Monthly Archives: July 2013

The UK internet filter: Banning ‘rape porn’ will censor LGBT, feminist sites and won’t stop rape

Banning rape porn. It’s the latest UK feminist thing that’s actually being taken up by politicians. And it’s the latest Hydra head to be reared in the cyclical moral panic over Innocent Kiddies Being Corrupted By Porn. (Not that the corruption of our kiddies has ever been proved, but then who needs to rely on anything so crass as evidence when riding the wave of a vote-ensuring hot button topic?The solution to this non existent problem is a UK-wide pornography filter. Remember when Iceland was having this discussion a few months back? Here’s why this is a bad (and impractical) idea.

We already have the filter on most mobile phones (satire, feminism, LGBT and sex ed censored)

Smartphones already have on by default porn filters. Well…I say ‘porn filters’. Unfortunately smartphones filter LGBT sites and sex ed sites too, leaving teens vulnerable and causing problems for LGBT teens. Smartphones also filter satire and feminist sites. In fact it’s not just smartphones- my phone isn’t a smartphone but it does have the filter. To unblock the filter I would have to take it to an O2 shop and prove I’m over 18 and prove my identity. Which means that under-18s and those who don’t wish to disclose their identities to phone companies are screwed. Having this filter extended to all internet capable devices would put more teens at risk, cause harm to young LGBT people and censor feminists and other political groups. This blog would certainly be censored as it contains mentions of feminism, the acronyms LGBT and LGBTQ and a blog on sex education.

That takes us neatly on to my next point. Pornography censorship frequently ends up censoring stuff it was never intended to like erotica, feminist literature, LGBT literature and sex education materials. This happened with the Minneapolis Ordinance which was set up by high-profile feminists Catharine McKinnon and Andrea Dworkin. The ordinance resulted in censorship of things the feminists didn’t want censired such as lesbian erotica. The history of porn censorship proves that it never works and ends up being used to oppress women and sexual minorities.

Who does the censoring, how will they decide and do we get to vote them in?

And here’s another thing. How do we distinguish between erotica and porn? Are digital copies of Lolita and Lady Chatterley’s Lover to be censored? Photos of the Statue of David? What about stuff that isn’t pornographic to most people such as BDSM porn or other fetish porn which might appear completely innocent to anyone who doesn’t have the fetish.

In fact, how are the censors going to recognise foot worship as porn while recognising an ad for a foot massager as not porn? And is the censoring going to be done by humans or by software? If it’s done by humans, who is going to be on the committee – surely a libertarian, a Muslim, a Christian, a radical feminist and a porn actor/director/scriptwriter would all have different opinions. It seems that the people who make up the Censorship Panel would face a lot of public scrutiny. Perhaps we should be allowed to vote for the Panel members. Whose standard will we be using, anyway? In some British communities a Lady Gaga music video might be seen as pornographic. So might Disney films: they portray girls as desiring men at first sight (Ariel), initiating sex outdoors (Nala), escaping an arranged marriage to become a soldier (Mulan) disobeying her father to be with a boy and almost running away to have illegitmate cubs (Kiara) and dancing with men unchaperoned (Cinderella). Given that kissing in public is a crime in some countries, these scenes would be shocking and constitute crimes to some people. Disney films tend to rely on themes of illicit relationships and no Disney girl ever covers her hair. Obviously The Simpsons might constitute porn too. This filter might be utterly meaningless to those who are offended by The Simpsons.

Even just banning ‘rape porn’ (where rape is simulated) has its problems. Does ‘rape porn’ mean it’s obvious that someone isn’t consenting? How obvious is obvious – do they have to verbally consent and state their age during the film? By the way, the call to ban footage of actual rape is stupid because it’s already illegal to possess images of rape and child abuse. It’s legally actionable even to publicly name rape victims and rape survivors or underage people who consensually have sex with adults (even in the Forrest case where we all know the pupil’s name).

The problem with banning porn is we’re forcing a cultural standard on everyone in Britain. We’re saying that scenes of snogging in public is okay but scenes of sex aren’t. We’re saying that the Muslim standard goes too far regarding censorship but the liberal standard doesn’t go far enough.For all time, this filter will be for ever bound to the cultural-moral beliefs of the dominant (middle class non migrant) culture of the UK in 2013.

Practicalities

People will be able to defeat such a filter with proxy servers, VPNs and the Tor network. Most people have heard of VPNs and proxies and you can bet that when the filter goes up those who haven’t will be googling and asking around until they do know. Never get between a teenage girl and her porn, Government. It’s a deep rooted human instinct and our species isn’t just going to give up its sexual expression just like that.

And news travels fast on the internet. Look how quickly teens started illegally downloading songs once some realised you could. Now everyone’s doing it even though it’s a crime. Viewing porn won’t be a crime so there’s even more incentive to get past the filter than there is to download music. And sex is a basic human need whereas music isn’t biologically built in to us. Teens will already have read the news stories about the filter and the brighter ones are already figuring out how to beat it (if they don’t already know).

As for age restrictions, I’m assuming it’ll be 18 for turning off the filter. Seeing as the age of consent and marriage (with parental permission) is 16, it seems a bit pointless. If it’s legal for 16 year olds to be married, having orgies or working in the adult industry (as independent escorts. Most agencies only take 18+) but not legal for them to watch porn then I don’t see how it protects 16 and 17 year olds. It’s just giving them the message that sex is shameful and that older adults aren’t trusting them with their own bodies.

The proposal’s creator doesn’t understand the internet

Claire Perry MP who drove the porn filter proposal has no understanding of how the internet works. She’s now being sued by Guido Fawkes after accusing him of “sponsoring” a hack of her blog. Actually he only posted screenshots of the hack’s result. Surely someone who doesn’t understand the internet shouldn’t be trusted to censor it. Rhoda Grant MSP who put forward that other feminist Bill (to criminalise sex purchase) also proved herself incapable of understanding technology and asked why there can’t be a 9pm watershed for the internet. Which isn’t surprising since she didn’t seem that clued up on sex work either when I interviewed her.

Children’s ‘innocence’ doesn’t exist- stop rape by tackling rape culture not by censorship

The idea of children’s inherent “innocence” as something which not only exists but needs protecting (as David Cameron claimed in his speech) is illogical. No study has ever proved this ‘innocence’ to exist. Nor has an end date for innocence (such as the onset or completion of puberty) ever been found or documented. Children are created by sex, born from the mother’s body and born with privates of their own. They aren’t otherwordly beings from the Planet Celibacy. Even in the Victorian era Freud stated that very young children masturbate and have BDSM desires. I personally believe that Freud overstated children’s sexuality but at the same time I’ve heard of 9 and 10 year olds who already thought about sex without understanding what they were thinking about (especially girls – unsurprising, since girls reach puberty earlier than boys). In my primary school 9 year olds would pair up with ‘boyfriends’ and ‘girlfriends’.

Children do not wake up one day as fully formed adults, confident about their relationships and desires. Like social interaction, behaviour and everything else, it’s a learning process. And we all mature at different rates. We all want different things. A child could be mentally advanced (like the 9 year olds mentioned above) but end up a late starter physically because of religious beliefs or never bumping into anyone they really like. Similarly, sexually active teens might have been late starters mentally and only started thinking about sex aged 13. Protecting children would be better achieved by protecting them from paedophiles and ephebophiles and telling them that if they report rape they will be believed and not blamed for dressing ‘slutty’ or drinking.

Porn doesn’t turn people into rapists. If schools and parents teach kids about respecting themselves and others then kids will understand that they can’t rape. Parents and teachers could also talk to their kids about rape directly and explain why it’s wrong. Even in a world with no ‘rape porn’ rapists will still exist as long as sex education is inadequate and victim blaming remains a part of the culture. How will kids know rape is wrong if nobody tells them so and if the victims are the ones who are stigmatised? The absence of porn isn’t the answer. It is the absence of condemnation of rape which causes rape. This is the problem that needs to be addressed.

Patriarchy- is the concept still relevant to feminism?

First published on The Quail Pipe on 25th June 2013.

 

The Patriarchy – a fundamental tenet of feminism, right? If you’re for gender equality then you’ve got to be against The Patriarchy because it’s the elite men who run society that are stopping women from achieving equality. I’m not for a moment suggesting that it isn’t men who usually get into positions of power or that this status quo isn’t something women should be challenging. But what I am saying is that the term “patriarchy” isn’t essential or even that relevant to feminism. And you don’t have to believe in The Patriarchy to be a feminist.

And here’s why: All of society – including women – are culpable on issues of intersectionality. Single mums, female sex workers, coloured women and trans women receive stigma – and much worse- from women as well as men. In a 2010 article Vicki Harman stated that white single mothers of mixed race children were seen as a threat by other women and isolated by them. Radical feminists do not regard trans women as real women, thereby misgendering them. Julie Burchill famously declared that all sex workers should be shot as “traitors”.

Even on non-intersectional issues, women can still oppress other women. Nadine Dorries MP has repeatedly tried to limit abortion and has attempted to make schools teach abstinence to girls only.

And you don’t have to be elite to oppress women, either. Homophobia and transphobia are committed even by those who are oppressed themselves; racism is prevalent even in deprived neighbourhoods. For lots of women, the harassment they get actually comes from those around them and not from a patriarchal elite.

It’s important to remember that roughly half of all victims of racism, homophobia, whorephobia (and the ‘phobias that are as yet unnamed) are women. Intersectionality is something feminism has to recognise in order for it to be relevant to women. I’m sure some feminists will say “But it’s the patriarchy that makes all that ‘phobia stuff exist!” But I don’t think we can just blame it on the patriarchy any more. Radical feminists are the ones being transphobic and whorephobic. And girls in high school who slut shame their peers, or women who look down on young mothers -don’t they have to take some responsibility? Women as well as men victim-blame and police other women’s sexual behaviour. Even if “The Patriarchy Made Me Do It” sounds like a good defence to you, these women are still guilty of colluding with ‘the patriarchy’ to slut shame their sisters.

In my view, they’re not just colluding with the patriarchy – they’re responsible for their behaviour. The patriarchy makes rape possible and encourages men to rape, but rapists are still responsible for their crimes. So if men can’t use the “The Patriarchy Made Me Do It” defence, why should women be able to use it? (Not that I’m comparing slut shaming or anything else to rape). The patriarchy is not the enemy, or at least not the only enemy. The enemy here is social attitudes which stigmatise certain groups of people. We’re taught these attitudes from our parents, peers and teachers – the people who make up our society and our social circles. Not the patriarchy. We’re all responsible. Sure, the elites might be more culpable than the rest of us – because they’ve got more power over society and failed to fix it (or in many cases the white straight rich men caused the attitudes long ago and we’re living with the consequences).

Some of these harmful social attitudes are themselves misogynistic and/or dependent on the sexual double standard (slut shaming, shaming teen and lone mothers, whorephobia). The problem is (what amounts to) effective control of career, reproductive, family and gender choice. And women can cause as much harm in this regard as men.

So, viewing The Patriarchy as the enemy is no longer crucial to the feminist agenda. A trans women isn’t going to have equal protection from the authorities until there’s no transphobia. A black woman isn’t going to have equal job opportunities until there’s no racism. If feminism is all about women being equal to men, then intersectionality is essential. By focussing too heavily on the patriarchy there is a risk of ignoring intersectionality and fighting for middle-class straight white women’s rights while larger issues go unaddressed and many women benefit much less from the achievements of feminism.

Describing something as “patriarchal” makes sense – you’re saying that it carries connotations of men controlling women or specific sexist ideas and traditions. But patriarchy itself is not a useful term. We’re in danger of lumping all problems together under an umbrella term, just like right-wingers blame “sexual permissiveness” or “multiculturalism” for all the ills of society.

Though the term “patriarchy” has little meaning for me, I respect those who see it as a meaningful term or a concept that’s crucial to feminism. I’m not suggesting that feminists should definitely ignore the existence of the patriarchy or not believe in it. I’m saying there needs to be balance and we should view societal attitudes as being barriers to women’s equality.

Feminism in George Orwell’s 1984

Orwell identifies lust, love, friendship, sex/orgasms and family to be what makes us human and therefore what the Party must destroy. Orwell displays a lot of liberalism here: he sees no hierarchy between lust and love (Winston’s encounter with a sex worker and with Julia are favourably compared to sex with his wife. His later love for Julia is not presented as superior to her earlier lust for him).

Nor does Orwell see any preferred types of family. But in 2013 nuclear families are given the highest status and young and single parent families the lowest. Most governments try to control family life and sex, from the Nazis to Republicans and our own government’s tax allowance for married but not non married couples. The Party tried to split up couples so people would be loyal only to the government and not spouses while our present government tries to push people into marriage and keep them from divorcing so that the government’s conservative moral values will be preserved against our will and against the best interests of families.

Orwell thinks that laws stop the government from oppressing us or at least limit the oppression. We tend to think that with no law there can be no crime. But Orwell thinks that without any laws anything can be a crime. Any sex that the government does not approve of is a sex crime in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Similarly sex outwith marriage is criminalised in Dubai, cheating is criminalised in Iran and sex work is criminalised in most American states and criminalised for purchasers but not service providers in Sweden.

Orwell appears to have understood that rape is violence and not sex long before feminists brought this to public attention. Orwell presents Winston as fantasising about raping and murdering Julia because he hates her and because she is celibate. He doesn’t victim blame Julia for being slutty or wearing revealing clothes. In the contrary it is her celibacy and political ideas which make him want to rape her. She wears the same uniform he does. This was long before the SlutWalks so it’s very impressive that Orwell was so reasonable and understanding.

Julia is also a very ‘slutty’ character for the era in which Orwell wrote. She pursues Winston, has had many lovers since she was 16, only wants casual relationships and works fast, succeeding in sleeping with Winston almost immediately after they’re alone. But Orwell never suggests she is dirty or worth less because she enjoys sex. Instead Winston seems to admire her more because she is confident enough to do what she wants instead of submitting to the sexual repression of the government. Orwell never suggests that ‘sluts’ deserve to be raped or can’t be raped – an attitude which clearly survives to this day.

Oceania, Eastasia and Eurasia are clearly the same state under the same government. This is hinted at numerous times (Julia’s comments that the government itself is firing the rockets and doubts about whether the war is real). Doubts about the realness of Goldstein and the Brotherhood were proved right which seems to suggest that other doubts might be right too. The three states share the same ideology, social system and level of technology. They are three parts of a world government which continuously fakes a war to control its subjects.

The world government swaps round the fake alliances to weed out and identify citizens who can’t do doublethink. Orwell could have been hinting that ideologies or groups which seem very different from each other can oppress the citizen in the same way. Personally it is my belief that a Christian or Muslim theocracy and a radical feminist government would all oppress women and deny freedom of speech and sexual expression in similar ways. Obviously this wasn’t what Orwell was writing about and I’ve no idea if he’d agree with me but the principle is the same.

Meg of the Ingeus Diaries: “I work for £51 a week to escape Jobcentre”

Remember Meg who previously told Slutocracy her story of the Ingeus experience (here and here)? She’s now working for £20 a week less than her Jobseeker’s Allowance just so she can escape the Jobcentre.

“I earn £51 a week working 2 days a week. My jobseekers was £71 but I can’t cope with the Jobcentre sending me here and there every two months,” she explains . (Meg had been sent to JHP and a 4 week workfare before being sent to Ingeus for 2 weeks.)

“I basically work for nothing because I get less than Jobseeker’s. But I prefer to work for nothing rather than be treated like shit by the Jobcentre. It lowers my self esteem and harms my mental health. My Jobcentre adviser cheerfully asked me if I felt “motivated” because I’d been to Ingeus. Bit being sent here and there against my will makes me less motivated, less confident and I feel like I am just their toy. I think some other people might prefer to work for less or the same as Jobseeker’s Allowance instead of going to the Jobcentre. I feel free now and I’m much happier. But not everybody can do this because nobody can survive on £51 a week. I’m able to because one of my relatives has just paid me back money I loaned her, but not everyone is so lucky. The money isn’t much and I know I won’t be able to live like this long term. I will have to get a job with more hours or higher wages in the next couple of months.

I enjoy my job and get on very well with everyone there. I can’t quit this job even if I wanted to because they need me to cover another staff’s holiday leave in August and it would be really bad to let them down. But I know if I went back to the Jobcentre they would force me to look for other jobs. They wouldn’t listen even if I explained to them that the only reason I was given a job is so they’ve got someone to cover August. They’d force me to let [my employer] down.”

 

You’ve got a job now. Does that mean that Ingeus did help you find work?

“Ingeus didn’t help me – there was no point in sending me there at all!” alleges Meg, “I finished the Ingeus course on Friday and got a phone call saying I’d got an interview on the Monday! And I forgot to show them my reference from my YMCA workfare but I still got the job. Nothing the Jobcentre sent me to helped me get a job. I actually felt a little nervous before the interview because Ingeus was always talking about dabbing water behind your ears and washing your hands so you won’t get sweaty or feel nervous. I’ve never felt nervous at an interview in my life but Ingeus made me feel that way, like an interview is a big deal.”

 

What else has happened since our last chat?

“Ingeus phoned me last week to ask how my job search was progressing. I think that’s a bit weird since I left the course in May. Jobseekers are not children, we don’t need to rely on their help. They think they are so brilliant that they can give us everything, make us get jobs after a 2 week course.

When I was doing my workfare at YMCA there was a man, O.  He didn’t turn up one day because it was snowing very heavily and he had to drive 20 miles in the snow. The snow was so bad in those few days that we all missed a couple of days of workfare because YMCA told us not to risk the journey. All O did was take an extra day off. O was sent to another workfare immediately after the YMCA one ended. I can’t prove that this was because he failed to attend his workfare that day but I believe it was. His new workfare was in a furniture shop. He is not a lazy man. He has decades of work experience and I think that’s why he can afford a car. I’ve bumped into him a couple of times and he’s always complaining about how he is treated by the Jobcentre. He wants to work but they act like he doesn’t.

That reminds me of when I’d just started claiming benefits and a little old lady with a zimmer frame was in the Jobcentre. I thought it was disgraceful that senior citizens are being treated this way after giving so much to the country. Then a smart looking middle-aged man in a suit came in and nodded to another man. He said ‘Jobless -feel like a criminal’ and indicated the Jobcentre. For whatever reason that always stuck in my mind.”

EU free movement law discriminates non EU citizens

EU Law discriminates against individuals and families who aren’t EU citizens. Here’s a list of how EU citizens and their families are given preferential treatment over non-EU nationals (all references are to Directive 2004/38/EC):

EU citizens can enter the UK (and all other EU Member States). The only requirement is that they have enough resources to last them three months. After three months they can claim benefits. Non-EU nationals have to apply for emigration and those holding tourist visas can’t claim benefits. (Arts 5 and 6)

EU citizens can bring children and non-EU partners with whom they have a durable relationship into another member state. Non-EU nationals have to apply to do this and be earning £18,600 per year. They can’t bring partners unless they have a marriage certificate. An ex co-worker worked 6 years for an unbearable boss so he can bring his children here, not knowing that the laws would change and require that he earn £18,600. He’s a chef and is never going to earn that much. He also can’t get fired because if he doesn’t find another job within 6 months he’ll have to go back. (Art 3)

EU citizens don’t need to apply for work permits but non-EU nationals do and some have to pay thousands for work permits. Employers aren’t allowed to hire them unless the employer can prove to the Home Office that no other applicant was qualified enough to be hired, which makes it very difficult for them to be hired and forces employers to choose less qualified and less experienced candidates.

EU citizens can’t be charged £9,000 for tuition fees because by EU Law discrimination on the grounds of nationality is prohibited. However non-EU nationals can be charged far more because they aren’t protected by EU Law. EU Law also doesn’t protect EU citizens from being discriminated against by their own Member State. That’s why English and Welsh students have to pay £9,000 a year at top Scottish universities but EU students pay nothing, same as the Scottish students (the New Deal means that Scottish students don’t have to pay tuition fees). This isn’t in the Directive but was decided by the case law of the European Court of Justice.

EU citizens can enter the UK even if they have criminal records (Arts 27, 28 and 29). They have to be a threat to public health or national security to be denied entry. But non-EU nationals are likely to have their applications denied if they have criminal records.

EU citizens achieve unconditional permanent residency status after living in the host Member State for five years (Preamble, (9)). Non-EU nationals (even those born here) have to apply for permanent residency and it can take up to 15 years for the Home Office to reach decisions. During that time they can’t go on holidays abroad or their application will be nulled, which splits families apart. Many children born in the UK have to leave even though in other countries (like America) they would be granted citizenship by virtue of being born in the country. It seems very tragic and nonsensical that the UK literally expels thousands of its young citizens every year – many of whom consider themselves British- while being forced to grant permanent residency to people who came here only recently as adults. A family I know were asked to leave even though their four year old daughter who was born here could only speak five words of her native language. The parents had lived in Britain for eight years, had degrees and one was working while the other was looking for work. The family appealed the decision and were told that if they didn’t arrive at the immigration tribunal on time the appeal would not go ahead. After the appeal the Home Office took 13 years to reach a decision, finally granting conditional permanent residency when the girl was 16 or 17. She’s now 25 and still can’t leave the UK for more than 2 years without having her residency revoked and having to go and live in a country whose language she can’t speak. It is also illogical that EU nationals who are uneducated can live here while PhDs who could benefit the UK are denied residency just because the country on their passport happens not to have joined the EU.

EU citizens still retain their right of residency after divotce as long as they’ve been married for three years and married for one year in the host country (Art 13). However non-EU nationals will lose their right of residency unless they’ve been married for five years while in the UK.

This kind of discrimination clearly violates human rights but the European Court of Human Rights has made an exception for EU Law. This is very unfair to individuals because they might be separated from their parents or forced to leave a country they were born in just because their country hasn’t yet acceded to the EU. It’s a lottery that individuals have no control over (except through electing politicians who are pro-EU). This discrimination has the (unintended) consequence of being de facto racial discrimination. Though France, Germany and the UK have a diverse population, Eastern and Southern Europe are much less diverse, meaning that most EU citizens are white.

From a UK perspective the discrimination is illogical as it would make more sense for the UK to give preferential treatment to citizens of former colonies such as the USA, Australia, Hong Kong and India. As it is, the current discrimination confers benefits on people who are not connected to Europe. I know a Brazilian who enjoys EU citizenship because one of his grandparents was Italian and he has an Italian passport. A former colleague came to the UK a couple of years ago from Macau because everyone in Macau has a Portuguese passport, which makes them EU citizens. But those who left Macau for neighbouring Hong Kong a generation ago aren’t EU citizens because they have Hong Kong passports (and although before 1997 they had British passports they still weren’t EU citizens and couldn’t enter Britain, despite EU citizenship being established with the Maastricht Treaty in 1992).

Brits don’t benefit from EU citizenship as much as other Member States do. The first reason is due to our own isolation and Euroscepticism: we don’t teach pupils about the EU and their rights so they don’t take advantage of their free movement rights (or know those rights exist). So while Europeans come here we don’t go there. The second reason is that English is the international language and while we can;t speak French or German well enough to easily find jobs there, they learn English from a younger age and can speak it well enough to find jobs here. Thirdly, compared to many other European countries (especially Eastern Europe) the UK has a better economy and is seen as a more desirable place to live.

In the interests of balanced reporting I’d like to point out that though EU citizens receive preferential treatment this only benefits the more privileged EU citizens. The three-month requirement means that individual citizens must have around £2,000 to enter the UK (I’m basing this on the £57-£71 a week Jobseekers’ Allowance plus rent). A family of four might need around £8,000. This might be a lot of money in their own country. I have no idea how immigration officials define “enough money for three months”; do they calculate rent based on council houses, private lets or hotel rooms, for instance?

The EU has its good points and its European Court of Justice is often better at safeguarding our human rights than the European Court of Human Rights. The EU has given non-military aid to the Arab Spring, worked with non-European countries such as Egypt on cultural issues and given us an EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Recently non-EU citizens who have resided in an EU member state for “many years” were granted the same free movement rights as EU citizens, which goes a little way towards redressing the imbalance. Each Member State will define “many years” for itself. I’m not a Eurosceptic and neither am I pro-EU. I wrote this because I thought it would be informative in the current debate about whether we should remain in the EU.

 

 

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