Hima B

image from License to Pimp Kickstarter

What would you do if the strip club you worked at became a brothel? That’s the question Hima B. asks in License to Pimp, the feature documentary she is currently raising funds to complete. The controversial premise is that, by charging house fees, strip club are essentially pimping out the dancers, leaving them little choice but to become prostitutes in order to pay the house and make some money for themselves. License to Pimp follows the stories of three San Francisco dancers as they negotiate the changes in their workplaces and respond in three very different ways. 

I was excited to hear about Hima’s film, but I also had some tough questions for her. Although she and I have many things in common—we’re both former strippers who share a hatred of house fees, and we’ve both been fired from clubs for trying to fight labor violations—we haven’t always seen eye to eye. So I figured it was time we sat down and had a proper conversation.

I agree with you that house fees add a huge economic incentive for dancers to turn to prostitution, but there has always been an overlap between stripping and prostitution. The premise that house fees “turned strip clubs into brothels” doesn’t take into account the dancers who would be working as prostitutes anyway. I also think the idea that dancers shouldn’t be “doing extras” in strip clubs is unrealistic, and it prioritizes the needs of the more privileged women in the industry—those who can afford not to turn to prostitution.

I think we disagree on that matter. I started working in 1992, and for the first three years you’d hear about dancers who were prostitutes, but they would leave with the customers instead of having sex in the club. Then the stage fees started going up. At first it was pretty gradual—the fees went from $5 to $25 over about five months. It went from being fully clothed lap dancing where they can’t touch your boobs to, OK, they can touch your boobs, to, now you can get fully naked. And then the stage fees spiked. I distinctly remember it went from $25 to $200 in one day at the Market Street Cinema, and when that happened it was no longer about lap dances. It became survival of the fittest. [READ MORE]

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