It was 1:07 when my phone began buzzing in the middle of my math teach reviewing the Pythagorean theorem with the class. I quickly ran out of the room after seeing who it is- my step dad. Just a little background, for the 36 hours preluding this phone call my mother had been ignoring me (something extremely drastic because I am a new college student so she texts me on average, 37 times a day.) Why was my mother, who obsessively sent me her favorite emojis and updated me on what she had for lunch that day, ignoring me? Well, as Natalie Portman says in her famous role in Closer, “lying is the most fun a girl can have without taking off her clothes,” and I had just happened to do both.
I had recently just been hired at a local strip club as a stripper, which was unbeknownst to my mother as she was under the impression I was simply a waitress. Telling her that I worked at a strip club was hard enough, but the idea of telling her I was an actual stripper was unfathomable. So when my step dad, I’ll call him John, called, I knew everybody had discovered the truth.
“I just feel disgusting knowing you are doing something you find degrading,” is the line John said that stuck with me more than anything from the fifteen minute conversation I had with him in the fluorescent-lit, green and white tiled bathroom on my college’s fourth floor. I chewed on my answer, letting it kick around the back of my throat, unsure how to answer the inevitable statement I knew I would have to respond to eventually. As a raging feminist, and future Women’s Studies major, I knew that telling people about my job would lead to them questioning my devotion to feminism. While stripping may inherently seem like a misogynistic job that exploits women and profits off their degradation, it is far from it. Personally, I do not find stripping degrading whatsoever, but I don’t find it empowering or liberating either. There’s this skewed agenda in regards to sex work that in order for a woman to do it, she has to see it as “empowering,” which is a highly warped idea. This perpetuates the idea that a stripper is “selling her body” in a way that differs from the way a masseuse would “sell their hands” or a factory worker would “sell their back.” Because as long as capitalism forces people into hard labor, everybody is forced to “sell their bodies” in one way or another- this being a sentiment John graciously shared with me while on the phone. Reassuring him, and reassuring myself, I told him I did not find stripping “degrading,” but my explanation stopped at that.
The idea of telling my parents that I enjoy stripping, that I enjoy lying to men and laughing at them behind their backs is something I can’t believe I get paid for. Yet, I am able to express this feeling to my friends and anonymous tumblr followers. For the most part, I have received positive responses like “Yaaas bitch, make that $$$” or “#goals” but I do receive the occasional uneasy look or judgmental tone that comes with this occupation. I blame part of the stigma on movies and television shows and how they continue to depict us.
When you are continuously portrayed as ditzy, dirty, and second-class citizens, the world begins to internalize these ideas. There are so few representations of strippers in film/tv, but when they are there they are incredibly one-dimensional (shocker) and continue to perpetuate negative stereotypes. However, there is my Saving Grace of strippers in film/tv, i.e. Cherry Darling in Planet Terror. Because while there are men who follow the rules of the club and who maintain basic respect, there are the men who think strip clubs are void of regulations and human decency. So whenever a customer become’s too hands-y or ignores my personal boundries I imagine myself morphing into Cherry Darling, machine gun leg and all, and destroying the lifeless, clammy monsters that these men can turn into.
There’s a quote by Kaija Sabbah that I want to brand on the eyelids of everyone who looks down on strippers, “If you consider a woman less pure after you’ve touched her maybe you should take a looks at your hands.” It perfectly captures the misogynistic double standard that strippers have to face on a daily basis. In US culture it is considered the “norm” for men to frequent strip clubs, but the women who work there are considered “shameful.” Women are expected to provide this service, and then are treated as human social faux paus, and condemned for doing so, because as long as the patriarchy is in tact it will continue to place men’s sexual achievement before the respect of women.
My respectability is not based on how many articles of clothing I wear or the fact that I take my shirt off for money. It is that simple. The only important difference between my job as a stripper and my first job as a dishwasher is that I make the same amount now in one night that it used to take me three weeks to make scrapping dead fish off of a pan while surrounded by racist boys. At least at the strip club I can choose who I spend my time with, so if a man starts spewing disgusting, hateful comments in between sips of his Coors Lite, I can swiftly make my getaway in my killer 7 inch heels.
While John still cries over my “self exploitation,” and I still receive various disapproving looks from classmates that overhear my stories, my mother has accepted me stripping and I am now uninhibited in regards to telling her stories about irritating men. It was not easy explaining the truth about my job to my mother, but in the end it was worth it to divulge stories of male strippers, drunk hicks, and easily-manipulated sociology majors to someone who won’t judge me. Her only stipulation is that I don’t tell her which songs I dance to….(usually it’s Lana Del Rey or Grimes)
So for as many times as a hand with a wedding band has run up my thigh, I have gotten one step closer to leaving my college debt-free with a major in Women’s Studies and Political Science.