Earlier this week, Hackney Council took the decision to prevent sex entertainment premises from opening to help prevent crime, disorder and the abuse and degradation of women. Long standing establishments will be able to continue trading, but with new conditions of license.
As an ex dancer, I know what to feels like to be exploited. Ten years ago, I worked in one of the slightly less seedy establishments around Bethnal Green, on the strip that runs up towards Shoreditch. It wasn't my first time. I'd funded myself around the world, then through uni by spinning round poles, flicking my knickers with a practised flourish and talking men - and sometimes women - into spending a tenner, maybe more, taking me for a dance. Although it was always me who did the leading. This time, I was funding an internship.
It was quite a culture shock, going into the world of work after the gentle, spoon-fed academia of university. Although I was offering my services for free, I was largely ignored, made to do menial jobs, spoken to rudely by staff members, and sometimes, party to sexist remarks. The last from David Bailey, world renowned photographer, no less who, after commenting on my tits asked me to get him a coffee. This was standard. I got everyone's coffee, from the editor, who at the time was dating a supermodel to the editorial assistant, one rung above me in that they were paid a pittance, and thus the most likely to abuse their relative superiority. I did it because at the time, I had nothing better to do.
Fresh out of uni with a first burning a hole in my pocket, yet no idea what I wanted to do with it, I found my way into the offices of a style mag on work experience, although, at the time, I was pushing 24, which, particularly as a woman who wanted to have kids felt a bit late to be working for free. Buit as the only way to enter the magazine industry, you have to suck it up. Of the hundreds of letters I'd sent off asking for magazine experience, this was the one that replied. That was the problem. They let everyone and anyone who asked do work experience there. It saved the company from paying anyone to do the menial jobs. The ones who stuck with it eventually got paid a pittance, but the whole set up made the office environment pretty toxic. Noone spoke to anyone, everyone was too cool for school. Everyone was hoping for success by association, to be touched with the glamour of the magazine's elite, because the editor was dating the world's most famous women. I picked up his dry cleaning, took the post, and was given a pointless job cataloguing old issues online. It was tough going and I found myself getting depressed. There didn't seem any hope of a job, and yet they kept me on interminably, eventually putting my name on the flannel panel as sub-editor, although all I ever did was proofread. But in the end it helped me get out of there, finding my way onto a journalism course but by then, I'd already met the man who would be my husband. And he helped me take my mind off my struggle to find a career foothold in an oversubscribed industry.
I met him in the strip club where I worked in the evenings, a job which paid my mortgage and gave me money for fripperies, haircuts and booze. Even then, I wasn't the most social of animals, and this job gave me as much as I wanted: chitchat, a bit of a giggle, temporary and guaranteed flirtation, the opportunity to talk about myself and get drunk for free. I got to dance on a stage and exercise the dormant exhibitionist I'd kept repressed most of my life. I played social worker to men from all walks of life. I was objectified, and adored, made fun of and lavished with temporary attention and sweaty, drunk affection. It was hard, sweaty work. My feet were raw and my knees were bruised. It was graft, a lot of it, and sometimes the girls were mean. But I earned my cash,wads of it, kept in a shoebox under my bed, after my sixty pound house fee had been paid. Sometimes, there weren't enough punters to pay it. The clubs too their cut just the same. And yes, the fines could be extortionate, but it worked to keep a gaggle of flakes with hangovers and PMT in line.
My earnings would depend on my outfit, the time of the month,whether I was drunk on wine or champagne, how much I pushed the rules, whether I landed in the splits with grace, the rapport I struck up with the person who was paying, the day of the week, and the level of competition in the club. But I felt safe there. The only risk I put myself in was climbing to the top of a thirty foot pole while dizzy with drink. And in a weird sort of way I felt valued, in a way I wasn't valued in my day job. Some of it was fun. I always went home alone. Eventually someone fell in love with me. We had kids and are still together a decade on.
Whatever moral arguments councillors use as an excuse to close down strip clubs will always come across as spurious. Regardless of venue, be it club,or office, men will always objectify women when it suits them, and women will always use their sexuality to get what they want from men - we ladies make our own bed with that one. Preventing strip clubs from operating won't change that.
What my time taking my clothes off for money did, however, was enable me to bypass the expected and perfectly legal financial exploitation of my youth, and use my sadly waning looks and sociability to get myself on the property ladder, with a degree, and some work experience so that I could get on with the rest of my life. Many girls who work in strip clubs aren't so privileged, but I tell you what, most of them have their heads screwed on, and take the financial leg up that strip clubs can offer them in their youth to move on to bigger and better things when they can no longer exploit their youth and beauty.