Originally published in the Pittsburgh City Paper.
Last week I talked to three Pittsburgh-based strippers — Eden, Iris, and Sheena — and asked them what people could do to be good customers and to have positive experiences in a strip club. What I noticed in talking to all three of them is that the concerns they had about women and couples in the club were different from the ones that they had about men. This week, I continue the conversation, focusing on women and couples.
Eden says that one of the difficult things about dealing with heterosexual couples at the club is that the women tend to be sexually aggressive. “In my experience, women who are coming in, especially as part of a couple, feel like they can touch me more, and with less respect, than the guys.” She goes on, “There is this assumption that it is okay [for women to be handsy].”
Moreover, in the context of couples, some of this aggression can feel like a display for their partner. “If I was on stage, I would notice that women who were touchy were doing so as a flirtation with their partner,” Eden says. “They are having some sort of homoerotic interaction, but catered toward the male gaze.”
In addition to women who are part of couples being more sexually aggressive with the dancers, Iris talked about the ways in which many of the women often tried to blur the line between customer and worker. “There are couples that come in and they are trying to live out some fantasy that is sex work related,” she says. In other words, rather than enjoying a customer experience, many women in couples try to take on the role of the dancer by doing things like getting drunk and trying to climb on stage.
Even when they don’t physically go on stage, women who are part of couples engage in other disruptive behavior that takes attention away from the dancers who are trying to do their job. “When a woman’s boyfriend or husband is sitting at the stage, they [will] give him a lap dance between him and the stage,” Sheena says.
Similarly, all three of the women I talked to mentioned that when single women start to flirt with customers at the club it threatens their ability to make money. “When women start flirting with customers, I’m like, ‘Girl go, take it elsewhere!’” says Iris.
In line with trying to take on the role of the dancers, many of the women who come in, particularly with their partners, will behave in ways that demonstrate their own insecurities, which can be a lot for the dancers to manage. “[As dancers we have to recognize that] this is their shit and not ours to deal with,” Sheena says. “I have seen women get in physical fights with their boyfriends at the club, or with strippers.”
Sheena says that this problem comes out of the culture strip clubs breed and that women need to think about it going in. “Strip clubs come out of a sexist patriarchal society. There is a lot of championing of young, hot, white bodies. It can be really toxic and hard for people to be around. It is important for women to realize where they are at with all that.”
All that being said, women and couples can add a lot to the club if they come in with respect for the dancers and an openness to enjoying the experience. “A big part of couples, no matter what their dynamic is, is trying to engage in something that feels foreign and sexy,” Iris says. “Couples can be really fun, really cool, and really sexy.”
“I love when women come to the club and they are all about it!” Sheena says. “It is really fun to dance for women.”