Book Review: No Man's Land, by Ruth Fowler

I was so excited about this book. Way back in the day I read Mimi’s blog, so I’d been waiting for her book for years. I’m one of those geeks who reads the covers and introductions and blurbs and everything. The jacket said a bunch of stuff about stripping being bad, the underbelly of it all, etc. I’d read the blog and thought Mimi was too complex and talented to simplify things like that, so I ignored the blurbs and jumped right in.

She starts out, first paragraph, making fun of people who’s mothers are crackheads. Nice, but I guess we don’t all get raised with the advantages of knowing people with crackhead mothers. The second paragraph she started with the “we:”

“It’s all about the quick fix of money, like that hasty illicit cigarette outside when the boss isn’t watching, covered up with a gargle of mouthwash. Our mouthwash is our own mantra, repeated over and over in our heads, It’s not forever. I think we keep coming back because standing on that stage, posing and preening in the mirror, turning and arching so the light strikes our luminous, smooth skin, is the only time we don’t think of things. You know – things.Guilt things. Hopelessness. Boredom.”

Oh yeah. WE are all just so sad. Sad little strippers with sad lives that we must strip to dissociate ourselves from. Good thing Ruth is smart and went to Cambridge so she can tell the world how sad we all are. Seriously, that’s how the publisher promotes it and that’s how Ruth presents it.

All the way through the book she has drunken horrible experience after drugged up horrible experience, explaining it all with the great WE. You see, WE strippers can’t strip sober. That’s why WE all have such horrible experiences. Lucky for her, a year or so after she descends into our underworld, Ruth gets a book deal and quickly ascends away from us (only to reappear in a book dictating our experiences and g chats asking about strip clubs in Alaska).

Positives: Incredibly artful.  Accurate enough depiction of stripping in New York.  Maybe it’ll scare some young women away from stripping – less competition for me!

Negatives: Another book by an Ivy Leaguer who descends to our horrid underworld for a few months and then appropriates our voices in the public arena. 


  1. That does seem a bit of a departure from her blog. The disdain you mention wasn’t absent from her earlier posts, but it certainly wasn’t the main sentiment.

    I can understand why you’d take issue with her using “we”, because even if she represents the feelings and experiences of some dancers, she sure as hell can’t represent all of them.

    I feel like your tones of disappointment in Ms. Fowler’s representation of her experiences in her book sort of echo Davka’s open letter to Elizabeth Eaves.

    Do you think it’s a trend, like the Grand Tour for the new millennium? Ladies (and hey, maybe even some gentlemen) who decide to get down in the sex trade just for the experience and then decide to shill the experience in memoirs?

  2. I am all for people sharing his or her personal experiences with the public. I can either find the similarities and/or the differences and, perhaps, grow as a person – having this new perception of who I am as a person in relation to others that have similar life experiences. Cool, yes?

    It’s totally unacceptable (as if there is partial acceptability – silly me!) for someone to speak for an entire group or groups of people. It is a fundamental flaw found in many written articles, essays, blogs, etc. – and other forms of mass communication, too. This type of grouping, to be sure, increases readership and sales, because it tends to be more entertaining and appealing than, say, some story about a well-adjusted person partaking in a type of lifestyle that MUST be symptomatic of previous dysfunctional situations experienced during childhood. Hyperbole rules the world!

    Thanks for the review!

    -Heather 🙂

  3. Things that are written that way make me more attracted to blogs like yours . You never sound like you’re trying to cover anything up with a quick gargle of mouthwash, you never sound like you’re trying to have a struggle so that you can try to get out and tell everyone how hard your climb was.
    Anyway thanks for the review, and everything else you write.

  4. I’ve never understood how the Ivy League memoir writers can feel comfortable with the WE. I went to college, and now I am a sex worker, and I guess I might use the WE to talk about other college educated sex workers who worked at my agency and are vegan and hate makeup and like to have sex with women and never watch tv and hate Republicans and Democrats equally and are insomniacs… you know, I might be comfortable talking about people who are a whole lot like me in a variety of ways, but we’re a pretty small group. I would use the WE to talk about people that I know, not millions of strangers, living their own lives for their own reasons. If you’ve been to college, you’re presumably capable of understanding same vs. different, and someone is not just like you simply because she is a sex worker.

    I know this is callous, but I still believe that you only leave sexwork bruised and broken if you a.) came into it that way or b.) didn’t take care of yourself. You can’t blame the work itself, there are plenty of jobs that are harder.

  5. Hi! I couldn’t figure out how else to contact you. Would you be willing to let me interview you for my blog, I interview people with all different types of jobs.

    Let me know. Thanks!

  6. Maybe I’m just in this spot where I don’t see why I should publicize later what I work so hard to keep anonymous now, but I agree with your issues against the book.
    I’m a sex worker- it’s what I do, it pays the bills. I have clients I like, clients I don’t, and I think that’s the same as everybody. I don’t have a substance issue, nor does any sex worker I’m friends with have a substance issue, it would make things dangerous for us. But obviously we’re not everyone, and I’m not everyone, so I don’t see why something especially so elitist as an Ivy League Education needs to start speaking for all of us.

  7. YES! YES! YES! I love this review! I totally relate to your issues with “Ivy League” writers, and all of the validation they get. Hooray!

  8. Well, that sounds lame. Like you, I like the blog and would have expected better. I get the impression from the couple of reviews I read Mimi/Ruth was kinda backlashing against the whole stripping-as-a-fun-sexy-adventure-for-suburban-club-kids thing. Like you say, if she talks a few suburban kids out of that adventure, that’d be fine with me.
    I kinda get it. There IS shitty, scary, dark stuff that happens at strip clubs, and dysfunctional people who work there, and it’s weird to see all of that glossed over by the culture tourists. But speaking for a bunch of people, unless you were elected to the position, is pretty lame.
    I guess I’ll have to read the book someday. Thanks for the review.

  9. “culture tourist”

    what an amazingly apt and disturbing term.

    i have a dream that a new world will be born and i, and no one, will feel so in despair that co-opting every experience that is not my own will be needed.

  10. Firstly, I’m not even going to begin about the complete misinterpretation of my book here. I just hope your readers are informed enough to register that this was a post which was angry, prejudiced, and bitter, and that the only person who appointed me a spokesperson for strippers seems to have been your very unpleasant self.

    It’s sad you felt the need to fill my inbox with slurs about me and my education, diss me online, and leave pathetic comments about me on websites, but that’s obviously your issue, not mine. If there is one thing the stripping industry lacks, it’s certainly female solidarity, and the last thing you, Tara, should be doing, is attacking a fellow woman for pointing out the shitty injustices perpetuated by men in the sex industry – injustices which are not helped by petty in-fighting and misinformed bitching.

    Secondly, it’s extremely ironic of you to call me Ivy-League – a term which denotes a rich, private university in America – seeing as I was brought up and educated in England under a government which provided free university and college education for everyone, regardless of background or income – a system extremely different to the US. Had you done your research properly you might have realized that I was educated in a state school which was one of the worst in the country, and that thanks to the British government, student loans and jobs, I paid my own way through university without parental or familial support.

    If you’re referring to my ‘Ivy League’ education as someone who went to a university of academic excellence which is selective in its admissions procedure, than you’re correct, I did go to such a place. Cambridge is a damn good university and I’m proud to have gotten off my ass, realized that if I didn’t work hard I’d end up pumping gas in a mountain town in Wales the rest of my life, and actually graduated from there with a Bachelors and a Masters degree. If you had done your research a little further, you might have realized quite how difficult it was for someone with my background (not southern, not male, not rich, not English, not ‘upper class’ and certainly NOT from the right school) to have attended this school.

    It makes me so sad that when women still receive, on average, 17% less than men in wages and issues rage about our rights, all you can find to bitch about is someone like me who write about their experiences as honestly as possible.

    Please don’t waste any more time emailing me as I’ve blocked your email address. It pains me that someone I gave advice and support to has turned into an internet pest. I suggest you cease reading my blog if it fills you with so much fury, stay away from me and stop littering my name around the internet.

  11. Mimi, the only email I sent you was in response to yours. I didn’t respond to your response, nor have I commented on your blog or anyplace but SW. I don’t know why you feel the need to lie, but whatev.

  12. If you enjoy sex worker biographies, you might like the book “Sin and the Second City” by Karen Abbott

    It’s a history of an infamous 19th century Chicago brothel. I checked it out of the library a year or so ago and really like it. I did not realize at the time the unconscious prejudices I had toward sex workers. Unfortunately you must run into that all the time, Tara. This book does some good in dispelling those prejudices, though. Abbot portrays the prostitutes as simple human beings, neither romanticizing them or making them into pathetic victims. It also makes a good adventure story, with encounters between the Everleigh sisters and evangelicals, the mafia, the Law, and rival madames. I would recommend the book to anyone, but I think a sex worker might find it a breath of fresh air considering the other books available which claim to represent you.

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