Jeanne Rathbone


PORNOGRAPHY and PROSTITUTION are problems caused by men. The very existence of a sex industry which panders to an expression of male sexuality for anonymous sex on demand is very unhealthy and reinforces male attitudes and male power over women. The sex industry is bad for ALL women.

I found this notice written in ’83. I still believe that the sex industry which is created by male sexuality is worse now. It has become more prevalent and accepted as part of life. More women in the sex industry use drugs and alcohol and more are trafficked than ever before. This piece from the notice to BATTERSEA LABOUR PARTY WOMEN’S SECTION dated December 1983 was when I was the convenor. The notice mentioned Frances Morrell who was leader of the ILEA then who died last year. Barbara Roche was one of our members who went on to become a minister in Blair’s government as did Fiona Mac Taggart another member who was scheduled to speak an Women and Race at a forthcoming meeting who also was one of Blair’s babes. Where are they now and what did they achieve under NEW LABOUR? 

Dear Sisters and Comrades,

Our effort at combining political education with socialising and fund-raising was successful. The ingredients were (1) acceptance of the feminist notion that the “personal is political” (2) dispensing with formalities of standing orders etc. (3) installing an authoritive Deputy Headteacher in the chair. The result is painless, pleasant and political education whilst sharing their thoughts on their holiday trips.  Thanks to Cathy Lucas, Sue Ward, Alf Dubs and Joan O’ Pray who went to Whitehaven for her hols. It was all very engaging, enjoyable and informative. We intend to hold further events using the personal knowledge of our members from ex- commonwealth countries.

Two delegates attended the day of Workshops at County hall organised by the London Region Labour Committee- particularly the “Violence and Pornography” session and the Education workshop lead by Frances Morrell. We discovered that our reaction to the National Labour Women’s Conference was widespread and many women’s sections are boycotting this one-day, non-resolution meeting on ‘privatisation’ which has been imposed instead of a proper conference.

At our last meeting on “ Violence to Women” lead by Barbara Roche, we concentrated on Prostitution and Pornography. So, the topic on rape and wife battering will be held over for a future meeting. 

————————————————————————————————————————————————- Battersea Labour  Party didn’t like this more radical Women’s section and they dissolved us soon after this- the bloody bastards.    

 The institution of prostitution presents feminists with a dilemma. As socialists we cannot accept a society based on the ‘sewer theory of civilisation’. This means that civilisation as we know it can only survive if some men are entitled to pay some women to act as semen depositors or to perform sexual activities that their wife does not enjoy or so that they can abuse her because they are angry at women or as part of a boys night out ritual or to acknowledge that it is preferable to masturbation. What ever the reason, millions of men, mainly married, from football hooligans to working men’s outings, from the ranks of the law and politics to the clergy, use prostitutes.

 We are told that if some of these men didn’t have access to prostitutes and pornography that there would be a much higher incident of rape, sexual assault, incest, wife battering, flashing, sexual harassment and general violence in our society. So, the argument goes, we need prostitutes and pornography to act as like a cesspit for male loathing and aggression towards females. It’s no wonder many women see the ‘sex industry’ as a guerrilla training ground and assault course for misogynists. A further flaw in the plea that male sexuality needs prostitutes and porn is that they can’t afford or prefer not to pay capitalist exploiters then they are entitled to take what they want for nothing. So rape becomes an insurrectionary act!

 The sexual liberals argue that, in post-revolutionary Britain, there will be egalitarian prostitution and state run brothels probably under the auspices of the NHS. All that’s needed is economic parity and rehabilitation for all repressed females who are too inhibited to hire the use of a man’s body now. Female sexuality is riddled with quaint ideas about the need for mutual gratification and human intimacy from which we need to be liberated!  In other words we need to be reconditioned to become more like men. 

The difficulty for feminists to decry the institution of prostitution and its ill effects on all women is to state our opposition to it whilst recognising the need to support the women who work as prostitutes. Prostitutes have always been isolated from other women and receive less protection in law with regard to rape, murder and custody of their children. Even if soliciting was decriminalised, prostitution would never be like any other service job. The idea of a person lending their body sexually whether paid or unpaid, is inhumanely alienating and degrading and must be intolerable in any society. 

We disagree with the English Collective of Prostitutes in that they accept male sexuality and the male demand for prostitution and pornography as given and immutable. As a trades union they are doing a great job for the women who work in the sex industry. Of course, as a trade union under capitalism they cannot operate as socialists who want radical and revolutionary changes in the class structure. Furthermore, the ECP is closely allied to the “Wages for Housework Campaign” with which we also strongly disagree because we believe in breaking down the notion that sexual and domestic servicing is part of women’s work. We believe that both should be mutually shared and in the case of the former we would demand the greatest orgasmic potential be realised as the ultimate aim of human sexuality!


 BATTERSEA LABOUR PARTY did not like the tone of these notices from WOMEN’ S SECTION. One of our members was sexually assaulted whilst attending a party at 177 Lavender Hill  our Headquarters resulting in a court case. The next notice from WOMEN’S SECTION referred to it and how the issue of violence to women was so close to home.  They didn’t like the implication and they disbanded us! 

This issue of pornography, the increase in pornification and sexualisation of girls and women, page three, massage parlours, pole dancing, lap dancing etc and the demand for legalising brothels continues. There are occasional outcries about the sexualisation of baby and girls clothes and accessories and the porn aesthetic in advertising and there are new women’s groups beginning the fightback as well as men’s groups like the White Ribbon campaign. It is a long struggle as women are the first subject class as patriarchy came before any other class divisions.

 Because of the generalised pornification in our society girls and boys, women and women are inured to this. The recent series on young people and their exposure to pornographic images of idealised bodies revealed the pressurise felt by women to aspire to those and to provide such sexual servicing to boys and men.

 When I was a youth worker in the eighties I was horrified by the revulsion expressed by boys to women’s genitalia and of them sexually serving a girl. Their expectations were quick intercourse and blow jobs for them with no regard for the girl’s enjoyment. Sex education that emphasises condoms and safe sex only confirms the notion of sex being defined as penile penetration. Of course, I believe that real sex education does not belong in schools but should be facilitated by specialists and peers in a non-school setting. While sex education is part of PSHE in schools the BHA and others are pushing this agenda of sex as penetration in need of condoms to prevent pregnancy, venereal disease and aids.

 There is still a dangerous liberal agenda for legalisation of prostitution. This is a discussion that always needs to be on any agenda for equality but it isn’t. The struggle goes on. Since I wrote that piece in 1983 things have only got worse. We need the younger generation to take on this campaign as us oldies are tired.

Prostitution is wrong because it is based on women with low self esteem who allow men to use them for sexual activity for payment. It is a degrading practice and is a consequence of the unequal power relationship between men and women. This inequality is social, political and economic.  Prostitutes are NOT highly regarded in any society. Women who turn to prostitution are generally unskilled, with low self respect, some are coerced, some have been trafficked, many are drug addicted and isolated from the rest of society. This is, despite the notion peddled by films like’ Pretty Woman’ and  TV shows like ‘Belle de Jour’ , that there are happy hookers and well educated high class whores who love their work. It is just more male fantasy.

 The men who use prostitutes have the money to pay for their services. It is essentially an unequal power  relationship. This is what men are buying. The men who use prostitutes are also inadequate human beings although society does not always regard them in that way. They are all misogynists. Men use prostitutes for different reasons. It may be that they are unattractive and unable to relate properly with women. They may have a fear of women or a loathing of women regardless of whether they are married or in a relationship or have never had a normal sexual relationship with a girl or woman. They usually have a fear of intimacy. Men use prostitues after a night out with mates and it is then like a bonding ritual. Drugs and alcohol are most likely to have been a precursor. Most prostitution is in a sleazy setting with street prostitutes or in a ‘red light’ area where  such services are advertised  even in public telephone boxes.  Shipping docks have been an area for prostitution activity for centuries and it is from this that the notion of a scarf to be worn by ‘respectable’ women to indicate that they are not available as prostitutes. This is, of course, the origin of the practice of Muslim women covering their heads – a clear example of a gender cultural habit enforced by male sexuality! 

The women act as semen depositors by penetration which is preferred by some men or through semen release by hand or orally. It carries the risk of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV.  Some users of prostitues who want penetrative sex would prefer not to use a condom though some will be very fastidious. Famously, the intimate sexual activity of lovers- kissing- is not on the agenda of prostitution services!

The very nature of prostitution blatantly shows the  inequality between women and men and a manifestation of rampant male sexuality.  It is a degradation of humanity, it degrades all women and it degrades men. Yet in all societies, rich , poor, Christian, Muslim, Hindu etc. throughout history there has been prostitution whereby some women from the lower end of society are sacrficed because of male sexual demand. This is the sewer theory of prostitution as laid out by the likes of St Augustine and continues to this day as the call for legalised prostitution, brothels, lap dancing clubs, strip joints, massage parlours etc. goes unabated. 

We need men and women to shirk off their queasiness about speaking out against the degradation caused by  the very existence of a sex industry and the insidious pornification of western culture from page three models to the porn aesthetic of stiletto shoes and the acceptance of porn use as normal for boys and men. We – all of us- need to stop feeling that we are prudish or illiberal Mary Whitehouses when we speak out. Say it like it is. The sex industry is A FUCKING DISGRACE.

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