While I like the idea of sending the message that women’s bodies aren’t for sale, I’m not sure this is the greatest way to do it. It seems less immediately problematic than outlawing paying for sex, primarily because prostitution bans drive sex work underground and put sex workers at risk. I don’t think there’s going to be an epidemic of underground strip clubs (although I’m sure there will be a few underground strip clubs), and I’m not sure that strippers will now face the kinds of immediate dangers that sex workers who sell sexual services negotiate every day.
But: Stripping, for better or worse, is one of the better-paid jobs that low-skilled (and hey, sometimes high-skilled) female workers can get. And no, it’s not a sustainable career, and it’s a job that traffics in discrimination — it’s primarily for the young, the thin, the able-bodied, etc, and once you don’t fit into that framework it’s no longer an option. But it does offer paid work that can be significantly less unpleasant than a lot of other jobs. With so many female workers relegated to a pink-collar work force that revolves around physically and emotionally intensive care work — being an elder care-taker or a nurse’s aid or a childcare worker — I can see how for some women, stripping seems a lot easier and a lot less messy and a lot less difficult and a lot more convenient. Which isn’t to say that stipping is all glitter and fun and empowerful — I’m sure for some women it is, and for most women it isn’t. Like a lot of other jobs. I’d be willing to bet that most strippers strip because it pays pretty well. Removing that option, even if it does send A Message, doesn’t seem like a great victory to me. Because, sure, dudes will be sad that they don’t get to male bond over seeing naked ladies anymore. But the ladies will be the ones who are dead broke because of it.
On the other hand — and this isn’t an argument I totally buy, but it’s a fair one — society does have an interest in regulating commerce, and in balancing a functioning economy and a productive workforce with human rights and ethical and moral imperatives. There are things that all of us could do to make a profit, but we’re not allowed to because it would impede a greater social good. I’m not supposed to make drugs in my basement or turn my apartment into a speakeasy (although I have actually considered that one) or slaughter cats on my roof and sell them for food; even though I could profit from all of those things, society has an interest in regulating them. Society also has an interest in securing the rights of women, and in not presenting women as items to be bought and sold. This isn’t just about women who work at strip clubs; it’s about social perceptions and the value of all women.
I can understand that take, and I am sympathetic to it, but at the end of the day you can’t regulate or legislate respect. You can outlaw the things that are tangibly harmful, but I’m not sure that stripping falls so clearly on that side.
- Woman Set on Fire Outside Strip Club by Cara February 5, 2009
- 7 Key American Sex Worker Activist Projects by Audacia Ray July 29, 2009
- Sex Work Activism- Three: The Problem with Creating a Monolith by Ren August 22, 2008
- It’s not just violent clients who abuse sex workers by Jill December 17, 2010
- Marriage Tip: by Jill June 28, 2011