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Julie Waterson

Don’t let the right turn back the clock on sex

(June 2011)

From Letters, Socialist Worker, 14 June 2011.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The moral right are on the rampage. They want to take us back to the 1950s – when housewives were tied to the sink and were an extension of their husbands, with little or no independence.

David Cameron has launched an attack on abortion rights by (almost laughingly) appointing the Life group to the Sexual Health Advisory forum. Life advocates abstinence and no sex education – like that’s going to work.

People have always had sex and women have always tried to control their fertility. It was the horror and death caused by backstreet abortions that led to the Abortion Act of 1967. But the rights that we won are again under attack.

Alongside this, Reg Bailey, the chief executive of the Mothers’ Union, has produced a report criticising the sexualisation and commercialisation of children. Cameron is dancing along to Bailey’s tune on this.

Little girls have dressed up and imitated their role models for a long time. But, under advanced capitalism, sex is used as a commodity. This distorts and alienates everyone from real sexual freedom.

The women’s movement has always debated how to respond to this. Past discussions concentrated on porn. Today we consider what approach to take to raunch culture, reclaiming language and the slutwalks.

The more children are exposed to the reality of growing up, becoming sexual and negotiating safe sex, the better. Statistics show that where sex isn’t talked about openly in schools or in families, due to right wing or religious reasons, then teenage pregnancy soars.

The right have a fictionalised account of the past – that children were innocent and safe from harm. In fact, “childhood” is a modern invention and the idea has only become commonplace in the last 200 years. Before then rich children were privileged but poor ones worked as soon as they were able to.

Today we are aware of child abuse, but it took Maria Colwell to be murdered by her stepdad in 1973 to highlight the extent of physical abuse in the family. It took the feminist movement of the 1970s to expose the reality of sexual abuse.

Now we have new battles to fight. We must stop the right from turning the clock back.


Julie Waterson
East London

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