Doing what ‘Works Best’: Exploring the Narratives of Mothers who Work as Strippers
Annett, Michelle Lesley
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Despite a large body of research exploring the experiences of working mothers today, there is little literature focusing on mothers who take part in stigmatized and unconventional forms of paid labour. Taking up this line of inquiry, my MA thesis project explores both micro and macro-level understandings of the narrated experiences of four women in Canada, who are both mothers and exotic dancers, with the overarching question: ‘how do these women navigate and negotiate their socially constructed identities and practices as both mothers and sex workers?’. This thesis is informed by feminist methodologies and a broad array of literatures on social reproduction, social surveillance of mothering practices, the intensification of mothering, women working in the sex industry, and occupational stigma of exotic dancing. My research consisted of four semi-structured phone interviews with women in Canada (all in the province of Ontario) who have (either currently or in the past) navigated both roles of mothering and stripping simultaneously. Through my interviews, I explored how the women in my study negotiated the work of social reproduction, the forms of support they had access to, and the barriers they have faced. My findings illuminate that due to limited access to affordable services in Canada, the mothers I interviewed rely on informal assistance from their key supports to provide necessary care work that the mothers could not fulfill due to the responsibilities of their paid work. Mothers also stress the necessity of managing their occupational stigma to comply with dominant ideologies of maternal caregiving by constructing personal communities and adopting techniques of secrecy and trust in order to enhance their ability to combine paid work and unpaid care. Overall my MA thesis offers insight into experiences, supports, and constraints that women face as they navigate the demands of paid labour, domestic work and unpaid caregiving in stigmatized and precarious conditions.