What’s the best place to make business? A ranking from worst to best.
What’s the best place to make business? A ranking from worst to best.
Three years ago, at this very time of year, this post came across my Tumblr dashboard. It was the first time I had seen anything like it and I was staggered.
Stripper tumblr (strumplr?) was outraged, and though responses began with the intent of being educational, they devolved quickly as the original poster, Kelly, blasted back with the same clueless defensiveness that most people demonstrate when told they’ve been thoughtlessly oppressive and insulting to another group of marginalized people.
My response then is basically the same as my response now, although the years have honed it and solidified my personal feeling that hobbyists (non-in person sex workers) have no business being within feet of a pole. If you aren’t going to work fifteen-thirty hours a week in 7” lucite heels; having beer breath burped in your face; learning with each rotation how to do pole tricks, in front of a live audience; risking your position in grad school (“ethical conflict”); your ability to get an apartment (“but your income isn’t documented”); your ability to keep custody of your kids (“she’s a fucking whore who takes it off in front of people for money, she’s clearly an unfit mother,” never mind that that wasn’t a problem when she was giving you her money); then you have no business using us as a costume. You have no business pretending that the performance of labor that wrecks our lower discs and ribs, forcing us to suck in our bellies, point our toes, and arch our back to the point of pain, is somehow relevant to your sexuality. I can’t stop you, but that doesn’t make it right. We’re not your sexy stripper costume. If you can’t hack the labor, you don’t get the edgy whiff of transgression.
This was my first intro to the “#notastripper” phenomenon, or as I like to call and tag it, “#the gr8 pole deb8.”
It was not to be my last encounter with these people, not by a long shot. It wasn’t even my last encounter with Kelly, who refused to go away or even show any embarrassment and instead proceeded to insist that she “loves and respects strippers, but she’s not just some bitch with daddy issues shuffling around the pole.”
I mean, honestly. You parse that one. My life is too short.
“#Notastripper” spawned many articles, because what internet editor doesn’t love that combo of sex work and scantily clad women, especially when it means the lead image can be sexy? (I may have the only editors of an internet news/pop culture site who do not go for these things. Bless.) My personal favorite is by Alana Massey, Why is there an ongoing feud between strippers and pole dancers?
All the while pole hobbyists were writing articles and blog posts bemoaning the just truly baffling conflation of pole work with strippers, one woman even daring to say that she was getting stigmatized for her sexuality. Where to even begin!
In the past three years, however, I have never read anything as ignorant, uneducated, condescending, and blatantly offensive as I did this week, in a post leading up to this week’s International Pole Convention in Atlanta, Georgia.
In an open letter to her “Exotic Pole Dance Sisters” Nia Burks calls for them to take the stage this weekend mindful of those who came up with their fun extracurricular activity. All well and good, right? I felt like finally, an asshole pole hobbyist was taking my demand for them to minimize their asshole-ness seriously and acknowledging strippers. Righteous. But read on.
Jacqueline Frances has drawn attention and acclaim with her deceptively simple cartoons of everyday strip club doings. The simplicity of her comics draws you in, and before you know it, you’re seeing men and masculinity from a sex workers’ view that few people can bring themselves to take on consciously. Frances toured last year with her baby-stripper memoir The Beaver Show, and is touring this year with her new project, Striptastic!, a comic book celebration of strippers. She’s traveling the country for the next month and a half on the Sex Witch Tour.
Red: So, early on in Striptastic! you have a great illustration of a woman onstage saying she’s smashing patriarchy, and then you write a bit below that about how stripping is feminist and against patriarchy.
And I wanted to ask if you think it’s that simple, because there are later illustrations of “bad nights,” and one of a girl being groped where the caption is something like, “for every Instagram picture of a stripper with stacks, this is what she had to put up with” (which is WAY TOO REAL). These illustrations hint at a different reality, one where women/strippers don’t have all the power—or much power at all—and the work is a complex negotiations of boundaries with customers for cash and then with management for their respect (or for them to at least act like it) and with some management beggaring dancers before allowing them to leave after a slow night.
So, given these illustrations, I was wondering how you see stripping now, if you still see it as a patriarchy-smashing activity, or if it is in fact just another job with compromises like everything else, or if it can be both. Can it be patriarchy-smashing if the clubs are set up to profit men with as minimal benefit to the dancer as possible? Is a woman with low or no social capital being able to earn a living radical (I think it is!), but can that also co-exist with the fact that she’s able to make this living by working in a space that expressly centers men, male desires, and male conspicuous consumption of female energy, bodies, and services?
And is her work that benefits all these men, is that still smashing patriarchy?
Jacqueline Frances: No, it’s definitely not that simple. We exist within it and all have bills to pay. There are many ways to chip away at and/or smash the patriarchy, and I don’t believe there is one pure and simple way to do it.
Red: What’s your ideal outcome with the book? Are you trying to build stripper solidarity? What would you like to do with that, if that’s your goal? What are your visions?
Jacq: Yeah, I totally want to build stripper solidarity! Hmm, what was my goal with the book? I don’t know—the book kind of just happened organically, I started drawing and I knew that people were disappointed that The Beaver Show wasn’t illustrated—
Red: [laughing] Did you see the review—someone posted a review of The Beaver Show and it was clear they hadn’t even touched it, they describe it as a comic book and I was like, “Mmmm…”
Jacq: No, it’s not! But yeah, there are a lot of typos and it is a baby stripper memoir, it’s how you start. And so I was like, “I guess I should make a book of pictures!”
So I made it, and the survey made it not so much a book about me, more about other people. And I was talking to my mom today, [telling her that] I want it to feel like a yearbook, I want other strippers to open it up and relate to it and be happy about the positive memories and the strength they’ve discovered through stripping and sex work. I really want it to be an artifact for the women who’ve done the work, to celebrate their achievement. And I also want it to be educational for people who don’t do it, but that’s not my MO.
My MO is not teaching dudes, that’s all I do at work all day. I’ll offer some pearls of wisdom, or my zine, How not to be a dick in the strip club, which I just made available on Amazon again, but this is a gift for strippers.
…I’d love to usher in more women telling their stories. I know it’s not safe to come out, I know I have a ton of privilege that makes it safe—stripping is legal, I’m white, I’m educated—I have a lot of privilege that makes it easier to come out, so I want to use that. I want to start a dialogue.
Anyone who knows me will tell you I struggle with nuance. Different people have different ways of expressing this: two of my friends describe me as a typical Capricorn, I’ve been called an “angry bumblebee,” “strident,” and “ideologically rigid” by some of my best friends. They aren’t exaggerating! I’m capable of nuance, especially when talking about my own experiences, but when I see good things said about the sex industry without any mention of the bad, my internal alarm starts screeching.
Which makes me a really weird pick to review Jacqueline Frances’ (AKA Jacq the Stripper) celebration of strippers, Striptastic!, right?
Tits and Sass is a Rihanna blog. This is a sound editorial decision Caty and I made a long, long time ago, and so far it has served us well. Tits and Sass has never been a Drake blog. Which isn’t to say we’re anti-Drake, we’re just not explicitly pro-Drake the same we are, say, pro-Rihanna. Recently, it came to our attention that Drake loves Rihanna, and we love Rihanna, so, therefore, we reluctantly give space to Drake. In any event, this is the internet, and you can’t just ignore something on the internet, because the internet will not allow it, the internet will force you to talk about it. So, here is the post in which we feebly acknowledge that Drake is opening a strip club. That’s right, you heard it here first, folks (actually, you probably didn’t). Drake is opening a strip club. This is our post about it.