Sex worker uses labor law to sue D.C. club, WaPo reports lasciviously

Quansa Thompson, an exotic dancer who was fired by The House in Washington, D.C., is suing the club for unfair wage practices under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

The House paid her and the other dancers $20 for showing up each day, with the understanding that they could keep their tips after they paid the management a couple of fees — $20 to the DJ, $20 to the bartender. If a dancer was late to the stage, Thompson said, the club charged a $10 penalty. The fine for missing a shift was $80, even if it was because of an illness, which is what Thompson claimed when she didn’t show up for work one night last year.

When Thompson started talking about forming a union and threatened to sue the club’s owner, Darrell Allen, she was banned from dancing there. Thompson got a lawyer, Philip Zipin, who found that The House classified its dancers as “independent contractors,” but…

Zipin said The House’s practices — its schedules, rules and fines — amount to treating dancers as if they were employees but without paying minimum wage. “This is exploitation,” Zipin said. Thompson is seeking $75,000 from The House, an amount that includes the wages and overtime she said she would have collected had she been working full time.

I think this is a pretty great story about a woman in a marginalized and stigmatized profession doing the really hard work of standing up for her rights. Which is why it’s a shame the Washington Post buried it under half a page of drool. The article starts out:

To hear Quansa Thompson talk of her life as an exotic dancer, to listen to her describe how men offer cash as she sashays, gyrates and jiggles the night away, is to evoke a thousand titillating thoughts, not a single one having anything to do with the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

Well OK, but this story isn’t about Thompson’s dancing or the writer, Paul Schwartzman, and his editor getting turned on. It’s about unfair labor practices and labor law. So, uh, why are we even talking about jiggling?
The article spends a couple paragraphs graphically describing Thompson’s process of learning to dance well and getting money from men in the club. Which helps me understand the labor dispute how?
WaPo informs us that The House (which is in my neighborhood) is “a den of prurient entertainment.” Funny, I thought it was a club where sex workers perform, but now I know we’ve got our own local den of prurient entertainment. And the article explains the independent contractor pay structure by telling us it’s, “as if they were plumbers, only without the tool belt (not to mention the shirt, pants and underwear).” Yeah, that was some useful clarification there.
None of this has anything to do with the story at hand and everything to do with the objectification of sex workers. To WaPo, Thompson and other exotic dancers can never be much more than eye candy for the production of male arousal.
I’d like to say I’m surprised the paper published an article that’s half masturbation and fails utterly at staying on topic, but I’m not. The paper has a shoddy record when it comes to reporting about marginalized populations, who apparently aren’t worthy of much in the way of journalistic standards, and has published plenty of sexist garbage. And apparently sex workers used to “wiggle” in the Washington Post before they “jiggled.” If it’s marginalized women or anything related to sex prepare for some absurdity.
So good for Thompson for taking on this important labor issue within a poorly understood and constantly disrespected profession. And shame on the Washington Post for publishing an article more about titillation than substance.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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