Neon Wasteland: On Love, Motherhood, and Sex Work in a Rust Belt Town

Neon Wasteland: On Love, Motherhood, and Sex Work in a Rust Belt Town

Neon Wasteland: On Love, Motherhood, and Sex Work in a Rust Belt Town

Neon Wasteland: On Love, Motherhood, and Sex Work in a Rust Belt Town

Synopsis

This path-breaking book examines the lives of five topless dancers in the economically devastated "rust belt" of upstate New York. With insight and empathy, Susan Dewey shows how these women negotiate their lives as parents, employees, and family members while working in a profession widely regarded as incompatible with motherhood and fidelity. Neither disparaging nor romanticizing her subjects, Dewey investigates the complicated dynamic of performance, resilience, economic need, and emotional vulnerability that comprises the life of a stripper. An accessibly written text that uses academic theories and methods to make sense of feminized labor, Neon Wasteland shows that sex work is part of the learned process by which some women come to believe that their self-esteem, material worth, and possibilities for life improvement are invested in their bodies.

Excerpt

Power can be invisible, it can be fantastic, it can be dull and routine.
It can be obvious, it can reach you by the baton of the police, it can
speak the language of your thoughts and desires. It can feel like remote
control, it can exhilarate like liberation, it can travel through time, and
it can drown you in the present. It is dense and superficial, it can cause
bodily injury, and it can harm you without ever seeming to touch you.
It is systematic and particularistic and is often both at the same time. It
causes dreams to live and dreams to die.

—Avery Gordon, Ghostly Matters

“There are some lines that, once you cross them, you can’t go back again,” Cinnamon said to me backstage over the dull throbbing of music pounding outside the door. She was explaining how it was impossible for her to leave her job as a topless dancer, not only because it was the sole source of economic support for her daughter, but also due to her perception that she was somehow psychologically altered by her experiences onstage. Sex work clearly does change one’s perceptions of the world, largely because of the elaborate social and institutional processes that combine to undermine women’s efforts at exercising autonomy. Yet how do some women come to perceive sex work as the most desirable option out of a limited menu of life choices? Why did Cinnamon, for example, remain convinced that topless dancing was the only job open to her? The fact that such a job has the potential to generate a higher income does not in . . .

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