Help dress me!

So –  I usually use this blog to post occasional, additional tirades on all things sexual, legal, pedantic, and pervy. Before I make it a fully-fledged gossip slate, I’ve got a request.

Are you or do you know of a talented young fashion and/or accessories designer(s) that would  like their work showcased on TV?

The catch? You have to dress me in it first! I’m doing an increasing number of TV and speaking gigs and I’d love to be able to borrow and feature some young talent’s work, and tweet about what I’m wearing in the process. Jewellery, in particular, always attracts attention because of the nature of the headshot.

Email me – nichi@nichihodgson.com – if you’re interested!

 

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On class and cat-calling

If you’re reading this, you may or may not have been brought via my exposition over on the F Word, about desire and feminist debate. If you haven’t seen it, you can read it here.

Regardless, given that I was criticised by New Statesman deputy editor Helen Lewis and others on my comments on class and street harassment which I made in Paris Lees’ piece on cat-calling and more importantly, told by several women that read the piece that they felt sold out by me, I really wanted to clarify my remarks. When I read them in print, they did seem pretty woman-blaming and ill-judged.

So – here’s what I meant:

Any man who cat-calls may be equally as guilty of miscalculated flirting or out and out misogynistic verbal abuse. But it’s much easier to instantly denounce the monosyllabic louts that holler at us on the street than it is the surreptitious sexists that posture as gentlemen – and might appear to be so for a moment because they have a more eloquent turn of come-on. What’s more, it seems we DO call them out more frequently.  Just look at the campaign against lads mags (which I do not agree with) and that against Page 3 (which I mainly do agree with, albeit for the press freedom issue). Page 3 clearly makes a lot of money and is in vast circulation. But lads mags don’t and aren’t.

 

Meanwhile, just last weekend the NUS held a Laddism conference to counter the sexism rampant on our university campuses. Laddism is certainly sexist, but it’s also a term hugely laden with class assumptions and stereotypes. When has the NUS ever hosted a Creeper Tutors event, something I and many other women experience while studying? And what about events on how to deal with sexist bosses? I ask as someone who was sexually harassed (physically and by emails/texts, and then bullied once he realised I wasn’t going to respond to his advances, and started to feel guilty and humiliated) by an upper middle-class, well-respected boss who prided himself in being chivalrous but was actually just a chauvinistic bully. The difference was, it took me longer to find out because he was more subtle about it.

 

So what does that have to do with street harassment? The men that momentarily accost us with an unwanted on the street ‘hi gorgeous’ may intimidate or infuriate us. But the men that destroy our intellectual confidence and halt our career progression can derail us. Of course, they can be working class too. Nobody – not Paris Lees, not any of her interviewees, not me – tried to say it was ok for men to hurl misogynistic abuse or to physically harass women in that Vice piece. But some harassers have more power than others – and some men – and some kinds of sexism – are more roundly jumped on than others. Some of that has to do with power, some of that has to do with class. And if we acknowledge that feminism has not always been good at dealing with issues of class and race towards women, as this piece on dissenting feminisms for the Guardian on International Women’s Day did, then surely class issues will preponderate in its responses to men and sexism too.

My mistake was making a comment that sounded as though I was suggesting some women are simply too snobbish to get down with street harassment.  But here’s the actual email I sent to Paris, in its entirety, word for word. I think you’ll find I wasn’t really condoning street harassment at all:

I find that a certain kind of middle class woman finds cat calls particularly galling; there is a sense of being sullied if an uncouth or lower class kind of man  - a white van man, for eg,heckles – but if it’s a Roger Sterling type who can just about pull it off with a certain retro-sexist panache, the offence isn’t experienced the same. Growing up in working-class West Yorkshire, learning to hit back with a witty repartee was a kind of rite of passage. Of course I’m sure feminists like Laura Bates would say sexism is sexism and it doesn’t matter who delivers it. But the problem is, all cat-calls are not created equal. In the few seconds you are the recipient of one, it’s almost impossible to really know the context it’s being delivered in. I don’t think cat calling is a particularly sophisticated seduction technique if that’s why it’s being used, and I do think there is a clear line where sexist utterance becomes full-blown sexual harassment. But I think it’s a misnomer to draw a continuum between street heckling and the paltry rape conviction rate, for eg. Street hecklers don’t go on to become rapists any more than readers or lads mags do. You might not like it, and it still might be sexist, but there is a distinction between sexism and misogyny and I think cat-calling probably best exemplifies it.
Interestingly, I’ve been living between here and San Francisco for the past 18 months, a city where I’ve experienced the most street sexual harassment of my life (and a place I never would have expected to, giving its gender/sexual human rights record). In America, I think it’s the First Amendment, as much as the constitutional sexism, that sanctifies the routineness of cat-calling.
Best thing you can do, in my experience, is hit back with a witty one-liner, emasculating if you like, although I find befuddling rejection is best – or of course give no rejection at all.
And think about it like this – the point of a cat-call is to get a reaction. A cat-caller doesn’t really have any hope in hell of interacting with you in a civil way (or at least that’s their presumption), let alone pulling the object of his (or her) cat-call, so they resort to provocation to procure engagement. That tells you a lot about how limited the power of those that cat-call is. It’s not a compliment, no – it’s a sense of their complete lack of agency when it comes to interacting with you, and speaks more to their lack of human being status than yours.

 

 

 

 

 

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Before we lose the lads mags, let’s lose the campaign’s hypocrisy

If I had previously thought the Lose the Lads Mags campaign more misguided than myopic, I may have modified my opinion after it upped the ante yesterday; I feel like I’ve discovered just how inconsistent, unscientific and ideological is its basis.

For the record, I don’t particularly like lads mags. I don’t think they say particularly big or clever things about anything, let alone women. Furthermore, I’ve already written for the New Statesman and Index on Censorship setting forth in more details my concerns about its unsubstantiated claims lads mags cause violence against women, its refusal to accept that some women may chose to position themselves in a place on the sexuality spectrum that the campaigners consider degrading, and the ramifications of censorship (how many of us would quite like to dispose of the Daily Mail but understand that’s not what you do in a democracy?)

But now I’ve really started to take issue with the campaign’s lack of consistency, the way it overlooks other examples of sexism that should in theory offend it, and the way it doesn’t seem to be able to distinguish between consensual and non-consensual imagery.

On BBC Radio Wales yesterday morning  (you can listen here; the debate starts at 2:35 minutes in) UK Feminista spokesperson Sophie started off by espousing the campaign’s standard position – that lads mags produce harm against women, and that they shouldn’t be sold in supermarkets. I asked her to define harm, and also to qualify with evidence the harm claim. Instead, she responded with a troubling ‘we need to join the dots’ between violence and sexism and misogyny and these magazines. Hardly scientific, and this, despite the fact that sexual violence has gone down, and that rape and sexual assault have long been a part of culture ever before lads mags were.

So given that we’d established objectification as harm and violence, I asked her why the campaign had not included the similarly ‘violent’ covers featured on the Daily Sport and Star, particularly given that they were on far easier display in supermarkets than the mags in question. No reply.

I also asked her why the Daily Mail had so far escaped the campaign’s ire, given that it frequently publishes images of under 18s in bikinis and other states of undress that constitute Level 1 and Level 2 child abuse images according to the law of England and Wales. Again, no reply.

So apparently the notion of consent doesn’t resonate much with the campaigners (which had me wondering, what would consensual sexual imagery look like to them?) Instead, there was just another robotic trotting out of the ‘lad’s mags create violence against women’ line, plus a ‘we are not asking for censorship, merely that Tesco uphold its own ‘no porn’ policy.

As I went about my other work after the interview, I started to think about that statement in particular. No porn in Tesco, eh. So how would that affect all other material that could be said to constitute pornography; sex features in women’s mags, erotic stories  - hell, particularly erotica itself (after all, my own title Bound To You was sold in Tesco last year). Something told me that getting Tesco to uphold its no porn policy wasn’t going to be too popular with the rest of the nation’s women.

So in the evening at the event in Parliament I went to put this to the campaign.

First, I listened to a panel of eight speak about their involvement in it, and, at length, about the pernicious effects of lads mags and violence against women in general. The violence stats are always shocking and I am continuously aghast at how we can call ourselves civilised while ever we have such a frequency of incidents. Please, do not mistake me – I abhor violence against women (read my post on Saatchi and Nigella) and I would never condone a publication that encouraged non-consensual sex or denigrated women as less than men (which is what the campaigners claim). But there is a line between bad taste jokes and incitement to hatred and I do not believe lads mags, however juvenile and pathetic and not to my taste, cross it.

But what was also shocking was the way the now infamous survey conducted by Dr Peter Hegarty of Sussex University was misquoted to suit purposes. The study compared language of rapists with language used in lads mags and found that people subjected to statements made by both could not correctly attribute them to either the rapists or the lads mags. All the study really proves, then, is that some people who do rape and some who don’t share the same attitudes towards women (ie the problem is in CULTURE/SOCIETY, not just the pages of Nuts, Zoo et al). This has now been twisted by the campaigners to prove that lads mags writers and their readers are rapists that haven’t committed the actual act yet. Perhaps ‘rapists in waiting’ or some such other presumption (aren’t we all).

When I spoke with Dr Peter Hegarty about lads mags for a debate on Voice of Russia radio, he stressed that it was the context of the language, not the images that his study investigated – ergo anyone wanting to suggest the covers create rapists were way off the mark. In fact, anyone wanting to suggest the magazines themselves created rapists were also in danger. Hegarty ended the debate by cautioning very strongly against – you guessed it – censorship.

So back to the event last night. At the end of the session I put forward two questions for the panel. The first was regarding the exclusion of tabloid covers from the campaign. The second was regarding the erotica/porn categorisation. There was a gathering of questions and then a sleight of answers. Everybody ignored my first question, then it was actress Romola Garai that replied to my second. “I wouldn’t want to see women’s sexual expression hampered and I think I know the difference between porn and erotica”, she reassured me. “But the law doesn’t,” I quipped back. “No. but…” and she finished with some statement reassuring me she’d done sex scenes but never been called a porn star so that must mean there was a clear distinction and that other people would know where that fell too. All it reminded me was of the famous Justice Potter line: “pornography? I know it when I see it”. About as cut and dry as a mis-stuck modesty wrapper.

Of course, if Tesco does kow-tow to the lose the lads mags next plea, and fully implement its no porn policy, erotica will be banned in its supermarkets, and presumably others will follow suit, depending on the precedent set.  The recent debacle about self-published erotica certainly suggests retailers are now going to be very cautious about what they do choose to stock from now on – and that is very much to the detriment, in particular, of women and their sexual exploration.

If Tesco chooses only to ban visual pornography  - or the kind that UK Feminista and Object find troublesome – then that will surely only go to prove the double standard surrounding erotic material and the politics of its consumption for male and female audiences – and frame the lose the lads mags campaigners as the sexists.

Tellingly, the Co-op who have now dropped four lads mags titles from its shelves, would not, when quizzed, reveal the profits it used to make from lads mags, and I wonder why. Perhaps because with such low circulation figures they were so poor? The fact that titles including Nuts and Zoo could be replaced with Q , a golf mag and a cycling one suggests that the sales were low indeed.

And what of the future of the campaign? Some suggestions – such as campaigning for real and sex education in schools, I share. Others I do not. Kat Banyard, head of UK Feminista, said its next targets were students (ie they’d be empowering students to prevent the sale of lads mags at their students unions) and shareholders. If shareholders roll over, it’s a combination of  factors – seeing the mags as not worth their investment, and given the censorious function of corporations these days, an imitation of a US-style determination to be seen as good, god-fearing ‘family’ companies, bowing to social pressure that could affect profits, rather than because the Tesco behemoth has any real solid moral position on how women should be depicted in the media.

There were a lot of words thrown about last night – but not many statistics and even less evidence to prove that lads mags cause harm. When the campaigners decide to really back up their ideology with evidence, I will be only too happy to examine it. Even then, without a unanimous scientific verdict, it will still remain the opinion of one sub-set of society – and their view should not trump consumer choice for thousands of others.

But more disturbingly, the small victories they’ve had against supermarkets is convincing them that they have the moral high ground. What those of us believing in sexual liberty need to do next, is to take some of that back. So who has suggestions?

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in boundtoyou, erotica, opinion, Porn, publising | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sure, put e-porn in its place – but don’t let all erotica suffer

So the Mail on Sunday took it upon itself to break yet another Horrors of Porn on the Internet story yesterday. Only, for a start, it wasn’t really breaking anything because as some sharp-eyed folk on Twitter pointed out to me, this was the Kernel’s story broken and investigated a couple of weeks ago and we’ve had numerous news reports about it over the past couple of days as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, WH Smiths et al have responded rabbit-in-headlights style to the revelation they sell hardcore e-books with titles pertaining to incest and forced sex fantasy scenarios.

On the surface, yes, it’s pretty alarming that hardcore pornographic books might turn up in key term searches for the word ‘Daddy’ on mainstream book retailers’ websites (given that these e-books have all been pulled, it’s pretty difficult to prove this now). Presumably there’s a pretty easy way of creating a search filter to separate out explicit content from non-explicit though in such a forum, although this was clearly overlooked and given the way titles were being automatically fed without any pre-screening into the lists, retailers clearly needed to have a better grip on what they were actually selling. It’s basically lazy shopkeeping by Amazon, WH Smiths et al and yet more evidence of how digital commerce + porn = potential for irksome search results.

That said, the reporting from the Mail was as outrageous as it was outraged, and the commentary elsewhere is similarly condemnatory. On Gizmodo.com, it’s ‘sick, self-published porn’; on the Guardian, ‘depraved e-books’, and in the Mail, what pours forth after the inevitable condemnation of rape and incest themes is a more general vitriol towards porn per se. Alongside incorrect referencing of Obscenity law, the MoS quotes the National Crime Agency and its warnings about paedophilic material which then greatly confuses the issues about purpose of material and makes no distinction between fiction vs material designed to incite harm, for example. If all books with paedophilic content are to be pulled, then expect no major retailers to sell one of the most exquisite books in the English language, Nabokov’s Lolita from now on. Of course, it should be easy to differentiate between the artistic quality and exploration of Lolita vs Doggy Daddy Daughter rape – but the fact is it seems nobody will bother to do that with other titles outside of the current literary canon, because as reported by the Digital Reader,  WH Smiths et al are now culling huge swathes of self-published erotica with no further investigation.

So there it is – because Amazon, WH Smiths et al couldn’t bother to keep their houses in order and do due diligence on their stock lists,  independent self-publishing erotica authors have to suffer. And their reaction – to quickly get rid of the offending material without proper investigation is almost as alarming as if they’d refused to do nothing. It suggests they don’t really understand the erotica market, written pornography, or the laws governing it. And neither do the tabloids or the Mail wouldn’t have been able to misreport quite so beautifully and confusedly otherwise.

The main point – that children shouldn’t be able to access hardcore pornography – is without question. Of course, that does raise the question of how prevalent or viable that is, given children would need credit card access to make purchases of these hardcore e-books – although as the sage Laura Agustin pointed out to me, self-published authors often make their e-books free to download to begin with, which would enable children to consume them too – and of course, although we can’t ourselves test out the search functions any more, the idea that a child could type a key term in and pull up one of the covers and blurbs of a hardcore porn book is disturbing to say the least. Given that the test of obscenity is whether the material in question tends ”to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it,” then it could be argued (in a court of law) that these e-books constitute obscene material if children could consume them. NB – “Could” and the need for a legal trial being the operative words there. For what I think about obscenity law and its relative problems in general, try my coverage of the R v Peacock trial published in the Guardian. 

But the reporting from the MoS, to the Telegraph and even to the Guardian (where I have sympathy and share some of Ally Fogg’s concerns, but still think the piece expresses a little too much judgement around fantasy) condemns the content full-stop. These are themes that no sane, healthy adult should think about either, is the overriding message. And that’s a troublingly censorious one.

We are basically revisiting obscenity arguments from the Sixties – but the twist this time is that it is the democratisation of porn – publishing it and consuming it – via the internet, not just child protection, that is the unnamed fear here.  Rape and incest porn, both written and visual, have always been out there – but they were in the hands of the so-called ‘mindful’ educated elite; now anyone can access them, the fear-mongering Mail can escalate its campaign against its own audience. And they are manipulating the ‘what about the children’ argument to do this.

It’s interesting that the people that usually commission me to write about this stuff wouldn’t touch this today. So here I am nailing my libertarian and depraved views to my blog.

Here’s the thing about sex and censorship: if retailers, the media and the general public understood the laws on what it was legal to produce and what it was legal to consume, then the retailers’ response could have been reasoned, collected, and discerning. Instead they’ve pulled a fig leaf over their chaotic online stock rooms and sent everyone into yet another porn panic instead, thus exposing the underlying fear of porn and by being tainted by association with it. These retailers’ sites carry terms and conditions that state they don’t publish explicit pornographic material, yet they publish 50 Shades of Grey, Sylvia Day and my own BDSM sex memoir Bound To You – so how does that figure? Who in the publishing world even understands the law around Extreme Pornography and Obscenity? Surely book buyers and online retailers should have had a crash course in it as the erotica boom took hold (NB provided by esteemed and knowledgeable associate and obscenity law expert Myles Jackman, for eg).

Let’s just hope the erotica market as a whole doesn’t suffer for what is thoughtless e-shopkeeping by the publishing behemoths.

 

 

 

 

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‘Card Declined’: how ATVOD want the banks to control your internet access

As if having the government make decisions about what content you can access online (re the forthcoming filtering proposals) wasn’t enough, soon, the banks may well be too.

ATVOD, the body that regulates Video-on-Demand content in the UK (eg porn) met with financial institutions at a secret meeting yesterday to advise the banks how to do just that. As part of what ATVOD chief Pete Johnson called the organisation’s ‘primary remit’ to protect children from inappropriate internet content, Johnson had mentioned the meeting at the recent Xbiz EU conference. It alarmed anybody who thought about the undemocratic ramifications for more than a few seconds.

This ‘advice’ is based on the following logic; ATVOD’s Rule 11 sets out its duty to protect under 18s from material ‘that might seriously impair the physical, mental, or moral development of minors’. This means protecting children from porn that isn’t behind a paywall. Ergo ATVOD thinks it a good idea to approach banks and tell them to block payments for legal porn.

ERM….?!

Suspend your disbelief for a second and stay with ATVOD’s logic. Given that the current porn model is free content to lure you in, paid content/member subscription to rack up revenue, the idea is that porn sites should have their irresponsible free content penalised by virtue of stopping payments for their paid. Somehow (although let’s remember that under 18s don’t have credit cards) stopping people purchasing porn is going to protect those minors consuming it for free.

OK, you can stop trying to follow the logic now.

The notion that banks will be able to decline credit cards at will is a major access of information and civil liberties issue. (At the Xbiz EU conference Pete Johnson reminded the audience that banks already block payments to certain pirating sites for example, but so what? That content is determinably illegal – this stuff isn’t).

But most importantly, this is an entirely illogical and ineffective way of tackling the problem of children accessing porn, ATVOD’s professed priority. That ATVOD recently removed the only adult industry representative from its board also suggests there’s some contradiction between ATVOD’s words and its actions.

And all this from a organisation that has NEVER had its remit debated in parliament but effectively ‘bought’ it from ATVOD, from a man who has made a career for himself as a professional censor on a six-figure salary, a man who couldn’t define ‘moral harm’ for me when I quizzed him, and whom assured Obscenity Lawyer Myles Jackman that ATVOD wasn’t acting Ultra Vires.

 

 

 

 

 

the ramifications of taking money from porn sites that potentially are allowing acess to minors.

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More damaging than porn? The myths and assumptions of Daubney’s doc

I’ve just had a chance to catch up on Martin Daubey’s shockingly alarmist documentary, Porn on the Brain, which was broadcast on C4 on Monday (and can be watched again here) and could barely get to the end before I felt compelled to write this.

A number of times over the past year, I’ve found myself defending Daubney on radio and in debates when certain feminists have attacked him for being a feckless pornographer who abused women and did a gross disservice to men while he was editor of Loaded magazine. Repeatedly, I asked people to let him speak when he was shouted down with cries of ‘misogynist!’, when he was defending the mag he edited as entertainment, or defending the free press rights of lads mags and journalists in general. And now I’m left thinking, ‘for what?’ as he goes and hangs himself by his own petard in the most oddly masochistic of ways – by ‘outing’ himself as a corrupter of innocence as someone that encouraged the objectification of women, pronouncing porn addiction the evil of our time.

Porn on the Brain started out relatively well. It was candid in tone and content, took a wry look at wanking and sexual awakening – and then veered into something akin to self-mockery when Daubney announced that he eventually gave up his masturbational ways to become a dad, as if he’d realised that all that wanking had only been in preparation for the main procreational event.  Quickly, the narrative then carried on in a disturbingly moralistic vein as Daubney interrogated porn, describing in particular that depicting fisting or age play as ‘gross’, having ‘lost its sense of humour’ and becoming ‘something altogether more macabre’ compared to the jolly bird-with-pants-round-their-ankles stuff he used to watch and print at Loaded. He then moved to presenting the results of one study on the effects of porn-viewing on the brain as evidence of neuro-chemical addiction, extrapolating a whole theory around why teenagers were particularly vulnerable to this from this single preliminary study which even lead researcher Dr Valerie Voon warned him was just the beginning of the evidence collection. FYI, if you’re interested in reading some research that claims just the opposite, try this (my thanks to sex educator Justin Hancock of Bish Training for pointing it out to me).

Daubney’s trailing of one poor teen as he found himself compulsively reacting to a hot-pant clad girl on the street and had to pull into a pub to go knock one out was particularly crass. Not just the filming or commentary – although the guy in question was clearly in distress even though he must have given his consent – but the simplistic causal relationship Daubney made between his porn viewing habits and his compulsive wanking. It was bad science at best, harmful amateur diagnosis and unethical interviewing at worst. And it did nothing to even consider the underlying issues that might have been triggering Callum’s response. ADHD, childhood abuse, communicative/social difficulties, low self-esteem…just some of the factors professionals who work in sexual therapy use to explain compulsive sexual acting-out. But no. The problem here was porn.

The documentary pulled itself a little around at the end (no pun intended..) – at least Daubney admitted that children need sex education at a young age, and Callum was seen consulting with a sex therapist who began to explain that his relationship with porn was probably about deeper emotional issues. But Daubney offered no evaluation of this, nor sought to correct the film’s main framing of porn as the problem that causes sexual malfunction and self-harming behaviour.

What a waste of an opportunity Daubney had to talk about sexual moralism, societal contradictions – hell, in an hour-long programme he didn’t even once mention the word CONSENT. Fantasy and escapism also fell by the wayside. But then, Daubney might have to recognise his own tall tale to be able to tell where he’d strayed from science and empirical fact himself…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Please, Prime Minister, do your porn research

 

David Cameron is using a legitimate crusade against child abuse images to infiltrate policy on adult content per se, while demonstrating that he doesn’t understand either what porn is, or how the internet works.

On the Jeremy Vine show this lunchtime, the PM demonstrated just how ignorant he is. Vine quite simply asked Cameron to define pornography. He couldn’t – or wouldn’t – and told Vine that that ‘was up to the internet service providers to decide’. So the Prime Minister wants to block access to something he can’t even relay in layman’s terms, and expects global businesses and millions of adults up and down the country to agree to this undemocratic, miasmic proposal (did we really democratically elect this man? Well, I didn’t – but someone must have).

Vine then put to the Prime Minister that trying to get Google et al to prohibit ‘vile’ search terms might be perfunctory, given that most child abuse images are shared through peer-to-peer networking and in the heart of the Dark Web. (This excellent piece from Mic Wright blogging for the Telegraph explains the technicalities in astute detail). Cameron dismissed this, gave no evidence or statistics on how this information has successfully helped us prevent child abuse, break paedophile rings and arrest those downloading the images (mainly because it isn’t the method used). Instead, he said only that he wouldn’t repeat the awful things some people search for, then skipped to vaguely condoning jihadist websites on the basis of free speech,  just as long as they didn’t depict or incite murder. This, for me at least, conjured up the image of children being able to read about harm (albeit not murder) done to others, but not see natural naked bodies – or perhaps only couples cuddling with a certain amount of distance and fabric between them. Cameron could not even say for certain  that sex eduction sites would not be filtered, which, given the awesome work done by people such as my good friend Justin Hancock of Bish training, painted an even bleaker picture of the future of access to education and knowledge about sex.

When Vine revisited the matter of the definition of porn, David Cameron was forced to admit that he wasn’t sure how text would be censored. Presumably, in the same way you can’t google E L James in Starbucks, you won’t be able to look up the UK book charts and see the number 1 bestseller without having a damning grate enfetter your screen if content is filtered. Not even if you’re a 14-year-old doing a project on the modern publishing industry. Or one with hopes of becoming a writer, curious as to what sells.  Instead, you’ll just have to get the Elder who set up the internet to unblock every site you might want to visit where the millionairess author of Britain’s best-selling book is mentioned. No Sunday afternoon task.

Which brings us back to the question of who controls what in this newly proposed domestic idyll. Given that Cameron is proposing that the one person who sets up the internet account will control the filter, Vine raised an interesting conundrum about one partner wanting to watch porn while hiding it from the other. That’s perhaps the only ray of light I can see in this ill-conceived and barely illuminated affair – finally, couples might be forced to talk more openly about their porn habits with one another if they have to admit to wanting to view it to one another. But what will happen in flatshares if the person who has set up the internet refuses access to the other tenants? What happens if your landlord sets it for you and has a religiously informed conviction that porn is wrong? One can envisage letting agencies choosing to include ‘broadband wi-fi with porn access’ as a selling point for rental properties.

There was one thing Cameron could categorically say wouldn’t be censored though – mainstream newspaper sites depicting Page 3. How noble. I’m sure Mr Murdoch in particular will applaud Cameron’s commitment to a free press while having enough about him to decide that some breasts are less pornographic than others.

Throughout the interview, (and throughout the one Cameron gave to Woman’s Hour earlier in the day), the one word that seemed conspicuously absent from Mr Prime Minister’s limited lexicon was consent. Hence, when he brought up the matter of the proposal to ban staged rape porn under Extreme Pornography legislation, there was no hint whatsoever that this might not be so straight-forward to define. Despite Obscenity Lawyer Myles Jackman’s keen and exacting blog demonstrating the problems with criminalising staged rape/rape play, and pointing out that there is no definitive evidence to suggest a causal link between watching staged rape images and raping, no sensitive interrogation of the difference has been made by politicians. Now she’s no longer in Westminster, Louise Mensch has been able to stick her head above the parapet but nobody in government dare query the definition for fear of appearing to condone rape. And so it’s left to the so-called ‘perverts’ among us to interrogate it for the politicians.

Following the PM’s appearance on the Jeremy Vine show today, the clarity and indignation from callers on the topic was telling. If the Prime Minister hoped to befuddle a nation today with his light-on-facts, heavy-on-rhetoric-and-moral-panic-paternalism-act, it’s grievously backfired on him.  Most voters who don’t have time to delve into the details of techno-geekery and seemingly arcane legislation can still see that Cameron’s approach is piecemeal. They want more arrests and prosecutions of those who produce and distribute child abuse imagery; more responsibility on parents to educate and monitor their kids’ online behaviour; the freedom not to have their names on a nefarious ‘sex offenders register by any other name’, as one caller put it.

Let’s face it – if David Cameron can’t even define pornography, he sure as hell can’t grapple with the notion of consensual, fantasy depictions of rape. And if he doesn’t understand how child abusers share illicit material, he surely cannot protect our children from abuse. What he can do, is begin the overt, government-sanctioned slide into internet censorship we so ridicule and condone in countries such as Saudi Arabia and China. And on an extremely precarious mandate.

Interested in protecting your right to watch consensual adult content?    Sign up to the Ethical Porn Partnership here

 

 

 

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Ethical Porn unveiled

If you think I’ve been rather too quiet in the past few months, it’s not because I’ve been sunning myself in California (well, not ONLY), but because I’ve been doing some research for a new book, and working on several secret projects, more of which I hope to reveal very soon. I’ve also been learning to box (what else to do with all that former domme energy), fighting street harassment (alarmingly endemic on the West Coast), and drowning in kombucha.

 

However, the one thing I can reveal right now, is that I’m currently busy setting up the Ethical Porn Partnership. Yes, you read right – fair-trade porn is finally here. This is a coalition of adult industry professionals keen to prove to government, other businesses, the internet-porn viewing public, and the many that recoil at the thought, that there is a better way to make porn.

The ethos of the EPP is pretty straight-forward: it wants to challenge the notion all porn is exploitative; that it’s possible to care about the health and welfare of those involved in the industry; and that high standards can be set out – and met – to prove this.  It will also act as an advice bureau for those on either side of the camera, and host porn and sex-educational resources for educators, teachers, and parents.

The Ethical Porn Partnership believes that consenting adults should be able to watch and enjoy online content depicting sex and sexual acts made by other consenting adults, without fear of reprise, shame or censorship. If you are a sentient person that cares about the quality of the porn you consume, the EPP is for you. If you a responsible adult business that cares about producing great content, the EPP is also for you.

And since this is about liberty and accountability, the EPP will give some of its profits to anti-trafficking and anti sexual violence initiatives.

The EPP website is currently under construction (I’ll announce its launch here soon).

In the meantime you can also follow us on Twitter – @ethicalpornorg

And if you want more information about ethical porn in the meantime, do, as always, just drop me a line…

 

 

 

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Sacking Saatchi wouldn’t have helped Nigella – and that’s not condoning his behaviour

Saturday evening, reviewing the papers on Sky News, and I found myself wondering if I’d come across as a domestic violence apologist.

It shouldn’t happen to a gender equalitest, and as much as I might want to blame the fact I’ve been in the US for two months and was rusty on paper reviewing, feeling out of sync with UK news, and struggling to get a word in edge ways against the consistently confident Alex Deane, the fact is I fucked up in not nailing my colours to the mast.

Mentioning the campaign for London Evening Standard Editor Sarah Sands to sack Saatchi, I said I didn’t think it was the right move, on the basis that the strangulation incident was ‘not relevant’ to the column he wrote. Before I had a time to explain further, we’d moved on to the next story and there was I sounding as though I was I touting the old ‘private matter’ argument.

What I actually meant was that in his column, Saatchi does not seek to evince a gender equalitest point of view, nor elucidate his views on family morality, domestic abuse, or human rights. The feminist riposte to this, espoused by, amongst others, Louise Mensch (proving it wasn’t a case of so-called Guardianista indignation) was that Sands should sack Saatchi. If she did this, they said, it would send out a strong signal that domestic abuse is not ok; not if you’re an illustrious art dealer; not if you’re a respected intellectual; not if you’re a friend of the editor.

I suppose my rationale in defending Sands’ decision at the time was the knowledge that Saatchi had only been given a caution from police. But a police caution doesn’t mean that was Saatchi was not guilty – rather that he was, but that the police deemed the offence not serious enough to warrant either a ‘conditional caution’ which requires a course of treatment or attendance of a rehabilitative group to be undertaken as a result, or a criminal record.

Given that the conviction rate for domestic abuse in the UK is so pitiful and the incidences of it so frequent (around 1 in 4 will experience it at some point), and our education and willingness to talk about it so poor, a police caution hardly makes for effective action. But that is a problem with the justice system, not with Sands’ decision.

On further reflection, I decided I agreed with Sands for an even more important reason – consideration of the victim. Would Nigella Lawson have really benefitted from the added adverse publicity of a sacked Saatchi at what one can only imagine is a terrible time for her and her family? Her needs and wishes should surely now be paramount. Given that Sands knows the couple, presumably this was also on her mind – sack Saatchi and the story (and Nigella Lawson’s public-facing distress) would have continued.  Instead, Sands took the measured decision to allow the case to be fiercely debated within the pages of the Standard itself.

Whatever the context of those shocking pictures, I only hope that, at the very least, Saatchi makes a public apology – but only once Lawson has been afforded the privacy she now needs to move forward with her life – whether that’s alone or with her abusive husband. Post-Leveson, the paps really should be putting down their cameras.

I also hope that I keep my wits about me the next time I’m in a position to condemn domestic abuse and make sure I do so unequivocally, and quickly, so that the possibility I’m excusing abuse doesn’t cross either mine or anyone else’s mind.

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Porn and prejudice

If you didn’t catch last week’s Observer feature on the launch of a new academic journal called Porn Studies and the controversy it’s causing, it’s worth a read. Not only because of the way it highlights the polarisation of attitudes within the academic sphere as well as the public one, but also because of how it steers towards exposing the writer’s personal discomfort as it progresses.

Author Carole Cadwalladr does a fair job of giving traction to those of both sides of the fence, namely the editors of Porn Studies, Clarissa Smith and Feona Attwood and their opponents, Pornland author and academic Gail Dines, and Professor Clare Mcglynn. But as the piece progresses, her own journey into the internet porn hinterland takes precedence:

“After reading the Mail article, I type “rape porn” into Google to find more articles on the subject. But “rape porn” doesn’t bring up articles on the subject. It brings up videos of women being raped.

All but one of the top five results on Google are for mainstream porn sites that host videos – click, click, and you’re there – of women being raped by men. There’s vaginal rape, oral rape, anal rape, often all three together. Some of the videos are “simulated”, acted, and some of them aren’t. They show actual women being actually raped.

Maybe you already knew that. I use the internet every day but I didn’t. Does that make me naive? A prude? Possibly both.”

What Cadwalladr does is more than purely reporting what her investigation has uncovered. Instead, she takes the piece in a completely different direction – uses evidence of her own ignorance about porn to imply that the issue with something like Porn Studies is that it cannot affect the everyday attitudes of everyone else. The implication is that high mindedness is all very well but it will not keep our society safe from the nefarious affects of much pornography.

I would argue that what it will do is keep us safe from misinformation about the porn that’s out there. It will help us make better decisions about how we prosecute those that produce non-consensual and abusive material. And it will help develop our cultural understanding of porn, and its place in society, which is crucial if we are to begin with the seemingly inexorable force that is internet porn.

Cadwalladr should have taken more time to explain the likely content of the journal, rather than wading into an argument about its seemingly futile role in combating domestic violence, for example.

From labelling Jeremy Forrest a ‘paedophile’ to telling us that schools want to teach our primary schoolers about anal penetration, the tabloid media is awash with misinformed and fear-mongering sex reporting. The Observer didn’t quite do that. But it still allowed for a story that should have engaged with the theoretical debate to become an overly personalised and tangential response.

 

 

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