Why I object to Object (and all the other prohibitionist groups)

Our striptease correspondent Edie Lamort takes on the anti-sex “feminists” who attack and want to censor what she does. Edie is now on Twitter and welcomes discussion and feedback.

We live in an increasingly puritanical age. The party of the Noughties is definitely over and times are tough. Words such as ‘objectification’, ‘hypersexualisation’ and ‘pornification’ are thrown around in an accusatory manner. Like a baying mob in a medieval court crying ‘Whore’ or ‘Witch’ creating an atmosphere of fear and guilt. This lexicon of fear is now frequently drawn upon by our media in a childish effort to explain all our social ills but it doesn’t quite work. There is something amiss, something that doesn’t quite fit.

I am a stripper and I am told that my work ‘objectifies’ me and, as a consequence, all other women, but I’m always puzzled by this denunciation. It seems to be an immature and one-dimensional way of describing human interaction. When I’m at work I interact with all kinds of people as a human being. Of course some groups of guys are drunk and immature but most aren’t, that is more to do with group mentality than what they really feel about us. In my job I meet many people from all ends of the social spectrum and people react in different ways. How you view something is based on your personality and your life experiences. On the whole the audiences in strip clubs are fun and as a performer I enjoy playing up to that. If I am viewed solely as an object then why do the customers want to talk to me? This does not indicate ‘objectification’. Yes they are visually stimulated but we all are and I regard it as one facet of communication and understanding. We’ve all heard the statistic that over 90% of communication is non verbal. Human interaction and discovery happen on many levels so that of course includes the visual level. In a split second we make a multitude of judgments and opinions.

A key word here is performer and one reason why it is so important to stand up to anti-sex ‘feminism’. I strip but I also do other things. I have always been in bands; playing guitar and singing. I have performed Burlesque and been a session singer. I have been on tours of the country and performed at festivals, been on TV and radio and I am once again viewed on many levels. I am hated by some and liked by some, depending on their personal triggers. Some like the music, some are just checking out my cleavage. Some of the girls tell me I’m inspiring, others hate me and won’t talk to me. It’s more about them than me. I find it strange to say one form of performance is so very different from the other.

Censorship is dangerous and it has gotten to the point where my job now feels like a feminist statement. Something necessary and important to maintain. Stripping and all the Erotic Industries are like the canary down the mine in terms of freedom. If we go, you’re next. We are like the first line of defence and it worries me where it will lead. These ‘feminists’ are winding back the decades and need to ask themselves ‘where does this end?’ It seems very strange that they want to encourage slut-shaming. If stripping is banned and even made illegal then what will be the next target in their sights? Burlesque and Pole dancing are the obvious next steps along with Page 3 and music videos. Then what will be attacked after that? Edgy theatrical performance such as many Matthew Bourne productions? After all, they are sexual. Then will we regress back to the days were a woman couldn’t walk down a street with a short skirt because she’d be called a ‘tart’? If we go, you’re next; the walls will close in around you too, to the point where the prohibitionists will eventually find themselves in the cross hairs. Censorship is a dangerous road.

I find these anti-sex ‘feminists’ quite fearful and paranoid, in stark contrast to my stripper friends who are bold, witty and strong. If you can strut your stuff on stage and captivate an audience you most definitely have an ego! I know I certainly do. We are told we must have low self-esteem but in fact I hold myself in quite high regard. I’m not fashion-model-perfect, I’m getting a bit of cellulite and I have a varicose vein developing on my lower left leg but I don’t care. I still think I’m sexy and I know how to work an audience. I spend time practicing on the pole and making costumes; I want to be looked at and for my efforts to be appreciated. New art forms begin in the ‘deviant’ subcultures and it is where boundaries will be tested and new ideas will develop. It worries me deeply that these groups feel it’s OK to attack a female art form. Pole and neo-Burlesque have evolved from the creativity of strippers.

They attack those who are unrepresented as they are fearful of taking on real institutions of inequality. For example they tiptoe around tackling religion. Campaigning against a strip club is easy for a number of reasons. You have a lot of social prejudice on your side and many dancers also have other jobs, are studying or have family commitments. The stigma prevents them from speaking out, as they must maintain their cover. I know part-time strippers who are also doing office jobs, who are training as paramedics, who are working as nurses and in various other jobs. They are unable to ‘come out’ for fear of losing said other job. For this reason too there is a lot of ignorance about the dancers and the job, and it is easy for prohibitionists to prey on established fears and prejudices.

What groups such as Object do is polarize the debate and this again is very frustrating. It is thrown to either extreme of ‘ban everything’ or ‘save everything’. These groups have created an atmosphere where no one can raise any problems or ‘out’ any bad management due to the fact that it will be used as ammunition against all of us. This should be an issue of workers rights not a moral panic. If there are any problems, such as stage fees being too high, it should be treated as an employment issue. Fair working practices should be encouraged and enshrined in law, rather than a hysterical moralistic response, where the only solution given is an out right ban. I would encourage strippers to join a union such as Equity or GMB so the debate can be refocused on to workers rights.

Ironically their campaign reinforces an old and outdated view of women and if they succeed it will make things more dangerous. What can be achieved by censorship and winding back the decades? One of the most important social advances of recent decades has been the sexual emancipation of women and as a direct consequence of this; men, gay, lesbian and trans-gender people in our society. This is a very important step and one to be defended strongly against those who would take it away from us. Women’s sexuality and sexual expression is something that has always been feared and suppressed, and a woman challenging this is always derided. Remember Madonna in the 80s? She provoked outrage by being in command of her sexual self and expressing it.

This conservative view of women will drag us all back to a more uptight and dangerous society. One of the most dangerous things about the current crusade against strip clubs is the way that it perpetrates divisive ideology regarding women. Harking back to the days of women falling either into the category of ‘good woman’ or ‘fallen’, the Madonna or the whore, rather than many millions of individuals with a variety of needs and desires. This pseudo-morality makes life difficult and dangerous for those of us who are different and would fall into the ‘bad woman’ category. It also gives misogynists license to abuse and blame the existence of ‘bad’ women for their actions. The control of women’s sexual expression is at the heart of patriarchy and oppression, which is ironically what the prohibitionist ‘feminists’ want to do. If all strip clubs were banned tomorrow would that end rape? Definitely not. In fact it would be counter-productive as it would reinforce negative stereotypes and make sex more hidden and shameful. This is a social purity campaign dressed up as feminism.

In a recent article Kat Banyard of UK Feminista spoke in general about all the numerous things she disapproves of including the Dove commercials. The tone of her argument began more and more to sound like a condemnation of idolatry, the worship of images, with very religious tones. I think most people have more of a sense of balance than she gives them credit for. It ended up sounding like she’d prefer women to be covered or hidden, the thread of this thinking runs all the way back to religious controls, centuries back. This is not progress at all, this is a very old fashioned view.

There is also a very myopic obsession with females in the Erotic Industries and when you ask them about males they avoid the question. Difficult questions are always avoided by these groups. It is a moral panic that focuses only on women being looked at by men. What are their views on gay clubs that feature striptease? I have danced for gay women and there are male strippers. Why is this not attacked with the same vehemence? It seems to be very disproportionately aimed at keeping women ‘pure’ and a poorly concealed hatred towards heterosexual men.

The people who patronize us the most are in fact the ‘feminists’ who wish to outlaw us. If anyone objectifies us it is these people. Our opinions and decisions are not considered to be worth listening to. If any stripper, sex worker or adult film actress tries to explain the reasons they do their job they are told they are institutionalized, have Stockholm Syndrome or are too stupid to understand what they are saying.

When a small group of dancers went to parliament during the consultation of the Policing and Crime Act of 2009, that introduced the nil policy legislation, one of them tried to speak. She tried to explain to the panel that she enjoyed her job and was fine. She was displaying a contrary viewpoint that was incompatible with the ideology of the ‘debate’. This obviously riled the ‘feminists’ on the panel and they dismissed her opinions. Similarly on a radio show debate a dancer was dismissed with the comment, ‘Oh you must have been abused.’ If you do not parrot the correct ideology, you will be persecuted by these groups, and they can be very vicious.

The current left wing ‘feminist’ movement is something that dismays me and my experience of them has been shocking. Instead of being progressive and open-minded they have shown themselves to be infested with busybody, neurotic, hand-ringing, middle-aged, middle-class, academic ‘feminists’ who judge and prohibit. When was it that the left became so Victorian? How did that just creep up and where do you go from here? A few months ago I was speaking to a friend about this. She’s quite an extreme performance artist and she mused that there needs to be something new. ‘I don’t know’ she said, ‘something beyond what is now called feminism. I’m going to call myself a Femfuturist! Like a feminist but with out all the issues around sex.’

The Strippers Strike Back

Stripper Edie Lamort
Photo of Edie Lamort, courtesy Millie Robson Photography http://www.millierobson.com/

We welcome back our striptease correspondent, Edie Lamort, who takes a look at the history of the attacks on her trade in the UK, and the fightback by the strippers.

The bell may be about to sound for round two in the fight against censorship so before that happens dear readers let me give you a bit of a background; the story so far, of how this attack on dancers has evolved over the past few years. Before that we were working, studying, partying, creating and just living our lives like everyone else. Now we have had to organize, unionize and fight for our freedom. Here is the story from a Shoreditch point of view.

Once upon a time there were many strippers from all over the world working in London’s East End. There was a really nice combination of stage shows, private dancing, a good camaraderie between the girls and management and most of all lots of money to be made. This gave people freedoms they had never experienced before. People who’d come from nothing could suddenly buy houses, have holidays, study, buy a nice car and send money to the family in Brazil/Argentina/Ukraine/Middlesborough where ever. The new opportunities were wonderful and life was good.

The dancers were also talented, independent and strong willed. A lot of them very creative and unable to sit bored senseless in an office job all day. So they started experimenting with the pole and making up moves. Other girls saw this and copied them, shared knowledge and over time the strippers of the western world created a new and amazing art form. They became great friends because you stick together. In a world where most people will judge you harshly for what you do, you need to have each other’s backs. Maybe you get this level of friendship in the army too but you definitely don’t get it in office world. There is also an intimacy that comes with being in an environment where you can be open and free. When you are in a changing room with someone going, ‘Is this spot on my arse really noticeable? Can you have a look? Thanks’. So you peer at your friend’s arse, dab concealer on it and tell her not to worry.

The first time the dancers ever encountered the haters was over ten years ago. Mark our gay manager decided to have a birthday party. So he used Browns on the Sunday night, when it was closed to the public. There were DJs, bands and the hot Brazilian bar man did a strip for everyone. It was a great party. Then someone came in and said ‘hey there’s a protest outside!’ So we went out and saw Anna Van Heejswick and her nascent hate group Object shouting and waving their slogans around. The dancers started laughing at them and told them they had come on the wrong night, ‘hahaha there are male strippers here if you want to check them out!’ But the haters kept on shouting outside, on a cold November night.

No one thought about them for years, believing people wouldn’t be stupid enough to listen to such a group of extremists but alas. You think ‘oh most people are sane, extremist groups will just be laughed at and ignored’. Unfortunately this is not always true and we now find ourselves in a battle. Object had the ear of Harriet Harman MP and so a handful of people changed the law to the detriment of the many.

The first battle was in Hackney. No one knew about the nil policy consultation for a while until the owner of the White Horse found out about it. An East End matriarch born and bred, Sue had taken over the pub when her Dad retired. She was born and raised in Hackney, had seen the area change and gentrify over the decades, and now faced having the family business closed due to the moral objections of a few new, middle class residents. She was furious and sent the information to everyone she could think of. She started a Facebook group and within days all the dancers were as livid as Sue and began to fight back. Sue and Denise, the owner of Browns, got together with Thierry from the GMB trade union and organised a legal team. The dancers took over in terms of publicity, speaking and being the face of the campaign. They all knew that it had to be dancer led to counteract the patronising narrative that all dancers are ‘poor weak little victims of horrible wicked men’.

A few weeks later Xtalk and the GMB organised a meeting between the workers and the council. The meeting was attended by many dancers, bar staff, DJs, Xtalk and the GMB rep but only one councilor bothered to turn up to listen to the people they were about to make redundant. Then the dancers approached the Hackney TUC and won the unanimous support of everyone. The owners funded a viral video and the dancers organised a protest. ‘Giselle’ liaised with the police and they got the support of the Vicar of Shoreditch. They also wrote to the councilors individually and went to meet the local MP. Thierry the GMB rep said afterwards the councilors were astonished. They had never before received so many letters about a consultation, had never expected the strippers to react like that and were amazed to see a stripper protest outside the town hall!

Round one had been won but the dancers knew it was only the beginning. A few had been in Equity for a while but then more joined due to the fact that it had helped and the unions had supported everyone regardless of where they were members or not. It calmed down for a bit but then the prohibitionists started again in Tower Hamlets. A public debate was announced featuring a rogues’ gallery of the religious right and so called ‘feminists’ who would like us all to live the Dworkinesque nightmare. Immediately dancers began to protest and asked why it was being advertised as a debate when there was no one at all on the panel willing to defend the dancers? Eventually the organisers agreed to let one of the dancers speak and allowed one other person to accompany her. Hardly a debate, just a pathetic gesture.

The email went around, ‘who wants to go speak at this event?’. No one in their right mind wants to but someone has to. I volunteered and was allowed 5 minutes amongst the 3 hours of ranting. It was a shocking experience to see how politics works. A small group with an agenda and some funding create stigma and fear against an unrepresented subculture and use them as a scapegoat. This panic they create is then used to justify a change to the law and for more freedoms to be taken away. We are all aware that these methods are used but to see it in action is a truly shocking experience.

The consolation came and went and now the results have been suppressed. Could it be that it did not go their way I wonder? This has given the clubs time to consult with legal teams. The dancers then decided to organise an event called Dancers Speak Out, to start the fight back in Tower Hamlets. The meeting was held one rainy evening with speakers from the clubs and John McDonnell MP. Who pointed out the hypocrisy of Tower Hamlets borough endorsing Olympic sponsors Dow Chemicals, of Bhopal infamy, yet calling the dancers immoral.

The prohibitionists then moved on to Portsmouth were they are trying hard to close Elegance and Wiggle. Another recent target has been Leeds where religious and ‘feminist’ groups joined forces and sought to close all seven clubs in that city. Once again the dancers and club owners mobilized and fought for their jobs and for freedom. Supported in their campaign by Leeds University researcher Dr Teela Saunders, author of The Regulatory Dance. The licensing committee in Leeds then agreed to reissue licenses to all seven clubs, much to the fury of those opposed. Rachel Reeves MP was upset by this decision and worrying has proposed changing the law because she did not get what she wanted out of the democratic process. What is this strange thought process? ‘The vote didn’t go my way so I will ignore democracy and change the law accordingly’, which is a scary route to take. It also reminds me of the reaction of an older South American dancer two years ago in Hackney. When she heard of the nil policy campaign in Hackney she panicked saying, ‘This is the attitude of dictatorship! I grew up under dictatorship. I came to this country because there were freedoms and opportunity. What are these people doing?! This is the mentality of dictatorship.’

What will be the next chapter in this sorry saga? Without a doubt the Tower Hamlets fight will restart now the Olympics have finished. Coventry is consulting and Lancashire has just thrown out a nil policy bid. UK Feminista have been touring Universities preaching hate towards dancers and customers, and training students on how to close down their local strip clubs.

Most everyday people don’t know or really care about this but when you tell them they are usually shocked to hear about more of our freedoms being taken from us. Be aware that this puritanical backlash is simmering away and oppose it in your local area. This is censorship and it can only end in tears.