There are two phases unique to the college experience: one, accepting party invitations from randos on the only_49ers Snapchat story; two, feeling so frustrated with one’s grades, coursework, and student debt that less conventional career options feel more acceptable. By that I mean: at one point or another, everybody has slammed a book shut, slid down in their chair, and thought: “Screw this, I’m gonna become a stripper.” And who could blame them? Thanks to party boys flexing on Instagram to wild stories of 2 Chainz & Drake dropping $2 million at one Atlanta club, stripping is widely seen as an easy way to make fast cash. We tend to make the assumption that all that cash manages to make it from the dancers’ G-strings to their bank accounts. And that is a dangerous assumption to make, because not only is it untrue, it jeopardizes the safety and livelihood of arguably the most vulnerable class of wage earners: strippers and sex workers. Recently, five strippers filed a lawsuit against Cameo Nightclub for flouting labor rights laws by failing to pay salaries and overtime. The dancers allege that they are treated like employees—the club owner, Damon Woodlums, and “house mom” (identified only as “Sirinity”) determine who gets to dance, when they get to dance, where they get to dance (in VIP or in regular sections), and how they get to dance. Cameo has restrictions on what the dancers can wear and how they’re allowed to do their makeup. Dancers are required to pay a house fee and various, sometimes hefty fines for otherwise insignificant mistakes (such as missing a stage cue). Though the DJs and staff receive their own salaries, strippers are required to pool their money and split the tips with them. There’s nothing wrong with being treated like employees. The problem is that here in North Carolina, strippers are not legally defined as employees. They’re labeled as “independent contractors.” Essentially, independent contractors are self-employed workers. They’re typically hired as outside help for a short period of time, and by and large control their own employment circumstances, including when and how work is completed. It’s an industry norm to label strippers as independent contractors; in fact, because so many dancers enjoy the creative ownership and empowerment the term lends, it is favored. “If given the choice,” says Angelina Spencer, spokeswoman for ACE National and former stripper, “most dancers prefer the independent contractor model.”

But when an industry is forcing its “independent contractors” to obey the rules and do the work of an employee—without the salary of an employee—then something is amiss. There’s a couple of things we can do to fix this. For one, it’s about time we start respecting strippers and other sex workers for selecting and mastering an incredibly difficult line of work. Despite sex work being the oldest profession in history, those who work in that field have been ridiculed, ostracized, and brutalized for centuries. So enough with the dead hooker jokes, and educate yourself on the challenges sex workers face on a day-to-day basis. Cardi B didn’t fight her way out of the Bronx just so you could hate on women stronger and cooler than you. Two: if you’re upset because you think that strippers aren’t “empowered,” then maybe you should try and empower them. I don’t mean “rescue” them from the industry, because believe it or not, most folks choose this line of work, and their choice must be respected. But if you see a lady in seven inch platforms at the next women’s march, maybe pass her the mic. Let sex workers lead the way to their own liberation; support them in whatever way you can. Three: if you’ve read this whole article and are still chortling about the fact that it’s about strippers, this is for you: PAY HER. Next time you and “the boys” roll up to a gentlemen’s club, keep in mind that you’re not only paying the dancer, but also her boss, the bartenders, the DJs, and the house mom backstage. Don’t be that guy with a fifty in his pocket. Who knows, you might meet the next Amber Rose?

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