“No Contract, No Pussy”: Unionizing Sex Workers

This fabulous phrase was said by the strippers at San Francisco’s Lusty Lady club, which was the first strip club in the United States to unionize. Live Nude Girls Unite is tastefully done documentary on the struggle of these women as they fight against unfair labor practices. The women are portrayed as smart, witty, funny, and persistent. These characteristics are contrary to the general belief we have of sex workers.

The main narrator is perceived to be a white woman, who comes from financially stable background. After I learned that her mother is a renowned physician who works with street sex workers, I must admit I was puzzled as to why the narrator was earning income this way. Siobhan Brooks, a sociologist who worked as a stripper at the Lusty Lady, is another example of an educated woman who recognized the racial inequalities in scheduling of the strippers’ shifts. The club was generally a safe environment to work in – female owners, safety from support staff, dancing behind glass – but there was marketability based on race, no sick days, and cheating the workers out of higher pay – even pimping (at another club). Their painstaking negations were often halted by union busting firms that the owners had hired. Once they did successes, Lusty Ladies became a model and inspiration for sex workers at strip clubs across the United States.

                  

A part of this documentary which I was very pleased to see was the empowerment of these women. One, they worked in a highly stigmatized environment. They do not necessarily have the desperation that street sex workers have, but they still faced unfair employment practices. This sends a truly inspirational message across other industries. They drew away customers in a picket line chaingting, “2,4,6,8…Don’t go into masturbate”. They bonded for co-worker when her union activities resulted in employment termination.

Even fellow feminist war not necessarily supporting the sex worker unionization efforts. Some feminist claim it is a liberating choice to use one’s body in order to earn a higher income, while other say it is objectification and a hegemonic act to satisfy such a patriarchal institution. All the stripper had one thing in common – they were all dancing for money. For some, stripping was a substitute for day jobs. Read this sex worker’s blog for specifics on info and job description.

Second, the women felt strong as they used their sexuality and femininity  for profit. In fact the sex industry is the only industry where women earn more than men. In a world where women are not taught how to explore their sexual-ness (in an almost spiritual sense), this sort of sexual work can help one to understand the body better. Their bodies are undoubtedly used to please the other sex, but they can use that physical space to attain a sense of autonomy over the female body (which modern medicalization does not necessarily allow). It is important to note that such work does require actual hard work to please the customer – a great explanation is here

Although I do not advocate any man or woman to participate in sexual acts for money, by the end of the documentary I was so proud of these women. Their solidarity as women and workers was a great example for the American and international working class. This blog post is not intended to make sex work a glorified and/or fun environment. In fact some people go into this industry under very despairing conditions. There is still much more to be done for sex worker rights and human rights:

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