hookers and moral philosophy

neon wasteland

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Premise: PhD Student Susan Dewey surveys the 50 women employed (not simultaneously) at a strip club that she calls “Vixens” in upstate NY. The region is impoverished following de-industrialization and most of the jobs available are low-wage, and unanimously considered exploitative. Why then, she ponders, do some women choose sexualized labor to other, less stigmatized, forms of work?



Dewey remarks that sex workers live in a gray area where they are simultaneously objects of desire and objects of revulsion. She attempts to allow them the “complex personhood” that society denies them, stripping them down as it does to a stereotype, which is misrepresentative of the truth.



Methodology: All fifty dancers were surveyed, two dozen were interviewed at length and five were selected for the book’s analysis, as their stories were representative of the varied whole.


The women:

Generally: Most of the dancers were between the ages of 20-35, with the majority falling in the shorter 20-24 range. More than half of them had children, and all of the women over 26 had been previously married. None owned their own homes, most were local, but a few traveled from other towns to avoid discovery. Most spent 1-2 weeks of pay on rent and the average income approximately equalled minimum wage. Without exception, the women with children cited their responsibilities to their children as their reason for turning to sex work.


Twenty percent of the dancers quit within the first month, citing income, interpersonal issues, safety concerns, or a general disillusionment as their reasons. Another 25% quit within three months. Most of these women were aged 18-24 and were never married with no children.


Very few of them had been previously abused, challenging traditional notions for why women enter sex work. Most of them knew a family member involved in some subcategory of sex work and all of them knew of at least one acquaintance. A few of them had aspired to the job and some aspired to make dancing a career. Most were attracted by the earning potential and believed they were making intelligent investments in their futures.


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