For many people, the sex industry is shrouded in mystery and misperception. Strip clubs and strippers are no exception. Many men may see a stripper as only a sex object or someone to boost their confidence and fulfill a fantasy. The reality is that many of these strippers are desperate young women with nowhere else to turn. They simply see the men at strip clubs for what they are: a dollar sign.
The Paisano sat down with a UTSA student who works this taboo night job. For the purpose of protecting her reputation, her name has been changed to Jane Doe.
Many strippers feel that stripping is their only chance to earn a decent income. When asked how she first broke into the industry, Jane Doe replies, “I was really poor and I needed money. I was just in a tough financial situation.”
A common joke in the industry is that the only difference between a strip club waitress and a stripper is two weeks. “I was a waitress first and it wasn’t enough money, so I went to a different club and decided to be a dancer,” explains Jane Doe. As a waitress, she felt she was receiving all the sexual harassment without the concession of high pay.
Why did she chose to dance in a strip club instead of find an alternative source of income? Jane Doe explains “It’s the only profession that gives that much money and has flexible hours.”
She explains that an average night at work earns her around $400. “Some girls make more, some make less, depending on how committed you are to the career,” she explains. “Some girls make over a thousand a night.”
Dancing on stage for the first time was a daunting task. Her first night dancing “was really scary and traumatizing. I was really nervous because I didn’t want to do it. The first time is really shocking because you’re thrown out of your comfort zone.”
Because strip clubs are an end point of desperation for many young women, those who recognize the power dynamic can easily exploit it. “I was drunk my first night dancing because that was the only way I could be ok with it,” she says. “The manager brought me shots and attempted to sexually assault me.”
Many young and naÃ¯ve women can be, and often are, easily taken advantage of when they enter the industry. “Most managers take advantage of drunk girls and try to have sex with them,” explains Jane Doe. “Not all managers are like that; some are more professional. It’s really at the lower scale clubs that managers can be really sleazy, and they usually only try something when you’re new.”
Dancing on stage while exposing your body can be extremely intimidating for these young women. In this industry, alcohol plays a significant role in helping a stripper get through her job.
“We call it liquid courage,” says Jane Doe. “It helps you loosen up and do something that most girls wouldn’t be comfortable doing. You’re very exposed and I don’t know any girl that doesn’t drink while she’s there. It puts girls in situations where they can be taken advantage of more easily. It seems to take a health toll because you’re drinking every night you’re there.”
Many strippers adopt a persona by taking on a different name and creating a character. “I have to pretend I’m interested in people and I have to portray a fantasy. Everybody has different sides of their personality for different situations they’re in.”
Jane Doe believes that most men are under the false impression that strippers enjoy their job as much as men enjoy visiting a strip club.
“Men are under the assumption that we do it for the attention or that we like the attention,” she says. “When guys come in all we see is a dollar amount…You’re supposed to convince every guy that you’re interested in them and that you enjoy it, but men get too rough and too grabby, and it’s very invasive.”
These characters help strippers act like the women who men pay to see. Jane Doe explains that all different types of men frequent strip clubs, but the men are “divided into those who come for fun and those who are regulars.”
“A lot of men come in who work in construction or on oil fields because they have what’s considered ‘new money’.” Jane Doe stated that most of the regulars are older, rich men. Often, these older, rich men simply want to talk to someone about work or their kids. These customers tend to be more serious about the girls they meet and are more likely to solicit a stripper to be a mistress in exchange for financial support.
As a student with a background in political science and women’s studies, Jane Doe is cognizant of the mistreatment she faces at work. “You’re definitely commodified and objectified and it’s dehumanizing…men grab you and you have to put up with something you wouldn’t normally tolerate.”
Much of the dehumanization, Jane Doe believes, comes from being treated like “cattle or animals that are shown off to be bought.”
In a similar way, Jane Doe says, “Men think they completely own you, just because they give you money.”
Jane Doe feels that being a feminist has made stripping a double-edged sword. She says working in strip clubs makes her “feel hyperaware of the situation and of what’s going on. There are little things that other girls don’t notice that upset me… but being a feminist helps me understand that just because we live in a patriarchal society, my value isn’t less than a man’s.”
Many of these dancers who feel emotionally traumatized from working in such an industry often draw criticisms for choosing such a career. For Jane Doe, she believes it’s often less of a choice than people realize.
“We live in a system where mothers don’t have any rights and women don’t have the same rights or the right pay,” Jane Doe says. “A lot of women have the choice of working at some minimum wage job or deciding to go dance.”
Jane Doe explains that she has to support herself and get through college without any financial support. Many of the women who dance in clubs are also trying to support their children. “For me it was either go into debt and not be able to feed myself or go dance. This is my only real source of income.”
Looking towards the future, Jane Doe hopes to have a serious professional career and sees her current job as a temporary fix to a difficult financial situation. She hides her night job from many of the people in her life for fear of being judged or given a bad reputation.
Jane Doe believes that she will one day have to confront the emotional and mental trauma she has experienced, but for now, she will continue to work at strip clubs.
“Everyone always says there’s another way, but they never say what the other way is.”