Sunday, April 10, 2011


I went to a strip club this weekend. I don't go to strip clubs often but on occasion, typically at another friend's request I end up in a strip club. I rarely have an amazing time in strip clubs but this weekend was especially disturbing. I walked into an all black strip club located in a a area with a several other multiracial strip clubs and a few predominately white clubs. In the club I entered there were at least 30 women working in a one large room, with one stage. One woman danced on stage while the others lounged or tried to work the audience. I had no money and I was with a group of 4 other people, one of those people and I were the only white people in the bar.

I felt guilty for being in that space without money to give the women dancing. I had not planned to end up in a strip club. The women were not turning me on, really I had no desire to tip them beyond a sense of obligation because I was in the bar. Tipping is the point of being in a strip bar. I grew very uncomfortable, here I was with over 2 dozen black women working their bodies because that is how they make money. It would be very rude to go into a restaurant, sit down, and proceed not to order anything. In fact I would be asked to leave. As a white person I knew I took up space that no one else in the bar took up. Lots of people were tipping the women a dollar here or there, way less than any of the women's worth. When I say I took up space that no one else did its for me to explain. White people are privileged in this country. So there is an assumption that I have access to resources such as money. I don't think any one should go to a strip club unless they are ready to tip the dancers. Due to systemic racism, as I white person I most likely have access to certain resources that a black woman may not have access to. Thus making it even more important that as a white person in an all black strip bar I go ready to tip.

There were dozens of black men in the bar who were not tipping. For me, this did not justify my inability to tip. I did not want to do what those men were doing and I have no idea if the same men who were not tipping the woman on stage had at least paid for a "lap dance" in the back. My discomfort was about my relationship to that space. It felt reminiscent of a slave auction block, and yet I did not even have money to justify my voyeurism or participation. I did not want to participate in that kind of exploitation of black women's bodies. I am not against strip bars, sometimes I even have a good time. I think the thing that bothered me most is that I had no money to tip and the people I was with had very limited money to tip. Essentially the money my friends had was not enough to justify a group of 5 people inhabiting that space. Strippers don't strip for fun generally, they strip to earn $$$.

I voiced my discomfort to my friends, including the other white person. I was not heard by my friends and we stayed for a while before we left. I woke up thinking well if nothing else at least I have something to blog about. I definitely felt disappointed my friends are OK with being in that space with little money to compensate the women for their work. I was in a group of both people of color and white people, as well as straight people and queer people. So for each of us the space we take up in this particular situation varies and I cannot speak to whether they should have been in that space or not but I knew that personally I did not have any reason to be there without money. Had I been in a group of people who had big $ and could "make it rain", maybe the dynamic would have changed. For me it was not right to be in this strip club with a group of people who had little to no money to tip the dancers.

Someone I know is making a documentary about black strippers in gay communities who strip for gay people. Once she said part of what her documentary looks at is "how work shapes identity". I think about this statement partly because she was referring to how work as a stripper and entertainer helped shape the identity of the people she followed in her documentary. For me working in abortion has shaped my identity. I did not know I had so much feminism hiding in me until this weekend. I identify as a feminist but I have never had this kind of anger arise as a result of the objectification of women's bodies, at least not that I could really identify in real time.

I can not disconnect my work in an abortion clinic from experiences like this one. I kept on thinking of the stripper I got into a conversation with at work a few weeks ago. I kept hoping none of these women would end up in the clinic and remember my face because I watched and did not tip. My work has informed my identity as a feminist and anti-racist woman.

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