The irony of male cameramen issuing instructions to the protesters. All photos: Anoosh Chakelian
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Irony alert: how a protest about porn turned into a lot of men gawping at women

At the porn protest outside parliament today, the people sitting on other people's faces behaved impeccably. So why did I come away feeling slightly dirty? Oh yes, because of the way some male cameramen behaved.

Excitable anticipation of today’s “Face-Sitting Demo” has been flying around Westminster all week. Journalists were enthusiastic about a fun Friday afternoon writing colourful copy about porn industry insiders and fetish fans carrying out a particularly demonstrative demonstration against new porn laws. With face-sitting.

The anger, in case you’ve missed this particular incident of government tomfoolery, is due to the arbitrary, and sexist, nature of new regulations some civil servants and politicians have cooked up for the UK’s porn industry. The regulations ban showing female ejaculation on screen, restrict things like fisting and face-sitting, and only allow for “gentle” spanking, whipping and caning.

Jolly protesters held humorous banners (“We cum in peace”, “Life will be fine if we both 69”, etc) and sang a jaunty face-sitting-themed song to keep morale up during the uncomfortably cold, and sparsely attended, demo. Here’s the first verse:

Sit on my face and tell me that you love me,

I’ll sit on your face and tell you I love you too,

I love to hear you oralise,

When I’m between your thighs,

You blow me away.

However, something didn’t feel quite right with what should have been a sharp, witty and necessary protest. A huge throng of mainly male cameramen and reporters in their anoraks and scarves surrounded a small number of demonstrators, who were mainly women, as they engaged in the kinky protest. And there were far more journalists covering the demo than there were people demonstrating.

The irony of this was made all too clear when one woman sitting on another woman’s face was told by a cantankerous cameraman to “move backwards a bit, because I can’t see her face”. “That’s kind of the point, mate, it’s face-sitting,” said an incredulous woman standing next to me. “It doesn’t work visually,” he replied, looking disappointed. “Is this what it’s supposed to look like?”

How ironic that the protest itself reminded us of the shortcomings of the porn industry.  For too long, it has been geared towards men, and just as it is slowly making progress on this issue, the government has dived in with a raft of measures blocking women's opportunity to be seen as active participants, or enjoying themselves.

The irony of women performing for a crowd of male onlookers with cameras issuing instructions to them was not lost on some of the female protesters I spoke to.

“I wanted to turn the cameras round from us on to the cameramen,” a woman with dreadlocks holding a whip tells me. She describes herself as being “on the fetish scene”. “There are a lot of men journalists standing around looking very happy,” she sighs, shaking her head.

Another woman in a long leather black coat adds, “I wonder how many photos they are taking for their newspapers and for their own personal wank bank? Is it really work-related? PUT YOUR HAND UP IF YOU’RE AN OFFICIAL CAMERAMAN OR IF IT’S FOR YOUR BANK!”

I speak to a woman wearing a red rubber ball gag around her neck about her disappointment with the protest. “There aren’t as many people here as I would have hoped.” She tells me “it’s ironic” that the event has turned into men watching the protesters and telling them to perform for their cameras, and finds their gaze “offensive”.

“Pornography has always been aimed at men: bang, bang, bang, done," she says. "Cum shot. Over the last decade, this has been worked on and is better than it has ever been. These laws are taking us all the way back.”

And is coverage like today's helping it?

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Leader: The unresolved Eurozone crisis

The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving.

The eurozone crisis was never resolved. It was merely conveniently forgotten. The vote for Brexit, the terrible war in Syria and Donald Trump’s election as US president all distracted from the single currency’s woes. Yet its contradictions endure, a permanent threat to continental European stability and the future cohesion of the European Union.

The resignation of the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, following defeat in a constitutional referendum on 4 December, was the moment at which some believed that Europe would be overwhelmed. Among the champions of the No campaign were the anti-euro Five Star Movement (which has led in some recent opinion polls) and the separatist Lega Nord. Opponents of the EU, such as Nigel Farage, hailed the result as a rejection of the single currency.

An Italian exit, if not unthinkable, is far from inevitable, however. The No campaign comprised not only Eurosceptics but pro-Europeans such as the former prime minister Mario Monti and members of Mr Renzi’s liberal-centrist Democratic Party. Few voters treated the referendum as a judgement on the monetary union.

To achieve withdrawal from the euro, the populist Five Star Movement would need first to form a government (no easy task under Italy’s complex multiparty system), then amend the constitution to allow a public vote on Italy’s membership of the currency. Opinion polls continue to show a majority opposed to the return of the lira.

But Europe faces far more immediate dangers. Italy’s fragile banking system has been imperilled by the referendum result and the accompanying fall in investor confidence. In the absence of state aid, the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, could soon face ruin. Italy’s national debt stands at 132 per cent of GDP, severely limiting its firepower, and its financial sector has amassed $360bn of bad loans. The risk is of a new financial crisis that spreads across the eurozone.

EU leaders’ record to date does not encourage optimism. Seven years after the Greek crisis began, the German government is continuing to advocate the failed path of austerity. On 4 December, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, declared that Greece must choose between unpopular “structural reforms” (a euphemism for austerity) or withdrawal from the euro. He insisted that debt relief “would not help” the immiserated country.

Yet the argument that austerity is unsustainable is now heard far beyond the Syriza government. The International Monetary Fund is among those that have demanded “unconditional” debt relief. Under the current bailout terms, Greece’s interest payments on its debt (roughly €330bn) will continually rise, consuming 60 per cent of its budget by 2060. The IMF has rightly proposed an extended repayment period and a fixed interest rate of 1.5 per cent. Faced with German intransigence, it is refusing to provide further funding.

Ever since the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, declared in 2012 that he was prepared to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the single currency, EU member states have relied on monetary policy to contain the crisis. This complacent approach could unravel. From the euro’s inception, economists have warned of the dangers of a monetary union that is unmatched by fiscal and political union. The UK, partly for these reasons, wisely rejected membership, but other states have been condemned to stagnation. As Felix Martin writes on page 15, “Italy today is worse off than it was not just in 2007, but in 1997. National output per head has stagnated for 20 years – an astonishing . . . statistic.”

Germany’s refusal to support demand (having benefited from a fixed exchange rate) undermined the principles of European solidarity and shared prosperity. German unemployment has fallen to 4.1 per cent, the lowest level since 1981, but joblessness is at 23.4 per cent in Greece, 19 per cent in Spain and 11.6 per cent in Italy. The youngest have suffered most. Youth unemployment is 46.5 per cent in Greece, 42.6 per cent in Spain and 36.4 per cent in Italy. No social model should tolerate such waste.

“If the euro fails, then Europe fails,” the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has often asserted. Yet it does not follow that Europe will succeed if the euro survives. The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving. In these circumstances, the surprise has been not voters’ intemperance, but their patience.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump