Taking Back the Night? Gender and the Contestation of Sexual Entertainment in England and Wales
By Colosi and Hubbard (forthcoming in Urban Studies, 2014)
Despite important moves towards gender equality, the experience of the night-time city remains profoundly different for women and men. The visibility of self-styled 'gentleman's clubs' where female dancers perform for a predominantly male
clientele has been taken as prime evidence of this persistent inequity. Opposition to such clubs has hence been vocal, with the result that many local authorities in England and Wales have moved to ban clubs within their jurisdiction utilising
the powers of the Policing and Crime Act, 2009. This paper explores the arguments that have per- suaded policy-makers to refuse licences for such venues, particularly the idea that sexual entertainment causes specific harms to women. The paper
does not question the veracity of such arguments, but instead explores why sexual entertainment venues have become a target of feminist campaigning, situating this opposition in the context of long-standing debates about the vulnerability of
women in the night- time city.
A year-long research project into people's attitudes to lap-dance and striptease clubs in towns and cities in England and Wales has found that most people are only concerned by them if they are situated too near their own homes or local schools.
Lead researcher Professor Phil Hubbard, of the University's School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, found that although many residents consider lap-dance clubs lower the tone of neighbourhoods, most do not consider clubs
located in town centres to be a source of nuisance.
The research - funded by a £ 118,000 grant from the Economic and Social Research Council and jointly carried out by Dr Rachela Colosi of the University of Lincoln - is the first of its kind to study the
regulation of the 241 lap-dance and striptease clubs in England and Wales and their impact on people's feelings of safety at night. It was prompted by the introduction of new powers to regulate Sexual Entertainment Venues under the Policing and
Crime Act 2009.
Professor Hubbard said:
Opposition to lap dancing venues appears mainly based on perceptions that clubs normalize sexism and promote anti-social behaviour rather than any direct experience of crime. Our study did not uncover any evidence that these clubs cause more
nuisance or crime than other night-time venues.
The majority of our respondents appeared unconcerned about clubs so long as they were not located near schools or places where they might be particularly visible to young people.
Professor Hubbard said that most local authorities have now adopted the new powers for licensing lap dancing clubs and have sought to develop guidelines indicating where clubs may or may not be located.
55% of all respondents in the research felt lap dancing clubs are appropriate in town and city centres. However, the majority of people felt lap-dancing clubs are inappropriate near to schools (83%) or religious buildings (65%). Very few (3%)
felt clubs are suitable in residential areas, even though those living closer to them were no more likely than those living further away to report any nuisance being generated by lap-dancing clubs.
Around one in ten respondents felt that there is no suitable location for lap-dancing clubs whatsoever; women constituted the majority of these respondents, though it was also evident that those over forty were less tolerant of lap-dancing clubs
than younger people.
However, not all clubs were perceived to have similar impacts on their locality. Some clubs were judged to be better managed and less likely to be lowering the tone, primarily on the basis of their external appearance. Signage or club names that
implied sexual connotations were more likely to attract comments and anxiety, while blacked out windows appeared to arouse suspicion and were thought to lend some clubs a sleazy appearance .
Dr Colosi said: Those viewed as 'sexualising the street are most likely to cause offence, and create fear among those already fearful of the city at night.'