Tuesday, April 06, 2010

An Ex-Stripper's Take On Iceland's Strip-Club Ban

Over at the Guardian's op-ed blog, I discuss Iceland's pseudo-feminist ban on strip clubs, and also -- I'm not bragging here, just stating a fact -- manage to do so without using any of the witheringly obscene words I uttered when I first heard of it.

I chimed in on the comment thread as well:

Plague take the six-hour time difference 'twixt my apartment and Britain! I can't possibly address every individual point commenters have raised here, but let me focus on the main ones:

--Yes, some of my bouncy colleagues back in the day were there for less-than-noble reasons: not to further their futures, but because they'd made bad decisions in the past. But the same holds true for any job open to people without formal credentials; walk through my local Wal-Mart or fast-food joints and I doubt you'll find many workers saying "Being here is the realization of my childhood dream."

--No, working in strip clubs wasn't a feminist utopia where we'd all hold hands and sing "I Am Woman." Sure, there were annoying customers and obnoxious co-workers. Still, I found stripping vastly preferable to the restaurant jobs I held in high school: if a customer was a rude obnoxious jackhole I had to simply deal with it, rather than gesture to the bouncer to remove the rude customer from my presence. Stripping was also a lot safer than, say, being the sole night-shift clerk at a convenience store.

-- I didn't have space in my article to address this, but: I'm not even convinced "sex industry" is the right term to describe strip clubs; there was no sexual contact going on, merely men looking at body parts generally not seen in public. And those parts change over time: I just glanced out my window and saw a woman walking down the street, wearing a short-sleeved top and above-the-knee shorts. By modern standards she is merely an ordinary housewife, but a century ago, if you wanted to see a woman's bare knees you'd have to go to a burlesque house. Yet for all the many things I find wrong with my country today, I don't think any of them would be resolved if only bare knees were no longer seen on public streets. If a woman a century ago had found men willing to pay her good money to look at her bare knees, would that have meant she was exploited? I would not say so, even if those men memorized the appearance of the knee to aid in their later self-pleasuring (ahem).

-- It is true, in a way, that "Something's wrong with society, if an 18-year-old could ONLY support herself as a stripper." Consider: these days I make my money with words -- either writing my own things, or editing the writings of others. Most of my current income derives from a gig editing manuscripts for a vanity publisher. I could've done that job just as well at age 18 -- except without a college degree to list on my resume, I never would've even had the chance to take the editing test, let alone do the job. And I could've written almost as well then, too, but without that college degree I never would've been hired at the little daily paper where I built the clipfile that led to me getting better writing gigs now than I did a few years back.

But these problems have nothing to do with sex or stripping, and everything to do with America's love of "credentials" -- doesn't matter whether you can do the job, what matters is having a piece of paper with "College degree" and some Latin words written on it. I could not hold the jobs I have now if I didn't first spend several years and tens of thousand of dollars buying that expensive, suitable-for-framing piece of paper. Thank goodness strip clubs were there for me to earn the required funds.

-- In some alternate universe, where my parents had the means and desire to pay for my schooling, and I only had to work to earn pocket money -- I suspect I still would've danced because, compared to fast-food jobs and waitress gigs, dancing was a lot more fun. Doll up and dance around to my favorite songs? And make anywhere from ten to a hundred times as much money as a burger-flipper made in that same amount of time? Hell, yes! It's been a decade now since I last set foot or any other body part in a club, but I will STILL hear new songs on the radio and think "My God, that song would be fun to dance to."

--Had I been a man instead of a woman, and my 18-year-old self still needed to make much-better-than-minimum-wage working only part-time to pay for college and living expenses, perhaps I'd've taken some job requiring heavy lifting. There were plenty such jobs available. Such young men make far less money than the average dancer, and furthermore such men run a much higher risk of doing actual long-term damage to their bodies, but I doubt anybody would be arrogant or stupid enough to suggest "Hey, let's outlaw heavy-lifting jobs because the men who have them would be better off unemployed! Besides, since it's a job only young men can do, not the elderly ones, that somehow means the job is inherently exploitative."

And I see I'm approaching the boundaries of the [Guardian's] 5,000-character comment limit, so I'll have to stop typing now.


Blogger Windypundit said...

I've argued with these people before, and they're impossibly frustrating. I remember one of them complaining that "prostitution is legitimized by distinctions between 'forced' and 'consenting' prostitution," complete with scare quotes, as if the issue of consent was unimportant. I have rarely felt more frustrated and helpless as a libertarian.

I said as much here. Check out the response from "olympe" who accuses me of acting "under the guise of 'freedom of choice'."

1:36 PM  
Blogger Caveman Lawyer said...

Arguing with prudes is much like masturbating with a cheese grater... Slightly interesting but mostly painful.

5:06 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

(Sigh) I suppose on some level, I naively thought such attitudes were limited to college campuses, or that my own experiences with same made me something of a statistical outlier ... but some of the comments on my piece are appalling. There's a couple folks who made me think "Wow, I'm glad this person has a prior posting history, lest someone think she's a sock puppet I hired solely for the purpose of proving my point about anti-choice feminists who utterly loathe any woman who makes choices they don't like.

This also blows out of the water my recent theory that the mean streak I've noticed in politics these past few years is specifically an American phenomenon, perhaps related to the zeitgeist of being a country in decline? But no. That theory would not explain modern Britain -- which completed its decline long before today's modern anti-sex feminists were born -- yet there is the same attitude "I am so right, those who disagree with me are not merely wrong but immoral and not to be tolerated at all."

The future of human freedom looks bleak.

7:43 AM  
Blogger Caveman Lawyer said...

Two years ago I moved to a small town in South Dakota and now I really understand both the left and right. The right IS a bunch of sexist, racist, homophobic ignorant rednecks who don't think beyond what their invisible freinds tell them to think. The left is right to be scared that these people have guns.

Mind you lefties I already mostly understood. They are a bunch of elitist closet sexist, racist, homophobes who in a very Fruedian way spend lots of energy pointing those traits out in others. Now though I understand their very good reasons for fearing private gun ownership by conservitive wackos. However my fear of these idiots with guns manifests in a desire to have a machine gun and a bunker to keep us safe from them.

My discovery has been that people are very scary no matter what their political leanings or nationality happen to be. The human race is a bunch of childish monkeys in shoes with delusions of rationality.

Human Freedom is a pipe dream. The only way to be free is to have no other humans around you. Of course if you want something you can't do for yourself then you will start wanting people around. Then it all goes to hell.

7:56 AM  
Blogger James Hanley said...

Another great commentary, Jennifer. When I was young and dropped out of college, I became a bike messenger. I loved the job, and am still proud of the fact that I did it. But it was one hell of a lot more dangerous than being a stripper, and paid a lot less. I guess my own moral values would lead me to prefer my own daughters become bike messengers rather than strippers, but my sober utilitarian side says, "well, maybe they'd be fools to follow dad's advice."

8:59 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

There were no bike-messenger jobs available when I was in school, but even if there were I doubt I'd've tried for one for the reasons you mentioned, James: more work, less money, less safety.

Also, writing articles on the theme "I was a bike messenger back in college" just doesn't have the same cachet as "I was a stripper" articles.

12:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since you haven't stepped in a strip club for ten years you may be unaware that it is much more hard core now. You were there suring the "golden era".


7:54 AM  

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