The Mitchell sister - Page 6

Can a woman's touch at the top help change San Francisco's sex industry?

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Meta Jane Mitchell Johnson and brother Justin Mitchell (left) now run the Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theater
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY CHARLES RUSSO

Johnson, for her part, says her brother James has mental health issues. "I don't accept what he did," she said. "I'm not making any excuses for it. He's either insane or he's a monster. But the family has an obligation to make sure he has legal defense. He was always a beneficiary of the trust. But he fired his lawyer, which is the worst thing he could have done."

A restraining order Keller secured five days before she was murdered claims Mitchell abused her for years, had mood swings, used cocaine, and was addicted to methamphetamines.

"Danny should have left," Johnson said.

"It's been painful to read the comments people leave," she continued, referring to online reaction to her brother's arrest that suggest the Mitchells are bad seed and should be wiped out. "It's not because James is a Mitchell, or because there's some bad gene."

Rather, she said he had serious unaddressed problems, "a time bomb that was going to explode and then it did in just about the most horrific way imaginable."

"When I was 13, my father shot my uncle Artie. And when I was 31, James killed Danny," she adds. "So I hope I don't live to be 103."

 

WOMEN'S WORK

In 1985, the O'Farrell Theater's marquee famously read, "For show times call ... " followed by Mayor Feinstein's phone number. But that was another era.

"I don't know Dianne Feinstein," Johnson says, as she shows me a cartoon R. Crumb drew in 1985 of then-Mayor Feinstein as Little Bo Peep, with a bunch of men, including political and law enforcement leaders, peeking out from under her skirts. "I know my father was never very fond of her. And I'm sure her reasons for wanting to shut the club down were based on the idea that women are being exploited and that we need to save them."

Johnson says some of their dancers are single moms; some are young girls who can't get enough work at retail jobs to pay their bills; and others are college students and graduates.

"There are as many stories as there are dancers. But the stereotype is that dancers are being exploited and have to be protected because they can't protect themselves and no one really wants to dance. But when I came through the club door, I realized that many women want to do this and get upset if people try to save them. Some people feel that working in a strip club is bad, wrong, dirty. No. But it can be if you are pushed into it and don't want to do it."

Dancers the Guardian spoke to confirmed that they dislike being framed as victims. "When we are painted as victims, we look stupid," Lorelei said. "All we want is to make sure that folks are following the labor code and providing the same basic, decent working conditions you'd get if you were working at a coffee shop."

But dancers know that some people are titillated by the idea of women being taken advantage of. "They don't want that fantasy to go away, that she's really a good girl and doesn't want to do it," Lorelei said. "If it turns out we are not traumatized, horrified, or disenfranchised, it ruins the whole fantasy."

She fears that political leaders know bad things are happening but don't want to talk about them for fear it implies they are permitting them. "The attitude is these women aren't real, they are sex workers, so if they get raped or go missing, who cares?" Lorelei claimed. "We can't admit they are the babysitter, the girl who sits next to you at the office."

When Johnson began working at MBOT, she was shocked that the dancers were naked. "But no one is forcing anyone to be here," she says. "Sure, some women dance out of necessity. But there are women who are really into it ... What's bad is the exploitation."