It used to happen every six months or so. I would be on my way home from the restaurant where I work to make ends meet, smelling of salsa and coffee and the tequila I didn't drink, and wondering how over the past 14 hours of horror I hadn't even made $100. And then it would come to me, this pleasingly simple thought: Maybe I could be a stripper.This pleasingly simple thought is followed by a simple article which would be considered pleasing by those who want the image Blau glorifies to be seen as the definitive image of working as a stripper. I view this article as a serious misrepresentation of the true answer to the question asked in the title of Blau's article.
Blau talks about stripping being a current fairytale then goes on to present strippers who work under the status of an independent contractor as being so much better off and less restricted than working as an actual employee (as a waitress for example). Using "The New York branch of Rick's Cabaret International Inc., an operation of upscale gentlemen's clubs (one that's publicly traded on NASDAQ)" as her sole example and proof, Blau writes:
[...] stripping is what I think about as my bills pile up. Since our economy formally began its downward spiral, I've started to have those thoughts almost once a week. And you know it: I'm not alone.
Applications in every job market have skyrocketed since this time last year, but unlike so many other industries, most strip clubs don't have hiring freezes. They are doing better than ever. [...]
Although I increasingly fantasize about it as a get-my-career-off-the-ground strategy, I haven't stopped to ask too many questions. So when, in the name of journalistic inquiry, I decide to check one out, I figure a chaperone was a good idea.
Contrast this description, where strippers never face being assaulted while on the job and the only side effect is sore feet, with the details of a lawsuit filed on behalf of 2 women who danced at the King of Diamonds Club in Inver Groves Heights, Minnesota. This federal lawsuit names and directly challenges the picture Blau paints of what you get if you decide to work as a stripper:
Randi's been stripping for seven years. She started out as a waitress, then one rough Valentine's Day after a messy break-up, she took her top off and a new career was born. Rick's Cabaret, where she's been working for the past year, doesn't seem like a bad place to make ends meet. And she does better than that, averaging $2,000-$3,000 a week. [...]
At Rick's, Randi is an independent contractor, which means she makes her own schedule. If she wants to fly off to South Africa or Berlin for a month, or even spend the weekend catching up on laundry, she doesn't need to ask permission. At my restaurant, when I take time off, I'm usually punished with bad shifts the following week. And I have to beg, often unsuccessfully, to get the days I want to myself. Sure, every job has its frustrations, but when I ask Randi about the worst part of hers, she has to think for a moment. "My feet end up hurting at the end of the day," she says. Ah, another thing we have in common! Only that's so not the worst part of my job.
This club's fee and tip structure, which isn't unique to this club, seems designed to give the club more control of the dancers than they could get away with under US labor laws if those women were employees while using the contractor status to take as much money as possible away from those women. Even though these women were officially independent contractors who rented space, they were required to share their tips with club employees.
The women allege that their only income came from customers' tips. Besides having to pay a house fee ranging from $50 to $100 a night, they claim they were forced to pay the owners "late fees, fees for failing to sign up for their shifts in advance and fees for leaving early."
"Certainly, in some instances, the entertainers would make money at the end of the night," said E. Michelle Drake, a lawyer representing the women. "But there were some cases where they lost money. From a legal perspective, they shouldn't.
"You can't make your employees pay to come to work," Drake said. "The law is very clear. Money only flows in one direction, from the employer to the employee."
US labor laws include rules about what makes someone an employee even when the employer doesn't give that person the correct label or compensation.
One of the reasons given for women who work as strippers not filing more of these types of lawsuits is the stigma which is attached the job. This stigma then directly benefits strip club owners who can use it as a way to control those already harmed by the stigma. And it directly benefits abusive strip club patrons who view strippers as having fewer human rights than other women possess.
This isn't the first financial issue which involved this club. Last year, the club's founder, Larry Kladek, gave ownership of the club to his wife after pleading guilty to tax evasion. He was accused of cheating the government out of nearly $913,000 from 2000 to 2003.
The amount of money strip clubs can make for the club owner is not a fairytale, but the idea that this income will be shared equitably with all those who work as strippers is a fairytale.
Since strippers are the primary reason people go to strip clubs fair compensation for stripping needs to be in line with the strippers financial contribution to the business' bottom line. This lawsuit is alleging that the opposite is happening. Strippers could end up earning less than minimum wage after all the fees, penalties and tip sharing.
That is unacceptable and those who claim to be providing career advice to women while ignoring issues such as these are guilty of malpractice.
Being ripped off financially isn't the worst a strip club owner or employee can do to after someone is promised a dream job. As a case in Tampa, Florida shows adults and children can be sexually trafficked inside strip clubs so Blau's fairytale presentation of the working conditions in strip clubs hurts more than those who make a choice to strip and who are only harmed financially.