Can you be a feminist and a sex worker? The longstanding belief that strip clubs are sexist and increase the gender imbalance is something that this stripper collective would like to dispute.
Written by: Amanda Sandstrom Beijer
They work in one of Berlins biggest strip clubs and got inspired by ’the Lusty Lady’ which was a cooperative strip club owned and managed by the dancers themselves during the 70’s in San Francisco. Meet Berlin Strippers Collective.
Outside the building there are screens showing pictures of the strippers working inside. The entrance is tiny, and I don’t expect the place to be as big as it is when I enter. I walk past a smaller stage with a pole and the bar until I come to several private boots and the main stage. Some of the girls are sitting by the main stage, as the place hasn’t opened yet. There’s no smell of smoke, even though some of them are relaxing with their phones, having a cigarette and waiting for the night to start.
”We’re about 60 strippers working here, all in all and most of us work during the weekends which can be a bit challenging, but thankfully most dancers are really nice and we still manage to have a good atmosphere among us compared to many clubs where things can get really tense among the dancers, specially when there isn’t enough customers for everyone”, Karo says after greeting me by the bar. We walk past the it to find a more secluded part just behind the booths as Anna joins us by the round table.
”When I told my mom what I do, we had a disagreement since she’s a second-wave feminist, so her way of thinking is that strippers are victims and we had this huge discussion where I mean that stripping is not giving up the autonomy of our bodies, and that it’s my decision if I want to do this kind of job”, Anna says.
Feminism and sex-work are subjects that may be especially trending at this time since the new feminist era and the second-wave’ feminism are clashing.
”I guess I subscribe to the newer way of feminism, the ’sex positive feminism’ I guess they call it nowadays, which from my understanding is more about empowering females’ sexuality and including that into the disillusive feminism. My understanding is that the second-wave feminism is about keeping back females’ sexuality and that if we please men’s sexual desires we are somehow upholding the patriarchal order. There is no room for exploring and strengthening women’s or other gender’s diverse sexualities in that mode of feminist thinking. But I think that’s changing. That’s why a steadily increasing number of younger women are able to combine a feminist identity with being a sex-worker”, Karo says.
Karo’s has been working at three other clubs in Berlin before and says that she could never have imagined starting a collective with the strippers she used to work with over there.
”For them this was a job, and they had accepted the way things were no matter how shitty things were it was. It’s a feminist vibe at this club. Here some people are identifying as queer or non-binary, challenging gender roles and norms and they’re very politically conscious. I think that’s the kind of attitude you need in order to start this kind of collective”, she says.
”I’ve worked at a few clubs in Australia and there you stick to yourself. You may have one or two friends, but here I’ve got like 20 fucking awesome friends at once who are really interesting and powerful”, Anna says.
The club has obviously attracted a diverse and political group of women, something that made the collective possible, and also something I could understand would attract more clients since the energy around their job makes a difference at the club.
”This place really is special for the camaraderie among dancers which is actually quite rare at most clubs, I think Berlin also attracts a certain type of people, most of the dancers here are very creative and free spirited”, Karo says and continues;
”Most of us think of ourselves as feminists and due to unpleasant situations we had to endure during our dancing careers, we had the need to create these collectives in order to provide a network support. A sisterhood that understands your struggles and also the need to show our side of the story. We are all incredibly creative and we know the future of the erotic industry is more inclusive, open and certainly feminist. We understand very well how it feels to have to hide what you do, to be judged or to have to overlook certain situations because you need the job.
This power imbalance is something most managers and owners understand very well, therefore immediate sacking as well as unfair work practices aren’t unusual in this industry”.
”In general, this is pretty rare and magical. Since women normally compete against each other in a patriarchy, and if you are divided you can’t conquer, right. We’re all from different places and we all have a need of sharing, since we’re in this together”, Anna says
” What’s unique about this club is that we’re really close” Karo says and continues;
“We also get to pick our own music here, which is great because many of us really enjoy performing and the music is really important for being able to express ourselves. We undress to express.”
” That’s why I stayed here for over 7 months.”
”Yes well, you’re not a baby stripper anymore.”
The political consciousness and engagement that pervades Berlin, while also being a city filled with young expats, may be reasons that this collective came to exist here. But in the end, there’s other stuff that makes this city a good place for strippers.