Saturday, August 21, 2004

We Know What's Best For You

I liked the original title of this Grauniad piece better, but it was just too long to use: I like my job, says the lap dancer. No you don't, says the feminist helping city try to shut clubs.

Sheetal Revis curls her legs around the steel pole and sinks slowly to the floor under the spangled light of the disco balls suspended high above her. It is a wet weeknight in Glasgow and the 19-year-old is getting ready for work.

"How many girls do you know who could come in here and do that?" she asks. "It takes a lot of self confidence, training and skill. It's an art."

Ms Revis likes what she does, but Glasgow city council does not.

This week it took its opposition to a new level with a study that accuses the city's four lap dancing clubs of the sexual and financial exploitation of women. The report, drawn up by the social researcher and feminist Julie Bindel, adds weight to renewed calls for the clubs to be reclassfied as sex shops, rather than part of the leisure industry, which effectively would allow the local authority to close them down. But the clubs are calling foul. They say the involvement of Ms Bindel, who works with London Metropolitan University's child and woman abuse studies unit, discredits the report's findings, and they will fight any efforts to close them.

"She's a feminist," says Ms Revis, who works at the Diamond Dolls club, in the heart of Glasgow. "What she has presented is a negative point of view and it is her point of view. She thinks that to do this kind of job we are losing our self respect, and that's not true. Nobody forces us to be here. We do it because we want to do it and like to do it."


Steven MacDonald, the promoter of Diamond Dolls and two other clubs, is frustrated by the report's conclusions. Lap dancing clubs, he said, were tame compared with the much more explicit displays people could see 50 miles away at the Edinburgh festival.

"The study is a nonsense," he said. "I know the clubs, I know the industry. If something like that was going on, we would hear it, and it would arrive at us first. I do feel the report has been demeaning to the girls, to the staff, to the people like ourselves and to the customers, creating this kind of raincoat image."

It is this seedy image which Ms Revis says concerns her most: "We don't want people coming in here thinking they can get away with that sort of thing."
It wouldn't be surprising if Ms. Revis is on to something there; in talking up the alleged seediness of lap dancing, Ms. Julie Bindel may just help bring about the very scenario she claims to be lamenting. The sheer arrogance of insisting to people they're being exploited when they don't feel themselves to be is par for the course with a certain sort of "activist": attempt to dispute the allegation and you're soon faced with the charge of suffering from "false consciousness", as if having a political axe to grind somehow immunized one from the very same charge in turn.