What is Empowerment?

One of my biggest life lessons from the past year or two has been learning how to hold multiple, coexisting truths that seem to contradict one another.

Recently, I was listening to and reading conversations by other dancers about empowerment in the strip industry. A few argued that the industry itself is disempowering and controlling, and so how could strippers themselves feel empowered by their work?

I would agree that the industry and system itself does not provide strippers a foundation from which to feel empowered. It’s set up to benefit employees, most of whom are male. It does cater, largely, to male eyes. It was created within patriarchal and sexist cultures, times, and places.

AND. I personally have felt empowered as an individual working within that oppressive system. I have felt in control over my body and actions, been able to feel a true ownership over my body and time, and for the first time, felt like I could truly support myself financially. My brief stint working at a gym two years ago gave me none of that. That job was disempowering.

That being said, I know that not every sex worker or stripper feels empowered by their job, and I know that I haven’t felt “empowered” by stripping every time I go dance. If customers aren’t there or aren’t tipping, when I have to tip staff out, when customers are rude or disrespectful- that chips away at my feeling of agency and personal power. And yet: I, personally, have a choice as to whether or not I engage in this oppressive system. And, I know that not every worker has this same choice. My education, other employment, whiteness, and class make my choice a true choice.

Excellent points were also made regarding the fact that sex workers have an incredible amount of pressure from media, friends, and family to say that they feel empowered by their work, in order to justify their participation in such a taboo job and industry, even if it’s not true that they feel that way. Workers of other jobs are rarely forced to justify their work as empowering.

I have also been mulling over the issue of race in sex work conversations that I read and am part of. I am disconcerted by the fact that so far in my support group (which doubled its attendance this month! wahoo!) we are all white, activist-y types, engaging in sex work that has quite a bit of autonomy attached to it. I am disconcerted by the fact that there are very few women of color voices in the stripper forum I am part of. I am aware I am missing a perspective that has been historically much more marginalized, oppressed, and disempowered than where I have come from. I am a stripper, but I am white. This piece is worth reading.

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