By Madeleine Mankey
To be clear, I do not think that strippers in Britain need saving. Nor do I think that all are vulnerable, weak women exploited and forced into their profession. Sex work is real work. Dancers deserve respect. I just really hate strip clubs.
I say this because the world we live in is grey, complicated and full of nuance. Men have been trying for years to segregate feminists and cool girls. We know for a fact that most feminists will find anything under the sun to disagree over, except for the fundamental right for women to be treated equally. Cool girls… find a way to get in touch that facilitates your sacrifice of basic human rights.
I also mention this because the discussion on strip clubs and sex work has become shockingly divisive, as if a trade as controversial as lap dancing can only have two opinions: for and against. I would like to open the conversation with what appears to be the obvious: you can decry strip club venues without demonising the workers. You can hate the game without hating the players. I am simply uninterested in article after article defending the rights of strippers, I am not coming after them. I am coming after a culture that objectifies women, that sells women, and that rapes women. In doing so, I will come after anyone and anything that allows that.
The tale of lap dancing in Britain is an interesting one. The BBC estimates that between 2004 and 2008 their number doubled to 300, while the topical feminist outlook is that women should be allowed to do whatever they like. The late Peter Stringfellow, owner of several ‘gentlemen’s clubs’, argued that: “It’s been a positive force in terms of our sexual attitudes… These clubs broke down the fear a lot of people have about sex.” Presumably the fear of sex that was revoked was men not getting any. Even the language of “gentlemen’s clubs” are revealing of the need for these men to feel emasculated by their pitiful need for live gratification – even theydon’t want to use the word strip club. And that’s why I’m going to.
Thousands of issues attached to the defences of strip clubs: that they provide women with a way to pay for education, that minority ethnic women are unable to find employment elsewhere. These arguments hold up for about four seconds under hard scrutiny. Is it okay to expect young women to pay staggering university fees? Is it okay to deny employment based on systemic racism? Because they can fix it by taking their clothes off? Which men don’t have to do?
Sex work is real work, but it is not like other work. It is dangerous, it requires bravery and protection in ways that no other female-dominated workspace does. The simplistic equation of sex work with other commerce as an exchange of money for services doesn’t hold up when you consider opening one next to a school.
A Guardian article written by Frankie Miren attempts to equate nude life drawings and strippings in this “one dimensional service” way – clumsy and ill conceived. The difference is that one act objectifies and sexualises (by nature) female nudity and the other removes it from these imprisoning barriers by accepting it as a work of art.
Another huge difference being here that artists rarely want to screw the bowl of fruit in front of them. The fruit hasn’t been paid to show you its genitals. The fruit doesn’t work long hours in order to support all number of external debts, be they colleges or families. It is a piece of fruit. If you don’t want to pay for it you can steal it. If you don’t want to pay for a woman’s sexuality, you can steal that too.
Because that is part of the evil that strip clubs truly do. Not only are they objectifying female bodies into a product that can be sold (or taken). Not only are they selling men the idea that money and power will cause women to fall, quite literally, into their laps. They reinforce the idea that a woman’s sexuality is a performance for them. That it is somehow a favour towards the other sex. It is not something that can stand on its own, a woman cannot simply long to dance on a pole or take off her clothes in a situation not governed by money and power structure. If you get naked in a dance club you are asked to leave. No ladies, these men have to tell you when to take your clothes off. And you will still be called a whore by them for it.
This inherently incel vibe of “gentlemen’s clubs” is another huge red flag that should signal their end in modern society. After all, what’s more arousing than a woman who needs to be paid to take her clothes off for you? Another surprisingly disturbing Guardian article argues that strip blubs are actually a healthy way for young men to explore sex: “It’s a private room wherein a lap dance is on the table and a man expressing his sexuality isn’t going to be met with a sexual harassment lawsuit.”
As a woman this is terrifying to read. As a feminist, it is disgraceful. I refuse to calmly and resignedly acknowledge that men are some kind of primitive bestial creature who will simply begin assaulting any woman in sight if they are not given naked dancers as a sacrifice. That they simply must be catered to in a power based sexual scenario otherwise they will be forced against their will to bend their secretaries over their desks. I know that men can be, should be, and are, better than that.
It is because I believe in this that I believe our society can get rid of strip clubs. We have made great leaps towards inequality within the last number of years, but we are still a long way off. I want to live in a world where men and women can meet in the middle, where sex and nudity can be enjoyed on a level playing field. Where women can earn the same salaries as men, and go through the same hard work to get there.Where our children grow up to love their bodies, not commodify them.
I don’t think strip clubs are helping us get there.