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Neon Wasteland

Neon Wasteland: On Love, Motherhood, and Sex Work in a Rust Belt Town

Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Neon Wasteland
    Book Description:

    This path-breaking book examines the lives of five topless dancers in the economically devastated "rust belt" of upstate New York. With insight and empathy, Susan Dewey shows how these women negotiate their lives as parents, employees, and family members while working in a profession widely regarded as incompatible with motherhood and fidelity. Neither disparaging nor romanticizing her subjects, Dewey investigates the complicated dynamic of performance, resilience, economic need, and emotional vulnerability that comprises the life of a stripper. An accessibly written text that uses academic theories and methods to make sense of feminized labor,Neon Wastelandshows that sex work is part of the learned process by which some women come to believe that their self-esteem, material worth, and possibilities for life improvement are invested in their bodies.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94831-0
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xx)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  5. ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-28)

    This is a real blue-collar place. At first I thought it was pretty weird that you came here to write a book about us, because I always thought that women with PhDs and all, well, they don′t usually come into a place like this. I guess it′s different for you, because you grew up like all of us did and so you understand why our lives are the way they are. So this isn′t a place where dancers can make a lot of money, because the guys we get in here, they work at one of the plants, some of...

  6. TWO Ferminized Labor and the Classed Body
    (pp. 29-50)

    There′s nothing wrong with using the beauty God gave you to make a little money. Hell, I′d probably do it too if anybody wanted to pay me money for that kind of thing. See, the kind of girls who work here, they′re here for more than just the money. The money just isn’t all that great in a place like this. Some nights you might do really well and get like five hundred dollars, but most of the time they get about the same in tips as a waitress in a fancy restaurant. Thing is, these girls can′t get a...

  7. THREE Everyday Survival Strategies
    (pp. 51-85)

    I′ll tell you about straight-world jobs, OK? They pay you minimum wage, treat you like complete crap, and that′s it. There′s no moving up. Everybody stays part-time because they don′t want to pay benefits to anybody. You know at Wal-Mart, those people who work there get food stamps? What′s the point? Seriously, what′s the point of working if you′re just going to have to swallow your dignity anyway and live off of New York State? Growing up, my parents just struggled and struggled, and where did it get them? I′ll tell you, people think dancers have no self-respect or something,...

  8. FOUR Being a Good Mother in a “Bad” Profession
    (pp. 86-109)

    cinnamon: What I most want people to know about us is that we work for a living, to take care of our kids, just like everybody else. We work.

    star: We′re not welfare queens.

    cinnamon: No, definitely not. People think we′re just a bunch of prostitutes, but who are the real prostitutes? Us, or those women who sit in the projects all day and get food stamps and money for nothing?

    star: Or how about those women whose husbands earn all the money, and then they just sit at home doing nothing?

    cinnamon: With us, our kids come first.


  9. FIVE Pseudointimacy and Romantic Love
    (pp. 110-129)

    OK, rule number one for me has always been: don′t date guys from work. The problem there, though, is it′s really hard to meet normal people when you work nights anywhere. Doesn′t matter if you′re in a factory or working security or dancing, it′s all the same basic set of issues. Because when you work nights you′re just exhausted the next day and you might tell yourself, ″OK, tomorrow I′m getting up by ten and I′m going to go grocery shopping″ or whatever—when ten rolls around you just can′t do it. Your whole body clock just changes itself so...

  10. SIX Calculating Risks, Surviving Danger
    (pp. 130-159)

    Want to know how I got my stage name? Same reason I′m in here, really. It was at another club, the one where I first started dancing. It was about two years ago, right after I turned eighteen. My boyfriend kicked me out and I had no place to stay, so I thought, ″Well, let′s try this.″ When I got inside I got scared, real scared. My mom had a lot of boyfriends when I was growing up, and some of those guys thought they were my boyfriend too, that′s the easiest way to put it. That messed me up...

  11. SEVEN Body Work and the Feminization of Poverty
    (pp. 160-190)

    We blue-collar girls never have any trouble popping out the babies. No one I knew growing up ever had any trouble getting pregnant—it was something girls tried to avoid because getting pregnant ruins your life. I never want children, ever. Maybe something is wrong with me, but all I′ve ever seen in my own life is that having a man′s child ties you to him forever, even if he leaves you, and I don′t think I can trust a guy that much after everything I′ve been through.

    People always say it goes back to your childhood, right? My dad...

  12. EIGHT Conclusion
    (pp. 191-214)

    The last time I saw Cinnamon, she was smoking a cigarette and singing the words to a Johnny Cash song in an almost comically affected baritone voice. It had been years since I had last seen Vixens′ gray exterior, and I sat in the empty parking lot for a few minutes before getting out of my car, wondering whether I should even bother going inside. Sex work in any form features a rate of employee turnover that is probably unsurpassed in any other vocation,¹ so it was quite unlikely that anyone working there would know me. After all, it had...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 215-230)
  14. Works Cited
    (pp. 231-248)
  15. Index
    (pp. 249-258)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 259-259)