“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 Beachley—but with none of the talent—complete 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 lesbians—one 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!