A License to Strip

How women are punished for providing a legal service

Maria Shimizu Christensen

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Photo by Eric Nopanen on Unsplash

A friend of mine was having their nails done recently and overheard a conversation. A young woman was talking about the difficulties in getting her business license. Another customer butted in at this point and asked her what kind of business she was opening. The young woman replied, “I’m a dancer.”

The nosy woman, who clearly knew what kind of dancer the young woman was, asked her, “What kind of dance?”

After a brief pause, the young woman answered, “I’m a stripper.”

“Oh, you need a license to do that?!”

After the nosy woman took her perfectly manicured, catty nails out of the salon, my friend engaged in a pleasant conversation with the young woman and learned more about her, and how much she enjoys what she does. This didn’t surprise them. My friend is a sex therapist and has likely heard it all — and I don’t mean from their clients.

The only part of this little story that surprised me was the existence of all the hoops that someone has to jump through to be a stripper, or any sort of adult entertainer, particularly in my progressive city. The more I looked into it, the more I realized that liberality is no measure of acceptance of sex workers, let alone adult entertainers, who may or may not also be sex workers. It just depends.

And that “just depends” mindset is how adult entertainers are licensed and regulated. It just depends on where they live, and how interested their communities are in regulating some version of morality. The morality is often measured by how invested people are in policing women’s bodies. And speaking of policing, in most places where licenses are required, the licensing location is a police department or sheriff’s office.

In King County, Washington, adult entertainers are required to obtain a business license. They must be fingerprinted at the Sheriff’s Office, include two photographs with their application, and the application must be notarized. The reason for a business license is that, not only in Washington state but just about everywhere else, strippers are independent contractors. This gives them a lot of freedom in choosing workplaces, hours, and more, but provides them with few protections…

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Maria Shimizu Christensen

Writer. Maker. Featured in Medium’s 2021 list of Stories That Started Conversations. I write about life. https://www.mariashimizuchristensen.com