Some lapdancing experiences

Wondered what it’s like to take one’s clothes off for money? Different people have different experiences. A new book by former dancer, Jennifer Hayashi Danns, and campaigner, Sandrine Leveque, collects together some stories from lap dancers and other sex workers, describing their working lives. Danns explains that in the clubs where she has worked, the women must pay a fee for working there, so they take on the financial risk – if there are no customers, the club still makes money, but the women could lose cash. Unsurprisingly, there is fierce competition for customers between the dancers, who will sometimes masturbate, or ignore no-touching rules so they can make enough cash to pay the club fee and make a profit. The male customers frequently make remarks – often insulting – about the bodies of the dancers, telling them that their breasts are too small, pointing out their cellulite, calling them names, or commenting on their genitalia. Danns reports that most of her customers were groups of rowdy young men, who wanted to show off to their friends:

There’s something psychologically unhealthy about it… All you have done is picked the woman you think is most attractive and paid her – but now you want a round of applause. Isn’t that strange?

Danns doesn’t want to see the industry banned, as she thinks such legislation wouldn’t remedy the sexist culture that she sees as underlying it. But she hopes her book will help people see that some parts of the sex industry harm both women and men. You can read more here.

Edited in response to comments that rightly pointed out the previous version made it sound as if Danns’ experiences are universal, but other accounts show they are not.

20 thoughts on “Some lapdancing experiences

  1. a great documentary with a different take on one workplace within a very variable “sex industry” (I wonder if the sorts of generalizations above would be possible to make about retail, for example, by reading the Walmart suit) is Live Nude Girls Unite.

  2. Not sure there are any generalizations made above – the claims made are about the experiences of Danns and the other women who contributed to the collection. I haven’t assumed these are universally true for all workers in the sex industry. Different views from others working in the sex industry are presented in previous posts too.

    Thanks for the suggested documentary.

  3. This book looks really interesting. Does anyone know if it can be purchased in the U.S.? From a google search, it seems like the answer is ‘no’…

  4. Just a snippet from the other side that supports Monkey’s comment. While I agree with Danns basic claim that the sex industry utlimately harms both buyer and seller, not all experiences are as negative Danns. As a professor who lap-danced her way through undergrad (yes, what a cliche!), my experience was frankly positive. While there certainly was some competition among dancers, I found a great deal of camaraderie among the dancers. And yes, there was the occasional customer who was rude and derogatory – though as an independent contractor, who paid for space to ply my trade, I simply walked away.

  5. Monkey, I do think that the title of the post and the opening couple of sentences imply that somehow this account can be taken as representative – as more or less what ‘you’ would experience if you did this. And I agree with comments 1 and 4 that this is misleading. Indeed, I think there are political dangers in representing sex work as living up to all the old stereotypes without mentioning that there are other live models out there. Not all sex work is sleazy, despite James’s sarcastic comment, and this is important to emphasize for all sorts of political reasons …

  6. Hard to see that this is any more misleading than if someone asked someone who is “X” (X could be anything – ambassador, astronaut, prison inmate, Vietnam veteran, an American in Paris, etc. etc.) “what’s it like to be X?” and got a published response. Doesn’t it go without saying (unless you’re writing, say, a product warning label) that individual experiences are subjective and may vary? Except for small children and the like, everyone’s pretty much on notice of that aspect of the human condition.

    Is there a more or less agreed definition of “sleazy” these days? When is the sex industry sleazy and when isn’t it?

  7. It really seems odd to complain about the title of this post when there’s a website sister to this one called “what is it like to be a woman in philosophy?” If female philosophers have things to complain about, legitimately, I’d be totally amazed if women working in the adult entertainment business have less to complain about. I don’t think think a generalization to every single female philosopher or lap dancer is implied by the “what is it like?” theme.

  8. I don’t think Jean K’s analogy holds. The point of the WILTBAWIP blog is that it is ever-evolving and anyone can chime in. it is clear to everyone contributing and reading that the picture it gives is dynamic and will develop over time, and it also matters that there are way more voices there. Also, it is already the stereotype that sex work is ‘sleazy’, so the picture being described here is not very surprising, whereas I think everyone felt like there was some serious consciousness-raising going on via the blog.

    I don’t know how to respond to Nemo’s last sentence without writing a book-length answer, all of which would be pretty familiar. Those who are interested in trying to build a sex-positive culture and who care about sex worker’s rights and protections have spent a long time trying to get across the message that not all sex work is icky or exploitative or sleazy, and that the differences between different institutions/legal systems/class positions/etc matter. I don’t feel up to defending the details of the claim that it needn’t be sleazy. I guess the burden of proof is on others to say why all of it IS, without just begging the question and presuming that there’s something inherently icky about it, regardless of the details of anyone’s experience.

  9. One more thing: Actually, I think if an interviewer actually asked someone “what’s it like to be a vietnam vet?” or whatever, in just those words, it would (a) sound like an awkward question, and (b) rightly be countered by “I can’t possibly speak for all vietnam vets that way.” I don’t actually think it’s the norm, in decent contemporary journalism, to ask that form of question. And of course feminist theorists have done tons over the last 25 years to show exactly why that’s a problematic kind of question.

  10. Monkey. Do you think the title “What is it like to be a woman in philosophy?” conveys the thought that the anecdotes related there are universal? I wouldn’t have thought so, so can’t follow your reasoning here. If we should ask what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy, I haven’t the slightest idea why we shouldn’t ask what it’s like to be a lap dancer.

  11. the difference is that “what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy” refers to a blog containing many experiences, not the title of a single post.

  12. Rebecca, perhaps the Vietnam vet was not a good example to include in that list. But who was talking about the “norms of decent contemporary journalism” (no oxymoron jokes, please)?

    Examples and analogies aside, I stick by my point that attaching the words “what it’s like to be a lapdancer” or some such formulation to someone else’s testimonial seems unlikely to be construed by people as an assertion that every lapdancer has had / will have the same or similar experiences. Even if it *were*, improbably, construed as such an assertion, it would be unlikely to mislead anyone because they would not be inclined to place reliance on that assertion. This, in both cases, because ordinarily-constituted people past the age of reason are aware of the pretty basic human truth that one person’s experiences do not necessarily dictate or reveal what another person’s experiences will be, even under similar circumstances. Need a blog post insure itself against the consequences of every unreasonable inference that might otherwise possibly be drawn from it? Anyhow, no harm done by making the clarification, it just seemed a little overanxious.

    I wasn’t suggesting above that all sex work is sleazy. I do, though, question the implication that being interested in building a sex-positive culture and caring about sex workers’ rights and protections requires one to subscribe to the notion that at least some sex work is not sleazy. Doesn’t seem to me to follow, though I grant that the terms are a little vague.

  13. I disagree, Nemo. I think our puritanical culture is all too ready to lap up a story of ‘what it’s like to be a lap dancer’ that includes mean bosses, gross customers, little autonomy, etc. as totally emblematic of all that icky sex industry stuff. And we have thousands of years of people speaking for other people, and being taken as representative voices, to overcome – I really don’t think that your ‘pretty basic human truth’ has been anything like consistently acknowledged over history. This is why it took 20 years to drive home the point that white upper class women couldn’t speak on behalf of poor black women as to ‘women’s experience’, and so forth. Or do you deny that there was a need for all those arguments? I think they were incredibly important.

    You’re right, the last doesn’t follow deductively. In fact, though, I think it is part of a progressive sex-positive agenda of that sort to look for and note cases of unsleazy sex work. And I also separately believe that it exists in actuality, not just in possibility. For example, there is a strong and growing feminist/queer burlesque culture in major urban areas. I am sure it is not perfect, but it serves as a nice starting example. And here in Tampa, the largest and most famous strip club is owned by Joe Redner, a gay local politician who gives his employees benefits and pensions as well as on-site protection and has lobbied hard for sex workers’ rights. I’ve been to his club and while it is no feminist utopia, it’s an interesting case study and I wouldn’t call it sleazy. Etc.

    Anyhow, Monkey, I like the new version of the post :) Thanks for listening!

  14. A quick note in response to Jean K and Nemo – I didn’t intend the original title to imply any claims to universality. And I guess some of you naturally read it the way I intended. But it seems this wasn’t the natural reading for everyone. Hence the change.

  15. Thanks, Monkey.

    Rebecca, I don’t object to “looking for and noting” cases where sex workers feel empowered, fulfilled, etc., but the anthology this post links do happens to be the other sort of thing–testimony from lap dancers about negative experiences. It’s not a question of puritanical feminists speaking for other people, but of these people speaking for themselves. Personally, I find their stories credible, and doubt they are atypical. These places have got to be high risk environments. You’ve got men there who are conducting business, leaving out female colleagues (according to a compelling passage of Cordelia Fine’s book Delusions of Gender)–not your really enlightened type of guy. And tons of men who are lying to their wives about where they are (according to what I’ve read in stories about local sex businesses)–not guys I’d expect to be super-sensitive types. And lots and lots of drunk guys showing off to each other. This seems like an environment where you might find a lot of men behaving badly, and a lot of women feeling ill-used. I think, contrary to what you say, people have a hard time thinking about the interior experience of lap dancers, because the exterior is distracting–so I happen to like the “what is it like?” question as it applies to them. But sure–all voices are worth hearing, not just the voices of people with complaints.

  16. Jean K: But of course. None of this was a critique of the book itself or its point, nor any challenge to the idea that all sorts of horrendous stuff goes on in the sex industry.

  17. Rebecca, you raise an interesting point with your reference to arguments that white upper class women couldn’t speak on behalf of poor black women as to “women’s experience”. I think in response I would say that to whatever degree those arguments were necessary, I do not think that the problem they purported to address was actually rooted in a denial of the proposition that one person’s experiences do not necessarily dictate or reveal what another person’s experiences will be. Put another way, it’s not clear to me that the assertion/assumption that white upper class women could speak on behalf of poor black women (to the extent that assertion or assumption was made) hinged on nonrecognition of the possibility of significant variation in individual experience.

    At any rate, to the extent people *would* be misled into forgetting that daily-demonstrated truth, it would probably be by their own experiences rather than by an account of somebody else’s. Still, as I said, no harm.

    I guess the concept of sleaze carries some different included concepts, any one or more of which might be emphasized in a particular use (this is borne out by comparing a few dictionary definitions). Some relate to appearance (such as the suggestion of squalor and grime); others are ethical/moral judgments (such as the suggestion of low character or vice). One thing mentioned in Wiktionary is the suggestion of a man who is “sexually aggressive or forward with women to the point of disgust”, which is certainly a common usage, and also associated with at least some sex work settings.

    I can imagine a sanitized, well-lit strip club environment free from dirt, drugs, danger, labour code violations or men displaying overt sexual aggressiveness toward women. However, someone could still think it was sleazy, particularly if one views the concept of a strip club as vicious per se.

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