I’d always been curious to go to a strip club. I thought it would be a bit sad, a bit funny and mostly just interesting.
So last night, when the drunken hue was raised to go to a strip bar in the area, I joined in. I’d been drinking, but was not drunk, and it seemed like it would be a lark. We set out: five guys and two girls in the final group. I knew three of the guys well, one as an acquaintance and the last was a stranger. The other girl? A mystery to me – she seemed quite young and apprehensive though.
Once I had gotten some cash, we entered a place that I had been forewarned would be of a low caliber. There was no stage. It was a normal bar inside – no stage or anything. There were curtained booths at the back, and some more down the stairs in the back. The biggest difference was the girls walking around in 5-inch heels, false eyelashes and lingerie. They mingled through the crowds of men asking if they might be interested in a private dance.
On first glance, I suppose this is not so shocking. It took me a few minutes to get my bearings. I had an uncomfortable sensation of realizing that I was allowed to stare at the girls as they walked by. Normally, we pretend not to look at people, but in a strip club, I guess you’re given full license to ogle. Granted, I was mostly being very… girly about it and staring at their lingerie, not their assets.
As I stood there, talking to two of the guys (who seemed about as sober and uncomfortable as I was), my eyes kept flicking to the man sitting behind them at the bar. He kept staring at me. I hadn’t unbuttoned my knee-length black coat or taken off my bulky scarf. I was monstrously covered up, but he kept looking at me in a way that made me distinctly uncomfortable. Looking around, I noticed that many other men were doing a similar thing. They were definitely staring at the unclothed women walking around, but I was receiving my share of lascivious glances.
I could not attribute this to my appearance. Not in this place. What I figure happened was that upon entering a strip bar, I unwittingly signed a contract of sorts that labelled me as a female. Not as a woman, not as a person, but a female. The men in that bar were not interested in anything other than the shape that I take; the basic form I possess. They looked at all the women in that place in the same way – objectively. Female? Check. I have never been so uncomfortable in my life. I was so grateful for the company of the other two fellows I was standing with, and their obvious reluctance to be there, as well as their unspoken protection of me.
This was made worse by two things.
First: the women kept coming up and asking me if I was interested in a dance, and I realised at a certain point that it had to be because I was a woman myself – therefore a less-threatening, less-stressful option in a private booth. Apparently, it would have cost 20 quid, and I was even offered a discount. I turned the offers down.
Second: The other guys I was with. They were completely hammered. They were having fun being there and hamming it up. It seemed fine until somehow the guy I didn’t know at all suddenly found it completely acceptable to grab hold of me and solicit me for a private dance. I had spoken to him maybe twice that night, and both times he had maintained a respectful distance. Suddenly, in this place, due to that unspoken contract of femaleness, I was fair game to grab a hold of and make inappropriate requests of. I untangled myself quickly and left, rudely, uncaring. None of the other guys seemed to think this behaviour was unacceptable. One watched the entire transaction and simply found it funny.
I knew him. I like to think that if he had been sober he might have stepped in and asked his friend to step back. Now? I don’t know anymore. My opinion of him was definitely altered that night, I’m not completely sure just how yet.
A short while after this, I simply turned away from the guys I was with and went outside.
I couldn’t watch the girls tottering by, with that funny walk that I know (from personal experience) means pained feet. I couldn’t stand the idea of a fourth request for a private dance from an all-but nude woman. I couldn’t stand the eyes of strange men on me. I couldn’t see the guys I knew staring at and touching the women. I couldn’t handle the way they were talking. I’m not one who is easily made uncomfortable by dirty talk, but something about what they were saying about the women in the bar just felt wrong.
I ran away. I’m not ashamed to say it. I was only in there for 20 minutes. I’m only happy that I was very soon joined by the two other uncomfortable guys. We went for a last drink (or water and crisps in my case) and commiserated over how depressing we’d found the entire experience.
I never really knew what objectification of women meant until I walked into a place where every single man felt entitled to stare at any female object in front of them as though they were nothing more than a mobile, conversant and ‘attractive’ piece of furniture.
I identify myself as a feminist – someone who believes that women and men (regardless of gender orientation or sexual preference) are entitled to the same opportunities. I once told a friend that I would only ever be able to date a man who was a feminist himself. My (male) friend asked what I meant by that – I said “A man who believes that a woman is equal to him, who believes that she can make her own choices about her life and her body, and supports her in her decisions rather than attempt to make her choices his own.” I have an incredibly hard time believing that any man who visits strip clubs would meet that criteria. I don’t believe they even thought of the women working there as people at all.
I’d like to add a caveat to this whole thing – I am not blindly against stripping or dancing itself. I have attended a strip show before, and just found it somewhat mindless. I saw the Sex Workers Art Show and found it thought-provoking, intelligent and sexy. I would love to attend a burlesque show. The issue I have with what I saw last night was the complete de-humanization of the women by the men at the bar. This was not performative in any way – it was all about mindless, unemotional arousal for money.
Apologies for the lack of clip art in this post – it doesn’t seem appropriate.