A dose of feminism?

24 Jan

*Warning: Blog Content of a More Serious Nature*

So I was having a lazy Monday yesterday (after submitting my assignment) and thought I would watch some TV.  I came across a documentary about table dancers.  Now before you think I am weird it was on the BBC so I imagined it would at least be insightful (available until 4 February on iplayer if you are interested).

The show follows several women who work at a popular chain with about 600 to 1000 women on their “books”.  Two women are new to the business, one wants to be a primary school teacher and is saving money to move back to Romania so she can start a life there, the other is just young and doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life.  Then there are some who have been dancing for a while: one is a single mother (although now engaged), a university student, a world champion kick-boxer even.  Yes women from all walks of life become table dancers.  They all seemed to have told their families/loved ones and everyone seemed (perhaps to someone whose mother would die instantly from the shock) very calm about it.

Now I don’t want this to come out wrong but when one mother said about her daughter’s career choice “there is nothing wrong with it” everything in me shouted yes there is.  Now, I absolutely believe women have a right to choose to do whatever they want and if they want to be table dancers/pole dancers I take my hat off to them because wow you need to have some confidence to do that.  One of the woman even said she found it empowering.  What I find wrong  and just cannot reconcile in my head is that our society still says it is normal for your husband/boyfriend/brother/father/grandfather to go out and objectify women in such a fashion.  Now I know there are male strippers/dancers but (and I have no figures on this) I am pretty sure it is not in the same numbers.  And yes I have been to “ladies nights” in my wild youth so I will get off my high horse (though I must say I found the experiences more disturbing than anything else).

Is there not something wrong in our social conscience when it is okay for people to be price-tagged?  I am aware of the arguments about how women owning their sexuality is empowering etc, but wonder if by reducing ourselves to such caricatures we limit our potential and make it acceptable for that to be done it to continue.

This concept was reminiscent of a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a friend who has a friend who runs an escort agency. The question he asked is what we thought about it.  The conversation got pretty heated and really my problem is not with the choice these women have made but a deeper seated social issue. The fact that our society says it is okay to commodify sex and people in such a fashion I find incredibly concerning.  What does it mean when we value something as intimate and personal as our own bodies and the ability to share it with people (whether in love or lust) in terms of how much it costs an hour?

Also, even though there are consenting adults who get involved in the adult entertainment or sex trade I wonder to what extent the level to which it is generally condoned makes the trafficking of people easier.  According to the UN 2,5 million people are in forced labour due to trafficking at any given time with 43% being used for commercial sexual exploitation.

I would be really interested to hear what other people think about this.  Am I just being a prude? Is the “natural progression” of capitalism the commodification of our bodies for sexual gratification of others?  Would be interested to hear from any men hanging out there too.

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10 Responses to “A dose of feminism?”

  1. Jim 24 January 2012 at 2:40 pm #

    Although I’m not sure where I stand on the issue, I find it difficult to pass judgement on a consensual, mostly private activity, that when done ‘correctly’ doesn’t do anyone harm. You judge by using personal feelings of ‘intimacy’ and ‘privacy’, which others (including by the sounds of it, the strippers) may not agree with. It seems to me that the link with illegal human trafficking works in the opposite way, it would be more prevalent if stripping was marginalised or made illegal.

    As for the gender imbalance there are clearly genetic differences that play a part, but I would suggest that its at least a supply/demand issue, would there be more male strippers if there were female buyers? Probably, but who knows.

    In that sense this article isn’t really about feminism at all, but about a moral decay of the modern world? It’s in this way I sympathise, various modern initiatives to legalise prostitution (middlesbrough) or drugs (portugal) have usually had great success, but, like some kind of fusty old man I worry about where they lead.

  2. Jessica Ann (@peonyfish) 24 January 2012 at 11:05 pm #

    I also watched this show, and what I found sad about it was that, although yes, some of the girls were putting themselves through university, several of them (of the very few that were featured) were just really young girls (looking about 18-19) who in their own words “don’t have a lot going on” for themselves. No education, no career prospects.

    It does make me sad that these girls feel that the only thing they have that is of any value is their naked bodies, and I worry about what will happen to them in 5 or 10 years when they are not young and pert enough to strip anymore, but have left school at fifteen and have no experience of doing anything else.

  3. Maria 25 January 2012 at 11:08 am #

    I saw a very similar documentary a couple of years ago. I felt (and still feel) the same way you did. To me, this sort of objectification of women is infuriating. How can we still be here? It shows how far we still have to go. I don’t suppose we will ever live in a world where men don’t lust after women and don’t long for a private peep show or two, but I do hope we can get to a time and place where women themselves feel empowered enough NOT to objectify their bodies to make a buck.

  4. The Girl 25 January 2012 at 11:20 am #

    Oh my god I’m so pleased you wrote this post – I saw it too! In fact I’ve seen it twice, once on TV and then I got my boyfriend to watch it as well because I wanted to see his views on it.

    I’ve always gone along with the “Women have the upper hand here” viewpoint – that the women are exploiting the men – if they want to pay £20 for a dance then that’s their issue. But having watched this programme I’ve done a bit of a 180 on that view. It wasn’t the women taking advantage of the men because at the end of the day they had to vie for attention with other women in order to “please” the men and be picked by them to have a dance. That in itself isn’t empowering at all, these men are paying you to dance for them, how could you possibly have the upper hand.

    Also actually watching the way in whcih the men were viewing these women was the most uncomfortable viewing experience I’ve had in a long time. Fair play to them for letting the cameras film them but watching them leer over these girls made me feel sick to my stomach.

    Mostly it left me feeling pretty grubby..

    • the dancer 9 February 2012 at 12:55 pm #

      I had quite a lot of experience in clubs the past 2 years, so I can say that girls work differently amongst themselves, some will compete and be picked up, or spend a whole evening ‘investing’ time in a guy to make him spend a little, which often would have not worked. That is certainly not empowering.
      On the other side there are the lucky types, there were other ways to work and some girls would manage to wrap guys around their fingers, giving them a strong sense of power and more money at the end of the night. I put that down to, mostly personality and second to looks. That often would be the case of whose the weaker link

  5. Jessica 26 January 2012 at 9:29 pm #

    I’m definitely in your camp here Michelle. I find it very saddening that the idea of treating human beings as commodities in this way is pretty much accepted as a normal thing in our society. For me the idea that lap dancing (or indeed prostitution, or being a page 3 model, or anything where a woman is essentially being reduced to nothing more than a sexual object for the pleasure or men) is empowering rather than degrading, just makes me laugh. Albeit wearily.

    Anyway, I could rant about this for ages it gets me so heated, but I won’t. I did read ‘Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism’ last year and found it very informative; would definitely recommend.

  6. the dancer 9 February 2012 at 1:59 pm #

    The dancer:
    Run out of battery on my computer…
    continuing..

    So the dynamic between dancer and client quite often is emotional. The characteristics very individual and the stories extremely varied, I’ve seen many men who were in need of attention, being that sexual or emotional (someone in need of emotional connection would be in a not so good position in comparison to the dancer) and also many women in need of reassurance or money (if they needed reassurance they were prone to be insecure on a certain night, whether when they need money they tend to become a bit more ruthless). So the scale is formed and in it both genres can perform, as the dominant or subordinate, depending on the night noting that any position could also shift throughout the year (as enough clients do come back for feedback) or even throughout the night.

    People are very quick to judge men as primate sexual predators leering over fragile women. I think that would be a mistaken generalisation that put out of context may sound right. In my opinion there are different types of people. And knowledge and emotional state differ them not sex. An intelligent girl might win many ‘clients’ over another who’s not that interesting, when they are stupid and being on page 3 is all they aim for themselves, not many people would be interested in what they think apart from how big their breasts were. And it is certainly a very sad scenario, as most of the girls who work in the industry are more of the latter type., but the roots are in the lack of useful information. Mostly what some people have access to is just not good enough. It is more of a social fault than a question of morality and sexism.

    Knowledge is power, women in that position could only be empowered by information, by knowing where she is at, how it works and what is that she wants from that situation. The more she knows the more she has control over it. Something a 18/19 year old girl certainly won’t have much of.

    As to society in general, we could only evolve positively into a better world if the people who forms it and its opinions were more active into spreading proper knowledge. Population is in need of self and social awareness but we seem to be forever alienated and stuck in ignorance. Unfortunately many people of the masculine sex did and still does hold power over information and who deserves it, on a brighter note… with internet (if we are not due to have our freedom in it being considerable limited) things are about to change.

  7. Laura 10 February 2012 at 12:49 pm #

    I also watched the programme and I couldn’t believe how dilusional some of the women were, it scares me because of the social threat and it doesn’t just stop here it’s everywhere. It’s a growing problem and I worry that young girls watching these sorts of programmes may fall into the trap of selling themselves for money and whilst still in their developing part of life, when they look for idles and role models they are at their most vunerable.

    I also worry because of the lack of jobs this could become a quick solution for young girls and they may not think about the long term effects, it’s sads because one day they may want a family and may not ever find love because of this career choice. Will people want an ex table dancer to teach their children? our teachers have the responsibility to teach our children morals, i’m certain I wouldn’t want the morals of these women passed onto my children. Will they even finish the job when they finish uni? the money could be better?

  8. Guy 17 February 2012 at 12:00 am #

    Interesting thoughts on this one. Here is something to add to the mix… my girlfriend works in one of the clubs – at first she deceived me in to thinking she had a regular job, the sceptic that I am, knew from day one – something was not altogether right about that.

    Eventually, I found out the truth. When confronted with it she simply cried and said “now I guess it’s over”

    Rather curiously, I said “no it’s not”. We then went on to talk about it, I gathered reasons for the career choice, which was simply led by the vast sums of money obtainable if you are prepared to put in the hours, have the looks, intelligence, charm and “gift of the gab”.
    It seemed that she thought of herself more of a showgirl come actress, slightly empowered by it all as well – a kind of fantasy land where she is adored by all. In the advertising mad materialistic world we live in, where women choose to spend small fortunes on making themselves “beautiful” who wouldn’t like to be adored and paid compliments to for looking good, furthermore – if you can be paid to feel beautiful? But mainly and this is important – feel comfortable doing that, then why not.

    Don’t confuse me here, i’m not saying I condone it at all, nor am I supporting it. I have never been to a strip club, nor am I ever likely to go to one. Personally I think they are pointless, why on earth would you wish to give money to girls purely to look and admire their bodies? Perhaps I am crazy – but I think it takes a special sort of person to visit these clubs – someone who seems to think that the closest they will get to beautiful women is by sitting in that chair and paying them for their lies and falsity. If they honestly think they are going home with them at the end of the night, they are largely mistaken and would have more chance in a bar, these girls are professionals, trained in the art of opening a guys wallet for his hard earned cash for a peek at her body. (An echo through normal society – ha ha – joking).

    Back to the start though – she deceived me right. Most of you will be quick to think “and you are still with her” “She chose that life and has to pay the consequences” – well…..yes, part of that could be true but as she said to me, if I had told you what I did for a living on our first date – could you honestly look me in the eye and say there would have been a second. My reply “I love you for who you are, not what you do, and if what you do or have done has made you who you are now, and I wouldn’t change that”.

    So, as a guy that is right in amidst of it all, who does not objectify his girlfriend but simply loves her for her intelligence, undeniable beauty, whit, charm and kindness – here’s how I sum it up –

    There is no problem with a woman wishing to dance for an income, if she is content with the attention and flaunting of her intimacy. Does the problem lie with society? I ask the question – what problem doesn’t?

    The world is full of views and opinions – many of which we will never resolve. What we must do is learn to be a little bit more open minded on certain subjects before making that jump to our instinctive judgement – remember – most of your judgements, views, virtues and values were instilled by your parents, your tutors and your mentors in life……..I ask another question – who is to say that they were all right? Who is to say that I am right?

    I don’t know – but what I do know is that this world is getting tougher and tougher by the day and we all owe each other the common decency of appreciating each and every person that is not causing harm, offence or a burden to society in any way. These girls are just earning a living. Good luck to you all.

  9. Michelle Y 17 February 2012 at 6:40 am #

    Thanks to everyone who has commented so far. Some really interesting points have been raised and have kept me thinking on this issue.

    Firstly, in case I didn’t make it clear I would like to say that I in no way judge the women who are dancers. As the child of a single mother I can understand that times get hard and making money is a necessity, whether it means feeding your child, putting yourself through school or whatever else because you feel there is no alternative. Obviously there are also a range of women – some who may feel empowered by the process and some who just know that it is something that needs to be done. As a woman I don’t think it is my place to judge other women. Although sorry I can’t help but question the men who visit these establishments (although I am sure there is also a range of reasons and types too).

    Also, although I believe it is primarily a social issue I think when intelligent and attractive women have to consider a career where they take off their clothes as an option rather than going into a profession dominated by men (say being a lawyer) it is also a feminist issue. Yes it is a “supply demand” issue that men are more interested in having a woman dance naked for them but does that mean we have to accept it as a woman’s lot in life?

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