Life on a Pole

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Memoirs seem to go through fads. There was the recent fad of memoirs about horrifically and quite creatively abused children grown to adulthood against all odds (many of which were fabricated, doing a disserve to all true abuse victims). Then there was the fad of memoirs by previously silent holocaust victims whose stories included poetic or unusual twists (many of which were fabricated, doing a disservice to all true holocaust victims).

Now it seems that memoirs of strippers, or more exactly, writers, journalists or housewives trying out the roles of strippers for a little while to gain some kind of insight into something or other, are in vogue. In my time I have had occasion to converse and spend time with a fair number of strippers, erotic dancers and/or prostitutes (and not in SL, though I have known a number there too), so the stereotypes found in these books and listed in the following excellent article make me laugh a good deal.

The one thing I learned in some very seamy dives, beyond the fact that a pro who busies herself with her lipstick while refusing to look at you does NOT want to sleep with you and will be worse than normal and that a smile defuses almost any situation that doesn’t include the misuse of sporting equipment, is that in the end, you do what you need to do to get by…which apparently can include writing memoirs of your week as a stripper. Live and learn.

The following is reposted from Double X.

My Life In a G-String: A Round Up of Stripper Memoirs

You’d never guess what you learn from reading them.

By Katie Roiphe

Are all naked women pretty much the same? Reading stripper memoirs would lead one to think so. It is a surprisingly rigid genre, with a set of rules and conventions as strict as those of sonnets or villanelles. These memoirs vary in tone, from Ruth Fowler, in Girl, Undressed, who writes like Sylvia Plath without the talent (“The bruise of men’s kisses has stained our breasts like crushed berries, fading gently into the sickly olive of a memory”) or Diablo Cody, of Juno fame, in Candy Girl, who writes like a grown-up Eloise at the Plaza (“Bossy bottoms absolutely slay me”), but they do tend to follow a surprisingly predictable form. You would think the subject would have a certain voyeuristic frisson, but something about stripping lends itself to cliché and obviousness, to the literary equivalent of fake breasts and caked mascara and silver thongs. Still a vast number of them have appeared on shelves, including Lily Burana’s good-natured Strip City, Elisabeth Eaves’ journalistic Bare, and Lacey Lane’s ditsy Confessions Of A Stripper. Herewith an anatomy of the conventions:

1. Our heroine is the last person we would imagine as a stripper. She is sensitive, well-educated, from a warm and supportive family. (Ruth Fowler writes, “I am a good girl, I was not born to this, I am the last person you would ever expect to find in a place like this.” Diablo Cody says, “I had spent my entire life choking on normalcy, decency, and Jif sandwiches … for me stripping was an unusual kind of escape.”)

2. On the other hand, the moment our heroine was up on stage, stripping felt totally natural. (Here is Elisabeth Eaves: “The strangest thing about it was that it wasn’t very strange. I had never done this work before, but it felt like a fragment of a dream coming back to me.” Or Ruth Fowler: “It’s something I feel like I’ve known my whole life.” Or Lacey Lane: “Maybe I was an exhibitionist at heart. Or I was in what athletes refer to as the zone.”)

3. Our heroine is different from the other strippers. In order to make this crucial point, her narrative will linger on the single mothers and the drug addicts, or older women, who seem not to have the same delicate sense of discernment that she does. They are often portrayed as having sagging bodies. Unlike our heroine, they are not glamorous or sexy. They are just … strippers. (Ruth Fowler writes, “Old Venus in the corner always says, ‘It’s easy to get into, impossible to get out,’ nods her head, looks down at her breasts, like two bizarre antennae placed upon a sagging thirty-five-year-old body.” Cody describes, “A stout chicana grappled with a brass pole, pivoting to reveal a cesarean scar on her midriff, red as a sockeye salmon.”)

4. Our heroine is not really a stripper, but an anthropologist, journalist, writer. (Diablo Cody writes, “Like Harriet the Spy in discount swimwear, I recorded my impressions of them all in my top-secret slut notebook.” Lily Burana asserts, “I have my financial safety net, and I’m starting to earn money as a writer.”)

5. Our heroine has what she inevitably calls “boundaries.” (Elisabeth Eaves declares, “I realized I had to approach the booth knowing my own boundaries,” and “it was a matter of setting up boundaries somewhere so that one didn’t feel like one’s entire sense of self was oozing away.” Or Lacey Lane: “I quit working in one Sin City strip joint because I refused to prostitute myself like some of the other girls.” Ruth Fowler, again: “How do I find this job tolerable? I don’t kiss.”) Our heroine, in other words, knows how to draw the line. In order to underscore this point, she will discuss at least one girl who does not have boundaries. Unlike our heroine, who is asserting her sexual power over men, this girl is a slut. (Diablo Cody says, “one night, in a moment of candor, Nico revealed to me that she had once been a full-time hooker and occasionally still turned tricks.” Elisabeth Eaves explains, “The final, disturbing surprise had come when she revealed that she was genuinely considering Gene’s proposal to have sex for money … this idea left me sad and bewildered. She had been in the business a long time without taking this turn.” Fowler asks the reader, “You think we had time to care for these bitches? Who never paused for drinks, didn’t push a straying hand from between their legs, ease a ravenous mouth from their breasts?”)

This reflection on another girl’s morality is interesting, because however much our heroine revels in her naughtiness—and she does revel—she is at pains to tell us that she is not promiscuous like the other girls. Even in this genre, which is almost explicitly about how we shouldn’t judge the naked girl on the stage, we find the same judgment, the same innate, catty, female dividing of the world into sluts and non-sluts, that takes place in the rest of the world.

6. Our heroine will discuss shopping for stripper costumes in detail, with prices. (Elisabeth Eaves writes, “I picked out a leopard-print bra and thong, a lime green satin bra and matching mesh thong, a black mesh thong, and two black lace G-strings … my bill at Victoria’s Secret came to $237.87.” Lily Burana recalls, “Within a few hours we’ve acquired a pair of pink glittered mules with Lucite six-inch platform heels. Pink-patent sling-back platforms, furry leopard print platforms, red-and-white gingham checked sandals, Booty shorts in hot pink, and shiny gold and silver … by the end of the afternoon I’ve spent over nine hundred dollars.” Or Diablo Cody, “I did purchase a reassuringly thick, grope-resistant black thong, a black feather boa, and a pair of five-inch, clit-pink Lucite platform stilettos with sequined uppers. As I paid my $45 and exited the store, I felt like a common whore.”)

7. There is also a manicure scene, or a waxing scene, along with a make-up application scene.

8. Our heroine has a feminist interpretation of the strip club world that she would like to share. This feminist interpretation may be hopelessly confused, often contradictory, and sometimes incoherent, but the author will nonetheless drape her experiences with women’s studies jargon. Elisabeth Eaves writes, “Stripping reinforces the stereotype of women that came to bother me the most: that they can be bought.” Lily Burana claims, “Anyone who thinks being sexually objectified is the ultimate degradation has never been politically objectified.” Lacey Lane writes, “It was truly empowering. I felt proud to be a woman.” What to make of all this? Burana quotes a stripper who, faced with an anthology of stripper writing, groans, “oh great, more Lusty Ladies and their precious thinky thoughts.”

9. One of the most important elements of the stripper memoir is its permeating implication that no one has ever written about this before. Our heroine is whispering the secrets of a hitherto undescribed world. Lily Burana writes, “I want to show the world that strippers can be capable, thinking, feeling people, able to set boundaries,” and “the feminist in me is angered by the deafening silence—this is women’s history, after all.” And Lacey Lane: “All the stories you are about to read are true … the door to the VIP room is now open. Enter if you dare.”

It is puzzling that such promising and prurient subject matter would lead to such flat books. This stylized form of sexuality seems to lend itself to cliché. In all of these memoirs, there is something false in the revelation and mechanical in the execution, that is—if we take the word of these bored and jaded ladies—something like stripping itself. Some of the writers, like Eaves, are smarter than others; some, like Cody, are more charismatic. But I think one could read memoirs about working in a diner that would be more various and diverse and interesting. (Think of Barbara Ehrenreich in Nickel and Dimed.) Perhaps, in our porn-saturated world, we are overly familiar with the interior of a strip club; there is not much in these books that we didn’t know or couldn’t imagine on our own. After indulging in these books, with all of their posing, their vacant mirror gazing, their empty dramatization, the reader may begin to feel like a business man on vacation who would prefer a little of the real thing.

Adam and Eve ban

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1 Comment

  1. Okay, seriously: who are these women? Every single stripper I’ve known–and I’m talking RL, here, not SL–has been individual and unique. They were going to college, or they weren’t; they had kids or they didn’t; they hooked on the side or they didn’t; but that didn’t describe them, as people. (Though I will admit to being baffled to this day on the woman who turned down a ten thousand dollar offer to be a live-in sub for a year. Her question: “What happens next year?”)

    You’d think at least one writer out there wouldn’t write the same trite hushed confessional! People, I’m terribly disappointed now.


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