A monument to the folly of politicians and beauty squandered

An enormous phallic tower encircled by a tumescent moving glass doughnut
An enormous phallic tower encircled by a tumescent moving glass doughnut

Work has begun on demolishing the last of the West Pier so developers can build the i360.

Work has begun on demolishing the last of the West Pier so developers can build the i360.

One chilling image from the 1960s pictures a girl who looks no more than 13 or 14

One chilling image from the 1960s pictures a girl who looks no more than 13 or 14

It seems unavoidable now that where the grand old lady once stood, with walkways, theatre and dancehall welcoming rich and poor alike, Brighton and Hove will have an enormous phallic tower encircled by a tumescent moving glass doughnut. It is an image beyond parody, even for Brighton.

It is hard to believe the council has thrown its weight and its money behind it, especially at a time when services to children and elderly and vulnerable adults are being cut.

And yet, perhaps it is not so surprising. It seems symbolic of one prominent aspect of Brighton’s culture - which is to present the city as a sleazy playground, fit only for dirty weekends. It plays to the sexual arrogance and sense of entitlement of our libertarian male elite - and a particular kind of council officer.

And before anyone says women are equally free, I would like to point out that - although noisy hen parties abound in the city’s bars - the city’s sex industry, its lap-dancing clubs, brothels, and massage parlours are almost exclusively aimed at men. Sexual offences against women in the city have increased, not decreased, and the seafront is a prime site for assault. This is not a great place for women and girls to live.

Brighton and Hove City Council with Sussex Police is committed, in theory, to challenge child sexual exploitation and sex-trafficking and ensure that “children and young people who may be sexually exploited or at risk of exploitation are identified, safeguarded and supported”.

Yet the council maintains a standing exhibit in Brighton Museum entitled “Dirty Weekend”, which displays what it calls “prostitutes’ calling cards”. It has been there for years, in a position so prominent that it is almost impossible to avoid. I have many times seen giggling boys and embarrassed girls on school trips viewing it. One card advertises “brand new ladies”, another shows a bare-breasted dominatrix, while a third displays a woman’s bare breasts with the invitation “come lick my melons”. One chilling image from the 1960s pictures a girl who looks no more than 13 or 14, wearing a standard teenage bra of the time. She is marketed as a “New Young Model”.

I first wrote criticising this display several years ago, pointing out the sinister implications of both these and current advertisements for “new” women in the city’s massage parlours. In recent years, several young girls had gone “missing” from care in West Sussex, presumed trafficked into prostitution. The council ignored my objections at the time, but - given what we all now know about sex trafficking, the grooming and exploitation of teenage girls and the link between poverty, addiction and prostitution - I would have thought that even our council might reconsider this display.

It is not as if local museums contain any decent exhibit of women’s history. There is nothing that I have seen about the history of the suffrage movement here or the role of women in developing our co-ops, trade unions, schools and hospitals. There is nothing about Brighton’s role in the “new” 1970s women’s movement, the flowering of collectives, lesbian shared houses, women’s bands, theatre groups and women’s campaigning initiatives, from the Women’s Centre and original Women’s Aid refuge through to the former Rape Crisis Centre and Survivors’ Network.

No doubt the council would point to excellent work for women currently undertaken in the city. This is true; but, overwhelmingly, this work is carried out by the independent women’s charities that set up the schemes, not the council which part-funds them.

The council funds a “Violence against Women and Girls Strategy Manager and Commissioner” - admirable because the vast majority of victims of domestic and sexual violence are indeed female and the perpetrators overwhelmingly male. Unfortunate then that his twitter profile lists his interests as “risk mngt, LGBT victim/survivors and work with men.”

Brighton’s library manages impressive month-long displays in black and LGBT history months - but ignores women’s history month and does very little on International Women’s Day. In fact, the only online reference you will find to Women’s History month in Brighton refers to what looks to have been an exciting programme of activity - in Brighton, USA.

The council commissions and markets a book that purports to be an Encyclopaedia of Brighton. It is an updated version of Tim Carder’s old Encyclopaedia. In it, you will find new sections on Black and LGBT developments, but nothing comparable about women. In fact, you will not find words like “women” and “girls” in the index, still less “suffragette”, “feminist”, or even “lesbian”.

Brighton has become a city dominated by libertarian men - and women who will not rock the boat. It would be a better and a safer place for all of us if this were not the case. But I have little confidence it will change.

The mighty phallus on the seafront will, I suppose, have at least one function: to be a constant reminder of the folly of politicians and the beauty we have squandered.