Stripping – dismantling the stigma
Maddie May is a New Zealand based, award winning stripper. She also happens to be one of my best friends.
Maddie began stripping for the money.
“I was in my final year of uni and I was tired of going from week to week just getting by,” she says.
“My schedule was all over the place as I was studying a theatre degree and rehearsing a lot so I knew getting a part time job wouldn't be an option.”
Maddie and I met ten years ago, so who better to interview about the stigma and beauty that comes with stripping than one my closest friends?
Unbeknownst to me, Maddie had actually been thinking about stripping for a number of years. She was inspired after seeing someone she went to school with get into stripping.
“I followed her Instagram and Facebook posts and it looked like she was living the life - I was pretty fascinated by it all,” she says.
“But of course back then I was very naive and ignorant, and I thought that I had too many 'morals' to take my clothes off for money and that it would be playing into the 'man's game'.
“But when I turned 21 I had a bit more empowerment and feminism under my belt, and I thought - why not give it a go!”
Maddie has an Instagram account too.
She has been studying dance since she was four years old, so why not throw another style under her belt? Add a pole and a paying audience. But at the end of the day she is doing what she loves; dancing.
“I decided that I wanted my naked body to be appreciated too so made the final leap and became a stripper."
Maddie excelled in every subject at school so it's no surprise she has excelled in stripping and theatre world too.
Her show ‘How To be A Stripper’ was awarded the Dunedin Fringe 2018’s Best Theatre show. That same year she was featured in an exhibition at the Otago Museum that celebrated the 125th anniversary of the Suffragette Movement.
“I have never felt so proud to be out and in the open about my profession,” she says.
Maddie says the exhibition helped raise awareness around what it means to be a ‘sex worker’ and is one step in the right direction towards normalising stripping and the sex work industry.
“I'm just as much of a regular person as anyone else."
Like any normal job there are perks to stripping, but it can be pretty hard too.
“There are shitty nights and shitty patrons,” says Maddie.
“This job can give you some of the best nights when you're feeling like your absolute fiercest, and it can make you feel like your worst.”
Maddie says she fortunately doesn’t have any horrific experiences but there’s one night that still stays with her.
“I was having an off night,” she says. Maddie was feeling anxious, fragile and “not in the mood for anyone to be an asshole" to her.
After one of her stage sets she went around the club to collect tips, and despite the many patrons, no one was feeling generous.
“They kept saying things like, ‘what are you gonna do to earn it?’ or ‘sorry, I didn’t actually see your dance’ - therefore it didn’t happen right?”
One patron did indicate they would tip Maddie, asking her to bend over to put a tip in her underpants.
“I did, they stuck it in my panties then slapped me on the ass so hard it almost winded me,” she says.
After she took the time to recover, she reached for the tip but “it turned out to be just a dirty old receipt,” she says.
“I had never felt so worthless and objectified in my life.”
The perpetrators were kicked out of the venue promptly and amazingly Maddie took the event in her stride.
“It’s said that a sexually confident woman objectifies herself, but really it’s the observer who objectifies the woman through how they respond and act towards her.”
Maddie’s strength in dealing with insults or misogynistic behaviour is to take a moment.
"Realise they're insecure," she advises anyone thinking about getting into sex work.
“Don't play into his game, but say everything with a smile – even if it takes every inch of your soul not to shove his drink up his ass.
“This is your job, be a professional, it'll work in your favour in the end.”
Of course Maddie has had some great experiences in stripping. On one occasion Maddie and her colleague (and friend) were hired to hang out on a boat in Queenstown. They performed a lesbian show.
“I used a strap on for the first time - I was living,” she says.
Not all great moments happen on a boat. One particularly quiet night at the club Maddie decided, for a laugh, to do the caterpillar on stage.
“And the only person in the club came up and made it rain on me.”
Maddie says common misconceptions around stripping are that people become strippers because it’s the last resort – not that they want to do it.
“Sometimes that may be the case, and sometimes people want to spice up their life,” Maddie says.
“The best thing you can do is to never assume someone's position they're in and why they chose to do the job.
“I make men feel really good about themselves and make them believe that I’m having a great time with them, and I am, just not due to their personality but instead for their wallet.
“The most empowering moments are when I'm up on that stage and I see some men just click into a trance.”