On Tuesday, Labour MP Diana Johnson called for a change in the law to increase legislation around sexual entertainment venues (SEVs), namely lap-dancing clubs. Alongside the bill, feminist groups such as Object have stepped up their campaign to “challenge sex-object culture” for which lap-dancing and strip clubs are given a hefty portion of blame.
Council policy states that objections cannot be made on moral grounds, so campaigns take a community-focused angle, suggesting SEVs create no-go zones for women and children and that dancers themselves are routinely harassed.
Empirical evidence has not backed up these claims. No provable correlation has been found between strip clubs and sexual offences and a previous report to that effect was shown to be misleading. Last year, objections to an application for the renewal of a club licence in Northampton included the claim that sexual offences had risen in area but police evidence was to the contrary. Meanwhile, a study led by Professor Phil Hubbard from the University of Kent found that only about 3% of respondents felt a lap-dance club was a source of public nuisance. Once a month, there’s a life drawing class in the White Horse. Both women and men turn up to produce lopsided drawings of pole dancers. Theoretically, while the strip club might be in jeopardy under new proposals, the class would be safe. Watching a naked woman hang upside down by her leg is acceptable as long as the purpose is not “sexual stimulation”. The two situations are seen as so disparate that the one is a focus of fury, the other a quirky but genteel pastime.
If a stripper is an object because someone is paying her for a one-dimensional service then strip clubs no more make women into commodities than any other area of employment. We all work as a means to survive and, as such, during working hours we provide some service. By the same thinking, a teacher is just a commodity for the gratification of our desire to learn; a therapist a commodity to gratify our desire for mental comfort; a life drawing model simply an object for us to draw.
In reality, the relationship between customer and dancer is often one in which real human interaction takes place.
Stripper and activist Edie Lamort has described the sweetly odd assortment of presents she receives from customers. Ranging from documentary DVDs to a bottle of holy water from the Ganges, their giving suggests not all her customers see her as a soulless object. Other dancers tell me they spend a good portion of their time talking to clients.
If the moral panic over the selling of any kind of sexual service were less, perhaps the focus could shift from the “objectifying” transaction between dancer and client to the one between dancer and management where scope for exploitation is great.
Research by Dr Kate Hardy and Professor Teela Sanders from the University of Leeds revealed that, while 75% of dancers rated their job satisfaction at between seven and 10 out of 10, there were also problems in the workplace. Financial exploitation by club owners was the most common complaint and women described having to pay high fees (to work in the club) and being unfairly fined. It is here that change is needed.
It’s telling that dancers have been so little consulted as campaigns against their livelihoods rage on. Here are a few quotes from some dancers.
“Licensing legislation never properly investigates how clubs can be better run, mainly because dancers themselves are never consulted by those who legislate the clubs. There is no doubt in my mind that working as a stripper can, in the right circumstances, be empowering.” Stacey, the White Horse
“Diversity and deviance must be allowed in our society, we will lose a lot if everything offensive to anyone is banned.” Edie Lamort
“Real feminism should defend women’s choices. It is not about a privileged few thinking they know what’s best for the rest of us.” Vera, the Old Axe