Moral Panics: a useful political tool?

In 2010 I found myself in the middle of a moral panic, so began reading around the subject and watching how moral panics unfold. The panic was around East End strip pubs where I worked and that had been in the area for decades. Usually family businesses, run by the matriarch of the family, and an accepted part of the East End. Then a panic hit and suddenly these places were the gates of hell and all that was evil in the world emanated from them. People who had previously been oblivious to them were suddenly on a crusade. I went to a ‘debate’ in October 2011, called ‘Lap-Dancing: a choice or exploitation’ which demonstrated the mechanisms of power and politics perfectly and shocked me.

A small lobby group whips up fear until they create a panic. The narrative then moves on to ‘Something must be done!/Won’t anyone think of the children!’ and when it gets to this point you have manipulated your audience correctly and you will be able to legislate. But there was also a lot of manipulating being done to those who were creating the moral panic. A group that called it’s self Communities Against People Exploitation, that claimed to be helping the East London community, had a ‘feminist’ spokeswoman. This woman would give the full dramatic performance about the evils of ‘pornification’, ‘objectification’, ‘sexualisation’ throwing out all the fashionable buzzwords to appeal to her audience. However a little investigation using the Land Registry and the good old Internet showed that she was not running this organization. It was actually run by a man who lived in leafy Surrey but, surprise surprise, owned property right next to one of the strip pubs he was trying to close down. From this moment on I lost what little respect I still had for the 3rd wave feminist movement. Was this all about property development and investment? Were they being manipulated by the ‘patriarchy’ that they so despised in order for that ‘patriarchy’ to make money? Were they complicit or ignorant?

So it seems that moral panics can be very useful. They are generally created by pressure groups and lobby groups, often through good intentions and a genuine trigger, which is then picked up by media as they have a lot of space to fill. Column inches, 24-hour news, websites etc. There is a lot of content to be generated so even if the journalist or editor doesn’t really believe in the panic it’s their job to explore all the angles. They run opposing editorials asking ‘Is this right? Is this wrong?, look for the human angle, can they get a confessional piece from someone involved? Run the story for a bit as it gives you something to talk about, to fill airtime with, to fill column inches. These mechanisms of the media are borne out of necessity but do our governments look at these panics and view them as useful? Are they a very convenient smoke screen? Can they use them to implement certain policies that the public may find unpalatable?

The panic of the moment is porn on the internet, the very thing that drove the early development of the internet, and it makes sense if you look at it in an historical and political big picture way. So let us look at the timeline of the last 3 years, the changes that have happened and the role of the Internet in all of this. Three years is a really short space of time for governments to lose control and I’d take a bet that there have been some fraught behind closed doors meetings.

1.The first strand is that too much classified information has been freely distributed online beginning with Bradley Manning. The decorated US private released around 750,000 restricted documents to Wikileaks causing major embarrassment to the United States government and many of its allies. Including of course the UK but also allies such as Saudi Arabia when it was discovered they had been urging the west to go to war with their Middle Eastern nemesis Iran. Then between April and November 2010 Wikileaks and news outlets around the world published these documents to all their readers and viewers. To these news outlets this was like striking gold (or oil). Julian Assange is now running from the US government rightly fearing a fate similar to Bradley Manning. So first it was Bradley and Julian and then when all had seemed calm Edward Snowden struck. Releasing all the details of the Prism surveillance operation that included America spying on it’s European allies and once again causing great embarrassment to the US and UK governments. (As GCHQ had also been implicated.)

I would take a guess that western governments and especially the UK and US governments are no longer enamored with the idea of a free and open Internet.

2.The second political and historical strand that has been a feature of the past three years is revolution. The Arab Spring began in Tunisia in December 2010 and quickly ignited the Arab world into demanding freedom and democracy. From the success of Tunisia to the disaster of Syria, the Arab world has been finding it’s voice, and this has been coordinated on social media. Syria has been especially bad as Iran and Hezbollah are now involved and this could result in years of trouble. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Buzzfeed have allowed those protesting against their governments to organize and sometimes win. Western politicians have been watching, and saying carefully vague sound bites in support for democracy, as long-term allies like Mubarak were toppled. Even prosperous and relatively secular Turkey has seen a popular uprising that no mainstream media reported until the din on social media got so loud they couldn’t ignore it.

I wonder if there is a general fear in governments that us normal people are starting to get a little too knowledgeable and possibly feeling a little too empowered?

3.The third strand in recent years is the recession, which has hit Europe particularly hard. Countries like Greece are languishing in a terrible depression with lots of anger amongst people and extremist groups growing popular. There has also been a raising of awareness in the United States with the Occupy movement starting in November 2011 with Occupy Wall Street. One of the causes of the Arab Spring was youth unemployment and cost of living. The world is getting more and more populous and those at the top are not releasing any wealth so an anger is fermenting. Many young people in Europe are unemployed and over qualified with no hope of attaining the future they dreamed of. What if revolution is not confined to the Arab world? Which can be understood in terms of freedom, what if a European nation is the next to fall? Then it is no longer an ‘us and them’ situation it becomes something bigger? Maybe something about social justice in general?

Again, I can’t imagine our governments feeling very easy with all of this anger, and the information in the hands of the masses.

Information, revolution and recession; it’s like a perfect storm of poverty, over population, inequality, empowerment and access to all information and the ability to communicate it. I’m pretty sure these three strands have made our leaders feel rather uneasy. So what are the governments of the world going to do about this potential dangerous set of circumstances that have evolved in only three short years? Conveniently for the UK Government, the ‘sexualisation’ moral panic has been rumbling away for around a decade, and conveniently it has reached the ‘Something must be done!/Won’t anyone think of the children!’ stage. The groundwork has already been laid which is very handy indeed. So could it be that David Cameron’s recent attack on Internet porn is in fact a smoke screen?

The porn panic has been fuelled by supposedly well-meaning but extremely foolish people and lobby groups and will now come back to bite. After all we are not party to the late night phone calls from Washington that may go something like this,

‘The United States may be unable to work with the United Kingdom unless …… (insert instructions here)’.

It seems like this has everything to do with limiting access to information in general and protecting the power structure. The clamp down on Internet porn is, in my opinion, all about censoring the Internet brought to the fore due to recent world events and absolutely nothing to do with protecting the innocence of children. It may also be run by Chinese Internet filtering firm Huawei, who are no doubt censorship experts.

So beware of moral panics, as there may be a hidden agenda behind them. All is not what it seems on the surface and be aware of new ones forming. What is the end game of these panics and who exactly benefits from them?

Sex Work & Feminism, This-ism, That-ism, Ism! Ism! Ism!

Ev’rybody’s talkin’ ’bout
Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism
This-ism, that-ism, ism ism ism
All we are saying is give peace a chance

In the 1980s, lefties like me dismissed John Lennon’s lyrics as utopian hippy bullshit. Those people who identified as Socialists, Marxists, Maoists, Trotskyists, Communists, Feminists, Fabianites, Anarchists etc. were dismissive of those mindless ideology-free fools. If you couldn’t put an -ism to your name, what kind of spineless person were you?

It became apparent as I grew older that -isms are not so much about believing strongly in something as wanting to belong to a tribe. And who doesn’t want to belong? I used to think that people like Marx and Trotsky had created brilliant new ways of looking at the world. And I still do. But I suspect that Marx and Trotsky would be deeply embarrassed at most of the Marxists and Trotskyists in the world. Great men are great for the very reason that they think for themselves. The reason so many people like -isms is because they would rather let somebody else think for them.

These labels of tribal identity have become so ossified that they have lost their meanings. I’ve met conservatives who call themselves Marxists, and progressives who think they’re conservatives. A label comes with a handy set of “beliefs”, which people can adopt without going through the tiresome process of actually thinking.

As I’ve blogged before, it’s not that I’m no longer left-wing – it’s more that the left has become dogmatic, conservative and stupid in its thinking – the very opposite of what it used to be. All groups become stale and stuck in conservative ways of thinking. The left’s intellectual heyday was in the 19th century – no wonder it is tired and conservative these days.

Feminism is another label that has lost all sense of its roots. First wave feminism fought for the vote and women’s property rights in the 19th century. Second wave feminism fought for gender equality, the recognition of rape as a serious crime (including in marriage) and sexual liberation for women. Having moved on from these goals, 1980s feminism split into various opposing fragments.

Like all other -isms, most people call themselves feminists as a handy tribal label. Most feminists today don’t know much about feminist history, any more than Marxists have read Marx. I’ve heard people say things like “I’m a feminist, so I am opposed to porn”. This is dumb at two levels – first, that feminists don’t automatically oppose porn (though some do), and second because it isn’t a reasoning process, but a mere statement of identity. People who make such statements have clearly not thought through the issues for themselves, but simply adopted somebody else’s ideas as their own.

I’ve written quite a lot about conservative feminism vs. sex-positive feminism. Some people who haven’t paid enough attention have accused me of attacking feminism; and yet, I’m pointing out that feminism has been attacked from within. Social conservatives have adopted the feminist label in order to make their ideas seem progressive, and in doing so, have undermined feminism itself.

I’m both amused and pleased that my writing has not only persuaded some progressives that they are no longer feminists, but that I’ve also persuaded at least one male conservative that he is in fact a feminist.

Today marks a day of protest to end violence against sex workers. Although sex workers are of both genders, most of the stigma associated with sex work, and most of the violence, is targeted at women. If there is a cause for feminists to embrace today, this is it. Feminist sex workers are on the front line in this battle, fighting for recognition and against criminalisation. And yet, the most vociferous opponents to recognising sex worker rights include both the religious right and “radical feminists”. These two groups come from very different roots and use very different language, but all too often share platforms to fight for the same goals: censoring sexual expression, stigmatising sexuality, criminalising prostitution, closing down striptease and burlesque venues.

Sex workers have little doubt that criminalisation and stigmatisation increase violence against them. Yet some feminist groups refuse to listen to the workers, claim that no woman in her right mind would choose sex work, and call for the trade to be pushed underground. Feminists succeeded in this goal in Sweden, which introduced the so-called Nordic Model to criminalise the sex trade and push it underground. The Nordic Model is being held responsible by sex workers for the murder of a sex worker and activist known as Petite Jasmine, an event which triggered today’s protests.

I personally doubt that anti-sex work feminist groups genuinely have women’s interests at heart; they have been caught twisting the facts too often to be credible as feminists (as Brooke Magnanti exposed in her book, The Sex Myth). But if they want to call themselves feminists, that is, of course, their right.

As for me, I’m in favour of decriminalising sex work, and agree with sex worker advocates that the Nordic Model is bigoted and dangerous. Does that make me a feminist? Ism ism ism… I’m with John Lennon on this one.

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.

The Guardian And The “Sexualisation” Panic

According to Wikipedia, a moral panic is defined as: “…an intense feeling expressed in a population about an issue that appears to threaten the social order.”

Most societies experience panics on a regular basis, but Britain, thanks to the trashy level of our press, perhaps experiences more than most countries. Moral panics have a simple purpose: to convince a citizenry that something must be done. And that something is almost invariably bad, when viewed in hindsight.

A good moral panic needs a simple message so that commentators can easily push it into the public mind: a good panic needs good branding. Thirty years ago, a moral panic was in full swing under the label “Video Nasties”. For those who don’t remember, a Video Nasty was a term coined by the media for what we now call a horror video. Led by morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse, the media and politicians set out to convince the public that, unless something is done, British society would be engulfed by a tsunami of torture, rape and murder. Something was done: the Video Recordings Act (1984) imposed on Britain the most draconian system of video censorship in the democratic world. The Video Nasties panic may have been subsequently exposed as a fuss over nothing, but the censorship system, run by the BBFC, still operates today.

The “Sexualisation” panic has been in full swing for five years or so, and is reaching a point of saturation; it is regularly repeated throughout the media, and has been adopted by politicians not just from the religious right, but also from the left. As I blogged a couple of years ago, Sexualisation is an almost meaningless and certainly unmeasurable concept. It was largely brought into the public consciousness in 2010 by an evidence-free government report which was (bizarrely) carried out by a Christian organisation. It has become an umbrella idea that encapsulates various morality causes including (but not limited to) censoring music videos, censoring pornography, removing bare breasts from the Sun newspaper, banning “lad’s mags”, shaming parents into dressing their children more “modestly”; in fact, it is used to attack any kind of sexual expression, or even innocent nudity. Those leading the panic – including the pro-censorship “feminist” group, Object, politicians, and Christian morality campaigners – have learned from Mary Whitehouse’s “Video Nasty” success, and are turning up the level of hysteria until the government is pressured into taking action.

The scary thing about Sexualisation (as opposed to Video Nasties) is that it is undefined and undefinable. Thus, when we reach the something must be done moment, that something will be sweeping and draconian. Given that Sexualisation is a “disease” that allegedly affects men, women, breasts, children, shops, TV, video, the Internet and even (shock horror!) high streets, the only valid response to it must be a cross-society attack on all sexual expression. Perhaps we need a Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice? That might work.

I’ve expressed my sadness before that the normally liberal-ish Guardian becomes conservative and censorious when sex is on the agenda. This week, The Guardian entered full moral panic mode by inviting “the public” to submit “sexualised imagery from the high street”. The question is, how does the Guardian decide what “sexualised imagery” is? I’ve walked down my high street today, and have seen the following:

  • Women in mini-skirts. Yes! Women are revealing not just their ankles, but their knees and their thighs!
  • Women revealing cleavage!! Low-cut tops are surely the devil’s work, designed to “objectify” breasts and thus cause men (who as we know, have literally no impulse control) to rape people.
  • A teenage girl in shorts and fishnets: because the perverts who see Sexualisation everywhere are particularly (and disturbingly) obsessed with the way children and teens dress.
  • Builders with no tops on: False alarm – topless men are actually OK, because the neo-Whitehouse crowd (in common with all morality campaigners) only want to cover female flesh. Men, of course, can dress however they like.

But I could find no recent explosion of “sexualised imagery”. Of course, there are porn mags, but there have always been porn mags; in fact, porn magazine sales have collapsed under the pressure of competition from DVD and the Internet. The term Sexualisation implies that things are changing for the worse. But unless I’m missing something big, they aren’t. Indeed, the debate has moved away from “harm” to the far broader measure of “causing offence” – and the reason for this is simple: the pro-censorship movement can provide no evidence of harm.

So why not submit your own images? Since the Guardian has joined the “anything that offends anybody must be bad” brigade, photograph things that might offend somebody and send them in. Seen gay men holding hands? Muslim women showing hair from under their hijab? Mixed-races couples kissing? All those things represent Sexualisation, and are offensive, right? To somebody?

As we are led headlong into a new wave of censorship, it’s saddening to see Mary Whitehouse’s Mediawatch-UK organisation joined in its endless morality campaigning by “feminists”; and the Daily Mail joined in its “cover up women” fetish by the Guardian. These are conservative times indeed.

Tuppy Owens: I Was Censored By Feminists

Tuppy Owens
Tuppy Owens

Since the 1960s, Tuppy Owens has been a sexual libertarian: she has campaigned tirelessly for sexual freedom and set up groups that fight for sexual rights for disabled people. As a woman fighting for the sexual rights of women (as well as men) to enjoy sexual pleasure without guilt, she might once have been embraced by the feminist movement; yet since the late 1970s, she has been repeatedly attacked by anti-sex feminists. Here, she describes some of her experiences.

 

My name is Tuppy Owens and I am a woman. I started the Outsiders Club in 1979 for disabled men and women to gain confidence and find partners. Feminists immediately started attacking me, accusing me of encouraging disabled men to be “as disgusting as other men”. I can remember them sitting in the front row at conferences I spoke at, hurling abuse. I chose to ignore them.

For 25 years of my life, I published the Sex Maniac’s Diary, a jovial pocket book featuring sex positions of the day, kinks of the week, and international listings for sexy hotels, swing clubs, fetish clubs and places to enjoy commercial sex. Many people bought it as a joke Christmas present but in reality the information was very seriously researched and presented.

There were obviously more commercial establishments for men than for women (as there still are), but feminists therefore decided the little diary was “sexist”, and slowly printers refused to print it and criticism abounded – its charm and innocence were lost. I was very upset, but there was nothing I could do, anti-sex feminism was “in”.

Rather reluctantly, I was persuaded by its organisers to join Feminists Against Censorship. I didn’t really go along with their way of working and had nothing in common with the members. One of them asked me, while scrounging a lift in my car, “do you still fuck men?” “Yes”, I replied, why not?”. “Well, men just do what they want.” I thought about this and told her, “Yes, men do what they want and women do what we want. That’s what makes sex so great.” “Oh” she said, and sat silently.

Feminists Against Censorship decided to produce a book. I suggested they call it “Tales from the Clitoris” but it ended up with the rather vulgar title, “Tales from the Clit”. I was to be given a chapter, to write about Outsiders and my work with disabled people.

I wrote it from the heart. Midway through, I expressed my concern with what was happening a great deal at the time (late 80’s, early 90’s) when women felt their genitals were rather like a trophy which would be shared only in very special circumstances. I watched women swagger around as if they held this precious object between their legs, not to be shared. “Where had the generosity gone? How sad it was for disabled men who would never live up to the required standards, and never get to taste their delicious pussies and share their pleasures.”

Or something like that. Well, this paragraph was censored out, and I declared “I’ve been censored by Feminists Against Censorship!”.

Sadly, things have got much worse now. Feminists have joined forces with religious groups to get rid of all the wonderful striptease joints in London and elsewhere. Why can’t they listen to the women who are strippers before campaigning to close their places of work? Why are they allowed to get away with this? Probably because the feminists have kicked the balls out of the politicians, council members and journalists who might, in the past, have stopped them behaving so outrageously.

Feminism makes me not wish to identify as a woman, or a human being for that matter. I think I’ll opt for just being a mammal.

Blaming Women For Rape

The skirt is no excuse to rape - neither is porn
The skirt is no excuse for rape – neither is porn

This blog recently carried an article by Edie Lamort on the current moral panic about pornography; here’s another article on the subject. This is no accident – most people will have noticed a sharp rise in scare stories recently about porn, nude imagery, strip clubs and “sexualised” imagery in the media. The stories are the result, not of actual problems or any evidence of harm, but of widespread, well-organised campaigns by authoritarians to increase censorship of the media, and in particular of the Internet.

I won’t revisit the evidence here – but in summary, there is no solid evidence that erotic imagery leads to harm against women or children: in fact, the reverse is true. This, of course, doesn’t deter the anti-sex, pro-censorship campaigners in the slightest. They have no interest in whether porn is in fact harmful to women – their end goal is for censorship and control of sexuality, and in particular, female sexuality.

You may remember the birth of the Slutwalk movement about two years ago. This was triggered by a Toronto police officer who suggested that, in order to avoid rape, women should avoid dressing like “sluts”. The outrage that this victim-blaming caused led to the birth of Slutwalk in Toronto and then globally. A huge, young feminist movement took to the streets proclaiming the right of women to be sluts, without either being judged or raped.

I was a great supporter of Slutwalk; not everyone was though. The anti-sex feminist campaigner Gail Dines, for example, thought that women were misguided in trying to reclaim the word slut, and said this would “make life harder” for adolescent girls. This was typical of the clashes between the anti-sex and the sex-positive wings of feminism.

Today, another policeman tried to avert the blame for rape away from the rapist and onto women. This time though, unlike in the Toronto case, he was strangely applauded by some women. In a Daily Record article entitled More women will be raped if online porn isn’t tackled, Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham made an explicit link between porn-viewing and rape.

This, of course, is victim-blaming; but it’s a little more subtle than the Toronto variety that launched Slutwalk. Instead of saying that a rape is the fault of the woman who is raped, it claims that a rape is the fault of women who appear in porn, and thus incite men to rape. In both cases, women who dare to bare flesh in public are being blamed for the act of a rapist.

This logic is the same as that used by orthodox Jewish, Christian and Muslim sects, especially the Wahhabi Muslims, who cover women’s faces with niqabs “for their own protection”. The logic, whether blaming a woman for her own rape or blaming porn stars, Page 3 girls and strippers for another woman’s rape, is identical. The very sight of female flesh, we are told by the policemen, conservative feminists and religious fundamentalists, incites men to be rapists.

I’ll repeat: there is no evidence that this is true; indeed, evidence from studying rapists shows the opposite: that rapists tend to have repressed sexualities. Rather than enjoying porn, they are likely to find it disturbing. An article in Psychology Today entitled Sexual Repression: The Malady That Considers Itself The Remedy makes this point well: sexual repression, far from being blamed for sexual problems, is touted as the solution: Lengthen that skirt! Ban Page 3! Porn leads to abuse! Strips clubs lead to rapes! In every case, women are blamed for rape, and men are considered stupid creatures who, having seen a nipple or a vagina, cannot stop themselves from attacking someone.

So let’s remind ourselves: when a woman is raped, it is not her fault. Nor is the fault of the girl who appeared on Page 3 that morning. Nor is it the fault of the woman who chose to make a living by having sex on camera. It’s the fault of the rapist. The fact that a police chief has chosen to lead a morality campaign against porn is very disturbing. Police in free societies should have nothing to do with the consenting sex lives of adults. Stalin, Hitler and other dictators carried out conservative morality campaigns against their populations. Women did not benefit from these.

If we want to remember what pre-porn Britain was like, just look at the emerging facts from the Jimmy Savile case. Is that an innocent, “unsexualised” world that we should return to?

Porn in a Puritanical Age

As the EU Parliament prepares to vote to censor any content that might “demean women” (whatever that might mean), feminist and stripper Edie Lamort writes about the good side of porn, and the dangers of censorship.

International Women’s Day has rolled around again and thankfully it has not been quite so negative this year. I was appalled at the ‘victim fest’ I endured last year at the Women of the World Festival in the Southbank Centre. Although the Guardian indulged the usual insecurities that it believes defines womanhood. Blaming individual body issues firmly on ‘sexist media’ and terrible pressures from the wicked evil world of ‘patriarchy’. 

This my dear readers is not the full picture as it ignores the family environment. Now I’m lucky in the fact that my parents told me daily that I was a beautiful person. This has fortified me in ways I am eternally thankful for. I’m sure I will still think I’m hot even when I’m 70, legs warped by varicose veins and face wrinkled like a prune. It is why I roll my eyes when I hear these constant declarations about female body insecurities, from our ‘feminist’ opinion formers and politicians, and why I find the bleating about Page 3, porn and strippers to be ridiculous and unbearable. Positive reassurances from your loved ones are the most powerful messages, and if you have that, all the porn and advertising in the world will not undermine you.

However this paranoid and misplaced blame for all the world’s ills still motivates many of our dear leaders. The latest episode of madness comes from Dutch MEP Kartika Liotard who seeks to impose “…statutory measures to prevent any form of pornography in the media and in advertising and for a ban on advertising for pornographic products…” Effectively banning all porn in the European Union. An extremely totalitarian move, that feels like some kind of Soviet era diktat.

Besides this being an outrageous affront to freedom all round, I feel this line of thought is horribly misguided. Yes there are many reasons that this censorship should be stopped in its tracks; freedom of speech, the fact that our liberal democracies have the best track record with female emancipation due to our openness around sex, that porn demystifies the feminine mystique, the fact that these censors wilfully ignore amateur and gay porn and finally; I’d also like to suggest that porn is good for you.

Yes porn is good for you and for society at large. I have recently come across an interesting Agony Aunt called Rachel Rabbit White who regularly advises her confidants to explore their fantasies using porn, even celebrating an annual Lady Porn Day. A woman writes in concerned at her new boyfriends interest in porn featuring older men with younger women. Now instead of shrieking ‘pervert’ Rachel Rabbit asks them to explore the subconscious reasons for this. She wonders if it is to do with breaking taboos? Or is he trying to reassure himself that he is still attractive?

She then addresses what lies behind females watching rape porn and having related fantasies. Rather than having a horrified, knee-jerk reaction she tries to find out why. What part of the BDSM world could she be attracted to? Is it about finding the strength and maleness extremely erotic and actually feeling safe with it? For many women it is being desired by someone so much that they are out of control. Being the centre of their world. Of course this is fantasy and very far removed from the realities of actual rape but here we can use porn as the starting point to explore these fantasies. Acting them out in the safety of a loving relationship.

She also answers a worried male viewer who identifies as straight but finds himself turned on by Bukkake. That is when a group of men ejaculate over a woman. This man finds himself fantasizing not about coming on a woman but being the recipient. He stresses that he’s never felt attracted to men so is worried about this urge. Rachel Rabbit then explores the macho environment that boys grow up in and how this could lead to a fascination with semen. That it’s probably quite a natural thing for males to be intrigued by something that is an almost daily emission. Therefore there is an element of fetishizing semen in male macho culture. She also wonders if he is somewhere on the bisexual scale despite being in a straight relationship.

So the viewer’s tastes in porn are treated as a doorway to their subconscious and a way of exploring sexuality in a safe environment. A method of psychotherapy, of analysis, that can result in valuable insights and self-awareness. It’s also a way to pick up handy hints and ideas to spice up your sex life. If it has become vanilla and everyday, porn can be a reference for creativity. Couples can explore BDSM together; some watch gay porn (not that they will ever have real gay relationships) and their sex life can be enriched with anal play. It’s about having a positive outlook on the fantasies you have, and discovering what lies beneath them, as opposed to feeling shame. What is it that turns you on in a scene? Is it the taboo of something you’ve never been permitted to do? Is it about restraint and role-play? Is it gender bending?

A recent study also showed that men who watch porn were more in favour of gay marriage. Reasons included how they had become used to seeing other men’s penises in heterosexual acts and therefore the shock factor was diluted. Also that in exploring their own sexuality they were more likely to be accepting of other less traditional sexual situations. That in the main, those who watch porn have a more open mind towards sex. So there’s another positive aspect porn.

And what of the women I hear you ask? Commercial porn is a very well regulated industry with actors and actresses documented and regularly tested for STIs. Feminist porn director Anna Span described to me how the performers she uses must all show their passports, have their photos taken holding their passports to show the pictures match, and store these photos on record permanently. UK producers must conform to the US 18 USC 2257 law, otherwise they cannot sell their content across the Atlantic. The porn industry has already pre-emptively dealt with child access issues by developing a web site labelling system known as Restricted To Adult . This embeds a code into adult material so that online filtering tools can easily identify porn and stop children accessing it. In terms of health all producers demand certificates and check for fakes. Porn performers must have health checks every 28 days.

Anti-porn repression and moral panic will lead to less equality all round and more violence towards women and LBGT people. Censorship will definitely not lead to some glorious utopia of equality that our ridiculous opinion formers and politicians seem to believe. This sexual counter-revolution must be stopped in its tracks right now because it is dangerous and anti-women. Feminism needs to stop being so childish and one-dimensional. It needs to look further in to the human psyche when dealing with sex and develop a more mature attitude towards it.

So porn can be good for you. Please click the links and enjoy Ms Rachel Rabbit!

My First Strip

silhouette-of-stripper-on-a-pole_17-1120222452Once again, we are delighted to welcome our striptease correspondent Edie Lamort. You can follow her on Twitter here: @EdieLamort

Something occurred to me last summer after phoning up a radio talk show and commenting. It was in the wake of a Cornish policeman accusing lap-dancing clubs of increasing rape and the controversy it had caused. There were the usual prohibitionists on the line so I called to put the other side of the argument. I was trying to make the point that this way of thinking gave excuses for criminals and rapists. It allowed them accuse society and sexy women as the cause of their crime rather than to take personal responsibility. It also ran the old-fashioned narrative that the victim of rape is somehow to blame. Just a bit of good old-fashioned slut-shaming.

During the conversation, I had to keep asking the radio presenter to get back on to the subject at hand, because he was interested and wanted to know a lot more about the job. He asked about the money, the customers and how I felt doing my first strip. I gave some vague answers but was a bit puzzled as to why he was so intrigued about my first strip. It did make me wonder as it’s not the first time interviewers have strayed from the subject matter and quizzed me like this. They all ask about your first strip and to be honest I don’t really think about mine.

Why do they ask? I think it’s because there is a general perception that this job is not something you would choose to do and therefore you must have fallen into it or happened upon it. Do they think that one thing led to another, and before you know it, you’re on the slippery slope towards stripping? That it was forced on you and suddenly, before you could stop it, you were naked on stage? That it was not a personal decision? That you somehow took the wrong turn and did something you never expected to do? Or is it because we are all voyeurs? Even those who clutch their pearls and gasp, yet still want all the details?

I began stripping in San Francisco and it was a personal decision that I pondered for a while. I’m sorry to be boring but I am quite a pragmatic and analytical character. I ruminate on a decision for a while and I am not very impulsive. I am methodical about things and it takes me a while to settle on a decision. This is because once I do it is firm and I stick to it.

I decided to dance for a number of reasons, money obviously being one, but freedom and creativity being others. So I went to talk to a dancer that worked around the corner from the restaurant I was working in. I asked her many annoying questions and got lots of information about different types venues and where they were. Then I began a tour of the venues. Going into them one by one and telling them I was looking for work. They were all very nice and polite and showed me around. I spoke to the girls, watched stage shows and checked out the dance booths. They told me all about the fees and security protocols and how the shifts worked.

After this tour I decided on the venue I wanted to work at. I called them up and booked an interview with the house mom. She gave me a lot of advice during the interview and booked me in for an audition. She also gave me a few addresses of shops where I could buy my new work uniform; a long gown as it was an upmarket club, some T-bar panties (not G-strings – too crude apparently) and a couple of bikini sets. She then gave me dancing advice and we watched a few shows together. She explained floor work was important and to move slowly as it was more seductive. The whole interview process took a long time and I found myself getting a little impatient with it. I wanted to start work.

I returned the next week with my recommended outfits and settled into the changing room. I made up my face and put on the long red velvet gown over my underwear set and pasties. It was California over a decade ago and we had to follow strict protocol as you do in any licensed venue. We had to wear pasties over our nipples, along with the t-bar panties, and could only remove them in the last 30 seconds of the strip. Everything was quite controlled and tame really.

When I did my audition I was concentrating on the things she had told me to do, hoping I got the job. I chose middle of the road music and kept it fairly straight. The quirky, creative, more rock n roll part could come later. You don’t go to an interview in your wildest outfit after all. It was all over very quickly despite being about five minutes and my main focus was on perfecting my new craft. Moving slowly, feeling the beat, moving my hips and remembering all that poise I’d learnt in dance classes as a teen.

I got the job and was given a month of lunch shifts so I could get used to the stage, the dance and how it all worked. This next month too consisted of me learning the ropes, and that really was my focus, to learn my new craft and make it my job. Towards the end of the month the house mom came on to the floor during one of my lunch shifts and watched a few dances. She smiled and told me I’d improved a lot and seemed so much more natural on stage. This meant I could be moved on to a full rota, which would include evening shifts, and that I had passed my probation. This was great news because I had plans and savings goals that could now be achieved.

No one forced me to do this; it was purely a personal decision. I didn’t tell any of my friends, or colleagues from the restaurant, that I was doing it either. This was because I wanted it to be my decision and was worried that they would worry and panic, clouding my view and effecting my decision. Also it is not information that you can give to freely due to the social stigma so you have to be careful who you entrust with it. Even after I’d left my former job and started stripping, I gave some friends vague answers about ‘working in a bar’. I needed to make sure they would be ok and I wouldn’t get strange reactions. People will either think it’s disgusting, try to save you or ask a hundred bizarre questions. I was comfortable with the job but cautious in regards to the reaction of others.

Over time I learnt whom I could trust and began to be more open. The standard social narrative swings between ‘poor victim’ to ‘evil slut’ so it’s hard to have a normal and open conversation about this. That it is just people making a living. It is also people doing a lot of other thing besides dancing. You never know, you may work next to someone who dances at the weekend. Or one of those mums you chat to at the school gate so politely with, well she might have a pair of stripper heels in a bag ready to work. Or the friend of a friend that you think is really sweet may be checking in for her shift tomorrow night…

 

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.