About the book
A riveting true story of a young woman’s days stripping in grunge-era San Francisco where a radical group of dancers banded together to unionize and run the club on their own terms.
When graduate student Jenny Worley needed a fast way to earn more money, she found herself at the door of the Lusty Lady Theater in San Francisco, auditioning on a stage surrounded by mirrors, in platform heels, and not much else. So began Jenny’s career as a stripper strutting the peepshow stage as her alter-ego “Polly” alongside women called Octopussy and Amnesia. But this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill strip club—it was a peepshow populated by free-thinking women who talked feminist theory and swapped radical zines like lipstick.
As management’s discriminatory practices and the rise of hidden cameras stir up tension among the dancers, Jenny rallies them to demand change. Together, they organize the first strippers’ union in the world and risk it all to take over the club and run it as a co-operative.
Refusing to be treated as sex objects or disposable labor, they become instead the rulers of their kingdom. Jenny’s elation over the Lusty Lady’s revolution is tempered by her evolving understanding of the toll dancing has taken on her. When she finally hangs up her heels for good to finish her Ph.D., neither Jenny nor San Francisco are the same—but she and the cadre of wild, beautiful, brave women who run the Lusty Lady come out on top despite it all.
A first-hand account as only an insider could tell it, Neon Girls paints a vivid picture of a bygone San Francisco and a fiercely feminist world within the sex industry, asking sharp questions about what keeps women from fighting for their rights, who benefits from capitalizing on desire, and how we can change entrenched systems of power.
Praise for Neon Girls
"A piercing examination of gender politics and a gritty insider’s account of union organizing. Worley adroitly captures the devastating dichotomy of feminist power running headlong into the realities of work built around the whims of men. A vivid and erudite exploration of class struggle and gender identity." Kirkus Reviews, starred review
In this lively debut, Worley writes about her life as a dancer at the Lusty Lady Theatre in San Francisco in the 1990s. A graduate student looking for employment that would allow her to work the fewest hours for the most money, Worley becomes Polly, a performer in one of the last peep shows in the city. As she befriends a group of like-minded feminist female dancers, she sheds her apprehensions about her chosen employment and gains the confidence she will use to transform her workplace. After witnessing various incidents of discriminatory and humiliating practices by management, and watching how her coworkers are punished when they take a stand, Polly decides to act. As their core group of activist dancers grows, the Lusty Ladies successfully establish a union to protect their rights and gain more control over their work. In telling their story, Worley skillfully captures a slice of a San Francisco that no longer exists through a fiercely feminist lens. Includes illustrations. VERDICT A fast-paced, engaging book that readers with an interest in feminist thought, memoirs, and labor activism will enjoy. Library Journal, starred review
"I tore through this with a bedtime-be-damned voracity normally reserved for mysteries and thrillers, and though I already knew the broad-strokes version of the story, I was nonetheless completely enthralled by this firsthand account. Neon Girls chronicles Worley's journey from fledgling stripper to full-fledged labor activist; the creation of the Exotic Dancers Union; and the transformation of San Francisco's legendary Lusty Lady into a unionized, worker-owned co-op peep show. An inspiring, nostalgic, feminist, and unequivocally badass tale, with moments of solidarity that will trigger many happy tears, this book is a gem." Powell's Books, STAFF PICK