Saturday, September 19, 2009

Dark Knights

Last night I was on BBC Five Live discussing Harriet Harman's plans to stop businesses from reclaiming VAT on "expenses" trips to strip and lap-dancing clubs. Well we were supposed to be discussing that. Instead I got screamed at by a guy called Chris Knight (the one on the left) who described himself as the president of the lap-dancers association. Weird for two reasons - firstly elsewhere on the web he's listed as the vice-president and secondly because why would a guy be head of the lap-dancers association? I mean isn't that kind of like having a white guy as head of an organisation which represents black people?

Anyway there were three things that I was angry about.

Firstly because he just shouted over everything I said, which sometimes I do too on air, sometimes you have to stop someone taking up all the air time with some irrelevant or just outright wrong point. But this was not it - this was just him trying to silence me. He didn't listen to a single point I made, however brief.

Secondly he had this manner of saying things as though that made them true. He said "the law as it is works perfectly" - and that's really not true of any law. The murder law doesn't work perfectly, murder still happens and some people trying to assist suicide for the terminally ill can be at risk of prosecution. He also said "if anything illegal happens the police sort it out" when in fact what is true is that when illegal things happen if the police find out about them there is a chance they'll try to sort it out.

Finally though when I agreed to do the interview I was told there would be one other person on air - a lapdancer called Naomi. When we went live Chris Knight was there too - effectively Naomi's boss. Needless to say when your boss is sat next to you you're hardly going to be open about the positives and the negatives of you work environment. For instance at one point I asked Naomi if clients ever touched her while she was dancing and she said "no, never". Really? So she's worked for several years dancing naked across the laps of drunk men and not one has ever touched her? Does anyone believe that. Afterwards I had a chat with a friend who has worked as a stripper and I told her what Naomi had said to which she responded (and I quote) "ah fuck that's ridiculous".

Today I noticed that I'm not the only person who thinks Chris Knight is a nasty bully. So do ... wait for it ... the House of Lords! He's been paying lobbists to try to convince Lords to table watering-down motions to the new bill changing the way lapdancing clubs are licensed. The article in The Times (linked above) contains two classic Chris Knight-isms...

"We got the best response from lords because they don’t rely on votes like MPs do."

Or in other words "Boy, if we lived in a real democracy, we'd be in trouble". And...

"It’s hard to get public support when you run strip clubs."

Aw boo hoo. Well don't do it then!

But the best line in the article comes from 78 year-old hereditary peer Lord Bridgeman who said "I’m very happy to discuss this with you but I need to be properly briefed".

...being "properly briefed" is not something Lord Bridgeman or the women working the industry should expect!


Unknown said...

Listened to this, first off, the way Chris jumps in completely unannounced (by laughing) struck me as horribly sinister especially since he didn’t even reply when called on at the start. Makes me wonder if he was in the same room as Naomi

Specific quotes and my thoughts

In regards to Lap dancing clubs

“the demand for it is out there”

As though that’s some sort of justification for the industry; especially when coupled with his suggestion that he was trying to get the country out of the economic slump by running lap dancing clubs. Have you seen ‘In the Loop’ and the “shag for world peace” scene?

“men just don’t look good naked”

Which was met by a hearty laugh from Chris Knight the (I’m assuming) heterosexual owner of a lap dancer club. The bias of this speaks for itself

“Fawcett society has never been in a Lap dancing club”

Using your paradigm from the show its like saying most members of Amnesty have never been in a torture chamber, therefore, they have no right to campaign for equal rights. Its that old fallacy of ‘you have to have actively taken part in something in order to understand it’. Not to sound like Mark from Peep show but, Napoleon invaded more countries than I ever have but it doesn't stop me criticizing his attempts on Russia

Stephen Nolan was desperately trying to umpire the whole debate, felt rather sorry for him trying to be diplomatic. I was a bit disappointed that he kept steering away from could have been quite interesting discussion

Jenny said...

I find the number of people who get defensive about the lap dancing industry rather amazing (although I'm hardly surprised that a fellow in Chris Knight's position should be an aggressive defender of lap dancing. And, of course, everybody loves to hear the stories of women who 'enjoy' being a lap-dancer/pole-dancer/etc*, so I'm not overly surprised that it ended up being two against one).

It's heartily frustrating to discuss this with people who not only shout down every point you make, but also refuse to really engage with those points at all, by trying to force the discussion back to 'it's good for business/it wouldn't happen if there weren't the demand' turf. As you said - when you were again shouted down - that's a ridiculous, over-simplistic argument.

Actually, it's simplistic for more than one reason:
* Demand is not a naturally arising entity; it can be stimulated by availability and promotion (or why would companies bother to undertake promotional activity? Something that the lap dancing industry is very keen on). Demand and supply isn't a simple 2+2=4 kind of equation. There's a vast literature on, for example, supply-side economics. The lap dancing and sex industry works very hard to stimulate demand for their clubs and to normalise it as a legitimate business destination.

* Money is great for business. Woohoo! I like money, too. It means I have more cash to spend on books. But yes, a major driver in the sex industry, as you rightly pointed out, is the profit that can be made, by men, from the exploitation of women. Just because profits can be made from it, just because there may be a demand on some level for it, doesn't mean that everybody should shrug their shoulders and accept that. Legitimate arguments can be made that it's a type of business activity that has a serious and detrimental impact on a large proportion of the population.

* Following on from that, the sex industry has links to crime, including the trafficking of women and children. Once more, there's some lovely, very serious, research demonstrating that the spread of legal, legitimate sex-industry activity (using legal definitions) has the side effect of this growing 'dark side' of the sex industry. Supply and demand are the operative words.

I don't deny that there are women who actively do choose to lap dance, and don't feel exploited, but that certainly doesn't legitimise the entire industry or mean that there isn't vast amounts of exploitation. There is - from the research I've gone into - a lot of exploitation and seriously unpleasant activity, and there are plenty of women who actually aren't lucky enough to have careers and 'escape routes', so to speak.

In what other industry, seriously, do 'workers' have to pay for the privilege to be there? Perhaps some women can make good profit. But given the charges that can be levied by lap dancing clubs on the dancers and the limited life-span of that kind of career, it's hardly a key to life-long prosperity for women. The profits from the lap dancing industry are overwhelming retained by the men who run the show.

Uh, there's a whole other issue about the broader impact on women's status of the normalisation of the sex industry and the commodification of the female body and the impacts of that upon women and girls, but I've just realised that I've been ranting about this for nearly an hour. And that's before I even get started on the posters for 'For Your Eyes Only' on the bus stop on Pentonville Road and how that makes me feel. Um. Sorry. I guess Chris Knight got me a little peeved, too.

Actually, I really only started posting to point out this book, which is very good in discussing these issues: