Iceland bans stripping

Via Little About:

Club owners in Iceland are looking at legal recourse following legislation banning stripping in clubs and bars in the north Atlantic nation.

The legislation presented by a member of the opposition demanding a ban on stripping in bars and clubs was passed March 23. This has invited sharp reactions from strip club owners who are looking into whether they can sue the state for compensation.

I haven’t seen the legislation itself, and probably couldn’t make much sense of it because a.) it would be in Icelandic, and I don’t speak Icelandic, and b.) I don’t speak Icelandic legalease. But none of the sites I’ve seen have indicated whether or not the bill specifically targets female strip-clubs, or if Chippendale-like establishements would be effected. (Assuming there are any.)

Anyway. Tracy Clark-Flory reacts:

This week, the Guardian bestowed Iceland with the title of “the world’s most feminist country” and declared it a top contender for “the most female-friendly country on the planet.” The entire planet. This high praise was inspired by the economically devastated country’s passage of a law banning businesses from making money off employee nudity. So, it’s buh-bye, strip clubs. 

Just last year, Iceland outlawed prostitution, and now it’s squelching “adult entertainment” entirely. (Apparently the near-bankrupt country isn’t buying the pop wisdom that the sex industry is recession-proof.) The politician behind the bill, Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir, explained: “It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold.” Johanna Sigurðardottir, Iceland’s prime minister — an openly gay politician, which is a first for a head of government — added: “The Nordic countries are leading the way on women’s equality, recognizing women as equal citizens rather than commodities for sale.”

What most impresses the Guardian’s Julie Bindel is that “the Nordic state is the first country in the world to ban stripping and lapdancing for feminist, rather than religious, reasons.” There is no question that Iceland has impressive feminist cred — nearly half of its lawmakers are ladies — but, forgive me, I’m hesitant to announce it the world’s most “feminist” and “female-friendly” country in response to a law prohibiting women from voluntarily taking off their clothes for money. It may not be a religiously motivated move, but it sure is a dogmatic one.

As does Feministe’s Jill:

While I like the idea of sending the message that women’s bodies aren’t for sale, I’m not sure this is the greatest way to do it. It seems less immediately problematic than outlawing paying for sex, primarily because prostitution bans drive sex work underground and put sex workers at risk. I don’t think there’s going to be an epidemic of underground strip clubs (although I’m sure there will be a few underground strip clubs), and I’m not sure that strippers will now face the kinds of immediate dangers that sex workers who sell sexual services negotiate every day.

Underground strippers probably will face dangers their legally-approved counterparts don’t. Some clubs employ bouncers to remove unruly drunks or men who make unwanted physical advances on dancers; it’s unclear whether or not illegal establishments would take the same precautions to protect their dancers if abuse victims are now afraid to go to the police. Anyway, Jill continues:

Stripping, for better or worse, is one of the better-paid jobs that low-skilled (and hey, sometimes high-skilled) female workers can get. And no, it’s not a sustainable career, and it’s a job that traffics in discrimination — it’s primarily for the young, the thin, the able-bodied, etc, and once you don’t fit into that framework it’s no longer an option.

Finally, Miriam from Feministing:

One thing missing from media coverage of the ban was the perspectives of the dancer’s themselves. Club owners were quoted, politicians, but no women actually employed by this industry in Iceland. That’s a big gap. They briefly mention in the Guardian piece that most of the workers were immigrants–that’s an important piece of the puzzle as well.Iceland and the press are claiming this as a feminist victory. I have to disagree.I don’t think banning strip clubs, or even sex work (which Iceland had previously banned), in the name of preventing the exploitation of women, works. History has shown us that criminalizing these industries simply drives them underground, where they continue to thrive, but with little regulation and definitely no protections for the workers. Instead workers are criminalized (often instead of the people seeking their services), which prevents them from seeking recourse for abuses they may face. Anyone looking for evidence of this can look to the United States and the sex work industry. The ban that exists in most of our country has not eliminated sex work. It’s driven it underground where the risks for the workers are much higher.

This is not a feminist victory.A feminist victory, in my opinion, would be a highly regulated industry that made sure dancer’s rights were protected. One where workers were paid good wages, were able to unionize, had full benefits, were able to set boundaries with customers and have those boundaries protected. One that ensured that these immigrant women were not being brought to Iceland against their will.A feminist victory would mean access to jobs and economic opportunity that meant women had options other than strip clubs and sex work if they so chose. We know that our current economic situation does not allow all people to have access to economic opportunity, meaning that sex work is not always a “choice.” But once again, driving the industry underground serves no one, and often harms the workers more than anyone.

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