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.

Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.