In the last couple of weeks, a group of strippers in New York City have started the NYC Stripper Strike, a movement in clubs and on social media to protest their treatment by their employers. The conflict arose from their shared concerns about the increasingly blurred lines between bartenders and dancers, as the bartenders are often models hired for their large Instagram followings and are dressed the same as dancers. But these bartenders do not have to pay the same house fees (at minimum $50 a night) as the strippers, and are taking away earnings that would have traditionally gone to strippers. The strippers note that the bartenders are almost always white or lighter-skinned, while strippers tend to be black women.
In an interview with The Washington Post, a N.Y.C.-based stripper known as Panama described an incident when a bartender grabbed the money off the stage where Panama had been performing and kept it for herself. The rise in so-called "startenders" started about five years ago in Brooklyn and Queens, and Panama said there has been a “drastic difference" in dancers’ wages since. The decrease is partly due to patrons tipping bartenders instead, but also because bartenders are blatantly taking money intended for the dancers.
"No dancer in New York City is making $1,000 a night anymore,” Panama said. Instead, she now makes about $400 a night. Many dancers are traveling interstate to boost their income. “The dancers used to be the most respected in the club, and now it’s like the dancers are at the bottom of the barrel. And the dark-skinned dancers are all the way at the bottom of the barrel,” explained Panama.
Gizelle Marie, another stripper and one of the strike organizers, is hoping by joining together the women can gain some power back from the bartenders and club-owners. “The [New York City] bartenders tell the customers not to tip us. They block us from the customers while we dance or they are sweeping our money off the stage while we dance,” she told The Washington Post. “The club promoters and owners encourage the behavior.”
During a radio interview Cardi B commented on the increasing power of bartenders, “People want to follow the trend. Even if it’s a badass stripper, like the baddest of the baddest, people still want to throw money at the bartender because it’s just, like, the trend.”
According to Complex, dark-skinned women generally cannot get hired as bartenders, and Panama reports incidents of dark-skinned women not being allowed to work in the higher-earning VIP areas and being told not to bother showing up to work on specific nights. The NYC Stripper Strike is demanding an end to preferential treatment of bartenders, as well as the insidous racism that permeates the industry. So far, it is not clear how much of an effect the movement is having on clubs. But, like any labor dispute, these women hope that by standing together, they can resolve their complaints and gain respect in their workplace.
Header image via Rick Hall, Wikimedia Creative Commons, other images via Instagram
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Molly McLaughlin is a travel and culture writer currently based in Mexico City. Her work has appeared in publications including Lonely Planet, Refinery29 and Ms. Magazine. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @mollysgmcl.