Category Archives: Comment

Why I Danced in Spearmint Rhino

Last week, we heard that Camden Council in London may withdraw licensing from the strip venue, Spearmint Rhino. This was greeted with joy by anti-sex feminists. But what about the women who will lose well-paid jobs? A former Spearmint Rhino dancer explains what stripping there meant for her.

Like many people of my generation, once I graduated I felt lost. Applying for jobs was a job in itself and waiting for the rejection letters became a cause for not bothering to get out of bed in the morning. Watching my dole money dwindle and my chances of earning a living minimise, I remembered a friend telling me that on her gap year in Japan she began stripping to find her travels.  The thought played with me as I summed up the courage to ask my boyfriend to lend me groceries. Fuck it, I thought. If other women are doing it, then I can.

Before I could change my mind I took myself around the city that night. I went into four different strip clubs, each time telling the guy on the door why I was there and if it would be alright if I had a look around and spoke to the girls about what it was like to work there.  Spearmint Rhino seemed the safest, the most discreet, with the best security and the highest payout. That was on the Tuesday. By Friday it was my first shift. By Monday I could afford my rent again.

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Stripping wasn’t the easiest job I’ve ever done, but it was certainly the most enjoyable. Even now when I look back on my days there I remember the good before the bad. I compare it to the other jobs I worked before I since and though it wasn’t perfect, what job is? The long nights and sore feet were necessary for the money I brought home. The competition between other girls helped me drive my determination, strengthen my sales pitch and hone in on my unique selling points. The difficult customers taught me interpersonal skills, patience and negotiation tactics.

Being self employed is not easy, but since working there I know that working in such a high pressure, intense workspace means that every job since has reaped the benefits. And what about exploitation? Power is an interesting dynamic. It is not held solely by the customer, nor by me as the dancer. It’s an exchange of money, interest, attention and services. To feel exploited as a stripper must imply that anyone selling services with their body should also feel under the thumb of capital; that they do, but why should only sex workers be punished for it?

Working at Spearmint Rhino pulled me out of poverty in a way that no other job allowed me to do. Because no other job would hire me. Working there not only paid me in money, but also confidence that I had something worth selling. Not just my body, but also my mind to the customers who laughed at my jokes, entertained me with conversation and spent time with me. Attractive waitresses, nurses, teachers and care assistants aren’t punished by having their jobs taken away from them; only those women who dare to mix sexuality with autonomy and smack a price tag on it. If I hadn’t worked my way out of debt by stripping, I dread to think what my options would have been.

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17 Anti-Porn Arguments

It’s difficult to pin down and deal with all of the anti-porn arguments flying around. They seem to mutate constantly, and often contradict each other. For those of us who regularly encounter anti-porn activists, it’s hard to explain to others the sheer lack of intelligence in the anti-porn movement. Just as in the climate-change “debate”, there isn’t really much of a debate at all – just facts clashing with dogma to create noise.

So I’m indebted to the anti-porn campaigner (well, anti-porn entrepreneur is probably more accurate) known as One Angry Girl, who seems to be a minor celebrity in the puritanical feminist community, and even has a testimonial on her site from a member of our favourite UK anti-sex group, Object.

OAG has kindly pulled together 17 “pro-porn” statements, and her rebuttals, into one handy crib-sheet. And since I was in the mood for a blogging marathon, here are all 17, with my own comments. Her points are made using a “They say”/”You say” formula, and feature a high venom/fact ratio.

OAG is very, very angry that some women take off their clothes for money. She’s so livid, she’s determined to stop them from doing so. Because that will make her feel better, for some  reason which she never explains. So here it is: proof that porn is evil.

 1) They say: But they’re enjoying themselves

You say: If they enjoy it so much, then they would be willing to do it for $7.50 per hour.

I say: How do you know they wouldn’t? Some do it for free – check out all the amateur porn that people upload themselves.

Or: Women in porn are often screaming with joy, but sometimes they are also screaming in pain. Which should we believe? If their pleasure is real, and not faked, then their pain is also real, and not faked.

I say: Have you tried asking the women how they feel during a scene? No? Why not? Shouldn’t you learn something about how this art-form actually works behind the scenes, before dedicating your life to hating it?

Or: Once Jenna Jameson got very powerful in the industry, she began refusing  do scenes involving anal sex. This suggests to me that she doesn’t actually enjoy anal sex. Yet Im sure if you investigate her earlier movies, you can probably find a scene or two where she is appearing to enjoy it. Why? Its called acting.

I say: Some pornstars I’ve met choose not to have anal sex on camera; some choose to do it. Agencies will ask girls up-front what their “levels” are: anal, boy-girl, girl-girl, solo, etc. The girl gets to choose. The key thing isn’t whether anal sex hurts, or if you find it icky: it is the C-word: Consent. For somebody who sells anti-rape bumper stickers on your site, you don’t seem to care much about consent.

2) They say: Strippers are empowered

You say: If they’re so powerful, then why do strip clubs have security guards protecting the dancers? Why do women working bachelor parties have to take security with them?

I say: Erm… in my experience, they don’t.

Or: How is it empowering for women to give men exactly what they’ve come to expect from us?

I say: I find it empowering when I make a woman cum. Likewise, I know many women find it empowering to give a man a hard-on.

Or: How is it empowering to grovel and compete for male attention and cash…like a trained seal doing flips in a tank to get his fish reward?

I say: You could ask strippers that question. But since you don’t actually care what they think, you won’t. Your comment about being a “trained seal” simply reveals your disdain for the stripper. So be clear: are you trying to rescue them, or do you merely hate them?

3) Porn/prostitution have always been around, they always will be, so what’re you gonna do?

You say: Rape, murder, and incest have always been around too. Should we be okay with those things?

I say: Porn and prostitution involve consent. Rape, murder, incest do not. Consent good, coercion bad. Got it yet?

4) They say: Porn-stars and strippers are celebrating their sexuality

You say: Why does celebrating your sexuality always seem to happen in public for strangers and a paycheck? Does anyone ever get to celebrate their sexuality in private with their partner?

I say: Yes, pornstars (and most of the rest of us) also fuck in private. Many of them are in relationships, and many are married. They’re real people with minds, feelings, and lives beyond the porn set. And they also choose to earn money fucking on camera. And you choose to obsess about it.

5) They say: My partner and I both enjoy using porn, so what’s the problem? Who’s getting hurt?

You say: Some people like to wear fur coats, or eat veal, or shop at Wal-Mart. Your enjoyment of a product does not erase the suffering that went into creating that product.

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I say: I’m pretty sure animals don’t surrender their fur or their meat consensually. When pornstars are skinned to make coats or killed for their meat, I’ll join your anti-porn crusade.

6) They say: Ok, maybe some of the women in porn didn’t freely choose their careers, but lots of them did.

You say: If you have a comprehensive research survey of all current and former porn workers, I’d love to see it. There isn’t one available. However, there are major studies involving prostitutes around the world, which found that 90% of them wanted out immediately, but didn’t have the resources.

I say: There’s plenty of research into porn – but you’re clearly not interested in seeing it. For example here’s a study covering 10,000 pornstars, which is around 10,000 more than you’ve researched. But then, facts and prejudice don’t sit well together.

7) They say: Ok, well not everyone who uses porn becomes a rapist/addicted/fucked-up

You say: Not everyone who smokes cigarettes gets lung cancer, and cigarettes still come with warning labels.

I say: Porn use correlates with declining rates of sexual violence. So if porn is creating rapists, why do the statistics not show this?

8) They say: If you hate porn, just don’t watch it

You say: That’s like saying if you hate air pollution, dont breathe. I’m surrounded by porn everywhere I go whether I like it or not. Where’s my free choice not to see it?

I say: If you think you’re surrounded by porn everywhere you go, you might be confusing “porn” with “everything”. You are clearly unusually sensitive to displays of sexuality. Perhaps – as this article in Psychology Today suggests, porn isn’t the problem: You are!

9) They say: Nobody is forcing them to do it. It’s their choice.

You say: The word “choice” implies that there was at least one other viable option available. What was their other option?

I say: They could do a job that doesn’t involve getting naked, but for less money, like the rest of us do. Or are you implying that pornstars are too dumb to do anything else? Who forced you to design and sell shouty T-shirts? It surely wasn’t your choice. Let me rescue you!

10) They say: Pornography and prostitution are different.

You say: Not really, pornography is just prostitution plus a camera.

I say: No, doing porn isn’t exactly the same as prostitution, but for sure they both involve money and sex. And since you don’t seem to be anti-money, you’re quite clearly anti-sex.

11) They say: Porn has always existed. Look at Pompeii.

You say: Three wall paintings in Pompeii do not compare to the multi-billion dollar global industry we have today. That’s like comparing a caveman’s smoke signals to the iPhone.

I say: Pompeii didn’t just have a few wall paintings: it had many explicit statues on public display like the one recently shown in the British Museum of Pan having sex with a goat. Quite possibly, your Roman ancestors were selling angry T-shirts (in Latin).

12) They say: You just hate sex.

You  say: Porn is not sex, but a distorted, for-sale, fictionalized version of sex. If I told you I don’t eat at Burger King, would you tell me I hated food?

I say: No, but if you became upset by pictures of flame-grilled Whoppers, I might think you’re crazy.

Or: I like sex just fine. But I prefer to have sex only with someone I actually know and like, for free, in private with no strangers watching. Why is that weird to you?

I say: It’s not weird to have sex in private. Most people (including pornstars) do that. Nobody is telling you how to conduct your sex life. Why are you so determined to tell other people how to lead their sex lives? Perhaps you’d make a good dominatrix.

13) They say: You’re just jealous because you’re not as pretty as a porn-star

You say: Even porn-stars don’t look like their original selves. After a few rounds of surgery, a dye job, and some makeup I could look exactly like them.

I say: You clearly haven’t looked at much porn. Porn is far more accepting of non-standard ideas of beauty than most other forms of performance. I’ve met pornstars from 18 to 70, and every shape, size and race. You too could be a pornstar, without the need for surgery or a dye job (and don’t worry, makeup will be provided for you on-set). Of course, the only person who can decide whether you should be a pornstar is you.

14) They say: You’re just jealous because men like them better than you.

You say: It’s been successfully proven that just about any naked woman can get any straight man’s attention pretty quickly. It’s not hard to do, and it doesn’t make you special.

I say: Meeeeee-OW!

15) They say: I’ve watched porn and I’ve never raped anyone.

You say: I guess you are arguing that words and images paired together do not have the power to influence human behavior. If that is your argument, then kindly explain:

[1] the multi-billion dollar industry called ‘advertising’
[2] kids learning their ABCs from Sesame Street
[3] people learning to make a meal by watching Martha Stewart
[4] public service announcements telling us not to drink and drive
[5] (insert your own example here)

I say: And horror films make people murder each other with chainsaws, and Grand Theft Auto makes people run over old ladies for fun. Except they don’t. Because the human mind is a little more complex than you think.

16) They say: The women in the industry make more money than men, therefore it’s empowering to them.

You say: It’s true that pornography and prostitution are the only industries where a woman can out-earn her male counterparts. What does that say about our economy, or about women’s power, that the only way for a woman to outearn a man is to get naked and fuck strangers?

I say: So when male bankers earn more than women, women are oppressed? But when female pornstars out-earn male ones, that also means women are oppressed? In fact, you (finally) raise an interesting question. And there are interesting answers. But why aren’t you campaigning for women to earn more in banking rather than attacking the one trade where women do earn more?

17) They say: You want to censor all porn!

You say: I haven’t ever mentioned censorship, which doesn’t address demand for porn. You’re saying that to shut me up and it won’t work.

I say: It’s true, you haven’t mentioned censorship, though most anti-porn campaigners are pro-censorship. In fact, you haven’t mentioned any solution to these “problems” at all. Funny that… perhaps you don’t actually give a damn, and you just want to sell more angry T-shirts? According to your site, you’ve sold 24,000 of them. Yay capitalism!

Sephy Hallow Objects to Objectification

As a woman that likes porn, I’m often drawn into the debate on the objectification of women. What’s degrading, demeaning or a thorn in the side of the feminist cause is often the subject of discussion, and I frequently find people asking me to defend (or at least consolidate) my views on feminism and pornography. How can I be both pro-equality and pro-porn? Isn’t that like an animal rights activist explaining their views whilst chomping down on a bloody steak?

Obviously, I’m going to argue that it’s not analogous. In fact, I’m going to take the shockingly controversial view that a woman’s body is not a battlefield on which to project sexual politics, and that the war waged over the female body treats women as ragdolls in a moral tug-of-war; that, in fact, if you want to stop women being objectified, you have to first consider that dragging all female bodies into sexual politics is the ultimate act of objectification.

But there’s that word again – objectification – and once again, it strikes me that the root of this debate, this word that is dragged up again and again, typically goes unanalysed. So let me start by putting that right.

Objectification, from the root “object”, is the process by which we figuratively consider a living thing in the terms of an object – that is to say, we cognitively turn it into an object, treating it in the same terms as a table or chair. With me so far? Good. Because I’m about to challenge your assumptions about the concept of objectification.

When I say we treat something like a table or chair, I don’t mean we use it to serve a purpose – as a means to an end. Cold and inhuman though that might seem, we use people to serve purposes all the time, in every single job on the planet, so that’s nothing new.

What I mean is that if you want to move the chair across the room, or stand on it to switch off the fire alarm or reach a high shelf, you don’t consult it first. You don’t consider its preference in the matter, or if it even has one – you simply assume that it doesn’t, with the understanding that objects don’t have cognition. It’s a fairly safe assumption (though I will regret saying this if there is ever a great uprising of inanimate objects), and there are no moral objections to treating objects in this manner. The problem comes when you apply the same logic to a sentient, self-aware being – as our culture frequently does with women.

There are problems with the way human culture treats women, and I am not going to deny that – we have a long way to go. However, what I am going to point out is the glaring irony of fighting against female objectification, whilst disregarding the opinions individual women have about the way they use their own bodies; that is the very definition of objectification.

I am not naïve about the sex industry, and of course I object to content produced under duress. I also know full well that women are regularly treated in society as objects; there have been many short-lived attempts (usually in clubs) to treat me as a sex toy – but I’m not that either. The truth is, I’m just a woman that’s sick of having her gender put before her rights, by both feminists and chauvinists alike.

My body is many things. It is the source of my voice, and the way I understand pleasure and pain. It is the face I am recognised by and the gestures and idiosyncrasies I am known for. Above all, though, it is mine. And I’m fucking tired of being told by everyone around me that the way I act, the way I dress, and the way I conduct myself sexually have something to do with their political agenda.

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So to anyone anti-porn – especially if you’re pro-equality – I’m telling you now: leave us alone. Stop telling women how to regulate their sexuality. Stop telling us how we’re allowed to portray our sexuality. Stop telling us what we’re allowed to do on camera, or what we’re allowed to enjoy in privacy.

We sure as hell don’t consent to your demands over our bodies.

A Critical Look at Stop Porn Culture (by a Lesbian Woman)

I will start out by letting everyone know that I make absolutely NO money off of the adult industry whatsoever, I have several friends in the adult entertainment industry, I am a lesbian woman, I have a college education (EMT-B & Human Development) I am Canadian, I am a person who politically is a left leaning Libertarian and am a supporter of the adult industry.

I have always been fairly critical of Stop Porn Culture & Dr. Gail Dines’ viewpoint & arguments against pornography. However I used to believe that it was just a group that had misguided views & ideas of what pornography was but its intentions were inherently good. It also crossed my mind that maybe they were so passionate about their cause, that it might have left them blinded to see any viewpoint but their own. Now I believe differently.

One of my issues is that I have never heard Dr. Dines speak on hardcore lesbian or gay pornography. I myself have seen the so-called acts of ‘degradation & humiliation’ (Gail’s words, not mine) in gay/lesbian adult media, but yet nothing has been said about this form of adult entertainment by her or her organization. I know the excuse will probably that the target audience are heterosexual males (especially in the case of lesbian pornography), but I’m genuinely interested in knowing why this is never mentioned. Is it less degrading because the “body punishing sex” is being perpetrated by a member of the same gender? I am in no way agreeing with Dr. Dines’ views on pornography, but her focus does seem to intentionally solely be on heterosexual pornography.

As a member of the LGBT community, this troubles me. Why hasn’t Dr. Dines addressed abuse within same-sex relationships in pornography? I always hear in lecture after lecture the “body punishing” & “women being gagged with penises” explanation. However I never hear about “butch girls gagging femmes with strapons” or “male on male rape fantasy” porn. By this standard it seems to me that Dr. Dines is (possibly even subconsciously) bashing the heterosexual male. I thought she was was supposed to be leader & academic speaker of an anti-pornography organization, not attack the adult viewing habits of the hetero male. The focus seems to be very direct, deliberate, and intentional. Not at the ENTIRE industry like SPC claims.

A number of SPC (Stop Porn Culture ) members/supporters have been extremely abusive toward those with opposing views. Insults, defamation, accusations & assumptions ran wild. These included a passive agressive death threat, accusations of beastiality, claims that I support rape & enjoy watching women be raped, questioning if I am a pedophile, and saying that I was happy when a 13 year old raped his sister. When I questioned/informed SPC about this they told me it was upto the Sex & Censorship moderators on their facebook page to deal with it. I had explained to them that I actually had concern for THEIR organization. Afterall, I wouldn’t want some of my biggest & outspoken supporters to be making these obscene & untrue claims because naturally people assume guilt by association. Despite the people making these claims were on Dr. Dines facebook friends list. These concerns were simply brushed off & ignored. Gail herself has refered to female pornographers/supporters of the adult entertainment industry as ‘scabs’. She especially likes to use immature terms towards males defending the industry brushing them off as ‘boy-men’, ‘creeps’ and ‘porny men’. It shocked me that an academic would resort to using these words. I was dumbfounded and at a loss of words that someone who professes to hate abuse, bullying and derogatory words would behave in this childish, infantile manner.

Gail’s refusal to debate women who hold their jobs in the sex work/adult entertainment industry in high regard is unusual for someone of her academic level. She is highly avoidant when it comes to those who question her beliefs or debunks her research. She often misquotes forums, researchers, and adult stars to coincide with her message. I frankly do not understand it. Why doesn’t she want to debate? Is Gail afraid that the likes of Nina Hartley, Lily Cade and Tristan Taormino will utterly wipe the floor with her uncited & unsourced research? Is she afraid of losing her credibility by having actual people (especially women) currently in the business speak positively about it? Although I don’t know if you could lose much more credibility than by hanging out with the likes of Shelley Lubben (whom now apparently is a ‘Doctor’ as well).

In closing, I am proud to say I support the adult industry, sex workers & the anti censorship movement. I’m proud of who I am & As a PROUD WOMAN I stand by my beliefs.

Warmest Regards & Stay Safe,
-Kat C

The ‘Feminists’ That Cried Wolf

Stripper Edie Lamort writes about snobbish and prudish attacks on strip clubs made in the name of feminism.

This Friday 28th February, Labour MP Diana Johnson, will be reading her proposals for a new bill on Sex Entertainment Venues (SEVs) for the second time in the House of Commons. She is the MP for Kingston-Upon-Hull and the striptease venues near her are Honey Trap and Purple Door. Her bill aims to increase regulations of Sexual Encounter Venues (SEVs) despite these being very heavily regulated anyway. Currently a council can consult with the public on SEVs and ask if it wishes to see a nil policy introduced. Effectively banning striptease in that particular borough. However this is not mandatory and this new legislation seeks to make it mandatory for all councils to go through this procedure, whether they believe it relevant or not.

Along with being an admirer of extremist lobby group Object she states: “As well as the specific concerns about the links between the sex entertainment industry and coercion and human trafficking, there is a widespread view that lap-dancing clubs can contribute in a negative way to the general character of an area and detract from the residents’ quality of life, especially if the clubs are located in residential areas or near schools.”

This is the usual line given and is not supported by any evidence. In terms of human trafficking; the very idea of allowing legal licensed venues is to prevent such things. You have to show your passport to the club to prove that you can legitimately work in the UK therefore making it impossible for undocumented or trafficked persons to get a job. Copies of passports must be held by the club as they can be checked by the local council at any time.

Tied up in the ‘concerns’ about coercion is the patronising attitude that good girls couldn’t possibly choose such a job and those who do must be damaged, drug addicts and therefore coerced.

In terms of them contributing negatively to the character of the area one thing I hear frequently, when attending debates on the subject, is the phrase ‘I had no idea these places existed in my borough, but they must be banned.’ So if they had no idea they existed then they weren’t causing that much trouble in the first place. There have also been very strict regulations on the kind of signage and advertising clubs can do for many years now. No club is allowed to display obscene or overt advertising or flyer passers by.

Finally clubs are not usually open during school hours and children do not attend school in the nighttime. But hey, why let the facts get in the way of a good moral panic?

She also uses quotes from three concerned local residents who do not like striptease venues. They say they fear the customers of such clubs and feel vulnerable. As much as their fears are real to them we must ask if they are founded. Is this fear real or imagined?

The three residents quoted by Diana Johnson may not like the dancers and dislike the customers. They may find us all slutty and trashy for dancing naked but I find their snobbery distasteful. They are welcome to their opinion but I and many others are also entitled to our freedom. The argument of finding customers of strip pubs rowdy and unpleasant could also be used against football supporters, clubbers or rock fans going to a gig.

A few weeks ago, in the club I work in, we had a group of girls in celebrating a birthday. They were great fun, respectful to all and are most welcome to come again. These women were not afraid of dancers or customers. Not all women are quaking with fear because of striptease.

The Stripping the Illusion blog recently put in a freedom of information request to the Kingston-Upon-Hull City Council to see if they too were of the same mind as the three upset residents.

“Freedom of Information Act 2000 – Information Request – 000304/14

With regard to your Freedom of Information request received on 7 February 2014, please find our response below.

‘I am making an enquiry under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, and I would grateful if you would provide me the following information:-

• Details of premises within the city currently licenced for striptease (either under the Police and Crime Act 2009, or the Licensing Act 2003);

• Details of any premises which were licenced for striptease (under the Licensing Act 2003) over the last ten years, i.e. from February 2004;

• Records of any official complaints made against the above premises, either to Kingston-upon-Hull City Council or Humberside Police.’

The only two premises that have been licensed for striptease are Fantasy Bar (now the Honey Trap) and Purple Door. There have been no official complaints made against either of these premises.

We hope that you will be satisfied with our response and should you require any further information then please do not hesitate to contact us.”

It is very easy to criticise and condemn something you don’t understand but the main question here is do we want to live in the prison of other people’s fears? Fears that are not your own but simply those of a tiny yet vocal minority. Whilst their fear is of significance to them we cannot let them dictate to the more courageous majority and have the richness of our lives censored or limited.

This does not only affect dancing venues. If we continue to put the opinions of the local busybody, someone with a grudge or perhaps the interests of a property developer over and above the enjoyment of the rest of society we will all be poorer. This nimbyism doesn’t stop at strip clubs. More and more the objections of a tiny minority of residents are causing venues and arts projects to close.

The Wapping Project in East London is closing due to the complaints of three awkward residents. It will now be turned into ‘luxury’ flats. The George Tavern music venue in Stepney is threatened due to a development of ‘luxury’ flats. The Coliseum is closing, all the clubs by London Bridge have been closed and the Raymond Revue Bar was closed in the disgraceful Soho land grab just before Christmas.

This all amounts to nothing more than a conservative attack on communities and the arts. Hundreds of pubs and venues are closing up and down the country every week. Mostly to make way for ‘luxury’ flats that are bought off plan by foreign investors. Whole areas are being cleansed and sold, not just Soho, but also the Elephant and Castle redevelopment.

Do we wish to live in society full of unaffordable ‘luxury’ flats, in a cultural wasteland, or do we want to keep music, dance (including pole dance) and the arts as part of our lives? A friend of mine who has been a successful club promoter for over two decades now, gave a wry smile recently and said, ‘I don’t know why they are planning a 24 tube service in 2015. At this rate there will be no more clubs in central London to go to.’

Not only is this bill part of ‘the feminism that cried wolf’ syndrome, taking offence to everything, but it’s also the feminism that is the handmaid of property developers.

Another question this raises for me is why are ‘feminists’ such cowards and why do they seek to blame others all the time for their issues? I know the world is not perfect but my formative years were during the 90s where everyone went a bit hippy. People went travelling and ‘found themselves’, people did Yoga, meditation and therapies of all kinds. Essentially people took responsibility for themselves. They therapied themselves silly, sometimes with charlatan gurus admittedly, but the over all philosophy of the time was, ‘if you have personal issues you can deal with them, gain power over them and be happier.’ A flotation tank and some crystals do not solve all problems but this was an overall healthier mentality than today’s finger pointing.

Now people do not look to themselves to see why they are afraid or if their fears have any foundation, they instead they accuse the other. They point the finger and say ‘it must be banned’. Whether the narrative is ‘porn makes me feel bad’, ‘men who’ve looked at other women may gaze lustfully at me’ or even ‘she’s prettier than me, I feel bad, it’s her fault’. They need to ask themselves questions first before blaming the other. It’s not always someone else’s fault and it’s very important we get the balance right.

Everyday Sexism founder Laura Bates recently attacked Helen Grant MP when she dared to suggest girls who don’t like traditional sports should try other types. A reasonable suggestion in my opinion and as someone who enjoys ‘feminine’ dance as well as ‘masculine’ British Military Fitness I appreciate the differences and the benefits of varied forms of exercise. Apparently teenagers can be awkward and say they don’t want to mess their hair. Err ….. well of course and hasn’t this always been the case? I don’t think difficult teenagers are a modern phenomena. This is just another way that people abdicate personal responsibility by pointing the finger at external factors.

Are today’s young women really so feeble minded? I know my nieces aren’t. I’m sure our athletes or cheerleaders aren’t, I know my pole dancing friends aren’t. This modern strand of feminism really is in danger of being the feminism that cried wolf and simply makes a mockery out of a once honorable movement. Laura Bates and Everyday Sexism being a good example of this. Some of the stories published on the website are of actual sexism and some even of criminal acts, these are valid complaints. However there are a great deal that are simply small-minded whining and these will only serve to damage the movement.

Whether it be your local pole dance venue, your local music venue or arts project; these should be saved and not closed down on the whims and complaints of a tiny handful of residents. This bill should set a threshold, a minimum number of complaints, before a successful business can be closed. These complaints should also be backed up by police evidence. Thus preventing the local busybody from ruining everyone else’s fun.

Diane Johnson MP is using hashtag #peoplepoweronstripclubs‬‬‬ if you wish to join the debate.

UK Government Admits Filters Have Failed

Poor old Claire Perry. Having championed Internet censorship child-protection filters, and become a hero to the Tory right and Daily Mail, she appears to have pissed off much of the remainder of the online public. She has steadfastly denied that filters are prone to massive and eternal overblocking, calling such claims “fanciful” only a few days ago. But, as long predicted, overblocking is a huge problem, and as anybody with an understanding of the technology can explain to Perry and Cameron, it can’t ever be adequately resolved: the problem is just too big.

Perry and Cameron have regularly insisted that ISPs can be left to run filters without need for regulation. So it must be enormously embarrassing for them that the UK Government this week announced plans to introduce – in a small way – regulation. In response to an avalanche of news about inappropriate blocking – from ChildLine to the Samaritans – the government has announced it will create a white-list of sites that must not be blocked.

The clear motivation for this is to avoid any more embarrassing news stories highlighting how inaccurate the filters are. The government can’t hope to prevent overblocking any more than the ISPs can, but at least they can ensure that key UK charities are not blocked. This announcement is an admission of failure.

But this move should not be greeted as a step in the right direction. In order to create and manage the white-list, the government needs to create – at taxpayer expense – an Internet censorship team, albeit one with a limited role, for the time being. The new list cannot possibly hope to resolve the majority of blocking errors – all it can do is ensure a small, elite list of websites remains accessible to under-18s.

Overblocking isn’t the main problem, filters are

So overblocking will continue – it just won’t attract as much media attention as before. But even if it could be resolved, this white-list avoids the critical concerns about the filters: overblocking isn’t the real problem. The problem is – still – the filters themselves.

The government still insists on perpetuating the dangerous myth that children are in danger online, and that the answer to this danger is censorship. It continues to pretend there is evidence that allowing children to explore the Internet can be harmful. It continues to ignore the fact that parental control software for PCs has been available for years, and child-friendly tablets are now on sale everywhere, making the need for further filtering redundant. It continues to spread the myth that denying children access to information is safe, rather than harmful. It continues to blur the very important line between young adults and pre-pubescent children. It continues to provide abusers a tool with which to deny their wife, husband, child, access to vital information.

The government admitted this week that the filtering programme has failed. But they maintain the pretence that the failure is a small one, and can be easily repaired. A government white-list will resolve these problems just as well as a severed limb can be repaired using a Post-It note.

If the UK government truly cares about child welfare, it will defend the right of teenagers to freely access the Internet, and it will educate parents as to how they can protect and educate their younger children. Of course they won’t: and meanwhile, they have created a new censorship function within government that we should be watching very carefully indeed.

Ready, Normal People?

The legendary Avenue Q song asks all the “normal people” to join in for the final chorus of the hilarious song, The Internet is For Porn, and it’s never disappointed: thousands of audience members have, over the years, rejoiced in singing along about their masturbatory habits, relieved that, at least in some small way, they can publicly acknowledge their consumption of one of the world’s most popular entertainment formats – porn.

Surprise, then, when the music fades and an actual debate about internet censorship and sexuality arises, and the general public suddenly falls silent on this very serious issue. It’s like someone cut the music halfway through, and they’re caught warbling along – embarrassed to be singled out, they suddenly shut up and pretend the issue has nothing to do with them. But if we’re honest, most of us are consumers of pornography – and yeah, ladies, I’m including us too. Because I have a confession to make to the world:

Hello, Internet. My name is Sephy Hallow, and I like porn*.

What’s more: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with admitting it. Whilst on one hand, I’m not going to openly discuss my particular kinks, that doesn’t mean we can’t have an open, honest discussion about pornography consumption, access to explicit materials, and the importance of a free internet. Because if we don’t, our embarrassment about our sexual preferences is going to have real-world consequences on access to information, sexual health advice and much, much more – plenty of which is entirely non-sexual, safe-for-work, important information, which has been blocked in an attempt to sanitize the web – all in the name of saving the children.

Grown Ups: Grow Up

The internet should absolutely be a space where our children can feel safe to access information and connect socially, amongst other things. However, having default blocks is not the way to go.

Here’s why.

Firstly: it’s not really necessary. The internet has come on a long way since the 90s. If you’re still getting pop-ups advertising horny Russian teens or online Viagra, you need an ad block, not a filter from your ISP. Porn isn’t something you can just innocently stumble onto these days (unless you count Miley Cyrus videos), and it’s even harder to make a fatal Google error with a little parental guidance. Internet filtering is designed to protect children from unwanted exposure to explicit content, and of course we should protect that right – I’m just saying we don’t need to block access to do so.

The internet is a new facet to our sexuality, so it’s up to us as grown ups to provide information, guidance and advice to children and young people about what they can expect to find online. The best way to prevent exposure is to educate your children, so they can avoid such material themselves.

Secondly, we need to open up the debate, and be honest with ourselves. When I say it’s up to the grown ups to offer guidance to young people about sex and the web, I don’t just mean parents and teachers: I mean it’s up to all of us to shape the debate, decide how best we can balance the need to protect children and deny censorship, and provide that safe platform for children without limiting regular access to content for adult consumers. After all, if we can’t talk to other adults in an honest manner about our sexuality and its online expression, what chance have we got in educating young people about sex and the internet?

Allowing widespread internet filtering might seem like the easy option, but if it comes with a caveat of sacrificing our freedom to information – an important civil liberty – how are we making the world better for these children?

Finally, and maybe most importantly, since it encompasses people on all sides of the debate: it simply doesn’t work. Not only does it not work, but it actually fails in two ways: one, that filtering can easily be circumvented; and two, that it blocks other content, much of which is not sexually explicit, and some of which is even political in nature, adding a much more serious problem of censorship to the issue.

Case in point: The Court of The Hague just announced that Dutch ISPs will no longer be mandated to block access to torrent website The Pirate Bay, because the blocks are “disproportionate and ineffective.” If blocks don’t work to curb illegal behaviour, you can bet it won’t stop people accessing something as legal and popular as porn.

Ready normal people? Sing it with me:

The internet is for porn … the internet is for porn …

*Please, please don’t send me dick pics. Much though I love a nice bit of wang – or pussy, for that matter, as an openly bisexual woman – I’m quite happy to source my pleasure media in my own time, thanks.

 

A Stripper Writes to Object

The morality group Object has long campaigned against striptease as well as other forms of sexual expression. Although they claim to be a “women’s rights” organisation, they show notable disdain – even at times, hate – towards the women in the sex industries. Object show no apparent interest in listening to the “poor, abused women” that they claim they are saving from exploitation.

This week, Object founder Anna van Heeswijk published a Guardian article listing five reasons why the strip industry must be attacked using further legislation. In response Vera Rodriguez, a Spanish stripper working in London, wrote the following letter.

Lapdancing clubs need to listen to the voices of the dancers. Here is why:

A response to Ms Heeswick letter, from a dancer’s perspective. Your ‘5 reasons’ easily refuted and more.

Dear Ms Heeswick, after reading your article published yesterday, I would like to answer to each of your reasons…

1. Lap dancing clubs market women as sexual objects for male gratification

Let me question your affirmation, Do lap dancing clubs market women as sexual objects for male gratification?

My answer is NO, in big capital letters. If so, how can an object dance with high heels and do pole dancing tricks? Behind every action of every worker there is a human being taking decisions for themselves. If somebody makes us “objects” is obviously your organization.

Dancers we are entertainers and so far, all workers work for money and that is what we do, entertainment for an audience that pays for our bills.

I also have to make a point to your state. The presence of strip clubs does definitely not increase the demand for “prostitution” but it offers a complete different service. I assume that you take prostitution –that I will call ‘sex work’ as something ‘lower’ than stripping but as a stripper I will not compare to others workers in a way that creates a hierarchy.

2. Women who work in lap dancing are routinely subjected to harassment, exploitation and the expectation of sexual services

Let me question your honesty about the definition “Object” as a human rights organization. To me, it is pure demagogy as it is only trying to make us -the female workers- more vulnerable. If more strip clubs disappear in these hard times of recession and less chances to get other jobs, do you think that is real feminism? As you thought you know what is best for us, let me also advice you to put your energy and your dubious anger in creating more jobs for women, not trying to take away jobs that we decided to do. We are thousands of mothers, migrants, students, fighters, activists and so on, as every one of us has a story to tell. I cant help but laugh sourly at your research with 14 years in the industry at my back.

Real feminism should defend women’s choices. It is not about privileged women eager for some kind of leadership thinking that they know what is best for the rest of us.

Yes, it is true that we have to pay house fees which, increased dramatically after the so called “feminists” like you pushed for a tough legislation that is not even enough for you now. That made us work in what is called now “sexual entertainment venues” and increased dramatically the price of licensing that clubs have to pay. Thanks for making my life –and other women’s life tougher, feminists!

To finish with this point, I will highlight that you try to prove your perspective with what you describe as ‘one woman’ that she felt it was the hardest job that she ever did. I could name hundreds of women that we are still in the industry by choice but as you only mention one, to mention myself is more than enough. Still, I will mention some collectives that support my statement.

3. Lap dancing clubs create a threatening environment for women and girls who live in the areas around the clubs

You support your answer again referring to “one woman that told Object” Can I meet her? Where is she? In which area does she live? Because in my whole career I have generally worked in places that are much more discreet than any other “normal pub” can be. Again, Ms van Heeswijk, why don’t you give more evidence? Is it because you truly lack of knowledge?

4. Councils can still operate under legislation that equates lap dancing clubs with restaurants and karaoke bars

I don’t question your question here when you say that councils can still operate under legislation that equals lap dancing clubs with restaurants and karaoke bars. I just want to ask you why are you so offended? Is it not a karaoke bar a place where people perform which is what I do in my shifts? As long as it is adult consent, which happens to be the case, I don’t think I need to ask permission to work in any neighbor hood, sorry. Can you name where the strip clubs are, Ms van Heeswijk? Sorry to question what I doubt. I have worked in places where even the neighbor hood did not notice that there was a stripping venue. This licensing requirement is only making our lives harder. Do you really want to ‘help’ strippers? Ok, help me to remove our house fees by not asking a special license.

5. Bars and pubs can get around the licensing regime by holding sexual entertainment events on an ‘occasional basis’

On your last ‘reason’ you assert that Bars and Pubs can get around the licensing regime by holding entertainment events on occasional basis. Let me ask you again why does it bother you so much that event workers work on event occasions? Why to make it more difficult to both organizers and dancers that we agree to work? Why not focus on protecting our rights as workers? Why don’t you fight stigma with us instead of us being your target?

Please Ms Van Heeswijk, other members of Object as certain kind of feminism, don’t be patronizing with other women. Start including sex workers and trans women in your out of date discourses. If you don’t agree with my decisions I simply do not care. But if you try to make my job even harder than it is, this letter will only be the beginning.

Signed: An angry stripper and…

Beyoncé’s Bum and the World’s Lamest Outrage

Is there really a mass outcry across Britain about Beyoncé’s divine and gyrating bum at this week’s Grammy Awards? As far as I can tell, it is, once again, an attempt to manufacture an outcry by a couple of media outlets and busybodies.

Predictably, the Daily Mail led the charge with some pearl-clutching editorialising  in the headline: “Is this really what little girls should aspire to, Beyoncé? Parents attack ‘vile’ display at Grammys“.  By outraged “parents”, the Mail means one quote attributed to an unnamed parent who finds it “sad when our children can’t even watch the Grammys.” And “hundreds of others who took to the internet to express their disgust.” Hundreds. Out of how many viewers?

Latter-day Mary Whitehouses, Pippa Smith of SaferMedia, and Vivienne Pattison of Mediawatch-UK, were also quoted with tedious “won’t someone think of the children” moans.

Beyoncé dancing with her husband in a “really skimpy outfit” means boys could have trouble relating to women as anything other than sexual beings, according to Pattison. And, weirdly, Smith is complaining about “a husband and wife … behav[ing] in such an obscenely sexual manner.” Imagine that, boys and girls. A couple who have conceived a child together are sexual beings. Well, I never…

Metro, meanwhile, shared a few snippets of social media reaction and didn’t bother to run the story on their clickbait Facebook page, and the Guardian (despite leading the charge on assorted Lose the Lads’ Mags and No More Page 3 campaigns) and the Telegraph both seem to be refreshingly nonplussed about it all. The Daily Mail article only attracted 172 comments. By Daily Mail standards, that is a mere drop in the ocean of bile, a disappointing response to something which fits their confused agenda of creating outrage while still running plenty of sexy pictures just so you know exactly what you’re meant to be outraged about.

I don’t buy that there is an outrage in Britain about Beyoncé’s bum. Hell, there isn’t even a storm on Mumsnet. People may be raging about Beyoncé in the US but it’s just not happening here.  This is a good thing. This gives me some hope that we’re not descending into a nation of sex-scared prudes who seek to hide all flesh from public view for the good of the children.

It’s great we’re being so chilled out about Beyoncé’s bum – but it means we are sleepwalking through the government’s plans to censor the internet, with very few voices in Parliament speaking out about the absurdity of this. We are also sleepwalking through telecommunications companies already doing the censorship for the government. Companies such as O2 are blocking websites – including my blog – and then making adult consumers jump through stupid hoops to access perfectly legal content. This is despite O2 offering parental control filters so kids can’t access adult content.

I’ve lived in a country with absurdly filtered internet. It doesn’t just mean that adult websites are banned. It means that websites which might cause political dissent are banned too. As long as we merrily let any government do the same thing in Britain, we will be faced with a situation far more damaging than Beyoncé twerking for her own husband.

Who Will Defend Hate Speech?

Bang On Target
Bang On Target

Defending the right of people to publish and watch porn is an uphill battle. Nice, “liberal” people aren’t always as liberal as they think, and many think sexual imagery is a Bad Thing, and shouldn’t fall under the umbrella of free expression. So there was a strong boost for the anti-censorship movement in December when the UK “porn filters” were rolled out, and it turned out that they weren’t really much to do with porn at all.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a genuine free speech lobby in this country (it was the discovery of this fact that led me to set up the Sex & Censorship campaign). However, the filters blocked such broad areas of content that far more vocal groups have been spurred into opposition, and have strengthened the anti-censorship movement. The revelation that a number of gay sites had been blocked, apparently in error, led to outrage from the LGBT community and its supporters. And the inclusion of Sex Education as a category that parents could prevent their teens from accessing caused outrage among many commentators.

The animal protection organisation World Wildlife Fund adopted the panda as its symbol, rather than some endangered species of lizard or beetle, because pandas look cuddly. Saving ugly creatures isn’t a cause that many people will donate to. In the world of anti-censorship campaigning, LGBT and sex education causes are the panda; and yet, many of the “uglier” blocked categories should be just as much a cause for concern as the “pretty” ones. But if people accept that some expression can be censored, then free speech is lost.

Many of the blocked categories have been ignored because they don’t upset any large lobby group, but they should be cause for concern. I have seen no defence, for example for “sites that give information on illegal drugs”. Yet such sites save lives, and fill a role that, in a more sane world, would be carried out by government. The site pillreports.com, for example, is a database of ecstasy tablets on the market. As the site says: ‘Pills sold as “Ecstasy” often include other, potentially more dangerous, substances such as methamphetamine, ketamine and PMA.’ Filtering of drug information doesn’t protect anyone, but simply enforces an anti-drug morality. If allowed to continue, this filtering will doubtless cost teenage lives.

“Sites that promote self-harm” may make for good Daily Mail headlines, but people in distress most need a community of people who understand them. Isolating troubled young people from each other can only be a recipe for disaster. “Sites that describe guns” are also on the list, and illustrate the constant confusion between expression and the physical world. America’s gun lobbyists try to claim that “guns don’t kill people”; this is patent nonsense. Guns do kill people: but there’s no evidence that pictures or descriptions of guns do, and in fact guns are shown daily on TV, often in glamorised ways, without any evidence that this leads to real-world violence.

The option to block social networking sites is perhaps one of the most sinister of all. Depriving children of social contact may be classified as emotional abuse, and yet, because of the endless panic over “online grooming”, many parents may exercise this option. The best way to open a child to the possibility of grooming is to keep them ignorant of the real world. The filters will harm children.

The “file sharing” category is not there to protect children at all, but to protect media corporations from having their content pirated, and probably the result of some clever lobbying activity. Piracy is the problem of the media and entertainment industry, and is a poor excuse for censorship.

The catch-all category of “tasteless and obscene” is another one that preserves conservative ideas of morality, rather than attempt to protect children. Among other things, it includes the ludicrous concept of “how to commit murder”; one would think any teenager conversant with basic physics, chemistry or biology would be able to work that out. Presumably the banning of science classes in school must follow. This category also includes “bathroom humour”, though one must suspect that children can work out fart jokes by themselves, without help from the Internet.

The list goes on and on. In every case, it seems that blocking content can do more damage to child development than the content itself. The category that most divides people is that of hate speech: “sites that encourage the oppression of people or groups based on their race, religion, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation or nationality”. The idea that racism, homophobia and other prejudices can be dealt with by censorship has been fashionable for a few decades, and is attractive to people who dislike prejudice. And yet it is a false promise. Censorship of words that might offend minorities has never solved any underlying problem. Discourse is the solution to bigotry, and this must include angry, “offensive” discourse, however unpleasant it is. Politically correct cures for prejudice do not work; indeed, they leave problems to fester and get worse.

This isn’t to say that prejudice should be left alone: education, discussion, debate, argument and, most of all, leadership are essential. We have a government that wants to protect us from “hate speech” on the one hand, while hinting on the other that immigrants are a threat to our society. Hate can be spread without using hate speech.

And those who think that censorship introduced for “good” reasons will not then be abused are naive in the extreme. The core problem with censorship is that it will always be abused by those with power. Once it is accepted that hateful speech can be suppressed, then the definition of hateful speech will grow inexorably until it is unrecognisable.

Voltaire said: “I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. Those who are tempted to draw acceptable lines for Internet filtering are missing the point. In a free society, there can be no acceptable lines.