Edit this letter first appeared in Sex and Censorship. I was asked to edit the letter for grammar and spelling but felt it should be as the writer put it.
There was a rather annoying piece in the Guardian from Anna of Object where she made claims and attacked dancers indirectly. This is a response to Anna's piece, there is already support for the letter amongst dancers and we would like to see the message spread. Alternatively contact me at email@example.com or if people want their name or organisation added to the signatures again let me know.
Feminist organisations need to listen to the voices of the dancers. Here’s why.
A response to Ms. van Heeswick letter, from the perspective of a dancer with 14 years’ experience working in clubs.
Dear Ms. van Heeswick, after reading your article published yesterday, I would like to respond to each of your points from a different perspective…
1. Let me first challenge your assertion that dancing clubs market women as sexual objects for male gratification.
I firmly disagree. If so, how can an object dance with high heels and do pole dancing tricks? Behind every action of every worker is a human being taking decisions for themselves. If anybody objectifies us, it is your organisation.
We dancers are entertainers, entertaining an audience that pays our bills.
I also have to disagree with your statement that the presence of strip clubs increases the demand for “prostitution”, as strip clubs offer a very different service. I assume that you take prostitution – that I call ‘sex work’ - as a ‘lower’ practice than stripping, but as a stripper, I will not judge other sex workers in a way that creates hierarchy.
2. Are women who work in lap dancing routinely subjected to harassment, exploitation and the expectation of sexual services?
I question your honesty in the characterization of ‘Object’ as a human rights organisation. To me, it is pure hypocrisy, as it is only making female workers more vulnerable. If more strip clubs disappear in these hard times of recession and unemployment, do you think that is supporting the rights of women? As you thought to assert what is best for us, let me also advise you to put your energy and your dubious concern towards creating more jobs for women, rather than undermining the work that we decide to do. We are thousands of mothers, migrants, students, fighters, activists and more, and every one of us has a story to tell. With over a decade’s experience in the industry, I can’t help but laugh sourly at your research.
Real feminism should defend our choices and show solidarity with all women, and that includes working class women.
Yes, it is true that we have to pay nightly house fees to work in clubs. Paradoxically, those fees rose dramatically after ‘feminists’ like you pushed for harder legislation that increased clubs’ licensing fees. Yet, this does not even appear to be enough for you.
Lastly, you try to prove your perspective with the case of ‘one woman’ who felt it was the hardest job that she ever did. I could name hundreds of women who are still in the industry by choice, but as you only mention one, to mention myself is more than enough. Still, you will notice that several workers’ collectives support my position.
3. Next, do lap dancing clubs indeed create a threatening environment for women and girls who live around the clubs? You support your answer again by referring to ‘one woman’ who spoke to Object. Can I meet her? Where is she? Where does she live? Because throughout my career I have generally worked in places that are much more discreet than your average pub. Again, Ms. van Heeswijk, why don’t you provide more evidence?
4. I agree with your statement that councils can still operate under legislation that equates lap dancing clubs with restaurants and karaoke bars. But I question why you’re so offended. Is not a karaoke bar a place where people perform, as I do during my shifts? I don’t see why any of us need to ask permission to work in a particular neighbourhood. Do you know the location of many strip clubs, Ms. van Heeswijk? Because I have worked in places where even the locals did not notice that there was a stripping venue.
5. In your last ‘reason’, you assert that bars and pubs can get around the licensing regime by holding entertainment events on an occasional basis. Let me ask you again, why does it bother you so much that people work even only on an occasional basis? Why would you make it more difficult for us to work? Why not focus on protecting our rights as workers and fighting stigma with us, instead of making us your target?
I urge you and Object not to patronise working class women. Start including sex workers and trans women in your outdated discourses. If you don’t agree with my decisions, I simply do not care. But if you try to make my job even harder than it already is, this letter will only be the beginning.
An Angry Stripper
Sex Workers Open University
Stripping the Illusion Blog