Recently, students in Charles Best Secondary School’s “Social Justice” class decided to protest against a “gentlemen’s club” in my home city of New Westminster. Both the teacher of the class (interviewed by Bill Good on CKNW), and one of the students (interviewed by Simi Sara on the same station), seemed disappointed and perplexed by the negative reaction they received to their attempts to “educate.” Those leading this protest seem to be following the examples of the “Occupy” and “Idle No More” movements, which proclaim themselves to be society’s moral elite, and then are baffled by those who have the audacity to disagree.

When you question people’s character, do they not have a right to be just as passionate in defending themselves as you are in accusing them? These protests could have real consequences for people’s livelihoods and so demand to be rigorously scrutinized.

From what I can gather, the students’ argument against the club comes in two parts:

(1) First, the protestors claim that the business is a part of the sex trade, and so by definition is harmful to the women dancers.

This is a significant charge which requires serious consideration before being levied at an individual business. My understanding is that prevailing opinion amongst social scientists is that those marketing their bodies are best off in a decriminalized “industry” as opposed to being pushed into the shadows by the law. If the students have credible evidence that contradicts that, I would be interested to hear their case. But I suggest they ought to do more than simply associating exotic dancing with all ills of prostitution, which is akin to protesting London Drugs by pointing at all the wrongs of the pharmaceutical industry and illegal drug dealers.

(2) The students’ second argument against the club is that it is sexist (and archaic) for men to go to a club for the purpose of watching unclad female strangers.

Most feminist thinking would agree with the students that such nudity “objectifies women,” but what exactly is the argument behind this truism? I don’t know if men watching naked women think of them as objects or not, but even if such a claim can be demonstrated, is it morally correct for us to tell others how they should think in such situations?

It’s dangerous to condemn anyone’s sexuality, regardless of how unseemly it may seem to the students. A cohort of “social justice” advocates ought to have definitive evidence  that the customers are doing something harmful in their actions before making public judgments of sexual righteousness. From what I’ve heard so far, the students have provided no such argument beyond linking exotic dancing with prostitution. Their case seems to ignore some critical questions:

(A) Is there any evidence of abusive or unsafe work conditions in the particular club they’re protesting?

(B) Are there any academic studies showing that exotic dancers suffer psychologically as a direct result of their occupation (beyond what they would experience in more “respectable” occupations for which they would be qualified)? If yes, then the students may have an interesting moral claim.

(C) But, if not, do these social justice advocates really want to be the morality police who dictate sexual thought?

The students, of course, have the right to protest anything they wish on the basis of any reason they perceive, but when we proclaim ourselves to be the moral judges of our neighbours, we should not be surprised when those judged don’t gratefully accept the lecture.


  1. I think you’re on to something here, sir. I have, in my mispent youth, been to any number of “exotic” dance-type events, with both female and male “dancers” exhibiting their various attributes. I have to say that I mostly found it funny. I mean, the writhing human body, with or without the pole, is not much of an object of beauty. I think the artists who have, over the centuries, created sculpture and painting had a better idea of representing the indeniable (to us aesthetes)beauty of the human form, draped or undraped. Hey, just glance at the Venus di Milo or Michelangelo’s David. Woo hoo!

    Now, if some people can make a bit of cash by showing off their physical endowments, why not? I’ve heard tales of young women who have worked their way through university by means of this profession. Better than a raft of student loans, say I.

    As for objectification, bring it on! I currently find myself “objectified” as a senior citizen, i.e. old man. I’d be happy to accept payment in any form, with or without the pole.


  2. Thank you, TomD. I love your example of the statue of David. It is a literal objectification that would not be considered by the powers that protest.

  3. Heh, it’s not likely that the dancers are terribly appreciative of the student’s attempt to “save” them.

    The situation Sort of reminds me of the knee jerk reaction people have towards sweatshops in poor countries.

  4. I think you are pretty much bang on with your analysis. I would offer an alternate opinion to your statement:

    “Is there any evidence of abusive or unsafe work conditions in the particular club they’re protesting?”

    I think there are plenty of acceptable examples of potentially unsafe working conditions in the workforce. For example, I worked at a coffee shop for years. I witnessed plenty of mild coffee burns in that time, however I don’t see people protesting outside cafes. My point being that we may need to gauge the level of unsafety. Yes, if there is abuse, then that needs to be dealt with. However if there are potential workplace safety issues, that doesn’t by definition make the workplace an unacceptable business enterprise.

    I like Tom’s parallel to senior citizen objectification. For myself, I am a hansome gentleman, and find myself being oogled by men and women alike. When that happens, I politely and proudly ask for a toonie as compensation. =)

  5. Thanks Calum and Tarrin. Your daunting-to-refute additions to the argument at very least demonstrate that the issue is not as simple as the teacher and his students describe it to be. (In fact, Calum, I have retroactively added to my my challenge to the students—that they should supply evidence of psychological harm in the profession—an addendum that the dangers should be “beyond what they would experience in more ‘respectable’ occupations for which they would be qualified.”) Obviously, the students and their teacher think they are on the correct side of morality, but how exactly they’ve drawn that elusive line here is unclear to me.

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