Elevate Difference

Unequal Desires: Race and Erotic Capital in the Stripping Industry

Racial inequality in the workforce seems sadly obvious, but something I had never before thought of was racial inequality in sex work. Logically, it makes sense that this brand of inequity would carry through to the sex industry, but it feels wrong somehow that anyone would be vying for a better position in sex work. As a feminist, empowerment in sex work has always fascinated me. Although the typical debates of this issue play a very limited role in Unequal Desires, the book creates the space for a new conversation about sex work and race.

Unequal Desires highlights race’s role in stripping—specifically, the stripper’s erotic capital. (Erotic capital is the value given to a body based on socially and culturally crafted visions of ideal beauty that are accepted by the majority of people in a given society.) Adapted from Brooks’ dissertation, her book reads like an ethnographic study. Her interpretation of interviewees quotes are very limited and the majority of the book contains her uncontaminated observations. The purity of her research gives it enormous academic credibility in my eyes, but may become tiresome reading for someone outside of academia.

What I found most interesting was Brooks’ choice of interviewing strip club staff as her primary source, and not dancers. This appeared to coalesce in the process of her research, as the dancers were less accessible at the three clubs at which she conducted her study: two straight clubs in New York City and one lesbian club in San Francisco. Hearing directly from bouncers, waiters, custodians, club managers, and a few dancers was incredible. It is nearly impossible to hear these voices unfiltered through media and academic sources, so Brooks’ fieldwork is invaluable in that sense; however, her choice to maintain an academic frame in her publication may limit the scope of individuals these voices reach.

Using stripping as a window makes racial discrimination in the workplace a new issue. Even among jobs that many find undesirable, racism persists and reminds the world that we are not in a “post-racial” state; in fact, it is quite the opposite.

Written by: Nicole Levitz, January 22nd 2011