When I say the word “stripper,” what thought comes to mind? Perhaps it is the image of a young, scantily clad woman swinging herself around a pole or grinding against a gentleman seated on a couch, a few dollar bills hanging loosely from her thong. For most people, however, it’s the perception of a stripper as a person that is the more common mental image a person first envisions: a woman who can’t do any better in life than taking off her clothes and dancing around naked for a group of horny men, a woman whos is taking the “easy way out” instead of finishing her high school education or going to college, a “slut” that enjoys displaying her body for money, or perhaps a single mom who has had an unexpected pregnancy and is now forced into dancing because she’s so desperate for money that she can’t (or won’t) do anything else.
Over the past several years, I’ve spent time in dozens of gentlemen’s clubs and have interacted with hundreds of female dancers. Despite many pre-conceived notion that people have of strippers, which are truly prejudicial and ignorant, I’ve developed a rather high level of respect for strippers (hereafter referred to as “dancers” out of courtesy to their profession). For the purposes of this blog post I’ll be referring to only female dancers, although many of the same concepts I’m certain would apply to male dancers as well.
Dancing is a LEGAL profession
For all of the moral criticism that a dancer may receive for her choice of job (whether it be full-time, part-time or otherwise), let us remember that being a dancer is a legal profession. If a woman, for whatever reason, chooses to become a dancer, bear in mind the choice of employment that she has made relative to many of the other illegal options and opportunities to make money such as selling drugs, theft and other activities which bring great harm to both individuals and society. I’m not myself ignorant to the fact that in such an environment women may be more tempted or compelled to engage in prostitution with their customers, but these are personal choices by the dancers and are not necessarily indicative of the individual club or the industry as a whole.
Single mom, hooked on drugs, slut…? Let’s stop right there…
I cannot emphasize enough the wide diversity in backgrounds and lifestyles of many of the dancers I’ve encountered. Whether it be a young woman dancing to work her way through school (see a very interesting article here about a woman who was making $180,000 and paid her way through college being a part-time dancer), a single mother who needs the flexibility in hours to raise her child or someone who can’t afford the education to obtain a better paying job, there are many legitimate and valid reasons for a woman to become a dancer other than many of the stereotypes that exist today. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with many dancers about their post-dancing career plans (one went on to work in sales for a large retail chain, another was about to leave for the military, several others have moved on to cosmetology and some have owned their own home-based business or were working towards starting a business) and I can tell you that, for a dancer, dancing isn’t always the “end all and be all” of their personal or professional lives. Dancing can be a lucrative, if not long-lived, career and I give props to any woman who uses the “system” to her advantage and comes out of it in a better financial and professional position.
Dancing is a sales job, and not an easy one
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the industry, most gentlemen’s club dancers are independent contractors. They aren’t employees of the club, and as such don’t receive a paycheck, have taxes withheld (which they are legally responsible to pay on their own) and can’t count on a consistent and reliable income. To make matters worse, a dancer usually needs to pay fees to the club (otherwise known as a “stage fee”) in order to dance in the club and, mandatory or not, provide gratuity to the staff (i.e. bartenders, DJ, bouncers, etc.). Don’t forget that work attire, makeup and other expenses are all paid for by the dancers, “overhead” that isn’t reimbursed by the club. Granted these are expenses for doing business much like any business owner or entrepreneur would have, but keep in mind that dancers start off each shift in the negative, and can actually (despite doing their job as well as they can and as they are expected to do) walk away in the negative after a night of hard work. Despite any derogatory thoughts that one might have regarding how a dancer earns income or how hard she may be hustling for a dance, keep in mind that these women aren’t lazy and are certainly hard workers… they need to be, the money to turn a profit at the end of each shift isn’t just going to be handed to them.
What if I were to tell you that you needed to take a white-collar office job where the money would be really good, but in exchange you were required to wear provocative and revealing clothing while constantly being hit on? Also, you’d have degrading comments made about you to your face regarding your looks and your sexuality by your occasionally drunk customers and sometimes even your co-workers? To make matters worse, what if this behavior was considered not only acceptable by management, but that you were expected to deal with it and only would have someone intervene if the offending individual got “too rowdy,” misbehaved or crossed over a line that wasn’t always determined by you? In most industries this would be a clear-cut case of sexual harassment. For a gentlemen’s club, however, the opposite is unfortunately a very common reality: sexual harassment is expected and tolerated in an industry patronized by rude, ignorant and heartless customers who look at dancers as nothing more than sex objects. It’s unfortunately too easy to criticize someone else’s career choice without realizing how difficult their work environment actually is by not seeing it from their perspective.
Easy to learn, hard to do
What skills and experience does it take to become a dancer? At face value, there aren’t many. You have to be a somewhat decent dancer (or can shake your ass well enough after watching a few YouTube videos), be relatively attractive in appearance and be outgoing enough to fake interest in and flirt with strangers that you aren’t usually attracted to. In reality, however, skills and experience don’t always lead to a successful and profitable dancing job. It takes a certain level of moxie to be a dancer, much more than most people realize. Between the competition by all of your other co-workers for the same limited pool of dollars each shift, the stress and self-esteem issues that come along with comparing yourself to other women and facing constant rejection, maintaining your looks and appearance to a high standard and having to do this day after day until you’re lucky enough to gain a group of “regulars” that come into the club to just see you, the constant pressure of being a dancer is certainly enough to bring down, if not break, anyone who can’t adapt to it.
Sexual “Double Standard”
Why do gentlemen’s clubs exist, and in such a large number throughout the country? The answer is simple: because, like in most industries, there is a customer base that are constantly going to gentlemen’s club establishments and spending money at them. In other words, without the customers there would be no gentlemen’s clubs. It is certainly easy to criticize and look down upon a woman for taking a job as a dancer, but what about equal criticism for men who frequent these establishments and allow them, by patronizing them, to continue to exist? It certainly seems to be more acceptable for the men, who may not need to expose their gentlemen’s club visits to friends or family and whose friends might write off a “guys night out” or a bachelor party as something acceptable, if not even expected. The hypocrisy is even more obvious for patrons of these establishments, who have no place to criticize any dancer for having a job that they are paying the income of! The next time you want to make a rude or degrading comment to a dancer, think of how it would make a waitress, bank teller, poker dealer, nurse, hairstylist, cashier or any other professional feel and realize that the dancer is feeling the exact same way. Like it or not, this is their job and you are their customer, so either treat them with the same level of respect you’d give anyone else or don’t patronize their club.
C.J. ASHER IS A GENTLEMEN’S CLUB AFFICIONADO, AUTHOR AND BLOGGER ON A VARIETY OF SEX-RELATED TOPICS. FOR MORE BLOG ENTRIES AS WELL AS PHILADELPHIA-AREA GENTLEMEN’S CLUB REVIEWS, CHECK OUT CJASHER.WORDPRESS.COM OR FOLLOW C.J. ON TWITTER @CJASHEROFFICIAL