Here’s to the brilliance of “unfuckable lard-arses.” Or how sexual attractiveness hampers women from breaking the glass ceiling

File:Angela Merkel (2008).jpg

Image via: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fd/Angela_Merkel_%282008%29.jpg

We may never know whether or not the shamed Italian ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi described German Chancellor Angela Merkel thus, as quizzed, rather combatitively by the the great Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight last week (although, I admit, I viewed it on Gogglebox). But in a sense it doesn’t matter. It’s opened the debate about how women’s looks affect them in the workplace, and for that, it is no bad thing.

There’s a well-stated correlation between attractiveness and success. But it’s occurred to me of late that women who really go places never trade on their looks at all. Oh yes, the Sheryl Sandbergs of this world are impressive by any standard. But certainly the women holding rank with most CEOs today, many of whom make the grade in their late fourties and fifties, (ie. those who blazed a trail before Sandberg and her ilk had made it possible for young women to be contenders for the top spot, helped along by young, innovative, fast growing industries), are, not to put too fine a point on it,  somewhat plainer.

(Although personally, I think Merkel is rather beautiful, but sexually attractive? Perhaps no longer.)

A classic example, Margaret Thatcher looked, whilst in power, rather like a over-coiffered version of someone’s ageing mum. She may have been a sex symbol among a certain type of man. But she was no Marilyn Monroe, who was born just a year later. It’s an apt comparison. Simply fucking the President, it seems, will get you nowhere.

Continuing in politics, the wonderful Ann Widdecombe, MP for Maidstone when I was growing up there, became well-loved despite, it must be said, having a rather toad-like – yet still, for that, entirely charming – demeanour. Her anti-looks stance allowed her to rise above the usual snipes aimed at female politicians of a more conventionally attractive persuasion. A more recent parliamentary candidate, Louise Mensch, noted for her looks – and it has to be said – the frivolity of her previous incarnation as the writer of chick lit – bowed out of the political arena amid accusations of cyber bullying, much of entirely sexist. It’s probably not a fair comparison, but it illustrates the point that when it comes to gaining power, particularly in politics, women’s looks are not their best friend. Except, perhaps, by proxy. ie. when women marry into it, which is itself is entirely precarious when their looks begin to fade.

But it is hardly surprising that women trade on what is often, in youth, their most powerful asset. I am a case in point. A stripper, I married, perhaps unwisely, a customer 8 years older than myself. Partly, it has to be said, and few would be this honest, for the financial security he offered me. As it turns out he is also a really nice bloke, if something of a gentle sociopath. But many in my then-situation would not be so lucky. I made the cardinal error of relying on someone else, when I was perfectly capable of relying on myself. In an imperfect society, it is what women are often conditioned, or perhaps only able, to do.

Time has moved on, the financial crisis has been and gone. I am now the same age my husband was when he met me. The tables have turned and I’m now pretty much the main breadwinner. I have gone from being the somewhat decorative wife of a man with more financial power than me to being a genuinely level player. It feels really, really good.

But as a stripper, I knew more than most the market value of my looks and that they were a  depreciating asset. If the archetype of female sexual attractiveness dictated by pornography is correct (and as the world of porn is dictated by market forces, it must be) then it is a very fragile sort of woman who is deemed the most sexually alluring. Strippers’ unwieldy plastic heels, like concubine’s bound feet before them, are sexually potent because of their literally unstable posture and subservient symbolism.

The ideal of female beauty is all about being tamed. The effort alone maintaining said ‘beauty’ is limiting enough, what with all the hair removal, and highlights. It can become hard to get anything useful done. Add to that the pain of breast enlargements, lip plumpers, a body not damaged by childbirth. In fact, a body, which is probably 22 at most. The fleeting sexual power beauty offers is all too soon over. In an unfair world, where men have more power, women are slaves to their desires, too soon dispensed with if they are unable to gain power of their own.

I was lucky that I had a back-up plan carved in the days when when beauty was the least of my assets, for when the best of my looks had passed. Many don’t. I was a geeky swot in my early teens and probably considered a bit of a fright: a late bloomer, with braces and an ill advised fringe; acne scrawling a signature of misery across my beleaguered face, and glasses (although I only ever needed them for close work) which I insisted on wearing all the time to avoid the pain of being looked at directly. I cowered in books until I was deemed socially acceptable enough to fraternise with. But when it mattered, I was cultivating the basis of my other, more long lived asset – my education.

My lapdancing days – perhaps in some ways overcompensating for having been considered plain in my youth –  paid off – for uni, which I left with a top degree, then later, internships and a foot on the property ladder before I met my husband, which whom I quickly produced two children.  I may have learned early on not to rely on my looks for social success, but I fell, career wise, at the first hurdle of being found attractive. It’s taken an effort of will to get my career back on track. Yet by hook or by crook, I have done it.

I think the way I look has helped me on my way but this won’t always be the case. In this new employment,  looking glossy and smelling nice might have made for a smoother interview, but knuckling down with greasy hair is what’s going to win me promotions, not turning up late with my nails did. At nearly 34, the time to trade on my looks is over  And knowing this is the key to success in later life for women who’s looks can no longer be relied on as a social lubricant –  at least, according to the opposite sex. But for a while, being thought attractive can help more than it hinders.

On Facebook, yesterday, after a glass or two of wine, I got drawn into a debate about this, rather hackneyed piece of content from The Onion, which suggests, albeit humorously, that attractive women have a better chance of getting an internship and thus their foot in the door of a company.

In my experience, I would venture it may well be true. I certainly felt the way I looked helped me into my first job. Pointy of chin, with eyes like a marmoset, I’m not conventionally beautiful, by any means. But with a young looking baby face and the right tools, I can make a good enough approximation of it – even if I do say so myself. Curvy and fair, with longish legs in a shortish dress with a hefty but subtle coating of makeup, I can make the grade as ‘fit’ in a certain types of man’s book.But only if I feel like it. These days, I pass most of my time unnoticed in leggings. I get more done that way. Looks, I believe, are as destructive as they can be constructive.

The study I provided at the beginning of this piece about the correlation between beauty and success also found a link between being thought attractive and negative performance evaluation. This has certainly been my experience too.

The beholder with the power in this particular employment ,where I walked in as an  intern was, naturally enough, a man, and after offering me a fairly spurious role, for which I was entirely overqualified, he continued to make slightly sexist remarks at me for at least the first half of my employment, to the discomfort, and slightly ruffled feathers of all. When it became apparent that I was not the young grad he took me for in my interview – I was in fact, a mother of two, trying, desperately, to break back into the workforce – and that I wouldn’t stand for much nonsense, didn’t always go down well with the powers that be, who wanted me, in effect, to be young, naive, powerless.

Women with a modicum of power within the organisation, (many of them who likely traded on their looks too in the past) did their best to undermine me, and I was subjected to disciplinary procedures for relatively trivial misdemeanours, before being ousted  just shy of two years, having make the schoolgirl error of sleeping with the wrong person. Except I wasn’t a schoolgirl.  I was a 30-something mother of two who should have, but didn’t, know better.

But when I was a school girl, when perhaps it matters most what others think of you, I felt considered largely “unfuckable” by many of my peers. So again, I was probably compensating for something. We all do. For all we must accept that women, like men, have sex for any number of reasons, I certainly bore the brunt of that poor decision.  So much, my own fault, you might think. It didn’t matter that I was good at my job. I had made my bed, so to speak. It’s a mistake I won’t be making twice.

Being pretty may, therefore, help women up the ladder to success. But only to a rather low rung.  And it may actually harm their career once they’ve got their foot in the door. Attractive women have always threatened the status quo. In an unequal society where men hold more power, it is all too easy for men to leave their wives and children for a younger, more attractive model. Like any women who has used her looks as collateral in the past,  I know they can threatening. But only, it seems, to those who have also used their looks to get ahead, as I previously mentioned on this blog about women undermining women in the workplace.

It’s natural for women (particularly in a competitive workplace scenario) to feel threatened by a woman with a higher sexual market value – I hate to use these terms, beloved of men on Tinder and the likes of “prostitute-comparison site” Punter.net, but these things exist.However, it’s generally women who have throw a lot of their eggs, so to speak, in the ‘looks’ basket, who feel most threatened. Women who bank on their looks for success, particularly, success by proxy, or marrying someone richer and more powerful, are playing a very dangerous game, one I know all too well.

The Mary Beards (a TV historian of considerable import, described once by that  pinnacle of public school macho idiocy, AA Gill as “too ugly for TV”)  and Angela Merkels of this world, having never banked on their looks, have long since dispensed with the notion of using their faces and bodies for anything other than talking considerable sense and getting things done. They learn, early on,  to throw off any criticism levelled at their looks, particularly, these days,  where it is freely and liberally expressed, rather cruelly, online. They get their kicks from intimidating others with the force of their wit, not the size of their tits. Good for them. Other women may not so blessed – or at least, don’t need to use their wits until their looks begin to fail them, when it might just be too late.

So if you’re a women who really wants to get ahead,  using your looks to your advantage is a short term strategy that will very likely backfire. Even men, as poor, ageing pretty-boy actor Rob Lowe can testify  are not immune from feeling discriminated against for their good looks. It’s not fair, but  beauty or sexual attractiveness seem to be considered so distracting to being a serious person, I’m finally happy to give it all up a bit, even though I do, on occasions, still like to feel glam. But ultimately, power is more important than sex appeal, as Berlusconi himself would doubtless agree.

Consider this:  had Angela Merkel, known in her home state as “mutti” or ‘mummy,’ been flattered by the lascivious attentions of Berlusconi, who said, in same the Paxman interview, he wanted to be remembered as the father of his country, but is rather more infamous for alleged and deeply inappropriate liaisons with underage prostitutes, then the whole of Europe, if not the world, could have been de-stabilised.

Perhaps it is better for everyone that he, and perhaps many men, regard Merkel as ‘unfuckable,’ so she can get on with the rather more esteemed and dignified work of sorting out the rest of Europe’s troubles; many, perhaps caused by incautious men on the spend, trying very hard to impress young, “fuckable” women.

The problem with being pretty is that you are more likely to  be flattered into submission by men in power, who subsequently have you at their mercy. Which is never a good position to be in.

But you don’t get more powerful than Merkel. I’ll hazard a guess that Berlusconi probably doesn’t like that very much, which like all threatened people, makes him resort to playground bully boy tactics of seeking to undermine women by criticism their looks. I doubt she is insecure enough to be bothered.

Female promiscuity: the immorality of morality. Or, conform or else.

What constitutes morals has a sneaky way of shifting over time, depending on the balance of power. All the bigs ones –  killing, theft, coveting thy neighbour’s mule, are covered by the Ten Commandments: killing, theft, coveting thy neighbour’s mule and have held their sway over time. Although the more nebulous ones – (worshiping idols anyone?) seem to have somewhat lost their potency to shock and offend.

But using a wider definition of morals, notions of sex and sexuality have always come in for scrutiny,and morality has been used as a rod to chastise anyone who deviates from a hierarchically prescribed norm. There are myriad reasons for this, many to do with the logical burden of pregnancy, ownership over spouse and resulting children, working out who belongs to whom and so on. It’s not hard to see how we’ve become tangled up in what constitutes doing the right thing for most people most of the time. And over the last century, the world has changed inordinately with regards sex, with access to female controlled contraception in many parts of the world sweeping aside generations of behavioural regulation.

And yet for women, the old ways still hold sway over many aspects of our lives, from policy on prostitution to personal insults levied at women who deviate from a prescribed norm (or are perhaps just more open about it), female promiscuity, or rather, sexual behaviour in all its myriad forms is always going to be a fact obfuscated by historical circumstance and religious doctrine.

In a world where great strides have been made for previously marginalised groups gaining acceptance (or rather, a world that is becoming increasingly divided into the tolerant and intolerant  - as well as haves and have nots) it is striking that intolerance towards female promiscuity is only now gaining scrutiny. The concept of ‘slut-shaming’ has entered the vernacular: the idea that women or men who shame other women for their sexual behaviour gaining ground as ‘immoral’ behaviour, that is to say, worse than the behaviour it attempts to insult.

I for one am happy about this, because I feel that female sexuality is one of the few taboos western society is still grappling with. I’ve always found it fascinating that as acceptance around homosexual culture grows, my male gay friends have been particularly out and proud of their sexual exploits and happy – even encouraged to  divulge them. It’s extraordinary, really, in the grand scheme of things, how attitudes towards male homosexuality have made a volte-force. It’s only 119 years since playwright Oscar Wilde, who coined the phrase “the love that dare not speak its name” was imprisoned for gross indecency on the grounds of breaking the serious sexual taboo of sodomy. This, despite homosexuality being a rather acknowledged and tolerated notion in the literary and theatrical circles in which he moved.

For women, however, despite the balance of power shifting this century, notably with the pill, somewhat in our favour as regards the consequences of our actions, history has been rather slower to perform such a complete about face.

For a female whose reputation has been queried with regards her sexual behaviour, long lasting consequences can still result even within enlightened circles. Conservatism around sexuality pervades in cultural references, expected behaviour and most importantly, the way we think about ourselves.

One woman who has successfully shrugged off the taint of her “deviant” sexuality is research scientist Dr Brooke Maganti, whose blog about her sexual exploits as a high class call girl writing under a pseudonym Belle Du Jour made her a worldwide (pen) name. A campaign to unmask her was launched by the press –  in a sting orchestrated by a journalist I know, one Laura Topham, a guest at my wedding (she wrote a rather unpleasant review of it as part of her Single Life column for the Evening Standard and we’ve not spoken since) and fellow student a journalism school. It gives me no small pleasure that Maganti eventually unmasked in herself in a bid to foil The Daily Mail.

It is perhaps that she confounded notions of what it meant to be a “woman of loose morals” by also being educated and in control of her own destiny, that she has been able to risk manage her “escape” from her previous incarnation with a successful career as a research scientist, with supportive employers, becoming herself, now a regular contributor to the Guardian.

But her success is perhaps notable for its rarity. Last year I wrote in the Sunday Times Magazine about my open marriage. I cleared the copy with my employer, who were being a bit funny about the situation as details of it became known. Today, I am out of a job. Despite the fact that I feel bullied and harassed over my sexuality, despite it never affecting my ability to do my job, the legal advice I have been given was that writing about it was courting controversy. In a tribunal, the defence would “tear me to shreds”. I don’t doubt it. But why?

I consider myself a good person. I am kind and tolerant, a good mother – if impetuous and occasionally hot headed under stress. My husband and I have a great marriage. I, by and large, have been able to remain friends with people with whom I have had a sexual relationship. And yet, society doesn’t make it easy to be a woman who admits to having sex in a slightly unconventional way. I have been harassed, isolated and called names online – often it is women who are the main finger pointers and despite understanding why they do this – it’s an evolutionary trait to denigrate other women and this secure status for themselves – it has no place in a fair, modern society.

Even though I could have claimed discrimination as a result of having an unusual family situation, I was advised not to pursue unfair dismissal. The reason, I believe, is that in a corporate environment, you are expected to confirm to society’s expectations, and society does not expect a married woman to want to have sex with people other than her husband.  Which is bullshit, because more often than not, they do. They just don’t talk about it.

But polygamy (although I would hesitate to call it that, conjuring up, as it does, notions of religious sects and patriarchal harems – I just had consensual (and consented to) sex with someone other than my husband a few times – big deal) is seen a serious deviation from the norm, despite the fact that’s many women as men have an extramarital affair. Yet by being open about it, a jury of my peers would likely convict me of being weird and weird does not sit well with the conservative corporate world. Case closed.

The upshot it is, I have retreated into my shell. My mental health has suffered. I no longer sleep with anyone – not even my husband. I have been put in my place, smacked down. I conform to get on.

One of the reasons for this is a recent dubious smear. I have unusual cells on my cervix. A smear six months ago was clear, so this is recent. It’s scary, although unlikely to be serious, but it is a feminist issue because women share a much greater burden of sexual misadventure than do men. (I have talked more widely on his issue in this blog here). But the point is, that even I blame myself for this turn of events. I took risks, ergo I deserve to have the “punishment” of this potentially life threatening condition. It is so conditioned that women are at fault while men (for whom there is no test for HPV; no cervix to develop unusual cells and so on) once again get away scot free. It isn’t fair. But what’s particularly unfair is the way I am blaming myself.

This is why the idea of sexual morality has to come under serious scrutiny. Like slut shaming, the effects of blaming people for normal sexual behaviours (even deviant sexual behaviours are pretty normal in my book) are worse than the behaviour it pertains to discourage. Women should be celebrated for their sexuality and protected if things go wrong. That’s life – it doesn’t always got to plan, but blaming women for the results can be disastrous – it has been proven crime goes up if women are not allowed access to abortions, where women aren’t allowed access to contraception, unwanted children and sexual diseases pass on a burden to the next generation.  As does late treated HPV (to which 90 percent of the population are exposed at some point in their lives- basically, anyone who has sex, that is, all adults). But for women this condition can result in death, if they shamed into failing to seek help. We must rid sexual behaviour of its moral connotations. The creeping (and frankly, creepy) ideology behind virginity culture in America is testament to the necessity for positive action. Because the results of pretending that women don’t and should not have sex (yes, even slightly kinky/ paid for/ extramarital sex) are too immoral to contemplate.

If religion has anything to add to the table on this, the new testament ideology of “do as you would be done by” where sex is concerned is perhaps the least immoral rule of thumb to go by in today’s world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two worlds collide: why was I so ashamed to be asked about my lapdancing past at the school gate?

I knew it was coming sooner or later, but it would have happen to be at the school gate, by a mum, bless her, who looks as though butter has never melted in her mouth.”Is it true you used to be a stripper?,”she asked, just loud enough to be heard by the crowd of parents waiting with their children by the font door to book a slot with the school photographer. What on earth could I say, on my way to work, but a slightly on-the-hop “yes”?

I’ve always been careful to segregate my writing, from the relatively “safe for work” musings on parenting and society on my main blog, Raising Jonah, and my other, more visceral rants on here. It’s testament to the way I feel I am viewed by society as a woman: a mum, fine; a sexual woman, altogether a more dangerous entity.

Like Lauren A, the college student whose fratboy classmates subjected her to a torrent of abuse online and on campus when they found out she was funding her studies in the porn industry, I’ve never exactly offered up information about my lap dancing ‘past’, particularly as a working mother, but like her, I’ve never been ashamed of it either. It served its purpose. It was no better and no worse than a lot of jobs that exploit the young, a point I’ve made on here often enough. But I’ve been cautious about mentioning it closer to home, more concerned that it makes my children a soft target for “your mama” jokes when they reach the age of dubious teenage hilarity or internet bullying, than any embarrassment on my part.

But when Mumsnet asked to host this blog on their site, I thought, to hell with it. Good on Mumsnet,  I thought, perhaps newly emboldened by the viral “penis beaker” thread, for addressing edgier topics. But then, sex and motherhood is intrinsically, irrevocably linked, in case anyone didn’t get the memo.  And it’s only by talking about normalising female sexuality, in all its glory, that we take it away from its usual billing of “sluttishness” and put it  into the mainstream.

But I knew I was running a risk of getting “found out” as an ex-stripper, by people who only know me as a mum. But then, these days, I am slightly beyond worrying what people think of me, so like I said, it’s only the potential kick back against my kids that concerns me. But nonetheless, as I crumpled slightly, keeping my bike steady as I held open the school front door, surrounded by a sea of parents, I felt compelled to bite back slightly against what I felt was a slightly passive aggressive, if not just mildly thoughtless question:  “I’d never have put myself through university otherwise.”

As if, somehow, educating myself with my “ill-gotten gains” was some kind of justification, making it acceptable, rather than doing it for the sheer love of it, or through some other more dubious financial need.

But the fact is, according yesterday’s Daily Heil, a third of lapdancers are now dancing their way through university. Whether this is testament to rising uni fees, stagnating parental income and the growing acceptability of lap dancing as a legitimate career choice for young women, it’s hard to tell – a combination of all three, most likely. But the Mail’s headline, with its censorious use of the word  “lured”, implies a lack of volition: that these middle class, educated girls, rather than making an informed choice about how to pay for their studies, are sinking into society’s slimy underbelly by its dark overlords because “nice girls” would never choose sex work because sex is badTypica. But that’s to be expected from the guardian of the nation’s “morals” . 

But it’s hard to ignore that my own response to the off-guard moment at the school gates demonstrates my own sensitivity to the stigma of sex work. “What a life you must have had,” said the mum, a sweet-faced stay at homer, shaking her head in what I couldn’t quite ascertain was pity, respect or judgement – perhaps a mixture of all three.

After all, the element of shame in sex work comes from its sense of necessity, that you are compelled into it by circumstances beyond your control; that there is a lack of better options, that girl would never do THAT unless she had to. But that’s simply not true. I’ve known enough girls in my time who get a total kick out of being an exhibitionist, and found a natural home for that expression in a strip club. Yet outside of these designated areas, this type of brazen - and I use the word with a degree of irony –  display, is still not quite the done thing. Perhaps it never will be – unlike the pride that similarly bedecked men carry themselves through the streets in their annual outpouring of gay sexuality – though why overt sexuality in the gay community – and promiscuity come to that, is growing increasingly acceptable in the west, while for women, it is not should be queried by anyone who thinks of themselves as pro-equality.  

But anyone who considers strippers (and sex workers) as somehow dangerous and destabilising to society should consider this: the husbands and partners who are happy  to return to their mildly repressed (?) other halves after a night being titillated by dancers, or playing out their fantasies and sexual needs with prostitutes who are perhaps happier to accommodate them, don’t tend to run off with them. For all that women have a right to be pissed off that their other half has blown £100 at a lapdancing club, how much of society is propped up by men having discreet access to sex workers?  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The public service aspect of the industry should not be underestimated. The lap dance club (and brothel for that matter) has as much place in society as the school gate. Isn’t it time we accorded the women who frequent both the same respect? 

 

Ten years on from my own dancing days, Channel 4′s ‘Strippers’ lays the industry bare. How has lap dancing – and my perspective of it – changed since then?

At 10.00pm tonight, Channel 4 goes behind the curtain of the lap dancing  industry in a new documentary, Strippers that gives an honest portrayal of an industry that has more than doubled in the decade since I last slunk round a pole in breakneck heels.

Concentrating on ‘high end’ Glasgow club Diamond Dolls, tonight’s episode raise questions about the ethics of an industry that encourages young girls to make money using their bodies, with little compunction about taking lascivious camera angles of the girls’ peachy behinds.Would that my own had stayed so peachy.

It comes as some surprise to me that the strip club industry is burgeoning since its early noughties heyday when I paid my way through uni with little more than a smile and a sparkly thong. But while my own ‘career’ in London may have come to an end just before 2008′s financial collapse,  the industry has flourished, particularly, it seems in areas of particular economic hardship, as the repercussions continue to reverberate around the country.

While bringing into focus the expediences faced by the forty or so dancers who grace the club’s three levels, as well as attitudes to them from both their customers and society more generally, the cool neutrality of the programme’s commentary made it somehow seem all the more judgemental.

Both compounding and overturning strip club stereotypes, it was interesting to see how little has changed since my own dancing days. The eyelashes may be thicker, the acrylic nails may be longer, but I could almost taste the cloying clash of perfume and sweat, and feel the blistered toes as the cameras panned down the steps away from the dance floor and followed the girls as they first sashayed, then hobbled through the changing room door. Beyond that, the camera was barred, but there was little left to the imagination.

The conviviality and competitiveness behind the scenes was tangible. Interviewing a range of girls I recognised from my be-sequinned days – the ex student keen to make some cash, a gymnast rebelling against her strenuous upbringing, a European nurse paying off debts – these are not necessarily the disadvantaged girls of broken homes, though many of them will have troubled pasts one way or another. But neither are they the strong, independent women enthused about by the rather jollier-than-I- ever-remember housemother. They are most marked by their ordinariness, for all they are done up to the nines.

It’s easy to see the appeal for the punter of a girl-next-door shaking her booty for the cost of a bargain bucket if you’re  Mr Ordinary working 8-6.30 shifts at a call centre up the road. Like the dancers, the punters come from all walks of life, and most of them just want a cheap thrill and someone to talk to. Nothing has changed. The public service aspect of the job should not be underestimated.

But it is perhaps the ordinariness of both girls and punters that is both worrying and refreshing. In an economy that’s increasingly disenfranchising the young, it’s hard to see how many of these girls has a lot of better options. Compared to a zero hours contract, wearing a headset at one of the few remaining call centres that’s not been outsourced to India, or pushing a cart around the Amazon warehouse, stripping isn’t that bad. Sure you get bruises on your knees, and get your ears bent by arseholes, but there’s ready money, the chance to get dolled up, feel desirable, have a bit of fun and  chat to people who wouldn’t look twice at you but to get them a coffee in an office. 

Mainly though, like me,  and everyone else who’s ever stepped foot into a perspex platform , when push comes to shove, they’re in it for the money. But the money’s not changed since I was a dancer ten years ago, although I’d bet my last tenner the house fees have gone up since then.

And for all these girls may believe, as I did at their age, that they are the ones in control on that dance floor, they are not. The too-nice-to-be-true house mother states at one point that the only people getting exploited are the ones with the money. But only a fool would believe that. And none of these girls could be taken for that.

There’s a reason many strippers don’t tell their parents they dance for a living, and a reason society at large disapproves, and it’s probably not the reason the girls, or even the programme makers think.

It’s what these girls do afterwards that’s so troubling – and I don’t mean going home with the punters. Thankfully this seems as rare now as it was back in my day – although they are always those who break the rules, are prepared to go a bit further, or have no choice but to also be on the game. That’s is the way it’s always been.

But it’s glaringly obvious from where I’m sat that the worst thing about stripping is that it doesn’t offer these girls much of a future. The sense of desperation I felt as a dancer, one eclipses all the shopping sprees, and glasses of champagne, glitzy outfits and toned behinds, pervades this documentary too. Of the forty girls working every night in that club, only one of them has a career in the industry post forty, and she’s the one saying the girl’s aren’t being exploited. But in my experience the owners tend, by and large, to be men. So unless these girls are squirrelling their money away into property, or businesses of their own, the future’s looks bleak for them.

According to ex-gymnast Kim, it’s a young woman’s game.  Says ex gymnast Kim. ‘You can’t dance for life. You start losing your looks and your boobs will sag. Guys don’t want that.” But for me, it’s not looks that make it so uncomfortable. It’s the fact she’s still doing it.

For all those taking their clothes off to put themselves through college, there will be plenty who are bringing up kids. The point is, like the lithesome gymnast now contorting herself around a pole, stripping isn’t a career with much longevity.Luckily for Kim, she left shortly after the programme was made for a job in a bank. But there will be many more who find it much harder to make the transition to a ‘real job.’  And in an economy that is struggling to find jobs for its young,  girls who miss the narrow window to get a foot in the door of a career with legs will find there’s more than pole to climb before they hit a glass ceiling

We need to see other people: how you can stay strong as a couple and have more than a fling

The original of the article that appeared yesterday in La Repubblica – see below for the google translate version. This is what I wrote, before it was translated into Italian. It was written in December 2013

Last month I turned 33, and it was time to take stock of my life. I don’t think things are going so badly, all things considered: I am a published writer. My day job isn’t all that, but it’s partly because I have two children – a boy, Jonah, 8,, and a girl, Ava, 5. I have a house in East London that I own with my husband, Tom, who I met nearly a decade ago. I have recently acquired a pug, called, somewhat ironically, John Milton – whose Paradise Lost I studied for my BA in English Literature, back in my early twenties – who I co-own with my boyfriend Sam.

 Monogamy is outdated, and science backs me up. In 41 percent of marriages, one of both partners admit to infidelity. And that’s only those who admit it. Having an affair within a relationship is even more common, with just over half of men and perhaps surprisingly, women straying, it’s no use blaming a wandering eye on testosterone.

 The fact is, we are not evolved for monogamy, and in this day in age, when we are living longer, have more life opportunities, and, let’s face it, the internet, monogamy seems an increasingly unachievable, even undesirable prospect.

 I didn’t meet Sam on the internet. I met him through my job, both of us working in similar fields although not for the same company. Our understanding of each other’s daily trials and tribulations brought us together. I had recently returned to work, after five years with the kids. I felt like my career had taken a knock in the intervening years, and Sam, at 27, and relatively junior himself, could understand my frustrations.

 Tom, who works in finance, moves in very different circles to me. He went into the City more or less straight from school, becoming head of his desk shortly before I was due to give birth to our second child. We met in a strip club, where I was funding an internship at a style magazine. It wasn’t ideal, but I did what I had to do to get by. Tom recently divorced, was lonely, and wanted to look after me, and at the time, I needed looking after. We quickly moved in together, and after a year or so, I was pregnant with out first child.

 We live well together. He’s a great cook, handy with DIY, and can cope with things that I, with mild dyspraxia and an artistic temperament, find difficult: spreadsheets, direct debits, flat packed furniture. I in turn do my bit – a clean and health freak, I force him to eat better, take fish oil and not drink to much. Between the two of us, I think we do a great job of bringing up our children, surviving tough times, such as when Tom lost his job in the financial crisis, and dealing with our son’s Asperger’s. We’re a great team.

 But one of the main reasons we work so well together is that we don’t pretend to be perfect, and we don’t blame each other for being human.

 It’s been a long road, moving from marital bliss to having friends on the side with benefits, which started out with trust. Because he was divorced before, Tom’s keen for that not to happen again. And as the child of divorced parents, I know just how life destroying a broken home can be. So from the beginning we were clear that whatever happened, we would always stay strong as a couple.

It started out with the odd fling here or there, nothing serious, a bit of a flirt, a drink, occasionally sex, but we were always honest about it, asking each other’s opinions on the person we were dating, and crying on each other’s shoulders when it all went wrong.

But I’ve, somewhat ironically, always been a serial monogamist, jumping from relationships with nice men who put me on a pedestal I didn’t deserve to ‘bad boys’ who treated me badly, but whom I , unreasonable adored. Tom got married at 24 and I think he just likes being married. He’s just that type of guy. Neither of us liked the idea of having one night stands, and yet, the restrictions of marriage were getting us down.

And then I met Sam. He’s like me in all sorts of ways, which is why we’d never work out as a couple. We’re both highly strung, melodramatic, literary and loyal so as a second relationship, we’re perfect. He travels a bit with work, so having a full time girlfriend doesn’t suit him either, but we’re there for each other and see each other as often as we can. His family is so supportive, that I’ll spend Christmas with them, as well as with my own family. I know I’ll have a great time, because I’m so much like his mother, a Freudian irony that hasn’t escaped me, at eight years his senior.

Tom is eight years my senior, and at 40, he’s not exactly ready for slippers and a newspaper. He likes to party, and loves going clubbing, to gigs, and eating out. I think having a family rather stopped all that for him, so having another person in our relationship means he can go out and enjoy himself without worrying so much about me, as Sam will come over and cook me dinner. It’s tough that having children means that unless you have family living close, or you can afford childminders and nannies, you have to stay in, or go out separately. But now, I can go out with my husband, while Sam comes and dog-sits and plays Wii with my son.

In many respects, opening our marriage has saved it, by forcing us to recognise what’s good about our relationship, whilst enabling us to take a breather from it every now and again.

 My 33rd birthday was one of my nicest having lunch with Tom, followed by a day out with Sam. But that’s not to say we don’t get a bit jealous from time to time. At my party, later that night, Tom’s new female friend was sending him messages, and, a little drunk, we had a row about it.

In the cold light of day, I felt perhaps things weren’t going so well after all. That perhaps, what we are doing is only going to break us up, and split up my family. But that feeling passed with my hangover. The fact is, it’s not easy to let each other go, but if you love someone, you have to. I know Tom’ll always come back, and he knows that I will too. And Sam, well he says no relationship lasts forever, except one with a dog, which, as we say in the UK, is for life, not just for Christmas.