Nawaz’s “feminism” is a hollow parody of the women’s movement. Photo: Getty
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Nice try, Maajid Nawaz, but you didn’t go to a lapdancing club because you’re a feminist

Maajid Nawaz, Liberal Democrat candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, was filmed in a lap-dancing club, receiving a private dance. But it's fine, because he's a feminist.

Let’s play a round of the world’s worst game: Can You Be a Feminist and…? The rules, laid down by generations of opinion writers, are that you find a thing and then bloviate airily about whether that thing is compatible with being a feminist. There are some reliable old standbys to start with: CYBAF and wear high heels? (Yes.) CYBAF and a stay-at-home mum? (Yes.) This is easy. Let’s do a harder one. CYBAF and a man? Well I’d hope so, but if I’m absolutely honest the number of men I’ve met who are actually feminist is dwarfed by the number of men who call themselves feminist and then use this as cover to act like a perfect horse’s arse towards women. Try this: CYBAF, and a man, and go to a lapdancing club, and get handsy with the dancers? We have a winner. GAME OVER, ruptured irony gland stopped play, no one can ever play CYBAF again.

You can thank Maajid Nawaz, Liberal Democrat candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, for the demise of the world’s worst game. Last Friday, the Mail released CCTV footage of Nawaz  — Muslim moderate and (yes!) self-professed feminist — in a lap-dancing club, receiving a private dance. Repeatedly, and contrary to the club policy, he puts his hands on the woman dancing for him. Club manager Jay Shah told the Mail that Nawaz was “asking her to touch him and he was touching her . . . In general he was quite persistent with her, asking to take her out and for her number.” Let’s note that Shah’s concern for the women working on his premises didn’t seem to extend to actually ejecting the man breaking the rules, before we move on to enjoying Feminist Maajid Nawaz’s public response to these revelations.

Firstly, Feminist Maajid Nawaz tweeted a picture of his wife with the caption “Don’t ya wish your wifey. was. hot. like. mine? …. Don’t ya? … Don’t ya?” But not satisfied with this salvo of patriarchy smashing, Feminist Maajid Nawaz released a statement on Facebook explaining that his lapdance was no contradiction with his feminism — it was, if anything, a perfect expression of his feminism. After all, it’s not as if he killed anyone: “In current times, our moral uproar is best reserved for those who aspire to stone men or women to death, not those who consensually watch women, or men for that matter, dance.” Ah, there’s that word: consensually. Nawaz, you see, is a choice feminist. “My feminism, as intended by me, extends to empowering women to make legal choices, not to judge the legal choices they make. My fight is for rights.”

And if women choose to dance for men in an upholstered broom cupboard, for twenty pounds a go, by God Nawaz will fight for that right. In fact, he’ll even make the choice easier by supplying the twenty pounds himself! That’s how much of a feminist Feminist Maajid Nawaz is. What does the “choice” to work in a nightclub look like for the women who do it? Firstly, they’re usually not actually employed by the club: it’s standard for them to pay the club a fee, which they then need to make back before they can break even on their night’s work. This incentivises women to tolerate rule-breakers as they compete with each other for business, and because the house has made its money either way, there’s limited incentive for the bouncers to protect the women who work there from the grabby patrons.

The women have to get used to being picked over, compared and rated. “They call you names, comment on your body, or your cellulite, and certainly [I know] from other women’s experiences, comment on your genitalia saying ‘that’s big’,” one dancer told the Guardian. “In my personal life if men said to me, ‘I’m really into black girls,’ I would think, ‘what an arsehole,’ because they are treating you as a species and as though all black women are identical. But in a lap-dancing club it’s almost inevitable — you are reduced to your component parts.” According to the same woman, plastic surgery is common, and coke and booze are almost universal recourses for the dancers. The dance might be “consensual”, but it seems there are some things that women struggle to “consent” to without a little self-medication.

Lapdancing is a kind of entertainment that trades on power — men’s power over women, the economic supremacy that gives men the disposable income to buy a woman right out of her clothes, the ritualised submission of the naked women pantomiming sexual frenzy for the men in suits, the little assertions of possession that comes every time a man crosses the line and puts his hand on the skin he’s paying to see. Feminism is the politics of rejecting men’s power over us. Not eroticising that power, not exploiting it to rinse a little cash benefit out of our own inferiority, but refusing it. (CYBAF and a lap dancer? Wrong question. Ask instead how feminism can tolerate any situation where men are able to buy the “right” to treat us like this.)

Nawaz’s “feminism” is a hollow parody of the women’s movement. He proudly proclaims his support for all the choices a woman can make, especially the choices that might give him an erection, but never asks why it should be women who have this “choice” to gyrate unclothed for men they wouldn’t let within sniffing distance unpaid. Nawaz can back the “right” of men to dance too, but not wonder why men never avail themselves of this precious liberty. Because Nawaz, of course, is not a feminist. He’s just one more man pinning the label on himself like a set of nipple tassels and twirling them to distract the audience from the fact that he’s got a giant hard-on for his own power.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear