Monday, 28 November 2011
Julian Petley, co-author of the book Culture Wars, once observed that the British press had ‘perfected a way of representing the ideas and personalities associated with socialism as so deranged and psychotic that they presented a danger to society.’
It’s no secret that New Labour was evolved in part to counteract Labour’s image problems in the 1980s. The order of the day became finding the centre ground and sticking to it, rather than attempting to operate outside it and running the risk of remaining ‘unelectable’.
While many of us on the left did not necessarily agree with the political trajectory taken during the New Labour years, we understood that there was no inherent shame in trying to look like a credible party of government. The political landscape in the ‘80s and ‘90s was undeniably bleak for socialists, and reflected something the outgoing Labour Prime Minister Jim Callaghan had said several years earlier: ‘You know there are times, perhaps once every thirty years, when there is a sea-change in politics. It then does not matter what you say or what you do. There is a shift in what the public wants and what it approves of.’
As if by prophesy, 30 years later we are again at a moment of profound political change. The certainties that have shaped political discourse for so very long are again being challenged, if not by the political class then by workers and students right across Europe and beyond. Questions many of us have long been asking about our economic system are today routinely being raised by those with little history of political struggle – people whose sense of injustice has developed as they’ve seen living standards fall and prospects for the future become increasingly bleak.
The right’s response to the crisis has thus far been defined by a willingness to take the easy way out at every juncture. In place of solutions they’ve clung to ideology. Instead of compassion they’ve hacked away at living standards. Their plan for the long-term consists only of a global race to the bottom. In summing up, their response has been to dig in and entrench themselves further in the failed orthodoxy of laissez-faire capitalism.
Through it all, much of the media has portrayed murmurings of dissent not simply as illegitimate but as disorderly and threatening. They have casually dismissed the Occupy movements and thrown handfuls of mud at any figure who has evoked the most basic right every working person must have – the right to withdraw one’s labour – and, as if looking admiringly at the authoritarian capitalism of the east, called enthusiastically for further restrictions on this right at every given opportunity.
Yet, in the face of this torrent of hostility the public mood toward the economic policies of the right has hardened. The latest opinion poll published by the BBC finds 61% believe Wednesday’s public sector strike is justified, a total that includes almost four in five 18 to 24 year olds. This is on the back of a YouGov poll from a few weeks back which found that 44 per cent of Londoners supported the aims of the Occupy LSX group, with 30 per cent opposed and 25 per cent answering ‘not sure’.
Rightly or wrongly, many inside the Labour Party routinely go along with the evocation of right-wing policies when doing so brings electoral gain. As someone on the left of the party, I have lost count of the number of times I have been told that my ideas would make the party ‘unelectable’ if adopted - as if the sole purpose of politics was the abandonment of all principles in exchange for political office.
I have previously accepted, however, that at times they might have had a point: the outlook for the left was, for many years and for a number of reasons, downright depressing. Resentfully, I bunkered down and grudgingly towed the line.
Today however, things are different. If nothing else, the above-mentioned figures should make it clear that it will not be crass characterisations of the ‘looney left’ that will eat into Labour’s support at the next election, but an unwillingness to properly stand up for the rights of working people in the face of this unprecedented onslaught of austerity.
The Conservative Party rarely needs reminding that it is the party of capital; yet far too often the Labour Party seems intent on forgetting that it is the party of labour.
There has indeed been a sea change in politics. This time, however, the boot is on the other foot: it is most certainly not the left that is acting as a drag on Labour’s electoral chances.
Saturday, 26 November 2011
It’s been reported that the English Defence League are planning on running in the upcoming local elections, after EDL leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka ‘Tommy Robinson’, signed a pact with the British Freedom Party to field candidates.
Presumably an alliance would capitalise on the EDL’s street-level popularity while using the British Freedom Party’s political apparatus - the BFP contains several who've previously fought elections on behalf of other parties, including its leader, Paul Weston.
Potential sectarian squabbling aside, it sounds like a fairly shrewd move on the part of both groups. Back in February, a Searchlight poll showed a potentially high level of support for the far-Right – if, and it’s obviously a big if, they gave up violence.
Straying into the realms of speculation a bit, what might a far-Right Government do in its first year of power?
Recent wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya are often simplified into a Left/Right question – if you’re Left-wing you were against them, if you’re Right-wing you supported them. This is crude and misleading. In the tradition of isolationism, the British far-Right is concerned with foreigners only when they directly threaten British national interests. This includes foreigners dying at the hands of barbaric regimes.
The far-Right believes barbarism to be a product of uncivilised peoples or cultures that cannot exist in this country unless imported from outside. A far-Right Government would see its role only as the protector of the British people from this threat.
The first year in power would most likely see a withdrawal from NATO, an exit from the European Union and an end to all overseas aid spending. Foreign massacres would be dismissed as 'savagery'. Military spending, however, would be doubled.
Which leads me neatly on to…
The worship of monarchy and the armed forces
One of the problems a Government of this sort would inevitably face is that although the British people like pomp and ceremony, they don’t go in much for compulsory pomp and ceremony. People of the Left recoil at widespread enthusiasm for the Royal Family, while forgetting that a good deal of it is based on little more than a detestation of the political class. The Royals are quite obviously establishment figures – they are the establishment – but when set against politicians there is a widespread belief that they are somehow less a part of the ruling class than Parliament is. Such a dynamic only works, however, as long as the monarchy is not viewed as a part of the Government.
With regard to the military, huge hostility would be whipped-up, with the aid of the media, toward any figure who dared criticise military spending or the increasing deployment of troops to quell protest and industrial disputes at home. Such people would be branded ‘unpatriotic’, and regularly denounced as Communists.
Several military figures would probably enter the Cabinet within the first year of Government.
St George’s day would be declared a public holiday and talk of foreign casualties in the recent Afghan and Iraq wars banned on the basis of 'offending non-Muslims'.
Initial nationalisations see elements of the far-Left align themselves with the new Government in the manner of previous alliances with ‘anti-imperialist’ movements abroad. A former member of the Respect party is perhaps the most prominent Left-spokesperson for the new regime, playing up the Government’s anti-American credentials while ignoring Government suppression of minority rights.
During unrest the army is drafted in. This is incredibly popular until the children of the middle classes start protesting about the decline in living standards due to UN sanctions imposed on Britain for its treatment of religious minorities. Great fanfare is then made in the press about the ‘great British tradition of protest’.
The minimum wage is abolished along with the right to strike. State intervention in the economy increases albeit unaccompanied by any understanding, let alone indictment, of capitalism as a system.
The living standard of workers falls while foreign investment is scared away.
All immigration from ‘culturally foreign’ countries is brought to an end. Large numbers of people leave the country, including thousands of white Britains with non-white spouses. Discrimination against non-whites is not enshrined in law but institutional racism is ignored; racial theorists are regularly given a voice in the media and an atmosphere of general hostility is whipped-up toward non-whites, Muslims in particular.
A distinction is created in the press between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ minorities on an arbitrary basis; wealthy non-white businessmen line-up alongside the Government to denounce recent immigrants, who they describe as feckless and lazy.
Failed asylum seekers are deported back to their country of origin on the guarantee they will be tortured on their return.
The Government imposes quotas for white players on English Premier League football teams.
The BBC is told to impose a strict limit on the number of non-whites in its soap operas. LGBT characters are categorically banned. There is a new trend toward jingoist documentary making and revisionism about the British Empire. Most BBC programming harks back to a world that no longer exists and probably never did. The most popular TV entertainment show is Top Gear.
Widespread rioting and looting of Muslim areas breaks out when England are knocked out of the football World Cup by Iran. The Government, backed by a formerly prominent member of Ukip, labels all Arabs ‘cheats,’ not realising Iran is not in fact an Arab country.
An attempt to severely limit abortion causes a split in the Cabinet as some members see it as an effective way of controlling the poor. Homosexuality is outlawed and an attempt is made to spread so-called ‘Christian values’.
Pornography is banned but a roaring underground trade is done in sadomasochistic productions.
In London, Saturday mornings see uniformed Right-wing militias parading in Hyde Park. The militias are regularly purged due to widespread homosexual activity.
Animal rights charities report an increase in donations and the most recent census indicates a rise in the number of vegetarians.
Friday, 25 November 2011
Visiting Stratford’s new Westfield shopping centre on a crisp November morning, I feel, as a person, incredibly small. While an escalator transports around a dozen of us up into the glass edifice that houses the main shopping precinct, we’re dwarfed by rows of marble, artificial plants, and as we travel further up, what looks like a never-ending boulevard lined with shiny stores and mirrors.
East London’s recently-opened Westfield is vast. If Stalin had abandoned communism and become a retail magnate, this is what I imagine it would've looked like. In case I forget to mention it later on, this place also houses Britain’s largest casino.
As I make my way inside I can’t say I’m not glad to be out of the cold, which already puts Westfield in a favourable light when compared to Britain’s usual high street fare – not having to battle the elements on a cold winter morning is a bonus, for a start. What surprises me the most about Westfield, however, is the sheer number of shoppers who’ve turned out this early on a Sunday morning, many of whom are already clutching large drawstring bags containing items that will inevitably be out of fashion long before the country emerges from the current economic downturn – and there was me thinking we were all supposed to be skint.
Teenagers of course love shopping centres; or at least hanging out in them eating fast food and flirting with other teenagers. North American films such as Mall Rats depicted what adolescents did when governments sold off almost all public space to corporations. We sneered at American consumerism back then; now we’ve raised our own generation of pushy little shoppers, with nothing to do but hang around these vast cathedrals of consumption looking forward to the day when they can work the longest hours in Europe (if they’re lucky) in order to max out their own credit cards on…stuff.
Westfield shopping centre, like lots of private spaces, has an effectively functioning hierarchy. Around every corner are security guards who have no qualms about ejecting those who don't fit in – or who act as a reminder that not everything can be tossed onto the scrapheap like an out of season Gucci handbag. A consumer society is inevitably a society of excess; but it’s also a society that is, as the sociologist Zigmunt Bauman puts it, ‘one of redundancy and prodigal waste’.
Security at Westfield is quickly onto the homeless, the disorderly and the simply badly behaved, efficiently dispatching capitalism’s human debris out the doors and back onto the streets from whence it came – and more importantly, as far away as possible from those with the spending power in this whole set up.
A couple of hundred yards down the road, away from conspicuous capitalism and its privately employed heavies, one finds a quite different East End. Westfield sits in the borough of Newham, one of the most economically deprived areas in the whole of London. During the next four years, Newham local authority will see its funding from central Government cut by around £75 million. As the Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson opened Westfield back in September (with the usual bumbling get-up), libraries, swimming pools and public parks in Newham were being boarded-up or earmarked for closure. Neither the influx of poorly paid, non-unionised jobs that Westfield has brought with it, nor the increasing numbers visiting the area look likely to offset the inevitable social fallout from the huge budget cut the area is facing. There is even a suspicion that the vast wealth on display in Westfield may in fact make things worse, putting pressure on families who are already struggling to spend money on things they don’t really need.
However much I am loathe to admit it, I'm also influenced by the fashion conscious era I’ve been born into, where individual identity is intrinsically bound up with the idea of consumption. Shopping can, at times, make a person happy; it’s just that the happiness it produces never seems to last very long. The initial buzz of enjoying a new product or wearing a new item of clothing quickly wears off once the prospect of getting your hands on something newer, more glamorous, more in season appears on the horizon. It’s all a bit like eating a packet of sweets – nice, but when the sugar rush is gone you need to go back out and find some real food; failing that it’s candies ad infinitum.
The thing about Westfield - and perhaps even 21st century Britain - is the sheer level of encouragement not to worry about genuine fulfilment, to look only to commodities for satisfaction. Gratification and instant prosperity are there to be grasped at will, without thinking about the debt you may be piling up, the people who produce the goods, or the fact that increasingly the only consolation to working life seems to be endless shopping.
I remember when I first watched the film Fight Club I was young and didn’t really get it. When I watched it again a few years later, there was something Tyler Durden (the main character) said that struck a chord: ‘Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place’.
Walking around Westfield with all the other shoppers, I wondered how many of them had ever seen Fight Club – or perhaps read the book. I wanted to walk up to them and scream that, if they were not careful, the things they own would one day end up owning them. I didn’t do that, of course. Instead I walked towards the exit. Not, though, before I’d visited another shop and bought myself a new scarf. I already have two; another probably won’t hurt though.
Tuesday, 15 November 2011
It is very much in vogue at present when talking about young people to refer to them in the context of a generational stitch-up. The post-war generations - or more specifically the ‘baby boomers’ - are said to have left the rest of us high and dry, with little in the way of job prospects and less in the way of savings and assets to our names.
For lots of young people the future indeed looks decidedly bleak. There is a good chance that during the lifetimes of today’s newborns even the prospect of retirement before arthritis and incontinence set in will be considered a hopelessly utopian throwback – as out of place as cassette tapes and VHS are to today’s twenty-somethings.
All of this too comes before we even consider young people’s future access to that which their parent’s generation took for granted – education, healthcare and the prospect of stable, paid employment – making uncertainty about the future something that occupies the thoughts of many of today's youngsters.
Not all of today’s youth are faring so badly, however. The increasing unwillingness of companies to take on paid staff has seen dwindling employment opportunities for most coincide with a boom in the fortunes of the small proportion of people willing and able to live without a wage.
Despite the classless rhetoric espoused by politicians of all stripes during the last 30 years or so, it is not only in 19th century novels where one will today find privileged aristokids elbowing aside their lean-walleted peers in pursuit of desirable careers – and doing so very successfully. Newsrooms, PR departments and parliamentary offices up and down the country are increasingly dominated by horsey tones and chinless nepotism, as breeding and bank balance snare positions that were at one time dished out, at least a fraction of the time, on the basis of merit and hard work rather than the lottery of birth alone.
While the idea of post-1945 Britain as a social democratic paradise may be wide of the mark, there undoubtedly existed for a time a degree of social mobility which saw many from modest means going on to work in the professions and, shock horror, producing a standard of work comparable with that of their peers from the shires.
30 years of Thatcherism and three years of post-crisis recession have gone some way to obliterating these modest gains, and many professions are again reverting back to the mirror in which the aristocratic elite gazes at its own naval.
As a society we love to lecture those at the bottom about hard graft and sacrifice. It is the upper classes, however, who understand very well that the really top jobs have little to do with either, hence why they continue to spend such vast sums of money bypassing any pretence of meritocracy when it comes to snapping up the best positions.
Today’s youngsters may as a whole be worse off than their parents, but if you’re a working class youngster you’ve probably more in common with the downtrodden characters of Charles Dickens than you do with certain members of your generational peer group.
Thursday, 10 November 2011
Inside the Revolution everything; outside the Revolution nothing.
- Fidel Castro
WHILE THE NOISIEST opponents of Communism (and those who were almost always given megaphones by the Western media) have tended to come from the political right, the dissidents feared most on the inside by totalitarian regimes were often decidedly to the left, and included many who had fallen foul of the very revolutions they had helped to create.
The list of revolutionaries in this mould reads something like a footnote to the literary left of the 20th century, drawing in figures such as Arthur Koestler, Victor Serge and Leon Trotsky - all of whom fought to build a new society only to be devoured by its bureaucratic machine.
Many who suffered such twists of fate abandoned Socialism altogether. Those who remained ‘believers’ were, for much of their lives, condemned to a political no-mans-land: out of favour at home yet suspected in the eyes of Washington, which at the time was contracting-out its own brand of thuggery in the form of various third world tin-pot Generals and autocrats.
In Cuba the Revolution came to power when young, idealistic guerrillas threw out one of America’s Yes men, the gangsterish Fulgencia Batista, against a backdrop of revolutionary and nationalist fervour.
The first years of the Revolution in power were a turbulent yet stirring affair. ‘Night falls as we, the Barbudos (bearded ones), come down from the mountains looking like the saints of old,’ wrote the former guerrilla fighter Carlos Franqui in his reminiscences. ‘People rush out to meet us. They are wild; they touch us, kiss our filthy beards’.
The allure for many intellectuals at the time was obvious: this time around, the revolution really looked like it might be different.
In the aftermath of the victory in Havana, the British journalist Edwin Tetlow reported that Castro’s soldiers were ‘one of the best behaved armies you could imagine… To a man they behaved impeccably’.
In his left-wing youth, the journalist and author Christopher Hitchens was one of those who travelled to the Caribbean to test the claims of the Cuban leadership that it was forging a new road to socialism; and in his memoir, Hitch 22, Hitchens wrote that the appeal of Cuba at the time lay in its freshness when contrasted with the decaying bureaucracy in Moscow:
‘It was an opportunity to see whether Cuba’s claim to be an alternative “model” to Soviet state-socialism possessed any staying-power. It’s difficult to remember today, when Havana itself is run by a wrinkled oligarchy of old Communist gargoyles, but in the 1960s there was a dramatic contrast between the waxworks in the Kremlin and the young, informal, spontaneous, and even somewhat sexy leadership in Havana’.
In the early days, developments in Cuba when set-against the festering dictatorships plaguing much of the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean were impressive. The new Government in Havana had implemented an impressive literacy campaign and was well on the way to ensuring that no Cuban with any illness had any longer to live in fear. There was a real enthusiasm for the new Government amongst the Cuban people, and Castro himself was incredibly popular.
There were others, of course, who saw Cuban self-determination as a boil which needed to be lacerated, before its infection spread throughout America’s ‘backyard’. Within a year of the triumph of the Revolution, the Eisenhower administration was giving serious thought to physically eliminating Castro. Economic measures were also discussed, as the US came to the realisation that Castro was unlike previous, compliant Cuban leaders .
There was, however, another dynamic at work. Since the early days of the Revolution the Stalinist Popular Socialist Party (PSP) had been manoeuvring behind the scenes - to the point where it was now in a position to achieve much of its political agenda on the back of Castro’s revolution. With the break in relations with the United States and the entrance onto the scene of the Soviet Union as the only possible benefactor for the struggling Cuban economy, the Communist position was secured, and the cadres dutifully set about constructing a system based upon that existing at the time in much of Eastern Europe.
In an attempt to bring the cultural realm under their control, the Communists set their sights on Cuba’s intellectuals. After an initial period of good relations with the Government, artists, independent journalists and writers were increasingly frozen out, with the Government declaring in 1971 that such writers would no longer have ‘anything to do in Cuba’. Many of those who had initially embraced the revolution now began to live in fear.
One of those was Carlos Franqui, a Cuban journalist, writer and friend of Fidel Castro who fought against Fulgencia Batista in the 26 July Movement. Born in 1921 into a poor rural family, Franqui was a Communist in his youth but moved away from the Cuban Communist party in 1946 (ironically perhaps, considering his future travails), because in his view it had ‘deviated from the socialist line’.
Several years later, Franqui entered the Sierra Maestra to join up with Castro’s Guerrilla forces, putting his journalistic talents to good use producing propaganda for the rebels and setting up a guerrilla radio station, Radio Rebelde.
It was not long after the triumph of the Revolution, however, that Franqui began to attract the displeasure of the hardliners in Havana, who targeted Franqui’s newspaper Revolucion and accused it of publishing ‘deviant’ forms of art and literature. The paper's cultural supplement, Lunes de Revolución, then edited by Guillermo Cabrera Infante, another writer who went into exile in the mid-1960s, came in for severe criticism and was eventually repressed.
After moving abroad in 1963 as a cultural envoy for the Revolution, Franqui broke definitively with Cuba in 1968 as Castro moved decisively into the Soviet embrace. This was the year that the Cuban leader went on television and made a lengthy speech in defence of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia; Che Guevara had been killed in a Bolivian jungle the year before, and the Revolution had added its own measure of folly by outlawing all private enterprise.
Franqui’s final act in Cuba was in 1967, when he held the Salon de Mai exhibition of surrealist art (the very opposite of orthodox Soviet realism) in Havana. This was a triumph of sorts for Franqui who, years later in exile, said that he had wanted to create a ‘cultural revolution, not a bureaucratic one’. ‘Culture is liberty and the Revolution is the negation of liberty’, Franqui was reported as saying in a 2006 interview with Mexican magazine Letras Libres.
After Franqui had left, the Cuban government branded him a traitor and, predictably, an ‘agent of the CIA’, and began erasing his image from the country's revolutionary history. The jacket of Franqui’s subsequent memoir, A Family Portrait with Fidel, featured one of the doctored images, of which Franqui, with his legendary self-effacing humour, wrote:
I discover my photographic death.
Do I exist?
I am a little black,
I am a little white,
I am a little shit,
On Fidel's vest.
Nearing the tail-end of his trip to Cuba in 1967, Christopher Hitchens was attending an audience with Cuban director Santiago Alvarez when, upon being told by Alvarez that artistic and intellectual liberty was untrammelled in Cuba, Hitchens asked whether there were any exceptions to this. Laughing at the naivety of the question, Alvarez said that it would not be possible or advisable to attempt any attacks or satires on the leader of the Revolution himself. But otherwise, the freedom of conscience and creativity was absolute.
Not satisfied with this response, Hitchens continued to press Alvarez: ‘I made the mere observation that if the most salient figure in the state and society was immune from critical comment, then all the rest was detail’. The hostile response of the Cubans, however, put a dampener on any previous camaraderie. ‘I don’t think I have ever been so richly rewarded for saying the self-evident… When I pretended to ask what was up, one of my Scottish comrades informed me: “The Cuban brothers thought what you said and did was so obviously counter-revolutionary…”. ‘You do not forget… the first time that you are with unsmiling seriousness called a “counter-revolutionary” to your face’.
Today, Fidel Castro is a much more reclusive figure; yet rarely will you find a Cuban foolhardy enough to give air to their grievances with El Máximo Líder publically, let alone in unfamiliar company. Almost 45 years after Carlos Franqui left for Europe, it is still, as Guillermo Cabrera Infante once said, not only Big Brother who is watching you in Cuba, but his little brother, Raul Castro, too.
Monday, 7 November 2011
Thursday, 3 November 2011
I recently noticed a cartoon on Facebook which could be said to represent the relativist view of women’s rights. The cartoon features two women, one of whom is wearing a bikini while the other is wearing a niqab. Looking over her shoulder at the women in the niqab, the woman in the bikini says to herself: "Everything covered but her eyes, what a cruel, male-dominated culture". The woman in the niqab returns the scornful look, and remarks: "Nothing covered but her eyes, what a cruel, male-dominated culture".
The cartoon, which at first glance seems witty and smart, is in reality attempting to draw a completely false equivalence between an item of clothing that women wear freely (a bikini) with one that is in some instances forced upon the wearer by men (a niqab).
To point this out to most people would hardly be controversial. No woman has yet been beaten up, imprisoned or raped for not wearing a bikini to the beach. A woman walking around in a niqab in the UK may regrettably at times be subjected to verbal abuse, but a woman dressed in revealing clothing runs a far greater risk of harassment, unwanted sexual advances and assaults due to the same attitudes that in other circumstances seek to shroud female flesh in niqabs and burkas - that is, a desire to assert control over female sexuality or repress it. Both women are more likely to suffer violence when they wear less, rather than when they cover up.
It is a fact that hatred towards female sexuality is often directed at beautiful women precisely because they have the confidence to dress in a way that unapologetically expresses their sexuality. As one Iranian protester put it in the aftermath of the killing by state security of Neda Agha-Soltan in 2009, "they always go for the beautiful ones first". Such jealous hatreds can also, at times, be directed at men. Anyone who has ever attended a football match will have witnessed the overweight, balding middle-aged men hysterically shrieking "poofta" at virile young athletes in their prime. Again, the Ronaldos, Beckhams and Torres’s of the game almost always come in for the very worst of it.
What a cartoon like this demonstrates is that underneath a certain kind of supposedly emancipatory equivalence lies more sordid motivations. If the message in the cartoon were really about the objectification of women, there would be little need to use a picture of an attractive, confident woman in a bikini. Why not use instead a picture of a woman suffering from an eating disorder?
There must be a suspicion that the idea of an attractive woman being secretly repressed because of her beauty is vaguely gratifying to those who consider looks to be insufficiently egalitarian. Women only dress in such and such a manner, so it goes, to impress men, because beauty itself, or our concept of it, is a social construct enforced on women by men. While I am not suggesting that the objectification of women does not occur – it does, and is in large part dictated by what men consume – the underlying assumption here is that women couldn't possibly be the sex hungry mammals us men are, as eager to lure a potential mate into the bedroom as the other half of humanity and very often enjoying the validation they get from men finding them attractive. The "progressive" attitude in such matters views women as blithely floating through life being told what to say, do and wear by us men. This is, as always, down to the notion of "false consciousness", which dictates that only a few are really enlightened enough to see what’s really going on.
Objectification of women (and increasingly men) in the west is real. However the problem is not one of women dressing "provocatively" (to use a disturbing word with disturbing connotations), or that women are "dressing to impress men" (we all try to impress the opposite sex, we simply have different ways of going about it). The problem arises when such objectification leads to a view of women which says that all that matters is her looks, rather than her intelligence, integrity and humanity.
Female sexuality can at times be subversive and powerful. It is for this reason that many men feel threatened by the presence of a woman expressing it. They feel that she has the greater degree of sexual choice and power so they try to control or dominate her. This is not, as some believe, confined strictly to the remnants of old-fashioned male sexism or the devout followers of monotheistic religion. Beauty and sexuality are a threat to orthodoxies of all stripes because they are an expression of our animalistic ancestry which cannot be levelled out or extinguished by force. Political creeds, however emancipatory their rhetoric, are also very often rationalisations of deeper emotional problems.