In Defense of the Stripper Memoir

What Women Really Think
June 25 2009 11:58 AM

In Defense of the Stripper Memoir

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In her rundown of the recent crop of stripper memoirs that ran in Double X on Monday, Katie Roiphe wastes no time letting the reader know that she views the entire lot as cliché. I suppose that by being the first of these authors out of the publishing gate in 2001, I should duck the charge, but not in Roiphe’s estimation. No matter. I can't think of better company in which to be thrown under the bus.

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She alleges that we’re all totally sold on our glamour and sex appeal, and prone to harpooning the less young 'n' perky. Stripping is a body business, and a dancer is not inured to both the glamour and the horror of this, so why shouldn’t she comment on what she observes-about her body or anyone else's? Aging in a youth-obsessed culture is a complex and dispiriting fact of female life that, for strippers, carries a sting more acute than the sting an intellectual feels upon receiving a rejection letter from Knopf.

Then Roiphe slaps the hands of the stripper/memoirists who dare to reach for the golden feminist apple. Why? She isn’t the only one interested in examining the intersection of sex and gender politics. Sex work is a feminist concern, and not seeing this suggests a fairly sheltered worldview.

But where she really gets it wrong is when it comes to the issue of boundaries; as if a stripper having limits is tantamount to judging another women's "promiscuity." Strippers need to make decisions on how far they are willing to go in a business where customers inevitably push for more. One guy will tell you that your lap dance sucked and try to get out of tipping you, another will offer you money and cocaine to come to his hotel room later, and another will try to stick his fingers in your vagina while you sit with him in the VIP room. Weighing your response to these situations vis-a-vis what your coworkers decide to do is not slut-shaming other women; it’s a professional requirement.

Roiphe does not bother to ask questions about this stripper-memoir trend, she only categorizes and dismisses. Questions like: Why are most of these stripper memoirs by (often very well-educated) middle-class white girls? Is it editorial bias, pure coincidence, or is the opprobrium of being "out" as a stripper not worth it to a woman outside of publishing’s equivalent of the Brahmin class?

There is always room for criticism, irreverence, and, of course, personal taste. But criticism is only as solid as the author’s willingness to accurately represent the works in question. My hope is that Double X readers will come to understand that these books are not as dumb as Ms. Roiphe makes them look.

Photograph of a performer at the Adult Entertainment Convention in Las Vegas by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.