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Hypersexualization and the Dark Body: Race and Inequality among Black and Latina Women in the Exotic Dance Industry

Abstract

During the 1980s in the USA, two sides of the pornography debate emerged: (a) sex work is oppressive to women based on sexism and women’s low economic positioning and (b) sex work is empowering to female sexuality and agency. However, a void remains in theoretical analyses of racial and sexual hierarchies within sex industries that create challenges for women of color that go beyond the pornography debates. Using a case study analysis of three exotic dance clubs, the author examines how hypersexualization structures stratification. The author explores the hypersexualization of Black and Latina women within the clubs regarding racial passing among dancers of color, pay differences, and club safety to examine how these factors produce inequalities between Black and Latina women in the exotic dance industry. Avenues for further social policy research focused on improving the sex industry work environment for Black and Latina exotic dancers are discussed.

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Notes

  1. Joane Nagel (2003) has used this term (after Patricia Hill Collins 1990) to describe an all-encompassing social position of sexuality extending Judith Halberstam (1998) argument about masculinity being a legitimate sphere of men. I use the term to describe the social construction of people of color as possessing a more active sexuality than Whites.

  2. In this article, I use pseudonyms to protect the identity of clubs, dancers, and interviewees.

  3. The term gold digger has been popularized in hip-hop culture, which constructs Black women as materialistic and money hungry, out to get money from the men they date. Many Black feminists have critiqued this term as sexist, arguing that it ignores the low wages many working-class Black women earn on the job or on public assistance.

  4. A stage fee is what many dancers, who are legally classified as independent contractors, pay to work nationally. The stage fee has been a source of activism for many involved in the sex worker rights movement who are fighting for exotic dancers to be recognized as employees verses independent contractors.

  5. While doing fieldwork, I remember once being at Conquest when a middle-aged White man yelled at the bouncer on duty and actually took swings at him. He had to be escorted out of the club. I then heard an ambulance siren. It turned out he was drunk and had a heart attack while swinging at the bouncer. The police did not have to come, because the bouncer successfully took care of the situation—also, the club’s image was not stained because of the incident, as it would be at Temptations.

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Correspondence to Siobhan Brooks.

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This article is from my forthcoming book, “Unequal Desires: Race and Erotic Capital in the Stripping Industry” (SUNY Press).

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Brooks, S. Hypersexualization and the Dark Body: Race and Inequality among Black and Latina Women in the Exotic Dance Industry. Sex Res Soc Policy 7, 70–80 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-010-0010-5

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Keywords

  • Strip clubs
  • Stratification
  • Racism
  • Violence
  • Pornography