There was a gripping article in the Guardian last week that offered a different perspective to lap dancing to that which is usually touted by the mainstream media – ie that lap dancers are wealthy, empowered and fulfilled. Instead, the Guardian article proposed that the reality for lap dancers is a much more desperate, abusive and damaging experience, often fueled by alcohol and drugs in order to tolerate the physical and mental abuse from clients, colleagues and bosses.
The article was prompted by the recent publication of Stripped: The Bare Reality of Lap Dancing, by Jennifer Hayashi Danns and Sandrine Lévêque (Clairview Books, 2011, £8.99). This really is an excellent book, and one that certainly ought to be placed on the desks of all members of every council’s licencing committee up and down the country – especially those who are in the process of deciding whether or not to grant new licences to existing Sexual Entertainment Venues (SEVs), also known as lap dance clubs.
Through a combination of personal narratives from former lap dancers, journalists, students etc, Stripped creates a rounded picture of the UK lap dancing industry. A former lap dancer herself, Danns is extremely well placed to know what the industry is really like. Her co-author, Lévêque, was Campaign Manager on Object’s Stripping The Illusion campaign until 2010, which concluded successfully with the British Government's passing of legislation that gave councils greater control over the lap dancing industry, and called for lap dancing clubs to be licensed in the same way as sex shops or sex cinemas… not cafes! The law was successfully changed, but the problem of lap dancing clubs still exists…
Written in an accessible and page-turning style, Stripped is a compulsive read – at times a repulsive read. Nonetheless, it’s essential for anyone interested in finding out more about what really goes on in this growth industry. By posing questions and allowing lap dancers a voice, in a non-judgmental manner Stripped poses questions such as: Are lap dancers sex workers or exotic dancers? What attracts so many women to work in this industry? Are women being sexually exploited and their bodies used as objects for male gratification?
The second part of the book moves to a more analytical perspective and offers some possible solutions to the situation, and advice for people working in the industry or who are interested in campaigning in this area.
You may also be interested in the current work of Bristol Fawcett in this area. For years, Bristol Fawcett has campaigned against the normalisation of the sex industry through the proliferation of lap dancing clubs, and has a dedicated group of volunteers who put in countless hours researching the industry in Bristol, finding out when new applications are being submitted to Bristol City Council, and trying to improve the situation both for the women who work in the clubs, and for people who have the misfortune to live or work near the clubs. There is a great deal of information about the campaign in Bristol on the link here.