Feminism with fizz

When the sex industry came up with a new way to get around Iceland’s ban on strip clubs, feminists fought back with their own original contribution to Reykjavik’s nightlife. Guðrún Jónsdóttir explains.  

Buying women’s sexual services has been criminalized in Iceland, and we have also banned strip clubs, which were actually brothels and in some cases involved in trafficking. But of course we knew that they would find other ways to sell women.  We have suddenly got three so-called ‘Champagne Clubs’ in the heart of Reykjavik: one of them is located in the same house where the largest strip club used to be. The women are not naked, but wear ‘sexy underwear’; men can buy a bottle of champagne for 20.000 krona and then get ten minutes of privacy to ‘talk to’ the women who work there.

A journalist visited the clubs and one of the staff members of the feminist organization Stigamot was asked what she thought of the new trend.  She compared it to the strip clubs, and mentioned prostitution and trafficking. The club-owners immediately sued her, and also a member of the City Council who made similar comments. We are supposed to pay two clubs two million krona and withdraw the statement—though because the journalist didn’t quote it correctly, I think we are off the hook.

I wrote a statement about the clubs and it sent to the media, pointing out that in fact we are back to the same situation as before: the clubs have just changed their name from strip clubs to champagne clubs.  In reality it is prostitution and they are selling access to foreign women—many come from Slovenia and don’t speak either English or Icelandic. But as has often happened in the past, the statement didn’t change anything: it was met with total silence. We could have given up at that point; or we could have gone on repeating what we had already said; or we could have organized a demonstration, without any success. Instead, I decided to use a different strategy: ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’.

I sent out invitations to the Mayor of Reykjavik, to all members of Parliament, to all members of the City Council and to the Chief of Police in the Capital area, and of course I sent a copy to the media. Stigamot had found a modern way to raise money for our work and at the same time take part in the cultural life of Reykjavik.

We invited the authorities to a reception at Stigamot last Thursday, August 15th, to mark the opening of our own Glamorous Champagne Club.  Guests were invited to buy interesting women at a charge of 20.000 krona for ten minutes, and during those ten minutes they could drink all the champagne they wanted for free.

The women had all kinds of skills. Our guests could, for instance, buy Dr. Guðrún Jónsdóttir (82), the founder of Stigamot, and hear the story of our work; she was also willing to dance to please the customers if they preferred it.  Thorunn, who sings in a choir, was willing to sing the old rhymes. Anna Bentina would tell a personal and interesting story about rape. Anna Thora, our psychologist, would sing, ABBA-style, about our self-help groups for women exiting prostitution and trafficking. Teddy was ready to teach people to knit a wool shawl, if they weren’t too drunk.  Margret would rock and read the Declaration of Human Rights.  We offered many more interesting and pleasing women.

Last Thursday we ran advertisements: ‘Women for sale at Stigamot’. You can imagine the debate we got. It was all over the media: the national TV News Channel came with their car, and they broadcast directly from the opening of the club.  I never left the role of a serious Champagne Club owner, and my husband took the role of a doorman, dressed up like a gangster.  The Mayor of Reykjavik accepted our invitation and so did some members of both the Parliament and the City Council.  Now every Icelander knows what the Champagne Clubs are all about, and we will continue our work from there.

When you work every day with serious violations of human rights, it is so empowering to have some fun and make the criminals of Iceland look ridiculous. We have got enormous applause and support from everywhere.  The task now is to get the authorities to ban the selling of private time with women for enormous amounts of money. There are many ways this could be done, but it certainly needs to be done.

Just wanted to share this with you, and maybe encourage you to do something similar in your own countries.