sued for showing any kind of sexual or other controversial object – for example, erotic Roman sculptures currently on display at the British Museum. All expression will come under attack. The possibilities are endless.

Am I just guessing? No; the Mackinnon law, which failed to gain traction in the US, was adopted in Canada in 1992. The result: “controversial” material – and in particular feminist and gay publications – was seized. Gay bookshops were raided. The Canadian state revelled in its new powers of censorship. All the censors had to do, if they wanted to ban something, was to find one person who found that thing offensive.

Are Object and UK Feminista just well-meaning but naive? Unlikely. These groups know better than anyone the history of what they are trying to do, and the chilling effects this tactic would have on free expression. What is really disheartening is the rush of “feminist” supporters to back these morality groups in the mistaken belief that feminism is about begging “The Patriarchy” to protect weak, sensitive, helpless women from anything they might find demeaning (which has, it seems, come to mean “icky”). What is tragic is the widespread belief that the very sexual freedoms won by the 1960s feminists are themselves a threat to women’s rights.

I have a fundamental problem with people who are prepared to be easily offended. About anything. In fact, I find them offensive. Object and UK Feminista will find themselves as easily censored as anybody else if their “civil rights” approach to censorship succeeds; I suspect they don’t care. They are the modern-day successors to Mary Whitehouse, and if they succeed in banning all “offensive” material, they will have finished the job she began in 1963, when she set out to attack – more than anything else – the sexual liberation of women.

[PS - As I'm so often informed that I, being a mere man, have no right to comment on feminist issues, here are a couple of other good articles on the Lads Mag campaign, written by women.]

Georgia Lewis: Losing lads’ mags and the slippery slope of censorship

Gemma Ahearne: Dangerous Dolls: ‘Object’ and Lose The Lads’ Mags

Tuppy Owens: I Was Censored By Feminists

Tuppy Owens

Tuppy Owens

Since the 1960s, Tuppy Owens has been a sexual libertarian: she has campaigned tirelessly for sexual freedom and set up groups that fight for sexual rights for disabled people. As a woman fighting for the sexual rights of women (as well as men) to enjoy sexual pleasure without guilt, she might once have been embraced by the feminist movement; yet since the late 1970s, she has been repeatedly attacked by anti-sex feminists. Here, she describes some of her experiences.

 

My name is Tuppy Owens and I am a woman. I started the Outsiders Club in 1979 for disabled men and women to gain confidence and find partners. Feminists immediately started attacking me, accusing me of encouraging disabled men to be “as disgusting as other men”. I can remember them sitting in the front row at conferences I spoke at, hurling abuse. I chose to ignore them.

For 25 years of my life, I published the Sex Maniac’s Diary, a jovial pocket book featuring sex positions of the day, kinks of the week, and international listings for sexy hotels, swing clubs, fetish clubs and places to enjoy commercial sex. Many people bought it as a joke Christmas present but in reality the information was very seriously researched and presented.

There were obviously more commercial establishments for men than for women (as there still are), but feminists therefore decided the little diary was “sexist”, and slowly printers refused to print it and criticism abounded – its charm and innocence were lost. I was very upset, but there was nothing I could do, anti-sex feminism was “in”.

Rather reluctantly, I was persuaded by its organisers to join Feminists Against Censorship. I didn’t really go along with their way of working and had nothing in common with the members. One of them asked me, while scrounging a lift in my car, “do you still fuck men?” “Yes”, I replied, why not?”. “Well, men just do what they want.” I thought about this and told her, “Yes, men do what they want and women do what we want. That’s what makes sex so great.” “Oh” she said, and sat silently.

Feminists Against Censorship decided to produce a book. I suggested they call it “Tales from the Clitoris” but it ended up with the rather vulgar title, “Tales from the Clit”. I was to be given a chapter, to write about Outsiders and my work with disabled people.

I wrote it from the heart. Midway through, I expressed my concern with what was happening a great deal at the time (late 80’s, early 90’s) when women felt their genitals were rather like a trophy which would be shared only in very special circumstances. I watched women swagger around as if they held this precious object between their legs, not to be shared. “Where had the generosity gone? How sad it was for disabled men who would never live up to the required standards, and never get to taste their delicious pussies and share their pleasures.”

Or something like that. Well, this paragraph was censored out, and I declared “I’ve been censored by Feminists Against Censorship!”.

Sadly, things have got much worse now. Feminists have joined forces with religious groups to get rid of all the wonderful striptease joints in London and elsewhere. Why can’t they listen to the women who are strippers before campaigning to close their places of work? Why are they allowed to get away with this? Probably because the feminists have kicked the balls out of the politicians, council members and journalists who might, in the past, have stopped them behaving so outrageously.

Feminism makes me not wish to identify as a woman, or a human being for that matter. I think I’ll opt for just being a mammal.