No one wants to feel like a modern-day Mary Whitehouse.
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Opposing sexism, not sex: how does a feminist mother explain a lap-dancing club?

There is no special fantasy zone in which female subjectivity can be suspended. Women are people 100 per cent of the time.

“F-A-N-T-A-S-Y…. Fantasy. What’s a fantasy, Mummy?”

My five-year-old’s reading skills are coming on in leaps and bounds. He’s now even able to read the sign for a lap-dancing club opposite the place where I used to work.

“Fantasy is a lovely image, something you might like to happen, or something you just want to dream of.”

I do not tell my son that in this particular context, “something you might like to happen” is to all intents and purposes “for women to have no clothes on and at least pretend to know their place”. He doesn’t need to know this yet. Ideally, I hope he never will.

Fantasy opened in Cheltenham town centre in February 2014. It is the only lap dancing club in the town and its licence is up for renewal this month. I’ve always felt uncomfortable about it being there – especially knowing that male colleagues could always gaze out of the window and be reassured that you don’t have to treat women like equals all the time – but it’s only since my sons have started to become aware of it that I feel really, truly concerned.

Of course, I know what this makes me: a modern-day Mary Whitehouse who doesn’t want her precious little boys to be corrupted by the sexy laydees. A bitter old harpy who doesn’t want anyone to be having a good time. I don’t want to be that person. At the same time, I’m aware of how all of these stereotypes playing on my mind are quite clearly sexist ones. Why am I being sexist to myself? Isn’t there a legitimate concern to be had about venues such as Fantasy? I think there is. And isn’t it telling that even to think this leads to a barrage of sexist self-accusations, threatening to short-circuit any objections before they’ve even been voiced? This surely tells us far more about the positioning of women than it does about sex.

Because lap dancing is not about sex. We all know it’s not about sex. It’s about power and it’s about sexism. Men wear clothes, women don’t. Men experience arousal, women simulate it. Men have fantasies, women occupy them. Men are subjects, women objects. Men are people, women aren’t. There is nothing open-minded, liberating or pro-woman about the sexism industry. Repeating the same narrative over and over – the ideal woman, thin, silent, stripped bare, is one who exists solely to please men – it simply reinforces what sexists have always believed: that women don’t have any subjectivity of their own. That is the turn-on. That is the fantasy. It’s not a fantasy I want my children to have.

That the women working in clubs such as Fantasy are living, breathing subjects after all is not some great “gotcha!” undermining such objections. We’re all enmeshed in and compromised by the things we critique. It doesn’t render the criticism any less valid, nor reduce the need for change. The lazy misrepresentation of feminists as pearl-clutching rich ladies who haven’t considered the social and economic implications of their sexism-phobia simply doesn’t wash. Feminism is focused on the ways in which resources are withheld from women through socialisation, exploitation and the threat of violence. That sexism is something men can buy from us is a symptom of this. Feminist activists do challenge the ways in which women in particular are being harmed in the current economic climate, by both paid and unpaid work. Yes, the work of such feminists is less glamorous and cutting edge than so-called sex positive protest, but it is intersectional in both word and deed.

If my sons grow up to be sexist arses who hate women, I don’t think it will be all my fault. I know how fashionable mum-blaming is but I tend to think the entire woman-hating world has something to do with how little boys come to see their position in relation to their female counterparts. It is utterly inconsistent to seek to challenge rape culture, “banter” and street harassment while insisting that underlying messages about what female bodies are for remain the same. What Fantasy offers is recreational misogyny. It tells men that sexism is not an absolute wrong, presenting it as something to indulge in as an occasional treat, providing you’ve got the money to pay. It presumes a clear line can be drawn between “real” human interactions – in which one is obliged to treat women as people – and that special zone where men rule and women obey. But not every man can draw that line, and even if he can, not every man can afford it. Why should misogyny be a luxury item? In an equal society, surely it should be available for all? (Why else would we have someone Russell Brand planning “our” revolutions?)

So what if the precise influence of porn and objectification is, as yet, impossible to measure in any precise way? (So too is the precise influence of “bad mothering,” but we have very few qualms about calling that out.) We know that a business inviting men to pop in and purchase sexism – nestled in between a sandwich shop, a hairdressers’ and a couple of pubs – is placing misogyny on a level with a chicken tikka wrap and a cut and blow-dry. We don’t need a new unit of measurement (the misogymetre?) to demonstrate this. Objections to Fantasy’s licence renewal (due on 12 January) must be based on whether “the renewal of the licence is inappropriate with regard to the character of the locality and the uses to which other premises in the vicinity are put (e.g. places of worship, activities for young people and families)”. I am not sure why it is implied that certain people are old enough, or unattached enough, or not religious enough for sexism not to matter. It always does.

There is no special fantasy zone in which female subjectivity can be suspended. Women are people 100 per cent of the time. If this goes against what many men would like to believe, so be it. Sorry to piss on your party. You need newer, better fantasies.

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

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Just face it, being a parent will never be cool

Traditional parenting terms are being rejected in favour of trendier versions, but it doesn't change the grunt-like nature of the work.

My children call me various things. Mummy. Mum. Poo-Head. One thing they have never called me is mama. This is only to be expected, for I am not cool.

Last year Elisa Strauss reported on the rise of white, middle-class mothers in the US using the term “mama” as “an identity marker, a phrase of distinction, and a way to label the self and designate the group.” Mamas aren’t like mummies or mums (or indeed poo-heads). They’re hip. They’re modern. They’re out there “widen[ing] the horizons of ‘mother,’ without giving up on a mother identity altogether.” And now it’s the turn of the dads.

According to the Daily Beast, the hipster fathers of Brooklyn are asking their children to refer to them as papa. According to one of those interviewed, Justin Underwood, the word “dad” is simply too “bland and drab”:

“There’s no excitement to it, and I feel like the word papa nowadays has so many meanings. We live in an age when fathers are more in touch with their feminine sides and are all right with playing dress-up and putting on makeup with their daughters.”

Underwood describes “dad” as antiquated, whereas “papa” is an “open-minded, liberal term, like dad with a twist” (but evidently not a twist so far that one might consider putting on makeup with one’s sons).

Each to their own, I suppose. Personally I always associate the word “papa” with “Smurf” or “Lazarou.” It does not sound particularly hip to me. Similarly “mama” is a word I cannot hear without thinking of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, hence never without a follow-up “ooo-oo-oo-ooh!” Then again, as a mummy I probably have no idea what I am talking about. If other people think these words are trendy, no doubt they are.

Nonetheless, I am dubious about the potential of such words to transform parenting relationships and identities. In 1975’s Of Woman Born, Adrienne Rich describes how she used to look at her own mother and think “I too shall marry, have children – but not like her. I shall find a way of doing it all differently.” It is, I think, a common sentiment. Rejecting mummy or daddy as an identity, if not as an individual, can feel much the same as rejecting the politics that surrounds gender and parenting. The papas interviewed by The Daily Beast are self-styled feminists, whose hands-on parenting style they wish to differentiate from that of their own fathers. But does a change of title really do that? And even if it does, isn’t this a rather individualistic approach to social change?

There is a part of me that can’t help wondering whether the growing popularity of mama and papa amongst privileged social groups reflects a current preference for changing titles rather than social realities, especially as far as gendered labour is concerned. When I’m changing a nappy, it doesn’t matter at all whether I’m known as Mummy, Mama or God Almighty. I’m still up to my elbows in shit (yes, my baby son is that prolific).

The desire to be known as Papa or Mama lays bare the delusions of new parents. It doesn’t even matter if these titles are cool now. They won’t be soon enough because they’ll be associated with people who do parenting. Because like it or not, parenting is not an identity. It is not something you are, but a position you occupy and a job you do.

I once considered not being called mummy. My partner and I did, briefly, look at the “just get your children to call you by your actual name” approach. On paper it seemed to make sense. If to my sons I am Victoria rather than mummy, then surely they’ll see me as an individual, right? Ha. In practice it felt cold, as though I was trying to set some kind of arbitrary distance between us. And perhaps, as far as my sons are concerned, I shouldn’t be just another person. It is my fault they came into this vale of tears. I owe them, if not anyone else, some degree of non-personhood, a willingness to do things for them that I would not do for others. What I am to them – mummy, mum, mama, whatever one calls it – is not a thing that can be rebranded. It will never be cool because the grunt work of caring never is.

It is not that I do not think we need to change the way in which we parent, but this cannot be achieved by hipster trendsetting alone. Changing how we parent involves changing our most fundamental assumptions about what care work is and how we value the people who do it. And this is change that needs to include all people, even those who go by the old-fashioned titles of mum and dad.

Ultimately, any attempt to remarket parenting as a cool identity smacks of that desperate craving for reinvention that having children instils in a person. The moment you have children you have bumped yourself up the generational ladder. You are no longer the end of your family line. You are – god forbid – at risk of turning into your own parents, the ones who fuck you up, no matter what they do. But you, too, will fuck them up, regardless of whether you do it under the name of daddy, dad or papa. Accept it. Move on (also, you are mortal. Get over it).

Parenting will never be cool. Indeed, humanity will never be cool. We’re all going to get older, more decrepit, closer to death. This is true regardless of whether you do or don’t have kids – but if you do you will always have younger people on hand to remind you of this miserable fact.

Your children might, if you are lucky, grow to respect you, but as far as they are concerned you are the past.  No amount of rebranding is going to solve that. This doesn’t mean we can’t change the way we parent. But as with so much else where gender is concerned, it’s a matter for boring old deeds, not fashionable words.

 

 

 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.