02 Apr New Stripping ban in Iceland highlights feminist ideology
Iceland is about to pass a new law banning strip clubs throughout the small country of 320,000 people. This is an achievement unattainable in most Western countries. What is more interesting, however, is the debate within the feminist community over whether this represents a huge victory for the feminist movement—making Iceland “a world-leader in feminism,” as Julie Bindel from The Guardian claims—or whether the new legislation hurts women more than it helps.
The first side of this debate, best represented by Bindel’s March 25 article, claims that this new law puts Iceland at the head of the feminist movement. Bindel writes:
“While activists in Britain battle on in an attempt to regulate lapdance clubs – the number of which has been growing at an alarming rate during the last decade – Iceland has passed a law that will result in every strip club in the country being shut down. . . . Even more impressive: the Nordic state is the first country in the world to ban stripping and lapdancing for feminist, rather than religious, reasons. Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir, the politician who first proposed the ban, firmly told the national press on Wednesday: ‘It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold.’ When I asked her if she thinks Iceland has become the greatest feminist country in the world, she replied: ‘It is certainly up there.’”
On the other side, critics claim the new legislation will simply drive the industry underground, where business will continue to thrive, but workers will be criminalized, paid lower wages, and blocked from legal protections. Miriam, at Feministing, hits all of these points in her criticism of the legislation:
“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.
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.”
(If this argument sounds familiar to you, it is the same argument used to support legalizing prostitution.)
So who is right? Depends how you define feminism, for the two arguments descend from two very different ideas of what the ultimate purpose of feminism is.
The argument against the new legislation operates from the position that feminism should seek first to ensure that women are empowered to choose. They should be empowered to choose any lifestyle, no matter how demeaning or exploitative, and society should work to compensate for the negative consequences of that choice. This is the assumption supporting nearly all pro-abortion arguments, particularly those which demand public funding for abortion.
The argument for the new legislation, on the other hand, assumes a different primary objective for feminism. It assumes that feminism should work to secure a positive respect for femininity and womanhood in society, while abolishing those practices that exploit and objectify women. This is a type of feminism that United Families, and I believe many of you, could support. But for the moment there seems to be a fracture within feminism on which is the higher purpose and the first is winning. Choice is almost universally enshrined as the primary objective.
Interestingly, however, both sides seem to agree on one thing: that this legislation is at least somewhat positive because it was inspired by feminist intentions, not religious. As Bindel writes: “Even more impressive: the Nordic state is the first country in the world to ban stripping and lapdancing for feminist, rather than religious, reasons.”
This antipathy for religion is rampant in liberal feminism and highlights a deep misunderstanding of what could be defined as religious feminism—respect for womanhood and motherhood, respect for the body and sexuality. This version of feminism is not that distinct from the type of feminism that sees Iceland’s new law as a success, but it is unacceptable as a motivation for similar legislation because it is tainted by religion. This is a tragedy for women. For if the feminist movement could begin to understand the religious understanding of womanhood, perhaps we could do real good in the world truly protecting women from abuse and exploitation.
Until then, it seems the dominant form of feminism will be that which sees unfettered choice as the ultimate freedom. Never mind what kind of choices we are offering.