Monday, 5 October 2015

Get her to an asylum! On Downton Abbey and unmarried mothers.

One of the many things that have happened since I moved back into my childhood home is that I’ve been watching TV programmes I had never really engaged with before. Some of it is great (Great British Bake Off! Where had you been my whole life?); some of it less so (why does Nicholas Lyndhurst talk posh in New Tricks?) and some of it is Downton Abbey. 

Now, I did watch the first series of Downton Abbey on Netflix, mainly because I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. And because of Lady Sybil. I got bored halfway through the second series, however, and increasingly frustrated at the total lack of engagement with class politics by the writers. Downton, I decided, was not for me. 

However, I ended up half-watching an episode the other night which featured Lady Edith losing her child at the country fair and then finding her again. 

What is this? I asked my mum. Where did this kid come from? 

It turns out that Lady Edith had an illegitimate child and then the family gave the baby girl to a local family to look after. However, Lady Edith missed her daughter so much that the family agreed to give her back and now the Downton Abbey family are raising it. 

I sat in silence for a moment. I looked at Lady Edith’s frantic expression; the paternalistic glow in Hugh Bonneville’s face as he reunites daughter and granddaughter. 

‘They would have put her in an asylum,’ I responded. 

I have a talent for ruining people’s favourite TV shows (and films, and plays, and albums). 

It made me really angry, however. Because the truth of it is, she probably would have been put in an asylum. That’s what our society did to women who had children out of wedlock, as recently as the 1920s and for quite a while afterwards too. 

I first became aware of this issue as a teenager, reading Michelle Magorian’s excellent A Little Love Song (the title does not do justice to the book). Then, as an adult, I read The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, by Maggie O’Farrell. Both of these books tell the story of upper or upper-middle class women who have children out of wedlock and are then locked up by their families in asylums where they are abandoned and forgotten about. 

The reason why these books could be written is because that is what we did to women, and we did it to women for decades. We told unmarried women who had babies that they were mad and bad, and that they needed to be locked up. We allowed men to confine women in asylums where they were treated with disdain and violence, and their children were taken away and never told where they had come from. 

It didn’t matter what had happened to these women before their incarceration. It didn’t matter if the child was the result of a loving but unmarried relationship, or the result of rape. The women were sent away just the same. The babies were taken away just the same. 

Even as recently as the 1960s, unmarried mothers were treated in appalling conditions. Although the practise of locking women up in asylums was pretty much over (although many women were still in the asylums where they had been for decades), women were instead sent to ‘mother and baby homes’, often run by religious communities. Once in the homes, the women were treated like scum. In her book, The Baby Laundry for Unmarried Mothers, Angela Patrick describes her own experiences – the disdain and cruelty of the staff, the chores she had to do daily, the rules that left the women feeling like wayward children who needed to be punished. And then, of course, the babies were taken away. 

It hurts my heart when I think of what we did to unmarried women who had babies in the last century. It hurts my heart to think of the women locked up in asylums, treated as criminals, denied their very basic right to freedom and bodily autonomy. It hurts my heart to know that hundreds, even thousands, of women were punished and degraded and harmed by a patriarchal system that saw women as men’s property to do with as they liked. 

And when that heart-hurt is over, I feel furious. Because when are we, as a society, going to acknowledge the crime that we committed against women? When are we going to own up to the women locked up in asylums, to the women punished and treated poorly in the baby laundries? When are we going to admit what we did to women, and did to women on a frighteningly huge scale? 

Not today, clearly. Not whilst Downton Abbey is selling a lie about society’s treatment of women. 

The situation for women in Ireland was far worse, and the imprisonment and punishment of women was happening on a much larger scale, than in the UK. The infamous Magdalene Laundries locked up women for their whole lives – women who had been raped, who had gotten pregnant, or who were just considered ‘wayward’. These laundries basically profited from women’s unpaid labour, treating the women as a subclass who deserved to be punished and hidden away. The horror of this system is frighteningly portrayed in the film The Magdalene Sisters which I urge you to watch. 

In 2013, the Irish government apologised for the Magdalene Laundries and to the survivors (the laundries only closing in 1996), which is some progress. However, the Catholic Church still refuses to apologise. Meanwhile, as the terrible moral crimes committed by this system continue to come to light, a culture of denial and diminishment – a blaming on ‘old time thinking’ – persists. 

However, I think we have a tendency in the UK to look at what happened in Ireland and think it has nothing to do with us. I think we are all too willing to pretend that it was a problem happening ‘over there’ and ignore how our system perpetuated its own crimes against women. It’s not good enough. Just because our system wasn’t as bad as the Magdalene laundries does not mean we can continue to ignore it. We can’t keep sweeping it under the carpet. We can’t keep making TV shows that sell the lie that unmarried mothers were protected by their families, rather than abandoned by them. 

We need to acknowledge what our society routinely did to women. We need to recognise that this cruelty existed, and that the state system colluded to lock up women who had committed no crime, who had suffered no mental illness, who had simply had a baby without being married. We need to recognise we locked up rape victims. We need to acknowledge what society did to women. 

I feel the same way about witch burnings, but that’s a subject for another day. 

When Downton Abbey tells a lie about how women like Lady Edith were treated, our culture continues to hide away the truth about what we did to women. We have to stop this lie. We can’t pretend it didn’t happen. After all, for decades we pretended it didn’t happen. We just locked women up and pretended they no longer existed. 

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

For the Guardian: There’s no way to defend the Jack the Ripper museum while women are still being murdered by men

After a brief argument with the PR man for the Jack the Ripper museum, I wrote something for the Guardian website on why this museum remains pretty indefensible.

It has the long headline:

There’s no way to defend the Jack the Ripper museum while women are still being murdered by men

And look! LOOK! I'm on the Guardian homepage:

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Women of the Left bank Series Part 6: Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap

What do you think about, if you think about it at all, when you think about the Little Review? Most people think of James Joyce, or of Ezra Pound, the man who Gertrude Stein described as a:

village explainer. Good when you’re in a village, not when you’re not.

The person people don’t often think of is the review’s founder. And who was the Little Review’s founder? Only Margaret Anderson – one of the most impressive, fabulous and don’t-take-no-shit women of her era. 

(Stein wasn’t a huge fan of Margaret either, but she was fond of Jane Heap, more of whom later)

Writing about Margaret Anderson in my series on Women of the Left Bank is a bit of a cheat, as Margaret started her illustrious career on the other side of the pond. But she did spend a fair bit of time on the Left Bank, and she’s included in Benstock’s Women of the Left Bank, so I’m claiming her.  

Anderson was born in Indiana which – fact fans – is also where Janet Flanner was born. She was a talented pianist, and moved to Chicago in 1908 to pursue music, as well as writing books reviews for the Dial, and Chicago Evening Post.

Writing for other people wasn’t enough for Margaret though. She wanted to set up her own review, and so in 1914 Little Review was born. It really was a labour of love – when the money ran out the whole outfit decamped to a cabin on the edge of Lake Michigan. 

Anderson’s early life and the beginnings of Little Review are recorded, with wit and verve, in her sparkling memoir Thirty Years War

Unfortunately the book is now out of print, but I am lucky enough to have my very own copy – and a first edition no less. It really does need to be reprinted – it’s a vital history of one of the most important literary and arts moments of the 20th Century, and by one of its most interesting and influential women. The memoir is packed with stories and anecdotes about some of the most exciting women of the teens and twenties of the last century, including Emma Goldman and the Dadaist and character Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, who some say was the real artist behind THAT urinal.  

In 1916, Anderson met Jane Heap, and persuaded her to become the co-editor of Little Review. Heap’s brilliant intellect and excellent writing ability helped shape Little Review into the force it became, as it attracted all the new and exciting writing that was happening during the birth of modernism. 

Anderson and Heap fell in love, and if you want to see how in love just take Margaret’s gorgeous description of Jane in her memoir:

I felt in 1916 and feel to-day that Jane Heap is the world’s best talker.

It isn’t a question of words, facility, style. It isn’t a question of erudition. It isn’t even a question of truth. (Who knows whether what she says is true?) It is entirely a question of ideas. No one can find such interesting things to say on any subject. I have often I should my life over to talk-racing, with my money on Jane. No one else would ever win – you can win against magic.

Moving from the cabin in Lake Michigan to a ranch in Muir Woods and then Greenwich Village in New York, the pair published Little Review and, along with their London editor Ezra Pound, transformed it into the leading review of the time Hart Crane, Gertrude Stein, TS Eliot, Ford Madox Ford, Jean Cocteau, Hemingway – the list of authors and artists who contributed is pretty much a roll call of the most revolutionary and extraordinary people of the period. 

But it is perhaps for Ulysses that Little Review is most famous – and another example of how the women who helped bring Ulysses to print have been ignored by history (see Sylvia Beach). 

In 1918, Little Review began to serialise Ulysses, and they continued to serialise it until 1921 when the US Post Office seized copies of the magazine and refused to distribute it, citing its “obscene” content. 

Both Heap and Anderson were hauled up into the courts, charged with obscenity. They famously lost the case – having to pay a fine of $100 and Ulysses was banned in the US until 1934. During the trial, Heap defended their decision to publish Joyce’s most famous work. She said:

It was poet, the artist, who discovered love and created the lover, made sex everything that it is beyond a function. It is the Mr Sumners who have made it an obscenity.”

I love this quote. You can see what Anderson means, can’t you, about how Jane Heap talks? 

After the trial, the pair decamped to Paris (making them officially women of the Left Bank) and continued to publish Little Review there. Famously, they didn’t pay their contributors, proving that it’s not just today that writers have to work for free…

I’m tempted to say that our cultural forgetfulness of Anderson and Heap, without whom one of the most influential modernist publications would simply not have existed, is down to sexism. After all, the other great taste-makers of the age are remembered, although I am willing to concede that this could be contributed to the fact that they also produced their own novels and poetry (Anderson and Heap did too, although it’s not well circulated). I do think there is a whiff of sexism in particular about the forgetting of the three women who made such a difference to Joyce’s publishing history – especially as Joyce so spectacularly betrayed Sylvia Beach. 

There were a huge number of women publishing and distributing work in the modernist era, and most of their names are forgotten now. And yet, without women like Heap and Anderson, journals like Little Review would not have been the first publishers of some of the century’s most famous and revered writers and artists. We should celebrate these women; we should remember their names. They helped shape literary and cultural history. They were loved and respected by their peers and contemporaries. Let’s not allow them to be forgotten. 

Read the rest of the series

Thursday, 10 September 2015

The Good Old Days, or the dangers of Nostalgia

When I was a child, I had this book set in the Victorian era, about a family living in a nice house with servants. I can’t remember what it was about now, but there was an ice-house and a black servant boy who brought the rich children hot chocolate. The gorgeous illustrations, the excitement of the ice-house – all this gave me a very rose-coloured view of Victorian life, and the life of Victorian servants. I wanted to be one of the maids in this book, mainly for the frilly apron, and the friendship she had with the rich kids. 

I was seven, I was a bit weird, so cut me some slack! 

As I romanticised the idea of Victorian maids, I remember my mum telling me how her nana – my great nana – was ‘in service’ in Wales as a teenager. I remember my mum saying that her nana never spoke about what happened to her during that time. 

I was reminded of my great-nana – who would have been ‘in service’ around the teens or twenties of the last century – when reading this startling article about a couple who have dedicated their lives to living like ‘the Victorians’. I thought about how her mother, so my great-great nana, would likely have been in service during the Victorian era, the period this couple are so happy to fetishize. And I thought about how their idea of Victoriana would not be at all recognisable to my family, or to the thousands of families who grew up without rights, without money, without healthcare, without sanitation – women like my great nana and great-great nana who grew up scrubbing rich people’s toilets. 

To be fair to this couple, there are some laudable statements about their desire to live in the Victorian age. They talk about sustainability, about being more connected to where the things we use come from, to combating the disposability culture that we live in today. That’s all well and good. They seem remarkably willing to forget that the Victorian age was the height of the industrial revolution, a time of great mechanical innovation that paved the way for the modern machinery we have today. It’s actually quite insulting to look at the huge scientific leaps of discovery, the artistic revolutions and the brilliant novels of the 19th Century and think of it was a ‘simpler time’. But to be honest, that is the least of my worries. 

To pretend that living in a ‘simpler time’ is something that can be achieved by eschewing all modernity in favour of living a fantasy of Victorian life is a nonsense. 

What the couple seem to ignore in their idealisation of the Victorian era is that the vast majority of Victorian married couples were not upper-middle class. They did not spend their time riding penny-farthings and completing embroidery projects. They were poor. They were child labourers – boys choking to death up chimneys, girls losing hands on cotton looms. They were children dying of diphtheria and cholera in slums because there was no sanitation. They were women dying in childbirth, men dying down coal mines. 

Many Victorians were servants like my ancestors, forced to work long hours with no legal rights, and in some cases at the mercy of violent masters. The Victorian age wasn’t genteel and noble. It was just as corrupt and unequal as any other era. 

And that’s just England. What else do we know about the Victorian era? It was an age of Empire – of rapacious and bloody wars designed to repress and destroy the cultures of the countries we invaded. It was decades of white supremacy, building on the history of the previous centuries that treated other countries and other cultures as a resource for us to plunder. The experience of a Victorian living in India or Zimbabwe is miles apart from the romanticised gentility imagined in this article. There was nothing polite about Empire. It was bloody and brutal and nations are still living with the legacy of that brutality today. 

Let alone the fact that this couple are American – whose ‘Victorian’ era included slavery, the Civil War and the origins of the Ku Klux Klan. I’ll say it again: the Victorian experience was not limited to white, middle upper class families. 

Anyone who knows me knows about my love of vintage clothes. I have a gorgeous collection of 1920s, 1930s and 1940s frocks that I wear out and about to parties, revelling in the beautiful cut and delicious fabrics. But that love of a vintage aesthetic has never fooled me into thinking that ‘things were better when…’ (7 year-old book reading me aside). No woman should look back on the Victorian era and think of it as a better, more ideal time. We should never idealise a past where women were the legal property of their husbands, where we were forced to give up our rights as soon as we said ‘I Do.’ 

In the UK, women fought hard for our rights during the 19th century. They fought to change the divorce laws that said women had to prove adultery and cruelty against their husbands, whilst men only needed to prove adultery. They fought to change the laws so after divorce, they could maintain custody of their children. Women stood with the Chartists under the mistaken belief that an extension of suffrage to men would lead to suffrage for women. Women went to prison to secure the right to vote. Women worked together to improve education for girls, labour rights for men and women – they fought and fought and fought to have the rights we take for granted today. 

Think of Eleanor Marx, think of Caroline Norton…

They fought for rights that even a romanticised view of the good old days can’t take away. Rights that anyone who fetishizes the past are still grateful to have when the chips are down. 

There’s a reason why so much changed for working people in the first half of the 20th Century – why the early decades saw an end to workhouses, education bills, a trade union movement, labour rights, contraception, the suffragettes. They looked to the past and thought, right, enough. Children need education. Workers need protections. Women should have the vote. People should stop dying of cholera. 

Of course, things are not perfect now. We are far from an equal society and there’s an argument to be made that our unequal society, the continuation of entrenched inequality, and our deifying of capital, is a hangover from the Victorian era. 

But it was a start. As this Government slides us back towards that past, with its restrictions on striking and its dismantling of social security and the NHS, we should be grateful everyday to those women and men who fought for our rights back then. We should stand strong and ensure their legacy is not destroyed a century on.  

I’ll leave the last word to historical fiction writer, Phillippa Gregory, who was once asked which of the periods she wrote about she would most like to live in. She responded that no woman should ever be nostalgic for the past. She said that everyday she is grateful to live in a time and a country where we have modern medical care, and where women are at least entitled to basic rights – such as education, financial independence and bodily autonomy (even if we don’t always have access to them).  

I look at this couple, and I think about what it would mean for me to live as a Victorian. 

It would not be their vision of the era. 

I think of my great nana and her mother before, and why they never spoke about what they knew. 

Thursday, 3 September 2015

For Open Democracy: Friendship and violence The genius of Elena Ferrante

Like most people I know, I've been voraciously reading the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, and Open Democracy kindly asked me to review them.

You can read my review here.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Women-only train carriages are on a railroad to no-where

Nearly eleven years ago, when I was 20, a man sat next to me on the train from Berwick-upon-Tweed to London King’s Cross. He started talking to me – despite the fact that being the bookish chick I am I was clearly reading a novel. This is always a difficult conundrum for women in public space. On the one hand, we’re warned against strange men. We’re told never to speak to strangers. On the other, we’re told to always be nice, to be accommodating. Smile. Don’t complain. Don’t be a stuck up bitch. 

The latter lesson, as it so often does when someone is insistently talking to you, won out. I was nice. I was accommodating. I wasn’t a stuck up bitch. 

I later had to leg it across King’s Cross and jump on to the nearest bus, as this man chased after me, shouting my name. 

Don’t lead a man on, Sian. What did you expect him to think, with you being so nice, so accommodating, not being a stuck up bitch? What else had you led him to expect?  

It was this story, and a dreary litany of similar stories involving being harassed, groped, assaulted (but not wanked on, thank God, although I know women who have endured this) on public transport (in general, not always on trains) that meant my gut response to Jeremy Corbyn’s reported proposal of women-only train carriages was:

Wouldn’t it be nice. Wouldn’t it be a relief. To not have to worry. To not have to feel anxious. To not panic that the man sat there might turn into the man who chased me, who groped me, who harassed me, who tried to assault me.

And it would be nice. It would be a relief. But it wouldn’t be a solution. 

I should point out now that despite some media misrepresentation, Jeremy Corbyn was not announcing a policy of women-only train carriages, but wants instead to consult women about the best ways to tackle the daily harassment we put up with. This is a really good thing that, if he’s elected, will hopefully build on the work of Labour women such as Vera Baird and Yvette Cooper who have been raising this issue for years

Anyway, hope that clears that up. Now back to trains. 

So yes, women-only train carriages may be nice for all the reasons I mention above. But they won’t be a solution. 

Because all they do is move the issue away from the perpetrator’s behaviour, and instead put all the focus onto the victim’s behaviour. 

Women-only train carriages tell us that in order to avoid male violence, we need to move out the way. There’s nothing in this message that challenges abusive men. There’s nothing here that challenges male entitlement to women’s time and bodies. Instead, it’s a ‘solution’ that shrugs at male violence, treats it as something inevitable, and tells women that we must take steps to avoid it. We must sit in the women-only carriage. 

Anything that treats male violence as an inevitable part of women’s lives will never succeed in ending violent male entitlement. 

So-called solutions like women-only train carriages make women the problem – they treat harassment as a problem for women that we have to take actions to fix. It doesn’t tell the man who chased me that he needs to stop feeling entitled to my time and body. It doesn’t tell the man who wanked on my friend that he’s a criminal. It doesn’t tell the man who groped me that I have a right to my bodily autonomy that he had no right to violate. 

It tells those men that they can carry on as normal, because women will now keep out of their way. It tells men that we women will clean up the mess, and remove ourselves. It tells men that they get all the rights to public space, and we’ll squeeze ourselves into the back of the train. It refuses to admit that if violent men are assaulting women on trains, then those men are the problem. 

I had a conversation on Twitter yesterday about whether women-only train carriages would in fact work as a short-term solution to counter male violence on public transport. And sure, there is an argument here. The evidence suggests that levels of sexual harassment are reduced in women-only spaces (duh!) because men are not present. I know that sounds like it’s stating the obvious but it’s worth making the point. 

However, my counter argument would be that even as a short-term solution, we know that telling women to modify their behaviour is destined to failure. And we know this because it has been our response to male violence since the year dot. We already put a ridiculous amount of restrictions on women’s freedom in public space. The warnings about how best to “protect” ourselves from predatory men are engraved in our minds. We tell women not to drink too much, in case they get raped. We tell women not to dress in certain ways, in case they get raped. We tell women not to walk home alone, in case they get raped. We tell women to get taxis, in case they get raped. 

Every year in the UK, around 80,000 women and girls are raped. There are around 500,000 sexual assaults in the UK every year. 

Clearly, telling women to change our behaviour isn't working. Clearly putting the onus on women to 'prevent' rape isn't working, when so many men continue to rape and assault women with impunity. 

Because telling women to change their behaviour achieves nothing. It does nothing to stop rapes from happening. And it achieves nothing due to one very simple reason: male violence isn’t caused by women’s behaviour, it is caused by violent men. 

Women-only train carriages are on a railroad to nowhere. If we continue to tell women that they are the ones who need to change to avoid male violence, then male violence will continue unabated. Male entitlement to women’s space, to women’s time and to women’s bodies will remain unchallenged. The underlying attitudes that allow and excuse male violence will carry on as normal, as women once again are expected to remove ourselves from public space that we should all have equal access to. 

So, as tempting as it is to never have to feel that twitch of anxiety on a train again, I’m going to demand bigger change. I’m going to demand women’s liberation from male violence. 

Because it’s the attitudes and behaviours of men that need to change. Not where I choose to sit on the train. 

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

It's not feminists who believe "all men are rapists"

A couple of years ago, when Bristol launched their new anti sexual violence campaign, I was a guest on a radio show discussing the ‘This is not an excuse to rape me’ message. The show invited members of the public to phone in (love it when they don’t tell you that…!). One chap called in to let me know that campaigns like this don’t work. He explained that men simply can’t help themselves – that if they saw a girl with her short skirt showing her bottom (seriously, his words), then it would prove too tempting for men. 

I responded that I, clearly, had a higher opinion of men than he did. I explained that I didn’t believe that men couldn’t control themselves when confronted with a woman they fancied. I explained that rape isn’t about sexual attraction but about power. And I explained that I believed male violence isn’t inevitable – that rape is not a natural response of men when around women. 

In short, I told him that, as a feminist, I don’t believe all men are rapists. And that, through his claims that men simply can’t control themselves, he kind of did. 

I was reminded of this exchange last week, when I read about Catherine Hakim’s (yes, she of Honey Money Erotic Capital fame) latest piece of research about the male sex deficit and how it justified calls to legalise prostitution. I’m not going to rehash the arguments about decriminalisation/legalisation/Nordic Model of prostitution here. But I do want to talk about the relationship Hakim’s conclusions share with the phone-in man, and what it says about our views of men, sex, and sexual violence. 

In this article, the journalist summarises Hakim’s research like so:

She says the available evidence suggests that prostitution and pornography have no damaging social impact and may even help reduce sex crime. Dr Hakim says: “Spain, where prostitution is legal, also has exceptionally low rates of rape.”’

I’d be interested to know where she got that rate from – whether she’s focused on reports, convictions or estimate. But that’s for another day. What I want to focus on here is how she’s fundamentally saying that we need the sex industry in order to meet men’s sexual ‘needs’, and that this will in turn keep down the rates of sexual violence. 

Of course, I’m sure Hakim would deny how this translates. But to me, this reads in one way and one way only. If we are saying we need to ensure men can have access to sex on tap in order to reduce sexual violence, then we’re saying that all men are potential rapists. She’s saying that we therefore need to create a group of women that are available for men to ‘work out’ their sexual ‘frustration’ in order to stop them raping other women. 

It’s a truly disturbing and horrifying thought. 

Hakim argues that there is a sexual deficit between men and women – in other words that men have higher sex drives than women and that this: “cannot be dismissed as an outdated patriarchal myth as argued by some feminists”.

Well, actually I would argue that it could. We might have Sex and the City, we might even have 50 Shades of Grey, but there is still a lot of shame attached to female sexuality. Negative tropes around women freely expressing their sexuality still abound – from ‘he’s a stud, she’s a slut’, to the stigma that still surrounds women masturbating. We are still wedded to the stereotype that men need sex more than women. Why? Because it’s a stereotype that serves patriarchal control over women’s reproductive labour. It’s a stereotype that treats sex as labour for women and leisure for men – a stereotype which serves a capitalist sex industry. 

Yes, we live in a raunch culture that purports to be yo so totes cool with women having a free and easy sexuality. But when you peel back the raunch, what you really see is a culture that is okay with women who conform to patriarchal beauty standards performing a male-defined spectacle of sexuality. Women actually embodying their own sexuality, talking about sexual desire and sexual pleasure – all that is still seen as pretty problematic. Because despite its focus on T&A, raunch culture is fundamentally conservative about how it allows women to express themselves sexually. I could go on and on about this, but really, Ariel Levy writes it better than I ever could.  

Hakim says the:

“sexual deficit” between men and women “helps to explain many puzzles, including why men are the principal customers for commercial sexual entertainments of all kinds”.

This is not a puzzle, Catherine! This is capitalist patriarchy! There’s no ‘puzzle’ here – it’s not a random weird coincidence that men are the main consumers of sexual entertainment, when that sexual entertainment is a capitalist invention aimed to make money out of stereotypes of male sexuality! 

To paraphrase someone or other, it’s capitalist patriarchy, stupid

Again, this ‘conclusion’ about men and sexual entertainment is highly influenced by the cultural messages we receive about sexuality. I cannot tell you how many times I have been told, or read, that men are ‘highly visual’ and therefore need p0rn and strip clubs, whereas women are more ‘emotional’ or turned on by status or power. 

In response, I give you: this photo

You’re welcome ladies! 

Just because something is repeated over and over again doesn’t make it true. Again, these stereotypes serve our current notions about sex and sexuality – notions repeated by a capitalist patriarchal industry determined to turn sex into a marketable product sold to men. 

However, even if it were true that men are more visual, and men need sex more than women, it still doesn’t mean that creating an industry that treats sex as work for women and leisure for men; that sends a message that women are disposable sex objects to be consumed by men – is okay. 

On the big capitalist patriarchal project that is the sex industry, Hakim

dismisses claims that prostitution, pornography and lap-dancing are harmful to women’ 

Again, this is so, so debatable. 

When I co-ran the Bristol Feminist Network, I met young women who talked about the impact of p0rn on their lives. Speak to any group of teenage girls, go on the Everyday Sexism website and hear their voices as they talk about the influence everyday, pedestrian and violent p0rn has on boys who then pressure them into performing sex acts they don’t want to. Then read this research on the levels of sexual violence in teen relationships. 

The normalisation of the commercial sex industry has an impact on women across the board and can contribute to levels of sexual violence. For example, when feminist groups targeted strip club licensing in Bristol, the police informed us there was an 80% increase in reports of sexual harassment and assault in the streets surrounding the five central strip clubs. 

Plus the psychological impact of knowing that, as women, we live in a society that views us as disposable sex objects – as tits and arse laid bare across a magazine cover, a website screen, a stage – is incredibly harmful. And that impact isn’t just on women. Research from the American Psychological Association found that exposure to sexist imagery makes men more tolerant of misogyny. 

And then, of course, there’s the woman within the sex industry – women who are trafficked, raped, physically attacked and verbally abused by the punters that so callously ‘review’ their purchases. 

Which leads me to my final point. Because in arguing that we ‘need’ the sex industry in order to reduce the levels of sexual violence, it’s as if we put a full stop on caring about the violence perpetuated against women within that industry. 

Hakim’s research suggests

that ending curbs on Britain’s £4.3bn sex industry could reduce levels of rape and sex attacks.”

What about the levels of rape and sex attacks against women in the sex industry? Does legalising it reduce those? Research on legalisation in Holland and Germany would suggest a BIG FAT NO. In fact, as demand increases with legalisation, trafficking has soared to help create the supply. And, by its very definition, trafficking is violence – women in the sex industry who have been trafficked are being raped every day. 

This all goes back to my earlier point. The reported statement purports to believe that if we are to reduce sexual violence, we have to give men an outlet that will allow them to expend their sexual frustration. We argue that if men aren’t given access to sex, then they will just go out and rape. 

Or, that all men are potential rapists if their so-called needs aren’t met. 

And that’s not okay, is it? That’s not okay to say. 

(can I just point out to that no one 'needs' sex? Sex is great but no one dies from not having it. A bloke's dick won't drop off if he can't pay to stick it in someone).

Anyway, back to the main point. In this analysis, Hakim et al ignore that rape isn’t about sexual desire, but about power. It tells lies about men’s needs for sex, and makes the false suggestion that men have a right to have their 'needs' met. 

But perhaps most horrifyingly of all, it argues that we need to create a group of women that are there to service men’s sexual 'needs', in order to protect another group of women from men’s sexual violence. 

It’s such a staggeringly Victorian idea I’m astonished that no one is embarrassed at promoting or praising it. 

Whatever one’s views on the sex industry, it is simply not okay to justify its existence by saying it will prevent men from raping. We can never justify its existence by saying that its purpose is to protect one group of women from male violence, by creating another group of women who are there for men to ‘act out’ their 'frustrations'. 

Because if we justify it on those terms, then how do we ever challenge male violence? How do we protect women in the industry from violence? 

And how can we ever achieve a world where ALL women are truly free from male violence, if we start from the position that men will rape if their sexual 'needs' are not met? 

As a feminist, I totally and wholly believe that not all men are rapists. I believe male violence is a product of violent patriarchy, and that it can be challenged. I do not believe rape is inevitable, and I believe in a world where we can all live free from male violence. 

That is why I cannot support any argument that says we need to create a group of women that men can use sexually, in order to prevent them from raping another group of women. I cannot support any argument that says some women can be raped so others aren’t. 

Because I believe better of men. I believe in a better world than that grotesque, Victorian compromise.