a 10 Year Old's Stripping Schedule
I met Arielle during my MFA exhibit at Mills College in 1995 (yes, I’m part of that I-put-myself-through-grad-school-by-stripping statistic). Arielle was 10 years old. I was 27. I was screening my first documentary, Straight for the Money: Interviews with Queer Sex Workers. Arielle was a fellow artist's niece and snuck glances at my film as she wandered through the gallery space. She sent me her stripping schedule weeks later. My reaction was a mix of horror and amusement. My film had unintentionally influenced a kid to consider sex work!
I absolutely DON'T condone child sex work. It’s NOT OK. But the reality remains that girls are influenced by pop culture, inundated by sexual images, & music videos with sexy women--oftentimes strippers. Consenting adult sex workers are unapologetic about their right to exercise their sexuality. Maybe Arielle wanted to be a stripper so she didn't have to justify her pre-pubescent sexuality to anyone either.
Kids think about sex from a young age. I'm NOT saying that they should be sexual! But most parents don't feel comfortable talking about sex with kids that young. We asexualize them to downplay our own discomfort and act as if their sexuality only buds when they hit puberty. What Arielle did in reaching out to me was seek a sex positive person to share her sexual imagination. Someone who wouldn't freak out + shut her down or possibly even shame her about it. Did Arielle go on to be a stripper? No. But if she were 18 years old or older and told me she wanted to be stripper, I'd tell her about the labor realities in the strip clubs so that Arielle could make a more informed decision to strip. But the reality is there are underaged teens who work in the sex industry and they are also present in the strip clubs.
Using the language of video & audio, License to Pimp shows some of the realities that women & girls face in the strip clubs. It doesn’t glorify sex work nor does it denounce it. Sex work is legitimate labor and consenting adults should have the right to work if they choose so. My film is very critical of industry employment practices, which exploit women’s sexual labor. The strip clubs charge dancers anywhere from $100 to several hundred dollars for the privilege to work. You see how workers re-negotiate their sexual boundaries and some turn to prostitution to pay these illegal fees. Lola, Daisy, + Mariko take vastly different approaches to these violations by either adapting, fighting, & quitting the strip club system. There is no one path that’s right.
Lola began stripping as a 16 year old to help her mother get cancer treatment + lift her family out of poverty. The female manager who hired her fully well knew her age & instructed her to get fake ID so she could pass as an 18 year old. Lola worked for 10 years during which time she struggled with how far she’d sexually compromise herself in order to improve her & her family’s quality of life.
Within months of graduating from UC Berkeley, a young 20-something Mariko was on the stage at the Gold Club. In the film, you see her change from a whore-phobic stripper into a consensual, independent prostitute.
Daisy actually ran away from an abusive home and worked the streets as a 14 year old. She advocated decriminalizing prostitution so workers aren’t subject to violence and arrest. When she turned 18, Daisy started stripping—a relative sanctuary for street workers. I worked alongside Daisy & several other strippers in the mid 1990’s when strippers had to pay $25 stage fees. She’d bring her 5 yr old daughter to our organizing meetings at SEIU Local 790 (the Lusty Ladys union). When asked if it was appropriate to have her daughter there, Daisy said that it was important for young girls to see women empowered to take action against injustice. I agree.
Kids are sponges. Hopefully, girls will soak up that standing up for your sexual and labor rights is sexy & grow up to be empowered women who can advocate for themselves if and when their rights are violated.
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