Wednesday 17 September 2008

Stripping the Tories

Luckily enough for the Tory party, quite a few international markets went boom on the day that this story broke. Strip club vouchers offering discounts for Tory delegates, in with the brochure for the upcoming Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham.

Let’s not wallow around in anyone's gloopy moral residue. Sex work isn't nice work, but it isn't immoral, and a visit to a strip club is simply a statement that you are happy to cash in on the privileges of your wealth and gender in the most sickly self-indulgent of ways, and that you are comfortable enough in that privilege that you don't mind buying other people's bodies for your personal sexual gratification in a room full of your colleagues. Hey, there's a big market for that sort of thing, and markets, as we've all been reminded this week, are amoral, not necessarily immoral. Markets merely allow the flow of wealth and power to seep a little more smoothly towards the top. And hey, since it's the annual Tory piss-up and we're all very pleased with ourselves, why not flaunt that philosophy, especially if, in the words of Ian Taylor of Marketing Birmingham, the vouchers were 'produced to help maximise the economic impact for local businesses'.

What angers me about this sordid little story isn't the fact that Tory MPs might enjoy visiting strip clubs. Statistics suggest that well-paid, powerful white men will number most patrons of these newly-licensed 'entertainment establishments' (A legal loophole means that since the introduction of the Licensing Act 2003 lap dancing clubs currently only require a Premises Licence for the sale of alcohol to operate, despite being part of the commercial sex industry. The number of lap dancing clubs across the UK is estimated to have doubled since 2004). There is always, always going to be a market for the more culturally and fiscally powerful to buy sex. What adds insult to time-worn injury, however, is the fact that it's a buyer's market. This was not an advertisement, but a voucher: a voucher offering conservative delegates a 66% reduction in entry price to Birmingham's Rocket Club.

Now, these are bloody hard-working girls. The women who staff strip-clubs and brothels don't do it for kicks, whatever the makers of Secret Diary of A Call Girl may say. They do it for the money, and they earn every penny of that money by laying the most intimate parts of their personhood on the line and risking their physical and mental health every day within a profession that earns them ostracization from friends and family. These women deserve better than to be offered up as discounted goods. These women deserve to be treated with respect.

In the vast majority of cases, women don't become sex workers - prostitutes, lap-dancers, streetwalkers, strippers or porn stars - for the kicks. No, they do it for the money. They do it because there is simply no other way to earn that scale of living wage as a woman under 30 in the current UK job-market. In the Guardian today, most commenters seemed to miss the point of a heart-rending article by a prostitute and single mother. Her point was that she became a prostitute because her former job as an office PA was not paying her enough to support herself and her two children and was, at the same time, taking up so much time and energy that she barely got to see them. Her decision to go into full-time sex work was, as it is for many women in her situation, entirely an economic one.

We need to start respecting women’s work, whether or not they have made the difficult decision to enter the gloomy world of sex-work. If Tory MPs such as Anne Widdecombe really feel that the inclusion of the voucher in the brochure represents the party ‘throwing every value out of the window,’ if they don’t want to face the escalating realities of sex work for women of every class and background in the economic real world of contemporary Britain, then maybe they should start to analyse why women make these choices.

Eighty three per-cent of sex workers, according to recent studies by Object and Fawcett, want to leave the profession; but thousands of women every year make that career choice, and they make it because the country in which we live is currently fostering a gruelling long-hours culture in which women make up the bulk of lower-paid, exploited workers. Women are still paid 17% less than men in full time work and 33% less in part-time work, and when they get home they are still expected to perform the bulk of domestic chores, especially if they are single parents, as many sex workers are.

But the Tory delegates who have been so warmly invited to enjoy the bodies of the low-paid women of Birmingham at a discount price do not think this is a priority. In fact, a key part of current Tory policy proposes an end to equal pay audits, insisting that ‘only those firms which lose sex discrimination cases will be subject’ to them ('Welfare to Work', 2008). Until the Tories get serious about offering low-paid workers decent living wages, then any paltry statement blaming the City of Birmingham for putting entirely appropriate adverts in the back of their brochures will be crass hypocrisy. Until that day, they may as well schedule complementary sessions with hookers into the official programme and stuff a few fivers into Lady Thatcher’s pearly g-string whilst they're at it. Any less is pure hypocrisy.


And with that, I'm off to the Labour Party Conference for a week. I'll be checking in regularly but comments may take a few hours to appear!


  1. Congrats, CiF has decreed that this article is the best thing on the internet.


  2. I did get a few kicks from the shoots I did, but part of that was that I was convinced the website was endeavoring to change the style of porn or pornographic images that are available on the internet and to portray women in a very natural way. Admittedly, I did get into it for the money an on the subject of sexism in the workplace, watersports is one of the worst with women being treated as shite. If I get told anymore that it's my job to clean as I am a female and I can't do maintenance work I'm capable of doing I will show my boss exactly how strong a woman can be and grab the nearest wrench and belt him across the face with it. Aggressive and childish I know, but it's so infuriating being subject to sexism.
    But yes, back to the sex industry, it's the oldest profession, it's well paid, it's tempting if you need the money, but it will ruin so many women s lives. They need better options for young women, especially those trying to support themselves and children. Women are perfectly capable of working and raising children, but why push them into the "dirtier" lines of work.

  3. I realise this isn't strictly addressing the substance of the post but I'd really appreciate it if you'd stop illustrating your posts about sex work with shots that are just of headless female bodies. Photos like this just treat the women as bits of flesh to be ogled and consumed, they aren't even whole. Just disembodied legs. I find photos like this deeply unfeminist and I think they detract from your arguments, by overstepping the line between illustration and objectification.

  4. Sian - my attitude to this has always been to find a fairly graphic and disgusting headless picture, in order to make it quite clear what I'm talking about. If it fits in with my colour scheme, all the better.

    But maybe you're right - maybe that isn't good enough. I'm not the women in that photo, I've never met them, and I'd be more than a bit miffed if anyone put up my old burlesque photos to illustrate an article.

    I'm still not sure if the point is one worth making, so if anyone else (preferably identified female) would like me to take this picture down, then I will. I have intermittent net access so it might take a day or two but I won't forget!

  5. Actually, I was going to say something similar, for a practical reason, I read your blog at work sometimes and to have photos like that pop up without warning is a bit incriminating for me. Although I can see your point in using them too.

  6. This posted was nominated for this week BBRU 188 hosted on my site. Had me in stitches laughing.

    Can see it has come up as a backlink after the comments

    Happy reading

  7. Done! And I solemnly promise fewer gratuitous bottoms on Pennyred in the fewer. We live and learn.

    PR. xx

  8. I do believe your own initial frustration having often making the most of items that usually are sexist is often a appropriate question. Only may make a shot to explain this, I'd claim it’s almost certainly risk-free to be able to assume that this motive you’re making the most of most of these sexualized tasks is not because they’re sexist but rather because they’re sensual. Think of this this particular way—the neural biologically will certainly practice eroticism seeing that satisfaction (generally) on the subconscious level prior to we've got a chance to judge whether or not the representation comes across seeing that sexist as well as not really. That doesn’t help make us bad feminists, this makes us informed individuals.

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