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Why does the science and technology committee have no women – and a climate sceptic?

With three members left to announce, it's an all-male affair.

Earlier today, the members of the new Commons Science and Technology Committee were announced. Of the eight members revealed so far, seven are white and none are women. 

Norman Lamb, the newly elected Chair of the Commitee, later tweeted that three members were yet to be selected and that it was "imperative that we have women on the commitee". Lamb later retweeted someone sympathetic to the abuse he was receiving, saying: "In fairness to @normanlamb he has no control over the committee composition. The parties nominate their members." (That being the case, though, Lamb cannot guarantee that any of the three vacant spots will go to women.)

In addition to the lack of women currently on the commitee, there is a distinct lack of a scientific backgrounds among the members as well. Only the Labour MPs Darren Jones and Graham Stringer, a Eurosceptic, have a background in science. (Jones has a degree in human biosciences and Stringer used to be an analytical chemist.)

However, Graham Stringer is also a vocal climate change sceptic, once arguing in Parliament that "much of the Government's policy is based on the belief that climate science at present is settled, and it is not, because nobody knows the answers to those questions". Stringer was one of two MPs who voted against the conclusion made of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that there was "no reason to doubt the credibility of the science". 

He is also one of two MPs on the board of trustees of Lord Lawson's Global Warming Policy Foundation, GWPF. The foundation's tagline is "common sense on climate change". Lawson, its chair, was recently caught misrepresenting studies on climate change on the BBC and has rightly been criticised for it. Others who are a part of GWPF include Labour peer Lord Donoughue, who has compared climate change activism to "virtue signalling"

According to the Campaign for Science and Engineering, there are currently 103 members of parliament who have some form of science background. (Newly elected MP Neil O'Brien's role as "advisor on the Northern Powerhouse" counts.) Only two of them are represented in the eight-strong Commitee

The Science and Technology Commitee ought to be a strong voice in favour of evidence-based policy. That is if the Government listen to their advice: the previous Committee's recommendations to hire a Chief Scientific Advisor for Brexit went ignored.

This article was amended on 13 September 2017 to make it clear that Labour MP Darren Jones also has a science background.

Photo: Getty
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Ann Summers can’t claim to empower women when it is teaming up with Pornhub

This is not about mutual sexual fulfilment, it is about eroticising women’s pain. 

I can’t understand why erotic retailers like Ann Summers have persisted into the twenty-first century. The store claims to be “sexy, daring, provocative and naughty”, and somewhat predictably positions itself as empowering for women. As a feminist of the unfashionable type, I can’t help but be suspicious of any form of sexual liberation that can be bought or sold.

And yet, I’d never really thought of Ann Summers as being particularly threatening to the rights of women, more just a faintly depressing reflection of heteronormativity. This changed when I saw they’d teamed-up with Pornhub. The website is reputedly the largest purveyor of online pornography in the world. Pornhub guidelines state that content flagged as  “illegal, unlawful, harassing, harmful, offensive” will be removed. Nonetheless, the site still contains simulated incest and rape with some of the more easily published film titles including “Exploited Teen Asia” (236 million views) and “How to sexually harass your secretary properly” (10.5 million views.)  With campaigns such as #metoo and #timesup are sweeping social media, it seems bizarre that a high street brand would not consider Pornhub merchandise as toxic.

Society is still bound by taboos: our hyper-sexual society glossy magazines like Teen Vogue offer girls tips on receiving anal sex, while advice on pleasuring women is notably rare. As an unabashed wanker, I find it baffling that in the year that largely female audiences queued to watch Fifty Shades Darker, a survey revealed that 20 per cent of U.S. women have never masturbated. It is an odd truth that in our apparently open society, any criticism of pornography or sexual practices is shut down as illiberal. 

Guardian-reading men who wring their hands about Fair Trade coffee will passionately defend the right to view women being abused on film. Conservative men who make claims about morals and marriage are aroused by images that in any other setting would be considered abuse. Pornography is not only misogynistic, but the tropes and language are often also racist. In what other context would racist slurs and scenarios be acceptable?

I have no doubt that some reading this will be burning to point out that feminist pornography exists. In name of course it does, but then again, Theresa May calls herself a feminist when it suits. Whether you believe feminist pornography is either possible or desirable, it is worth remembering that what is marketed as such comprises a tiny portion of the market. This won’t make me popular, but it is worth remembering feminism is not about celebrating every choice a woman makes – it is about analysing the social context in which choices are made. Furthermore, that some women also watch porn is evidence of how patriarchy shapes our desire, not that pornography is woman-friendly.  

Ann Summers parts the net curtains of nation’s suburban bedrooms and offers a glimpse into our peccadillos and preferences. That a mainstream high street retailer blithely offers guidance on hair-pulling, whipping and clamps, as well as a full range of Pornhub branded products is disturbing. This is not about women’s empowerment or mutual sexual fulfilment, it is about eroticising women’s pain. 

We are living in a world saturated with images of women and girls suffering; to pretend that there is no connection between pornography and the four-in-ten teenage girls who say they have been coerced into sex acts is naive in the extreme. For too long the state claimed that violence in the home was a domestic matter. Women and girls are now facing an epidemic of sexual violence behind bedroom doors and it is not a private matter. We need to ask ourselves which matters more: the sexual rights of men or the human rights of women?