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What the #NYCStripperStrike Is All About and Why It Matters

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Ever since late last month, New York City's exotic dancers have gone on strike in protest of the racist and classist discrimination they receive in contrast to their club's bartenders.

Gizelle Marie — the woman spearheading the protest — claims that strip club culture has reached a point that is neither acceptable nor fair. “The codes of conduct in the New York City [clubs] has been breached,” she wrote on Instagram. “What the dancers are fighting for [is] their respect and the strip club culture in NYC.”

The racism factor has innately created an environment pitting the bartenders against the strippers. Chase Kelly — an industry veteran behind the support network Survive The Club — recently shared her solidarity with #NYCStripperStrike publicly, adding her voice as a white woman to the conversation. "In my 16 years in this industry I have seen countless acts of racism and aggression towards women of color," she wrote. "The darker a woman's skin is the more extreme the mistreatment, not just by customers but by management with many clubs having an unspoken 'limit' for how many WOC they are willing to hire."

"Women of color deserve fair treatment in the workplace and an opportunity to make the same money as any other woman in our industry," she continued via social media. "Stripping comes with an extreme stigma, and the economic come-up I've witnessed so many women experience has been worth that stigma for many of us. To have that threatened by any other club employee who doesn't pay the same house fees or the burden of that stigma is more than unfair, it's unfathomable. If you want to strip, pay your dues. No bartenders stealing stripper money. Get. In. Your. Lane."

The "dues" Kelly is referring to are those that must be paid by strippers, but not bartenders, which is a major factor in the protest. As bartenders — primarily white or of mixed race — have begun to dress more reminiscent of strippers' attire, they're also reportedly partaking in minimal dancing on the floor and taking the spotlight away from the on-stage workers. While strippers must endure the weight of the stigma and the classism that comes along with their job title, bartenders have been criticized for receiving the bulk of the money often reserved for the dancers, all the while not having to pay out any of their earnings to "tip the house" or compensate the DJs as strippers do.

"For sex workers or strippers and people who work in different sexuality-related industries, there aren’t necessarily unions or protections in place to sue or [set ground rules to retrieve] finances due," Marcus Borton, a sex educator, and recreational pole dancer told Levo. "I’m aware that there’s a lot of different rules that strippers have to follow that are put in place, [which are] more-so about protecting the bar."

"I think because sex work isn’t seen as work, it’s not deemed as labor and that helps people to further erase and criminalize it," Borton continued. "Because we devalue woman’s work, black woman’s work, dark skin black woman’s work—and we don’t live in a world where we say 'dark skin black women deserve to make as much, if not more, than a white man,' all of these things add up together intricately to create these moments where we’re able to [negate and ignore] these bodies and these people."

Gizelle Marie has not only been focusing on this issue with her tens of thousands of social media followers but has also been busy amplifying the voices of other strippers and allies via the Instagram page @NYCStripperStrike. Designed as a safe space for solidarity, the feed includes accounts and stories from strippers nationwide commenting on New York City's issue as well as their own experiences in the city or elsewhere. The echoed sentiments are not only telling but alarming.

"I've never experienced such downright colorism in my life in the industry here in New York," wrote one out-of-towner who came to work in the city for a 3-day weekend. "Every club I've gone [to] has not let me and my dance partner in due to us being darker complexion girls... I've never found it so hard to dance anywhere."

The racism and classism that extends its hands in our world through Hollywood down to strip clubs in New York City are all made of the same beasts of controlled discrimination and silenced inequality. Paying attention and demanding the rights to equality in this predominantly female industry is just as important as demanding the same in other industries. We're all human beings who are owed an equal level of respect and opportunities, free from discrimination, no matter the workplace.

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(Image: Nina Marsiglio / EyeEm/Getty)

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