In the 1996 movie Striptease, Demi Moore’s character, in the midst of an ugly divorce, takes up stripping as a way to earn money to pay her lawyer and fight for custody of her daughter. She’s not stripping for the fun of it, but rather using her position as a stripper as a means to an end. And though the film was an infamous bomb – both critically and at the box office – its subject matter remains surprisingly relevant.
With tuition costs increasing, some college students may find themselves in a similar situation, using stripping as a means to pay their tuition. In recent years, there have been a multitude of stories from ABC News, Cosmopolitan and others on this trend. Given the cost of college attendance and the trillions of dollars owed in student loan debt, it sounds like a pretty good idea to me. Trying to maintain a full load of classes while working full-time or while working multiple part-time jobs to pay for tuition, fees, rent, and groceries, all while still having any sort of social life, is a difficult balancing act. A well paying job where you can set your own hours is hard to come by, but stripping offers just that.
In the not-so-distant past, I took an undergraduate class on gender, sexuality, and popular culture. The professor, Dr. Catherine Roach, specializes in the study of both ethics and gender at the University of Alabama's New College. She had recently finished her book, Stripping, Sex, and Popular Culture, which was assigned reading in my class. At first, I was a bit hesitant to read and write about stripping and sex with the person who literally wrote the book on it, but this turned out to be an incredibly liberating opportunity. Dr. Roach's foray into strip culture began when a close friend left her PhD program and took up exotic dancing. She wanted to know what type of work her friend was doing – was it dangerous? Exploitive? Fun? To answer these questions, she went to the club to see for herself.
Dr. Roach was, at first, taken aback by the nudity, but she also noticed the seeming reversal of power dynamics in the club. In the strip club, men weren’t chasing women. The women were friendly, seeking out the company of men – not because they wanted to, per se, but because they were doing their jobs. As she continued her research, she began to think more about gender stereotypes and body image, and she wondered if from a power perspective, becoming a stripper could be the female equivalent of a male becoming a high-level business executive. She compared the ogling experienced in a strip club to her yearly faculty review – where her work is put on display and its validity subject to the opinion of others.
Eventually, Dr. Roach tried on all the trappings of a stripper for herself, and though the feeling of sensuality and allure wasn't strong enough to pull her away from a return to teaching, the experience fueled her desire to continue researching gender and sexuality. From my perspective as her student, I thought she was extremely brave to have tried something so far outside her comfort zone. I think this type of research is the hallmark of someone who believes in what she is trying to learn. In her conclusion, Dr. Roach poses the question: does this type of research somehow betray twenty-first-century feminism?
Initial reaction to her work by both males and females was mixed; both sexes felt there were mixed messages related to the feminist movement. Was Dr. Roach somehow condoning sex work? Was she saying that men have a right to treat women as sex objects? In my opinion, she wasn’t. She was trying to find a middle ground and show that, while stripping as a career could be lucrative and liberating, there was still a social stigma attached to it, and that the stories of strippers interviewed for her research should be viewed as a cautionary tale to anyone looking for a quick way to earn money. I highly recommend her book to each of you so that you may dive into the world of stripping from an analytical, research-based point of view.
Would I have stripped to pay for school? Yep. If I had known then what I know now, there’s no question that I would have considered this an option. However, I would have approached finding a club to dance in the same way I looked for any other job. Safety would have been paramount while at work, and I would have worked hard to ensure my schoolwork remained top priority. Taking steps to separate my work life from my social life would have been even more important as a stripper than if I were working another job, say as an office temp. Many of today’s college students are faced with a difficult set of financial circumstances, and as costs keep going up and the worth of an undergraduate degree keeps going down, parents are often not financially able to support their children in school. If working a “normal” part-time job doesn’t cut it, what do you do? Well, like Timbaland said, “Baby if you strip, you can get a tip, ‘cause I like you just the way you are.”