Sunday, January 18, 2004

‘Tis Pity She’s A Guardianista

How strange. I find myself agreeing with Madeleine Bunting about the Sun’s rather pathetic anti-Clare Short campaign. Ms Short has no intention of reviving her legislative campaign against the Sun’s Page Three (twice her private member’s bills have failed) – she simply said she believed it should be banned.

The Sun’s campaign – featuring a bus parked outside Short’s home and unflattering fake photomontages of her topless, isn’t even, as Ms Bunting points out, remotely funny. And I’m no fan of the MP for Ladywood – though for years I considered her a kind of antiparticle Ann Widdicombe, whose honesty you can applaud even while disagreeing with her. Clare’s antics over Iraq – staying in the Cabinet and then resigning after the war, along with her ambivalent views on murderous Irish republicanism have caused me to change my mind.

I wish these Guardianistas would make their minds up, though.

Is selling sex in all its forms, from car adverts through Page Three and ladmag shoots to Amy and Lara, a major cause of gang rape, frustration and impotence, and eating disorders (Ms Bunting), ‘violence against women’ (femiluni Julie Bindel), is it just another job - sex work, or is it ‘a girl power thing’ where the exploited are the poor sad male punters (A Good Thing) rather than the girls (A Bad Thing)?

After all, if sex is just another recreational activity, like a rubber of bridge or a game of tennis, then why shouldn’t some individuals sell their God-given talents and abilities ? And in a free market, you sell your assets or services at the market rate.

For the TUC and their Women’s Equality Officer Rebecca Gill, ‘sex workers’ are ‘legitimate workers in need of protection’. Even the great Aaronovitch seems chilled about it. Madeleine talks of women who claim ‘to be "empowered" by sticking her breasts at a camera’. Yet surely it’s the cheque that’s empowering, not the act. Or as one escort said ‘my self-esteem went through the roof. It made me feel like the next best thing to Claudia Schiffer, to be paid all this money by men who wanted to spend time with me.’ I get a distinct impression that the money is important here. So what’s the problem ?

For the Bindels, Dworkins or Catharine MacKinnons of this world the objection seems to be that men are involved, with all the violence and misogyny inevitably associated with the extra Y chromosome. Worse, they actually get something out of it. But the high tide of gender feminism has long passed and such voices have little influence - besides, as the Spectator reports, we sent most of them to Iraq - a far better use of taxpayers money than 'toys for the boys' like flak jackets.

Surely only the prudish, moralistic or (heaven help us) religious would argue that sex is in any sense sacred, private, or related to the conception and rearing of children ? Yet Madeleine and her pals remain uneasy. Something, somewhere seems wrong.

She’s right of course. But until she becomes prudish, or moralistic, or (heaven help us) religious she’ll never quite know what it is, and she’ll continue to rail at what she calls ‘fascistic norms’ and what I call secular post-Christian culture.

PS - Lordy, her sense of history ! I’ve noted her inability to comprehend the Victorians. She writes "In peasant cultures of the past, it was the reproductive powers of the female body which dominated representations of women. Now it is their power to provide male sexual pleasure. It doesn't seem much like progress".

Hang on – I thought the change from breeding machine to autonomous sexual being was progressive. And I presume when she says ‘now’ she’s no longer talking about peasant cultures. But when she writes about the representations I don’t think she means the Sheela–Na-Gig or the Venus of Willendorf (who incidentally bears a remarkable resemblance to the Sun’s idea of a naked Clare Short). I think she’s got in mind one particular woman with one particular child, which dominated all representations of women from Russia to Ireland for a thousand years.