There is no homogeneous “stripper tragedy”

Posted on 18 January 2012


By Eleanor Herzog
Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Winning the 2011 Galaxy book of the year award, Caitlin Moran’s stout rewrite of Greer’s The Female Eunuch has fast become a feminist manifesto with a difference. How to Be a Woman has a laugh out loud approach to everyday feminism and whilst there is no burning of bras, it certainly packs a punch to anyone who is flaky about calling themselves a feminist.

Yet there is one chapter that disappoints. Moran’s view on strip clubs does nothing to liberate a taboo and her page is littered by descriptions such as “stupid” and “letting us all down”. Her polemic is driven by a utopian vision in which strip clubs are stamped out altogether.

The wave of 90s journalism may very well be over it but does that mean we should give up on them altogether? Moran is correct; women claiming that stripping is acceptable as it is funding their further education does not equal “Girl Power”, but it is a sign of stripping becoming more mainstream and that women are slowly reclaiming the stage.

Belly dancing was also once dominated by a predominantly male audience and yet today it is re-popularised by movements such as Tribal Fusion. W hen the dancer takes to the stage during these magnificent performances, the room shakes with the wild cat calls of a female dominated audience. When women come into strip clubs they also pay and cheer the dancer on, so why is it that, on reflection, we become uncomfortable with the whole notion of stripping?

Unfortunately, Moran falls into the same trap that keeps stripping in the seedy back alleyway rather than the limelight. She paints a picture of “cold” dancers with tragic pasts and even bleaker futures. Yet such a superficial glance is fallacy; there is no homogeneous “stripper tragedy”. It is time to rid the critics of such dangerous clichés and instead focus on the individual stories. Don’t take away their strength and protection by creating self-fulfilling prophecies.

Let’s be truthful; there are women in every situation who seem fated to use their sex as a “weapon” and there are others who are out to have a laugh. This rule also applies to strip clubs. Strippers come from all walks of life and have all manner of reasons to find themselves spinning around the pole.

Often enough, many are strong enough to push against those pressures that threaten to throw them off balance. They reserve the right to choose the customers, choose the outfits they feel sexy in and choose their style of dancing. It’s also not just “pretty, thin ones” who are gracing the floor. Over and over, dancers say that it is not how you look but how you come across.

Look these women deep in the eyes, past the act and invite them to reveal a little something of themselves. There, you will find a sparkling confidence and a determination to be themselves despite the, at times, strangling misogyny. Both self-expression and self-discovery are present and yes, that is sometimes through an exploration of the darker side of human nature. But it is right there, at the base line, that some women are taught to grow a backbone. There is an unsung strength that should be celebrated, not further castrated.

What the customers don’t witness, and nor it seems does Moran, is the behind the scenes feminism. The women exchange liquid eye-liner tips, rub each others aching shoulders and veterans shows the newbies tricks on the pole. They also share advice on how to deal with the customers who are likely to display signs of “some sexism”.

It can only be described as empowering to witness a woman grow from being shy and frustrated at her own inhibitions into a woman that is able to smile in the face of sexism and point out (even if they are fuming inside) that the profanity uttered by the client isn’t polite and quite simply won’t do. And it would be fair to say that when their impoliteness is pointed out to them by a confident woman, the men certainly do sit up straight in their chairs and apologise profusely.

The women are fine. It is those that go with a bad attitude who should buck up their ideas. What needs to change is the audience, which, despite the 90’s “ladettee” kickback, is still predominantly misogynistic. Voyeurs need to take their turn in stepping up to the stage and saying “this is who I am”, rather relying on someone else to define their sexuality whilst they thank them with a few notes.“stripper-tragedy”/

Posted in: Stripping