Today I attended the Feminism in London '08 conference. One of the two workshops I chose to participate in was on objectification of women in Western media (the other was on the status of abortion rights in the UK). The seminar on objectification was quite good, but I had a genuine problem with how many women there thought that one of the biggest problems with female objectification was the existence of strip clubs, especially the performance of lap dances.
Half-way through the seminar, we broke off into groups and were given scenarios to act out. One group had to do a tableau to portray lap-dancing. They chose to do this symbolically. They had one girl curled up in a ball crying on the floor (The lap-dancer) while jeering men (well, women pretending to be jeering men) pointed and stared at her. It was meant to symbolize the lap-dancer's misery and dehumanization. One woman commented, "Lap dancers must feel so invisible and used. They must hate their jobs. It must be horrible." What I wanted to say was, how the fuck do you know that? Just because you think you wouldn't liked to be a lap-dancer doesn't mean there aren't other women who like the idea. It is incredibly close-minded to think there aren't some who like stripping fine as a way to make a lot of money and others who even love it. It would be like me saying, because I hate math, oh my God, look at that poor accountant! She doesn't get to be creative and just has to do figures all day! She must feel like she has no means of artistic expression, so even though she is well-paid, she must hate her job and actually want to be a feminist blogger/academic like me!" It really is the height of arrogance to project our own feelings toward a certain job onto others. You don't know how another woman feels. YOU ARE NOT HER!
I have met feminist-identified, university-educated strippers who love their jobs. They say they like how creative it is (they do choreograph real routines, after all), how they get to meet new people, and how they think they provide a valuable sexual service to both men and women who might want a little erotic excitement every now and again. Sure, there are dangers associated with being a stripper, but that's why we should fight for safer strip clubs and more security presence at them, it's not a reason to ban the profession. Who are we to restrict women's choices and say by definition they must be the product of false consciousness? I'm all for retraining programs that help strippers (and people in any other profession, for that matter) switch their careers if they don't like their jobs, but for those who do like stripping, leave them be!
Throughout the workshop on objectification, anti-porn, anti-strip club comments were ubiquitous. This made me wonder if the average stripper would even feel comfortable being part of the feminist movement in London, if one of its main annual events is so unequivocally anti-sex work. My workshop wasn't even the worst of it. There was one on why porn is fundamentally "bad" and an anti-lap dance action group had a huge presence (they had an information booth and pretty much ran my workshop too). This would have been acceptable if pro-sex work organizations had been present and presenting, as well, but they weren't. If I had been a stripper, I would have felt ganged-up on and judged the whole day. I would have felt demeaned, othered, and dehumanized by these women telling me I couldn't possibly like my job and was lying to myself. The irony is, that's exactly what these women said lap-dancing does.
Why do we need to create such exclusive divides in the feminist movement? If you have a personal feminist belief that lap-dancing would make you feel like shit, don't do it, but don't impose this belief onto other women to make their lives worse. After all, no one is telling human rights lawyers their jobs are "degrading" just because they don't want them. Hell, whatever your job is, I probably don't want it, but that doesn't mean you're lying to yourself if you don't hate it....