Sculptures by Raphael Zollinger in the Pratt Institute Sculpture Garden in New York.
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If we liberate men’s sexuality, the war against women can end

As a dominatrix, men come to me to explore a sexuality that is socially forbidden. While patriarchy endures, they will never be free to express who they are, or treat women as they should be treated.

When I became a professional dominatrix after years in the kink scene, I expected my kinky work to involve lots of spanking, whipping and bondage. And, to my delight, it has. But in the majority of my sessions, I am creating a space for men to explore areas of their sexual lives that society feels are unmanly; they come to me to be penetrated, to be used, to serve, to submit, to worship, to be taken. A client might have any or all of a bewildering array of fetishes, but they mostly come to me to experience something well outside the very narrow confines of what society says that it means to be a man.

When a man enters my secret room, he steps into another world, where the taboos, rules and expectations of the outside world are lifted, or bent to serve our mutual pleasure. To watch a man’s face change as he realises this, and is released from the tension of hiding his deviant fantasies – to watch him as he feels finally understood – is one of my greatest joys in life. But our shared world ends at my door. When I tell a man to strip his clothes off, I am also taking the weight of social expectations from him; and when our time together is finished, he puts his clothes on, piece by piece, and takes that weight onto his shoulders again.

Men also come to me because I seek, find, and keep their secrets. I am curious and talkative, and as a man dresses I sometimes ask him what brought him to my door.  Every answer is different. Some are, of course, married, and looking for something that their wives can’t or won’t provide. Some are adrenaline junkies. Many men are too shy or awkward, or simply too busy to find a partner, let alone one who shares an interest in kink. But nearly every one of them tells me that being kinky – being different at all – is something that he has to hide from everyone he knows.

That reason is precisely why my job exists. There is a market for my confidential services because if a man publicly steps outside the boundaries of what society permits, he is no longer seen as a man. It’s not just simple sexual gratification that a client seeks from a sex worker, but also an opportunity to explore a sexuality that is socially forbidden. If a man wants to be penetrated, or vulnerable, or to serve and be controlled by a dominant partner, or if he expresses traits society characterises as feminine, he is ostracised and bullied. The ideal woman that he is socialised to pursue seems an impossible dream to him, and, sometimes, an alien one. And so, he sublimates his sexuality, compartmentalises it and hides it; and he comes to see me.

To me, the chance to share this secret world with a man is a pleasure. To him, the need to hide the sexual treasures of his heart and mind from everyone but me is part of an awful burden. As feminism has rightfully laid bare the systematic subjugation of women in all parts of society, and male privilege has become an international watchword, it has also shown us how patriarchy defines and limits the lives of men. A man is expected to be a breadwinner with a stable job, earning enough to support a family in an ideal of upwards mobility that no longer really exists for most of us. He is expected to present as masculine in appearance, taste, and habits. He is expected to be confident, outgoing and sociable, and to know how to fight. A man is socialised to desire a specific type of woman, to marry, to father children, and to provide them with a better life and prospects than he himself has enjoyed. He is expected to be entirely heterosexual, and entirely monogamous. And, although society grants him far more leeway in regards to sexuality than it does a woman, a man is expected to be virile, sexually active, and uncomplicated in his tastes. He is allowed to penetrate, but not to be penetrated; to control, but not to surrender; to enjoy the grace, sensuality, and sex appeal of a woman, but never to wish to express these traits himself.

In some ways, today’s society demands from its men the same standards as it expected in the 1950s, but today’s men are vastly less likely to achieve the stability and security of that era. Globalisation has taken away most of the well-paid work that does not require advanced education, and the decimation of union power, permanent austerity, and women’s advances in the workplace have made the old-fashioned nuclear family model unsustainable for men and women alike. And men are, of course, raised with a tremendous, and all-encompassing, sense of male superiority, which is constantly reinforced; but this is challenged more and more as women gain rights and social advancement. In this situation, many men have begun to feel a profound sense of confusion and anxiety. And for some of these men, that anxiety has turned to anger.

According to American sociologist Michael Kimmel, men are justified in their anger. In his 2013 book, Angry White Men, he wrote:

American men are, in my view, right to be angry. They have a lot to be angry about. Most American men live in a system in which they were promised a lot of rewards if they played by the rules. If they were good, decent, hardworking men, if they saddled up, or, even more accurately, got into the harness themselves, they would feel the respect of their wives and their children; if they fought in America’s wars and served their country fighting fires and stopping crime, they’d have the respect of their communities. And, most important, if they were loyal to their colleagues and workmates, did an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, then they’d also have the respect of other men.”

In the book, Kimmel lays out how politicians, parties and media have harnessed this anger, turning it towards women and minorities. For many angry white men it is easier to blame immigrants, benefit scroungers and women than it is examine their own complicity in a system of privilege, or to address the economic roots of the changes that have diminished their prospects.  Drawn to parties of populist reaction, such as Ukip and the American Tea Party movement and neo-fascist groups such as Britain First, these men have changed the face of modern politics. 

A lesser-known, extreme movement that has attracted many anxious and angry men is the so called men’s rights movement. Based online, and also called the New Misogyny by David Futrelle, who writes the incisive feminist blog, We Hunted the Mammoth, men’s rights attracts a crowd of mostly young, mostly white men who grew up on the internet. Men’s rights activists believe that a systematic advancement of women and minorities through affirmative action, and the predominance of feminist discourse, have put men at a disadvantage. Through social media, dedicated forums on sites like Reddit, and on specialised websites, men’s rights activists cloak their hatred in superficially reasonable language, claiming they are for a true equality. The numbers of self proclaimed men's rights activists are small, but the broader ideology of men's rights is reflected in the “manosphere”, on popular sites such as A Voice for Men and Return of Kings, as well as in the anarchic ’chan sites, and in the beliefs of GamerGate supporters.  Men's rights activists and the wider manosphere both venerate the alpha male, but a look at their websites shows that they're going for men and boys who feel unsuccessful at life, and, particularly, young people who feel sexually deprived.  In a recent post, Futrelle said:

The anger of many younger MRAs seems to have a similar psychosexual source. These are the young men who rage against “friendzoning” and wax indignant about “false rape accusations” and “yes means yes.” In their mind, women are the “gatekeepers” of sex, and this frustrates and sometimes enrages them.

On some level they feel that women are collectively depriving them of the sex that they deserve, and they feel resentful they have to, in their mind at least, jump through so many hoops to get it. Some, I suspect, think that there’s no way they can actually “get” sex without cutting a few corners, consent-wise, and resent feminists for making this harder for them.

The manosphere offers a home to “incels”, or men who feel that they are involuntarily celibate, and offers them lessons in “game”, a vile brew of manipulation and gaslighting techniques whose adherents have spawned an entire industry dedicated to sleeping with as many women as possible. They claim they want to give men confidence, but beneath that veneer of positivity, leading voices in the manosphere have frequently advocated the harassment, abuse, rape and even death of women, particularly high profile feminists; civil rights research group Southern Poverty Law Centre tracks some of them as misogynist hate sites. Elliott Rodger, who killed six people in Isla Vista, California last year, posted videos and website comments where he raged against the women who ignored him, and thought that women should not be allowed to choose their own sexual partners. Although the most prominent voices in men’s rights moved quickly to distance themselves from Rodger, others see him as a hero, and his manifesto is filled with men’s rights language and concepts.

The manosphere’s biggest threat to society is its broader appeal to legions of sexually frustrated men. There are countless reasons, personal, social and political, why a man might not be able to get sexual fulfilment, but the manosphere tells him that the fault lies with licentious women who only want wealth and prestige, and with a feminist society that pushes him to the margins. “The sexually aggrieved ‘nice guy’ and his complaints have taken centre stage in our cultural debates over sexuality”, Futrelle wrote in an email interview. “Elliot Rodger – a self-described ‘nice guy’ – went on a shooting rampage as a way of exacting ‘revenge’ on all the women who’d rejected him. And while he didn't explictly describe himself as an MRA, he shared many of the central sexual obsessions as the MRA crowd... Obviously he's an extreme example, but his story makes clear how dangerous these ideas and obsessions can be,” he wrote.

Much has been written about this past year being a festival of feminism, in which feminists have foregrounded women’s rights and perspectives in mainstream politics. Critics of the men’s rights movement frequently note that there are many issues of concern for men, such as death at work and in war, that the movement ignores, in favour of repeated attacks on feminism and women. If their hatred of feminism is fuelled by sexual frustration, this makes sense. They are a movement of social brownshirts; like their namesakes, they are welcomed by ruling elites as a distraction from the real causes of men’s alienation.

As feminists, we rightfully put the interests of women first, and we are sceptical of ostensibly feminist arguments that appeal to men’s interests. Solidarity should motivate the privileged in their struggle for change, not self interest; to make an analogy, it would be offensive and misguided to ask the black leaders of the Ferguson movement against police violence to tout the benefits of anti-racism to white people. Likewise, feminists should not be obliged to sell feminism to angry men. But I would offer another analogy: when we combat fascism, it behooves us to offer an alternative to those that fascists would recruit. We may not be able to reach the most hateful misogynists, but feminists must directly attack the false ideology of men’s rights. We must offer a real answer for men consumed by anxiety, and especially those who feel a sense of sexual frustration.

Today, feminism is engulfed in a fiery debate about gender and sexuality. Intersectional feminists have embraced the trans, sex worker, and sexual liberation movements, opposed by supporters of an older radical feminist tradition, who would exclude them. I am firmly in the intersectional camp. When I took up sex work, I was filled with a moralist shame, but intersectional feminists taught me to have pride in my work, and in my identity. Whether we are baristas, escorts, or lawyers, women find that we are required to provide intimate labour of the body and mind. Where radical feminism would call me a traitor to my gender for serving men’s needs, intersectional feminism would emphasise what sex workers have in common with all the workers of the world; a complex structure of interwoven consents and coercions.

Learning about intersectional feminism changed my life, and brought me back into politics.  It has done the same for thousands of other gender and sexual outlaws who felt excluded by the feminist identity, and we should support it for its own sake.  But we must also end the debate between moralists and libertines in our ranks for an essential strategic reason.  If feminists do not abandon their moralism, men's rights activists and their growing penumbra of supporters will continue to paint us all with the same brush.  They will continue to distort our views, telling their audience that we are all moralists, and channeling the frustration of men towards their hateful ends.  And, for millions of boys growing up, misogyny will continue to make more sense than feminism.

Betty Friedan said it best, in a 1973 epilogue to The Feminine Mystique:

How could we ever really know or love each other as long as we kept playing those roles that kept us from knowing or being ourselves? Weren’t men as well as women still locked in lonely isolation, alienation, no matter how many sexual acrobatics they put their bodies through? Weren’t men dying too young, suppressing fears and tears and their own tenderness? It seemed to me that men weren’t really the enemy – they were fellow victims, suffering from an outmoded masculine mystique that made them feel unnecessarily inadequate when there were no bears to kill.”

It is feminism that offers men the chance at a sexually fulfilling life. When rape culture is extinguished, when patriarchy subsides, all genders can realise their full sexual expression in safety. Even now, what feminism asks of men – that they be conscious of their privilege and respect the agency of women – can lead them to truly satisfying intimate relationships. One of the greatest tragedies of the men’s rights movement is that, in the end, its lessons serve only to drive men further away from what they yearn for. Pick up artist techniques and aggrieved entitlement are unlikely to help men achieve the goal of intimacy, but feminist values can teach them the skills to communicate with respect.  And on a deeper level, a broader understanding of the real causes for male anxiety can offer hope to men who feel dispossessed, and the solace of knowing that it is not their fault.  But we cannot make this argument clear to men until we dispense with the archaic remnants of moralism in our feminism.

Our feminism must wholly embrace the cause of sexual freedom for all genders, and make it widely known. It must have room for trans people, for sexual libertines, for kinksters, for sex workers, and for those men who, like my clients, want to redefine what it means to be a man. For men, a true feminism offers liberation and sexual fulfillment, through the very process of coming to a fuller understanding of their privileges, and burdens, under patriarchy.  And feminists must make this known, because the liberation of male sexuality will undermine one of patriarchy's principal foundations. Only then can feminism harness male anxiety; and instead of turning it to anger, we can turn it to solidarity and hope.

 

If you enjoyed this, you may like Laurie Penny on Nerd Entitlement.

Margaret Corvid is a writer, activist and professional dominatrix living in the south west.

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Ukip needs Nigel Farage to stand in the Stoke by-election

Despite becoming a global political celebrity, the party's former leader has been waiting 25 years for this moment to win a Commons seat. 

When Ukip's 20 MEPs - back at school today in Strasbourg to elect a new EU President - wave (no fists please) at each other today at lunch across the various dining rooms of the EU Parliament, their main subject of interest will not be the eight candidates they will be voting for by secret ballot to replace bearded German socialist Martin Schulz.

For the record, these eight MEPs include four Italians (the favourite is centre-right 63-year-old Antonio Tajani, a former Italian air force pilot and EU insider regularly seen at the best tables of VIP watering holes like the Stanhope Hotel in Brussels), two Belgians, a Romanian and, yes, a Brit. Thats's 66-year-old Jean Lambert of the Green Party. But nobody in Ukip really cares. The party has the worst attendance and voting record of any political party in the EU - ranked 76 out 76.

Electing a new EU president today in Strasbourg is not nearly of so much concern to Ukip MEPs as the upcoming by-election in Stoke - not the least as quite a few of them (especially representing the Midlands) will be thinking of standing. The central Midlands seat of Stoke Central is a dream seat to have come up for Ukip just as Theresa May is setting out her 12-point "clean Brexit" plan stall.

Ladbrokes still have Labour 4/5 favourite with Ukip 9/4. It's worth a bet as the stakes are so much higher for Ukip if they lose. If they do, many will ask whether Ukip really can supplant Labour in 2020? 

With the prime minister making it clear today in her Lancaster House speech that her government want a hard Brexit, this presents a potential dilemma for Ukip. If the Tories deliver a clean Brexit with no membership of the single market, or EEA, then does the purpose of Ukip "holding the Tories' feet to the fire" over Brexit become less relevant? 

If Ukip alternatively wishes to re-invent itself as the new working class party of the north and Midlands, it will need to show that it can beat Labour - now at its lowest ebb under Corbyn - in key seats like Stoke. Ukip know this and are very good at their by-election ground game with veteran by-election campaign managers like Lisa Duffy as good as any strategist. In Stoke, expect a full expeditionary force of Ukip's colourful and Falstaff-like army of by-election activist troops - arriving by train, coach and foot - to campaign and out manoeuvre Corbyn's New Left Red Army. 

Stoke Central is probably the most important by-election for Ukip since Heywood and Middleton in 2014 which became a watershed moment for the party. Even Ukip was taken off-guard by the result. Without much cash and without campaigning with the full Ukip army zeal, they lost by just over 600 votes and got a recount. 

Looking back, Heywood was a pivotal moment in Ukip's short history. It was the moment the party realised that its future lay not so much in persuading Disgusted with Dave of Tunbridge Wells to vote for Nigel, but rather with disaffected Labour voters wanting something down about immigration that they saw was changing the very face and identity of their local towns, estates and cities. 

But can Ukip really win Stoke? Well, they really have to try as this is their best chance they might get for a while. Which means that the really interesting question being asked by Ukip MEPs today to Paul Nuttall is "Are you running?" The deadline for candidates on the party's Approved Candidates List to put themselves forward is 4pm on Wednesday 18 January.

So far Nuttall's official line - as told to the Daily Express - is that he is not ruling out standing. As a no-nonsense northerner himself (a working class boy from Bootle in Merseyside who played "junior", not professional, football for Tranmere Rovers), Nuttall would appear to be an ideal working class candidate to empathise with the voters of such a socially dispossessed pottery town.

As Chris Hanretty, a political scientist at East Anglia University wrote in the Guardian: "If Ukip doesn’t win, or doesn’t run Labour close, that calls into question its ability to win parliamentary seats...it would suggest that the referendum, far from being a staging post on the road to supplanting Labour, might signal Ukip's peak." 

Ouch. But Hanretty has a point: if Nuttall stands and fails to win in a working class Midlands seat where 69 per cent of the electorate voted to leave, it does raise issues about how much impact can make on the Westminster electoral landscape should there be a snap election in the next few months as a result of repeated constitutional challenges to Article 50 (the Supreme Court ruling is expected to be announced this week) and legal challenges such as the Article 127 challenge brought by the pro-EU pressure group British Infuence, now postponed until February.

This case revolves around the claim that Parliament must be consulted not just over the UK's exit as a EU member but also (and separately) its exit from the European Economic Area (EEA) – and by definition from the Single Market. In her speech today, Theresa May made it clear that the UK will be leaving the Single Market, so this challenge is unlikely to go away. All this political jousting and legal posturing is likely to make for quite a political circus when the Stoke by-election date is announced (usually within three months of an MP dying or standing down). Should Ukip not win this by-election prize fight - or give Labour a very bloody nose and lose by a few hundred votes as they did in Middleton and Heywood in 2014 -  it would certainly be damaging for Ukip. 

Not the least if the party's leader and chief general (an MEP commander for the north west) chooses to stand himself. But Nuttall is faced with a tricky dilemma. If he stands and loses, the idea that that UKIP is the new party of choice for working class former Labour voters in the North and and Midlands may not look so convincing. Yet if Nuttall doesn't stand and the party puts up another strong candidate who goes on to win like deputy chairman Suzanne Evans (born in the Midlands) or West Midlands MEP Bill Etheridge (who has a strong personal following in the Black Country and industrial Midlands), then Nuttall's own position as leader of a party with two MPs could be frustrated. 

So it is going to be an interesting day for Ukip in Strasbourg that's for sure. Ukip is a strange party in that two of its most senior and high profile politicians - deputy chairman and Health spokesman Suzanne Evans and the respected former Ukip mayor candidate Peter Whittle (culture spokesman and excellent film critic for Standpoint) are not even MEPs although Whittle is proving to be an adept member of the London Assembly.  

If Ukip win in Stoke, and Nuttall's name is not on the ballot, this could have political ramifications. There is a significant difference in Westminster powers and patronage in having two MPs in Westminster rather than one (as currently with Douglas Carswell with whom Suzanne Evans worked closely with as a Ukip member of Vote Leave, which was pointedly not the party's official designated Leave camp). With two MPs, Ukip becomes a party as opposed to a one man political solo show. 

If the newly-elected MP were to be, say, Suzanne Evans - one of the party's star performers on Newsnight and Have I Got News For You - Nuttall's power base as leader (no longer an MEP in 2020 after we exit the EU) might be diluted by another senior party member becoming a star performing Commons MP. 

So there is much at stake both personally and party-wise for Nuttall. Should Ukip be defeated in Stoke Central by some margin, this would be picked up by Tory and Labour strategists as offering evidence that Labour might not be wiped out by so many seats under Corbyn should May go to the country in say March or April to settle the Brexit mandate. Polls have been saying that under Corbyn Labour could lose as many as 80-100 seats should Ukip prove (with Stoke) that the party is, indeed, the number one threat to traditional Labour vote in the north and midlands.

Whatever happens in Stoke, the Tories won't win. They will be watching to see how the working class vote splits. This is why it is so improbable that May will attempt to call an 'early election' this year, even if the polls continue to show she would win by a landslide. 

The truth is she can't realistically call an election under the Fixed Term Parliament Act even if she she wants to. The Act (one of the worst legacies of the Coalition govt which many MPs want repealed) requires two-thirds of MPs to vote for going to the country - something that not even the most suicidally inclined of Labour MPs will be prepared to do as they will be joining MEPs in being out of a job. 

In the event that Labour take the view that a political blood bath - with Ukip the likely winner in many seats like Stoke Central - is the only way to purge the party of Corbyn, then they will also have to swallow the fact that May (if pushed into an election by troublesome, unelected peers) is likely to spike her election wheel with a manifesto pledge to abolish most of the powers of the House of Lords, as well as booting many of the eldest, most pompous and idle. Such a mandate for radical reform of our largely unelected Lords would hardly be difficult to secure. More blood on the carpet. 

In the event that the Supreme Court rules this week that Article 50 must be signed off by both the Commons and the Lords, any Lib Dem and Labour pro-EU zealots will know that any attempted Kamikaze-style amendments (which could technically delay Parliamentary assent for up to thirteen months) will be met with punitive retribution from Downing Street. 

Ukip only lost in Stoke to Labour's Dr Tristram Hunt in 2015 by around 5,000 votes - largely thanks to disaffected working class voters feeling that their once proud industrial "pottery" city - once a Victorian symbol of industrial creativity and production - had become a symbol of a working class British city in decline. Faced with immigration, housing and other social issues, Stoke voters have felt for some time that the pro-EU metropolitan leaning Labour Party has abandoned them.

Not so Ukip, which is exactly why Nigel Farage chose to stage a major Brexit rally hosted by Grassroots Out (GO!) last April at Stoke's Victoria Hall urging the good people to vote to leave the European Union.

Addressing the packed hall, against his political opponent Tory Chris Grayling MP, and Labour's Kate Hoey (herself a Leaver), Farage drew applause from the Stoke crowd when he said: "This is not about left or right – this is about right or wrong." Farage then started up the audience of hundreds in a chant of "We want our country back." 

In other words, Nigel he knows perfectly well that Ukip can win Stoke. Which leads to the obvious question in Strasbourg today: "Are you going to stand Nigel?" 

Officially, Farage has ruled himself out saying he wants to focus on his international and speaking, broadcasting and advisory career. But as Farage said after picking up the leadership reins after they came loose following the resignation of Diane James: "I keep trying to escape ... and before I'm finally free they drag me back". 

The truth is that in his political heart, I suspect Nigel must be going through a dark night of his political soul over whether he should have stood for Stoke Central. Or still can? In so many ways, he has been waiting over 25 years for this moment. By the time the all-important Heywood and Middleton by-election result came on October 2014 (Ukip share of the vote up 36 per cent), Farage had already committed to standing for the south of England seat of Thanet South - his seventh election campaign to become an MP. Had Nigel stood in the Heywood by-election, he probably would have won. 

All his Ukip parliamentary election campaigns have been in the South, South-West or Home Counties, beginning with Eastleigh in Hampshire in 1994 when he won just 952 votes. But the interesting trend to note is that in his last two attempts to get into the Commons,  he has doubled his vote each time. In 2010 election, standing in Buckingham he won 8,410 votes (almost the same number as I won taking votes of Midland labour voters in North Warwickshire in 2015). In 2015, Nigel got 16,026 votes in South Thanet. 

My point is that had Nigel Farage stood for a solid Labour Northern or Midlands seat in 2015, he may well have won then. Yes, Nigel has said that he wants to get his life back after his extraordinary years as the "Mr Brexit" Ukip leader - apparently now the subject of a Warner Bros Bad Boys of Brexit comedy biopic. 

But as somebody who knows how much the pull of the green leather Commons bench - the true seat of western parliamentary democracy - means to Nigel, I sincerely hope he will re-consider standing for Stoke Central. Yes, he wants to earn money and become a global political superstar. But it will certainly be something to think about as he flies through the night to take up his front row seat in Washington on Friday's inauguration. 

And just think, after what Nigel did for Trump campaigning in Mississippi, how could Donald Trump possibly not campaign for his Brexit friend in Stoke? Now that really would be political theatre.