Tag Archives: uk

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.

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?

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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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UK Pornstars Fight Back!

On March 15, the Stop Porn Culture circus will come to London, representing a coalition of the loudest anti-sex and pro-censorship voices in the English-speaking world. Former pornstar Renée Richards calls on UK pornstars, strippers, models, sex workers and their supporters to take a stand and join us to protest against those who have, for so long, labelled and lied about the women in the sex industries.

When I woke up yesterday morning and saw the Stop Porn Culture event being tweeted, my first inclination was to get out the banners and sit on the Blackfriars Road for the next four weeks in angry anticipation. This was soon overcome with a worry; a worry that to protest outside the event would be conflicting with Sex and Censorship’s free speech ethos, and that surely if I were to protest outside the Stop Porn Culture’s conference then I would be trying to censor or prevent women such as Gail Dines, Julie Bindel and the women who speak on behalf of the organisation OBJECT, from achieving their goal of spreading their lies* and prejudices about the porn industry and sex workers.

So instead of trying to find my CND tent, I did what most Brits do and passively grumbled to my husband. “But if people don’t protest then surely this gives across the message that you don’t care? Silence can be read as compliance…” He followed this up with “anyway, you wouldn’t be protesting to silence them.” This soon had me flying back to my laptop keyboard and tweeting all of the porn performers I knew.

So if I’m not protesting to silence these women, then what I am I protesting for? Well, I’ll tell you:

  1. Protecting Women

On Stop Porn Culture’s website it has a section called ‘Survivor Stories’ where, as you can imagine from the title, there are lots of accounts from women who have worked as sex workers within the porn industry, as strippers and/or as prostitutes. These accounts are all very harrowing and upsetting, and I am sure that they are real, but my annoyance is this: These things do not happen to all women who work as sex workers. I, and many, many other women I know who have worked and continue to work as sex workers in the porn industry, strip clubs and as prostitutes have not had these harrowing experiences.

This, of course, does not mean that these horrible events are okay just because they have only happened to some women. But instead of banning porn, which is what the women at the Stop Porn Culture conference would like to do, which would push the industry into an illegal terrain where human rights are not accounted for and more harrowing events could freely occur, we should be recognizing it for the legitimate industry that it is. I wish that the likes of Gail Dines, Julie Bindel and OBJECT would put as much effort into trying to unionise sex workers and creating better working environments for sex workers, as they are into trying to ban them.

  1. Get your facts right!

So, again, I’m not protesting to silence the women at this conference, I’m protesting for these women to get their facts right.

The website also contains links to websites which state that new studies from Cambridge University that ‘MRI scans of test subjects who admitted to compulsive pornography use showed that the reward centres of the brain reacted to seeing explicit material in the same way as an alcoholic’s might on seeing a drinks advert.’ Therefore, porn is addictive, right? WRONG! Just because the self-identifying excessive users of ‘pornography show similar brain activity to alcoholics or drug addicts’ does not therefore mean that these excessive users are addicted, or that porn is addictive.

A problem with studies such as these is that the information provided, with words such as ‘similar brain activity’ are then removed to make the information more accessible, or palatable to those who have already made up their minds on the subject. So ‘a small test group of excessive porn users have an MRI scan and show similar brain activity to those who are addicted to alcohol and/or drugs’ which are not yet tested against other porn users who are not deemed as excessive users (what is excessive use anyway? And who gets to decide? Is watching three films a night excessive, or one film a week?)

Neither have these MRI scans taken place on a small test group of excessive porn users who claim not be addicted to pornography. So, the information gained by these limited experiments are then misinterpreted as ‘everyone who watches porn will become addicted’. If these continual studies show that porn is addictive to a small percentage of people, similar to that of alcohol being addictive to a small percentage of people, then surely this is not an argument against its ban. Unless of course the likes of Julie Bindel, Gail Dines and OBJECT think that the prohibition experiment of the United States between 1920 and 1933 worked, of course…

  1. If I don’t object to OBJECT, who will?

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This final point is probably the most important: We have the right to protest!

Both articles 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act protect our rights to free speech and protest. We have the ‘right to speak freely and join with others peacefully, to express [our] views’. In this instance the pro-porn and/or the pro-sex industries’ voice is very rarely heard. Gail Dines is a well renowned author, Julie Bindel regularly writes for The Guardian and OBJECT are no stranger to protesting or speaking out. Yet the men and women who perform in adult films, prostitutes and lap dancers who are regularly spoken about are very rarely heard from themselves. This is our chance!

This is my rallying call… (if only I had a ‘XXX’ beacon to project into the sky à la Batman):

If you work within the sex industry and do not want to stop, do not want other people to speak on your behalf and do not feel as if you voice is being heard and/or want to protect your job, then join us outside the Stop Porn Culture conference on 15 March from 3pm till 5pm.

Location: Outside Wedge House, 36-40 Blackfriars Road, Southwark, London, SE1 8PB

Join the event page on Facebook.

See you there!

 Renée x

* I use the word ‘lies’ because some of the ‘facts’ that I’ve read on the SPC website are completely unfounded, and through empirical evidence of my experience as a porn performer, I find these not to be true. And ‘prejudices’ because the definition of this word is ‘preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience’.

ALERT: Parliament Considers UK Internet Block-List

David Cameron’s announcement of an Internet filter to “protect children” has raised great concern this year; and yet, as I wrote following the announcement, the filter is merely a first step towards Internet censorship: I referred to it as “Internet Censorship 1.0”. The filter is not a legal requirement, but a voluntary agreement between the government and ISPs; but it was inevitable that legislation would follow. And indeed it has: the Online Safety Bill is a private member’s bill which is about to have its second reading in the House of Lords.

A casual reader might assume it simply refers to the filtering system already discussed, but in fact it contains something far more serious: an attempt to introduce a mandatory UK Internet block-list. This historic move would truly put the UK in the same camp as China and Iran: the government, or more likely, unelected regulators, would deem a site to be inappropriate for viewing by the British public, and it would vanish from our view of the Internet. Below is the key text from the bill, with my comments in bold.

(1) Internet service providers must provide to subscribers an internet access service which excludes adult content unless all the conditions of subsection (3) have been fulfilled. Note that “adult content” is a very broad term. This blog is already considered “adult content” by some UK mobile networks.

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(2) Where mobile telephone network operators provide a telephone service to subscribers, which includes an internet access service, they must ensure this service excludes adult content unless all the conditions of subsection (3) have been fulfilled.

(3) The conditions are— Now watch carefully…

(a) the subscriber “opts-in” to subscribe to a service that includes adult content; This simply puts the existing filter plans into law.

(b) the subscriber is aged 18 or over; and The ISP must age-check the subscriber before allowing them to opt in – this already happens on mobile networks. The juicy bit is next:

(c) the provider of the service has an age verification policy which meets the standards set out by OFCOM and which has been used to confirm that the subscriber is aged 18 or over What does this mean? Let’s break it down:

Clause 3(c) means that even if the user has proved their age and opted in to see “adult content”, the ISP must only allow them to do so if the service meets content standards as set by the media regulator Ofcom. Each ISP can’t, of course, check every site on the Internet. Instead, the only technical solution is to block any service that appears to provide adult material, unless it is on an Ofcom-approved list.

Does such a list exist? Yes: Ofcom has already delegated the power to regulate online video services to a private organisation called ATVOD. ATVOD requires video services to register (and pay), and to comply with a series of UK-specific content guidelines. How many adult services comply to ATVOD? At present, around 20, and most of these are fairly soft, and are mostly linked to existing adult TV channels.

There are millions of porn sites in the world. There are many million more sites that contain sexual imagery, sexual chat, sex education material or other content that might (according to some people) not be suitable for under-18s. Under this bill, ISPs would be breaking the law if they failed to block a site containing “adult content”, and so if a service is in doubt, it will be blocked, to be on the safe side. As noted above, massive over-blocking has already occurred on mobile services.

There is no partial step into Internet censorship; either a block list exists, or it doesn’t. Once created, it can be used for any purpose; David Cameron has already hinted at blocking “extremist” sites. And “extreme”, like “adult content” is wide open for interpretation. Although we generally believe we live in a free country, we have always been a censored one. The Internet blew a hole in the power of the state to decide what can be published and what can be seen. It is no surprise that the state wants to reclaim that power.

Any step to create a UK block list must be opposed by anyone who believes in free expression. We must ask our MPs: why does Britain, almost alone in the democratic world, see the need to implement such a measure? Why are British people more in need of “protection” than Americans or other Europeans? As a private member’s bill, the Online Safety Bill may well fail, but the measures are most likely to reappear in an official government Communications Bill. We have time to protect our Internet freedom, but we don’t have long. What can you do? We will be making an announcement shortly. Please join our mailing list to receive alerts.