No, “Hustlers” is Not Empowering for Women

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Hustlers, a “strip club drama,” is set to be released in theaters on September 13, 2019. The movie features several star actors, including Lili Reinhart, Constance Wu, Cardi B, Lizzo, Jennifer Lopez, and more.

Hustlers is a story about a Robin Hood-esque group of strippers who steal from rich men. Jennifer Lopez, the actress portraying the leader of this group in the movie, said: “It’s a nightmare thinking about being up there. I’m exposing myself, let’s say, in a way, emotionally and physically more than I’ve ever done in a movie . . . it just makes me nervous.”

It makes us nervous too. Here’s why: this movie minimizes and makes light of the trials that women face in strip clubs, completely ignoring the very real harms experienced by persons in the sex trade.

The Reality Of Strip Clubs

Meagan Tyler, expert in feminist theory and gender inequality, said: “If you allow some women to be bought and sold for men’s sexual arousal or entertainment, then you compromise the position of all women in a community.”

Strip clubs and other entertainment clubs are found to create “no-go zones” for women in cities. This means that just having strip clubs in an area creates an environment that women consider to be open to sexual propositions from strangers, being cat-called and harassed while being perceived as strippers or hookers. Women learn to avoid certain parts of the city–especially during the night. 

Strip clubs set up a social environment that “fosters male privilege and dominance . . . It’s not just “harmless fun” but a system that legitimizes the larger infrastructures of sexual exploitation and stereotypes oppressing women.”

As many as 85% of people in stripping are survivors of sexual violence, reporting experiences of repeated sexual violence or abuse in the work environment. Even more, their experiences in the clubs only lead us to understand that the community and culture outside are affected, and women everywhere are experiencing the negative impacts.

With workplace sexual violence and sexual harassment standards, how can we validate strip clubs as legitimate businesses who can provide support and protection to their employees? How can we acknowledge the harms of sex trafficking, sexual violence, and sexual abuse, while failing to acknowledge the hosts and perpetuators of such things? 

Hustlers is not empowering media for women. Because of its inaccurate portrayal of strip clubs, it makes light of gender inequality and sexual violence. We can’t continue to ignore the harms of these businesses. 

Moving forward, we must reframe our view of strip clubs and similarly-focused businesses. Normalizing strip clubs is harmful to women and to society at large.

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