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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

“Betty” Bares All

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?Betty? skippes up the stairs next to the Campus Center

“The hardest part about being a stripper,” she says with great finality, crisscrossing her thumbs as she speaks, “is people judging you. People assume the worst about you: that you’re stupid and a horrible person and a slut. You know, I have a lot of friends and I hope that shows I’m not a bad person. I mean, I’m not.” Betty, as she prefers to be called, smiles sagely. “I do get straight A’s in school.” People rarely ask how you’re paying for school. This is largely because it’s none of their business, but also because a stigma has formed around it, caused in all probability by the deepened fiscal rifts between economic classes. Some people pay for school right out of their – or their parents’ – pockets. Some have saved sums in the bank identified as “college funds”. Some people take out loans. Still others work their way through school and, among them, some girls take up exotic dancing. Betty, a small, spry UMass student, is one of the latter. At 22 and standing under 5’5″, she doesn’t look much like a prototypical stripper. She is short and her breasts look average – they are neither fake or enormous. She is freckled, boasts tattoos, and has an optimistic but sardonic attitude that she brandishes to dodge uncomfortable situations. She does not disguise her intelligence to appear more attractive. Born in greater Boston, Betty grew up in the Quincy /Weymouth area, where she attended high school. She does not feel she exhibited any particular inclinations towards her current profession at the time. She does not feel that any vehement attitudes were ever expressed by her or her classmates when she was in high school towards the stripping profession either. Like many people she knows now, she was fairly ignorant of the trade. An important and notable trait that Betty possesses is her fierce sense of feminism; she believes strongly in women’s empowerment and their capability to do anything. These feelings initially led her to philosophy studies at UMass Boston. “I was originally a philosophy major.” she stresses, having since changed to English. “But you know, I didn’t leave because I felt like it was against what I was doing. I was really into philosophy, I still am, and I read a lot and think about what it is to be good; and I don’t think any ethics or values I’ve read about have ever told me that what I’m doing is wrong.” Exotic dancing in Boston is a quiet accomplice to the plethora of bars and nightclubs that fan out along its downtown area. Located in Chinatown are two distinct gentlemen’s clubs: The Glass Slipper and Centerfolds. Betty is an employee at the former. “When I was in high school,” Betty says, “I used to just stare at the Boston skyline and say that I was going to live there. My parents would always just tell me that I’d never be able to afford it.” Betty’s attempt at an innocuous existence in the city upon her 2006 move was earnest enough: she worked at Sugar Heaven, a decadent candy shop on Newbury Street. But she was broke, and found herself crammed in a one bedroom apartment with two other girls, subsisting on ramen noodles. Betty’s initiation into her current profession came one night when she was drinking in Chinatown with some coworkers. An ad requesting more dancers for the Glass Slipper enticed Betty and her friends, and the eagerness they were met with answering the ad prompted them to further investigate the opportunity. “You know what’s weird?” Betty offers with a faint smile, “The same week I got a job at the Slipper I got a job at Coldstone, and I was more nervous about going there. Coldstone was so professional, and a complete chain where you sit in the back on your first day and watch a video; but in the strip club there was this family-esque vibe. Everyone was there to make money but everyone made the best of it, and was relatively happy.” Betty’s greatest emphasis on her job and coworkers is the generous attitudes she saw as soon as she began working there. “The other girls were so nice,” she stresses. She expresses her terror when first arriving at the Slipper and the immense relief at how she was received. “it was just because they were older than me – I was only 18 – and they were so much different than me. They had been doing this a long time… they were from a different mindset.” Betty pauses before elaborating. “Not a different environment, just a different mindset. But they were so nice to me. They told me what to do, they gave me outfits and other stuff I needed to have, and gave me hints about the job and advised me on dance moves. If they had been mean I wouldn’t have done it.” Other angles encouraged Betty to continue, aside from the kindness of her coworkers and the money she was already making. Boston, as most cities, places necessary restraints on cliente`le behavior in these dance clubs. They do not allow full contact, and the club is well staffed with beefy, intimidating doormen who are quick to dismiss a customer if he ever makes a girl uncomfortable. “If Boston was the type of city where it was full contact and they could just grab you, I wouldn’t have wanted anything to do with it,” she assures me. As it is, though, Betty feels relatively protected at her job and knows she isn’t being pushed into anything overtly intimate with the men who pay for time with her. “Most people are completely ignorant of it,” Betty says with a hapless shrug, “You just… you can’t judge someone for being a dancer if you’ve never known someone who has been a dancer, or been to a strip club. It’s just stupid. It’s not at all how you think it is… it’s mostly just lonely guys, and some guys just there to have fun and laugh about it. Like when girls go out to strip clubs, you know, thinking, ‘this is so fun, let’s watch these hot girls dance and get naked’, you know?” Popular opinion lends a very negative connotation to the notion of becoming a stripper, and it is generally viewed as a degrading and dirty habit for women to fall into. However, there are a lot of reasons to make the plunge; and while most of them can be anticipated, the enthusiasm and explanation with which Betty accompanies them are not. She does not view exotic dancing as a profession that demeans women. “None of the women I know that are strippers… I think almost no one who is a stripper feels bad about it. I know I’m just one of them and I don’t know all of them but – I mean, there are two girls from Harvard University who I work with. There are other girls from UMass, from Emerson, from MassArt… People also like it for the art value. I mean, the singer of the Dresden Dolls used to work here! Other girls have done it too… Kathleen Hanna paid for school by being a stripper, and Diablo Cody was a stripper and wrote a sweet fucking memoir about it. I feel like some girls don’t even need the money as much; they just like the job and it’s easy, and they have fun, and it’s convenient.” A more feminist view on stripping could lead some to decide that is demeaning to men. I ask Betty about this: if perhaps the notion that men come in and pay girls simply to see them naked is something that validates the girls’ choices to dance and belittles the customers instead of them. She takes a moment before responding. “Sometimes… sometimes I feel bad when guys really fall in love with girls, and become blind to the fact that these girls are only nice to them because they’re giving them money. I sat with a guy who was really, really into me, and loved the same stuff as me. You know, he was super hip before, but now he’s just older and more mature and in a business suit. But he really liked me, and when a different guy came in who was going to give me more money and I left, he looked devastated. I don’t know if it’s demeaning to men, but it does make them look stupid.” It is clear that Betty feels an affinity with her cliente`le. She is protective of their right as paying customers and is hesitant to breach my further inquiries about problematic men. Betty tries to skirt the subject, but does imply that she has encountered her share of rude and crude gentlemen. “A lot of the clients are very dedicated. They’re just very lonely guys who feel the same family-esque atmosphere that the girls feel. Everyone knows their name… they do spend money, but they can also be friends.” Betty herself has made a friend with whom she exchanges music taste, and he even occasionally helps her with schoolwork. “He has never, ever, ever tried to touch me.” she emphasizes. “He would never get a lapdance, he doesn’t even really like hugging me; but he cares about me as a friend and he comes in to see me. He helps me out and makes me feel better about things like… boys and school. He offers comforting words of cynical opinion.” Betty does caution that one has to be careful where they tread as a dancer, however. “I mean, half the girls are junkies and they do take drugs but like I said… the other half are students, like me. You just have to keep yourself grounded, otherwise you’ll float off like so many people I know, into this world where you have so much money because you’re ‘so beautiful’ and you think you’re perfect for it. It is hard to be a dancer. You have to be smart about it.” Betty hesitates for a moment before continuing. “It’s also complicated because when you don’t make any money, you start to feel it’s your fault but it’s not, it’s luck. Sometimes there’s just no money to be made. But there is a weird psychological effect when that happens. After doing it for a few years, I’m good at identifying that not every guy is going to think you’re hot and give you money, and it’s something you have to be okay with. You can’t just get swept up with the money and almost… the glory of being praised, and being told you’re cute all the time.” “If I could go back and change things?” Betty looks down, and around, pensively and then back up at me. “I probably would have tried to get a job at a nicer club, like Centerfolds. There’s a possibility I would have made more money there and also a possibility that I wouldn’t have. But… I wouldn’t go back and not be a stripper. I pay for school, and everything else in my life.” She grins winningly. “I can do the things that I want to do. I have fun when I want to have fun. I’m dependent on no one. My confidence levels have improved like crazy. My social skills are so much better. I can keep a conversation going, I’m not uncomfortable talking to people like I used to be. And I feel good about myself when I’m there. I mean, I’m paid to be cute and sociable, and that’s not anything that was ever familiar to me when I was growing up. I was picked on for being a goober.” While Betty certainly does not aspire to stay in the profession, she has no immediate plans of leaving. She is satisfied with her wages and the environment she dances in. “It’s a job.” she reminds me, pointing out the complaints that I may similarly host towards my own employment, “But very rarely does a girl come in and work one night and feel they can’t do it again. Because they have fun, and they made some money. It is fun … it can be fun. But it can also be a pain in the ass. It’s a job. There are ups and downs to every job.” At the moment, she is content juggling her time between the Slipper and school and is still able to maintain a normative social life outside of it.