The #MeToo movement has effectively exposed the flawed and dysfunctional way that American culture views sexuality and consent. The movement revealed the extent to which sexual misconduct permeates the lives of so many women, but with a focus on women in Hollywood and famous athletes. Despite the growing voice of survivors of sexual misconduct, the stories of strippers have been noticeably absent. In a profession where interactions between clients and employees are sexually charged, there is often room for a drunk or inconsiderate client to harass or abuse a dancer. Yet, we’ve heard very few, if any, prominent #MeToo stories from strippers.
Part of the reason strippers have been excluded from the #MeToo movement is the misconception that stripping is not a “real job.” This could not be more wrong. Strip clubs constitute a huge, legitimate industry. Stripping is a seven billion dollar industry that is legal in all 50 states. According to IBIS World, an industry market research provider, there are a total of 3,918 strip clubs in America with 57,375 employees.
Despite the fact that the strip club industry is so profitable, many clubs do not treat their strippers as “real employees.” According to an article by the Wall Street Journal, most strippers are legally categorized as independent contractors rather than employees. Independent contractors do not have to be paid a wage, and are not afforded the same workplace protections as employees. In fact, most strippers pay the strip club to be able to work rather than the other way around. Because they are independent contractors, strippers have minimal protection from sexual harassment. If a client or fellow employee gropes them without consent, stalks them or makes an unnecessarily lewd or violent comment, there is typically nowhere for the stripper to report the behavior. Even if the strip club does have a reporting system for sexual misconduct, the business has no legal responsibility to investigate the complaint or punish their assailant. Meanwhile, the owners of strip clubs can make bank by charging both clients and strippers to enter their club.
The designation of strippers as independent contractors allows sexual harassment and assault to thrive in many strip clubs. The #MeToo movement, however, is devoid of outrage over this toxic and abusive employment structure. The real reason for this lack of outrage is societally ingrained norms of slut-shaming and misunderstanding of consent.
American society tends to see consent as all-or-nothing. If someone consents to any sexual situation, the world around them assumes they consent to all sexual situations. The prime example of this is the recent sexual misconduct allegations against Aziz Ansari. The anonymous woman who spoke about her date with Ansari said she she went into Ansari’s home and freely consented to kissing Ansari, but was quickly pushed into sex that she did not expect. Ansari responded, stating that he had no idea the encounter wasn’t completely consensual. He mostly likely assumed that since the woman came into his house and kissed him, she had consented to sex.
The Ansari story relates to the sexual harassment of strippers because the same principle applies. Strippers, by virtue of their job, consent to a sexual situation with their clients, but do not automatically consent to being touched. Clients, and society at large, struggle to understand this distinction. Despite the sexual nature of strip clubs, most clubs have very specific rules about whether and how clients are allowed to touch strippers. Beyond that, most strippers have personal boundaries that they would prefer clients not cross. In all cases, when someone touches a stripper, they are expected to tip. Additionally, clients might think that since a stripper consented to a sexual situation during her work hours, he can follow her out of work and pursue sex.
Stripping is a legitimate, profitable line of work and it should not be unsafe. It’s clear that America needs to rethink the way that we interact with and employ strippers. It is important that more strippers are categorized as employees rather than independent contractors. This would give strippers recourse if they are sexually harassed or assaulted at work. If society is to take the sexual harassment and assault of strippers seriously, we need to substantively change the way we perceive consent. Just because someone consents to one type of sexual interaction does not mean they consent to every sexual interaction. A stripper’s job is sexual by nature, but that does not give clients the right to touch, stalk or harass them without their consent. Strippers have been placed in unfair and abusive work environments since long before the #MeToo movement began. It’s time the movement take their complaints seriously.