Last Monday, October 1st, our Hons 201 class watched the documentary film titled, Live Nude Girls Unite! The film followed Julia Query, a part-time comedian/ stripper whose higher education was based in Women’s Studies. Query and her co-workers dance nude at a San Fransisco peep show strip club claiming to be “feminist,” called The Lusty Lady. The club’s managers, however, would have rather handled their employees’ affairs privately as it were – and without accountability or respondibility to their staff in terms of basic social securities (i.e. no firing without just cause, sick-leave, sick-pay, holiday pay, privacy safeties and liveable wages).
But The Lust Lady staff had complaints extending beyond those issues of basic workers rights and care. The way it worked was managers believed the most lucrative customers were those “white and Asian American business men” who so-called-preferred to see the white, blond stereotype up close and personal (i.e. in the ‘Private Eyes’ room). Dancers who were booked for ‘Private Eyes’ showings made nearly double the earnings of a standard peep show viewing. So the white, blond staff members (or the white staff members willing to dress up in blond wigs) were – by default – making more money in tips based on racizlied mangerial practices.
This documentary opened my eyes to one stubborn reality that many people have difficulty accepting and ultimately admitting: sex workers are workers [period]. They are not, “workers, too,” nor are they necessarily pursuing a temporary career path which is “fun” in all its non-permanence; managers at The Lusty Lady attempted to construct stripper job descriptions in this way. I believe workers are entitled to rights as well as benefits. I believe contracts help to ensure the safety and protection of workers’ rights. There is a fundamental difference between being an employee of a business and being a private contractor utilizing company space.
In many if not most cases, strippers are considered to be – by law – “private contractors” utilizing the space inside peep-show strip clubs. So in addition to making more in tips than actual wages, strippers are expected to pay a stage fee. Many of the women interviewed during the filming of this documentary were paying large percentages of their weekly, bi-weekly or monthly income checks just to maintain the status of employment. Peep-show strip club managers largely received more profit than the actual workers, whom according to their non-contracts were simply ‘private contractors’ and thereby unentitled to employee rights.
What Query and the staff at The Lusty Lady was empowering as it was transformative. I think LIVE NUDE GIRLS UNITE brings to light a lot of issues that have previously occupied dark corners. The concept of sex, sexiness and sexuality relating to race was a big, hot button issue on deck for workers of color at peep-show strip club, as many white staff members were receiving more [or the only] opportunities for higher pay through racialized managerial practices. One of the club managers said ironically, “you know, some people actually find these women attractive,” referring to women of color (i.e. Asian American and African American club workers), and not just as the exoticized other.
This documentary also [re]shaped my perception of sex work as work and all the rights that go along with that notion of employee status. If sex were not so tabou, maybe a conversation about sex workers rights could be further lifted out of the dark and into the light.