Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Ideologically Consistent

If, based on this, he is not one already, then we'll make an Old Labour High Tory of Ed West yet:

Of all the phrases that are going to become overused and tiresome in 2013, I’m putting my money on “pornified culture”. I’m already bored with it, and I generally agree with the claims made by Diane Abbott that there's a “striptease culture in British schools and society, which has been put beyond the control of British families”. Abbott has, much to the confusion of many people, started talking like the small-c conservative she was always destined to become. At a meeting of the Fabian Women's Network last week she said: “For so long, it’s been argued that overt, public displays of sexuality are an enlightened liberation. But I believe that for many, the pressure of conforming to hypersexualisation and its pitfalls is a prison. And the permanence of social media and technology can be a life sentence.”

The issue of sexualisation has been discussed by various columnists since. From the point of view of a father of a four-year-old girl, I can see it already. Watch a music channel aimed at young girls and you’ll not just see a succession of curvy, strutting, half-naked young women; the entire essence of womanhood projected is one where a lady must appear as sexually alluring as possible, the underlining theme being that any woman who doesn’t arouse the opposite sex is some sort of leper. Many people see this and wonder how it chimes with the high-minded feminism of their youth, but are concerned about appearing prudish, which is a deeply unattractive trait to many people. Yet something clearly went wrong.

It’s a widely held belief of the Left that economic liberalism leads to exploitation, inequality, monopolisation and abuse. It’s why Left-wing activists, both secular and religious, are happy to use the concept of shame in exposing what they see as the greed of businesses (shame is the method used by UK Uncut and the living wage campaigners, for instance, and I have some sympathy with both). Yet this logic is rarely applied to sexual liberation [Ed needs to get out more], partly because there is so much emotional investment applied to 1968 and all that, partly because those who gained from liberation are so much more vocal and influential than those who lost, and partly because of an aversion to the idea of sexual shame. But you can’t rein in exploitation and abuse without some unpalatable ideas such as shame and stigma, and more concrete rules about what is right and wrong.

As soon as anyone makes this basic point, people from across the political spectrum start to compare them to Victorians or Puritans and even use the word medieval. But the principles about social responsibility and money apply to sex too. As Michel Houellebecq wrote in Whatever, a quote I’m fond of repeating: “A world where sexual pleasure is made a pre-eminent good is one where the gap between haves and have-nots is magnified along new dimensions.” Another thing they have in common is that highly-sexed and highly-materialistic environments also make lots of people very unhappy.

Abbott is being ideologically consistent with the Labour tradition here, especially since girls from poorer backgrounds are hardest hit, being already less likely to have a father or a highly-educated mother, less likely to be taught about Marie Curie or Emmeline Pankhurst and more susceptible to the ideal of the woman as sex doll pop star. I wouldn’t even mind so much if the music wasn’t so rubbish. At least my parents’ generation had The Beatles.

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