Guest Post: On Stripping.

“A striptease is an erotic or exotic dance in which the performer gradually undresses, usually to music, either partly or completely, in a seductive and sexually suggestive manner.”Richard Wortley, A Pictorial History of Striptease (1976).

Well, I guess someone forgot to tell the one I saw that it was supposed to be a subtle gradation of undress.

But let’s back up: I am a feminist and proud of it. As a feminist, I am mature enough to recognise that women have control over their bodies and can do as they please with them. But, when asked recently to a friend’s birthday celebration culminating in seeing a stripper in a private hotel room, I must admit, it did not sit well with me.

For the week prior to “The Big Exposure”, as I like to call it, I debated between endorsing the empowerment of the stripper and condemning the voyeurism of myself and my friends. I tried to look at it from the point of view of a “lipstick feminist”, as Ariel Levy mentions in Female Chauvinist Pigs, who believes that stripping is empowering for women and that “putting on a show to attract men, e.g. through make-up, doing girl-on-girl physical contact, is not contrary to the goals of feminism.” Still, no matter how hard I tried to see it as empowering, I could see nothing empowering about gyrating up and down in front of men whose eyes were popping out of their sockets. I couldn’t help but feel that women who objectify their own bodies for others had no respect for themselves or other women. How could we possibly advance as respectable members of society when we are endorsing nude gymnastic moves in a spectator arena?

With all these things in mind, and a pit in my stomach, I went to the hotel room with my friends. I’d like to point out that the friend whose birthday it was is a lesbian. So, I guess we were in more progressive company. Not really.

The ratio was still bizarre: seven straight girls, three lesbians, five straight guys and one gay man. It was even. Only 50% of the crowd was supposed to be stereotypically aroused by this performance.

When she arrived, I was surprised to see her “manager”, a man in his forties wearing a tracksuit looking more like a swimming coach than an accomplice to a stripper. (What was I expecting, a pimp?) He proceeded to lay blankets and an ominous shower curtain over the carpet and plugged in the CD player. After blasting us with Lady Gaga, she arrived.

She wasn’t what I expected; tall, long black-dyed hair, a face like Layne Beachleybut with none of the talentcomplete with one grey tooth, tattoos all over and quite small breasts. I must admit, I was disappointed! I was picturing a Marilyn Monroe-esque bombshell, or at least a healthy, glowing Jennifer Hawkins type.

The complete lack of sex appeal of this particular stripper made it a lot easier to find stripping degrading. I wondered how conflicted I would have felt if I found her attractive; because, in my eyes, someone who is sexy and confident is also empowered.

There was no element of teasing, of gradually taking clothes off, as Wortley describes above. She walked in wearing a school-girl costume, with a skirt so short I could see her breakfast, and immediately bent over in front of the birthday girl. So much for the game.

From there it continued to be a sordid and debasing mixture of gyrating and splits with each layer of clothing being unceremoniously ripped off and thrown towards the manager who was “keeping an eye on us.”

I felt weird. I knew that my gaze (masculine) was objectifying her body (feminine) but, by the same token, I felt that I was being objectified by the manager’s gaze.

Once all clothing had been removed, it was time for interaction. I can tell you, there is nothing empowering about having whipped cream licked off of your breasts by a pair of lesbiansone at each breast!

A memorable act of horror occurred when one of the guys was whipped with his own belt… he very quickly stopped her and sat down again. It was interesting, as I guess everyone felt that it was okay for her to debase herself, as she’s “just a stripper” and therefore an object, but the festivities crossed the line when a man was forced to feel degraded and objectified by the gaze of his peers.

The culmination of the evening was when she proceeded to insert a man’s spectacles into her vagina… proving that she was nothing but a spectacle herself under the scrutiny of the male gaze. It almost felt like a (horror) movie moment to be discussed in a feminist studies lecture!

Mary Wollstonecraft wrote in The Vindication of the Rights of Women, the “public [male] fixation upon the female person [body] has entailed and sustained the subjection of women,” and I agree. If we didn’t live in a society that objectified women and perpetuated the notion that we are only sexy when playing to masculine fantasies, we wouldn’t be watching strippers in hotel rooms, or at all.

For me though, that’s the last time I say “whatever you want, it’s your birthday” to a friend!

Laura Money.

10 thoughts on “Guest Post: On Stripping.

  1. I’m really conflicted about striptease, well Burlesque to be exact. I was part of a society at university which regularly put on shows for students. (I never did dance in the end.) It couldn’t be denied that girls gained confidence from performing. It would have just been nicer for us all to become more self assured doing another task. I’ve been to shows which were fun and extremely entertaining and I never felt what you felt during watching that performance. I have to wonder whether I was distracted by the illusion created by the performers and society. The only way it seems you can begin to accept your body is to get in touch with your sexual side. I think we are all taught to want to be strippers (by the media anyway.) It is suppose to be liberating. For this women it obviously wasn’t. To be honest I hope I never see a strip show like this but I think I’m still going to be conflicted when it comes to Burlesque. The attitude of the dancers, the happiness I felt being part of the society and the excitement of the shows will always be a part of my memory.
    This was a really thought provoking post.

  2. Firstly, I’d like to respond to Laura’s article in this comment, then hopefully start some kind of discourse on stripping and what it means for women in any subsequent comments.
    Laura, as someone who knows both you and the person whose birthday it was, I am familiar with the situation you write of, however I did not attend.
    While I do have personal problems with the nature of a stripper in a hotel room full of a motley crew of spectators, I don’t really want to discuss that here.
    But I will add two things I heard in the aftermath of “The Big Exposure”, as you put it. I heard there were negative comments about both the stripper’s weight and the state of her nether regions, which I find absolutely reprehensible. As someone whose job depends on the allure of her body, she would most likely work out, eat well, use cosmetics (and cosmetic surgery?) and hair removal to make her body as attractive as possible. If spectators are criticising her body, especially the average heterosexual male, what hope to the rest of us (average heterosexual women) have?
    Furthermore, I was horrified to hear a discussion about whether the stripper had an “innie” or an “outtie”. And here I’d always thought when people asked me that question they were talking about my belly button! Apparently this is the phrase du jour for the labia minora. Granted, several of the people in attendance didn’t have much experience with naked women (be it in porn or in real life), but it just illustrates the state of the representation of the vagina in mainstream Australian media. (That is, PhotoShopped ones that show only a childlike slit and not much else.) Imagine how the women in attendance felt should their own sexual organs resemble those of the stripper?!
    Also, the act of inserting spectacles into her vagina is not stripping; it’s a sex show. Marketing herself as a “stripper” is demeaning to actual strippers, exotic dancers and burlesque artists, and the confusion as to what each of these occupations entail is only exacerbated by this one “stripper”. Especially as I know a lot of the people who attended had never seen a naked woman in person before, nor have ever watched porn etc., which leads to further confusion still.
    On a lighter note, Ariel Levy’s notion of the “lipstick feminist” in Female Chauvinist Pigs is particularly poignant for an upcoming post on Katy Perry and a costume party, so stay tuned!

  3. Kimberly, thanks for commenting. I’ll pass your praise on to the author of this post.
    As I said in my comment above, this wasn’t a “strip show”, it was a “sex show”, and I don’t feel comfortable equating stripping or burlesque with what this woman did.
    The original stripper who was supposed to perform for my friends had to back out because she couldn’t get a babysitter, which is telling in that I doubt these women are stripping because they find it liberating. So few strippers would, I’d imagine. But I love the fact that you mentioned that “we’re taught to want to be strippers” in childhood, and this certainly rings true from my experiences. In the playground, my friends and I would often comment that we wanted to be strippers. My sister relayed a similar version of her playground antics to me, too.
    Disturbing, to say the least…

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