I've been following the Policing and Crime Bill on a semi-casual basis, most particularly because of the sections concerning sexual activity, including prostitution and lap dancing clubs and the licensing of so-termed "sex encounter venues" which I assume will include fetish clubs. There's an interesting (although potentially also painful to read) series of comments directed at Lord Norton's stubby article in which seeks the opinion of the internet denizens. A number of things have caught my eye, both within the wording of the bill itself and the various bits of commentary and opinions surrounding it. There's talk of exploitation, trafficking, of NIMBYism and of overzealous and needless government interference in the God given right of men to look at tits - I'm paraphrasing and in doing so showing my prejudices. So let's have a look at that.
Lap dancing. Something I feel very uncomfortable about. I don't especially like them and I often feel very contradictory and even hypocritical when discussing the reasons why, so I'm going to have another go at trying to pin down what it is, precisely, about lap dancing and similar acts of paid for exposure that turn me cold.
It can't be the nudity. After all, I have been naked, for the purposes of sexual titilation, in front of people in public places and I'm reasonably sure I'm not a prude. So let's examine the differences, then I'll attempt to work out whether they are relevant to me or not. First, I'm not being paid to do it, unlike the stripper. Second, I'm doing it because I want to do it for my own sexual gratification, because I'm an exhibitionist (without getting into the arguments surrounding the motivations of strippers, I can only speak for myself here). Third, I'm doing it in a BDSM / fetish context, alongside other people who are of a similar mindset. When I do it, it's usually as a part of or a prelude to play, and not usually expressly in front of an audience - one might form, but they aren't my focus, the dom (or doms if I'm lucky) and what they are doing to me is. I'm not just naked, I'm extra-special M&S naked.
Right. Three differences then. Ideally I want to be able to dissect them without veering into the "it's ok if I do it, but not you" territory because that isn't especially helpful and is also extraordinarily patronising not to mention ridiculous because the amount of knowledge I have about the life of your average stripper or lap dancer is practically nil. I'm going to try and focus on what it is about the activity itself that gives me problems, not the people doing it.
I'm going to discount the "sexual gratification" one, which although interesting really is all about whether or not the stripper wants to be a stripper in the same way as I want to be naked in a club. I'm fairly sure that's not the case, but without doing some interviews, I can't know other people's motivations for doing anything and therefore can't really take them into account when discussing this.
So I'm going to assume that lap dancing is something people do for a job because they need the money and that in this hypothetical instance they have not been coerced or trafficked (because those latter things are obviously bad, but I do not think that all lap dancers have been forced into the profession and I also think that coercion and trafficking are awful things if they happen to non-lap dancers). Which leaves me with the money aspect.
Is it this the thorny issue? Maybe. I certainly had some problematic thoughts over how I felt regarding a potential paid-for sexual encounter that came on my radar in the past. However, I don't especially regard prostitution as an inherently bad thing, merely that I don't want to do it, although it is perhaps telling that I automatically lump stripping in with prostitution, falling as they both do in my category of "sexual things done for money". But it isn't the payment aspect which makes me dislike it. I think it's more along the lines of what they are paying for and the attitudes that this very public system of exchange generates.
When I think "lap dancing" what I actually think of, once thoughts of sleazy bars with sticky carpets have faded is the fact that they are very much skewed towards providing naked female flesh for the consumption of heterosexual males. Yes, there are male strippers, but nowhere near as many. For me, lap dancing clubs are emblematic of a deeply ingrained problem within society - that of the commercial availability of women's bodies. Woman as sexual commodity. The lap dancers wriggle around for the money in men's pockets and this adds to the huge pile of weighty social acts which designate female as purchasable and men as holding the purse strings. It's a public act of female powerlessness. And I hate it.
So here's the rub. How can I. who have enjoyed sexual service, stood naked and been flogged in public, done any number of sexualised, public acts with my female body have a leg to stand on when criticising the public availability of "woman for sale" or female powerlessness? I have enjoyed many acts of my own powerlessness, am I contributing to the problem as well as being totally hypocritical when I savage other acts of powerlessness?
Because it's my body and I can do what I damn well please with it and still demand to have my opinions treated with the utmost respect regardless of what I do or don't do in bed. That just because one woman wants to do it doesn't mean all women do, and just because I did it once doesn't mean I want to do it again or do it with you. Because there is a fundamental and vitally important difference between individually submitting to someone you trust and who cares about you in a consenting activities and being paid to be powerless in front of an uncaring stranger who sees you as a piece of flesh.
Even as I type this, I know that those two acts described above could look practically indistinguishable, but I genuinely feel there is a difference. I don't think I've quite yet bottomed this out, and I'm still somewhat nervous that I'm neither as clear nor as free from contradictions as I'd like to be. Work in progress, then.