I always thing I need to read more non-fiction. I listened to a fair number of pod-casts, and watch a lot of documentaries so feel I expose myself to a decent range of opinions, facts and debates, but I really need to step up my game when it comes to reading about topics that interest me.
With this mind, I've just finished Stripped an investigative look at the lives of exotic dancers.
Usually before buying a book I like to read a sample on kindle, then if it interests me a do a quick search on my library's on-line catalogue, because quite frankly I'm pretty cheap and with the amount I read it would cost me a fortune if I bought everything. As the library didn't carry Stripped by Bernadette Barton I was forced to buy it, but I'm not convinced it was worth £13.
Partly, I baulk at the cost as this type of research dates really quickly. This book was published in 2006, and I think the argument about whether or not stripping is exploitative or empowering has moved on. That sort of 90s wave feminism about sex-positivity and 'ladette' culture isn't really relative in lots of ways now.
Third wave feminists have pretty much come to the conclusion that (consensual) sex work has both its positives and its negatives and illustrates the wider problems of living in a patriarchal and unequal society where women's bodies are objectified and commodified daily and in all walks of life. Basically, the same problems strippers face at work, harassment, preconceptions about their intelligence, an emphasis on what they look like, will happen to them when they're on their day off as well, and women in other careers face similar challenges. Also, there has been a big shift in the way women see themselves, women are happy to own their own sexual identity, then can be sexual but not defined by it. Look at Beyonce, a feminist icon, who in addition to being an artist, entrepreneur, a mother and wife, she is also a woman confident and comfortable with her own sexuality.
What I'm trying to say in a round about way - is that Barton's argument is outdated. I don't think anyone (well, any feminist anyway) sees an issue or a contradiction with women wanting to be view as sexy, but disliking being seen only as sexual.
Ha, this is turning to a long essay about what I think about feminism rather than a book review.
One of the positive aspects of Stripped is that the dancer get the opportunity to speak for themselves, as they are quoted at length throughout. Barton obviously managed to win the interviewees trust as the are honest and reflective when sharing their experiences.
Barton also looks at some interesting topics,for example she examines why a higher than average portion of dancers are lesbian or bisexual. I was also intrigued about when a club unionised, and I wish this had gone in to further details as it was a chance to look at the intersection of capitalism, feminism and sex work.
There are some huge downsides to this book. It is representative, Barton makes the same point over and over, but doesn't expand on her argument. It doesn't feel like she was making firm assertions or building up to any clear point. I found the lack of cohesion, and a logical linear argument frustrating. the repetition of the whole paragraphs was completely unnecessary and dull.
Overall I don't think Stripped really adds much to the argument about whether sex work is dehumanising, empowering or a complex mix of both. There are far better essays and books that cover this issue with greater depth and authority.