Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Students with unusual jobs..

I recently found out that two female students of mine were both 'exotic dancers' -- one is currently working and the other used to work at the same club.

This came as a surprise to me, as these are average looking girls who are excellent students.

I'm not sure what I expected exotic dancers to be like, but it wasn't two brainy girls with perfectionist streaks and lofty academic goals. These women are bright, articulate and have excellent senses of humor.

and, they either do or have taken their clothes off for money.

For some reason I'm having a hard time connecting these girls and exotic dancing. It is difficult for me, I know, because I know them in a very different context.

I think the other reason I'm having a hard time with it is because it is sooooo outside of my range of experience. I've worked all kinds of jobs, but they have always required that I keep my clothes on.

Don't get me wrong, I really don't want to judge these women and the choices they've made. In many ways I admire them, they are very comfortable with their bodies in ways that I will never be. They have the courage to do what it takes to support themselves and go to school at the same time.

The ethicist and part of the feminist in me says that there is nothing wrong with what they are doing. They are using their bodies and taking advantage of the system which has placed them in a difficult financial situaiton. They are using society's ideas about sex to their advantage and taking advantage of a culture so sick that men (mostly) would pay them a pretty good amount of money for nothing more than taking off their clothes and moving on a stage.

On the other side, I worry about the morality of being a sex worker. They are exploiting their sexuality -- the most intimate aspect of themselves -- to make a living. Further, are they exacerbating the body-image issues of US women?

I think in the end I'm going to keep treating them the same way I did before I knew about their dancing. I liked them both before and I still enjoy working with them on our common academic pursuits. They deserve no less from me -- additionally, they deserve the help and respect I can give them in the non-stripper part of their lives so that it will become their only life. If that means helping them to get scholarships so they can transfer to other schools to finish their degrees -- then great! It may be the only way the will be able to end their dancing lives.

The sad part of all this is that I can't even give them the girly-girl kind of advise on hair and make-up because I'm not good with them... their excuse is that stripper make-up is a lot different than normal make-up --- and they only know the stripper proportions and techniques :)... I have no such excuse.


Arbitrista (formerly Publius) said...

You'd be amazed how many undergrad women have had careers as exotic dancers. I was shocked the first time I was at a friend's party and someone casually announced that worked at a strip club. And I'm sure I told my story already about seeing one of my students the one & only time I ever went to a strip club.

Having said that, I think that your second argument - that stripping is inherently debasing - is the stronger one. It turns women into things. I'm uncomfortable with stripping because I have trouble drawing a sharp line between it and prostitution.

Seeking Solace said...

I had a student who told me she worked as a female escort. Then she asked me if she could avod a charge of prostitution if she sold the "client" some sexy underware beofre engaging in any sexual activitiy!

I could not answer her, since it would be giving legal advice whic I am not allow to do. But, it was an interesting question.

comebacknikki said...

Yikes. I'm never quite sure how to deal with stuff like this. I haven't had any students admit that they were strippers, but I have had several write about being drug dealers. I remember a particular journal entry in which the student talked about how he didn't want to have to deal drugs anymore (that's why he was in school), but in order to pay for school and support his family, he had to continue. :(