At a strip club in Queens, a Brazilian anthropology professor caught reflections of herself in the faces of the dancers. There, she found fellow middle class Brazilian women who had immigrated to America working as exotic dancers — including a lawyer and other educated professionals.
Professor Suzana Maia of the Universidade Federal do Reconcavo da Bahia in Brazil, who received her Ph.D. from the City University of New York Graduate Center, recently released “Transnational Desires: Brazilian Erotic Dancers in New York,” in which she investigates the phenomenon. Women’s eNews posted an excerpt from the book:
Being a Brazilian middle-class woman myself, I could perceive their class markers in their ways of speaking and moving, in their gestures and mannerisms. I identified with these women on a variety of levels. Often when I went to a new bar, dancers I did not know, clients and management would see me as a potential dancer. I was of the same nationality, age and body type as most of the women working in the bars.
Maia argues that part of the reason middle class Brazilian women in New York turn to this industry is to maintain a sense of “class status.”
Contrary to public debate that often links migrant sex workers and human trafficking, poverty and oppression, this association does not by any means apply to the women in my research. In fact, throughout my fieldwork, I met mostly middle-income Brazilian women who for many reasons had chosen to work as erotic dancers rather than as domestics, the other most common job available to migrant women.
Some women told me they found working in another person’s house demeaning to their class status. Brazilians from the middle classes usually grow up being served by maids, often women of African descent. Indeed, to have maids in Brazil is a marker of class status and is felt as a basic need for the maintenance of a middle-class family dynamic.