The bible and the stripper

Posted: May 24, 2002 12:00 AM
The worst part about the story of the Sacramento, Calif., stripper mom whose daughter was expelled from a Christian school is the utter predictability of the media treatment and public reaction. The spin went like this: Mean Christian school punishes little girl because her mother was forced to become a stripper. The stereotype -- and this story is all stereotype -- works best if you don't think about Take Our Daughters to Work Day. Was the church-run Capital Christian School wrong to expel a 5-year-old from kindergarten three weeks before graduation? Sure, the school should have let the girl finish the school year. It should be noted, however, that single-mother Christina Silvas, 24, had signed an agreement to abide by the church's philosophy, which she broke. Letters to the editor paint Silvas' critics as censorious prudes who want to punish a woman -- and worse, her child -- for being sexual. Historically, women have paid mightily for sexual behavior that religious institutions ignored in men. But that's not the tone coming from Pastor Rick Cole. He told CNN that his church offered to suspend tuition for the month, and that it was working to find Silvas a better job and would happily keep her daughter in school if Silvas quit being a stripper. Said Cole: Silvas "is a very precious person. And this is exploiting her, and there is a much greater destiny for her life that God has that we would love to see her enter into." Silvas announced Monday that she will quit stripping for three weeks so that her daughter can graduate. This episode may have an ending as happy as possible. On the upside, the church and concerned citizens (or lecherous employers) have offered to help Silvas find another line of work. On the downside, Silvas' daughter must have learned how mom was paying the rent. Silvas had told reporters her daughter didn't know about her work. "I just don't feel that's appropriate information to share with a child of that age," she told "Good Morning America." What is a good age? With her ex not helping to pay the $400-a-month tuition, Silvas no doubt found herself squeezed; and it's not fair for her to appear in a harsh spotlight while the dad remains happily anonymous. Which is why I wouldn't be writing this column except that Silvas told The San Francisco Chronicle's Ray Delgado what a "positive experience" stripping had been for her. She may go back to the club because the notoriety will likely enhance her tips. Positive experience? Imagine, for a minute, that Silvas was a man who claimed that he had to quit his real-estate job, as she did, in order to run a strip joint -- so he could spend more time with his daughter. Would a Mr. Silvas be deemed the strip-club owner with a heart of gold? Imagine if a man claimed, as Silvas told Fox News, to work in a strip joint because "the Bible calls for parents to be more hands on." And: "If I had a 9-to-5 job, a day-care (worker) would be raising her. ... So I sacrifice this small amount of time when she's not with me, that helps me accomplish that goal of being her parent and being the one to teach her about the Bible at home." What's that song in "Gypsy"? "You Gotta Have a Gimmick." San Francisco's Norma Hotaling, whose SAGE (Stand Against Global Exploitation) Project provides counseling and drug treatment for prostitutes, had two takes on the story. First, she said, "There's a lot of strippers out there who have children and have families, and they shouldn't have to hide it. " She thinks that the church should not have threatened to expel the little girl. Hotaling also is troubled with the "positive experience" remark. Stripping, she said, is "a hustle. You're lying to people about liking them. There's manipulation, often to get money." The long-term effects may not be so pretty. Worse, she added, "All of a sudden the strip club is getting the attention. So who really benefits?" Indeed, Silvas has shown a genius for self-promotion. She's turned a sorry episode in her daughter's life into network appearances and headlines nationwide. She belongs in PR.