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Julie Waterson

You’re barking up the wrong tree Clare

(26 March 1986)

From Socialist Worker, 26 March 1986.
Reprinted in In the Heat of the Struggle: 25 Years of Socialist Worker (London: Bookmarks, 1993), p. 230.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

FANCY BEING sickened? I managed it after a sewer rat passed me a few copies of Murky Murdoch’s daily homage to all to the right of Genghis Khan.

Killjoy Commons Leftie and Crazy Clare are The Sun’s answer to Labour MP Clare Short’s Bill designed to ban the degrading and despicable portrayal of women on page three of the tabloids. The reinforcement of the idea of women as passive vulnerable sex objects through the mass media’s imagery must disgust socialists.

The message is that we are housewives in the living room, cooks in the kitchen and tarts in the bedroom. It degrades women and men by reducing women to commodities to be bought and sold. But will banning page three girls help us to get to our goal? I don’t think so. Naked bodies are not what stands between Samantha Fox and women’s liberation. You just can’t legislate away sexism – no matter how good your intentions.

Mandy Merck in this week’s New Statesman says: ‘There is now a considerable lobby in both feminist and Labour circles to outlaw sexist representation. One widely heard suggestion is a statute parallel to the “racial hatred” clause in the Public Order Act.’ Yet that very Act, passed in 1936 at the height of the struggle against fascism, and supported by most on the left at the time, has been consistently used to ‘outlaw’ the left and not the right.

When the left believe that somehow the repressive state machinery can be used to defend our rights they end up boosting right wing forces. Take for example the ‘Clean up Soho’ campaign of four years ago. Feminists and those from the left wing of the Labour Party campaigned to remove visibly offensive and sexist images from the streets of Soho.

The result – the police managed to close, by law or harassment, every gay cinema and bookshop in Soho. Not one sex shop was touched. Clare Short has followed the logic of her position by putting an amendment to Winston Churchill’s Indecent Displays Bill, out to apply the Obscene Publications Act. Such right wingers do not distinguish between free and available contraception for under 16s and banning page three. For them it fits their blanket conception that anything to do with sexuality should be banned.

That’s why countries which ban pornography – fascist Spain, fascist Portugal, Southern Ireland – are ones where women have no contraception rights and no control over their sexuality.

And that’s why Clare Short is barking up the wrong tree.

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