As Loaded relaunches, a bunch of new books by feminist writers signal the feminist movement is going mainstream

by Rachel Bell on July 4, 2014

Loaded is back, twenty years after it launched as the original lad mag, but this time it’s without cover girls and with Julie Burchill, the prolific feminist journalist, as a columnist. In the publishing world, three equally outspoken feminist writers and journalists bring out books. First Julie Bindel, awesome fighter of all forms of male violence against women releases Straight Expectations: What does it mean to be gay today? Then Caitlin Moran, releases her first novel, How To Build A Girl and Laurie Penny gives us Unspeakable Things: Sex Lies and Revolution. With Bindel and Penny’s challenging questions about patriarchy and capitalism and Caitlin Moran’s comic talent for introducing feminism, these writers are reaching a varied audience of readers interested in gender.

While the Lose the Lad Mags campaign, set up by Object and UK Feminista in 2013, is working to get pornographic and harmful lad mags off the shelves (The Co-op stopped selling Nuts, Zoo, Loaded, Front and The Sport thanks to the campaign, Tesco have called on lad mag publishers to tone down the objectification) and sexism is finally being named on a daily basis, in the world of sport, in entertainment and through the explosion of feminist activism such as the Everyday Sexism Project, Loaded returns with a new look. A spokesperson at Simian Publishing says it will drop the scantily clad models who were ‘lowering the tone’ and drop the ‘lewd content’. Calling the content ‘lewd’ as if the topless babes were dirty slags, looks like distancing itself from responsibility for its sexism. The content was sexist. The tone was sexist. Don’t imply the ‘real girls’ and female celebs are to blame for the attitude to women you peddled. My guess is that in the new Loaded, women will still only feature because they are hot. They’ll just be wearing a bit more. And sexism can still thrive if the women wear clothes. Will the new Loaded challenge the current narrow mould of masculinity? Will readers be challenged to look beyond their job and status to define their identity? Be encouraged to find friendship and growth in the company of women? I hope so, because it will be mainly women who read the books by feminist writers and heterosexual men looking to Loaded for guidance on how to be a modern man. I hope so, because lad mags’ pornographic reduction of women, like all objectification of women, has impacted on a generation of males. Studies show that objectified images of women make male attitudes towards them more callous and their actions more violent. Lad mags gave young men a license to act like puerile idiots who need to feel power over women to feel good about themselves. Lad mags said it’s OK to be immature. The pressure to be all metrosexual and sophisticated or courageous enough to be a true individual or a responsible man who enjoys the company of women as equals is all too much effort. Join us, be a little twat again.

While lad mags were about cowardice, feminism is about great courage in the face of injustice, abuse, suffering and repression. Those who have helped bring about the beginning of the end of lad mags nearly a decade ago did so in the face of intimidation. When I was involved in Object’s campaign against The Sport and wrote about the harm of lad mags, I felt afraid reading the printed threats made by Zoo magazine against those who complained. An extract from Laurie Penny’s autobiographical book tells us that finding feminism is to be awake to the truth, and then having the courage to face it and not be silenced. And as all feminists know, the truth isn’t pretty – it’s hard-going to face our oppression day in day out – but feminists choose to live by their true identity (and face persecution for falling short of the narrow gender stereotype) rather than die inside and smile for capitalism’s rules for perfect, passive girls. Julie Bindel questions the gay community’s embrace of capitalism and patriarchy, leaving radical feminists among the few brave enough to seek something other than acceptance in the status quo. Caitlin Moran’s courage stems from using brazen, unapologetic humour to smash the myths about femininity and female sexuality.

With feminist comics winning awards, a trend for strong roles for women in TV and feminist books adding to the now energetic fourth wave of feminism, it is officially cool to be a feminist. And deeply sad to be seen with a lad mag. Keep up people. Only another twenty years before men who believe women are human just like them might start identifying as feminists.

Read this…

Read Hadley Freeman in The Guardian on Loaded, Robin Thicke and how moronic ironic sexism is

Read Hannah Pool in The Independent on the demise of lad mags and the rise of feminism

Why a pole dancing display at a primary school fete is wrong

by Rachel Bell on June 20, 2014

A few days ago a headteacher at a primary school in north Kent arranged a pole dancing display for the school’s summer fete. The youngest performer was four years old and The Daily Mail reported that a twelve year old performed in gold hot pants and a crop top with one shoulder cut off. The show associated itself with children’s popular culture by using songs from Disney movies, including The Lion King and Frozen. A commentator and pole dancer at Kentonline.co.uk believes a father’s criticism of the event is ridiculous as we allow kids to do maypole dancing. Another asks what’s the problem, we allow kids to do the splits in leotards.

I wrote about the trend for pole dancing clubs at university campuses seven years ago. The student clubs rebrand pole dancing as pole fitness or pole exercise yet I remember York University Pole Exercise Club selling stripper shoes on their website, branded with a sexy lady logo. As the drive to get pole dancing seen as an Olympic Sport continues, seeing four year olds watch four year olds pole dancing is the result seven years down the line.

So, let’s start with the Maypole comparison. Pole dancing and maypole dancing are incomparable. The original motivation behind Maypole dancing no longer exists. The historical motivations behind pole dancing do still exist. Pole dancing is rooted in the sex industry, which harms all women. (It makes no difference is boys get involved in pole fitness, it’s girls and women who suffer because of its place in the sex industry). Pole dancing and lap dancing usually go hand in hand at the same strip club. If it wasn’t for the work of Object, there’d be a lap dancing and pole dancing club on every high street, as they used to be licensed in the same way as cafes. Object drew on research from Julie Bindel’s report, Profitable Expolits, and interviews with lap dancers and pole dancers to expose the truth about pole dancing in the sex industry. And it is not glamorous or empowering or well paid. As a general rule, you’ll only hear positive stories about pole dancing in the media because the many women who had a soul-destroying, degrading, horrible time to work second jobs don’t want to tell the world about it. And it doesn’t make for a sexy story.

I write about very unsexy stories so, like Object, I wanted to get the common reality of pole dancing out there, and interviewed a former pole dancer who was willing to admit how utterly shit the job made her life. Read her story here of how dancers have to pay rent to the clubs just to be there or prostitute themselves to get picked for a dance. She says that the empowerment and liberation that pole dancing promises have no value in the real world. The porn and sex industries love to use the language of feminism to sell us their objectified view of women. And I say, hey sisters, that’s great you want sexual empowerment, really super, but there are other types of empowerment y’know! Equal pay, equal childcare, the right to go out at night free from fear of rape, the right for a school girl to walk to school without being sexually harassed, the right to be free of porn culture in every shop and street, this is what true empowerment looks like.

As well as being a devastatingly crap experience for many women working in the clubs, lap dancing and pole dancing clubs promote all women as sex objects. When I say this, I mean objects that are not seen as fully human and deserve to be harassed and hurt and abused. Objects that men have rights to. Throwaway commodities. Just look at some porn and you will see how the porn and sex industries make squillions from telling men to see women as valueless fuckholes. Promoting sexual objectification of women is not OK when one in three girls and women experience male violence and even mild objectification is proven to make men more callous towards women. It not OK when we live in a dangerously sexist society. Women don’t just live in fear of male violence (and that includes verbal abuse and controlling behaviour), we are subjected to harassment at work, surviving life on low wages, and the consequences of appallingly low representation in all halls of power.

While the ‘pole-exercise’ community quibbles about what clothing to ban to gain acceptance in the Olympics, how, in this pornified culture does pole-dancing really enter the lives of little girls and teenagers? Could it be through a music video showing hyper-sexualised black women? Kylie, Robbie and Justin Timberlake all feature overtly sexualised pole dancing in their videos. Could it be through Tesco’s toy department, which sold the Peekaboo pole kit complete with sexy garter? Could it be through the videos and pole kits sold by Carmen Electra? She’s so pretty! Or by wanting to be like Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton or Kate Moss? All these women are valued for their sex appeal. Mummy might take them to ‘pole-fitness’ but the cultural messages are impossible to ignore.

Let’s be clear, the sex and porn industries are inextricably linked. For some reason few fail to recognise that they are prostitution. This is about so much more than a pole dancing display at a school. It’s about joining the dots between all forms of sexualisation and women’s unequal place in the world. The former underpins the latter. Alas, like most people, pole fitness enthusiasts have zero clue how sexist the world is. So here’s my one easy step to follow: as long as the harmful sex industry continues to exist, just find another way to keep fit. Oh and find a truly effective way to be empowered. Join campaign group Object if you’re not sure where to start.

Instead of What would you like to be? it’s Which Disney Princess would you like to be?

by Rachel Bell on January 30, 2014

Cinderella and her princess pals have been taking over girlhood for a while but now it really is time to desist. There is no alternative for little girls to dress up as, no alternative for little girls in the role play castle at school, no superheroine, no female space detective, no astronaut, firefighter or pirate. No Bex the Builder. On a good note, CBeebies have finally noticed that females make up over half the population and have brought us Katie Morag. Inquisitive, adventurous, at times grumpy, with the female line of her family a focal point. When will everymum and everydad start to question the body policing limitations of Disney Princess, and see it as the capitalist machine it is? Disney Princess makes girlhood a sexualised stereotype where prettiness is all. The endless pink products to live in ‘princess culture’ promote obsessive grooming and self-decoration as the highest achievement, so you better wax it all off , stop eating and get that boob job if you want validation. Let’s not forget the favourite Disney princess films were made in the fifties, a frightening time of domestic curtailment for women. The power of Disney is truly awesome. Is your little darling good enough to be a princess? I say tell her she’s better than that, and get Gravity and Hunger Games on DVD (OK, start with Whip It). News of artists casting Disney princesses as porn stars isn’t shocking,  it seems like their inevitable career trajectory. I recognise that recent films Frozen and Brave depict their princesses as having agency and adventures. But they still lead girls back to the all pervasive, self-grooming pink world of princess culture. The girls still want to sit pretty and be rescued by the boys in the playground. It’s the monumental lack of alternatives that is the problem. Here’s the letter I sent to my son’s nursery school when, on a dressing-up day, it was overrun with princesses. The nursery believed in reading real stories to the children, not fairytales.

I’m writing today in regard to the fancy dress for charity days, which of course is a fantastic and fun idea. I noted that Superheroes are not allowed. I am no fan of the superhero ideal for boys as it promotes an alpha male ideology that entails fighting and weaponry. Plus there are no superheroines celebrated in the general consciousness, so it is pretty sexist. I would be interested to know why the nursery does not permit the Superhero, yet the Princess is not questioned. As we can all see, an extremely high percentage (all?) of girls have come as Princesses or very similar such as Little Red Riding Hood and Fairy. The Princess model, like the colour pink, is not a problem in itself, the problem is where it signposts girls to. The problem is that girls are given almost no other role models. While toys for girls and boys have become gendered, pink toys are largely about self-grooming and domesticity. In contrast toys marketed at boys stimulate more learning, such as building and science sets. A double page spread in the Early Learning Centre catalogue showed FIVE girls seated at mirrors. Pink of course. The princess model tells girls, and boys, that girls’ value is all tied into their appearance, and if they work hard at being pretty, then a boy will notice/rescue them and make them worthy. Storybooks about Princesses being rescued by Princes ingrain children’s understanding of what is expected of boys and girls.

The gender debate has moved on from just giving girls equal access to boys. Girls need diverse and positive role models, they need to know that the Princess narrative, like the fifties housewife, is no longer relevant, and they can be an adventurer, pirate, firefighter, astronaut too. Disney Princess is so overwhelming prevalent in the media that girls need help to see that alternatives exist. It’s worth considering the morals of a just a few Disney Princess stories. For example, Beauty and the Beast tells us that it’s acceptable to be an ugly male but not an ugly female. Cinderella tells us that a man with lots of money will make you happy, but only if you are beautiful as well as good. It’s a huge challenge as few parents are able to see the limitations and pressures they are placing on their daughters. They want them to be Princesses too and enjoy the dressing up. Most of the girls will grow up to see they are not Princesses and therefore lacking.  An APA study showed that poor body image affects girls’ academic performance and contribution as well as their mental health. While girls are increasingly told to view themselves as objects, boys learn to objectify and disrespect girls too.  Will you consider setting the girls and parents a challenge next time fancy dress day comes along?

The end of cool: Kate Moss and Playboy, making misogyny glamorous

by Rachel Bell on December 9, 2013

I can think of few thinks more embarrassing than having my picture taken with Cooper Hefner, the 22 year old son of Hugh Hefner, who wants to be just like his pornographer father. Pictures in the press of Kate Moss cosying up with Cooper, following her first shoot for Playboy, signals the end of cool. Lending your name, and body parts, to Playboy is lending them to corporate misogyny. That’s a lot more harmful than just sprinkling your hipster dust on a monumentally naff brand.

Playboy has marketed itself as the acceptable, child-friendly face of porn – using its cute bunny motif to sell Playboy pencil cases and single duvet covers to school girls and opening a store on Oxford street with pink clothing. Playboy has become a global brand by selling women as  ‘Piss Loving lesbian Sluts’, ‘Bound, Gagged and Shagged’, ‘Extreme Insertions’ and ‘Barely 18 Anal Virgins’. Playboy operate several porn channels in the UK and often refer to women as ‘bitches’, ‘sluts’ and ‘whores’. They market their pornography with language that implies coercion or violence against women. As the campaign group, Bin the Bunny rightly describe it, Playboy are ‘grooming’ girls into believing that being a bunny or ‘playmate’ is something to aspire to. Meanwhile, in what academics and feminists call ‘rape culture’ (in which lad mags, Grand Theft Auto, Robin Thicke and rape myths create a wallpaper to the everyday reality of violence against women) boys are groomed as the consumers of porn. Anytime free access to hardcore porn is the best thing about the Internet according to a 15 year old boy in Beeban Kidron’s film, InRealLife. With gonzo porn the most popular, that’s anytime free access to male sexual violence against women.

I imagine that Kate Moss, who can do no wrong even in the eyes of a cool feminist and fashion journalist like Hadley Freeman, is likely to boost Playboy’s cool factor and in turn, normalise sexism a whole lot more. Many of London’s Grimrose Hill set (Nick Grimshaw, who reportedly paid for a stripper to amuse Harry Styles’ on his 18th, is in the club) considered by the media as the capital’s cool crowd, were also in attendance at London’s Playboy Club, the venue for the British Fashion Awards after party. Daisy Lowe (a Playboy stripper before Moss) Pixie Geldof, Alexa Chung, Harry Styles, Poppy Delevinge and Rita Ora joined Moss at the pornographer’s Mayfair club.

From stripping for the Pirelli Calendar to pole dancing in a White Stripes video, is Moss, one of the few role models available to girls,  glamorising the porn and sex industries?  Moss joins a bandwagon of celebrities who have aligned themselves with Playboy: child friendly stars including Justin Timberlake have filmed music videos at Playboy Mansion, where child friendly actors like Lindsay Lohan party. Model Lily Cole posed in a particularly girl child-like Playboy shoot.

As the feminist movement is flourishing, firing young women into activism against mainstream sexism and winning prizes in the arts, Moss and north London’s in-crowd appear blind or uncaring to what is truly counter culture, and cool.

I don’t agree with singling out women for responsibility for the institutionalised and ingrained sexism that limits, hurts, destroys and kills girls and women. It is the work of men, and men in power. Men making money and power off women’s backs. But I’m tired and angry that our so few female icons and role models fuel the misogyny machine. A recent Girl Guides survey found that 6 out of 10 girls have had comments about their appearance shouted at them at school, 7 out of 10 girls aged 13 and over report sexual harassment at school or college and 75% of girls aged 11 and over think sexism affects most areas of their lives. Laura Bates describes the Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2013 as an ‘urgent wake-up call’ reflecting the ‘sexism and harassment on a regular basis’ experienced by girls and young women who contact the Everyday Sexism Project she founded.

Now Katniss, there’s a role model…

Read more about Playboy grooming girls and the school girls who rejected the porn brand

Want more facts about how much Playboy hates men as well as women? Go to Bin The Bunny

Evening Standard sits back as model condones domestic violence

by Rachel Bell on September 22, 2013

When models speak, they have the power to shatter the myths that shroud their jobs at clotheshorses. In the fashion industry sexual abuse is as common as it is everywhere else. Teenage girls are sent far from home to find the ‘job’ is actually hanging about with rich guys at a pool. Racism is rife. Kate Moss has never used her influence over girls and women to say anything useful. But this week, the Evening Standard gave Russian model Katia Elizarova the power to say something extremely damaging – to normalise male violence against women.

The 27 year old, who is appearing in Fox programme Meet The Russians, says, ‘You can see why girls want to escape from their depressed towns. But when they come to the West, they often expect their men to be like their provincial men: yes he might beat her, but he would make sure there was a roof over her head and that she was protected. There is a saying in Russia: If he beats you, then he loves you. So when an Englishman asks for half the rent, she thinks… ‘Uh-oh, maybe I was better off in Russia.’

Journalist Richard Godwin lets the model make her message that she would rather be beaten than pay her way or be a self-sufficient woman without question or comment.

In contrast, model Jordan Dunn used her interview with The Fashion, the Guardian’s new magazine, to speak out against racism in the fashion industry and blast a few myths. Dunn, 23, says ‘I want to talk about what goes on. A lot of people are scared to speak up. People think it’s all glamorous and good and that all models get treated the same, but there is still a lot of BS that happens. I speak up.’ Dunn says that in Paris she is often cancelled because of her skin tone, adding, ‘the people who should be talking about it, and can make a difference aren’t. The people higher than me, the stylists, the designers, the casting directors – they’re the ones with the power to change this. They say if you have a black face on a magazine cover it won’t sell, but there’s no real evidence for that.’

Dunn is mates with model of the moment Cara Delvigne, the antithesis to the princess type embodied by Russian model Elizarova. Delvigne is more celebrated for her daft antics, expressive face and love of loud street style off the catwalk. Her clothes may cost a small fortune but they are comfy clothes that you can run in. Yes all her friends are too cool, all her hang-outs are too cool, but she represents an uninhibited sense of youthful female energy and fun, something other than the sexualised object that so many of her peers conform to. In contrast Elizarova drones on in the Evening Standard about her double standards when it comes to gendered behaviour. ‘Oh my God, Oxford Circus in the evening! When I see those girls, it’s shocking. You wouldn’t catch a Russian girl walking in bare feet because she can’t be bothered to wear heels any more. Drunk men can lie on the street because boys will be boys. There are some borders that women shouldn’t cross and that is one of them. It’s just so unattractive.’ Of course Elizarova is a product of a society where the misogyny makes the UK look positively Nordic.

In advance of the Leveson Report, the hugely important report, Just The Women, found that Rape Culture, that is, the glamorisation and trivialisation of rape and violence against women, to be prevalent in the British newspapers, with no coverage of the scale of male violence against women in the UK or commentary by experts. In presenting no commentary in the Elizarova interview, The Evening Standard are fuelling and colluding in this Rape Culture.

Miley Cyrus and Major Lazor’s double assault on black women

by Rachel Bell on September 8, 2013

Nicola Adams may be in the M & S ad campaign, a symbol of her acceptance into mainstream Middle England, but racism and sexism in music videos is taking black women’s status hurling backwards.

Miley Cyrus has joined pop’s sex industry bandwagon by stripping and objectifying herself and framing it as ‘shocking’, when, from Gaga, Perry and Madonna to Britney, Kylie, Xtina and Beyonce, this route couldn’t be more conventional. With her Wrecking Ball video – revolting, artless rumpelstiltskin-like pornographer Terry Richardson directs so it’s an overused formula anyway – Cyrus is merely continuing the Disney kid tradition (Justin Timberlake being a very keen follower) that female nakedness objectified is outré. Cyrus is adopting ‘twerking’, the black women’s dance move with PR gusto. Before her performance with Robin Thicke at the VMAs in which she accessorised the male artist by twerking at his crotch, Cyrus was using black women twerking in her video for ‘We Can’t Stop’. Like the black and white male rap artists before her, Cyrus is sexualising black women at the expense of their humanity, turning them into faceless creatures whose butts define them. In response to the media attention of the VMA’s, Cyrus cringily boasted that she ‘made history’. Unable to desist from exposing her new gluten free body, she appears to believe that ‘amazing body’ makes her ‘amazing’ too. Nothing new there I guess. But Cyrus has simply taken history in the same shitty direction it’s always been for black women. The bottom of the pile. Nicola Adams made history in the Olympics Miley.

The sexism and racism that infuses the representation of women in porn and has long been adopted by pop, has sinked a level deeper in the video from Major Lazer.

Here black and white women are pitted against each other, with the underlying message that skinny, dippy rhythm-less white girls need to learn how to do sex from black women. The video uses comedy and violence to get away with a rape scene. The black woman is cast as an oversized alien with black snake-like tentacles coming out of her mouth. She forces her tentacles into the white women’s anuses to inflate their asses to ‘black women size’. Message: with their new oversize asses, the white women are now as ripe for sexual reduction as the black bitches.

I heard about this video by reading a Guardian blog by Ikamara Larasi, who, along with Object and End Violence Against Women and Imkaan, are getting 17-24 year olds to speak out against sexism and racism in music videos by developing a site and mobile app. From Robin Thicke’s stereotyped message that good white girls need a good rape to Major Lazer using the sci-fi comedy model to devalue rape, violence against women is integral to the racism and sexism in modern day pop.

Remember Reeva

by Rachel Bell on March 14, 2013

It’s one month since Reeva Steenkamp was killed by a man who got famous. Coverage of her death has largely made that man more famous. Historically, men who kill women become anti-heroes or legends. I say let’s remember Reeva.

February 14 2012 saw the biggest global action to end male violence against women in our history. One Billion Rising. Reeva Steenkamp was visiting her boyfriend on this  Valentine’s Day. He shot her at least three times.  He took her life away from her.

BBC News covered the killing of Reeva by giving two people who met Oscar Pistorius a platform to gush about him at length, and then express how very surprised they are that he is in this situation. The Sun remembered Reeva. But not in a good way. It ran a gratuitous cover of Reeva, a model, unzipping her bikini. Human rights groups and journalists like Marina Hyde were rightly angered. Like hello? Leveson Enquiry? The Sun, like all red tops, only recognizes females for their flesh. I say remember Reeva for her humanity. I didn’t know Reeva Steenkamp. BBC3′s documentary, Oscar Pistorius: What Really Happened introduces me to her housemate and best friend, Gina Myers. Gina and Reeva were so loving and close that Reeva texted Gina that she loved her most nights. Gina says that Reeva was, ‘this incredible bubbley person’, who was ‘magnificent on the inside’ and ‘made her laugh’. Gina’s sorrow at losing her friend is still raw. A picture emerges of Reeva as an amazingly thoughtful, giving friend, who values closeness, who will go that extra mile. Gina recalls the time she got a new job that was a two hour drive away. Reeva didn’t want her making the journey alone and insisted she accompany her there and back, giving Gina photos to remember their ‘road trip’. Reeva was so positive and encouraging to her friend, texting her, ‘You’ll be awesome, I love you.’

The documentary tells me that Reeva was on the cusp of becoming a big name in South Africa, following her appearance on a reality show set in Jamaica. Footage shows Reeva being gracious, philosophical and grateful for the experience. ‘Always be true to yourself’ she says, to conclude her thoughts. Reeva was a former law student and model so her relationship with Pistorius inevitably drew the celeb mags to her. The editor of Heat described her as a ‘pleasure to work with’; another reporter describes how down to earth she remained despite the open gates to celeb land.

I’d never heard of Oscar Pistorius before this so I don’t know how to spell his name without checking. I say lets know how to spell STEENKAMP first.

Toughest Place To Be Highlights Slaughter of Women

by Rachel Bell on September 3, 2012

BBC2′s Toughest Place To Be is one of a handful of things worth turning the TV on for and last night’s programme took an A&E nurse form Preston to the murder capital of the world – Juarez in Mexico. Producer director Victoria Bell showed that, despite the constant flow of male victims to the hospital, it’s the female victims of the Juarez drug wars who aren’t lucky enough to even make it there. Since the early 1990′s women and girls have been disappearing from Juarez in their hundreds. As the programme highlighted when the Preston nurse, Maria, visited a local mother, the police don’t investigate and the bones are found years later. Only the remaining body parts hint at the unspeakable torture, rape and mutilation that is the fate of these Mexican women and girls.  We are given an insight into the suffering of Trine, the nurse in charge of the prison ward. Risking her life to come to work, her story showed how the women who do live suffer, that no one is untouched by the violence. Trine lost her home. Her courage and giving compared to the men who destroy with guns was brought home when she and Maria visited a gun shop over the border in Texas. Of course the journey of the Preston nurse was the purpose of this programme but it could easily have focused on the drugs as the backdrop. Instead it reminded us that Juarez is a hole that swallows women. It’s important that it’s not just the mothers who never forget.

Simon Cowell’s thumbs up to the sex industry as kids’ entertainment

by Rachel Bell on April 7, 2012

ITV brought the sex industry to the kids again last night, with Simon Cowell giving a massive approval to the stripper who performed on Britain’s Got Talent at 8pm, sending the message that stripping is fun for all the family and will get you places.

So come on little girls, stripping wont just make you loved and famous, it’s actually a talent. It’s not the first time the kids have been entertained by strippers on ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent. When it’s burlesque, it gets excused as an art-form, or empowering for women who have real bodies, but it’s just stripping for middle class people who think they’re trendy, and now the mainstream think it’s all ever so quirky. So what if there is intended ‘humour’? So what if she has a ‘real’ body? Stripping is stripping. Empowerment is getting fairly paid, the right to representation in parliament, the right to abort your own foetus, that sort of thing, get it? Normalising the sex industry is normalising sexism, not sex. It’s very existence undermines all women’s chances of equality.  I don’t want my three year old son, who was enjoying the show, to know that this is what women get noticed and applauded for just yet. I don’t want to have to face the depressing everyday scenario of ‘Mummy why has that women got no pants on?’ just yet.

Watch former lapdancers talk about their ‘work’ and what it’s really like to be a stripper.

Read the Fawcett Society’s report on how the sex industry undermines women’s equality in the workplace.

Read my interview with a woman who worked as a stripper here.

How did strip clubs get so normalised? Find out about Object’s  Stripping The Illusion campaign.

BBC3 tells the truth about rape

by Rachel Bell on March 29, 2012

Bravo to BBC3 for its documentary, I Never Said Yes, about the rape epidemic in the UK. Presenter Pips Taylor met survivors of rape who’d been through ordeals that would leave many people’s jaws agape. Unspeakable horrors and brutalities levelled by men is the new reality for a third of girls and women. The programme tells it like it is. After establishing the statistics on rape (15,934 reports of rape last year, only 1,058 convictions. And that’s from the teeny minority who do report) and blasting the some common myths, (most rapes are committed by acquaintances or in relationships, only 1 in 8 rapes is stranger rape), the presenter explored why the hell the British Justice System allows rapists to get off, whilst leaving hundreds and thousands of girls and women with completely shattered lives. Rape is the same as murder – it destroys the self – except you’re left to live. The interviews in the programme communicated that. Flaws within the CPS, who rarely bring a case to court as most cases don’t have 100% evidence (rape is usually committed behind closed doors doncha know) were exposed. Pips Taylor flagged up important points - that victims don’t get a lawyer (as they do in the US), and a defence lawyer saying ‘sometimes a family man might make just one mistake’ is, hel-lo?, not on. A rapist is a rapist. Many of them are do-gooders in society. They’re dads, husbands, boyfriends, friend’s brothers, fit men, rich men, famous men, they’re every man.

The title of the show must be applauded. By talking to some blokes at a youth project, Pips flagged up the excuse of mixed messages that men use. These were nice lads but their words were clueless and indicative of the long haul ahead to change attitudes. Look, if a woman is drunk, asleep, crying or on drugs, just don’t try and have sex. It’s simple: just ‘ask’ her if she wants to have sex. Ask her if she’s OK. Enough of this blaming women’s signals for not being clear. Crucially, the programme addressed the issue of shame. Ultimately, the jury decide and they lay the shame on the victim, reflecting society’s normalised sexism that places the blame on women. She put herself in the room, she wore a sexy top, she was drunk, she shouldn’t have got in the cab, she shouldn’t have given him a blow job. The usual outrageous accusations levelled at women, instead of focusing on the frightening violence that men do with impunity.

With a new controller at BBC3, it looks like the channel is addressing the crap that happens to young people in an intelligent, level way. I hope this means less gratuitous treatments of subjects like the ‘sex industry’. The sexism of pop culture and the normalisation of porn in children’s lives was addressed in a non-voyeuristic way with clips from one of the most misogynist videos ever made, Tip Drill. The message that rape is about power was communicated well in a meeting with the progressive Somerset police. The programme was brilliant but one thing would’ve made it brilliant with stars for me – further exploration of the culture of masculinity. Rape is a man’s issue. We need more focus on the question, What has happened to men’s humanity? How about: Part 2: What the fuck is wrong with men?

Truth About Rape busts the myths and helps survivors.

The London based Amina Scheme gives survivors support from women who’ve been through it too.

The Havens help girls and women who’ve experienced all forms of sexual violence, with no obligation to report to the police. I’m afraid they only exist in London.