Gifts For Strippers

An update from our Stripping Correspondent Edie Lamort, who is thinking about “objectification” and the gifts she receives from her fans.

One of the reasons I find the term ‘objectification’ doesn’t fit with my job as a stripper is in the gifts we receive. Sometimes you find yourself being taken by surprise by the things the regular customers say and in what they buy you. A good example of this, is if you learn some new pole tricks, or maybe change a tried and tested routine on the stage. Someone in the audience is bound to point this out.

“Oh you did the spin before going upside down this time.”

“Eh?! You noticed that?!”

“I love that new trick you did on that pole on the far side.”

“Really? Thanks.”

There are a couple of men that come in who I have named ‘The Dance Critics’. They should come in with scorecards because they sit up the front and critique the stage shows. (The front row is known as Gynaecology Row in the stripper argot) I think I might make them big score cards just for fun. Numbers 1 – 10 in bold black ink on white A4 paper.

‘Oh you were a little bit unsure about that new move weren’t you? But your shoulder mount is improving.’’

‘What?!?!’

I usually receive rather odd or thoughtful gifts from punters, some are baffling and some have proved to be great. I sat with a regular customer one day and said ‘why do I get these odd gifts?’ His reply was, ‘because we can see who you are.’ So here are some of the odd gifts I and others have been given over the years.

Very Spiritual Water

I have mainly worked in East End strip pubs so there are a lot of Asian men who come in on their own and some of them will befriend us and become regulars. There was a Pakistani guy, who owned a leather shop in London and had a factory back home, who became our quasi-stylist for a while. He would tell us which of his jackets or coats would suit us and then make them and sell them to us at cost. Pretty soon a lot of sexy strippers were sporting leather jackets of all styles so this could have been a canny sales technique on his part.

I had an Indian customer who I would see fairly regularly. He was always very polite and earnest, would have a chat, a few private dances and then go. He was interesting and told me a lot about the hippy side of his homeland and the various spiritual pilgrimages he would do. He recommended drinking ‘very spiritual water’ from the source of the Ganges. The pure H2O goodness from the Himalayan snowmelt, and the thawing of the Gangotri Glacier, that was supposed to sooth the soul.

After Christmas one year he went back to India for a few months to visit family and soak up that famous spiritual atmosphere so I didn’t see him for a while. When he returned he brought me this famous ‘very spiritual water’. He walked into the dark cavernous pub with a couple of shopping bags looking pendulous and heavy and set them down by me. He then pulled out a bag of ‘very spiritual water’, which was a sealed plastic bag full of water. It was ornately decorated in reds, golds, oranges and yellows and looked very Indian. I was surprised and flattered that he’d made the effort to carry these heavy bags of water half way across the world in order to assist my spiritual well-being. I took the water home and drank it as recommended and no, I didn’t get ill, but maybe my spirit was cleansed. Who knows?

Books

I have more of these than I can possibly fit into my house. My bookshelves are bowing under the weight of book after book piled on top of each other but, like shoes, they are so pretty I can’t bear to part with them. Some of the books I get from customers are just really odd and about things such as corporate management. What puzzling motivation inspired that purchase? I am certainly not someone who easily fits into the corporate world; I am one of those arty hippy types. Other books have been really interesting. Sex and Punishment by Eric Berkowitz was a good read and I do recommend it. Now when I see the book-buying customers I tell them what I’d like to read next. I find it quite amusing that whilst I’m stripping, apparently being objectified, there are men sitting there thinking, ‘nice arse, I wonder what books she likes to read?’

Shoes

Well of course! Shoes are a must but I usually approach this in a practical way. Shoes are a necessity. Stripper shoes get scuffed and easily wrecked on the poles and stage so you are reluctant to spend lots of money on them. A tube of superglue is an essential item in your workbag as is a black marker pen to colour in all the scrapes on those cheap plastic shoes. There is a particular regular who will always oblige me with shoes. I tell him what needs replacing, my size and what colour I’d like and as if by magic they arrive!

Jewellery

‘Well, I was in the jewellery shop and bought my wife a pair of earrings so I thought I’d better buy you a pair too’, said a regular who then handed me a small neat box, wrapped with a silver ribbon. I smiled and thanked him, pulling the bow open and taking out the long amber earrings.

Why did he think he needed to buy me a gift as well as his wife, it’s not like we were ever going to cross paths? Was he overcome with a moment of guilt for the stripper he liked to visit, when buying his wife a gift? I was puzzled by this sense of obligation. It’s not as if I was his mistress but they’re nice earrings, I get complimented on them.

Documentary DVDs

The giving of documentary DVDs is along the same line as books. Usually after you’ve been talking to a regular customer about a particular topic. Some guys have no one else to talk to like that and do appreciate conversation. Some are also very intelligent, just unlucky in love and lacking in confidence. So you usually have a few customers that are a nice relief because you can actually have a conversation beyond ‘Where you from? What’s your name? No what’s your real name?’ These men are also the ones who buy you books and documentary DVDs are a natural complement to this. Most recently I was given a documentary featuring author Jared Diamond. This is because I recommended his books to a customer who’s now a fan.

Chocolate men and feeders

I can’t imagine we look undernourished, we are dancers not models, our job is a workout. There are quite a few voluptuous strippers around but some men feel the compulsion to feed us. At a Soho strip club I worked in we were frequently visited by ‘the chocolate men’. There were two of them who would eagerly arrive with supermarket bags full of chocolate and sit themselves down on Gynaecology Row. They were always eager and wide-eyed despite years of seeing the same things again and again. They looked pretty dodgy, and like they lived on Pot Noodles and rollies, so I always assumed they’d been shoplifting on their way to the club. I couldn’t imagine them buying all that chocolate; surely they’d been out on a week long thieving spree before coming to see us.

They were awkward and geeky, and it was clear why they were single, but they were harmless. They didn’t tip in actual real money but they eagerly handed out boxes of chocolate. Sometimes a little too eagerly so you found yourself conflicted between ‘what a shame, he’s a bit simple/come near me again and I’ll fucking knock you out’. Charmless as well as harmless.

They would only stay for the first hour or two of the evening as there would come a point where the charity of the strippers and the management would wear off and they would have to go. The strippers would point out that ‘we want to be rich not fat’ and the manager would need them to buy more than one beer only. So off they’d scuttle, probably on their way to rob Tesco.

Poetry

When you work in a strip pub you get used to all kinds of eccentrics. Everyone is fairly relaxed about them and just leaves them be. In fact it’s probably one of the only places they can just sit and have beer, have a pretty girl say hi and be left in peace. One odd character is someone we call ‘red wine and poetry man’. I have no idea what his real name is, no one does, but he buys whole bottles of red wine, sits at the bar with an A4 pad and writes poetry. As the night progresses he gets more and more drunk, the poetry gets worse and worse and he ends up crying. It’s strange but he does it again and again.

Of course he’ll give his verses to the dancers as tokens of affection. In the changing room one night a Brazilian girl showed me what he had written for her. I read it through with disappointment, it was an Oasis song and he was hoping she wouldn’t realise, as English was not her first language. We both laughed and said ‘oh dear, oh well’.

So to say the customers all look at us only as mere sex objects doesn’t quite fit if someone has taken the time to think about a gift for you. It also ignores the fact that people are often wrapped up in their own world and their loneliness, so are looking for any kind of connection. ‘Feminist’ groups shrieking ‘objectification’ ignore the humanity in these situations. And if someone does look at me and simply think ‘phwoarrr nice tits’ rather than ‘goodness I wonder what she thinks about art/ history/politics/theatre etc? Well, who gives a shit? I certainly don’t have time to contemplate everyone’s inner workings, and I do have nice tits.

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.

Lap Dancing: The Guardian Fails Again

Stripper

Tut tut tut tut tut...

As I’ve reported previously, the high-end, high-quality journalism of the Guardian has an achilles heel: sexuality. Whenever this mysterious subject raises its head, the Guardian seems to feel that it must respond with a mix of straight-laced puritanism and British schoolboy-type giggling.

I’ve reported about the attacks on London strip clubs, and the people who work in them, by a bizarre mix of anti-sex “feminist” groups, including Object, and religious fundamentalists. My recent podcast featured interviews with strippers who are fighting against these attacks. If such an attack on unionised workers took place in any other industry, the Guardian would take a serious journalistic approach. But these unionised workers take their clothes off for a living; and Guardian editorial policy in such matters requires a mix of “Ooh Matron!” and “Tut tut, your nipples must be covered at all times!”

So imagine my (lack of) surprise when the recent publication of a report by two  British academics into the British lap-dancing industry was met with the usual lack of seriousness in a comment piece by Victoria Coren entitled We must hone our lap-dancing skills. It’s about strippers, and strippers aren’t real people (at least, none of the Guardian’s Oxbridge-educated journalists know any), so we can all have a laugh at these working class women who undress for a living.

The writers of the original report, Dr Kate Hardy and Dr Teela Sanders of Leeds University, have responded with a letter to the Guardian, which they shared with MoronWatch:

Dear Sir,

 Victoria Coren’s ‘wry’ look at our research on labour conditions and mainstreaming of the lap dancing industry is lazy, Chinese whispers journalism in which the author has simply lifted an already poorly reported story from another news source.

Satire aside (I’m sure Coren is au fait with Aristotle’s theory of humour), the piece not only denigrates the women who work in lap dancing clubs as deserving subjects for sneering and ridicule, but also denigrates sociological and academic knowledge production itself.

We did not meet in a lap dancing club and ‘shriek’ (just to throw in a little more misogyny). Funding for the project was awarded to Dr Sanders from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), a highly esteemed and regarded funding body, in a close competition with many applications judged by a lengthy process of peer review.

We are not worried about the quality of lap dancing for consumers, but the safety, well-being and quality of the working lives of the women who work in the clubs. Our research actually charts the rise in exploitation that women have faced in lap dancing clubs since the beginning of the crisis, which employers have enabled through a process of deskilling and therefore opening up of the labour market. Victoria Coren would know this if she had done anything resembling her homework.

Dr Kate Hardy (Lecturer in Work and Employment) and Dr Teela Sanders (Reader in Sociology)

Whether the Guardian will either publish the letter or allow the researchers a full right to respond is currently unknown, although based on recent history, I’m not hugely optimistic.

Object Respond

My recent blog post, Feminists Or Fascists?, generated a lot of interest, sharing, blog comments, and discussion elsewhere. The blog looked at British anti-sex groups that refer to themselves as feminist, specifically mentioning the groups Object and UK Feminista.

Like most political bloggers, I obviously have my own opinions, and make no attempt to hide them. Impartiality in reporting is for news organisations, not individuals; I make no claim to be impartial. However, I do my best to honest and fair. If I had to lie to make my point, my point wouldn’t be worth making. So in my criticism of these groups, I did research, and in particular looked at their own web sites. I also carried out extensive interviews with women under attack by these groups, the first two of which were included in my podcast Strippers Are People Too.

As well as a lot of useful feedback and discussion, including from people with direct knowledge of the Hackney and Tower Hamlets campaigns against closing strip venues, I’ve had feedback from two people who strongly disagree with the points I’ve made. In the interest of fairness and balance, here are the relevant conversations in full.

Conversation 1, on my Facebook page:

[I post a link to the blog post, "Feminists Or Fascists?"]

Jackie M: What a load of ill-informed bullshit.

MoronWatch: Jackie, are there specific inaccuracies? Can you provide 1-2 glaring examples?

[End of conversation]

Conversation 2, on the original blog post:

Anna: I am personally offended by this article. What a joke.

MoronWatch: Exactly how did this article offend you?

[End of conversation]

I’m pretty sure that these people are activists, but I should make clear that I can’t prove that. However, the nature of their argument matches the quality of what I’ve read elsewhere, including on the Object web site. These people have the ear of the mass media, who are incredibly accepting of their claims; they feel little need to state their views in an arena where they may be analysed.

This a call to supporters of Object and UK Feminista to articulate your views here and join the debate. Surely, given the vehemence of your positions, and your insistence that free sexuality is harmful to women, you must be capable of intelligently explaining your position. So please, be my guest.

Also a request to those on the other side of the debate: please refrain from personal attacks and insults. If Object have a position to put, listen to it and respond politely and intelligently. If the above comments are the best they can offer, they’ve clearly lost the debate (although not necessarily the battle to close London strip clubs – politics and reason are two different things).

Strippers Are People Too

Following on from my recent post, Feminists Or Fascists?, this episode features in-depth interviews with two London strippers who have become political activists in order to protect their workplaces, jobs and incomes. In the boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets, “feminist” anti-sex campaigners have teamed up with conservative Muslims to drive legal striptease venues (serving both gay and straight audiences) out  of the area. Gentrification and property prices also play a part, as newly-arrived middle-class residents move in to these formerly working class areas.

You can also subscribe to Moron-Free Radio on iTunes.

Further reading related to this podcast:

Research on lap dancing in England by Dr Teela Sanders & Kate Hardy of the University of Leeds.

Analysis of rapes in Camden by Brooke L Magnati (aka Belle de Jour).

Article providing a historical view on why striptease is under threat in Tower Hamlets.

Article about the mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, and his alleged links to extreme Islamic groups.

The Guardian’s Sexual Hang-Ups

Stripper Edie Lamort

Photo courtesy Millie Robson Photography www.millierobson.com

The British press is among the best in the world. And among the worst. We have some of the most intelligent journalism that can be found anywhere, but also some of the most moronic. There are five daily newspapers (Guardian, Times, Telegraph, Independent and FT), from across the political spectrum, that are worth reading; of these, the Guardian often stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to providing high-quality journalism. The Guardian, for example, carries much of the credit for exposing the corruption at Murdoch’s News International. When it comes to challenging dangerous abuse of power within the British state and corporations, The Guardian is often alone in publishing stories ignored by the rest of the British media.

At a time when social conservatism is on the rise in many pernicious ways, it was good to see a Guardian article yesterday by Zoe Margolis (aka The Girl With The One Track Mind) challenging the anti-sex crusade spear-headed in parliament by rightwing Tory MP Nadine Dorries. And yet, on the broad subject area of sex and sexuality, The Guardian, more often than not, comes down on the side of repression. The paper comes very much from the liberal, middle-class, English tradition, and the one subject the English middle-classes have always had trouble dealing with is sex. The Guardian also tends to take anti-sex campaigners more seriously if they adopt the “feminist” label than if they crusade under a more old-fashioned “morality” banner. On this subject, the Guardian’s coverage can swing from liberal to deeply conservative in the blink of an eye.

I blogged recently about the UK Government’s steps towards Internet censorship, using the excuse of “protecting children from pornography”. The Guardian, normally a warrior against censorship, lost its mind in an editorial on the subject, using Daily Mail-type phrasing such as “…bombarding of people’s homes and children by pornography…” and “…the destructive effects of pornography on relationships and values…“. The editorial also mentioned a recent government-commissioned report on “sexualisation”, neglecting to mention that it came from a Christian lobbying organisation. The idea that anyone who doesn’t want to see porn is “bombarded” with it is of course laughable, and serious research on porn has yet to reveal the harmful side effects claimed by conservatives of various shades.

And this wasn’t a one-off: on the icky subject of sex, The Guardian is often deeply conservative. I recently interviewed strippers who are defending themselves against campaigners who threaten their right to work in the London boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets (podcast coming soon). These women are articulate, well-paid and belong to trade unions. Yet, the Guardian is apparently convinced that stripping is bad, and refuses to take seriously the voices of the women themselves who earn a living that way; instead, they give a platform to “feminist” (aka sexual morality) groups who use fascist-style propaganda methods (such as claiming a non-existent link between strip venues and rape) to attack the venues and the people who work in them. While women who strip have offered to write for the Guardian about their experiences, only one ex-dancer, Homa Khaleeli is published, because she tells “the truth about lap dancing” – in other words, she makes the “exploitation” and “objectification” noises that Guardianistas want to hear.

The Guardian has a confused idea of defending sexual freedom. While Gay, Lesbian, Transgender issues are treated with the appropriate straight-faced correctness, other forms of sexuality and sexual freedom have Guardian journos giggling like school children. Fetishes, swinging, polyamory, BDSM, open lifestyles, bisexuality and sex work… these aren’t causes for free speech but excuses for The Guardian to pander to middle-England prejudices (and have a good, Carry On giggle in the process).

It’s not that I’m asking for the Guardian to become a campaigner for sexual freedom; but it should be delivering the quality of journalism it does so well elsewhere. Repeating misinformation about porn leading to marriage break-up, lap dancing leading to rape or most prostitutes being “victims” isn’t good journalism. Accepting the word of a woman simply because she calls herself a feminist but ignoring the many voices of women who earn their money this way isn’t fair or balanced. Ignoring researchers in these fields but listening to morality campaigners lets down the readership.

It’s not that The Guardian is the worst offender – not by a long way! – but it’s the one (or am I being naive?) that should “know better”. In fact, the most level-headed coverage of sex and the sex industries comes from the Financial Times and its stable mate The Economist, but these are targeted primarily at business people. Among mainstream press, the Guardian, often alone, has the courage to expose police brutality and corporate corruption. Why not maintain the same high standards on the difficult subjects of sex and sexuality? Up your game Guardian, and stop being so damn English about sex!