So you’re a feminist, ey? You tell your kids that girls and boys are equal? That little ladies can grow up to be firefighters and astronauts, that boys can play with dolls and paint their nails? That’s a good start, but the bare minimum a decent adult can do in the year 2017. With a rising oligarchy on our hands, it is time that women and minorities and working class people begin supporting each other. A society is stronger when it is less divided, and we can mend our societal rifts by deeply examining which attitudes reinforce oppression and harm. We can each do our part, and I’m here as a feminist sex worker to tell you that the normalization of sex worker abuse by American women contributes to the abuse of all women.
Here’s the thing: feminism isn’t as simple as reblogging the cutest Tumblr “Yas Queen” inspos, or buying “Male Tears” coffee mugs. To support equality of all people, despite their gender, race and class, it’s vital that you put your money where your mouth is ― and I don’t mean between your teeth at my stripper stage.
How do you feel about sex work? If you’re inclusive in your feminism you understand that everyone should be born with full ownership of their body and their time. I appreciate you, and you need read no further! But for the American women who hashtag their pole classes with #notastripper, or who still think that strippers are funny as the butt of a Tina Fey joke, you’ve got a long way to go, baby.
It was mid-March this year, 2017. I was stepping onto the strip club floor, in the first minutes of my Tuesday evening shift. As of this writing, I celebrate my eighth year at this club. I scanned the crowd, taking the temperature of what kind of reception I could expect. Would the audience be gracious and kind? Stingy and sexist? Entitled and arrogant? I discover this by interacting, but first I study.
It was early, and the crowd was sparse. A few men pushed limes into their beer bottles, someone tap, tap, tapped at the video poker machine in the corner. The bartender shuffled ice. The other night-shift strippers trotted up the dressing room stairs, selecting their music at the DJ station, stretching their calves and running fingers through their hair.
A woman with a pink hat stared pointedly at the stage. She was wearing a pink hat, but not any pink hat. A conspicuous, knitted, cat-eared hat that I recognized from the historic January 21st Women’s March. She sat close to the bar, her head resting on her fist and her eyes fixed on the naked woman spinning upside-down.
In front of Pink Hat was a plate of half eaten pasta and some fries. Her drink was scarcely colored, the ice but little pebbles in the glass ― she had been there for some time. Two men in worn, dusty hats and Carharts clapped loudly and pushed a few more dollars across the metal stage we call “the rack”. It was my turn on stage.
“Hey, did Pink Hat Lady tip you?” I whispered into my co-worker’s hair as she brushed past me to leave the stage. She paused, without raising her eyes to betray my inquiry, “No, just stared the whole time. She’s been here for two hours.” Great. Taking a deep breath for patience, I trotted across the stage in my stripper sneakers and my onesie, smiling big for the two blue-collared boys who were already laying bucks on the rack.
I once heard, “I don’t have to tip you, I have a vagina too!” from a female non-customer. Akin to, “I’m a gynecologist, so I don’t need to pay money to see pussies!” it’s one of the most insulting and entitled attitudes that adult entertainers commonly encounter. “Strippers love female customers, we are way better than gross sweaty men,” is a lie that some women actually believe. No girl, we don’t. When you come to work to make money, you prefer customers who are actually willing to exchange currency for labor. All women participate in emotional labor for free, and I can’t imagine stepping foot into a venue where women work for tips [only] and feeling entitled to give them literally zero for their efforts. Shit, I tip my barista 50% and she screws up the latte like ten percent of the time.
American culture is so deeply entrenched in a misogyny that encourages slutshaming, whorephobia and victim-blaming, that the perpetrators are of all genders. Women are no less hateful of sex workers, and permissive of their abuse, than men. In my decade of immersion in the World of Whoredom, American men and women both have treated sex workers like shit. There is no difference between the hatred I receive via online comments, insufferably ignorant conversations with strangers in public or the number of women that I have watched lose contact with their families due to their jobs.
The hashtag “#strippershatemebecause” was an attempted Twitter-troll campaign encouraging and making light of physical abuse. Examples include: “#strippershatemebecause I don’t throw cash, I throw rocks” or “#strippershatemebecause I kill them after I’m done raping them.”
It is exhausting to defend against such abuse, and fortunately the clapback to this hashtag came immediately and from scores of strippers and civilians.
While the internet makes it easier for trolls and misogynists to capitalize on jokes about our abuse, there is another side of the coin (don’t ever tip in coins, unless you find yourself in a Canadian strip club, ey?) ― the proliferation of smart, proud sex workers fuels our rallying cry against those who hurt us. Jacqueline Frances is one such gal. This New York based stripper and comedian joins battle with a cartoon series, as found on her Instagram. Jacq’s “#inquisitivestrippers” characters illustrate the patronizing and fake concern sex workers are so commonly subjected to.
Jacq’s message never falters: People in all walks of life use their bodies, their emotions, and their time in the pursuit of currency.
Indeed, Pink Hat sat for three more hours, sipping her drink, never once leaving her seat, and never once tipping me nor any of the other hard-dancing ladies. Her pink hat perched upon her head, like a crown celebrating the hypocrisy of fauxminism. I would rather be tipped by a sweaty, swearing trucker than break my back for nothing for a smirking woman. I’ve been groped and insulted by as many cis-women as I have by cis-men, which is an alarming rate of female on female victimization, considering that female clients are a quarter of my patronage.
“Always look over your shoulder, or in the mirror, when you bend over”, I told the wide eyed newbie, after a female audience member shoved a dollar between Newbie’s labia. “People will assault you in front of others, because they think it’s okay, because they’ve been raised to believe that we are accepting of abuse.”
The DJ looked on, and I turned to him, “I’m not trying to scare her! But she needs to know, people will enter in to this venue specifically to abuse you.”
Newbie chewed this over, her neatly tweezed eyebrows furrowing together. “I could get an infection from that dollar…”
According to many so-called feminists, I’m part of the problem. Attitudes of fake concern over women’s welfare and safety are linked to Puritan attitudes on sex and its commodification. I’m sick of hearing from affluent women who have never in their life spoken with an “out” sex worker. I hate to break it to you, but Tina Fey and Lena Dunham are not feminist icons. They perpetuate dismissive ignorance about sex workers, thus supporting stigma that reinforces harm against sex workers.
Beauty is a commodity, and not everyone can come by sex and touch for free. I’m a proud provider of sexual stimulation and inspiration. Contrary to regurgitated hate speech, I did not choose “the easy way out”. Showing up at an office job to go through the motions of mainstream America is an easier script to follow than a constant hustle for tips, and yet I like what I’ve chosen. You should respect literal whores; having sex with someone for whom you have no affection is stressful, and the market is competitive. Escorts and trophy wives share a similar business model; both offer touch and comfort to a man who provides shelter, food, and/or an allowance. For Sugar Babies it’s much easier to fire your Sugar Daddy, than to divorce. And as a civilian, aka “non sex worker,” I’ve had enough bad civilian sex to know that I walk away more satisfied when I receive $8 a minute. Again, the difference is choice.
Physical labor, emotional labor, mental labor ― it’s all work. Capitalism and the rising cost of living have whittled down the available careers that offer a decent income, yet adult entertainment continues to be a viable source of money. You simply don’t need to shit on women for making a choice that you didn’t.
I understand it can be easy to broadly paint a dark picture of adult industry, when headlines and viral stories of strip club corruption and sex-trafficking rings are popular clickbait. Like any business, there are people who commit abuse under the guise of their profession. Jared the Subway Guy raped children during his vacations; does that mean that sandwiches are inherently exploitative? No, but opponents of sexual equality unscrupulously use any atrocity to buttress their arguments. Indeed, there is corruption in public schooling, private schooling, churches, after school programs, adoption clinics, and hospitals! I suppose we should do away with these institutions entirely. See what I did there? I made an Alex Jones leap.
Keeping sex work and adult entertainment illegal does what Prohibition did for alcohol; gangsters ran the streets and moonshine reigned king. The War on Drugs did not remove drugs from the streets, but rather locked up two generations of poor people, primarily Black and Hispanic/Latino. Similarly, at least one third of female prisoners have engaged in sex work at one time, and their lifetime of incarceration and recidivism is partly due to belief that there is something inherently wrong with trading cash for certain types of touch. If you want to prevent separating families and stop this oppression of women, you must lend a hand to lift ‘em up, or at least stay out of their hair.
If you want to fight actual trafficking, support legislation that decriminalizes it. Last month, California Democrats made waves with a bill that no longer allows police to arrest minors suspected of soliciting sex. That’s right, sexually trafficked children can no longer be cuffed, but are rather offered resources and options to leave their pimp. In 2015, I lobbied for Oregon’s HB1359, which established an anonymous hotline for live entertainers (aka strippers) to report workplace grievances, or seek resources for filing taxes or acquiring healthcare.
If you want to “help” pornstars, stop re-blogging stolen porn on Tumblr. Don’t buy or support porn with known rapists like James Deen or Chico Wang.
Sex workers and adult entertainers are tired of defending their livelihood. “Exploitation” is a heavy word to toss around, especially when the ”victim’s” own feelings about their experience are entirely disregarded. If you want to help women, help those who are truly in need. The real voices of capitalism and commercialism are unheard, in agricultural fields, in sweatshops, and in kitchens. More women face sexual violence in their own home than in a strip club, how are you proactive against domestic violence? “Boys will be boys” is the poison pill that so many of us prescribed: shut up and take your medicine and swallow the blame, whore. And besides, some of these so-called arguments are moronic.
Gosh darnit, I like my job. Working in a strip club is hard work, besides the back breaking, rib popping pole tricks, I grow weary of the patronizing female patrons who sport their sexiest sweatshop sewn minidress to sip cocktails and give me and my cohort the stink eye. Face it, you’re not offended by the notion that we could be working in tough places, you’re offended by female sexuality.
In sum, I hope you examine your priorities; feminism is not about what you wear, but about where your money goes. Support women at work. Support bodily autonomy. Keep your pink knitted symbols of female solidarity.
Anyway, are you still sure you are a feminist?
This post originally appeared on The Scold.