by Jarrah Hodge
Imagine you have a totally legal job as – say – a waiter/waitress or maybe a taxi driver. You’re expected to make tips and you look forward to that. You actually usually do pretty well. So one day, your boss at the restaurant or taxi company says he’s noticed you’re doing so well that you will have to pay him an amount – say $75 – out of your tips by the end of each shift. If you don’t, you’re going to get suspended or fired. That would be unfair and illegal under employment standards laws.
Yet that is exactly what happens to many strippers working legally in American strip clubs, except they aren’t even offered any sort of guaranteed minimum wage. They have to pay these “stage fees” to go to work. That’s why Hima B, herself a former stripper out of San Francisco, set out to make License to Pimp. License to Pimp will be a feature documentary about the choices that three San Francisco strippers make as their employers engage in illegal labor practices.
The film chronicles the choices of three strippers who adapt to, fight, or quit the industry:
Lola – a Latina immigrant who struggles to remain a lap-dancer while working alongside co-workers who prostitute in order to pay management their stage fees.
Daisy – a whistle-blower who lobbies city and state agencies and demands they enforce labor laws to protect strippers’ working rights.
Mariko – quits working in the strip clubs & works as an out-call stripper for an escort agency only to discover that they engage in similar labor practices.
Some other super sketchy labour practices Hima found some clubs engage in include requiring strippers to tip other staff (DJ, Managers, etc.), charging locker fees and booking fees, mandatory uniform purchases, and making dancers purchase in-club merchandise with their own money to re-sell to customers.
I did an email interview with Hima and asked her what made her decide this film needed to be made. She replied:
I stripped in San Francisco during the 1990’s and witnessed strip clubs become increasingly greedy as they took more & more of the dancers’ tips. It wasn’t enough that they never paid strippers any wages but now they required us to pay to work…I saw many strippers turn tricks to make these fees. They weren’t empowered women who wanted to be prostitutes. They had sex for tips so they could pay the strip club pimps and avoid being fired. Those who refused to have sex found it difficult to make their quotas and were eventually fired or quit.
Most women work in strip clubs because they don’t want to prostitute. It’s a sexual boundary they make and every person has a right to determine what they’re comfortable with. It’s important to have places in the sex industry where women can be sexual but don’t have to have sex. And there’s nothing morally wrong with prostituting as long as you’re a consenting adult, can work safely & without violence, and can negotiate the terms of your work.
As stripping increasingly gains acceptance within popular culture, more and more women & teenagers enter this industry and are unaware of their rights & workplace realities. This documentary reveals the impact these illegal practices have on workers. This is why License to Pimp needs to be made.
I also asked what she hoped people would take away from the film. She said she hoped it would help people with no connection to the industry be able to help fight as allies for sex worker rights:
A huge goal for the film is to raise awareness that sex workers deserve the same labor rights granted to your average American worker. If sex workers could access their workers’ rights, then the sex industry would be dramatically less exploitative. If this film reaches our audiences and “only” gets people talking about this one radical concept, that’s a major victory!
Our 2nd message is that there are tangible solutions to end sex industry labor exploitation. Through each of our characters & their situations, License to Pimp offers ways that sex industry workers are trying to better this industry so it’s safer, fair, legal, & less violent.
Hima is aiming for a 2013 premiere of the film and hopes it will make it up to Canada. For now, Hima and the rest of her project team are currently trying to raise $30,000 to finish a rough cut of the film. You can find more information and sign on to support the project on the Kickstarter page here.