Gender and Sexuality Column

Strippers deserve social, legal validation of their work

/ The Daily Orange

Whether you are sitting in a cubicle behind a computer screen or swinging on a pole, every person has the right to earn a living however they see fit.

A New York State court came to that same realization in late August when it ruled that DeWitt’s Club Paradise Found owes its employees unemployment insurance. The ruling acknowledges what is too often forgotten: strippers are, in fact, employees.

Sex work will continue to thrive without any regard for those who don’t support it. And it is for this same reason that it is in society’s best interest to support strippers in order to create a safer and healthier work environment. With an estimated 400,000 strippers in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the profession needs all the advocates it can get.

So it’s time we unlearn everything we’ve been taught from television, movies and mass media to consider the amount of skill, athletic ability and confidence it takes to succeed in this field. The stigma attached to stripping really opens our eyes to the clear disparity between the romanticized, Hollywood version of strippers and the real ones in the clubs. In a world where “Magic Mike grossed $39 million in opening weekend alone, critics still turn around to question if women in stripping are legitimate employees. On screen, stripping is viewed as “cool” and in life, it’s “dirty.”

These working women are comfortable in their own skin and do not put a lid on their sexuality despite being constantly told what they should do and who they should be. From a very young age, we are ordered to cross our legs, not wear anything too revealing, repress our sexuality, not be too intimidating. We can’t be prudish or sex-positive. We can be hard-working and ambitious, but not so much so that it threatens a man’s ego. Loving our bodies and making decisions about them as we see fit is somehow considered taboo.

These employees won’t be treated with respect and dignity until the idea that stripping is OK is normalized and legal standards are set to accompany this shift in mentality. If we as a community can’t manage to wrap our minds around the idea that stripping is a real job, club owners will not feel the need to provide their employees with the benefits and respect they are entitled to.

And as members of an under-respected profession, strippers not only face social stigma but also physical danger. One in five police reports of sexual assault from an urban, U.S. emergency room were filed by sex workers, according to The Huffington Post. While sex work can be a positive and beneficial line of work for some women, a lack of legal protection puts these women in dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations.

As if there wasn’t enough criticism, many even argue that the profession can’t be considered “feminist-friendly” because of the way these women are monetizing their bodies. Well, that’s the beautiful thing about feminism: it allows for women to have agency over their own bodies and career choices. Women’s empowerment and security should extend to all sectors of the workforce — whether it be at the head of the table or on top of it.

Ivana Pino is a sophomore political science major. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at ivpino@syr.edu.

 

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