Sex education, abstinence and topless protesting: What I read this week

Porn on the brain – Channel 4, September 2013

Ok, so I watched this, I didn’t read it but I still thought I’d include it. It’ll be up on the 4oD site for at least a month so go have a look if you can. It’s a pretty interesting documentary on how the ubiquity of online porn is shaping young people’s lives. Former Loaded editor Martin Daubney is a little bit irritating but once you get past that, it’s quite good. THIS piece he wrote about his regrets as the boss of a lads mag is also worth a read.

But most importantly, it features Etty Martin and Amy Danahay from the Warwickshire County Council-funded Respect Yourself. These guys are awesome. They’re all about a ‘knowledge is power’ approach to sex education where no subject is taboo and kids are encouraged to ask and talk about anything. They also offer a holistic programme of sex education, covering everything from the ‘baby making machinery’ as they put it, to relationships, getting into and out of them and negotiating boundaries both your own and other people’s.

If you ask me, it’s programmes like this that will make the real inroads in the fight for sexual equality in this country. I pretty much want to quit my job now and go work for them.

No fapping, please, it’s making us ill – The Telegraph, September 2013

This is a quirky piece about an online forum where some 70,000 men have signed up vowing to give up masturbation. I’m always slightly bemused by the obsession with ‘giving up stuff’ in our culture. It’s one thing if you have a genuine problem (eg alcoholism) but surely these 70,000 men can’t all consider themselves addicted to masturbating to the point that it’s impacting on their ability to function?

It kind of reminded me as well of THIS feature in the New York Times about a couple who decided to  give up sex for a year to see if it made their relationship stronger (spoiler: it didn’t).

Femen’s obsession with nudity feeds a racist colonial feminism – The Guardian, April 2013

The Ukranian feminist activist group have been in the news again after a Scouse (that means from Liverpool, non-Brit readers) model punched a topless protester at the Nina Ricci show in Paris. Yes, you read that correctly. A fashion model punched a feminist protester. Well, these Daily Mash headlines won’t write themselves. Anyway, you can read that story HERE.

Meanwhile it got me reading old stories about Femen who I am interested in for two reasons: 1. They protest topless, it’s like their thing. 2. I have no freaking idea what they are protesting about.

I discovered a number of things.

Firstly, it seems abundantly clear that Femen don’t really know what they’re protesting about either. They talk a lot about specific issues to do with the Ukranian government including the perceived Russian stronghold over the country and they also talk about patriarchy quite generally. They’re also really anti-religion which has led to several Facebook groups such as Christian Women Against Femen and Muslim Women Against Femen. And yet they stage mock suicides in Notre Dame cathedral with ‘May facists rest in hell’ emblazoned across their chests. Now perhaps I’m misunderstanding but positioning yourself as anti-religion and then invoking hell seem a little at odds to me.

They also haven’t done much to clear up the confusion over their stance on Islam. The party line is that they oppose the tools of religion being used to oppress women. I am totally on board with this. But then they staged Topless Jihad Day which was supposed to be a protest about the suspected ‘silencing’ of of Tunisian activist Amina Tyler but ended up coming across as a bit of an attack on Islam. (At any rate, a counter protest was immediately organised by the Muslim Women Against Femen group. Note: I don’t agree with all the opinions in the last link but she has some good pics.)

Provocative? Yes. Coherent? Not so much.

Then there’s the issue of Victor Svyatski, who, according to Kitty Green who directed a documentary about the group, cynically masterminded the operation, selecting only the best-looking girls for public protests. But even that claim has been questioned, as seen in Spiegel HERE.

As for the boobs, my instinct is to be pro. I’m sure there is an element of attention-seeking and they themselves have said that to begin with it felt like the only way to get noticed in the Ukraine. I’m not sure about some of the ‘sexy’ outfits that occasionally pop up but overall I do feel that going topless is a pretty radical form of protest.

Key Femen member Inna Shevchenko described it as “a symbol of a woman’s acquisition of rights over her own body” and I’m inclined to agree. After all, why are breasts considered indecent (and generally it is indecent exposure for which Femen protesters are arrested)? They are just another part of our body. But they have been fetishised to the extent that people can no longer look at them without seeing something sexual. And, like the participators of National Go Topless Day in New York, I think that’s bullshit, frankly.

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