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Stripped: Inside the Lives of Exotic Dancers

Bernadette Barton
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 195
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    What kind of woman dances naked for money? Bernadette Barton takes us inside countless strip bars and clubs, from upscale to back road as well as those that specialize in lapdancing, table dancing, topless only, or peep shows, to reveal the startling lives of exotic dancers.Based on over five years of research and from visiting clubs around the country, particularly in San Francisco, Hawaii, and Kentucky, Stripped offers a rare portrait of not just how dancers get into the business but what it's like for those who choose to strip year after year. Through captivating interviews and first-hand observation, Barton recounts why these women began stripping, the initial excitement and financial rewards from the work, the dangers of the life - namely, drugs and prostitution - and, inevitably, the difficulties in staying in the business over time, especially for their sexuality and self-esteem.Stripped provides fresh insight into the complex work and personal experiences of exotic dancers, one that goes beyond the sex wars debate to offer an important new understanding of sex work.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3909-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Introduction: Come Inside and See the Show
    (pp. 1-23)

    Brandy is considering becoming a dancer. Before she musters the courage to audition, she wants to see what the dancers actually do. Bringing a male friend to an upscale club near her home, Brandy enters the lobby of the Velvet Lounge. Mötley Crüe’s classic rock song “Girls, Girls, Girls!” is playing while an attractive, elaborately made-up woman flanked by a burly bouncer takes their money at the door. Brandy gets in free because she’s a woman. The lobby has a comfortable couch, some tasteful, artistic photographs of nude women, and an ever-present pot of coffee.

    Brandy walks down a hallway...

  6. 1 Becoming a Stripper
    (pp. 24-40)

    Maureen was seventeen when she decided to support herself and her child doing the most lucrative job she knew she was qualified for: exotic dancing. Pregnant at sixteen and the victim of wretched parenting, Maureen found herself cast adrift when her mother kicked her out of her home upon learning of the pregnancy. After Maureen had the child, she felt her options for supporting herself were limited:

    I just had a kid, and I didn’t want to get in welfare. Actually it was a friend that used to hang out in the bars that got me the job and stuff....

  7. 2 Dancing on the Möbius Strip
    (pp. 41-72)

    When I asked Kelly, a dancer of six years, what she thought about the debates over sex work—whether the work is empowering or oppressive—she made a face and said that she was “totally bored” with talking about sex work in those terms. Kelly not only thought categories of empowerment and oppression were limiting in framing her experience she was also “sick to death” of hearing the same tired rhetoric replayed endlessly. Few researchers or journalists have questioned whether sex workers themselves find these categories useful to describe their experiences. And few wonder whether these categories are accurate in...

  8. 3 Bad Girls
    (pp. 73-88)

    Dancers dislike the physical wear and tear on their bodies, the daily rejection that damages their self-esteem, and the verbal and sometimes physical abuse they experience inside the clubs. But some dancers, like Tara, explained that the hardest part of dancing happened outside the club: confronting the constellation of assumptions about who they are because they work in a strip bar. These stereotypes range from depicting her sexual character as victimized martyr or conniving slut to judgments about her education level (high school dropout)or her class background (“dancers are trailer trash”). If she is a woman of color, her race...

  9. 4 The Toll
    (pp. 89-109)

    What are the effects of dancing over time? After close to ten years studying the sex industry, interviewing dancers, reading narratives of sex workers, spending time in strip bars, and perusing the findings of my colleagues, I have observed a common theme linking most of these texts, environments, and stories: working in the sex industry exacts a toll on sex workers the longer they remain a part of this morally ambivalent world. The toll of stripping is a complex accumulation of experiences and emotions that taxes the energy and self-esteem of late-career sex workers. Darby’s comments demonstrate some of the...

  10. 5 “You Have to Be Sexually Open”
    (pp. 110-128)

    “If you don’t like pussy, you shouldn’t be working here,” the management of the O’Farrell Theater in San Francisco frankly informs prospective dancers. Strikingly, in the strip bar, a microcosm designed for men’s pleasure, sexual desire between women is not only condoned in many settings but actively encouraged. In San Francisco, at the Mitchell Brothers, it is not only hip to be queer, it is management policy to require live woman-on-woman shows of all the performers.¹ The presence of vast amounts of woman-on-woman pornography (which can be easily documented by entering any sex store or watching pornographic cable stations) surely...

  11. 6 Sticking Together
    (pp. 129-144)

    In the documentaryLive Nude Girls Unite!director and peepshow dancer Julia Query shares a story about a random street meeting between her co-workers and her mother, who did not know she was working in a peep show. As she exchanged enthusiastic waves with her peepshow acquaintances, Query felt panic set in when she realized she only knew her co-workers by their stripper names—“Cayenne, CoCo, and Octopussy”—which would surely raise her mother’s suspicion. Fortunately, accessing what Query described as “instant stripper ESP,” each woman immediately understood the precarious situation, smoothly introduced herself, graciously finessed the social encounter, and...

  12. 7 “Everything Is Not Okay”
    (pp. 145-166)

    The women quoted inStrippedsuffered from and responded to the toll of dancing in the myriad ways I have explored: they established and negotiated boundaries, developed support networks, and experienced changes in their sexuality. In San Francisco, some dancers, like Joscelyn quoted in the epigraph, also coped with the toll of the sex industry by becoming social activists; they challenged owners and managers to improve working conditions and organized the first unionized strip club in the United States, SEIU Local 790. Each activist I interviewed shared that she found this political work immensely rewarding. For these women, organizing to...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 167-178)
  14. References
    (pp. 179-188)
  15. Index
    (pp. 189-194)
  16. About the Author
    (pp. 195-195)