This one is, quite obviously, a post from The Before, that I wrote back in November last year. I was having a look at my draftsfolder and felt this was worth publidhing, perhaps.
I know it won’t sit well with some people (but what’s new, on this blog..?) and I am quite possibly setting the cause of feminism back a good twenty years. As usual, I don’t give a damn.
Everything I though I ‘knew’ about why women become strippers, the deep sociological reasons behind it all- I chose to forget that, for one night, and try and experience a strip club through the eyes of a man. Impossible. Enjoy.
I’m a respectable, married, educated mother of two children, with a mortgage and a big all wheel drive.
I went to a strip club the other night.
I’m really struggling to write this without worrying what you will all think of me. Mu husband tells me I shouldn’t say it’s a strip club, I should say a “gentleman’s club”. Because that’s makes it all sound so much better.
This club was Mens Gallery, in the heart of the Sydney CBD, and apparently it’s one of the classier strip venues available. And I will admit, it was far more.. well… tasteful, than I expected.
I’ve always wanted to go to a strip club. Why, I’m not sure. Something about them being the secretive male domains that they are, the place where men go to look at women far more groomed and attractive than I. Women I just don’t understand, can’t fathom. Women who take their clothes off for money.
We had an argument, my husband and I, just weeks before our wedding, and, of course, it involved his bucks night and a strip club and his wife-to-be, afraid of what I didn’t understand and had never experienced. We argued, he went anyway. And I’m glad he did. The guilt would have crippled me, had he not.
But that incident, more than anything, fueled my curiosity and my stubborn insistence to experience this situation, this tableaux, that men find so appealing but is so taboo to their wives and girlfriends.
If you can’t beat them, join them. So, one night recently, very, very late, under the protection of my large, tattooed husband, I went entered the Men’s Gallery. I forgot my ID, the bouncer let me in anyway. It was intimidating, scary. I’m not generally a fearful person- I’m happy to walk the streets of the city at 2am, alone, searching for a taxi- but at that point, walking down carpeted stairs into a warm, noisy den, powered with the beat of music and the rise of male voices and the feeling of lust and testosterone in the air; I almost cut and run. Had it not been for my husband’s hand on the small of my back, and the teetering heels I was wearing, I most certainly would have.
The worst moment, the point I felt the most vulnerable and raw and so very visible- making our way to two spare seats at a table near the main stage, jostling and bumping through a crowd packed with men. I was the only woman in the place not working there. Wearing jeans and long sleeves, I was most definitely the most covered up.
So why did I feel so naked?
What was I expecting, from the women here? Sluts, whores, bitches. I expected to be jealous of their beauty, be slightly disgusted by what they were doing, to feel smugly superior in my clothed state. I expected these women to look back at me, with distaste, with a certain wistful jealousy.
Easy money. How many times have I thought that, about strippers? What easy money it would be, for such a simple, slutty thing to do. Smile, gyrate, remove clothing, gyrate more. And the feminist in me, screaming at me, at how wrong this is, these woman were being degraded and I was contributing to it. That this was no better than abuse. The social worker in me, searching for track marks, bruises, searching for pain in the eyes of these women..
I think I was wrong. About most of that.
Nothing about these women were making was easy. Just walking into that place, feeling the pull of the men, the rampant tribal heat of them, their eyes flickering and unkempt by the usual social electric fences of manners and propriety… there was nothing easy about that. At moments, it felt like a seething, rabid pack of erections, only just restrained by bouncers and their “You touch, you go” policy. It felt like finely balanced calamity, barely repressed anarchy, sticky with alcohol and the drumbeat of drunken hedonism.
I can’t imagine, now, how I though that would be easy. Taking your clothes in front of all those eyes, all those expectations. All that blatant, unchecked desire.
It’s such a bizarre place, a strip club. On one hand, you have the seething, frightening darkness of a crowd full of men, waiting, expecting, drunk and searching. On the other hand, you have the women.
It should be degrading for them, these women, these strippers. Every feminist, social worker bone in my body tells me that. But somehow, it wasn’t.
Such as the only dark-skinned stripper cleaning the poles. That’s not a euphemism, she quite literally got out the Spray and Wipe, and, nude except for a g-sting, polished off the dancing poles.
Or when one beautiful, tall, smiling stripper, who had made a point of waving to me when she saw me in the audience, in the friendliest fashion possible- bizarrely, she made me feel comfortable, sitting there, watching her, nude. She must be fantastic at her job. Her spot on the main stage finished. And I watched as she picked up a lambs wool rug off the ground. A lambs wool, that would use to line a baby’s pram. She’d been sitting on it for half her show, I guess to keep herself comfortable and warm. As she walked down the steps from the mirrored platform she was on, she was holding that lamb’s wool to cover her breasts. The entire room had just been looking at her, nude, for twenty minutes, but as soon as her spot finished, she covered up. The sight of it made me sad. But I also know that feeling- her costume is her
body. I’m an extrovert in a costume, but can be quiet and introverted in a social situation where I am not being paid to work the crowd.
For the most part, any illusion I had of strippers being degraded women with no self esteem was shattered that night, sitting in a gentleman’s club with my husband. These women didn’t seem to be subjugated. These women appeared in control. These women were earning more money than some men do in a week. These women were the very picture of confident sexy sluttiness and made the men feeding them money look somewhat pathetic. The atmosphere was one of respect- we saw a guy turfed for being drunk, another kicked out for daring to rub his hand across the fabric of a strippers g-string on his was to slipping some Monopoly money in her garter.
The women here, they were in control of this situation weren’t they? They were making money, in the position of power, had every man in the place eating out of their hand. And most of them looked like they were having a fabulous time.
The men, is comparison….? They were the ones being degraded here. If anyone was being made to look ridiculous here, it was the blokes- they were the ones salivating and silly enough to pay a woman $50 for doing nothing but smiling at them and gyrating their hips against a pole.
And then, there was a bizarre feeling of a sisterhood. I had almost expected an icy bitchiness from these women, being another woman- a more ‘respectable’ woman?- on their turf, in their domain. But I felt none of that. Strippers, waitresses, the wandering masseuse- they smiled at me and made me feel welcome. It was like a relief in their eyes, a natural smile for me, a kinship- another woman in their midst.
A while back now, some bloggers were discussing the concept of Feminist or Floozy– is a woman who sleeps around before marriage a slut or a suffragette, a whore or a feminist? It’s a concept that’s fascinated me for years. Why do we label a woman who chooses to be promiscuous a slut? Why do we assume there is something physiologically, fundamentally wrong with her? Not so long ago, promiscuity in women was widely recognized as a trait of a serious physiological disorder. And often, in some conversations, in some thoughts in my head, it seems that not much as changed.
Sex is something used against women, continually. It has been for years and it remains to be so. Any teenage girl who has grown up in a small town can tell you that sex, girls engaging in sexual activities, is at the root of most rumors and most hatred. When I met my husband, I found myself suddenly forced into a small, closed social circle of people who had grown up together. There were stories I heard, about girls I was meeting for the first time, the things they’d supposedly done. Recounted by smug, bitchy women, and incredulous men.
I choose to believe none of these stories. Simply for the fact that if the situation were reversed, if these people were coming into my hometown, into the social whirlpool I was lucky enough to break free from years ago, they would have heard the same rumors, the same innuendo, about me. Any woman, especially any young women, who chooses to engage in any kind of sexual activity- or is even in the general vicinity when it happens- leaves herself open to that kind of hatred, that kind of poisonous, dripping gossip..
Why do we do it to one another…? Sometimes, it’s men who do it. But a lot of the time, it’s women. We do this to one another. We bitch, we talk, we allow rumors and stories to grow and seethe. We use our own insecurities, our own fears, as missiles against other women, gilded with sex and lies and guilt
And that’s just what I was prepared to do, the night I walked into Mens Gallery, my husband guiding me along, a point of fascination for every person in there. A respectable, sweet looking women, watching strippers with her husband.
I’m glad I did it. I’m glad I went. I’d happily go again. It was such an experience, such a shock. It blew away everything I thought about these women, as sluts, as whores, a worthless. Now, in the aftermath of this experience, the uneducated feminist with me tussles with a concept I’m not sure I believe in.
I couldn’t do what they do. Smile, laugh, chat, dance, let men slip paper money under the piece of elastic on my thigh, all while I’m naked bar for a tiny piece of fabric attached to a length of string.
I wouldn’t want to do what they do. But I’m no longer going to assume that these women are powerless, or repressed, or that what they are doing must be painful, or forced, or out of necessity. There’s a part of me that thinks, perhaps, that’s part of the problem her. The assumption that because it should be, it must- maybe that’s the part that’s degrading. That concept only serves to take from them the power of what they are doing. It dismisses the choices they’ve made for themselves, and the work they put in to be the best of the best at their chosen profession. I can only imagine how insulting it must be. The chicks were hot, kicking arse at their profession and making a whole lot of cash. And in control? Maybe. Quite possibly.
More power to you, ladies.