The Case For Solidarity

Check out the No Sweat film, The Case For Solidarity, here.

Posted: 11 October, 1:17 am

socialism, video | Comments (0)

EDM 2379

EDM 2379 - That this House endorses Recommendation 77 of the Report of the Science and Technology Committee, Human Reproductive Technologies and the Law; and calls on the Government to set up a joint committee of both Houses to consider the scientific, medical and social changes in relation to abortion that have taken place since 1967, with a view to presenting options for new legislation.

Sponsored by Geraldine Smith, vice-chair of the Parliamentary “Pro-Life” group, opposed to all abortion.

And signed by everyone’s favourite “anti-war” MP. So much for it being a personal moral choice like his defenders claim - this man is actively working to restrict abortion rights.

Posted: 8 October, 8:44 pm

feminism | Comments (10)

ugh

You know when uni terms start and freshers’ flu spreads everywhere? That thing you get when you mix lots of teenage immune systems together and see what exciting new viruses you can make?

I think I have the super-mutated MRSA style version of that.

Posted: 6 October, 5:34 pm

no category | Comments (3)

updated “about” page

Spot the difference…

Posted: 29 September, 6:17 pm

housekeeping | Comments (4)

quote

Came across this on the internet:

“It is far easier for a woman to lead a blameless life than it is for a man; all she has to do is to avoid sexual intercourse like the plague” - Angela Carter

Posted: 28 September, 8:40 pm

feminism | Comments (1)

monday random ten

The “I wish I was in Leeds” edition

1. Where Is My Mind - Pixies
2. Gotta Go - Agnostic Front
3. Smash - Offspring
4. You Oughtta Know - Alanis Morrisette
5. Not For Her - Seven Day Theory
6. Sandstorm - Cast
7. Rebel Girl - Bikini Kill
8. Hallelujah - Leonard Cohen
9. 8×10 - Alix Olson
10. Heart Of Glass - Blondie

Posted: 25 September, 3:08 pm

lists, music | Comments (3)

sorry, folks

I really really don’t want to say this. I remember the last time it was brought up. But where the hell are all the women bloggers?

Since when has the definition of political not included feminist? No F-Word, Vociferate, Mind The Gap, Laurelin?

How the hell was this thing put together - rating blogs which aren’t written in full sentences (Sorry Tom) above John McDonnell?

Posted: 19 September, 12:49 pm

elsewhere | Comments (22)

monday random ten

The “it took me almost an hour to get from Kentish Town to Clapham but I’m still in an extremely good mood” edition.

1. Devil’s Dance Floor - Flogging Molly
2. He Got Game - Public Enemy
3. Picket Line - Waterdown
4. I Never - Rilo Kiley
5. Crisis - Fear Factory
6. Blood Red Summer - Coheed and Cambria
7. Lady Of The Sea - Seth Lakeman
8. Awful - Hole
9. California - Joni Mitchell
10. The Judge’s Daughter - Green Day

Posted: 18 September, 4:45 pm

lists, music | Comments (0)

elmo

This is amazing.

Posted: 16 September, 12:20 am

images, elsewhere | Comments (1)

Workers’ Liberty forum on Pornography

Here’s the text of what I said tonight, at what was a very interesting and not at all confrontational meeting (life doesn’t imitate the blogosphere, hurray). Last one on porn for a while, I promise!

***

Bear with me if this is a bit garbled, I’ve basically spent weeks talking to (and at) my friends and comrades about this issue and it was kinda hard to pull together all the varied things I wanted to say.

There’s a few young people in the room who, like me, weren’t around for the debates of the 70s and 80s – it’s important to underline that we’re not just trying to do over those debates or re-ignite the “sex wars” between radical and socialist feminists over pornography and prostitution.

There’s a sense in the feminist movement today that to talk about these issues is just to be deliberately provocative – just on a personal level, talking about it in the last few days online and elsewhere I’ve seen a real shutting down of debate in a Stalinist manner, with lots of personal abuse. I’m involved in organising the Feminist Fightback conference and we’re having a real problem getting anyone from the pro-censorship side to come and speak. There’s a real culture of silence around these issues and a sense that we shouldn’t talk about things that might politically divide the feminist movement. Whilst we need maximum unity in action, we also need honest discussion of our differences.

I also want to make clear before I start discussing censorship that I’m in no way cheerleading for mainstream heterosexual pornography, much of which is as sexist as the anti-porn side say. Porn encapsulates pretty much everything we find objectionable and upsetting about representations of women and of sexuality as a whole so it’s no wonder emotions run high over this.

The important thing for socialists is to recognise, however, that the debate over pornography is political, not a moral crusade or an expression of distaste. When radical feminists call for state censorship of pornography they claim it’s not the sexual content they object to, but the ideas expressed about gender and sexuality. These are political ideas - calling for state censorship or regulation of porn is calling for state control of ideas we disagree with.

I’m sure I don’t need to spell out to people why socialists should object to this. It’s shockingly naive to entrust the state, particularly this state which isn’t democratic and serves the interests of the ruling class, with the power to decide which ideas can be expressed - feminists, socialists, radicals of all stripes have the most to lose from political censorship. Some feminists call for state censorship of porn on the basis that its reactionary messages about gender cause violence against women, but aren’t all ideas potentially dangerous to someone? The suppression of communists, real communists as well as Stalinists, in 1950s America was at least partially justified using the reasoning that a working-class revolution would be harmful to vast numbers of people. Anyone with politics that centre around radically redesigning society cannot support censorship.

As socialists, we not just anti-censorship, however, but we absolutely rely on freedom of speech. The working-class has a profound interest in freedom of speech - socialism means the defeat of entrenched power by mobilising millions of downtrodden people who at last dare to have thoughts other than those handed down to them by official society. It needs free debate! This free debate cannot be limited to those ideas we find acceptable - as Rosa Luxemburg said, freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently

And even those feminists who don’t consider themselves socialists are being at best short-sighted when they call for censorship. When the state’s got the power to judge, what’s to stop feminist advocacy of abortion rights being made illegal on the basis that it could potentially lead to harm of a foetus? What’s to stop the spreading of educational material about contraception being made illegal on the basis it could “harm” teenagers who might be incited to have underage sex? Anyone with half an eye on American politics knows that’s hardly an unimaginable scenario. Women’s liberation depends on being able to agitate around radical ideas of sex and sexuality.

Of course, the point has been made in recent weeks that violent pornography is an exception to these general points about censorship - that it’s not banning ideas we don’t like but protecting women from immediate physical threat that is the issue. The government is proposing the extension of existing legislation which prohibits the production and distribution of extreme violent pornography to cover possession of such images. It’s defined as “real or appearing to be real acts of violence which appears to be life threatening or likely to result in serious, disabling injury”.

This is justified on the idea that looking at violent pornography causes violence, and that anyone even looking at these images should be locked up - for up to three years. There is absolutely no evidence that looking at porn, or other violent material, leads to copy-cat incidents. In the same way we object when the Daily Mail scapegoats computer games as a cause of real-life violence, without in any way defending the content of such games, we can stand against the blaming of violent porn for violent crimes without justifying the often deeply reactionary content of the pornography.

Drawing a direct causal link between consumption of violent pornography and violent crime massively oversimplifies human psychology and ability to reason. It undermines our humanity to pretend that most humans can’t draw a pretty distinct line between fantasy and reality, between what they see on a screen and what they do in real life. It also ignores the probably quite varied reasons people have for watching such material - no doubt a lot of users of extreme violent pornography, or extreme violent material in general watch it because they get off on it. But many humans are also ambulance-chasing oddballs and sometimes they watch deeply unpleasant things because they can - how many of us watched or know someone who watched the video of Nick Berg being beheaded by Islamists online? And why?

The other argument is that violent porn, and indeed all porn, contributes to a general culture of sexism that then leads to violence against women. This is a line I have more time for - I think it’s basically true that sexism in society is fuelled by sexist media. But pretty much all media are sexist - why place special emphasis on pornography?

This brings up another issue, which is the strange scape-goating of sexual material. Representations of graphic violence that are coupled with sexual imagery and produced with the explicit intention of sexual arousal are banned, but representations of graphic violence in mainstream film and TV aren’t. The difference suggests two things: that there’s something about sexual violence which is uniquely bad, and specifically more likely to cause copycats than just plain violence, and that we’re standing at the top of a slippery slope that starts with prohibiting violent pornography and ends with censoring what adults can watch on TV, play on games consoles or read in books.

On the first point, that sexual violence is seen as uniquely bad, I think this highlights the frankly Victorian attitude that our society still holds towards sex and sexuality. As socialists, we’re for open expression of sexuality, and for the recognition that people’s fantasies are not the same thing as their political attitudes or beliefs. Fantasising about rape does not necessarily mean thinking rape is acceptable behaviour in real life.

I’m sure not all the groups calling for this legislation have backward beliefs about sex and sexuality but some undoubtedly do - The Christian Institute submission to the consultation clearly comes from an anti-sex point of view, as does that of the LIllith Project, which, believe it or not calls for “material which features naked women for the sole purpose of sexual gratification” to be restricted.

This demand for state regulation of all sexual material - a slippery slope when obscenity laws have been used against gay rights activists and feminists for asserting alternative ideas about sex and sexuality. It’s a tragedy that more than two hundred years since feminists starting agitating for the liberation of women, human sexuality is still in these terms - as something unavoidably dirty, shameful and wrong. This quote claims that sexual material is inherent oppressive, steamrollering over the fact it is possible to produce pornography without reactionary politics. In a society where heterosexuality is still the expected norm, when we shade into the territory of policing what people can and can’t fantasise about, LGBT people often find their sexualities the most under threat.

On the second point, that we risk censorship of all violent material, anyone who thinks this is too much of a logical leap need only look at the “video nasty” scandals of the 80s, where campaigns against violent and gory movies like “Driller Killer” and “Cannibal Holocaust” by religious reactionaries like Mary Whitehouse lead to the Video Recordings Act of 1984. Originally intended to “just” curb these reasonably extreme films on the basis they might inspire violence (which of course, is still wrong) the Act lead to the refusal to grant film certificates to movies like “Straw Dogs” and “the Exorcist”. This example is particularly good because it illustrates not only the danger of the reasoning that violent images lead to violence, but also that it’s basically impossible for campaigners to restrict state censorship or regulation to media they don’t like.

The example of video nasties also highlights the futility of what anti-porn campaigners are trying to do - none of the films mentioned above were impossible to get hold of even when basically banned, and over 20 years later with the development of the internet, banned material is much easier to distribute. Even after gambling with our political freedoms, it’s extremely unlikely violent pornography will disappear; it will simply go underground. What does censorship achieve for feminists if all it does is push violent pornography into the hands of gangsters without challenging the sexist messages inherent in it? The flipside to all this is the women involved in making these videos are often horrifically exploited, not something that will be resolved by handing over control of such material to gangsters - guaranteeing minimum safe standards of working is basically impossible under such conditions.

Of course, when some radical feminists divide the world up into good women and bad, good fantasies and bad, the rights of workers engaged in the creation of pornography is not a primary concern. For socialist feminists, it’s the central question - a focus on women who are being exploited and put at risk by the sex industry in very real terms, not ignoring them in favour of making abstract propaganda about the possible harmful effects of the pornography they appear in. Unionisation of sex workers is one of the key ways to combat this, which is why Workers’ Liberty have worked alongside the International Union of Sex Workers, now a recognised part of the GMB.

So what’s the alternative to challenge the sexism inherent in much of mainstream heterosexual pornography? To build a feminist movement capable of posing real alternatives and generally taking on sexist ideas, not gambling away our freedoms to pose awkward questions about sex in return for very little progress for women. With this in mind, a quick plug - Education Not for Sale Women are organising an activist conference to discuss these issues, plan some real action and kick-start the rebuilding of the women’s movement. Feminist Fightback is free and open to all (including men), and will be held at SOAS on October 21st - hope to see you all there.

Posted: 15 September, 12:11 am

feminism, socialism | Comments (2)

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