An Interview with Zoe Williams – Full Transcript

This is the transcript of the whole interview I did with Zoe Williams in December 2014. My replies were used for an article published on The Guardian, but the full replies were of course much more involved on my part. Here is her piece: BOUND AND GAGGED: THE WOMEN URGED TO A REPEAL OF THE PORN LAWS, from December 5th 2014.

As is usually the case, media articles end up sing only a very small percentage of what you say. I thought that the whole text in its integrity deserved to be put in the public domain and added to the current debate on UK laws hat ban certain forms of sexual acts and clamp down on independent fetish film makers.

With permission from Zoe Williams. Thank you for your support and for being an ally.

-On these new rules: some people are saying they’re anti-women, can you give me your view on that? Do they seem to you to show a squeamishness around female sexuality that they don’t show around male?

These new rules do indeed focus on forms of sexual expression that are common among minority sexualities “AS” well as among women. They are all activities that undermine or question hegemonic notions, so prevalent in mainstream porn, that put male desire at the top of a sexual hierarchy.It shows a denial of female sexual power and agency. We’ve been told for the last few years, courtesy of the 50 Shades phenomenon, that now it’s ok for women to express themselves sexually… but only as long as they still respect traditional gender roles where women are subservient to men. In other words: being a spanking-loving nymphette is ok, but sexually dominant women are continuously misinterpreted, banalised and silenced in media and culture. The current legislation reinforces this cultural taboo.I think that the ATVOD executives must have been shocked and disgruntled like your archetypal Daily Mail reader, when they discovered this world populated by hundreds of femdom websites, specialising in the most niche sexual preferences, most of them produced by women. And that the female producers and performers behind this type of porn were enthusiasts, proud of their work and of their specialities. I have no doubt that after my website won its appeal to Ofcom, they must have thought: “right, we have to put those women back in their place”. To curb and tame this show of demonic, rampant, aggressive, female sexual energy that is Femdom (Female Dominance). ATVOD tried to bully me with sexual shame and fear, trying to make me believe that I was doing something that is dangerous and harmful for society (and for the children, of course). I don’t know any Femdom producer who is ashamed of what she does. We are, in general, very proud of our technical skills and our intuition to understand sexual desires that often dare not tell their name.

– To get a bit more background for the piece, the case you took on and won this year, did that cost you a lot of money? Were you awarded costs? Did you feel that it was a good outcome for you in the end? I’m surprised that the ruling for you doesn’t apply to other small porn studios, can you shed any light on that?

There wasn’t a court case. We simply appealed to Ofcom against ATVOD’s determination, that my website The Urban Chick Supremacy Cell was a TV on Demand service, comparable to, and in direct competition with, TV services like Netflix or BBC iPlayer. The UC-SC is an independent Femdom fetish video website, with over 12 hours of videos, and many photo galleries, that adults can access by subscription.There were no courts involved, but I decided to close down my website for over a year, with its subsequent loss of revenue, until things were resolved. Bear in mind that ATVOD’s way to make websites comply is through ATVOD’s notorious Rule 11 (quote):

i. BREACH OF RULE 11 (Harmful Material: protection of under-18’s) in relation to subscription material: COMPLAINT UPHELD

The breach constitutes an infringement of the statutory requirement set out in section 368E (2) of the Act which states that “If an on-demand programme service contains material which might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of persons under the age of eighteen, the material must be made available in a manner which secures that such persons will not normally see or hear it.”.

Under the pressure of being accused of deliberately exposing children to “harmful” material (even though the content is always hidden behind a paywall), many small indy studios like mine closed down. I have been an activist, campaigning with sexual freedom campaigners Backlash UK, since 2008. So I decided to fight back, to challenge this determination that I had to comply with terrestrial and online TV channels’ regulations. We used three solicitors, but some of them worked for us pro-bono, and others were paid thanks to donations from our supporters, many of them from the alternative, fetish and LGBTQ scenes and communities.

– Can you expand a bit on your point about internet freedom, that is, how you think these moves could reach into general freedom on the net?

I believe that, to quote [my solicitor] Myles Jackman, the adult industry is “the canary in the coal mine”. The government isn’t interested in the children nor in protecting vulnerable women. What they are worried about is of potential new Wikileaks, or of the future Edward Snowdens, because they are there, somewhere.That’s why these AVMS (Audiovisual and Media Services) regulations are so absurd. They serve no other purpose than to test censorship and to clamp down the free information exchange that is the internet. You won’t win voters by telling them that they can’t have a free internet, that its open access to knowledge is dangerous for us, peasants. But “think of he children” is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. The problem for our current rulers is that, with the child sex ring scandal at Parliament level looming over their heads, their former gullible voters have started to see through it all. We already know too much.And for the record: this legislation isn’t about specific ideologies. The Tories have approved this latest legislation, but it was the previous Labour Government that, in early 2008, passed the Section 63 of the CJIA 2008, aka the Extreme Porn Law. (Please check: The conservatives appeal to family & tradition, the more liberal, to outmoded feminist ideas of women as victims of men, that should have died in the 80’s.

-What do you think is the most ridiculous thing about the new legislation?

That it is a legislation at all. The list of unconnected, gratuitious sexual activities banned make no sense at all, unless, as it’s the current consensus, you read them as a mysoginistic vision of female sexuality, written by school boys who are still scared of the girls. The chaotic, demonic female sexual energy must be suppressed at all costs! These are politicians, people in positions of power, who know nothing about the internet or about sex, for that matter.

– Did you feel that it was a good outcome for you in the end? 

Yes. I am a woman and a foreign immigrant in this country. I am used to be seen as the underdog, the pushover. ATVOD’s bullying tactics on their letters angered me. They want to cower you with shame and guilt. I didn’t expect such a resound victory of a little independent porn studio, against the state. But I also couldn’t foresee that solicitors and activists would rally to support me and offer their help. All they asked me was if I did mind that my real name would appear in the public domain. I am not closeted. My website, The Urban Chick Supremacy Cell, is, as well as a porn website, an art project where my concerns about sexuality, identity, gender and politics crystallised. I am very proud of what I do. I have a background in art, I went to art college. I think that I make porn because I went to Goldsmiths College. So yes, getting my baby back is the best thing that’s happened in a very long time.I’m surprised that the ruling for you doesn’t apply to other small porn studios, can you shed any light on that?OFCOM’s  ruling does not set a precedent, they’ll rule on a case by case basis. Which means that the studios who decide to fight back, will have to do it like we did, not knowing what would happen. I think that my ruling could have gone one way or the other. They decided that I was too small, but I was giving them enough of a headache. Our report challenging point by point why they were wrong or unlawful, was 11 pages long. Three of them were a reply from me to Pete Johnson. CEO of ATVOD who had had the temerity to suggest that my website, contrary to my claims, wasn’t art. That is what every art school kid wants: a platform to answer the aged,question: “yes, but is it art?” I gave him a 1,000 word essay on contemporary art tendencies.

– tell me a bit more about Backlash, what it campaigns for, how it works?

Backlash UK’s website

I started volunteering for Backlash back in early 2008, when the CJIA 2008 was passed, banning the possession of ‘extreme pornographic material”. My involvement in the fetish scene in London awoke my political conscience, and also reignited my interest in feminism. As a self-employed professional dominatrix, who, due to obsolete laws regarding brothels and ‘disorderly houses”, has to work alone, I have always relied on mutual aid and solidarity among my community, to survive. I think that sexual identity and self-awareness have been, for me at least, essential eye openers to the world around me and Backlash defend sexual freedom not only on the internet, but also in cases of work tribunal, family courts and other cases were people have bee discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. This new legislation discriminates against representations of minority or niche sexualities, such as Femdom or BDSM.

APPENDIX – About Backlash UK:

We are an all volunteer organisation made up of a few legal specialists and academics with an interest in free expression, as well as people who have experience working in sex work and porn production. It was started in 2006, to oppose the ban on ‘extreme pornography’ that was brought into law in 2009 and has helped organise the defence of people who have been prosecuted for engaging or watching consensual adult sex acts. In recent years, we have expanded our remit to those whose professional lives have been threatened by having their sex lives ‘outed’ to employers, be it for being as BDSM practitioners in their private lives or sex workers.


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