The Sun loves Page 3, but it can't stand women on top

Former dominatrix Nichi Hodgson was stunned to discover that the pictures that accompanied her article on how to safely spank a man were deemed officially "too racy" for the paper that proudly prints Page 3.

When I was growing up, I had a few ambitions. First, it was brain surgery. Then Shakespearean acting. In the end I decided to hack out a career for myself in journalism. Who knew that it was really my destiny to become "NICHI HODGSON: TOO RACY FOR THE SUN!!!"

Yes, here I am - not fit for even the nation’s favourite licentious prudes to print. Apparently, keeping all your clothes on while demonstrating how to safely spank a man makes you officially "too racy" (according to the editorial team) to feature alongside upskirt and page 3 shots.

Oh, but hang on a minute – spanking a man, did I say? Ooh er, quelle domme-age, as it were! Might I have made the readers uneasy with the revelation that thousands of British guys pay to be dominated each week? Would the moral pillars of Britain have crumbled if I’d floated the idea that sometimes men prefer to go over female knees?

Around a fortnight ago, the Sun repeatedly pestered me for pictures to accompany a feature on some Coco de Mer sex salons I had been teaching, and a BDSM sex memoir called Bound To You which I’ve just had published, which includes a section about my time as a dominatrix. "Oh, look, isn’t that lovely! BDSM prejudice is waning! Fifty Shades has broken down barriers! The Sun really DOES realise that male submission is the ultimate societal sexual taboo!” I gurgled internally. The pictures were taken by an experienced freelance photographer inside the elegant Coco de Mer shop and featured me, dressed in a regular French Connection dress and heels (NB not "domme-wear") demonstrating blindfolding, shoe worship, and how to assume safe spanking postures. In some of the pictures I merely stood in front of an underwear display or sat in an armchair, smiling. They were somewhat staged, slightly silly, but all demonstrated safe, sane, consensual BDSM practice.

The feature itself was pretty graphic, detailing my time working as a professional dominatrix and what it entailed; about the cuckolding, and the sploshing, and the adult baby play; about how men cannot admit to enjoying sexual submission without fearing emasculation; about how I’ve lost count of the number of professors, lawyers, even the editors who’ve approached me for a session since I’ve "come out" as a former sex worker. It was also politicised, and talked about how I hoped that the success of Fifty Shades had raised public awareness of and acceptance of kink; of how I believe passionately we really need access to good BDSM education.

So far, so unsensational. Unless of course the fact I didn’t have my tits out was the issue. If only I’d let them "reveal" my "self-important champagne socialist hack used to be a vice girl!" past. If only I’d said "but this is only what the weirdos do", or "if only I hadn’t had to fund my career break this way!" I might have been on to a winning lie. Instead, the many truths of the matter - that you don’t need to be a 17-year-old pop starlet in your scanties to tap into someone’s ultimate sexual fantasies, that I’d do it all again to ensure I could write for a living, that there are just as many men as women who identify with Ana Steele rather than Christian Grey - those truths are just too unnerving to contemplate.  

Let me be clear: after I’d been told the pictures were unprintable, I offered to provide a different picture myself; an "at home in my pyjamas with my cat Snap" snap or the like (admittedly Snap did come from a brothel but you wouldn’t know to look at him). The Sun declined. By this point, everything about me, from my sex education classes to my real-life experiences, had been infected by my virulent raciness.

I’d love to think the Sun’s decision to spike the piece was a result of the staff having listened carefully to Lord Leveson’s criticism of its "demeaning and sexualising lens"; that there’ll be no more no barely pixelated, exposed crotch-shots of Anne Hathaway (wearing bondage boots too, wouldn’t you know!), nor sardonic articles about the rise in A&E admissions for women who’ve sustained vajazzling injuries. Only both of those articles are on the website today. 

So, if you too aspire to being labeled "too racy" for the Sun, you know what to do. Don’t expose your knickerless crotch in public; instead, just exercise sexual agency, and tell a few home truths about the way the British populace has sex now. So much for Leveson - licentious prudery is here to stay.

Bondage by Ater Crudus on Flickr, via Creative Commons

Nichi Hodgson is a writer and broadcaster specialising in sexual politics, censorship, and  human rights. Her first book, Bound To You, published by Hodder & Stoughton, is out now. She tweets @NichiHodgson.

Garry Knight via Creative Commons
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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.