Stripped: The Bare Reality of Lap Dancing (2011)

by Rachel Aimee on January 18, 2012 · 9 comments

in Reviews, Strippers

Jennifer Hayashi Danns says she wrote Stripped: The Bare Reality of Lap Dancing “to give a voice to women who have direct experience of lap dancing but are often unheard, and to peel away some of the gloss surrounding this industry”—a laudable goal in an age in which pole-dancing classes are offered at every gym but the exploitative aspects of the strip club industry go largely unexamined in the media.

Danns is herself a former lap dancer and the first section of the book, “Experiences,” includes a series of personal stories by dancers, all of which speak complex truths about working in the industry. Most of the contributing dancers started stripping because it was the only way they could pay for college, and their stories chart familiar trajectories: starting out clueless, learning to make decent money, getting burnt out due to exploitative management, poor security, competitive new girls, and/or pressure to push boundaries, starting afresh at a new club, etc. Most look back on their stripping careers with mixed feelings, appreciating the financial benefits and maybe the friendships, regretting much of the rest. Some of them reflect that in hindsight they could’ve—should’ve—avoided the industry and gotten through college by taking on more debt or living more humbly—a tough choice that many people face on a daily basis.

Standing alone, these first-hand accounts would have served as a powerful counter to the overplayed image of stripping as fun and—that cursed word—empowering. The problem is that Danns doesn’t let them stand alone. She has a very specific agenda. Danns co-wrote the book with Sandrine Lévêque, who worked as Campaign Manager for “Stripping the Illusion,” a campaign by the UK activist group Object that persuaded the British government to change licensing laws to make it more difficult for strip clubs to open. According to the campaign, “lap dancing clubs normalize the sexual objectification of women, create ‘no-go’ zones for women [are strippers not women?], and are a form of commercial sexual exploitation.”

In the “Analysis” section, it quickly becomes clear that the authors are more interested in promoting these ideas than analyzing the dancers’ actual experiences. For example, despite the fact that all the contributing dancers cite financial need as their primary reason for going into the industry, Danns ignores that important piece of the picture and instead suggests that young women’s “willingness to be involved in stripping may be a deluded form of feminism.” By harking on and on about the fact that stripping is not “empowering” after all, Danns conveniently skims over what the industry does offer to women on the poverty line, women with hefty tuition fees to pay, and others: a means of financial independence, a way of getting by.

Instead of discussing ways to empower dancers and make strip clubs safer and fairer, Danns and Lévêque seem obsessed with proving that stripping is sex work and that prostitution occurs in strip clubs, to which end they say embarrassing things like this: “Melissa Farley, a psychologist, states that there is no significant difference between porn stars and prostitutes, and that stripping is a form of prostitution.” OK, can we leave Melissa Farley out of it for a moment and just agree on a few things, one former stripper to another? Yes, stripping is sex work. Yes, prostitution often occurs in strip clubs. Yes, most strip clubs are run in an appallingly exploitative way. And no, like most jobs, stripping for the most part is neither fun nor empowering (except in a financial sense, and financial empowerment is no small thing). And now, having agreed on these things, can we get to the point?

The point, according to Danns and Lévêque, seems to be that stripping is becoming too socially acceptable. They want to warn us all that the mainstreaming of lap-dancing culture is luring innocent college women into thinking that stripping is just a bit of harmless fun and then, OMG, they end up as prostitutes! It’s almost as if they are OK with the sex industry existing but only if it remains stigmatized, so that only the most desperate of women—and, presumably, the most awful of men—end up participating in it.

This may explain why the “Experiences” section contains not only dancers’ stories but also stories of women “affected by” the industry. They include a journalist who sets out on a quest to discover whether stripping is good or bad for women (it’s got to be one or the other, folks!) and appears to have no ethical qualms about sending a male reporter undercover as a customer to catch dancers on film offering sex for money. She is later surprised that the end product turns out to be “little more than a salacious piece of soft porn.” It also includes a cringe-worthy account by a woman struggling to come to terms with the fact that her husband got a lap-dance at a bachelor party. Seriously. And in case you don’t understand the havoc this incident wreaked on her marriage, she provides ten pages of unedited email exchanges between her and her husband as they work through their hurt feelings. At this point, I lost any respect I ever had for this book.

In the end, however, despite her free-and-easy quoting of abolitionists like Farley and Julie Bindel, Danns seems to recognize that an outright strip club ban is not the answer. Instead she proposes having lap dancers speak to school kids about the realities of the industry—an interesting proposal, but one that is hard to imagine being carried out with any kind of nuance.

In an attempt to end on a positive note, I’m going to leave you with a line from Topaz’ story, which made me laugh out loud, because this is what every stripper I’ve ever met says about every club she’s ever worked at: “Under the new manager, the club turned into a horrible, vile, sleazy place to work. The first change was new girls.” Damn those new girls! Of course, Danns uses this recurring theme as proof that the stripping industry is disintegrating into a hellish den of prostitution. I prefer to take it as proof that nothing changes.

Rachel Aimee is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. She co-founded $pread Magazine, where she worked as editor-in-chief for four and a half years. She was a stripper for many years and continues to organize for strippers’ rights via the outreach project We Are Dancers. Find more of her work at rachelaimee.com.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Xeginy January 18, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Thanks for the book review! It can be hard finding decent books written by and/or for sex workers (across the spectrum) and it’s always unfortunate when crap like this gets published.

I can’t believe she actually name-dropped Melissa Farley. Gross.

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Matthew January 18, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Can you IMAGINE strippers talking to high schoolers? Clustercuss.

On an unrelated side note: I wish dancers came to my high school..

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Billie Jackson, M.A., Ph.D. Studennt January 18, 2012 at 8:51 pm

As an expert in the field of stripping – 18 years and thousands of lap dances, I am not even interested in reading this. Most women do NOT prostitute out of a club nor will they (like a gateway drug), ultimately turn into prostitutes. There is a clear distinction between stripping – making someone think you are going to get it on with them, then actually getting it on with them.

Dr. Farley is a retard who is afraid of sex workers. Dr. Farley cautions her researchers about working with sex workers as it can be emotionally exhausting for them to talk about the sexual violence in their lives. BOO!

I call bullshit on dancers entering into this occupation due to the need to put themselves through college. That is glossing over the reality that this is sexual freedom and a women’s way of liberating herself financially and emotionally. I entered into exotic dancing because I liked to party, tan, drink, work very limited hours, be treated like a princess, sleep all day, go to the gym and start all over again. I could work 6 hours and make all of the money I needed for one week. Who wouldn’t want to make $ 100.00 per hour or more versus $ 10.00 at any other meager job? Which, educationally, was all I was qualified to do.

What the hell are the author’s thinking about dancers talking to school kids? Yup! The parents would love that one just like they love hearing their kids teacher is a former prostitute. The krap sure hits that fan!

This conversation belongs in fields like Farley’s where we can educate about the positive aspects of the sex industry. Now, be aware, I did not love stripping. In fact, I hated it. I loved that stripping gave me a way to provide for myself working very part time hours. At the end of my career, I was emotionally, physically, spiritually and sexually exhausted. This exhaustion came not from the industry from society who wanted to punish me (still) about being in the sex industry.

Thank you for your review Rachel…I will skip this one :)

Billie

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Essence Revealed essence revealed January 23, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Thanks Rachel for the review. And Billie thank you for your comment. I’m a stripper who does burlesque & I agree the hardest part about stripping was more being. Beat down by society & what it automatically meant I was, had been thru etc. etc. etc.

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Taylor Serenil February 8, 2012 at 8:58 pm

Thanks for the review–the *first* paragraph made it sound like something I might want to read, but the clear agenda that you dissected so well took it off my list immediately.

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