In our porn-saturated culture, most people accept the sex industry without much thought. If you express any doubt about it, people assume that you just have a bad attitude towards sex. Some women, we are told, make a “choice” to do this; if they want to get paid for it, who are we to judge them?
As feminists, we (TAWH) are not anti-sex. We don’t think sex is “bad” and we don’t judge women who sell sex for money.
But when we look at the actual reality, we see a very different reality from the glamourized image people have.
Women overwhelmingly get into stripping because they need money and don’t have many other options (McCaghy and Skipper 1970; Ronai 1992; Thompson and Harred 1992). It is important to keep in mind that in both Canada and the US, even in 2014, women still tend to be poorer than men and are often paid less, even when doing the same work [examples: 1, 2].
Because women in strip clubs usually aren’t paid a flat rate (and are often charged to “work” in a club), they can only make money from (male) customers. This (along with the poverty that pushes women into stripping in the first place) often creates an environment where they must be willing to do anything and everything to stay afloat.
And women usually can’t get away with just dancing and smiling. As ex-stripper Vanessa Belmond explains,
[An] assumption: “It’s just dancing, no touching and no sex!” Many times, that is simply not true. These days, if you want to make money, you have to allow touching at the very least. The myth of the “dancer” that just flirts and smiles on stage and makes thousands of dollars is just that — a myth!
Clubs will say that they have a “no touching” or “no sex” policy, but most of the time that’s not how it works. The club only says that because they legally have to. In reality, the majority of these clubs don’t care about what the strippers do, as long as they don’t get busted by an undercover officer…
And what about sex at strip clubs? I honestly can’t think of any woman I know that worked at a strip club that has never had sex either in the club or outside of the club for money. Not one. Even the best “hustlers” that could make any man give them money still engaged in prostitution. Even when I worked at a supposedly “clean” bikini bar, the women regularly gave their phone numbers to customers and met them outside of the club for paid sex. That was the only way to keep consistent money coming in. Many times, the sex or sex acts go on right inside of the club.
Because men who visit strip clubs feel entitled to the women’s bodies, abuse is rampant in strip clubs. In a survey conducted by Kelly Hopsopple of The Freedom and Justice Center for Prostitution Resources, one hundred percent of women in strip clubs reported physical abuse. The study also found that:
One hundred percent of the women report being propositioned for prostitution. Seventy eight percent of the women were stalked by someone associated with the strip club with a range of one to seven incidents. Sixty one percent of the women report that someone associated with the strip club has attempted to sexually assault her with a range of one to eleven attempts. Not only do women suffer the abuse they experience, all of women in the survey witnessed these things happen to other strippers in the clubs. The overwhelming trend for violence against women in strip clubs was committed by customers of the establishments… According to the women in this study, almost all of the perpetrators suffered no consequence whatsoever for their actions.
Women in the sex industries, including stripping, often use a lot of drugs in order to numb themselves to the abuse and harassment:
In the two years Jennifer Hayashi Danns worked as a lap-dancer, she never met a woman who danced sober. Some took cocaine, the rest drank – whether they drove to work or not. At her worst point, Danns would have a bottle of wine before work, half a bottle while getting ready, and drink steadily through her shift. How else, she asks, could she walk up to strangers and ask if they wanted her to take her clothes off?
Lastly, we need to consider how stripping, porn and prostitution affect male consumers; and how these industries feed their sense of entitlement to ab/use women’s bodies. This isn’t the fault of the women themselves, who are often just trying to get by. But it does raise some questions for all of us, as a society. Is it fair to treat women like sex objects? Is it fair that women are paid more for their sexuality than anything else?
Feminists who are against the sex industry are sometimes accused of being “ideological” or biased. It’s implied that we ignore reality and only see our own ideas. But the overwhelming evidence of poverty, drug abuse, and assault in the industry speaks for itself. People who accuse us of being “biased” often ignore the fact that they, too, are biased: they assume that women do exist to please men sexually, and that the abuse experienced by these women doesn’t matter as much as male sexual pleasure.
Try as you might, you cannot completely avoid taking a side. We can either continue to treat women like sex objects, or we can work towards a better future for all women and all of humanity. The choice is each of ours to make.