G-Strings and Sympathy

Strip Club Regulars and Male Desire

G-Strings and Sympathy

Book Pages: 368 Illustrations: Published: December 2002

Author: Katherine Frank

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Gender and Sexuality > Sex and Sexuality, Sociology

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.


“[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. . . .” — Meleah Maynard , Rain Taxi

“[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.” — Kim Diorio , PopMatters

“[T]here is more to be said about the world of strip clubs and this book provides both an excellent starter for this–as well as a helpful guide on how to research and write about the sex industry in a clear, thoughtful and thorough manner.” — Petra Boynton , Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy

“Frank’s book makes a contribution to the theoretical literature in anthropology, feminism, and sexuality. Perhaps, more importantly, her work can help to counter misperceptions of stripping perpetuated by many in the academy, media, adversarial Religious Right, and radical feminist movement.” — Judith Lynne Hanna , Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"[A]n academic yet accessible exploration of the exchange between the naked lady on the platform and the man who keeps returning to tuck money in her garter. . . ." — Virginia Vitzthum , Salon

"[Frank's] careful and systematic account of the narratives of the men with whom she worked, her creative approach, as well as her experience as a dancer/researcher make this text provocative, powerful and rich. Methodologically, Frank does an excellent job exploring the politics, theoretical underpinnings and feminist ramifications of ethnographic practice. She also provides a particularly powerful account of the historical, social, legal, and political context of Laurelton and thus gives the reader a window into the place within which she worked both as a dancer and a researcher." — R. Danille Egan, Sexualities

"[I]ntriguing. . . . G-Strings and Sympathy consistently and creatively challenges the ideological dictates attached to sexuality, gender, and marriage. Frank does more than ethnographic study here; she demands that practitioners of cultural studies seriously investigate the seemingly seedy aspects of pop culture rather than merely look. . . . [A]n excellent and challenging addition to courses on popular culture, gender studies, and cultural anthropology." — David Russell, Journal of Popular Culture

"[O]ne of the best books about the world of commercial sex work, neither titillating 'inside scoop' by a practitioner nor moralizing tract by a preachy politico. . . . [B]rilliant. . . . When it comes to men's sense of entitlement to women's bodies, their self-deceptions that such encounters are 'special' for the women, and their evasive rationalizations about the politics of sexual voyeurism . . .well, Katherine Frank takes it all off." — Michael Kimmel , Journal of the History of Sexuality

"[R]emarkable. . . . I look forward to using this study of public, masculinized, voyeuristic entertainment in a class I teach on the anthropology of masculinity." — Matthew C. Gutmann , Journal of Anthropological Research

"[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." — Laura Barcella , Bust

"Frank builds upon her fascinating interviews with regular customers to explore how personal erotics intertwine with social material relations and public fantasies. . . . Beyond her cultural and ethnographic analysis, Frank also includes a series of equally illuminating short stories written from the perspective of dancers." — Ann McClintock, Seminary Co-op

"Frank's book provides a fascinating ethnographic account of the fantasies of male strip club regulars. Through "observing the observers," she is able to take the focus off of the dancers and move it onto a previously unproblematized group: male customers. . . . Frank crafts a well-researched and beautifully analyzed work that not only takes the stigma off of dancing but also moves the gaze onto the men who keep dance clubs in business." — Kristen Schilt , Reconstruction

"Frank's fieldwork and her conclusions about male sexuality, models of masculinity, and the performance of male desire are intriguing and unexpected (at least for this female reviewer), and raise issues to be addressed by future researchers of the intersections of sex and work." — Ida Fadzillah , Anthropology of Work Review

"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." — David Steinberg , Spectator Magazine

"The real power of Frank's extraordinary book is that she is able to give voice, through her many interviewees, to the complex fabric of masculine desire as it is staged in the strip club. . . . It must be said that Frank is an especially gifted writer. Her critical prose is lucid, compelling, and accessible to non-specialists. . . . [I]n this book Frank also displays her talents as a writer of fiction. Three fictional interludes serve to elaborate a few of the book's central issues, such as bodily identity and intimacy, and are presented from the first-person perspective of the exotic dancer." — Michael Uebel, Labour/Le Travail

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


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

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

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Preface: Skin Brings Men xiii

Part One

Chapter 1 Observing the Observers: Methods and Themes 1

Chapter 2 Laurelton and Its Strip Clubs: The Historical, Physical, and Social Terrain 39

Part Two

Interlude: Strawberries (fiction) 79

Chapter 3 Just Trying to Relax: Masculinity, Touristic Practice, and the Idiosyncrasies of Power 85

Chapter 4 The Pursuit of the Fantasy Penis: Bodies, Desires, and Ambiguities 121

Part Three

Interlude: Fakes (fiction) 159

Chapter 5 "I'm Not Like the Other Guys": Claims to Authentic Experience 173

Chapter 6 Hustlers, Pros, and the Girl Next Door: Social Class, Race, and the Consumption of the Authentic Female Body 203

Part Four

Interlude: The Management of Hunger (fiction) 231

Chapter 7 The Crowded Bedroom: Marriage, Monogamy, and Fantasy 241

Chapter 8 Disciplining Erotic Practice 273

Appendix 281

Notes 285

Bibliography 311

Index 327
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2972-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2981-7
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