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Editors' Letter: Fighting Back

Article by Lisa Jervis, appeared in issue Fighting Back; published in 1998; filed under Social commentary; tagged bachelorette party, strippers.

So there we were, ten hooting and hollering women clutching stacks of dollar bills. Well, nine hollerers (you didn't think I'd call my friends "hooters," did you?) and one thoughtful, if drunk, young lady. We were at my bachelorette party, and one of the revelers was suffering from a crisis of conscience. "What are your career aspirations?" she asked our friendly tattooed, hardbodied, and completely clean-shaven stripper. "What do you really want to do?" He ignored her question and stuck his g-string-clad package closer to her face.

She was just trying to be nice, to let him know that, hooting aside, we were capable of seeing him as more than just a piece of meat. I think she was having a little trouble with the whole stripper thang: treating another person like an object for her amusement. Women aren't used to this—it's just not culturally expected, encouraged, or available very often.

Two things. One: She needn't have worried. He wanted none of that "tell me about yourself" bullshit. His goal was to put on a good show and relieve us of our money. He may have been taking his clothes off, but telling us what he wants out of life was a little too personal. (Makes perfect sense: You wouldn't expect your mailman to tell you about the novel he's been working on for the last seven years.)

The other: You can bet that the bachelor party going on across town was unencumbered by any such sensitive questioning. Guys generally know how to let a woman shake her breasts in their face for money, and most feel entitled to the kind of looking that goes on in strip clubs.

Admittedly, whether or not women can enjoy strip shows like men is a pretty small issue. And not a clear-cut one, either: Plenty of people would say that no one should feel entitled to that kind of looking. They would also say that it leads men to treat all women's bodies as ogle-fodder simply because they like it, they're used to it, and they can.

But whenever there's such a stark distinction between male and female behavior, I think it's worth examining. For our male stripper, being sexually objecti­fied is probably confined to his work life. Being ogled and groped on the job is going to feel different than it would if he had to worry about being ogled and groped on the subway on the way home. As for the female entertainees, because we're all conscious of being treated like meat to some degree, we're especially aware when we do it to other people; it makes us uncomfortable and we want to compensate. It's in our interest to balance this gendered equation: Maybe we could all learn the difference between being a respectful consumer of sexual entertainment and an overentitled lout, and the delicate balance that separates them.

Like pornography, another issue that has split feminists, it's not that stripping is wrong per se; it's the cultural context that can make it disturbing. Transforming our culture into one that's truly respectful to women would change so much more than the terms of a strip-club visit. It would get to the root of the problem that all feminists are fighting against (not just the symptoms we can't agree on how to treat). And wouldn't that be nice? —Lisa Miya-Jervis

p.s. I know you're all wondering what happened with our phone listing (see Editors' Letter, vol. 3, no.2). I'm happy to report that we won the battle with Pac Bell, and we're happily listed in information under our real name.

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