Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Objectification Conspiracy – Part 2

For Object, the world that they view must seem a terrifying and confusing place. They believe that lapdancing and striptease clubs create’no-go zones for women’ where the possibility of being sexually assaulted by club customers is inordinately high. Object have stated that what goes on inside clubs amounts to ‘sexual abuse’. So the key questions for Object must be…

If these places are so bad, why do women choose to work in them?

How can the dancers justify making a living by putting other women in danger?

The answers lies in the intellectually seductive arena of the conspiracy theory. Lets reconsider something that I wrote in first part of this essay.

‘First conspiracy theories claim to explain what academic or state sponsored research cannot. They appear to make sense out of a world that is appears confusing and contradictory’.

Here Object have the answer, their own research and maybe things such as The Lilith Report provide the answer. The women are actually forced, maybe by being trafficked or by economic circumstances.

There is an issue here though. To my knowledge, there has never been a single instance of a trafficked girl working in a lap dancing or strip tease club. In fact I would venture to say that such a thing is impossible, given that passport details must be provided to the club owner before anyone can work there and that local authority licensing departments check these details on a regular basis. But nonetheless, Object have built a campaign out of the Lilith Report and seven dancer testimonials.

Second, they (conspiracy theories)  do so in an appealingly simple way, by dividing the world sharply between good and evil. They trace all evil back to a single source, the conspirators and their agents’.

The evil conspirators are of course the patriarchy and their agents in this instance are of course lap dancing club owners, those that facilitate the ‘sexual abuse’ and ‘objectification’ of women. It really is binary for Object, all clubs are places of evil, all club owners are perpetrators of evil and the dancers are forced or maybe even too mentally ill to understand what is going on and need help, but most importantly, can safely be ignored if they protest at club closures and job losses. Its for their own good you see....

This binary approach is critical, as far as the activists are concerned there can never be any such thing as a well run club or a happy dancer. On this basis Object can justify to themselves their aim of closing every club in Britain.

‘Third, conspiracy theories are often presented as special, unique insight unknown or unappreciated by others’.

It was Object that stated that lap dancing was the cause of widespread social evil and they have being doing this since 2003. The thing is that venues with female nudity have existed in Soho since the 1950s and across the country since the late 1960’s. If clubs are vectors of criminality and objectification, how come no one else noticed this before? Very capable minds have spent much time looking at crime and the causes of crime, but no one before Object ever linked for example incidences of sexual assault to strip clubs.

So forgive me if I cast doubt on the idea that Jeremy Coutinho, Sasha Rakoff and Sandrine Leveque were sitting round a kitchen table over a bottle of Chardonnay, when Jeremy jumped up and said…

“….Its these damn lap dancing clubs, it has to be! Why has no one else noticed this before? Lets start a campaign group…..”

So Object must feel they are very special, because they did see a link that could form the basis of a campaign. It was only then a matter of time before they produced collateral in the form of dancer testimonies and of course the Lilith Report with its famous assertion that since clubs had opened in Camden, incidences of rape had increased by 50%.

So for Object things were very straightforward. They had identified the need in society, that is the incidence of rape and clubs being vectors of objectification that must be stopped. They sell themselves as the feature or the answer to the problem with their hidden knowledge and insight on prohibition and the benefit is course that when the last club is closed, sexual assault and domestic violence will almost cease.

The problem for Object was that despite getting the law changed, things have not been quite as straightforward as they would have liked, because four important developments took place... 

The First Important Development - Lilith Was Found To Be Flawed…

The first stumbling block was the demolition of the Lilith Report by Dr Brooke Magnati, someone that can use a calculator to present accurate percentages and with a good understanding of statistical analysis and able to rationally explore the relationship between cause and effect.

There is a problem however, or at least a 'get out' for third wave feminists. You see Dr Magnati is also Belle du Jour and therefore her analysis was not taken seriously by activists. In fact, many felt that Magnatis analysis was rubbish and an inevitable reponse from someone they viewed as being an integral part of the 'sexual abuse; industry. Have a look at the two frame grabs below, taken from the 'F Word' in response a review of Dr Magnatis recent book, 'Sexonomics'.

Is 'invisiblising' a word?
How dumb are these people? Or more appropriately, how dumb do they think we are?

'Lucie' can ignore the evidence, because the person doing the calculations is a 'rape apologist' and basically would say that kind of thing.

'Jane Osmond' boasts that she 'actually went and read' the report, almost implying that she has chosen to ignore other bodies of work that go against the grain of her beliefs and then states that it is 'academic-lite'. 

Well in my world it doesn't take a hundred pages to disprove shoddy thinking and bad maths.

Magnatis analysis focussed on the reports mathematical errors, mistakes that undermined its fundamental premise. Furthermore, Magnati went on to illustrate that incidences of rape actually fell in Camden to below the national average. The source of the statistics was the Metropolitan Police, who tend to be good at recording crimes. But even in this there is a contrary view that allows prohibitionists to ignore Dr Magnatis work...

In the view of 'theadorajean', the incidences of rape didn't reduce, they simply were not reported because the clubs in Camden created a zone of objectification where rape is just something that happens.

Brooke Magnati didn't 'think' that rape rates fall when lap dancing clubs are introduced. That was never her view point, bit its interesting to note the prohibitionists skewed viewpoint. Magnati merely pointed out that incidences of rape had reduced after the publication of Lilith. But phrasing things in this way, undermines the Magnati report and makes other, more opened minded people less likely to take it seriously and read it and most importantly, decide for themselves.

I suppose what I am trying to say that sums add up the same way, irrespective of who is doing the calculations. This is statistics, not quantum mechanics and the presence and nature of the observer does not affect the outcome.

It was this unwillingness of people such as 'Lucie' and 'Jane Osmond' to believe in contrary viewpoints that lead me to the issue of‘ 'confirmation bias'. 

Confirmation bias is a tendency of people to favour information that confirms their beliefs and discount that which challenges them. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs and third wave feminists do seem to be deeply committed to their belief that clubs cause untold harm. We have seen that criticism of Lilith has brought a generally negative response from Object and its activists.

Confirmation bias, Object and Lilith go hand in hand with other factors as well...

We have Belief Perseverance, where beliefs persist after the evidence for them is shown to be false and lets face it, Lilith is still quoted today.

There is also The Irrational Primacy Effect, where a greater reliance is placed on information encountered early in a campaign and lets face it, Lilith is quoted today.

We can also look at Illusory Correlation, which is where people falsely perceive an association between two events or situations, such as sexual assault and clubs, as sold to us by the Lilith report, which by the way is still quoted today.

The Second Important Development - Academics Started Getting Involved….

Dr Teela Sanders of Leeds University published some research that showed lap dancing and lap dancers in a more objective manner. You can find it here. The press got hold of it and numerous newspapers published articles that commented on the percentage of lap dancers that were graduates. Dr Sanders was not very popular with Object for her work. In fact, an Object activist apparently sent Dr Sanders a letter an excerpt of which is below….

Dear Dr Sanders,

I was really saddened and angry to read the newspaper articles which had picked up on your 'research' into lapdancing and, to some extent, manipulated it to suit their own purposes. I do feel that it is irresponsible of you to allow your research to be presented in this misleading way - I note that you only interviewed 300 women in two cities in Britain - hardly a conclusive piece of research in terms of numbers or location.

I would also argue that what appears to be qualitative research can hardly be applied on a national, (let alone global) scale and that your statistical findings mean the articles fail to explore any causal relationship between women with degrees becoming lapdancers and society at large or indeed, the assertation that, 'the majority of lapdancers' (which should read 'the majority of the 300 lapdancers interviewed in two British cities') saying they 'enjoy' their work. WHY these women now SAY they enjoy a job which effectively reduces them to a sexual object, is far more important than a set of statistics.

I intend to make this letter the subject of a future posting, but for now lets look at in the context of confirmation bias.

Do you notice how the word research has been punctuated? In this way the writer implies that she does not consider the work to be research at all. It is also interesting to see how the writer tries to disparage Dr Sanders, but actually ends up doing the very same thing to Object. Dr Sanders interviewed 300 people and apparently it is ‘hardly conlusive’. Yet Objects campaign was in part based upon interviews with seven dancers. If 300 is 'hardly conclusive', 7 is utterly meaningless. Finally the capitalisation of the word ‘say’ in the final paragraph implies that the people being interviewed were in fact telling lies when they stated that enjoyed their jobs.

Brooke Magnatis work was easy for the prohibitionist to discount, they had as the basis for their view that Dr Magnati was Belle Du Jour. Dr Sanders is a well respected academic and undoubtably Object viewed her paper as a trespass upon their territory.

Sorry, who are the 'ignorant privileged again? Pot - Kettle scenario I think....
Its great to see that the first comment from the compilation above is in denial about dancer job satisfaction and academic credentials. Later we see that Dr Sanders is wrtten off a 'misogynist' rent a quote and finally we see the favoured justification for being intellectually blinkered, that Dr Sanders has a 'vested interest'.

Remember that conspiracy theorists present their ideas ‘as special, unique insight unknown or unappreciated by others’. The last thing any of the prohibitionists wanted was an academic weighing in with their views. It might spoil the party....

Some work conducted in the 1960s suggested that people, perhaps unsurprisingly are innately biased towards confirming their existing beliefs. Some later reassessment concluded that people have a tendency to test ideas in a one-sided way, focusing on one possibility and ignoring alternatives. But why is this the case?

Some explanations for the observed biases include wishful thinking, which is truly terrifying because it raises the possibility that Object decided at an early point in their campaign that sexual assault and rape as well being awful crimes, were handy tools to use in their campaign against clubs.

Another explanation is that people show confirmation bias because they are weighing up the costs of being wrong, rather than investigating in a neutral, objective manner way. I think this is the more likely of the two causes. I think that at a board level, Object realised some time ago that their campaign was doomed to fail and that furthermore it had no basis in fact. The problem of course is that a number of groups, such as the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation have given Object considerable funding to fight their campaign. Anna Van Heeswijk and the gang can hardly turn around now and say that they were wrong.

No, the show must go on because if it doesn’t, funding may prove hard to come by in the future.

The Third and Most Important Development - Dancers Started to Protest…

We have seen in recent years, increasing levels of dancer lead and supported activism.

From the demonstration in Hackney to Dancers Speak Out in Tower Hamlets and in a small way, even this blog. It is not easy when the people start to protest against you, but here prohibitionists have the answer, as is illustrated in the frame grab below.

So you see dancers are guilty of 'thought crime'.....
In the above terrifying posting from The Guardian, we see the writer justify ignoring the protests of dancers on the basis that they are so traumatised that they don't know how traumatised they are. In other words, people that disagree with us are crazy. In a previous posting I wrote that the ideas expressed by Imbo were frightening and almost Catch 22 like. This brings me to the fourth and final development..

Fourth - The Public Started to Resist as Well

Maddie made a comment about Imbos idea about ignoring dancers because of their state of mind. I have reproduced the full comment below...

The Catch-22 reference says it all. It is quite terrifying that some feminists are now resorting to this tactic in order to discredit the valid views of the dancers. I am not a feminist. The important work done in the past to get laws changed and ensure equal gender rights means I don't have to be, and credit to the women who fought for generations to ensure I can live and work in a world where I won't be penalised for my gender.

Unfortunately the post-feminist society seems to offer no focus for those who still want to fight some sort of personal moral crusade against men, and they are now turning inwards and attacking other women who choose to work in a profession that feminists deem to be morally corrupt. (I may begin suggesting that the opinions of feminists fighting against strip clubs are highly suspect because so many are clearly in denial of the effect they are having on other women's livelihoods and therefore they can't really call themselves feminists.)

I'm also not a dancer, but I have friends who are, and friends who aren't dancers but also have friends who are, and other friends who are feminists but still have no problem with dance clubs. There are layers upon layers of women who don't feel threatened by dance clubs, don't go to them but know someone who does, or someone who works in one, and generally see them as a place of entertainment, expression and enjoyment that we are all free to work in if we CHOOSE to. I have a really good friend who has a pole in her dining room for exercise purposes. If she chooses to dance in a provocative manner in her own home for a man, if that subjugating her? I'd like to see a member of Object or the Solent Feminist Network suggest that to her, because she also used to be a champion kick-boxer and worked as nightclub security for years (the joys of equality).

It's the voices of women like her, as well as those of the dancers, that are starting to be heard now, and starting to threaten the current feminist campaign against other women's jobs. The work Object do to protect women from domestic violence and other obvious violations is clearly worthwhile, but this campaign against dance clubs is deplorable and disgusting to all level headed clear thinking women the world over, and Object need to be held accountable for the women they are putting out of work.

I have little doubt that prohibitionists would say that the above comment was probably made by a dancer (it was not) and therefore can be ignored. In fact I have been accused as being a club owner (which I am not) and that is used a white wash to justify ignoring the ideas expressed in this blog. 

Throughout the land, members of the public are starting to resist Object and its activists and surely this is a good thing, after all it is only local democracy in action, something that Object are very keen on.

In this essay we have looked at how Object and other prohibitionists have essentially sold us a conspiracy, a nice easy to understand model that justifies the campaign. We have also seen how opposing opinions are ignored with groundless assertions about motivation so as to ensure the activists do not have to consider troubling matters, such as the consequences of their actions.

Object must find the resistance expressed to their campaign to be shocking and surprising. After all, remember they 'explain what academic or state sponsored research cannot', in fact its obvious that they are right because the issue is simply a battle 'between good and evil', and do not forget that Object have a 'special, unique insight unknown or unappreciated by others’.

When I was in my teens, I had the luxury of seeing the world in black and white and that made my life easy. Group A were always right and Group B were always wrong. I didn't have to think too hard as there no troubling shades of gray in the landscape. Then one something happened. I realised that in fact for every issue there are a thousand shades of grey between black and white, between right and wrong and as a result life was no longer quite so straightforward.

What happened to make me see things so differently?

I grew up.

Maybe Object and its activists can try and do the same, but somehow I doubt it.

About Part Three

John Berlet and Mathew Lyons have published studies of conspiracy groups and stated that , "Conspiracism is a particular narrative form of scapegoating that frames demonized enemies as part of a vast insidious plot against the common good, while it valorizes the scapegoater as a hero for sounding the alarm".

Many of us have noted that over the past few years, there has been an increasing level of hatred directed at dancers in the media and other channels. In the third and final instalment of this essay, lets have a look at what is being done and examine what drives it.


  1. Just to pick up on the 7 dancers, in fact it is only 4 dancers, two girls who had trust issues with their partners (one was an incident in Australia) and finally a Working Girl with anecdotally comments. So instead of 300 dancers Object quote 4. Really valid research!

    1. Oh, but most of the 300 dancers in the Leeds survey were obviously suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, so we discount their opinions! ;-)

  2. TonyN thank you for that. It just shows how weak their argument always was. But the implication that the dancers are too mentally ill to know how mentally ill they are worries me deeply. What happens to dissidents in China, they tend to end up in prison or mental hospitals 'for their own good'.

    Liberal fascism is very scary stuff.

  3. So you think that lap dancing etc. are empowering, not objectifying? I wonder why men haven't found about that.