Edie Lamort is a stripper and political activist. When anti-sex groups began organising in east London to close down strip clubs, she and other dancers joined unions and organised to keep their workplaces open. This interview was recorded almost 5 years ago. Edie predicted that the strippers were just the first of many targets, so referred to herself as the canary in the coalmine. She is founder member of the East London Strippers Collective.
Let me introduce the East London Strippers Collective(ELSC), that’s if you haven’t already heard of us, and tell you about our next wildly ambitious but amazing project. We have been together for about a year and a half, putting on talks and parties and generally self-organising. We are part event production team and part political organisation, with a social media following and press interest.
What are we doing? As we are all creative types, we are putting on an exhibition called the Art of Stripping, at the Red Gallery in Shoreditch, from 22nd October to Halloween. We are holding this event to celebrate the art that has been generated by the East London strip scene. The costume, the dance and the visual arts that have been created by dancers from their experiences. There will be photography, film, installations, costume and performances along with events, workshops and a closing party. Artists will include:
Millie Robson, a dancer who decided to specialise in pole dance photography and has built a flourishing business, travelling all over the world. She also won her category at this year’s Pole Theatre.
Vera Rodriguez, a photographer and sex worker activist who is also curating the event.She will be premiering her Performers photography project, bringing it to life with a cabaret on the opening night.
Why are we doing this? For several reasons; we are visual artists, who also happen to be strippers, and want to show our art, we are creative performers who want a platform to do our thing and we wish to challenge stigma. The striptease industry that we all know and love is unfortunately in a sorry state now. This is for several reasons including recession and a very badly written and punitive law that came about in 2009. This was designed to wreck the industry and is doing exactly that, but was drawn up with no thought given to those working as dancers, our rights and working conditions were ignored. Ultimately we’d like to see this law reviewed however the first thing we have to do is combat the negative narrative around us, a tough call I’m sure you’ll agree! But what better way to do it than to run our own event celebrating our art and performance?
People talk about things being ’empowering’ and the ELSC is exactly that. We have all stepped up to the mark as producers, filmmakers, marketers, photographers, costume designers and all round businesswomen.
What can you do to help? In short, donate to our Indiegogo fund and then share it far and wide. We have 1780 plus Facebook followers and if they put a pound in the jug we’d be laughing however they don’t all get to see our posts. We are on the Facebook naughty step after having been reported for side-boob and banned twice therefore we are not allowed to advertise as we have been classified as ‘adult’. In reality our photos and shows are no more risqué than burlesque but misinformation and prejudice abounds.
You may have just read this with interest, you may click on the links (I hope you do, click away!) but whatever you do don’t just ‘like’. If you think this is a good idea contribute some money, we have a pound in the jug option if you are skint or a £1000 option if you are a fancy pants high roller, and share all over to help us beat our advertising ban.
See below the video for text that inspired the making of this film.
He wrote to me;
“Why am I writing to you? Beauty, nakedness, curiosity. Or a thousand other reasons. I don’t know, really. That I’m selfish is a big part of it. And also that desire makes me – not just me, I think it goes for everyone – feel more alive.”
I nicknamed this customer Nosferatu. He was tall, skinny, lanky and dressed in a funereal way, but more than that, he had an intense, preternatural stare. One of those people that looks at you and you feel like they are reading your mind, looking straight into your soul and you cannot hide from them. A laser beam stare. You can ‘feel’ their gaze even with your back turned. It was part disturbing, part flattering, he was highly intelligent and could see through all the smoke and mirrors of the role you play as a dancer.
“I think we’ve evolved to treasure female beauty because it’s so potent and also so transient. Cultures all over the world have this metaphor of flowering or blooming. Men’s physical capacity for action has the same characteristics. It’s compelling, and it runs out. Male strength and female beauty in their prime are existential, I’d say, if I were pretentious, which I am. They symbolise what it is to be alive in a way that childhood and old age don’t. We’re drawn to them when we see them in others. That’s my excuse, anyway.”
‘I hope you don’t mind me coming in and talking to you? It’s just there’s no one else I can talk to like this?’ he said to me one quiet, mid week shift. He’d been my customer for a few months by now and was a clever and interesting man but not happy at all. ‘Can I have your email address? Can I write to you, I used to write for a living.’
“I’m writing to you because you’re very pretty and it’s good for my ego. Because, you’re clever and funny. Because women’s beauty is a precious thing that, as a man, you feel absorbed in and to some extent entitled to when you’re in your twenties and thirties. Then in middle age it ebbs away from you. Some men cope with it by using emotional maturity or some other magic. I don’t know where they get it from. I’m one of those men who really, really misses it.”
And so he began sending me the most well written and intriguing emails to my dancer address. He had previously worked as a screenwriter for BBC, ITV and HBO. He was thoughtful, articulate and prolific and would come to see me dance regularly, both for the erotic visual thrill and warmth that was missing in his life, but also reaching out to connect on a intellectual level, finding us girls who dance fascinating.
We spoke at length, it’s always nice to have an intelligent customer, you are actually interested in what they say, as opposed to fake giggles and feigned interest. I told him about the campaigns we’d done to defend striptease and it conjured the image of Marianne, like it had done with us. She seems to be our mascot in many minds.
“You remind me of that famous painting from the French Revolution. The woman Marianne leading the mob to righteous slaughter, Delacroix I think. It wasn’t just the public sexuality. There’s something about the way you hold your head, the inquisitive-but-knowing gleam in your eyes. You scared the shit out of me. The moment I saw you I wanted to spend the rest of the night talking to you. Maybe it was the lighting. Maybe it was the supernatural powers that come with being a dancer. (Maybe it’s A Tale Of Two Cities being on the radio that’s made me think of that painting.) You looked bonkers and the only sane person in the room, all at the same time. That sounds bad, probably. But it felt like charisma.”
After working as a writer for a few years, he followed the rules. He got married, had kids and then retrained, getting a sensible yet unfulfilling job in IT. He was a bit of a polymath, with a masters degree in pure maths from Cambridge but a talent and track record for writing aided by a very clever mind. Perfectly articulating the thoughts of the middle aged lonely customers who come to strip clubs on their own. His emails were like the echoes of the lonely, mixed in with guilt and lust.
“Every now and then I get a flashback to the first time I saw you, at Charlie’s bar. You’re looking sideways and I can’t tell if you’re going to throttle me or just wait for an accomplice to stab me in the kidneys. I’d take either as long as you were paying me attention.”
I started replying to his emails, they were interesting, and this provoked a slew of prose and poetry, musings and theories, that I have archived, noting that they clock up to over 50,000 words. That’s how much he needed to talk. He felt his life was in a feedback loop that he would never be able to climb out of. This air of despair and reluctant acceptance of his fate added to his peculiar and intense ways.
“Fifty years after the Salem Witch Trials and halfway round the world, a Wittenberg professor called Georg Bose was making a name for himself with public experiments. I heard about him on the radio this week. He’d stand a beautiful woman on a cake of resin and hook her up to an electrostatic generator, then invite men in the audience to kiss her. When they did, a spark would fly from her lips. Or he’d gradually charge her up in a darkened room. The air around her would ionize and glow with a saintly blue light. He’d deck her out in a pointed tin hat and the light would focus to a halo. Bose embellished the stunts with wacky poems and crackpot theories. The shock of the spark was male, the gentle luminosity female.
“Animal electricity” became a hip term for lust.”
Funny how stuck we all are on the Madonna/whore thing. Here it is again as halo/spark. In The Crucible it’s wife/witch or something, I can’t remember. While men are just men. There’s something pretentious I could say about this twoness of women and oneness of men and how it affects you and me but I don’t know what it is so I’ll shut up.
We all have to make choices in our life and by doing so you may need to sacrifice a part of you. He had the family, the nice home, a wife and three kids but at a cost to himself. However he loved his kids and would never leave them, but the strip pub was the place he could come to reconnect with that part of himself he thought he’d lost. In the end his foray into our demi-world, answered his questions and saved his marriage. He stopped coming in.
“For me, the most interesting aspect of the whole debate is this: there are women who like to undress in front of men they don’t know. How should these women be regarded by the rest of society? How are they different from women who write for a living, or men who sing? All these people are drawing attention to a part of themselves that they love, and working hard to make the best display they can.
Should authors be stigmatized for selling their psychological truth on the open market? Isn’t what good writers are offering every bit as intimate as a bare bum? Men might read Jeanette Winterson and then go home and expect their wives to bare their souls too. Why is soul stripping respectable and body stripping not? I’ve watched you on stage and I’ve read your emails. When you dance you might not have any clothes on, but when you write you’re truly naked. It’s always baffled me that fear and hate, loneliness and longing, greed and love are seen as less shocking than boobs and pubes.”
A less interesting question but one you might want to have a pop at is if beauty is commodified, where does that leave the ugly people? Speaking on their behalf, I think I can say it leaves us where we’ve always been: reliant on our wits. Not great for the stupid ugly people, but no one suggests shutting down the universities to level that playing field, do they? And the commodification is an effect, not a cause.”
Sex sells because people really, really want it already. I don’t think ugly people mind beautiful ones, anyway. They’re nice to look at, after all. We just wish there was one in the mirror.
All this rich conversation has not gone to waste. Another dancer and I are in the process of filming the world of strip pubs and one day at someone’s house, the subject pulled out a box of letters customers had written to her over the years. She’d kept hers like I’d kept mine.
We put the message out ‘has anyone got any letters from customers?’ Many came back with saved letters, poems, cards and emails. The need to connect, the cry of please listen to me.
If you are a sexual freedom activist, or a supporter of sexual freedom, the place to be is west London on Monday 17th November, for this year’s Sexual Freedom Awards. Coming at a time of increased conservatism and attacks on sexual liberty, these awards are more important than ever.
Come and mingle with the cream of sexual society and witness the naughtiest live acts you can see anywhere!
The awards will celebrate the best in striptease, sex work, and sexual activism. Attractions will include:
… performances by Charlotte Rose, Empress Stah, the Sex Workers Opera, Miss Carios as Jessica Rabbit, with a finale live on stage by international Hip Hop artist and BBC3 TV reality star from “Boom Town” Cream, pole dancing, a wild sexy area for networking and chatting with side shows including a striptease on a piano, erotic strip auction with Kaz B and Charlotte Rose, dj by Chris Tofu, a huge bar, a restaurant, and not forgetting visual displays of our nominees and much, much more! .
Attacked by feminists on one side, and victims of poor employment practices on the other, strippers have had little support in their battles. We welcome new blogger Stacey Clare, who is a stripper and a founder member of the East London Strippers Collective.
It is said that when written down the Chinese word for “crisis” forms two characters. When translated into English these characters are understood literally to mean “danger” and “opportunity”. Right now it could be said there is a crisis within the adult entertainment industry, as legislation that seeks to censor the “threat” of open, honest and public expressions of sexual desire is gaining increasingly stronger footholds in Parliament. UK strip clubs are rapidly becoming a bastion in the battleground between freedom of self-expression and prohibitionist politics.
2014 is a time of crisis. Economic disparity and ecological disaster, mass unemployment and social unrest combine to create a climate of uncertainty. The future is unforeseeable, and no one is accountable – the perfect circumstances within which exploitation can thrive. Exploitation of labour in a capitalist framework is one thing; exploitation of sex-workers happens outside of a UK judicial system, which supposedly protects its citizens… Those that operate within the legal framework that is. Those who don’t probably deserve what’s coming to them right?
At this point in history, cases of employee discrimination that can be proven result in employment tribunals, yet strip club bosses and managers get away scot-free with discriminatory working practises of eye-watering magnitude. Strippers are regularly classified and discriminated against on account of breast-size, body-shape or skin colour, sacked without notice for any reason, fined for having chipped nails, bullied and intimidated by their superiors and customers alike. Why? Because strippers are denied employment status, leaving them with no legal protection whatsoever, despite in almost all cases being treated as employees, regardless of their right to independence. Employment rights of strippers simply do not exist, and there is no forum to speak out. However, let’s not forget that out of crisis comes opportunity.
Ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourselves for the arrival of the East London Strippers Collective. In April 2014, the ELSC held their first official meeting at a private location in Bethnal Green. There was a surprisingly good turn out of dancers, nearly all familiar with each other through the existing dancer community, and each bringing with them a wealth of experience working in the strip clubs of London. The power of this shared experience was tangibly felt in the room. A collaborative effort was made to organise a communal meal, followed by an open discussion around the dinner table that can only be described as… empowering.
What strippers have in common is simply, precisely that they have all been there. They’ve all tackled the same adversity, they’ve all been up against the same walls. They all share the embodied knowledge and experience of that feeling being onstage, nailing a strip routine and showcasing their strength and talent to an appreciative and supportive audience. They all know how demeaning it feels to hustle for tips, to fight amongst each other like cats for scraps.
There is a small but powerful group of these women who are bored of complaining about it and are now quietly discussing a better set-up. Using their working knowledge and combined wisdom, they are slowly and carefully creating a new movement; a manifesto is taking shape, underpinned by the principle of respect and the combined desire to create value and beauty. Among them are a wealth of resources and talents, as artists, designers, fitness instructors, nutritionists, writers, photographers, costumiers, and businesswomen all make up the core group. There is a buzzing almost electric potential that if they can consolidate their talents, as well as their sexual prowess, they could be an unstoppable tour de force.
There are droves of dancers who refuse to identify themselves as sex-workers, preferring instead the more evasive labels like dancer, performer, strip-tease artists or adult entertainers. The ELSC are strippers. The clue is in the name. While the ELSC openly and honestly stands in solidarity with other sex workers, it identifies a clear problem; organisations such as the International Union of Sex Workers and the Sex Workers Open University fail to represent the specific and very different agenda for strippers’ rights. Their advocacy for sex workers is invaluable and important, not in any way to be undermined or degraded – clearly however there is a significant gap where a union for strippers ought to be. By beginning to self-organise and collaborate, the ELSC is planning a series of events, from private parties to public talks, with the aim of creating a new audience who would rather be entertained by a group of radical, educated and self-reliant women, sharing their skills as well as the profits.
And undoubtedly, advocacy for strippers is needed. Already this year Diane Johnson, Labour MP for Kingston-Upon-Hull, North, has put forth the first reading of a private members bill, to ensure local authorities have greater powers to crack down on strip clubs, whether they want to or not. Existing laws give councils the option to enforce a nil policy and tighter controls on premises with a Sex Entertainment Venue license. Quite how these options can be written into statute and enforced is another thing altogether, which seems to beg the question; how well thought out is this private members bill? Sure it’s not just a stunt to curry favour with a particular pressure group and their associated electorate?
The ELSC has come together out of a shared sense of outrage and disgust among dancers, who have watched the decline in their industry and felt powerless to prevent it worsening. They have looked on, heartbroken, as their art form has been consistently dragged into the gutter; ideologically by the modern feminist movement who would seek to destroy their world, and literally by the grotesque working conditions imposed by industry operators motivated purely by profit. They seek to challenge current standards and set precedents within the industry itself, create our own set of working conditions in line with their agreed principles, and send out the message to wider society that, despite what the world thinks, they love what they do. If only they would get the chance to do it properly.
One of things that took me by surprise when I launched my porn website a decade ago was the amount of hatred thrown at pornstars. As I got to know the sex industries better, I discovered that strippers and prostitutes are the targets of similar abuse – or worse. But the biggest surprise was the source of much of the hatred: not from a religious-minded “patriarchy”, as I’d expected, but in large part from other women, and especially from feminists.
This was bizarre, given that feminist morality campaigners were claiming they were out to rescue these women. When “rescuing” entails spitting on strippers as they go to work, supporting immigration and drug squad raids on brothels, and calling for well-paid women to be made unemployed, one has to suspect the true motivations of the rescuer.
Pornstars are public performers, and tend not to be particularly shy or retiring. But most prostitutes, out of necessity (partly thanks to the bigotry of the rescue industry), seek privacy. In my campaigning work, I’ve often encountered women who have had their livelihoods attacked, but have chosen to stay silent because of the fear of stigma, should they choose to defend themselves. The video-on-demand regulator ATVOD, for example, chooses to publish the real names and addresses of sex workers who run video websites. It is, of course, purely coincidental that a number of such women have chosen to close down their sites rather than be forced to publicly defend their right to run them.
Anti-sex campaigners rely on sex workers’ fear of publicity, knowing that few will openly challenge their campaigns of misinformation. So when I watched the excellent Sex Workers’ Opera at a packed theatre in East London last night, I was deeply impressed by (among other things) the bravery of the performers, many of whom were sex workers.
The performance opened with a rant from a “member of the audience”, who jumped on stage and began shouting about “objectification” and “trafficking”, while screaming SHUT UP! at anybody who dared look in her direction. This rapidly set the scene: in this war of morality-dressed-as-concern, even those sex workers who dare to speak for themselves must be denied a voice. They must be saved, and if they don’t want to be saved, it just shows how badly sex work has fucked them up psychologically, thus reinforcing the need to save them.
The performances were based on sex workers’ own stories, and so were poignant as well as frequently funny; they often struck a chord with sex workers who were present in the audience. The police raid in which women were taken from their workplaces and locked in cells “for their protection”; the women forced to work alone, and made more vulnerable to attack, by laws against brothels; the prostitute who found herself giving marriage guidance counselling to her client; the dominatrix; the submissive. A section of the performance was by webcam workers, and was projected onto a screen rather than performed live on stage. There was an excellent performance by a pole dancer.
Having expected a fairly amateur affair (after all, none of these were professional singers or actors), I was surprised by the quality of the writing, production and performances. For sure, there were some rough edges – but for a two-day play staged by non-professionals, the quality was easily good enough for me to enjoy the entire show.
The overall message was a simple one, which was laid bare in the finale: Listen To Me. How dare outsiders deign to speak on behalf of those whose voices they refuse to hear? How dare moralists insist to know more about sex work than the sex workers themselves?
Want to see it? Sadly, you’ve probably missed it. Tonight’s is the final performance, and it’s almost certainly sold out, as yesterday’s was. But the show was strong enough that, with professional production, it could be revived as something bigger and better in future. Let’s hope this happens, and that these voices reach an ever wider audience. You can join their Facebook page or follow on Twitter to keep in touch.
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.
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.
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.
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.