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.
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Rather, I was seeking transgression. I also wanted the independence to make my own choices.
Stripping delivered, on all counts. On the neon-lit stage of that back bar, I let loose my inner extrovert. I got paid to dance, keep fit, wear fabulous costumes and entertain people.
I felt totally empowered. With hindsight, what appeared to have been a conscious choice might have actually been heavily influenced. Since puberty, I had been aware of men staring at me in public. Then I had been date-raped.
While stripping provided an opportunity to launch myself into the big wide world on my terms, it was also a chance to capitalise on my feelings of powerlessness. Putting myself up onstage and demanding payment for being watched were exertions of control. That was about individual choice, right? I had the right to choose.
And I did choose stripping, again and again. It brought financial independence, freedom and flexibility. No other profession I knew paid women significantly more than men. I could choose my hours, take time off and still have a job to come back to.
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With stripping, I could travel the world and I did, walking into instant employment in clubs in Melbourne and London. I worked alongside fierce women paying off mortgages and masters degrees, raising children and starting charities.
Stripping offered endless possibility. Looking back, that possibility, coupled with the superficiality of the work and its instant reward, meant I never had to go deep and figure out what I truly valued. I did it by default. The goal of making money became an end in itself.
Besides, I could hardly put stripping on my fledgling resume. And still I told myself it was my choice.
I saw stripping as liberating. Sex workers were stigmatised as morally bankrupt, lacking in self-respect, so not worthy of respecting. Additionally, what I did for work on weekends was seen as the sum total of who I was.
I fought hard to prove otherwise. With hindsight, the social stigma was hugely disempowering.
Often it was worse than the work itself, where I could, by and large, control my exploitation and maintain my boundaries and self-worth. The constant judgment, often from people who had never been inside a strip club, left me excluded from normal life.
I know now that male-dominated society needs this stigma to maintain the status quo.
It needs to typecast women, to separate them into virgins and whores, because it needs a justification for the male gaze and for placing women at the sexual service of men. My family, friends and society at large saw it as shocking. Feminism Sexuality Women comment. Order by newest oldest recommendations. Show 25 25 50 All.
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