Clearly society likes to objectify African American women while simultaneously shaming them for their sexuality. Basically, black women’s bodies only acceptable when other people are controlling them. Growing up surrounded by these messages causes a lot of confusion and anger—I can vouch for that. I live in a world that tells me how to act, but there doesn’t seem to be any kind of “acceptable” behavior. Every day I see women who look like me face consequences no matter how they act. From a young age, I learned that I was in a perpetual lose-lose situation.
I don’t understand it from a taste perspective, that’s something I have a really hard time grasping. But on a more practical level, who is going to be the person who’s not going to ask any questions? Or is unable to ask any questions because they don’t speak the language? So you start looking at it that way thinking, “Well why are they choosing young girls?” Well, they can control them better and they ask less questions so there’s less resistance. That’s the only reason from my perspective why they would choose young girls.
What if your workplace turned into a brothel? Would you adapt to it, fight it, or quit?
License to Pimp tells the story of three women who are grappling with that decision. Lola is a 16 year old who started stripping to support her family—because of her age her story has been animated to protect her identify. Daisy Anarchy has been in the business for over 2 decades and is taking the fight to court, and Miriko Passion wants to be able to keep all of the money she makes without having to do things she’s uncomfortable with. SPARK’s Crystal Ogar sat down with Hima B., the filmmaker and also a former stripper, about labor conditions in clubs, what led her to make this film, and how we can help.
Crystal Ogar: What’s the premise of the film and why is it important to you?
Hima B: It’s basically about the labor changes that have happened over the last two decades in the strip clubs, not only in San Francisco, but across the USA. Very specifically, the strip clubs (if there were any) that were paying workers as employees stopped that practice and started calling these workers independent contractors. What resulted is that the workers were made to think that they have all this independence and freedom, when in fact it’s really kind of a camouflage and not the actual case. There’s way more power in being an employee, which is why they want to strip it away from the dancers. Unfortunately a lot of the women bought into it, in the sense that they want freedom. Especially when you’re doing something like sexual labor, which is different from regular labor, you want to have more control over your body because it’s YOUR body that’s actually doing the work. The reality is that the way the women want their freedom is they want the ability to be able to schedule when they want to come in to work, which is one of the upsides. It could be given to the employees if they employer wanted to, they could run it like a temp agency and dancers could say “I wanna work through the next week or I don’t wanna work tomorrow,” and the clubs could schedule it that way, but they choose not to. What they’ve decided to do is say, “look, if I have to be your employer I’m going to totally screw you over and I’m going to own your lap dances/the tips that you earn.” Stage fees such as those are completely illegal.
My premise in the film is about these illegal policies and practices that effectively create the situation where the club is now operating as an underground brothel. They’re charging these super inflated fees, which are essentially pimp fees. $200-600 a shift for 8 hrs or less and you pool this money even before you walk in the door, so you have to be creative in terms of how to come up with this money, especially if you’re in competition with 30 other dancers. So a lot of these women turn to prostitution. There are private rooms (sometimes called VIP or champagne rooms) that provide a cover for the prostitution to happen.The film is not saying we hate prositutes, it’s saying that strip clubs are not the appropriate place for prostitution to be happening. A lot of strippers come into the industry expecting NOT to have sex. So it becomes a dilemma that a lot of women face and they realize that that’s what they need to do in order to keep their jobs.
CO: Was it difficult for you to film any of the scenes for the movie at all?
HB:Oh yeah, definitely. There were a lot of obstacle courses in my path. Like club owners, it was difficult trying to get interviews with them, but fortunately I was able to manage that with a few peopl—one was with Meta Jane Mitchell who runs the Mitchell Brothers, with her brother. She was awesome actually, really tried to be transparent about why she was running the club the way she was. We went over the new policy they were going to implement, because they lost a multi-million dollar class action lawsuit where they had to reimburse dancers all of these stage fees they charged. It wasn’t by choice, they were mandated and they lost millions of dollars.
I talked to some of the workers on the premises, but you know, it’s like any workers you talk to on the premises of their work site.
CO: Like, are going to say what they have to say in front of work?
HB: Exactly, no one wants to get fired from their jobs for giving an interview and going public about what’s happening,
I interviewed one of the dancers there who said that when Jim Mitchell was running the club, he would demand dancers to have more sex and keep the customers happy, full on pimping the girls. It stops being consensual. Some people might argue that women are making the choice by going back to work, but when you become dependent on a job it doesn’t feel like you have that many options. These women could leave, but the stage fees are happening in every club, you can’t escape that unless you completely exit the industry.
CO: Do you think this film with help with the stigma that’s involved around sex workers and sex work?
I think one of the things is creating more visibility about what the labor conditions are. People are going to stigmatize sex workers and that’s really unfortunate because it really deprives them of their rights. So hopefully what the film will do is show that this body of workers (strippers) are actually employees and they do deserve the same protections. If you are an employee and you are in this country, you’re guaranteed basic rights. Some of those are you get paid minimum wages, you don’t have to pay to work, and that if you’re in a job where there’s tips involved, that those are the employee’s NOT the employer’s. And that’s really important and I want to underscore that part of it. You have way more power as an employee rather than an independent contractor and the club owners have done a very effective job in covering that up and unfortunately a lot of the women go along with it.
HB: What can the people who see this film/are interested do to help?
Supporting the film of course! And hopefully the Kickstarter campaign is creating a lot more awareness. There need to be places in the sex industry where women can work and not have sex. And I think that that concept is really hard for a lot of people, even for sex workers to get. Many think that that’s anti-sex worker, but I think their statement that I HAVE to work in a place where sex is happening is actually anti-sex worker.
The Kickstarter campaign for License to Pimp ends on July 18th, and Hima is $20,000 away from her goal. Please share & support this campaign and help further this incredibly important conversation!
Check out educator, activist, and SPARK and Hardy Girls Healthy Women co-founder Lyn Mikel Brown’s TEDx Talk about how media co-opts and commodifies girls’ lives and experiences. This talk is amazing, and we are so proud and honored to be able to work with Lyn!
It’s Day One of the Keep It Real Challenge! Join us today on Twitter (and on Facebook if you don’t have a Twitter!) asking magazines to keep it real in the pages of their magazines.
What does it mean to Keep It Real? Here’s what we think:
- Representing TRUE authenticity and diversity. When we met with Seventeen, they claimed to be excelling at both of these things, but as this post from our partners at FAAN Mail shows, they’re actually not. (Surprised?) Showing a few brown girls isn’t diversity, it’s tokenism.
- Appreciating women & their actual bodies, not just digitized, CGI’d versions of them—total body reshaping, skin lightening, limb lengthening, etc. are unacceptable practices, and when magazines continue them, they’re sending the message that women’s bodies are literal objects to be reshaped and rebuilt at the whims of editors.
- DOING something about it! We know that these magazines are building unattainable, white-washed images of perfection that harm women and girls, but not engaging with the problem won’t fix it—it’ll just make things worse.
What does Keeping It Real mean to you? Tell us over the next three days: today on Twitter, tomorrow in your blogs, and Friday through pictures on Instagram, Flickr, or Facebook. Join us!
The Body Collage Project directly contrasts mediated images of beauty with real women. Students covered the walls in a room with idealized images from magazines, then posed for photos in front of the collage.
Congrats to 14 year old Adora Svitak, the winner of Women’s Media Center’s Girls State of the Union Contest!
Van Heeswijk highlighted the inquiry’s decision to censor some of the images in Object’s submission. “They were censored for adults within this inquiry, when in fact they are freely available in mainstream newspapers, which are not age-restricted,” she said. She also accused tabloids carrying photographs of semi-naked women of “creating a culture of fear which silences … anybody speaking out against the portrayal of women as sex objects”. She cited former MP Clare Short, who was branded a “fat” and “jealous” “killjoy” by the Sun when she spoke out against Page 3.
The reporting of violence against women too often focused on the actions of the victim, rather than the attacker, and perpetuated myths about what constituted a “real rape”, said Heather Harvey of Eaves. Women often blamed themselves if they had been drinking, or wearing certain clothes, or if they knew their attacker, she added. “What they have read in the papers [is] in some way responsible for that.”
Men were also too often portrayed as “monsters”, she said. “[T]hese cases get treated as a one-off […] there’s nothing you could do to prevent it. Whereas the position we’re coming from, [is] it’s not inevitable, it’s a cause and a consequence of inequality.”