Spearmint Rhino's 24 hour strip club and Page 3 - you're not about 'choice' for women

Strip culture teaches women that sex to exchange for money and not love - and then to be judged for it.

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The Independent Online

Guess what? One of life’s major qualms has been resolved.

You know when it’s 7am, and you need a lap dance, for the sake of your immediate health? Mornings where you traipse the streets searching for, damn it, just one open strip club? Why should you have to be so bloody patient? Well, now you don’t: there's an appeal for lap dancing clubs open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The same week this happens, we hear that feminism is dead. There is no need for it anymore. Job done, we can go home. Meanwhile, the so-called liberal establishment - with special mention of arguably the most prominent feminist in the country, Harriet Harman - is being linked to the shameful silence over the Jimmy Saville scandal.

And, one week earlier, fifteen year old Amanda Todd killed herself after online sexual bullying.

What do these stories have to do with each other? Not much, perhaps. But they all exist in the same world. We’ve tried a lot of solutions to this and nothing seems to be working. Has the time come for us to ask whether these issues are all part of one destructive tapestry? Some call it rape culture. Whatever the terminology, we need to ask ourselves whether such a tapestry exists – and how we might all, unknowingly, be adding to it.

The all-important service provision of 24 hour lap dances by Spearmint Rhino has been controversial: the local council allegedly received 22 letters of complaint, including some from those who make use of, or work at, the nearby almost-as-important service, a local hospital - and its maternity wing. Perhaps they missed the memo on ‘choice’.

Earlier this month, John Specht, vice-president of those well-known activists for women’s choice and bodily autonomy, Spearmint Rhino (because that’s what it’s all about, right? They support women’s choices; that’s why they’re always showing up on pro-choice demos, right?) encouraged female students struggling with university costs to work for him as lap dancers.

Reported in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Specht said: "These girls earn a lot. Some of these girls are on their own and their parents can't help them or are unable to help them.”

"With the rising student fees the students know that they can come in and earn the money they need to survive.”

Leaving aside the fact that we’re talking about – hopefully – women, not girls, where have we heard this argument before? Well, loads of places, obviously, but most recently in an amazing loop-the-loop piece of logical creativity by Neil Wallis in relation to the No More Page 3 campaign.

Skipping over the assumptions by Wallis that the campaign is supported by women of a particular background and that we don’t campaign against FGM (!), Wallis defends Page 3 on the basis of choice. His argument culminates with this:

“Why shouldn't a girl stuck behind the bread counter at Tesco, an office girl down the local council, the unemployed, find a new glamorous life via Page Three?”

And thus, much like Mr Specht, Mr Wallis rather beautifully demonstrates the irony of his own argument.  

I’m keen to hear to examples of millionaire women with either earned or inherited wealth choosing to pose on Page 3 or give lap dances at Spearmint Rhino. I’m keen to learn how many heterosexual rich white men are choosing to wear a thong and gyrate against men they don’t fancy for money.

Yes, people do make a choice to pose topless or slide down a pole, and yes, people can choose whether to look or not, but let’s not pretend that those choices exist in a vacuum. And let’s not pretend that the choices we all make – about how to earn money or what to consume – don’t contribute to the tapestry of society that we all live in.

The No More Page 3 campaign has nearly 50,000 signatures so far, but The Sun, like Neil Wallis, is apparently more concerned with the issues that “really need addressing.” For example, the paper has joined others in spitting juice over the BBC’s part in the Jimmy Saville scandal. Curiously, The Sun’s own rather infamous investigative skullduggery does not seem to have been turned on the likes of Saville either, however. Perhaps they were too busy counting down to Charlotte Church’s 16th birthday.

And liberal, left-wing feminists have been running ‘We Believe Her’ campaigns workers while Melanie Phillips was calling for the removal of anonymity for rape victims, but that doesn’t stop Phillips from wailing about the “liberal left” being to blame for the silence over Saville. To Phillips, the problem seems to be too little sexual shaming, not too much.

At the heart of all this misdirection lies a failure to understand the difference between consensual sex between equal partners, and sex as a negative thing; as a power transaction. Whether the manifestation of it is referring to adult university students as girls because they dance naked, or a sneering panic about too much sexual pleasure, we are too quick to blindly accept the notion of sex as a miserable commodity, and increasingly unable to understand it as anything else.

When the consequences of this culture become painful – this culture that perpetually sexualises women and girls, then judges them for being sexualised; that teaches women and girls that sex is a thing that they give in exchange for love or money, or a thing that is done to them - we scream about anything and everything but that culture itself. We take that culture so much for granted that some people even see challenging it as an attack on male sexuality.

There is no simple explanation for sexual abuse but if we’re serious about it then every thread in the tapestry that facilitates and normalises it needs to be challenged. And I’m terribly sorry if this makes you uncomfortable, but I’m afraid that at some point, that might even include questioning the implications of the idea that there is some basic societal need for 24 hour access to naked female bodies, if you can afford to pay for them.