Reposting a message from Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women www.gaatw.org:
Dear Members and Friends,
The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) is launching an international Art Action contest titled Rights! Art! Action!
Almost without exception anti-human trafficking campaigns have used words and images of violence, distress and horror to draw people's attention and provoke them into taking action. All too often we have shown women's fearful faces and crouching bodies. And yet many times we have been concerned with the ethics and voyeurism of those depictions.
We think it is time to move beyond images of victimhood and vulnerability. We invite you to draw on visual imagination and rights affirming politics, to create empowering images with strong messages. Take up the challenge, think creatively to show the strength and agency of women.
Who: Human rights advocates from around the world.
What: You can submit paintings, photographs, posters, drawings, banners ... or any kind of visual art. Email us the photograph of your entry.
Please be sure to fill in a submission form and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Prize: A roundtrip ticket to Bangkok and entry into GAATW's international members' congress in July 2010. Selected submissions will be displayed at the congress.
When: Deadline is 20 February 2010. Winners will be announced on 8 March 2010 We need your help to find ground-breaking, positive and inspirational visual representations that depict the strength and agency of women.
I made it to Iceland before the nationwide crash, although I was there to witness the micro-crash--the caving in of my club. The misfortunes of 'Club B'Iceland's First Stripclub were heralded by the arrival of two burly thugs who marched in a few hours into a Thursday night, spat out something incomprehensible, sent the manager running away and forced the club to a halt.
"Get out of here" the house mom insisted, sensing violence.
She took Chantal and I--the only two dancers she liked--for a drive through Reykjavik, ending at a different club, where she advised we might think about working. I never asked who the thugs were and why they had chased us out of Club B. It didn't really matter. It closed soon after.
I decided to go to Guam while smoking opium by the Mekong River in Laos. I had come to South-East Asia to break from my increasingly toxic lifestyle in Tokyo. Erika had been there for two months already, mostly alone on a Thai island, she had been working in Tokyo for even longer than me and I suspect had hurt herself more there, she needed the time away. We reconnected on a sultry evening mid December in Bangkok, she received me with an embrace and I felt as if I had been pulled from a car-wreck. She examined the damage thoroughly, my face was swollen, my eyes sunken, for myself I felt that my body was screaming; it was used, hurt, broken. I had had a lot of fun in Tokyo but what had I done to myself? We stayed in Bangkok only to see Christmas through, which she, an Israeli,threw herself into celebrating with far more enthusiasm than I. Boxing Day we took a bus up to Laos. The next few weeks were a cloud of opium, rivers, temples, smiles, singing voices, yoga, hash milkshakes and, disappointingly, Friends episodes. At some point I decided I’d go work in Guam, I already had the information, I knew that they would pay for my ticket, give me a place to live and a salary, rationalizing it as a paid vacation, I decided I had nothing to lose. The club manager had never answered my emails requesting an address to mail my stripper clothes to, so recklessly I packed them in my suitcase and strolled up to customs with them anyway. The officer eyed me suspiciously--looking back it must have been obvious--but it was late at night, she looked tired, so she told me that it was my lucky day and let me through anyway. I called the manager and got a message telling me that she was in California for the next few days, which left me alone in the airport with only the name of the club I was supposed to be working at. I went outside to look for a taxi, there was only one car there out of which I watched a hulking, tattooed Chamorro get out, he turned out to be the club’s bouncer sent to the airport to pick me up. I was received warmly by the club owner, an energetic Chinese man whose short temper and fury I would not have guessed at in that moment. After welcoming me and gathering that I had no desire to work that night, he produced a roll of bills from his breast pocket and slid one in to the bouncer’s hand ordering him to take me out to eat. The single bill would easily have covered more than the Denny’s Grand Slam breakfast I was treated to but I kept quiet. The conversation over the meal concerned the bouncer’s recent jail time and trouble with the ex wife, his responses to questions about the club were minimal--besides letting me know that I needed to get a tan. I met my roommates the next day, one heavily tattooed woman who had not been as lucky as I at customs; she had been found in possession of a crack pipe and was unable to leave the island due to jail time, court proceedings and rehab. The other roommate was quiet--sweet but very paranoid. We were a small group of dancers at the club and while there was never any shortage of drama, we were quite close. I went to Guam with the intention of having a paid vacation and that is how I treated it, I made money but not as much as I would expect nowadays, I was lazy and confused, it was my first time working in the American system, in Japan the Mama-San seats you with the customers, you do not approach them yourselves, this took some time and reluctance on my part in overcoming.
Many years ago I travelled to Japan and accidently became a hostess. Not so many years ago I went back to Japan to be a hostess again, arriving this time in a dimmer Tokyo picking up the dregs of a recession and the slashing of the expense accounts that had fed me a few years earlier. I wasn’t going to get rich hostessing this time around. After being fired by two clubs for not getting enough dohans, and then suffering through three weeks at one of the worst clubs on the block–-run by a megalomaniac ex-boy band manager and a mama who made us wear her old dresses then accused us of tearing them because we were all so fat --I did the sensible thing and started at a strip club instead.
I though this was pretty interesting: me working at a strip club, who would have thought? I couldn’t wait to email my friends back in the UK with the news. I was pretty gutted by the reaction. Talking about stripping lost me friends, set me up for derision, concern, and anger that I was selling out women. Stripping hurts all of us, I was told.
There is much to say about coming out as a stripper, but in my case what intrigues me is the comparison to the disclosure of my first foray into nightwork/sex work/adult entertainment, whatever you want to call it (I like the Japanese term mizu-shobai—“water trade”--its fits me because that’s where I got my feet wet.)
The first time I went to Japan and got a job as a hostess my stories were received with fascination, excitement and questions from my friends about how they could get such a job. Huge contrast to how the same people reacted when I told them I was a stripper. Now of course hostessing and stripping occupy quite different places within the sex industry. You might say that hostessing barely belongs there at all in that there is no inherent nudity or real/simulated sex involved. However the basis of my friends’ concerns (whose innocent minds didn’t know about lap dances--they thought that stripping just meant prancing around topless) seemed to be that I was setting women back by catering to men…and so on… Much of their concern could have equally been directed at my hostessing years before, but it wasn’t.
Example: In the strip club I undress for customers who don’t have to go through the standard courtship. Regardless of any lack of social graces, or hygiene, all they have to do is pull their wallet out. In the hostess club a customer asks for me--through the request system (shimei)--or I am told by a manager--through the rotation system--to sit with him and drink together. I do so and it is expected that I will not refuse, no matter how rude or repulsive he may be. Which is what ultimately convinced me to stay at the strip club and not go back to the hostess bar. In the strip club I worked for myself, the club did not give me an hourly wage and so was not in the position to tell me whom to sit with. If a customer was rude to me I was allowed to walk away; in the hostess bar I was expected to grin through any comments a customer might make, no matter how rude or offensive. “You’re too fat”, “your tits are too small” are remarks that I would respond to with a cuss, hair-flip and spin on the heel in a strip club—in the hostess club they were tolerated, and standard. Similarly in the hostess club if a customer made a lunge for my boobs my response was supposed to be to playfully hold his hands and gently tell him what a “naughty boy” he’d been. Similar behaviour, depending on the usefulness of the bouncers, got him thrown out of the strip club. Or I might have just slapped him—the hostess club would have fired me for that.
When I asked my friends why they were opposed so strongly to stripping they protested that I was letting women down. That this was never a concern when I was a hostess makes me wonder if there is something inherent in the nudity that plays into the hands of our enemy. If I had kept my clothes on would it have been OK?
But all that’s not the point, I’m not saying that one job was better than the other—in some ways I liked them both. What I meant to talk about was the delicate line you have to toe when you are talking about your work. When I started stripping I had never really heard of sex worker’s rights or sex-positive feminism. I wish I had because I could have used the support of a community, at least to know that there were others out there like me. The message I got was that it was all wrong. So I shut up. I felt marooned, over the edge of what was acceptable. So I just kept quiet and hoped no one would find out. But it is in this silence where dishonesty breeds. If we can’t tell our stories then no one gets anywhere closer to understanding—the stereotypes just continue along unchecked.
Then there’s my own dishonesty. When I did speak up I felt like I had to pick a side and stay on it--I had to defend stripping against popular opinion. To my friends I was the spokesperson for the industry so I wanted to paint as pretty a picture as possible. My true feelings are a lot more ambiguous than that—there are a lot of shitty things about stripping, but I didn’t want to mention them so not to give the ‘other side’ leverage.
I remember one customer sneering that all the strippers at his club traveled miles from their hometowns to work there “they’re not exactly proud of their jobs” he said. I wanted to scream at him: “No it’s you that does this to us. You force your stigma onto us and tell us that we should be ashamed to be strippers. You silence us and then take our silence as proof of the shame we should feel for working in the sex industry.” My silence wasn’t shame. I’m not ashamed. I don’t know if I would say that I am proud to have been a stripper, I’ve never been particularly proud of any job I’ve ever had. What I am proud of though is making the best out of what I had--on my own and on my own terms. For that I can say I am proud. I wish I could say it louder.