Posted by Irresponsibility
There are all sorts of worthy (and unworthy) debates to be had about strip clubs, the purportedly innocuous end of the serving-up-women-as-slabs-of-meat industry, aka ‘the sex trade’. The liberal/feminist dilemma was beautiful articulated by Rowenna Davis in a Guardian column and it pretty neatly summed up my own conflicting righteous impulses. Until I actually went to a strip club last week…
It is a friend’s going away party and, shielded by booze and irony, the guys decide it will be fun. I object on the ground of the badly punctuated sign above the door (‘Gentlemans club’) but they pay my three-quid cover and in I go. Not surprisingly, I am the only woman there wearing flat shoes and clothing that covers my arse cheeks. One of the ‘girls’ is working the room, plastic cup in hand. “One pound for the show. I’m on stage next.” Dudes plonk coins into the cup, without making eye contact.
A couple of minutes later she is onstage, shucking her black, acrylic bodysuit with its cutout flanks and her g-string. I can hardly watch. Not because I’m prudish, or morally outraged, but because it’s so unsexy. My friend Andy has wisely turned his attention to the fruit machine and is cheerfully losing the rest of his change. I look back at the stage. She has a huge butterfly tattoo across the small of her back, her only distinguishing feature.
There is a sense of relief when she grabs her clothes and marches off stage. “That’s just depressing,” I say.
“I mean, there are nicer strip clubs… classier…” one of my friends says, unconvinced and unconvincing.
After a brief reprieve another girl kitted in scanty black lycra does the round with the cup. She writhes to Pour Some Sugar On Me. Watching carefully shaved labia swirling around a cold brass pole doesn’t make me think about sex, it makes me think about hygiene.
Nudists are right: there’s nothing sexual about nakedness. Bare bodies, unmediated by any warmth or personal engagement are just raw flesh; strip clubs are about as erotic as abattoirs. I suspect my friend is wrong. The ‘classiness’ of the venue has nothing to do with it. No amount of red velvet or champagne negates the fact it’s essentially open day at the meat-packing plant.
The real kick of sex is the shared sense of mischief, intimacy, desire, whatever it is that makes two people click. Even the most random one-night stand, or dirrrtiest nightclub hook-up is fuelled by proximity, by the sense – however fleeting – that you and he, or she, are conspirators in a delicious act of sin. Strip clubs render this impossible because they are so utterly dehumanising. (I defy you to remember what someone’s face looks like when their snatch is at eye level.)
Strip clubs aren’t about sex at all; they’re about power. Men who frequent them aren’t getting off on the hot naked sex-ayness, they’re getting off on domination. And men who equate dominance with sexual pleasure are dangerous. Rapists in mind, if not in fact.
Knowing that, how can liberals or feminists support women’s right to ‘choose’ the sex trade? What we need to do, instead, is fight the economic inequalities that force women into these ‘choices’ and enshrine male privilege.
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