Monday, 29 March 2010

Iceland bans strip clubs

Thanks to the Auckland Women's Centre for flagging this great piece by Julie Bindel which appeared in The Guardian:

Iceland has just banned all strip clubs. Perhaps it's down to the lesbian prime minister, but this may just be the most female-friendly country on the planet. Iceland is fast becoming a world-leader in feminism. A country with a tiny population of 320,000, it is on the brink of achieving what many considered to be impossible: closing down its sex industry.
While activists in Britain battle on in an attempt to regulate lapdance clubs – the number of which has been growing at an alarming rate during the last decade – Iceland has passed a law that will result in every strip club in the country being shut down. And forget hiring a topless waitress in an attempt to get around the bar: the law, which was passed with no votes against and only two abstentions, will make it illegal for any business to profit from the nudity of its employees.

Even more impressive: the Nordic state is the first country in the world to ban stripping and lapdancing for feminist, rather than religious, reasons. [I think they mean it's been banned for feminist reasons - they're not implying that anyone does it for feminist or religious reasons!] Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir, the politician who first proposed the ban, firmly told the national press on Wednesday: "It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold."

When I asked her if she thinks Iceland has become the greatest feminist country in the world, she replied: "It is certainly up there. Mainly as a result of the feminist groups putting pressure on parliamentarians. These women work 24 hours a day, seven days a week with their campaigns and it eventually filters down to all of society."

The news is a real boost to feminists around the world, showing us that when an entire country unites behind an idea anything can happen. And it is bound to give a shot in the arm to the feminist campaign in the UK against an industry that is both a cause and a consequence of gaping inequality between men and women.

According to Icelandic police, 100 foreign women travel to the country annually to work in strip clubs. It is unclear whether the women are trafficked, but feminists say it is telling that as the stripping industry has grown, the number of Icelandic women wishing to work in it has not. Supporters of the bill say that some of the clubs are a front for prostitution – and that many of the women work there because of drug abuse and poverty rather than free choice. I have visited a strip club in Reykjavik and observed the women. None of them looked happy in their work.

So how has Iceland managed it? To start with, it has a strong women's movement and a high number of female politicans. Almost half the parliamentarians are female and it was ranked fourth out of 130 countries on the international gender gap index (behind Norway, Finland and Sweden). All four of these Scandinavian countries have, to some degree, criminalised the purchase of sex (legislation that the UK will adopt on 1 April). "Once you break past the glass ceiling and have more than one third of female politicians," says Halldórsdóttir, "something changes. Feminist energy seems to permeate everything."

Johanna Sigurðardottir is Iceland's first female and the world's first openly lesbian head of state. Guðrún Jónsdóttir of Stígamót, an organisation based in Reykjavik that campaigns against sexual violence, says she has enjoyed the support of Sigurðardottir for their campaigns against rape and domestic violence: "Johanna is a great feminist in that she challenges the men in her party and refuses to let them oppress her."

Then there is the fact that feminists in Iceland appear to be entirely united in opposition to prostitution, unlike the UK where heated debates rage over whether prostitution and lapdancing are empowering or degrading to women. There is also public support: the ban on commercial sexual activity is not only supported by feminists but also much of the population. A 2007 poll found that 82% of women and 57% of men support the criminalisation of paying for sex – either in brothels or lapdance clubs – and fewer than 10% of Icelanders were opposed.

Jónsdóttir says the ban could mean the death of the sex industry. "Last year we passed a law against the purchase of sex, recently introduced an action plan on trafficking of women, and now we have shut down the strip clubs. The Nordic countries are leading the way on women's equality, recognising women as equal citizens rather than commodities for sale."

Strip club owners are, not surprisingly, furious about the new law. One gave an interview to a local newspaper in which he likened Iceland's approach to that of a country such as Saudi Arabia, where it is not permitted to see any part of a woman's body in public. "I have reached the age where I'm not sure whether I want to bother with this hassle any more," he said.

Janice Raymond, a director of Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, hopes that all sex industry profiteers feel the same way, and believes the new law will pave the way for governments in other countries to follow suit. "What a victory, not only for the Icelanders but for everyone worldwide who repudiates the sexual exploitation of women," she says. Jónsdóttir is confident that the law will create a change in attitudes towards women. "I guess the men of Iceland will just have to get used to the idea that women are not for sale."



Benefit "reforms": See the new Letter from Elsewhere, "Mining the land and undermining the children",  which is now up on Scoop.

20 comments:

anna said...

Maybe I'm just grouchy because it's Julie Bindel, but seriously, none of them looked happy in their work? As opposed to every other workplace in the world where people are happy and smiling all the time?

I'm not saying there aren't major problems with the industry, but the opinions of any women working in it were quite noticeably absent, and that's disappointing.

Anonymous said...

The opinions of women working in the industry are nearly always absent. I've worked as a stripper. There were a few women who seemed genuinely keen about the work, but they were the minority. Most of them were there because of a lack of opportunities elsewhere. I know that I was there because I didn't think that that work was below me. It was working in that industry that actually made me value myself. I learnt that not only was I worth more than $45 for 15min, I deserved to be in a job that was emotionally fulfilling, I deserved to be in a relationship that was healthy and loving, I deserved friends who supported me.

My concern is that by making something illegal they think it dissapears. We legalised prostitution in this country in order to provide better protection for the prostitutes. Where will illegal strippers go for help? There will still be strippers and their bosses will use to illegality of their work to control them. Bring in stricter regulations by all means. I personally would like to see random checks where the ages of strippers are checked because I know that's a law that gets broken, I worked with a few girls who should have been in school. If trafficking is occurring surely there were already laws in place that needed to be enforced more?

Danyl said...

They're certainly a world-leader in feminism - the1980s brand of feminism in which a tiny, self-appointed feminist elite tried to browbeat society with their own over-educated and highly privileged viewpoints on how woman could think and behave. It's not progressive to replace the patriarchy with a matriarchy - if you want a modern feminist leader look to Helen Clark, who legalised prostitution, giving women the freedom to work in the sex industry if they so chose but making sure they were protected by the legal system and entitled to the same workplace standards as the rest of society.

katy said...

I have to say that I am quite impressed by this.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like it's exploitative behaviour that is the problem. Not so much stripping per se.

Seems to my mind that stronger labour laws or something like a special minimum wage for the adult industries would be far more effective.

stargazer said...

agree with katy. and it's also possible to provide protection while the activity remains illegal eg ensure that women aren't prosecuted but their customers (and employers, if any) are. this is the approach taken by the europeans, i think.

A Nonny Moose said...

@Danyl: So an almost equal parliament and a woman leader (shouldn't matter that she's lesbian) is a matriachy?

Get back to us when the men of Iceland are sexually objectified and forced to make a living selling their bodies, and forced to remain as house husbands with little career advancement and no pay parity.

Oh, I'm sorry...I must be stuck in the 80s with my anger. Damn them wimmenz for deciding what's best for themselves.

Hugh said...

Factual quibble: Johanna Sigurdadottir is not Iceland's head of state - that's the President, Olafur Grimsson.

It's interesting to see that the author seems to be giving this policy credit for effectiveness when it's effectiveness has not yet been tested.

I'm also presuming this author would have been horrified by the legalisation of prostitution here in New Zealand under the last government. I would have been very interested to see her explain to the various prostitute's collectives why she was a better judge of their interests than they are.

And it's also interesting that the voices of women who work in the industry, as opposed to extra-industry lobby groups, are not canvassed in this article.

Danyl said...

Damn them wimmenz for deciding what's best for themselves.

Except this isn't about letting 'wimmenz' decide what's best for themselves - this is about the state legislating away their right to make decisions.

A Nonny Moose said...

"this is about the state legislating away their right to make decisions."

And if we give them "safe enough" legislation for the sex industry, there's absolutely no chance they could be exploited, abused, and underpaid, or find it a gateway to further problems like drug use, social welfare ("good mummies don't strip!"), and prostitution. Let alone social bias.

As Anon said above, those who come from the industry unscarred and happy are the minority. Yes, she also argues, as you Danyl, that fully legislating against will cause a black market.

But hell, the softly softly approach has been tried for years. I'm not saying the problem is going away, but I respect the stand of "No more. Women's bodies will not be used in this way." It sends a clear message to the world - someone has to start somewhere.

A Nonny Moose said...

PS: Also want to say: I understand both sides of the argument. I am keen to see what changes this legislation makes. I understand I sound like I'm way at the end of the spectrum - but at least I'm open to discussion if this issue needs to change further.

Brenda said...

The reason why women were turning to stipping work hasn't been removed - they've just been either forced out of employment, or they've been forced into continuing illegally without the protection of the law from now on.


Another take on this from feministing which echoes my concerns:
http://www.feministing.com/archives/020546.html

Anonymous said...

This really pisses me off. Like others have said - where are the voices of the women working who will now have to work illegally? Yet more moralising from middle class twits. If feminism is about dictating what other women should do with their bodies then I am embarrassed to say I am one.How about giving those working in the stripping sector more human rights? How about trying to change the discourses that contstruct them as lesser women? Now there's a thought...


"It's interesting to see that the author seems to be giving this policy credit for effectiveness when it's effectiveness has not yet been tested.

I'm also presuming this author would have been horrified by the legalisation of prostitution here in New Zealand under the last government. I would have been very interested to see her explain to the various prostitute's collectives why she was a better judge of their interests than they are.

And it's also interesting that the voices of women who work in the industry, as opposed to extra-industry lobby groups, are not canvassed in this article."

I agree with the above 100%.

A Nonny Moose said...

Thanks Brenda, had a read.

If you get into the comments though, there are some very interesting points. For example, Icelands population - not even a 10th of NZs. Therefore it's not a massive economic proposition to shut down the stripping industry (someone said there was maybe 2 strip clubs in the Capital city).

Also, no...this sort of legislation wouldn't work on the scale of the US, maybe not even NZ, because of the different cultural values.

I am still on board with Iceland doing this because it works FOR THEM, and their culture of rebuilding women's rights (because of their different approach to socialism/radicalism etc). I agree, it probably wouldn't work for us, certainly not for the US or other European countries.

But I see it as a good EXAMPLE, something other societies point at in the future to say "hey, let's examine that...may not work for us in totality, but what can we use from that example to better women's rights in the sex industry here?".

Anonymous said...

I wonder how the women working there feel about it?
Although I suppose that doesn't matter since they are so lacking in agency they need other women thinking for them and making the decisions.
This totally makes me cringe.

"hey, let's examine that...may not work for us in totality, but what can we use from that example to better women's rights in the sex industry here?".

Are you serious? Like making the work illegal has any potential to improve the rights of those working in the industry.

Hugh said...

A Nonny, you make some good points, but I think even the argument that 'this is the right thing for them, if not for anybody else' is problematic.

First and foremost Bindel's article seems to be arguing quite strongly that this is something that has wider application. But I can accept that you can agree with much of her point, but not this part - that being said I think it's valid for people posting her to address that point as she makes it.

Secondly, generally I find the idea that there are different paths to equality for different cultures problematic. Patriarchy is remarkably consistent across diverse cultures, so it seems to me that mechanisms to counteract it could potentially be consistent. But, again, let's presume that what would be unhelpful, if not actively detrimental, to equality in some places might be useful in others. So the question becomes - what is it about Iceland that makes outlawing the industry useful there, where it wouldn't be elsewhere?

You've mentioned the scale argument, emphasising the small size of Iceland's population, but
I'm not sure that argument works. Sure, the industry's small, but so presumably are the institutions that will be used to ensure that the outlawing is effectual and doesn't just drive it underground. To put it another way, there may only be two strip clubs, but there probably aren't a hell of a lot of police officers, public advocates, social workers etc etc.

You've also said that Iceland has a different culture of rebuilding women's rights and a different approach to socialism. I'm not sure what you mean by rebuilding women's rights - perhaps you could explain? But I would disagree that Iceland has a significantly different approach to socialism. Generally the policy of Iceland's Social Democrats is pretty in line with generic European social democracy - a welfare state, regulation of the market, etc etc.

For you to convince me, and I suspect many of the others objecting to this policy here and elsewhere, you would have to show that banning an industry in Iceland will actually eliminate it and will move those involved in the industry up their personal preference ladders, rather than down or sideways. So, I'm curious - what is it about Icelandic society and culture that makes this the case, when cultures as diverse as the USA, New Zealand, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Russia have all shown basically the same result from attempting to outlaw the sex industry?

A Nonny Moose said...

Anon: You misinterpreted what I said. Read again - "May not work in totality here". I am not advocating we take this example whole sale and slap it on to NZ (cough No Child Left Behind cough).

"Although I suppose that doesn't matter since they are so lacking in agency they need other women thinking for them and making the decisions. "

You've also missed the fact that we've also been over this - there are serious concerns about trafficked women, and - yes - women with little agency because of abuse and exploitation. Read the wording carefully - this law takes away an employers ability to make money off an employees nudity. It is hitting at the exploiters.

We, and other commentators the blogosphere over, are adding our cultural values to this. This can work for Iceland because of their small population and differing politics.

Sanctuary said...

If "It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold." Then I assume they plan to also ban professional sports teams in Iceland? After all, Ronaldo isn't paid for his intellectual skills.

Is Burlesque banned? Or is that artistic enough for the lesbian sisterhood to be down with that? Topless is out; as are lap dances. Can you pole dance in your g-string then? Are girls allowed to wear tiny dresses and drunkenly gyrate for the boys or does that need to be regulated as well? Perhaps the Cromwellian feminists of Iceland will decide to set hem lengths and a curfew to save their saucy younger sisters from themselves? Perhaps bands of feminist Mutaween can patrol the bars and clubs of Iceland to enforce appropriate levels of morality? What is the moral and philisophical difference in banning strip clubs because you are the Taliban and banning them because you are feminist anyway?

If someone wants to sell their body that is up to them; It is a truism that in a free society people should be as free as possible to do as they wish. If women are selling their bodies because of lack of choice then deal with the lack of choice, not by telling people that what they can and can't do is going to be entirely decided by the puritanical whims of some pointy headed academic lesbian.

Carol said...

I'm one pointy headed academic lesbian who hasn't so far commented on this issues. I've been reading all the views and can see some validity in aspects of all sides.

But I really object to your stereotypical use of "lesbian" as a negative term & a way of attacking one set of views, Sanctuary. The stereotype of academics doesn't thrill me either.

Anonymous said...

Sorry if i misterepreted. For various reasons I find it hard to read Julie Bindel's ramblings - probably mostly because she because she is so patronising and self serving.
I would also like to know what it is about Iceland that makes this change so good? And good for who? Have you spoken to women who were working in these clubs? Did they describe the change as good? Did it have a positive impact on their lives? Or is this information irrelevent?