A Pole-Dancing Mother of 14: Performing Gender (Topless)

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The Boston Herald reports here that Nadya Suleman, the California mother of octuplets, performed once in a topless club:

Back when she was 18, Suleman was in an”investigative”stage of her life and thought she’d try out exotic dancing.

“I had not even kissed a boy. But I entered a dance/lingerie contest in a club near my home. I danced and paraded in lingerie,”she told a close pal.

“Then, when I was 19, I went to a gentleman’s club and performed as a topless dancer. But I only did it one night. I quit when I found out I was expected to perform lap dances on the customers.”

That’s totally believable.

What is the point of this “news”?  To what and how is 1 night as a topless dancer relevant?  Why is the media (and the news-consuming public) still obsessed with Nadya Suleman?  In their article Eight is Enough  Naomi Cahn  and Jennifer Collins explore the “cultural backlash” against Suleman and the concerns that critics have raised about reproductive medicine.  In  our paper  Multiple Anxieties: Breaching Race, Class and Gender Norms With Assisted Reproduction,  Lolita Bucker Inniss and I argue that some of the criticism of  Suleman arises out of a racialized, class-codified view of motherhood.

The “news” that Nadya Suleman entered a lingerie contest and performed once as a topless performer serves to solidify the view that she is a low-class attention-seeker.  According to this narrative, a woman who puts her body on display (in a lingerie contest, as a topless performer or as a mother of 14) is somehow less deserving than a woman who keeps her privates private.  As Kate Harding at Broadsheet wrote (and echoed by Ann here),  â€œ[w]hatever you think Suleman’s choices say about her, I know I’m a whole lot more disturbed by what the cruel, bigoted, violent responses to those choices say about our society.”  Hear that.

-Bridget Crawford

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