Behind Closed Doors: Exotic dancing often treated like a joke, deserves equal treatment


“I’m just going to drop out of school and become a stripper.” How many times have you heard this phrase frivolously fall out of someone’s mouth? Probably a lot. I’m definitely guilty of saying it and not considering the very real implications of my words.

I couldn’t help but wonder: as a self-proclaimed feminist since the age of 14, why do I allow myself and those around me to make awful remarks that are meant to deeply shame other women for their sexual choices? It’s because I have been taught through media and the way that women are spoken about that if a woman is engaging in consensual sex work then she is inherently lesser. Obviously, that is not the case. I had to step back, take a second and reevaluate the way I was thinking about sex, women and feminism, because if my feminism is non-inclusive, then I am not a feminist. Simple. To call yourself a feminist and to be non-inclusive is to be a vegan who eats bacon. It just doesn’t work. Sex workers need to be included in a feminist narrative without turning their livelihood into a joke.

Logistically, let’s be real. Exotic dancing is HARD. There are so many aspects of the job that need to be done well in order for it to be lucrative at all. The first is dancing. Exotic dancing is extremely difficult; if you can’t dance on beat at a basement frat party in dirty sneakers, what makes you think you could do it in front of people, in extremely high heels, well enough to be paid for it? That’s just the dancing. Add in a pole and you’re really in for it. It takes an immense amount of physical strength just to stay on the pole for a certain amount of time. And to look sexy doing it? It takes so much time, training, hard work and effort.

Even beyond the physical aspects, it takes a lot of mental energy as well. In order to succeed, you have to strategically think about what the client wants to see, and how to market yourself in order to make the maximum amount of money possible. You have to work the room and be as charming as possible (which means you have to be socially capable of engaging with strangers).

So, unless you have amazing coordination, immense upper body strength and are able to market yourself to potential clients, you can’t just quit school and become a stripper. But you were never serious, that’s why it’s just a joke, right? Too bad it isn’t funny. It’s just a mean-spirited comment covered in a thin veil of humor.

Unlike the “orange” knock-knock joke, this bad joke has very real consequences. It leads to the understanding that dancers are dumb, which is why people are so truly stunned when Cardi B or Amber Rose have anything intelligent to say. Because they are former dancers who are not trying to push their past into a dark closet, they’re dumb. Not just dumb, they’re dumb women. Let’s face it. No one talks about the fact that Chris Pratt, Brad Pitt and Javier Bardem used to be dancers. According to a study done by Old Dominion University in 2002, every single male respondent felt they had been positively affected by the community’s knowledge of their profession, but only 62 percent of female dancers felt positively supported by the community. This is unsurprising given the fact that the choices that women make are societally scrutinized, especially if sexuality is involved.

The bottom line is that women need to respect other women. Everyone needs to respect women, no matter what their line of work is.

Alijah W. is a Behind Closed Doors columnist who wants all professions to receive equal levels of respect.

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