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Jerry Barnett Headshot

Pornstars to Stage Protest in London

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Ever since I attended Rock Against Racism events as a teenager, I have had a particular aversion to bigotry in any form. So perhaps it was inevitable, when I launched a porn video website a decade ago, that I would also become involved in sexual politics. I began to speak at events held by the Sexual Freedom Coalition, and was often invited to defend sexual freedom in the media, and at university debates. When I later closed my websites, I decided to continue my activism, and founded Sex and Censorship, a group dedicated to defending sexual expression.

I had always expected pornstars and strippers to experience hateful attacks from morality campaigners, but (perhaps naively) I expected these attacks to come primarily from male-dominated, religious-minded groups. So I was surprised to discover that much of the hatred hurled at sex workers (in this country at least) comes from groups that self-label as feminist, and who couch their attacks in the language of women's rights.

The depth of the vitriol thrown at female sex workers by anti-sex feminists genuinely shocked me. A few years ago, a friend, who was a pornstar and stripper, and ran her own striptease agency for private events, told me of receiving phone calls from anti-sex feminists while she was on her way to work saying "we know where your family live", and warning her to close down her business. Another friend, Edie Lamort, who is a stripper and political activist, tells of protests outside her workplace by the campaign group Object. Although Object claimed that they were concerned with the wellbeing of the female dancers, their refusal to talk with the workers themselves, or to accept invitations from them to go inside the clubs, told a different story. In response to the bigoted attitudes they experienced from Object (and another small group, UK Feminista), the dancers joined trade unions and began to defend their right to work.

More recently, I was tweeted by a stripper who told me that anti-striptease feminists 'used to demo outside lap dancing club staff entrances and [spit on the dancers]' - strange behaviour, indeed, for people claiming to be defending women's rights.

A couple of years ago, myself and the former pornstar Renee Richards participated in a debate on pornography at University College London against Object. Again, I was naive in thinking that, if only I could persuade the Object contingent to talk to Renee, who gave up performing in porn films to become a full-time student, they might realise that pornstars are not all weak, oppressed women who are forced to do terrible things against their will. I was wrong, of course. I learned that anti-sex feminists have no more interest in hearing the voices of female pornstars than they are prepared to listen to strippers. Their claim to be motivated by women's rights was exposed as a shallow veneer of feminist rhetoric wrapped around an old-fashioned morality message.

One of today's best known anti-sex activists is the US-based academic Gail Dines, who has made it her goal to close down the pornography industry. Dines insists that all pornography is rape, and claims to see no difference between porn involving consenting adults and child abuse. She denies that any woman could possibly choose to have sex on film of her volition, and her supporters label anybody who defends pornography as an apologist for rape, child abuse and bestiality. Dines wants to rescue tens of thousands of pornstars from well-paid jobs - whether they actually want to be rescued or not.

The vehicle for Dines' anti-porn campaigning work is Stop Porn Culture (SPC). When SPC announced, earlier this year, that they were holding a conference to launch the group in the UK, Renee Richards quickly contacted me and suggested that we organise a protest outside the conference. Renee began to contact her pornstar friends, and I began to promote the event via Sex & Censorship. We quickly began to receive a positive response: pornstars are so often labelled and stigmatised, but very rarely have the chance to answer back. Now, here was a rare opportunity for sex performers to have their voices heard by those who claim to speak for them, but refuse to speak to them.

Gail Dines quickly noticed our plans, and responded by directing her followers towards our Facebook event page, which quickly became swamped with abusive and angry messages. When female pornstars and pro-porn women responded to the attacks, Dines quickly blocked them, and then tweeted: "Male industry hiding behind performers. Cowardly men scaring performers into protesting feminist allies".

So female pornstars can't win: they are labelled victims, and if they try to defend what they do for a living, this is taken as proof of just how 'oppressed' they are. According to SPC and Object, their voices are not worth hearing. This is why we are protesting outside the SPC conference from 3pm on Saturday 15 March: it's about time that Renee Richards, and other women, and men, who take their clothes off for money, had their voices heard.

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