April 3, 2008
Once a stripper, always a stripper?
The headline on CNN.com reads “Ex-stripper sentenced in plot to kill former fiance.”
The tag for the story under their “Most Popular” list reads “Ex-stripper gets 99-year sentence.”
The opening line of the story reads “A former stripper-turned-soccer-mom convicted of plotting to kill her former fiance 12 years ago was sentenced Wednesday to 99 years in prison.”
So, the fact that Mechele Linehan was once a stripper must have some bearing on the story, right? I mean, why else would news sources (and it’s not just CNN, believe me) be featuring that detail so prominently?
A bit of clicking led me to this AP article, which suggests that yes, the fact that this woman was a stripper does have some bearing on the case… sort of… :
Linehan — then known as Mechele Hughes — was one of the top girls at a strip club called the Great Alaska Bush Co. in 1996. A former co-worker said she was so sexy, she didn’t have to dance to earn big tips; men would pay just to talk to her.
Prosecutors say that is where the blonde borrowed the plot of “The Last Seduction” and had her fiancé, 36-year-old fisherman Kent Leppink, killed.
If you’re not familiar with the film, “in which a ruthless beauty — played by the sultry raven-haired actress* Linda Fiorentino — uses her sexual wiles to manipulate others,” there’s more information in the article. All that said, though, it seems that the fact that Linehan was once a stripper is only significant because she was actively stripping at the time of the murder. And I can’t help but wonder if, had she held a job where a similar number of men would see her and be attracted to her — let’s say receptionist or personal trainer at the local gym — that job would still be featured in headlines. “Ex-personal trainer sentenced in plot to kill former fiance”… doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?
The bottom line is that I suspect news organizations are featuring the “ex-stripper” detail prominently because it draws attention. “Sex sells” is one of the adages that makes the media world go ’round. But there are two further issues I have with the prominent inclusion of Linehan’s job at the time of the murder in the reporting of the case. The first is the fact that linking “ex-stripper” and “murder plot” together in such an obvious way lends credence to (and/or is given credence by) the notion that strippers are clearly immoral. “If you’re already making your living off of men’s lusts, then it’s not such a stretch to believe you’d have a man killed for even more money,” the connection seems to say. Personally, however, I don’t believe that sex work — from stripping to working as a full-service escort and everything in between and off to the side — is immoral. Is the fact that strip clubs, places that focus solely on the objectification of women, exist problematic? Certainly. Are there shady people making money off of woman who engage in sex work? Sure thing. But if you’re going to be objectified anyway — and we are, believe me, we are — why not make some money off of it? Yes, that’s an oversimplification, but my point is that sex work is work. Stripping is a job, just like any other — it just happens to involve nudity.
The other issue I have is that Linehan’s life changed fairly dramatically during the decade between the murder and her arrest. The following is from her Wikipedia entry:
Between the 1996 murder and her arrest in October, 2006, Linehan lived in Olympia, Washington where she earned a Master of Public Administration degree, operated a day spa, and married a local family doctor who had worked at Madigan Army Medical Center.
In general, but particularly for people who don’t approve of stripping, couldn’t this be considered a major success story? She was a stripper, but then she moved to another state, got a master’s degree, ran a business, married a doctor, had a couple of kids, and became a soccer mom. (Yes, I realize I’m glossing over the fact that she purportedly had a man killed in the interim. My intent is not at all to condone murder; it’s merely to point out a societal bias.) There’s clearly much more to Linehan than the job she held when she was in her early twenties, so it’s irritating to me that her stripping is the detail that the headlines focus on.
But I guess it served its purpose: it got my attention.
*(“Sultry raven-haired actress”? What is this, a news article or a Danielle Steele novel?)