G-Strings and Sympathy: Strip Club Regulars and Male Desire

G-Strings and Sympathy: Strip Club Regulars and Male Desire

by Katherine Frank

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Based on her experiences as a stripper in a city she calls Laurelton—a southeastern city renowned for its strip clubs—anthropologist Katherine Frank provides a fascinating insider’s account of the personal and cultural fantasies motivating male heterosexual strip club "regulars." Given that all of the clubs where she worked prohibited physical


Based on her experiences as a stripper in a city she calls Laurelton—a southeastern city renowned for its strip clubs—anthropologist Katherine Frank provides a fascinating insider’s account of the personal and cultural fantasies motivating male heterosexual strip club "regulars." Given that all of the clubs where she worked prohibited physical contact between the exotic dancers and their customers, in G-Strings and Sympathy Frank asks what—if not sex or even touching—the repeat customers were purchasing from the clubs and from the dancers. She finds that the clubs provide an intermediate space—not work, not home—where men can enjoyably experience their bodies and selves through conversation, fantasy, and ritualized voyeurism. At the same time, she shows how the dynamics of male pleasure and privilege in strip clubs are intertwined with ideas about what it means to be a man in contemporary America.

Frank’s ethnography draws on her work as an exotic dancer in five clubs, as well as on her interviews with over thirty regular customers—middle-class men in their late-twenties to mid-fifties. Reflecting on the customers’ dual desires for intimacy and visibility, she explores their paradoxical longings for "authentic" interactions with the dancers, the ways these aspirations are expressed within the highly controlled and regulated strip clubs, and how they relate to beliefs and fantasies about social class and gender. She considers how regular visits to strip clubs are not necessarily antithetical to marriage or long-term heterosexual relationships, but are based on particular beliefs about marriage and monogamy that make these clubs desirable venues. Looking at the relative "classiness" of the clubs where she worked—ranging from the city’s most prestigious clubs to some of its dive bars—she reveals how the clubs are differentiated by reputations, dress codes, cover charges, locations, and clientele, and describes how these distinctions become meaningful and erotic for the customers. Interspersed throughout the book are three fictional interludes that provide an intimate look at Frank’s experiences as a stripper—from the outfits to the gestures, conversations, management, coworkers, and, of course, the customers.

Focusing on the experiences of the male clients, rather than those of the female sex workers, G-Strings and Sympathy provides a nuanced, lively, and tantalizing account of the stigmatized world of strip clubs.

Editorial Reviews

Kim Diorio
[P]recious little has been said about the individuals who drive this industry: the customers. . . . According to folk wisdom and pop psychology, the motivations of strip club customers are fairly transparent: a natural male drive to ogle beautiful women. . . . Katherine Frank explodes these assumptions. . . . Weaving interviews, psychoanalytical interpretations, historical information, and fictional tales told from strippers' perspectives into a nuanced tapestry, Frank has created a surprising, entertaining, and thought-provoking read. . . . By portraying the ordinary, white, middle-class, oftentimes married men who frequent strip clubs, Frank has paved the way for a more complete understanding of sex work.
Laura Barcella
[W]hat sets Frank's book apart from more generic stripper-revelation tomes is her mission: instead of focusing on the clubs' female dancers, Frank seeks to provide an insider's account of the fantasies that motivate the male clientele who frequent these clubs. . . . [A] fascinating chronicle of male psychology. Frank's writing is so clear and concise it's easy to forget that one is reading an academic text that truly reveals what runs through men's' minds when they spend an evening at Scores, looking for a little male bonding.
Meleah Maynard
[A] brutally honest and interesting, if unsettling, read. Smartly dispensing with worn-out clichés about porn, Frank instead delves into topics brought up by the men she interviewed, and adds insightful comments.
Rain Taxi
David Steinberg
In G-Strings and Sympathy, Katherine Frank takes an important first step in investigating, reporting on, and beginning to truly understand one segment of these sex-paid consumers. . . .[S]he offers complex, multi-layered, sometimes paradoxical, explanations of what is at work, emotionally and culturally, for these men. . . . Frank's writing style invitingly combines academic and analytical rigor with an easy accessibility that is unusual in academically oriented work. . . . [F]our delightful fictional 'interludes'-well-written, enlightening short stories related to stripping provide yet an additional, refreshingly alternative perspective all their own. G-Strings and Sympathy offers a unique, intelligent, sympathetic, politically-aware look behind the curtain of secrecy and shame that shrouds the thriving culture of strip (and lap dancing) clubs across the nation. If you've ever wondered who the other guys are when you're at one of the clubs, or wondered why your guy might enjoy going there, a cruise through its pages is an enjoyable way to find out.
Spectator Magazine
Library Journal
Among the recent plethora of books by and about strippers (e.g., Toni Bentley's Sisters of Salome, Lily Burana's Strip City, and Elisabeth Eaves's Bare), Frank's work, an obvious doctoral dissertation, stands out in that she uses anthropological tools to analyze the male customers' experience while working as a stripper herself. Her research is sound-she works in a variety of clubs to get a full picture of the experience-and she documents her research exhaustively, with 25 pages of footnotes and a 14-page bibliography, in addition to extensive verbatim quotes from her subjects. Unfortunately, this rigorous approach has robbed her thesis of its inherent bathos and humanity, resulting in a tedious, laborious read weighed down with academic jargon. She also includes some of her own fiction, which does not enhance the reading pleasure. Her conclusions are not enlightening: although it upsets their wives and girlfriends, men continue to frequent strip clubs. One question she does not address is economics: how do middle- and working-class men justify spending hundreds and even thousands of dollars a night at these clubs? Of appeal exclusively to a handful of academics, this work is not recommended.-Ina Rimpau, Newark P.L., NJ Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher

G-Strings and Sympathy effortlessly merges the personal with the polemical, the scholarly with the serendipitous, and the earthy with the esoteric. Informed, intelligent, yet always accessible, Katherine Frank’s writing sheds a piercing beam of light on the shadowy realm of exotic dance.”—Lily Burana, author of Strip City: A Stripper's Farewell Journey Across America

“I am not aware of any comparable book on the sex industry that draws so insightfully both on the author’s personal experience and on scintillating analyses drawn from contemporary cultural theory. Katherine Frank’s book is highly intelligent, original, illuminating, extremely readable, and, to say the least, brave.”—Anne McClintock, author of Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest

Product Details

Duke University Press
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522 KB

Meet the Author

Katherine Frank is Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at the College of the Atlantic.

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