In October 2011, a public entitled 'Lapdancing - Choice or Exploitation' was held in the Bancroft Library in Tower Hamlets. Given that the Tower Hamlets prohibition campaign may be heading towards its climax, I though it would be worthwhile revisiting the event through though the experiences of three participants.
First we have Cllr Rania Kahn, who posted on her blog as follows...
October saw an important debate at the Bancroft Library with journalist and campaigner Bea Campbell; Kat Banyard, author of ‘Equality Illusion’; Anna Van Heeswik of national campaign OBJECT; Cllr Rachel Saunders; Eileen Short, founder of CAPE, and Jennifer Hayashi Danns, author of ‘Stripping the Illusion: The Bare Reality of Lap Dancing.’
Cllr Rania Khan said: “There had been worries that advocates of lapdancing and the sex industry would try to break up the discussion - there had been threats on the internet - but the debate was intense, peaceful, intelligent, and above all democratic. People opposed to lapdancing as sexist exploitation of women were able to air their critique alongside others who supported lapdancing on the grounds of freedom of expression. Though, surprisingly, none of the people running lapdancing clubs took the opportunity to speak up - despite being invited by us to participate.”
Rania, exactly how were these 'advocates of lapdancing' going to 'break up the discussion'. Did you really imagine that a gang lead by Peter Stringfellow were going break in venue and start smashing the place up? What threats had been made on the internet? Please show us the frame grabs, I mean surely you recorded the 'threats' and showed them to the police? I know would have....
But least the debate was 'peaceful, intelligent and above all democratic'. In terms of club owners being invited, I am aware that Secrets were invited along, but were too buys running their business to attend, but I have to say that no other club owner in the borough received an invitation.
Anyway lets see what one of the guest speakers thought, Edie La Mort, ex-stripper and activist delivered a speech to the assembled throng and she wrote down her impressions of the event....
I spoke at a 'debate' on Tuesday October 11th (2011), called ‘Lap-dancing - a Choice or Exploitation?
It was sparked by the current Nil Policy consultation in Tower Hamlets but billed as a general debate. The stated aim of the organisers is to close down every SEV in the UK and for stripping to be banned completely as it is in Iceland. (These were the words of Kat Banyard and Object) After being told it was an invitation only, women only, private event; it turned into a very public, very mixed and absolutely not private event. People taking photos and filming - something I hope does not come back to haunt me.
Here's a run down of the speakers and what was said:
Beatrix Campbell - feminist and communist (is what it said on the program)
She set the tone for the evening with high drama and sensationalism. She ad libed her speech. I will paraphrase her so you can get the general idea but do be sure to read this to yourself with a lot of drama, pity, mournful emotion and dramatic pauses.
"Can you imagine what it's like?! Our young women..... surrounded by men....... having to take off........ALL their clothes......... (big dramatic pause as see looks around at the audience, hoping her words are having the desired effect). "Being the only person in the room...... NAKED..... whilst the others remain clothed!!!"
Please note that because about 70% of the women in the were in burkas or niqabs, this did have the desired effect.
She then went on to tackle the subject that dancing is empowering, again with full drama and mournful emotion.
"People say........Lap-dancing......is empowering! Can you believe that?!?! So I could be empowered by it?!?! ....... Me?!...... with my old and skinny body?!?! ...... Are they really saying ..... I could be empowered?!?!"
I thought 'no love you wouldn't get any shifts but you could do Burlesque successfully if you had an ounce of imagination.'
Kat Banyard and Object - this lot are the hardcore prohibitionists and I find their venom towards another group of women quite disturbing.
Kat Banyard ran the 'you can buy a woman like you can buy a cappuccino' line which I was prepared for in my speech with - 'You do not buy me, you pay for my performance. I am a performer.'
They obsessed about women even though there are male strip pubs and said the areas around strip venues were no-go areas for women. She talked about 'choice' but isn't that what they want to take away from us?
The get themselves all worked up. They are like the shouty, accusing children of Salem. Destroying the lives of adults with accusations. I want to send them all a copy of The Crucible by Arthur Miller!
It will be really hard to get them to listen. They have built their entire career on stripper bashing so there's too much at stake. They have businesses, websites, book deals and funding all dedicated to pushing the idea that stripping is wrong. They make a parasitic living out of us. They cannot afford to be wrong or budge an inch in their hardline stance because it will invalidate their career and earning potential.
I think she was just someone from 'the community' who spoke a lot about being a mother and protecting the children. All quite irrelevant seeing as it's the Adult industry that they were supposed to be discussing.
Me - Stripper
I was conscious when writing my speech to check all my facts, not use inflammatory language and back myself up with studies and statistics. However no one else did this. They were quite happy with vitriol, willful misinformation and blatant lies. I asked them to introduce me as a stripper because technically lap-dancing is not allowed. Lap-dancing involves contact and all SEVs are supposed to have a no touching policy.
I realised later that I should have kept my speech quite simple as I was talking to an audience of mainly simpletons. Unfortunately there was only me with five minutes to put the other side of the argument in a three hour witch trial, .... er ....... I mean 'debate'. It was a general overview but I now realise it's just important to repeat key messages again and again to them. Such as:
'I chose to dance' 'No one forced me'. 'I enjoy my job.' 'I am well looked after'. 'I am a performer not a prostitute.' 'It does not lead to an increase in rape'.
Finer points such as freedom in general, if my freedom is taken from me you will be next etc... The concept of living in a liberal democracy, artistic freedom, freedom of expression etc were just not being received. I also asked, what about Bethnal Green Working Man's Club with it's Burlesque nights? It is stripping after all. Will this also be closed down? How about BJs gay bar that has male strippers, yes men dancing for men. Will this also be closed? My questions were not answered.
Kat Banyard dismissed me and my colleague as propagandists!
Jennifer Hayashi Danns - ex-dancer and author of Stripped - the bare reality of lap-dancing.
She is intelligent and articulate but very anti-stripping. She had worked in a lap-dance club in Liverpool to put herself through university. It made me think, 'Well you paid for your degree, you're alright, but is no one else allowed to do that?' It seems quite unfair.
She related a story from her book about a dancer, who also did all the other things like music video shoots etc, that went from tragedy to tragedy. The two main points of the story were that the dancer had been shot and at some point had gone to a party with some other girls, got off her head and then woke up having sex with someone. Neither of these things happened at work, they happened else where, but she got the effect she wanted. The crowd only heard 'shooting' and 'rape' in association with lap-dancing and all their prejudices were confirmed.
She said the dancer didn't go to the police because she knew she wouldn't get help. She knew the stripper stigma would prevent them for taking her case seriously. In my opinion this is a reason against the nil policy and further criminalization. It just reinforces the divisive and spiteful view about women being 'good' or 'fallen'. Meaning that those women who are 'bad' don't deserve help.
She ended with the rallying cry 'There is no place in our society for lap-dancing!' There was wild applause.
Eileen Short form CAPE (Communities Against People Exploitation)
Apparently she's offended by people pulling up in big black cars outside of Metropolis. Huh?! If she is offended by cars she needs to go and live in the woods.
Anyway, the jist of her argument was that the SEV venues caused a lot of noise and disturbance. Why she specifically thinks strip clubs are more prone to this than any other club, I don't know.
She also did a lot of the 'poor girls, who are drawn into working in these terrible places, we must help them’ routine. With a lot of drama, lamenting and wailing. (Some of these people deserve an Oscar!) She assumes everyone was forced into dancing even though I made sure to say in my speech I had CHOSEN to dance.
We spoke to her afterwards and pointed out that other bars and clubs cause more problems with noise and drunkenness than strip venues. This only served to make her complain about how the whole of Shoreditch and Hoxton were so unpleasant and people were drunk everywhere. She was utterly ridiculous.
Phillipa Boardman - Church of England female priest
I was sitting next to her and she kept turning to me and smiling sweetly. She said things like, 'It's so interesting to meet someone like you' and 'I never looked at it like that'. My impression of her is that she is well meaning but really had no clue.
She spoke about Jesus and how he loved everyone. How he had accepted women in his group, which in those days was unheard of, so Jesus supported women's rights. What about my right to choose? What about me and my friends being free to do the job we want to?
She also spoke about the 'dignity of children' and dignity in general. Again, it's the Adult industry, what do children have to do with it? Children don't go into their parents room and watch them have sex and nor should they go and watch strippers. Parents have sex - that's how families happen - and it's kept from children. Erotic dancing happens in SEVs - and righty it's kept from children. Yes crazy people ... sex exists!
Safia Jama - Somali Integration Team
This woman was intelligent and dynamic but very devout. She was fully veiled and spoke as 'a mother and community organiser' about the plight of the poor dancers. She ran the 'dancers are victims of wicked men' story with a passion.
Dilwara Begum - 'writer'
She rambled incoherently around so many subjects. She was totally unaware of how much she contradicted herself and looked totally stupid! I was looking at her biog of 'writer' and thought 'yeah right! The only thing this woman writes is the weekly shopping list.' I may be a stripper, but next to her, I am an intellectual giant!
She babbled around SEVs, the Iraq war, the war in Afghanistan, class war, corruption in business, unemployment, rape, family break-up, divorce, human trafficking etc. At one point I held my breath as she rambled on about the government cuts. Fortunately, Rania Khan, the organiser and chair asked her to leave the stage.
She said lap-dancing was a violation of human rights and girls were forced into this work. She could not comprehend how anyone could choose it. She said it was exploitation of poor unemployed girls and the governments fault as they were not providing enough jobs.
She ended with the rallying cry, 'our boys and girls are not for sale!!!' People cheered but hello people, unless you've won the lottery or come from riches we are all for sale. We trade our services and labour for wages. It's how it works.
Ruhan Ali - TELCO
I got the impression that she was intelligent and well meaning, just naive. She was one of the many who said, 'Oh I never even knew there were these places in Tower Hamlets!'
She described her work with schools and colleges and said there was no place for the sex industry in our society. She said there are nine churches and five mosques and none of them want this to go on.
Well tough, religion is going to have to co-exist side by side with the liberal secular majority. I would not petition to have churches or mosques closed down. I would not go to them, and I don't feel comfortable with them, but I would respect the freedom of choice of others if they wish to do that.
Rachel Saunders - Labour Councillor
I found this speaker to be one of the worst. As an elected representative she needs to understand the subjects she has decided to speak about. She directly accused stripping of leading to increases in rape and causing human trafficking. There were no caveats and nothing 'allegedly' about her sweeping statements, none of the usual cautionary language that politicians use to cover themselves. I found her astoundingly irresponsible, as an elected official, to be telling blatant lies.
My colleague tried to call her out on the rape issue at the end during the rather chaotic Q&A session. She avoided the subject and would not answer questions directly. The simple reason for this is that she doesn't know what she's talking about. I made sure when I wrote a feedback email to the organisers the next day, to tell them full stripping only began in the 80s, has rape only existed since the 80s?
Recommended reading for her is Folk Devils and Moral Panics by Stanley Cohen!
Sarah Castro MBE
This final woman was intelligent, worldly wise and sane. (Thankfully!) She was a friend of Rania's and hadn't really thought about lap-dancing being a problem or had given much time to the subject. She also commented on the low profile of the clubs.
She thanked all the speakers excluding me! She basically said she didn't agree on banning anything.
There was so much ignorance in the room and willful misinformation pedaled by the speakers. One thing I found really offensive is that these people suppose that they can tell me what I can and can't do with my life. I would never dream of interfering in their lives as much as they feel they can with me. I just wouldn't waste my time or be so presumptuous.
Another thing I briefly attempted with one of the women that chatted to me afterwards, was the whole Burka issue. I watched a Kat Banyard interview where she was asked how she felt about the Burka as a feminist. She skipped around the subject dodging the question and then said, 'the problem is, is that women's bodies are being used as a battleground.' Well isn't that what she's doing with strippers? So I tried to talk about how my choice to dance, is the flip side of the same coin, as your choice to wear the burka. It's all about external authorities trying to control what you do as a woman. I wouldn't wear a burka but would never support any law banning an item of clothing. That's because it's about freedom and once you start banning one thing, where does it end? It was impossible to get them to see that the issues were related and about freedom.
Another scary thing about all of this is that the Coalition are pushing a localism agenda. If this is the caliber of our local representatives then we are all in trouble! From what I gather from the Hackney campaign is that there is no right of appeal once the Nil Policy has been passed. This is very scary as the fanatics will win and the people just getting on with things will find themselves out of work. At least when things are decided at national level there are educated advisors and therefore more chance of sanity. (No guarantee though).
Well we knew the panel was heavily bias and calling it a 'debate' was laughable. Debates are supposed to have opposers and proposers and a balance of arguments. There was none of this. If I made only one person change their mind then it was worth it!
Unfortunately these people are not going to go away and will keep on pursuing their goal of shutting down all SEVs in the UK. They are bullies have to be stood up too because if one borough falls the rest will too. I guarantee if they ban dancing in Tower Hamlets, the prohibitionist will try again in Hackney.
We are fortunate that we can also draw upon the experience of a third person, Jean Lane, a Unison activist who went along to the debate purely in an observational capacity. Lets see what she had to say in article that was featured on the Workers Liberty website...
A public meeting was hosted in Tower Hamlets on 11th October by CAPE – the Campaign Against People Exploitation. It was billed as a balanced debate about whether Tower Hamlets council should have a policy of “nil sex establishments” in the Borough. It was nothing of the sort.
I went to the meeting having not entirely worked out what I think about lap dancing clubs. Sympathetic to the concerns of local residents about noise and anti-social behaviour in and around their estates, the idea of women having a job for which the sole function is the sexual arousal or gratification of men also makes me feel uncomfortable.
At the same time, however, I live in Whitechapel. Street prostitution has been a reality here for many decades. The lives of the women on the street are brutal. It is not caused by lap dancing clubs, a relatively new phenomenon to the area. Does the existence of sex clubs represent a driving of more women into sexual exploitation? Or does it provide a haven where women can at least organise and acquire some safety in their lives? I was looking forward to hearing, with a fairly open mind, both sides of the debate.
The arguments in favour of a total ban ranged from “lap dancing does not enhance the power of women” as stated by Bea Campbell journalist and 1970s Stalinist, to “it’s disgusting!” from Ruhan Ali of TELCO (The East London Communities Organisation, often mistakenly but understandably called the east london CHURCHES organisation).
However much the supposedly intellectual speakers attempted to use the language of ‘empowerment’ and ‘emancipation’ of women, it all boiled down to this: lap dancing clubs cause an increase in rape statistics, drug taking, alcoholism, debt, prostitution, the breakdown of the family, the sexual exploitation of children, the loosening of the moral fibre of our menfolk and the loss of dignity of our women. All of which rather begs the question; would all these ills disappear if lap dance clubs were closed down?
One speaker, Dilwara Begum, billed as ‘a writer’, spoke vehemently about the evils of lust, proclaimed that “the boys and girls of England are not for sale!” and begged us to look to China where all such clubs are banned! Are women not prostituted in China then? Is the moral fortitude of Chinese men intact? Another, Safia Jama, of the Somali Integration Team, demanded to know, “how can we allow women to take off their clothes?”
The heavy moralism towards the end of the long list of platform speakers was overwhelming, punctuated by incisive statements from Respect, the organisers of CAPE, “we do not want these clubs next to our schools and places of worship”, the Labour Party, “lap dancing causes the sexual exploitation of children”, the SWP, “what kind of world do we live in?” going on to bemoan the fact that human sexuality is distorted and unfree. This is true. I suspect, however, that the desire to close down lap dancing clubs has more to do with the comrade’s desire to be part of a campaign than to unshackle the chains from around the sexual desires of the working classes. Still at least she did not mention the war.
What was very clear was that most of the speakers in the room were actually against sex, and in particular, sex carried out by women. I had mistakenly wandered into an 1830 meeting of the British Temperance Society.
There were two interventions from the other side. Edie La Mort, former stripper of the Nags Head, considered herself a performer, well paid and better treated than when she worked as a PA in the city. “If anyone treated me badly I could call security and get them thrown out. I wish I could have done that in my office job”. A male sex worker and GMB organiser attempted to speak out about the need to unionise sex workers rather than criminalise them, but was closed down by the chair, Cllr Rania Khan (Independent, ex-Respect) insisting that he ask a question, though no-one else did. Only one speaker from the floor raised the problem of giving governments, local or otherwise, the power to ban things.
I came away from the meeting knowing very well that I was not with the moralists. But I was not entirely happy with the other side either. I cannot believe that all women sex workers are well paid, secure and happy in their work, or that trafficking and coercion do not go on. I also do not go along with the idea that women are raped in supermarket car parks and women are exploited in the office, so what’s the difference? For sure if Tower Hamlets council are concerned about the sexual exploitation of women they would do better to tackle domestic violence. But they can do that and tackle the clubs.
The question is how? Drive them underground and push more women onto the streets of Whitechapel? Or control them through licensing and get the unions in to organise the workers?
The consultation is going on in Tower Hamlets not long after attempts by a radical minority within the muslim community to ban the Gay Pride march and to prevent sex education in local schools. Respect and the SWP have nothing to say about that but champion the shutting down of sex clubs in a way that locks them in with these ultra-right wing elements.
The church, the mosque, the independents, the Labour Party, Respect and the SWP all pronounced themselves on the side of the ban in the interests of either family values or women’s rights.
The council, the great defender of women’s rights, as shown by the cuts they have made in Children’s services, Sure Start, social services and youth clubs, will be given a mandate to shut them down. Domestic violence, street prostituion, drug and alcohol abuse will continue to rise as the cuts take away people’s lifelines. And lap dancing clubs will move to the next Borough over, but we don’t care about them do we?
I am not going to make too many comments, but it is interesting to point out the similarities in viewpoint between Jean and Edie in terms of the speakers. Also interesting to see how Cllr Rania Khan closed down a perfectly reasonable point about unionisation of the venues and dancers...surely anyone with an ounce of concern about dancer welfare would at least acknowledge the idea.
My final point is that the clubs will not move to the next borough, if they close down, the jobs will be lost forever. I will leave it to you to draw your own conclusions...