Here’s a tip for political activists: if your rabble-rousing echoes the behaviour and ideas of Islamists, then you’re doing something wrong. Consider the Protein World advert which — clutch my pearls! — features a photo of a beautiful, svelte woman in a bikini next to the question: ‘Are you beach body ready?’ Angry women, and probably some men, have been writing outraged slogans on these posters, scribbling on the poor model’s face and body, seemingly blissfully unaware that they’re following in the footsteps of intolerant Islamic agitators.
In 2011, Muslims in Birmingham used black spraypaint to deface an ad for H&M featuring a woman in a yellow bikini. They were reportedly ‘offended by her flesh’. In 2013, a gang calling itself Muslim Patrol ripped down adverts for a super push-up bra, and spray-painted over others, claiming the ads offended their sensibilities. Now, in 2015, another semi-clad woman appearing on bus-stops and at train stations finds herself being scrawled on by graffiti-artists-cum-censors — only this time the offended felt-tip pen-wielders aren’t Islamists; they’re feminists.
The response to the Protein World poster has been bonkers, even by the standards of this era of offence-taking and PC intolerance. Feminists have taken it upon themselves to deface the ads, because they claim that the question ‘Are you beach body ready?’ body-shames the plump and makes normal-sized women feel bad about themselves. At Liverpool Street Station someone has scribbled over the model’s face and cleavage — cover her up! — and written the words ‘NOT OKAY’, which, alongside ‘That’s inappropriate’, is the most grating of the schoolmarmish phrases peddled by the PC mob. It basically means, ‘I think this isn’t okay, and because I am so incredibly important that means you shouldn’t be allowed to see it either’.
— Maia Beresford (@BeresfordMaia) April 26, 2015
Not content with behaving like informal censors, adopting the role once played by the stiff, snobbish blue-pen brigade of officialdom, feminists have also petitioned for the ad to be banned. More than 50,000 people are demanding that the ads be taken down on the basis that ‘a body’s function is far more intricate and important than looking “beach ready”’. The humourlessness is mind-boggling.
On Saturday there will be a demonstration in Hyde Park against the ads. An actual demonstration. In actual Hyde Park. This park has hosted some of the greatest-ever history-shaping upheavals of man- and womankind, including the 1855 working-class revolt against the Sunday Trading Bill — in essence demanding the right to booze on a Sunday — which was gloriously described by Karl Marx as an expression of ‘boiling and long-constrained anger’, a ‘cacophony of grunting, hissing, whistling, squawking, snarling, growling, yelling, groaning, rattling, shrieking, gnashing sounds,’ which was nothing less than an ‘English revolution’. Now it will host a gathering of easily offended souls who want to send the message that ‘beach-ready means different things for everyone’. Oh, English radicalism, how far you have fallen!
Feminism, sadly, becomes more like Islamism every day. Alongside the ad-defacing antics, there’s also the campaign to put saucy tabloids and lads’ mags in black bags, echoing an ugly sight I beheld in Dubai once: Western magazines whose covers had been defaced with black gaffer tape by religious censors determined to hide women’s cleavage from the masses. And there was the war against Page 3 (RIP): a boob-hiding project that Muslim Patrol would be proud of. Too much modern feminism depicts women as fragile, as unable to cope with rude pictures or rough words, as requiring protection from the banter and imagery of everyday life. In the words of the anti-Page 3 campaign, such stuff can have a ‘negative impact’ on women’s ‘self-esteem’. It’s so alarmingly patronising, and it really does bring to mind the cloying over-protectionism of Islamists, who likewise see women as dainty, easily damaged, in need of constant chaperoning when they venture into the jungle of public life.
Can’t we try to resuscitate the spirit of the old sexually liberated feminism, when the likes of Germaine Greer didn’t want to ban photos of bikinis but instead posed for them? Look at Germaine: brainy, radical and beach-ready.