Exotic dancers don’t get any respect

Exotic dancers


Exotic dancers don’t get any respect, say some sociologists, who aim to
dress up their image.The wiseguy headlines flew fast (and injurious) in late July when New
Jersey police accused exotic dancer Linda Kay of alleged “improper
disposition of human remains.”

Seems the 31-year-old Goth-style dancer in Union, N.J., kept a severed hand
named “Freddy” in a jar back home, a pal to her six human skulls.

“ARE THEY REAL?” slavered Philadelphia’s so-called People (Peeper?) Paper
on its front page, followed by SHE GOT A HAND. Even the New York Times
rewrote a genre classic: A SEVERED HAND IN A TOPLESS DANCER’S JAR.

Kay’s attorney sounded less amused. “She is a good, gentle individual with
a nontraditional job,” he told the Associated Press, suggesting Kay’s
occupation provoked excessive police action and mockery over her one-woman
Mütter Museum: “There’s been a tremendous amount of media attention for a
crime on the lower end of the spectrum.”

If he needs expert witnesses to counter reflex assumptions about Kay’s
character, he’s come to the right decade. “Stripper scholars” – yes, they
exist, though they grind more than they bump – agree that “stripper stigma”
remains powerful.

Stripper stigma is still around


“Stripper stigma is still around,” says Bernadette Barton, a sociologist at
Morehead (Ky.) State University and author of the just-published Stripped:
Inside the Lives of Exotic Dancers (NYU Press).

“If you just look at the discourse around the Duke case a few months ago,”
agrees anthropologist Katherine Frank, author of G-Strings and Sympathy:
Strip Club Regulars and Male Desire (Duke, 2002), “you can see there’s
still very much a stigma. It was being said by all sorts of different
newscasters [about the exotic dancer who brought rape charges against Duke
lacrosse players], ‘Should we take what she says the same as we take the
testimony of someone else?’ ”

If there’s any counterweight against that prejudice, it’s the boom in
scholarship about strippers and men’s clubs.

Studies include Dancing for Dollars and Paying for Love: The Relationships
Between Exotic Dancers and Their Customers (Palgrave) by Danielle Egan, a
St. Lawrence University sociologist. Journal articles bear titles such as
Carol Ronai and Carolyn Ellis’ “Turn-Ons for Money: Interactional
Strategies of the Table Dancer” in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography.

“I do think the subject is completely legitimate,” says Frank, a
postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Wisconsin at Madison with
a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Duke.

A lot of the work being done on strippers


“A lot of the work being done on strippers,” says Barton, “is by women
working through their own issues… . The fact that they’re normalizing and
legitimizing stripping is really good.”

“The cliche in the popular cultural mind,” continues Barton, “is that
[dancers] are victims who are drug abusers, whose boyfriends are making
them do it… . The radical feminist view would be that they are dupes of
patriarchy, that they’re trying to please men… or they’re all sexually

But the thrust of stripper scholarship is that both dancers and customers
are more like your next-door neighbors. Some are your next-door neighbors.

Barton presents them as open-minded “intelligent risk takers” who are
“comfortable exploring things other people are scared of.” Alluding to the
Linda Kay case, she adds, “I don’t think they’re more likely to be
perverted or sadistic or criminal.”

She estimates that women who stay in exotic dancing remain about five to
six years. At first it’s satisfying. A dancer will “be told she’s
beautiful… be able to pay all her bills.” But, Barton argues, the job
slowly takes a toll, mainly because of society’s condemnation.

“Most dancers hide their work from their family and friends,” Barton says.
As time goes on, “it becomes hard to find a partner.” Abuse from customers,
while infrequent, accumulates and leaves a mark: “So the attention, the
glamour, the money become less important.”

“The stigma associated with stripping,” Barton says, “is so overwhelming,
and so draining to a woman’s sense of self, it’s hard for her to shake it

Frank’s book, in contrast, focuses on male customers. Like many in the
field – though not Barton – Frank worked as a dancer. She abandoned her
original research about peers because it seemed obvious “they were doing it
for the money.” With the males, she says, “I couldn’t figure out at first
what they were getting. It seemed to me that they were paying a lot of
money for nothing. So I started to explore what it was they were

Her answer? Safe transgression. Frank’s informants told her they “didn’t
want sexual release. That would have been too much for them, given their
own ideas about monogamy.”

“There’s the idea,” Frank explains, “that men who visit the clubs are
socially inept… . In truth, it turned out that a lot of them are
married… . The stereotype of the customer is often as off-base as that of
the dancer, although stereotypes about the dancers are way more harmful.”

Barton and Frank agree that while most stripper-customer relationships
remain financial transactions (“If someone’s giving you money to be nice to
them,” says Barton, “it inhibits real intimacy”), some dancers do marry

One person pleased by academic attention to men’s clubs is Andrew Seawell,
founder, editor and publisher of Unveiled, a 13-year-old magazine that
covers Delaware Valley club culture. It’s based in Willow Grove, published
every five weeks, and distributed free in area clubs.

“Is there an academic explosion?” asks Seawell, 46. “Interesting. Sounds
like a good idea… . I’m fascinated by the idea of academics writing about
this. I’ve long thought it a fertile area no one bothered with.”

Given a thumbnail of their findings, the top expert on the
Philadelphia-area scene agrees with almost all the conclusions.

Stripper stigma


Stripper stigma, Seawell confirms, is alive and well – he talked the other
day to a newbie whose mother, when she found out, “threw all of her stuff
out on the lawn.”

In regard to stereotypes, he says: “There’s functional and dysfunctional
among dancers, just like there is in any profession.” He thinks dancing can
be a rational choice for women able to handle downsides such as crude
customers and stress.

“Where else,” Seawell asks, “can you work part time and earn a full-time
wage? Enough money to support yourself, a child, and be a full-time
student? There’s no other job like that.”

While a small number of dancers also work as hookers, Seawell says, it’s
“very rare” – most, like Frank’s customers, want something tamer than
sexual release. Many dancers, he says, do light drugs at home, such as
marijuana. Still, he says, “you’ll find more drugs in a high school or a
mainstream nightclub then you will in a strip club.”

Finally, Seawell agrees that not all dancers start out poor. He’s met
dancers from wealthy homes who want to “earn their own” money or have fun.
He’s also met some who married a customer, if not a regular (because “the
second she dates him, that money goes”).

Plainly, there’s lots more to research. Much of the work so far has focused
on the women, with Frank’s study of male customers an exception. Almost no
research exists on club owners and managers. But not because you can’t find
them. They hold an annual expo that will take place Aug. 22-24 at Mandalay
Bay in Las Vegas.

Would owners and managers consider selling highbrow, even critical, books
about stripping on their premises, along with, uh, the other paraphernalia?

“Let’s put it this way,” replies Seawell. “Have you read Candy Girl by
Diablo Cody? I didn’t feel it was all that complimentary… . I’m amazed
that they’re having her as the keynote speaker at the expo. It’s like,
‘Have you guys read this book?’ ”

The possibilities intrigue. Could readings at Delilah’s by authors like
Barton and Frank be next? Lap signings?

This book person offers owners a free get-started ad pitch: Hardback is the
new Softfront.

Strip dancers make more money by mastering conversation.

Exotic Dancer Richelle Ryan

Exotic Dancer Hailey Heart

Like this article? Share it!

Twitter Facebook Linkedin Google+ Pinterest

Author: Saxon

Strip-magazine.com is covering the European Striptease industry with monthly updates on or famous London Gossip, Interviews with industry people, articles and news from the world of striptease. We also offer a Striptalk forum, Industry Directory with Stripclubs and Agents and a Job board for the Striptease industry in Europe.