As I’ve reported previously, the high-end, high-quality journalism of the Guardian has an achilles heel: sexuality. Whenever this mysterious subject raises its head, the Guardian seems to feel that it must respond with a mix of straight-laced puritanism and British schoolboy-type giggling.
I’ve reported about the attacks on London strip clubs, and the people who work in them, by a bizarre mix of anti-sex “feminist” groups, including Object, and religious fundamentalists. My recent podcast featured interviews with strippers who are fighting against these attacks. If such an attack on unionised workers took place in any other industry, the Guardian would take a serious journalistic approach. But these unionised workers take their clothes off for a living; and Guardian editorial policy in such matters requires a mix of “Ooh Matron!” and “Tut tut, your nipples must be covered at all times!”
So imagine my (lack of) surprise when the recent publication of a report by two British academics into the British lap-dancing industry was met with the usual lack of seriousness in a comment piece by Victoria Coren entitled We must hone our lap-dancing skills. It’s about strippers, and strippers aren’t real people (at least, none of the Guardian’s Oxbridge-educated journalists know any), so we can all have a laugh at these working class women who undress for a living.
The writers of the original report, Dr Kate Hardy and Dr Teela Sanders of Leeds University, have responded with a letter to the Guardian, which they shared with MoronWatch:
Victoria Coren’s ‘wry’ look at our research on labour conditions and mainstreaming of the lap dancing industry is lazy, Chinese whispers journalism in which the author has simply lifted an already poorly reported story from another news source.
Satire aside (I’m sure Coren is au fait with Aristotle’s theory of humour), the piece not only denigrates the women who work in lap dancing clubs as deserving subjects for sneering and ridicule, but also denigrates sociological and academic knowledge production itself.
We did not meet in a lap dancing club and ‘shriek’ (just to throw in a little more misogyny). Funding for the project was awarded to Dr Sanders from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), a highly esteemed and regarded funding body, in a close competition with many applications judged by a lengthy process of peer review.
We are not worried about the quality of lap dancing for consumers, but the safety, well-being and quality of the working lives of the women who work in the clubs. Our research actually charts the rise in exploitation that women have faced in lap dancing clubs since the beginning of the crisis, which employers have enabled through a process of deskilling and therefore opening up of the labour market. Victoria Coren would know this if she had done anything resembling her homework.
Dr Kate Hardy (Lecturer in Work and Employment) and Dr Teela Sanders (Reader in Sociology)
Whether the Guardian will either publish the letter or allow the researchers a full right to respond is currently unknown, although based on recent history, I’m not hugely optimistic.
My recent blog post, Feminists Or Fascists?, generated a lot of interest, sharing, blog comments, and discussion elsewhere. The blog looked at British anti-sex groups that refer to themselves as feminist, specifically mentioning the groups Object and UK Feminista.
Like most political bloggers, I obviously have my own opinions, and make no attempt to hide them. Impartiality in reporting is for news organisations, not individuals; I make no claim to be impartial. However, I do my best to honest and fair. If I had to lie to make my point, my point wouldn’t be worth making. So in my criticism of these groups, I did research, and in particular looked at their own web sites. I also carried out extensive interviews with women under attack by these groups, the first two of which were included in my podcast Strippers Are People Too.
As well as a lot of useful feedback and discussion, including from people with direct knowledge of the Hackney and Tower Hamlets campaigns against closing strip venues, I’ve had feedback from two people who strongly disagree with the points I’ve made. In the interest of fairness and balance, here are the relevant conversations in full.
[I post a link to the blog post, “Feminists Or Fascists?”]
Jackie M: What a load of ill-informed bullshit.
MoronWatch: Jackie, are there specific inaccuracies? Can you provide 1-2 glaring examples?
[End of conversation]
Conversation 2, on the original blog post:
Anna: I am personally offended by this article. What a joke.
MoronWatch: Exactly how did this article offend you?
[End of conversation]
I’m pretty sure that these people are activists, but I should make clear that I can’t prove that. However, the nature of their argument matches the quality of what I’ve read elsewhere, including on the Object web site. These people have the ear of the mass media, who are incredibly accepting of their claims; they feel little need to state their views in an arena where they may be analysed.
This a call to supporters of Object and UK Feminista to articulate your views here and join the debate. Surely, given the vehemence of your positions, and your insistence that free sexuality is harmful to women, you must be capable of intelligently explaining your position. So please, be my guest.
Also a request to those on the other side of the debate: please refrain from personal attacks and insults. If Object have a position to put, listen to it and respond politely and intelligently. If the above comments are the best they can offer, they’ve clearly lost the debate (although not necessarily the battle to close London strip clubs – politics and reason are two different things).
Following on from my recent post, Feminists Or Fascists?, this episode features in-depth interviews with two London strippers who have become political activists in order to protect their workplaces, jobs and incomes. In the boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets, “feminist” anti-sex campaigners have teamed up with conservative Muslims to drive legal striptease venues (serving both gay and straight audiences) out of the area. Gentrification and property prices also play a part, as newly-arrived middle-class residents move in to these formerly working class areas.
For decades, every major battle in the area of sexuality has been won by progressives. The pill and the condom have long allowed women to enjoy their sexuality, and increasing numbers of women are unashamed of fulfilling their sexual desires. Alternative sexualities have become increasingly accepted, with gay marriage now accepted in many countries, and the Internet has allowed people to find those of similar sexual tastes and needs far more easily than ever before.
By the year 2000, it seemed that sexual conservatives were in irreversible retreat – at least on this side of the Atlantic. But society’s conservative/progressive pendulum has been swinging rightward for a while now, and it’s therefore not so surprising that sexual freedom is under attack, yet again. The usual suspects are there, of course: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and other religious groups who are always keen to trumpet the evils of free sexuality, in whatever form it may rear its head. The religious believers can’t be swayed by fact or logic: if their book says something is bad, then so it must be.
But attacks on sexual freedom here in the UK often come from more unexpected sources. Religious moralists are in a small minority, but secular moralists have become increasingly loud. In particular, some small, active hate groups using the Feminist label have appeared on the scene.
If you’re expecting an attack on Feminism here, you’ll be disappointed. In fact, the feminist movement came under heavy attack from within in the 1980s. The original feminist movement (of the 1960s and early-70s) was a libertarian one that focused on the individual rights of women: most of all, it fought for the right of women to do with their own bodies as they saw fit. In modern-day feminist parlance, the early feminists were “sex-positive”. In the 1980s, an anti-sex faction appeared, led by Catharine MacKinnon, a lawyer. These new “feminists” directly opposed the sexual libertarianism of earlier feminists. They effectively became the secular wing of religious pro-morality campaigners, and the two, apparently quite different, groups have fought for the same causes ever since.
Sex-positive feminism is still going strong, as demonstrated by the Slutwalk movement of last summer, which aimed to make Slut a word of pride instead of shame. Notably, the “feminist” anti-sexuality groups failed to support Slutwalk. But the mass media, and many conservative-leaning feminists, have embraced the puritanical feminist movement and rewritten history. Rather than a conservative offshoot of sex-positive feminism, the puritans are now presented as the only valid form of feminism: an anti-sexuality coup has twisted and subverted a once libertarian movement.
Chief among these neo-puritan groups in the UK is one called Object. It paints itself as a feminist organisation, and has received plenty of mainstream media coverage, but it campaigns exclusively against sexuality and sexual imagery. Bizarrely for a group that adopts the label “feminist”, much of its vitriol is used against women who dare show naked flesh in public. In Object‘s campaigning – against nudity in the media, strip clubs and prostitution – it supports and shares platforms with right-wing and religious fundamentalist groups. Yet newspapers like the Guardian and TV outlets like Channel 4 take Object seriously, and give them a platform that they wouldn’t give to religious hate groups.
Object‘s propaganda is laughable – I suggest you look at their site for yourself to see that. In particular, the page entitled “The Facts” is a masterpiece in obfuscation. [Update: since I wrote this post, Object removed all the “facts” from their “The Facts” page]. For sure, the page lists some facts. But it provides no information about how these facts are in any way linked to Object‘s claims that sexual freedom creates dangers for women. For example:
Over half (54%) of all women around the world say they first became aware of the need to be physically attractive between 6 and 17 years of age
Yes… and? I’d have expected the number to be higher, if anything. Given that evolution drives us to make the best possible choice of sexual partner, both women and men (not to mention many species other than humans) have a built-in need to make ourselves physically attractive. What point is being made here?
Eating disorders are as common amongst women as autism
OK… and is that a lot? And if so, what does it say about the causes of eating disorders? Or of autism, for that matter?
66% of teenage girls would consider plastic surgery and 20% would do it right now
Again, what are the causes of this? Is this proven to be a bad thing? Object don’t say. Can it be linked to scantily clad women (and men) in lads mags and music videos, as Object seem to imply? Or perhaps newsreaders should wear brown paper bags over their heads as well? Maybe we should ban any video or photo featuring a potentially attractive woman, just in case? Maybe Wahhabi Muslims have the right idea. If everyone is veiled, nobody can aspire to look like anyone else.
Polls suggest that 63% of young women aspire to be glamour models or lap dancers
And plenty of young men want to be footballers. What does this mean? Object doesn’t provide any interpretation. These “facts” alone are supposed to show that society is “too sexualised”, women are “objectified”, and somehow these meaningless words conjure up a world in which women are less safe. So let’s hide naked flesh! That will solve everything! [Note added: @DrPetra informs me that this number seems to have been made up. See her blog for details.]
And the nonsense continues. Yet some journalists and politicians take these people seriously.
As I began planning interviews for my recently launched podcast, I decided to talk to women who have come under attack, both from neo-puritanical groups like Object (and others, such as UK Feminista), and old-style religious puritans. I’ve met and interviewed strippers, prostitutes, female pornographers, female sex writers and female academics who research sexuality, and discovered some shocking things: that Object have never approached and talked to the women who they claim to be “saving from exploitation”; that Object have ignored the weight of research and evidence that exists showing that abuse is powered by secrecy and censorship, not by sexual freedom.
In east London, Object are working alongside religious fundamentalists to have strip clubs closed down. They link the existence of strip clubs with increases in rape, although evidence doesn’t back that claim. They lie about links to “trafficking”, ignoring that licensed venues are forced by EU regulation to check workers’ passports. They picket the venues and harass the workers, and their campaign will ensure gay clubs close as well as straight ones (a fact they’re remarkably quiet about).
Quite simply, Object is a hate group. Its methods are those of lies and intimidation. It deliberately avoids facts that may undermine its fundamentalist belief that free sexuality is bad for women. Yet it receives donations and media time from sources that other hate groups (far-right racists, for example) could not.
If Object and UK Feminista won’t talk to women involved in the sex industries, I can. In my upcoming podcast episode, I interview strippers who have become political activists and trade unionists in order to defend their chosen way of making a living, and their right (once fought for and won by feminists) to do as they choose with their own bodies. Object, without ever meeting these women (they refuse to), or setting foot in a strip club (their minds are made up), have labelled the women simultaneously victims, and a root cause of rape and domestic violence, without a shred of evidence to back any of these claims.