This post has just gone up as part of my guest blogging on the F-Word. But it's a biggie and I think an important one so I'm double-posting it here. Also this is my 400th post since I started the Cru-blog and it seemed like a suitably gritty one to mark the quad-centenial(?) of the blog. Roll on the next 400! And pass the bucket...
...and not so I can put my £5 in it - so I can puke! Today's question is: Is Stripping Feminist? and today's answer is: No. Or possibly Oh Please - How Can We Still Be Having This "Debate"?
If you read to the end of the article you'll see that Sarah Katherine Lewis' conclusion is that stripping IS feminist, not because of the whole dancing about in your underwear bit. No - because you earn good money and so you can have more free time and more economic power to do feminist-y things.
Well if it's just about money I look forward to the follow-up articles: Is Drug-Dealing Feminist? Is Human Trafficking Feminist? Is Directing Snuff Movies Feminist? and of course Is Manufacturing Child Pornography Feminist?
So that leaves us with four questions to answer:
1) Is it easier to "be a feminist" when you're doing well financially? Definitely. For starters there is a poverty line below which idealism simply doesn't exist, there's a point where all a person cares about or can care about is how to get enough food, water, shelter and medicine to survive the next 24 hours. People below that line may be feminists but they certainly can't afford to be activists. By the same token you'd need to be above that line to be an activist for any cause - socialism, environmentalism or even the anti-women's movement. If you can't afford pens and paper, you can't write your manifesto.
2) Was it possible for Lewis to be financially capable of activist feminism without stripping? Yes, of course it was. She suggests repeatedly that her only options were stripping and waiting tables. Not so. Clearly others from her generation emerged as powerful voices without removing their clothes for money, so why can't she? Remember this woman was stripping in the mid-90s, not the 1800s. I was at college in the mid-90s too and I sold electric underfloor heating on commission in my holidays, I also ran a college tea-shop during term and later did a well-paid placement with an investment bank over the summer break. She was already at college when she started. This isn't about keeping her head above the poverty line - this is by her own admission about eating in nicer restaurants.
3) Is there something "wrong" with stripping? Yes. When I worked in finance, both in London and Tokyo, the company regularly entertained clients at strip clubs. I usually wasn't invited, this gave me less access to clients and very tangibly diminished my career prospects. In Tokyo, where the problem was more widespread, the spill-over into attitudes towards women was obvious, lewd remarks and women not being taken seriously as colleagues went hand in hand. When I complained to human resources, it turned out the guy assigned to discuss my complaint was one of the most regular visitors to these places. Creating an environment where women are unable to earn good money other than through stripping of course is unfair on those women who don't want to strip.
But it runs even deeper than that. Not all strippers are making money and not all strippers are doing the job of their own volition. This very interesting article starts off innocuously enough. By the end we're looking at women who appear to be underage being traffiked into the country, told they've run up debts and must strip and possibly have sex to get out of debt. The author is also underage when she enters the industry. The clubs encourage the myth that strippers make a lot of money, to get more women interested in the job. The real money is made by the clubs who are charging each woman $100 up to $300 and then charging customers exorbitant prices for drinks too. Feeding that industry, both by working in it when you have other options and by writing about it in such glowing terms, will lead to more traffiking, more women working under duress, more women being pushed over into prostitution against their will. In other words more RAPE.
4) Could the "good" achieved with the stripping money outweigh the damage done by participating in the industry? Well really depends how you measure "good". But let's try to figure it out by having a look at the great feminist and humanitarian works of our guide in these matters - Sarah Katherine Lewis...
...except there aren't any. She's written a book. It's called "Indecent, How I Make It And Fake It As A Girl For Hire". I read the intro and it reads like a hommage to sex work, prattling on about how exciting the idea of working as a whore is to little girls (really, I know...).
She also claims in the article that she writes feminist articles. I found a few online. They were ALL about how sex work IS actually feminist, and how all the feminists have got it wrong. That's all she does.
The strip clubs must be rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of all the extra money coming in from young feminists lured into the industry by Lewis, not to mention guys convinced that maybe it's not such a bad thing after all arriving as customers.
I hope she gets commission from the clubs for writing rubbish like that. And I hope supposedly serious media outlets like Alternet (which I once respected) see the light and don't bother publishing such rubbish again...