The political economy of ‘lap dancing’: contested careers and women’s work in the stripping industry

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(1)The political economy of ‘lap dancing’: contested careers and women’s work in the stripping industry. Abstract. The visibility of striptease (‘lap dancing’) as a workplace and site of consumption has grown significantly over the past fifteen years in the United Kingdom. This article draws on the first large scale study of stripping work in the UK, exploring original empirical data to examine why women continue to seek work in an industry that is profoundly precarious and often highly exploitative. It suggests that rather than either a ‘career’ or a ‘dead end’ job, many women use lap dancing strategically to create alternative futures of work, employment and education. It is argued that precarious forms of employment such as lap dancing can be instrumentalised through agentic strategies by some workers, in order to achieve longer term security and to develop opportunities outside the sex industry. As such, it is averred that engagement in the industry should instead be understood in a wider political economy of work and employment and the social wage.. Dr Kate Hardy, University of Leeds, Dr Teela Sanders, University of Leeds, Key words: agency, career, flexible work, gender, lap dancing, sexual labour, sex work, stripping, women. Introduction. 1.

(2) Stripping work is profoundly precarious in that it offers no employment, job or income security (Standing 2011) or guaranteed income. As has been shown elsewhere, 70% of women report losing money by attending work and the industry is denoted by highly exploitative working conditions that are premised on the adoption of risk by the dancers who work in it (Sanders and Hardy 2012). Despite this, it is estimated that there are around 20,000 women ‘on the books’ of clubs across the country at any one time and the industry appears to have an inexhaustible labour supply of women seeking work within it. This raises the question as to why women apparently continue to seek work in this stigmatised industry, despite declining rates of income and - sometimes - poor working conditions. It is indeed an anomaly ‘that this career is at once a lucrative option for women, which is increasing in popularity and remaining stigmatized’ (Deshotels et al. 2012: 142).. This paper seeks to consider this anomaly by examining the nature of the labour supply into erotic dance workplaces. While this form of labour engagement has been understood as a ‘career’ in previous research and common parlance, it is argued that this is inaccurate for most of the women who participated in the study. Instead, it is suggested that the key reason for engagement is the flexibility that stripping work offers (and its night time occurrence), as it is able to sit within multiple survival and ‘aspirational’ strategies including other forms of work and education. Additionally, this goes beyond existing claims about sex workers’ agency in order to offer a more nuanced account which takes account of the relationality of agency to structure, temporality and other social actors. To do so, existing research on lap dancing to explore the ways in which other authors have explained motivations for participation. 2.

(3) is first examined. The ‘lap dancing industry’ in the UK and the nature of the working conditions within it are then outlined. After discussing the methodology, the reasons that women offered for their participation in work in the erotic dance industry are examined. The article concludes with a discussion of the findings and it is asserted that for most dancers – with some important exceptions – working in the stripping industry was part of a multitude of ‘projective’ strategies for generating income in the present moment to enable future security or to fulfill other long term aspirations.. Erotic dance (‘lap dancing’) in the UK Gentlemen’s clubs, strip pubs and ‘lap dancing’, sometimes known by the umbrella term ‘erotic dance’, have grown significantly in visibility as a place of work and site of consumption in the United Kingdom over the last fifteen years (Hubbard 2009). Although ‘lap dancing’ does not exist legally in the UK, it is frequently used as a catch-all term to refer to new forms of striptease, particularly by campaigners who seek to close down individual clubs and the industry as a whole.. As a somewhat clandestine form of work, it is difficult to accurately estimate populations of women working in the stripping industry. People are not likely to selfidentify and there is often an incentive to stay below the radar of the state, for migration or tax reasons and a high turnover of clubs, licensees and workers creates further methodological difficulties. However drawing from personal communication with an industry insider, correlated with information from ‘Strip Magazine’ ( website, licensed premises across England and Scotland can be estimated to be approximately 250-350. An average of 15 dancers working per 3.

(4) night per club on weekdays (estimate drawn from research presented here) combined with 30 on a weekend night, equates to around 4500 women dancing on weekdays and approximately 9000 on a Friday and Saturday night.. Conditions in lap dancing work are precarious in that there is no basic payment for work. In fact, dancers have to pay house fees to clubs in order to work (Sanders and Hardy 2012). Additionally, dancers can be instantly dismissed, simply by being offered no further shifts and income is acutely variable. It is a ubiquitous practice within the industry to treat all dancers as self-employed (see Sanders and Hardy 2014). This precedent has been challenged in a case in which it was ruled that dancers should be recognised as employees, although this was later overturned on appeal (Quashie vs Stringfellows 2012; Hardy et al. forthcoming). The self-employed status of the dancers meant that despite exercising significant disciplinary powers over the women, the club was not responsible for their tax, national insurance payments or pensions. Women were also responsible for their own working insurance while working in the club, though many were unaware of this and as such were working uninsured, often in dangerous conditions (Sanders and Hardy 2012). Wages from lap dancing were profoundly unstable and although the average shift income reported was £232 this varied widely and dancers often reported making as little as £20. In addition to losing money by attending work, in some cases, dancers even went into debt with the clubs as they were unable to pay their fees: It was good on occasion, but there were two or three weeks where I’d go and I’d be in debt with the club because I didn’t make any money… There were a couple of nights when I came out with £2000 in my pocket, but it left straight away because I was in debt (Bella, 26, British). 4.

(5) As Chiara (22, British) surmised, up until 2008 dancing could be a viable strategy for a livelihood on its own, but that ‘people starting now would be silly to think you can make a career out of it, because it’s not reliable at all. You can’t plan your finances’. To understand dancers’ willingness to work in stripping work, despite its intensely precarious nature and the stigma the work attracts, below the differential ways in women engaged with lap dancing are discussed, examining in particular their engagement with education and work outside the industry.. Motivations for engagement in stripping work. The degree to which sex workers’ exhibit agency in their decisions to enter and work in the sex industry has been the defining debate within research on sex work and prostitution (Jeffreys 2008; Bungay et al. 2011; Dodsworth 2012). However, much of this literature has tended to assert either over-deterministic accounts of women’s entry into the sex industry on the one hand, or ‘free choice’ on the other. Many have attempted to write both structure and agency into these accounts (Bungay et al. 2011), demonstrating both women’s decision-making power and its limits within the social relations in which it takes place. Here, a temporal approach to agency is adopted, examining women’s ‘iterative’ ‘evaluative’ and ‘projective’ actions and decision making in which their entry into and labour in the sex industry are orientated to differing degrees to past, present and future desires (Emirbayer and Mische 1998; Tomlinson et al. 2013). While all elements are necessarily present in all agentic strategies, it is argued that for many of the women, working in stripping was a ‘projective’ future focused strategy for developing alternatives outside the sex industry. 5.

(6) Academic research examining the labour supply into the exotic dance industry has tended to frame this in terms of women’s ‘motivations’ for working in this sector of the sex industry (Forsyth and Deshotels 1998; Egan 2006; Colosi 2010). Initial accounts pathologised the decision to enter this ‘deviant occupation’ and accounted for it by focusing on individuals’ ‘salient social, psychological and physical characteristics’, including early sexual activity, the absence of a father figure and a ‘tendency towards exhibitionism’ (Skipper and McCaghy 1970: 391, 403). Later developments in the field, in the wake of the growing discourse of ‘sex work as work’ in the 1980s, have meant that most recent scholarship has strongly established the precedent that women engage in stripping work as a labour market decision (that it is work in exchange for income generation) (Barton 2006; Egan 2006; Colosi 2010).. The notion that women can earn ‘more money in this field than in any other profession that was available to them’ (Deshotels et al. 2012: 141) has been widely cited as the key reason that women enter and stay in exotic dancing (see also Forsyth and Deshotels 1998). Indeed, as Barton (2006: 11) has stated the key motivation for lap dancers is ‘money, money, money’. In what follows this desire or need for money, which is common to all workers in capitalist economies, is excavated to explore the uses to which this money is put. The fact that the stripping industry offers women a high level of income generation in comparison to other available jobs is hardly controversial and this finding has been reiterated throughout scholarship (Barton 2006; Colosi 2010). However, our study indicated that income in the sector in the United Kingdom has been declining, particularly since the start of the economic crisis. 6.

(7) in 2008, from an average of £284 in dancers’ first clubs to £232 per shift in their current club.. In addition to economic motivations, many authors have indicated a number of other factors that shape strippers’ labour market engagement in this industry. Colosi (2010) cites a combination of both ‘practical’ (largely economic) and emotional reasons, including lifestyles of excess, rebellion, exhibitionism and sexual attention (see also Barton 2006; Hayashi Danns 2011). Although social and emotional reasons for engagement in lap dancing were similarly identified in this study, labour market engagement is - at root - an economic exchange. As Spencer (2010: xviii) notes, ‘while work includes important non-economic factors, its links to the economic system cannot be discounted or ignored’. Labour is, of course, never purely economic, whether in the sex industry or elsewhere. However, it is not the intention here to debate the relative emphasis or weight to be placed on economic and noneconomic motivations for work, but instead to focus on the motivations underpinning the economic incentives themselves, beyond the dull compulsion for workers to sell their labour in capitalism.. Many existing studies have referred to and understood engagement in exotic dancing in terms of a ‘career’ (Deshotels et al. 2012; Colosi 2010) and commentators who seek to oppose the sex industry frequently assert that work in lap dancing is represented as a ‘positive career choice for women’ (Jeffreys 2008; Women’s Support Project, no date). It is difficult to find supporting evidence for such claims and on the contrary, it has been argued within academic research that ‘a career in stripping may not lead to upward advancement, because it lacks standard pathways along which. 7.

(8) career mobility can be traced, [as it] lack[s] sequences that lead to advancement and increased rewards’ Luckenbill and Best (1981) cited in Forsyth and Deshotels (1998: 127-128). It is certainly a truism that lap dancing cannot inherently be a long term career option ‘tied as it is to an industry standard of youth and beauty that inevitably change with age’ (Barton 2012: 271). Reflecting this, many authors have asserted that, far from a career occupation, lap dancing represents a ‘dead end’ job with no trajectory or opportunities for progression (Jeffreys 2008).. In what follows the labour supply of women working in stripping is examined by placing it in wider context of dancers’ other life activities, aspirations for future income generation, security and self-development. In doing so, it is argued that neither the notion of ‘career’ nor ‘dead-end job’ are satisfactory in understanding labour market engagement in the lap dancing industry for the majority of dancers in the United Kingdom. The proposition here is that it is necessary to move beyond these representations in order to recognise that few dancers positioned dancing itself as a career choice (with a minority of exceptions), but more frequently as part of a variety of evaluative strategies for income generation and projective agency focused on reducing future uncertainty in their lives.. Methodology This paper draws on a large scale, multi method project into the rise of the lap dancing industry in the UK and the experiences of those who work in it. The core research questions focused on sexual consumption and integration into the night time economy, specifically looking at the working conditions of dancers and how this was influenced by internal and external regulation of clubs. 8.

(9) The project was largely based across two cities, one in the North and one in the South, with access to 20 lap dancing clubs within these (and a small number in regional towns). Observations and notes were taken upon each visit, totalling approximately 80 visits. Visual methods were also used, working with a professional photographer and three dancers to take images of their working conditions and the women ‘at work’ (see: Two main methods were used: an interviewer administered survey and interviews. A response of 197 dancers was achieved (the majority currently performing), although non-response to specific questions means that the results reported below do not always sum to 197. In particular, dancers were often wary of responding to questions that they felt might allow them to be identified, for example the course they were studying or details of other jobs. As such, the number (n) relates to those who answered the specific question and percentages to valid percentages, having accounted for non-response. This is an unfortunate, but generally unavoidable result of undertaking research with a somewhat hard-to-reach population. For the most part, the two researchers conducted surveys in clubs during evening working hours. 117 surveys were collected in this way. The remainder were found through an online survey (40) and peer-to-peer snowballing (40). Three active dancers were trained as peer researchers to collect survey data from colleagues with whom they worked across a range of venues and agencies, in order to integrate members of the study into the research process and to access areas of the industry that would otherwise have been out of reach (see also Pyett and Warr 1997; O’Neill 2001). The surveys produced a non-probability sample of dancers who were accessed. While this is not representative of the industry as a whole, it does represent a cross-section as clubs and pubs visited varied in region, size, clientele, style, possibility for income 9.

(10) generation and labour standards. They were visited at different points during the week in order to capture respondents with a range of working patterns. The final sample did appear to map directly onto general trends and characteristics found amongst women in the industry: young women aged under 25, who had worked for three years or less as dancers/strippers, and the range and proportion of nationalities also reflected overall patterns in the industry - British nationals constituted over half the dancers surveyed (66.1%); other EU nationals, 25.0% (largest group being Romanians); and 8.9% non-EU nationals who were mainly Brazilian in the Southern city fieldwork site. These reflect similar socio-demographic patterns of migrant sex workers found elsewhere (Mai 2010).. The survey asked respondents questions about the last four clubs in which they had worked, enabling a comprehensive and detailed picture of how clubs operated and the different standards between them, rather than only capturing ‘good’ clubs in which women wished to continue working. Asking dancers not only about their current club, but a range of the clubs they had worked in, enabled broader work patterns and experiences to be qualified, in order to incorporate a wide range of workplace contexts, both ‘good’ and ‘bad’.. In all, 45 towns and cities were mentioned as places where the respondents had worked, with a further 16 worldwide destinations cited. The questions in the survey focused on their individual motivations and journey into dancing; other forms of work; education; feelings about work; earnings; fines; fees; tax; unions; the advantages and disadvantages of the job; and work patterns. Comments were also invited on the current licensing changes and perceptions of how these legal changes. 10.

(11) would affect the industry and the dancers. SPSS was used to analyse the survey responses. The trends identified in the quantitative dataset were cross analysed with qualitative in-depth interviews, used in order to interrogate trends and patterns that the statistics had revealed. This elicited detailed information about experiences, how the industry worked, its internal organisation and regulatory processes. Interviews were conducted with dancers (n=35), people who worked in the industry - bar staff, security, ‘house mums’ (managers whose role it was to look after and organise the dancers), club managers - as well as owners of clubs (n=20). Fifteen people involved in the regulation of clubs including licensing and enforcement officers, health and safety inspectors and police were additionally interviewed. The researcher-administered nature of surveys meant that qualitative data was also collected informally and noted as field notes, through conversations with dancers.. Motivations: dancer’s engagement with stripping work in the UK stripping industry. A key finding from the study indicated that a minority (39.7%, n=69), a little over a third, of dancers who provided a response to the question as to whether they were engaging in activities other than dancing (n=174) were solely dancing full time and not working elsewhere or participating in education. In contrast, 14.9% (n=26) of respondents were in education, 31.6% (n=55) were engaged in other forms of work and 13.8% (n=24) were engaged in both other work and education). As such, lap dancing frequently made up one component of multifaceted future focused ‘agentic 11.

(12) strategies’ (Emirbayer and Mische 1998; Tomlinson et al. 2013) for income generation. In what follows each of these groups is examined. First, by looking at the ways in which lap dancing fitted in with other forms of wage labour and education and then by looking at the group of dancers who were only working in dancing.. Insert Table 1.1 about here. Dancing alongside other forms of work. The most common activity for dancers to be engaged in was other types of paid work and employment. Almost half of women (45.4%, n=79) who provided a response to a question asking if they were working elsewhere in addition to dancing, stated that they were. The largest proportion of those who were in employment and who answered a question relating to the sectors in which they were working (n=120), stated that they were working in beauty services, as beauticians, hairdressers or makeup artists (17.3%, n=14). A further 11.1% (n=9) said they worked in creative work (namely art and photography), retail (11.1%, n=9) and hospitality (11.1%, n=9). Other jobs included modelling or performance (9.9%, n=8) administration (8.6%, n=7) and care or cleaning work (6.2%, n=5). Few of those in work reported working in ‘Professional’ sectors, although a small number reported working in social work, education or nursing. As such, in general, the sectors that were most highly. 12.

(13) represented in the answers of those who responded were low paid, unskilled and frequently feminised. Creative work, modelling and performance were all types of work that are precarious, in that work tends to be contract based and intermittent. Anna (27, British) worked in photography and wanted to make that her main source of income. She was combining her skills by offering dancers photo shoots in order to develop portfolios. Although she would have liked to leave dancing, as she saw the conditions worsening over time, she relied on the income in order to support the photography which was not yet able to support her alone. Lana (23, British), living in a Northern town, had danced since she was 21, having done various administrative and sales jobs after leaving school. She preferred dancing as she said that ‘[those other jobs] was all right but I much prefer this job, it’s a lot more fun’. She currently also did commercial modelling, but the income was extremely unreliable. She said that if strip clubs did not exist, ‘I’d literally be on my arse. I wouldn’t be able to afford anything. I wouldn’t be able to live on my own and have my independence’. For women such as Lana, with limited skills and qualifications, the alternative to dancing was low skilled, low paid jobs which might not offer sufficient income to move out of home or live an autonomous, independent life. Stefania (39, Romanian), a circular migrant, said she danced in the UK because it offered her money, but also anonymity in her professional role in her home country: I can’t talk about [dancing] in Romania. I have this project as a sexual health advisor, sexual therapist, so I always choose a really faraway place [to dance]. I come for a short time, so that they can never find me, by the time they find me I am back at home again.. 13.

(14) Stefania did not wish to expand on the nature of her ‘project’ for fear of identification at home. For this dancer, stripping work enabled her to sustain her chosen career at home by providing extra money with which she could survive. For Stefania and others, stripping work was not one part of ‘portfolio’ working; as it did not constitute a variety of distinct pieces of work within a selected career area. Instead stripping work was instrumentalised in order to enable career development in another area, often one marked by low pay (beauty or nursing, for example). Wage declines in real terms, such as those currently experienced in the UK (ILO 2011), have the potential to increase the occurrence of moonlighting in informal jobs such as lap dancing. For example, in reference to a friend who danced and worked as a nurse, Heidi (26, British) explained, ‘I think nursing is not very good money. She works really long hours. She can earn what she earns in a week perhaps in one night’.. Dancing alongside education. Almost a third (28.7%, n=50) of dancers who responded to the question were students. The majority of those who were in education and who answered the question stated that they were in Higher Education (55.3%, n=26), with the majority on Undergraduate programmes. Most dancers who stated that they were students were British and the remainder were from elsewhere in the EU. Many of those from elsewhere in the EU were circular migrants, working in lap dancing in the UK periodically before returning home to study. Julia (25, British), who had undertaken a placement year started dancing on her return to University to complete her undergraduate degree, having become accustomed to the level of income generated in a salaried job: 14.

(15) I realised sort of come September I was going to have to go back to uni for my final year. And by that point after a year I’d got used to earning a wage and I’d always worked through uni. Julia said that she was ‘financially motivated’ and that she had always earned her own money, since she was a teenager. For her, then, stripping was a route to financial independence as well as security. Anna (27, British) had been doing a ski season before she returned to undertake an undergraduate degree and started stripping because she had no money with which to begin her course. She then carried on throughout and beyond her course. She had completed her degree five years previously, but had carried on dancing to support herself in pursuing a career in photography (see below). Chiara (22, British), who was completing her undergraduate degree at a Russell Group university, felt that the financial security of money generated in lap dancing opened up opportunities for her future: I’m still going to carry on doing it [when I finish university], because I want to get a massive lump sum of money behind me… [After that] initially it was law school… but I’ve had a change of heart ... I don’t know if I’ll start my own business, or what I want to do. Chiara was also clear, however, that the money currently earned in lap dancing as a student was used specifically to purchase luxury consumer items. She said quite simply that she worked in stripping because she ‘likes nice things’ and therefore, dancing for her was about access to these goods, rather than as a point of absolute survival.. 15.

(16) In addition to Higher Education, 44.7% (n=21) of those studying were either in Further Education or on private vocational courses. Unlike undergraduate courses, those participating at this level had no access to loans and private courses were often expensive, with fees paid up front. Heidi (26, British) had begun dancing at 21, but had since undertaken courses in beauty and massage as she said ‘obviously this isn’t forever, so you kind of do start thinking… and it does go so quick ’. Bella (26, British) already had an undergraduate degree in social science, but did not want to pursue a career in that area. Freedom was important to her and she did not want to commit to a ‘9-5’ job and so was pursuing make up artistry, as a skill that would allow her to travel and manage her own time. She said: I first started dancing when I was 22 and that was to fund my separate degree from university, which was make up artistry. Which was expensive to do and I didn’t know how to fund it and a couple of my friends were dancing and I started. A key reason cited for involvement in lap dancing, regardless of the particular form of education, was the flexibility and ‘fit’ it offered in enabling women to fulfill the requirements of their course and earn sufficient income. Eerikka, a thirty-six year old Finnish dancer started dancing when the company she worked for went bankrupt. She was studying for a Masters, and said that she liked dancing because: It gives you flexibility mostly; it can give you the money so you actually have more time. I can’t think of any other job that I could do that would allow me to study or yeah – it’s – because there is none, because you can’t live. There’s nothing – you can’t get no money from anywhere to survive.. 16.

(17) When asked an open-ended question about the reason that they started dancing, the largest proportion of students who answered this question specifically answered that it was for either ‘money’ or ‘money for education’, the other three most popular answers included ‘debt’, ‘freedom or flexibility’ and ‘someone else was doing it’. As an open ended question, these answers were not necessarily mutually exclusive, but represent the core reasons for dancing in the dancers’ own terms. In general, students did not refer explicitly to paying their tuition fees through dancing, but more generally to being able to support themselves or have some money to spend or to avoid greater levels of debt, which they saw as their alternative options. A minority suggested, like Chiara (22, British), that while they could have been comfortable, they were accustomed to ‘nice things’ and therefore danced specifically to enable luxury consumption. As Standing (2011) argues, people are being ‘sold’ more and more credentials (degrees and diplomas etc) in order to establish a place in the labour market. Indeed, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) (2011) estimate that by 2017, 56% more jobs will require graduate level training, increasing the need to gain ever more – and more expensive - qualifications in order access the labour market. The links between sex work and higher education identified in the study are not a novel discovery and similar findings have been reported in Australia (Lantz 2005), France (Duvall Smith 2006) and the UK (Roberts et al. 2007; 2010; see also Sanders and Hardy 2013). Roberts et al. (2010: 14) have coined the term the ‘sexual economy of higher education’ to refer to the intertwining of the sex and educational markets. Calculations suggest that around £24.8 million may be input into Higher Education Institutions in the UK from student sex-work (Roberts et al. 2010). The links between neo-liberalisation and these forms of work in the context of shrinking state support 17.

(18) become ever clearer, raising the contradiction between the privatisation of education (at all post-school levels) and the concurrent vilification of sex work in the UK. As Roberts et al. (2010: 13) have argued it is hard to avoid recognising a correlation between ‘student sexual commerce and the (re)modelling of student as customers and consumer of educational services’.. Dancers who were solely dancing. Within the category of women who were only dancing and not engaging in other forms of work or education (39.7% n=69), migrant dancers were overrepresented, meaning that they were more likely only to be dancing than British dancers. However, many operated through a form of ‘circulatory migration’ (Salazar 2010: Skeldon 2012) in which they would dance in the UK for a few months at time, before returning home, either to a job at home or to visit family and most often, start to establish a business or buy a property. As such, they were engaged in strategies for capital accumulation in the UK, in order to remit money home for longer term aspirational projects. Restaurants, cafes and beauty clinics (including fish pedicures) in their home countries were all common projects mentioned by dancers. For British dancers who were solely dancing, the selection of lap dancing over the other forms of work available to women was frequently explained as a strategy to escape low paid, routine service work. Katy (25, British) was typical in drawing comparisons between dancing and the other options available to her: ‘people say it’s degrading, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s empowering. But it’s not degrading. 18.

(19) either... It’s better than most jobs… it’s better than stacking shelves or working in an office’. The main jobs that respondents stated they had left, in order to work full time in dancing as their only job, included retail (23.3%, n=14), hospitality (23.3%, n=14) and administrative work (15%, n=9) (see Table 1.1). Dancers repeatedly favourably contrasted stripping with these jobs, which they saw as alienating, boring and poorly paid. Sofia, 29, was typical in terms of many of the migrant dancers, in that she arrived in the UK from Russia intending to work as a croupier, but was found work as a hotel cleaner by an agent. When the agent later suggested she tried dancing she said there was ‘no way’ that she would take her clothes off for money. However, a month later, when the cleaning job proved financially unsustainable, she decided to try it. On her first shift she earned £100, which was, she said ‘not big money, but more than I earned in the hotel, £20 a shift’. In addition to higher rates of pay, dancers frequently referred to the health consequences of work such as hotel cleaning in which bleach ruined their hands and vacuuming gave them back problems, or supermarket shelf stacking in which frequent visits to the walk in freezer made them repeatedly ill. They often stated, therefore, that they felt that dancing was a healthier option for them and it also allowed them not only to avoid damaging their bodies, but also to take care of them and maintain their appearance, which was an important source of dignity for them. Other dancers were simply pragmatists. For Brooke, an British 22 year old dancer in the North of England, a lack of availability of other work had led her into dancing: I’ve been trying to find a steady job for a while now, like a day job and I’ve given up. I live in a small town, so there’s not a lot of jobs going anyway and I. 19.

(20) know a lot of people who are unemployed and can’t find work. So I’m lucky I can work where I want. As Anna (27, British) said about similar women, with few viable alternatives, if stripping work disappeared following the introduction of more stringent licensing rules:. girls who just rely on this, well, they’re fucked, because it just means, you know, getting a job, waitressing or Tesco’s or whatever. But then again, saying that, I suppose loads of people do that.. Although they were in neither other forms of waged work or education, some dancers did have other sources of income. Capital accumulation in order to generate income security was another way in which dancers used stripping work strategically. Ownership of property was mentioned by some of the dancers as an alternative source of income, although few stated that they actually owned property. Julia said that she planned to ‘invest half of [her money]. You know, I’m going to tuck it away. I’m going to buy a house’. While declining wages made this strategy increasingly unlikely for most dancers, Sofia was now only dancing once every few weeks, as she had saved up enough money to buy her own flat in an expensive part of North London, which she rented out for income while living at her partner’s house. Faith (34, British), a career dancer who saw dancing as a vocation, transitioned from her day job as a Senior Editor on a fashion magazine into dancing, as ‘it had been this fantasy in my head for so long to be a stripper’. This was a process that took place over the course of a year:. 20.

(21) [After] 6 months I went part-time in the day job … then it was after another, I can’t remember exactly, several months more, less than a year that I then packed the day job in totally and went dancing full-time. Faith worked full time in dancing and was representative of what Sweet and Tewkesbury (2000) and others have called ‘career dancers’. These are dancers who are dedicated to dancing as a vocation and are not seeking a way of out of dancing in the long term, or treating it as temporary (despite its necessarily short career span due to the onus on youth) and who valued the artistry and performance of stripping.. Beyond the five year plan: getting in and getting out. Many dancers spoke of having ‘five year plans’ when they entered the industry. This referred to the idea that dancers would enter the industry, work in it for five years, generate the money and trajectory that they desired and then leave. Similarly to other research findings that assert the short term nature of sex industry involvement (see Lantz, 2005), many students, such as Nina (26, British), said that they would stop dancing once they got a ‘real’ job - defined as a full-time job in their chosen career. However, a significant proportion of dancers (23.5% n=16) said that they had been working in the industry for five years or more, indicating that many did work long term in the industry, regardless of their plans or strategies. The issue of becoming ‘trapped’ in stripping work has been noted widely (Barton 2006; Maticka-Tyndale et al. 2000; Colosi 2010), as dancers enjoy high rates of pay and also may have gaps in their work histories, complicating job applications in other. 21.

(22) areas. Many ex-students continued dancing once or a few times a week in order to boost their income, even when they had found jobs in the industry which was aligned with their ‘career’ aspirations. Interestingly, it was women who were active in other types of work and employment outside strip clubs who had been working the longest, while those in education had been working the shortest. On the one hand, this could reflect the relatively young age of people who tend to still be in education. However, it may also indicate that for those in work, working in the lap dancing industry represented more of a long term strategy, either to sustain wages or unstable work in other arenas. Therefore, those that were somewhat ‘trapped’ in the industry may in fact be those who depended on lap dancing to boost low earnings in other careers or jobs.. It is important to emphasise the dynamic nature of women’s engagement with this industry. Women did not necessarily fit statically into the categories described above, but instead often moved between them. Students who danced part time sometimes continued and became full time after university; others moved in and out of other forms of work, with dancing a constant; or moved in and out of the industry depending on other jobs. For example, Matilda (24, British) started dancing at university and after graduating found that she could not find work in her home town in the midlands. She got a reception job through a temping agency, but after a few months she decided to dance full time in order to save up and move to London. However, she ‘ended up just keeping on dancing because… the money is just really addictive’. After a year, however, she became ‘jaded’ and stopped dancing. She subsequently found a ‘career job’ in the media. Yet, later, as the pay was low, she returned to dancing in order to help pay her rent and to live alone. Eventually, she. 22.

(23) tired of the job and moved cities, at which point she gave up the job and went back to dancing full time.. Discussion: strategies in stripping work. Contrary to common representations of dancers as a homogenous group of women either as women without alternatives forced to work in the lap dancing industry, or as highly ‘empowered’ middle class women selecting dancing over more ‘salubrious’ careers - stripping work was utilized by dancers in multiple ways, from a wide variety of social positions. For the most part, far from either a career or a dead end job, this work was in general constructed by the women as temporary, part time work sustaining aspirations in other areas and facilitating alternative futures.. As has been demonstrated above, rather than selecting dancing as a ‘career’, many women were in fact using it as a strategy to support themselves through education at various levels. In addition, dancing was used by women to supplement wages in other sectors; predominantly feminized sectors such as beauty, nursing or retail that are low-paid and unskilled or low skilled (notably, these were also feminized careers traditionally associated with high levels of emotional and affective labour). However, it is important to note that not all women in the industry were able to use it strategically and a small minority of them were working in it in the absence of other alternatives. The ability to use dancing strategically was shaped by wider social conditions and was a possibility more freely available for those with access to either opportunities for migration, alternative careers, education or training, namely those with some existing form of social, cultural or financial ‘capital’ (Bourdieu 1986).. 23.

(24) Aside from ‘career dancers’ who felt vocationally compelled to work in dancing, most dancers’ decisions to sell their labour in the stripping industry were driven by the desire for highly flexible, relatively well paid work to fit in around other activities. In particular, the flexibility of the work and the fact that it occurred in a different temporality to most other types of work (at night), enabled them to fit it alongside and within wider ‘career’ aspirations. Despite a steep rise in the amount of workers working part time over the last five decades and particularly since the 2008 crisis (Peacock 2012; Tomlinson and Durbin 2010), part time work in general remains low paid (Rubery 2008) and tends to be associated with career stagnation (Tomlinson and Durbin 2010).. Taking this into account, the individual ‘motivations’ of those entering lap dancing should be understood in a wider political economy of work and employment and the social wage (including funding for education). Migrant status, the spiralling cost of education and declining opportunities in the labour market all shaped women’s entry into stripping. Dancers thus used dancing to mitigate the precarious conditions of an unstable and weak job market, lack of guaranteed career routes and declining social protection and real wages. Indeed, in comparison to research from the United States, Barton (2012: 271) has commented that informants in the UK appeared to have ‘greater control… over their decision to dance’ in part due to ‘social programs that alleviate economic inequality’. While lap dancing has been seen by many as antithetical to equality between men and women in the workplace and in wider society, these findings show a more complex picture in which lap dancing is used by women as a strategy for gaining greater 24.

(25) autonomy in their lives and to establish themselves in a more ‘mainstream’ or ‘respectable’ careers in other sectors, which may have longer term consequences for women’s equality and autonomy. As job security and possibilities for mobility have been eroded in other more ‘middle-class’ jobs, other areas of precarious work, such as lap dancing become spaces of labour outside ‘career’ spaces of employment within which to seek to ensure future life chances and security.. Conclusion. When lap dancing is dismissed as ‘not a good career’ choice for women, a misplaced distinction is made between ‘progressive’ jobs and ‘static’ jobs (Standing 1989), in which the former offers the opportunity for progress and upward mobility and the latter offers no such opportunities and does not develop a workers’ skills or life chances. The majority of dancers in this study did not understand stripping work in terms of a ‘career’ and instead instrumentalised it to achieve mobility and aspirations in other areas of their life. As such, although stripping work on its own may be ‘static’, its role in developing other career desires could be considered ‘progressive’ or ‘projective’. The fact that, for most women in the study, money generated in this employment was not solely for survival, but was part of a broader strategy may be suggestive of the answer to the puzzle as to why women continue to sell their labour in an industry characterized by profoundly precarious conditions and declining wages. While some cited reasons of fun, excitement, sociability, a sense of vocation or consumption of luxury goods, for the majority dancing was part of multifaceted strategies for aspiration. Labour market engagement in the sex industry cannot therefore be 25.

(26) explained by individual decisions and motivations (‘choice’) in isolation, but instead within the context of wider strategies for mobility and security. Such an analysis necessitates recognition of ongoing political-economic transformations including the privatisation of education, the flexibilisation of labour and the fall of real wages over the last decade, as well as a paucity of well paid part time work for women, in the constitution of a continuous labour supply into stripping work and the sex industry more broadly.. Bibliography. Barton B (2006) Stripped: inside the lives of exotic dancers. New York: New York University Press.. Barton B (2012) ‘Book review: Colosi, R. “Dirty dancing: An ethnography of lap dancing”’ Cultural Sociology 6(2): 271–279.. Bourdieu P (1986) The forms of capital. In: Richardson JE (ed.) Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. New York: Greenwood, 241-258.. Bungay V, Halpin M, Atchison C and Johnston C (2011) Structure and agency reflections from an exploratory study of Vancouver indoor sex workers Culture, Health and sexuality 13(1): 15-29.. Dodsworth J (2012) Pathways through sex work. childhood experiences and adult identities British Journal of Social Work 42: 519–536.. 26.

(27) Confederation of British Industry (2011) Mapping the route to growth. Available at: accessed 19th March 2013.. Colosi R (2010) Dirty dancing: an ethnography of lap dancing. Abingdon, Willan.. Cusick L, Kinnell H, Brooks-Gordon B and Campbell R (2009) Wild guesses and conflated meanings? Estimating the size of the sex worker population in Britain. Critical Social Policy 29(4): 703 – 719.. Deshotels T, Tinney M and CJ Forsyth (2012) McSexy: Exotic Dancing and Institutional Power. Deviant Behavior 33: 2.. Duval Smith A (2006). 40,000 French Students Join Sex Trade to Fund Degrees. The Independent 31 October. Available at: Emirbayer M and Mische A (1998) What is agency? American journal of sociology 103(4): 962-1023.. 27.

(28) Forsyth CJ and Deshotels T (1998) The occupational milieu of the nude dancer. Deviant behaviour. 18: 125-148.. Hardy K, Sanders T and Cruz K (forthcoming) Ambivalent self-employment: contradictions, discipline and legal liminality in stripping work.. Hayashi Danns J (2011) Stripped: the bare reality of lap dancing. Forest Row: Clairview.. Hubbard P (2009) Opposing striptopia: the embattled spaces of adult entertainment. Sexualities 12(6): 721-745.. International Labour Organisation (ILO) (2011). Global Wage Report 2010/11: Wage policies in times of crisis. Available at: Jeffreys S (2008) Keeping women down and out: the strip club boom and the reinforcement of male dominance Signs 34(1): 151-173.. Lantz S (2005) Students Working in the Melbourne Sex Industry: Education, Human Capital and the Changing Patterns of the Youth Labour Market. Journal of Youth Studies 8(4): 385-401.. 28.

(29) Lindley RM (1994) ‘Economic and Social Dimensions' in Labour Market Structures and Prospects for Women (ed) Lindley RM. Manchester: EOC: 1-13.. Mai N (2010) Migrant workers in the UK sex industry: Final Policy Relevant Report; ISET, London Metropolitan University. Available at: df. Maticka-Tyndale E, Lewis J and Clark J (2000) ‘Exotic dancing and health’ Women and Health 31(1): 87-108.. Office for National Statistics. 2012. Labour market statistics February 2012. Available at: O'Neill M (2001) Prostitution and Feminism. Cambridge: Polity Press.. Peacock, L. 2012. ‘Analysis: Is the UK job market really doing that well?’ The Telegraph 14th November 2012 accessed 20th April 2013.. Pyett P, Warr D (1997) Vulnerability on the streets: Female sex workers and HIV risk. AIDS Care 9: 539/47.. 29.

(30) Quashie vs Stringfellow. 2012. Available at: Roberts R, Bergstronm S and La Rooy D (2007) Commentary: UK Students and Sex Work: Current Knowledge and Research Issues. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology 17(1): 141-146.. Roberts R, Sanders T, Myers E and Smith D (2010) Participation in Sex Work: Students’ Views. Sex Education 10(2): 145-156.. Rubery J (1998) Part-time work: a threat to labour standards? In: O’Reilly J and Fagan C (eds.) Part-time Prospects London: Routledge.. Rubery J (2008) ‘Women and Work in the UK’. In Scott, J, Dex S, Joshi H. Cheltenham (eds) Women and Employment (eds): Northampton: Edward Elgar.. Sanders T and Hardy K (2012) ‘Devalued, deskilled and diversified: explaining the proliferation of the strip industry in the UK’ British Journal of Sociology 63(3): 513532.. Sanders T and Hardy K (2013) ‘Students selling sex: marketisation, higher education and consumption’ British Journal of Sociology of Education DOI: 10.1080/01425692.2013.854596. 30.

(31) Sanders T and Hardy K (2014) Flexible workers: labour, regulation and the political economy of the stripping industry. Oxford: Routledge.. Skeldon R (2012) Going round in circles: Circular migration, poverty alleviation and marginality International Migration 50(3): 43-60.. Skipper J and McCaghy C. 1970. Strippers: the anatomy and career contingencies of a deviant occupation Social Problems 1: 391-405.. Standing G (2011) The precariat: a new and dangerous class. London: Bloomsbury Academic.. Spencer, D. 2009. The political economy of work. Abingdon: Routledge.. Sweet N and Tewksbury R (2000) “What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?” Pathways to a Career in Stripping Sociological Spectrum 20(3): 325-343.. Tomlinson J and Durbin S (2010) Part time managers: work life balance, aspirations and career mobility Equality, Diverity and Inclusion 29(3): 255-270.. Tomlinson J, Muzio D, Sommerlad H and Webley L (2013) Structure, agency and career strategies of white women and black and minority ethnic individuals in the legal profession Human Relations 66(2): 245-269.. 31.

(32) Women’s Support Project. (no date) ‘Adult entertainment or exploitation?’ available at: ment%20or%20exploitation%20-%20final.pdf accessed 21st March 2013.. 32.

(33) Table 1.1: Statistical table – survey responses. Question Are you engaged in other types of work and employment?. Are you engaged in other types of education?. Response. Number. Percentage. Yes. 79. 45.4. No. 95. 54.5. 174. 100. Yes. 50. 28.7. No. 124. 71.3. 174. 100. Education. 26. 14.9. Other types of work. 55. 31.6. Other types of work and education. 24. 13.8. Just dancing. 69. 39.7. 174. 100. Beauty. 14. 17.3. Creative work. 9. 11.1. Retail / sales. 9. 11.1. Hospitality. 9. 11.1. Modelling and performance. 8. 9.9. Administration. 7. 8.6. Care or cleaning. 5. 6.2. Agency. 6. 7.4. Property. 2. 2.5. Other. 12. 14.8. 81. 100. Total. Total. Are you engaged in other types of work or education?. Total. Which sector are you currently working in?. Total. 33.

(34) UK. 127. 66.1. EU. 48. 25. Non-EU. 17. 8.9. 192. 100. Yes. 65. 33.9. No. 127. 66.1. 192. 100. Further education. 26. 55.3. Higher education. 21. 44.7. 47. 100. Retail. 14. 23.3. Hospitality. 14. 23.3. Administration / Office Work. 9. 15.0. Sales or customer services. 5. 8.3. Care / Nursing. 5. 8.3. Which job did have before you started dancing. Bank / Accounting. 3. 5.0. (full time dancers)?. No previous job. 3. 5.0. Dancing. 2. 3.3. Gym / personal training. 2. 3.3. Travel. 2. 3.3. Education. 1. 1.7. 60. 100. Less than 5 months. 4. 5.9. How long have you been working in the stripping. 6 months to <1 year. 3. 4.4. industry?. 1 year to <2 years. 11. 16.2. 2 years <3 years. 13. 19.1. Where are you from?. Total. Are you a migrant?. Total. What level of education are you currently in?. Total. Total. 34.

(35) 3 years to <4 years. 12. 17.6. 4 years to <5 years. 9. 13.2. Less than five years. 52. 76.5. 5 years to <10 years. 11. 16.2. 10 years to <15 years. 5. 7.4. More than five years Total. 16 68. 23.5 100.0. 35.

(36) Biographies Dr Kate Hardy is a Lecturer in Work and Employment Relations at the Leeds University Business School. Her research explores a feminist political economy of labour. Her research and scholarship is informed by a commitment to social change and a desire to bridge academia and activism through involvement in the feminist movement and other spaces of political activity. She has published a monography with Teela Sanders entitled Flexible workers: labour, regulation and the political economy of the stripping industry. She has co-edited Body/Sex/Work – Intimate, Embodied and Sexualised Labour (Palgrave, 2013) and New Sociologies of Sex Work (Ashgate, 2010) and has articles in a number of journals, including the British Journal of Sociology and Emotion, Space and Society. Dr Teela Sanders is a Reader in Sociology at the University of Leeds with qualifications in both sociology and social work. Working at the intersections of sociology, criminology and social policy, she has published extensively in areas germane to sexuality/gender and regulation. Monographs to date include: Sex Work. A Risky Business (Willan), Paying for Pleasure: Men who Buy Sex (Willan) and Flexible workers: labour, regulation and the political economy of the stripping industry and (co-authored) Prostitution: Sex Work, Policy and Practice (Sage). She has co-edited New Sociologies of Sex Work (Ashgate), Body/Sex/Work – Intimate, Embodied and Sexualised Labour (Palgrave) and Social Policies and Social Control: New Perspectives on the Not-so-Big Society (Policy Press).. 36.


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