07 September 2007

Manufacturing Interest in Stripping

Human trafficking. Murder. Rape. Assault. Drug addiction. Coercion. Intimidation. Degradation. These are but some of the most severe traumas women endure when they are entangled in prostitution. It is the oldest form of male violence against women, and because it has proven to be so enduring, many assume that it is inevitable, something that will always be a part of society. Fatalism and acceptance of the unacceptable are two of the mitigating factors in the struggle to end male violence against women.

Many of those traumas apply also to women who work as strippers. Many young women are abducted and forcibly relocated to work in this segment of the "sex industry." Many will end up becoming prostituted women. Many will experience the same forms of male violence that prostituted women do. They have to endure endless vile comments from male patrons of strip clubs, people who don't regard them as human beings telling them the things they would like to do to these young women and then throwing a five-dollar bill at them. Many of these men claim that strippers hold a "power" over them that "makes" them give up their money, but how many of them have a conscience about the terrible things they say or even do to these young women? Further, how ludicrous do those claims of "power" sound to a woman that is naked and vulnerable in an audience of drunk, aggressive men who are all fully clothed and already demonstrating a contempt for her humanity, her life, her existence? What does it say about men that they relish these temples of misogyny and the opportunity to go leer at a bunch of naked teenagers with their friends?

Further, what does it say when that behaviour carries on outside the walls of the strip club? We know what the men themselves say: they say that women could/should be strippers, too. They portray this as a "compliment," as if a woman's highest calling is to take her clothes off for male approval and gaze. A woman in a dress shirt can have a future either as a business executive or a stripper. Which does the male prefer, the former or the latter? When there's a sense of entitlement, that any woman should be available to him at any time for his pleasure, obviously he would prefer her to be standing up on a stage and denied her agency and have her feel completely vulnerable. After all, if she's in a boardroom delivering the quarterly report, she's unavailable.

Could this be the motivation behind the campaign to glamorize stripping? I would suggest yes. By shoving the ugly realities under the rug and hiding them from view, men have created a false impression of what stripping truly entails. Look at music videos or television shows that feature trips to the strip club: they never feature the comments from drunken dishevelled men, they never show the women breaking down into tears after realizing the loss of their dignity, the backstage drug use, the rapes in the alley behind the club, they only show everybody having a wonderful time--the happy hooker myth. Anybody that's ever read commentaries from women who have been involved in stripping know the truth, and that's what causes so much frustration surrounding the ignorance of the great majority of the population.

It is this ignorance that fuels marketing stripping to white, middle-class women. I am not a class warrior, by any stretch of anybody's imagination, but this is so obvious in its attempt and so potentially harmful in its purpose that one would have to be blind to not notice some simple facts. Wealthy, educated, privileged women don't take off their clothes for strangers. Poor, uneducated, hungry, lower-class, and quite often women of colour, do. Yet the established beauty standard is a white blond woman. It is no wonder that men are seeking to enhance the scope of women pushed into the sexploitation class. They read Playboy and then wonder why they don't see that at their local strip club, and demand it. Hence Playboy being mass-marketed and sold in the Wish Book next to kids' stuff. Hence Carmen Electra and her Strip-Aerobics videos. Hence stripper poles you can install in your own bedroom.

The "democratization" of prostitution has made it something to be desired by a woman with recourse to education and a decent wage-paying job. It is no doubt insulting and humiliating for many women who are utterly trapped in the prostitution industry to know that university graduates "want" to take their clothes off in front of an audience (or, in some cases, would, "if only [they] had the body")--not because they fear losing out on money, but because these middle-class women think it's something fun, sexy, and empowering to do. For women trapped in prostitution, it is not a fantasy or some facade, it is a vicious, hurtful, and trauma-inducing existence. I have heard far too many women who should know better say that they would love to go and strip. They can have their illusion, go out, drop their attire, and them go home. For far too many women, that simple escapism is not an option. The "fantasy" of the middle-class wannabe-stripper is the perpetuation of the ongoing humiliation and oppression of the real woman who has to take off her clothes to make the 20 bucks she needs to survive for another miserable week.

I do not blame women for this failure of empathy, this enthusiasm to live out a male fantasy, this twisted sense of what is "empowering," this bizarre desire to attain all the illusory glamour of stripping while avoiding the far-too-painful reality. The daily onslaught of images, movies, words, and and any other medium is overwhelming, and emanates largely from the men that control them. It is taken as natural for men to hire a stripper or two for a bachelor party, for a group of guys to spend their Friday evening at the strip club, and there's not a consistent prevailing message from the media that says that these activities result in harm to women. They're presented as glorious, fun, wonderful, and of course, empowering, with no mainstream media outlets raising a red flag or serious opposition. It is also, of course, male demand for women to be readily available to them that fuels this prostitution. Demand is not created by supply. The simple existence of a woman does not create the demand for her to be naked; it is the male demand for women to be naked that creates the existence of strippers and prostituted women.

So, in the end, it comes down to a need for men to adjust their attitudes and demand change. Individual men can influence those around them by telling them about the harm caused by stripping and prostitution. Those men who believe that they have a right to have sex with any woman, or that women should become strippers, are not beyond redemption, but they must be confronted on their misogyny or else their practice will continue unabated.


Kate said...

As Ariel Levy says, women have always had to find ways of making men feel good about where they're at.
Our culture has capitalized on this.

anna lou said...

This is perfect and everyone needs to read it. It's probably "too long" for some, but I think you solved one of the world's largest problems in this one little blog entry. It should be printed off and left in all kinds of public places for people to find and read. Everyone thinks that we should just accept this as something that's never going to change (misogyny is history's oldest prejudice) but it all could end quite easily if every man realized that he had the power (ability?) within himself to end it. There are also equally important lessons for women in there too. Great job!

RGM said...

Thank you both very much for the nice comments. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's "perfect," but I find that it's a better path than the status quo or the suggestion of some that prostitution should be legalized/regulated by the government. Obviously the status quo is/should be regarded as intolerable, but how do we go about creating the demand for change? Many things will be required to go about that: the media must change its formulation of the message that goes out, men will have to adopt strict attitudes that are anti-porn and anti-prostitution, and enough women will have to demand that change take place. Which of these do we start with, or are there enough resources in place to do all three simultaneously? I would say that OAG is on to something when she suggests an "action a day" program for feminists.