Strippers Channel 4 episode 1
These women dared to be visible, to parade in public male spheres and to be paid for it. Don’t forget that even a generation ago women couldn’t go to the pub alone, and there was a separate room for them. All Shakespearian actors were male as it was considered whorish. In the 19th century, doctors masturbated female patients who were diagnosed with ‘hysteria‘; so not only were female bodies kept hidden, but their anatomy was also kept a mystery to themselves. The idea of women even having a sexual self, let alone making money from their bodies is unthinkable to many who would prefer we were all considered to be victims, and that all debates on sex work should only feature street based sex-workers or those addicted to class A drugs.
And don’t get me started on the ‘sex work causes violence against women’ argument and the examples here of women’s bodies being seen an inciting violence.
I didn’t know the start of a 3 part series of lap dancing was on last night, mostly because I live in a haze of journal articles, yoga and the prison aisle of the library. But after a dozen tweets and texts, I jumped merrily on the sofa to watch it. I didn’t have high hopes after all it was on Channel 4 sure to be a shockumentary about the ‘poor women’ who are ‘forced’ to strip.
Well, it wasn’t quite like that. Sure they had an eastern European dancer in the form of Laefena from Estonia, but she wasn’t ‘trafficked’, desperate or forced; Laefena is a qualified nurse with big ambitions. And sure they had a dancer who wanted to leave, Kim, who was ‘addicted to the money’ (not drugs, not alcohol, not an abusive relationship or a pimp). And sure the narrator kept asking stupid questions like “Will you be doing this forever” (would she ask a fast food worker/ cabin crew/ beautician/ fitness instructor/ travel rep the same question?) and “aren’t you selling your body”. But luckily the women interviewed were intelligent and savvy enough to not fall for it.
We didn’t see abusive customers or women being being forced to do anything so the ‘victim’ discourse falls flat on its face. The reality of stigma was portrayed well which in my experience is the real danger to dancers. There is a shame in saying you enjoy being a lap dancer and it is therefore no surprise that we didn’t see women who are making big $$$ and/or are very happy with their job.
A flurry of angry messages ensued from current dancers when the documentary implied £100 is a good night for a dancer, but I understand the dancers not wanting to talk about their financials on TV. Dancers (in most clubs but not all) pay a house fee upfront, then keep their dance money. In the same way a taxi driver pays a settle, and a self-employed hairdresser rents a chair. Women are not stupid to work in a job where they earn zero money. Every dancer I have known has gone on to pastures new, including their own businesses, Masters, PhDs, teachers, nurses, solicitors, and a host of other professions. And given that many say the bottom has fallen out of the industry, why do the protestors care so much? Just let the clubs die out naturally surely?
I am sure OBJECT and their supporters will be rubbing their hands in glee but what the programme and experience show me is that the women choose to enter the industry. Exploitation doesn’t hold up when the alternatives for most are a minimum wage job. The job being or not being ’empowering’- see also the fast food worker mentioned above. I would love a documentary on women working in other industries, but sex sells, and a woman saying she wants out of McDonalds just doesn’t have the same pizzazz.
I am not for or against any part of the sex industry, but I am adamantly opposed to the squeakiest wheels who make all the decisions. I think that the OBJECT template which campaigners use is nothing short of fraud: it isn’t genuine community complainants but a targeted campaign by radical feminist groups to shut clubs down. I vehemently support a woman’s right to make her own choices and use her body how she wishes. I understand some people don’t like lap dancing but policy should not be made on that basis. I don’t like many things that are perfectly legal but I can’t ban people from consensual legal activity.
Interestingly I watched Beyonce’s new video last night, where she lap dances for her husband, and the Daily Mail comments didn’t fail to disappoint, “she should keep her clothes on” “cheap and sleazy” “no class” “her body should be for her husband” “trash” etc. This is what a lot of the debates come down to, women who are too visible and dare to flout traditional gender norms are punished. They are named dirty, disgusting, stupid, trampy, slags, sluts, whores. A woman can’t possibly choose to us her body or looks to make money.
This is where the ‘lap-dancing has a negative effect on all gender equality’ also falls flat. I don’t see the feminists lining up to critique & petition to shut down other gendered work such as nursery staff; care home staff, cleaners. Do these women compound gender stereotypes and a submissive role? Do these gendered roles cause violence against women? Or are they simply making a living.
The p/t self-funded PhD I started before moving to Leeds Met was son Lap-dancing, Emotion & Affect, and I remain interested in the emotional geographies of lap-dance. I gave a paper at Sheffield University in June 2013 ‘Lap dancing in Liverpool: Translating moral panics on sex work’. Hopefully I will write more about the industry in the future.
I eagerly await next week’s episode.
And other sources:
Strippers are not the problem – they’re just doing a job
Strippers are paid for a service, much like the rest of us. Legislating to close down clubs is not helpful
Dr Teela Sanders & Dr Kate Hardy- The Regulatory Dance
Dr Rachela Colosi- I loved being a lapdancer…now I’m a university lecturer
Rachela Colosi, Dirty Dancing? An Ethnography of Lap-Dancing