When I expressed my support of rapper Cardi B — who has made history on the Billboard charts multiple times in just a matter of months — I was chastised by a few people. Instead of listening to my reasoning, those people criticized me because of respectability politics, which is the tendency to critique members of one’s race for their unconventional lifestyles rather than acknowledge their challenging of the status quo. Someone even told me that Cardi B didn’t respect herself. This person’s argument relied on the fact that Cardi is open about her stripper past in her lyrics, during interviews, and on social media. That was wild, because how much self-respect do you have if you spend your time trying to piece together someone’s life through what they post on the internet?
Overall, I’m pretty tired of the way strippers are discussed. They’re looked down upon and viewed strictly as “fallen women” with no smarts or self esteem.
I’m here to tell you that trope is a lie.
Strippers are business women who have their own goals, needs, and desires just like everyone else.
I talked to my childhood friend, Bunny, to discuss the ins and outs of stripping and set the record straight that, for a lot of women, it is simply a career choice (that comes with the kinds of difficulties women already endure in the workplace).
Bunny got into stripping about a month after her 18th birthday. When I asked her if she was always comfortable with it, she said, “Of course not.”
“My first few days I was terrified…Over the years, I’ve [become] increasingly more comfortable with it. I wouldn’t say that I’m completely comfortable at this point; I would just say I’m desensitized,” Bunny said. “Being a sex worker is mentally and physically exhausting…[Y]ou have to be mentally stable (somewhat). You have to know how to pace yourself.”
Hearing Bunny’s commentary made me think about how it must feel to be confronted with so much masculine energy all the time.
As a woman, it’s a struggle to navigate through toxic masculinity in the workforce, no matter what your occupation is. It’s intensified when you’re a stripper, since heterosexual men make up the majority of your clientele.
Staying focused on your goal(s) and resisting the urge to yell at disrespectful clients must require internal strength. Having an understanding of oneself emotionally falls under the umbrella of traits strippers possess that they are never given credit for — as well as their resilience, courage, patience, and physical discipline.
Bunny and I also discussed her larger goals and the general public’s perception of dancing. She has a clear idea of what she wants out of her experience as a stripper, and spoke on her work versus the average day job.
“…I want to succeed.” said the 22-year-old. “I want to be comfortable and not work a 9-5. A lot of the time, I hear people say being a stripper is demeaning. In my opinion — and I mean no disrespect by this — working a 9-5 and getting paid minimum wage for…long shifts isn’t any less degrading. [As a stripper], I have a very high chance of making someone’s paycheck in a single shift. That’s not always the case, but sometimes it is.”
Lastly, stripping is a space that fosters solidarity between women. Dancers form alliances and encourage each other to dream bigger than their current jobs.
Bunny let me know she “always supports…fellow strippers to make moves.” We discussed that women are realizing our power and capabilities, and understanding how possible our dreams are. And when you look at the success of women like Cardi B and (former stripper, now rapper) Kash Doll, she continued, strippers are seeing that they can take their careers and lives to new heights.
Much love to all my dancing divas. And to the people who judge these hardworking women, have fun trash talking in their Instagram comments while they become financially independent and create opportunities for themselves.