Tag Archives: stacey clare

Oi Russell! If I Can’t Strip, It’s Not My Revolution!

Dear Russell,

Forgive the blatant sexual objectification of my own body to get your attention. Given your past reputation and my occupation, it seems fitting.

I’ve got a bone to pick with you… not wishing to sound like another critic in the army of naysayers lining up to knock lumps out of you (it beggars belief to observe the emotional violence levelled at you sometimes) as I think of you as someone who has done remarkably well, who has struggled against and overcome uncommon adversity, worked hard and transformed unimaginable pain into joyous medicine for the soul: laughter. You are a public figure of whom the Buddha himself would be proud.

I want to talk to you about feminism; specifically, how women are represented on the Trews. I’m not talking about the Feminism of yester-year, the bra-burning, militant Greenham Commoners, or the suffragettes who fought to the death for a right that became obsolete anyway. I’m not referring to any of these tired old tropes, which, thanks to decades of media conditioning and unhelpful narratives, continue to diminish the movement.

I’m talking about the value of women in society. How women are valued and treated in our culture, the rights, freedoms and options that they are afforded, or not afforded, by the rest of society i.e. men, and how these freedoms are enshrined in our culture, law and heritage. Simple.

I’ve heard you mention Guy Debord before – his book “Society of the Spectacle” explains how modern culture places a higher value on how things look above their reality, to all our detriment. Our present society likes nothing better than to endlessly pore over images of women, scrutinising every inch. We know that appraising women primarily for their attractiveness and the way they look is harmful to us all, yet it persists.

Media representations of gender are essential to public perceptions and beliefs, therefore the ways in which women are represented in popular mainstream media say a lot about cultural attitudes towards them. The legendary academic Jean Kilbourne nails this in her work ‘Killing Us Softly’, identifying attitudes alongside representations of women in advertising. Admirably, you have also pinpointed the problem of objectification, idolatry, and deification of women, turning them into 2d objects and projecting narratives onto them. You seem to have an impressive grasp of feminist ideology, revealed in episode 12 ‘Is Renee Zellweger getting older’ when you explain the “Madonna/Whore” delineation of female de-sexualised archetypes.

But it begs the question, what are you doing to create alternatives to the usual media mechanisms that silence womens’ voices and deny their personalities? How has the Trews facilitated a discussion about the value of women in society and the media? As a feminist myself, and a big fan of your work, I’m sorely disappointed.

I’ve been watching the Trews for about a year now; the part of me that bloody loves you, and always has, is thoroughly excited and inspired to witness you, with your knowledge, illustriousness, and sheer audacity, having a square go at tackling corruption, greed and ignorance head-on. But, sadly, the feminist part of me that is awake to female representation and subjugation is horrified by the lack of women on the Trews.

With the exception of the Focus E15 mums and Lindsay from the New Era Estate, who are magnificent exemplars of utter mightiness in the struggle for social justice in the UK, there has been a dearth of other women like them. So far I have been dismayed by the lack of outspoken, assertive, intelligent, empowered women in comparison to the number of men who fit that description. There is a growing alumni of impressive and influential male guests, including Scroobius Pip, Brenden Ogle, George Monbiot, Jolyon Rubinstein and Heydon Prowse, B Dolan, Dan Pinchbeck, Dave DeGraw, Mo Ansar, Rufus Hound, David Baddiel, and Alain De Botton. Conversely, is it fair to say that Chloe and Alesha the Cambridge drop-outs, your PA Nicola, and the little girl on the tube represent the full opinion, intellect and creative spirit of half the population?

You invited Helena Norberg-Hodge to share her expertise on trade agreements and food justice, but your habit of continually interrupting her to translate what she was saying into your “layman’s terms” was undermining. Ok, it’s part of your adorable shtick, and she’s not the only guest who is put through your jovial “everyday folk” filter, you do this with male guests too. But there is something disconcerting about her interview. You are more deferential with men, you hang off their every word – not so with Helena.

In episode 164, ‘Is David Cameron The Terrorist?’ you appear with Alec Baldwin, Max Keiser and Stacey Herbert. Worryingly, you introduced both male guests using their full names – but Stacey is just Stacey. She barely gets a word in throughout the discussion, and she is the last person to be addressed on each question. When she does offer a weird analogy about the banking system being like Ebola she doesn’t get to qualify it; instead Max Keiser interjects with “Ah, haha, well I think what Stacey is alluding to there…” Talk about patronising!

Even more worryingly, this has already been brought to your attention! In episode 106, ‘Is The Trews Sexist?’ a fan suggests that you redress the balance of male/female guests, in order to avoid the classic narrative of male-dominated politics. As a life-long fan of your humour I appreciated the delicious irony of your response, ordering your female butler upstairs to boss her about like a patriarchal overlord. Truly hilarious, but you didn’t actually take the hint.

Your most noteworthy female guest so far is undoubtedly Naomi Klein. Does that mean you’ll only take a woman seriously if she triggers anti-globalisation movements with her best selling books? Not a bad criterion to have for your guests, in which case what the bloody hell is Alistair Campbell (spin doctor to Blair’s Evil Empire) doing there? I understand the point – Campbell is human underneath etc. But what is the wider message being sent out to female fans?

I could go on but you’ve probably got the message. I don’t believe for a second I’m the first person to point this out to you – in fact you revealed an awareness of your sexist tendencies by apologising to that politician on Question Time for calling her “love”. Maybe your eyes are opening to the myriad ways that women are still stifled, undermined and disregarded.

What, then, qualifies me to aim this diatribe at you? Obviously, I’m a woman and a feminist. I’m also a “stripper activist”. I co-founded a group called East London Strippers Collective, a group of strippers who have gathered out of shared grievances about our industry, and a desire to improve it. We are committed to self-organisation, self-empowerment and ethical business practises. We seek to challenge stereotypes and widely held erroneous beliefs about our work, provoking better-informed dialogue about strippers and sex-workers in general.

How can a feminist be a stripper, I hear you think? Easily. For us pro-choice, sex-positive feminists our work is built on the principle that women have the right to be sexual beings, the right to choose what they do with their own bodies – the same principle that made abortion and homosexuality a legal right.

ELSC believe that women (and men) have the right to strip and not be stigmatised for it. We imagine that if clubs were run as egalitarian businesses, owned and managed by workers we might create a more respectful and sympathetic environment within the industry, changing the wider social impact. Our manifesto challenges the patriarchal conventions on which the industry is built, and ensures that no individual can profit from the work of another.

Unsavoury workplace controls, exploitative business practises and unhealthy manipulations of male and female sexuality are as much a consequence of capitalist greed than anything else. The more we strive to take back autonomy in our workplaces, the more useful and effective we can be in society, which makes us no different from any other exploited work force seeking an end to greed and exploitation. In many ways, the sex industry is the definitive capitalist business model, entirely profit driven. But I can imagine it being different.

Russell, your call for Revolution is a symphony of inspiration to me. I’m a politicised radical who believes in change. I went to anti-war demos and climate riots, some of my best mates fought high profile climate-justice court trials. What I learned during my informative years as an anti-capitalist rebel I am now applying to my choice of work. As an activist, visual artist and a practising Buddhist I’ve had ample opportunity to re-imagine the world. The task of our generation is re-imagining a system that serves people over profit; gender equality must be part of that system.

My vision for Revolution includes strippers. It includes all sex-workers. Because what they offer society is untold insight into gender biases and power relationships. I refer to this New Statesman article by Alison Phipps ’Why Feminism Needs Trans People and Sex Workers’;

“Sex workers are part of an industry which, although diverse, is profoundly gendered and based on the commodification of sex and desire. From this position they have unique insights into how gendered power relations and sexual scripts work… the gendered structures that radical feminism identified in the 1970s may have already become more complex and slippery in our postmodern world. Surely, those most likely to understand these present-day structures are those oppressed by them the most.”

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As we strive ahead together calling out greed and corruption, I want the freedom to strip! I want to provide sexual entertainment to those who would otherwise be devoid of it, for the landscape of our art and culture to include tits and willies, and celebrations of nudity and sexuality. I believe there is value in sex work, and that those who choose to do it deserve recognition. I want my positive experiences as a stripper to be acknowledged and my negative experiences to serve as caution. I want to use my knowledge and understanding of my choice of work to be a source of transformation and inspiration to others.

I’d like to know what you think about this potential sticking point; because in the words of the glorious, articulate and mercifully female political agitator Emma Goldman… if I can’t strip, it’s not my Revolution.

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Treat Strippers as Workers, not Victims!

Stripper Activist Stacey Clare is angry…

I have a confession to make. It’s not in anyway salacious, sorry to disappoint. In fact, once I start explaining the background to it, you may well lose interest. But stick with this, because I have a shocking revelation to make about lap dancing and strip clubs. I’m still reeling from it myself.

To add some context, I am co-founder and member of a group of strippers called the East London Strippers Collective. I call myself a stripper activist these days, since someone needs to be. I have been banging on about the state of the strip club industry for almost as long I have been working in it. Since day one, I quickly recognised the injustice of clubs running their business models predicated not only on sales of drinks to customers and door entry fees, but also the amounts of money they can extort from the girls working in them, in the form of house fees and charges.

So, I started educating myself. I made use of my time as a student to make sense of what I was doing. I trawled through decades of feminist theory, explored what little academic research was available, and even bothered to get down to the nitty-gritty legislation itself. Reading actual white paper documents is hardly sexy, but from my point of view, knowing your rights and being able to uphold them is sexy as FUCK. In 2008 I eventually wrote a dissertation about licensing legislation and I had a pretty good idea of what was happening in my industry. The Licensing Act 2003 boosted the night time economy and opened up new markets – one of which was the adult entertainment industry. Lap dancing clubs proliferated under the new licensing regime that allowed them to operate with a public entertainment license. Between 2004 and 2008 lap dancing clubs were popping up in every town across the nation, at one stage opening at the rate of one per week.

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Still with me? Ok, great.

I was working a lot during this period, and I remember dancing for the opening weekend of a club in Sunderland. I remember how appalling the management were, and how oversubscribed the club was with dancers – all paying a hefty house fee, making up a reasonable portion of the club’s income. And while we all hustled for private dances among the few blokes who had dared to become patrons of a controversial new business in their town centre, breaking our backs in plastic shoes to scrape together a couple of hundred quid, the proprietors of the club were comfortably watching the money rolling in by the minute. Something was dreadfully wrong with this business model.

Just as I was handing in my dissertation, a political campaign led by prohibitionist womens’ rights groups Object and the Fawcett Society, resulted in a parliamentary debate and a subsequent change in licensing law around lap dancing clubs. The Policing and Crime Act 2009 gave local authorities new powers to control the spread of the industry and limit the numbers of existing licenses. No longer able to operate with only a Public Entertainment license, lap dancing and strip clubs must now comply with tighter licensing objectives, and an SEV license is now needed. SEV stands for Sexual Entertainment Venue.

Now, SEV licenses have actually been around a lot longer than this, in fact since the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. Back then SEV stood for Sex Encounter Venue – which sounds a bit clinical and sinister. None-the-less, councils did already have at one stage the power to impose SEV licensing objectives on local sex industry businesses. Quite how the loophole happened and why licensing authorities were handing out public entertainment licenses to strip joints up and down the land, defeats me. It was good for business I suppose. But the actual realities of these clubs appeared to be going right under the noses of licensing officials, who turned a blind eye to their business practises.

So that’s when the feminists got involved. And with the help of some heavy weight journalists and academics, and the voices of several ex-dancers who had quit the industry after experiencing the exploitation going on in it, they won the fight to reclassify lap dancing clubs under the more honest and suitable title of Sexual Entertainment Venue. (Thanks to the hard work and brave efforts of those fighting the side of the clubs, in particular one dancer known as Solitaire, who enlisted the support of the performers union Equity, the term Sex Encounter was changed to Sex Entertainment for the purposes of wording the legislation.)

That’s when things took a turn for the worse. In my mind, there was a major oversight throughout every stage of the consultations that took place during the lead up to the licensing reform. That dancers themselves were not legitimately consulted and represented, that they did not have an effectual voice in the debate, neither in the media nor in parliament, has had a highly detrimental effect on our jobs and working environments. Unsurprisingly, the level of taboo attached to the job, and the marginalisation that dancers suffer as a consequence of doing it, means individuals prefer to remain anonymous and are unlikely to come forth and contribute their views and opinions for fear of judgement and social chastisement. Thus decisions are made on our behalf by those who make assumptions about us. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place – no pun intended.

So here we are 5 years later. What’s changed? Well at first glance not much. And in terms of how clubs operate by charging girls money to work in them and offering little or nothing in return regarding job security or comfortable working conditions, nothing has changed. In fact in some cases, it is getting worse.

This is where my confession comes in. And if you have stuck with me this far, then you deserve something juicy. So, in my capacity as a stripper activist I have known about the licensing reform since before it even happened. I have griped about it ever since. And in this last 5 years that I have been working under this new licensing regime, I have never actually bothered to sit down and read the Policing and Crime Act 2009.

I know right? Lazy girl.

Last week was the first time I finally got round to it – between doing an interview for VICE and promoting our upcoming event (a public talk about licensing) it seemed like the right time.

Boy, did I get a shock. Anyone who either works as a stripper, or engages as a customer should see this. In fact anyone with a vested or personal interest in upholding and protecting the right to engage with any form of sex work should see this.

The Policing and Crime Act 2009, consists of 9 Parts, and 117 Sections, of which Part 2, Section 27 Regulation of lap dancing and other sexual entertainment venues etc. is the new law used to control SEV licensing. Part 2, titled Sexual Offences and Sex Establishments contains 14 sections, each relating to a particular type of offence. For example Section 14 Paying for sexual services of a prostitute subjected to force etc., or Section 16 Amendment to offence of loitering etc for purposes of prostitution. In real language this legislation is talking about the crimes of trafficking and street walking. Section 18 deals with Rehabilitation of offenders, while Sections 22-25 deal with sexual tourists who travel abroad to commit sexual abuse on children, which would be considered a crime in this country. Section 26 handles those who choose to view child pornography online. And then comes Section 27 – lap dancing clubs.

WHAT THE FUCK???

As I reread this document I can feel again the rising sense of disgust and anger… What the hell does my job have to do with SEX OFFENDERS? Rapists and paedophiles in the same category as strippers and punters!!!!?

I MEAN, WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK????

This stops here. And I mean it stops.

From what I can see, the very fact that licensing legislation for lap dancing clubs is included in a law that deals with crime and disorder is a clear move towards criminalisation of lap dancing. There is a clear moral campaign that seeks to stamp out all aspects of sex work by criminalising it, and lap dancing is now on the target range. Being lumped in with a general list of offences is not only misleading but degrading – as if somehow all acts of sex work are indicative of abuse. To conflate stripping with trafficking, and acts of sexual violence effectively means that strippers are by law represented as victims of abuse, which is turn sets a very dangerous precedent. When we allow this type of merger it eventually becomes all the more difficult to discern and distinguish those who are genuine victims of abuse, and those who aren’t.

In all the years I have been working as a stripper, I have never, not once in any of the clubs I have worked in, seen evidence of strippers being trafficked. I do know however that there are girls working in some clubs who are being coerced and controlled by club owners and bosses. I know which clubs have the tell tale signs,

I hear the rumours because I am in that world. Yes, there are abuses in my industry, yes there are poor working conditions and exploitative business practises. So, who asked me what I thought about changing the law? Who offered to help us when all this evidence was coming out in Parliament? Who gave us a voice?

Oh yeah, they did give us a voice. They let us change 1 word – from “encounter” to “entertainment”.

Our group, the East London Strippers Collective, has come together out of a shared grievance over the problems in the industry. And as we start to scratch beneath the surface, we discover that these issues are compounded by empty licensing that offers no help, no protection or security, and, thanks to the further stigmatisation of our workplace, pushes us further out onto the fringes of social acceptability, leaving us even more vulnerable than before.

To truly tackle problematic conditions in any industry, governments should use employment law to uphold the rights of workers. So long as strippers have no rights, and continue to fall through the net of employment protection, they will be exploited. Even self-employed people have rights to negotiate with their business associates and clients, yet the industry we work in affords us none of these freedoms, as we scrabble around doing our best to look sexy while we fear for our jobs from one day to the next.

We demand a revision of the current licensing law, and for the voices of those who choose to work in the industry (not just those who have left it) to be reconsidered. We need to re-examine the motivations of those who seek to stigmatise and criminalise our profession, and remove the venues in which we do it. We want to be recognised as workers like any others, and to be acknowledged by law as independent autonomous citizens with free will, who have consciously chosen to walk the controversial path of sex work because, believe it or not, there is some benefit for those who do it.

We have a long way to go, but there is no doubt in my mind that if we do not challenge the aspects of society that seek to destroy beauty and creativity, we are a very sick society indeed. Licensing may be dull and exhausting, but when we fail to engage, laws like this one sneak through Parliament. Suddenly we find ourselves defined by terms we have not chosen and certainly don’t want.

Not only that, but if there’s one thing I know in my bones, it’s that when I can do it on my own terms, when I want, where I want, for whom I choose… I bloody love to strip.