Tuesday, March 18, 2008
On this day:

A tale from the academy

From the University of Alabama News (with my comments interspersed):
UA Professor Explores Lives of Exotic Dancers and the Cultural Influences of Strip Clubs in New Book

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – A friend’s surprising decision to leave graduate study to pursue life as a stripper inspired Dr. Catherine M. Roach, an associate professor in The University of Alabama’s New College in the College of Arts and Sciences, to examine the lives of strippers and how popular culture has embraced the world of strip clubs.

The result of her exploration, the scholarly book “Stripping, Sex, and Popular Culture,” is publishing this month by Berg Publishers. Roach will give a reading at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, March 25, in Gorgas Library, room 205.

Amazon.com has found that customers who bought Dr. Roaches scholarly work on stripping were also interested in Ashley Alexandra Dupre's (aka "Kristen's) new book: "Up, Up, and Away: The Happy Hooker's Guide to Rocket Science."

Roach uses a qualitative research approach to discover how women working in strip clubs see their lives, their roles, and their customers.

It is indeed important to take a "qualitative research approach" when visiting strip clubs. Particularly here in Huntsville, where "having teeth" can be a very important quality for a stripper. Or not, I suppose, depending upon one's ultimate objective.

“I interviewed dancers and visited as many clubs as I could,” says Roach, who also is affiliated with the department of women’s studies at UA. “A lot of that comes out in the book. It’s a narrative with stories and voices from the dancers."

Mike Price is so hating himself right now for not taking that position as a UA Women's Studies professor instead of head football coach.

Roach’s interest in strippers and striptease culture arose when a longtime friend of hers from her native Canada left a graduate program in the Midwest and starting working in a strip club.

Assuming that this longtime friend possessed the qualities of a successful stripper, it's doubtful that her prior pursuit had been a graduate degree in women's studies. If you know what I mean.

“When she was telling me about her new job at the club, my first response was shock,” says Roach, who earned her doctorate in religious studies at Harvard and researches environmental ethics, gender, and popular culture. “Surely this is not a good thing for a young woman to be doing. We’re both self-identified feminists working in feminist areas. From that perspective, I worried about whether the job was degrading and dangerous. Aren’t the clubs seedy? Isn’t this sexual objectification of women? Why are you doing this, I wanted to know.”

But her friend, Roach says, had another concept of her work as a stripper – one that Roach wanted to explore further as a scholar. She says she continued to keep an open mind toward exotic dance and other work of a sexual nature as her feminist-based preconceptions were challenged.

A feminist scholar who harbors preconceptions and prejudices? Who woulda thunk it?

“My friend liked it, and actually from a feminist perspective, she was finding this to be empowering and positive in various ways, not just financially -- although that was a big part of it -- but also socially and sexually,” Roach says. “It was working well in her life. So I felt fascinated by that and wanted to know more.”

Over the course of four years, Roach pursued her research by interviewing dancers, neo-burlesque performers, prostitutes, organizers in the sex workers’ rights movement, and others from the areas of West Palm Beach, Fla.; Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, Ala.; Atlanta; San Francisco; Toronto; and Ottawa. Her book ranges from descriptions of strip clubs and in-depth interviews with dancers to the meaning of a culture that increasingly embraces the open sexuality that strip clubs embody.

"Organizers in the sex workers' rights movement?" How exactly do you organize sex workers? Sounds like an interesting topic for Ms. Roach to explore in her next book. Which hopefully will contain pictures.

“It’s this huge phenomenon that’s taken off in pop culture in contemporary America,” Roach says. “There are stripper aerobics classes at your local gym now. There are pole dancing studios. Sales of thongs have skyrocketed. If all of this is going on in pop culture all the time, what should we make of it?”

New College is a part of UA’s College of Arts and Sciences, the University’s largest division and the largest liberal arts college in the state. Students from the College have won numerous national awards including Rhodes Scholarships, Goldwater Scholarships and memberships on the USA Today Academic All American Team.

Your tax and tuition dollars at work at the Capstone. Aren't you proud?