Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Stripping is not a fucking revolution

Seriously.

As much as people say it is, it still is not. I'm amazed I have to say this.

Yes, and this post will alienate a very large population of the sex-positives and liberal dudez. I don't cater to hypocrites though1, and there is such a large pile of rotting fecal hypocrisy in the notions that stripping is a revolution that I'm amazed that very little people (beside the ever wonderful Twisty or Nine-Deuce2, for example) have pointed them out.

Namely, it is this: those that profess stripping, porn, and prostitution are feminist in nature, can be feminist, or are progressive in any way or form are typically enamored of using some sort of appeal to history, such as some deviation of the phrase that "prostitution is the oldest profession".

How telling! Did anyone else notice that?

If prostitution, the buying of a woman's sexuality for the pleasure of a man (or a richer woman) is the "oldest profession" there really cannot be anything revolutionary, progressive, or new about it and its various forms3.

When Disney produced a movie about the "happy slave" to differentiate American slavery from really horrible slavery, nobody with any sort of intellect would dare express that what was shown was not slavery or not morally wrong.

Likewise, if the women slithering up and down poles today have the right to vote, take off their clothes and not be stoned in the public square, and express their "revolution" via odd consumerist tendencies of blue hair and nipple piercings, that doesn't make what they are doing anything more than dressing up the oldest form of female objectification with half-hearted "counter-culture" symbols. A happy slave is still a slave because he is treated as a slave and looked upon as a slave. A "neo-burlesque performer" is still a stripper because she is treated like a stripper and looked upon in the same fashion as strippers have been for thousands of years.

Women dancing and decorating themselves for men's pleasure is hardly something new. In every single ancient culture, I'm sure you'll find some instance of this sort of objectification. The only thing new about it is that it is now done by privileged and unprivileged women alike.

What is not new about it is why it is successful. Men visiting a brothel in ancient Mesopotamia and men paying a high-class modern escort have quite a lot in common. No matter how much agency the women on poles and in laps and naked on screen might claim they have4, the men having them do not agree. They express this disagreement not with words, but with the continued vilification of sex workers, the celebration of pimps, the disgust of the natural female body and function, and the demand for a male vision of sexuality rather than a celebration of real female sexuality.

And I know all of this because men pay for it. If my job did not pay me, I would not do it. I don't shelf books out of the goodness of my heart, I do it for the paycheck. Women don't take off their clothes, pose provocatively, and commit to strenuous workouts and beauty routines because in a vacuum, they'd want to. They do all of this because their submission is rewarded with male attention, and in the case of sex workers, money.

I also know this because in the places and societies and circumstances in which men did not pay for sex, yet visited places where they could view female bodies in the manner they want and use them how they wish, the women were most frequently slaves, or abused, or kidnapped, or trafficked.

Regardless, women have been ignoring their own sexuality, to the point that hardly any of us can differentiate it from the sensation of wanting someone to want us, for as long as history as been recorded. They have done this for survival, for self-defense, for acceptance, for love, and sometimes for money. Thus, the perpetuation of this behavior today is not a fucking revolution.

It is more of the same. No matter what color the hair might be, or how many trendy tattoos are displayed. Not even if the stripper is wealthy, white, and does so of her "free will". Even, contrary to what some say, if the women own the methods of distributing this show of femininity for male sexual pleasure or they display it by a performance of domination.

But let's pretend that stripping, porn, and prostitution does not have such a grim legacy and doesn't exist today in a largely inhumane fashion. Is sex work an act of feminism, or can it be?

The answer is still no.

The consumers of a message determine its validity. If I draw a really cool poster that I think depicts the idiocy of my political opponents' racism and it winds up really pissing off both the people I'm defending and my allies, then my poster is not an act of rebellion, but an act of racism.

Likewise, if I take off my clothes and say to myself, "I am expressing my sexuality and my empowerment", but the men in the audience say "woo, titties!" and masturbate with a furious glee indistinguishable from their reaction to the disgusting rape porn stockpiled at home, then by taking off my clothes I am not the fueling the revolution, but just crafting another expression of the same old objectification.

Someone will read this post and wibble on about how I am shaming women and taking away their agency. I am not. I will not profess that I want to stop women for making money and having sex in any fashion that does not harm others in any way they so choose. Rather, I wish to say that no matter how much we close our eyes and wish for fairies and pink fields of equality, an act that someone calls a "rebellion" that looks exactly like the same old song and dance, just modernized for consumability, and does not in any way shape or fashion alter the opinions of the viewers or powerful class, is not an act of rebellion at all.

Thus, I leave you with this thought: Feminism has accomplished many things--better rape laws, the right to vote, more equal pay, more opportunities, the right to own property, the right to our own bodies--but none of those things were accomplished by taking off our clothes.

1I am physically incapable of it via my philosophy degree. My background in logic and reason is highly damaging to the social appeal of my message, I fear. On an unrelated note, I love footnotes.
2If either of them stumble upon my tiny corner of the internetz and are distressed by my fan-worship of what little modern radical feminist thought I can consume on a regular basis, I will gladly remove my plugs and slink off to a corner to cry about my inadequacies.
3Of which, I include porn and stripping, both of which are the buying of a woman's sexuality for the pleasure of a man
4And most don't. According to a study done by Farley, Baral, Kiremire, and Sezgin in 1998, 92% of the sex workers surveyed would leave prostitution immediately if they had other viable options

6 comments:

Buggle said...

Yep, yep yep. Why is this SO damn hard for people to get? They don't want to get it, because that would force them to really look at their lives, and their bullshit justifications. I swear, being a woman is hard enough without other women constantly screaming at me, trying to enforce the patriarchy on me.

Jen said...

Perhaps. Although, I was less interested in attacking women for stripping than recognizing that the usual display of "sex positivism" is not revolutionary. There really isn't anything intrinsically wrong with pole dancing. What is the nasty part of the equation, however, is how the P views these women (whores), how vulnerable they are to crimes, and the biases and bigotries of their audience.

rageagainstthemanchine.com said...

They're eligible for questioning, too. Pisaquari brought this idea up to me and it made a lot of sense: feminists are sometimes loathe to question the actions/ideas/choices of sex workers. Isn't that treating them like babies? Isn't that a more serious denial of their agency than asking them to discuss or explain something? I think it is (obviously).

Jen said...

Ah, I do see what you mean Nine Deuce. Removing the questioning of strippers and sex workers from my critique is rather like infantilizing, isn't it? I shall downgrade my opinion to state that discussion of sex work with sex workers is needed and very relevant, but their supposed "crimes", if someone was to assume that they are doing something morally wrong (and from your prior posts, I get the impression that you don't think so), are much less than those suspected of pimps and johns.

Buggle said...

Yeah, I mean, if someone wants to strip, ok, strip. I just get sick of this concept that stripping is feminist now, somehow. I of course, always, blame the P. But I still get mad at the enforcers. I can't tell you how many times I've been yelled at by other feminists for daring to question the whole "porn is feminist and so is stripping as long as the woman CHOOSES it" idea. So yeah, I get cranky.

Maybe I need to reread your post though :)

Jen said...

Hell yeah, buggle, I'm cranky with you. I really don't like that any exploration of the supply or demand side of sex work is met with the "stripping is feminism!"

I obviously mistakenly thought that in your original comment, when you state "being a woman is hard enough without other women constantly screaming at me, trying to enforce the patriarchy on me" that you were addressing sex workers rather than pro-porn feminists. Unless the stripper herself is flying off the hook about how horrible you are to dare to question her justifications, then I don't think animosity towards sex workers is positive or appropriate. Animosity towards people that berate questions of the patriarchy in the context of sex work, especially if they are not sex workers themselves, need to shut up and sit the fuck down.