Tuesday, 14 May 2013
It's one small step for women ....
Today saw the announcement that the Highland Council has granted a licence for a strip club to open in the capital of the highlands, Inverness. As the local MSP, Rhoda Grant was not best impressed by the news and was quoted as saying - “Introducing a lap dancing venue to the city is a step in the wrong direction and a blow to equality and woman’s rights." The Women's Support project weren't exactly hanging out the bunting either, saying - "Lap Dancing is recognised as a form of violence against women, as highlighted in the Scottish Government national approach to– “Safer Lives Changed Lives.”
As a former pole/lap dancer and a survivor of real violence, I strongly oppose the views expressed above.
When I lived in London (and that was a long time ago) I worked for a spell as a lap dancer. I wouldn't say I was particularly good, my talents came into play after the voyeuristic gentleman who had just paid for a private dance would ask me to join him in his booth for a glass of champagne. This was a sure sign that at some point we would negotiate a deal and I would go back to his hotel for a couple of hours. In reality, the club didn't care provided we ensured the men kept buying over priced and horrendous bubbly. Some of the girls who worked at the club however, operated a different strategy entirely.
Touching any of the dancers was strictly prohibited, and any 'gent' who attempted it was ejected, rules were rules. Some dancers used that rule to it's maximum effect and simply danced all night, doing very well on tips and private dances and at the end of the night, they simply packed up and went home. Whether you simply danced the night away or went back to the gent's hotel room, both activities fell under the umbrella of the sex industry. So, is dancing around a pole or going back to a hotel to indulge in paid consensual sex 'violence against women' ?
A long time ago whilst still in Dublin I had a partner, let's call him P. He told me that he imported and exported furniture, which would of course explain his beautiful car and wads of cash. I was later to find out that what he imported could best be described as 'recreational substances', but by then it was too late and I couldn't leave him, quite simply because I was too afraid.
It started with a push, late one night after I had been out with friends for a few drinks and hadn't called him to say I was on my way home. When I eventually did get home, he pushed me with both hands such that I flew backwards and hit the hob of the cooker, bruising and injuring my back. All the colour drained from his face and he burst into tears - 'I'm so sorry, I don't know what came over me and I'll never do it again'. We went to bed in silence, and I vowed then to begin the process of breaking up with him, but it would need to be slowly, and it would need to look like it was the best thing for him in the long run, because as a controller, he never liked to lose.
Fast forward some six weeks and P and I were out for a meal, it was getting late. The waiter was overly friendly as they tend to be when they're looking for a huge tip and made a fawning ceremony over giving me an Irish coffee, saying that phone numbers were part of the required price. I could see the fury building up in P's face and I knew there was going to be trouble. I tried to appease him before we left the restaurant and whilst we were still in public but to no avail, he was cutting me off with one word answers and flatly refused to look me in the eye. We settled the bill and headed out to the car, in public P liked to be seen as a gentleman and so when he leaned in behind me towards the passenger door, I thought he was going to open it in an exaggerated gesture of chivalry. Not quite.
He grabbed my hair at the back of my head and smashed my face down on to the roof of the car with such force that I really thought I was going to lose consciousness. My nose exploded and the blood just seemed surreal to me, like I was looking at the aftermath of someone else's injury. Bundling me into the car, he drove like a lunatic through the streets of Dublin until we reached his flat and he took me out of the car in what looked like a protective gesture, with my head bowed so that none of the neighbours could see what was really happening.
After that began the beatings, and they came regularly - often with no reason that I could determine at all. Full force punches to the face, and as he was right handed, it was my left eye which took the worst of it, yep - the one which hangs a little lower and twitches. Leaving me in such a state was a double plus for a brutal psychopath like P, because not only could he take out all of his angers and frustrations on someone who was terrified of him, he also knew that when I was badly marked I wouldn't leave the apartment, and so he had control, because with abusers, it is ALWAYS about control.
One Friday afternoon, having spent three days in hiding, I ventured out of the apartment to go the bank and pay some bills, head bowed and in large sunglasses. I (quite literally) ran into a local Rathmines Garda, who was only too familiar with P and his notoriety and I suppose, our relationship. "If you don't leave him, he is going to kill you, it's just a matter of time. You do know that, right ?" I knew he was right and so I planned my escape with all the precision of a bank raid. I waited until I knew he was going to be out for at least six hours and caught a cab to Dublin airport, all I knew was I was going to London and after that, I would work it out. It was the longest hour of my life waiting for that flight to be called and I waited for the call, or the hand on my shoulder.
I landed in London Heathrow with 160 Irish punts in my purse and found a cheap hotel near Soho. As green as I was, I thought if you wanted a job in the sex industry in London, then Soho is where you went to, and I found a job that first night in a clip joint, which I didn't know was all about ripping the client off. I didn't want to stay there and hated it, and it can't have gone unnoticed because an older lady, Rosa, came to my rescue. She was Spanish and very kind, in a matronly manner.
"Why you here ? Why you no dance, huh ?"
I tried to explain that I didn't have a clue what I was doing, much less where I was going but she reassured me that she had a room to rent in Willesden Green because her son was in Spain for the summer with his father.
"You come with me".
Well, my options were rather limited and I was about to run out of money, so I did as instructed and the next night, Rosa took me to the first of many 'gentleman's clubs' I was to work in. To this day I remain firmly of the belief that sometimes, people are put in your path for a reason, either to get you out of a tight spot or to teach you something about yourself. Rosa and I are still in touch to this day and I can never thank her enough for what she did.
In that club, I found solidarity and I found camaraderie with the other women. I also found independence and a freedom from fear. I was safe, at last.
In summary, do you still think lap dancing is 'violence against women' ? In my case, it probably saved my life.