In response to our campaign calling on City of York Council to reject the licence renewal for York’s lap dancing club ‘Upstairs’, we received the following comments from the Edinburgh University Feminist Society:
York Feminist Network: we reject your whorephobia.
Last week, the Edinburgh University Feminist Society received the following email from York Feminist Collective:
‘Hello, I hope you don’t mind me sending you this quick message.
I’m a member of the York Feminist Network, and a number of our group are calling on City of York Council to reject the application for renewal of SEV (Sexual Entertainment Venue) licence from lap dancing club ‘Upstairs’ (part of The Mansion), on Micklegate in York. The current licence expires on 30 November 2013.
As Council policy states that we are not able to object on moral grounds, our campaign takes a more community-focused argument, concerned with the impact on local residents, creating ‘no-go’ areas for women and damaging both the character and reputation of York as a welcoming, family-friendly city. This is the link to our petition: [petition redacted]
If you are able and willing to share it amongst your group, that would be much appreciated
Thank you ever so much,
[name redacted] York Feminist Network.’
We would like to say that not only will we refuse to support your campaign- but that we call upon people to actively oppose it.
Sex workers nationwide are facing vicious attacks on their working conditions, and as an intersectional society we must think about the implications of working class women in this assault. This is especially evident in Edinburgh where the merging of Scottish Police forces is leading to a crack down on saunas. Here police asked saunas to ban condoms, and raids are becoming more common. Any safety that saunas offer sex workers is being eroded as police forces exercise their power in violent, dangerous and intrusive ways. Feminists should not encourage or participate in any behaviours that condone or perpetuate this.
We ask you to think about the livelihoods of women whose jobs you will take away. What about the children they have to feed? The roofs they must keep over their heads? The intentional endangering of women is not feminist.
As a feminist society we educate, agitate and organise around the emancipation of women and others directly oppressed by patriarchal standards. We will not have the liberation of women whilst we remain divided; whorephobic standards perpetuate slut-shaming, victim-blaming and rape culture. Sex workers are part of our fight, and we will not turn our backs on them.
We catagorically reject your claim that Adult venues are ‘damaging’ to communities, and in your appeal to families you place sex workers and families in opposition. We do not accept this.We say that sex workers are an integral part of our communities- not something in opposition to them.
We will not participate in your whorephobic, anti-sex work, sex-negative feminism. We hope you will reconsider your campaign and we look forward to future dialogue with you. We suggest that you organise collaboratively with sex workers and take a lead from organisations like Scot Pep and Sex Workers’ Open University.
We offer our solidarity to the dancers of ‘Upstairs’; know that we support your right to bodily autonomy, freedom of association and right to work in safe conditions.
Edinburgh University Feminist Society.
In reply, those of us involved in organising this campaign make the following response:
To begin with, we reject being called ‘whorephobic’. We are disappointed by the language the Edinburgh University Feminist Society uses in the letter objecting to our campaign against a lap dancing club in York. The choice of the term ‘whorephobia’ targeted at us is, at best, provocative but fails to grasp the key point of our petition and is therefore misplaced. We urge for any future exchanges between our feminist groups to be respectful and constructive debates that encourage us to develop as a diverse feminist movement.
We see lap dancing clubs as part of the sex industry. We do not believe that lap dancing clubs change the masculine power structure that we regard as oppressive; rather, we believe they reinforce it. We do not see lap dancing clubs as a space for female empowerment, contrary to the recent debates regarding pole dancing. Some women certainly feel empowered, sexually, economically, or emotionally, through working in lap dancing clubs. We are not trying to devalue the positive impact this job might have on these particular individuals, nor do we wish to make life difficult for women. The women working there are not our target and we reject any negative statements made towards women working in lap dancing clubs. But we, in contrast to the opinions against our petition, focus on the broader gender power imbalances in our campaign, and the societal impact of lap dancing clubs encouraging the widespread idea that women’s bodies are available for male consumption. We are opposed to female sexuality being continuously defined by men and their desires, and strongly reject the idea that lap dancing clubs challenge that.
As a feminist group our primary objective is a struggle against the continuing oppression of women within our patriarchal system; a system where women face systematic violence, are treated as sexual objects for the male gaze, and are valued according to a dehumanised vision of womanhood. All of the abovementioned are, in our minds, reinforced within the sex industry. The sex industry sends a message to wider society that women exist to please men, their body being their tool. We oppose such treatment of women.
The majority of the critics talk of individual choices made by women who work in lap dancing clubs; they work there because they are poor, they explore their sexuality there, they simply like it. This is an individualised viewpoint, perhaps fitting well with a defence of a venue where consumerism of women’s bodies is taking place. And while we do not wish to cause any harm or injustice to individual women, this is about an objection towards the sex industry – not individual women. We do not look down on the women, but we do look down on the men who buy women’s bodies, who think they can, who think it is their right to do so. Equally, we could have hesitated in other matters such as the ‘Lose The Lads Mags’ campaign (because a woman working as a glamour model likes it) or anti-porn attitudes (because many porn stars enjoy experimenting with their sexuality) or prostitution (most of the women choose this). No. According to a study with women in prostitution, the majority of them wanted to exit, and more then 60% of the women reported violence from buyers (Eaves 2012). We do not believe lap dancing clubs are a feminist haven in contrast to this. You need only consider the working conditions so often in evidence – the fees paid by dancers, fines for absence or lateness and confusion around ‘club rules’. We do not accept violence against women and the industry where women’s bodies are treated as commodities.
We reject a position, often made by those benefiting from the objectification of women, that every choice a woman makes is a choice of empowerment; such rhetoric of choice only legitimises the oppression. Before we can start speaking of individual free choice, we need to focus on dismantling patriarchy. That is our feminism. Audre Lorde put it nicely: “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”
With feminist regards,
Kasia, Rachel and Louise from York Feminist Network