A California teacher made headlines this week after she joked to her class that she may take up stripping after she loses her job.
While I don’t think she should be accused of developmentally harming her students, I can’t help but wonder—and worry—whether women too often think that the only way out of a financial jam is to prostitute themselves somehow, be it through stripping, sex work, or even looking for deep-pocketed dudes to buy them drinks and meals (because we all know that doesn’t come free for long).
Are women’s bodies their greatest commodities, or are we just so used to seeing them exploited that it doesn’t seem all that bad? The answer troubles me.
I don’t want to blame the women for doing the deeds, per se, but I think we’re perhaps a bit too hasty to list sex work as a first resort when things get tough. Joking or not, how many of your female friends have cited, say, working at McDonald’s or training for a blue-collar job as a way to make ends meet if they get laid off? Probably not as many as have gone straight to something like, “Well, I could always be a stripper.” Or—perhaps more seriously—“I guess it’s off to Hooters or Coyote Ugly.” These statements are usually made with a “haha, just kidding, I would NEVER” tone, but still: Baring our bodies has become easier to joke about—and accept as the go-to—than being a fry cook?
There’s something seriously wrong with that.
We’ve covered the phenomenon of the recession and stripping/prostitution here several times. It remains one of our most controversial—and heavily trafficked—series. And our readers are just as troubled by the “trend” and what it means for women.
One reader identifies this instinct in women as a consequence to our over-sexed, still patriarchal times: “There seems to be an incentive for a women to not get careers that can contribute to the world but instead just engage in sexual behavior,” says Lovelylife. “I’m convinced that if men could have it their way, all women would be prostitutes. Forget school, and working along with them; we would just be limited to having sex all day.”
Another acknowledges the hard work that is, indeed, involved in sex work, but seems a bit pained that women consider it a viable option. “It’s easy money. But it’s not easy [work],” says Meredith. “I, too, have struggled with the thoughts … but at the end of the day, do I want to know that any average Joe can get his rocks off because of my willingness to bare it? NO. Let us live up to the task at finding other ways to survive and not believing this is the last resort.”
Representing the other side of the argument, Avalon admits that a sex-work job isn’t as intellectually sexy as, say, running a company, but sometimes it is the best a woman can do—or at least a better option than working for wages still far below men’s. “I spent over $130k on my bachelor’s and master’s degrees to get a teaching job that paid $35k a year. I spent $5k on a boob job and easily make four times that [as a sex worker],” she says. “Money doesn’t guarantee happiness, but it sure makes it easier when there is a roof over your head and food on the table.”
These are all great points. The root of the problem isn’t the women who are making these choices, but the lack of truly lucrative other choices that all women have.
Nearly four decades after women first marched for pay equity, they still make 80 cents to every man’s dollar—and that’s only in industries that track that sort of thing. Sure, it’s illegal to sleight a woman’s pay because of her gender, but how many women are fighting this—especially in a time when any job is a good job? And where are the job-creation programs specifically for young or uneducated women? The truth is our society still segregates “female jobs” (nursing, teaching, stripping) and “male jobs” (everything else).
We have a long way to go to create a society in which the last-resort joke plays out a little more like: “Hey, there’s always Wall Street.”
– Heather Wood Rudúlph