Strip Club: Gender, Power and Sex Work
In Strip Club: Gender, Power and Sex Work, sociologist Kim Price-Glynn analyzes the organizational structure of a strip club to explore whose interests strip clubs serve and how. To gain an insider’s perspective, Price-Glynn spent fourteen months working as a cocktail waitress in a strip club. During this time, she observed, analyzed, and interviewed strippers, employees, and patrons.
Price-Glynn seeks to demonstrate that the strip club she researched, like the majority of others in the U.S., is organized in a way that benefits male employees and patrons while socially and economically marginalizing strippers. She weaves her research with sociological and organizational theory, along with other scholarship on sex work, such as Wendy Chapkis’ Live Sex Acts and Katherine Frank’s G-Strings and Sympathy. In an attempt to situate sex work as an occupation that entails intense emotional labor, Price-Glynn also draws heavily on the works of Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Hochschild.
Price-Glynn argues that the strip club perpetuates gender inequalities. She distinguishes, however, from a generalized argument that stripping and sex work inherently contribute to gender inequality and posits instead that strippers were marginalized by the organizational structure of the strip club. She notes that there were no women in positions of authority and that employees, who were explicitly told to always supervise the strippers, believed that strippers were never to be trusted, had low self-esteem, and used drugs excessively. In a fascinating portion of the book, Price-Glynn highlights the differences in how strippers and other club employees receive their wages. Employees have fixed wages while strippers receive money solely from tips; they also pay the strip club for their use of the club and are required to tip other employees, like the deejay. This system decreases their profits and creates a paradigm where the strippers appear to depend on the club (even if the club profits solely because they feature strippers).
Price-Glynn highlights the ways in which strippers’ safety is compromised by an intense culture of masculinity, a lack of physical boundaries between strippers and patrons, and the fact that a club’s revenue is often boosted if patrons think they can have physical access to strippers. She recounts stories, told to her by strippers during interviews, of being digitally raped on stage, of being expected to perform oral sex, and of club employees looking the other way when patrons touched strippers. Building on past scholarship, she also focuses on the intense emotional labor, such as flirting, that strippers are expected to perform. Private dances, she argues, are not prized for their extended dance, but because of the (false) intimacy it creates.
Price-Glynn’s work is an important reminder of the dangers of sex work. At times, however, I questioned whether she excessively focused on the negative aspects of stripping. A section devoted to the women’s rituals when they returned home (one bathed in bleach) and the effects of stripping on outside relationships (such as an inability to enjoy sex) was profoundly sad. It also implies that none of the strippers were able to disengage themselves from their work and that they were all negatively affected, even “damaged,” by stripping. When strippers said they enjoyed stripping or found it empowering, Price-Glynn hints that this is simply a mask or coping mechanism. This is, of course, plausible, but diverges from other scholarship on sex work and comes close to supporting arguments that stripping categorically harms women.
Strip Club offers important insight for those strippers and advocates of sex worker rights who want to improve the environment of the strip club and increase opportunities for women to be empowered within sex work. Price-Glynn’s choice to use organizational theory allows the reader to find concrete examples, such as wage reform, that could have very immediate and positive results. This method also distinguishes her book from other recent scholarship on sex work and stripping. I recommend the book, therefore, for those interested in learning more about the culture of the strip club or to sociology students interested in a unique application of organizational theory.