Not a Glamorous Job: Stripping/Lap-Dancing (Facts)
Stripping and lap-dancing are usually not perceived as prostitution, but as "entertainment". However, since the 1980's, the line between prostitution and stripping has been increasingly blurred, and the amount of physical contact between exotic dancers and customers has increased, along with the verbal abuse, sexual harassment and physical assault of women in strip clubs. (1) In most strip clubs, customers can now buy a lap dance where the dancer sits on the customer's lap while she wears few or no clothes and grinds her genitals against his, until he ejaculates. (2) Exotic dancers report that the physical contact between dancer and customer during a lap dance at a strip club sometimes includes oral sex, penetration with fingers, and intercourse, perpetrated against the wishes of the lap dancer. (3) As former stripper Taylor Lee explained: "The sale of sexuality through stripping also leads to the customer's impression that he has bought the right to touch, grab, slap or otherwise violate, degrade, or devalue the woman stripping.". (4)
In the U.S., most clubs hire strippers as independent contractors rather than employees, thereby avoiding the need to pay minimum wages, overtime pay and other benefits required by law. As independent contractors, strippers are not entitled to file discrimination claims, receive workers’ compensation, or unemployment benefits. Most strippers are not paid a wage. (5) Thus, the income of strippers is totally dependent on their compliance with customer demands in order to earn tips, and very often, strippers have to give up to 50% of their earnings of the clubs in which they work. (6)
THE KELLY HOLSOPPLE STUDY (1998):
Kelly Holsopple, former stripper (who had been in the stripping industry for 13 years) and co-founder of the Metropotitan Coalition Against Prostitution in Minneapolis, conducted a research in order to investigate women's experiences in stripclubs and to describe the activities in stripclubs from the women's point of view. Data for this research were obtained through interviews, a survey, and the researcher's participant observation while involved in stripping. The study was conducted in two phases: The author first conducted free-flowing qualitative interviews for one to four hours each with 41 women while she was still involved in stripping and compiled participant observer notes about the activities in stripclubs. The women were caucasian, ranged in age from 19 to 40 years old and were involved in stripping from 3 months to 18 years. Then, after exiting stripping, the author employed snowball sampling to recruit 18 participant for a 26-question survey. The author's long-time involvement in the strip industry allowed an association with strippers that was invaluable for administering in-depth surveys regarding sensitive issues. The surveys were administered face-to-face to insure the information was indeed from the women in stripping. The length of time the women in this study were involved in stripping ranged from 3 months to 18 years with an average length of 6 years and 7 months. Women predominantly identified themselves as Caucasian. Only one woman identified herself as Hispanic.
The study's findings revealed that:
-- Although strippers are hired as independent contractors, the fact of their relationship to their supervisors is an employee-employer relationship. Regardless of the agreements claiming independent contractor status, clubs maintain enormous control over the women. The club controls the schedule and hours, requires strippers to pay rental fees, tip support staff large amounts, and even sets the price of table dances and private dances. Clubs have specific rules about appearance and costumes. They even dictate the sequence of stripping and nudity: Holsopple quoted an example when "by the middle of the first song the woman must remove her top, she must be entirely nude by the end of the second song, and must perform a nude floorshow. All this regardless of whether customers are tipping her or not." Club owners or managers also pressure women to shave off all their pubic hair, maintain a year-long tan, or undergo surgery for breast augmentation. In strip clubs, it is common for the strippers to be shaved clean, giving them an adolescent and even childlike appearance.
-- Clubs also regulate when the women may use the bathroom and how many of them can be in the dressing room at one time. Some clubs do not provide seating in the dressing room and forbid smoking in that room, thus preventing strippers from taking a break. When a woman wants to sit down or smoke a cigarette, she must do so on the main floor with a customer.
-- Club managers enforce their rules through fines. Strippers are heavily fined: $1 per minute for being late, as much as $100 for calling in sick, and other arbitrary amounts for "talking back" to customers or staff, using the telephone without permission, and touching stage mirrors. Women are fined for flashing, prostitution, taking off their shoes, fighting with a customer, being late on stage, leaving the main floor before the DJ calls her off, not cashing in one dollar bills, profanity in music, being sick, not cleaning the dressing room, using baby oil on stage, dancing with her back to a customer and being touched by a customer.
-- Despite common misrepresentations of "a dancing Job as flexible" and that "a woman can dance her way through school", many strippers that their jobs take over their lives, that their relationship with the club becomes all consuming and everything associated with being a stripper interferes with living a normal life. Long and late hours, tiredness, drug and alcohol problems, and out of town bookings make it difficult for the women to switch gears. Not only do they spend a significant amount of their time in stripclubs, the activities and influences from the club environment also infiltrate their personal lives and have a detrimental effect on their well being.
-- Although stripclubs are considered legal forms of entertainment, people unassociated with the industry are unaware of the emotional, verbal, physical, and sexual abuse inherent in the industry. Despite claims from management that customers are prohibited from touching the women, this rule is consistently violated. Furthermore, stripping usually involves prostitution.
-- Stripclub activities occur in public spaces (including on stage), private rooms, or other isolated parts of clubs. The typical stripclub scenario presents young, nude or partially nude women mingling with fully clothed male customers. They circulate through the crowd, encouraging men to buy liquor, drinking and talking with men, and soliciting and performing a variety of private dances. Women describe their role in the stripclub ashostess, object, prostitute, therapist, and temporary girlfriend and say they are there to entertain and attract men and business for the owners.
-- Women who work at small strip joints say they can hang out, order in food, and play pool during their shifts. On the other hand, women who work at gentlemen’s clubs have to hustle photographs and drinks and are required to sell promotional T-shirts, calendars, and videos. They can be mandated to sell the items with private dances. Strippers at gentlemen’s clubs are further informed by management that they are not allowed to buy their own drinks, that they have to be sitting with customers, and can never refuse a drink, even when their drinks are full.
-- Some stages are elevated runways so narrow that strippers say that cannot get away from customers on each side touching them, especially when they are kneeling down to take a tip in the side of their thongs or when they have their backs turned. Stages can also be sunken pits with a rail around it and a bar for the customers’ beverages. During a set, a stripper may do striptease, acrobatics, dance, walk, or squat to display her genitals.
-- Strippers revealed the thoughts they had while they were on stage: "I daydream about nothing in particular to pass the time of 12 minutes." "I’m thinking about how good I look in the mirrors and how good I feel in dance movements." "I tell myself to smile." "I think about getting high and that I am making money to get high." "I am giving these guys every chance to be decent, so that I don’t have to be afraid of them." "I am filled with disdain for the customers who do not tip, but sit and watch and direct you to do things for no money." "I think of how cheap these fuckers are, what bills I need to pay."
-- Private dances are usually performed in private areas, away from the larger club view. It is the rule that the private dance involves one female dancer and one male customer. Private dances are situations where women are often forced into acts of prostitution in order to earn tips. Men masturbate openly, get hand jobs, and stick their fingers inside women.
-- A variety of private dances are promoted in strip clubs:
- "Table dancing": performed on a low coffee table or on a small portable platform near the customer’s seat and the woman’s breasts and genitals are eye level to the customer;
- "Couch dancing": a customer entails the dancer standing over him on the couch, dangling her breasts or bopping him in the face with her pubic area;
- "Lap dancing": requires the woman to straddle the man’s lap and grind against him until he ejaculates in his pants. A variation involves the woman dancing between his legs while he slides down in his chair so that the dancer’s thighs are rubbing his crotch as she moves;
- "Bed dancing": requires a woman to lay on top of a fully clothed man and simulate sexual intercourse until he ejaculates;
- "Shower dancing": offered in upscale clubs and allows a clothed patron to get into a shower stall with one or more women and massage their bodies with soap;
- "Wall dancing": requires a stripper to carry alcohol swabs to wash the customer’s fingers before he inserts them into her vagina. His back is stationary against the wall and she is pressed against him with one leg lifted;
- "Peep shows": feature simulated or actual acts directed by openly masturbating customers. Customers sit in a private booth and view the women through a glass window.
- Live sex shows involve 2 or more individuals engaging in simulated or sexual activity performed behind glass or on a stage. Customers openly masturbate while watching the show from the audience or through an opening in a private booth.
-- Strippers revealed the thoughts they had while they were doing private dances: "I don’t want him to touch me, but I am afraid he will say something violent if I tell him ‘no’." "I was thinking about doing prostitution because that’s when customers would proposition me." "I could only think about how bad these guys smell and try to hold my breath." "I spent the dance hyper vigilant to avoiding their hands, mouths, and crotches." "We were allowed to place towels on the guys’ laps, so it wasn’t so bad." "I don’t remember because it was so embarrassing."
-- Strippers described a range of types and qualities of dressing rooms: they are expected to change clothing in beer coolers, broom closets, and public restrooms. "Some stripclubs' dressing rooms are nice with lights, mirrors, vanities, and chairs, and are equipped with lockers, and tanning beds. Other clubs have make-up mirrors but no chairs or ashtrays to prevent dancers from lingering. Women complain that too many dressing rooms are down isolated halls or in the basements of establishments and that they have to scream for help when customers intrude. Some are so damp or filthy that the women cannot take their shoes off. Other dressing rooms are so frigid that dancers carry small space heaters to and from work. The dressing rooms are used to change costumes, drink, do drugs, do hair and make-up, iron costumes, do homework, bitch about customers, avoid customers, talk about problems, hang out. In strip joints and rural bars, women lay on blankets or inside sleeping bags between sets and nap and read." Women drink heavily while they are getting ready.
-- Kelly Holsopple revealed that all of the eighteen women in her 26-question survey reported being physically abused in strip clubs. Physical abuse ranged from three to fifteen times with a mean of 7.7 occurrences over the course of their involvement in stripping. All of them reported sexual abuse in strip clubs. Sexual abuse ranged from two to nine occurrences with a mean of 4.4 occurrences over the course of their involvement in stripping. All of them reported verbal harassment in strip clubs. Verbal abuse ranged from one to seven occurrences with a mean of 4.8 occurrences over the course of their involvement in stripping. All of them reported being propositioned for prostitution. Seventy eight percent of them were stalked by someone associated with the stripclub with a range of one to seven incidents. Sixty one percent of the women report that someone associated with the stripclub has attempted to sexually assault her with a range of one to eleven attempts. All of women in the survey witnessed the same forms of abuse happen to other strippers in the clubs. "The overwhelming trend for violence against women in stripclubs was committed by customers of the establishments. Stripclub owners, managers, assistant managers, and the staff of bartenders, music programmers or disc jockeys, bouncers, security guards, floorwalkers, doormen, and valet were significantly less involved in violence against the women. According to the women in this study, almost all of the perpetrators suffered no consequence whatsoever for their actions."
-- Women in the survey reported that customers spit on them, spray beer, and flick cigarettes at them. Customers also pelted strippers with ice, coins, trash, condoms, room keys, pornography, and golf balls. Some women have been hit with cans and bottles thrown from the audience. Customers pull women’s hair, yank them by the arm or ankle, rip their costumes, and try to pull their costumes off. Women are commonly bitten, licked, slapped, punched, and pinched. Two women in this survey reported that men had pitched a live guinea pig and a dead squirrel at them.
-- The physical abuse strippers suffered included more frequently being grabbed by the waist, the arm or the ankle, being licked, punched, pinched, spit on, or bitten, but also being slapped, having their hair pulled, or getting kicked. Customers had also pulled the dancers' costumes off and thrown things at them.
-- Speaking of the sexual abuse they suffered, strippers reported that customers:
- often grab their breasts, buttocks, and genitals;
- frequently attempt and succeed at penetrating strippers vaginally and anally with their fingers, dollar bills, and bottles;
- expose and rub their penises on women, and masturbate in front of the women.
-- "Women in this study consistently connected lap dances to the sexual abuse they suffered in the club. "That’s the first thing men try to do when they get close to you and always in a lap dance." Stripclub owners, managers, and staff also expect women to masturbate them and some have forced intercourse on strippers."
-- The sexual abuse strippers suffered included more frequently having their breasts, buttocks, or genitals grabbed, or having customers exposing their penises to them, rubbing their penises on them, or masturbating in front of them. However, the sexual abuse also included men penetrating strippers vaginally or anally with fingers or objects, and occasionally men forcing strippers to masturbate them, or forcing intercourse.
-- Strippers reported that verbal abuse was extremely common: "customers, owners, managers, and staff alike engage in harassing namecalling." Women said they were continually called "cunt, "whore", "pussy", "slut", and "bitch". They added that men in the stripclub also called them other deamining and degrading names.
-- Some of the women reported that men associated with the stripclub had threatened to hurt them physically. These women reported from 3 to 150 threats during their involvement in stripping. Threats ranged from verbal threats of slaps, ass whippings, and rapes to physical postures of punching and back hand slapping. One woman reported: "When I wouldn’t let a customer grab on me, he would call me a bitch and threaten to kick my ass or rape me." Another woman said: "When a customer grabs and the woman and the girl takes action, they threaten".
-- Strippers reported that Men associated with stripclubs repeatedly attempted to contact them against their wishes. Strippers also reported that they had been stalked by stripclub customers. Customers telephoned, wrote letters, sent gifts, and followed the women around against their wishes. They followed the women home, as well as to the other places they were going. Women who traveled the strip circuit to rural areas reported that some men followed strippers from city to city and state to state. "Furthermore, local men in small towns harass the visiting women by calling and knocking on the doors of the motel rooms and have been caught peeping in the windows of strippers’ motel rooms."
-- A majority of the women reported they were asked to perform sexual acts on men associated with the stripclub (mostly customers) for money. "Women say that prostitution is influenced and suggested by management.One woman new to stripping was dumbfounded at how little money she was making taking her clothes off, so she asked the manager for his advice on increasing tips. He suggested turning tricks and said he could help her set up dates. Management sets up tricks, says it is good for business, and obligates women to turn over money from prostitution to the club. Women say prostitution is promoted even though owners tell women they would be punished if they turn tricks. Some stripclubs are notorious for promoting prostitution."
-- "Women disclosed that they were recruited into prostitution through stripping. Although the strip industry markets stripping as something other than prostitution, some women consider prostitution an extension of stripping and stripping a form of prostitution. Pimps season women first with stripping and then turn them out into brothels or escort services for more money. Tricks, sugar daddies, pimps, and drug dealers in the stripclub seek to engage women in prostitution."
-- Strippers revealed they had been pressured to performed sexual acts by customers, owners and managers, or their relatives, friends or associates, and also club staff, some vice officers and police officers.
-- "Women in stripping are overwhelmingly motivated by the promise of wealth or a will to survive... Women in this study report the best part of stripping to be the money. "The only part that keeps me there is the money". At the same time, women are trapped and disappointed by the money." Typically strippers say: "I hated it…but glad I had it at the time for the income.", "Women are reduced to exposing genitals for $1 bills.", "It pays the bills… if we could pay bills another way we would.", "The bar owners and management are exploitative, they steal money.", or "It’s hard to get out because of the money." In spite of the money strippers seek to earn, they also have to pay out fines, kickbacks, 100% of their social security insurance and taxes, travel and hotel expenses, and the costs for costumes, tanning, and plastic surgery. Women reported that they had to have the right attitude to make money.This normally was described as being drunk, high or numb. Others feel it required tolerance. "The ability to ignore customers for just being there." Most strippers said it was easier when the men are tipping regularly and when they do not have to interact with men intimately.
-- "Stripclub owners, managers, pimps and the media portray stripping as a glamorous way to earn big money fast and use this strategy to lure young women into stripping." However, the strippers interviewed thought that women and girls don’t know what they are getting into when they first start dancing: "It’s really harmful because it is so benign, so accepted." "Girls think they will have fun dancing and get paid, they have no idea they have to fight men’s hands, and dicks, and tongues, and then fight for every fucking dollar bill you earn." "It was a lot different than I originally thought."
-- Women in stripping interviewed for this study didn't think it took much skill to be a stripper: "It would be nice to say women need dance talent but it’s not true." "Tits, pussy, and blonde hair is all it takes." They reported a dissociation to abuse: "It takes a willingness to do it…anybody can do it." "It takes somebody who can shut themselves off and be really fake." "…the ability to take a lot of abuse."
-- Strippers explained how they disaproved of the men associated with stripping and the impact that stripping has on them. They also said they did not like talking to customers, interacting with them, and resented having to deal with them at all. Strippers found customers irritating when they were drunk. The women characterized customers as being "scum", "psycho mama’s boys", "rapists and child molesters", "old perverted men", "idiots", "assholes", and "pigs", who have negative attitudes toward women, and who are "pitiful and pathetic", "stupid and ignorant", "sick", "controlling and abusive".
-- Talking about customers, strippers said: "They smell so sour, they breathe very heavy and kind of wheeze when women are near." "They are weak abusers who have to subordinate women and girls to feel like a man." "I see my dad. They’re old enough to be my father." "Yuck. I am repulsed by the sight, sound, smell, and touch of them." "I’m embarrassed for them."
-- Strippers in this study denounced stripclub owners as pimps and "glorified pimps" and maintained that owners misuse power and are sick. The women also cited that managers mistreat women, make every attempt to take money from the women, and that are sick because they are affiliated with the industry and know the harm they do. The women described the rest of the staff (music programmers, doormen, bartenders, bouncers, floorwalkers, and valet) as wanna-be pimps because they always want to be tipped. Strippers saw them as "derelicts who can’t get a job anywhere else and who think they are cool for working in a stripclub." "Strippers perceive staff as creepy and disrespectful and as "looky-lous" who just want to look at naked women for free."
-- "Clearly strippers’ attitudes about men are impacted by the activities in stripclubs. Women say they don’t like men and men are worthless. Likewise women believe stripping inhibits their ability to be involved in a normal relationship." The women said things like: "It affects your lovelife and feelings about men." "Nice boyfriends can’t handle it." "Too large a percentage of men fit into category of customer and I do not want to hate men."
-- Strippers in this study expressed mostly negativism regarding their experiences in stripping with themes of abuse, deception, drugs, and low self-esteem: "I would never do it again. It was degrading." "No doubt that it led me to prostitution and my pimp." "Taught me how to control men and gave me a false illusion of control. Takes a long time to regain self-control." "Don’t do it. Once you do it, it is hard to get out." "If there is any way you can avoid it…it is hard to get out once you start." "I wouldn’t recommend it. It is too stressful and I am always comparing myself to other women on the outside." "I wish I had put more money away and had more education by the time I quit. I just didn’t know it wasn’t about success for us, it was about using us." "I spent my entire young adulthood being abused. It is hard to undo all this." "Drugs destroyed beautiful, healthy women." "I blame the men…it is all bad. I didn’t think highly of myself while I was in stripping, but I am glad I got out of it by standing up for myself." "It is hard to view myself for who I am and my accomplishments rather than how I look and attention from men. I got this from stripping."
-- Above all, strippers rejected the popular image of stripping and clarified the MOST COMMON MYTHS about strip clubs: "That no one touches you, women enjoy it, and it’s okay for men to go there." "That women actually get to wear a costume and actually get to dance." "That we get sexually aroused doing this." "That men are there to have harmless fun, when they are really there to abuse women." "That it is a big party and that the women want to be there for some reason other than money, like sex or to meet men or because they are nudists or exhibitionists." "That you are doing things you want to be doing." "That they are not degrading us because girls always are justifying it with college." "That it is not prostitution." "That it is glamorous, fast money, easy work, way to get ahead." All women rejected those misconceptions.
PROFITABLE EXPLOITS: LAP DANCING IN THE UK (2004):
Journalist Julie Bindel carried out a study on British lap-dancing clubs for Glasgow City Council. The study was multi-methodological: methods used were literature review, Internet research, visits to clubs and interviews of dancers, customers and staff. Six lap-dancing clubs were visited: four in Glasgow, and two in London.
The study concluded the following main points:
-- Contrary to the opinion of club owners interviewed for the purposes of this study, lap-dancing clubs can be seen as part of the sex industry;
-- Lap dancing is becoming increasingly normalized;
-- Activities within the clubs can be seen as detrimental to gender equality;
-- The buying and selling of sexual services does occur in some lap-dance clubs;
-- Current licensing conditions appear inadequate;
-- Working conditions and terms of employment of lap-dancers are inadequate and problematic;
-- There is strong evidence that dancers can suffer humiliation and sexual harassment on a regular basis, from customers and staff management;
-- There is a strong public lobby opposing lap-dance clubs in the UK and elsewhere;
-- Many dancers begin working in lap-dance clubs through lack of real choice;
-- The requirement of dancers to "glamour model" to advertize the club, and the evidence that some customers take covert photographs of the dancers whilst naked, suggests links between lap-dancing clubs and pornography.
On Sept 24, 2004, Al Erickson of Adults Saving Kids (adultssavingkids.org) gave a workshop at the prostitution conference in Toledo, Ohio, titled "No Bigger Lie: a former manager's truth telling revelations regarding adult entertainment establishments" in which the video played was an interview with David Sherman, former manager of several strip clubs. The former strip club owner is David Sherman, currently the director of NOALA, the Natl Organization Against Lewd Activities. Here is some of what he's testified about:
"Having been involved in the Adult Entertainment Industry for 14 years, I am very aware of the consequences this business can have on all involved. Over the years I have seen friendships, families, and lives destroyed.
"The girls, if they have never danced, are usually extremely against it and most of them are hired as waitresses, even though waitresses are not needed. This makes the atmosphere become a part of their life. At this point they see it as a job, not as stripping, and are converted quite easily to dancing. Once dancing they get used to being objectified. It becomes as important to them to hear how beautiful they are 200 times a day as it is to actually make money from the dancing.
"Between the use of drugs to medicate what they do and hearing how beautiful they are all the time, they soon experience what I call "BDA", Basic Dancer Attitude. This is when the dancer thinks that no matter what friends, children, husband and families think about her, it doesn't matter. They can all be replaced because all of the patrons around her find her attractive, beautiful and idolized."
An example he gave:
"Another victim was a medical student from the University of Toledo. Her husband of only a few weeks worked in one of these adult clubs. Being newlyweds, they needed money but she did not want to dance. Soon after waitressing she easily converted to dancing. The life quickly consumed her. She moved to St. Louis for her medical career but soon quit school and started dancing at a club there. Divorce quickly followed and and she went on to California doing drugs and making XXX films. I recently learned she has contracted AIDS after about two years in the pornography film business and is now working in a fast food restaurant in San Diego." (7)
(1) Farley et al., Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: An Update on Violence and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder; 2003 (2) Lewis J., Lap dancing: Personal and Legal implications for Exotic Dancers; 1998. (3) Jannit Rabinovitch, PEERS: Prostitutes' Empowerment, Education and Resource society, Canada, in Prostitution, Trafficking and Traumatic Stress; 2003. (4) Taylor Lee, "In and Out: A Survivor's Memoir of Stripping", in Stark C. and Whisnant R.Eds, Not for Sale; 2004. (5) Fischer C., Employee Rights in Sex Work: The Struggle for Dancers' Rights as Employees; 1996; Mattson H., Ivy League Stripper; 1995. (6) Enck G. E. and Preston J., Counterfeit Intimacy: A Dramaturgical Analysis of an Erotic Performance; 1988; Forsyth C.and Deshotels T., The Occupational Milieu of the Nude Dancer; 1997 (7) Source: Al Erickson of Adults Saving Kids (adultssavingkids.org), quoted on Genderberg.com (forum).
Copyright 2008. Maggie Hays. All Rights Reserved.
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