The term “feminist peep show” may sound like an oxymoron, but the Lusty Lady of San Francisco is one such joint. The club gained national attention in 1996 when its dancers, fed up with unfair pay cuts, random firings, and policy shifts, mobilized to form a union. The management obviously was not happy with this development, and tried to stop union elections. But in the spring of 1997, the employees successfully voted to unionize. They formed the Exotic Dancers Union, which remains to this day the only union of its kind–and is still active to this day. There was even a documentary, Live Nude Girls Unite, about the process.
Things went well for The Lusty Lady until February 2003, when business began declining. The owners announced their intention to shut down the club, but the employees had other ideas. After arduous fund-raising, they actually bought the club from its corporate owners and have been running it as an employee-owned collective ever since.
Unfortunately, being progressive isn’t something that’s often rewarded financially–in recent years, they’ve dealt with quite a few money issues, and are now looking for an angel investor in order to keep the club open. While local businesses like Good Vibrations help them out, money is hard to come by. San Francisco Chronicle blogger C.W. Nevius dismissed the need for The Lusty Lady, writing, “I can’t say there is a compelling reason to keep it open. Dress up the concept if you will, but it is still nude women cavorting for money.” He continues to diss exotic dancers, “That still makes me cringe, especially when I saw how bright they are.”
I think this attitude toward exotic dancing–and sex workers in general–is troubling (not to mention, condescending as hell). If these ladies are so fabulously bright, then I think they’re well-equipped enough to understand what they want to do. And if what they want to do is dance for a unionized peep-show joint, then why not?
The Lusty Lady is more than a place for naked chicks to earn a quick buck. It’s one of the few truly feminist workplaces that actually takes care of its employees, and seeks to enforce sex-positivity in a highly stigmatized industry. Keep on keeping on, lovely Lusty Ladies!
(Image via IWW.org)