The unsexy sexism of Glasgow banning female strip clubs

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Julia Hegele
Writer

Julia Hegele discusses the variances between new legislation for male and female strippers.

In all fields of work it goes without saying that those who pioneered the market, who fought for their rights as entrepreneurs, and who seek stability and safety in their line of work, are the individuals who should be ensured preservation in relation to their work environment. However, in keeping with the endless trend of disenfranchizing both sex workers and female presenting individuals, Glasgow City Council is intending to roll out a ban on “displays of nudity”, an order that contains a loophole that prohibits females removing their tops while allowing males to perform the exact same action. The ban targets sexual entertainment venues (SEVs) and zeros in on dancing venues, strip clubs, and burlesque bars within the city centre, meaning that the women who make their livelihoods through dancing would no longer be legally allowed to do so. However, via this loophole all establishments that host masculine performers would be allowed to advertise and portray topless individuals without risking shutdown or legal indictment. To put it simply, men stripping is fair game but women performing the same action are now at risk of being left unemployed.

The hypocrisy is old hat: for decades now, women have been challenging public indecency standards by encouraging being topless outdoors, breastfeeding in public, and desexualizing the female presenting body. To keep a female body in a separate realm of intrigue and shame demeans the individual, encourages a patriarchal claim over a person’s physicality, and logically makes no sense; after all, our breasts are the only ones with legitimate use. However, this slight towards female presenting dancers cuts deeper than the usual misogyny. The world of adult entertainment has been pioneered by females. Strip clubs and other SEVs provided an opportunity for talented dancers to perform under safe and stable conditions, retain their income, and showcase their skills. Whilst dancers come in all genders and presentations, it is those who present female who are charged daily with harassment, stigma, and misconceptions about their line of work. This ban only cements the idea that female entertainers should be shamed into modesty, that their work is less valid, and more policeable than their male counterparts for whom work is exponentially safer and supported by the community. Touring companies of male strippers can continue to deliver their Magic Mike fantasy to throngs of screaming hen-dos in the Kings Theatre, but the women who make their living in Glasgow clubs will be in jeopardy. Glasgow Live reports that the jobs of 700 women could be at risk when this ban goes into effect. Imagine the uproar if a factory expelled such a huge amount of people or if such a blatantly sexist ruling was levied on service workers or retail associates. However, with the exception of an extremely emotional protest by dancers and allies last month there has been silence around this ban.

This situation begs the age old question: when will we start treating dancers with the respect that they deserve? It’s easy to enjoy a performance on a night out but after leaving the club it just takes a moment for audiences to turn puritanical. These women are artists, athletes, and most importantly in charge of their own bodies. The very idea that they could be shamed into financial discrepancy, loss of work, and personal censorship is appalling. Let’s be frank: a female’s body is hers to do with what she likes. If she has the capability and artistry to make a living as a dancer, no city councillor has the right to censor this choice. Female bodies and male bodies are equal and should be treated as such. The inequities women already face in terms of pay and safety standards are appalling but this blatant attack against the female form is infantilizing as well as insulting. To try and hide the sexism of this ban behind claims of decency and public comfort proves that the Glasgow City Council views women’s bodies as inherently dangerous or sinful. Our bodies are not shameful, they are not something to be governed, and the same can be said for the jobs that these bodies perform. It’s time to destigmatize sexual performance and recognise it as the proper occupation that it is. Bans like this encourage red-light performance spaces, lapses in public health, and of course unemployment: the things you would expect a local government to care about. Here’s hoping that the council understands how sexist this loophole is and will seek to remedy these genuine problems, rather than the farcical issue of who’s nipples appear where.