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Unequal Desires

Race and Erotic Capital in the Stripping Industry

Siobhan Brooks

Publication Year: 2010

Investigates race and racism in the U.S. exotic dance industry. Winner of the 2008 SUNY Press Dissertation/First Book Prize in Queer Studies, this groundbreaking ethnographic study of racial stratification in queer and straight strip clubs examines the lives and working conditions of Black and Latina dancers in strip clubs in New York City and Oakland, California. Though interviews with dancers, customers, managers, boucers, and other strip club employees, Siobhan Brooks explores the connections between race, desire, and commodification in what she terms “desire industries.” The study finds that even in times of economic gains for a minority of Black and Latino/a middle-class populations, sexual stereotypes and racial hypersexualization continue to affect many women of color who work in the sex industry, leading to more exposure to violence, wage gaps, and less access to more lucrative shifts and performance venues. Through her insightful and illuminating analysis, Brooks makes the case that racialized erotic capital is central to what owners think will sell, what customers will buy, how dancers negotiate those desire landscapes, and the male and female consumption of desire.

Published by: State University of New York Press

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pp. ix

I thank my interviewees, whose insights and sharing of experiences made this book possible. I am very grateful for the feminist scholars of color whose work has guided me over the years, especially within the fields of queer studies, ethnic studies, and sociology. I received institutional support from the Department of Feminists Studies at University of California at ...

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pp. 1-9

On August 30, 1997, dancers at the Lusty Lady Theater in San Francisco made history by unionizing with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 790; the Lusty Lady became the only strip club in the United States to successfully unionize (see Brooks, 1999). I was one of those dancers. When I was 22 years old I worked as an exotic dancer at the club while...

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1. A History of Desire Industries in New York City: Burlesque, the Public Sphere, and the Construction of Morality

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pp. 11-19

In order to discuss the current status of stripping and exotic dance clubs in New York, it is important to understand the history of stripping in New York, as it evolved from burlesque, and larger theater movements, ranging from associations with high- and lower-class entertainment, gentlemen’s clubs of the 1950s, to racial- and class-based associations with poverty, and...

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2. Marketing Desire and Geographic Coding in the Bronx

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pp. 21-35

Temptations is located in the South Bronx even though the address was on Park Avenue—might lead potential customers to think it is in Manhattan. Once when I called the club asking for directions and whether the club was in the Bronx, I was told by a woman whom I assumed was Latina by her accent, that it was on Park Avenue. When I wanted more specific...

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3. Race, Exchange, and Cultural Capital

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pp. 37-48

Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus and fields are useful in understanding the various exchanges that occur among dancers and customers regarding space and desire and how erotic capital is used in these spaces of exchange. Jenkins (2002), describes Bourdieu’s definition of a field as “a social arena in which people manoeuvre and struggle in pursuit of desirable...

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4. Same-Sex Desire: Race, Class, and Gender Performance

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pp. 49-69

A 40-year-old Black, butch-identified lesbian in Oakland named Silky, started Girlielicious in 2003. Silky started her own production company, Butchlicious Entertainment in 1999, while working in the collections department of a social security office in the city of Richmond. Girlielicious functions as a talent show with Black women strippers performing erotic acts. Silky got...

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5. Reproducing Cyber Desire: The Role of Technology and Desire Industries

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pp. 71-85

Another way erotic capital is marketed within desire industries is through club Web sites that advertise upcoming dancers, display images of club settings, and show pictures of women, who really may not work there, to represent the types of dancers employed at the club. Race is a central aspect in this advertising of erotic capital because it is a signifier of dancer attractiveness,,,

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6. Labor Stratification in Desire Industries: Colorism, Citizenship, and Erotic Capital

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pp. 87-98

Dancers at both Temptations and Conquest are stratified along the basis of skin color, language accent, and body type. Dancers with lighter skin tones generate the highest erotic capital from customers.

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7. Conclusion: Race Versus Taste Symbolic Racism in the Post-Civil Rights Era

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pp. 99-102

On March 7, 2007 I appeared on National Public Radio’s (NPR) News and Notes on the Sex and Sexuality series hosted by Farai Chideya. I was asked to discuss my attempts to get more Black women hired at the Lusty Lady, as well as my research on the racial stratification of Black and Latina women in the exotic dance industry. I talked about the ways Black and Latina women...


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pp. 103-105


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pp. 107-114


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pp. 115-119


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pp. 121-125

E-ISBN-13: 9781438432168
E-ISBN-10: 143843216X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438432151
Print-ISBN-10: 1438432151

Page Count: 135
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1

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Subject Headings

  • Race discrimination.
  • Sex-oriented businesses -- History.
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