What does “popular support” mean? A case study of No More Page 3

It’s no secret that, like many other feminists, I’ve been somewhat sceptical of the No More Page 3 campaign. Since its inception, I’ve been squabbling with liberal bourgeois feminists about the worth of pouring so much time and energy into getting rid of a single, solitary page of a single, solitary newspaper.

The thing is, I love to be proved wrong. I really, really do. Just once, I’d love for my critique of something to turn out to be completely off the mark. Just once, I’d like to be able to say “Whoops, my bad, I’m a pessimist, I expected the worst and that didn’t happen.” Just once, I’d like to be unassailably and objectively wrong in my doomy, doomy predictions. But no. I’m fucking Cassandra.

The main defence used by NMP3 supporters is that the campaign has “popular support”. And they’re right about that, I suppose. They’re popular among the high-profile media feminists. They have the support of charming individuals like Alastair Campbell. And they even have trade union support! The official campaign website trumpeted proudly about UNISON passing a motion in support of the campaign. Unfortunately, they remained rather tight-lipped about another motion rejected at the very same conference: where UNISON voted against starting from a position of believing women who reported gendered violence.

This strikes me as pursuit of popularity at the expense of getting anything done. Yes, they have some big-name backers, but many of their big-name backers are demonstrably no friends of women, and no allies in the fight against structural misogyny. And all the while, the Sun is continuing to print things which make the lives of many women actively worse, dumping all over poor women, disabled women, women of colour. And Page Three is still going strong.

We need to ask ourselves why NMP3 is so popular. On the face of it, it seems quite nice that a campaign resonates with everyone. However, let’s take a minute to think about who this “everyone” includes. This is a cause that has united a warmonger, a union that doesn’t think rape survivors should be believed and Caitlin fucking Moran. And the reason that they’re all united in their opposition to putting a pair of tits on a particular page of a particular newspaper is because No More Page 3 isn’t creating a challenge against patriarchal hegemony.

Gaining popular support, by default, means making oneself as palatable as possible to the status quo. It means becoming appealing to those who directly benefit from the structures of power and privilege, so that they will allow you to have your minute on a soapbox with your paltry demand.

It will never be popular to articulate a structural critique which highlights how things are broken and wrong all the way down, because that means that major changes will have to happen. With mass communications controlled by the most privileged, the message will not get out through these means. With a system of government controlled by the most privileged, the changes will not come through this channel. With businesses working only for themselves, they will only do the best thing for themselves.

Some may decide it’s worth it to work within this system anyway. Perhaps they knew all along that what they wanted posed no direct threat to the status quo. Perhaps they watered down what they wanted to make it sweeter. Either way, whether they win or lose, little difference will be made.

But for true change, to really dismantle these structures of power, a lot more is needed. We need to be creative and robust with our demands. We need to be fearless: we will be loathed and despised by the powerful. What has been won so far was not won by being popular, and we still have a long way to go.

Feminism and control of other women

This week’s issue which is calling some premium-grade nonsense to fly forth from the mouths of feminists is the topic of banning face coverings, specifically the niqab. It is something which appeals to politicians, satisfying both their desire for racist policy and managing to get a bonus bit of giving themselves further reason to mass arrest protesters as a shitty little cherry on top. As always, there are hordes of feminists who are perfectly happy to deal with this as it manages to sate their appetite for controlling other women.

I don’t think I need to go into why getting the state to dictate what women may and may not wear is hardly a feminist position, and is simply a manifestation of a white saviour complex. Go and look at what Muslim feminists are saying about this; this is not my argument to make.

Among certain strains of feminism, we see a lot of attempts at controlling what other women do, wear and exist as.

We see it in Nadine Dorries, who calls herself a feminist while simultaneously craning her neck for the best viewing angle of our uteruses. She literally wants to control our reproductive freedom, and believes this stance to be a feminist stance.

We see it in the TERfs, the bigoted feminists who bully and harass trans women for existing, who spread lies and misinformation, who exclude and who try to deny access to treatment. They call themselves feminists, yet they are trying to control women’s bodies, to set themselves up as gatekeepers to womanhood through establishing a firm grasp on what a woman must be like.

We see it in a lot of high-profile campaigns calling for bans on this or that manifestation of sex work. Behind all of this is a desire to control what work is acceptable for women to do. We see it in the entire prohibitionist angle towards sex workers.

Am I saying these people are not feminists? No.

They are feminists. They are simply feminists who will ultimately do more harm than good.

See here’s the thing. It’s a little bit Captain Obvious to suggest that patriarchy places controls on women’s bodies and women’s behaviour. We know that this is terrible and bad and we rightly kick up a fuss about it. And yet to many women, the control imposed by certain strains of feminism is just as bad as these manifestations of patriarchal dominance. It is no different, aside from the perpetrators. And this is why we see so many marginalised women turning away from feminism: feminism just appears as rebranded patriarchy, rebranded control and coercion.

The feminists who want to control other women will defend their stance by saying that the women they are attempting to control need rescuing somehow, that this control is salvation. You will note that they are never trying to save themselves, only others who are somehow letting the side down by letting themselves be oppressed.

And yet this defence is much the same as the patronisingly sexist attitudes we face from men. We don’t know what’s good for us. We need someone to sort it out for us, someone who knows best. We are literally incapable of knowing what it is we need.

We reject it from men, and we must also reject these impositions of control from women.

If we want to help marginalised women to be liberated, our task is not to lead or to legislate, but to listen. We need to ask what help is required, rather than barging in like a carceral Leeroy Jenkins and making everything worse. It is support, not control, that will lead to freedom.

Lose the lad mags: a round-up and something that’s bugging me

UK Feminista and Object unveiled their latest project earlier this week: telling shops to get rid of lad mags, or it might break equality law, constituting sexual harassment. Now, I’m not particularly convinced by the legal argument, with even the lawyers couching their analysis in “may” rather than “does” constitute sexual harassment or discrimination.

I’m also not particularly convinced by the arguments surrounding objectification of women underpinning it, and have similar reservations to those surrounding the No More Page 3 campaign.

However, I’m late to the party in critiquing Lose the Lad Mags. It looks like others have got there first and made some very good points, so I am going to link to a few things which are worth reading.

Dangerous Dolls: ‘Object’ and Lose the Lads’ Mags (plasticdollheads)
Is it cold outside Kat? (itsjustahobby)
Lose the magging sexism (Squeamish Bikini)

All of these cover many of the problems fairly well: that sexism in magazines are not a problem limited to Nuts and Loaded; that objectification arguments are missing the point by focusing solely on image; that lad mags are a symptom of the problem rather than a cause; that banning something isn’t necessarily the best way forward.

I have another quibble to add. The campaigners have made a statement, as have lawyers involved, but there are voices missing: the voices of women who work in shops where lads’ mags are stocked and feel harassed and discriminated against by being forced to handle them. It is their voices which should be front and central in the Lose the Lad Mags campaigns, not those of spokespeople drafting official press releases.

It is their voices, their needs and wants, that matter.

And I suspect my feelings about this campaign would be very different if it weren’t led by lawyers and professional activists. A group of women who work in retail, gathering together to organise against an employment practice that harms them is a different thing entirely to a top-down campaign organised by groups who exist largely to get rid of lad mags. What it feels like here is instrumentalising some possible concerns that workers may have about an employment rights issue, in order to push an agenda. I say “possibly” here because in all the noise, we haven’t heard the voices of workers who may feel harassed here.

There is a world of difference between people who are most troubled by an issue leading on finding a solution, and an edict about how to solve a problem coming from above. Such top-down organisation is inherently paternalistic, smacking of a perception of knowing what is best for those poor little women. Is this really a pressing employment rights issue for women who work in shops? Maybe. We don’t know, because we’re only hearing from activists and lawyers telling us what they think and how they imagine women working in shops should feel.

What this campaign should look like, if it is indeed a major problem affecting workers, is support. These big organisations should not be leading, but quietly providing resources and a microphone, as it is not their battle. This battle belongs to the women workers who feel harassed and discriminated against, who find themselves in already-precarious retail work with little to do. These issues of workers’ rights are all part of the class struggle. Unfortunately, Lose the Lad Mags has not connected these dots, nor has it provided any solutions:  I do not see any offers from Lose the Lad Mags to help with legal fees, no guidance in organising in the workplace in different ways which might work better–after all, with the cuts to Legal Aid a lawsuit is something potentially-affected women cannot afford.

And it is sad, because these may be women who need help, yet are being treated as little more than pawns, potential mouthpieces to legitimise the campaign.

May Day, Haymarket and some awesome women

May Day is all about the workers. So, if you’re a worker or unemployed, give yourself a pat on the back for not being the oppressor, at least in terms of class. Yay, us.

The history of the day comes from the Haymarket massacre. Workers in Chicago were striking, demanding an eight hour day. Someone threw a bomb at the police, and the police did their aggressive dispersal thing. In the aftermath, seven anarchists were sentenced to murder at the hands of the state for something they were later pardoned for, once it was far too late.

Oh, and a lot of workers in the world still don’t have that eight hour day, and end up working longer hours, often unpaid.

A positive outcome of Haymarket, though, was it turned some awesome, smart women on to anarchism. So let’s give a round of applause for two of my sisters across time, Voltairine de Cleyre and Emma Goldman.

de Cleyre had her faith in the state’s justice system ripped away when she saw what happened to the Haymarket anarchists. You can read her journey into anarchism here. Goldman’s experience was similar. Watching the state kill innocent people, it seems, can turn quite a few people onto anarchism.

Both Goldman and de Cleyre went on to think very good things, and I’m going to take a moment to link to my favourite works of each of them. Obviously, they also said some dodgy things at various points in their lives, but frankly, it’s the positive legacy which has stood the test of time. The more problematic gets buried under the sands of time, after all.

From Goldman, I can’t stress enough how much I love her essay on women’s suffrage. She had a radical critique of the women’s suffrage movement while it was happening, emphasising how little would get done by simply inviting women into an arrangement which was thoroughly broken. She  also criticises the movement for throwing other women, particularly sex workers, under the bus. She concludes that the key to women’s liberation is not the ballot box, but:

First, by asserting herself as a personality, and not as a sex commodity. Second, by refusing the right to anyone over her body; by refusing to bear children, unless she wants them; by refusing to be a servant to God, the State, society, the husband, the family, etc.; by making her life simpler, but deeper and richer. That is, by trying to learn the meaning and substance of life in all its complexities, by freeing herself from the fear of public opinion and public condemnation. Only that, and not the ballot, will set woman free, will make her a force hitherto unknown in the world, a force for real love, for peace, for harmony; a force of divine fire, of life giving; a creator of free men and women.

From de Cleyre, I adore “Sex Slavery“, an exploration of moral standards and obscenity. She makes a wonderful and witty observation:

What would you think of the meanness of a man who would put a skirt upon his horse and compel it to walk or run with such a thing impeding its limbs? Why, the “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals” would arrest him, take the beast from him, and he would be sent to a lunatic asylum for treatment on the score of an impure mind. And yet, gentlemen, you expect your wives, the creatures you say you respect and love, to wear the longest skirts and the highest necked clothing, in order to conceal the obscene human body. There is no society for the prevention of cruelty to women.

And of course, no discussion of de Cleyre is complete without a link to “Direct Action“, which is one of the finest calls to arms I’ve ever had the privilege of reading.

I’ll finish, now, with another quote from Goldman, from her autobiography about anarchism and joy. It is so pertinent to every social movement, and we would all do well to find the joy in liberation struggles.

I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to behave as a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. “I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.”

Why I never signed the No More Page 3 petition

The other day, while I was busy being snowed on outside a courthouse that had been locked to keep people like me out, there was apparently a development in the ongoing No More Page Three campaign. It had sort of passed me by, I’ll admit; the only news that day that came to my attention was the papal resignation (it’s alarmingly disconcerting to emerge from the toilet to discover the pope’s resigned. Makes one wonder just how unholy one’s urine is).

It seems, though, that Rupert Murdoch has alluded to modifying Page 3 to make it all fashionable or something, and possibly taking the boobs off the dedicated boob-page. This has breathed new life into the No More Page Three campaign, and it’s been everywhere once again.

I’ve tried to bite my lip on the No More Page Three campaign, being painfully aware of my burgeoning reputation as that feminist who spends too much time shouting at other feminists, and thinking it ultimately rather harmless and easy to ignore. The thing is–to use a figure of speech befitting the theme–the No More Page Three campaign has been getting right on my tits. At best, it won’t get much done, and at worse, its supporters will think this lack of things getting done is some sort of a victory.

Let’s start with a tweet from an online repository of jokes, many of which are sexist, ableist, racist, cissexist, heterosexist and any other form of oppression you can name (and probably some that don’t even have names):

Strangely, this tweet actually manages to Get It far more than vast swathes of the No More Page Three supporters. The Sun is a buzzing wasp nest of misogyny: itsjustahobby documented just a day’s worth of sexism in the top stories of their website alone. I find Page 3, with its large picture of boobs taken with the woman’s consent, actually somewhat better than all of the other pages of longlensings and body-shaming and gleeful rubbing over celebrities and their mental health, and so forth. That’s not even including the frequent bouts of overt racism, homophobia, transphobia and ableism that pepper its foul pages. The whole publication is absolutely fucking vile, and participates actively daily in outright harassment of women who have the misfortune of being famous, or poor, or brown, or whatever other excuse they can conjure to invade their privacy and pretend this is somehow in the public interest. Whether words or images, all of this is irrevocably harmful to both the individuals “exposed” by this pathetic excuse for journalism, and to society for thinking believing the propaganda in the Sun is anything other than hideous.

And when you think about it that way, you realise that the whole of the media is rotten all the way down: all of the tabloids stoop to the same low tricks as The Sun, and everyone else is complicit. They all revealed their true colours as they closed ranks against the findings of the Leveson Report. Combatting a single page of a single newspaper doesn’t even leave a dent in this apparatus. It feels almost like going after this one page legitimises the rest of the sorry mess by its omission to even address this.

Now, one could say this campaign is a transitional demand in ending the objectification of women. However, that’s ignoring the fact that objectification is itself a symptom; the problem of objectification did not magically spring from nowhere: it is a product of capitalist patriarchy. Sex sells. And to end that, one sort of has to absolutely rip this shit out at the roots and enact a global revolution, which is a bit of a big ask for liberal feminists. Even on its own terms, getting rid of that single page in a single newspaper won’t exactly do much for ending the objectification of women, because this shit is absolutely everywhere.

However, that’s assuming that No More Page Three is actually about objectification, which many of its supporters argue it is. I’ve read the text of the No More Page Three petition. I read it before deciding–with all of these criticisms already in mind–not to sign it. And it is just about boobs. It’s literally just about the presence of boobs and how they’re not on This Morning and other such stuff. I couldn’t agree with the fact that boobs shouldn’t be in a “family newspaper”, which is all that the text of the petition said, so I didn’t sign it.

And actually, if anything, we need more boobs everywhere. Diverse boobs. Parents breastfeeding openly, pictures of all colours and shapes of boob captioned “look, boobs, aren’t they pretty?” and boobs depicted like they ain’t no thing, because a lot of people have boobs. And not just boobs: cunts and cocks and bums and naked bodies in all their glory. Willingly shown. The human body is kept a mystery, and nobody knows what’s normal these days: the truth is everything and nothing. When I was young, I thought I had a weird cunt because it looked nothing like the narrow range of cunts society saw fit to show me: textbook illustrations and porn. It was only when I started fucking other women that I became sure there was nothing wrong with mine. The naked body needn’t be anything to do with sex (although it’s nice when it is), and it’d be lovely if we got over all our hangups about nudity and were just naked more, in film, print and in person.

But of course, this dream can’t be realised because of the aforementioned capitalist patriarchy which is in dire need of a smash and it’s very difficult to have that revolution in the buff.

Unfortunately, the No More Page Three campaign is not part of this revolution. It’s largely orchestrated and supported by those who would never buy The Sun in the first place, probably for at least some of the reasons I’ve already discussed (or perhaps for others, e.g. Hillsborough, phone hacking), and, due to the way businesses work, they really don’t give much of a flying fuck about people not buying the product continuing to not buy the product while also hating it. Asking nicely doesn’t really cut it. You need to be vicious and take action that’s a little more direct. Once I annotated a copy of The Sun that I found in a greasy spoon, highlighting sections which were particularly egregiously racist or sexist to the next reader who picked it up. It wasn’t much, but it was something which might have changed someone’s mind.

To me, No More Page Three feels like a synecdoche for the shortcomings of a particular flavour of liberal, bourgeois feminism. It’s something which is nowhere near enough and popular precisely because it will not rock the boat for those in power. And it’s a compromise I see no point in making.

What is the optimal level of clothing to avoid prison?

In shit-I-can’t-believe-I-need-to-say-in-20-fucking-12, people shouldn’t be sent to prison for the clothes they choose to wear. Or not wear. But yet, apparently I need to say this shit because apparently the legal system doesn’t fucking get it, and neither do various cheerleaders for the legal system.

First there’s the “naked rambler”, who, as his title suggests, rambles while naked. It’s a completely desexualised nudity. It’s just a naked bloke walking through the countryside. Who keeps getting sent to prison, because apparently the law doesn’t like it when people walk around naked.

Then there’s the young woman who was arrested for refusing to remove a scarf at the culmination of a campaign of police intimidation. Ellen Yianni was cleared, and the judge was quite, quite horrified by the state of the police testimony.

Then there’s  the case of Barry Thew, who went to prison for wearing a T-shirt. The T-shirt in question was somewhat distasteful and very crudely made, saying something about killing police. He has been sentenced to an eight-month prison sentence, of which he’ll serve at least four.

The thing is, the mainstream media has reported the whole thing very badly, making out like he made the T-shirt upon hearing that some police officers had died and just went around trolling the world for no goddamn reason whatsoever.

In fact, a more detailed local news report reveals the truth to be far more complicated than that.

He was wearing the t-shirt before the incident. The T-shirt went from being “somewhat distasteful” to “highly fucking distasteful” because he happened to be wearing it on a day that some police officers were killed. On any other day, he would have gone out in that T-shirt and yes, people would have been offended, but he probably wouldn’t have gone to prison. A coincidence contextualised the T-shirt into being more offensive than it otherwise would have been.

And so, if context is pertinent, i.e. that he was wearing the T-shirt on a day some police officers died, then it’s important to look at other context to the story. Like the fact that Barry Thew had mental health problems, and was taking medication. The judge didn’t think this was relevant, instead opting for swivel-eyed retribution.

Or another piece of crucial context, unremarked upon by most of the mainstream stories: three years ago, Barry Thew’s son was killed by police.

Now, I’m not surprised the media didn’t bother mentioning this. They have a cosy relationship with the police, and it’s in everyone’s interest to make out like it’s inexplicable and Barry Thew was merely some sort of funeral-picketing monster. Mentioning these important details might have the effect of generating a degree of understanding and thus increasing outcry against the sentence.

Which, by the way, would still be ridiculous if Barry Thew had just quickly knocked up a T-shirt about dead cops upon hearing the news, with no prior grudges against the police, just to troll the fuck out of the world.

What one wears or does not wear should not be a matter for the police, the legal system or prison.  To use the state to crack down on the garments people wear is absurd, and hardly fitting for any country that calls itself democratic. They might call a flapping dick on a rambler obscene, but what’s really obscene is that they’re using their disproportionate power to regulate what people wear.

In which I gush about Christina Aguilera

I will confess here to a not-even-guilty enjoyment of Christina Aguilera, and her latest video is a thing of brilliance. In short, it features her looking amazing in a variety of costumes and killing men. Watch it:

See? Isn’t it EVEN BETTER than I described?

Xtina plays around with costumes which represent various facets of “slut”: sometimes she goes for the Beverley Hills look, other times, a tight black dress and sometimes even a dreadlocked grungy girl. These are the women who will, under patriarchy, often end up as victims and blamed for what happened to them. Not so in this video: they are granted strength.

Each of these characters picks up a man and then murders him. Delightfully, the killings feature an aspect of traditional femininity: a car is blown up in a cloud of pink fire; a man’s head is smashed into a shower of glitter, and, my personal favourite, a man is murdered in the loo with arcs of blue blood, reminiscent of the blue liquid used in sanitary towel adverts.

Even the song is far better than what pop culture generally shits out: it’s about a woman who just wants to fuck a guy, and nothing more. The juxtaposition of this with the violence of the video literalises a word that doesn’t actually exist: “mankiller”, the heterosexual female version of the heterosexual male “ladykiller”, a man who seduces a lot of women. There’s a reason there isn’t an equivalent for women: we’re not supposed to have any sexual agency.

Ultimately, it’s a provocative video and will probably create a bit of a temper tantrum from those who didn’t understand the point of the SCUM Manifesto: that we live in a society where violence against women is endemic, to the point where the very notion of the roles being reversed and women suddenly having the same level of power over men is unthinkable and causes everyone to freak the fuck out. At the same time as Xtina wields a baseball bat in very stylised violence, Chris Brown is topping the charts despite having put his girlfriend in hospital and proudly displaying a tattoo of a woman with very similar injuries. Xtina’s video, like SCUM before it, puts men on the back foot for once, allowing them a taste of the fear that we live in.

It’s fun, it’s provocative, it’s sexy, and it’s bound to make the MRAs whinge about reverse sexism. Sterling stuff from Ms Aguilera all round.