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March 27, 2006

Comments

Antigone

I agree that stripping is not empowering, but I have some cavets:

Waiting tables is also not empowering, and it pays significantly less. I worked as a server in a few restraunts, and I routinely had to deal with inappropriate comments, inappropriate physical contact, and generally humiliating conditions. And you dealt with it, you dealt with it because even if you had a nice boss who if you reported it and he kicked you out, you lost your tip. You dealt with it because there's not a lot of other jobs out there, especially if you need a work schedule that runs around your classes and you have pretty much no skills.

Second cavet:

What about stripping, exactly, is disempowering? I know I dislike stripping, but that's because everyone I've ever met who did it disliked it, and felt destroyed by it. It can't be the dancing, that's empowering. It don't think it is the nudity, for instance, I posed for an art class in the nude at my university, and did not consider the experience disempowering at all, I was treated respectfully by the professor and the students and it paid more than being a server (the biggest problem was how boring it was). Is stripping disempowering because the behaviors of the patrons?

Third cavet:
How can we speak out against stripping without women looking like we are against expresions of sexuality* (particularily women's sexuality) or making women seem like helpless victims?

*I realize that stripping is not a healthy expression of sexuality, but there have been campaigns in the past that have focused near exclusively on the devil-women.

Hugo

I agree, Antigone, we need to frame the discussion in ways that don't demonize women who are forced to strip. We also have to be careful not to come across as hostile to all forms of sexual expression. I'm not against stripping -- I'm against stripping for money (or drugs, or shelter, or other necessities.) You want to take off your clothes for your friends, by all means -- knock yourself out.

The key thing you write is:

I know I dislike stripping, but that's because everyone I've ever met who did it disliked it, and felt destroyed by it.

Bingo. And what makes it so destructive is a whole host of factors, but the bottom line is that it leaves dancers emotionally dead -- and that has a lot to do with the nature of the transaction they are engaged in.

There are plenty of jobs folks do that are unpleasant, but few others that involve such a clear assault on one's sense of self-worth.

Nik

I think part of the problem in the stripping argument is that it almost entirely focuses on the women who strip and little on the men who frequent the clubs. Women have to bear the consequences, women have to make the decisions, women are earning the money because a woman's greatest asset will always be her body- while all facets of the discussion are important, becuase really it IS about the women - this emphasis on the women takes responsibility away from the men. Men frequent these clubs in overwhelming numbers and these clubs pander to objectification of women and prey on lonely men, already trained by media to find pole-gyrating and hairless women as a sexual norm.

I haven't known many stippers (just one, she loved it, she made serious bank, and eventually moved on) and I have gone to a few strip clubs in my time, a mixed bag - of women, establishments, and experiences. What I have found is that sexuality becomes compartmentalized. This isn't healthy for the women and it isn't healthy for the men. I like looking at beautiful and sexual creatures - sometimes the strippers have embodied this, but more often there was a vacant look in the women's eyes and the formulaic poses reveal something very debasing about humans - woman assumes position x with no clothes on and she is automatically an object of desire, but how authentic is this? Do the men know how easily they are manipulated? And do the women know that they are automatons, tools in the patriarchal disempowerment of women? Strip clubs are NOT feminist. Stripping might be in some contexts, but few are privy to those moments.

mythago

certain "pro-sex" feminists who insist that stripping can be empowering and satisfying for many women (they usually don't know many strippers)

Whereas you know dozens?

And yes, going on about strippers 'destroyed' by their work, and demoralized, and on and on is demonizing women who do this. It paints women as either so desperate they have no choice, or too stupid to know what they're getting into. Sometimes these things are true. Sometimes they're not, and what does that say about the women who have other choices? That they're evil, or merely tools?

Hugo, your thing about not-for-pay is just privileged hypocrisy. If stripping is bad because the men who watch it come home with unrealistic views of women, that's true whether or not the stripper got paid, isn't it? If a woman takes off her clothes to get approval from men, and not for money, is that somehow healthy?

I, too, roll my eyes at people (usually male strip-bar customers) who prattle about stripping being 'empowering'. It's not. It's a job, and it's a hard one because women who do sex work are reviled by most everyone (including nice progressives), and because our sexist society sees bad working conditions, abuse and exploitation of all kinds as just something these shameless sluts deserve. But Antigone is right. We only pay attention to the bad side of sex work because it fuels our own issues about sexuality and money, not because we care so deeply about the exploitation of workers.

And I think we can safely sum up the point of the editorial as Mr. Martinez's desire to see more college girls naked.

Hugo

Mythago, I'm not reviling women who do sex work. My approach to combatting the sex industry has always been to fight the demand, not the supply! I LOVE the Swedish approach to prostitution -- criminalize BUYING sex, but not SELLING it. It solves the problem perfectly!

That said, I'm sorry that this comes across as "privileged hypocrisy." And the throw-away line I had in the comment to Antigone is one I regret -- stripping does shape attitudes towards women. The fact that one woman might find stripping empowering does not mean that she isn't partially responsible for the cultural messages about women she is helping to shape. That's a charge I'd throw, by the way, at those who do strip by choice -- not at those who strip out of necessity.

sophonisba

The fact that one woman might find stripping empowering does not mean that she isn't partially responsible for the cultural messages about women she is helping to shape.

Ah, yes, the Woman Collective. Once again, our individuality is a sad illusion, because anything any woman does reflects on all of us.

But only for sex.

If a man's "attitudes towards women" change, if he decides that all women exist for his viewing pleasure, because a stripper took off her clothes for money, his decision must be partly the stripper's fault. Can't leave men alone with their own responsibility for telling one woman from another, right? Except, huh, when was the last time you heard of a man demanding that a stranger he passed in the street fetch him a burger and fries, confused because he'd seen a woman waitressing once?

So men can tell women apart. When they choose to.

But, you know, blame the middle class stripper-by-choice anyway, right?

When a stripper says something insulting about my 'prudery,' or insults women who dislike the sex industry, or says misogynist things to earn men's approval, or votes to restrict my rights, or pretends that other women harmed by the sex industry are lying or irrelevant -- when, in short, she makes the smallest gesture towards harming other women -- then she may be accused of harming feminism. And many strippers do, in fact, do many of those things. Those are appropriate things to criticize.

But when she takes off her clothes for money? Leave her the hell alone. Don't try to play good girls vs. bad girls with her. The smart good girls aren't playing.

mercy

Sophonisba,
There are plenty of other things that can be done to make money!

Dustin

"Flesh for Fantasy : Producing And Consuming Exotic Dance" by Katherine Frank, Merri Lisa Johnson, and Danielle Egan is written almost entirely by active or former exotic dancers (and a couple of male regulars) and none of the essays within describe anything like "the world of strip clubs in starkly negative terms", despite focusing their social scientific eye (did I mentione they're social scientists?) on issues of exploitation (by both clients and managers), what Frank calls "emotional labor", and stigmatization.

Over the weekend, as part of our Women's Studies dept's Women's History Month event we had a workshop hosted by 2 exotic dancers, one a student in the department, and again, nothing like the "starkly negative terms" you're describing. I'm not saying your students didn't have bad experiences (but given your background and beliefs, Hugo, I have to wonder if you might not have asked a leading question or two and gotten the kinds of stories you expected to hear) but that (as in virtually any profession) a variety of experiences and attitudes can be found, from those that hate their jobs and hate their clients and hate their bosses and end up hating themselves to those who find their job rewarding and even empowering -- and, more likely, those who careen between these two poles like the rest of us do (no horror in teaching, Hugo? no pressure to perform? no putting your body and your self on display in front of an audience that cares little for or about you as a person?). Take the sexuality out of the equation and we'd all see that; that perspectives on exotic dance flatten into "it's bad" or "it's great" is a product of our deeply conflicted perspectives on women's sexuality.

Stipping combines two things men don't want: women being openly sexual and women earning their own living (and in many cases a better living than you or I, Hugo!) and both things have long been punished in our society. That alone should raise a flag against outright condemnation; that your response flattens the varied experiences of varied women into one thing -- loss of self-respect -- is not really an advancement over your editorialist doing the same thing -- easy money!.

The Gonzman

Well, I worked as a bouncer in strip clubs for many years. For every one I saw just doing it "as a job" much less likeing it and being successful at it, I saw a hundred soulless stares. My last night bouncing was my last night in one of them.

I know I wouldn't want my daughter in one, and I'd be disappointed in my son if he went there as a patron.

The problem with it all is that you have the strippers selling an illusion, and the patrons buying it - and they both desperately want to believe it is real. The people making the real oney in there, though, are the only ones who know how fake and empty it is.

The Gonzman

And that latter is not just men - for a long time a woman owned most the top-notch strip clubs in my neck of the woods.

aldahlia

Of all the things to put in a college paper. You may or may not have your emotional security or self-respect to lose, and I'm not up for getting into a "blanket statement" debate. But, much like with porn, you put yourself in a bad spot with future jobs. I mean, here's this woman, going through school, one can assume, to better her chances in the workplace. But, hey! You can run the risk of hobbling your future career prospects to pay for that education! (Not to mention what a past in strip clubs can do to future legal battles you may face.) And, of course, forget becoming president.

Hugo

Sigh.

Look, I've never had much time for "pro-sex" feminism, and Lord knows, I've heard plenty of it. (If one more person tells me to read Susie Bright, Lord, I don't know what I'll do. i can recite her chapter and verse.)

I'll post a longer response to this later, but I will say this: it's absurd to suggest that responsibility is a zero-sum game; the fact that we ask women to consider their obligations to each other in no way mitigates men's responsibility to always see all women as people.

sophonisba

There are plenty of other things that can be done to make money!

Of course there are.

If this is an implied question or rebuttal to what I said, I'm missing it.

What I am saying is that it is unacceptable to argue that if a man calls you a whore or treats you like a whore, it is partly the fault of some woman somewhere who really is a whore.

If we believe that stripping is a nasty profession, in which men treat women in unpleasant ways -- which I do believe -- we do not then conclude that if a man treats another woman badly after leaving the strip club, or thinks badly of women in general, the stripper is partly to blame, even if the stripper is degrading herself, as some think. Not if we expect men without severe mental disorders or a history of trauma to be able to understand that different women are different people.

We do expect that, don't we? It's not a high standard.

sophonisba


I am not, for the record, "sex-positive." I am certainly not sex-work positive.

it's absurd to suggest that responsibility is a zero-sum game;

Responsibility is not a zero-sum game. It's absurd to suggest that because it isn't, we're free to blame people for things they're not responsible for.

BantamBlonde

I loved this line: "You want to take off your clothes for your friends, by all means -- knock yourself out." And so I was sad to read this one: "And the throw-away line I had in the comment to Antigone is one I regret -- stripping does shape attitudes towards women."

Let's say I decided to perform a striptease for a friend and his/her guests at a birthday party. Let's say no money or goods changed hands, and that these are friends I often participate in other activities with, so they have every reason to see me as a person, not an object. Let's say I happen to differ in significant ways from our culture's unhealthy female beauty ideal.

In such a situation, what's the feminist argument against stripping?

Medium Dave

I once came across a rule of thumb for would-be satirists: "If the majority of your readers can't tell whether you're being serious or not, then the joke has failed."

Antigone

The other problem is where is it "stipping" and where is it "dancing". Belly-dancing, for instance, almost got banned at my school a couple of years back because it was considered too vulgar.

I don't really believe in making stripping illegal: I don't see that as addressing the underlying issues (disrespecting women, and unhealthy sexual attitudes).

Barbie

But it all depends how you do it.

mermade

AMEN I SAY TO YOU HUGO! There are no words to describe how utterly pissed I was after reading his article. In fact, all of his editorals tend to piss me off. I wanted to write a letter to the editor, but when I went to do it, all I could do was rant and rant and rant. But you captured all of my feelings and thoughts regarding his advocation of stripping with your response to the article, and for that I thank you for that. I pray that they will print it in the next issue.

elizabeth

Regarding the Swedish law, I was talking to a researcher and sex worker activist yesterday about the myth of the sex vaccuum: that by making it illegal it now disappears. When instead it has been found that the sex trade in Finland, Denmark and other neighboring countries has had a jump at the same time Sweden has had a drop. Though at least Sweden does take responsibility of it's citizens to provide viable alternatives to desperation and survival; which would not be true of most other countries that have criminalized the sex trade.

As for exotic dancing or stipping; the objectification of women isn't going to be removed whether this exist or not. In some countries I've travelled, men viewed all women as giving them a personal floor show all the time. Nor are all stippers female. Yet no one seems particularly concerned for the objectification of men regarding thier body, particular not in gay stripping where the stripper can WANT to be admired, lusted, desired by simply thier physical attributes.

The local Y offers pole dancing classes. My partner and I are thinking of taking them. Is wanting to be fantastically mind-blowing sexy a bad thing? It just seems odd to go in a few posts from "student Crushes" and Professor as ovjectified empty vessel for growing awareness and desire as a "typical thing" to "women who strip and are an empty vessel of desire is a bad thing"? I want to protect choice, even choices for people who may be emotionally messed up. If/when I reach a point or a society where no one cares what is in my brain, it doesn't give me great pleasure to know that I can always make money because a) I have a functioning body and b) men exist - but I would chose it over dying, or killing someone, or muling drugs.

As for my student loan - if there was a strip club where you could go in a night and come out free of debt; I'd camp out to be first in line to beat out all the other Philosophy, Victorian Literature and Humanity students. Of course the same would likely be true if it involved rolling in horse dung.

Hugo

I'm a bit mystified by the whole comparison between being a teacher and being a stripper.

When I teach, it may be true that some students have crushes on me, and one or two may even sexualize me. But I still have all the power! I've got the gradebook! I'm paid by the state -- not by the students; they aren't sticking dollar bills in my pants! A strippoer is dependent upon her audience for her economic survival; a teacher isn't. A stripper has few recourses to deal with inattentive or verbally abusive customers; I can handle unpleasant students in a variety of very effective ways.

And above all, teachers may be objects of desire -- but our clothes protect us and give us power. There's a reason why we use the phrase "naked" to refer not only to nudity but also to profound vulnerability.

alexander

Once again, I must remark at the hypocrisy that says homosexuality is legit and sex work is not. They are both forms of sexual freedom and how can you argue that consenting adults can do one but not the other? For all the talk of "liberation" many (but not all) feminists are quite puritanical.

The hypocrisy reminds me of conservatives I know who are violently opposed to homosexuals but can be found at strip clubs every weekend.

Almost without exception, they describe the world of strip clubs in starkly negative terms. Though it is true that the financial rewards can be significant, the emotional costs are also profound.

This is so of many things. I worked in a garment factory one summer. This was a starkly negative experience. And I was paid only minimum wage!

I know people who would say the same things about going to church: it's a negative experience and has a profound emotional impact. In any event, no one is being forced to be a stripper, so if they do not like it, they can quit.

A woman friend who is a stripper complained to me last year because when she was 21 she made "only" $60,000/annum as a stripper. Yeah, there may be negative times, but try comparing this to the hellacious of most jobs.

An extraordinary number of women in the "business" are substance abusers; many are unable to "perform" unless they are under the influence.

People used to say the same thing about homosexuals. So?

But in any event, what are you proposing? More laws? More police spying on people? More people in jail for victimless crimes? More spending on prisons?

Why is it that too much of feminism inevitably comes down to being a front for the prison-industrial complex?

Hugo

Alexander, I've deleted some of your past comments for thread drift., so please don't make me do it again -- be careful not to wander. No attacks on feminism, please.

I am not proposing sending strippers to jail, or those who visit strip clubs.

I'm interested in changing hearts and minds, one man at a time.

Antigone

I realize I seem to come in here with a lot of questions, and not a lot of answers (sorry, I can do that, I'm only 21 :D) but there's also something I'd like to have answered:

Why is there a market for stripping AT ALL? I can understand wanting to see pretty forms (and the human body is a beautiful form), I can understand wanting to see people who are talented at dance, but what I can't wrap my mind around is why do you want to commodify sexual relations at all?

I mean (oh ick, how do I say this without sounding wilfully niave or too personally orientated?), when I lust after a person, I do just that: lust after a person. I find it very difficult to be visually aroused, what normally gets me going is knowing the person, hearing their thoughts and opinions, laughing at their jokes, et cetera. I don't want to lust after an OBJECT, I want to lust after a person.

If I want to see the human form just for ascetic reason, I'm normally more inclined to want to look at non-viable objects: sculptures, pictures, et cetera, but even though "David" is a beautiful form, I don't experience lust looking at it.

So, in a round about way, what I'm trying to get at is: why do you want to experience lust over objects? I know I'm making the assumption that people who frequent strip joints or porn sites are viewing the strippers as objects, but honestly? I don't see them seeing them as beings. Why would you lust over a thing, instead of a person?

elizabeth

Hugo,

I see, I had confused your objection to stipping as a position of vulnerability to a position raised in comments which seemed directed toward those whose attitude create this environment - the men who go to such clubs. For me; I can't quite understand how a student who lusts after you for your intellect and signs up for every class is an amusement while someone who goes to a strip club is contributing to a negative message. There just seem too many cultural contradictions there for me; particularly since we are in a society which does worship both mind and body. But nor at this time can I seperate even within myself what those contradictions are:

1) A man walks up to me on the street and says he want to have sex with me: this is annoying but typical, "No thanks buddy"

2) A man walks up after class and starts going on and on about how great the lesson was and can we meet sometime to "go over your ideas" - This is pretty much the same as #1 except it is in a setting where this is considered culturally acceptable and "part of the job"

3) A man walks into my work at a Video store and holds up two soft porn boxes and wants to know which one "I think would suit him best" - this is part of my minimum wage job (and a very common personal experience I may add)

4) A man walks into my work to fantasize about having sex with me where I am currently taking off my clothes to facilitiate this. This is my job - one which I make more than 10 times minimum wage.

Should I "care" about any of these guys? Certainly in some of these situations I have "better" options, but that doesn't stop the situations from occurring. Or are all of those options except the second reinforcing negative messages? To me, a student coming on to my "mind" is as annoying/inappropriate as one coming on to my body; because I know in both instances that they only care about their desires and I am not interested in that type of relationship/dynamic.

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