A Stripper’s Manifesto


Respect. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Written on the chalkboards of kindergarten classrooms, in gymnasiums and in doctor’s offices. From a young age, we are told that the respect we give is the respect we get. As a young adult lady today, I have not found this to be true.

A few weeks ago, a small woman in Proctor Dining Hall, at Middlebury College, dropped her yogurt bowl all over the counter. A group of male students socializing and hopping around the salad bar, fixing sandwiches, hogging the panini presses, throwing bananas at each other, kept it moving.

No one offered help.

She cleaned it herself, even after I offered to assist, despite the many things she had juggling in her arms. This is such a small example, but it really made me stop and think. I ran through all the times that I have seen dining hall staff rush to pick up a boy’s mess… and why? Because we probably assume that they can’t, or won’t try to clean it up anyway. Maybe it’s because people assume that women are naturally more independent than men, maybe it’s because we are the “domestic” gender that should know how to do that kind of s**t and enjoy doing it, maybe it’s also that women by nature don’t command respect or attention in the way that men do.

Women don’t take up space in the same ways, we don’t receive the same acknowledgements and we certainly do not expect to.

I asked a few friends, all of whom identify as female, when the last time they felt like the most respected person in the room was. These were their answers:

1. “I genuinely don’t know… I mean, when I’m in the room alone? Haha. Maybe it’s my youth, honestly. Maybe I haven’t gotten to that place yet.”

2. “At a volleyball practice when Coach called me out to model a move or something, I guess I felt like the most important person on the court. Then again, that was in an all female setting… I was also team captain…”

3. “Maybe when I graduated and had my party. Everyone was there in a supportive nature. People were getting to know each other better, getting drunk, not dressed too fancy, and it felt really awesome that I was that common theme.”

4. “No good response relating to work… People have appreciated the work I have done — “Good find,” or “good job.” But I think women working, even women who are my ultimate superiors, I can see how their male counterparts are treated in comparison to them.”

5. “My brother’s funeral maybe. Also, possibly when I was a camp counselor. Definitely not class, or a job.”

Interesting… Either we’ve sought it out, or we’ve put ourselves in situations where we might earn it, but it is not usually innate with the title or position we carry, unlike men.

I read an interview recently with female rapper Cardi B in Cosmopolitan Magazine. She spoke a little about her past life as an exotic dancer, and the rejection she received from both her family and society as a whole. She comments on why she is always bringing up her stripping past: “Because ya’ll don’t respect me because of it, and ya’ll going to respect these strippers from now on.” In that same interview, she touches on the infidelity of her relationship. She is expected to explain it, but decides instead to tell people to mind their own business. It is not unusual that women are in the spotlight explaining male behavior… I’m pretty sure Chris Brown did not have to cry on camera after he beat Rihanna, but she certainly did.

When we introduce the ‘rents to a significant other, we expect a handshake with dad, but mom will get a hug. A hug is more intimate, which isn’t an inherently negative thing, or less respectful per se, but it does already establish a power dynamic. Mom has to be a hug, and dad gets the business handshake. A man gets to choose when he wants to become the tender dad and accept that hug, but initially he still does get that handshake. Mom usually doesn’t get to choose.

Women who raise kids in the home. We respect the dads who bring home the bacon, and make it possible for mommy to do the grocery shopping. How about a stay-at-home dad? They’re atypical and god-sent.

The list can go on and on… We know all about this. Double standards all around, the patriarchy shaping our experiences as women, making life unfair, blah blah blah. So, what am I trying to say? To be aware of the respect you get versus the respect you deserve. There is a level of respect that women do not think they deserve. When we grow up thinking we are going to get less respect, at a certain point, we internalize it. As a result, without even realizing, people continually disrespect us in everyday situations because of who we are.

By respect I don’t mean all eyes on you — I mean your person. Are you going to be looked at, spoken to, approached or listened to with the same respect as the cis-het male 10 feet away? I’m not quite sure how to define respect, or if I should have to in order to prove a point.

Ways disrespect appears every single day:

1. “Thanks, hun.” You call your friends hun, hun? Boys, take notes: pet names are a fantastic way to show how much you could give less of a s**t about what her name might be.

2. Silence in the face of disrespect is a form of disrespect. “Would you hit that?” “Rate her ass/face/titties!” The excuse is always, “That’s just how guys talk to each other.” I get that there’s a general culture of silence that makes it hard to openly speak on emotions or point out when another guy is doing something wrong, but I also really don’t get it at all.

3. Listening. The way men listen to each other at a lunch table versus listen to their female counterparts is absolutely fascinating. I challenge you to count the number of times a woman gets interrupted.

Respect is behavior. It’s also often cultural. It is a direct reflection of what our society values and thinks is important, and time and time again, it doesn’t feel like equality is up there on that list. Teachers, nurses, receptionists — does the way they’re treated accurately reflect societal value? Hell no.

But if those were notoriously male positions (which they are not), would that change the respect those people get? Men, by virtue of achieving a high-ranking position in a major field, gain respect — lawyers, doctors, etc. For women to receive the same level of respect, they need to go above and beyond. They need to not only be top of their field, but earn a Nobel Peace Prize, move mountains, be able to shotgun a beer in under eight seconds, run a four-minute mile, all while maintaining approval from the male gaze.

The way we talk to a doctor versus a babysitter — are they different? Of course, one has a medical degree and the other is probably a teenager trying to make some money and do APUSH homework while looking after a hyper six-year-old. However, in every stage, the man will probably earn more respect, or acknowledgement, than the woman — a male doctor versus a female doctor, and a male babysitter versus a female babysitter.

Men get to choose when they want to go into a female-dominant field, and when they do they are welcomed and applauded, and are almost treated in a special way. “It’s amazing he’d want to spend so much time with the kids!” versus “Oh her name is Hannah, she seems sweet.” A female babysitter is expected, but a male babysitter is “impressive.”

For women to go into a traditionally male-dominant field (like medicine), they aren’t met with that special treatment; they are met with skepticism. Overall, men get to choose how they navigate the world, and are blindly applauded and praised. I suppose I’ve become increasingly interested as a young woman who will soon be entering the workforce. How long will it take before I feel like the most respected I could (especially as a woman of color), or as respected as the white male who will likely take on the same job as me or be my boss? What the f**k do we have to do?

Two summers ago, I interned at a cable network. I was one of two consumer marketing interns alongside a very tall, elegant, African-American guy named Chad. He was more experienced than I was in the field, but we tackled our projects and got along just fine. He was rather quiet, and very mannerly. We had the exact same position, yet I was the one tasked with menial things like picking up food from the lobby for a meeting, or making copies. My internship was shorter than the other interns that summer with my study abroad semester starting before most. In handing off my work to the woman who oversaw me, I told her that she should not feel hesitant to give those same menial tasks to Chad. “He’s a good guy, and I’m sure he’s happy to do it.” “You sure he’s okay doing that?” she asked. The hell do you mean is he okay doing that? Maybe those tasks were beneath him. Maybe I was just seen as the more reliable one. No matter how you slice it, I had more (what many would call) b***h work.

I feel like I have the respect of my peers, people who I’ve decided are worth hanging out with, or those who I actively surround myself with. But inherent respect? I’m not so sure. It’s what intrigues me most. How many times have I had to point out that I am in college to be spoken to a certain way? Too many. How often do we females feel like we have to be in charge to command respect? Too often. It is so hard to pinpoint or quantify respect, to point out what is “respect” and what isn’t. However, it’s beyond easy to tell where there’s a gap between the inherent respect owed to men versus the respect owed to women.

Belcalis Almanzar — exotic dancer turned female rapper “Cardi B,” topping all the charts — needed to trade in a Honda Civic for a Rolls Royce before being taken seriously, and those who looked down on her have been the butt of the joke all along. Maybe, just maybe, she is finally getting the respect she deserved all along. Then again, she was still a stripper. Go figure.

Be more aware of how you approach opposite genders in the same positions or settings. If he is taking phone calls and orders at a front desk just like her, or sliding up and down a pole just like her, then equal respect shall follow.

Respect these receptionists. Respect these strippers.

Author’s Note: I would like to thank Hector Vila’s course Writing On Contemporary Issues for giving me a platform for these kinds of