Strippers discuss privilege, representation during NU Sex Week panel

Claire Hansen, Reporter

Electra Rayne is fighting back against the attitude that “strippers aren’t people.”

In a panel discussion sponsored by Northwestern Sex Week in Annenberg Hall on Thursday, Rayne, a Northwestern student and stripper, said stripping is a job like any other and denounced the taboo that accompanies sex work.

The talk, which also featured author, illustrator, comedian and stripper Jacqueline Frances –– also known as Jacq the Stripper –– was largely driven by audience questions and touched on topics such as diversity, privilege, boundaries and business regulations. About 25 people attended the event.

Rayne, co-director for NU Sex Week, said she hoped talking about her experiences would break down perceptions surrounding stripping.

“Strippers are people, and (other) people totally forget that,” Rayne told The Daily. “To be able to stand up here and be like, ‘Hey guys, I’m a Northwestern student. I had a philosophy lecture earlier today, I do physics classes and Tech is so confusing I get lost all the time, and oh yeah, three nights a week I go to the strip club and get naked,’ I think it really surprises people that it’s not that big a deal.”

Weinberg senior Wan Kwok, co-director for NU Sex Week, said the week’s programming aims to educate people about sometimes-stigmatized topics regarding sex.

Kwok said discussing subjects that are sometimes at the “margins of society” can be an important vehicle in examining one’s own perceptions. Kwok said NU Sex Week events like Frances and Rayne’s talk, as well as an earlier event on genital piercing, help accomplish that.

“These are all things that people are like, ‘Oh no, normal people don’t do that,’ and I’m like, why would you think that? Why not?” Kwok said. “I hope that events like this bring to Northwestern that sort of open mind and interest.”

During the talk, Rayne and Frances also discussed how privilege operates within the stripping industry.

Frances said she is aware her whiteness has helped her make more money than co-workers of different races in certain situations. She also said her whiteness and middle-class background made it easier to “come out” as a sex worker.

In addition, Rayne and Frances talked about the importance of accurate representation of sex work in the media, and the consequences of not having narratives created by those working in the industry.

Frances, who is the author of two books, said she started writing after noticing discrepancies between cultural narratives and her own experience as a stripper.

“The more I danced and the more women I met, it just didn’t really match the narrative I was given as a child about sex work,” Frances said. “I didn’t really feel that my experience was being represented at all, and that’s why I started writing.”

Kimani Isaac, a Communication freshman who attended the talk, said she came to the event because she wanted to hear stories from those who are in the industry.

“I kind of just wanted to come to something that I knew was important,” Issac said. “I have healthy respect for people that choose to do sex work, and I want to hear more of those stories.”

Rayne said accurate representation from within the industry as well as greater openness about sex work are important steps in breaking down the stigma against sex workers.

Despite her frustration with the sentiment that strippers “aren’t people,” Rayne said she wouldn’t want to do anything else.

“Strippers are people and stripping is a job just like any other; it has its up and its downs,” Rayne said. “It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me and the best decision that I’ve ever made.”

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