Sexual consumerism is a conspiracy against young women

Capital will never stop exploiting new terrain, even if that means colonising our children's innocence.

Sitting on my commuter train on Thursday, I glanced at my fellow travelers Metro and an article headlined “‘Pornstar chic’ sees nine-year-old girls ask for designer vaginas on the NHS”.

Now I see a conspiracy of consumerisation where others might see Free Masons.  But just because I’m paranoid it doesn’t mean they are not out to commodify you, me and everything.  I Googled the headline on my smart phone to get the facts, which proves two things.  First, Google like Hoover has become a verb and therefore my commodification of everything theory holds true. Second, I’m very careless about what I type into my browser.  Luckily the search was specific enough that nothing too embarrassing emerged. But it was a stupid risk, one I repeated that evening during the Liverpool UEFA cup game when I foolishly decided I needed to know more about their opponents  - the Young Boys of Bern. It's all just research you understand.

Anyway back to young girls’ vaginas. One designer vagina would be horrendous. How can one possibly happen? What could be going through her mind, her parents’ minds or the surgeons that validated such an act?   But a report in the British Medical Journal reveals that 343 labiaplasties were performed on girls aged 14 or younger over the last six years. That’s three hundred and forty three on girls aged fourteen or younger!!

According to the Metro – the morning free sheet paid for by advertisers to sell you things you didn’t know you needed, using money you probably don’t have, which I remind you of just in case you were still in any doubt about my consumerisation conspiracy theory:

The Department of Health says it only carries out the procedure for clinical reasons, such as on those with vaginal injuries.But researchers from University College Hospital, London, suggest the number of operations is far higher than those needed for medical reasons only.

‘Labial anomalies requiring surgical interventions are extremely rare,’ the report said. Cosmetic labiaplasty, which reduces the size of labia, has boomed – and cosmetic surgeons have reported a rise in requests for ‘designer vaginas’ that look like those of Playboy models.

Apparently there is no age limit on when children can have plastic surgery. That’s like saying there is no age limit on when you can become a Nazi. A civilized society shouldn’t have age limits for everything because it is (a) a society and (b) civilized.

So how did we get here? I’m afraid, and obviously this is just my paranoia again, it is the searing and irrefutable logic of the free market that has no morality or scruples, that doesn’t recognise notions of right or wrong just pounds, shillings and pence. Competition means that if you don’t offer services and products that are simply grotesque then someone else will.  Share price, profits and bonuses depend on a dog-eat-dog spirit in which its just the ‘economy stupid’. So a mum or a dad can design and sell a product, like sexualized underwear for girls as young as nine, they would never let their daughter have, because it’s their job and it pays for things they not just want but need and must have. And if they didn’t win the race to the ethical bottom then someone else will.   It’s then up to individuals to decide what they want to buy and what they don’t – we are all free to choose. After all we live in a free society.

But what sort of freedom is it for the young women of 14 or younger who are having  insecurities provoked about the shape of their vaginas? Why do they even know about porn star chic? What pressure or ridicule is heaped on them by the young men in their schools and on their streets? What abuse is handed out if they are not nipped and tucked? A context is being created in which this is the new norm. It tells us about the pornification of our culture – in which internet access to hard core porn is now available to all. And before you tell me parents should monitor it – the proliferation of smart phones, tablets and PCs makes this virtually impossible. And are they meant to avert their eyes from billboards or never watch TV?

Sex sells and commercialisation goes hand in hand with sexualisation.  A wider popular culture is now rampant in which individual beauty and the search for perfection is as endless as it is soulless. And not just for adults but for children. Look at the adverts for the likes of Armani Junior. Small children are dressed up in adult clothes, in adult poses at prices most adults can’t afford. Make up is worn at an ever younger age along with cropped tops and thongs. And as sex sells, it doesn’t matter who is sold to or the misery it causes as young women become objects for male gratification as the figures on sexual abuse and rape are now showing. Love, respect, care and dignity cannot be priced and are therefore valueless. Compassion and consumerism cannot go together.

Over 100 years ago Rosa Luxemburg the Marxist revolutionary wrote brilliantly about the ever-expanding nature of capital in her theory of empire. Capitalism would expand to new territories where natural resources were abundant and regulations were non-existent so that places and people could be exploited to the full, and profit maximized.  She called them virgin lands. Luxemburg could only see the geographical expansion of capital.  What we are experiencing today is the emotional and cultural expansion of capital into every aspect of lives and our society. And yes into ‘virgin’ lands in a way that is stomach-churning. The new abundance is us, the people, or our children if necessary.  And there are still no regulations to stop it happening.

Today in Britain some children go hungry while others have plastic surgery performed on their genitals. It's a sick world.

Freedom to shop. Source: Getty Images

Neal Lawson is chair of the pressure group Compass, which brings together progressives from all parties and none. His views on internal Labour matters are personal ones. 

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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