So putting aside my terrible attempt at a pun in the title there (sorry, I’ve had that title planned for a week), I have a rather amusing tale for all you feisty feminists/humanists to ponder tonight: my trip to the local strip club. Yes I, Ms. SuperFeminist (who would make a totally awesome superhero by the way), accompanied my male friend to a strip club downtown in order to celebrate his 21st birthday in the classical fashion: watching women get naked and objectify themselves while men throw dollar bills at their… umm.. yeah. Highlights included sitting at the front and basically watching my friend get a lap dance for every strip (it also helped that it was about 6 PM and no one else was in the club), observing what I like to the call the “2nd shift” of women come in to work and release a Pandora’s box of sadness onto the stage (one girl seemingly avoided looking into the crowd and barely danced… I think she was about to cry), getting into the club free on the premise that I was cuter than my friend (those stripper pimps really know how to compliment!), and even visiting one happy and somewhat well-adjusted stripper’s house after the birthday festivities were over. Actually, the last one was pretty significant, as it gave me a more positive view of the whole business than I might have had coming in.
In fact, the stripper case study fits pretty well with my “thesis” for today about feminism: that we ought to support women in all their chosen endeavors, whether it be working in Doctors Without Borders, becoming stay-at-home moms of 16 children, or even selling their sexualities in the form of seemingly physically impossible pole-dancing tricks (seriously, how do they do that?). But I’m sure at least some of you are saying, “But Sasha, objectification of women goes totally against the goals of feminism! Stripping, prostitution, and pornography all degrade women by reducing them from human beings to simple sex objects!” Now this is a pretty common feminist argument, but I just don’t buy it. You see, once upon a time when feminism was just getting started, we proclaimed the movement to be about one thing and one thing only: obtaining more rights and opportunities for women. Look, even Wikipedia agrees with me. But anyhow, some of those rights included the freedom to express one’s sexuality as well as the freedom to make decisions about one’s body in general (fine, this was in 2nd-wave feminism, but my point still stands). While we often like to pretend those freedoms only referred to birth control access and the loosening of strict sexual mores that hold women to the “virgin standard”, in fact I’d say those rights meant to encompass a lot more. If some women truly feel comfortable expressing their sexuality in the form of stripping, prostitution or doing terribly-written adult films, and I would dare say that many of the strippers I met were, I see no reason why mainstream feminists should be attacking their lifestyle decisions; such negative, judgmental attitudes go completely against the idea of women’s choice and feminism as a means of supporting the development of healthy women. Sure, some will throw out wild claims that objectification such as that seen in stripping and prostitution is degrading and unhealthy, but I think we would have to be delusional to pretend that all objectification has such a destructive influence. After all, plenty of women do one-night stands or friends with benefits, both of which often involve simplifying a human being to a simple sex object, and plenty of these women leave such encounters as sane and healthy as when they initiated them. Why is it more acceptable for women to objectify or be objectified when no money is involved but morally bankrupt and anti-feminist when it is involved? After all, money provides pleasure for women in a different way by helping them pay their rent and the occasional fun nights out. As someone who attaches some emotional significance to sex and doesn’t enjoy the leering of creepy men, I couldn’t personally be involved in such businesses, but that doesn’t give me the right to look down upon those who are involved in them.
Of course, there are truly tragic cases in the sex-related fields. Plenty of impoverished women are ashamed of these jobs and only do them to make ends meet, and prostitution especially has an ugly history of sexual violence. Perhaps though this is an even bigger reason for why feminists should not stigmatize women who turn their bodies into commodities; women can only turn to us for help if they feel that they will be respected and welcomed into the community. We achieve nothing we the “stick” approach of punishing impoverished women with negative, judgmental attitudes; we will do much better with the “carrot” approach of showing all the dreams women can achieve in they fight for equal rights, utilize all the educational and social resources available to them, and work hard to break through that glass ceiling. Let us say: you can be anything you want to, from a prostitute to the first female president”, not “you can be anything you want to… except a prostitute”. And on the final note of prostitution, as feminists we should push for the legalization of this business whether we find it personally offensive or not. Why? Because our job is to nurture the development of healthy women, and we can’t do that if the law doesn’t even protect such poor segments of female society from sexual and physical violence. As my stripper club-attending friend and I discussed over drinks, prostitutes do not have the same legal rights and protections from harassment and violence that strippers do, and this should be unacceptable no matter your moral views on the two practices.