I’m a stripper. And I am also a feminist. At the intersection of my job and my political opinions, I find there is a lot of stigma and very high expectations as to the kind of person I should be. It’s as if, to be valued as both a human and a stripper, you have to prove that in no way are you are a stereotypical stripper; you must be smart and perfect and ‘normal’ in every other way.
It’s funny that nearly every article I’ve ever read from the perspective of a feminist stripper has the line ‘I don’t have daddy issues’ somewhere within the first paragraph. But I do. My dad is a pretty big drinker. He’s a great guy, but the type you can see would’ve been the perfect father if he’d actually been around. And yeah, it’s fucked me up a bit. It’s something I’m happy to admit, happy to flesh out with anyone who’ll listen, because to me, it’s not something I should be ashamed of. It’s a badge of honour that my life was messed up by someone who was supposed to nurture me, and I’m still a pretty kick ass chick. The time has come for feminists to speak up for all strippers and sex-industry workers, regardless of their backgrounds or baggage.
What is the relationship between sex work and feminism, and how has it developed over time? The view held by traditional feminists is that the sex-industry is coercive and exploits women. Recently however, feminists are more concerned with making the industry and the workers safer, less stigmatised, and altogether more socially acceptable. It might seem then, that talking about your daddy issues, or your eating disorder, or your substance abuse problem could be seen as counterproductive, when you’re trying to argue that you find the work empowering. The second you drop the words “I’m a stripper”, or any sentence to that effect, you are bombarded with a plethora of opinions, and questions, and ‘facts’ from people who’ve never been a stripper, and supposedly never been to a strip club, but still feel the need to inform you about your line of work. Some say that it’s empowering, some say that it’s dangerous, others say that it is a contradiction to be a feminist and a stripper.
So here’s my experience and a few facts to set you straight. I work at Capital Men’s Club in Fyshwick. I pay a flat house rate to work for the night, and the club takes no cut of whatever money I make. I work when I want and for however long I wish to. Although I come from a very working class background, in no way was I financially forced into this job. On my first night I made a hundred bucks dancing for one guy in ten minutes. I don’t feel dirty after working, I generally feel pretty buzzed and excited. I don’t do any drugs, but am always happy to drink at work. My parents don’t know, my older sister does. I do not sell my body, I sell a dance, and my body is never out of my own possession. Most importantly though, I’m a feminist. Being a stripper has not made me less strong in my opinions; if anything, one of the biggest causes I pursue as a feminist is now about the industry.
My experience as a stripper has given me an insight to a more nuanced feminist approach to the issue. On the one hand, we need to acknowledge that in some, but not all cases, sex work can be dangerous, horrific and exploitative. Ignoring these issues does not help anyone. There are girls working as strippers, who feel that they have no other option for sustaining their financial position. Girls that are hooked on drugs to keep them up all hours, and to stop them sinking into a despair because they didn’t make the empowered choice I did; they made an ignorant, unsure one. Girls who are completely unaware of other pathways due to lack of education, or lack of work in other industries. Some clubs take a huge cut of their girls’ money, encourage them to become reliant on different and expensive substances so that they are even more dependent on their club, and take no precautions against them being sexually assaulted. On the other hand, there are women like me: hardworking professionals, who are contracted on their own schedule, and are protected from any kind of assault or unwanted attention while they are at work. The only kind of harassment that I have experienced comes from people who don’t know shit about what we do.
The biggest harm I have faced since I began my job has come from people who spread misinformation about my line of work. Either they think it is perfect everywhere, or that it is sexist, disempowering, and degrading. But the truth is that, it is possible to support sex work while also recognising its flaws, and seeking to change them. If you’re a feminist, you’ll fight for all clubs to be like mine, not for all to cease to exist. You will stop strippers needing to prove that they are perfect in every way other than their profession. You’ll stop making daddy issue jokes about strippers; they don’t help anyone. I am at a world renowned university, fighting for women’s rights, while also making my own money as a stripper. I can do all these things because of the strong women around me and the strength I have found.