April 2, 2010
If you’re planning that big trip to Iceland (and let’s face it, who isn’t?) you may want to hold off on that money you were hoping to spend on the strip clubs and maybe a hooker or two. Iceland just passed legislation banning all strip clubs and prostitution, or, as The Guardian reported, the law will “make it illegal for any business to profit from the nudity of its employees.”
Regular readers are probably already bracing themselves for the religious or child-protection logic behind Iceland’s decision, but here’s where the story gets a little strange. The Icelandic Parliament, which is roughly one third female, passed the law for feminist, not religious, reasons. The rationale behind the decision came about because strip clubs are apparently fronts for prostitution rings and the women who come in to work often do so against their will. Even more significant, according to a 2007 poll, “82% of women and 57% of men support the criminalisation [sic] of paying for sex – either in brothels or lapdance [sic] clubs – and fewer than 10% of Icelanders were opposed.”
A lot of people are calling this a massive step forward in feminism.
Then again, others, like myself, think this is one of the dumber things Iceland could have done. I’ve talked with female friends about this, and many of us seem to come to the same conclusion.
What is feminism? I define it as the movement or philosophy that women are equal to men and entitled to the same freedoms, opportunities, and protections. That’s the definition I’m using for this article. Given that, is banning the sex industry a step backward?
Is Morgan Freeman the voice of God?
Let’s look at the drug trafficking angle, which on the surface looks like the easiest to hold up as a reason for this law. Whatever you may think about drugs, whether they should be legal or banned, shutting down places where they get distributed is not going to make them go away. It’s a terrible idea. It hasn’t worked in the US. We’re losing the War on Drugs. If you found out that someone was selling drugs in a parking lot, you wouldn’t ban parking lots. All this law will do, if the strip clubs actually sell drugs, is drive the trafficking underground. If they were serious about getting rid of drugs, they would find out WHY people took them and what could be done to negate that need. I hate to break it into numbers, but it’s simple supply and demand.
However, the biggest reason, the one being touted the world over, is that this will protect women from exploitation. Steinunn Valdis Oskarsdottir, a Social Democrat MP who supported the ban, said:
Women who work at strip clubs are in many cases the victims of human trafficking and other kinds of abuse […] I have been working in this field for almost 15 years and not yet have I met one woman who dances at strip clubs because she wants to.
Someone’s working at a job they don’t like? Join the club. We meet at the bar.
I’m not trying to be insensitive. I know that there’s a good chance some women are being forced to sell their bodies like this and dance when they don’t want to, but the fundamental argument is flawed. What about women who DO want to dance for money? What about women who can make a living performing in the sex industry and could have assurances through government regulation that they would remain healthy and safe?
A friend pointed out that this is exploiting women because they are selling themselves. That’s true IF you draw a distinction between selling your mind and selling your body and make one more disgusting than the other. Women, she said, are more often the subject of these kinds of industries, and she’s right. Men are statistically more likely to buy pornography and go to erotic shows. Does that mean we’re exploiting women?
Yes, in the sense that I too sell my mind whenever someone pays me to write something I don’t like. I once edited a novel that touched upon religious concepts and philosophies that I found not only highly illogical, but also narrow-minded. However, that was the job and I proofread the novel. I whored my brain. What about a man who gets a job in construction or doing heavy labor because men typically have stronger upper bodies? Is that exploiting men?
I can already hear the objections from some of you.
“But it’s not the same! These women are dancing around naked or having sex! That’s not the same as working in McDonald’s and not liking it! It’s not the same as using your strength for a job! It’s not the same as just having a crappy job!”
I understand. It’s not a perfect analogy, but the point I want to make is this. What is the fundamental difference between using your body to earn a living and using your mind? If a woman is lucky to be born with a good looking-body, good features, and she likes dancing, what is to prevent her from supplying and meeting demand? There are women who enjoy that kind of work. Even without nudity, some women enjoy and find artistic merit in using their bodies to arouse and explore sexuality.
It’s also strange how you can’t pay a stranger to have sex, but you can buy a video of two adults having sex (for which they were paid), but that’s another article.
I hate to break it to you, but many, many, MANY people work at jobs they don’t like or don’t want. Some jobs are downright degrading. No one says they want to work at a drive-thru when they grow up. No one wants to be a server on a busy night when all the patrons are having fun and then leave a pathetically calculated tip. I’m sure no one says they’d like to work cleaning septic tanks.
But guess what? That’s the nature of jobs. Should we ban McDonald’s because people work there who don’t like it but need it? For some women, stripping and prostitution might be the only job they can get. Or it may be the one that pays the most for them. If Iceland really wanted to help these women, they should have proposed laws to REGULATE the industries. Pass it through the department of health or whatever agency is similar. This is about keeping them safe and giving them a choice.
Maybe it’s not the choice that you or I would make, but it’s their choice, at least for some of them, and the Icelandic government hasn’t as of this writing, put forth evidence to justify their reasons. If these women can be guaranteed safety through regulation or other means, and if they can make a living, is it really that wrong?
I want to hear what you have to say on this. Most of the readers, at least based on Facebook activity, are female, so what do you think? Is this a step forward for women? Is Iceland reacting too harshly to the perception of strip clubs and prostitution, and do you think government regulation would be a better choice?
As with every other post on this site, you can comment below. I look forward to hearing what you have to say.
By the way, the article’s alternate title was “Outlaw Areolae.”