Rebecca Lowe was Parliamentary Candidate for the City of Durham at the 2015 General Election.
I’ve never been interested in male strippers. You know, going to those events — hen parties, and the like — at which a group of friends pays some professional guy in a flimsy fireman’s outfit to dance around or whatever. It’s not that I’m not interested in the male body. It’s just that I’m not interested — outside of, say, going to the ballet or figurative art exhibitions — in paying someone to show me theirs.
Also, I’m not a fan of single-sex groups and organisations. You wouldn’t catch me at a “women in politics” networking lunch, or a female-only gym. Sure, I get how such things can help certain people, gradually, to integrate into wider social sets — and I see the benefits of that. I just don’t want to do it, myself.
But I’m a libertarian.
Ok, you think, where are we going here?
To the Presidents Club dinner, and its aftermath. We’ve all read the Financial Times report: undercover journalist reveals that women hostesses were groped at men-only charity dinner. Many people have commented since — men showing shock and sympathy, women showing shock and sympathy, men showing frustration and indignation, women… Yes, it’d be easy to be the woman finishing off that list.
I’d rather wait for the day when we don’t have to divide things up on gender terms, however. Plus, anyone indiscriminately equating the unsettling subject matter of the FT report to the mess that is identity politics as a whole is missing the value of a few story-specific points.
To my mind, those points are mainly related to labour rights, sexual assault, and the freedom of association.
First, the women in question were hired to do a job. They were (presumably) paid for having done it. But most of us would agree that fair treatment regarding employment should include other considerations beyond recompense. Were the women told in advance entirely what the job would entail? And did their employers then ensure that that was all that happened? Were the women paid a going rate for those duties, in full? Indeed, is there a going rate for such a job — in which hostessing includes wearing a prescribed colour of underwear, and, apparently, also includes allowing people attending the event to hold your hand and/or other parts of your anatomy?
It seems relevant to note that we have strip clubs in this country. And that we have prostitution of various kinds. Strip clubs are legal (again, I don’t know the ins and outs: are special licences given to clubs that charge people to touch consenting strippers? Is that how it works? Or are licenses given on the understanding that the punters are just supposed to watch?). And prostitution is legal, here, too (that is, sole-trading prostitution in private is, but owning a brothel, etc, is not).
So, along those lines, it would seem consistent for it to be legal to hold private parties at which people were paid to be groped — as long as a licence was first sought and granted, not least so it could be ensured that “groped” was sufficiently well defined (and was deemed to be something for which consent could be given in advance), and that that was indeed part of the professional duty of the people employed. (The problems you face for wanting to pay your workers…)
But, of course, none of that would excuse events at which non-consensual groping took place. Gropers at those events — like, it is alleged, the Presidents Club dinner – should clearly be prosecuted on the grounds of sexual assault. That, and more, should go without saying, so we’ll move on from it now.
Then we come to freedom of association, and, specifically, to whether single-sex events or clubs should be allowed. To my mind, John Locke et al were spot on when they said that all men were born free and equal (obviously, I’m taking “men” to include women, here). And, as I’ve written before on many occasions, I don’t buy those arguments about essential — as opposed to societally-influenced — differences between people based solely on their gender (aside from a few biological no-brainers: sure, maybe women tend to be a bit more nurturing, given that they’re the ones who give birth; sure, men tend to be taller and stronger).
No matter how much I want us not to treat each other differently based on gender, however, that doesn’t mean that I want all-male gatherings to be prohibited by law. Because this is where we come back to my point about being a libertarian. I don’t want to go see strippers — but I don’t want the state to prevent you from doing so, if you want to. And I don’t want to go to an all-female dining club — but I certainly don’t want the state to ban them. To go even further, and not that it’s anything to do with me, I think I’d rather you chose not to see strippers, too. (After all, many people working in those industries are doing so as a result of exploitation, or as a last resort following long-term hardship.) And I’d be happier if you chose to hang out with people regardless of their gender.
But I don’t want the state to be involved, except where it really has to.
Call me a prat for being honest about these things. Call me a prude. Don’t call me an authoritarian, however, because you’d be missing the point. You can have all kinds of moral objections to something, and still think it shouldn’t be against the law. And, similarly, there are all kinds of non-state freedom-reducing powers out there that we libertarians should be worried about, too — such as oligopolies, and powerful bosses exploiting vulnerable workers. It’s because of cases like those that the state sometimes has to step in and regulate to protect. And, because I’m not an anarchist (I appreciate the necessity and benefits of living in a state), then until those people grow up and choose to treat others as free and equal fellow citizens, I guess that regulation has to be ok with me.
It’s not just that this stuff isn’t black and white. It’s about so much more than shades of grey.