‘SJW’ has become a cartoonish stereotype. ‘Regressive Left’ is dying on the vine as a term, thanks to its overuse in certain quarters and the absolute refusal of much of what – at least – calls itself the left to pause for even a moment of self-reflection. Still, these terms – even if used in scare quotes – retain utility, even if they switch some people off from what you’re saying the moment they come up. They retain usefulness because they describe a genuine phenomenon, a recognisable stereotype, a particular group of people.
It can be hard to explain to people the problem, the feeling of absolute betrayal that many ‘old school’ lefties harbour towards this new group, Lector-like dressed up in our severed faces. Ironically they call themselves progressive, and that’s why ‘Regressive Left’ is accurate – and stings them.
There’s a particular case-in-point that I think serves as a particularly graspable instance of their behaviour and distorted thought processes. One that I think may help people to get a grasp on what the ‘Regressive Left’ really is, why it’s regressive, and why it’s a betrayal of the traditions and values of the left.
That case-in-point is sex.
The modern ‘Regressive Left’ has an attitude towards sex and sexuality more often found in the evangelical right in times past and has even allied with the repressive and authoritarian right in their mutual goal of mandating and controlling people’s sexuality.
Anti-porn campaigners take tea with Conservative Party leaders and help shape internet censorship legislation and ‘porn passes’. Something that evidence suggests will only profit a handful of porn companies and may make sexual harassment and even rape more common, not less.
SWERFs (Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists) inflate bogus stories about sex trafficking and encourage the adoption of the Nordic Model (criminalising clients) as a way of tackling sex work. This, like anti-drug legislation against the advice and erudite entreaty of experts, including actual sex workers who choose that way of life and all but beg for decriminalisation.
A Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan, can – without a hint of self-awareness – simultaneously hail the Trump balloon (rightly) as a symbol of British commitment to free expression while banning pictures of a woman in a bikini from the London Underground. This while left, and right are, again, united in their determination to censor and control social media and to criminalise all manner of, harmless, online behaviour.
We have radical feminists trying to prevent trans participation in Pride, to the point of laying down in the road in protest and delaying the march. At the same time, we have others trying to control and mandate speech, neither camp being the kind of people who place personal liberty and choice at the top of their agenda.
In the world of kink, something I take no small amount of interest in, there are feminists trying to claim that BDSM is inherently misogynistic and patriarchal. This seems peculiar because BDSM includes femdom (something that some give a pass) and has explicit consent, something feminists often push, built-in, voluntarily. BDSM has been becoming ever more popular as unhappy housewives try to put their 50 Shades fantasies into practice and vanilla men, feeling unable to be masculine outside the kink scene, seek someplace they can be themselves.
That’s right. Conventional, entirely vanilla masculinity now – pretty much – qualifies as a fetish.
It didn’t used to be like this. The left used to be synonymous with libertine philosophy and allowing people to let their ‘freak flag fly’. It is for this reason that the left has long been seen as the ally of the LGBT(&c) community and why the liberal left has often been decried as ‘degenerate’ by the hard right. Now the hard left has their own term they give to excuse their censorship and authoritarianism; ‘Problematic’.
It was the left that brought about the NHS, greatly helping women throughout the UK with their sexual health. It was left wing campaigners that helped push the Conservative Government of 1961 to offer the contraceptive pill on the NHS, and it was Wilson’s Labour Government that legalised abortion in 1967. It was also a Labour Government that followed through with the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
The sexual revolution, the idea of giving people choices and rights over what sex they had and with who, was firmly an ideal of the left, and one that won the arguments with the right. Sexual liberation was also women’s liberation, an end to dorms and chaperones and escorts, freedom from the threat of pregnancy and the tyranny of biology – a necessity to the full adoption of other rights and full equality. It was the left that understood and articulated that what people got up to, consensually, between one another was nobody’s business but theirs (so long as nobody got permanently hurt).
Now? Well, we’ve already been over it. Social conservatism, SWERF and TERF, and attitudes that wouldn’t be out of place in Orwell’s Junior Anti-Sex League. The way the left has become censorious and authoritarian has begun sticking its nose into peoples’ bedrooms the way the Christian Right used to is just one example of their betrayal of left-wing values. It’s just the one, I think, it might be most accessible for people to see.
Sometimes, to progress, you actually have to double-back.