Sheffield Labour Students Protest Feminists in Support of Sex Industry Giant

Young women striking selfie-poses in a protest to support the sex industry makes attractive copy for papers. And that’s exactly what happened when a group of students came head-to-head with feminist campaigners at Sheffield town hall. The bloody knackered feminists who have worked for years to gather evidence to support their campaign to end stripping are not so concerned about presenting a photogenic tableau.

Feminists Campaigning Against Spearmint Rhino

Local papers were thrilled to have the chance to publish a photo of some apparently sexually liberated young women. Comments across social media predictably dismissed their feminist opponents as ‘jealous,’ ‘fat’ and ‘ugly.’ To my mind this serves to underline just how far we have to go and why there can be no equality between the sexes when women are reduced to the sexual playthings of men in strip clubs and brothels.

Despite the powerful testimony from ex-dancers about the dangerous and degrading nature of the business, despite the council’s Public Sector Equality Duty to consider how such decisions impact upon women, despite the meticulously compiled evidence of feminist campaigners, on 20th June 2018 Sheffield Council voted to grant the licence to Spearmint Rhino.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that the protesters waving placards in favour of the sex industry, including a number of men, ‘self-identified’ as feminist. I wasn’t surprised that most were university students. However, I was surprised when it became clear that most were members of the Labour Party, including a local councillor.

Alison Boydell, Spokeswoman for the feminist group Sheffield Not Buying It, is one of the women behind the campaign to oppose the licence. She explained “it is astonishing to see Labour arguing in favour of retaining a multi-national corporation which profits from women, who have no employment rights whatsoever, to be considered as ‘entertainment’ for sexually entitled men.”

Spearmint Rhino — Providers of Empowering Employment Opportunities

In an open letter to the council the protesters argued ‘Spearmint Rhino’s workers deserve agency over their bodies and economic security. We support their rights and freedom to choose.’ Many of the signatories appear to be privileged university educated men, none of whom will ever need to ‘choose’ to engage in what is euphemistically called ‘sex work.’

Sammy Woodhouse, a former entertainer who performed at Spearmint Rhino amongst other sexual entertainment venues has a somewhat different take. “Labour is claiming it’s a choice and empowering. It might be a choice for some but it is not empowerment. When we speak to children and ask them what they want to be when they’re older we encourage them to be a brain surgeon, a scientist or a nurse. Are they suggesting it’s ok to tell children to grow up and be a stripper because it’s empowering? No of course they wouldn’t as it’s exploitation.”

She continued “For decades Labour has known about child exploitation and turned a blind eye and they’re now doing it in adult exploitation. Would they encourage their child to do it? They are campaigning for men to have the right to buy a person for a hard-on and companies to cash in on it and then use the women as a scapegoat to call it ‘our choice’ It’s disgraceful.”

It is baffling to me how anyone could think campaigning for the right of men to see women strip is progressive or in any way aligned with the values of the Labour Party. Campaigning to support one of the world’s most powerful industries, an industry that is predicated on the desperation of women with too few choices, and the sexism of men who make the wrong choices, is the antithesis of socialism. To believe that ‘choice is empowering’ as sex industry protestor Labour Cllr Sophie Wilson apparently does, is to take a fundamentally neo-liberal stance, to believe that there is no such thing as society, just individuals making empowering choices. As one woman pithily remarked on twitter ‘privileged people wear their support of the sex industry like an edgy accessory.’

Image from ‘The Invisible Men Project’ documenting comments on Punternet

If socialism is about anything it is surely about fairness, and to reach a more equitable society it is vital that we do not pretend that everyone has the same choices. It is comforting to pretend that those in the sex industry could’ve been lawyers, doctors or teachers but it’s not true. That isn’t to suggest a lack of ability, just a lack of opportunity — a reflection of an unjust society. And let’s not forget, if ‘sex work’ was empowering rich white men would be fighting to swing round poles. To argue that the decision to enter the sex industry, be that stripping or prostitution, is made in a social vacuum is lazy, disingenuous and dangerous. Sheffield Labour Students need to do a lot more thinking and a little less posturing.

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