In the midst of Girls Gone Wild culture, in which stripping is made to seem effortless and women’s naked bodies are cast as easily replaceable, Kim Price-Glynn enters the Lion’s Den. The Den, a seedy strip club in a small, white, working-class town in the Northeast, is a far cry from the glamorous media images of low lights, glamorous makeup, and dazzling stage sets. Quite the contrary, the Den’s physical layout—run-down and in serious need of repair—mirrors the niche its strippers occupy as the exploited and expendable employees of a club centered around male desire and profit.
Strip Club: Gender, Power, and Sex Work is an ethnography by Price-Glynn in which she explores what she calls the “gendered processes” underlying the organizational structure at a strip club. While working as a cocktail waitress, Price-Glynn turned her attention to the formal and informal processes by which strip club employees, dancers, and customers exercised authority and had their needs and desires fulfilled. Who “wins” when it comes to stripping? Her answer, while attentive to the ambiguities, suggests that males—customers and employees—“win.” Strippers get the short end of the stick.
Price-Glynn doesn’t believe that strip clubs need to be shut down, nor that strippers are caught in cycles of abuse. Instead, she places the “blame” for the exploitative conditions experienced by Lion’s Den dancers on a larger culture of misogyny. Rape culture, the permissibility of violence, and the unique intersection in the club of racism, ageism, and sizeism are overarching social realities that converge to enable the Den’s brand of sexist exploitation. [READ MORE]
There was something surreal about reading Susana Maia’s Transnational Desires: Brazilian Erotic Dancers in New York during down time in the strip club where I now work. Perhaps because I was reading about Astoria strip clubs while in an Astoria strip club, Maia’s ethnography hit close to home. Maia and I are both social scientists; we even share some of the same academic mentors. We both felt an uncomfortable alienation in Manhattan strip clubs. We’re both interested in intimacy, desire, gender, and transnational ties for immigrants.
The similarities stop there. Maia saw herself in many of the Brazilian middle class dancers she so passionately describes in the book, whereas I haven’t yet met another South Asian or Muslim dancer in four years of dancing. Maia chose to write about strip clubs as an observant ally and outsider, and she never danced. I, on the other hand, focus on an entirely different subject in my academic work. Stripping keeps me entertained and helps pay my bills. I’m not doing my dissertation on strip clubs, though friends often inquire why not. Maia sees herself as ambiguously positioned between the United States and Brazil. For me, the U.S. is certainly home.
A reader might be surprised to see a lack of citations from the so-called “sex worker rights literature” in this book. For Maia, this is a deliberate choice, as she resists reducing these women to a static “sex worker” identity. The book is about more than just what happens in the strip club for Brazilian dancers. Maia explores race, colorism, downward class mobility, and cultural citizenship as she traces the journeys of nine dancers. She asks why middle class Brazilian women, often highly educated, choose to move to New York and work in the adult entertainment industry. [READ MORE]
Unequal Desires is a long overdue work that (finally!) focuses on race as central in the lives of strippers. While some of the literature on stripping focuses on race as a footnote or tangent, for Brooks, race is the central concern. Everything from everyday micro-level issues (hiring decisions, shift availability, and stage sets) to the very large-scale (zoning laws, likelihood of arrest) are explored in this book, with the conclusion that stripping is deeply racialized. Brooks uses interviews with dancers and customers as well as her own observations to confirm what she began to suspect during her time at the Lusty Lady: The strip club is another site where the black female body’s inferior position is reinforced. Through everyday actions, customers, management, and strippers all participate in its systematic devaluation.
The strip club presents the black woman’s body in strangely contradictory terms. On the one hand she is thought of as readily available, sexually. Customers may prefer a “black” club or an individual black dancer because they assume they can get more sexual contact than with a non-black dancer. On the other hand, the black female body is systematically made invisibilize or rendered unattractive. Brooks analyzes the pictures on strip club websites as evidence of this invisibility.
Brooks does attend to the clubs that may be considered “black” clubs. She considers the various, complicated motivations that black dancers have for wanting, or perhaps being forced, to work at these clubs, and simultaneously considers the social capital a “high end” (implicitly, not black) club carries as well. For many of the black dancers, hiring practices prevent them from getting in the door at clubs where they are in the minority. If they make it through the hiring process, discriminatory practices prevent them from staying.