Only got ten minutes to save the world...

Between the new baby and the Ph.D., this grad student only has ten minutes a day to philosophize culture. Bear with me as I tell you how to think...

all within a ten-minute writing limit.



The Feminist Stripper--Subversive or Delusional?

For my first post, I'll start with an issue close to my heart: feminism and the sex trade. Specifically, feminism and stripping.

Before I break the cardinal rule of writing about what I don't know about, or worse, before I venture to tell someone how to live without living it myself, let me make it vaguely clear: I'm experienced. Plus I'm a feminist theorist (in training). So that validates my viewpoint somewhat, right? No intellectual imperialism here.

For years, I've struggled with the question: can a stripper be a feminist? Of course we know that a stripper can manipulate and, frankly, dupe men into giving her money and thus, at least to some degree, financial freedom. The stripper plays the game that cannot be escaped. In a culture that values heterosexually attractive women above all women, in a culture where said women are rewarded materialistically or simply with prestige, it is natural for a woman to gravitate toward the methods that will grant her such rewards. You don't have to be a stripper to do this. If you shave your legs, if you wear make-up, if you try to look pretty, you do this. And you are not committing a crime.

You are, however, reinforcing a system in which woman is object for male consumption, rightful object of male gaze. The stripper participates in a system that is densely symbolic of female sexual subordination. She dances nude under the gaze of fully clothed men. She sells her sexuality, literally. 

Yet she makes a good sale. Capitalistically, at least, she succeeds--she has a product in high demand at which customers throw copious amounts of cash.

At best, she manipulates a capitalist system that in no other way favors her gain. At worst, she is complicit and selfish, adding to the subordination of other women for her own financial reward. Metaphorically, a drug dealer.

For years I searched for the "right" answer--is there potential for feminism here? In the last couple of days I've come to believe the answer is somewhere in between, a necessary conversation between subjectivity and objectivity, between agent and door-mat.

Yes, the stripper reinforces, she reifies, she symbolizes the exchange of women, the traffic in women. But can she dismantle this millenia-old set up? Is it her responsibility to do so? And what is the point of dismantling this system if not to give women the right to do as they please?  And while she reifies this patriarchal subordination, she manipulates the system in some degree to her own gain. Her subjectivity, her ability to manipulate this system, depends on her objectivity, the existence of this system in the first place.

<Minute ten.>


Christine Swint said...

Have you seen the documentary about prostitutes on National Geographic? I thought of it after reading your post.

Of course at my age most men would pay me to keep my clothes on...

Lindsay said..., Christine, I haven't seen it...but will look it up now!

Stagolee said...

This is a fascinating point-of-view and one that I've contemplated myself on many occasions. I should start by saying that I'm a straight black male who has befriended and loved a few feminist strippers in my days.

That said, I've long wondered whether the notion of a "feminist" sex worker was a realistic one (for my end of the conversation I'm centering on a male consumer base). The terms by which sex work is made available to men (straight and gay) is, unfortunately, on our terms. It's what we like and if it's not what we like it's marginalized.

Body not perfect?
Skin color not right?
Face not pretty enough?
Look too angry?
Not willing to put certain things in certain places?
Too many tattoos?
Not enough tattoos?

All and sundry are likely to render trading the product less-than-profitable which seems to hint at a very dirty trick (no pun intended) being played on the woman who seeks to express self-determination through sex work.

Further, there's yet another troubling layer that I have noticed. The production of said feminist sex work all-to-often goes through male-owned channels (veering, if I may, away from classic stripping). The websites, the video production houses, the print publications, the legal representation, the retail channels (into which strip clubs might correctly fit) etc. are frequently (though not solely, of course) owned by men who reap financial and emotional benefits by controlling the means through which the work gets conceived, produced, marketed and distributed.

How "feminist" can it be when a bunch of men are reaping the most tangible benefits? Seriously, all we have to do is avoid saying stupid shit and gaze meaningfully (at appropriate times) when you're expounding on a crucial philosophical point and we have somehow 'earned' the opportunity to handle your business!?!? But I digress...

I do recognize that self-produced porn _might_ be having an interesting effect on the body image of young women. Tumblr has emerged as a preferred platform for sex-positive, pro-nudity young women and offers what might be the clearest look into how young women can subvert what mainstream society tells them about what's beautiful / sexy / desirable / permissable.

Again, however, it's important to note that the expression is often delivered in a format that's borrows from male-preferred fantasies.

Ass shaking?
Exhibitionist-style masturbation?
Flash your rack on cue?
Young lesbians?

Check. Check. Check. And double-check.

Don't get me wrong. I love it, but more frequently from a consumption "damn, that's hot as hell" point-of-view instead of from a "I really admire how this young woman has forced me to rethink weight and beauty" point-of-view. And yeah, maybe that's boring anyway. Smile.

So, in closing, while we may be seeing the development of a woman-centric idea of self, from my straight male point-of-view, it still looks like a sizable portion of it is meant to excite me and not challenge me… Which, as Jay-Z might say, is a gift and a curse.

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