In Defence of our Strip Clubs
“We want to save you and if you don’t appreciate it, we’ll punish you.” Pye Jakobsson, 2009.
It is the last week and soon the two strip clubs left in Bristol must sit through the gruelling annual license renewal process and attempt to meet the demands of groups of misinformed individuals who have by and large never set foot in a strip club, much less asked a dancer’s opinion.
I worked in strip clubs in Bristol for nearly six years. I enjoyed my job, I was well looked after by the club and my higher than average wage earnings gave me opportunities that I would not have had as a student otherwise. While any night shift MacDonald’s worker or bartender can tell you how exasperating it is to deal with the inebriated public, I was much more protected in the club than in either of the aforementioned roles.
Despite this, the pressure has been mounting as various organisations again call for the closure of all strip clubs, in order to protect young, vulnerable women. I class myself as a feminist, so a couple of years ago, I decided to try and put forward our case but when I was almost completely ignored, I was confused. In my mind, if these groups want to make sure that we are protected then surely, they should primarily want to speak to us and other dancers in the area to find out what we would like in place for our safety. It turns out I was wrong.
While feigning a vague interest in our safety is important for the abolitionist’s narrative, they have no interest in hearing about it from the horse’s mouth. It feels like being told what we are supposed to think and if we have a differing opinion, we are ignored or else believed to be “too damaged” to have an accurate view of the industry. Our evidence and our real-life experiences are dismissed as anecdotal when the opposition camp have so much power and credence that they no longer need to provide accurate statistics for their argument.
I can not speak for every dancer in the area but my personal experiences with the clubs in Bristol are that everyone involved behind the scenes from the managers to the security and the bar staff are very invested in the dancer’s welfare and safety. It is my opinion that most of the problems come from the licenses themselves.
When they re-classified strip clubs as sexual entertainment venues in 2009, the idea was to give communities and councils more power over their operations. However, that power was taken away from the dancers and given directly to these groups who have incomplete understandings of the job and the industry. The changes that were made have not been particularly helpful to dancers' safety, but they have exasperated many other issues. For instance, while Bristol does not have a nil cap, it is virtually impossible to apply for a license to open a strip club. After several closures, there are only two clubs left open in the area and these are owned by the same person. It does not take a business tycoon to recognise the potential implications for industries where there is no competition. Furthermore, dancers across the country are now afraid to speak out when there are issues regarding their workplace, such as unfair fines or fees, because they worry their words will be used to add fuel to the abolitionist fire.
Although I am far from the first dancer to speak out about these changes, our objections continue to go unheard. It is estimated that there are around one hundred dancers who work across these two clubs throughout the year, women from all walks of life who participate in stripping for a plethora of different reasons. Mine is only one voice and there are many, many others who are in defence of our strip clubs.
Every woman in Bristol has the right to a voice. Why won’t you listen to ours?