Guardian Linked To Racist Journalism

The phrase “linked to” is a favourite among the architects of moral panics. Marijuana was linked (back in the day) to black men raping white women. In more recent times, Ecstasy and various other safe drugs have been linked to (mostly invented) deaths. It is a favourite tool of tabloid journalism – claim ice cream is linked to gang violence and – Lo And Behold – it is! Because you just linked it.

In its endless descent into the journalistic gutter, the Guardian has adopted such tools too, such as its recent article Online trolling of women is linked to domestic violence, say campaigners. The Graun is, at least, smart enough to add “say campaigners” to the headline, so that when one points out that the claim is utterly baseless, the editor can respond: “we were just reporting what they said”.

This isn’t just sloppy journalism. The Guardian has long been militating for increased censorship of the Internet, and since it still maintains the pretence of supporting free speech, it must find online harm at every turn.

The Guardian itself appears to be becoming increasingly censored, especially on anything related to sex. What had originally seemed like the work of a few puritan journalists now seems to be official editorial policy. A series of good journalists have published ludicrously flimsy anti-sex articles. Not being privy to the internal workings of the organisation, I wonder what has been going on at Graun HQ. Does Julie Bindel stand over every journalist’s desk with a gun until she or he has produced yet another denunciation of “sexualisation” or “pornification”?

This feeling of a pro-censorship conspiracy is not just speculation: in her book The Sex Myth the sex worker/blogger/author/researcher Brooke Magnanti reveals that, after she won the Guardian’s 2003 blogger of the year award, a group of female Guardian journalists jointly threatened to resign if she was offered a column in the newspaper. Her crime was to present her sex work as a choice, and to refuse to label herself a victim, in strict contravention of Guardian editorial policy on sex work.

The Guardian’s hatred of any sexual expression is becoming so strong that the normally-PC paper is prepared to stray into the realm of racism where necessary. I’ve blogged previously about the jaw-dropping 2009 “white man’s porn is making black men into rapists” article by Tim Samuels.

Not to be outdone, Hadley Freeman (another once-sane journo who appears to have succumbed to the Curse of Guardian Towers) was enraged by Miley Cyrus’s recent twerking episode at the MTV Video Music Awards.

Her rage (of course) is primarily about open displays of sexuality: “she copied the dance moves of strippers” (but I know strippers who dance very well – what’s the problem?) and “female celebrities will one day feel that they don’t need to imitate porn actors” (all sexual expression is porn, and porn is bad, m’kay?)

Freeman tries to dress up her anti-sex rage as concern about racism, and digs herself a deep hole in the process. She casually drops in the fact that she has lived in the Notting Hill Carnival area for 12 years, which is kind-of like saying “I have black friends, you know”. I grew up a couple of miles north of Notting Hill, and while it was once a heavily Caribbean area, it had gentrified long before Freeman moved in.

She appears to be outraged that Cyrus had black backing singers: “a young wealthy woman from the south doing a garish imitation of black music and reducing black dancers to background fodder”. They are “fodder” in Freeman’s eyes anyway: to me, they are dancing beautifully, as only women of African origin can, and helping distract from the fact that Cyrus can’t dance. She refers to the event as a “minstrel show”. Other than banning black backing dancers from shows with white lead performers, it’s unclear what remedy Freeman would like to see.

She has fallen into the trap awaiting “progressive” middle-class puritans: dance and music originating in sub-Saharan Africa have always been far more overtly sexual than those originating in Europe. The overtness of African sexual expression offends the sensibility of European prudes, just as it offended (and titillated) European colonialists in Africa, who insisted that shameful African nudity was covered up.

Black music now dominates Western popular music forms. Not because (as Freeman suggests) whites are guilty of “cultural appropriation”, but simply because it is better, and it has come to dominate the meme-pool. It is hard to imagine what Western music and dance would be like today without African influences.

Freeman, of middle-class Jewish-American roots, educated in English boarding school and then Oxford, did not grow up around black culture. Like many privileged whites who grew up surrounded by privileged whites, she is discomfited by it, and all the Oxford education in the world cannot help her formulate linguistic tricks that adequately hide that fact.

The icing on the cake is that Freeman wraps up her bizarre articulation of dislike for black sexual expression in Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. King dreamed of a racially mixed world, but Freeman dreams of a world without strippers, porn and black backing dancers. What a sad, decaf, Euro-centric, Guardian-approved world that would be.

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 foment 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.

Audio: Feminist Porn Awards

Moron-Free Radio is back!

The feminist movement – or at least the part the media pays most attention to – seems to be increasingly puritanical, anti-sex and pro-censorship. And yet, those attitudes aren’t representatives of feminism. For the past few years, Carlyle Jansen has run the Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto. I spoke to her to find out what feminist porn is about.

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

Posing As Progressives

Gail Dines: The New Mary Whitehouse
Gail Dines: The New Mary Whitehouse

It’s been one of those weeks when I fall out with some of my, usually friendly, followers. When you’re a leftish political blogger, there are safe things to write about, and things you shouldn’t mention. Social equality, fairness, child poverty, saving the NHS, racism against non-whites, attacks on women’s rights, climate change, corporate power; these are all things that I know I can tackle without dissent from others on the left. There will be, of course, attacks from the right, but those are bread-and-butter. We can all unite and enjoy rebutting those. Career tip: if you want to become a Labour parliamentary candidate, and you write the occasional column, but don’t want to ruffle feathers? Stick to these subjects (no names mentioned).

Then, there are the subjects that confuse many on the left – so they generally don’t mention them, for example: racism by non-whites, domestic violence against men, use of the word “cunt”. And of perhaps most of all, sex. Sex, being the subject that raises the most primal feelings in us – whether negative or positive – divides all parts of the political spectrum. The left has a series of simple check-boxes to guide it through this minefield: Gay rights? Approved. Abortion rights? OK. Rights for sexual fetishists? Erm… Union rights for sex workers? Sounds of left-wing heads exploding.

Now let’s turn things around for a moment. If you were a social conservative ideologue, in Britain, in 2013, how would you go about popularising your ideas? This would be easy enough in America: you say that public nudity is immoral. Because the Bible says so. You say that Muslims are bad because… well, they’re not Christians are they? But things aren’t so easy for the British reactionary. The British have largely abandoned religion – at least, the type you actively believe in. So what would you do? You’d do what clever reactionaries do: adopt progressive camouflage.

Both sexual morality groups and racist bigots have successfully adopted this approach, and in doing so, have blended into the liberal mainstream. The last well-known sexual morality group was Mary Whitehouse‘s National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association (now known as Mediawatch UK). This made some headway in the 80s, before being laughed off-stage in the more relaxed 90s. Taking note of this, the new moralists took a leaf from an American lawyer called Catharine MacKinnon. MacKinnon came from impeccable right-wing stock – her father was a right-wing Republican Senator. In the 1980s, MacKinnon (with her sidekick Andrea Dworkin) took a sexual conservative message, wrapped it in superficially feminist language, and succeeded in fundamentally splitting the feminist movement in two – a divide that has existed ever since. The MacDworkinites did more damage to feminism than any misogynistic man ever could.

The MacDworkinites are going from strength to strength. MacKinnon’s natural successors are Gail Dines – a deeply reactionary anti-sex activist who campaigns for media censorship and a ban on sex work using feminist and Marxist language, and a number of conservative groups, self-labelling as “feminist”. The best known MacDworkinite groups in the UK are Object and UK Feminista – who will be familiar to regular readers of this blog. The latest to appear on the scene is the current campaign against the topless photo on Page 3 of the Sun.

It’s amazing what a small shift in vocabulary can do. Because the MacDworkinites refer to themselves as “feminist”, then anyone who opposes them must be against feminism, right? It’s sad that sections of the left are so easily fooled, but indeed, the strategy has worked impeccably. Are these groups actually a conservative offshoot of feminism, or conservatives who have infiltrated feminism from the outside? It doesn’t matter – that’s a simple matter of classification. You can call them anti-sex feminists or anti-sex “feminists” – either way, they are reactionary. The early second-wave feminists implored women to abandon their bras. These new groups beg women to put their bras back on.

The same methodology has worked wonders in demonising Muslims in secular Europe. Far-right pundits like Pat Condell attack Muslims – not from a religious perspective, but from an atheist one. Muslims are, (they say) “less civilised” than we, secular European are. They chop off heads and run kebab shops in London (of course, the Muslims cutting off heads aren’t the same ones selling kebabs to drunk Brits – but who’s counting?)

Such gullibility on the left saddens me. Both left and right have become riddled with conservatism, and well-meaning people have swallowed this reactionary propaganda. Meanwhile, Object’s attacks on women sex workers continue – supported blindly by middle-class women who think sex work is common and icky. And atheist fascists like Condell convince atheists that attacking minorities is OK – if it’s done in the name of Enlightenment.

The alternative is what I’ve labelled Social Libertarianism: social democracy combined with an unshakeable commitment to free expression, free speech, freedom of religion and sexual freedom, and an equally tenacious opposition to all forms of censorship. It’s not new – it’s what the left used to stand for.

Blaming Women For Rape

The skirt is no excuse to rape - neither is porn
The skirt is no excuse for rape – neither is porn

This blog recently carried an article by Edie Lamort on the current moral panic about pornography; here’s another article on the subject. This is no accident – most people will have noticed a sharp rise in scare stories recently about porn, nude imagery, strip clubs and “sexualised” imagery in the media. The stories are the result, not of actual problems or any evidence of harm, but of widespread, well-organised campaigns by authoritarians to increase censorship of the media, and in particular of the Internet.

I won’t revisit the evidence here – but in summary, there is no solid evidence that erotic imagery leads to harm against women or children: in fact, the reverse is true. This, of course, doesn’t deter the anti-sex, pro-censorship campaigners in the slightest. They have no interest in whether porn is in fact harmful to women – their end goal is for censorship and control of sexuality, and in particular, female sexuality.

You may remember the birth of the Slutwalk movement about two years ago. This was triggered by a Toronto police officer who suggested that, in order to avoid rape, women should avoid dressing like “sluts”. The outrage that this victim-blaming caused led to the birth of Slutwalk in Toronto and then globally. A huge, young feminist movement took to the streets proclaiming the right of women to be sluts, without either being judged or raped.

I was a great supporter of Slutwalk; not everyone was though. The anti-sex feminist campaigner Gail Dines, for example, thought that women were misguided in trying to reclaim the word slut, and said this would “make life harder” for adolescent girls. This was typical of the clashes between the anti-sex and the sex-positive wings of feminism.

Today, another policeman tried to avert the blame for rape away from the rapist and onto women. This time though, unlike in the Toronto case, he was strangely applauded by some women. In a Daily Record article entitled More women will be raped if online porn isn’t tackled, Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham made an explicit link between porn-viewing and rape.

This, of course, is victim-blaming; but it’s a little more subtle than the Toronto variety that launched Slutwalk. Instead of saying that a rape is the fault of the woman who is raped, it claims that a rape is the fault of women who appear in porn, and thus incite men to rape. In both cases, women who dare to bare flesh in public are being blamed for the act of a rapist.

This logic is the same as that used by orthodox Jewish, Christian and Muslim sects, especially the Wahhabi Muslims, who cover women’s faces with niqabs “for their own protection”. The logic, whether blaming a woman for her own rape or blaming porn stars, Page 3 girls and strippers for another woman’s rape, is identical. The very sight of female flesh, we are told by the policemen, conservative feminists and religious fundamentalists, incites men to be rapists.

I’ll repeat: there is no evidence that this is true; indeed, evidence from studying rapists shows the opposite: that rapists tend to have repressed sexualities. Rather than enjoying porn, they are likely to find it disturbing. An article in Psychology Today entitled Sexual Repression: The Malady That Considers Itself The Remedy makes this point well: sexual repression, far from being blamed for sexual problems, is touted as the solution: Lengthen that skirt! Ban Page 3! Porn leads to abuse! Strips clubs lead to rapes! In every case, women are blamed for rape, and men are considered stupid creatures who, having seen a nipple or a vagina, cannot stop themselves from attacking someone.

So let’s remind ourselves: when a woman is raped, it is not her fault. Nor is the fault of the girl who appeared on Page 3 that morning. Nor is it the fault of the woman who chose to make a living by having sex on camera. It’s the fault of the rapist. The fact that a police chief has chosen to lead a morality campaign against porn is very disturbing. Police in free societies should have nothing to do with the consenting sex lives of adults. Stalin, Hitler and other dictators carried out conservative morality campaigns against their populations. Women did not benefit from these.

If we want to remember what pre-porn Britain was like, just look at the emerging facts from the Jimmy Savile case. Is that an innocent, “unsexualised” world that we should return to?

Porn in a Puritanical Age

As the EU Parliament prepares to vote to censor any content that might “demean women” (whatever that might mean), feminist and stripper Edie Lamort writes about the good side of porn, and the dangers of censorship.

International Women’s Day has rolled around again and thankfully it has not been quite so negative this year. I was appalled at the ‘victim fest’ I endured last year at the Women of the World Festival in the Southbank Centre. Although the Guardian indulged the usual insecurities that it believes defines womanhood. Blaming individual body issues firmly on ‘sexist media’ and terrible pressures from the wicked evil world of ‘patriarchy’. 

This my dear readers is not the full picture as it ignores the family environment. Now I’m lucky in the fact that my parents told me daily that I was a beautiful person. This has fortified me in ways I am eternally thankful for. I’m sure I will still think I’m hot even when I’m 70, legs warped by varicose veins and face wrinkled like a prune. It is why I roll my eyes when I hear these constant declarations about female body insecurities, from our ‘feminist’ opinion formers and politicians, and why I find the bleating about Page 3, porn and strippers to be ridiculous and unbearable. Positive reassurances from your loved ones are the most powerful messages, and if you have that, all the porn and advertising in the world will not undermine you.

However this paranoid and misplaced blame for all the world’s ills still motivates many of our dear leaders. The latest episode of madness comes from Dutch MEP Kartika Liotard who seeks to impose “…statutory measures to prevent any form of pornography in the media and in advertising and for a ban on advertising for pornographic products…” Effectively banning all porn in the European Union. An extremely totalitarian move, that feels like some kind of Soviet era diktat.

Besides this being an outrageous affront to freedom all round, I feel this line of thought is horribly misguided. Yes there are many reasons that this censorship should be stopped in its tracks; freedom of speech, the fact that our liberal democracies have the best track record with female emancipation due to our openness around sex, that porn demystifies the feminine mystique, the fact that these censors wilfully ignore amateur and gay porn and finally; I’d also like to suggest that porn is good for you.

Yes porn is good for you and for society at large. I have recently come across an interesting Agony Aunt called Rachel Rabbit White who regularly advises her confidants to explore their fantasies using porn, even celebrating an annual Lady Porn Day. A woman writes in concerned at her new boyfriends interest in porn featuring older men with younger women. Now instead of shrieking ‘pervert’ Rachel Rabbit asks them to explore the subconscious reasons for this. She wonders if it is to do with breaking taboos? Or is he trying to reassure himself that he is still attractive?

She then addresses what lies behind females watching rape porn and having related fantasies. Rather than having a horrified, knee-jerk reaction she tries to find out why. What part of the BDSM world could she be attracted to? Is it about finding the strength and maleness extremely erotic and actually feeling safe with it? For many women it is being desired by someone so much that they are out of control. Being the centre of their world. Of course this is fantasy and very far removed from the realities of actual rape but here we can use porn as the starting point to explore these fantasies. Acting them out in the safety of a loving relationship.

She also answers a worried male viewer who identifies as straight but finds himself turned on by Bukkake. That is when a group of men ejaculate over a woman. This man finds himself fantasizing not about coming on a woman but being the recipient. He stresses that he’s never felt attracted to men so is worried about this urge. Rachel Rabbit then explores the macho environment that boys grow up in and how this could lead to a fascination with semen. That it’s probably quite a natural thing for males to be intrigued by something that is an almost daily emission. Therefore there is an element of fetishizing semen in male macho culture. She also wonders if he is somewhere on the bisexual scale despite being in a straight relationship.

So the viewer’s tastes in porn are treated as a doorway to their subconscious and a way of exploring sexuality in a safe environment. A method of psychotherapy, of analysis, that can result in valuable insights and self-awareness. It’s also a way to pick up handy hints and ideas to spice up your sex life. If it has become vanilla and everyday, porn can be a reference for creativity. Couples can explore BDSM together; some watch gay porn (not that they will ever have real gay relationships) and their sex life can be enriched with anal play. It’s about having a positive outlook on the fantasies you have, and discovering what lies beneath them, as opposed to feeling shame. What is it that turns you on in a scene? Is it the taboo of something you’ve never been permitted to do? Is it about restraint and role-play? Is it gender bending?

A recent study also showed that men who watch porn were more in favour of gay marriage. Reasons included how they had become used to seeing other men’s penises in heterosexual acts and therefore the shock factor was diluted. Also that in exploring their own sexuality they were more likely to be accepting of other less traditional sexual situations. That in the main, those who watch porn have a more open mind towards sex. So there’s another positive aspect porn.

And what of the women I hear you ask? Commercial porn is a very well regulated industry with actors and actresses documented and regularly tested for STIs. Feminist porn director Anna Span described to me how the performers she uses must all show their passports, have their photos taken holding their passports to show the pictures match, and store these photos on record permanently. UK producers must conform to the US 18 USC 2257 law, otherwise they cannot sell their content across the Atlantic. The porn industry has already pre-emptively dealt with child access issues by developing a web site labelling system known as Restricted To Adult . This embeds a code into adult material so that online filtering tools can easily identify porn and stop children accessing it. In terms of health all producers demand certificates and check for fakes. Porn performers must have health checks every 28 days.

Anti-porn repression and moral panic will lead to less equality all round and more violence towards women and LBGT people. Censorship will definitely not lead to some glorious utopia of equality that our ridiculous opinion formers and politicians seem to believe. This sexual counter-revolution must be stopped in its tracks right now because it is dangerous and anti-women. Feminism needs to stop being so childish and one-dimensional. It needs to look further in to the human psyche when dealing with sex and develop a more mature attitude towards it.

So porn can be good for you. Please click the links and enjoy Ms Rachel Rabbit!

Porn stars Aren’t Damaged Goods After All

I recently published a podcast featuring interviews with seven British porn stars. The idea for this had been generated several months earlier, when I was confronted by a variety of so-called progressives demanding I accept that pornography was “exploitative”. Knowing some people in the sex industries, I was sceptical. In my experience, those who attack the sex trade, in any form, tend to be more concerned about the “sex” part than the “trade” part.

Having been told that the trade exploits and abuses women (not men apparently – just women), I tried to respond, but was informed that, as a man, my views on sexuality are not to be trusted. So instead, I went to meet and interview female porn stars; I naively thought that perhaps, the voices of women who know the industry first-hand would change the minds of those who hate what they do.

If you have a spare hour to listen to it, please go ahead. It’s available on this blog, or as a podcast for download.

Today, one of the women I interviewed sent me a link to the Independent newspaper; finally someone has scientifically studied the feelings of the women themselves, and the results confirm what I was told during the interviews – porn stars are happy with their work, and don’t do it (as moralists assume) to make up for childhood abuse or other bad experience. In a nutshell, they get paid (plenty) to do what they enjoy doing.

The link came along with the following words:

Hurray! A positive article for a change!! X

This won’t sway anti-sex feminist groups like Object or UK Feminista; but it may at least help those poor liberal-minded guys n’ girls who enjoy porn, but feel guilty about it.