December 18, 2004

The Law of Sniffer's Row

It had to happen sometime.

The San Antonio City Council has passed a measure to regulate strippers:

SAN ANTONIO - Strippers in this city will soon have to put on something they can't take off — a business license.

The City Council on Friday approved a measure requiring exotic dancers to apply for permits and wear them while performing.

Law enforcement authorities said the rule, which was unanimously approved by the 11-member council and goes into effect in 10 days, will allow them to quickly identify those dancers who are breaking nudity ordinances. (Among other things, full nudity and contact with customers are not allowed in San Antonio strip clubs.)

"We're trying to reduce criminal activity inside the establishments on the part of the entertainers, i.e., prostitution," said Lt. Mike Gorhum, who heads the vice squad.

The permit — expected to be roughly half the size of a credit card — would include the dancer's stage name and a photo. Police would be able to check that information against club records to determine her real name and other personal data.

{...}The new rule also mandates a 3-foot space between dancers and patrons to ensure no touching during table dances. Such contact is already banned, though violations are not uncommon.

Proving that once again, if you can't ban it, the best way to control it is to regulate it!


More ruminations after the jump.

This is ridiculous.

Cutting down on prostitution? Strippers are moonlighting? Jeez. Not to generalize or anything, but {insert Gomer Pyle voice here} Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Is this anything we really didn't already know? What the hell is the problem here? Is this really about out-of-control prostitution, or is this more about back-door prohibition?

Fer cryin' out loud.

I am not a fan of strip clubs. Yet I am more than willing to stipulate that many of the women who work in these places are only in it for the money, that they make a good living, and are able to provide a better life for themselves and their families while being completely aware of the cesspool they're swimming in, and they have the tools to deal any problems that might arise. While they have to pay a heavy toll to earn that money, if they decide that's what they want to do and everything's on the up and up, fine. So be it. No hassles from me. In other words: if you think Striptease was a quaint little movie about a situation that rarely exists in real life, you're kidding yourself.

This is a business that is around to exploit the weakness of its customers. Lonely? Wife not treating you well? We've got what you need. They exploit their customers. This is fine if people are willing to be exploited. After all, there's no law against taking advantage of fools, is there? Yet, in the process, this aura of exploitation bleeds over to this industry's employees, who in turn become exploited.

This is what I have a problem with. It's a personal thing for me. A very dear and old friend of mine was exploited horribly simply because she did not have the good sense to know better, and was desperate enough not to listen to those around her who did and tried to warn her off. She started waiting tables at a strip club to make money to pay off her credit card bills. It was the only place in our relatively small college town where she could make a load of money really fast. We knew she was telling the truth. Jobs with flexible schedules were as scarce as hen's teeth at that point in time. But we worried. She told all of us when we voiced our objections that "she was going to keep her clothes on, thank you very much," that this was just a temporary thing to get out of debt. That the tips were great and that it would be over with quickly. It probably would have worked out all right if she'd stuck to her guns.

But she didn't.

The club manager, then, having heard her sob story of needing money quickly, took advantage of said knowledge and wheedled this very nice, but very naive, homeschooled, Preacher's Kid into dancing. Just one time, darling, and all your troubles will be taken care of. I promise. She was naive enough to buy it. Suddenly, she's got a five-hundred-dollar-a-week coke habit to pay for. (Provided for by her new boyfriend, fellow stripper, and assistant manager of the club. Reportedly, it made the stage fright go away and helped her with her inhibitions). She then brings the stuff onto the property of our sorority house (in her car, which was parked on our grounds) and the people in the house who do not like her or her behavior, because they think it's bringing all of them down, get her kicked out---without a hearing, too. They bring in the regional big wig and force her to deactivate herself---for the good of the house.

With nowhere to live, seemingly abandoned by the people whom she cares for most, she moves in with her new boyfriend and it goes downhill from there. While she quits the cocaine, she decides that, despite everything she's ever been taught, she's going to keep stripping because she has expenses now: she's helping her boyfriend pay off his bills so he can get sole custody of his daughter. So, she starts commuting to a small town about sixty miles away on Friday and Saturday nights and starts dancing at a club there, because she makes more money. Thank God for two of our guy friends, who accompany her, every weekend, to keep her safe (despite her protestations to the contrary) because while she makes more money at this club, the bouncers are lazy and do not rush to protect her from patrons who overstep their bounds. She wears a wig and obscures her features with makeup as much as possible because she has finally learned not to let her life as a stripper follow her into her other world, because it has followed her and she has not liked it.

When she graduates from school, she lands a great job. She's making decent money and is proud of what she's doing for a living. She quits stripping. While she willingly went along with all of this, I know she wasn't comfortable with it, and she admitted it. She was a preacher's kid after all: she knew her life choices weren't squaring with what she'd been brought up to believe and when she finally announced she wanted out, we, her remaining few friends, rejoiced and helped her to make it happen. When it did happen, the crisis of conscience that had revolved around this two-year-period was finally over and she could breathe easy, finally comfortable with herself, stripping definitely behind her. Her deadbeat boyfriend reluctantly goes along with this for a time, then after he's bled her paycheck dry, convinces her to start stripping again, because they need more cash. My friend is his golden goose and he doesn't want her to stop laying golden eggs.

When she finally breaks free from this jackal, it's because she's met someone else and has moved out of town to be with the new, very nice guy...whom, of course, she met while dancing. Fortunately, this guy was great for her and helped her out of this world and she's never looked back. If you met her today, you'd have no idea that this successful, forthright businesswoman had danced topless and gave lap dances at one point in her life. You'd have no clue. While I'm not denying that the lessons she was forced to learn during this period in her life have made her savvier in her business dealings today, I know the price she paid for those lessons. And a heavy price it was. And all because, at one point in time, she believed the wrong people and followed their advice. This could be true of any person in any business. Our choices make us who we are. I cannot believe, however, that if she'd started waiting tables at a regular bar, that her life during those years would have been as hard and as demeaning as it was. She was exploited. Her manager saw an in and took advantage of her. She did not have the tools to know that she was being exploited: that it was the sex trade---albeit a legal part of the sex trade---that exploited her does not leave me with warm and happy thoughts of this industry.

Sex is complicated enough without adding money into the equation. Those inhibitions, feelings of guilt, and downright misconceptions of what the act of sex is supposed to be about are magnified greatly when your ability to pay the bills becomes dependent upon having to bare yourself for lonely letches. It tells people that the only thing that will ever make them money is their body. Don't bother with the brains! They're never going to make you as much money as you would by putting your bod up for sale! This is wrong. And it goes against everything the best part of our culture---education, enlightenment, and reason---promotes. The sex trade is all about providing a product whose sole purpose is to make people feel happy in the pants, and that degrades us all by lowering us to our least common denominator.

This bothers me.

Yet I'm willing to allow that if everyone---employees and customers---knows what they're getting themselves into, it's ok. My friend's case, while hardly unique, hasn't put me on an "abolish all strip clubs" track. I'm pretty much a live and let live type of gal when it comes to this sort of stuff: if no one's getting hurt, no hassles. Do I want better regulation of these places? Nope. Why the hell the San Antonio City Council believes that regulating this industry will suddenly make the vice aspect of it dissapear, I have no idea. The problem with this is not that there is a market to provide a product, but rather that so many people want to buy that product. Until you rid people of this, well, regulating strip clubs is one more battle that will not be won. Making back door moves to abolish it will not make it go away. It's the same with any other vice, like alcohol. Did prohibition make people stop drinking? Nope. It just drove it underground. It also reinforced our worst and mistaken understanding of what causes alcoholism---a problem we are still grappling with today, take it from me, the wife of a "recovering" alcoholic. It's not the booze that creates the problem: the problem existed before the individual used it to self-medicate. Following this course of logic, what's the problem with sex that leads men and women alike to simply disregard the higher function and meaning of sex to that which only makes them happy in the pants?

Until we take a crack at answering that question, any effort to regulate strip clubs is simply a waste of time and money.

Posted by Kathy at December 18, 2004 01:42 PM
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