In my 23 years of stripping, I’ve worked at 17 clubs in four states. Now, I’m in Cathedral City, in California’s arid Coachella Valley. Just far enough from Los Angeles and Las Vegas to make it indispensable, the club caters to young Marines from a nearby base and their granddads — Reaganites who come to chase away loneliness and ancient regrets, eager to grope a person who’s not their primary caregiver and eyeball our half-clothed bodies. Dancing has helped many of us through our adult lives — paying for school, families, fledgling careers as creatives — but it is also exploitative.
More from the Rosa Luxemburg of the Bada Bing!:
Across the board, I’ve observed management simply finding workarounds, new ways to steal tips by coming up with new names for the same fees. The instability creates divisiveness among our trade (no one, after all, wants to risk everything and lose their job) which makes further organizing painfully difficult.
Strip clubs have provided me and many other dancers with steady income for our entire adult lives. I’m thankful to have enjoyed decades as a paid entertainer. But we deserve the same protections and respect given to any employee in any other work force. We are night laborers who have found a way to offer fantasy, entertainment, intrigue and human contact in an impersonal culture. We want to see a safe and sexy dance floor in every strip club in America. And we deserve to keep our tips.
It’s almost like men who pay money to see naked ladies dance, as well as those who operate naked-lady dance emporia, are not upright people. Where would we be without the social justice platform of the Times? Twerk on, you op-ed goddess, you!
UPDATE: For the record, I believe people should pay their lap dancers fairly, and if you cheat a stripper, shame on you. If they can prove you broke the law, then you should go to jail, pay a fine, or whatever. The point of this post is to highlight the absurdity of the expectation that a business that is inherently risky, vulgar, and degrading will be run according to standard models of business ethics. Y’all think I’m trying to say it’s okay to stiff a stripper, but you’re entirely missing the point.
This kind of argument (in the op-ed) arises from an expectation that the author of the op-ed article (who is also a college instructor) has, and that it appears is shared by The New York Times. It comes, I think, from this bizarre view that sex can be hot, passionate, transgressive … but also entirely safe and without risk whatsoever. Camille Paglia, writing about sex crime last fall in Time, said:
There is a ritualistic symbolism at work in sex crime that most women do not grasp and therefore cannot arm themselves against. It is well-established that the visual faculties play a bigger role in male sexuality, which accounts for the greater male interest in pornography. The sexual stalker, who is often an alienated loser consumed with his own failures, is motivated by an atavistic hunting reflex. He is called a predator precisely because he turns his victims into prey.
Sex crime springs from fantasy, hallucination, delusion, and obsession. A random young woman becomes the scapegoat for a regressive rage against female sexual power: “You made me do this.” Academic clichés about the “commodification” of women under capitalism make little sense here: It is women’s superior biological status as magical life-creator that is profaned and annihilated by the barbarism of sex crime.
Misled by the naive optimism and “You go, girl!” boosterism of their upbringing, young women do not see the animal eyes glowing at them in the dark. They assume that bared flesh and sexy clothes are just a fashion statement containing no messages that might be misread and twisted by a psychotic. They do not understand the fragility of civilization and the constant nearness of savage nature.
Of course very few male patrons of strip clubs are going to turn out to be stalkers. That’s not the point. The point is that markets where women take their clothes off for men’s viewing pleasure, in exchange for money, are going to be places that draw those less likely to care much for things like respect for the humanity of others, in particular the humanity of those women they objectify, and who are willing to be objectified in exchange for a fee. It’s like complaining that people get sh*tfaced drunk and start fistfights in sports bars. It ought not to happen, but it’s in the nature of the phenomenon of men gathering in a room to drink intoxicants — and therefore an ineradicable, if undesirable, part of the business.
This piece, by the way, is on the front page of the Times‘s website, which is one of the most highly trafficked news sites in the world. Many of you complain that I focus too much on sex and sexuality in my commentary, but the real issue for you is that I don’t come to the “correct” conclusions.
UPDATE.2: Just for the record, as I write this, the lead op-ed in that coveted slot on the NYT site is a remembrance by a writer of the time she was asked to play Mary Magdalene in a church play as a 12-year-old, and drew on her knowledge of The Exorcist to infuse the character with lustfulness. Excerpt:
I couldn’t go to Mom for advice on whoredom, demonic possession and penitence. Fortunately, I’d watched “The Exorcist” six times, so I knew a thing or two about possession. Because Regan, the bedeviled child in the film, was 12, I identified with her foul-mouthed adolescent rage and sexual frustration. Locked in my bedroom, practicing the throes of demonic possession, I imagined stern priests hovering over me, obsessed with my vile, pubescent body. Puberty was like a demon rocking through your body, changing it from the inside out. Nothing could stop it: not even two repressed priests armed with ancient poems and holy water. As I dressed for the play, slipping into Mom’s castoff cocktail dress, I wondered if L.F. would be impressed.
On the way to the church, Dad sighed and studied his script. Mom rolled her eyes, and neither of them commented on my slut garb. As I tottered around backstage in three-inch pumps, disciples from the Last Supper flirted with me. A mustachioed man winked and said, “come give your uncle some sugar.” Though flattered, I felt a sick twist in my gut. I tried to catch Dad’s eye, but he was hunched in a corner, muttering his lines.
Do you not think this is a completely weird thing to feature prominently on the front page of The New York Times? Even a little bit weird?