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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Donald Trump wants to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency - can he?

"Epa, Epa, Eeeepaaaaa" – Grampa Simpson.

 

There have been countless jokes about US President Donald Trump’s aversion to academic work, with many comparing him to an infant. The Daily Show created a browser extension aptly named “Make Trump Tweets Eight Again” that converts the font of Potus’ tweets to crayon scrawlings. Indeed, it is absurd that – even without the childish font – one particular bill that was introduced within the first month of Trump taking office looked just as puerile. Proposed by Matt Gaetz, a Republican who had been in Congress for barely a month, “H.R. 861” was only one sentence long:

“The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018”.

If this seems like a stunt, that is because Gaetz is unlikely to actually achieve his stated aim. Drafting such a short bill without any co-sponsors – and leaving it to a novice Congressman to present – is hardly the best strategy to ensure a bill will pass. 

Still, Republicans' distrust for environmental protections is well-known - long-running cartoon show The Simpsons even did a send up of the Epa where the agency had its own private army. So what else makes H.R. 861 implausible?

Well, the 10-word-long statement neglects to address the fact that many federal environmental laws assume the existence of or defer to the Epa. In the event that the Epa was abolished, all of these laws – from the 1946 Atomic Energy Act to the 2016 Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act – would need to be amended. Preferably, a way of doing this would be included in the bill itself.

Additionally, for the bill to be accepted in the Senate there would have to be eight Democratic senators who agreed with its premise. This is an awkward demand when not even all Republicans back Trump. The man Trum appointed to the helm of the Epa, Scott Pruitt, is particularly divisive because of his long opposition to the agency. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said that she was hostile to the appointment of a man who was “so manifestly opposed to the mission of the agency” that he had sued the Epa 14 times. Polls from 2016 and 2017 suggests that most Americans would be also be opposed to the agency’s termination.

But if Trump is incapable of entirely eliminating the Epa, he has other ways of rendering it futile. In January, Potus banned the Epa and National Park Services from “providing updates on social media or to reporters”, and this Friday, Trump plans to “switch off” the government’s largest citizen-linked data site – the Epa’s Open Data Web Service. This is vital not just for storing and displaying information on climate change, but also as an accessible way of civilians viewing details of local environmental changes – such as chemical spills. Given the administration’s recent announcement of his intention to repeal existing safeguards, such as those to stabilise the climate and protect the environment, defunding this public data tool is possibly an attempt to decrease awareness of Trump’s forthcoming actions.

There was also a recent update to the webpage of the Epa's Office of Science and Technology, which saw all references to “science-based” work removed, in favour of an emphasis on “national economically and technologically achievable standards”. 

Trump’s reshuffle of the Epa's priorities puts the onus on economic activity at the expense of public health and environmental safety. Pruitt, who is also eager to #MakeAmericaGreatAgain, spoke in an interview of his desire to “exit” the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. He was led to this conclusion because of his belief that the agreement means “contracting our economy to serve and really satisfy Europe, and China, and India”.

 

Rather than outright closure of the Epa, its influence and funding are being leached away. H.R. 861 might be a subtle version of one of Potus’ Twitter taunts – empty and outrageous – but it is by no means the only way to drastically alter the Epa’s landscape. With Pruitt as Epa Administrator, the organisation may become a caricature of itself – as in The Simpsons Movie. Let us hope that the #resistance movements started by “Rogue” Epa and National Parks social media accounts are able to stave off the vultures until there is “Hope” once more.

 

Anjuli R. K. Shere is a 2016/17 Wellcome Scholar and science intern at the New Statesman

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