Is there a right way and a wrong way for a woman to worship her vagina? Judging from this week’s weird media debate about "vajazzling", there clearly is.
On Monday evening, Newsnight caused its normally catatonic viewers to wake up and spill their Ovaltine by featuring a discussion about vajazzling.
Beloved of Essex girls in particular, this practice involves the jazzing up of the vagina, where the pubic hair is waxed off and replaced by stick-on jewels.
The Newsnight reporter, Liz MacKean, wore her best Horrified-of-Hampstead face as she bravely entered into alien territory – a beauty salon for permatanned working-class women – and gawped in alarm at a vajazzle catalogue.
In the studio, Jeremy Paxman oversaw a debate in which brainy middle-class feminists informed us that these Essex birds feel "compelled by society" to make themselves look more "pornographic".
Of course they couldn’t possibly have decided for themselves to be vajazzled – no, they were propelled into the beauty therapist’s chair by forces beyond their control and understanding.
One of the feminists described vajazzling as a "symbolic castration", with these poor unfortunate women effectively being "prepped for surgery by Dr Bling".
She said it with all the sneering condescension of those Victorian anthropologists who once looked with disgust upon the plaited pubes and exposed boobs of strange African tribes. Only today it is Essex that is viewed as an exotic land full of weird women, by well-educated feminists who live in the more civilized bits of south-east England.
The great irony is that the very same feministas who sneer at vajazzling are just as likely to sing the praises of something like The Vagina Monologues.
That interminable pussy-fest featured well-known middle-aged women taking to the stage on Broadway, in the West End and across Europe to bore on at great length about their clitorises and the power of the c**t.
It won plaudits from the broadsheet press, and female celebs queued up for the opportunity to praise their private parts in public.
So it is apparently wrong to vajazzle your vagina, but perfectly okay to valorise it; it is bad to "worship" it with jewels but good to "worship" it with words in front of like-minded liberal feminists.
Such are the double standards of modern-day feminism. This week’s bemused and aloof discussion of vajazzling exposes the snobbery of the sisterhood, the disdain that many feminists feel for the plucked and preened women of Essex and other jazzy towns, who apparently "do sex" in the wrong way.
Feminism today seems to be more about expressing disdain for the sexual antics of women from the lower orders than it is about demanding equal treatment.
Consider the recent rehabilitation of burlesque, that old tassle-spinning artform in which women in corsets tease and tantalize their audiences. Influential feminists always sing the praises of burlesque dancing in one breath while denouncing lapdancing in the next. Burlesque is "empowering"; lapdancing is "degrading".
In her new book How to be a Woman, Caitlin Moran becomes the latest in a very long line of non-vajazzled feminists to insist that lap-dancing is "not fine" but burlesque is.
Here, once again, a clear moral distinction is made between sexy stuff done by middle-class women and sexy stuff done by working-class women. It’s not okay for working-class women to strut their stuff for cash, but it’s fine for middle-class history students from Oxford to be part-time tassle-swingers for "art".
The message is clear: "Our preferred method of stripping is fun – yours is disgusting."
Likewise, the recent Slutwalks phenomenon confirmed that the only acceptable "slut" in the eyes of respectable feminists is the knowing and ironic one, who dress provocatively only to make a political point. Those other "sluts" – the real ones, in their alcopop-stained micro-dresses – are a different matter entirely.
So where the Slutwalk sluts won garlands of praise from female commentators, so-called "ladettes" are more likely to give those same commentators nightmares. Young women who dress saucily and drink heartily because they actually want to get screwed at the end of the night are pitied as at-risk and deluded creatures.
Both Germaine Greer and Fay Weldon, grande dames of modern feminism, have attacked these "ladettes" as out-of-control creatures, who only aspire to "join the masculinist elite.”
There’s a brilliant irony at the heart of modern feminism: it presents itself as edgy, yet it implicitly promotes new morals and manners that all good women must apparently adopt. Its distinction between right-minded women and fallen women, between a vagina-worshipping elite of feminists and the vajazzled hordes, breathes new life into the old Victorian divide between the Good and Bad amongst the fairer sex.
Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and among other publications, contributes to The First Post, where this first appeared.