Monthly Archives: February 2015

Roundtable: Where now for Feminism?

Roundtable: Where now for Feminism?
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
February 2014

With high profile campaigns such as Everyday Sexism and No More Page 3 gaining significant media coverage, what is being called ‘fourth wave feminism’ found its feet in 2013. Ian Sinclair spoke to five feminist campaigners about the current health of feminism in the UK and what its priorities should be in the year ahead.

Cath Elliott, Feminist Activist

I can’t remember which wave of feminism we’re supposed to be in now – the third wave, the fourth, the fifth? – but whichever it is we’ve certainly seen an upsurge in feminist activism over the past few years, and an increase in the numbers of younger women being prepared to define themselves as feminists. Sadly though this inspirational resurgence of the feminist movement hasn’t yet led to any of the original aims of the women’s liberation movement being met.

Equal pay, decent and affordable – preferably free – childcare, none of these issues have gone away; meanwhile the prevalence of rape, sexual exploitation, and other forms of violence against women overshadows any gains we think we might have made. Similarly, while abortion was made legal in this country in 1967, ever since then there have been concerted attempts to deny women their reproductive rights, and so the fight for access to safe, legal abortion goes on.

I suppose that’s the long-winded way for me to say that I think feminism’s future has to basically be a repeat of feminism’s past, because while women’s oppression may be packaged differently nowadays, the harsh reality is that the substance of that oppression remains the same, and the battles we were fighting back in the second wave are still to be won.

Scarlet Harris, TUC Women’s Officer

We need feminism as much, if not more, than ever. I don’t subscribe to the idea that feminism has been dormant for decades ­and only just been re-born by a new generation of young women. Whilst I admire young media-savvy, campaigning feminists, we are all indebted to my mother’s generation who have been campaigning for gender equality since the 60s. The tenacity and drive of trade union women in fighting for equal pay, affordable and accessible childcare, challenging discrimination, sexual harassment and violence against women, defending women’s right to free and safe abortions, and breaking down gender stereotypes in the workplace, has never dwindled.

Feminism has made great strides but we have a long way to go. Years of a slow, steady progress on closing the gender pay gap have gone into reverse. Women working full-time still earn, on average, around £5,000 a year less than men. Over one in four women are paid less than the living wage, while 30,000 lose their jobs every year due to pregnancy discrimination. Sky-high childcare costs continue to make work unaffordable for many women.

We shouldn’t accept the false choice between an ‘old’ feminism that focuses on women’s labour market position and a ‘new’ feminism that focuses on violence against women, sexual harassment and representations of women in the media. Feminism does and should encompass all of these things.

Charlie Woodworth, Fawcett Society

Despite many years of progress, the UK remains deeply unequal. Women are typically poorer than men, taking home an average 16 per smaller pay packet and dominating the ranks of the low paid. We are under-represented in positions of power and influence across public life, most startlingly in politics – almost 80 per cent of our MPs are male, the proportion of women in parliament has increased by just 3.7 per cent since 2000. Violence, or the threat of it, is still an everyday reality for many women – two women a week are killed by current or ex partners. The age of austerity is worsening the situation, as women are forced to act as shock absorbers for dramatic and unprecedented cuts to public spending – around three quarters of the money saved from capping and cutting welfare will come from women’s pockets.

Challenging these and other persistent inequalities requires action on several fronts. In the run up to the 2015 election, where women’s votes will have a decisive impact, we must hold the different parties to account on how their plans will affect women – our safety, our financial security, our general power and influence. The recent surge in online activism, in particular the groundswell of feminist noise, must work to ensure women’s rights are front and centre of the political debate in this crucial window of opportunity.

Alison Winch, Lecturer in Cultural Studies at Middlesex University and author of Girlfriends and Postfeminist Sisterhood.

Feminism is a collective movement – however contested – and this is critical in a culture that promotes the myth of the competitive individual. Relationships are central to feminism, both in the way that feminists forge alliances with each other, but also when looking at the way that women regulate and police each other, especially around the body and sexuality. Neoliberal patriarchy has a female face, whether this is the hyper successful of companies like Facebook or Yahoo – or the fictional media representations of powerful women. It is also expressed in the language of empowerment, enablement, agency, choice. But often women’s success is dependent on the exploitation of other women. Consequently, feminisms that promote a neoliberal agenda inevitably deepen divisions between women. Feminism has a memory and a history of contesting capitalism. The conflicts that feminists experienced need to be revisited, but in a different frame. Rather than seeing them as failures, we need to see them as necessary to politics which, for it to work, must involve debate and acknowledge differences. The way that we relate through class, race, sexual identity and disability need to be taken up again, learnt from, developed, talked about (and this is happening). Coming from a position of dis-identification (rather than using the tired metaphor of a sisterhood) would be useful to open the space for more feminists to have a voice and to be heard. Conflict and disagreement can be generative, creative and productive when taken outside familial frames such as sisterhood and used to challenge capitalism.

Rahila Gupta, Southall Black Sisters

It has never been clearer, than at this historical conjuncture when neo-liberalism is unravelling, that feminism cannot win its struggle for women’s rights without also undertaking a social, political and economic transformation to restore fundamental equalities and rights to other disempowered groups. The recent resurgence of feminist activity is recognition of the fact that some of the freedoms achieved by women were illusory; this was crystallised by the austerity measures introduced to deal with the financial crisis, the impact of which fell disproportionately on women. The vacuum left by a much diminished state, although paternalistic and patriarchal, is being filled by religious forces stepping in to provide services within an ethos that is detrimental to women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

Many of the issues are the same but the contexts have changed, possibly for the worse. At Southall Black Sisters, we have been pointing out the dangers of religious fundamentalism for women and sexual minorities since the early 90s against the backdrop of the Salman Rushdie affair then and the War on Terror today. Where once we struggled to get the state to act on issues such as forced marriage, today, the state uses these same issues to criminalise migrants and justify inhumane immigration controls. Race, class, and sexual identity are still the faultlines that scar feminism. But feminism needs to guard against atomisation – which is what neoliberalism thrives on.

Interview with Green Party leader Natalie Bennett

Interview with Green Party leader Natalie Bennett
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
25 February 2015

It’s been an extraordinary rise. From 25,000 members at the start of December, in three months the Green Party of England and Wales has more than doubled its membership to around 53,500 today.

Speaking to me in a smart north London pub, the Australian-born leader Natalie Bennett argues the surge in support is down to people looking at the three main parties and thinking “Well, there’s really no answers there, we need something different, we need real change.” She notes that ex-Labour and Liberal Democrat voters have been joining, along with many young people and some former Tories concerned about fracking.

YouGov polling is now regularly placing the Greens above the Liberal Democrats. One recent Ipsos Mori poll even put them ahead of UKIP, making them the third most popular political party with nine percent of the vote.

“The debate about the debates gave us a little bit of oxygen, a little bit of air, a little bit of publicity”, Bennett, 49, says about the discussions revolving around the televised general election leader debates. Currently, she is set to represent the Greens in two of the three debates, with the final event a head to head between Labour’s Ed Miliband and Prime Minister David Cameron. She expects to take part in mock debates to prepare. “At the moment I’ve got a large number of people lining up to play their favourite hate figure”, she quips. Does the Green Party employ a stylist? “There are various people advising me on my wardrobe, inevitably”, she says, chuckling. “Presentation, sadly, is an important part of politics, so we’ve got to live with that.”

So what Green Party policies will she be highlighting in the debates and during the election campaign?

“There is a very obvious focus on making the minimum wage a living wage. We should have a £10 an hour minimum wage by 2020.” She also refers to “jobs you can build a life on – that means not zero-hour contracts, full time if you want full time.” The Green Party also has a broad “anti-privatisation agenda”, including opposing and seeking to reverse the privatisation of the NHS, and bringing the railways back into public ownership. She talks about promoting walking and cycling, local bus services and giving people viable alternatives to the car. “We’ve announced we’d like to take a significant proportion of the funds this government would like to spend on road building and put it in to cutting train and bus fares by 10 percent, helping encourage people on to more sustainable forms of transport.” This, she explains assuredly, “would also tackle air pollution issues, which would also tackle health issues.”

Bennett has good reason to be confident. The Vote For Policies website, which polls people on the policies of political parties without those being polled knowing the party connected to the policy, puts the Green Party ahead of everyone else. She also notes a YouGov survey in November revealed that 26 percent of people would vote Green if they had a chance of winning in their constituency in the May General Election, placing them in third place behind the Tories and Labour.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing though. Their policy of a Citizen’s Income of £72 per week, paid to every adult regardless of income, has received quite a bit of criticism. Citing the Citizen’s Income Trust, a recent Guardian report noted that in its current form the policy would hit the poorest hardest. “It will be in the manifesto”, Bennett confirms. And it will be fully costed, though it is a long-term aspiration which would take longer than one parliament to implement. We don’t have time to explore the detail of the criticisms, though she argues “People really need a sense of security, and that’s one of the things Citizen’s Income can offer”.

The Greens have also come under fire from some feminist campaigners keen to outlaw the buying of sex – the Swedish model – for its position on prostitution. “The Green Party supports what is generally known at the New Zealand model – decriminalisation”, she replies. Though she acknowledges this is an issue that many well intentioned people have strong feelings about, she argues decriminalisation is “supported by sex workers and unions representing sex workers” and is the model which “can keep vulnerable women and men most safe.” Interestingly, Caroline Lucas, the only Green MP in parliament, supports the Swedish model. “The Green Party doesn’t whip”, Bennett explains. “We believe in grown up politics. We can cope with that.”

Aswell as holding Lucas’s Brighton Pavilion constituency, the Green Party has a number of other target seats in the upcoming General Election including Norwich South and Bristol West. Bennett herself is standing in Holborn and St Pancras in London. However, due to the UK’s creaking First Past The Post electoral system, there is a strong possibility the Green surge will not translate into any additional MPs. Unsurprisingly, this clearly frustrates Bennett. “One of the key things that I think is certain to come out of this election is the First Past The Post electoral system is going to be a certain loser”, she says. “I think there will be a strong push for electoral reform” because “quite a lot of people for who electoral reform has never crossed their lips are going to find their local MP has been elected with not much more than 25% of the vote.”

But while the Green Party may not gain anymore MPs, the Guardian recently crunched the polling data and predicted an increase in the Green vote could make a Tory win more likely. Bennett pushes for a wider analysis: “I think we have through generations in Britain been trained by the First Past The Post electoral system to vote for something that wasn’t what we really wanted, sometimes the thing we disliked the second most, to stop the thing we really hated getting in.

“That’s actually what has given us the kind of politics we have now. It means you have a Labour Party that is pretty hard to distinguish from the Tory Party – certainly in terms of policy if not necessarily always in rhetoric. If voters keen doing the same thing they are going to keep getting the same kind of politics.”

Her simple solution is to encourage voters to ditch tactical voting: “It’s possible to have a peaceful political revolution if voters decide to vote for what they believe in”.

I end by asking a few personal questions. What recent non-fiction books would she recommend to voters? James Meek’s critique of privatisation Private Island, Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth: Economics For A Finite Planet and the ground-breaking Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, are her answers. And the most ungreen thing she does? “I probably like a long shower, which is probably less than ideal.” A seasoned interviewee, she uses my frivolous question to make a serious point about Green Party politics: “What we want to see is structural change that makes the environmentally friendly thing to do the easiest and cheapest and simplest thing to do. So it’s not a case of telling individuals they should change their behaviour.”

“We need to change the whole way society works.”

Why civil resistance works

Why Civil Resistance Works
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
17 February 2014

I’ve been reviewing books for over eight years and feel I’ve just finished one of the most important books I’ve ever read. It’s a book that should cause a paradigm shift in international politics and foreign policy because it turns a lot of conventional thinking on its head.

The book is Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, co-authored by Erica Chenoweth, an Assistant Professor of Government at Wesleyan University, and Maria J. Stephan, a strategic planner with the US State Department.

Analysing 323 examples of resistance campaigns and rebellion from 1900 to 2006, Chenoweth and Stephan conclude nonviolent campaigns have been twice as successful as violent campaigns in achieving their objectives. They contend that this difference is down to nonviolent campaigns being more likely to attract mass support, noting “the moral, physical, informational, and commitment barriers are much lower for nonviolent resistance than for violent insurgency.” This greater level of participation tends to lead to more tactical innovation, more loyalty shifts among the regime’s supporters and raises the political, economic and social costs to the regime – all of which increase the overall chances of success. Moreover, they find that nonviolent resistance campaigns are more likely to lead to democratic forms of government than violent campaigns.

Chenoweth and Stephan’s conclusions chime with Gene Sharp, the world’s leading expert on nonviolence, who told me that using violence to overthrow a dictatorship was foolish: “If your enemy has massive capacity for violence – and modern governments today have massive capacity for violence – why deliberately choose to fight with your enemy’s best weapons? They are guaranteed to win, almost certainly.”

Like me, no doubt many people will be surprised by these findings. But our ignorance isn’t surprising when one considers just how dominant the conventional view of power and violence is: physical and military force is seen as the most powerful and effective action an individual, group or society can take, while nonviolence is viewed as idealistic, passive and fearful of confrontation.

Nonviolent resistance has been hidden from history. We can all rattle off the names and dates of famous battles in recent history, but how many of us know about how peaceful demonstrations overthrew the Guatemalan dictator General Ubico in 1944? Or how mass protests overthrew Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines in 1986? If Ben Affleck wasn’t so American-centric Argo would have told the extraordinary story of how the Shah of Iran was deposed in 1979 by a campaign of civil resistance rather than focussing on staff from the US Embassy that had supported the dictatorship.

Civil resistance is rarely taken seriously in the media. Even the most radical voices at the Guardian seem to be as quick as many others to support violence. Writing about the looming war in Iraq in late 2002 George Monbiot quickly summarised one proposed diplomatic solution to the crisis before arguing “If war turns out to be the only means of removing Saddam, then let us support a war whose sole and incontestable purpose is that and only that”. A decade later Comment is Free regular Richard Seymour dismissed the idea of nonviolent resistance to the Syrian Government and backed violent resistance as the most effective option.

“Ah, this is all well and good”, the sceptic will say, “but how can nonviolence possibly succeed against a repressive dictatorship?” According to Chenoweth and Stephan, the evidence they have collected “rejects the claim that there are some types of states against which only violence will work.” Rather their results show “that when regimes crack down violently, reliance on a nonviolent strategy increases the probability of campaign success”. The Iranian Government overthrown in 1979 had the worst human rights record of any country in the world, according to Amnesty International in 1976. Not harsh enough for you? How about East Timor, where Amnesty International reported Indonesian troops had killed 200,000 people between their 1975 invasion and 1999 – approximately one third of the total population of East Timor. Despite this mass murder a largely nonviolent mass movement eventually managed to eject the Indonesian forces, and declared independence in 2002.

Another tick in the pro column for nonviolent resistance is the fact it generally leads to a much smaller death toll – on all sides of a conflict. For example, the largely nonviolent people power in Tunisia and Egypt overthrew their dictators with far less death and destruction than the violent (and externally supported) uprisings in Libya and Syria.

Of course, nonviolent resistance is not a magic wand and does not guarantee success. However, the hard evidence shows it generally has the strategic edge over violent resistance. With the debate over Western intervention in Syria rumbling on among liberal commentators, Chenoweth and Stephan’s findings raise profound questions for those living under dictatorships and Western citizens considering how best to help those resisting oppression.

Another nail in the coffin of the case for Libyan ‘intervention’

Another nail in the coffin of the case for Libyan ‘intervention’
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
23 February 2015

Though the British press have chosen to ignore it, a recent report in the Washington Times newspaper is the latest nail in the coffin that is the mainstream narrative of the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya.

An intervention, perhaps not coincidentally, which received the support of the vast majority of the British newspapers and 557 wise MPs, with just 13 opposed.

The mainstream narrative runs something like this. After the Tunisian-inspired protests erupted in February 2011, the Libyan Government forces responded with overwhelming, deadly violence, beating the rebels back to the eastern city of Benghazi. At this point NATO, authorised by the United Nations, set up a no-fly zone, supposedly to protect civilians in Benghazi.

Justifying the intervention, then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referred to Kosovo and the Rwandan genocide in an interview with ABC News. “Imagine we were sitting here and Benghazi had been overrun, a city of 700,000 people, and tens of thousands of people had been slaughtered, hundreds of thousands had fled”, she said. “The cries would be, ‘Why did the United States not do anything?’” Likewise, speaking to parliament a couple of days after the operation had begun, British Prime Minister David Cameron said NATO had helped to avoid a “bloody massacre” in Benghazi “in the nick of time”.

However, citing secret audio recordings between a an intermediary working for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Libyan Government, the Washington Times suggests genocide was not imminent: “Defense intelligence officials could not corroborate those concerns and in fact assessed that Gadhafi was unlikely to risk world outrage by inflicting mass casualties”. The report goes onto quote the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division: “At that point, we did not see the imminence of massacres that would rise to genocidelike levels”.

This conclusion is supported by Alan J. Kuperman, Associate Professor of Public Affairs in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. “Qaddafi did not perpetrate a ‘bloodbath’ in any of the cities that his forces recaptured from rebels prior to NATO intervention… so there was virtually no risk of such an outcome if he had been permitted to recapture the last rebel stronghold of Benghazi”, Kuperman argued in a 2013 policy brief prepared for the world-renowned Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School.

At the time there were shocking stories about Libyan Government forces using mass rape as a weapon of war and Libyan aircraft bombing peaceful demonstrators. Amnesty International and Human Right Watch found no evidence for the former. Hugh Roberts, a former director of the International Crisis Group’s North Africa project, found the latter claim to be false too: “The story was untrue, just as the story that went round the world in August 1990 that Iraqi troops were slaughtering Kuwaiti babies by turning off their incubators was untrue and the claims in the sexed-up dossier on Saddam’s WMD were untrue.”

The Washington Times also highlights the various attempts made by the Libyan Government to push for a negotiated settlement. Early in the conflict the head of the US African Command attempted to negotiate a truce but was ordered to stand down by Clinton’s State Department. Again, this account chimes with many other reports that show NATO repeatedly ignored ceasefire proposals coming from the Libyan Government and the African Union. According to Roberts “London, Paris and Washington could not allow a ceasefire because it would have involved negotiations… and all this would have subverted the possibility of the kind of regime change that interested the Western powers.”

Today, Libya is a chaotic mess. In November 2014 Amnesty International warned “lawless militias and armed groups on all sides of the conflict in western Libya are carrying out rampant human rights abuses, including war crimes.” The same month the UN Refugee Agency reported that nearly 400,000 Libyans had been displaced by the on-going violence, whilst the Associated Press noted the Libyan city of Darna had become the first city outside of Syria and Iraq to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State.

Misinformation and propaganda used as a pretext for war. A war that plays a significant role in destroying an oil-rich nation in the Middle East. Sound familiar? Like Iraq, we should demand a public inquiry into the UK’s involvement in this duplicitous aggression. At the very least all those journalists who backed the intervention need to start asking the searching questions they should have asked back in 2011.

Unpublished letter to the Guardian about the Guardian being “free to pursue the facts”

I sent this to the Guardian a few days ago. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it hasn’t been published…

Dear Sir/Madam

If, as Jonathan Freedland writes, the Guardian’s ownership model means it “is free to pursue the facts”, why did he choose to use the callous description of “when violence resumed in Gaza” when referring to Israel’s summer 2014 slaughter of over 2,000 Palestinians, including approximately 500 children, on a recent episode of BBC Question Time? (‘Dear Reader…’, 18 February)

Why did the recent Guardian editorial on the growth of ISIS in Libya fail to mention the key role played by the 2011 NATO military intervention in Libya? (‘The Guardian view on the Egyptian intervention in Libya’, 16 February)

And why did a 1000+ word news article by Ian Black in the same edition provide Jonathan Powell with a platform to emote about the growing threat of ISIS in Libya without feeling the need to mention Powell’s key role in the aggressive, illegal invasion of Iraq which helped to create ISIS in the first place? (‘UK envoy: if Libya fails it could be Somalia on the Mediterranean’, 16 February)

As all these examples show there are obviously more influences on the editorial content of a newspaper than just its ownership structure. For example, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s Propaganda Model highlights five filters on news content in Western media – ownership, advertising, the sources used by journalists, the flak media organisations can receive and the dominant ideology. Educational and social class background could well be another filter – Freedland, Black and the Guardian editor are all Oxbridge graduates, for example.

Kind regards

Ian Sinclair

Advertising and the media

Advertising and the media
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
March 2010

According to former Guardian editor Peter Preston approximately 75 per cent of British broadsheets’ total revenue is derived from advertising.

Speaking at a Guardian debate last summer on Sustainability in advertising, the paper’s current editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger didn’t just accept the status quo – he actually celebrated it. Quoting Francis Williams’s 1957 book Dangerous Estate, Rusbridger argued that “it was advertising that set the British press free.” He went on to note that effectively “it was Wal-Mart that paid for the New York Times bureau in Baghdad.” Cynics among you may see pitfalls with this relationship, but not the Guardian’s editor-in-chief. “I’ve always thought if Wal-Mart was happy to pay for the New York Times bureau in Baghdad, that’s great … as long as Wal-Mart demands nothing in return for that support,” he said.

Sitting next to Rusbridger was George Monbiot, the most radical columnist at the Guardian. Monbiot took a more cautionary and self-flagellating line than his editor, arguing those who work in the media are “inconsistent and hypocritical” about the role of advertising. However Monbiot’s criticisms – that “advertising is a pox on the planet, rapidly driving us to destruction” – focused solely on the detrimental effect advertising has on a paper’s readers and society.

What both Oxbridge graduates failed to mention is the far more important – and far more worrying – relationship between advertising and the editorial content of newspapers. For starters Rusbridger seems to be unaware that the standard journalism textbook thoroughly debunks what it calls “the legend of the advertiser as the midwife of press freedom” espoused by Williams. In Power Without Responsibility media historians James Curran and Jean Seaton explain that the importance of advertising had a profound effect on the popular and radical press in 19th century Britain. Papers “that deepened and extended radical consciousness” like the Northern Star, Poor Man’s Guardian and Reynolds News “either closed down, accommodated to advertising pressure by moving upmarket, stayed in a small audience ghetto with manageable losses or accepted an alternative source of institutional patronage.”

This overarching need to attract affluent readers – and therefore advertising – is the main reason why the immensely popular working-class Daily Herald struggled throughout its history while the business-orientated Financial Times still exists today. Curran and Seaton also argue the power of advertising is one of the reasons why “the press has long been more right wing than the public it is supposed to represent.”

Turning to the present day, it is a truth universally acknowledged that those who dare to challenge journalists about the influence of advertising on editorial content will be ridiculed and roundly dismissed.

A few years ago I contacted the Eastern Daily Press querying why an advert for short-haul airline Flybe didn’t appear next to a report of a protest against the negative influence of the aviation industry on the city council. After all, the paper went to great lengths to position car adverts next to motoring editorial. Were adverts only placed next to similar news content only if the news content was positive, I asked? After dismissing my query as one based on “wild conspiracy theories” the then deputy editor signed off “we are a busy and sophisticated news operation, about which it is quite clear that you have not the slightest understanding.”

The problem for our dangerously self-assured deputy editor is that there is a plethora of evidence contradicting him. In 2005 Advertising Age reported that British Petroleum and Morgan Stanley had both issued directives demanding that their ads be pulled from any publication that included potentially “objectionable” content. “BP went so far as to demand advance notice of any stories that mention the company, a competitor of the company or the oil and energy industry in general,” it reported.

In my files I have a copy of a 1998 Coca-Cola memo which provides guidelines to magazine which Coca-Cola advertises in. Adverts should be placed next to “positive and upbeat editorial,” the memo reads, and never adjacent to articles that deal with “hard news,” “environmental issues” or “negative diet information (eg bulimia, anorexia, quick weight loss, etc).”

Some may dismiss these examples as atypical, but, as one anonymous editor told Advertising Age, there is “a fairly lengthy list of companies that have instructions like these.” Even Andrew Marr, the most establishment of Establishment journalists, gets it. “The biggest question is whether advertising limits and reshapes the news agenda,” he writes in My Trade, his personal history of British journalism. “It does, of course. It’s hard to make the sums add up when you are kicking the people who write the cheques.”

Occasionally this incestuous partnership breaks down, as it did in 2005 when Marks & Spencer pulled all its advertising from Associated Newspapers’ three main titles in protest at what it saw as negative coverage. But these public flare-ups are extremely rare, as one would expect of a largely unspoken and secretive relationship that has been honed over years and years of publishing newspapers and hiring journalists. “The most stupid boast in the history of present-day journalism is that of the writer who says: ‘I have never been given orders; I am free to do as I like.’ We scent the air of the office. We realise that certain things are wanted, certain things unwanted,” commented US press critic George Seldes about his fellow journalists in 1931.

A couple of caveats. First, it is important to remember that the press reliance on advertising is not an all-powerful censor, dictating the content of a newspaper. Rather it should be seen as an influential filter that shapes and limits the news agenda in a business-friendly direction.

The mainstream media is a large, complex entity with competing interests and therefore reports critical of advertisers have and will continue to be published. And there are principled and tenacious journalists such as Monbiot who will criticise the hand that feeds them – but they are few and far between.

Second, we shouldn’t forget that advertising is just one of many factors – corporate ownership, the educational background of journalists, reliance on official sources, the dominant ideology and the power of the public relations industry – that explains why the media acts as it does.

Yet it is clear that a press reliant on corporate advertising for its very survival will by definition always be compromised when it comes to providing accurate and objective information and analysis about the world we live in.

Only journalists whose professional integrity is called in to question by this link and the most naive fools will fail to follow the money and come to the logical conclusion. As US media analyst Robert McChesney succinctly put it, “So long as the media are in corporate hands, the task of social change will be vastly more difficult, if not impossible.”

Interview with feminist campaigner and former lap dancer Jennifer Hayashi Danns

Interview with feminist campaigner and former lap dancer Jennifer Hayashi Danns
by Ian Sinclair
New Left Project
3 May 2012

The first lap dancing club in the UK opened in 1995. Since then lap dancing has become part of mainstream culture, with the 300+ lap dancing clubs nationwide visited by well-known figures such as Stephen Hawkings and Rihanna.

Jennifer Hayashi Danns, 28, worked as a lap dancer for two years whilst studying at university. She spoke to Ian Sinclair about the industry and her new book Stripped: The Bare Reality of Lap Dancing, which she co-authored with Sandrine Leveque from feminist campaigning group OBJECT.

What factors have driven the rapid increase in lap dancing clubs in the UK?

Many feminist groups believe that the rise in lap dancing clubs is related to a piece of legislation that allowed lap dancing clubs to open under the same licensing regulations as cafes or karaoke bars. However, this can only be part of the reason for their proliferation. In order for the clubs to function they need female dancers, and there appears to be no shortage of woman choosing consciously to work in this industry. The legislation has now changed and councils have the opportunity to set a nil limit on lap dancing clubs in their respective areas; which functions ultimately as a ban. Although I am against lap dancing clubs, as my book clearly articulates, I am wary of banning anything. As lap dancing is just an effect of a society that does not truly value women and, as hard as it may be to accept, a society in which women do not value themselves and what they could offer society other than their bodies. It is becoming increasingly difficult to solely blame the patriarchy; women must take responsibility for their actions too.

The lap dancing industry and parts of the media present lap dancing clubs as harmless, safe, titillating entertainment akin to visiting a nightclub. How do you respond to this description? What is your general critique of the industry?

The reason that I ended up writing this book was because of my perception of the depictions of the lap dancing industry in the media. I wrote a dissertation on the lap dancing industry in the UK at university, a year after I had finished working in the industry. During that research I rarely found any media content that resonated with my own experience. Could I be the only woman who had been part of this industry and found it harmful and damaging in hindsight? I found it disturbing that women would only have these positive messages of empowerment, financial independence and a life of luxury to base their decision on entering this world. The sole intent of my book is so that women can make a fully informed decision whether to enter this industry, as I believe the mainstream covers all the so called positives of this industry. My book is intentionally a criticism of the industry, or as one critic succinctly put it, it has bias running through it like a bar of rock! As human beings we have the often underused ability of reason. In this age of short, fast information, people read one article and think that they then are fully informed on an issue. I would urge people to of course read my book(!) but also read other literature about lap dancing and come to your own decision of whether or not you think this industry is of value to our society.

Several women in the book make a distinction between the ‘good old days’ of lap dancing where working conditions and pay were better, and the ‘bad times’ of today. Do you agree there has been a change in the industry and if so what does this mean in practice for lap dancers?

The reason I included those statements that appear positive are so that readers can hopefully understand why women remain in this industry and don’t just leave. As in any human interaction we can find both positives and negatives. In the club I worked in I found a great friend who is still my greatest friend today. When I first started dancing I was at the end of a ‘boom’ time. I could be confident of what I would earn, there was a feeling of community amongst the dancers and the manager was happy because the club was making money. Then as society started to suffer financially so did the lap dancing industry. In lap dancing your sole purpose, however many friends you think you have made or however well you get along with the management, is to make money. Dancers do not receive an hourly wage; all of your income is dependent on performing private dancers for individual customers. The product you are selling is yourself. If you can’t make money, it feels like no one wants to see you with your clothes off, or that you are not as attractive as the other girls. As the amount of money being spent in the lap dancing clubs decreased so did the validations of this industry. It is extremely difficult to feel empowered when you are begging men to take you for a dance. Also as the customers recognised this power, instead of treating women like queens they would often play their upper hand and criticise the dancers on a personal level – “You are too fat”, “Your tits aren’t big enough”, or as was said to me “I don’t like black girls.”

Therefore, I would say that the ‘good old days’ were when women felt that they could be certain of a regular income and the shift was to having to fight for customers and an income. The clubs responded by hiring more girls so they could still turn a profit from the house fee each girl paid, from £50 to up to £120 a night. As described in the book this meant for many that dancers would perform more explicit dances, engage in far more explicit conversations with men and the environment in the club turned from some kind of community to dog eat dog. In this dancers are faced with what they are prepared to do for money, I thought my boundary was a no contact topless lap dance; I didn’t want to talk dirty to strangers, or insinuate that I may sleep with them or ‘accidently’ touch them during a dance, but my own standards slipped when after a couple of weeks of not earning enough money to break even after my travel expenses, house fee and other costs, for example, beauty products and alcohol, I went for the first time to work in a club that was full strip, and as I describe in the book, “The first time I pulled my knickers down I felt my soul fall out.”

Those who oppose lap dancing clubs often argue the financial reward of lap dancing is generally low, pointing to the fact dancers usually have to pay the club a ‘house fee’ to perform and how they are in competition with the other dancers. However, a couple of the testimonies in the book contradict this view. For example, ‘Waitress’ notes “the majority of workers made a decent living from the job” with “a few making extravagant amounts.”

In an ideal world the money aspect would be irrelevant, but we don’t live in an ideal world and certainly in a capitalist society that values economics and profit  above all else the issue of money and personal earnings in lap dancing are key points of contention. Yes there are women who work in lap dancing that earn more in two nights then a person working 9 to 5 on the minimum wage does in a week. And certainly there are women who make even more money than that in the larger established clubs in London that are frequented by celebrities and bankers. On the other end of the spectrum it is also true that there are women who barely break even, or make just enough to get by in life. In either situation how much money is enough to make to validate the fact that you are selling yourself to another person? You are selling intimacy, sexuality and your body. Even without any physical contact lap dancing is a sexual exchange; someone is paying to look at your body naked for their gratification, whilst they remain fully clothed. The dancer is not in control. If you need money you don’t really have a choice of who to dance for. It is highly unlikely that you will spend the night dancing for men that you are attracted to. In fact the reality is that often you will be stripping naked in front of a man (or woman, but still predominantly men) that you find repulsive. Repulsive for a myriad of reasons – they remind you of a family member, they are so much older than you or they are just generally creepy and make you feel uncomfortable. This was the main reason that I could not work without alcohol.

I believe that this industry warps something that is fundamentally beautiful and pure – the relationship between men and women (the majority of exchanges in lap dancing are based on heterosexual norms). Of course men find women’s bodies attractive, but instead of celebrating women’s bodies lap dancing reduces them down to a single commodity. If we have lost the ability to be able to differentiate celebrating women’s bodies for the beautiful things that they are and humiliating and reducing women’s bodies down to a miserable three minute exchange for £10, then we really are, as a society, in trouble.

Can you talk about how being a lap dancing influenced your view of men – both the punters themselves and men more generally?

My good fortune in life is that I have always been surrounded by beautiful men; within both my family and friends and now my husband. I love men and this industry hasn’t taken that from me, although I do know of women who sadly don’t share my experience. What lap dancing showed me was the ugly side of human behaviour, regardless of sex or gender. I have observed both women and men behaving like animals. This is what the sex industry can draw out of us all if we are not careful. It appeals to our base nature, that side of us that without monitoring can make us uncivilised. Our responsibility as human beings is to aspire for more and create a greater society than the one we first entered. I feel that I completely failed in this. I was drawn to lap dancing for my own personal gain, without a care in the world about the effect on anyone else, I didn’t care about the men and if this was healthy for them, or how hurt their wives or partners could be. I didn’t even care about myself. I fell hook, line and sinker for the hard sell of consumerism; I was worthless without money or the ability to buy material things. Even saying I was using the money for university was a lie – it sounded more honourable than I want money to feel that my life has meaning. I am only 28 but I have learned the very hard way what happens when you live driven by your base nature.

What do you propose as a solution to the current status quo?

In the book Sandrine Leveque and I suggest a more comprehensive sex education programme in schools that includes themes of self esteem and respect, and also at a later stage for teenagers, information about the sex industry. Our world has changed. With smartphones teenagers are now interacting with the sex industry through pornography on their phones and it could be reasonably suggested mimicking that behaviour with the latest phenomenon of sending each other sexually explicit images of themselves. Sex education programme must change to accommodate these changes in how young people are learning about sex and sexuality. With the intent that young men will not grow up and want to buy women and young women will not grow up and want to sell themselves (again I am focusing on heterosexual relationships).

Do you think the current feminist-driven campaigns opposing lap dancing clubs by organisations such as UK Feminista and OBJECT are approaching the issue correctly? Would you do anything differently?

I think that it is sad how feminism has become associated with man hating prudes who want to dictate other people’s sex lives. I am a feminist and the fact that I have worked as a lap dancer is no contradiction of that. True feminism is about equality of men and women. Feminism that excludes men will never achieve its goal of equality. I was recently at an event co-organised by OBJECT that was challenging the porn industry, I was happy that there were many men there who felt that the depictions of women in porn are not acceptable to them. Therefore I support both UK Feminista and OBJECT because they include men. Also, because of the mainstream depictions of feminism I had some doubts when I first contacted OBJECT. Although I had read their website and felt that we could work together, the stereotype that they may try and control me and try and get me to express my experience in a way that suited their agenda was a genuine concern. However, when I first met with Sandrine we got on like a house on fire and she treated me with nothing but respect, this has continued with my interactions with both Kat Banyard who founded UK Feminista and Anna van Heeswijk who is now CEO of OBJECT. I think that both organisations are clear in their goal of being against the lap dancing industry. I think it is important that people are able to access different viewpoints on this issue and then through the different perspectives available make up their own minds.

What would be your advice to men reading this interview who are interested in reducing the harm done to women by the lap dancing industry?

I would strongly urge men to not give in to peer pressure, if you don’t like how some people are talking about women, lap dancers or any women! Please have the courage to say something. To paraphrase a frequently cited expression, all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to say and do nothing. If you don’t want to go to a lap dancing club, don’t go. It does not have to be a normal part of stag dos etc. You have a choice. If you don’t want to look at porn on someone’s phone, or in a magazine, just say so. It can be hard, especially for younger men, as consuming women in these ways has perversely become associated with being a ‘real man’. A real man knows his own mind and is comfortable enough in his own skin to simply say “No, I am not interested in that.” Cherish the women in your life, respect their bodies and treasure their minds and tell them every day that they are important. We have to be patient but eventually all of our individual actions will transform our society.