Colorism, racism and unfair labor practices are at the root of the New York City stripper strike that has lasted for the past five months, and now plans to go nationwide. Started by Bronx native Gizelle Marie in October 2017, the #NYCStripperStrike has opened the doors for conversation about the abuse and discrimination that plague exotic dancers in New York City and around the country.
In New York, strip clubs are divided by “upscale,” which favor light-skinned dancers, and “urban” clubs. While the “urban” clubs don’t discriminate based on race they are more dangerous and less profitable for dancers, according to Jezebel. One of the issues Gizelle wants to fight what some feel is an unspoken race quota against black dancers in upscale clubs.
“What we’re trying to do is address the fact that black women aren’t allowed to work in upscale clubs, so that can be one of the reasons why they’re enduring all the issues in the urban clubs,” said Gizelle. “In certain upscale clubs there will be like 150 dancers, and less than 10 of them will be black women. Some of the clubs have just one, two or three black dancers.”
Another issue that prevails in the industry is the advent of the new age “bartender.” According to The Washington Post, around five years ago women who mastered social media began calling themselves “startenders” to be hired by club promoters, instead of professional mixologists. These women often dressed like strippers and competed for men’s attention, with a similar monetary goal: have them “make it rain” on them. Because these women are “private contractors” and not employees of the club, they often reap more benefits than the dancers and avoid having to pay a house fee.
In December, Gizelle and other organizers began working with the sex-worker advocacy organization, the SOAR Institute. This led to women around the country joining in the action during the NYC Women’s March in January in support of the stripper strike. From there, Gizelle marched with other sex workers in the Las Vegas Women’s March. This gained the attention of the International Women’s Strike USA who have decided to work in support of the stripper strike.
While the movement is gaining national attention, it is still in its early phases with no concrete agenda. Yet, the stripper strike has already made a drastic difference for many dancers.
“Girls have told me there has been a bit of change in some of the clubs. The money has shifted toward the dancers in some places,” said Gizelle. “A lot of women have reached out [to me] and been very supportive. They’re like, ‘you’re doing a great job. We thank you so much for speaking up for us.’”