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Playing Stripper for Extra-Credit

theories of prostitution is divorced from lived experiences

Forum: WMST-L
Date: 08/03/2005

On 12/6/05 11:42 AM, "Tamarah Cohen" wrote:

Not unrelated: what of the undergrad who proposes to prostitute herself in the form of stripping as "action research" for a WS class?

One thing I would suggest is to tell her to consider the economic impact on people who feed their families and pay their bills through stripping. Amateurs who are in it for research or for "experience" depress earnings for the pros.

Besides, what are they proposing to sudy by stripping anyway? Surely, you can't learn anything about being dancers just by stripping for a week or two. (But then, lots of scholars seem to be convinced that _Nickel and Dimed_ actually represents what it's like to be poor in America, so I guess these students aren't that far off.) They might learn something about men's attitude at strip clubs, or learn about themselves in terms of how they feel about their own bodies and sexualities, but I don't know if that's what needs to be studied for the course.

I have a question. Do you always use the phrase "prostitute herself (himself/themselves)" when we are talking about work, e.g. "I prostitute myself as a Women's Studies professor"? If not, why would you choose it in this case? It seems to imply some sort of value judgment.

Emi Koyama

-- * Putting the Emi back in Feminism since 1975.

Date: 12/07/2005

On 12/6/05 10:11 PM, "Tamarah Cohen" wrote:

I distinguish prostitution (i.e., the commercialization of sexual violence) from other kinds of work.

But stripping is not prostitution. If you distinguish prostitution from other kinds of work, then why did you use the phrase "prostitute herself as..." when talking about something other than prostitution? That seems to conflate the two classes of work that you are trying to dinstinguish.

Emi Koyama

Date: 12/07/2005

On 12/7/05 6:40 AM, "Rebecca Whisnant" wrote:

I would be very concerned about the wellbeing of the student who proposes to engage in stripping as "action research." She may well have a glamorized idea of what is involved, and she may find that being exposed, ogled, called abusive names, and groped by strange men is more upsetting than she had anticipated.

That is true, but it's not like female college students never strip at a club--it may be unpleasant, but most people deal. Having the concern and sharing it with the student is one thing, but we shouldn't be underestimating what a young woman can handle. With any sort of job, there's a chance that the actual work would turn out unpleasant in ways that one didn't expect, and this one is no different.

What I would question about this "action research," other than its impact on other women who work there, is the scholarly value of such "research." I really don't see what the student is proposing to study by doing this "action research."

Also, though Emi and I disagree about almost everything in this area,

You'd be surprised how much we actually agree. For example, I'm equally as critical as you are of the glamorising of sex industry (it hurts workers' collective interests). I'm annoyed as hell of the "sex positive" activists who don't recognise how race, class, nationality, etc. diminish occupational choices for many women. I participate in activism to push Japanese government to take responsibility for the trafficking and gross exploitation of the "comfort women" during the WWII. I also happen to believe that while I support freedom of expression, I consider it valid to critique pornography and other manifestations of sexual fantasies, including those involving prostitution, for its sexism, racism and other patterns of domination.

I think sometimes people are too quick to decide whether I'm on their side or not, and once they decide that I'm not one of them they tend to associate me with positions that I don't support at all, such as those expressed by the "sex positive" authors. I'm pro-worker and pro-women, but I've never expressed myself as pro-porn or pro-prostitution (well, I'm not anti-these either, so that could be an area we genuinely disagree).

Finally, as for whether stripping is prostitution, that of course depends on how one defines prostitution, and there are different defensible definitions.

I concede that the defenition is contested, but the vast majority of prostitutes and dancers will find it very offensive to call stripping a form of prostitution. Feminist theories that define prostitution broadly to include stripping, porn modeling, phone sex operation, etc., are completely divorced from the lived experiences and thoughts of women who actually perform those labour. That, to me, is a fundamental flaw for theories that purport to be feminist, because I don't subscribe to the top-down, ivory tower version of feminism.

Emi Koyama