Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Dancing with the Startenders

This Blog Was Written by 
Victoria Hayes

Since finals are slowly approaching college students it’s worth bringing up everyone’s hypothetical plan B: stripping. 
Stripping has many culturally negative associations with it. It’s the Plan B, a last resort, something that women are not proud of doing. Prostitution, drug use, human trafficking, and moral deviancy are often brought up to go hand in hand. While these things do happen, they happen in schools, hospitals, offices, private homes, and in broad daylight in the street. By choosing to fetishize these human rights violations, not only are the concerns of club workers ignored and silenced but the victims and survivors are used as props. It condones bad behavior and unethical practices in clubs as being “normal” thus people deserve the things that happen to them.

Instagram has proven to be a meeting space for the strippers of New York City to discuss the ongoing strike. Gizelle Marie, the creator of the #NYCSTRIPPERSTRIKE hashtag and movement, has provided a safe space for women to organize, vent, compare notes, and mobilize their concerns within club culture. Racism and colorism, sexism, and theft are some of the few issues mentioned by the Washington Post .(See Washington Post article by Amy Ferguson 1/3/17) 

The rise of Startenders has folks on edge. Startenders are model bartenders with massive Instagram followings that are hired as guest bartenders (this does not mean they are actually bartenders nor does it mean they know how to bartend) at clubs with the hopes that their followers will show up and make the club money (Business Insider). Young, fit, and thick, they do not play by the normal rules of the club; they are not required to pay for their spot and a percentage of their tips to the club like strippers, “As for the strike's terms, the strippers want their house fees reduced and they want bartenders to pay house fees (which they currently do not have). Black dancers also want more of an opportunity to be hired as bartenders and they want bartenders to stop stealing their money” (Oxygen). They dress similarly to strippers but are not strippers themselves. This is strategically done: a club is dark, the music is pulsing, and drinks are flowing. If a patron sees a woman in a dancer’s attire twerking behind the counter pouring drinks and oozing charism, they don’t have the time nor desire to figure out who is a stripper or bartender; they came for a good time (Lipstick Alley). 

Startenders embody postmodernity. Often, they are light skinned with Eurocentric beauty features or mixed women who enhance their “exoticness”. Dark skinned dancers are sidelined when celebrities come to clubs in favor of their light skinned startending counterparts. If I’m a regular worker and a seasonal worker comes in and is given more opportunities to make money than I am, you best believe I’m going to be angry. When speaking with a friend, who tried out for a position in a club, she learned many dancers are now hired in certain strip clubs only if they have a sizeable Instagram following in order to generate customers. Not all strippers want to have a digital or paper trail connecting them to their work because of the stigma attached to it. Some women dip their toes into the stripping pond to make quick money when they need it. With social media, everything you post follows you for life. How can people get jobs in a workforce that is already highly critical of our personal lives and identity if they have social media accounts linked to stripping? Sex work? Startenders do not have the same stigma of being a stripper nor do they have to worry about workplace abuse in the same way dancers do. 

Ironically, the platform of Instagram is being reclaimed by strippers for themselves to combat the issues found in clubs. What makes the #NYCSTRIPPERSTRIKE so powerful is the fact that women are speaking for themselves in a space they created for one another. The subaltern can speak. Strippers are often considered stupid or uneducated despite the stereotype about stripping through college. Higher education is not the focus or a part of a dancer’s credibility. Each dancer’s lived experience is the exchange of knowledge. Uplifting messages of support, personal testomonies, and sisterhood are found when clicking the hashtag and accounts. A hashtag can be passed around the internet as a trend but it can also be used as a way to link resources. With the Arab Spring, Facebook was critical to organization. While stripping and the toppeling of Middle Eastern regimes may not have much in common, they are grounded in the people creating networks away from institutions in order to critique and transform them. 

With the Arab Spring, Facebook was critical to organization. While stripping and the toppeling of Middle Eastern regimes may not have much in common, the are grounded in the people creating networks away from institutions in order to critique and transform them. 

Not all Startenders are thieves. Some are certified bartenders aware of the strike and support the strippers at clubs. At the end of the day, women are being pitted against one another. What does it mean that strippers are striking? Sex workers are often left out of the conversation of labor because they are not seen as laborers (  The Nation. Dancing with the Stars is an American dance competition tv show that has a celebrity-dancer pair compete against other celebrity-dancer pairs to have a winner.  Strippers and Startenders conversely are locked in a competition with one another over resources, time, and identity. 

Why is a Startender more appropriate than stripper? 
Is it?

Can you think of a similar analogy?

Work Cited
NYC strippers strike: Dancers say nearly naked ‘bottle girls’ are grabbing their cash, cite racism

#nycstripperstrike #instagramactivism #womensinternationalstrike

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