As the news cabaret wheel out their paltry tit-for-tat arguments about lads’ mags and the page three campaign, it’s important to throw in a perspective on sexuality and pornography from outside the limited constraints of the mainstream media, lest we all be convinced that the spectrum of argument is so narrow as to really be a cause to celebrate increasing media regulation and the death of the euphemistically monikered ‘free press’.
Enter the loveable Euro-trash at Fuck For Forest (FFF) – an erotic, non-profit ecological organisation. A force for fornicative change in the world: ethical pornographers who use the money they earn for the support of ecological and green causes. Now with over 1,300 sex-activists uploading their home-made skin flicks and cam-whore snaps on to the website, FFF and friends are shagging themselves into a greener future. The organisation was the subject of an eponymous documentary which they have subsequently derided by claiming “the movie is a lie”.Even more fascinating than the delightfully amateurish sex-tapes and naturalistic photos is the rhetoric splashed across their propaganda, pimping a sex-positive message with irony and tongue firmly in butt cheek. Example quote: “When did a tit ever hurt anyone?” The idea of normalising public nudity and sexual activity in solo, couple or group formations with a grungy hipster chic is achingly Berlin. Which is, incidentally, where the group is now based after some legal trouble in Norway. The real appeal, however, is in the forthright brazenness of their attitude and philosophy – one which has a deep streak of anarchism running through it.
Their website highlights how sex is used daily to attract us to all kinds of products, and how the libidinal urge is constantly subverted in modern society to manipulate people’s desires – so why not use the same tactics to generate money for an ethical cause? Their ‘Love Manifesto’ asks the pertinent question: “What is moral when we do not respect nature? War and nature destruction is normalized, while public love-making and nudity is offensive and criminalized.” Most recently they donated 12,000 Euros to a Slovakian charity for the protection of forests. Their donations have been refused by the WWF in Holland and Norway because
they are “an industry they don’t accept money from”.
Russian activist ‘sextremists’ FEMEN similarly employ nudity as a shock tactic to upset the status quo and reclaim women’s bodies from the patriarchy – a tactic of empowerment rather than shame. Most recently they are campaigning in Sweden for the “You don’t buy, I don’t sell” legislative model which criminalises the people who pay for sexual services rather than the workers who provide them, and they have organised a training centre for budding sextremists in Paris. They can be considered a more radical progression of the ‘slutwalk’ flashmobbing and marching that became popular several years ago. Other actions they have been involved in have been the storming of a catwalk in Paris during fashion week, resulting in one activist taking a punch from a model, and founder Anna Hutsol is militantly anti-prostitution. FEMEN explained its methodology of topless protesting by saying: “This is the only way to be heard in this country. If we staged simple protests with banners, then our claims would not have been noticed.” The group claims 150,000 members in countries ranging from its country of origin in Ukraine to Spain and across South America.
The above examples are both the use of sex and nudity for political reasons, however, for the majority involved in the industry, it comes down to a matter of money and survival, much the same as for most people’s jobs. Ex-porn star Sasha Grey has talked about her teenage career (she started at 18), and highlights the cultural hypocrisy of hyper- sexualised advertising and media combined with a regressive and near Victorian attitude towards female sexuality: “We still don’t know how to be confident sexually without feeling like we’re going to be labelled a slut or a whore. We’re given so much conflicting information – we want you to look this way and act like a slut or look like a slut but you can’t be a slut.” Most recently it’s difficult to watch Miley Cyrus ‘twerking’ on-stage and think that a double-standard is being touted by the media. Campaigns against lads’ mags and the like are surely only serving to promote a social schizophrenia when daily we are bombarded from all sides by hyper-sexual imagery on billboards and in newspaper and magazine representation of women.
Nickie Roberts, author of Whores In History, is a former sex-worker who has written extensively on the subject, in particular on the ‘whore-stigma’. She identifies the transition from matriarchy to patriarchy as the defining moment when women’s sexuality became a tool for control. Prior to patriarchy, women were free to make their own sexual choices, and whore-priestesses were revered in tribal societies for their connection with fertility, renewal, and using their sexual energy to channel creativity into the material world. When this was shattered with the rise of male-dominated societies around 2000 BC, she reports that the whore-priestesses were cast down, and female sexuality made subservient to male. She highlights through history how women are kept divided from one another, and therefore in a weakened position, which makes the contemporary memes of anarcha-feminism and female empowerment all the more vital in effecting social change within patriarchy and, most recently, capitalism.
Roberts succinctly expresses a hypocritical distinction between sexual exploitation and other forms in the following quote:
As far as I’m concerned, working in crummy factories for disgusting pay was the most exploitative work I ever did in my life. I’m aware that, in a sense, it was Hobson’s choice for me. But I maintain that I had more control over my life as a worker in the sex industry than as one as a worker in an ordinary factory.
The key difference between sex work and other forms of work is that one is done with your clothes on and for the other it is not necessarily required. With such a view, notions of morality should not enter into the equation. This is not to say that women’s liberation and the premise of equality should be allowed to be co-opted by cynical marketing managers. This was the case during the height of the Suffragette movement. At the turn of the century, advertising executives lead by public relations founding father Edward Bernays organised women to march up and down Fifth Avenue in New York smoking ‘Liberty Torches’ to promote the idea that females smoking cigarettes was an act of emancipation. This was merely a tool to double the market for cigarettes by challenging the stigma of women smoking, and highlights the danger of denigrating any movement that genuinely tries to challenge systemic forms of domination. The campaign against lad’s mags and Page 3 girls should bear this in mind, that what is really the problem is an exploitative social system that takes advantage of men and women who are really only looking for a way to survive and prosper, irregardless of the manner in which they choose, or are coerced, to do so.
Harnessing the power of free love and sexuality is a weapon against control. We must flip the perspective so that it is not our bodies that are considered degraded by public nudity and erotic activity, but in fact the rape and destruction of our environment and our planet, the systemic manipulation and control of women by men, and the institutional exploitation of capitalism, that is the real cause for outrage and indignation. It comes across as a very direct ‘fuck you’ to those who would use shame, fear and control to dominate others through that most potent of personal powers – our sexuality.
As the mainstream sallies forth to debate whether young women exposing their breasts in magazines for the masturbatory titillation of the masses is unacceptable, cheeky or just plain raunchy, we have to remember that it is a voluntary choice of those individuals, and done in exchange for money. Therefore, it is on a par with all forms of exploitative manipulation, such as jobs and reading newspapers. The current debate is a spunky whitewash, and clouds the very real fact that really, flashing a nipple does not matter one iota when placed against the ongoing apocalyptic destruction of our climate or the hegemonic oppression of half the world because of their private parts. When Sharon from Epping Forest pops out her bountiful pontoons for some greasy paper, it’s far more worrying that she is quoted as saying: “Climate change is of course a concern, but I trust the government will sort it out.”