When Bands Happily Make You Dance: Can Stripping As A Profession Really Be Empowering For Women?

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December 10, 2012 ‐ By Charing Ball

Source: iStock

Is it possible for stripping (also known as exotic dancing) to be seen as an empowering profession for women?  Or is it just flat out exploitation?

It is a provocative question that author and commentator Marc Lamont Hill raised and discussed recently on a segment on Huffington Post Live. Joined by Sheila Hageman, author of Stripping Down: A Memoir, Steve D**k an owner of New York City nightclubs and two full-time strippers and/or sex professionals, Hill explored if everything we thought about working as Cleopatra at the Pyramid (shout out to Frank Ocean), particularly the rampant misogyny, sexual abuse and exploitation, is an accurate description of the world of exotic dancing.

According to one of his guests, Quiana Colbert, aka Ms. Dimples, an exotic dancer of two years, while stripping has a negative connotation, she has never felt oppressed by her choice to dance naked for a living. In fact, Colbert asserts that she has never been sexually assaulted and feels like she receives the utmost respect in both of the clubs she currently is employed by (including The Diamond Club in Atlanta). Said Colbert,

“It is all about your mindset as a young adult. You know what you are getting into when you sign up for this. You know what type of people you’re going to be surrounding yourself around – pimps, drug dealers, all types of different people. But it is about what you actually decide to put yourself into.”

She also stated that there is definitely an element to self-empowerment in the business, particularly the ability to help establish a woman’s financial independence.  And it is up to women to take advantage. “I’m a stripper, I’m not a victim. I am a woman and I can stand up and say, hey well I put on heels at night but I take my baby to daycare in the morning time and I’m proud of myself.”

Every stripper isn’t a w***e. And if a stripper just so happens to be a “w***e,” it doesn’t mean that every “w***e” is oppressed or being exploited. That is an important distinction to be made as it is a widely believed misnomer that any woman with a liberated sense of sexuality is considered to have some deep rooted issues with their fathers or have been a victim of sexual abuse.  Chris Rock once joked about as much when he said that a dad’s only role is to keep his daughter off the pole, which gives credence to the idea that women who strip for a living have some unresolved emotional issues.

What Colbert and others on the panel speak to is the empowering feeling, which comes from being able to walk into a strip club of your free will for work as opposed to being lured off the streets by a pimp and having your decision dictated to you.  Control and having a choice are both major aspects of being empowered. Financial independence is a major factor as well.  While it is true that in both situations – the chooser and those who had the profession of stripping chosen for them –  the women are the object of someone’s gaze, thus making them objectified, as Hill noted during the program, men are disempowered in these situations, as they are burning through paychecks at the bequest of a beauty dancing naked who usually has no interest in them for anything else.  And once the rain-making stops, so does the dancing of these naked women.

With that said, it is hard to fully consider stripping  empowering when there is a financial interest as motivation.  People regularly do strange things for change. Reality television shows, particularly the ones involving people doing stupid stunts for cash prizes, is the best evidence of this phenomenon. With that said, there is still for many women the very real nuance that stripping is something that they do when they feel they have no other options for gainful employment in more traditional areas.

Human sex trafficking is a real thing. Some places around the globe, most notably Canada, have recognized the link between escort human-trafficking and sexual-exploitation cases and have gone as far as to ban foreign workers in strip clubs. And as Sheila Hageman pointed out, there are women with deeply rooted issues, which they bring into their job as exotic dancers, who find themselves caught up in the seedier side of the business – although Hageman would later reiterate that the possibility of sexploitation alone is not enough reason to assume that all women in the industry are being taken advantage of.

What was also interesting about this discussion is how even in this seedy world, there still exist a need to create and abide by a moral code, which in essence, creates the standard distinction between good girls and bad girls. For instance, during the discussion, Tara Reign, an Adult Video star and occasionally featured exotic dancer at “higher end” strip clubs, took exception to being lumped in with the stereotypical Gentlemen Club scene of pimps and drugs. Said Reign,

“I’ve never been in a situation of any kind where I’ve been surrounded by…I think you used the word “pimps and drugs… All of my girlfriends are either Adult Video stars or strippers and I don’t feel like any  of them have that particular experience. I’m not saying that it is not valid or not true I just thinking that sociology, I feel like you need to look at more of a generalization.  And I don’t think that is the whole or the general, I think that is very specific to your environment, maybe to your particular strip club but more so to your lifestyle.”

At first I thought she said this because she was a white girl being lumped in with Colbert (aka Ms. Dimples), who is an African American dancer. However, even Colbert routinely during the discussion would reference her children and husband. In one part of the program, Colbert reminds us that while the adage, “can’t turn a hoe into a housewife” makes it hard for some women in the sex industry to have long-term relationships, we shouldn’t think that everybody is a h*e. It just goes to show you that even in an environment where it appears that women are the most uninhibited, there still is this need to protect one’s virtue by traditional standards of womanhood as set by society.

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  • http://twitter.com/jennaparks11 Jenna

    You can tell this is a man talking…

  • Just saying!!

    Maybe you mean that every woman has an inner “freak”? I would agree with that. But I personally believe my husband is the only one that is lucky and blessed enough to witness that freak!! Sharing the freak with the world and getting paid for it is another story…

  • Whitley

    Ummmmm no,I totally disagree!!!

  • http://twitter.com/jennaparks11 Jenna

    This was a debate over Thanksgiving with my brother and I. I think the reason why most/some women think that there must be emotional damage for a woman to dance naked for money is because we ourselves could never fathom doing so. I can only speak from my perspective but it is hard to imagine that instead of going to school, or applying for a ‘regular job’ or starting your own business a woman would CHOOSE to bend over for a $10. That, I would think, doesn’t cross your mind, retail work but not stripping. So in that mindset I think something abuse like must have happened to these women to let themselves even think like that. To be able to gyrate on a stranger for cash or let a man THROW money in your face while u bend over and pick it up. It’s just degrading in itself (I’ve been to a few strip clubs and preferred to hand the woman the money, clearly haven’t been back). While there maybe some women who do it for the ‘fun or independence’ I don’t understand that but it may not be for me too.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jason.f.vorhees Jason Fangz Vorhees

      or some saw the money they could make.

      • http://twitter.com/jennaparks11 Jenna

        Yea but I couldn’t nor wouldn’t put a $$ value on my body so it can’t be that simple….

        • Pivyque

          It is that simple for a lot of women.

      • http://twitter.com/jennaparks11 Jenna

        Could you?

    • Kaori

      I’ve been to a strip club once in my life and like you, I handed the women the money or put it discreetly on the stage and quickly walked away.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/V6O2EBOSDDIC3EESW3JS22OYWA Vic

    It’s the oldest trick in the book – encourage women to be more sexually explicit and disguise it as empowerment.

    • ieshapatterson

      true.plus,if these women were so “empowered” then why did they change the name to exotic dancer ??

  • L-Boogie

    Although I know a few strippers, I could not do it for a profession. However, if you have relationship/married…bandz will make her dance. LOL!

  • http://twitter.com/bagaybon Bagay Bon

    No matter what I’ll always need them. Even if I’m on my dying bed, I’ll find time to close my eyes and think about the last one I paid for a dance to bust a nut.
    I like strippers and I like to masturbate with their image in my mind.

    • Just saying!!

      Wow…now I’m even more sure it isn’t empowering!!

  • TRUTH IS

    As Chris Rock said it his job to keep his daughter off the pole….lmao

  • Guest

    You don’t have to be a prude to feel that taking off your clothes for men you don’t know is empowering. What kind of logic is that? Personally I wouldn’t find it empowering, and it has nothing to do with being prudish and everything to do with valuing myself above my sexuality. Plus if I was a stripper I would be embarassed to admit it, so that doesn’t sound very empowering in MY opinion.

    • Guest

      Isn’t empowering* lol

  • Kaori

    Um, no. Every woman does not have an ‘inner stripper’ in them.

  • http://twitter.com/SeikoIsKING Seiko

    Alot of the prudes that think its terrible to find empowerment in getting naked do not understand the power that we hold on that pole. Men don’t watch strippers because their looking for a wife!!! Their watching strippers because unlike their wife that stripper is going to be everything they want her to be…. while maintaining control. A stripper can be Docile, Demure… Obedient while giving a lap dance… Or get on that stage and be STRONG, In Control, a force to be reckoned with! Thats where that empowerment comes from… Being able to serve a man his fantasy without even touching him

    • TRUTH IS

      You sounding like a pro….tehe

      • http://twitter.com/SeikoIsKING Seiko

        Truth is you even trying that just shows how prudish and repressed some of you women are. I may sound like a pro but I’m sure as hell not going to judge strippers because their empowered by what they do.

        • Kaori

          Not feeling empowered by getting naked does not make a woman ‘prudish and repressed’.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Purposespoken Sheri Hall

      Okay – I can understand that and even agree that not all strippers are slores and drug abusers, but what about your mental state? Are you able to have trusting, loving, long lasting relationship when you see so many men and women who come to you for what they want instead of going to their significant others? What does this do to a person spiritually. It is good to have success, money, power, and respect, but what about a personal life that matches the success of the professional.

      • TRUTH IS

        Am sure it’s not good for your soul!! God lives in us and stripping does not reflects godliness; our bodies are supposed to be his Temple. Stripping satisfy men mainly. How far are we going to satisfy these insatible beings?!? and get nothing in return but some $$ thrown in our faces, even if that!! Of all the professions, stripping?!? Naw, we can do better!!!

    • http://www.yourtango.com/users/cheekee-baby cheekee baby

      Powerful to have men ogle you and place a value on what you’re worth based off of how good your body looks to him and how good you bounce your azz up and down? That’s powerful? That’s control? Maybe for him but definitely not for you.

      • Kaori

        Hmph!

    • Whitley

      Shut up,you sound like a fool!!

      • http://twitter.com/SeikoIsKING Seiko

        and everybody saying I sound like a fool is sexually repressed. Not all strippers have to down a bottle of alcohol to do their job and their not all slores but if you ever ONCE got on that stage and did what they did you’ll see exactly what that feeling of exhiliration, control, letting go of yourself for ONCE! Its a powerful feeling.

    • Pivyque

      I actually agree with you. Some of them are like actresses in a sense.

    • Kaori

      Docile, demure, obedient? Do you not view women as full human beings or just objects to ‘serve a man his fantasy without even touching him’?

      • http://twitter.com/SeikoIsKING Seiko

        Obviously you don’t get it. Like I said, men don’t see strippers because they want to wife them… They run to strippers because unlike their wife a stripper is not going to nag, b!tch moan and complain about little things and then get mad when he leaves to go watch another woman do what he says.

        • Kaori

          I do get it. And your response just further proved that you view women as objects.

  • Pivyque

    It’s all about the mindset. Some women will find it empowering and some won’t. I agree with Common (Misunderstood) on this one tho. “Being meat everyday is devouring.”

  • Whitley

    There’s NOTHING “empowering” about a woman taking her clothes off for strangers and using her body to get money. Stripping is the equivalent to prostituting.

    • Pivyque

      Not really. Professional strippers only provide a fantasy. It’s almost like being a phone sex operator, but with visuals lol Prostitutes don’t provide a fantasy. They actually have sex with you and leave nothing to the imagination. In a lot of strip clubs there is a no touching rule. Sometimes it is enforced. Sometimes it’s not. It depends on the stripper and the club.

      • Whitley

        Ummm yes really,either way you’re still using your body to make money. Like I previously stated,prostituting and stripper are considered the same thing because you’re using your body to make money “professional” stripper or not. Btw; Are you a stripper??

        • Pivyque

          Lol no i’m not a stripper. When I was 18, I worked as a waitress at a strip club for about 3 days. The cigarette smoke was too much for me, so I had to quit! At any rate, prior to employment, I had to read a list of rules for waitresses and strippers. If I witnessed anyone breaking them, I was told to report it. Only one stripper was found breaking the rules and doing a little “outside work” and she was fired on the spot. I can see why you put them in the same category because they both use their bodies for money, but I guess since I have actually seen professional strippers at work, I know that there is a difference.

        • Pivyque

          I’ve never been a stripper, but I have been a go-go dancer in my 20’s. I was basically using my body to make money, so I guess I would, by your definition, have been a prostitute? Even if I didn’t have sex or take my clothes off at any point? Looks like i’ve got a confession to make at church lol

  • Kaori

    It could be, for a particular woman, but it wouldn’t be for me.