I didn’t write on Thursday last week because I knew that evening I would have some prime subject matter for this here blog. Then I didn’t write since then because oh shut up.
On Thursday a bunch of lady colleagues and I attended the touring production of “The Thunder from Down Under,” and all-male revue. It’s essentially six guaranteed-Australian* dudes who are built to an almost unhealthy degree do mediocre dance moves (not once were they as together as N*SYNC) and then take off their shirts. Ok, fine, they get down to their skivvies.
All this is not to say I didn’t have a great time. It was super fun to hang out with these ladies and scream and laugh and shriek when the guys got outrageous. We were far enough back that they never really came near us…except for when one ran straight for us, VAULTED over the low room divider that kept the levels apart, and buried his face in my neck.
The experience was more drippy than thrilling, but it makes a good story.
As I left, sans $20 photo of me draped over all the men (I have my dignity, thankyouverymuch, I only take that kind of photo for free), one of my coworkers texted me saying she was excited to see what I had to say about the whole thing in my blog. Because of course I can’t go to something like that without thinking of the gendered and sexual and cultural dynamics.
Then this weekend, a (male) friend asked why I, as a feminist, would go to this show, and wasn’t it just objectifying men, and wasn’t that bad?
So. Let’s talk about male revues versus female strippers.
GRANTED: a.That both are about how people look rather than who they are. b.That both are intended to entertain. c. That both are intended to titillate to a greater or lesser degree.
To the extent that a. is objectification, sure, there’s objectification in both. I think, however, that there are some key differences that help explain why, as a femin-(human-)ist I feel skeezy about one but not the other.
POINT THE FIRST: It’s a little like the “reverse racism doesn’t exist” thing. As in, as a member of a privileged group (in this case males), it’s a lot harder to justify that you are being objectified/exploited/discriminated against/whatever because the system is rigged in your favor. There isn’t a huge and complex web of social and cultural factors that have made this occupation problematic or pressured you into relying on your body to make money.
Women become strippers for a variety of reasons, but as much as I wish that every single one of them were doing it just for fun to put themselves through medical school, that’s not reality. The reality is that a whole lot of women become strippers because it’s the best money they can make with the education and skills that they have, which is not always a lot. There’s a reason most strip clubs are actually pretty sad places. And it comes down to the fact that women in our culture are valued more for their looks and perceived sexual availability than anything else.
POINT THE SECOND: Strip clubs do not equal revue shows. If they were equivalent, strip clubs would all be more like a Gypsy Rose Lee act–the woman comes out, performs a naughty but not-too-revealing act for a big audience, doesn’t show her attention to any one guy for too long, then goes offstage and gets to go home. Women wouldn’t have men stuff money in their tiny clothes. There would be no lap dances or private rooms and they would never take off their tops, let alone their bottoms.
POINT THE THIRD: Related to the above–women are here to drool over abs, which are not sexual characteristics–not even secondary ones. No one at that show WANTED to see a guy’s private parts. Not so with female stripping.
POINT THE FOURTH: This is what stuck out to me the most. While these guys were performing their routines, you heard the expected amount of screaming and clapping. But what was also very noticeably prevalent?
As in, embarrassed laughter. As in, these ladies were so embarrassed to be excited about these guys; they found some of the routines so goofy; everyone was having such a good and non-threatening time that far and away the second strongest reaction was lots and lots of laughter.
Strip clubs aren’t funny. Maybe they can be a little bit about bonding with your peers (we hear about the business partners going to the “club” together) but they serve a different purpose–to get you a sexual release. I’m not going to say none of the ladies at the Thunder from Down Under thought about one or another of those guys later that night, but I can report (I drank a lot of water) that none were in the bathroom “taking care of business,” that none were trying to get together with these guys seriously or to meet them in another room, and thank GOD none of them were up to anything in the arena itself.
POINT THE FIFTH: This is my biggest point: At no time were any of the gentlemen in this revue in danger from any of the women here.
These guys are like 250 pounds of pure muscle. They are not easily intimidated or threatened. They 100% decide who they bring on stage, who they kiss on the cheek, who they let grab their abs. They don’t really interface on a private level with any of the audience, and so it’s unlikely that a lady would fixate unhealthily on one of them, and even then, as much as people who’ve watched “Fatal Attraction” might disagree, it’s pretty unlikely that they could do anything to harm them. I won’t say never–crazy people persevere. But I’d bet the incidence of violence against these dudes is pretty darn low compared to the incidence of violence against women who strip.
This is the Hail Mary argument, in my book. After all, why do we think objectification is bad? Primarily because seeing someone as an object allows you to harm them or ignore their wishes without feeling too bad. Objectification is dehumanization, and it’s the first step to being able to hurt someone without feeling guilty. So that’s my answer to the objectification point. For an hour and a half, did I objectify the guys on stage? Sure, I admit it. Are there likely to be any negative consequences based on that, or did it change my opinion of men in general (and even these men specifically!) as thinking, dreaming human beings? Nope.
So I say, have your fun at these things. And for the record, I’m not at all opposed to burlesque or to pole-dancing lessons or whatever else you do to feel vivacious and desirable for your partner. It all boils down to: Is this going to open the door for you or people like you to get hurt more often?
If no, then by all means, go nuts.
Or butts, or abs. Whatever.
*SO THEY CLAIM