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I was lucky to sit down with Stacey Clare, The Ethical Stripper and Co-founder of The East London Stripper Collective to discuss her recent press surrounding stripping and feminism, an article written in the Metro and her appearance on Good Morning Great
Britain with Piers Morgan. She was very informative and I highly recommend checking out the links throughout and at the bottom of the article for further reading on the subject.
Sarah: And we’re on! So, welcome Stacy Thank you so much for giving me some of your evening. I know we’ve just been talking off camera as it were about you having a busy time with buying flats and running around the country doing interviews and things. So thanks for giving me some of your evening.
Stacy: You’re welcome. Thanks for inviting me on.
Sarah: And so for those who don’t know a little bit of an intro to you: one of the co-founders of the East London Strippers Collective and can you maybe give us a little bit of background about how that came to be? and a mini overview of who you are 🙂
Stacey: OK Yeah so basically I started working as a stripper and I was 22 which was more than a decade ago now (laughs), without giving my age away…(I’m 34) And I found myself working in a place in London called the White Horse. Well, I guess the real background is that when I was a student I had the freedom to write my dissertation about anything I wanted. I mean even though I went to art school I was able to you know to write an essay on any topic and at the time I’d been a stripper by that point for two years so I decided to write it on licensing legislation because at that point in 2008 there was basically like a big row going on about strip club licensing and I was watching kind of a lot of you know media furore basically going on around it and the outcome of the licensing was basically a change to licensing in 2009. So Policing and Crime Act 2009 is the current bit of legislation that essentially dictates strip clubs and how they’re run and how they operate and how many they are and whether the dancers can touch the customers and all these licensing conditions and things. So I was I kind of because I had my eyes on that from a young age. As I was working more or less on and off as a stripper, sometimes full time, sometimes part time I got very fussy about where I worked. I started to kind of just be really quite conscious of things like you know treatment, exploitation, the financial model, the business model of stripping about how the clubs take a percentage of what we earned or a fee or both. And you know it was always something I felt really really strongly about. So fast forward to 2010 and was living in London by this point found myself working in the White Horse. And that was to date, still one of the best places to work in terms of the terms and conditions for the dancers. So we didn’t have any like real security, so we didn’t really have any contracts or anything like that, but the people that run it were kind of quite fair in their approach. So they weren’t looking to rip us off massively, the amount we would pay a small house fee that was always affordable. And also they would have like a limit to the number of dancers working on a shift. So you weren’t it wasn’t like crazy numbers of girls or fighting against each other. Yeah, it was a bit more. You know it was a bit more consistent. Of course, it was you know you still had bad nights. There was still sometimes too many girls or you know not enough customers go around, whatever, but it was generally most, you know, we all made a bit of money we’d all go home with something in our pockets. No one was going home in debt to the club or known was paying like £120 and sitting there for 8 hours literally talking to no one it wasn’t like that, it was much more of a kind of yeah, like a bit more like a grind, you know, a job a real job.
Sarah: Not the best, but, the best that you could expect under the current legislation and the other clubs around it. Yeah.
Stacy: So I enjoyed working there and also the other thing about that place was there was generally a high level of performance at that place. There was a great stage and I remember the first time I went in there and I did my audition and I looked around and I saw some of the girls working the White Horse who were still like today I still am inspired by how strong and athletic and how just brilliant they were like the show, the skill and the showmanship of the performance was like really respected there, it was quite, you know, it was a great place to get good at performing.
Sarah: Everyones lifts each other up in a place like that you know other people are trying their best and other people and putting effort into the performance and it’s going to raise the standards of everybody.
Stacy: Very much. Then I found that I was working that for a while, and because I was surrounded by these quite incredible women, I was kind of like ah man, why is this industry letting us down? Like we’re, you know, I could still see working conditions deteriorating. You hear about stories from other clubs and I guess I don’t know, I just I ever since the very beginning I’ve always been like an activist in the first place. Like I come from activism. Before I was a stripper I was a protester, I was going off to like anarchist camps and getting involved in direct protest and direct action and things like that. So then I could imagine something being done differently, I could imagine some sort of community effort where we could collaborate and do something independently of the clubs. So what happened actually was I was working at the White Horse for a while and then there was a space available upstairs the club got renovated and then there was basically an empty bar and I approached my boss and was like ‘Hey listen can I try out an idea’, which was to run a life drawing class. So another thing I’d done when I was an art student was I ran a life during class where I pole danced for the people drawing me. So it was like a really intensive life drawing class. Sometimes the model will move and you want to try and capture a sense of movement. So I’d been to some intensive life drawing classes and gone ‘oh this would work with a pole dancer’ like you could just have a dancer in the class instead of just a regular life model. So I did it. I run a project when I was a student and it was really successful and then I was able to take the idea to the strip club boss and say ‘hey could I try this out?’. And she was like ‘okay cool’. So I found myself starting a life drawing class in a strip club and working with collaborating with my colleagues. So the women I worked alongside I was asking them do you want a common model and we’ll split the profit and we’ll charge people for tickets, and it just kind of emerged. So that was five years ago and the life drawing class is actually still running today, it’s going really well. it’s going strong but we lost the venue, so the White Horse shut down in 2016 because of gentrification (that’s another story). So anyway the life drawing class was kind of like the training ground for the collective. So for about a year a bunch of us were sort of working together and collaborating.
Sarah: On something outside of the club but still kind of what it was inside.
Stacy: So we kind of had that blessing but we didn’t didn’t necessarily need them and we were doing it ourselves, as though we were actually setting the pace. We were deciding – it’s like we were inviting our own audience in and we were doing it differently. So instead of you know how the club will charge a door fee customers have to pay to get in the club but the club keeps that? We don’t get any of that.
Sarah: Regardless if I dance or anything. The club has made their money out of that customer.
Stacy: Yeah. Yeah exactly. So I was like well, fuck that, let’s do something ourself. So essentially it’s like finding a way of changing up the business model so that we’re more in charge of the economics of it. And also we’re very much in charge of how people see us as well. It’s a different kind of crowd, it’s a different setting and we can yeah. I mean we don’t have to kind of deal with any like cheesy DJ’s or bad bar staff or you know it’s our space we run it. We completely are in control of what happens in the space. So we did that for about a year and then I pretty much just got it into my head that we were a collective and so I pretty much invited, there was about 10 of us in this initial meeting. It was in April 2014. So coming up five years ago, I invited a bunch of strippers to have dinner together. And what that was was a really amazing meeting where we… what happened? We booked a space in a place called a Common House in East London which is like an activist space like it’s a hub for people to, it’s like a meeting house for lots and lots and lots of different groups and activist groups use it for all sorts of different reasons. It’s very sex friendly as well, a really big intention to create a safe space for sex workers within the Common House. So we had a big dinner party. We all cooked a big vegan dinner. Some of us arrived early to actually cook again. It was like that sense of you know we’re collaborating, we’re creating setting holding space for each other. And then we went around a table and it was like ‘What was the questions like?’. What was the first moment that you realized that you loved being a stripper? Or something like that. And we just we all went around the table and we just told stories and there was just this really amazing kind of vibe of ‘yeah we actually are strong together’ and we could do something. And so that just became the LSC really. And so since then I mean I feel like to some extent we haven’t achieved a lot of the things we’ve set out to do yet. In terms of actually changing more challenging legislation and fixing the problems of exploitation in clubs because conditions just continue to get worse each year. But on the other hand, I feel like we’ve done so much work in terms of trying to change the conversation around stripping and sex work, we’ve really challenged stigma and stereotyping. We’ve challenged our own internalized whorephobia, we’ve had to kind of come to terms with and deal with these like really icky conversations about like ‘oh but you know stripping isn’t sex work and oh but you know we don’t do this sort of’ and it’s like well actually we’re all affected by stigma right? And we all in order to overcome the problem of stigma you don’t deal with stigma by just passing it onto a different group there.
Sarah: And the next layer and the next layer and it’s like ‘Oh we’re up here and this is down here and this is different. It’s like if we all agree that collectively if no one stigmatises then it’s going to bring everybody up to the same level, which is only going to be a positive thing.
Stacy: Exactly, and importantly ten years ago when that big sort of fuss was being made about strip clubs and about the licensing, the unfortunate thing at that time was that a lot of strippers were whorephobic. They did say things like ‘Yeah well I don’t work in a brothel’ and it’s not illegal and all this sort of stuff. But I was whorephobic like not even that long ago I’ve you know I’ve had to actually face the music as well you know.
Sarah: I think everyone also you can look back and be like well I’ve heard or I’ve educated myself or I’ve grown, like it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have been somewhere and then now be somewhere else, it shows growth. No one can look back and be like ‘Well I’ve never had these thoughts’ or ‘I’ve never sent the wrong thing’. I think it’s super common, I think to own it and be like ‘Yeah everyone can do better’. And try and educate those around them to do the same thing in a positive way.
Stacy: I think what the collective has really helped do is build a bridge between different workers and build a bridge particularly over that kind of the chasm between what’s legal and what’s not. Because we find ourselves kind of fighting the same fight even though we’re currently seen differently already by the fact that full-service sex work is criminalized and stripping is legalized. So it’s that there’s already these kind of differences by law but yet we find we find ourselves kind of fighting on the same team. Yeah but because we have created this kind of network and immersed ourselves in sex worker activism on our terms, it’s worked well and it’s helped us mobilize dancers in a way that’s felt safe and comfortable to step into that discomfort, do you know what I mean?
Sarah: Yeah definitely. I mean you brought up you did the recent article for The Metro which has just been published and you brought up the policing Crime Act 2009. What was the main difference for people, obviously you were very into this you’ve done a huge amount of research and this is like your life. For those that those who don’t know the ins and outs of what happened what was kind of the before and after effects? Because you said I’m going to quote you, quote yourself here: ‘a law that was fought for by the radical feminist left that has, in fact, had a devastating effect on the working conditions for strippers.’
Stacy: Yeah. So it’s a bit of a long winded one because to really really understand it you have to actually unpack it and go a bit even further back to the Licensing Act 2004, and then also go even further back to the Local Government & Miscellaneous Provisions Act 1987.
Sarah: This is homework for the listeners. Good for them to go back. They can Google all this stuff!
Stacy: Basically to put it in a nutshell – 2004 The Licensing Act was Tony Blair’s big attempt to stimulate the nighttime economy. So a lot of stuff was relaxed around licensing so there was a boom in strip club activity for about five years. There was suddenly this kind of booming industry, strip clubs opening up on every High Street. Big business, very lucrative. And the thing was that there was a bit of a loophole in that strip clubs were opening up with a public entertainment licence, as opposed to a sexual entertainment licence. And the way that very different licensing objectives, there is a whole load of bureaucracy that I won’t bore you with, but it got up the noses of a lot of feminist campaigners that there were strip clubs opening on every high street. They were like ‘what’s happening to our country?’. So they got involved in a campaign to halt the spread of strip clubs and to clamp down and to restrict the licensing, which they achieved, which has happened. So from 2004 to 2009 it massively changed. The Immediate effects of the new law were felt more or less overnight. So a lot of licenses were revoked up and down the country. A lot of strip clubs just shut down, went out of business because they couldn’t afford and couldn’t keep up with the new licensing regime. What the law essentially did was impose a load of quite draconian and strict and very crap in lots of ways, badly thought out licensing conditions on clubs. Things like for example, if it’s a condition of your sexual entertainment venue licence to provide dancers with showers and clean drinking water and lockers for their belongings because, well you I don’t know. Because why Because we don’t have showers at home? Because we can’t just get water from a tap?. Very odd. These are these are things that to me speak of kind of Puritanism as in like we must be kind of looked after. We must be cleaned and protected and we’ve got to have a safe space for our belongings because we can’t just carry our stuff.
Sarah: And that’s the important thing is that ‘you can’t shower’ like that’s what we should be focusing on rather than tariffs that clubs are putting on the dancers and you know safer working conditions and things like that.
Stacy: Exactly. And yet there’s nothing in those licensing conditions that has any kind of restriction on the club’s ability to fine us or take money off us for being late or you taking money off us full stop there’s no limit. There’s no caps on the amounts of money that they can charge us and commissions and fees and what have you. And there’s also no limit to the number of dancers working in a club, which I think is things like a health and safety issue.
Sarah: It’s backwards, they were focusing on completely the wrong thing. Seems mad because it was, you know, feminists that were fighting this corner and not actually looking after the women working in those conditions or allowing the women who work in these conditions to actually look after themselves properly which is actually what they’re more than capable of doing.
Stacey: For sure. But so the other kind of knock-on effect is that if you look at the fact that during that period of boom it was like a proliferation of an exploitative business model. Yes it was, but then what they’ve done is by clamping down on it but not solving the problem of exploitation, what they’ve done is they’ve intensified the exploitation problem because the remaining clubs now have a monopoly. The ones that are left now have total power and total control because they can do what they like essentially and they can charge the dancers whatever they want and they can pack as many dancers in and they can create these really really toxic working environments. So by campaigning to fix that problem they actually ended up making it worse because they only really achieved was to hugely stigmatize the industry. I mean all you know all of that press about how bad it is to be a stripper and how awful and blah blah blah. It’s like ‘well yeah nice one you’ve just oh you’ve done there is like made it look really kind of unfashionable and trendy and uncool’ and so you know obviously a lot of people now think twice about going to a strip club because they don’t trust, they don’t know if it is a safe place for the dancers. They don’t know if it is a, you know, the girls are not being exploited, because in most cases they are. So it’s just kind of killed it, I mean I don’t think that I want to see a world where you know every woman is sexualized constantly, I don’t want to see a world where, you know, we’re constantly seen as sexual objects, but, we also need those spaces to kind of get better at it. Not get better at it..I mean we need those spaces to sort of improve the model of it. You know like how do we how do we improve on something if we just kill it and get rid of it?. We can’t.
Sarah: Well I guess it’s all about choice, like I know it saves a lot of people. You said when you had your first dinner it’s like what do you enjoy about stripping? Like there are some positive parts to it. There’s negative parts if you ask any job, any person working in any job they would be like ‘what do you love about your job?’. What do you hate about your job? What could be improved about your job? And obviously there’s a lot larger extremes within the sex industry because people are you know there is human trafficking, there’s exploitation. There needs to be obviously a lot more regulation from that side of it. But at the same time, there’s there’s still a lot of people who enjoy it, having ownership of their sexualization and using it and hustling and making money and doing whatever they want with it. So, I think there’s got to be a balance as you say it’s like yes there are people being exploited, but also shutting down the people who are not being exploited is not helping those who are being exploited. It’s just your brushing under the carpet and making it go underground, which is worse.
Stacy: People don’t like to remember or be reminded that the same kinds of exploitation and oppression happen in all industries. And yet we don’t see these kinds of big public campaigns to shut down the nail salon industry or the car washing industry or the fruit picking industry or the cleaning industry. You know there is something uniquely, people are quite uniquely obsessed about sex work. And that’s the problem because actually, the wider problem is that so many workers are oppressed and have to go through quite grim working conditions on the daily basis anyway. There are good things and bad things, good parts bad parts to every job. So that’s the nature of work. That’s the thing. And l guess by changing the conversation to the fact that, hang on a minute, what we’re doing is work, where we go to, is a place of work and work is something that needs to be regulated and workers need to be protected and we need to improve the working conditions and improve the standards and we’ll only get there by giving sort of some degree of power to the labour force. And I see what happened with the policing and crime act as directly affecting the power of the labour force because it took away so much of the available work and it gave essentially a monopoly to the remaining employers, even though they’re not technically employers. And so you know when you when you have a massive essentially kind of labour market, a lot of people suddenly out of work – that’s toxic, that creates a very very devastating effect on people’s lives. It does, it leaves some people are pushed into poverty, some people can’t pay their rent, some people can’t feed their kids. And so by doing that you’ll really screwing with something that has the potential to sort itself out.
Sarah: The equilibrium that was kind of mmm.. It needed some improvement but didn’t need to be completely killed off and is now even worse
Stacey: So now I kind of wonder if it might be too late because what we’re doing, what we’ve done the last six months or the last year or so within the last year has been focusing very very hard on mobilizing dancers to join a union and to get involved in trade union activism. So what we’re trying to do is establish that dancers have got worker status. So this is something that affects all people in the gig economy. So anyone who’s doing, any of your listeners may well be affected by this. Anyone who’s doing an insecure job where they don’t have maybe like a contract or they are on a zero hour contract and they never know how much work they’re going to get. They never know how much they’re going to get paid whether things like that. I mean I know a lot of co-workers work for agencies and cleaners and things like that. But if you have an arrangement with one company as in if you work for some kind of agency so that that that they offering you work on a regular basis. And if you fulfil certain criteria and you are found to have something called worker status then you actually have quite a lot of rights and protections by law, as it currently stands. So say you work maybe three days a week for an agency. And you have to wear a uniform and they tell you what time you start and what time you finish and they this looks of set of controls like they tell you what you can and can’t do, then if you’ve got worker status you are entitled to things like holiday pay, sick pay, maternity pay. Your protected, you don’t have to work more than 48 hours a week if you don’t want to. You’re protected as a whistleblower, so you have the right to make complaints without fear of being sacked. And trust me there is some big stuff moving in this area. So if anyone wants to go and look this up go and look up United Voices of the World.
Sarah: I can put the link underneath on all these things.
Stacy: So United Voices of the World are the trade union that strippers are now basically collaborating with on this particular issue. And the sooner we start to basically get claims in against clubs for things like unpaid holiday pay, sick pay, anyone who’s recently been sacked who is really annoyed with the terms and conditions, the treatment, get in touch because there’s nothing to lose, you don’t have anything to lose by finding out actually what rights you do have and what you’d be entitled to in terms of making a claim. And I think the thing is that we really just we need to get this narrative changed around sex work. It’s work actually what we’re doing is work and we need to be treated as seen as workers. And so we need workers rights.
Sarah: And I guess the more that the club sees that people are being seen as workers the more likely they are to treat their dancers as workers. It shouldn’t be out of fear, but, well out of fear that they’re going to get in trouble if they don’t, if that’s what it takes.
Stacy: They’ve been using fear to dictate terms to dancers for so long. You know the fear of being sacked or fined and why shouldn’t they be in fear of getting caught out?. Yeah, I do believe I do believe that there will probably remain a handful of strip clubs you know like for goods. I mean I do. I don’t think the industry is gonna die altogether although it kind of looks like it might be, but it’s I do I think that you know there’s there’s some of these places that have made a huge investment in their brand and in their label and then they’re certainly in their licenses and they want to keep those businesses open because it is lucrative of course it is. Cos there’s still loads of money going through strip clubs. So it’s like the ones that are left over, the ones that remain need to kind of catch up. They need to get on board with this and recognise and start to really kind of respect us as workers who bust a gut to make their clubs what they are and you’ll know, you’ll know as much as I do just how incredibly professional some dancers are, what they do and what they can do on that stage is just (GASP).
Sarah: But as You say like, you know, one of your favourite places was one of the places with the best work environment and that had one of the best standards of dancer and the best environment. And then other things grew from that. So you’d think that clubs would want to get on board with creating an environment where dancers wanted to do amazing shows and wanted to invest in their practice and want to stay there for long periods of time and not see a big turnaround and people leaving all the time and it just makes sense if you treat your own workers well then you’re gonna get good work from them and then the customers are going to be happier, it just seems like it’s so obvious but it’s stuck, it must banging your head against a brick wall because everyone’s arguing with you about it!
Stacy: I wouldn’t say everyone’s arguing with me. I’d say that most people get it, I don’t need to kind of explain this to many people before they kind of recognise that like ‘oh yeah if you treat your workers well then the business is more successful’ – that’s a no brainer. But yeah like the other the other side issue is the fact that there’s this kind of rampant feminist crowd who are convinced that strip clubs and sex work are only ever expressions of the patriarchy and it’s only ever about male desire.
Sarah: So this I mean (‘segway’ everyone’s probably wanting to talk about this) – your interview on the Great Morning Britain show with Piers Morgan, the headline was can he strippers also be feminists? Which obviously a slightly ridiculous headline anyway. But a lot of the comments were obviously that you came across extremely well. You had a very concise, very clear very like, as I say. Once you say the words, it’s hard to disagree with you because they’re very true it’s just common sense, but you got talked over a lot in that interview. Someone made your eye roll into a Gif! (laughs)
Stacy: Yeah I know!
Sarah: But it’s glorious, its a glorious eye roll. But you did very well to hold down what was probably a very frustrating interview. And that’s why I wanted to get you on. I wanted you to just talk and just get the stuff out that you wanted to say, which you also did in your article very very well in the metro as well. But, there is this big divide it seems between feminists now, between people who are calling (sic), if you recognize yourself as a feminist, but then also you’re trying to put a lid on what other women can do. It’s not a feminist thing to do, in their mind, they may be trying to do something positive and they’re seeing it, as you say, it’s the patriarchy in strip clubs are they can never be a good thing for women but then you yourself you’re calling us a feminist. You work in a strip club. You’ve done so for many years and in a very positive way trying to change the industry into something better. With that interview did you feel like you’ve got yourself and got the point across that you wanted to? Or did you always feel like you were just hitting your head against the brick wall slightly?
Stacy: All that to be honest, that interview with such a kind of like, not even really an event for me, it was just sort of such is a weird thing to agree to do. But I could sort of like smell from the outset, but it wasn’t really going to be a brilliant platform to like, you know.
Sarah: You’re getting 20 seconds and then cut off again.
Stacy: And it’s very tabloidy and it’s Piers Morgan for goodness sake, but then it also kind of surprised me actually just how quickly it descended into a really terrible set of stereotypes just getting flung around, because actually in the preparation for it I did actually have proper conversations with producers and they were testing my arguments and I was like you know at least these are my points and then they were like well this is what the woman on the other side is gonna be saying and these are my responses and then suddenly you seem as you go on air and she’s just talking about sexual abuse and she’s talking about like models. Yeah well it was actually Piers Morgan you brought up the models first and I just kind of was like hold on hold on. This isn’t what I agreed to.
Sarah: It never is with TV. And that’s the problem. It’s like you need it to get like a foot in the door but then at the same time, it’s an animal that you can’t control.
Stacy: All that really was was two things: it was one – It was practice for me to basically kind of hone my skills. And then it was also I think it was progress in terms of the fact that a news outlet like ITV was willing to get an actual stripper or an actual sex worker to kind of come on and not throw them under the bus because you know they could give so easily gone the other way they could have so easily just have attacked me instead if I feel like they were kind of on my side from the beginning.
Sarah: A lot of people were like I can’t believe I’m agreeing with Piers Morgan on a couple of things (laughs). But then he mansplained it…
Stacy: Piers Morgan he might be an ally. But it’s only because he’s got that kind of old school, Oh it’s all right, You know carry on.
Sarah: And wonder what he was like ‘I’ve done things to bring..whatever’ and it’s like…don’t talk about people like that. You wouldn’t say that about any other job you’d be like ‘a cleaner, laundry person, whatever..’ Like you’d never show that lack of respect for this like whatever you do. What did you do with those clubs that I’ve never been to like? The language and the attitude towards it still wasn’t there, even though he was obviously siding with you know he was arguing with the other woman. Who was she? I’m sorry, I did try and google her. What’s her background like why was she on the other side?
Stacy: I really don’t know. She’s been invited on that show before to talk about female empowerment to discuss the problems of constant sexualization of women in news and media and particularly in advertising and marketing, which I don’t disagree with by the way. And actually, that’s one of the things I think I’m just about tried to get in there – the problem of women’s bodies being scrutinized and constantly sexually objectified is not the problem of the sex industry that the insider society thing.
Sarah: Because you spoke about the 2D and 3D modelling and kind of the difference and maybe educate that, it needs to be educated more like the difference between them – you that you did bring that across.
Stacy: Yes. So I mean trying to trying to basically say hang on hang on. Right. Go back to the split the ways in which feminists are split. Yeah. So you mentioned that before. That’s not a new thing for your listeners. Another bit of homework is to go and google Catherine McKinnon and Andrea Dworkin and look up the history of feminists who attempted to make pornography illegal in the US. In one particular state, I think, Indianapolis. This is in the 70s. They’re kind of in a nutshell the story here is that feminists in the US had a major success when they decriminalized abortion with the Roe vs. Wade case in 1974 I believe, and so for women that’s like a massive victory right. So it’s like yeah women’s bodies it’s our body, our choice our right to reproductive rights. That’s literally you can’t get more. It’s not that there aren’t more important ways that women have should have control of their bodies than actually what happens to their wombs right? So that was like a major win. But then within a few years, you saw some kind of feminist sort of camp was kind of split over the issue of sex work and pornography because like some were like ‘Well I’m okay with it’. I kind of identify it but with it actually like I sort of could see myself in that role somehow, not necessarily, but you know what I mean about kind of identifying with it. And then there were other women who were like ‘Nah that’s just that’s really bad for women, there’s nothing okay about that that’s all about male desire’. That’s nothing to this nothing about female sexuality in pornography it’s basically like rape isn’t it’s basically not abuse. There are I mean, you know, I’ve read quite a lot about it but there are quite a range of perspectives on sexuality within the feminist community. And so Andrea Dworkin and Catherine McKinnon were two big advocates, two big academics. I think Catherine McKinnon is an academic and Andrea Dworkin is a writer. Funnily enough, Andrea Dworkin was a sex worker at one stage. But they got on board with banning pornography and what they did was they worked alongside the state governor. The people in charge of the state of Indianapolis at that time were right wing and they were anti-abortion and they were Christian and they were like old school rights. They’re like conservatives you know. But in order to achieve that goal, they got on board and essentially got into bed with the right. You know the anti-abortion lobby. But you know it’s like feeding Peter to pay Paul it’s like that problem again of sort of allowing something. I see that it doesn’t solve the problem much. It doesn’t solve the problem of patriarchal oppression whatsoever. Just to kind of achieve one aim but lose another. So they got the law through they passed the law in the state that said pornography was illegal. But it only lasted for like a couple of years and it was eventually found to be unconstitutional because in the American Constitution, the first amendment is the right to free speech or something. So pornography is basically allowed.
Sarah: People want their porn…
Stacy: So sorry that wasn’t in a nutshell at all, I’m so long winded! I’m so long winded I’m really sorry!
Sarah: You deserve to be long-winded! It’s fine this is it.
Stacey: This is what I cannot do on GMB is like just go into all this but yeah that’s a really interesting history there. And what I mean when I say it’s not a new thing it has has been going on for a long time, is that women are divided on what they see like these representations of women’s sexuality and now where I find myself aligning as a sex-positive feminist is that is woman’s right to choose my body, my choice, no question about that. But what I also agree with is: I do agree with the problem of women being persistently sexualized, particularly young girls and children. Right. So that’s something that is kind of pervasive and insidious and it’s happening in a much more kind of corporate way. So it’s not strip clubs that are trying to get children into working there or inside their doors. I mean that’s kind of clear. There are really clear boundaries around adult entertainment. So why lay the blame at strip clubs doors in turn? Like if you’re gonna talk about like you know the sexualization of women in general in public, that’s a different thing isn’t it?
Sarah: It’s renowned for having very closed doors. You know you don’t know what’s going on. a lot of them don’t even look like strip clubs from the outside. It’s like kids aren’t walking into strip clubs by accident and coming upon the half-naked woman and being like I want to be you when I grow up. Like it’s just it’s not being forced down their throat. But then you know that may not happen either, adverts and TV and it’s all getting younger and younger and younger and that’s more shoved down their face and then yeah the adult sex industry then it gets a very messy argument, I think, when people start adding in other things that aren’t actually related or so negative it’s like we agree that’s negative but that is absolutely not what we’re talking about over here.
Stacy: Yeah it is. Absolutely. That’s the issue isn’t. It is messy it is messy when you try and conflate things, it’s messy when you try and equate one thing to another. And it’s very messy when women’s rights organizations rock up to licensing hearings for strip clubs getting their licenses renewed and start talking about statistics of domestic violence and sexual violence in you know the kind of general area because there is that’s not a proven link. There’s lots of stuff that this kind of stuff gets trotted out and spoken about as if it’s fact when actually the statistics show. I mean we’ve had contact with a night time economy expert who has clearly shown us that there’s actually a reverse, because strip clubs are so heavily licensed and the restrictions are so heavy on them and they have to do everything by the book that actually the levels of violence and crime and disorder around strip clubs are much lower than the average nightclub. I mean you only have to walk past bloody Fabric on a Saturday night and see you know the amount of people queuing outside and like you know dodgy stuff going on. It’s like you don’t see that outside a strip club. You don’t see crowds of people being lary and shouty and you never see that. it’s just it’s kind of like people taking the wrong end of the stick and using it to beat someone that they’re not connected to really. But I don’t see, I can’t see the connection between middle-class sort moms and you know strippers basically.
Sarah: Do you think it’s a fear of that particular group within the particular groups that are coming and campaigning against you think it’s like a fear they have about their own sexuality about their husbands going there?. Is it like a defensive thing that they’re kicking against?. Or do you think it’s like they think they’re trying to do the right thing, so that only coming at it from a positive angle? Like why do you think that there is this?
Stacy: If you want a laugh or if you want a clearer answer to that question go on Mumsnet and just look up strippers, just search for any threads with strippers because there are people out there who are carrying I would say very deep-seated insecurities around their own relationships. Yeah absolutely.
Sarah: It’s almost like a scapegoat type thing that’s happening which is actually completely not related to the issues that are actually happening in strip clubs. The issues that are going on outside of the strip clubs that are then feeding into ‘oh well let’s let’s help them and get them shut down’ when actually it’s you know its more regulations and safer clubs would be far better for the strippers. But that’s not actually their end goal. I’m sure some people are genuinely thinking they’re there to help but I just get the feeling that there’s a lot of un-education that’s happening, like these people aren’t going into the strip clubs and finding for themselves and talking to strippers and be like ‘are you guys being being looked after? Are you being exploited? This club seems like you know it can need a fresh owner with you know a go getter attitude and he really wants to raise the standards for the strippers. I just think they just want everything shut down and they don’t even want to talk to anybody whose part of it and see if there’s actually any problems going on.
Stacy: Yeah I’ve experienced that myself. I mean I’ve been in the same room as Dr. Sasha Rakoff who founded Object. She didn’t know who I was when we initially met and we’ve you know I sort of asked her ‘so you know what’s your background?’ And then all of this and she said ‘Oh well I you know I used to do a lot of campaigning around this stuff. ‘Well she was like she handed me a flyer for Object, And I’m just like ‘wow.’ And once she clocked that who I was I was a stripper and I you know helped co create the collective and that. You know I said something about the fact that we started a collective, because we feel that we’ve had enough, we’ve had enough of this issue being spoken about by non strippers by people who are not us. We’re not having a voice in this whole kind of conversation. And she really recoiled and really didn’t want to engage in conversation, which she really just didn’t want to have talks, any further kind of conversation. And I guess this is the thing is that a lot of career feminists who built a career on speaking out about this. You know, they’ve written books and they’ve you know, done a lot of work. They’re not just suddenly going to change their mind because of an upstart like me. But I think it’s about who actually controls the conversation who dominates the conversation from now. From this point on. Like the dialogue has got to change, the way the language that’s used to talk about stripping in sex work has for so long been just loaded with stigma and stereotyping and well, those stigma and stereotyping isn’t going to go away until we properly unpack it and look at the conditions, look at the history of it and the circumstances and how it all came about and how it could be changed. But it goes look, I mean this thing about you know sex workers being scapegoats. This goes way back. Goes back thousands of years. Right. I also recommend a really good book called Sex and Punishment by Eric Burkovitz, which I’m just coming to the end of now, which is fascinating, fascinating. Basically four thousand years of legislation around sex in civilization basically, like some of the earliest documents in history, in recorded history, dating back to like Mesopotamian civilization are like early trials of like legal justice system work around like sex. It’s basically it’s all it always comes down to sex like it’s the most sort of.
Sarah: Everyone’s always trying to control it, but it’s the most like freeing thing!
Stacy: It’s really what people are motivated by, its what people are interested in, its what people is you know? Definitely people pick up newspapers more you know. I mean they engage when they see that kind of like Oh sexy headline but it’s like that power. I mean sex is power, sex is about power. It always has been and it always will be. And it’s about people who, particularly for women, you know continually this keeps coming back round, women whose use their sexuality, who are seen to be publicly embracing their sexuality and you know I guess sharing it owning it like this. The stigma continues but I think where we’re seeing a generation of women being allowed to break through. Perhaps a lifetime of conditioning and that’s not to say I think it’s really important because there’s there’s kind of pros and cons to everything right. You know like the genie is out of the bottle but we have to be careful about where it goes. I mean I think there are kind of pros and cons to working with your sexuality. What am I trying to say? You know Pandora’s Box was opened and it let out a whole load demons but within the box was this solution. It’s a bit like that thing of like ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater’ because the solution may lie within the problem. I think we might look at a world where all women are expected to like you know get their tits out on social media and call it feminism and see like that’s feminism in crisis. That’s isn’t it. That’s terrible. But then on the other hand we have this potential to raise a generation of girls to reject shame and to reject stigma and to reject all of that kind of you know the conditioning of ‘oh but you’re a woman you’re meant to be chaste and modest and cover up because otherwise the bad men will get you’ like there is it’s kind of like a night and light and shade thing.
Sarah: It just seems like they should just be common sense that it’s like the world is gone a bit mad that we’ve almost got to this point that it should be explained and everyone stood up and be like okay so you’re why were we doing that again? And then everyone’s like ‘oh well you know I’m going to be really on this side because I want to have this political agenda and I’m going to be really on that side and I’m giving this political agenda’ but actually most people are just in the middle who just want to get on with their lives and just have to not actually interfere with anyone else’s life. If you would do something on that side you do it, if you wanna do something on that side you do it, you never want to go into a strip club? Never go into it, if you want to get your tits out because Free the Nipple go and do that. That’s absolutely fine. You shouldn’t be persecuted on either end as long as no one’s taking it you know you’re not telling the other party what to do. So I think if most people just are happy sitting in the middle and we can all just agree that that’s what the normal should be and let the outliers do what they want to do as long as it was hurting anybody.
Stacy: I think it all comes down to consent but all of it all of the full range and the full spectrum of whatever you want to do is it should always come down to consent and it should come down to the individual kind of agency of the human being right. You know we’re born with this sacred right to exist and where we find ourselves losing that essence of our humanity is from conditioning. So we’re conditioned from the moment we’re born, we’re conditioned from you know the ways we’re raised essentially other ways that we’re conditioned. I want to live in a world where we have a generation of people who are raised with consense as like the kind of cornerstone of their existence. so that they understand what consent is. They understand how it applies to them. They understand how it applies to the people. I think sex education should be like consent education like that that why is that missing from the education curriculum. That’s crazy. And because when you essentially recognize that like, consent is key. Then that’s the first step towards overcoming oppression in all ways. At every stage for everyone because for sure we’re all under pressure. We live within this kind of system where we’re all essentially coerced to work. We all sell our labour. We all prostitute ourselves in some form or other. If it’s our brain or our hands, our skills our ideas, our time, our sexual labour whatever it is. We trade on our energy and we’re affected by the economic conditions that we’re in. So the more poor you are the less choice you have. For sure. The more oppressed you are the more vulnerable you are to being exploited and coerced. And that’s not unique to sex workers, but consent is something that gets fucked with by our system right? So this is my activist side, this is why I come from activism before I was a stripper so I apply these same kind of ideas and it’s like if we want to do something about oppression we can’t pick and choose who is more or less oppressed and who gets ignored and who should be saved. it’s not helping you know? And as proven by the campaigners who you know basically campaign to try and get strip clubs shut down 10 years ago and have actually made it worse. You can create more harm. did the strippers consent to that law? You know, did we get asked, do we get properly consulted? I mean I know there was a wide public consultation the public will ask their opinion which they almost always are, you know licensing hearings rely on public consultations but no one comes to us. No one ever comes into the club and says ‘Right the license guy wants to come and talk to you about your working conditions this year and see what can be done’ No one ever addresses the issue as like right. How do we release the oppression?
Sarah: Who’s actually being affected by it and let’s speak to them rather than people from the outside who think they’re being affected by it. In fact have nothing to do with it.
Stacy: Probably not probably affected less than they realize.
Sarah: We should probably wrap this up. I think we could probably just keep going and going and going. I would quite like to listen to you talk about these things. I think we’re probably going to have to do a follow up because I think I’m just going to get bombarded with a million questions from my group, but rightly so I think you’ve given some really really interesting takeaway points. I think it’s really important that people go away and read some of the things that you’ve brought up. I’m going to link to everything that you have done. I know people can be super interested.
Stacy: Could I just add one final link.
Sarah: If there’s anything else you want to add in you just let me know! I’m going to talk over you like Piers Morgan 😉
Stacy: Yeah. Yeah exactly. I’m I’m basically crowdfunding the moment to get my book published so I’m in the process of writing a book called The Ethical Stripper because I am a much better writer than I am a speaker actually. Like very waffely and I ramble on and I tend to get a little bit sidetracked and lose my train of thought. So sorry if I’ve done that during this interview but good. Yeah. I’m basically, crowdfunding with a publisher called Unbound, so at unbound.com/books/the-ethical-stripper and any if anyone feels like helping support the book you basically it’s like pre-ordering a copy. So the books due out it’s gonna be published later on this year. Like by November is the deadline! Is that’s actually the tenth anniversary of the Policing and Crime Act. So the whole premise of the book is to fully unpack everything that I’ve tried to cover in this interview and more. And yet you know 10, 20 quid. 30 quid, whatever if you were feeling generous. You got a nice signed copy of the hardback. Yeah that would be sweet.
Sarah: Well I’ll definitely link to that and be awesome to have you back on for the 10th anniversary of that amazing act… For for the launch of your book! We’ll definitely have to have you on the launch of your book and then we can chat about it all again then because I’m sure it probably won’t have gone away…Hopefully, it would have moved a little bit closer because you know you’re doing fantastic work and it was a really really interesting having you on. And I’m glad you got a bit more of a long-form discussion this time to get some of your points out because. Well deserved.
Stacy: I sometimes I think I need to get told. Like right. You’ve got 10 minutes. Be concise.
Sarah: I said like 20 minutes when I was asking you about it…
Stacy: What are we on now. Have we gone over?
Sarah: Like an hour….:)
Stacy: Oh God. You know it’s going to take you about an age to transcribe all this. Sorry.
Sarah: It’s fine, there’s websites that can do that 🙂
Stacy: HAHA amazing.
Sarah: Well thank you.
Stacy: Great to talk to you