Lap-dancing and objectification.

// 19 March 2008

Rachel Bell brings us one woman’s story of lap-dancing in The Guardian today:

It wasn’t only the earning potential that led Elena to try lap-dancing – she now believes that she, and women in general, are socialised to see it as an inviting occupation. “I thought, well, I’m a sex object anyway, I might as well have it out on the table. It was as though I felt I couldn’t do anything else. Everywhere I look I’m being told that my main source of power is my sexual power, my body is the best thing I have to offer and so to use those things in your job is empowering. But sexual power isn’t power. It’s meaningless in the real world.”

Lap-dancing reinforced all Elena’s negative beliefs about herself and about men. “The men just see you as an object, not a person, and whether you are equally engaged in their desire is irrelevant. Increasingly, you learn to despise the men because of the way they perceive you. Lap-dancing is about creating a situation whereby the men feel they are doing you a favour – that’s the way the game is set up, so all the power is with the customer.” She believes that for men who visit lap-dancing clubs, enjoyment derives primarily from handing over the money, not from the dance itself.

Definitely worth reading the whole article. The Lilith Project’s report on the rise in sexual violence in Camden after the introduction of four strip clubs can be read here, and Object’s website is here.

Comments From You

Smart Blonde // Posted 19 March 2008 at 2:20 pm

Thank you so much for posting this article! I’ve always felt there was something not right about stip clubs, but I felt peer pressure to accept them and laugh them off as “just a bit of fun”, even from female friends, to avoid being branded controlling and a prude.

chem_fem // Posted 19 March 2008 at 2:48 pm

Smart blonde – feel exactly the same. I once was negative about strippers/pole dancers on a womens magazine discussion forum, and was ‘shouted’ down for being derogatory about such a beautiful form of dance (or something like that).

Some women are very defensive that you don’t call it out as sexist, and it is quite alienating.

Qubit // Posted 19 March 2008 at 5:52 pm

Strangely both my boyfriend and my best male friend understand why I would object to strip clubs but my closest female friends think it is incredibly unreasonable. There seems to be a culture telling women to accept this and not accepting it makes you overly jealous, insecure and controlling.

I feel a lot of pressure to not be controlling and accept them and would feel very unreasonable telling my boyfriend that he couldn’t go. (Not that he would anyway.) I agree with smart blond there is something about them that makes me feel uncomfortable and I feel they are probably exploitative however the common mantra I hear is that the women are perfectly safe, don’t have to do anything they don’t want and are there voluntarily. I am not sure whether or not the strippers themselves would agree with this.

Lauren O // Posted 19 March 2008 at 9:03 pm

Not to defend strip clubs, because they’re obviously a very problematic institution, but I think it might be going too far to say that “sexual power isn’t power. It’s meaningless in the real world.” Sex is an extremely powerful force, and I don’t think it’s mutually exclusive with intelligence, humor, etc., etc. Basically, I think it’s horrible that this woman was told that her body is the best thing she has to offer, but I don’t see anything wrong with your body being part of an arsenal of things you have to offer, as long as it’s subordinate to your mind. Likewise, it’s horrible that she felt that sexual power was her main source of power, but I don’t see anything wrong with it being one of many sources of power.

james // Posted 20 March 2008 at 12:38 am

“Strangely both my boyfriend and my best male friend understand why I would object to strip clubs but my closest female friends think it is incredibly unreasonable.”

I’ve encountered this too. It’s almost like your wife/girlfriend can’t object if you’re paying for it. If you said “I went home with Stacy from accounts and she took all her clothes off and sat on my lap, it was great fun, I think we’ll do it again next week” most women would understandably go mental. The fact that cash is involved validates the whole thing in a rather strange way.

Rachel Bell // Posted 20 March 2008 at 10:39 am

In response to Lauren O, can sexual power get you equal pay, the right to feel safe and move freely in the world on your own, a fair pension, good job prospects, better representation in parliament, diverse/realistic/authentic representation in the media, the freedom to be any kind of sexual being you want to be without persecution, justice for the one in three women who’ve experienced sexual violence, will it bring us a society that views mothering and childcare as other than marginal ‘women’s issues’? These are some of the things, that mean ’empowerment’. Sexual empowerment is not the only kind of empowerment, but both men and women are being sold the idea that, for women, it is. If taking your clothes of is so empowering, why don’t more men do it? Why don’t more of them encourage their little girls to do it?

Rachel Bell // Posted 20 March 2008 at 11:24 am

You’re right Lauren O, that sexual power is one of many sorces of power. I guess in this world, there’s only one type of female sexuality that is tolerated though – a very commercial one, and true female sexual power isn’t given enough of its glorious space!

Smart Blonde // Posted 20 March 2008 at 11:47 am

“It’s ok if you’re paying her” is such flawed logic isn’t it? I have explained to hubby that if he gets any other women dancing naked and rubbing herself on him, regardless of if he is paying her to do it or not, I will consider him to have cheated. He respects my wishes totally, but he can’t understand what’s wrong with it because “it’s just a laugh”.

My brother in law frequently visits strip clubs, and for him it is definitely a power thing. He enjoys having the power to get a woman to take her clothes off for him. It’s sick in my opinion. He definitely does not see the dancers as impowered women. His girlfriend says she doesn’t mind at all, but I have my doubts.

Ms D // Posted 20 March 2008 at 3:29 pm

Rachel: I must admit I was troubled by your article. I’ve done strip club work, and your article simply doesn’t reflect my experience or that of any other strip artist I’ve met at all. I’m not saying there aren’t a huge number of women who take strip club work unwillingly or whose experience doesn’t reflect that of the woman you interviewed, but I just wanted to stick up a hand and say that there are plenty of women like me — we do exist and it’s annoying to have our experience universalised and objectified by someone who’s probably never set foot in a strip club.

I’ve had some bad experiences in clubs, but no more than in any other workplace. And if I could be arsed to get back into the gym I can tell you right now I’d rather strip than work as a secretary to supplement my studies any day, that’s for sure. Why do you think one kind of work is so much more inherently degrading than the other?

I could go on. But I have one major question: you cite ‘academic research’ … What is this research, and who is it conducted by? I’d be interested to know, as you can bet there are probably just as many studies that inconveniently counter yours. Such is the nature of empirical research.

I’d also love to contest the idea that the body is subordinate to the mind, but I’ll leave the epistemology/ontology debate aside for now…

thiswoman // Posted 20 March 2008 at 5:25 pm

A past boyfriend of mine went to a strip club on a stag do and i got all the details (because I asked) and I was amused, intrigued and a bit jealous of the boys’ reactions and obvious attraction to some of the strippers. I held opinions about strip clubs, strippers and blokes who go to these places but realised that I had no real knowledge and so there was only one thing for it – I had to go see for myself.

I used to work in the city of London and headed to a well known shoreditch strip pub with one older male friend who was up for some people watching too (and no doubt a bit of stripping)

I was the only female in the pub drinking my pint and observing. I noticed a few inquisitive glances from the other punters and in all honesty I think they were looking for my pint mug full of money as they assumed I was also part of the entertainment.

The strippers took everything off quickly but most startlingly they then spent most of their time on the raised stage spreading everything at eye level and no more than 50cm from the mens’ faces.

I was honestly shocked by this – the argument about who holds the power sort of dimmed at this point as a discussion on waxing, shaving or gynecological practices would seem more appropriate. There ceased to be anything tantalising or sexy about this kind of stripping. I also found myself to be pretty disgusted at men who regularly attend as recreation. Their view of women is even worse than I had initially thought.

If the stripper felt empowered – truly, then great, but that is far far out-weighed by the number of men who saw her as nothing but an object and who felt empowered themselves because in their eyes she’s stripping for them.

Rachel Bell // Posted 20 March 2008 at 5:28 pm

Academic research was sourced from The Bindel Report, The Lilith Project, Object and The Macho Paradox by Jackson Katz, and other men and women working in gender violence prevention. The article did not claim to represent all women who strip, nor did it claim that all women feel degraded or have bad experiences. This is one woman’s story. Our selective mianstream media largely ignores the less than glamorous truths, instead preferring positive, lightweight, sexy, stories of young women talking up lapdancing as a nice little earner to get them through college. Like the ‘happy hooker’, these women are much more willing to talk to the media than those who have negative experiences. Neither was the purpose of the interview wholly to say, ‘Look at what a crap time I had lapdancing.’ Whether women have a damaging experience is just one issue. The point is that an industry that presents women as sex commodities and creates an environment where prostitution can occur, is the sex industry, not the leisure industry. And the point is to ask why all these activities that are sold as satisfying men’s sexual desires, leave them not just disatisfied but reinforce some men’s negative beliefs about women, which some men act out. If they satisfy men’s sexual desires, why is there an increase in sexual crime? It’s about the impact on the way all women are viewed. It’s about the commodification of sex. It’s about questioning why lapdancing is seen as an expected part of male sexuality and what it means to be a man.

When men stop raping their dates, partners, wives, children, when women are seen as human the world over, then we can begin to ask if lapdancing is harmless fun.

Claire // Posted 10 July 2008 at 3:10 pm

Well said Rachel,

It’s not just about the experiences of the women who work in strip clubs, it’s also how it affects women on a wider scale outwith the clubs. The mainstreaming of the sex industry is a huge problem. It perpetuates and increases notions that women are there to be objectified and consumed by men, the ‘male gaze’ entitles men to judge women’s appearances and so it continues the insecurities and pressures women feel about how they look.

I’m pleased to see other women who think men using strip clubs amounts to cheating and that monetary exchange does not change that!

Carrie // Posted 18 March 2009 at 3:02 pm

This issue makes me so angry. Relaxed licencing laws means more lap dancing clubs are opening in residential areas. These clubs invite men in, take their cash and then spit them out onto our local streets – drunk and aroused – for the community to deal with whatever they may do next.

In my (residential) area of London, a lap dancing club has just applied for a licence to operate from 11 am. The venue is a stone’s throw from an infant school, a girls’ high school, the YMCA housing vulnerable young people (including young women) and a training centre for disabled teenagers. But even without these particularly vulnerable groups, this club poses a problem for anyone made uncomfortable or concerned or even frightened to walk past.

Opening a lapdancing club in a local busy high street means that it is not ‘out of the way’, it can’t be avoided and women, young girls and children will have to pass it – no choice.

Maybe men will emerge in a aroused state – the numbers of reported rapes around lap dance clubs is three times the national average. (Eden, 2003). But even if they don’t ,women will feel vulnerable in the near vicinity. People shouldn’t have to feel intimidated or worried on their own high street.

A legal loophole means Lap Dancing Clubs are licensed like Cafes. Although reforms are being proposed they would be optional for local councils. A petition to Downing Street is calling for these reforms to be mandatory. Please please sign the petition here:

Aimee // Posted 18 March 2009 at 6:43 pm

I once went to go into a strip club, where the upstairs was a “normal” bar and downstairs was a strip club, only to be told that women weren’t allowed into the stip area!!! What kind of bizarre backwards logic is that?!

ezzye // Posted 20 March 2009 at 6:14 pm

I’m so bored of the ‘stripping is empowering’ line. I’ve worked in strip bars: They only exist to pander to male sexual insecurities and they are rancid, smelly places which smell worse than ever since the smoking ban. The nature of the job tends to turn even the sweetest girl ultra competitive and bitchy, and it’s hardly a career, with new improved models elbowing their way onto the stage all the time.


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