Guest post: Channel 4's 'Strippers' - the questions we should be asking
Economic pressures mean that increasing numbers of young women are working as strippers or pole-dancers to make ends meet, according to a new series on Channel 4.
Their documentary series Strippers proposes to explore ‘the reality behind the fantasy’. But Sarah Mathewson of campaigning organisation OBJECT argues that the series fails to address the real issues at play, and that – whatever club owners might say – it’s women, and not punters, who are the real losers in the transaction.
Do read the post and let us know what you think. Is stripping a harmless, or even empowering, way to make money? Or does it demean the young women who strip for a living, with a consequent impact on the status of all women?
Posted on: Tue 04-Mar-14 12:12:48
(49 comments )
If Episode 1 of Channel 4’s Strippers is to be believed, lap dancing is a fun, sociable and empowering way to make some cash. But is it really as simple as that? The series has so far failed to challenge the facile assertions of those defending the industry, so I thought I’d have a go.
First off, what about the broader contexts in which women are entering lap dancing? Austerity policies have hit women the hardest, with unemployment rates for women rising in the past three years, but falling for men. Gender disparities in pay and existing caring responsibilities mean that many women face stark economic prospects – and this undoubtedly affects the employment decisions they make.
The series thus far has also ignored why the lap dancing industry is so gendered - women perform for men in the vast majority of clubs – and has completely failed to ask whether it has an impact upon male attitudes to women, or women’s status in society. In these dingily-lit booths - as in so many other aspects of our culture - women are valued only for their bodies, and judged on their sexual attractiveness to men. Male gratification is the sole aim: this must surely undermine efforts to achieve genuine equality between women and men.
Pretty much everyone interviewed on the show claims that it is women who hold power over the men they are dancing for. But what meaning can the ‘power’ of convincing a man to pay you to dance for him really have? The research we've done among women who have worked in the lap dancing industry consistently undermines the narrative of ‘empowerment’. Joanne, for example, told us: “I don’t think that topless dancing is empowering for women – it is empowering for men. And it’s not just sexual – these men like being in an environment where women give them lavish attention, laugh at their jokes, flirt with them and ultimately get their tits out for them. Women in the ‘normal’ world are not usually so biddable. The difficulty is that it feels empowering, because you feel that you have something the man wants.”
These men like being in an environment where women give them lavish attention, laugh at their jokes, flirt with them and ultimately get their tits out for them. Women in the ‘normal' world are not usually so biddable. The difficulty is that it feels empowering, because you feel that you have something the man wants.
Another former dancer, Lucy, said: “The reality is that in the clubs, as in so much of life, the real power lies where the money is. The men have the money, and therefore the men have the power.”
Strippers gives a great deal of oxygen to the idea that the act of taking money from men is in and of itself empowering – that lap dancing is ‘easy money’, and these men are fools for parting with their cash. At the same time, there are clear indications that the industry is not as lucrative for dancers as its proponents would have us believe, something which OBJECT’s research backs up: lap dancers’ earnings normally come exclusively from private dances, in conditions where clubs deliberately book a high ratio of dancers to customers to fulfil a fantasy of women competing for their attention.
The dancers are self-employed, paying an up-front house fee to work, and mandatory costumes can be docked from their earnings. During their shift they may be subjected to fines for being late for their (unpaid) stints on the pole, and for other arbitrary transgressions. With these conditions, on some nights, dancers only break even – and can sometimes even find themselves at a loss. It’s unsurprising that there can, in some cases, be a pressure to provide sexual services. Perhaps the show should explore ‘who earns what’ within the industry: a comparison of the strippers’ earnings with those of club managers and owners would have undoubtedly been revealing.
Strippers implied that the occasions in which dancers are treated disrespectfully by punters (trying to touch the girls during dances, say, or asking, ‘Do strippers have feelings?’) are pretty rare. In fact, our research found that derogatory, dehumanising and abusive treatment towards performers by both punters and managers is horribly common; many women report frequent verbal or physical attacks during dances, and some use alcohol or drugs to cope.
Ultimately, Channel 4 talked to no-one without an interest in defending the lap dancing industry; in fact, it gave a level of publicity to the club featured which can’t be bought. During the first episode, young women were tweeting that it made them want to strip. The club’s response was "We are recruiting!! get in touch no experience required full training given".
Job done. Whatever its aspirations, ‘Strippers’ has failed to expose the reality of the industry. Worse, it’s fuelled the fantasy so essential to its ongoing exploitation of women.
By Sarah Mathewson
Perhaps the show should explore ‘who earns what’ within the industry: a comparison of the strippers’ earnings with those of club managers and owners would have undoubtedly been revealing.
Yes indeed and also include the bar staff and the bouncers. The women I know who have stripped have, when asked about how much they earn, talked about the good nights of earning hundreds of pounds. Usually it's the gross amount before deductions. Most of the women I know stopped because the money isn't actually that good. All the Tuesday afternoon shifts they were required to work (and pay house fees for) meant that the money on the good nights wasn't enough to compensate for all the "no thanks, love, your tits are too small / your arse is too fat" comments (to women good looking enough to work in the most well-known strip bars).
I'm also interested in how many women get into stripping through their boyfriends or husbands. About half the women I know who stripped got into it this way. One, newly married, was driven out to some dive near Heathrow at night by her new husband.
Without talking to women who no longer work in stripping, you can never get a true picture of the reality of stripping. Unfortunately, most women find it so unpleasant to talk about that they just want to forget about it and get on with their lives.
Stripping, like glamour modelling or prostitution does not empower women, it does the polar opposite. I'll explain why I believe this to be fact.
Firstly, it is quite easy to get swept along with the supporters. Their argument goes no deeper than Women has something Man wants, Man is willing to pay for it, Woman gives it takes the money and laughs. Because the woman has earned something, (and there seem to be many women who testify to how much they enjoy it, so it's not even like real work!), it seems that it's the silly man who is the loser. The men are are the ones paying out - fools!
Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish.
This argument is based on the false assumption that the whole notion of stripping and looking at women without clothes on was a woman's idea. The fact is, stripping is a man's idea of an empowered women, and a clever one too, because today's youngsters have been exposed to the supporting argument without understanding the shaky foundations that the argument was built on. The women who strip may believe they are in control, but they are not. They are the ones being controlled by a male dominated world who decides what women can and can't do based on what men have decided.
Women throughout our sociological and cultural development may have had more acceptance or even thrived working in the sex industry but the industry only exists to provide the man with what he wants. There is no possible argument for a women victor in this situation and considering the entrenched abuse and exploitation of vulnerable women and even children, this industry is and always will be misogynistic and a massive obstacle for the future of sexual equality.
Well having seen this is written by Object the first thing I want to do is ask why you have so many dead links on your resources page about striptease? Eaves has removed Lilith from their site yet you link to a dead report and I have seen several tweets over the last 6 months from a blogger that you have obviously ignored informing you this. In the blog in fact it points out several of your links go nowhere and is not polite about the ones that work.
I have spoken to dancers who are intelligent and one of my neighbours has been working as a stripper but is now setting up her own business and supplementing her start up by dancing. This is after getting a degree while dancing. How many women are able to do this? I have had my eyes opened by an independent woman who has introduced me to what the real world is like.
The recent work are Dr Kate Hardy which had some information published in the feminist times says that there are more middle class strippers nowadays and it is neo liberalism which makes the Object claims seem a little misplaced.
I am tired but may well come back with a lot more.
I just want to know whether any of the strippers pay their fair share of taxes because I would imagine that most of their earnings are received in cash.
The clubs record what the dancers earn in those venues that use dance chips/dance dollars so yes they have to pay tax and the clubs have to produce those records to the tax people. But at least all your underwear and shoe shopping is tax deductible.
Sausage - I am very sceptical that ALL of the clubs record ALL of the dancers earnings and that taxes are paid appropriately. I have no doubt that all card transactions are recorded accurately, but a lot of cash changes hands in strip clubs and lots of the dancers get paid cash in little brown envelopes.
Most of the girls are considered self employed so the club owners are not responsible for the dancers personal taxes. I wonder if many of them have accountants or if they are all mathematical geniuses and just calculate it all for themselves
I am sure that some strippers do try and pay as little tax as possible which is the same as every other self employed person. Those who work in venues which uses dance dollars means all dances are paid and the house takes a percentage and pays the girls at the end of the evening based on the number of dances. Therefore for tax purposes the amount paid out is recorded so the dancers there have to be pretty honest.
Those clubs where the girls take cash yes there are going to be those that want to tell the taxman as little as possible. But speak to anyone who does cash transactions and are self employed you will find that they will not be as honest as others. So your problem is that they are like other human beings that want to minimise the tax they pay?
can anyone show an example of a mix of clothed and naked people where the naked people are the ones with the most power in that wider culture?
or indeed an example where men are empowered by taking their clothes off and women pay money to access their near naked bodies
Lasts nights episode was really depressing. Felt sorry for the girls, it all looked so seedy. And the money was shit, certainly not the fortunes that you hear about.
I was sad that the very young girl gave up her college course
I couldn't believe how hard the dancers had to work for so little money in this programme. The series doesn't set out to expose the world of lap-dancing at all, it glosses over everything, but it neverless shows clearly who the winners are in this world. The club owner was shown in his mansion while the 'girls' struggle to pay their rent and get sucked further and further into that world, working harder and harder to try and get a decent return. All the women so far have looked sad and desperate while trying to present an image of fun and empowerment. In no other job would you be expected to just put up with the levels of sexual harrassment experienced by these women. Where are employment rights in this world? Total exploitation, and Channel 4 is irresponsible in presenting it as 'normal' rather than as an expose.
Firstly I doubt any dancer is going to admit on screen what she really earns, remember as pointed out it is a cash business in a lot of cases and if the tax man thinks there is not much money in it then maybe he wont chase as hard. The average in the 2009 study was £240 a shift after deductions which if you do 4 shifts a week equates to £48k per annum or £60k per annum on 5 shifts (from the Leeds University study).
As to how the dancers feel they are human so no doubt they have good days and bad days. And considering what Dr Kate Hardy said about middle class girls dancing as part of neo liberalism then perhaps people here are applying their own beliefs to others rather than talking to them. The best thing we can do is support dancer's rights rather than sit in judgement and stigmatise them.
sausage we could all make more money if we didn't pay any tax.
I couldn't find the full Leeds study, only a summary. It isn't clear whether the £240 per week is net or gross of house fees and fines nor how that sum was arrived at. For example, if the dancer says she makes £0 to £400 per shift, did they ask about the frequency of earnings or assume that's an average of £200 per shift? It is clear though that 70% of dancers have lost money on a shift at some time in their working lives and 61% had been fined for such things are chewing gum or being late.
Bizarrely, despite the fact that no other workers in other fields are fined for such things, the report's authors recommend that the dancers are given a receipt for the fines
This show has an agenda as do most (all?) TV shows.
It is not a good representation. Not realistic.
'Tis all I'll say on the matter. My own opinion of course, but based on years of experience.
What annoyed me most was the man who ran one of the clubs in his big mansion. He should be prosecuted for living of immoral earnings. IMHO.
Flora the money is net after fees and fines etc. They had a pool of 300 dancers and the money was over an average month. So you probably would find that some dancers averaged less and some more. Fines is something that, if feminism got onside with the dancers, we could see disappear. However it seems that as people are trying to close clubs it wont happen. And people are fined in a similar situation when mechanics rent floor space in a garage they can be fined for things like oil leaks etc which is probably the closest thing as dancers see the clubs as somewhere they rent floor space from.
Could one of this who defend Object here please explain how an organisation that is suppose to be leading on this subject keep dead links on their resources page for lap dancing for over 6 months? Great for us pro dancing because we can keep asking this question which will make people wonder why Object are not willing to remove things? Possibly because half their arguments disappear without them?
I have always thought that stripping/dancing is all pretty seedy - and as a result not something I'd ever be comfortable doing. But there are clearly some women who don't feel that strongly and are prepared to do it - the idea that they are in some way persecuted is nonsense. Like any other job they have the choice whether to apply and whether to quit - and if they choose to carry on, then it's their choice. No one is forcing them to do it. If no girls turned up to dance, there would be no dance clubs - simple as that.
So if they're comfortable doing it then why not earn the money - once past that mental barrier, it would suggest the earnings can be reasonable. The people I feel sorry for are the men who choose to get their kicks out of it - what sort of a man feels empowered by paying someone he's no relationship with to dance virtually naked all over him. Sado.
sausage so it's feminism's fault there are fines? That's bullshit.
If you have a link to the full report, can you post it?
Hi Sarah! I know you IRL (woo creepy anonymity but I'll tell you when I see you) and think that's a really good take down of this stuff. It makes me ill that TV channels will commission something to basically get free boobs on the air and rake in viewers rather than being socially responsible. BBC3 are often better at this stuff.
Lindsey every way we interact with others in our society influences that society. We are not all lone actors pursuing our own goals unaffected by what surrounds us (unless you subscribe to right wing libertarian viewpoints).
Even if some women are happy to strip (and their cultural influences affect this), the existence of strip bars affects all women. It places women as sex class in the public space. It affects women's views of themselves individually and women as a class and men's views about entitlement to women and women's position as sex class.
Flora no I never said it was feminism fault, I was suggestion that solidarity would enhance the dancers rights.
So is no one going to tell me why object are basically lying? They have known for months their links are dead yet do nothing to update or inform people.
I suspect that asking Object themselves the reason might get you a better answer.
Flora - I agree we are all affected by what surrounds us but we are fortunate enough to then have the choice about how we want to participate.
Your inference that about the consequences of the very existence of strip bars on women is completely at odds with the core values of a free and varied society. It would imply that all men are hooligans or see themselves as such because a few participate in such an act, or the entire youth population are would be criminals or see themselves as such because a larger % come from that age group. Equally there are more women running businesses and inn board rooms than there are strippers so would your theory not imply that should equally impact women's views of themselves.
A free society means choice and variety - I might not like some of the variety, but equally I don't think it's right to impose my view on everyone else just because I don't like it - provided no laws are broken and people aren't doing something against their wishes.
With regard to women being viewed as sexual objects, I think that position has got worse over the last decade. However, it's more to do with the proliferation of porn on the internet and the content of music videos - which is not good for women or men. Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that women are starting to exploit themselves.
sausage why would feminists campaign to support an industry that is fundamentally in opposition with their feminist viewpoint? I view this industry as exploitative of individual women involved and harmful to women as a class and society as a whole.
I'm not a member of Object so I have no idea about their website design or operation. Why don't you email them and ask them? It's a massive leap to say that not updating a website as lying.
Lindsey we don't have a choice not to participate in a patriarchal society that views women as a sex class to be objectified by men. We can't opt out on an individual level.
I'm not interested in a society which prioritises freedom and choice to objectify and exploit women over the freedom to go about one's life without being subjected to structural oppression, including sexual objectification and being reduced to being "sex class" and judged accordingly as a woman. The rest of that paragraph just doesn't relate to my post, I never said "all men objectify women", that's a straw man.
I don't think it's right to impose my view on everyone else just because I don't like it - provided no laws are broken and people aren't doing something against their wishes.
This is circular. We impose our views on other people by enacting laws through a democratic process. It is incorrect to assume that all our laws are based on whether people consent to something or do something against their wishes. Many laws are not based on consent or people's wishes.
I'd be interested in the number of strippers versus the number of women in board rooms. My guess is that there are more strippers.
I agree things have got worse over the last decade and I think the proliferation of strip bars contributes to that alongside porn and pornification of our public space.
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