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Image © Rebecca Snotflower

Image © Rebecca Snotflower

Strip off? No thanks

The proposed strip club in Claremont mobilises the local community to voice their objections. Xaverine Bates explores the pros and cons of such a venture in the heart of the America Ground, Hastings.

Adult entertainment venues, lapdancing clubs and strip clubs always evoke strong reactions from those for and against these establishments. The arguments in favour are usually that they are just a bit of harmless fun, that the women who work there do so of their own volition and are well paid, that the clients who pay to be entertained come out happy, so everyone’s a winner. Those who object tend to cite the objectification of the female body as the prime source of discontent underlying most forms of sexual entertainment, and that even if the women working there are treated well and do so voluntarily rather than through coercive means, they are simply victims of a sexist, patriarchal society which has misogynistic aims at its core. These arguments have been raising their provocative heads of late due to the application for a Sexual Entertainment Venue Licence at JD Bar in Claremont, objections for which were invited to be submitted by a deadline last month.

Last week’s Hastings Observer (5 April 2013) wrote about the ‘barrage of objections’ against the application for the licence, which will be considered by sub-committee at the Town Hall at 2.30pm on Thursday 18 April 2013. Bob Brown, Licensing Manager of Hastings Borough Council said, “We have received a large number of representations about this application… The legislation does not require Authorities to afford objectors a hearing, dealing with the matter by way of written submissions. However we have decided to hold a hearing for objectors and are inviting a limited number to speak.” Those invited include representatives from Bullet Coffee House, The White Rock Hotel and Councillor Judy Clark of Castle Ward forum. Many of these objections, which numbered over 120, were sent by local men and women representing local businesses and those involved with Hastings Women’s Voice, the Wonky WI and riart Grrrls – three organisations representing women’s interests and fighting against gender inequality in Hastings and St Leonards and beyond. 

So why do those local residents, who wrote to Mr Brown, find the prospect of a strip club in a prominent street close to the seafront objectionable? Ann Kramer, one of the committee members of Hastings Women’s Voice, said: “Women’s Voice exists to empower local women. We are absolutely opposed to this licensing application. We believe that it is not only inappropriate to have a strip club in the centre of Hastings near to the historic America Ground at a time when Hastings is putting itself forward as a City of Culture but also that the every existence of a strip club demeans women, by presenting women as purely sexual objects.”

As Ann says, first and foremost, the proposed strip club would be in the heart of the America Ground, a culturally significant area whose roots go back to the 13th century. The colourful and important history of this site is well documented, and events on the site, including America Ground Independence Day, are now a distinctive feature of Hastings’ cultural calendar. The area is also attracting a number of high quality businesses, such as the newly renovated Printworks at 14 Claremont, which houses a high-end B&B, an entertainment venue and a home décor shop; as well as Trinity Wholefoods, a long-standing health-food cooperative, which is a lifeline for the alternative consumers in the town and the Bullet Coffee House, a cosy respite on the corner of Robertson Street. The proposed adult entertainment venue would also be just a stone’s throw away from the new children’s library, work on which has already begun at 12 Claremont, a building which until recently formerly housing artists’ studios & creative businesses. Local charities, such as Activ8 on Trinity Street, which aims to encourage people from all parts of the community to nurture their own health and well-being through training and creative opportunities, is also just around the corner from the proposed club. Hastings Trust on Robertson Street is directly opposite and is an independent charity working for the people, heritage, economy, environment and future of Hastings. The positive and critical contribution of these charities to the community would undoubtedly be undermined by being in close proximity to the adult entertainment venue. 

The editorial in last week’s Hastings Observer (5 April 2013) said, “Councillors are not tasked to bring moral guidance or religious objections into their considerations. They are asked to find material reasons why this kind of establishment cannot be allowed to open.” In response to this, Vicki Duffy, owner of the Bullet Coffee House told me, “I am vehemently against it, as it is the location which is inappropriate. I don’t hold any moral issues with people who want to spend their money at a lapdancing club, and we have lived as a trader alongside another lapdancing club around the corner successfully for a number of years. The fact is that it would change the fabric of the whole area and the location is simply inappropriate. No trader has ever made a complaint in relation to the other lapdancing venue because they’re located discretely: no one would know they were there unless they were seeking that kind of entertainment. I’m happy for people to do that, but not in the highly visible, prominent location next to the library and opposite the church: they do not complement each other. Those in favour cannot argue that there is not a tipping point between the type of business that we run and a lapdancing club and legal high shops and that they will not impact on their local environment for the first point of entry to the town centre. It would be a belisha beacon to new visitors, whose decisions to come into the area would clearly be impacted by its inappropriate location.”

Allowing an adult entertainment venue in this area would therefore demean and trivialise the cultural and business importance of the site and the cultural weighting would tip from being artistically sensitive to something decidedly more seedy, creating a triangle between the strip club and the growing number of alternative shops, such as Substance and Skunkworks on Robertson Street. The  latter sells ‘legal highs’ such as salvia divinorum, benzo fury and AMT which some claim are ‘research chemicals’ or ‘legal highs’ but which, according to shop manager Jay Tregear in an interview on Hastings Local Radio, are “for sale but not for human consumption”. Furthermore, for those clients who would like to visit a strip club, such an establishment already exists nearby, namely Club XS, just around the corner at Prospect Place. Two strip clubs within such close proximity will only increase the number of punters in the area and increase the danger to women walking the streets at night.

According to OBJECT, a human rights organisation which challenges ‘sex object culture,  a culture in which women are increasingly objectified as sex objects in our media and everyday lives, it is well established that the overwhelming portrayal of women as sex objects in society plays a role in maintaining inequality between women and men. This has been recognised at the international level by the United Nations’ Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which calls on States to take decisive action to tackle objectification, which it links to stereotypes and prejudices based on gender. CEDAW has since repeatedly identified the links between the portrayal of women as sex objects by the media and sex industry with attitudes that underpin violence and discrimination against women. Our local MP Amber Rudd said in a letter to me, “the establishment of such a facility is not suitable for the Hastings area, owing to the demeaning manner in which women and their bodies are treated in such clubs.”

So which kind of America Ground would you prefer to see: the sensitively renovated Trinity Triangle with The Printworks, Trinity Wholefoods and Bullet Coffee House at its vertices? Or an altogether seedier version, with an establishment glorifying the objectification of women’s bodies at its uppermost, highly visible and most publicly prominent tip. Let’s hope those councillors involved in the hearing by sub-committee at the Town Hall on 18 April 2013 will choose the former.

For updates on this campaign, join riart Grrrls on facebook.

Posted 22:38 Tuesday, Apr 9, 2013 In: Campaigns

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