This is what a Labour agenda for women could look like


by Rowan Davies    
12:49 pm - May 26th 2010

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These are glum times for women in politics. Plus ça change, plus c’est la freakin’ même chose. We were treated to an election campaign in which senior women politicans from all parties were told to keep quiet, look demure and generally get the dinner on.

Harman, a proper grown-up feminist whatever her other failings, was reportedly told to STFU by Mandelson, whose pricklish anti-woman agenda is as predictable as it is ghastly. The new Cabinet is as light on the X-chromosomes as Brown’s outgoing Brut-scented line-up.

The Minister for Women position is now Westminster’s own PTA post, handed as an afterthought to Theresa May to be accomplished in all that spare time she’ll have as Home Secretary.

Senior Labour women ruled themselves out of the leadership race with sickening swiftness. And now we have the extraordinary spectacle of the Cabinet deciding that the answer to the epidemic of sexual violence and the plummeting rape conviction rate is to enshrine in law the canard that women routinely lie about rape.

Let’s rouse ourselves from our chaises longues, put down our embroidery and look on the bright side. The next Labour leader has a rather glorious opportunity to adopt an agenda for women that would emphasise the coalition partners’ paucity of ideas, and address the national embarrassment of female representation. It could look something like this.

1) It’s quota time. Time for the Labour leadership to bring in proposals for quotas for female representation in Parliament, in the Cabinet (Ed Miliband has already talked about reserving one-third of Shadow Cabinet posts for women), and in local governments. Lots of people, including women, hate quotas. But they work, and no national parliament has ever come close to sexual parity without them.

2) Make an unequivocal priority of tackling domestic and sexual violence. Jacqui Smith did excellent work on domestic violence; the next Labour leader could build on it by addressing, for starters, the grotesque inequalities of provision at the local level. DV agencies have told me that they’re looking forward to working with Theresa May, but the LibDems… not so much.

On sexual violence, Labour could use the luxury of opposition to incorporate some game-changing judicial proposals, and press for the implementation of long-held positions such as funding sexual assault referral centres for every police force. Oh, and while you’re about it, would you mind awfully putting pornographic material back on the top shelf, where it belongs? Because the labial cornucopia is scaring my kids. Thanks so much.

3) Asylum. You screwed up here, and you screwed up bad. You need to come out with your hands up. To be outflanked on child detention by the Tories… aren’t you ashamed? The stories coming out of Yarl’s Wood about breastfeeding mothers being separated from their children, child medication being witheld and violence meted out to the most vulnerable people in our society are intolerable.

All of Labour’s extraordinary work on women’s issues in international development is grotesquely overshadowed when abused women are gaily deported to countries where they will be met with state-sanctioned brutalisation. Give Phil Woolas a six-pack of Theakstons, put him back in his box, and start over.

4) Families and carers. Labour did some great things for women who work outside the home. Tax credits weren’t accorded much importance by well-cushioned political commentators, but the low paid and single parents know how crucial they are, and there’s a deep source of goodwill towards Labour here.

In a recession, barely-concealed discrimination against women of child-bearing age becomes clearer by the day; Labour can push for further changes in employment law to ensure that pregnant women’s posts don’t become mysteriously redundant, and that the issue of equal pay remains a political priority. As coalition cuts bite into nursery provision and after-school clubs, Labour can call on the folk memory of its achievements while making the case for more and better childcare. And those people – overwhelmingly women – who save the state billions by looking after pre-schoolers, disabled children and elderly relatives would love to hear about a citizen’s wage, and state provision that is truly responsive to individual need.

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About the author
Rowan Davies is an occasional contributor. She is part of Mumsnet's campaigns team, and also works with international development organisations. She is Vice-Chair of the Fairer Votes in May (Yes to AV) campaign, and blogs at www.rowandavies.co.uk
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Reader comments


Rowan,

A clear and thought-out policy position, with one rather obvious question. How are you going to raise the money for this? Most programmes being cut at the moment are not being cut because they are hated by the government, but because they do not have any money. And this is widely understood, so that if Labour goes into the next election with lots of expensive ideas (citizen’s wage for example) it will suffer the 1983 problem of having been judged not to listen.

Although I do not like identity politics, there is a lot that could be done for women (whether causing female cabinet members to be seen as inferior due to being quotaed is one of these things I have my doubts) by any government. The danger with this as a programme is it seems to suggest women need supporting by the state, and have to be subsidised and provided for. What is the message of this? In areas such as action against sexual and domestic violence you suggest local initative and empowerment (at least in my reading) – this seems sensible. But is big government (an environment in which men thrive – how many really good female players of the government system have we had since 1919?) really the answer? My guess would be the best thing to do for women is let them have more local power (with sensible action taken against ideologies and groups that try to hold them back), and to do that the power needs to be removed from the men in suits at a national level.

“the answer to the epidemic of sexual violence and the plummeting rape conviction rate is to enshrine in law the canard that women routinely lie about rape.”

To repeat a point I made earlier.

Laurie tells us that only 2% of rape allegations are false. Fawcett that 3% are. The Stern Review that perhaps 10% are.

The accusation to conviction rate is 6%.

So false accusations as a percentage of accusations that can actually be proven (“beyond a reasonable doubt” recall) aqre anything from 33% to 150%.

Whatever this is it isn’t exactly “non routine” is it?

Rowan,

… the plummeting rape conviction rate is to enshrine in law the canard that women routinely lie about rape.

In propagating the myth that the conviction rate is low and falling you help to persuade women to believe there is no point in making a complaint. I am sure that isn’t your intention. Please don’t do it.

The number of convictions is rising. The number of allegations is rising. The former is rising slower than the latter, hence the appearance of a widening gap – a supposed fall in the conviction rate. But at present the conviction rate, if measured like all other crimes, is 58%.

Tim, you have some fairly serious logic and maths fail going on. So much so, I’m not entirely sure what your overall point is.

5. Shatterface

What Tim said.

Repeating Laurie’s ridiculous assertion that the government are calling rape victims ‘liars’ simply for proposing extending anonymity to the accused just means the next 200 responses to your post will be about this and any *sensible* points you might have made will be lost.

In propagating the myth that the conviction rate is low and falling you help to persuade women to believe there is no point in making a complaint. I am sure that isn’t your intention. Please don’t do it.

I love how rather than addressing the point, guys like Tim W are intent on illustrating their smugness by trying to question a point.

Here’s the thing – the conviction rate is not universal – it varies depending on where it happens. And most authorities accept it is far too low and need to do more to deal with it.

Now how about actually adding something useful to the debate for once instead of just sneering?

7. Rowan Davies

I think the case against anonymity has been made amply elsewhere, and I don’t want to get into a thread-hijacking bunfight about it (although you of course are free to do so…).

8. Rowan Davies

That last not to Sunny, obviously.

The most useful thing is to push for Scando-style equal parenting time-off; it was great that we finally got paternity leave, but 2 weeks was pathetic. We need both parents to have a combined 12 months to divvy up accordingly, which will allow women in better career position to maintain them, and slowly challenge the assumption that a woman’s reproductive capacity determines all else in her life, especially in terms of employment and earning power.

Sunny, sadly you’ve demonstrated an incomplete grasp of the facts.

1. It was I, and not Tim W, who made the comment you quoted.

2. I wasn’t “sneering” or “intent on illustrating my smugness”, I was attempting to make a reasonable point based on genuine concern.

3. I have three authoritative papers immediately to hand – the Stern Review, Guidance on Investigating and Prosecuting Rape, and Without Consent – that support my position. The Stern Review, for example:

“… it is clear to us that the way the six per cent conviction rate figure has been able to dominate the public discourse on rape, without explanation, analysis and context, has been to the detriment of public understanding and other important outcomes for victims.”

how about actually adding something useful to the debate

How about apologising to me?

Can’t believe you mentioned Jacqui Smith in an article arguing for more female political leaders.

Her career starkly illustrated the dangers of a system of promotion based on any criteria other than merit.

I think the point is not to sneer but rather to point out that some of what the poster wrote was not true. I mean, here is Harriet Harman herself last year:

“Convictions for rape have increased 50 per cent since 1997″.

Now, indeed, she was saying this in the context of arguing that more needed to be done, but it’s hardly a “plummeting rape conviction rate”, is it?

As for an “epidemic in sexual violence”, this is not true either, unless you are using epidemic in the sense of something which is prevalent but not increasing in scope or reach. According to the most recent British Crime Survey, sexual offences have fallen over the last year to their lowest level since the methodology of collating such statistics was changed.

All that said, I fully agree that domestic and sexual violence needs to be tackled and I suspect that I would back harsher sentences for sex criminals than most readers of this site.

Chop their balls off, say I. Who’s with me?

13. Rowan Davies

Jacqui Smith did great stuff on DV. Ask anyone who works in the field.

By Jacqui Smith’s own admission, she was promoted way beyond her capabilities and is the perfect illustration of why gender based shortlists and quotas are wrong in practice as well as in principle.

Oh yes, and she was a crook.

15. Rowan Davies

I don’t think Smith was any more over-promoted than Blunkett. I do think she took a lot more stick on the basis of her sex than he did. And, again, she prioritised DV, whereas an unbroken line of make HSs had not. An illustration IMO of why quotas matter.

16. Rowan Davies

MALE HSs, not ‘make’ (where’s the edit button gone?)

Good launch in hammering out a new agenda; this agenda is on the move across the world and Labour needs to update all its thinking to keep pace.

In the meantime, congratulations to the people of Trinidad and Tobago on electing a Party with a female leader. Welcome to Kamla Persad-Bissessar as a Prime Minister and joining other eminent women who lead their nations, such as Bangladesh, Germany, New Zealand etc.etc.

It is an indication that the argument and idea that society is divided on class, race and gender lines and a coalition of forces that seek to deal with this will be elected to power. Also that the ideas championed by the out-going PNM have had their day and can be consigned to history.

Such a contrast to the Stale, Male and Pale election in Britain and its consequential government.

18. Hannah Nicklin

@Tim, baaaaaad maths. You can have proven false accusations and proven convictions as a proportion of alleged offenses, but you can’t have false accusations as a proportion of convictions, because they don’t fall within the purveiw of that number.

The point at which you should have realised this was the point at which you reached the figure of ’150%’. Sounds nice in marketing, but not actually a Real Thing.

Worth pointing out that Cameron and Clegg will both be answerable to women in the House of Commons – in the form of Harman and Rosie Winterton (as Shadow Leader of the House).

For the time being we’ve got two women at the top in the Labour Party.

20. redpesto

1 – Yes, if only because all else seems to have failed, though one would also have to accept a Tory government comprising of 40% women is still a Tory government: much of the debate seems to consist of confusing a headcount with a political programme.

2 – Yes, on the whole. However “Oh, and while you’re about it, would you mind awfully putting pornographic material back on the top shelf, where it belongs?”, is misleading since those magazines are already on the top shelf, but I suspect you mean getting the likes of Nuts and Zoo ‘reclassified’ as ‘porn’ and sold to over 18s only (or better yet, banned). Labour have got themselves into enough mess already with legislation on sexual behaviour without further conflating sexism and sex.

3 – Yes – but New Labour thinks that’s what the voters wanted.

4 – Why not extended paid parental leave for men as well?

Plus: More money so at least one of the Home Nations women’s football teams can win a major trophy (a professional women’s domestic league might signal a change in women’s team sports in the UK)

21. Watchman

“Plus: More money so at least one of the Home Nations women’s football teams can win a major trophy (a professional women’s domestic league might signal a change in women’s team sports in the UK)”

Could we have more money for the men as well, as they haven’t won anything recently?

I like that your post is orientated around 4 practical ideas, Rowan – makes a refreshing change from a lot of people moaning about the lack of women in politics or any other field.

I don’t like quotas but they are desperate measures for desperate times – although why these times are any more desperate than when Labour was in government for THIRTEEN YEARS, I don’t know.

I’d say let’s have some gentle quotas – overall national targets, rather than just blunt all-women shortlists.

I’d also like to see whether AWS or other types of quotas actually work or not – representation of women in Parliament must’ve gone up, but by how much? It is important we have a parliament that reflects the diversity of background of the UK, but I’d say what matters more is that it reflects the diversity of views in the UK. You bring in a PR system like AV+ or STV and you’ll see more women in politics, as voters can choose between candidates on a list. Just make sure, at a constituency level, that 50% of candidates on each list are female – if voters don’t elect women, you’ll at least know the problem isn’t with the parties, but with voters.

23. Rowan Davies

@RedPesto: yes, re Nuts and Zoo (and the Sport). They are just porn though (whether or not they are currently classified as such); no fancy footwork needed, just put ‘em up on the top shelf. Easy win.

Yes to everyone who has proposed extended parental leave for men. Although I believe that all the major parties have proposals in this area already?

“Hands On Hattie” was not on display much during the election for the same reason George Osborne was kept in a box for the duration; she is not popular with the electorate.

That Labour’s “posh ladies” don’t go down well with the public has long been well known. Harman talks to people like their dog has just died. Her good mate Patricia Hewitt (available for a reasonable fee, when not assisting Boots to privaitise the NHS) used to talk to people like they were a particularly dumb 14 year old.

The women of New Labour are as bad as the men, just check out their voting records, and no camouflage of identity politics will disguise this fact.

OK Sunny, I’ll be constructive.

We would like to reduce the incidence of rape, yes? I think we’re all agreed, rape is a abd thing and we’d like there to be less of it?

Right, we should make pornography more widely available.

Porn and rape can interact in three different ways. They a complement: more porn means more rape. This might be through the objectification of women, men getting more excited more often, whatever. There might be no connection between them at all.

Or porn might be a substitute for rape. At its most basic some yobbo who has been rubbing himself raw over nekkid titties isn’t going to have the energy or urge to rape.

Which of these three possibilities is true is not a logical or phlosophical question: it’s a purely empirical one. Rape and sexual assauklt rates have plummetted in the US as the internet has made porn freely available in recent decades. There are even papers which tie in broadband arriving in certain states (even counties) and the subsequent changes in the rates of sexual assaults and rapes.

The general academic consensus (amongst ciminologists that is, not necessarily among the hairier feminist Wimmins Studies departments) is that pron and rape are substitutes. More porn leads to less rape.

So, a constructive suggestion: make porn more available, subsidise those magazines, not limit access to them: this will cut the rape and sexual assault rates.

Do I want to be represented by a black woman whose views I detest, like Oona King?

Or a white guy whose views I (almost) completely agree with, like John McDonnell?

The latter.

Is the lack of women in Parliament a problem, and do I want to see more female MPs?

Yes.

Even if AWS/quotas worked to produce more women in Parliament (the fact we’re still talking about this proves they don’t), would I want lots of lobby fodder like Oona King or patronising throwbacks to the 70s like Harman?

No.

There are thousands of brilliant women out there who would make great MPs. How do we get them into Parliament?

27. redpesto

rowandavies:

@RedPesto: yes, re Nuts and Zoo (and the Sport). They are just porn though (whether or not they are currently classified as such); no fancy footwork needed, just put ‘em up on the top shelf. Easy win.

‘Easy win’ – really? Have fun with that when it goes to court, especially when the publishers of Loaded, FHM and every other men’s/lads’ mag gets dragged into the argument for their choice of front covers. Besides, somehow I don’t think the objections to ‘porn’ will be satisfied with the symbolism of the putting Zoo on ‘top shefl’.

<– to answer my last question, one massive step would be to make everyone shut the hell up when someone is addressing the House of Commons. All that jeering and booing makes it seem like a big old boys club (and it isn't, not entirely, these days).

Let's make Parliament more mature, thoughtful and collegiate – that will get more women wanting to be MPs.

Also, we need to make local politics and candidate selection not such a shitty soul-sapping process. Not just less time-consuming (although this is a must), but actually fulfilling and enjoyable.

Let's also not forget there are lots of women working in think tanks – think about the female Co-Directors of the IPPR, and Meg Russell at the Constitution Unit.

29. Watchman

A lot of commentators seem to disagree with Rowan, but apart from more flexible parental leave (which as Rowan says, is developing anyway) and Tim’s argument for subsidising porn (isn’t it free on the internet anyway?), has anyone got positive suggestions to improve women’s lot? My own favourite would be to abandon any gender specific laws, and admit we are all equal, but that may not win support around here (not the equality bit, obviously…).

30. Rowan Davies

@26: AWS did work, where they were used. Female representation in Parliament increased considerably in 1997 and 2005. They weren’t (AFAIK) used in the 2010 GE.

The point about female representation is not that any of us would necessarily agree with individual women MPs/Cabinet ministers. It’s that if we could reach a situation in which women approached parity with men, issues that are currently treated as non-priorities (including some of those I’ve outlined above) would become the meat and drink of government activity. You may well intensely dislike Harman, but she made inroads on female equality measures; similarly Smith with DV. A Cabinet in which one-third, say, of the members were women would see long-standing issues like equal pay rise to the top of the agenda, rather than being treated as sideshows.

@27: I suspect you and I agree on pretty much nothing about the porn issue. But the point of my post was to outline some areas in which Labour could re-align itself with women voters. Most mothers (indeed most parents) of children aged about 3+ who have visited a newsagents recently will have been confronted with Sunday Sport covers within a few centimetres of the CBeebies magazine. So yes, saying that a Labour government would put these things on the top shelf would most definitely be an easy win, as far as the electorate’s concerned.

31. Watchman

“So yes, saying that a Labour government would put these things on the top shelf would most definitely be an easy win, as far as the electorate’s concerned.”

Rowan,

Are you really saying that parents would vote on something as simple as that? I have my doubts – and I would also be concerned about being made to look illiberal, which is going to be a problem for Labour for a while anyway. I suppose a flat-out feminist position might justify the moving of the offending material, but this would probably be electorally suicide (how many will vote for feminism over total equality, which is what the other parties would offer). Otherwise, Labour has this nanny-state image and doing things like this (‘won’t someone think of the children’) will only butress that.

And it might be worthwhile checking the voting habits of Sports readers etc before starting to suggest they read pornography (I don’t know if they do generally vote, never mind who for), because Labour can’t afford to alienate the remaining supporters. And I doubt Labour’s support amongst the young will remain if they are seen as censorous and killjoys.

My own personal view is that by making what is at best borderline pornography an issue we make sexuality a weapon, which seems generally to be used against women (although the women in these publications might plausibly argue they are using their own sexuality). By making sexuality more normal, it becomes less uncomfortable for all concerned, and more difficult to use to oppress and intimidate. Quite how (and if) government could help with this is however unclear.

32. Rowan Davies

@30 – no, I think you overstate how many people take flat-out free-speech-trumps-all positions. I’ve never met a parent who wouldn’t gladly see this material moved. (I’m actually genuinely astonished that anyone would think to object. All we’re talking about is people having to reach up a couple of feet – it’s hardly book-burning.) I’m not suggesting that many people would make a voting decision based purely on this, but I absolutely think that it would be an easy win within a palette of woman-friendly policies.

33. Watchman

Rowan,

I doubt the actual measure would be opposed, especially if you are not proposing any actual curtailing of free speech (? I doubt people buy these publications for the words). But I am more concerned about the message taking this sort of measure sends; Labour needs to decontanimate itself from the controlling nanny state and this does not do that.

34. redpesto

RowanDavies:

A Cabinet in which one-third, say, of the members were women would see long-standing issues like equal pay rise to the top of the agenda, rather than being treated as sideshows.

…unless they’re Tories? I see your point, but it’s not as if David Steel had to get a sex change when he helped get abortion legalised in 1967.

As for the ‘porn issue’ – well, we’re not actually debating ‘porn’; we’re debating the editorial content of ‘mainstream’ magazines, which suddenly now involves what children might see rather than women themselves object to. It seems to be that resorting to a legal sledgehammer over what is an editorial decision by publishers (which could change), or a commercial decision by newsagents (which could change), or simply an unfortunate juxtaposition in a shop (where they could rearrange the stock), may not be the best strategy. (As with porn, depends on whether the objection is to the sexism or to the sex.)

35. redpesto

All we’re talking about is people having to reach up a couple of feet – it’s hardly book-burning

It’s not that simple: the ‘top shelf’ is not simply a geographical inconvenience for short people; it’s also where the age-restricted content goes as well – so the ‘signal’ being sent is not so much about keeping stuff away from kids (and short people) but saying ‘Adults Only’ without the honesty of actually making it legally so. In other words, either you’d have the satisfaction of making lads’ mags appear to be porn, even though under-18s would still be able buy them, or you have to go the whole hog and classify as the entire sector as 18+. Given that some women also object to (what they think of as) porn on principle – and hence to the existence of a ‘top shelf’ in a newsagent – I don’t think such a gesture would be the end of the matter.

36. Rowan Davies

@32: well, *you* might think that Labour needs to disassociate itself from ‘nanny state’ accusations. I don’t; it doesn’t bother me at all.

@33/34: the fact that you had to reach back to 1967 to find one of the last pre-97 pieces of significantly pro-female legislation rather makes my point, I think.

‘We’re not debating ‘porn” – yes, we are. These publications are absolutely pornographic. Whether they are classified as such matters not a jot to me. And as for the children’s perspective; from my POV, my children’s right *not* to have adult-mediated, highly sexualised imagery thrust in their faces while they look for ‘Doctor Who’ magazine trumps the right of any adult male not to have to reach up a couple of feet. It would be nice if editors changed their policies, or newsagents responded to requests to move such material; but guess what? They don’t.

But as far as your last point goes, I would absolutely be in favour of making this material 18+.

Well, I broadly agree with most of your points.

As for ‘el porn’… so the Sun has breasts on page 3, and Zoo has covered breasts on the front cover, and naked breasts on every other page too.

Is it covered breasts on the front page that makes it top-shelf material, or the breasts on the inside?

Personally, as a horny 14-year-old, I loved page 3. I quickly moved onto Bizarre magazine, though – much more distressing to the electorate than Zoo or Nuts could ever be.

Presumably, moving all those to the top shelf would be linked to raising the purchase age to 18? The sun as well?

38. Rowan Davies

It’s not specifically about nipples. It’s about highly sexualised imagery on the cover. Zoo’s tits might be covered, but they are usually pressed up against another pair.

“Zoo’s tits might be covered, but they are usually pressed up against another pair.”

Lol, loving the imagery here! So Rowan, you wouldn’t object to being shown topless on the inside of the Sun, but you would mind if your tits were pressed up against another woman’s? And why have you been looking at these images anyway, aren’t you degrading women by doing so?

Does putting porn/Zoo on the top shelf make it less accessible to children? Any kid who wants porn these days can just use the internet for free.

40. Rowan Davies

Goodness me blanco, you’re going to have to leave my personal porn career out of it. To recap: this is a proposed measure to signal to women (and also fathers and anti-porn men) that Labour would be prepared to make their lives a tiny bit easier.

No, my seven-year-old doesn’t look for porn on the internet. I am as certain of this as I am that the sun will rise tomorrow morning. He does, however, find himself unwittingly subjected to it every time he goes into a newsagents.

It’s fascinating to see the visceral response to the mildest possible suggestion of inconvenience to porn-purchasing habits. Depressing and hilarious in equal measure.

Ah. We can’t possibly have (pseudo)-lesbianism where children might see it, am I right?

Seriously, it’s a dangerous line to start treading – especially given Labour’s recent history, as another commentator has pointed out.

Won’t be long before Heat and Closer and Take a Break and the like will also be top-shelf, 18+-only material, taking that kind of attitude.

The distinction between front page and third page is completely arbitrary – it takes exactly zero effort to flip the one page. Unless we start mandating that stuff with a page 3 should be sealed up.

For once, I’m all in favour of the status quo. Funny old world.

Rowan, I dont think restricting access to porn for short people and kids is going to get anyone on Labour’s side. They need to admit where they went wrong on the economy, work out a new economic model, get rid of everyone associated with New Labour, rename the party, disband and rebuild themselves from the ground up – come up with new policies from scratch after consultation with the public…

Trying to go for what appears to be low hanging fruit, i.e. pornbashing, is either going to make no difference or actually hurt them by contributing to the impression they have their priorities all wrong.

What say you?

43. Rowan Davies

This is just a matter of perception. It’s my distinct impression that women, particularly mothers, would have no problem with this suggestion at all; more than that, many of them would welcome it. If it were to form the entirety of the Labour manifesto it would indeed be a problem, but as an element in a programme I believe it would be broadly popular. Funnily enough, women (broadly speaking) tend not to have much of a problem with porn-bashing. In fact they rather like it in my experience.

Nick, it’s not a pointless distinction at all. If it’s not on a cover, children won’t see it in newsagents. That really is the full extent of my point.

Funny, really. At 7 I remember being indifferent to naked women – in print, on the TV, or touching each other suggestively on the front of a magazine cover.

When puberty hit, I became /very/ interested in naked women, and newspaper/magazine stands became more interesting as a result (although badly-hidden 18+ magazines in the house were even more interesting still).

Let’s step back a bit.

Is there any reliable evidence – any at all – that having scantily-clad women on the front of magazines is damaging to children in some way, as opposed to being objectionable to their parents?

If so – I’d love to have a read, and maybe I’ll even change my viewpoint based on that evidence. If not – why on earth are you making it an issue?

Suggestive, scantily-clad women, pseudo-lesbian or no, are literally everywhere. Including the H&M bikini outfit advert on the local bus stop where the kids go to school. If it is a problem, then it needs to be stopped, post-haste.

But it needs to actually be a problem, with proven negative outcomes, rather than a vocal minority’s dislikes, to justify that kind of heavy-handed trampling over so many areas and walks of life.

So what’ve you got?

45. Rowan Davies

Ah, I was rather under the impression that I had included it as a throwaway line, and t that several pro-porn men had made it an issue.

I’m going to pass up your generous offer to turn this thread into a debate about the societal effects of porn, because I’ve been here before and I know what happens. I serve up some links to you, you volley some links back to me, and three hours later I will have a sore neck and neither of us will have changed our positions one bit.

Just one thing though: this post is about things that Labour can do to appeal to women. So while it is of course entirely reasonable for you to comment on it, you must understand that I’m not *that* interested in men who say that these ideas aren’t particularly appealing to them. Because appealing to men wasn’t the point.

All great fun. The reason why I picked on that point in particular is because I thought that you were making good points otherwise. It might have been a throwaway line, but it’s obviously still a policy you think the labour party should consider pursuing.

Attempting to win votes by continuing in labour’s finest authoritarian traditions while being hostile to the opinions of those negatively affected by the measures you’re winning votes with, is a strategy that I think should be poked at – preferably by people from all the different viewpoints that make up the issue, and ideally with a strong emphasis on evidence.

Being a scientist, I’m quite used to changing my viewpoints on things – honest :). but I’m not interested in the societal effects of porn in general, in this context – I’m interested in the question of why scantily-clad women on the front of magazines (and by extension, being presented in public spaces in general) is bad. I’m broadly in support of the anti-thinspiration lobby, for instance, because the evidence is that the images of stupidly thin women and social pressure thereof /does/ have negative impacts – quite serious ones – on the nation’s youth. I’ve yet to see anything that suggests images of scantily-clad women have similar negative effects on children.

If you don’t want to engage on the issue, that is of course your choice. Personally, I’d love to see the debate opened up, and assuming that I’m set in my opinions, while understandable given the general quality of Internet debate, does make me a bit sad.

Rowan,

Do you agree with feminists like Laurie Penny that view prostitution is legitimate “sex work”, that should not in any way be discouraged or countered or disincentivised? After all, Laurie has produced porn. Is this kind of left-wing/feminist porn okay but the stuff in Zoo not? Would you object to “liberating/artistic” pictures of middle class girls like Laurie Penny having their tits pressed up against each other’s, in newsagents?

48. Rowan Davies

@Nick – sorry to make you sad ;-) I’ve got into many, many 1000-post epic threads on porn and its effects, and my honest conclusion is that it’s impossible to devise a study that that isolates porn and demonstrates its effects conclusively, in any context and WRT any group. I think this goes for many society-wide trends. Science and evidence-based policy making is great as far as it goes, but it’s not a panacea. Sometimes you just have to take a position based on what you think is right.

@blanco – no, I’m not a pozzie fem or whatever they’re called. I think porn just sucks, pretty conclusively.

The biggest problem with this proposal for a new obscenity law, is the highly subjective nature of what it is we’re talking about. Pray tell, Rowan, how is it to be judged what “highly sexualised imagery” is (and who should do it)?

Are you going to recommend the test of an American Supreme Court Justice, who said about pornography “I’ll know it when I see it”.

Or perhaps you have in mind some other test, such as finding the average erection length of several men when they’re looking at the magazine cover?

Maybe you would like imagery to be judged based on the look on the woman’s face? Does it look like she’s enjoying herself just a bit too much? Does it look like she wants cock deep inside her?

Or maybe you think a simple standard is necessary – is she dressed like a “slut”? Unfortunately, such a standard reads to me as distinctly anti-feminist, considering that feminists are supposed to see rape as not the victim’s fault, no matter what she is dressed like. I submit that if a woman is dressed in a short skirt or barely covering her breasts, that is perfectly fine for her to do that in a free society, both in the real world and on a magazine cover.

this is a proposed measure to signal to women (and also fathers and anti-porn men) that Labour would be prepared to make their lives a tiny bit easier

So this isn’t a measure that will actually make people’s live better, just a signal instead. Here’s a hint: keep your worthless signals to yourself.

Weird contradiction: anti-rape feminists rightly say that it doesn’t matter what a woman is wearing, the misogynistic actions of a man towards her are not excused by the behaviour or attire of a woman.

And yet anti-porn feminists say that we should not allow/make it harder for men to view naked and titillating women, because it has dangerous effects on society for both men and women, and makes men more misogynistic.

How can scantily clad women, on the one hand, not be responsible for misogyny, and on the other, be responsible for it?

Would you object to “liberating/artistic” pictures of middle class girls like Laurie Penny having their tits pressed up against each other’s, in newsagents?

I know people like to bang on about their pet hates but frankly discussing this is a waste of time. The article is a lot broader in nature. Hell, even Watchman has said far more constructive and useful things on this post.

sunnyh

I know people like to bang on about their pet hates but frankly discussing this is a waste of time. The article is a lot broader in nature. Hell, even Watchman has said far more constructive and useful things on this post.

Okay – sorry for probably derailing the thread…but it’s precisely the the casual assumption that going after porn is an ‘easy win’ (or ‘low hanging fruit’) that leads to bad sex law in the first place or to the sexism which means no porn for women on the ‘top shelf’ (work safe link).

Meanwhile…mandatory equal pay audits for the public and private sector: good or bad idea?

This is mostly not my biz, I suppose, but this was an interesting aside:

“DV agencies have told me that they’re looking forward to working with Theresa May, but the LibDems… not so much.”

Did they say why, or can you surmise why?

54. Rowan Davies

Thanks Sunny. It’s a real eye-opener that a post with a fairly broad remit and one mention of lads’ mags has brought all the porn consumers out in force. An interesting illustration of what happens when certain men’s sense of gross entitlement is challenged, albeit in the mildest possible way. And, as I think you were implying, the immediate leap to projecting pornographic imagery onto an anonymous woman on t’interweb says quite a lot about how porn consumption warps social interaction.

Alix, I didn’t get the detail, sorry. The inference was that May has a track record of engagement with this issue, but that the same engagement has not been forthcoming from the LDs.

If you can’t spot an effect, either it doesn’t exist – or you need better epidemiologists. Conclusive proof is quite hard to come by in the field – as the dieticians frequently discover to their horror.

But anyway. It’s not about scantily-clad pictures of women, per se. My response would be exactly the same if you’d suggested that short skirts or bikini tops or lipstick should be >clothes-store equivalent of top shelf<

In a list of generally good policy suggestions, you made one obvious howler. Of course it's going to get questioned – although some other commentators have maybe been a bit forceful about it (who cares if some feminists have made porn? It's completely irrelevant to a discussion about whether borderline porn should be top-shelf or not).

/thread from me, anyway. If labour pick up your list wholesale, great for women, slightly bad for civil liberties. Probably both things that the labour leadership – whoever that might be – will support.

Rowan/Sunny,

I think the diversion of the thread (unfortunate as it is) reflects part of the danger of setting out to appeal to women in this way. You risk alienating others, and having the entire programme reduced to its key elements. It is probably for the same reason why the Liberal Democrats have never got round to proposing the total legalisation (and regulation) of prostitution, despite the fact it fits with the concerns of the majority of their members – because the issue will be debated not as good for prostitutes or not, but as whether the Liberal Democrats support using them.

I’d also point out the use of (technically quasi-)feminist terms such as ‘gross enpowerment’ of men is likely to come back to haunt you. Attacking one group, especially the largest gender group in society (If I remember rightly, didn’t they estimate the number of males overtook females last year?) is not going to produce a net win in votes. Whilst feminist theory (I always mistype that as theology – draw your own conclusions) is developed and interesting, I doubt it is electorally useful.

57. English Mansion

Ah, the stench of locker room misogyny continues to permeate the blogosphere.

It’s hilarious the way a casual reference to ‘top shelf’ mags turns a certain type of lower middle class male, who imagines himself as an intelligent, dispassionate debater, into a sweaty-palmed, priapic adolescent, openly salivating over the idea of women pressing their tits together and whining like a spoilt child at the mere suggestion that their inalienable right to see women’s breasts might be slightly curtailed. It only takes a few key words to turn the logorrheic legalists the comment on political blogs into “get your tits out for the lads” knuckle-dragging.

I reckon these blokes’ alleged libertarian defence of porn would evaporate overnight if the majority of risque teen mags were filled with femdom pegging shots, rather than the open-mouthed airbrushed cum dumpsters currently on show in the likes of nuts.

We already live in a world where young men complain bitterly about their conquests having pubic hair and not letting them finish with a facial. Life imitates pr0n and the bleating male entitlement shite above is as good an example as one needs.

Maybe blogs should operate a gender quota system…

It’s a real eye-opener that a post with a fairly broad remit and one mention of lads’ mags has brought all the porn consumers out in force.

1. There’s no need to smear people who disagree with you about “porn” as being “porn consumers”. I deplore the way that migration to this country keeps being restricted, but I am not a migrant.

2. Most of the rest of your post was reasonable. People have criticized the silliest part of your post. SIWOTI Syndrome is all this is. If part of what you say on the web is seen as stupid, expect people to point it out to you. Don’t moan when people do.

59. redpesto

@rowandavies at 54 – I’ve emailed Sunny off-thread rather than reply and risk derailing it again.

60. redpesto

@English Mansion

To recycle an old joke: ‘On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog’ (not even a dog into ‘femdom pagging shots’)

A few notes:

If rape goes down while porn goes up, that doesn’t mean porn reduces rape. It doesn’t mean anything at all, in fact. This isn’t a semantic point, it’s a scientific one.

Women fantasise about sex far more than men do, but they don’t do it by imagining themselves lying on things, bending over things and leaning against things like a blow-up doll while an interchangeable bodybuilder goes to work on their hindquarters for half an hour. There’s no such thing as an ‘anti-porn’ feminist, except in the minds of dull people who like crap woman-as-object porn. Most feminist bloggers won’t shut up about actual human porn when they find it.

Finally: cooing, playfully-bisexual naked models on covers of mens’ magazines aren’t a healthy thing to systematically expose young boys OR young girls to every time they go into a respectable newsagent. Same for womens’ magazines with “SEX – HUNDREDS OF POSITIONS THAT LEAVE HIM BEGGING FOR MORE” or similar. It’s just weird and indefensible. That stuff should be well out of a supervised child’s line of sight.

Re: English Mansion @ 56

Crude netspeak language aside, you’re spot fucking on.

*feels more sad at the unwarranted attacks*

Oh, I like porn, what a horrible anti-feminist mysogynist I must be (note: I don’t like Zoo. it’s not nearly hardcore enough. Abby Winters all the way, mmmm. Delicious).

It’s really simple. If “cooing, playfully-bisexual naked models on covers of mens’ magazines aren’t a healthy thing to systematically expose young boys OR young girls to every time they go into a respectable newsagent” is true (and naked they may be, but uncovered they are not) then a motion to block the use of cooing, playfully-bisexual naked models in all forms of print that an unsupervised child could be accidentally exposed to is justified.

But “it causes harm to children” need substantiating before you can reasonably move to oppose said naked-but-covered-with-MSPaint front covers. You need to work out whether it’s the nakedness, the bisexuality, the come-hitherness, the unrealistic bodies, or all of them that causes the problems. You need to work to make things better without trampling on other people unnecessarily.

And you /can/ quantify such things. Epidemiologists spend a lifetime teasing out these kinds of things – and you might not necessarily get something “conclusive”, but all that’s needed is /some/ evidence. Something. Anything.

If the intent isn’t to be reasonable, of course, you don’t need to do any of these things. Then all manner of non-harmful-but-disliked-by-some-vocal-people stuff can also go the same way, if you ever hit the big time.

Hmm whilst I don’t disagree with the point that it’s wrong for men to think they have some sort of God-given or biologically dictated right to drool over images of naked women playing at being lesbian at every given opportunity. I do think that the personal attack was a tad uncalled for.

Also I disagree quite a lot with the use of the term playfully bisexual as it errs slightly too close to that usual slight levelled against anyone who is actually bisexual (and female) where they’re accused of lying simply to obtain the interest of men.

@Nick

That’s a lot of strawmen you’ve stood up, but I won’t be moved to debate something other than a direct rebuttal to my exact words. That sounds cold, but it’s really the only way to avoid confusing things. Cheers.

@ Gwyn

If rape goes down while porn goes up, that doesn’t mean porn reduces rape. It doesn’t mean anything at all, in fact. This isn’t a semantic point, it’s a scientific one.

Don’t follow this.

If, as TW suggests above, the incidence of sexual offences decreases as the availability of pornography increases that is surely clear empirical evidence, assuming a correlation, of a causal effect?

You also refer to “dull people who like crap woman-as-object porn.”

It seems to me from this that you don’t really understand this subject at all. The whole point about pornography (as opposed to erotica) is that it objectifies those depicted. That is what defines pornography and, without the necessary objectification, it wouldn’t work.

The above has nothing to do with any ethical argument, it’s just how it is.

“If rape goes down while porn goes up, that doesn’t mean porn reduces rape. It doesn’t mean anything at all, in fact. This isn’t a semantic point, it’s a scientific one.”

— Mostly. Correlation != causation. But correlation can imply causation.

“Women fantasise about sex far more than men do, but they don’t do it by imagining themselves lying on things, bending over things and leaning against things like a blow-up doll while an interchangeable bodybuilder goes to work on their hindquarters for half an hour.”

– No idea how much women fantasize about sex. I must say the latter sounds quite unappealing, though.

“There’s no such thing as an ‘anti-porn’ feminist, except in the minds of dull people who like crap woman-as-object porn. Most feminist bloggers won’t shut up about actual human porn when they find it.”

— I’m sure there are feminists who say all porn is bad. Just as there are non-feminists who say the same.

Finally: cooing, playfully-bisexual naked models on covers of mens’ magazines aren’t a healthy thing to systematically expose young boys OR young girls to every time they go into a respectable newsagent. Same for womens’ magazines with “SEX – HUNDREDS OF POSITIONS THAT LEAVE HIM BEGGING FOR MORE” or similar. It’s just weird and indefensible. That stuff should be well out of a supervised child’s line of sight.

— See above. As a 7-year-old, “SEX – HUNDREDS OF POSITIONS THAT LEAVE HIM BEGGING FOR MORE” associated with some playfully-bisexual naked-but-MSPaint-covered images of women would have left me indifferent, because I didn’t care about sex back then. Or about naked women. Completely unimportant. I’d have walked past the magazine rack and not even noticed it.

The idea that such things cause harm is not evident, and it’s where your argument falls flat without some form of substantiation. If it is harmful, I’m right behind you, and we can regulate to /death/ the lads mags and the adverts and the girly mags and the before-the-watershed TV and the clothing that can be shown to cause harm.

Direct enough? I don’t really feel as though I’ve said anything /different/…

So let’s get this straight: Rowan writes an article focussing on what Labour can do to reclaim the agenda for women by discussing quotas; domestic & sexual violence; asylum; and families & carers, and what do most commentators mention? The line about putting Nuts and Zoo [etc] on the top shelf. Did I stumble onto Guido Fawkes or conservativehome perchance?

@Nick & pagar

It doesn’t imply causation, though it can be inferred ex post facto. There were quite a few other things going on at the time, though. Sociology just isn’t that easy.

If you gave a busload of serial racists a load of porn, and gave another busload no porn at all, and found that after two weeks the ‘no porn’ bus was responsible for a load more rape than the porn bus, then you’d get executed for crimes against humanity. However, you would also have a data set capable of supporting the claim that porn prevents rape, which we don’t currently have. I’m just sayin’.

@Nick

I was looking for The Beano myself at 7, and I know that harm’s hard to quantify – but I didn’t personally mention harm to children and I’m no authority on early years development. I had more in mind that it’s weird to have to raise children in a media-driven world which assumes that women exist for men’s enjoyment. I’d not risk personally extrapolating that point any further, it’s pretty much just a kneejerk thought.

Totally disagree that porn is definitively objectifying though, nor do I really recognise the distinction between porn and erotica (other than the kinds of people who use the latter phrase).

Yeah there must be feminists who hate porn, but there must be feminists who hate cheese as well. Or trains or bumblebees. I got the impression you thought there was an actual ‘anti-porn’ branch of feminist thought, sorry for misunderstanding. We’re pretty much on the same page it seems.

Serial racists should have said serial rapists, though it’s likeably surreal as it is.

71. Matt Munro

@ 65 “If, as TW suggests above, the incidence of sexual offences decreases as the availability of pornography increases that is surely clear empirical evidence, assuming a correlation, of a causal effect?”

No it isn’t. Correlation does not prove causation. There could be a third (or many) unknown other variables at work. For what it’s worth porn was historically more widely avaiable in Holland then here and yet their sex crime rate was always lower, also the internet has made porn more globally available in the last decade, but I don’t think there has been an equivalent increase in sex crimes.

.

the internet has made porn more globally available in the last decade, but I don’t think there has been an equivalent increase in sex crimes.

There has been a decrease, Matt.

Please reread- I think you have the wrong interpretation of what was written.

73. Roger Mexico

@ Rowan Davies

Well you must forgive the lads worried about the loss of their entertainment. After all it’s not like pornography was freely available on the Internet or anything . . .

Actually if you’re talking about Labour agendas, perhaps it is men you should be thinking about. If you look at some post election analysis done by MORI :

http://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/poll.aspx?oItemId=2613&view=wide

You’ll see that the most supportive group for Labour were women in the 25-34 age group. So your suggestions above, aimed to a large extent at this group, show that that they’re already very pro-Labour and were clearly worried about possible loss of nursery places, tax credits and the other things that materially affect their lives.

However the group most opposed to Labour were . . . their male counterparts. A difference of -15% in fact. So somehow you’ve got to convince them that all the benefits help them as well. Even if their wives/girlfriends haven’t managed it.

(The statistician in me must point out I have some methodological problems with this analysis, but with a difference this big there’s got to something in it).

Incidentally I don’t know if it was mentioned when parental leave was being discussed, but complete transferability of the total ma+pa would not only give parents flexibility, but also stop the “I won’t employ women who might have babies” brigade – unless they’re only going to employ over-50s and they’re usually ageist as well.

@72 – Roger

Erm sorry to burst your bubble here but I’m not male and I don’t think that moving Zoo to the top-shelf in the local branch of W H Smiths is a particularly effective measure in terms of having any real influence on lowering the number of rapes per year or changing the attitudes that some men hold towards women. What it does do is set a precedent for the government to dictate the layout of merchandising in retail outlets which isn’t particularly helpful to anyone and stinks of a totalitarian state.

Basically, I think that Nick’s objection to this (and he can freely correct me if I’m wrong) is that the state has no right to dictate to retailers in this way and that there is no legal reason to censor or ban these materials as there’s no evidence to suggest that they cause harm to young people. If there was evidence to show harm then there may be a legitimate case for moving these kind of materials to an adults only section or something, but there isn’t and there’s nothing wrong (in the legal sense) with men or teenage boys purchasing these magazines if they want to as their content isn’t illegal in nature. Yes, some of their columnists (such as the ‘charming’ Danny Dyer) are complete morons but the same can be said of columnists who write for the Sun/Mail/Guardian/*insert any other publication here*.

Personally I don’t like these magazines because I think they do present a misleading representation of women but moving them up 2 shelves doesn’t change that and it’s not the role of such magazines to give young men (or women) a set of dictated values about how they should view or treat women. That’s the job (for want of a better word) of parents and to be honest, if you as a parent really think that some glossy bits of paper with tits on them in your local shop are going to undo the values & ethics you’ve instilled in your teenage son then that says a lot more about the quality of your parenting than it does anything else – especially when the same teenage boys can access porn that may include scenes of lurid sexual violence or glorify rape via the internet far more easily and with less embarrassment than going into a shop to buy Zoo or Nuts.

75. Roger Mexico

@ 73 – Kim

The only point I was implicitly making was that a thread about an important topic had been hijacked with endless debate about a passing comment. I gave it its due – a two line, not very funny, joke – and passed on to other matters.

For what it’s worth, I though Rowan Davies’ original comment was about the embarrassment of a parent with a small child and the consequent “Mummy, why has that lady got no clothes on?” remarks. Personally I’d just suggest to the newsagent some shelf rearrangement and possibly she would as well.

@ Kim

if you as a parent really think that some glossy bits of paper with tits on them in your local shop are going to undo the values & ethics you’ve instilled in your teenage son then that says a lot more about the quality of your parenting than it does anything else

Sorry to advise that the quality of parenting they have received is entirely irrelevant to teenage boys when tits are involved.

Sad but true and the conundrum galvanising much of the above debate.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    This is what a Labour agenda for women could look like http://bit.ly/aZ0RfI

  2. Amy Barbor

    RT @libcon: This is what a Labour agenda for women could look like http://bit.ly/aZ0RfI

  3. sunny hundal

    This is what Labour's agenda for women could look like http://bit.ly/aZ0RfI by @rowandavies. Hope leader contenders listening

  4. Molesworth

    RT @sunny_hundal: This is what Labour's agenda for women could look like http://bit.ly/aZ0RfI by @rowandavies. Hope leader contenders li …

  5. Kate Williams

    RT @rowandavies: Hey, it's my bi-annual @libcon post: this is what Labour's agenda for women could look like http://bit.ly/aZ0RfI <BRILL

  6. MasterPM

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  7. Amanda Ramsay

    RT @KateVWilliams: RT @rowandavies: Hey, it's my bi-annual @libcon post: this is what Labour's agenda for women could look like http://bit.ly/aZ0RfI <BRILL

  8. Jennifer O'Mahony

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  9. CathElliott

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  10. rowan davies

    @DMiliband Hello – please have a look at this: This is what Labour's agenda for women could look like – http://tiny.cc/hs3mw

  11. Natacha Kennedy

    RT @libcon: This is what a Labour agenda for women could look like http://bit.ly/a39IeQ (via @CathElliott)

  12. Lauren B

    RT @rowandavies: @DMiliband Hello – please have a look at this: This is what Labour's agenda for women could look like – http://tiny.cc/hs3mw

  13. Sophie H

    http://bit.ly/aY1FQC this is what labour, and the liberals for that matter, should be doing

  14. Nadia

    RT @ sunny_hundal: This is what Labour's agenda for women could look like http://bit.ly/aZ0RfI < I agree with @rowandavies, esp on quota.

  15. rowan davies

    @Ed_Miliband Please have a look at this: what Labour's agenda for women could look like http://bit.ly/aZ0RfI

  16. Tweets that mention This is what a Labour agenda for women could look like | Liberal Conspiracy -- Topsy.com

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Liberal Conspiracy, rowan davies, Molesworth, sunny hundal, Amy Barbor and others. Amy Barbor said: RT @libcon: This is what a Labour agenda for women could look like http://bit.ly/aZ0RfI [...]

  17. Sophie H

    @EdMiliband and @HarrietHarman http://bit.ly/aY1FQC please read labour agenda for women.

  18. Adult Movie Net

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  19. Sophie H

    http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/05/26/this-is-what-a-labour-agenda-for-women-could-look-like/ please note well Ed Milliband

  20. sunny hundal

    @JessLS75 you may be interested in this re: rape anonymity http://bit.ly/a39IeQ (see comments) + jackofkent stopped tweeting from that acc





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