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The Bare Truth
May 28, 2002
by Cristina Alcivar

The feminist general consensus is that women are an oppressed gender and do not share equal financial power with men. Together as women we share stories and dreams to fight our marginalized status. In reality, this is not the case especially when we talk about women exotic dancers. The division between women is essentially that of good girl/bad girl. The good girl view believes that women who strip are “uncontrollably sexual, that it’s something intrinsic to their nature, like a disease; and that poor working class women are innately morally inferior and more sexual than the happy upper class, who can control themselves.” In contrast, the bad girl understands striptease as a regulated occupation. Female exotic dancers choose to take their clothes off because they dream of a better life, and specifically financial status. However, many barriers exist for exotic dancers to make their dreams a reality.

The popular view is that women who sell sex for money are bad, are not taken seriously, and are ruining the feminist fight. But why? Because they are asking for money? Don’t people get paid when they do their job? If we sympathize with the necessity for money and know that women in general are in disadvantaged socio-economic positions what usually follows is, “But, why stripping and not something decent?”. It is important to explore who is attempting to define “decent” job alternative for women and why.

For women, choice has been at the center of the debate and a key to our oppression. Governments legislate what choices we can make over our own bodies, whether it be selling our bodies or eggs and/or having an abortion. In our society, laws are one of the many ways women's choice are defined and controlled.

For instance, the occupation of exotic dancing was radically transformed in February 1994 in Toronto following a court ruling which changed striptease -- an occupation without physical contact between exotic dancer and customer -- into lap dancing. This contact, usually in which the dancers rubs her buttocks, hips or legs against a client’s crotch, came to be euphemistically referred to as lap dancing. This put pressure on the dancers to lap dance rather than perform striptease. Furthermore, many clubs changed their internal set-up to allow for more extensive customer contact and privacy. After conflicting lower court rulings, the Supreme Court of Canada made a landmark decision on the lap dance question in late 1999 that supported lap dancing as long as it isn't “taken too far.” Dancers voices were not heard through the redefining process of their jobs, the government has made the decision for us.

The issue of striptease is not just about the conditions of work, it is about freedom of choice. Must women who strip experience massive discrimination as a result of having made an economic choice? Subordination is not natural but socially determined and enforced. A women’s choice demands respect and protection, because for many women these are important life choices. If we want to stop violence and help in the advancement of women we really need to look at how the good girl/bad girl double standard works and why it has’t changed and why it’s getting worse.

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