On Tuesday, the Grand Rapids City Commission voted five to one to pursue a resolution restricting “adult entertainment” in Grand Rapids. While the impetus for the resolution was organizing against Mark London’s proposed Showgirl Galleria development on Market Street, the opening of that club been cast into doubt now that a so-called “mystery development” has been proposed for a 30-acre site along Market Street in downtown Grand Rapids. According to reporting in the corporate media yesterday, London has agreed to sell his club without ever opening it in order to make way for the development.
While the future of Showgirl Galleria is now in doubt, the City Commission is on a path to pursue a resolution restricting conduct in “sexually oriented businesses.” On Tuesday, the Commission easily passed a resolution establishing a public hearing on the resolution on March 21 at 7:00pm at City Hall, with the only “nay” vote against moving forward coming from Second Ward Commissioner Rick Tormala who opposed the measure due to costs that the City may incur while pursuing the resolution. Most in the city government believe that a lawsuit is inevitable and to that end, nearly $100,000 has been raised by Black Hills Citizens for a Better Community to pay for the city’s legal costs.
In the corporate media’s reporting on Tuesday, the discussion also shifted towards one based entirely on a moral debate between those who “enjoy” strip clubs and those who oppose them for moral reasons. In a story on WZZM 13, Black Hills Citizens for a Better Community organizer Judy Rose was quoted as saying “If I had my way these places wouldn’t exist at all… I don’t think the public needs that” and goes on to state that people in West Michigan want West Michigan to be a “more moral, clean community.” In response, the article quotes Rob Buckner, manager of Parkway Tropics, a strip club located in what is essentially a residential neighborhood on Grand Rapids Westside, saying that “It’s a shame that somebody who has never been in a strip club nor probably ever will be is trying to ruin it for everybody who does enjoy adult entertainment,” essentially reducing the debate to one on morality rather than one on the secondary effects of strip clubs, both in terms of crimes (increased prostitution, possible sex trafficking, etc) and the reinforcement of patriarchal views of women. The article also introduced a new component of the debate, quoting a dancer named Stacia that works at Parkway Tropics who said that:
I don’t feel what I’m doing is wrong. I feel like it’s beautiful. I don’t feel like I am doing something lewd. I look at nudity as an art form.
The perspective of the predominately female performers in strip clubs has been largely absent from the discussion on the proposed resolution. It has long been argued by some feminists that “sex work” can be liberating in that it subverts traditional roles for women within the patriarchy and that, like pornography, it can provide some women with empowering experiences when it is done on their own terms. However, there is a question of how the sex industry, and especially stripping can function as a liberating force inside of a patriarchal system where strip clubs such as Showgirl Galleria exist to reproduce a particular set of gender roles, a question that gains further importance when one considers that money and the need for strippers to get paid limits how patriarchy and gender can be subversive. Moreover, it is important to remember (in a non-paternalistic manner) that exploitation is common in strip clubs and that women work in such clubs due so because of the social and economic realities of capitalism in the United States.