This post started out as a reply to a comment made on my previous blog but it got too big, too fast. Not to mention that there is the fear factor of having to write without the aid of a spell checker. Apparently, I didn’t get the memo that the “strippers are sex workers debate” had already been settled. Oh well, it won’t be the first or last time I’ve been completely out of touch.
My fundamental problems with the logic of, "if you are a stripper you work in a strip club, therefore you are a sex worker” is it is a gross simplification of a complex issue. Are some strippers sex workers? Definitely. Are all strippers sex workers? No. The definition of the set does not fit all the members of the set. It is inaccurate and the inaccuracy leads to problems.
So what’s the big deal? There is no legal standard. We are debating an industry colloquialism. It’s troll warfare. You can make obscene gestures at me and I will fart in your general direction. In my opinion it’s not just a geek flame war. There is a real, negative consequence to this label.
Pretty much every dancer I know has been a victim of sexual assault at work. They have been subject to attacks that outside the club would get the guy carried off in hand cuffs. In the club they either get told to stop or get kicked out the majority of the time. When you apply the label "sex worker" to strippers, you create the illusion that they are there for sex. Sex is a very subtle word with many meanings to many folks. Most drunk twenty two year old males have a very narrow definition of what sex is. She's a dancer, therefore stripper, therefore sex worker, I should be able to grab her boobs just like other sex workers.
Labels are powerful things. I work in a marketing department and I regularly participate on assorted committees for defining industry standards. (I know this is an "argument from authority" logical fallacy, but this is an opinion piece so rhetoric is allowed). Marketers use labels all the time to change the perception. Apple just released the iPhone 4 with the Retina display using IPS LCD technology. The media raves about how advanced the display is and it is the first of its kind. It’s a really high resolution but there is absolutely nothing revolutionary about it. IPS (InPlane Switching) LCDs were first for produced by Hitachi in 1993. It is nearly a twenty year old technology. But when applied to the Retina display label it now becomes something new and exciting!
My primitive male definition of sex is pretty explicit. My definition of sex worker is equally explicit. Yes, I can extend myself to understand the subtle complexities of what a sex worker can apply too but that initial reaction is there. To assume everybody else can make the same extension is too optimistic. People are going to act on that label.
How exactly will the adoption of the term "sex worker" for strippers be to their advantage? Considering the current internal dissention among dancers, it’s not going to create unity. It will just polarize them. Will it advance the perception that strippers are just simply people trying to earn a living just like everybody else? In my opinion, calling them sex workers will not do that.
Yes, some states have passed legislation that puts dancers in the same light as prostitutes. In my life time the overall perception of strippers has been that of a much more acceptable nature. In general, any sort of public exhibition of nudity is much more acceptable. Next time you watch the iconic 70’s TV series, the Brady Bunch, take a close look at the bathroom the kids share. It doesn’t have a toilet. That was considered to be too suggestive at the time. All those boys and girls, living together and that aren’t blood related? That won’t end well. Apparently, Brady Kids never went to the bathroom. They just exploded when they turned eighteen.
Miley Cyrus appeared on stage with a brass poll. If Annette Funicello had appeared with a brass pole in her heyday, people would have stormed the Magic Kingdom with pitch forks and torches to stage an intervention. The acceptance of sexuality in US culture is neither linear nor always consistently forward, but it is advancing overall. It always struck me as duplicitous that dancers complain about how they have to hide what they do, yet sneer at Miley or pole dancing work out videos. However contrived it might appear, stripping is becoming more main stream and more acceptable. Much in the same way tattoos have become. Seeing somebody with a full sleeve tattoo is neither shocking nor uncommon. That wasn’t the case as little as fifteen years ago. Anti-stripping legislation will occur, but I really doubt were heading back to the Victorian era. Is every customer walking into a strip customer looking for sex? If that’s the case I’ve been really been doing it wrong for these past years.
If you’ve noticed my punctuation and grammar has suddenly improved, it has. Not because I suddenly became smarter, but my friend Georgia has graciously offered to edit my posts. I’d like to thank her for the time and expertise.