“What’s your real name?” is the question most commonly asked of strippers. The second? “How much money do you make?” There have been quite a few articles written on the subject of stripper income, and the most recent ones all seem to cite one University of Leeds study, a stripper named Menagerii’s Reddit pic of her best haul ever, and several months of income tracking that I posted on my blog which generated a bit of conversation.* Pretty scant resources. There’s also the occasional boomtown news article that suggests there’s a pot of gold up for grabs by women willing to undress in whatever city is most recently the site of oil drilling or a large sporting event.
Recently, ABC News ran a segment on college students who dance to pay tuition. In that segment, this well-spoken and good looking gal named Maggie claimed to make $180,000 a year dancing on the weekends. Because I once shared my monthly income with the internet, Huffington Post writer Arin Greenwood e-mailed me while she was working on this story to ask if Maggie’s figure seemed reasonable. I told her anything was possible, although that number was high. But more importantly, I wanted to know why everyone was so interested in how much strippers make. [READ MORE]
I was outed the other day as a stripper. I tracked down everyone involved in the gossip chain, found the weak link (who sent me an apology letter), and then asked one of the recipients of this hot morsel of Big News in a Small Town out to coffee. She told me she was surprised that I was nude dancing but she didn’t really care; she thought it was kinda neat and had I read Candy Girl? I would love it, she told me. It’s all about a cool girl stripper. I hadn’t read it but I’ve heard a smattering of talk in the sex worker scene about it. So I decided to read it, seeing as how, as my Small Town friend demonstrated, it’s the modern touchstone to answer every civilian girl’s fantastical question: “What’s it like to be a stripper?”
Here on Tits and Sass there’s general disagreement on the quality of this book. Kat likes it. Catherine doesn’t. So it’s kind of appropriate that I’m writing the review because I generally like 93 percent of the book and abhor 7 percent so deeply, I want to scream at Diablo Cody, “Are you fucking serious?!!”
Let’s start with the good.
As has been discussed a million times at Tits and Sass there are very few statistics about actual accounts of child sex trafficking. There is however a shockingly high rate of ignorant and misguided moral crusaders equating consensual adult sex work with sex trafficking of children, and using unfounded numbers about child sex trafficking to discredit adult sex workers. Though we here try to discourage such lazy notions because of the increased violence and stigmatization it creates for our work, most mainstream media outlets still publish scandalous statistics on sex trafficking based on little to no science and applaud the efforts of popstars and religious zealots who continue to site said statistics.
It’s incredibly hard to accurately determine the number of underage sex workers and the accompanying details of their life. Nonetheless, researchers Ric Curtis and Meredith Dank decided to tackle this issue head on in New York, by interviewing prostitutes under the age of 18 and then using scientific algorithms to extrapolate total numbers of child-aged sex workers as well as learn characteristics of that population. Lost Boys: New Research Demolishes Stereotype of Underage Sex Worker recently published by SFWeekly* explores the findings of the John Jay study and the unsavory response to their results from non-profits, media, police, and legislators.
The researchers surprised themselves and others by strongly disproving the mythologized child prostitute trope: a tween girl whose every move is dictated by a malicious pimp. Instead, this new data paints a different picture starting with gender. Actually 45 percent of kids who sell sex for money are boys. The average age these younger sex workers start working is not a prepubescent eleven or twelve but fifteen, and only 10 percent were involved with a pimp or madam. Finally, almost all of the youths, 95 percent of them, said they sold sex for money because it was the most stable and sure way to support themselves. The study asserts that the total number of teen sex workers in New York is 3,946.
The sex worker blame game has become an increasingly popular trend as evidenced by recent news stories. In the past several weeks, we saw strip club customer Wa Ilg join numerous other customers in suing strip clubs for stunningly high bar and dance tabs for which they claimed they were not responsible because of over-intoxication. In San Antonio, an accountant was convicted for embezzling money to pay for his “stripper addiction” and the judge in Kenneth Star’s ponzi scheme trial somehow managed to partly blame his despicable and greedy behavior on his infatuation with his young stripper wife. These women somehow become the scapegoats for their customers’ behavior and, in retribution, they are forced to pay it back in either shame or cold hard cash. The story that really takes the cake comes from deep inside the bowels of the most popular children’s toy store, Toys R Us. The summarized version goes like this: A director at Toys R Us embezzles millions of dollars and spends it on prostitutes and partying. This guy, Paul Hopes, gets caught and one of his favorite prostitutes, Dawn Dunbar, is dragged into court where an incredulous judge asks her how she can justify the amount of money she received. He orders the money and property she bought with it confiscated. Charlotte and I, a prostitute and a stripper respectively, discuss this article, sex worker responsibility, and so much more: [READ MORE]
Couch Dance, Philadelphia, PA, 2001, Juliana Beasley
This is the first review on Tits and Sassof an academic research article on stripping. Before I get to the review proper, I wanted to qualify this post with some thoughts on academia’s relationship to stripping. First off, in the spirit of showing all my cards, I used to do academic social science research. Secondly, I’m often skeptical of academic research and reporting on stripping and sex work because of researchers’ personal biases cleverly hidden in dense, gigantic vocabulary words. Furthermore, researchers rarely have direct, authentic experience in sex work and they end up appropriating sex worker interviewees’ experience for their own accreditation.
Though I think there is great potential for increasing knowledge by using an anthropological lens to study any subculture, I also think that when the outsider’s perspective is privileged over the insider’s lived experience, the subject being studied takes on the quality of a lab rat: voiceless. I don’t think all researchers need to experience what they study. The outsider’s perspective can be illuminating but it requires a relationship between the researcher and the researched based on respect and mutual gain. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to ascertain whether that was the case from only reading a study. [READ MORE]