Monday, February 15, 2010

Being a stripper has changed greatly since the days of Gypsy Rose Lee, seen here in her writer mode.

I’ve been very hesitant about posting anything about the labor relations issue at the Mardi Gras strip club in Springfield as some readers might say something along the lines of “How dare he! He represents The Reminder! etc.”

When one writer at The Reminder did a story about the de-criminalization of prostitution, I received an angry letter from a reader that her young son reads every word in the paper and that we had ruined that pleasure for him by printing an article on such a subject.

I wondered how this woman must shelter her son from stuff on television and in other newspapers and magazines. Can you imagine five years in the future when American history classes are discussing Clinton’s presidency how a teacher will deal with his indiscretion? Will they discuss how Monica proved their affair happened with the physical evidence of her blue dress with a stain?

So allow me to once more say, “This blog is my words alone and does not reflect the opinions of my employers, my staff or the advertisers of the newspaper that employs me.”

Go back now. You’ve been warned. Potential brain damage.

If you’ve not heard, a group of dancers, bartenders and deejays have brought a class action suit against the owners of the Mardi Gras for illegally treating them as independent contractors. Dancers were required to give part of their earnings to the deejays and bartenders as well as pay a shift fee to work at the club.

The thing that bothers me the most about the issue of a strip club illegally categorizing its dancers as independent contractors when they, by law, fit the description of employees is how people have reacted to it.

Instead of having some shred of human understanding, the all-too common reaction is “So what? They’re little better than prostitutes.”

So, because what they do for a job that crosses a comfort threshold for some people, they shouldn’t have legal rights?

I’ve gone to strip clubs. I’ve written about strips clubs. I’ve interviewed dancers and club owners. I’ve become friends with some dancers.

I would never recommend this line of work to any woman. It is amazingly difficult. While the financial rewards might be great, it takes a strong person to stay away from the numerous pitfalls presented to dancers.

Could you imagine being in a line of work in which your income solely derives from someone making a snap judgment on your appearance? How about having to push drinks on customers who want to get you drunk? Being in a constant party mode with sexual overtones can take a toll on a person.

I’ve known women who worked toward a goal, then left the field and never looked back. I’ve known women who have stayed in too long. I also know women who used dancing as a way to pay for college and returned because they couldn’t find work or enough work to pay their bills.

Most of us wind up doing something that makes us feel bad during our work careers. When I was a sales rep at the Daily Hampshire Gazette – I took the job thinking I would be in a position to get a reporter’s gig; I was wrong – one of the reporters came over to me and asked if it was true I had a degree in journalism.

I affirmed that was true.

“How does it feel being a prostitute?” she replied and marched across the room to her desk.

I was too stunned – and too green – to tell her my efforts were what paid her salary. If I could remember her name I’d Google her and tell what I think now.

Certainly there were other times when employers made sure to put people in their places, such as the Christmas when I worked at the Holyoke Transcript-Telegram and all of us had to buy a Christmas present for the publisher and then frickin’ sing him a Christmas carol.

The scene was straight out of Charles Dickens. We received no bonus, no party and no gift in return.

Please bend over and say with me, “Thank you sir. May I have another?”

By the way, I can honestly say my present employers are the best I’ve had in my career in media.

In the realm of human feelings and morale, I, like most people, have felt at times exploited and abused by employers. But perhaps some people believe they are superior because no matter how degraded their boss may make them feel what they are doing is somehow more legitimate than taking off their clothes for money for the amusement of strangers.

I guess I believe that if you know what it is to work for a lunatic, shouldn’t you feel some sympathy for people whose job presents an even greater challenge than yours?

© 2010 by Gordon Michael Dobbs


Bill Dusty said...

I side with the dancers, too, Mike. The owners are making a fortune and treating their employees (yes, employees, not "independent contractors") like crap. The plaintiffs were anonymous last summer when I wrote about them. I think it was pretty brave of them (and the d-js and bartenders) to stand up.

Michaelann Bewsee said...

Well, nice to see fellow bloggers supporting the dancers! Like professional athletes, dancers have a limited window of opportunity to earn a decent living. They deserve to be treated decently.

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