Baring Inequality: Revisiting the Legalization Debate Through the Lens of Strippers’ Rights

Alemzadeh, Sheerine, Baring Inequality: Revisiting the Legalization Debate Through the Lens of Strippers’ Rights(February 8, 2013). Michigan Journal of Gender & Law, Vol. 19, p. 339, 2013. Available at SSRN:

This paper uses the strip club as a fresh site from which to examine the feminist legal debate over the legalization of prostitution. In tracking doctrinal and social trends ofstrip clubs as a long legalized commercial sex industry, I will interrogate the argument that legalization of prostitution will lead to greater regulation, and in turn, increased protection for people in the commercial sex trade.

This paper will demonstrate that in the context of stripping, legalization has failed to yield the type of advances for strippers envisioned by the regulation hypothesis. Because courts and employers treat work in the commercial sex industry as unworthy of protection, labor laws largely exclude stripping from those legal definitions of “employment” providing for labor organizing and wage, hour and anti-discrimination protections. Moreover, local governments deploy regulatory law to eliminate or significantly constrict the presence of strip clubs in their communities. These legal measures, such as zoning ordinances and nudity bans, have only tightened the labor market for strippers, thereby increasing strippers’ vulnerability to employer abuses.

In using strip clubs as a case study, this article cautions advocates for the legalization of prostitution in the feminist legal community against presupposing that legalization ofprostitution will produce regulations that improve working conditions for those involved in the commercial sex trade. Rather, such regulations would have to be preceded by a radical shift in social understandings about the worth of women and the contingencies that lead women to work in the commercial sex industry.


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