Thursday, 27 March 2008

Democracy in New Labour Date-Rape Shocker 2!

Hold everything: regulatory reform is rearing its stinking head again, just when we thought we'd flushed it forever.

Hats off and trousers down, firstly, to Spyblog for drawing the attentionof the internet to this sneaky little sub-clause of the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill. If it's what it looks like, then we'll once more be forced to shoutout for our basic parliamentary rights. They tried this in 2006 with the tit-itchingly chilling Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, and now they may well be trying again.
The smug, cowardly sons of bitches. Where is their pride? What about the Rule of Law? What about Habeas Corpus? What about Magna Sodding Carta?
Were it not for Godwin's Law it'd be worth mentioning how much the details of moves like this remind me of torturous hours learning the key acts behind 'Hitler's Rise To Power', GCSE Modern History module 3. As it is, it should merely be noted that this is a demmed sly trick and the Lords will never stand for it.

Much as the whole notion of an unelected Upper House makes my little pink socialist soul shudder, I find myself not unimpressed by the Lords in recent years. They have solidly opposed the most frightening and restrictive of neocon draft legislation, and there's more than half a chance that they'll continue to do so. No, we didn't vote for them; but most of us didn't vote New Labour, either, and unlike Brown and his cabinet, if you were to snap the Lords in half you'd probably find 'Habeas Corpus' written there like a stick of Brighton Rock. It's not much. But it's something.

Let's get right back and remind ourselves, though, what happened last time.
The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, 2006, was an outright attack on Parliamentary political sovereignty and the rule of law. Had it made it through parliament, it would have allowed the government to chip away at our consitutional and human rights with substantially more impunity than it's had for the past 10 years as our legal and political liberties have leaked through the cracks in New Labour rhetoric. The main reason it didn't pass? Us. Which means you, me and everyone else even peripheral to the British Left online and their supporters - reading blogs and news forums, keeping tabs on parliament, speaking out and spreading the word when it all goes wrong. It started quietly, like now, with some noble anonymous soul reading through the Bill drafts online, noticing the small print, and deciding that we could not let this happen. All they had to do was spread it. Within hours, the news had made it to the big news sites and then to the national papers, by which time the game was up.

This is the power of viral democracy. We were not told about this Bill. We were not asked if we wanted it. It was up to us to find it and spread the dissent before it was too late, and fuck me, we did it. And we'll do it again. Put the word on your blog, on your journal, on your myspace; put it on facebook, email it to your political constants, spread the word and whatever they try to pull on us, we can come back at them with equal voice, more numerous and informed than they counted on in their most sweat-sticky populist nightmares.* We have the technology and the grit and we're big enough and ugly enough to take you on.

So, boys: now we've walked in on you wanking in the dark over this foul little bill, what're you going to do about it? Will you scramble to bin the evidence, flush-faced and gangway-trousered, stuffing your shrivelling egos back into your pants, or will you carry on regardless - tossing off a great sneering fuck-you-bitch to democracy and equity, coming like gleeful teenage boys into the realisation of your own anodine desires? How the hell did we put you in charge?

You were elected to serve us. You were elected by the people, for the people, and the people trusted you to uphold whatever ideals of social and political justice we have left. Instead you drug us up with rhetoric and toys and fuck us unconsensually in some cheap little sub-clause out by the M5. Fuck you right back, Minister: we will not stand for this.

*No, seriously: spread this, please, it's bloody important.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Barely Legal...

A victory this week for the Safety First Coalition, as legislation attempting to further criminalise prostitutes was thrown out, once more, by the House of Lords. The legislation, which would have involved forced rehabilitation or prison for repeat offenders and greater powers given to the police to arrest and incarcerate hookers, has been officially axed from the extremely dubious Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. (Keep your eye on this one).

Call me sally-state-the-obvious, but when a person is in the sort of situation where prostitution starts looking like a viable career option, the fact that it might be illegal is probably going to be the least of their worries. Right, I'm going to take a job which is widely seen as degrading, unstable, hugely dangerous, exposes me daily to disease and isolates me from my friends and family - no, but wait! I might get a criminal record!

The functional illegality of prostitution in the UK serves only one purpose: to better allow the police and others to bully and pick on the most vulnerable members of society - mostly young, mostly women, almost exclusively poor and desperate, often chemically addicted and forcibly on the wrong side of a sexually conformist-heteronormative privilege divide.

Angela Millen, a London barrister, told me yesterday about Shani*, from London, who has 379 convictions for soliciting, and who has been served with an ASBO preventing her from entering the London Borough of Lambeth - where her whole family, including an ailing mother, reside. As a result the 37-year old, who is now familiar to the police and an easy target, spends half of her time in Holloway women's prison, and the rest of the time working the streets illegally in order to feed herself outside of custody. There is no conceivable way in which current government legislation is helping women like her.

Let me make one thing absolutely and incontrovertibly clear: we are not talking about Belle de Jour. Belle de Jour, if she exists (and I'm a believer), is a sexually self-possessed and self-determining woman with a lot of support in the career she has chosen. She has a financial, emotional, commercial and personal buffer which makes it both safe and profitable for her to continue with prostitution (and prostitution blogging) as a career. She happens, however, to be the exception to the rule that the patriarchal fantasy of the happy hooker is fallacious (a phallacy...oh, they're rolling in the aisles).

I have written before on the media circus around Belle De Jour. She and those who support her most vociferously are absolutely right in stating that prostitution is a career choice, and, in some rare circumstances, only that. The fact that Belle has built an extremely successful writing career around prostitution no doubt affects how much she enjoys her work, but the fact stands that prostitution - when it does not involve personal, social, financial and physical subordination on every level, as it normally does- is not in itself a degrading career choice. For the vast majority of young men and women entering the profession, however, that level of choice is simply not on the cards.

Is the job degrading for most prostitutes? Yes, but not for the reasons you might think. We live in a society simultaneously in denial about our massive commodification of sex and obsessed with women's sexuality as a moral code. The selling of sex is degrading because it is taboo and quasi-criminalised, and it is taboo and quasi-criminalised because women actively selling sex rubs our faces in one of the salient facts of patriarchal capitalist societies: that sexuality, particularly of women and vulnerable men, is on display for the highest bidder.

The whore is not culpable for her (usually) reduced social and financial circumstances: society is, and the whore is criminalised to allay our own self-disgust . It is not the hooker who is reprehensible, but her clients, which is why each time a noted politician - such as New York governor and celebrated anti-sleaze campaigner, Eliot Spitzer - is discovered paying substantial sums for the services of prostitutes, it continues to cause a scandal. It is the hypocrisy that disgusts us: however much we don't want prostitution on our doorsteps, we are even loather to imagine leading patriarchal and authoritarian figures engaging intimately with an industry whose gross lack of regulation has turned it into a cipher for the violent mosogyny at the heart of capitalist patriarchy. I can only wish the aspiring musician who provided Spitzer with her personal services the best of all possible luck in her future career.

So what's the state of play now for Britain's sex workers? Well, the most the IUSW and Safety First knew they could hope for at this stage was maintainance of the status quo, which they've worked tirelessly for and duly achieved. So, although forced rehabilitation and measures leading to the jailing of more than the current 3,500 prostitutes a year are being thrown out, soliciting and brothel-keeping are still very much illegal, as is kerb-crawling, making advertising sex for sale even more dangerous. 'Living on the earnings of prostitution', however, has not been illegal since 1956, meaning that prostitution is legal as long as you don't do it safely or in public.

Semi-criminalisation of this kind has become the default response of the British authorities to distastefully longstanding social problems. Making an activity such as prostitution effectively illegal - but just illegal enough that it remains unregulated, uncontrolled, unprotected and, most importantly, unofficial - means the authorities can be seen not to endorse social injustice without actually having to deal with an endemic social tragedy in any meaningful way.

Exactly the same logic applies to underage drinking and to marijuana legislation (weed is a class C drug, so, again, functionally legal but unregulated, meaning that the under-16 market is flooded with free skunk). Britain does not want to think of itself as a nation whose under-40 yr old population relies on downer drugs like hash and skunk to help it cope with day-to-day living - but it is. Britain does not want to see itself as a nation whose children are blasted and wayward because it's some of the most damn fun they can have - but it is. Britain does not want to think of itself as a nation where hundreds of thousands of vulnerable woman are exploited and abused every day, where the bottom line of women's value is still their sexuality - but it is.

I say Britain because semi-criminalisation is a particularly British political phenomenon. Where countries like the USA simply cart off whores, stoners and teenage drinkers for lengthy jail sentences, we stamp a 'could do better' sticker on the problem and leave the police and media snootiness to bully it into invisibility. We sneer at the hyperconservatism of some US states whilst committing a gross sin of ommission: neglect by studiedly ignoring - or, worse, accepting - the problem.

If the British Government really wanted to do something about prostitution, there's one blindingly obvious step that they could take and aren't: ensure that poor and desperate women have other viable choices. Provide a genuine living minimum wage which
allows the poorest members of society a decent, legally-obtainable standard of living. This is the bottom line for anti-prostitution campaigners both within and outside Westminster. John McDonnel MP supported this pro-worker sentiment, declaring to the Safety First Coalition last week, "I welcome the government's announcement and hope that it signals a future approach towards prostitution underlined by welfare measures rather than criminalisation, putting the needs and safety of sex workers above the desire for moral condemnation."

All of this talk has made me terrifically moopy, so I'm off to spend the remainder of the money I made at my last terrible retail job on crack and jelly babies. Expect more updates on less legitimate prostitution legislation as the situation progresses.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

55th Carnival of Feminists

Ladies, gentlemen, girls, boys and anyone else out there in the meatspace: welcome to the 55th carnival of feminists! I'm immensely honoured to have been asked to do this, and would like once more to extend my admiration to Natalie Bennett at Philobiblon for starting and maintaining the event. Virtual kowtowing out the way, let's get down and reasonably dirty with the global hyper-sisterhood.

As luck would have it, this edition of the Carnival straddles both International Women's Day and Women's History Month in the USA. As feminists, we are as diverse in our personal politics as the kitchen at a socialist's birthday party at one in the morning, when the conscience-lesbians are clustered in the corner with the hidden vodka, the marxists have occupied the table with all the crisps, and someone's anarchist girlfriend has nabbed the damn bottle opener again. There is no single politics of feminism; accordingly, responses to IWD and WHM have varied dramatically across the blogsphere, and our political diversity and ingenuity is something to celebrate in itself.

International Women's Day
Saturday saw worldwide celebrations and protests taking off to mark this Soviet-originated festival, along with some heartfelt writing. UK feminists were on the move, with the Million Women Rise event attracting thousands of supporters despite the biting rain; again, the demands of the march were as varied as the groups who attended, but the most comprehensive and well-expressed summary of its aims comes from the Feminist Fightback website. The F Word has the best round-up of the march itself, with some great photos that really capture the atmosphere of freezing optimism. Personal responses to International Women's Day were a theme, with posts at menstrual poetry and here at Pennyred; A good round up of world responses can be found at feministing, and stroppyblog has a nice strident reminder of reasons to be grateful for a century and a half of back-breaking work by feminists across the world. It did make me start humming this song from Mary Poppins, but I'm not sure that's altogether a bad thing.

Unfortunately, the spread of feminist ideas across International Women's day has led to a small number of unwelcome clashes. Hats off to Blacklooks for alerting us to the exclusion of sex workers and their supporters from the Million Women Rise event in London. The unilateral last-minute exclusion of Terisa Mackay of the Solidarity 1st Coalition to Decriminalise Prostitution from the speakers' stage is particularly shocking in the context of a day which was meant to be all about solidarity.

Feminism is a leftfield philosophy, and as such will always benefit from individual groups' ability to define and discriminate on the basis of nuance. This also means that we will never all agree on precisely what is and is not an acceptable stance within feminism. It's in this spirit of promoting diverse and challenging forms of feminism that Uncool Blog speaks up in defence of the 'sex-positive' tone of the 53rd Carnival of Feminists; and yes, a certain amount of meta-Carnivalling keeps us on our toes from time to time. Feminist erotic writer SelenaKittyn has a great post on nuances of feminism within pornography and radical objections to the sex industry, just squeezing in under the deadline. All of us, from hard-line Radfems to pro-sex-work Socialist Feminist activists, must recognise that our diversity is part of our strength, and that we will get nowhere fast by pitting ourselves against one another whilst consumer-capitalist patriarchy giggles anthropomorphically on the sidelines.

Diversity was the theme at Women'sspace, which hosted its own Carnival for US Women's History Month drawing together a wide variety of analytical feminist voices. One of the best posts from the event is up now at WhatTamiSaid, negotiating the preconceptions of different generations of potential feminists across North America.

Gender inclusivity is another issue which continues to divide the feminist left; the notion that men are also worked over by endemic sexism, misogyny and strict gender binaries and should be allowed, indeed encouraged, to take up their place in the feminist movement, is a contentious one at the best of times, but particularly on International Women's Day (the clue is in the name). Despite this, TehPortlyDyke at Shakespeare's Sister posted a brave and engaging piece on robbing the hearts of men on the 8th; the 189 comments (and counting) are worth a read all by themselves, as is the follow-up post on the 10th. Elsewhere, MissAvarice has a fantastic post on the semiotics of 'femme', picking apart tired gender binaries and looking at gender identity as a 'matter of intent'. Jo Christie-Smith looks at men's role in preventing violence against women, whilst at Pennyred I had a little splurge about intra-feminist misandry and the immense scope for positive change.

The under-reported issue of feminism and mental health is a field upon which we can lay down our weapons and put our talented and attractive heads together for some reasoned and only moderately bloody patriarchy-dissection. It's great to see Crazy Like Us up and running; let's hope the site goes far.

Finally, to remind us all why we're here, hats off to menstrual poetry and TheFWord for drawing attention to this piece of clit-itchingly irritating misogynist marketing filth. And the prize for least progressive clip of the month goes to: The G4 channel. All together now: 'I'm cheap and fun! In fact, I'm just peppy!'

And by the way, my vibrating features HAVE been disabled. Until next time, in solidarity,


Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Misandry and Hypocrisy: transcript of speech for International Women's Day.

This is a transcript of a speech I gave at Sussex University on the 6th March, 2008, to tie in with International Women's Day. You're getting it in its unadulterated form, as halfway through a rather frightening beetle ran across my notes, putting me off my stride somewhat. Ever the professional, confident, non-table-standing-and-screaming young feminista, that's me.

I have an outrageous confession to make: I like men. In fact, some of my best friends are men. You may scoff, but I know several men who’ve worked hard right through school and university to better themselves, who are holding down steady jobs and making decent, honest contributions to society; I know men who are not violent thugs, or who seem at any rate to have the violent, thuggish impulses innate to their base, primitive natures. At any rate, they seem to be here to stay, much as we may wish to declare open session on the entire species.By now you’ll have seen where I’m heading with all of this. 21st-century feminism must rid itself of the ugly notion that men are born criminals.

Now, I would call myself a radical feminist, where radical implies getting to the root of the problem, picking through historical trends and working towards deep, systemic change to end gender oppression once and for all. But for years my feminism has run up against a stumbling block: I don’t believe that men are the root of our problem. I believe that patriarchal capitalism is the root of the problem, and I believe that men, individually and collectively, are an easy target, because they are the ones who nominally win out from the patriarchal capitalist gender equation. I say nominally, because men too suffer from being immersed from birth in a culture of male violence and thuggishness. Men, too, are conditioned to behave in any number of strict, gender-coded, heteronormative ways and punished or attacked if they deviate from that norm. I would lay money that most of you have a male friend who has been mugged or beaten up in the street, or knows a male who’s been a victim of ‘gay-bashing’.

Now, this march coming up at the weekend [London’s Million Women Rise march, 08/03/08] has a fantastic message. The vision of a future for women free of violence. Strength in unity. Brilliant. But why should men be excluded from that gentler future? Ending a culture that condones violence against women should not mean that we march around yelling ‘men off the streets!’ reinforcing every narrow-minded stereotype that’s ever been thrown at the feminist movement. Nor should it mean that we deny the many men that do support our cause the right to march alongside us. Martin Luther King thanked the white people who marched and were imprisoned in support of their black brothers and sisters; we should have the grace, the maturity and the strength of vision to welcome men to our cause in the same way.

Misandrist feminism, feminism that is pro-woman but anti-men, is massively out of date. The feminism of the 1960s and 1970s was a political movement which was vital for its time but which is proving dated, anodyne and inappropriate 40 years on. In fact, Sixties and Seventies ‘second wave’ feminism, having won the most important of its battles years ago, retains only the most questionable and paranoid of its objectives: fostering an anti-men sentiment amongst middle-class women, objecting to genuine gender subversion, and shoring up the remnants of a model of elitist ‘sisterhood’ to which no men and few women are invited. A violently anti-male sentiment was incredibly useful as a pincer in the initial pro-woman assault, but as a long-term political strategy it is worse than irrelevant; it actively damages the ideals of gender equality, tolerance and freedom from violence that we have fought so hard to uphold.

The rigid, unforgiving approach to gender espoused by old-fashioned feminism all too often involves serious prejudice against queer and transpeople. Modern gender fascists such as Julie Bindel take issue with the transvestite, transsexual, transgendered, intersex, androgynous and ambi-gendered, because their very existence flies in the face of the tired binary by which misandrist feminists have defined themselves. This is the binary whereby all men are genetically predisposed oppressors, and all women fundamentally social underdogs, justified to select any and all male people for their kicking sticks. Anything that goes against that paradigm of two genders, one downtrodden and righteous, one violent and evil, sticks in the throat of conservatism.

Marching down the Tottenham Court Road with my comrades and sisters during the November Reclaim The Night march, I met a shy and pretty transwoman in her early twenties. She carried a tiny, home-made placard held together with sellotape, bearing the legend ‘transpeople against violence’. She explained to me how alienated she felt by the ‘men off the streets’ message of the march, and how she had personally lobbied one of the organising bodies to get Bindel, famed for her intolerance of all those not born female, relegated from her position as keyline speaker. Unfortunately, Julie Bindel is such a ‘big name’ feminist that the authority and celebrity her prescence brought to the rally won out over principle. Quite simply, Bindel was too famous to turn down on the small grounds that this sort of intolerance is no longer relevant or useful to modern feminism.

Men are not the problem. Patriarchal capitalism is the problem. A culture of male-perpetrated violence is part of the problem, but most men are not thugs. Men in the West grow up in a culture that teaches them that masculinity is expected to be violent; some respond by becoming perpetrators of violence, and the rest of them remain, like everyone else, cowed by the threat of violence. Men, like women, are worked over every day by the deeply disturbed gender attitudes of their society. All of us, male, female, straight, gay, bisexual, transsexual, kinky or vanilla, we are worked over every day by the treatment of gender in Western culture. Creating aggressive divisions within this paradigm is hugely counterproductive.

More and more, young feminists are kicking against tradition and embracing men as part of the solution, rather than the problem. Six months ago I gave a talk at the second Feminist Fightback conference. Speaking about feminism, socialism and the future of the left at the end of a long day, it was heartening to see that about a third of the sizeable attendance was male. The enthusiastic friends and boyfriends of female attendees, along with male student representatives from all over the country, had come to show their support. Moreover, I’ve been organising a post-march party to allow friends from outside London to attend Million Women Rise, and I’ve had to let down four or five male friends who wanted to join us, either to support their friends, lovers and sisters or because they wanted themselves to walk, for once, through the streets of the capital at without fear of assault. The country is flooded with men who are sick and tired of being worked over by their gender, of being categorised and criminalised on the basis of their genital arrangement, just like us; and more and more men are proud to call themselves pro-woman. Just look at the success of movements like the White Ribbon campaign, or Men Can Stop Rape. We cannot and should not do this alone.

Having the men and boys of the 21st century on side will make an immeasurable difference to the future of the feminist movement. If we carry on treating men like the enemy, some of them will see no reason to stop behaving like our enemies. Men must see that it is both their right and their duty to involve themselves in feminist discussion, and to fight with us to change the massive gender prejudices that still exist in our society. In turn, we must welcome them into the fold.

Anger, hatred and violence are not appropriate or constructive responses to anger, hatred and violence, not once you're out of training bras. Contemporary feminism needs to welcome as many men as possible into its ranks: to do otherwise is plain hypocrisy.

When I march alongside my comrades on Saturday, I will be marching with pride, and what I will be marching against is the culture of gender-based violence that has evolved from patriarchal capitalism. I will be marching for an end to gender-based and sexual violence against everyone, and I will be marching for solidarity with those brave young men and women of the 21st century with the vision to call themselves gender activists. Over-simplistic, sexist anti-male sentiment has no place in contemporary feminism. It is for this reason that the men and women of the young feminist left must take a stand against the uncompromising bigotry of our forebears, and forge a new feminism for the complexities of our own generation.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

A Million Women Rose! (well, almost.)

A very merry International Women's Day to all. I've just come home from the Million Women Rise march in London, which was massively well-attended - we may not have got the million we were hoping for, but I'd put us at a good couple of thousand yelling, whistling, cheering women of all ages and backgrounds, chanting and singing and doing the sombre British-protest shuffle from Hyde Park to Trafalgar square. I may have forfeited a week's worth of sensation in my right nipple to the freezing march winds, but I'm damn glad to have been there.

A disclaimer: I have not never, ever, gone on feminist protests mainly to check out fit girls. That said, we were all looking pretty damn fabulous with our shiny boots and shinier pamphlets winking in the mid-morning gloom. Of the many feminist groups who turned out, I was particularly struck by the semiotics of the bolshy and boiler-suited feministas - shall definitely be checking out their future activism and may even angle for my own customised jumpsuit. It's a damn good look, although white has never really been my colour.
Although the overarching sentiment of the women-only march was one of protest against male sexual violence, the aims of the many women who marched are best summed up by the following statement drawn up by the indomitable ladies of Feminist Fightback. The statement has received widespread support from almost all of the groups involved in the event, apart from The Judean People's Front FAF. Splitters.

On Thursday, I tore down to Brighton to speak at Sussex University's rally for International Women's day; I spoke about misandry in contemporary feminism and argued that the inarguable place for women-only spaces was, perhaps, not the plane of politics, not if we're truly behind the notion of equality. I still hold to this sentiment, and the full text of the speech will be up on this blog in the next few days. Marching with my comrades this afternoon, though, a channel of unstoppable, unmistakeably female energy, I felt a stirring of something that, for a feminist activist, strikes me rarely: a profound pride in being female.

As a teenager, I was a cross-dresser, a breast-binder and trans-curious, and my main reason for not acting on those impulses anymore is that I suffered from severe anorexia in my late teens-early twenties, a psychosis that was in part keyed in to my rejection of the feminine; recovery from that eating disorder has involved deep questioning of personal gender semiotics, and the ingestion of a good few stodgy theory books in the process with generous whiskey chasers. As my health returned, so did my politics, and much of the emotional impulse behind my feminism today stems from a desperate desire to reconcile myself to the notion of womanhood, to feel pride rather than the shame I once felt at being a subaltern.

Let me just pause to wipe the hyperemotional vomit off the keyboard, and assure you that such over-share will not become a feature on this blog. The point stands, however: to be born a girl is to be born stigmatised; to grow into a woman, wholly and joyfully, involves unlearning that self-stigmatisation. Dr Alison Phipps, who also spoke at Sussex University, asked, 'why is it shameful to be unfeminine, in a society where femininity is still so restricting?'.

Orthodox femininity as it is constructed by white consumer- capitalist patriarchy is hugely constricting, a nightmare of kitten-heels, contorted smiles of self-hatred, self-denial and conspicuous consumption, but true femininity, like genuine masculinity, is much more open to interpretation. It can be empowering. It can be challenging. It can be unorthodox. It can be adventurous; in fact, I'm chalking up today's march as one in a series of adventures in dangerous femininity I intend to accumulate. My attack-womb quivers with anticipation.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

The drugs don't work?

A lot of knickers twisted in the press this week over the supposed inefficiency of prescription anti-depressants. Cue a yapping, snarling media circus as purists, luddites and professional disapprovers up and down the land leapt on the chance to get snooty with the medicated classes.

Non-prescription medication also took a hit this week as the government once again announces plans for a smackdown on binge drinking, of which this country 'officially disapproves.' Hot on the heels of this year's first cannabis panic, we can expect a couple of weeks of low-level outrage over the shocking new phenomenon of stumbling, puking, lairy young women rampaging through town centres at night, frightening well-behaved residents with their loose morals and looser knickers.

Calling drinking, drugs and other personal pharmaceutical solutions a new social problem is an established tradition: blame is squarely apportioned to the moral failings of a younger generation or to an emergent culture of decadence, rather than looking at historical precedent and analysing more endemic social spurs to the problem of booze-n-drug culture.

However, conservative rhetoric surrounding the introduction of the English Gin Laws in the early 18th century bears a striking resemblence to contemporary tabloid and broadsheet anti-drink propaganda. In 1721, Middlesex Magistrates decried strong spirits as "the principal cause of all the vice & debauchery committed among the inferior sort of people". The same official committee in 1736 complained that ‘It is with the deepest concern your committee observe the strong Inclination of the inferior Sort of People to these destructive Liquors, and how surprisingly this Infection has spread within these few Years … it is scarce possible for Persons in low Life to go anywhere or to be anywhere, without being drawn in to taste, and, by Degrees, to like and approve of this pernicious Liquor.’

This is not a new phenomenon: people have been drinking to avoid the pressures of consumer-capitalist living for centuries and more, and for as long as the industrial age has drunk away its sorrows, that drinking has been fetishised as moral or spiritual weakness in an almost religious manner by a disapproving establishment platform. Those under most pressure - the poor, the young and other 'Persons in low Life' - have most to gain from pharmaceutical paradigms of escapism. From the infancy of industrial capitalism, people have got as high as they are practically able to, and for good reason.

Aspects of living in a consumer-hypercapitalist state put the majority of people, and especially young people or people on low incomes, under more stress than they can reasonably bear. Young men and women receive confusing messages about how they are meant to behave: the notion of ‘owing something to society’ conflicts with a post-Thatcherite selfishness that has snowballed into aggregate imperatives to over-achieve financially, socially, academically, physically and romantically. We are told that we must ‘make something of ourselves’ or consider ourselves failures - unless we are born cripplingly poor or disadvantaged, in which case we have already failed. The pressure to consume and keep consuming is equalled only by the pressure to transform oneself into a marketable product. No wonder we drink. No wonder we swallow pills and smoke weed. No wonder we turn up at our GP’s surgeries stuttering and muttering to ourselves, biting our roseate young lips in distress, asking for a cure.

A confession: I am a drinker, a smoker and a happy champer of both prescription and non-prescription medication. I have been taking Fluoxetine (prozac) for two years now, and have suffered no side-effects apart from moderate weight loss and an unprecedented propensity to get strangely excited about socialist comics-artists and japanese cartoons. On top of this, I binge-drink, at least according to the official definition of binge-drinking (4 units per session, or half a bottle of wine, or two pints of Guinness) on a semi-regular basis, and self-medicate with drugs of various organic origins, copious amounts of strong tea and the occasional sneaky cigarette. I am a sexually and politically forthright young lady, and enjoy regular, vigorous, thrusting, deviant ideological debates with both men and women. Throughout all of this, I am happier and more productive rotting in my messy, unsanctioned, hard-fucking, deep-thinking, hungover, substance-abusing lifestyle than I have ever been in my more well-behaved years.

Self-medicating with prescription drugs, non-prescription drugs, drink and promiscuity is serving me better than any of the other ideas I had for making the pain go away in my teenage years – to whit, self-harm, self-starvation, abusive relationships, terrible poetry and the music of Radiohead. I have found paradigms of escapism and emotional regulation that suit my headspace and lifestyle, and I consider myself lucky. You want me and the thirty million other reprobates up and down the land to clean up and behave? Show us something better.

Here’s the thing: people like altered states. Altered states help people to escape the tedium, horror and misery that percolate even the lip-smackingly happiest of mundane human lives under industrial capitalism. However you choose to legislate or regulate, the people of Britain will continue to drink, abuse drugs, sleep around and beg their doctors for stronger medication in the absence of anything more constructive to deaden their distress. Drinking, stoning and swallowing pills aren’t just part of the culture: as Zoe Williams noted in the Guardian today, they practically are the culture. We have been defined and have self-defined as a nation of drinkers for centuries, and for centuries a dedicated and vocal conservative faction has pronounced the drinking classes morally bankrupt and deplored the excesses of the younger generation. Simply legislating against or officially denigrating drink, drug and now happy pill culture will not make a blind bit of difference to the impulse of 'Persons in Low Life' towards chemically altered states. Show us something better. We're just dying for something better.

The image on the top-left is the 1751 print 'Gin Lane' by William Hogarth, one of a series of prints produced to popularise stricter alcohol legislation.