Tag Archives: Kat Banyard

Interview with Karen Ingala Smith about the Femicide Census

Interview with Karen Ingala Smith about the Femicide Census
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
8 March 2017

In early January 2012 Karen Ingala Smith, Chief Executive of the London-based domestic violence charity NIA, noticed an upsurge in the number of news stories about women killed by men. She started to make a list of the names, and then read a police statement that referred to the killing of one woman as “an isolated incident”.

This, she tells me when I visit her in her east London office, made her cross – and also motivated her to continue counting: “So many women in so few days. How can this be not seen as part of a trend? How can this be seen as ‘an isolated incident’?”

Gaining support from the law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and another generous donor, Ingala Smith’s Counting Dead Women blog became the basis for the ‘Femicide Census: Profiles of Women Killed By Men’. Published by Women’s Aid and NIA at the end of last year, the landmark report shows how, far from being “isolated incidents”, 936 women and girls over 14 years of age were killed by men in England and Wales between 2009 and 2015. Most women who were killed were found to be killed by a man known to them, with 64 percent killed by men identified as current of former partners.

Though she has years of professional experience of Intimate Partner Violence, 49-year old Ingala Smith says several findings surprised her, such as the number of older women killed in burglaries and robberies. “I would also say the number of women being killed by sons was also something I hadn’t expected to see”, she notes. “And the ages that women continue to be killed by intimate partners. That, again, is sad to see. You think of the years and years of abuse that a woman has lived with before she is finally killed in her 70s or 80s by a man who she has been with for years.”

Most shockingly, Ingala Smith explains how the report highlights what is called “overkill”, which she describes as “when men submit women to a level of violence that killed them several times over. So not only has he killed her once, he continues to injure her with an injury that would have been fatal had she not already been killed.”

Does recording these horrendous crimes take an emotional toll? “Yes, in a word”, she replies. “I’ve sort of developed a pattern now where at the end of every month I review the month and total women for that month, and update my blog on a monthly basis. And when I used to do that at first I literally did have a cry after every time I did it, sit in a darkened room and want to be on my own for a little while. Now I just get on with it.” However, she is concerned she doesn’t always get as upset as she used to. “I don’t ever want to be unshockable”, she says.

Though the media often represents violence against women and girls as perpetrated by a stranger down a dark alley or a predatory taxi driver, Ingala Smith says the most dangerous place for a woman is her own home.

Surely we are talking about an epidemic of violence against women, I ask, thinking about the 2013 Crime Survey of England and Wales’s estimate that 28 percent of women have experienced domestic abuse? “We are talking about a massive scale problem”, she confirms, though she prefers not to use the word ‘epidemic’ because that “implies a medicalisation” of the issue. She argues this violence “affects all women even if we are not directly affected. I think all women are controlled by male violence and all men benefit from male violence even if they themselves never perpetrate it.”

There is, it seems, a deep-seated problem with the dominant type of masculinity men are expected to embody today. Ingala Smith agrees: “It’s about the social construction of masculinity and the social construction of femininity. So it’s about gender rather than about biology.”

“I think you have to look at the relationship between women and men and everything that creates the inequality between women and men”, she continues. “So entitlement, patriarchal laws, sexism, the objectification of women – all these create a context where women are seen as less than, and men expect control and dominance. I think that reproduces itself in some intimate relationships.”

Turning to solutions, Ingala Smith says reforming the criminal justice system and policing is important, though she believes they won’t solve the problem on their own. “If we look at the things that make men men and make women women, if we tackle those, so gender inequality, objectification of women, sexism etc. – that is where the big work has to go.” The Femicide Census itself argues for “statutory sex and relationship education covering healthy relationships, domestic abuse, consent and challenging sex role stereotypes as part of the national curriculum” because “better education about healthy relationships will help to prevent domestic abuse, and ensure that victims and perpetrators know where to go for help.”

She notes the Tory’s austerity agenda has led to more women being endangered, with local authorities passing on the cuts imposed on them to the services they fund, such as refuges for vulnerable women. For example, women’s services in the UK suffered a huge blow in 2015 when Eaves, a specialist service for women victims of violence, was forced to close. Frustratingly, the specialist services that survive are often at the mercy of grant funding based on contracts and competitive tendering, which means the services can end up being run by the lowest bidder and organisations which are not led by feminist women.

Is she hopeful about the recent feminist resurgence associated with women such as Laura Bates and Kat Banyard? “I really hope that women continue to find feminism”, she says. “I hope they don’t find liberal man-pleasing feminism. It does give me hope but not hope enough. I’ve found that as often as feminism reinvents itself there comes a backlash against that feminism.”

“I want to be hopeful but I’m not really”, she laughs ruefully, though later apologises for her negativity in an email.

Talking about her own feminist politics, Ingala Smith says her brand of feminism “tends towards” radical feminism. “I think inequality is structural, I think patriarchy exists”, she explains. “The things that identify radical feminism is that you talk about patriarchy and the male dominated society, you see that men’s violence against women is part of creating that patriarchy and maintaining it.” Another common tenant of radical feminism is the importance of women-only organising and women-only spaces. Ingala Smith doesn’t think men can be feminists, though believes men can make a difference and can be part of the solution. “I am saying that when we have feminist spaces they can butt out and make the rest of society a more feminist space.”

What concrete actions does she think men who support women should take? “Shut up and listen to women”, she laughs. “Fundraise for your local refuge.”

“I believe in decent men”, she says, “but I think men are a big problem as well. Masculinity is a big problem.” Again she is keen to highlight that she doesn’t think biology is destiny. ”There is a question, isn’t there? Why are men more violent than women? Men do most of the killing. Mostly they are killing other men more than women but you don’t see the reverse of that. Why is that?”, she asks. “It’s either nature or nurture or a combination of both. For the good of all of us as a species I’m hoping that it’s more nurture the nature.”

The ‘Femicide Census: Profiles of Women Killed By Men’ report can be downloaded from https://www.womensaid.org.uk/what-we-do/campaigning-and-influencing/femicide-census/. See also http://www.niaendingviolence.org.uk/.


Interview with feminist campaigner and former lap dancer Jennifer Hayashi Danns

Interview with feminist campaigner and former lap dancer Jennifer Hayashi Danns
by Ian Sinclair
New Left Project
3 May 2012

The first lap dancing club in the UK opened in 1995. Since then lap dancing has become part of mainstream culture, with the 300+ lap dancing clubs nationwide visited by well-known figures such as Stephen Hawkings and Rihanna.

Jennifer Hayashi Danns, 28, worked as a lap dancer for two years whilst studying at university. She spoke to Ian Sinclair about the industry and her new book Stripped: The Bare Reality of Lap Dancing, which she co-authored with Sandrine Leveque from feminist campaigning group OBJECT.

What factors have driven the rapid increase in lap dancing clubs in the UK?

Many feminist groups believe that the rise in lap dancing clubs is related to a piece of legislation that allowed lap dancing clubs to open under the same licensing regulations as cafes or karaoke bars. However, this can only be part of the reason for their proliferation. In order for the clubs to function they need female dancers, and there appears to be no shortage of woman choosing consciously to work in this industry. The legislation has now changed and councils have the opportunity to set a nil limit on lap dancing clubs in their respective areas; which functions ultimately as a ban. Although I am against lap dancing clubs, as my book clearly articulates, I am wary of banning anything. As lap dancing is just an effect of a society that does not truly value women and, as hard as it may be to accept, a society in which women do not value themselves and what they could offer society other than their bodies. It is becoming increasingly difficult to solely blame the patriarchy; women must take responsibility for their actions too.

The lap dancing industry and parts of the media present lap dancing clubs as harmless, safe, titillating entertainment akin to visiting a nightclub. How do you respond to this description? What is your general critique of the industry?

The reason that I ended up writing this book was because of my perception of the depictions of the lap dancing industry in the media. I wrote a dissertation on the lap dancing industry in the UK at university, a year after I had finished working in the industry. During that research I rarely found any media content that resonated with my own experience. Could I be the only woman who had been part of this industry and found it harmful and damaging in hindsight? I found it disturbing that women would only have these positive messages of empowerment, financial independence and a life of luxury to base their decision on entering this world. The sole intent of my book is so that women can make a fully informed decision whether to enter this industry, as I believe the mainstream covers all the so called positives of this industry. My book is intentionally a criticism of the industry, or as one critic succinctly put it, it has bias running through it like a bar of rock! As human beings we have the often underused ability of reason. In this age of short, fast information, people read one article and think that they then are fully informed on an issue. I would urge people to of course read my book(!) but also read other literature about lap dancing and come to your own decision of whether or not you think this industry is of value to our society.

Several women in the book make a distinction between the ‘good old days’ of lap dancing where working conditions and pay were better, and the ‘bad times’ of today. Do you agree there has been a change in the industry and if so what does this mean in practice for lap dancers?

The reason I included those statements that appear positive are so that readers can hopefully understand why women remain in this industry and don’t just leave. As in any human interaction we can find both positives and negatives. In the club I worked in I found a great friend who is still my greatest friend today. When I first started dancing I was at the end of a ‘boom’ time. I could be confident of what I would earn, there was a feeling of community amongst the dancers and the manager was happy because the club was making money. Then as society started to suffer financially so did the lap dancing industry. In lap dancing your sole purpose, however many friends you think you have made or however well you get along with the management, is to make money. Dancers do not receive an hourly wage; all of your income is dependent on performing private dancers for individual customers. The product you are selling is yourself. If you can’t make money, it feels like no one wants to see you with your clothes off, or that you are not as attractive as the other girls. As the amount of money being spent in the lap dancing clubs decreased so did the validations of this industry. It is extremely difficult to feel empowered when you are begging men to take you for a dance. Also as the customers recognised this power, instead of treating women like queens they would often play their upper hand and criticise the dancers on a personal level – “You are too fat”, “Your tits aren’t big enough”, or as was said to me “I don’t like black girls.”

Therefore, I would say that the ‘good old days’ were when women felt that they could be certain of a regular income and the shift was to having to fight for customers and an income. The clubs responded by hiring more girls so they could still turn a profit from the house fee each girl paid, from £50 to up to £120 a night. As described in the book this meant for many that dancers would perform more explicit dances, engage in far more explicit conversations with men and the environment in the club turned from some kind of community to dog eat dog. In this dancers are faced with what they are prepared to do for money, I thought my boundary was a no contact topless lap dance; I didn’t want to talk dirty to strangers, or insinuate that I may sleep with them or ‘accidently’ touch them during a dance, but my own standards slipped when after a couple of weeks of not earning enough money to break even after my travel expenses, house fee and other costs, for example, beauty products and alcohol, I went for the first time to work in a club that was full strip, and as I describe in the book, “The first time I pulled my knickers down I felt my soul fall out.”

Those who oppose lap dancing clubs often argue the financial reward of lap dancing is generally low, pointing to the fact dancers usually have to pay the club a ‘house fee’ to perform and how they are in competition with the other dancers. However, a couple of the testimonies in the book contradict this view. For example, ‘Waitress’ notes “the majority of workers made a decent living from the job” with “a few making extravagant amounts.”

In an ideal world the money aspect would be irrelevant, but we don’t live in an ideal world and certainly in a capitalist society that values economics and profit  above all else the issue of money and personal earnings in lap dancing are key points of contention. Yes there are women who work in lap dancing that earn more in two nights then a person working 9 to 5 on the minimum wage does in a week. And certainly there are women who make even more money than that in the larger established clubs in London that are frequented by celebrities and bankers. On the other end of the spectrum it is also true that there are women who barely break even, or make just enough to get by in life. In either situation how much money is enough to make to validate the fact that you are selling yourself to another person? You are selling intimacy, sexuality and your body. Even without any physical contact lap dancing is a sexual exchange; someone is paying to look at your body naked for their gratification, whilst they remain fully clothed. The dancer is not in control. If you need money you don’t really have a choice of who to dance for. It is highly unlikely that you will spend the night dancing for men that you are attracted to. In fact the reality is that often you will be stripping naked in front of a man (or woman, but still predominantly men) that you find repulsive. Repulsive for a myriad of reasons – they remind you of a family member, they are so much older than you or they are just generally creepy and make you feel uncomfortable. This was the main reason that I could not work without alcohol.

I believe that this industry warps something that is fundamentally beautiful and pure – the relationship between men and women (the majority of exchanges in lap dancing are based on heterosexual norms). Of course men find women’s bodies attractive, but instead of celebrating women’s bodies lap dancing reduces them down to a single commodity. If we have lost the ability to be able to differentiate celebrating women’s bodies for the beautiful things that they are and humiliating and reducing women’s bodies down to a miserable three minute exchange for £10, then we really are, as a society, in trouble.

Can you talk about how being a lap dancing influenced your view of men – both the punters themselves and men more generally?

My good fortune in life is that I have always been surrounded by beautiful men; within both my family and friends and now my husband. I love men and this industry hasn’t taken that from me, although I do know of women who sadly don’t share my experience. What lap dancing showed me was the ugly side of human behaviour, regardless of sex or gender. I have observed both women and men behaving like animals. This is what the sex industry can draw out of us all if we are not careful. It appeals to our base nature, that side of us that without monitoring can make us uncivilised. Our responsibility as human beings is to aspire for more and create a greater society than the one we first entered. I feel that I completely failed in this. I was drawn to lap dancing for my own personal gain, without a care in the world about the effect on anyone else, I didn’t care about the men and if this was healthy for them, or how hurt their wives or partners could be. I didn’t even care about myself. I fell hook, line and sinker for the hard sell of consumerism; I was worthless without money or the ability to buy material things. Even saying I was using the money for university was a lie – it sounded more honourable than I want money to feel that my life has meaning. I am only 28 but I have learned the very hard way what happens when you live driven by your base nature.

What do you propose as a solution to the current status quo?

In the book Sandrine Leveque and I suggest a more comprehensive sex education programme in schools that includes themes of self esteem and respect, and also at a later stage for teenagers, information about the sex industry. Our world has changed. With smartphones teenagers are now interacting with the sex industry through pornography on their phones and it could be reasonably suggested mimicking that behaviour with the latest phenomenon of sending each other sexually explicit images of themselves. Sex education programme must change to accommodate these changes in how young people are learning about sex and sexuality. With the intent that young men will not grow up and want to buy women and young women will not grow up and want to sell themselves (again I am focusing on heterosexual relationships).

Do you think the current feminist-driven campaigns opposing lap dancing clubs by organisations such as UK Feminista and OBJECT are approaching the issue correctly? Would you do anything differently?

I think that it is sad how feminism has become associated with man hating prudes who want to dictate other people’s sex lives. I am a feminist and the fact that I have worked as a lap dancer is no contradiction of that. True feminism is about equality of men and women. Feminism that excludes men will never achieve its goal of equality. I was recently at an event co-organised by OBJECT that was challenging the porn industry, I was happy that there were many men there who felt that the depictions of women in porn are not acceptable to them. Therefore I support both UK Feminista and OBJECT because they include men. Also, because of the mainstream depictions of feminism I had some doubts when I first contacted OBJECT. Although I had read their website and felt that we could work together, the stereotype that they may try and control me and try and get me to express my experience in a way that suited their agenda was a genuine concern. However, when I first met with Sandrine we got on like a house on fire and she treated me with nothing but respect, this has continued with my interactions with both Kat Banyard who founded UK Feminista and Anna van Heeswijk who is now CEO of OBJECT. I think that both organisations are clear in their goal of being against the lap dancing industry. I think it is important that people are able to access different viewpoints on this issue and then through the different perspectives available make up their own minds.

What would be your advice to men reading this interview who are interested in reducing the harm done to women by the lap dancing industry?

I would strongly urge men to not give in to peer pressure, if you don’t like how some people are talking about women, lap dancers or any women! Please have the courage to say something. To paraphrase a frequently cited expression, all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to say and do nothing. If you don’t want to go to a lap dancing club, don’t go. It does not have to be a normal part of stag dos etc. You have a choice. If you don’t want to look at porn on someone’s phone, or in a magazine, just say so. It can be hard, especially for younger men, as consuming women in these ways has perversely become associated with being a ‘real man’. A real man knows his own mind and is comfortable enough in his own skin to simply say “No, I am not interested in that.” Cherish the women in your life, respect their bodies and treasure their minds and tell them every day that they are important. We have to be patient but eventually all of our individual actions will transform our society.

Interview: Kat Banyard, author of The Equality Illusion: The truth about women and men today

Interview: Kat Banyard, author of The Equality Illusion: The truth about women and men today
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
April 2010

In Woody Allen’s film Annie Hall there is a very funny and very surreal scene in which Allen’s character is stood next to a pretentious academic who is boastfully pontificating about the work of media theorist Marshall McLuhan. Acting out the fantasy of millions, Allen breaks ‘the fourth wall’ and wheels on McLuhan himself, who proceeds to tell the intellectual snob “you know nothing of my work… how you ever got to teach a course in anything is amazing.”

Should I ever gain the power to summon forth an expert during a discussion about feminism, my first choice would be the writer and activist Kat Banyard.

A former Campaigns Officer at the Fawcett Society, the leading organisation working for women’s rights in the UK, the 27-year old has just published her first book, The Equality Illusion: The truth about women and men today. Smart, knowledgeable and thoughtful, to spend an hour in her company is to learn a great deal and to have your pre-conceptions turned on their head.

“We are continually told we live in a post-feminist age” Banyard says, as she sips her drink in a quiet east London café. “And yet if you scratch the surface of society none of the realities you come up with square with that view.” She points to the fact over 100,000 women are raped every year in the UK, that women are still paid 23 percent less than men, that 1 in 4 women in the UK will experience domestic violence in their lifetime and how women are vastly underrepresented in positions of power. “All of these things stack up and paint a very clear picture that what we don’t have at the moment is equality.”

Picked as one of ‘The new feminists’ by the Observer in 2007, Banyard is particularly good on what she calls “the tyranny of beauty”.

“It is more insidious than just being bombarded by external images and other people treating women as objects”, she argues. “Girls are taught from a young age to treat themselves as objects – something which is inherently dehumanizing.”

She believes the evidence clearly points to the beauty ideal being “intrinsically linked to the rise in eating disorders” – 90 percent of people who have eating disorders in the UK are female. What does she make of the argument that eating disorders have always existed and the recent rise is simply due to higher rates of detection? “Rates of anorexia have skyrocketed as beauty ideals have proliferated”, she responds. In The Equality Illusion she cites a study undertaken by Anne Becker, an Anthropologist at Harvard Medical School, which found that the introduction of Western television – and therefore Western beauty ideals – in to Fiji in the 1990s led to a significant increase in rates of anorexia and bulimia.

Sharper still is her take on supposedly positive images of women such as the popular Dove Campaign for Real Beauty: “Studies show even when a girl or woman is complimented on her appearance it often has a negative overall effect, because it focuses her attention on her appearance. It is just reinforcing the notion that she is there to be looked at, and her self-esteem depends on that.”

Turning to prostitution, Banyard argues it “is inherently a form of abuse… a form of violence against women. The vast majority of women involved in prostitution have got there through a process of exclusion, disadvantage and often abuse.” One research project conducted across nine countries found that 68 percent of prostitutes had post-traumatic stress disorder – a rate comparable to rape and torture victims. “As the effects of being in prostitution are so utterly disastrous and horrific, the priority when it comes to the law must be safeguarding them.”

For this reason she is fully behind initiatives to introduce the ‘Nordic model’ in to the UK – decriminalising the selling of sex, while criminalising “what is fundamentally driving the demand for prostitution – the punters.” For Banyard what prostitution and the wider sex industry does “is allow a place where men can be men. Where they can treat women as the people to sexually service them, where they are in control.”

“It is just sexism acted out in a sexual way”, she adds.

She gives me short shrift when I ask whether it is possible to separate and target the damaging forms of prostitution, while leaving alone those women – no doubt a small minority – who, on some level, are choosing to sell their body for sex. “The inherent problem is that you will never make it safe”, she replies. “It is not an ordinary form of work. Sex is different. Having someone you don’t know insert their penis repeatedly in to you is very different to me serving you a drink.”

She is also critical of pro-decriminalisation groups such as the International Union of Sex Workers – a “sex industry representative organisation” – noting their members include pimps, brothel owners and punters. “It is the privileged few who get quoted in the newspapers, they are the ones whose voices are being heard. We are not hearing from the silent majority who are experiencing abuse on a daily basis”, she says.

Along with prostitution and lap-dancing clubs, pornography is now firmly entrenched in mainstream culture, with the industry estimated to be worth $97 billion worldwide. Unsurprisingly, Banyard is not celebrating. “I don’t think that pornography can ever be safe, because basically it is filmed prostitution”, she says. “There is no such thing as soft-core porn” today. Rather “it has got increasingly degrading and violent, with nearly 90 percent of scenes in pornography containing aggressive acts.” Banyard argues watching pornography “has very specific consequences for the viewers – an increase in aggressive behaviours and attitudes supporting violence against women.”

Paraphrasing US academic Robert Jensen, she believes “It’s not a coincidence that it is so violent or that the vast majority of people who consume pornography are men. Because of our notions of masculinity and femininity, it means that to have sex as a man you have to ‘do it to her’ – there has to be that power relation in it.”

What it means to be a man today is the central issue for Banyard. “Feminism is about saying the way we construct masculinity is wrong and has been wrong for a very long time”, she says. “Either you say the violence men perpetrate against women is natural or it’s because our notion of what it means to be a man is horribly wrong.” She continues: “In a world where there wasn’t masculinity and femininity, one on top of the other… you wouldn’t have prostitution because sexually conquering a woman wouldn’t make you feel more of a man.”

Changing men’s behaviour is one of the central aims of UK Feminista, a new collective organisation Banyard has set up that she hopes will “reclaim feminism for the new generation and support all individuals taking action against sexism.”

Looking to the general election, she doesn’t think any of the main parties are focussing on feminist issues “because they don’t see the demand.”

“We need to ensure that all of them take these issues seriously because they affect everyone. It’s not just a small group of women, it’s not just women – it is women and men”, she says.

The Equality Illusion: The truth about women and men today is published by Faber & Faber, priced £12.99. For more information about UK Feminista visit www.ukfeminista.org.uk.