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TEAM ZOELLA MARCH 11, 2022

What It’s Really Like to Be a Stripper, from the Women Who Know

Here two women share their experience of the sex work industry. From the matriarchal buzz of being backstage with fellow women, sharing chicken nuggets and being enveloped in a cloud of hairspray and sisterhood, to dealing with the downsides, of which there are many.

TW: suicide, racism, domestic abuse, rape. 

In the week of International Women’s Day and following on from International S*x Workers Rights Day on 3rd March, we wanted to amplify the voices of women working within the industry itself. 

Stripping is, and likely always will be, a divisive topic, whether you identify as a woman or a feminist or neither. Is it a feminist act that challenges dominant sexual norms, allowing women to exercise autonomy over their own bodies, or is it an inherently anti-feminist act that will always disadvantage women? 

It’s a debate that’s been dividing friendship groups for years. 

Women use their bodies to their advantage… and get criticised for it – it’s a tale as old as time. There’s a longstanding belief that strip clubs are the capital of gender imbalance, reinforcing rather than dismantling the male gaze and perpetuating the harmful attitude that women’s bodies are sexual objects made to be looked at.  

There’s not a one-size-fits-all opinion on sex work, with those working in the industry even disagreeing on whether stripping is feminist or not. No two experiences of the industry are the same and can depend on factors such as class, race and club security. To some dancers, it is simply a way to earn a living and a job with pros and cons just like any other. Whether it’s empowering or not is irrelevant at best and triggering at worst if they’ve experienced sexual abuse whilst trying to do their job. 

The opposing stance is that doing exactly what’s expected of you as a woman (being objectified and looked at) but for your financial and political gain is in fact, empowering stuff. By playing the patriarchy in such a way, strippers can disrupt the power relations in a game of the ultimate one-upwomanship. 

When they’re dancing, the female stripper is more powerful than her male client. She has agency over her body and what she does with it.

Stripping can give women a means to exercise their sexuality in such a way that the men go home with lighter pockets and the women actually get compensated for the same role in this mutually exploitative game, through their ability to command the male gaze. When they’re dancing, the female stripper is more powerful than her male client. She has agency over her body and what she does with it. Taking off their clothes for cash should never equate to being stripped of their employment rights and protection. Sex workers’ rights are and always will be a feminist issue and stripping can be a feminist act – if the women are protected by strict regulations and paid fairly for their labour. 

Thus, the great stripping debate isn’t as binary as feminist vs anti-feminist. The real question is what can society do at a systemic level to ensure it’s always safe for women to earn a living in whatever way they choose. Clothed or unclothed. 

The sex work industry is, without doubt, a complex, nuanced and problematic business with high house fees, labour violations and lack of employment rights to name a few, but criminalising sex work and taking away the methods of financial independence isn’t the answer. Denying sex workers their right to bodily autonomy leaves women even more open to exploitation and situations where their safety could be compromised, dangerously so.

Here two women share their experience of the sex work industry. From the matriarchal buzz of being backstage with fellow women, sharing chicken nuggets and being enveloped in a cloud of hairspray and sisterhood, to dealing with the downsides, of which there are many: the long, hard anti-social shifts where you don’t make a penny, fines and yes, predatory men too. 

Mercedes

Mercedes Valentine has been stripping for two years. She first started in the industry whilst completing her Master’s Degree in Neuroscience when she became a professional pole dancer for the fitness benefits but found herself wanting to explore stripping as a creative outlet. 

Now a full-time pole dancer, stripper and OnlyFans creator since finishing university, Mercedes’ experience of the industry is largely positive, granting her the freedom to dance, feel sexually liberated in her own body and equal to the men who watch and pay her to do something she enjoys. 

What was your expectation of dancing for a job before you started? 

I expected it to be scary. Not so much taking your clothes off for strangers, but having to entice them, I knew you had to be good at communication. Dancing was the easy part. 

What surprised you the most about the job?

I loved performing and I felt so free with no boundaries placed on me, I could express myself and get paid for it. Mercedes Valentine

How fun it was but also how hard it was. A lot of my friends worked in the strip club with me, I loved performing and I felt so free with no boundaries placed on me, I could express myself and get paid for it. The comradery of the girls surprised me. They are all so kind. Some nights were like parties, and the acting of getting into different characters for different clients. But the toll it took surprised me, it’s hard work having to stay awake until 5am, having been dancing or sitting around waiting since 8pm. The hustle can be really hard work. 

Can stripping be a lucrative career? 

It can be a lucrative business. But you have to be smart with your money. One night you might make £2000, another night you might make absolutely nothing, £0. There are no guarantees. 

Do films like ‘Hustlers’ paint an accurate representation of the strip club world?

Not really. Especially not for a UK context. People don’t often throw money on the stage like that. It’s accurate in showing how we can use our femininity to our advantage in the clubs, but that’s about it. 

What are some red flags in the clubs when it comes to clients? 

When they ask you to meet them outside, after hours, or go back to their hotel. That’s a big no, at least for me. If they are too touchy-feely on the main floor. Clients can touch you on your non-private parts on the main floor, and if they are overly touchy-feely, it’s a bit of a red flag that they will be even more so when you take them for a private dance. 

How do you handle the days when you just don’t want to dance, whether it be because you’re suffering from low body confidence, tired or on your period? 

Luckily for me, I don’t get periods as I have the coil, and don’t suffer from low body confidence. I do suffer from mental health problems, and this can stop me feeling like I want to perform. I always want to dance, as you can dance for yourself. But performing dancing for someone else’s entertainment is another matter. When I’m having trouble mentally, I try to surround myself with the friends in the club, we work together, ask the DJ for my favourite songs, and that usually helps a little. 

Has your relationship with men changed as a result of your job?

100%. Working in a strip club allows you to learn your worth. You start to realise what you deserve from men and how you deserve to be treated. I used to have terrible relationships with men who did not deserve to be with me. But now, from my experiences of working in the club, I am much pickier when it comes to men, and I don’t settle for less than I deserve. 

How do women usually react to what you do?

Usually they love it, they want to hear all the funny and exciting stories. I’ve never had anyone react negatively. Or if they have, I’ve probably ignored it. 

What’s been your experience of safety at work? Is it a safe industry to work in?

The security would even go as far as taking you to your car if you felt unsafe outside of the club after work, or they would call a taxi for you. It’s generally a safe industry to work in, but you do have to be smart.Mercedes Valentine

It’s like any field of work. Any industry has variety in how safe or good they are. In medicine, there are bad doctors, there are brilliant doctors, good ones, or corrupt ones. So, it depends on the club. My club was amazing when it comes to safety. The security, the bosses, the whole thing. The security would even go as far as taking you to your car if you felt unsafe outside of the club after work, or they would call a taxi for you. It’s generally a safe industry to work in, but you do have to be smart. Unfortunately, not all clubs are as safe as the one I worked in. I have been touched without my consent. But that’s why clubs have bodyguards and security everywhere. One wrong movement and the security at my club would throw the person out. They were super protective and really nice and made me feel really safe. 

How do you feel when you’re on stage dancing? Is it sexually liberating and empowering or is just the same as any other job you’ve had?

It feels like freedom. You get lost in dancing, and you can express yourself in whatever way you like. It’s completely empowering, you are in control of the emotions of everyone who is watching. For me, I suppose it’s sexually empowering. I am a fairly sexually liberated person anyway, so it’s more empowering for me, but definitely, for others, it can be liberating. 

Is it specifically the act of pole dancing and stripping itself that’s empowering or the confidence you build doing it and the women you meet in the community? Is it the shared sisterhood of it all?

Pole dancing/stripping, the confidence, the community, and the sisterhood is empowering. Every aspect is empowering. It is empowering to learn how to dance, feeling that freedom, and to feel sexy taking off your clothes. 

Singer Dua Lipa faced scrutiny when a video emerged of her attending a strip club after the Grammys with some Twitter users suggesting she was a ‘bad feminist’ for doing so, whilst the men in her video dodged criticism altogether. What’s it like to see women in the club having fun and paying women for their labour. Do you feel it’s problematic for groups of friends to support dancers in this way, or do you think it’s peddling the narrative that says women exist to be looked at?

I think supporting other women in however way they choose to make their money is good feminism. Respecting the hustle, and showing other women appreciation is empowering and good feminism. I LOVE when women come in and pay us, they often make the best clients because they’re usually so kind. It is in no way problematic for women to support other women, what good comes from us tearing each other down? Women don’t just exist to be looked at, but we can use our sexuality to our advantage if we like. Why work for the patriarchy when you can make the patriarchy work for you. 

What’s it like working in a strip club? Is it a supportive place or can it be quite competitive?

For the most part, and deep down, our shared experience creates a bond and there is a sense of sisterhood among strippers.Mercedes Valentine

It can be competitive, putting a bunch of girls together can result in arguments! And of course, we are each other’s competition. But for the most part, and deep down, our shared experience creates a bond and there is a sense of sisterhood among strippers. Sometimes we sit and chill eating chicken nuggets, or vibe to music, complain to each other how boring the night is, or help each other with makeup or gossip. In my experience, it’s never competitive backstage, maybe the odd jab here and there but the competition is out on the floor, not backstage, that’s a place to chill or regroup and get away from the competition. 

What’s your take on whether stripping is a feminist act or not? 

I think stripping is a feminist act. We are choosing what we do with our bodies. I am being paid to express and enjoy myself, to use my charm to make money. I can be a feminist if I take my clothes off, it’s my body and my choice. At the end of the day, part of feminism in the modern-day world is equality and freedom of choice. Not only does the club make me feel equal to men, it makes me feel even better and empowered, and it’s my choice to be there. 

What does it take to be a pole dancer/stripper? 

Stripping is not for everyone. I wouldn’t say it takes a certain kind of confidence because that confidence is gained once you start. But it does take a curious mind, or an ambitious one. Even better if you love to dance.

With the news of a nil cap on Sexual Entertainment Venues in Bristol (nothing like legislating against women’s bodies, eh!), how would a nationwide ban affect women working in the industry? 

I can’t even begin to imagine a nationwide ban and the effect it would have on the SW industry. It would be terrible. Why should our rights to choose how to make money in a safe consensual way be taken away? So many women and SWs would lose their livelihoods, their creative freedom and their passions in life. 

What is the future of strip clubs/SEVs and what changes would you like to see happen for the industry to be fairer and safer for women? 

If there were some regulations to ensure security and safety in all clubs, that would make some workplaces so much safer for women. I have heard stories in some clubs where women weren’t handed what they were owed, regulations should be applied concerning fairer treatment of women in clubs, getting paid their dues. The future of strip clubs is uncertain, especially in times of covid. We work face to face with clients and other strippers, so covid has a big impact on clubs. 

Biggest misconceptions about your work?

That it’s sleazy and disgusting and dirty. Sure, some men aren’t the most pleasant, but some are great. In general, it’s similar to any other job, it has its ups and downs. It’s not for everyone, but it can be a very valuable experience. 

Sabrina

Sabrina Jade first got into the industry whilst at university, after leaving an emotionally, physically and sexually abusive relationship. When the relationship came to an end, Sabrina experienced freedom, debt and a lot of confusion surrounding who she was. 

She had read online that stripping was a quick money-maker (it wasn’t) but several years later, degree in hand, she chose to stay in the sex industry because of her love she has for her job and the empowerment it afforded her, despite the overwhelming lack of support from both the government and the public. Here she shares her raw and inspiring story…

What was your expectation of stripping/pole dancing for a job before you started and how did it compare with the reality?

I expected to be making lots of money from the get-go which was very far from reality, as during my first shift I didn’t get a single dance! This improved in the months following my first shift but I didn’t reach any financial stability or independence for a while.

I read online that I would be objectified but I actually felt more alive and present in myself and my body than I had in years. Sabrina Jade

What I didn’t expect after years of having my self-esteem ripped to shreds was for all the men to be complementary and kind (though this was not an occurrence every shift), and I remember leaving that first shift without earning a penny or having a single dance and falling off the pole but feeling good about myself, just generally. I read online that I would be objectified but I actually felt more alive and present in myself and my body than I had in years. Before then, I’d felt good about things, but despised my body and I remember feeling weird that I felt so good even though I was still broke and confused about myself, almost like I felt guilty for having a nice day at my job that wasn’t validated by the kinda money I’d seen people earning in the media. 

What surprised you the most about the job?

I didn’t expect to love it so much (at first). I also did not expect fines or extra fees on top of the house fee. This varies greatly from club to club around the world but in the UK: 

“Most clubs have a ‘late entry fee’ and an ‘early exit fee’, so dancers must pay extra for coming to work later or wanting to leave early – so much for setting your hours as a supposed self-employed worker. There are long lists of other extra fees, including: too long/too many breaks, unsuitable attire, refusal to perform on stage, refusal to go topless on stage, not fulfilling the minimum required shifts a week.” (Gemma rose pole).

How does your experience of working the clubs compare with being a pole artist?

Most strippers hate dancing on stage because tipping culture isn’t a thing in the UK so it is free labour meant to “advertise your services” but really ends up being an excuse for clientele to be like “oh I just saw you on stage I don’t wanna pay for a dance”. Working the clubs can involve 2-5 stage shows (performances) a night for at least 5/6 minutes (two songs) with no pay unless someone tips (which is rare in the UK), pole artists however are paid for one performance (or more) and typically have time to prepare and get paid. Strippers have stage dos and don’ts depending on the club. Some clubs expect you to get fully naked on stage, some clubs are topless, some clubs the girls have so many tricks, other clubs the girls just walk around the pole and do very sexy poses. You need to know at least one pole move to be a pole artist but you can be a stellar stripper without knowing a single trick or having any pole experience. 

What happens when things go wrong in the club? What rights do vulnerable women have? Did you / do you feel safe doing your job?

I’m not sure what we mean by “go wrong” and what is the level of safety people expect at their job. As a black femme it would be awesome to say I was safe from racism at any job but unfortunately, within every job I’ve had from the supermarket to the strip club to OnlyFans, unless exclusively in a pro-queer and pro-POC space, I have experienced racism.

When this happened at the strip club at least I could take matters into my own hands by setting the bouncer on the racist, or even the other girls (who were like a family in the club I worked at the time) or asking the club to report it as a hate crime (this would be more difficult in the UK, but it’s doable and in other countries, I saw the clubs take men to the police before and make the charges themselves so the girl didn’t have to go to court or anything like that), when this happened in a supermarket however I was reminded I couldn’t upset the customer and would have to accept it. I wonder what my rights were in that situation?

When the head of Somerset police is campaigning to ban strip clubs, how can you feel supported by the judicial system as a stripper? I have myself seen rape cases not go to court because the police have decided the stripper somehow invited that because of her profession. Sabrina Jade

Issues follow the idea of rights of vulnerable workers in the industry due to the criminalisation and stigmatisation of sex work. This means a lot of vulnerable women are unable to work with the police to get the appropriate people reprimanded. When the head of Somerset police is campaigning to ban strip clubs, how can you feel supported by the judicial system as a stripper? I have myself seen rape cases not go to court because the police have decided the stripper somehow invited that because of her profession. Or policemen themselves steal sex workers’ content or come into their place of work. Both these are a few stories of my many years in many clubs but I think when talking about vulnerable women, we need to accept that, women and people choosing sex work as their profession makes them vulnerable people because sex work still isn’t completely decriminalised and the stigma against people in the industry is so widespread and damaging that sex workers don’t have the same access to the same resources with the same ease as most other workers. In stripping, this is emphasised by not having workers’ rights (despite working for a company) and enabling management to fire and fine at will.

The united sex workers union is a branch of strippers and sex workers in the UK working to improve conditions in the club through collective negotiation and case work! I have been part of this union for years and seen people succeed in cases, alongside the amazing network of UK sex workers. This is organised for dancers to claim basic rights such as annual leave, sick pay, basic wage and right to organise and be represented by a trade union. All this progress will all be taken away from strippers if strip clubs are banned in the area, removing any chance of workers’ rights or improved working conditions in strip clubs.

Do films like ‘Hustlers’ paint an accurate picture of the strip club world?

No, and the best American depiction of strip club life is P-Valley but UK strip clubs are nothing like American strip clubs. Literally nothing, American strip clubs have a similar vibe (ish) to Australian clubs, and maybe Canadian? UK strip clubs are unique to the UK from what I’ve seen but I haven’t worked in Europe much. Stripping is very glamourised in the media, I’ve never seen anything that represented strippers quite like art and film from sex workers through places like sexquisite events. 

What are some red flags in the clubs when it comes to male clients?

Red flags for what? I read this question and immediately was like, oh yes when they have cheap shoes they probably aren’t rich. If they have a fancy watch try to get to him first, which I feel is not the question being asked!

Red flags for MEN would be the same as literally any red flags, let me clarify that an insanely varied group of people go into strip clubs. Yes, men but also women, queer folk, and so many couples – literally more couples than men some nights. There is nothing about a strip club which hoards all the “scary” men. Scary men exist, on the streets, in all clubs from cocktail bars to nightclubs to strip clubs, and the usual precaution every person takes against them is valid. The difference is in a strip club, if someone is scary in the clubs I have worked in, it’s a controlled environment with security, cameras and a club you can stay in for the rest of the night and then go back home. This doesn’t always offer protection, in the same way all nightclubs can’t offer protection from men all the time. I would like to emphasise that banning strip clubs and forcing them underground may end up hoarding all the scary men because this would mean strippers are directly affected by the Nordic model (As stripping would be criminalised). This has shown increased violence against sex workers and increased unsafe conditions. 

At what point did you decide to leave the strip club to pursue a career in pole dancing and why?

When the pandemic struck all the clubs closed, I was immediately jobless and homeless, I realised I’m clearly really bad at saving or budgeting money when I’m making it per shift and so I moved to online sex work for more consistent stable pay. I am VERY privileged to be able to do that as my family are incredibly supportive of everything I do and only want my wealth and happiness, but a lot of girls did not have that option. Systems like SWARM helped me and so many others. I miss stripping all the time but until the UK catches up to other countries and provides strippers with workers’ rights instead of debating closing clubs and leaving these “vulnerable” women referenced with no job or right to work, I will only work in other countries where that isn’t being considered. 

Sex workers saw first-hand what the sudden closure of strip clubs with no furlough and even no self-employment grant for a while did, and I saw people I cared about lose or attempt to take their own lives because of the struggle. It is so hard when what you do to literally eat and sleep with a roof over your head is not only taken away but then the very existence of your job starts being glamorised and debated by people who’ve never done it. Sometimes, they’ve never even been in a strip club. These are people’s livelihoods and how they support themselves, I can’t allow myself to be in a position where that can be ripped away so cruelly again but again, I am privileged I do not have to.

Why do you think there’s still such a stigma attached to stripping?

Sex work is not exploitative, but the systems sex workers have to operate in are. (Gemma rose blog) Sex worker voices and organisations need to be uplifted so so so much more. A millionaire can’t go to a strip club, give a few girls $200 for some gossip take a couple of pole lessons (as I said earlier strippers aren’t necessarily pole dancers, especially in the UK because people don’t tip for stage shows) and then go onto communicate the entire strip club experience through acting. It doesn’t work like that, I’ve worked in several clubs worldwide and I still hear things that are completely different or surprise me about the UK or even places I’ve never worked like South Africa or Iceland (who have banned strip clubs leading to lots of underground and definitely unsafe club/brothel hybrids).

How do you handle the days when you just don’t want to dance? Whether it be because you’re suffering from low body confidence, tiredness or you’re just on your period? 

One of the nice things about sex work is you can just not work! I knew so many girls who would take a week off every period, even I would bail on some shifts because I couldn’t be arsed. That’s one of the most comforting things about sex work from my perspective and possibly from other people like me who are mentally or physically disabled or simply want to control how much they work – one shift a week or 5! However, a top sex work tip is cutting the string off the tampon or just tucking it up, you can also buy stringless tampons online.

Have you ever had a day where you would spend £50 for a day off work?Sabrina Jade

You can also tip (or pay a fine) to not be on stage in some clubs, or swap your stages with girls who like stage! Even if it is the type of club with a fine, sometimes being able to opt out of work for £50 feels totally worth it – have you ever had a day where you would spend £50 for a day off work? However, I would like to add that fines aren’t necessarily a good thing at all, they are exploitative and used extensively in strip clubs.

Has your relationship with men changed as a result of your job at all?

Yes! Maybe a unique perspective as coming out of an abusive relationship I was quite scared of talking to men and struggled to feel comfortable around them. This fear and distrust faded quite quickly and men became funny and a lot less threatening to me. My regular at the club would literally make my heart jump with joy every time he came in, we’d have deep chats and he’d be so complimentary and caring about all my life achievements he still follows my social media and even did one of my tattoos. I’m not straight however (pansexual+polyamorous) and don’t really date men much, so for me the foundations of being confident and feeling safe around multiple male friends or otherwise is super important to me! Nice I’ve gotten to that level for me but maybe I would feel different if I exclusively dated men and subscribed to monogamy.

How do women usually react to what you do?

Lots of varied reactions. Every woman who’s come into the strip club and paid for a dance with me personally I adore! However, when reactions were negative, they were not only negative but often condescending too. I’ve had many women ask if I am trafficked, how my relationship with my dad is and other weird imposing questions that are incredibly inappropriate for a workplace. A lot of women I had arguments with were Sex-Work Exclusionary Radical Feminists (we call them SWERFs) and would often involve them telling me I don’t have the right to work in my profession like I’m a succubus not a stripper, literally just grooving and performing in front of people. 

How do you feel when you’re on-stage dancing? Is it sexually liberating and empowering or is that irrelevant? It’s just a job like any other, after all.

I found the stage specifically to be so inspiring, sexually liberating, empowering and fun, and then when I’d step off stage to the part where you talk to guys and try to hustle for dances. That was not fun at all – definitely very mundane and repetitive work, I didn’t even find lap dancing fun much…purely the stage. I found lap dancing boring because I preferred dancing for a crowd rather than just one person unless they were lovely and rich if I’m 100% honest. Probably another reason why I ended up in a pole career was because stripping helped me realise I was born to perform and dance. I also realised very quickly after working in the strip club that I was very, very queer, and not from seeing all the GORGEOUS women and people surprisingly. But just from conversation with strong powerful people that fully embodied their queerness and individuality. Although sex work is just work it is still a redistribution of wealth to women, queer folk, neurodivergent folk, trans folk and people of colour. The sex industry is the only industry where men are paid less. Strip clubs are full of performers, creatives and amazing people and I’m so grateful for the wisdom and guidance I’ve received from colleagues.

What’s the vibe like backstage at a strip club / venue? Is it a supportive place?

I remember one club experience in the backstage with all the girls coming together to instruct me what vibrator to buy and how to use it to have my first orgasm (aged 19 after 6 months of being in the UK sex industry, hilarious).

What’s your take on whether stripping / pole dancing is a feminist act or not? 

Women making the choices they want to make for themselves is the feminist act. My opinion is it can be a feminist choice to engage in stripping or pole but that is purely my opinion, from my own experience. Taking away women’s ability to make career choices for themselves however is an anti-feminist act.

What does it take to work in the industry?

“The easiest job to get is stripping and the hardest job to do is stripping” (Gemma Rose Pole). It takes guts, chat, strength – mentally and physically-  but mostly making sure you are comfortable in yourself and what you want to present or put into the industry. It’s quite easy to walk into a strip club and get a job and just as easy if you hate it to leave after that shift and never go back again. It’s very, very hard to regularly make good money consistently but I’ve seen lots of talented superstars do this.

With the news of a nil cap on Sex Entertainemnt Venues in Bristol (nothing like legislating against women’s bodies, eh!), how would a nationwide ban affect women working in the industry? 

This is honestly a stupid policy and it’s heart-breaking to me that women drafted this thinking they are doing something good. As someone gender apathetic (or non-binary) the strip club enabled me a safe space to perform hyper femininity and upholds archaic gender roles the same as any other institution. Why are other industries and even schools not criticised for upholding gender roles if it is so important, or is it only important when strippers or sex workers play into it? In addition, the diversion of blame from DOMESTIC ABUSERS to girls working in a strip club? What? Also, as someone with a Master’s in Science, where is the peer reviewed empirical evidence for all of this? I have referenced empirical evidence earlier for how damaging the ramifications of this could be for sex workers. How is this even being debated? It is also vile and disgusting that they reference how the clubs have been closed because of restrictions for a year, as if that means it doesn’t matter that these people’s livelihoods could be taken away permanently. I had to attend funerals of friends and talk to friends in mental hospitals and out of suicide attempts because they didn’t know how they were going to survive the upcoming months, and simply felt cast away by the system. So it is really disrespectful and actually disgraceful to use that as some sort of reason that people having their job taken away should just deal with it. I also would love some evidence on areas with full criminalisation and bans of strip clubs and how they’re doing, as I still know girls who have worked in Iceland which is now a very dangerous place to work after the strip club ban (because people will still work, just underground). 

Underground strip clubs take workers’ rights off the table and puts sex workers literally out of sight and mind where literally anything can happen to them, and that is as terrifying as it sounds.

Sabrina Jade

Everyone should have a legal safe space to work and nationwide ban will rip that away and probably not even effectively ban strip clubs as they will just move. We should be working to uplift sex worker voices and empowering strippers to challenge employers on unfair workplace practices. I don’t understand what positive impact this decrepit bill is meant to have… is it to stop the exchange of sex appeal (what about the internet?), is it because men can’t control themselves after seeing naked women, they go home and commit domestic abuse because if that is a serious issue with men in that area, then they should be working on that. 

Obviously it’s not these things though because where are the laws to help victims of this domestic abuse? More precautions to allow victims of abuse to safely and comfortably go through the report experience. More laws to enable rape cases to go to trial, my Master’s Degree isn’t in law so I’m not sure what legalities would enable victims of abuse to get the justice they deserve. But shutting strip clubs is NOT an achievement or a step of progress towards a safer society. It IS taking away people’s livelihoods or forcing dancers in that area to move to completely different area, how feminist is an idea that forces/pushes women to literally move town or city from where the idea is taking place. Is that the objective? To only have the type of woman pre-approved by Bristol women’s club to be able to work and live and eat in Bristol ? This debate is happening in Scotland and Blackpool too and where is any evidence that it will make a positive change to violence against women? Apart from the evidence I stated earlier to show criminalising sex work increases violence against sex workers, unsafe working conditions and does not stop anyone doing sex work? I have not found a single paper or evidence that there is a correlation let alone a causative link between stripping and domestic violence and to literally devastate people’s lives over an opinion is gross and wouldn’t even be considered for another industry. 

Can we please stop punishing women and people who aren’t men saying it will help men to do better? Also, not only men attend strip clubs either as I said, if men attending strip clubs is actually linked to domestic violence how about banning men from attending strip clubs? Why not encourage opening of more queer strip club venues, it is clear the people campaigning for and pushing this legislation are targeting sex workers. It is clear they have not listened to sex worker voices and do not want to.

What is the future of strip clubs and what changes would you like to see happen for the industry to make it a fairer, more regulated, and safer place for women and non-binary folk across the board? 

It’s sad that women’s real experiences and lives are used as direct ammunition to confiscate our legal workspaces rather than used to assemble and improve working conditions. Gemma Rose puts it perfectly on her blog: “Think about it, even if a club doesn’t see a single customer all night, but they schedule 15 dancers, they’re already up by £300. We’ve been saying for years now how the UK strip club industry is dying, I think this is mostly due to club’s lack of interest in changing by adapting their spaces or offering new/different services which would better reflect UK culture and the UK market. Instead of changing to create a more equal and mutually beneficial workplace, it’s easier and cheaper for clubs to exploit dancers instead of exploring other avenues of income. It’s a pretty great business model for clubs, but not at all ethical for the dancers. I fear this attitude and lack of reaction from clubs will eventually lead to a long, drawn-out death of the industry.

Sex work is not exploitative, but the systems we have to operate in are. We are not victims of sex work, but we do want better working conditions.Sabrina Jade

As dancers, we rarely feel we can speak out about unfair working conditions when dancer complicity levels are so high. We don’t really talk about the above stuff! We want to keep our jobs, so we keep quiet and say ‘yes’ to whatever the club demands. This has nothing to do with sex work itself; sex work is not exploitative, but the systems we have to operate in are. We are not victims of sex work, but we do want better working conditions. We do not want clubs to be shut down and therefore we can no longer do the work safely at all, we want reform in these spaces. We do not want our right to work to be stripped from us. We need to keep these spaces open, but demand change from club owners and management. From the inside, it’s hard to know exactly how to go about this. I think that’s why so many yearn for a sex worker-owned strip club. Perhaps we can look to our industry equivalents over-seas for inspiration. For example, protests in the US have led to law reforms where dancers must be paid to work and must not pay a house fee (a rightful shift from self-employed to employed). This, of course, has its own problems, but it is a strong route to consider.”

Biggest misconception about being a stripper / pole dancer?

We do not get paid a base rate or minimum wage. It takes at least a couple of dances or a few good tips to make profit at work. Every worker starts the night in debt. If you are ever in a strip club do not just sit and stare. It is not a zoo. Tip. The amount of times people come in to “look” or “because my friend made me”, we are adults, if you don’t want to go to a strip club (or you can’t afford a £20 dance) don’t. 

Helpful Resources

United Sex Workers

United Sex Workers on Instagram

East London Strippers Collective

Sex Workers Advocacy and Resistance Movement

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