men, masculinities and gender politics

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I hate strip joints!

The city where I live just bought out the only local strip joint and shut it down. And I have to say, I sure won’t miss the place!

I hate strip joints!

Ok, so we probably need to get this out of the way first: I am no prude. I believe that human sexuality at its best is a wonderful, amazing, beautiful, and powerful source of immense pleasure. Depending on your preference, it can be a transcendent experience shared between two people in a committed relationship that leads them to an ever deeper, ever more soulful connection. Or it can be the pursuit of pure lust between two (or more! or fewer!) people with the goal not of connection but of ecstatic release.

Or, of course, it can be somewhere in between.

Why did I feel the need to say all that? Because whenever you question our dominant model of patriarchal sexuality, you get called “anti-sex.” So let me say it clearly: Good sex is an amazing thing! But I also believe that good sex is never commodified, exploitative, coercive, or reinforcing of oppressive power relations.

And that’s why I don’t like strip joints.

Buying sex. When men go to a strip joint, they are buying a sexual experience. Actually, that’s not really true. They are not buying a real sexual experience. They are buying a fictitious representation of female sexuality that has been created entirely with the “male gaze” in mind. Strip joints attempt to cater to what is supposedly the heterosexual male fantasy ideal of sex… wherein a lithe, scantily-clad woman shimmies and gyrates, and, depending on your legal jurisdiction, shows either a little skin, a lot of skin, or all of her skin. Maybe she is dancing on a pole. (Gosh, haven’t you always wondered just what that pole is supposed to represent?) Or maybe she is writhing on the floor. Or perhaps she is grinding her body up and down on your lap in order to arouse you – or take you even further than that.

And all of this is done in exchange for money – your money – a portion of which the woman must share with the house. And often she must also “share” even more of the money she has earned through her hard work with a “manager” or pimp.

So what’s the problem with this scenario? I don’t even know where to begin. So….

Let’s “Ask Men.” I went to the website askmen.com (its motto: “Become a better man”) to see what they say about strip joints. (Or, “strip clubs,” as the site calls them, probably in an attempt to make the places seem a little more highbrow.) On the topic of how one might feel about these places, the site offers two options: “Why Do Men Love Strip Clubs?” and “Why Women Hate Strip Clubs.”

According to this formula, man = love of strip clubs. And according to this formula I (and other men like me) do not even exist!

Another problem with trying to “ask men” about this issue on that website is that the authors of both of these pieces turn out to be – surprise! – women. So I couldn’t even ask a man on askmen.com!

(And I am choosing not to critique these articles. I learned a long time ago not to confront women on issues of feminism and sexism. After all, who am I, as a man, to tell a woman how to make her way through this patriarchal world? How can I even pretend to know what choices women should be making as they try to negotiate our male supremacist society? And if I do start judging their choices, don’t I just become yet one more man who is telling a woman how to be? Even though my well-intentioned “advice” might be feminist-informed in content, my actions would just be reinforcing male domination and control. And there's nothing pro-feminist about that!)

But what about the women who worked at the strip joint? I have great empathy for women’s struggles as they try to survive in the patriarchy. And while I will not miss the strip joint that the city council bought out and shut down, I do think that the city’s actions were likely driven more by puritanical motives rather than by any feminist-informed attempt to limit the exploitation of women. Otherwise, our fearless leaders would have kept the women in mind and would not have turned them out onto the streets with no income.

According to the press coverage, some of these women were supporting not just themselves, but their children as well. Shutting down their place of employment without providing them with any alternative livelihood seems thoughtless at best, and comes across as an expression of contempt for the women themselves – quite possibly betraying a mindset that says “If stripping is bad, then strippers are also bad.”

I disagree. While I hate strip joints, I do not hate strippers. They are just women who are trying to get by… and sometimes to support their kids as well. I am glad that the bar has closed. But some money should have been found to help the women who worked there to get back on their feet.