“I could cast a spell over the whole club when I got up onstage. But it was all fake.”

With my hair curled, my showgirl face on and sparkly jewellery, I could cast a spell over the whole club when I got up onstage.

People watched, applauded and complimented me.

But it was all fake.

I’d walk past men from The Club out on the street, with my hair in a ponytail and my make-up wiped off, and the same guy who only days, or sometimes mere hours before had been showering me with compliments and begging me to go out with him, barely deemed me worthy of a second glance. Lots of guys wanted to fuck Suzie Q. But very few wanted to get to know and date Emma. It made me shut Emma away even more. She needed to be protected from these men. They equated what they saw onstage with who I was as a person. They equated Suzie Q with Emma.

You can’t reduce me, as a person, and my sexuality, to what you’re seeing onstage. What you’re seeing onstage isn’t real. What is real is me, in my pyjamas, with a stuffed animal in one hand and cup of tea in the other. What’s real is a seventeen-year-old girl, crying real tears of frustration as an entire room of her peers turns against her and genuinely believes that feminism destroyed the ‘happy family’.

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For me, feminism is the freedom for a woman to do whatever it is she wants to do –whether that’s be a high-flying CEO, or raise three kids. Or do porn. Or be a sex worker.

Or all of the above.

And to do it without other people criticising her. Men can do any, or all, of these things without anybody raising an eyebrow. We don’t have to refer to this as ‘Meninism’.

I say, people; what has been most hurtful is when I cop criticism from women. Women who are trying to be ‘taken seriously’ in a patriarchal society see strippers as ‘making it worse by replicating and perpetuating every stereotype we are trying to break down’ (This is paraphrased from the editor of a magazine who once interviewed me for an article). This was a woman who, by her own admission, had never set foot in a strip club. And therein lies the problem. Most of the arguments and criticisms I’ve come up against are from people who have no first- hand experience of the industry they are denigrating.

They get their ideas and arguments from the media or from movies (neither of which tend to put forward a positive image of female strippers). Imagine if the movie Magic Mike had been about female strippers? Girls taking drugs, having sex with strangers and taking their clothes off for money – would it have garnered such a cult following?

Yes, there is a strong power imbalance between men and women in society. But that is why I liked being a stripper. I had the power. I could stand naked, strong and beautiful, in my own sexuality and be admired for it – not only that, I could charge for it. This is not what most women experience. For many, if not most of us, overt sexual behavior is seen as an invitation to violence, particularly sexual violence. Because strippers give the illusion of being available and sexual, we are blamed for perpetuating this stereotype and power imbalance.

However, there are very strict conditions around our availability and our sexuality. Yes, it is on display and it is available at certain times. Provided that certain safety conditions have been met. Also, there’s a fee.

I’m going to be objectifed and whistled at on the street, anyway. I may as well have some control over it, and get paid for it.

This is an extract from The Stripper Next Door, by Emma Lea Corbett (New Holland Publishers).

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