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.

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What I learnt when my wife and I went to Brexit: the Musical

This week in the media, from laughing as the world order crumbles to what Tristram Hunt got wrong – and Leicester’s big fall.

As my wife and I watched Brexit: the Musical, performed in a tiny theatre above a pub in London’s Little Venice, I thought of the American novelist Lionel Shriver’s comment on Donald Trump’s inauguration: “A sense of humour is going to get us through better than indignation.” It is an entertaining, engaging and amusing show, which makes the point that none of the main actors in the Brexit drama – whether supporters of Leave or Remain – achieved quite what they had intended. The biggest laugh went to the actor playing Boris Johnson (James Sanderson), the wannabe Tory leader who blew his chance. The mere appearance of an overweight man of dishevelled appearance with a mop of blond hair is enough to have the audience rolling in the aisles.

The lesson we should take from Brexit and from Trump’s election is that politicians of all shades, including those who claim to be non-political insurgents, have zero control of events, whether we are talking about immigration, economic growth or the Middle East. We need to tweak Yeats’s lines: the best may lack all conviction but the worst are full not so much of passionate intensity – who knows what Trump or Johnson really believe? – as bumbling incompetence. The sun will still rise in the morning (as
Barack Obama observed when Trump’s win became evident), and multi­national capital will still rule the world. Meanwhile, we may as well enjoy the show.

 

Danger of Donald

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t deny the risks of having incompetents in charge. The biggest concerns Trump’s geopolitical strategy, or rather his lack of one. Great power relations since 1945 have been based on mutual understanding of what each country wants to achieve, of its red lines and national ambitions. The scariest moments come when one leader miscalculates how another will react. Of all figures in recent history, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, with his flamboyant manner and erratic temperament, was probably the most similar to Trump. In 1962, he thought President Kennedy, inexperienced and idealistic, would tolerate Soviet missiles in Cuba. He was wrong and the world only narrowly avoided nuclear war.

How would Trump respond to a Russian invasion of the Baltic states? Will he recognise Taiwan as an independent country? Will he scrap Obama’s deal with Iran and support a pre-emptive strike against its nuclear ambitions? Nobody knows, probably not even Trump. He seems to think that keeping your options open and your adversaries guessing leads to “great deals”. That may work in business, in which the worst that can happen is that one of your companies goes bankrupt – an outcome of which Americans take a relaxed view. In international relations, the stakes are higher.

 

Right job, wrong time

I rather like Tristram Hunt, who started contributing to the New Statesman during my editorship. He may be the son of a life peer and a protégé of Peter Mandelson, but he is an all-too-rare example of a politician with a hinterland, having written a biography of Engels and a study of the English Civil War and presented successful TV documentaries. In a parallel universe, he could have made an inspirational Labour leader,
a more thoughtful and trustworthy version of Tony Blair.

No doubt, having resigned his Stoke-on-Trent Central seat, he will make a success of his new job as director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. If nothing else, he will learn a little about the arts of management and leadership. But isn’t this the wrong way round? Wouldn’t it be better if people first ran museums or other cultural and public institutions and then carried such experience into parliament and government?

 

Pointless palace

When the Palace of Westminster was largely destroyed by fire in 1834, thousands gathered to enjoy the spectacle. Thomas Carlyle noted that the crowd “whew’d and whistled when the breeze came as if to encourage it” and that “a man sorry I did not anywhere see”.

Now, with MPs reportedly refusing to move out to allow vital renovation work from 2023, we can expect a repeat performance. Given the unpopularity of politicians, public enthusiasm may be even greater than it was two centuries ago. Yet what is going through MPs’ minds is anyone’s guess. Since Theresa May refuses them a vote on Brexit, prefers the Foreign Office’s Lancaster House as the location to deliver her most important speech to date and intends to amend or replace Brussels-originated laws with ministerial orders under “Henry VIII powers”, perhaps they have concluded that there’s no longer much point to the place.

 

As good as it gets

What a difference a year makes. In January 2016, supporters of Leicester City, my home-town team, were beginning to contemplate the unthinkable: that they could win football’s Premier League. Now, five places off the bottom, they contemplate the equally unthinkable idea of relegation.

With the exception of one player, N’Golo Kanté (now at Chelsea), the team is identical to last season’s. So how can this be? The sophisticated, mathematical answer is “regression to the mean”. In a league where money, wages and performance are usually linked rigidly, a team that does much better than you’d predict one season is likely to do much worse the next. I’d suggest something else, though. For those who won last season’s title against such overwhelming odds, life can never be as good again. Anything short of winning the Champions League (in which Leicester have so far flourished) would seem an anti­climax. In the same way, the England cricket team that won the Ashes in 2005 – after the Australians had dominated for 16 years – fell apart almost as soon as its Trafalgar Square parade was over. Beating other international teams wouldn’t have delivered the same adrenalin surge.

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era