Following weeks of visceral hearings and protests, Brett Kavanaugh was finally sworn in as a Supreme Court justice last Saturday. Like millions across this country and over the world, I found the events almost too overwhelming to grapple with. The Kavanaugh charade and the grim outcome of the process constituted a brutal assault on nearly every principle I hold dear. Like many, I feel enraged by the shamelessness and hypocrisy of senators. I am furious about the sham FBI investigation into the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh. I’m mind-blown by the fact that the man was confirmed before hundreds of thousands of documents were released about his time serving under President Bush, during which he allegedly facilitated illegal surveillance and torture. I replay in my head the blunt and unapologetic partisanship Kavanaugh exhibitedduring his testimony, and his vulgar, aggressive behaviour which, on its own, was enough to disqualify him not only as a Supreme Court judge but as any type of judge whatsoever.
And that doesn’t even begin to cover it. I am appalled that the president had the audacity to apologise to Kavanaugh on behalf of the people and present him as the victim of women. I’m sickened by the fact that during a rally last week he had mocked Dr. Ford, adding in a cheap theatrical bit that it is a dangerous time to be a man in this country (and that people cheered in response!). I’m tired of the Democrats’ nonexistent leadership—their lack of action and initiative. And that just opens up an entire pandora box of anger and frustration: what about the ‘grab ‘em by the pussy’ comment? How the hell did we forget about that? How can a criminal like Trump defend a punk like Kavanaugh and even be taken seriously? And what about his collusion with Putin and his tax fraud and the EPA going nuclear on the environment and the Muslim ban and separated migrant children and what the hell is even going on here anymore.
But in order to process and sift through the barrage of infuriating and terrifying news, I had to expand my gaze for a moment and try to understand what are some of the underlying issues which, in the midst of this chaos, we may fail to acknowledge.
I found that there were several layers worth examining. Focusing on the Kavanaugh issue, one of the main allegations directed at him, even before it turned out he’s a sexual predator, was his undeniable political bias. Many have been, rightfully, pointing fingers at the Republican establishment, blaming them for decades of packing the courts with conservative judges, which leads to a complete political imbalance in favour of the right. While this is true, one must think, what is the alternative? Packing the courts with liberal judges? Would it spawn a ‘fair’ judicial system? Or would it simply result in bias from the other direction? And so the real question is, under the current circumstances, when justices are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, can the Supreme Court truly fulfil its intended function? Can a judicial body that is so deeply entangled with politics be expected to constitute a neutral and impartial arbiter? The mere fact that justices are labeled as liberal and conservative is distorted and troubling in my opinion; that their judgement, for the most part, is predictable. Every judge should be considered a ‘swing vote’. Perhaps, then, the discussion more Americans should be having is how can they challenge and alter a judicial mechanism that proves so utterly dysfunctional.
Yet, if we expand our gaze even further, we come to realise there is a much more basic issue underlying all of this: the absurdity of a binary political system. People are complex beings, their opinions and beliefs vary on a wide range of issues. If we were to look carefully we’d realise that many registered Republicans identify with some ideals that are typically associated with the left, and vice versa. Yet, by maintaining a political system that divides people into two distinctive groups, we limit and stifle their power to engage in profound and critical analysis of events, forcing them to adhere to the role prescribed by their party and its professed principles (which usually serve the interests of the powerful and wealthy, not those of the people).
Human society isn’t as fragmented as we often perceive it to be. I truly believe that at the end of the day most of us share a common urge to live and prosper. Yet our failure to recognise this unity leads to the pain we experience. The election of Kavanaugh and the battle over it are, to a great extent, a result of a tribalist worldview according to which we must huddle under some form of leadership that would protect Us from the Other, forcing ourselves to align with an ideology or a political party that ultimately doesn’t reflect our true values and character. Deconstructing such separatist perceptions begins with personal introspection and soul-searching while trying to abandon a blind commitment to labels such as Republican and Democrat as we engage in conversation with one another. Ultimately, this conceptual, but not utopic, transformation could very well reflect the way people vote and, more crucially, the manner in which those who are voted in construct their political ideology.
Amid growing restrictions of women’s rights policies in Western democracies, moves made by ‘women’s rights’ organisations to shut down strip and lap dancing clubs around the U.K. are exposing the dangers of allowing exclusionary campaigns to influence local government policy. Sexual Entertainment Venues (SEV) licensing legislation differs throughout the U.K., but many local authorities are pressured by anti-stripping campaigns (under the general title of SWEFT, sex worker exclusionary radical feminism) to give way to the Nordic Model.
This model, some feminists argue, protects women from violence and poverty by criminalising those purchasing sex, rather than sex workers, and banning strip clubs allegedly increasing demand for this. Yet, in Ireland, the introduction of Nordic-style legislation with the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 has since seen increased crime and abuse reported by users of sex worker safety app, UglyMugs.ie, and the recent criminalisation of two vulnerable migrant female sex workers in Kildare, who were sentenced to nine months in prison. Many are quick to report on such matters as the latest schism in modern feminist thought, with an unbridled scepticism reserved for strippers’ views and lived experiences.
Comparatively few, however, seem as concerned with the hypocritical ethos of influential anti-sex work campaigners, as their refusal to engage with or ever set foot inside their workplaces compounds a willingness to overlook the autonomy and safety of dancers. One such group, Not Buying It, was revealed to have paid for male private investigators to enter Sheffield’s Spearmint Rhino and film dancers working semi or fully nude without their knowledge earlier this year. Apparently left with “no choice” but to resort to “drastic measures” to get the club’s SEV license revoked, Not Buying It, with Women’s Equality Party (WEP) Sheffield branch leader, Charlotte Mead, presented this to Sheffield City Council as evidence that a Nordic style ‘nil-cap’ policy on SEVs be should enforced.
Although the WEP has since declared it was not part of the sting, it nevertheless teamed up with the campaign to present footage drawing parallels to revenge porn as a misogynistic method used to intimidate, harass, and manipulate women. The argument that such tactics have any place in a feminist struggle against patriarchal oppression is an undoubtedly alarming one. A feminist trade-union representing sex workers alongside migrant, low-paid, and vulnerable workers, United Voices of the World, attested to this in its statement aligning the ‘harmful’ actions to the WEP’s “misguided campaign to abolish strip clubs for the imagined benefit of the women involved”.
Teela Sanders, Professor of Criminology at the University of Leicester and researcher on stripping and sex work, asserts that “other feminists doing this to women […] is as damaging as the misogynist policies found in other labour environments that the women’s movement has been working so hard against”. In turn, Sanders locates the “harmful speech, influence and actions by so-called women’s organisations” as reflecting a wider trend: “We see across the globe the stripping back of rights for women, most recently in the abortion laws in the U.S. What we see in the U.K. is feminist organisations attacking other women for the work they choose, under a range of circumstances and real-life options, to make a living from”.
Those campaigning for strip and lap dancing club closures insist strippers are treated solely as ‘sex objects’, that the choice of women to work in SEVs is mere ‘myth’ or illusion, and that these women are either victims or in denial of their circumstance. This “cowardly” approach, declares Sanders, whereby “sex workers, marginalised, stigmatised and sometimes vulnerable, are denied platforms to rebut claims of victimhood which many do not recognise as their experience”.
In Scotland, where the government considers stripping and lap dancing forms of ‘commercial sexual exploitation’, calls for a Scottish Model that criminalises sex work clients could gain greater influence over local legislation. In response to Glasgow City Council’s current consultation on SEV licensing, GMB Scotland deemed the process an “opportunity” for female strippers and sex workers to be heard by “a political establishment that, so far, has tried to exclude them from the conversation”. GMB Scotland Organiser, Rhea Wolfson, stresses that “the council must realise what is at stake here: hundreds of jobs in Glasgow could potentially be lost. The real consequences of ending club licences would be that workers no longer have access to their trade union and the industry would continue unregulated and underground”.
The refusal to listen to, engage with, or empower the legitimate concerns of strippers and lap dancers exposes the inherent hypocrisy, harm, and hierarchical control of anti-sex work campaigners. As the United Voices of the World (UVW) Union emphasises that “dancers are best placed to advocate for their own rights and safety at work” and GMB Scotland supports “the regulation of clubs with workers’ safety at the core of any regulatory scheme”, better ways to protect strippers are clearly to listen, respect, and support their own, self-led campaigns for workplace equality.
Indeed, often lost in a surge of dogmatic, sensationalised stances on the morality of sex work are solid suggestions as to how regulation could safeguard strippers from the precarity of working as self-employed while sometimes being expected to pay steep house fees to perform at their club of choice. Banning clubs completely limits any opportunity for the decriminalisation of sex work to be guided by strippers and their unions, shaped by experience, and vested in the interest of protecting dancers’ employment rights, job security, and safety above all else.