Age Discrimination & Strippers

Here’s another story closely related to last week’s posting about ethical conduct in the sale of ethically controversial products and services. In that posting, I suggested the possibility that one could look at an industry that is morally dubious, but still make distinctions about the ethical conduct of various companies within that industry.

Here’s a case in point, about age-discrimination in the adult entertainment industry. From the Mississauga News: Another stripper files suit against club owner.

A second adult dancer has come forward to file a human rights complaint against the owner of a Mississauga strip club, alleging she too was fired because of her age.
Barbara Sanderson, 45, a divorced mother who lives in the area of Hurontario St. and Bristol Rd. with her two teenaged children, is the second person to complain to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario in recent weeks about John Sit, owner of the New Locomotion Strip Club on Matheson Blvd.
Both she and Kimberlee Ouwroulis, 44, say they were fired from the club because they were too old.
Both cases are now before the tribunal, but a hearing date has yet to be set for either.

So, what can we say about the ethics of age discrimination in a case — in an industry — like this? For many, the answer will be obvious: stripping is a young woman’s occupation. No one goes into a strip club expecting to see 60 year old women on stage, and in fact the cut-off sure to be considerably lower than that. But in general, discriminating based on age is a bad thing. How do we sort this out?

Here are a few points to consider:

1. Workplace discrimination is generally ethically problematic, but it’s also widely recognized that there are such things as bona fide occupational qualifications. To be an airline pilot, you have to have good vision, so “discriminating” against the visually impaired when hiring pilots is not unethical. I imagine the argument will be similar, here. Patrons of strip clubs expect young (or young-looking), conventionally-attractive, primarily large-breasted women. Having those characteristics is pretty much a necessity to be an exotic dancer. Being young & sexy should not be a job requirement for secretaries, but maybe it’s OK for exotic dancers.

2. One standard way of justifying age-based discrimination is to look at lifetime opportunities, rather than at a particular point in time. At a particular moment, a 45-year-old dancer is not going to be treated the same as a 25-year-old dancer. But over their respective lifetimes, it’s likely the two women will be treated the same — recruited into the industry at 18, and dumped at 30-something or 40-something. One could argue there’s a kind of formal fairness in that.

3. On the other hand, the case is much more troubling if we think of other — perhaps equally plausible — grounds for discrimination at strip clubs. What about race? Patrons of clubs are likely to have a preference, there, too. But I imagine that lots of people who can laugh off the age discrimination charge would be more hesitant if a club simply said, “We don’t hire black dancers.” Part of the difference might well be that racial discrimination can’t be defended the way age discrimination can in terms of lifetime opportunities (as in #2 above). When you discriminate based on race, you discriminate for life.

4. If we were to accept that, in this industry, conventional beauty is crucial, we can still question the equating of age with beauty. Lots of women (and men) in their 40’s, for example, can pass for substantially younger, and lots of women (and men) gain sufficient charisma and charm (not to mention dance moves) to more than make up for what they’ve lost in smoothness of skin or firmness of thigh. So perhaps employers who want to discriminate should be asked to back up their prejudice, by providing some sort of metric that shows that a given dancer is not just older, but is actually less popular than others.

5. I think, in this general topic, there’s grounds for a further criticism of this industry. Let’s accept, for the sake of argument, something that might not be true, namely that the demands (i.e., preferences) of patrons of strip clubs essentially pressure club owners into lamentable forms of discrimination. Maybe the final word should be that if your industry forces you to do morally reprehensible things, the only ethical course of action is for you to go out of business.

1 comment so far

  1. barbara sanderson on

    I was fired drom the strip club I now am workin in the club again on schedule.

    – imake anywhere between 5oo to 8oo a shift.

    I feel the club owner can fire a dancer due to age but be able to back it up proof. If an older dancer in their 40’s that u look too old ,are less popular, and don’t make money anymore then the strip bar owner may have a right to fire them. I was 45 and proved from bank statements I earnded 6000 dollars per month working two days a0week as a dancer. I also kept myself in shape by working with a personal trainer three days a week and took care of myself.

    I didn’t win but settled by getting my job back. Its 2012 now and I’m still working for The New Locomotion.

    Barbara (Bridgette) Sanderson

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