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.

Photo: Getty
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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.