Category Archives: Gareth’s blog

Time for a principled cover-up?

make-modesty-wraps-lawMike Beecham is a reluctant campaigner. He’s just got fed up with visiting his local Co-op store and seeing  the sexualised front covers of magazines like Nuts, Zoo and Loaded in the faces of those who never requested their presence, especially impressionable children. His request is a simple one- Why can’t such magazines have a ‘modesty wrap’ (i.e. opaque sleeve) around the image on the front cover? This would lead to the casual passer-by not being exposed to pictures designed for titillation. Let’s be clear- this isn’t about banning anything, it’s about the freedom of the public to go about their supermarket shopping without being affected by airbrushed ‘babes’. Those who wish to purchase these magazines would be able to do so in the normal way. He’s tried the approach of a personal complaint with no effect. So now, reinvigorated with the challenge of Christian Vision for Men, he’s giving this campaign one almighty shove in the public sphere. If you care about how women are depicted in the media you might find this cause is for you. If you are concerned about the stereotypes affecting our children you might say now is the time to draw a line. If you believe in freedom of choice you can surely agree that this small but significant change is a step forward. And if you are concerned that the major supermarkets are more concerned about profit than common decency you will find this modest campaign compelling.

As a former editor of FHM said recently (talking of these publications):

‘I think it’s just reached a point where it’s readily accessible porn…’

So let’s treat it as porn and obscure it from the view of most supermarket shoppers.

Will you join in?

Sign the e-petition here.

Follow @modestywraps on Twitter for all the latest news on the campaign


Inspiring lessons from the NEXT campaign

‘I’m phoning you to ask for your help.’

The distressed Next customer called into the CARE offices on Friday afternoon about a T-shirt that depicted a woman in underwear in a provocative position under the heading ‘SINNERS’ with a definition of sin below including a Bible verse (Romans 7:1) from The Message version. ‘Is there anything you can do?’ she asked. Having explained that she had already registered a complaint directly with the company to no avail, she was looking for a bigger network with a campaigning voice. So I quickly put together a basic blog post focusing on the objectifying message about women and how using the Bible to encourage this was deeply offensive. Being more naturally at home on Twitter I began publicising the campaign there and was encouraged about how many others soon became involved. Particularly mention at this point goes to @sarasaith for her blog post that drew attention to Next’s Code of Practice and how this item contravened it at least two key points. As momentum gathered, individuals started messaging @nextofficial directly with their questions requiring individual responses. Then I realised that Facebook was the place for much of their customer service work and so posed a question for them there:

Friday at 15:14: Why are you marketing ‘Graphic T-Shirts’ with misogynistic poses of women in underwear and promoting such images using The Bible?

This brought in a few commenters, various likes and a response from Next that they were looking in to it. It all served to spread the message wider (bear in mind that Facebook users hugely outnumber Twitter users). Meanwhile the pressure was beginning to tell as a number of Twitter users with large followings encouraged others to join in (thanks to Evangelical Alliance, Vicky Beeching, The Vicar’s Wife and God & Politics UK amongst others). One interesting tweet was sent by @1SteveWade who asked whether the Conservative peer (and Chief Executive of Next), Simon Wolfson, was happy to sell this product. With such ‘noise’ created, a turning point was reached. I was contacted by a journalist at the Daily Mail who was interested in featuring the story. He had been following the online campaign and decided the story was worth following up – so after taking quotes (from others involved as well) he told me he was going to contact the Next PR department. What happened afterwards, I couldn’t quite believe. The journalist called back to say ‘Well done – they’re withdrawing it with immediate effect’. I was so stunned I asked him to say it again but sure enough the Next statements started to come out:

From Next’s Facebook page: “Dear all, thank you for your comments. We take all feedback very seriously. On reflection we agree it was a mistake for us to sell these garments and we are therefore removing them from sale.”

The journalist wasn’t sure his story would make it into the newspaper but later that evening the online story was posted followed by the print edition on Saturday. Next responded to individual complainants to break the happy news and various blogs (@echurchblog, The Vicar’s Wife) gave a brief summary. But this is a story that began with one distressed person and a cry for help.


A few lessons to draw:

  1. One person can make a difference- if the phone hadn’t been picked up it would have been a quiet Friday afternoon.
  2. Our Christian community and networks are well integrated and can be leveraged for very good purposes.
  3. We don’t have to share exactly the same concerns- some may have been more concerned about the image, others by invoking the Bible.
  4. We should use the media channels wisely- recognising that where the audience is greatest so the impact will be greatest (e.g. Facebook, national newspapers).
  5. Acting courteously is a non-negotiable- we may be distressed by something, but we should engage thoughtfully & applaud good decisions when they are made.
  6. We should help promote each other’s good work – this a team game and without wide participation we will be consigned to be ignored in a quiet corner.

If you have any other observations, do let me know in the comments section.

Thanks to God, thanks to friends & collaborators and thanks to Next for listening well and acting quickly.

A little more conversation…

Someone recently suggested that Christians talk too much about pornography (and that this is unhealthy). It’s certainly true that on Twitter there are a number of different individuals discussing this subject right now. There are dangers and I’ll name two: Firstly, that Christians are only seen as being interested in the socially conservative sins rather than the wider agenda (e.g. UK child poverty and overseas development aid). This is a perception of long-standing that will not change overnight, but I don’t believe that a solution is to keep quiet about something as damaging as pornography. It destroys lives and is therefore a matter of social justice. Yes, we need to advocate on other issues too – and thankfully the Christian community is much more comprehensive in its range of interests (e.g. personal debt, FairTrade, climate change). Secondly, that by talking about it we provoke further curiosity, thus leading others to fall into the trap. If I’ve written something that has been unhelpful then I want to hear about it,but my conviction is that we don’t talk about it enough.

In the last year or so a number of bloggers and organisations have taken up this issue with persistence in a way that might just indicate God’s guiding hand orchestrating a truth-telling and grace-filled response. It is better to bring troubling issues out into the light than to leave them festering in the darkness where the isolated individual has nowhere to turn. We were created as relational beings and our willingness to offer support is testimony to our God-given humanity. I recently talked to a church leader about this issue and he said ‘Oh – I thought pornography was looking at naked women’. Well, yes it is, but there is a staggering lack of understanding of what the 53% of Christian men viewing the stuff are looking at if that’s all you think it is. Clearly, we are not talking about it enough in our churches where the majority of pastoral support takes place. There is definitely a place for men’s groups to talk about it and for youth workers to address it with their teenagers. But this is not an issue that can be consigned to specialist silos. It needs to be addressed in plenary gatherings (albeit sensitively & appropriately), so that everyone knows that the issue is taken seriously and that help is readily at hand. And if we are worrying that some in our congregations might be shocked and outraged then I have a solution: Preach and model the gospel of grace. Because shock and outrage belong to the non-gospel of self-righteousness.

If you would like more help with this issue, click here.

Porn in school: a necessary subject?

Reading Gail Dines’ ‘Pornland’ makes me feel quite ill in places. In my quest to find out more about the porn industry, I’ve been keen to avoid seeing any images (that would simply perpetuate the abuse), but rather read descriptions in order to redeem this knowledge for good purposes. And it’s tough stuff. Whether you focus on the physical effects (e.g. anal reparative surgery) or the mental consequences (e.g. self-destructive behaviour), it really is tortuous and bleak.

On a wider level, it is heart-breaking to read about how young women’s body confidence is being dismantled – in some cases destroyed – by the ruinous expectations set up by the porn industry. So many feel the need to look like porn stars, with the endless waxing involved, otherwise they risk rejection by potential partners. (Pornland, Dines p99ff) Reading the disgust with which some have been greeted for not waxing sufficiently demonstrates the totalitarianism of the porn industry – ‘it’s our way or social exclusion’. And the mainstream ‘women’s’ magazines who peddle the same line in more acceptable ways simply add fuel to this fire. This is, of course, before we get into the details of what might be demanded in the bedroom. I recently heard of a case where a marriage broke up within a couple of years because the husband’s previous porn consumption had led to demands that could not (and should not) be fulfilled by his wife. I’m sure this is a widespread issue leading to misery, separation and possibly violence.

So here’s a suggestion I open up for discussion: is there a place for education about pornography, its values and its effects, in Relationships and Sex Education in Schools? Could it be taught in age-appropriate ways through the age range Year 6 to Year 11 in a way that builds self-esteem for both sexes? And could parents be sent a summary of the presentations to provoke family conversations?

Your thoughts are most welcome…

Is our silence on pornography fuelling Islamic fundamentalism?

This post is slightly tangential and I certainly had no idea I’d be posting on this subject when the series first began. But having spent some time considering what is going on at a more international level, I stumbled across a couple of interesting news reports from the recent archives. Firstly, in 2008 there were a series of threats to a French TV station concerning their regular broadcasts of pornography into North Africa. The originator of the threats self-identified as a Muslim and threatened to blow-up the headquarters of Canal+. I can find no record of this being carried out. Secondly, after the US Navy Seals killed Osama Bin Laden it was widely reported that he had a sizeable catalogue of porn videos. As ‘A Tale of Two Cultures‘ has correctly identified his entrapment in this seedy, degrading world may well have acted as a compelling motive to oppose the values of the West or the Christian nations as he would have seen it. And this led me to thinking- is our silence on this issue actually fuelling Islamic fundamentalism? It is difficult for us in the UK & US to come to terms with the fact that for the vast majority in Islamic nations we are seen as Christian countries. Our Christian witness is damaged whenever we remain silent about, tolerate or promote anything that assaults our common human dignity. Whether our governments act is something we cannot be held responsible for but (whether through fear, wearied fatalism or lack of care) our silence is. It is not for me to comment further on the Islamic approach to sexual expression. But it is enough to know that pornography is considered a subversive medium & a threat to society that gives us common cause. Maybe if we were more vocal and developed more strategic campaigns on this issue we might discover new allies, make new friends and act as peacemakers. It’s an optimistic vision- a dream if you like- but nothing was ever achieved without a vision. If you doubt the admittedly swift trajectory of this argument, have a look at one of the commenters on the report of the Canal+ threats:

‘as long as there are christians to defend pornography france is safe’


If we knew, would we view?

I’ve started to read through a few papers on the effects of pornography. As you might suspect all is not as glamorous and happy as the porn producers would like us to believe. For now, though, I want to consider those enticed into the porn industry and pose a simple question:

‘One study reports that at least 70% of adults involved in the sex industry were sexually abused as children while a review of the literature on prostitution concludes that 60-90% of prostituted women (including those in pornography) were sexually abused children.’

Dr Karen Boyle, citing Doreen Leidholt “Prostitution: A Form of Slavery” in Making the Harm Visible: Global Sexual Exploitation of Women and Girls, (eds. D. Hughes & C. Roche, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, 1999) and Melissa Farley “Prostitution and the Invisibility of Harm”, Women and Therapy 26 (3-4), pp.247-80, 2003

My guess is that when viewing pornography not a moment’s thought goes into the backgrounds of women pretending to be enjoying themselves. It suits the process of stimulation & ecstasy not to ask any awkward questions. The acceptance of what is viewed at face value is also a worrying consequence of the pornification of our culture. If porn stars can be photographed cheerfully with world celebrities, then surely it’s a dignified profession? The effects of performing in the porn industry will be looked at subsequently, but for now the fact that the majority of entrants are victims of child sexual abuse should be considered in its own right. Let’s get the information out there so that everyone will be in no doubt: viewing porn creates an unsafe haven for the vulnerable. But if we knew, would we view?

Why sexualisation can be an unhelpful term

There is a difficulty with the language we sometimes use. Often we talk about the sexualisation of society and particularly the sexualisation of childhood. This is a wide-ranging term that includes fully-clothed adults kissing, for example. However, in this description we regularly conflate it with exposure to pornography as if that is merely a subset of sexualisation. Whilst I have objections to certain aspects of sexualisation in, say, advertising, I agree with researcher Meagan Tyler that subsuming pornography into sexualisation leads to an unhealthy association between sex and pornography. Pornography uses sexual stimulus, yes, but it is a woefully distorted depiction of sex that has no emotional intimacy. Because of this one-way voyeuristic practice it objectifies women and corrodes the self-esteem of us all. In short – it is counterfeit goods.

Many of us would say that regarding sex as a taboo subject has damaged our ability to educate and encourage best practice in Relationships and Sex Education. The porn industry has therefore felt vindicated in celebrating the wide acceptance of its product as a major contribution to get us talking about sex. Would a wider acceptance of armed robbery help us to better understand the craft of Olympic pistol shooting? No – because its values are demonstrably different. So it is with porn. It is not about sex – it is about money, power and abuse. So ‘pornographication’ (seemingly the preferred academic term) or the short-hand ‘pornification’ is a much more helpful way to describe the mainstreaming of this practice. For the sake of the abused, the entrapped and those whose self-image is twisted by this corrosive practice, we need to get our terminology right – our culture has been pornified and it is time we challenged the impostor.


Is the availability of porn leading to more child abuse?

After attending the recent Westminster seminar on ‘The effects of pornography’ hosted by Premier Christian Media, I came away with many thoughts, many questions and a copy of the Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection. The submissions from a wide range of sources are illuminating and concerning. Here are a couple of quotes:

‘One of the developments though over the last four or five years is responding to adult males involved in accessing child pornography and what has been intriguing in engaging with that population… is the significant proportion- this is not excusing their behaviour for one second- who progress from viewing online mainstream adult pornography to viewing child pornography… We have now had to develop [programmes to help offenders] to younger people because there are younger people engaging in similar material.’ Donald Findlater, The Lucy Faithfull Foundation.

‘children don’t really have a natural sexual capacity for [processing sexual exposure appropriately] at about 10 or 11 [year old] and what porn does is that it short circuits the normal personality development process and provides misinformation about sexual gravity and can be very disturbing for them and also their sense of self and their sense of body… they introduce children to sexual sensations that they aren’t mentally ready for’ Lucie Russell, Young Minds

Placing this in parallel with the work of Dr. William Struthers on the re-wiring of the adolescent brain by pornographic exposure it paints a potentially catastrophic picture. If a nearly-adolescent has such a distorted view of themselves as a sexual being what chance is there that they would be able to make the distinction between pre-pubescent and adult pornography? Could exposure to ‘adult’ pornography at this crucial point of development lead to an increased likelihood of interest in child pornography? If so, it blows apart the concept of harmless fun often portrayed by the porn industry. And strengthens the resolve that begins with the Online Safety Bill currently in parliament. More research is clearly required. But one thing’s for sure – this is a most urgent task.

Liberalism has betrayed the porn generation

We know it’s there but how has it become so embedded in our society? The porn industry has successfully manipulated its way into mainstream society without large scale opposition. There have been notable exceptions (Whitehouse, Longford, Dworkin, Dines) but in the main we have wilfully turned a blind eye to the prevalence of porn. Perhaps, even more shockingly, liberalism has become the bastion for the freedom of the porn industry to purvey its trade virtually unrestricted in the western world. Well let’s have a further look at this. Here is one definition of liberalism:

[Liberalism is the] concept that the preservation of individual liberty and maximization of freedom of choice should be the primary aim of a representative government. It stresses that all individuals stand equal before law (without class privileges) and have only a voluntary contractual relationship with the government. It defends freedom of speech and press, freedom of artistic and intellectual expression, freedom of worship, private property, and use of state resources for the welfare of the individual.

The freedom of the individual is paramount based on the premise of natural goodness. Whilst we all have capacity for great goodness this is far from the full story. Interaction with porn will show anyone with eyes open the twisted nature of much human thinking and many human relationships. The boundary of individual freedoms is the welfare of others. This is where liberalism asks itself the most challenging question- Is it better to restrict the right of the individual for the benefit of others? In the case of porn this question has been lamentably ignored. As the evidence of the harm of porn has gathered the governing elite have been silent. Shame on them.

I am aware of porn designed for females and gay porn but what follows is solely focussed on (the vast majority of) porn designed to appeal to heterosexual men.

Consider this:

‘As men fall deeper into the mental habit of fixating on these images, the exposure to them creates neural pathways. Like a path is created in the woods with each successive hiker, so do the neural paths set a course for the next time an erotic image is viewed. Over time these neural paths become wider as they are repeatedly travelled with each exposure to pornography. They become the automatic pathway through which interactions with women are routed…With each lingering stare, pornography deepens a Grand Canyon-like gorge in the brain through which images of women are destined to flow…All women become potential porn stars in the minds of these men’

Dr William Struthers, Wired For Intimacy, p8
It is utterly outrageous that Liberalism that has done so much to champion the equality and dignity of women should be in bed with the porn industry. That Larry Flynt is considered a hero for challenging the restrictions of the state in order to peddle pornography is a vile contradiction. You may think I’ve gone a little too far. I always like to ask myself the following question when opposing a particular viewpoint- What are its redeeming features? Well, in this case, there are none. What do they care about- the end user, the porn actors or the children who might discover their material? This is a multi-billion pound industry that is so financially valuable that the authorities dare not intervene. It requires a grassroots movement who will protect children, reject violence against women, will help men trapped on the internet for hours on end and are prepared to be castigated as haters of sex to make our voice heard. It’s because we have such a high regard for sex that we reject pornography- the shortcut to misery. We will campaign to protect our human dignity by refusing the worst excesses of a greedy and amoral business that seeks to destroy sexual pleasure and replace it with sexual degradation and slavery. Supporting the rights of pornographers to make money isn’t ‘progressive’ it is complicity in condemning a generation to misery.

For a more detailed blog on the lies of pornography read @jjmarlow here

For CARE’s resources on this issue click here

The rise and fall of Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg via the Guardianpicture via

A tweet from Tom Harris MP:

The only way Fred Goodwin could be any more unpopular is if his alleged affair had been with Nick Clegg.

It is just over 12 months ago that one man was touring the UK to address crowds of well-wishers, fans and even a few voters in the final stages of the General Election campaign. Buoyed by a strong performance in the leaders’ debates, Nick Clegg appeared to have been elevated to that much envied status of  political pop star. How things have changed. After forming the coalition with the Conservatives, embracing deficit reduction plans and U-turning on tuition fees, he is now the object of opposition scorn where MPs compete to see who can be nastiest to prove their tribal credentials. And even those on the government’s side don’t seem to hold a high opinion:

Mr Clegg was mocked by both Tory and Labour MPs as he gave a statement in the Commons on the proposals, which will now be scrutinised by a committee of 13 peers and 13 MPs, with a report due early next year.  (Discussing the launch of Lord’s reforms- The Daily Telegraph)

He seems to have gone from Palm Sunday adulation to Good Friday mockery in the course of 12 roller coaster months. But this post isn’t about feeling sorry for the Deputy Prime Minister, rather to learn the salutory lesson of human identity. If we base our identity, our value in the opinions of others, then we will be all over the place in our sense of worth. We will think we can change the world one minute, unable to change the sheets the next. We all make mistakes, we all break promises- it’s just that most of us don’t have them beamed up in the full glare of public opinion. Of course, it’s public opinion that got Nick Clegg where he was 12 months ago and if you can’t stand the heat… But our identity is rooted in the image of God implanted in each one of us and that, for all our foolishness, deceit and self-centredness the man who is God was stuck on a tree. This is our worth. This reclaims our identity if we respond to his act of self-sacrifice. It gives us the strength to cope with the fluctuations of praise and criticism, of respect and contempt.We may not have dog mess posted through our letterboxes but we have sharp-tongued exchanges designed to destroy rather than build-up. And it would be wise to know who we are when we face it.