Is “Feminist Stripper” an oxymoron? Feminism, Stripping and Race

 

Is “Feminist Stripper” an oxymoron? The women in Live Nude Girls Unite certainly don’t think so, and I found their perspective quite thought-provoking. And they’re not alone, as this blog, Confessions of a Feminist Stripper, reveals.

Is stripping a feminist act? I’m still on the fence. (Trying to decide for yourself? Let HuffPost help.)

While I can certainly appreciate the argument that a woman should have the freedom to choose what she does with her body, I don’t think the simple act of making a choice, especially if it is one that perpetuates dominant sexual and patriarchal norms, is inherently feminist. I think the Sexy Feminist mirrors my thoughts pretty eloquently.

What I was more concered with while reading “Exotic Dancing and Unionizing” by Siobhan Brooks (who has cameos in the film) and watching the film, was the conditions that drive women to sex-work, and the conditions under which they then work.

Why were intelligent women forced by economic or lifestyle needs to strip? Brooks write that she became a stripper because during college, she “was having financial difficulties  and “knew a few women who were stripping to supplement their income.” As Julia Query (producer, writer and co-director of the film) joked “I’ve never worked with so many women with college degrees!” Despite being an amusing line in a stand-up routine, this is also an upsetting reality, where intelligent, educated women face challenges to entering the labor market as it is currently structured. Query’s mother said “It’s much better to work with you mind than your body,” and Query agreed. While I don’t necessarily agree with the sentiment, if Query would rather ‘work with her mind’, she should be able to find intellectual work that reasonably satisfies her monetary and lifestyle needs as well as stripping does. If women are forced to strip due to labor market conditions, then it cannot truly said to be their “choice” – often a key argument for why stripping is feminist.

Of course, the racial issues surrounding stripping and strippers at the Lusty Lady were impossible to ignore after reading Brooks’s article. I found it interesting the Live Nude Girls Unite opened with a (presumably staged) image of a young Query coloring in the face of Martin Luther King Jr. Though the Lusty Lady’s racist practices were mentioned in the film, they were a treated as a fringe problem, and Brooks’s article outlined further injustices and discrimination by her fellow strippers that were never mentioned in the film. The film did corroborate Brooks’s accounts of racism – it was clear from the film that she was in fact the only black woman on the union bargaining committee, and blatant racism by the management was explicitly described. In addition, we saw a brief scene in which a white stripper was cleaning a pole – though the voice-over implied it was become women were sometimes forced to come to work sick, I wondered if that was sometimes used to hide a reason identified by Brooks: cleaning up black women’s supposed excessive hair oil (thereby potentially implying to the viewers that the black dancers were dirty). Ultimately, I wondered if the film’s treatment of the issues raised by Brooks was an example of white dancers seeing racism as ‘not their problem’. As Brooks points out, the white women’s struggle for fair working conditions was directly related to the racism the black women faced. In fact, this is true of feminism as a whole, and it is important for white feminists (myself included) to remember this.

Fun Fact related to the article “Consciousness-raising 2.0: Sex Blogging and the Creation of A Feminist Sex Commons” by Elizabeth Ann Wood – both the Live Nude Girls Unite website and the “Confessions of a Feminist Stripper Blog” require you to ‘agree’ to view their “explicit” content – I wonder if I’d be able to view them at the NYPL.

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About Kaitlyn O'Hagan

Kaitlyn is a Macaulay Honors student at Hunter College, where she studies History and Public Policy.