The news last week that Iceland has passed legislation banning strip clubs in the country was met with news outlets claiming this makes Iceland the “most female-friendly country in the world.”
The move was promoted as a law motivated by feminism, not religion, as these types of laws often are. Iceland also boasts an openly lesbian Head of State.
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.
So sorry Iceland, I commend you for elevating women to elected office, but this piece of your work is not a victory for my vision of feminism.