There are probably worse things than Newsnight featuring a discussion on Feminism. Nevertheless, that is exactly what happened on Monday.
The program is worth very little, though I’d strongly recommend it to any feminist with low blood pressure. Those with high blood pressure and/or any cardiac condition may want to stay away.
The programme asked “if we are living in an over sexualised society, and if so whether that is necessarily a problem”. And in traditional journalistic fashion, it failed spectacularly to answer that or anything else.
For some reason that escapes my non-publicly-educated brain, the “discussion” was preceded by an exploration of Brazilians and vajazzling. Then, the programme moved on to Jeremy Paxman introducing the guests: Caitlin Moran, Brooke Magnanti and Kat Banyard.
The “debate”, if you can call it that, turned out looking rather pathetic. Especially because it was aired precisely after a report on the Syrian revolution. Anything any feminist could have said would have looked pale by comparison, and the fact that the programme switched from “Syrian revolution” to “vajazzling” didn’t help either. By the time the “debate” ended, with Moran clapping and asking for “clown pr0n” and Magnanti claiming that there is “clown pr0n” already, I bet every person watching the programme must have thought “and THAT is why nobody cares about feminism any more”.
As for what was actually debated…
Like I said, the political positions of each woman can be summarized thus:
**Magnanti comes from a pro-sex industry framework. She argued against most of what Banyard was saying. Her ideas about the subject at hand were, “everything is so peachy”. I’m paraphrasing, but not by much.
**Moran comes from the individualistic “whatever rocks your vote” framework, with a touch of cleverly disguised “enlightenment”. Her idea seems to be to let people do whatever they want to do, but gently tap on their shoulders as they are about to do it and ask “are you sure you want to do this? Because pr0n is very boring sex, you know”.That said, she doesn't seem to believe in feminism much. When Paxman asked her "where does this leave feminism in a sexualised society?" she shrugged.
**It was left to Banyard to make any case against anything. She is clearly departing from the old school line of thinking that says that social problems must be solved at social level, because there is such a thing as society and the actions of some have consequences on the lives of others.
This line of thinking is not very popular nowadays. Banyard brought up words like “objectification” and described pr0n as a relentless and hurtful. At one point, Magnanti asked her to produce “evidence”. Typical.
What I want to highlight is how unfair it is to present Magnanti’s position alongside Branyard. Here’s why: Magnanti is where she is, arguing for what she argues, because it translates into personal gain. Her popularity comes straight from her advocacy of the sex industry, from presenting prostitution as a wonderful career choice. The better public perception of the sex industry gets, the more money will make its way to her pocket.
Now compare that to Branyard’s position. Pr0n could be banned tomorrow, the whole of the sex industry going in a puff of smoke… and she would not gain anything from it. Perhaps the odd interview here and there. But that’s it.
Do you smell a fault? To put it crudely, Magnanti is in it for the money, Branyard is in it for… the social justice. The first is working to improve her lot, the second is fighting to improve the lot for all of us.
THESE TWO POSITIONS ARE NOT EQUAL. Especially when you take into account the downside of being a feminist activist: the loss of opportunities with publishers and editors, the constant onslaught of threats and venom, little things like that.
To put it even more crudely, Magnanti is ok with throwing some women under the bus if it translates into personal gain. Banyard is trying to improve circumstances for all women even if it translates into a personal cost.
Jeremy Paxman may not see the difference, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t. I am tired of seeing Magnanti’s words within feminist discourse. Yes, her personal experience matters. But it only matters as “a” personal experience. And her personal experience cannot outweigh the personal experience of another woman. The only reason why it does, is because Magnanti is saying exactly what everyone wants to hear. And there is money to be made out of that.
As for the program's main questions... "if we are living in an over sexualised society, and if so whether that is necessarily a problem". The answers are:
YES, we are undoubtedly living in a over sexualised society. And it is a problem, because of:
a) the relentless presentation of women as sexual objects. That affects all women, mind, not just those who "choose" to take their clothes off.
b) the commodification of human sexuality, which carries all the problems of commodification of anything human. In short, individual corporations profit from something that belongs to humans, and they get to redefine it as well, which is wrong.
c) the disintegration of the "real" thing called sex, which is accompanied with the increase in sexual violence, promiscuity, decrease in empathy and human connection.
d) the grooming of children to embrace the sex industry, so that they'll be more receptive to it when they grow up.
And that's just off the top of my head. See? It's not that difficult when you believe in social justice and your interest lies in making society better.