Is working as a stripper honestly empowering? I hated the popular belief that sex workers were oppressed and without agency, victims in need of rescuing. When I started stripping in the back bar of a Christchurch brothel at 18, I was in control of my decision to get nude — or so I thought. An arts undergraduate, I had no pressing need for money, the reason usually cited for entry into the sex industry — an umbrella term that encompasses stripping, web-camming, escorting, prostitution and porn. My parents paid my rent, my Kentucky Fried Chicken and my living expenses.
When it comes to strippers, why are women able to get away with the sort of behaviour that would see blokes castrated? Enjoy having a read of your column, but the entry today did remind me of something I have always wondered about. I have been to strip shows aimed predominantly at men where the punters are mostly well behaved and keep their hands to themselves. I have also seen a strip show by men aimed at women where the performers literally come out with scratches and their clothes torn from their female audience. I have never been sure why there is this difference in behaviour and often wondered if this is why woman don't like their men going to strip clubs as they think men behave in that manner. Well, Mr Man, I too have been to strip clubs where women behave abominably — howling, screaming, scratching, tearing and objectifying the hell out of the bloke paid to shake his body in their wild-eyed faces. In this crowd I felt embarrassed to be a woman, embarrassed to be watching a strip show and embarrassed for the stripper who smiled through it all.
The fact that these two features of my life may seem completely incongruous and out-of-step to some women, and yet so obviously compatible to others, reflects the ongoing deep divides within the gender equality movement over the sex industry. All too often, the subject is hijacked by hysteria and stereotyping, making such conversation impossible and counter-productive. I have identified as a feminist for as long as I have been a stripper. I began dancing as a student to pay my way through higher education, which nowadays is an expensive pursuit. But of course, I get it.
Just recently, we inadvertently found ourselves in a nightclub that has pole-dancers as part of its unique attractions. We went in, saw the set up and we knew serious stuff goes on there. The club had greatly changed under its nemanagement. Last time I partied there, five years ago, it had no pole dancers.