Tag Archives: sexual politics

“I call on those who live in the shadows”

All good stories get told over and over again, and every time they are told they get changed. The Brothers Grimm censored some fairy tales and softened others as they collected them; Angela Carter and Anne Sexton subjected them to radical revision in the name of feminism and a love of the new. More recently, Gregory Maguire‘s novels about Oz and the musical version of his Wicked shifted attention from heroine to villainess, asking interesting questions about how victims of injustice become perpetrators of evil.

Maleficent is an inventive subversion of the story we know from Perrault. More specifically, it revisits the Disney studio’s animated version. The new film’s hapless prince shares the name Philip with the rather more active 1959 character and the credit titles’ music is a sinister seductive version of the cartoon’s theme song, itself an adaptation of the waltz from Tchaikovsky’s ballet. Primarily, of course, it is a vehicle for Angelina Jolie, whose glittering eyes and high cheekbones make her a remarkable double of one of Disney’s most spectacularly beautiful villainesses.

Critical reactions have varied – everyone agrees that Jolie’s performance is spectacularly good – noticeably, some critics were not paying quite as much attention as they should have done. There are some things that revisionism cannot change – the story is in the end about a woman who places a terrible curse on an innocent child – but this particularly thoughtful version manages to combine a radically subversive rethinking with popular entertainment. (The Peckham cinema where I saw it was full of delighted children.) Maleficent trusts both the material and its audience enough to work really remarkably well.

It posits two kingdoms – a human world which is all iron, blood and male tyranny and an adjacent realm of faerie, the Moors, of innocent playfulness and Rackhamesque cute weirdness. Even as a child, Maleficent is its hawk-winged protector; a sequence in which her parents were played by Miranda Richardson and Peter Capaldi was cut, partly for length but also because, in the end, this tough fairy needs no parents. It is no stretch of imagination whatever to describe these two kingdoms as Patriarchy and the Queer world.

As children, Maleficent and the boy Stefan become sweethearts. He goes away and his ambitions make him a lieutenant to the evil King – played by Kenneth Cranham – whose invasion of the Moors Maleficent defeats with giants and dragons made of tree roots. Promised the succession if he succeeds in removing her power, Stefan returns to the Moors, renews his pledge of true love’s kiss to Maleficent, drugs her and severs her wings, leaving her a cripple who has to learn to walk using a staff that becomes the new centre of her power. Not only is this a fairly obvious rape metaphor; it’s more interestingly a way of talking about how we adapt to trauma. She cuts the Moors off from the human world he now rules, with her wall of thorns, and swears vengeance.

The standard good fairies are replaced by a trio of slightly idiotic pixies who think the antagonism between Stefan’s realm and their own can be smoothed over with a few presents; Maleficent’s arrival at the christening and curse that the child will prick her finger on her sixteenth birthday and fall asleep forever is as much a rebuke to their stupidity as revenge. One of the most intelligent features of the writing at this point is the proper respect paid to the idea that words are magic – it’s not just that Maleficent’s sarcastic use of ‘true love’s kiss’ as the thing that will wake Aurora. It is that she reinforces the blessing that all will love her, and hardens the curse by saying that no power can break it.

The neglectful dimness of the pixies – to whom Stefan hands the child – means that Maleficent spends Aurora’s childhood protecting her from walking off cliffs and starving to death. Her constant bitch-faced iteration of how much she hates Stefan’s child by another woman is entirely contradicted by her actions – and of course she has trapped herself; all will love Aurora, includes Maleficent.

When they meet and talk, Aurora tells Maleficent that she recognizes her shadow as the fairy godmother who has always protected her – and she is not wrong. Maleficent comes to want desperately to protect Aurora but the terms of her curse, which no power can break, make it impossible for her to do so. Aurora duly pricks herself on a spindle and falls asleep.

Maleficent fights her way into the castle to deliver the charmingly useless Philip, whose kiss – he hardly knows Aurora – is entirely ineffectual; true love turns out to be Maleficent’s maternal devotion – she promises to protect Aurora in her sleep and pecks her on the forehead. This is the kiss that wakens the sleeping beauty. Stefan is far more interested in destroying Maleficent than saving his daughter; he neglected his dying wife to monologue Macbeth-like at the severed wings. He springs his iron traps – and Aurora saves her adopted mother by retrieving her wings. Stefan falls to his death trying to kill Maleficent even after she has defeated him – Maleficent hands both kingdoms over to Aurora, and both realms come out of the darkness of conflict into a sort of innocence…

To say that what is on offer is a queer feminist reading of the story is not to regard Maleficent’s love for Aurora as specifically sexual; it’s not grooming and there is no sign of desire. What we have though is two women who form a mutually self-sacrificing bond that lets them escape from a traumatic past and smash the patriarchy; if that’s not a queer feminist reading, I don’t know what is, irrespective of Aurora’s future relationship with the ineffectual Philip.

I guarantee that before the month is out, some right-wing American pundit will be even more upset by this Disney film than they were by the far less challenging Frozen. Maleficent is far from perfect – Sharlto Copley is far too hammy as Stefan, and Elle Fanning’s Aurora manages charm with almost no good lines – but it looks gorgeous and manages to be a good deal smarter than most Disney products.

Roz Kaveney is a Contributing Editor to Feminist Times. She is a trans woman, novellist, poet, critic and activist.

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Sexism makes female sexual dysfunction a hidden problem

The first time I had sex, it hurt. A lot. I have vaginismus, which refers to painful intercourse. I’m sure this is a pretty common occurrence for many people, so I just shrugged it off. After all, sex education taught me that pain is something to expect the first few times you have sex, and that if my partner couldn’t get an erection it was ok – it was just nerves. I never once heard that the pain may continue, and I suspect this is the case for a lot of women. When it continued for more than a year, I finally conceded that something must be wrong.

Female Sexual Dysfunction, often abbreviated to FSD, is a catch-all term for a range of different conditions, from painful sex to lack of arousal. Around 43% of women and 31% of men have reported some degree of difficulty in their sex lives. Despite the higher number of women reporting difficulties, Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is more widely recognised in mainstream media and the amount of research into it also far outweighs the research into FSD. Much of the research into both ED and FSD is very Viagra-centric – but scientists are not even sure whether this works for women.

Unsurprisingly, due to the lack of research, doctors are pretty clueless when it comes to FSD. When I first told my doctor that I was unable to have penetrative sex, it was automatically assumed I had a lack of sexual desire due to depression and anxiety. But I have a high sex drive. I was also shouted at and told to relax when the doctor was having a hard time examining me. I didn’t get the diagnosis I expected – in fact, the doctor didn’t even give the condition a name. I was made to feel as if FSD isn’t a common problem.

I was eventually referred to a gynaecologist after waiting 6 months for an appointment. I felt excited that I’d finally have an answer to my problem, completely putting my faith in what I thought was an FSD specialist. Hope started to fade when I didn’t even see myself represented on the posters in the waiting room. It was clear that if I was here, it was for help with post-menopausal dryness or pregnancy problems.

There are a range of treatments available for all types of FSD. These include lubrication, psychosexual therapy, Botox injections, numbing gels and vaginal dilators. Dilators range in size from a tampon to average penis size and are designed to help you relax and get used to the sensation of having sex. I’d heard about these through different forums, and they seemed to work for some women, in conjunction with therapy.

During my appointment, the gynaecologist suggested I try vaginal dilators. I was pretty excited, as I’d heard good things about them. But my excitement was short-lived when the gynaecologist’s assistant didn’t seem to understand what vaginal dilators were, and then told me that the hospital didn’t have any. I asked if I could get them on prescription. They’re a medical aid, so why wouldn’t I be able to? I was advised, however, that I’d probably be better off spending £50 to buy them on eBay. I couldn’t resist making a joke that I’d better make sure I didn’t get a second-hand product. She also advised that maybe, just maybe (but probably not) I’d be able to get them at a local pharmacy. This is completely unacceptable treatment for such a common problem.

I’ve also been given a numbing gel that is supposed to help with the pain, but that option is problematic in itself. What is the point of having sex if you can’t feel it? Am I expected to lie back passively? Yes, I want to remove the pain, but I also want to feel something.

The examination was a painful experience that didn’t answer any questions. I’ve been put on a waiting list for an indeterminate amount of time for various scans and psychosexual therapy. It’s a long process, and only time will tell whether any of these things will work for me – it’s pretty much just ‘suck it and see’. There’s no little blue pill.

The great thing is, dilators and psychosexual therapy work for a lot of people. The problems lie in the diagnostic process, the availability of dilators and other treatment options, the amount of research into FSD, and the general lack of visibility. If you’re suffering and not being heard, keep going back to your doctor and demand that you be taken seriously. Always get a second opinion. FSD needs to be talked about a lot more. It’s not acceptable that women are suffering, ignoring pain and feeling inadequate when there are adverts for Viagra on TV.

Emily Griffith is a freelance writer specialising in at-home activism and mental health. She tweets at @AtHomeActivist and blogs at The Agoraphobic Feminist.

Photo: Huffington Post

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W*NK: We need to talk about women & pleasure

May is International Masturbation Month, and time to remind ourselves how important it is to keep talking about self pleasure, and pleasure in general. For a long time masturbation has been a taboo subject, and female masturbation even more so.

My first wanking experiences were filled with shame and confusion. Although the clitoris had been labelled in our school sex ed classes and textbooks, no one had told me what it was for and it took me months to realise that my pleasure was mostly coming from there and reliably locate the thing. I am 31: I didn’t grow up in Victorian times – we were close on the millennium when I started wanking but still I had been kept thoroughly in the dark about my own body.

International Masturbation Month was set up by Good Vibrations after the U.S Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders was fired for saying that masturbation should be discussed as part of young people’s sex education. This enlightened idea was proposed by her in 1995 and, looking around today, it doesn’t seem that the sex education we give young people has improved since.

The subtext of the prevalent physiological/safe-sex-only approach to sex ed seems to be that by mentioning to young people that their genitals can give them pleasure it will prompt them to go out and have tons of promiscuous un-safe sex. In my opinion this is sensationalist and short sighted. Giving young people the information they need to understand how to start exploring their sexuality solo will equip them with the self knowledge and confidence to move on to healthy and safe sexual relationships as adults.

Sex education that puts sexuality in context, that tackles respect and self respect, consent, safe sex, pleasure, emotional wellbeing, and healthy relationships can only reduce under age sex, pregnancy and STIs. Knowledge empowers and is a hell of a lot better than letting young people work things out through making mistakes that could effect the rest of their lives.

More widely, we need to talk about pleasure. We need to continue to transform our culture by  empowering women, and all people, to explore their bodies and get to know the way they work by giving them a road map: sex education that talks about masturbation through encompassing the idea that genitals give us pleasure as well as babies; words and images that represent the real and various ways people masturbate; open discussion that does not shame wankers but recognises that knowing your own sexual responses makes you a great sex partner.

My small contribution towards this ideal are a series of twelve drawings taken from real women’s masturbation techniques, mostly using household objects. The work shows real masturbation in a way that was not pornographic, not orchestrated for the viewer but frank and natural and, because of that, erotic. The project started as something private; an excercise in visualising these delightful intimate scenes without making them lurid. But it grew into a book because I wanted to share my joy in these stories and their honesty. To be invited by Sh! to exhibit with them as part of International Masturbation Month was a real honour and I have been overwhelmed by the positive response to the work. Hopefully it will help to get people talking, sharing their own stories and celebrating themselves as wankers.

WANK - Interior Door by Sophie Crow 2012 WANK - Right index finger by Sophie Crow 2012 WANK - Teddy by Sophie Crow 2012 WANK - TV Remote by Sophie Crow 2012

Click here to find out more about International Masturbation MonthTo find out more about Sophie Crow, visit www.theoysterknife.co.uk or follow @oysterknife

Sophie’s W*NK exhibition continues until 31st May at Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium, 57 Hoxton Square, N1 6PB London, open every day 12pm-8pm. It is Sh! policy that men must be accompanied by a woman, except on Tuesday evenings.

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‪#‎GenderWeek: Andrea was not transphobic

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

When Andrea and I met in 1974 her first book, Woman Hating, was on press. She wrote all her subsequent work in the home where we lived together until 2005, when I and the world lost her.

One passage in Woman Hating changed my life forever:

“The discovery is, of course, that “man” and “woman” are fictions, caricatures, cultural constructs. As models they are reductive, totalitarian, inappropriate to human becoming. As roles they are static, demeaning to the female, dead-ended for male and female both.”

That radical interrogation of gender became a foundational understanding between us. It formed a basis for how we knew and cared about each other. We recognized that we each came from a gendered culture—she as a woman, I as a man—but our best and deepest times together were when that ceased to matter, when it was as if we were communicating simply self to self. Or soul to soul. Or I to Thou.

To this day I don’t fully know why Andrea risked trusting me. I have no doubt, however, why I began to trust her.

I was attracted to and sexually active with men; Andrea always knew that. We were first introduced by a gay male mutual friend at a gay and lesbian gathering, after all. But what I learned from Andrea—first from reading Woman Hating, then from growing more and more to know her—was a wholly new experience to me: what it means to be soul mates beyond gender.

That belief in the possibility of life beyond gender was a core of both her work and mine. A speech I gave within a few months after our meeting was published as Refusing to Be a Man (the title I gave my first book). In a speech of Andrea’s written about a year later she drew a distinction between reality and truth in order to say that:

“while the system of gender polarity is real, it is not true…. [T]he system based on this polar model of existence is absolutely real; but the model itself is not true. We are living imprisoned inside a pernicious delusion, a delusion on which all reality as we know it is predicated.”

I’ve thought back to such passages in Andrea’s work (there are many) as I’ve pondered how she would sort out the current controversies and conflicts among radical feminists who call themselves trans critical and transactivists who call the same feminists trans exclusionary. Andrea wrote of transsexualism (as it was called then) only in Woman Hating, in a prescient section that can accurately be cited as evidence that Andrea was not “transphobic” and was in fact “empathetic to transpeople” (as would come as no surprise to anyone who knew her).

To my knowledge Andrea never wrote any more on the subject. I cannot say for certain why, but I suspect it’s because she already said what she had to say about it—and she was driven to write next what no one had said yet. The topic came up in our conversations, of course, but prior to her death the divisive controversy/conflict had not yet erupted as it has today. I’ll not rehearse those troubling tensions except to acknowledge that I recently came under sharp criticism online after I posted a tweet about an essay I’d written about U.S. Army Private Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley), in which I referred to the courageous young whistleblower by the female pronoun she now preferred.

To my philosophically inclined mind (now recalling Andrea’s and my talks), the current controversy/conflict turns on an ethical/metaphysical disagreement about the fundamental meaning of gender in the human species. Obviously I cannot know what Andrea would have to say about it, except that I am certain she would not ally herself with any view that furthers “biological superiority,” which she considered “the world’s most dangerous and deadly idea”:

“It is shamefully easy for us [she means here, I believe, so-called female-assigned-at-birth women] to enjoy our own fantasies of biological omnipotence while despising men for enjoying the reality of theirs. And it is dangerous—because genocide begins, however improbably, in the conviction that classes of biological distinction indisputably sanction social and political discrimination. We, who have been devastated by the concrete consequences of this idea, still want to put our faith in it. Nothing offers more proof—sad, irrefutable proof—that we are more like men than either they or we care to believe.”

This was always Andrea’s ethical framework, which I learned from constantly: Moral agency and accountability are true, foundational to our identity as human, and they do not equate with the reality of gender. I was inspired by that ethical framework when I wrote in my essay about Chelsea Manning of:

“my belief that one’s moral agency is not gendered; it is—as it is for Pfc. Manning—a continuity of conscience irrespective of gender expression. I believe that separate and unequal ethical codes for “men” and “women”—which are ubiquitous in conventional wisdom—are erroneous on their face, because the constant core of one’s conscience is human only.”

I confess I did not learn from Andrea’s ethical framework about living beyond gender only conversationally or conceptually or in the abstract. I learned concretely, and I learned humbly the hard way—because episodically in our relationship I learned what it meant to her and us when I fucked up and broke the trust she had in me. I acted like a man. My impulse to assert/defend my gendered social conditioning trumped my intention to be my best self. I did not act like the person Andrea had grown to love and I did not act like the person I had learned to know it was possible to be with her. Happily we got through those hard times. In the last years of her life, even as her health failed, we became closer and dearer to each other than ever before. But the lesson never leaves me: Who I am is not my gender.

Curious, isn’t it, that in English only third-person pronouns are gendered but first- and second-person are not. Do we remain imprisoned in gender because we persistently “third-personise,” or objectify, ourselves and one another; and do we not sufficiently speak to each other as subjects who say I to Thou? Has our language always been telling us that when we speak as ourselves directly to other selves, and when other selves speak directly to us, gender becomes irrelevant?

I enjoy following the favorite quotes of Andrea’s that people post here and there in cyberspace, and the other day this one caught my eye: “When two individuals come together and leave their gender outside the bedroom door, then they make love.”

Andrea got it. Living beyond gender leads to loving beyond gender. And vice versa.

I miss our communion terribly.


John Stoltenberg has explored the distinction between gender identity and moral identity in two books—Refusing to Be a Man: Essays on Sex and Justice and The End of Manhood: Parables on Sex and Selfhood. His many essays include “Living With Andrea Dworkin” (1994) and “Imagining Life Without Andrea” (2005). His novel, GONERZ, projects a radical feminist vision into a post-apocalyptic future. John conceived and creative-directed the acclaimed “My strength is not for hurting” sexual-assault-prevention media campaign, and he continues his communications- and cause-consulting work through media2change. He tweets at @JohnStoltenberg and @media2change.

Photography by John Goetz. Copyright © 2005 by John Goetz and the Estate of Andrea Dworkin.

This article was amended at 4pm on the 28th April at the author’s request.

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Disabled Dating: I am not a freak, I am not a fetish

I was five when I had my first boyfriend. Being only five, I liked him for the following reasons: he had floppy hair, big brown eyes, and wore a denim jacket to class – it was 1978. He was a bit different from the other boys, and being a bit different myself, this seemed like the perfect match.

We would hold hands at break time and I invited him to my birthday party. Naively I thought this is the way it would always be. I would ask a boy out, he would say yes, and we would be happy until I found the next love of my life.

I remember the first time I heard, in hushed tones, “such a pretty girl, such a shame about the ‘handicap’.” I wondered why on earth a limp and a bit of a clenched hand was considered ‘a shame’; I had lived in a family home where I was considered perfect, just the way I was. As I got older I started to notice there were no girls or women who resembled me on TV, in the magazines, or in school, and I began to realise just how different I was. There still aren’t; disabled women remain hugely unrepresented in the media.

The teenage years hit, and with them came the loss of non-judgemental behaviour from my peers. I was told no one dates “spazzy girls”. I was a freak, unattractive, undesirable, and no one would ever want me.

We can all agree that objectification is wrong, however, to have sexuality entirely stripped away from your identity can damage your development just as much as society’s constant bombardment of over sexualised images. What infuriated me then, and still does, is that the choice to express myself sexually – in a relationship or out of one – was laughed at… or worse, fetishised.

A few years ago, on the advice of a friend who had once been a high class escort, I joined a disabled dating website. Actually, their first suggestion was to buy myself a male escort, but as I could not afford the £1,000 for a night of passion (yes, £1,000 – I spat my drink out at the cost; give me £50 and send me to the nearest sex shop please!) I opted for the dating agency. I was in between boyfriends, and not that fussed, but realised that I had never ventured into the world of disabled dating before, despite having cerebral palsy myself.

I dutifully put myself online and waited for the messages to arrive. 48 hours later the first message popped up, from a good looking man describing himself as “able bodied” but saying he had “no problem” having a disabled girlfriend. “How very gracious of you!” I snorted, but I gave him a chance.

Over the course of the next two days things got very interesting. He assumed I was in a wheelchair (I’m not). He assumed I did not work (I worked 2 jobs, and still do). He assumed I had very little sexual experience (HA!) and he was also under the assumption that I could not care for myself. All of these things added up to making him very horny indeed; I am not a naive woman, but I honestly didn’t know whether to laugh or be suitably shocked at the erect penis that popped up on my screen. When I calmly responded that none of those things applied to me, the response was droopingly swift. At that point I laughed… and laughed hard.

So, I find myself in two categories: desexualised or fetishised. Neither represents me. All adults have a right to a healthy sexuality and a choice in how they express it, disabled or not. A disability should not make me feel like less of a woman, or ashamed and embarrassed about my sexual desires. They do not define me, but they are an integral part of me, just as my disability is.

We need to stop seeing disabled women as odd or unrealistic when they express their desires, or in TV shows where they are still treated as side show freaks. They are human and those feelings are real. If we are working towards a more inclusive society, disabled women need to be seen as  whole individuals. I fear though, we still have a long way to go.

Lisa Jenkins is Arts Editor for God Is In The TV Zine and contributor to The Quietus. She also happens to have cerebral palsy. Follow her @lisaannejenkins

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Taboo corner

Taboo Corner: He was gorgeous – but married

Taboo Corner is a small space on Feminist Times for women to be open about uncomfortable thoughts they have and the personal reasons behind them, helping uncover disconcerting female truths that are normally repressed and opening them up for honest debate. Feminist Times is different to other magazines in that it won’t airbrush your frown lines or your emotions… Submit your own anonymous Taboo Corner piece: editorial@feministtimes.com

This time a year ago I met the most amazing man. The moment I saw him, my gut told me that I had to know him. It was the thunderbolt cliché of so many pop songs and romantic films, and I was instantly hooked. Gorgeous, interesting, widely read, generous, gorgeous, extensively travelled, funny, a raconteur, did I mention gorgeous?  (He’d once been a body double for a well-known film star. I’m not kidding).

Astoundingly, it seemed to me, the feeling of attraction was also clearly mutual. “Oh my,” I thought, “This is the great love that people speak of and I’ve spent thirty plus years wondering what they are on about. This is it.”  Of course, as Shakespeare helpfully pointed out, the course of true love never did run smooth. In this case, it wasn’t magical potions or warring families that stood in the way but the simple fact that the gorgeous man was married.

Until this point in my life, I had always been firm in my thinking on this issue. With age had come a growing awareness that human relationships are far more complex (and complicated) than the simple labels that we try to stick on them, but even so I somewhat naively continued to believe that a band of gold functioned as a sufficiently strong deterrent: Warning – stay away.  But if Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ was the most controversial song of 2013, I had my own controversial and increasingly blurred lines to wrestle with over the year.

Light-hearted and friendly emails morphed into heartfelt and intimate exchanges. Occasional lingering behind at the mutual territory where we’d met in the first place shifted to meeting up alone for hours on end at slightly out of the way pubs. “It feels like we’re having an affair without the affair,” I commented to a friend on the rare occasion that I dared to refer to my entanglement. Respectable physical boundaries still intact (well, largely…), we exchanged books and philosophical musings with passionate ardour instead.

After almost twelve months of such thwarted desire, running became my safety valve – a release for physical tension and my raging hormones. Getting out there in my trainers also gave me some precious headspace, a time alone when I could no longer ignore the feminist consciousness whispering in my inner ear. I wish I could write that it was thoughts of solidarity with the gorgeous man’s wife that stopped me. Only it wasn’t.

The sisterhood saved me from further pursuing what ultimately would have been a damaging and destructive affair for another reason: I value myself more than I value a man. Whilst running, I couldn’t escape the stark truth that the situation I had entered into was compromising my integrity.

As a feminist and a fiercely proud independent woman, I have worked hard to create a life of my own and am even slowly coming to love myself. All of this, all of the emotional lessons, all of the realizations, all of the striving – in short all I had built up – was in danger of being overturned because I was putting this man before everything else. I was pinning my future happiness to a decision he had to make. I was even rethinking major choices, such as whether to have children, in light of his preferences rather than my own wants.

I was putting my life on hold for him.  And I couldn’t live with myself for doing so anymore.  This moment of feminist insight marked the end of the affair.

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Porn searches lead to feminist websites

We were distressed to discover that half of the top ten keywords that lead people to Feminist Times were rape porn related.

Most of our traffic comes from readers sharing on Twitter, Facebook and in emails, so this is a tiny percentage of the actual visits our site gets, but the search terms we’ve found further down our list are terrifying.

Keywords lists certainly paint a concerning picture for those worried about porn, violence and even paedophilia – we wonder what other feminist sites have discovered in their SEO analytics?


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#IDontBuyIt: The Office Do – slut shaming, strip clubs & dancing girls

Ever been called a whore at your work do? Or been forced to go to a strip club? Are you a young PA and wondering why you’ve been asked to invite your female mates to the work xmas party?

The working woman’s experience of Christmas work dos can no longer be easily summed up in the image of a young female secretary sitting on the lap of her male boss. Yet a party with your work colleagues can still be a pit of sexism.

Even at the most progressive company you can suffer a total assault course of feelings, broken boundaries and just plain awkwardness. But add in booze, a laddish work culture, misogyny and entitlement, and that one night out of the year can be very traumatic.

We asked three women to tell us the story of their sexist Xmas party. They all wanted to remain anonymous.

“I’m not sure how many of the men actually appreciated the fact that the secretarial staff were dancing to spice up their evening.”
Quantative Analyst, an american investment bank

Sometime in December, each manager organised something for the people underneath him as a token of his (or, hypothetically, her) appreciation to the contribution that the little people made to his bonus. The head of our team ordered a takeout from Wagamama for us, his boss took us out to lunch in a restaurant and the head of the department hired a pub for an evening and invited us all to his party.

The problem was that we were a Quantitative Analytics department consisting of mostly science and engineering PhDs whose job is to crunch numbers and write software. About 95% male. There aren’t many jokes that start with “100 geeks go to the pub”.

Inviting partners would have largely solved the gender imbalance problem, but our boss wasn’t, apparently, feeling that generous. Instead, he asked each of the management assistants to bring a female friend and dance to spice up the party. Young women who were hired to do the administrative work of the department became the entertainment, and were requested to pimp their friends as well. The few female PhDs were not recruited for this task. The class system was not disturbed.

So there we were, standing along the walls, watching the admins and their friends dancing at the centre of the room. Nobody joined them; geeks will be geeks. We were just standing there, drinking our beers, talking as much as the music allowed. I’m not sure how many of the men actually appreciated the fact that the secretarial staff were dancing to spice up their evening. The latter, however, were probably too drunk to notice either way. One of them passed out before the evening was over and another showed up the following morning with bruises on her arms, having fallen off her shoes on the way home.

“…we’d talk about personal stuff – which I feel was possibly my downfall.”
Executive Assistant, a multinational finance firm

When I started at the company it was mainly for a stop gap. I’d accumulated a bit of debt after my studies so when I was offered a permanent job with a healthy salary I felt obliged to bite the bullet. The office ‘Aunty’ figure soon took me under her wing; this kind and generous woman was a bit of saving grace as the testosterone flying about the room could get a bit much from time to time – scary, even, if you happened to walk anywhere near the firing line.

Aunty was funny; a hip fairy godmother-type that hung around young blood to keep her in the know. We’d go for drinks and let off steam and she’d tell me the who’s doing what, where’s and how’s, and we’d talk about personal stuff – which I feel was possibly my downfall. In an office environment, being the kind of person that wears their heart on their sleeve, it’s sink or swim with the women you meet – there’s niceties but the venom can flow…

There’s a pub next door to the office and come Christmas time it’s all Crimbo jolly up’s ahoy with tinsel and brandy sauce. Drinking with work colleagues can make tension fly and I’ve even experienced a posh man’s fisty cuffs. The men can be very smarmy, yet generous; they like to run around shouting “Milky Bars are on me”, and the competition of who has the bigger wallet can be quite cringeworthy.

As an assistant to a group of guys, some of my bosses do confide in me a lot and most of the time it goes in one ear and out the next as alcohol can let them loose lips very loose: “Since my wife and I have had children our marriage has lost its passion”, “I never wanted to go to financial school, I wanted to be an actor”, “All I want to do is be a farmer”, etc.

A guy told me that he was really head over heals for one of the beautiful assistants. They’d shared a cheeky kiss here and there and she was really keen but he wouldn’t take it any further because on paper, come bonus time, to be seen with an assistant is not how these testosterone junkies want to perceived. It’s a culture where these things happen and I’ve kissed a couple of frogs at work; one guy ended up staying at my house but there was no sex – nothing has ever gone further.

One night after a Christmas charity event I was sat enjoying the evening and chatting away when Aunty suddenly bellowed at me: “Stop acting like a prostitute.”

I was shocked and hurt as to where this had come from. A friend who was there at the time said that I went from being my usual cheery self to a very deflated shadow. I thought it was maybe time I should go home and took myself to the toilet as I could feel the tears coming. After getting myself together I walked out of the toilet only to come face to face with this woman looking at me with hate and disgust, then those words: “you’re pathetic”.

I couldn’t help but tell her, and quite emotionally, that those comments were unacceptable, completely unjustified and wrong. She was very sorry on the night and admitted she didn’t know why she had said those things. Of course things came out that would never have done in a sober light; alcohol, emotions, work colleagues sometimes don’t gel.

The next day everyone was sober and I was willing to shrug the incident off. Aunty would not talk to me and left work early as she was “so upset”. I was devastated. She moved desks away from us, leaving me questioning whether I the one that was in the wrong.

“…we were each given £10 from my boss, like pocket money for ‘a pound in the pot for the ladies’.”
Production Manager and only woman in a medium-sized production company

Banter is very boisterous in my office; there aren’t many boundaries to be honest, and jokes are very sexist or homophobic. Half the time they make sexist jokes to wind me up, like women can’t make films – they know they get a reaction out of me.

When I first started I said I didn’t like the end of Django, and one of them replied, “it’s because you’re a woman”. I went mental. I thought to myself: “you have no idea what you are talking about or what I have done.” I’ve written a gangster film and worked with one of the most feared gangsters that the UK has seen. After that outburst he apologised and no one has ever said anything sexist seriously again; the rest of the banter is just jokes.

Practical jokes in the office are quite extreme and maybe a little unorthodox, like putting pubes on my desk, drawing cocks on everything, Photoshopping ejaculating cocks onto pictures of my face, etc. But I don’t actually think they mean it in a malicious way, and most of the time it is funny. If I said that something was upsetting me they would stop because they do respect me (plus I manage them, so they can’t get away with everything.)

Then there was an end of year party – I had organised it. We started off wine tasting, which was planned, then went for a curry, which was planned, and then we went to a strip club. That wasn’t planned; I wasn’t consulted about going at all. They were sort of joking about it and I went along with it as I didn’t want to be a spoil sport.

On the door the bloke said: “a pound in the pot for the ladies”, which meant the half-naked strippers wandered around the floor with a pint glass and you have to put a pound in. So before entering we were each given £10 from my boss, like pocket money, for “a pound in the pot for the ladies”.

I had to stand awkwardly with my boss watching a naked woman swing round a pole. I was basically looking at a fanny with my boss. A bit weird. I then got groped by a drunk man and then we all left.

I wasn’t upset, I just think there could have been nicer ways to spend the rest of the night. Another male college also agreed as he was uncomfortable. I’ve since put my foot down and there will be no strip clubs at this year’s Christmas party.

Image copyright jayfish

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No More Page 3: A bit of fence sitting

At No More Page 3 we get challenged and disagreed with on a regular basis, and that’s okay – it’s important to understand other viewpoints. We’ve changed and adapted as a campaign to the response from supporters on a variety of issues. Clearly there are some challenges (“you’re all jealous munters”) that we just ignore, although they do prove to us that we’re doing the right thing.

Recently we’ve been challenged by other feminists on our stance on the wider issue of porn. Our response was that we’re not pro-porn, but we do sit slightly on the fence on this issue. That stance has angered some supporters and we’re sad to have lost their support as a result.

However, we have always been very clear that our target is the soft porn that you cannot choose to view; the image that is inflicted on you while going about your day to day business. This is about the objectification of a young woman in a family newspaper (although happily not the biggest paper in the UK anymore); it’s about context, not content.

Our feeling is that 43 years ago Page 3 began the process of normalising pornography for public consumption. We have been contacted by several men who have told us that Page 3 was a gateway to an obsession with porn which utterly ruined their relationships with women.

It’s impossible to avoid how porn culture has seeped into the mainstream, and the expectations that has put upon women to act and look a certain way. There seems to be an understanding that spanky anal sex with completely hairless women is now the default setting in all heterosexual sex. Which is awesome if you’re a hairless woman who enjoys spanky anal sex, but what about the women (and men) for whom that’s just not in their box of sexual desires?

Search “Sex tips to please your woman” and you’ll get six results; the same search for pleasing “your man” has 16,600 results! There is a huge expectation on women to be pleasing in bed; there is a whole website called howtopleaseyourman. Where are women’s sexuality, needs and desires in this? There is this myth that we’ve all been empowered by being more sexual, when in reality it’s just given us one more thing to be told we aren’t good enough at.

But there is a far more sinister side to pornography and the portrayal of objectified women in the media which cannot and must not be ignored. There is no question of the links between the dehumanising imagery of women in the media and the acceptance of violence against women. Want evidence? The University of Buffalo study August 2011: the Increase in Sexualised Images of Women in the Media found “Sexualized portrayals of women have been found to legitimize or exacerbate violence against women and girls, as well as sexual harassment and anti-women attitudes among men and boys”.

There are legitimate questions to be asked about the spread of porn culture and how we reverse its impact on men and boys. Education around this is so important and as a team we have given our love and support to the Campaign4Consent for that exact reason.

For these and many more reasons, as a campaign we would never and could never say we are pro-porn.

However, we cannot truly say that we are anti-porn when pornography is such a broad brush term. What do we mean by it anyway? Where does erotica fit in? Or how about Anna Span who creates pornographic films, depicting both heterosexual and homosexual sex, from the eye of a woman? Should we not be supporting the women who are trying to diversify porn and create images of equal sexuality?

One of the issues with porn at the moment is that it is so focused on the fulfillment of men’s desire. Perhaps we should be helping to amplify the voices of women who are trying to tell the world that women have diverse sexual needs, and as much right as any man to express them.

One of the claims that we have recently read is that all women in the pornography business are oppressed and harmed. But is that too simplistic? We have spoken to women who have glamour modeled and have no regrets whatsoever about the career path they took. Or how about the amateurs out there who are having a wonderful time posting their love for each other and their exhibitionism online? Is each of those women harmed by that activity?

We do not doubt that many women (and men) have been damaged by their involvement in the porn industry but it is impossible to say they all have. If we alienate all performers, are we missing opportunities to support those who need it and work to stop further victims being harmed?

And then where does gay porn fit into the anti-porn argument? Are we only to oppose heterosexual pornography? Or perhaps only pornography that features women? Does that not further marginalise the sexuality of men and women who do not fit into that perceived societal norm?

One of our many issues with Page 3 is the narrow view of sexuality it presents; that men predominantly like white, blonde, able bodied young women with tiny waists and big breasts who will sit passively waiting to have sex done to them. We all know that the world is a big wonderful melting pot of attraction and desire and the more we embrace that diversity the less pressure there will be on women (and men) to fulfill that narrow sexual stereotype.

So we can’t really say that we are anti-porn either.

We are a campaign focused on one very specific issue. Although we regularly talk about the wider issues around sexism in the media, our number one aim at the moment is the removal of one image in one newspaper. We would love it if we could get universal support for this one, clear aim – no soft porn in a family newspaper.

Yes, of course, we are aware of where Page 3 sits within broader discussions around the representation of women and sex in both the mainstream media and pornography. Do we think that there is a timeline that links Page 3 to porn to Lads Mags to the normalisation of sexual images in all media? Yes, absolutely we do. Do pornographers and distributors need to be challenged and questioned and shown the potential harm they do? Totally.

But is it as simple as saying “all porn is bad”? No, we don’t think so and we’re sorry if that disappoints you, but this is one fence we’re not getting off right now.

“This is my song in defence of the fence
A little sing along, an anthem to ambivalence
The more you know, the harder you will find it
To make up your mind, it, doesn’t really matter if you find
You can’t see which grass is greener
Chances are it’s neither, and either way it’s easier
To see the difference, when you’re sitting on the fence”

Tim Minchin

Find out more about the No More Page 3 campaign at nomorepage3.org or @NoMorePage3

If you enjoyed this article and want to meet other feminists like, and unlike, yourself, join Feminist Times as a Member. Join us and support the building of an incredible feminist organisation and resources like this website.

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Death of the Slut

I’ve had this thought for a while. Uncertain if it was too premature, too optimistic, too naive, I barely dared to utter it to myself or my female friends, let alone turn it into a public article with a name that nerdily references Roland Barthes. And then, as if Roland himself wanted to remind people of his eternal cultural kudos by being in an article title, the cultural atmosphere finally felt right.

The duty is now bestowed upon me to write to women and say: “Bravo! Congratulations! Great job!” The time has come for us to write an Ode to Casual Sex.

I negotiate the field of “casual sex” – not to mention my support of it – very carefully indeed. After all, I have over three years experience working in sexual health clinics. I know the uncomfortable national Chlamydia statistics better than most, and the rise of Gonnorhea is one of my best rehearsed dinner party topics. And sadly, inevitably, when you spend accumulative days of your life seeing what happens when casual sex goes wrong, the last thing you want to do is go and tell everyone to get it on, immediately.

Thus, I now approach my ode with the foreword: I am writing an Ode to Casual Sex With A Condom, Consent, and general Contentedness, not an Ode to Shagging Someone Too Drunk To Know In A Nightclub Toilet With Contraceptive Disdain. It is impossible to discuss this without first assuring you: by casual sex, I mean two happy and consenting people with top notch safe sex practice, doing it because they want to.

And, in this sense, we have seen a shift. In the UK right now we are seeing a widening of the conversation – a cultural and social space is opening for women, young and old, who want to talk about how they enjoy having casual sex, and society isn’t unanimously telling them to shush.

The conversation is changing. Media is less shocked by it, culture is less shy of it, women are more proud of it. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, and of course we are still far from achieving the same kind of society-wide post-coital pats on the back that are bestowed upon men, but the significance of this is monumental.

Casual sex is a mark of liberation women should be immensely proud of. It is something we have tirelessly worked for, battling against one of the most persistent labels in the modern English language.

The question now on everyone’s lips is this: are we finally seeing the death of the Slut?

It should come as no surprise to you to know my standpoint on the very thing for which I am planning a funeral: the Slut. I hate the word Slut. I don’t want to reclaim it, I don’t want to rebrand it, I don’t want anything to do with it.

Throughout history, different oppressed peoples have tried to claim back words that have been used against them. The key is personal preference. If you feel that you can be empowered by a word that once oppressed you, and if you feel you can rebrand it to be something you can be proud of, then I say GO YOU. It is a skill and a feat that takes immense inner strength and conviction. I salute you.

My personal preference, however, is to not. My personal preference doesn’t want to rebrand Slut. My personal preference wants to strap the word Slut to a skyscraper-sized dynamite stick and light it, while simultaneously canon-blasting it into a universe so far from ours that when its inhabitant aliens look at Earth through a telescope all they see is Dinosaurs in a tizzle and Jesus giving out fish.

I want it to be properly punished – punished for everything it has done to women. For the women it has shamed, for the rape claims it has degraded, for the freedom of dress it has denied. For the number of post-coital tears I have mopped on the cheeks of my beautiful, wonderful, powerhouse female friends, because it just won’t go away.

To the word Slut, it doesn’t matter how intelligent, successful, happy, caring, wonderful a human being you are. You could be the President of the United States (shout out to Hils 2k16) and, if you are single and enjoy the odd night-time encounter, the word Slut will plague you through afternoons in Congress and deafen your foreign policy meetings. Not a woman I know – feminist or otherwise – has escaped the shadow of the Slut.

Slut, for me, cannot be reclaimed, certainly not yet. We are too close to it, too preoccupied still with what it means and what it stands for to honestly claim we have rebranded it. Too many women awake the morning after they made a happy, adult choice to engage in sex that made them feel good, to then immediately speed-dial their female friends to check if society will brand them a Slut.

The conversation may be changing but, unfortunately, we cannot yet dance on Slut’s grave. It is still deeply ingrained into our social conscience – groups will still thrust the label upon women, women will still thrust the label upon themselves.

But, as the conversation opens up more and more to listen to women happy in their sexual conquests, I say it is time we took a stance. Women everywhere: this is the Death of the Slut. Starting with no longer giving Slut airtime. The woman wearing the super low-cut top? Well-endowed. The woman who has more interest in getting to know his trouser zips than his personality? A 21st century woman. And the woman who went on the rebound after a nasty breakup? A human.

By the time Hils struts into the White House in her rainbow trouser suits I want the answer to “do you think that girl’s a slut?” to be one thing and one thing only. I want the answer to be: “a what?”

Rebecca Myers is a freelance journalist, full-time feminist, and tea addict. Find out more @rebeccacmyers

If you enjoyed this article and want to meet other feminists like, and unlike, yourself, join Feminist Times as a Member. Join us and support the building of an incredible feminist organisation and resources like this website.

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For once let’s really talk about slut-shaming

Encountering the term “slut-shaming” was a lightbulb moment. At last, a word I could use to express my unease when fellow feminists fretted over the “sexualisation” of young girls or pointed the finger at so-called female chauvinist pigs. While conscious of the dynamics to which they referred, I’d long resented the implication that individual women could not own their choices. If we live in a culture that objectifies women – and I believe that we do – then defining girls and women as “sexualised” (as opposed to sexual) merely adds to it.

I still feel this to be the case and yet, of late, I’ve started to have some misgivings over the way in which “slut-shaming” and related terms such as “sex positive” are used. I know I’m not the only one. I’ve witnessed feminist friends being called slut-shamers and prudes for challenging the “wrong” cultural targets. I’ve routinely seen debates on Page Three and lad mags descend into sniping over which feminists hate female sexuality the most. I’ve even heard asexual feminists worry that they are being dismissed as “sex negative” by default.

All of this strikes me as unnecessary. It seems we are confusing a critique of the misogynist images that surround us with the very hatred that lies behind them. There’s a fine line to tread between attacking the damaging uniformity of what is presented to the world as “female sexuality” and attacking the woman who may, through choice, represent it. We still need to attempt to get it right. We cannot keep women’s sexual expression under patriarchal guardianship out of fear that to do otherwise might mean losing the few outlets that misogynist culture permits.

Re-reading Joan Smith’s Misogynies, first published in 1989, I was shocked to see how far a virulent hatred of women as sexual beings didn’t just fuel the murders committed by the Yorkshire Ripper, but also helped Peter Sutcliffe evade capture. Obsessed by the idea that Sutcliffe set out to kill because he hated “prostitutes”, one detective, Jim Hobson, went so far as to reassure him that “many people do”, adding: “But the Ripper is now killing innocent girls. […] You have made your point. Give yourself up before another innocent women dies.”

I look at this and I can’t help thinking that this is not so far from the divisive language and beliefs that surround us today. The Wikipedia entry on Sutcliffe still describes him as someone “obsessed with killing streetwalkers”, not women (as though the former constitute a lesser sub-category). Women are still seen as pure or tainted and we need to ask whether protecting misogynist principles of sexual representation – Page Three, lad mags, hyper-unreal porn – is helping or hindering. We need to ask whether the maintenance of public breeding grounds for misogyny increases or tempers prejudice against female sex workers. Above all, we need to ask why, if the mere visibility of female flesh should make female sexual choices more acceptable, this hasn’t ever happened?

I still value the term “slut-shaming” but I can’t help feeling that its worst form manifests itself when knives are sunk into female flesh for no other reason than that it is female flesh. Critiquing the culture in which such hate arises must never become taboo.


VJD Smith (Glosswitch) is a lifelong feminist and mother of two who edits language books when she’s not tied up with parenting, blogging and ranting.  Find out more @Glosswitch or glosswatch.com

Image courtesy of: laverrue

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Comeback: How To Be A Man – Porn

A reader’s response to Garry Mulholland’s first How To Be A Man column, on his conflicted relationship with pornography.

Dear Garry,

When I was 14, I was developing an interest in boys and sex. Unlucky for me, my best friend was the prettiest girl in school and every boy I ever had a crush only had eyes for her. If only there was someone like you, someone to like me because I didn’t quite meet the patriarchal standards of beauty, Oh! How happy I might have been! But alas, that is not what we all want. Consider perhaps that a woman might like to be appreciated for something other than her appearance; you have just developed a different standard of sexual beauty, it appears that you are still responding to it in the same way that the boys at school responded to my best friend.

I had my first serious boyfriend at university. I was so shocked that there was someone who liked me and not the girl I was with that I didn’t really consider much else. As it turned out, he was a porn addict too. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to find him masturbating at his computer at the end of the bed. I didn’t have much experience with porn, but this did not feel ok. I felt so betrayed that he would do this, and I quickly became convinced that I was not good enough for him. We soon discussed the issue and I raised my concerns; he felt very sorry and promised he would stop. Of course, that did not happen. He would take his laptop into the bathroom for long periods, and added a collection of porn to his phone. Not only was I not good enough for him sexually, my feelings of inadequacy and sadness were not worth a moment of his time. I’m ashamed to admit that I continued in the relationship for far longer than I should have, but I am not ashamed to say that porn was the root of our problems.

Having experienced this man’s obsession with porn, and hearing male friends discuss their own relationships with porn, I have developed enough curiosity to have a look at some. The first porn I ever watched was very misleading, and I had some very wrong ideas about what squirting was for a long time. I have a number of female friends who say they use it, but I personally get no enjoyment from it; it makes me feel very uncomfortable. I wonder how the women you have been with feel about your relationship with porn?

Following my relationship with the porn addict, I had a number of casual affairs which gave me further insight into the effects of porn. Almost every man that I was with EXPECTED a blowjob, like that was his right as a man. They were all horrified when I refused. Many would also try their luck at requesting anal – again, it is just not for me. These acts are commonplace on all porn sites, and so the boys and men who grow up with access to them have grown to expect it, and as such, girls who would rather not are vilified (we all know that a woman is a slut if she does and a prude if she doesn’t, but this is going much further now). Why must my sexual choices be dictated to me by porn and the men who watch it?

My 7-year-old nephew recently saw porn at school for the first time on a friend’s phone. He came home that day and told his mother, and questioned her about what it was that was coming out of the man’s willy. I really don’t believe that this was the right way for him to learn about these things. He’ll be laughed at in the playground if he doesn’t know, but none of them will really understand, and so begins another generation of men who will no doubt grow up to make women feel as inadequate as I did.

So, Garry, let’s not pretend that porn is feminist. Let’s instead consider how we can stop the next generations from feeling the ways that you and I felt. Let’s communicate, and open up a discussion about this. Let’s not make children feel stupid for asking, and let’s not make them feel that sex is naughty and not to be talked about. We can’t stop the porn industry from doing what it does best, but we can help people to understand it for what it is, and make sense of their own feelings and experiences.

Victoria Coleman

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What is Feminism? banner

B G Morgan: Feminism is…

B G MorganName: B G Morgan

Age: Aged 76, I must be the world’s most unlikely writer of erotica – a fact I don’t mind milking.

Location: 50/50 France and England

Bio: Retired from working world-wide in perfumery, sexual reproductive health, and weight loss, to write erotic novels as a trojan horse for serious issues – ranging from the tragedy of childlessness to the challenge of global over-population.

Feminism is at a crossroads. Is it crying ‘Help me, I am lost’ or is it pointing the way ahead? Hetero-monogamy struggles to survive, but gays and lesbians marry as never before. Men increasingly seem redundant while women stretch their wings and enjoy new freedoms. Our small world hurtles towards over-population yet many know the tragedy of childlessness. More women are confident about their sexuality yet questions of what is OK and what is not grow ever more complicated. My new erotic novel ‘Male Appendages’ invites us to view this shifting world of feminism through the prism of six very different women and their explicitly portrayed sex lives.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to editorial@feministtimes.com, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Garry Mulholland

How To Be A Man: Porn

Imagine a world where all women were judged equal. Black and white, fat and thin, hairy and shaved, even old and young, all seen as equally worthy of being seen, and seen as desirable, even beautiful. There is, of course, no need to imagine. This world already exists. Its called internet porn.

Actually, the internet bit there is misleading. Porn has always been a broad church, fetish-wise. The internet just means more of it, easier to access, devoid of the public shame of entering sex shops and exiting with brown paper bags, and, like internet music, entirely free, if you know where to look. If the world had been like this when I was fourteen, I would never have left my bedroom. Therein lies the scary, but we’ll get back to that.

I choose the age of fourteen because that’s when my addiction to pornography began. A friend gave me a magazine called Peaches. It featured many colour and black and white pictures of naked women posing. These women were specific, though. The ‘Peaches’ was a euphemism for big tits, and, in this case, the big tits belonged largely to fat middle-aged women with excessive amounts of body hair. These women looked so unlike the women I was supposed to desire in 1977 – Raquel Welch, Felicity Kendal, Olivia Newton-John – that they may as well have been another species from another planet. But what struck me as hard as how much I liked these bodies was the way these women looked at me. Their faces said, “You poor helpless boy. How could you not want me? I am fucking irresistible!” Which seemed curious – and exciting – when the most bullied sub-group in my school were the fat girls, when every other gag on peak-time TV began with a variation on ‘I wouldn’t say my wife/mother-in-law was fat/ugly, but…’, when the phrase ‘hairy-arsed feminists’ had just begun to creep into popular culture. Was I allowed to fancy hairy-arsed mothers-in-law more than the pretty slim girls at school? Too late. I did. And so began a secret addiction, wrapped in one very specific kind of brown-paper shame; the discovery that I must be some kind of pervert. My male friends mocked me if I even talked to Maria, the chubby girl I most liked at school. How would they humiliate me if they knew what I wanked over?

In the same year, I heard the Sex Pistols and was forever changed by punk rock. While porn was my furtive guilty pleasure – and how that phrase has been perverted over the last six or seven years; do people really feel honest-to-God guilt over quite liking Bonnie Tyler records? I wish my conscience was that clear! – I was evangelical about punk rock, and the entirely new type of pop woman it had brought forth. I didn’t really make any connection, at the time, between my hairy BBW (Big Beautiful Women, in modern porn parlance) wank objects and Siouxsie, or Patti Smith, or Poly Styrene, or Fay Fife of The Rezillos. But years later I realized that, on some subconscious level, chubby porn models and fierce punk androgynes had merged and given me a taste for women who not only looked different to the submissive baby doll beloved of mainstream ‘phowoar!’ culture, but drew attention to themselves, and reveled in it. The pressure on women to conform physically seems overwhelming, from the outside. Any woman who can ignore that pressure and imagine themselves sexually irresistible is some kind of heroine.

But I’m honestly not pretending that hardcore porn is a world entirely composed of female non-conformists leading young boys to an enlightened rejection of misogynist body fascism. It is very often a world of blank-eyed women being choked by massive penises, or being used, as Julie Burchill once memorably put it, ‘as sexual spittoons’. I’ve read my Julie Bindel too and I don’t live in denial of the fact that the majority of women in porn are there through physical or economic coercion, or because they are playing out the trauma of an earlier sexual abuse. When I use the words ‘guilty pleasure’, I mean them. I call myself a feminist, yet I regularly collude in one of the planet’s most organized, durable and violent wars on women. I don’t have an excuse, or a handy intellectual theory to justify it. It’s just wrong. But sexual impulses are powerful and hard to change. My only real defence is a 17-year marriage to a lifelong feminist. Because I like to convince myself that my relationship with porn is compartmentalized neatly and entirely separately from my real-life relationships with women. And my wife L remains the only viable exhibit for the defence.

If you told me, at fourteen, that I would, at 50, be married to a woman not physically unlike the women in Peaches, who maintained the principles of ‘women’s lib’ that my mother raised me with, I think I would have been pretty chuffed. But that does bring me back to the image of a confused adolescent boy, in 2013, with immediate access to an infinite number of moving images of loveless fucking. Because the second porn magazine my friend gave me did damage to my sexuality that has never been fully repaired.

The magazine was called Color Climax, and featured images of Swedish people having sex. While I remember the faces of the women in Peaches in incredible detail, I remember nothing about the men or women in Color Climax. Except the cocks. The cocks were huge; so much bigger than mine that, again, it seemed they must belong to a different species. They were also rock hard, and appeared to need no stimulation at all to get that way. And, when entered into hairy Swedish girl vagina, they caused a reaction – an ecstasy – on the faces of said hairy Swedish girls that I’d only seen in old paintings of puny humans visited by Gods and angels. From that moment, I was convinced that my puny penis could not possibly be what women really wanted at all, and, 36 years later, I still partly believe that every woman who has had sex with me only did so because she thought I was a nice guy, and a porn stud wasn’t immediately available that night. I know that’s stupid and irrational. But sexuality is stupid and irrational. I just hope my son, who is 27 now, had become a little more emotionally fully-formed before he saw something he couldn’t un-see.

When our esteemed editor asked me to write the How To Be A Man column, and we agreed that the first one should be about pornography, I thought I’d probably at least try and write something funny. I’ve just re-read the above and there isn’t a laugh to be had. I’m only just realizing what a profound effect images of fucking have had on the kind of man I am. But one thing I’m sure of: while the men who own the porn industry are invariably scum, and the effect it has on male perceptions of women feed and breed misogyny, fetish pornography’s vision of what makes a woman sexually attractive is, was, and always will be broader, wider and less insidiously paedophile than those of the fashion industry, or Hollywood, or mainstream glamour. Peaches magazine and its internet equivalents celebrate everything Heat, Fashion Police and the entire diet and cosmetic industries despise. I wouldn’t say porn is feminist, but…


Garry Mulholland is a journalist, author and broadcaster. He has written four books on music and film published by Orion Books, including This Is Uncool: The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk And Disco. Find out more @GarryMulholland

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