Our friends at the East London Strippers Collective have received some great coverage for their upcoming RIP Shoreditch event… click below to read the Metro article, and click here for the Facebook event page.
Our friends at the East London Strippers Collective have received some great coverage for their upcoming RIP Shoreditch event… click below to read the Metro article, and click here for the Facebook event page.
Stripper and activist Edie Lamort appeals for funds to support the East London Strippers Collective’s upcoming London exhibition. Please support!
Go on, Put a Pound in the Jug!
Let me introduce the (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 , 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:
There will also be a program of events during the time we are at the gallery to educate people about our world and celebrate the talents of the dancers. These will include a fashion show, as costume is very important part of our experience, an as we are frequently studied, a , the class, an with the artists and , a and a .
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 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.
Thank you darlings! X
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.
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…