My fourth novel, Stage Daughter, is barely hot off the presses ( and I am already sniffing around for a fresh idea for my next story. I want to write something edgy and different—a story that pushes the envelope with emotion and controversy. But how do I top a twelve-year-old girl reconnecting her hapless, stressed-out single mom with her devout, unwitting married Muslim dad? I am toying with the idea of writing about a lonely male protagonist who works as a security guard at a strip club. He’s got some very limited ideas about women, and as a result, spent his whole life watching naked bodies rather than ever really connecting with a woman (much less get married or have children).

Okay, I will confess: My 55-year-old brother makes his living as a bouncer in one of those joints, and I worry about him constantly. Aside from the fact that being a bouncer is dangerous work (he has to frisk for weapons, keep the dancers free of groping hands, and remove unruly patrons), I fret over how he will spend his golden years living alone 3,000 miles from his only living relative (me).

But boy, has Big Bro got some sleazy stories to tell! They’re not pretty, naturally, but according to Writer’s Digest, the key to writing a great story is to “forget about being pretty” and tackle “topics that are not attractive, like racism or incest” ( By now, my readers should know I thrive on writing about such topics. My latest novel (told from the point of view of three diverse and idiosyncratic characters) is a three-ring circus of religious intolerance, sexual and ethnic angst, and adolescent rebellion gone awry. Writing Stage Daughter involved lots of eye-opening and not always pleasant research about Islam and current teen behavioral trends. Should I decide to explore the strip club angle for my next book, I might have to interview a few exotic dancers, and since I don’t know any personally, I am dreading the prospect of actually visiting one of those demeaning establishments.

Let me ask you: Is stripping just another well-paying job? Or do the women who bump and grind for a living have serious issues around sex and self-esteem? According to my brother-the-bouncer, the dancers have great bodies (which they pay lots of money—often on surgery—to enhance and maintain); they are capable of impressive acrobatics (it ain’t easy hanging upside-down from a pole); and enjoy the attention their efforts garner from admiring men (who willingly pay to witness the nightly lineup of buff breasts and toned tushes). AskMen Entertainment would seem to agree: They claim these women like their jobs, and that one in four strippers has a university degree while about 20% strip to pay for college and post-graduate tuition. (See entertainment/special_ feature_500/541_strippers-5-things-men-should-know.html. Not that AskMen should be considered a reliable, go-to source for information about women’s psyches and motivations, mind you; and in any case, their 20/25% “statistic” is hardly a ringing endorsement for stripping as launching pad to an education or a successful career.) 

What does it say about our culture that in 2013, an attractive woman can make as much disrobing onstage for hard-up men as developing computer platforms? And what does it say about those men that—even in an ailing economy—they willingly plunk down $200 - $300 (between cover charge, drinks, lap dances, and tipping) just to “leave with a boner and no explosion”? (Sorry; I just had to quote one particular sleazebag who left that comment on a bodybuilding website.) Yes, the money is decent ($300 - $400 a night, from what I understand) and the flexible hours leave time for studies or caring for children. But even my jaded brother—when pressed—characterized the atmosphere at his nocturnal workplace as “an open urinal.” (This, from an ineloquent guy who just loves watching those titties jiggle and doesn’t harbor a feminist notion in his brain.) 

What do you think, ladies? Do “gentlemen’s clubs” offer women a flexible way to make good money on the road to bigger and better things? Or are they beyond degrading to women? Would you (no, could you) take your clothes off before a roomful of gawking, drunken strangers for 300 bucks—earned one sweaty dance and one nasty twenty at a time? Personally, I’d prefer to live in a society where women didn’t feel the need to debase themselves in this way; where a decent living wage was available to all who are willing to work for it; and where men recognized the stupidity of parting with their hard-earned cash for a fleeting, anonymous hard-on.