Strip maul

Once upon a time last week, five TGW writers from different regions of the country (who would all prefer not to be “outed,” you commenters who know us, for professional reasons) had a big night out. It started with cocktails and music and chatting, moved on to copious amounts of sushi and sake, and ended up progressing to another location. Those of you who are regular readers of the site might have a variety of guesses as to where this eclectic group of interesting educated PC writers ended up: A book signing? A rock club? A cool dive bar with historical cred? An amusement park? A film festival? The archives of a historical library? A stadium men’s room where they studiously performed sociological observations?

All of these are great guesses, and if we were talking about some other night you might be right, except you aren’t. Instead, we went to a strip club–not even an ironic Vegas one or a hipster urban one, but a sorry little number in a suburban office park area with a faded medieval theme. The outside of this cinderblock cube is shaped like a castle, sort of, with square turrets halfassedly slapped on top of the four corners of this otherwise boxy box. The whole thing is painted grey with brick and stone outlines in a lighter gray to give the illusion (if you’re totally smoking crack) that it was built by Roman slaves, stone by stone, in a more feudal time. Two concrete lions also painted gray are either guarding the door against “the wrong element”—whatever that would even mean—or else are there in a limp attempt to somehow provide the place with the cred of the NY Public Library, its way more dignified distant cousin who tries to avoid it at the family reunion.

Now, I need to preface this whole story by noting that all five of us, I flatter myself to think, are people you wouldn’t imagine in a strip club normally. Yet there we were. Our responses varied from indifferent to embarrassed to wildly enthusiastic, though not necessarily aroused. Perhaps this was partially due to the fact that we were a mixed-sex group, which has the potential to make it more awkward (I think?) yet also somehow provides the illusion that if women are there with you, it’s less pervy and more ironic.

So we went in, threw down the plastic and started a cocktail tab, and the gals began to strut it. An eerily booming announcer’s voice shouted out each dancer’s strippery name before she strode onstage to swing around the pole and rub up against the mirrored wall. (The mirrored wall was diligently shined—shone?—by a club employee between each act, I was relieved to note. More on this later.) Each woman danced to two songs before her time was up, and the idea was that though it was apparently illegal to put the money on her person, we were perfectly free to fling dollar bills onto the stage floor while she danced. But that’s where the spell was broken, because when each dancer finished, her gathering up of the booty (and of the money, ha ha) was downright degrading: crawling around on the stage to pick up the bills and stuffing them into a plastic Ross shopping bag. As if that weren’t enough of an indignity, each one then immediately started putting her bra top back on and fumbling with ties and straps. Why not pick up your top, strut topless backstage with it (heck, we’ve already seen ya), and then deal with it? Who wants to think about the inconvenience and craning necessary to put on the top? It’s suddenly like you’re getting ready for work in the morning, not spiriting us away into an escapist sexual fantasy.

Interestingly, the dirtiest types were not the most popular with our group, and in fact there was one kinda regular-looking tall girl with stretch marks and straight hair and a sweet smile that everyone liked best despite her relative lack of rawness. Making humpy faces all seriously was also judged unerotic—some of those gals jerked and cringed as if they were getting slammed into the headboard, like in that horrific table-bangin’ scene in Eyes Wide Shut. In the end, though, our group was split over the hotness factor of the doggy style ass shakin’ that some dancers adopted seemingly to tempt us into wanting to do ’em. Of course, we thought our server was cutest of all.

One dancer with a vaguely Gillian Anderson countenance stood out significantly from the others for a number of reasons, primarily the fact that she was such a prima donna yet, unlike the delicious Scully, so incredibly unappealing. We started referring to her as “the mime” due to her exaggerated facial caricatures: believe me, nothing could be less erotic than her cartoonish “naughty” faces after every time she “stole” a peek into her thong. The announcer listed her publication credits, which included “” and “Oyster Magazine,” and then braced us to get ready for the “erotic lotion show.” “Erotic motion show?” we asked each other, assuming we must have misheard, but nope, it was lotion—she writhed around on a sheet, pouring creamy white lotion on her thighs, inside her g-string, and then in her mouth, after which she let it overflow down her chin. Was it really lotion, all bitter and perfumey, and are we supposed to imagine wanting to kiss a mouth full of soap like that? We hoped it was something different like melted marshmallow fluff, though it was a bit more pearly than Kraft’s finest Jet-Puffed. Who knows, maybe it was the real deal, freshly bottled from some willing rocket, though I couldn’t smell that telltale bleachy odor.

Immediately after the show she strode over to her bodyguard, to whom she’d been smirking suggestively throughout her dance, and he enveloped her in a huge fluffy white robe—crusty with lotion all over the inside from previous performances, I assume—and then she went out into the bar area in this giant robe like a little girl saying goodnight to the grown-ups. All the other performers worked the room in the same lil’ ensembles they sported onstage, but not this one. Does she think it gives her more respectability that we only get to look at her when she decides to bare it?

After her second dance she handed out rolled-up photos of herself to various audience members, making them (okay, us) come up to the stage and receive them in a variety of porny ways. Unrolling the photos after we all got home, we found an image of her, mimey face and all, in a very loose-weave fishnet body stocking, sitting with her legs spread wide so we could see everything she couldn’t show at the strip club, with a caption announcing that she had been “Miss Nude Mississippi Rising Star 2005.” (The photo also revealed the pearl in the oyster, her pierced clit. So predictable.) The whole thing was kind of funny that night, but when I found the photo the next morning, I was so skeeved out that I actually had to shred it—and after I did, I even tried to put the pieces of the photo through the shredder the other way. Really, you wouldn’t have wanted to see it either.

The afterplay of the dances made us wonder: once they talk to you, is it breaking the spell? After they came offstage, they came over and thanked us, presumably to make us think we had a chance with them so we’d buy a lap dance. But this backfired horribly with the one who came to talk to my friend, since she talked first about her two kids, and then her quest to become a real estate agent. (This might be the only thing less hot than “two kids”—no offense to any of you readers with two, or one or three, kids, but you just don’t want to hear it from a sex worker, you know? We all know what sex can lead to, but sometimes we want to be in denial.) Finally she asked him, exactly as if we were in a junior-high gymnasium with sagging streamers and Christopher Cross on the crackly PA, “So . . . you wanna dance?” She actually looked a bit crushed when after all that soul-baring on her part, he gently said no thanks.

Another dancer, whose lap dancing services were solicited for one of the members in our group by an evil pal, told him after his dance that she hadn’t danced in two years and it was her first night back on the job. This raised a number of questions as well: do strippers use that line a lot, to make themselves seem more “virginal” and not calloused by endless nights of tail-wagging at drunk jerks? Or was she telling the truth and if so, what did she do on her two years off? Have a kid, we assumed, which is also depressing—where’s that kid right now while you’re here trying to get us to rub up on ya? The lap dance did involve full body contact plus actual making out, he reported, but also lots of conversation, and not of the hey-baby sort. What’s the deal with that?

More than anything, though, the whole experience really begged the question: what kind of a feminist am I? Needless to say, there are two possible responses to going to a strip club (well, there are plenty more than two, but for a scholarly-type feminist, as I’m pretty sure every TGW writer and reader is at least to some degree, two responses in particular stand out): the outrage possible at seeing women degrading female sexuality and the gender as a whole by presenting themselves as nothing more than objects for the violent or dominating fantasies of men, and blah blah blah—that’s obvious, but then there’s the other option of go-girl own-your-sexuality and use-your-body-for-whatever-you-want and screw those losers who sit there paying to watch you. You know, the I’m-liberated-enough-to-go-to-a-strip-club-without-it-being-just-an-exercise-in-horniness attitude; you know, the “it’s a sociological experiment and what’s wrong with indulging our natural desires” angle. So, which is it?

Of course, there’s a huge disconnect between real sexual experience and going to a strip club. Truly, there was something distressing about seeing all these women with varying sizes of perfectly spherical breasts—some inflated to the point a friend of mine refers to as “clownie”—and, even more disturbingly, realizing that next to these breasts, the gals with the unaugmented, flatter, less globular models looked a bit woeful. I don’t want to get into the yawningly exhausting cliches about women’s body image and empowerment—wait, I already have—but what the hell else do you think about while watching attractive women strip and feeling more conflict churning in your gut than in your pants? I mean, other than what it would be like to make out with them, of course?

For those of you who are more frequent visitors to strip clubs, this may be all quite obvious, and it’s not like it was my first time or anything, but I couldn’t help think about all these things obsessively, almost to the point of not being able to simply enjoy the “eye candy” that we were supposed to be taking in presumably as an enjoyable garnish to our cocktails. Perhaps the experience simply fueled the war between the prude and the libertine in us all.

Interestingly enough, after this first joint foray, the group returned in subsequently smaller and smaller increments; one of us returned home after the visit that brought him into town, and after he left (even though he made us solemnly swear not to ever return until his next time in town), the other four of us went back without him. This second visit was considerably bleaker than the first; most notably, the mirror didn’t get polished at all between dancers, and as a result the entire thing was smeared and smudged so vilely that I couldn’t imagine how they could blithely rub their bare skin up against all those greasy prints of hands and various other body parts (is “cheekprints” a word?). Then another of us left town for a trip, and the remaining three made a return visit; last week it was down to two of the original five–one of whom was perhaps the most uncomfortable of us all on that first night, I might add–staunchly returning to the scene of the grime. I can’t help wondering whether one of these last little piggies will wind up sneaking there alone in the end, without any of the rest of us finding out, and go “wee wee wee” all the way home.

22 responses to “Strip maul”

  1. Bertha Vanation says:

    Whoa… I was right with you there until the end — spontaneous (probably drunken) lark to strip club, skeeved-out feeling the next day. I’ve never done it myself, but have heard enough stories to recognize that it’s a staple of modern urbanite life. BUT…

    Why did you go back?? Not one, not two, but some of you, three times? I would like to read a corollary post exploring this — what was the appeal? It’s certainly not clear from your initial posting.

  2. A Nonny Mouse says:

    I agree. More explanation needed for the impulse to return to the castle. Certainly it wasn’t the lotion show that drew you back.

    And “Bertha Vanation” may be the best pseudonym ever, whoever you are.

  3. Pigpie Jones says:

    Okay, I’m outing myself (even though I used a lame pseudonym), not as the writer but as one of the participants. I would like to say that poor Mr./Ms. Dogfight was the victim of massive amounts of peer-pressure for the return foray. In fact, he/she had to be begged; believe me, it wasn’t pretty. Myself, I am one of those people who could stare at the carcass of a dead animal for maybe a little too long (if you get my analogy). My feelings were correctly portrayed in the post, but for me, the weirder and more uncomfortable a situation is, the more compelling it becomes. I haven’t been the “piggy” that returned by him/herself, but I wouldn’t rule any drunken impulse out.

  4. Miner Abominate says:

    Wow, I haven’t had an extended cringe like that for a while. Great description of the outside of the building, Literacy. (I didn’t even know the building had an outside…)

    And, yeah, I was honestly sort of taken aback by the fact that I actually kinda enjoyed my first lap dance (though I was blindsided into it). And, for the record, it wasn’t “making out,” exactly; but she did kiss on me while I mostly sat there, hands nervously at my sides, and I was so shocked by the full-contact experience that I called it “making out.” What I found strange about the event was that she was supposed to simulate desire for me (while having none) whereas I was supposed to simulate a lack of desire (while, well, having uh… some) by just sitting there, all hands off. Not that, you know, I wanted to get all handsy, but you know what I mean…

    Anyway, that brief dark period was enjoyable, but now summer’s ending, I feel rather “skeeved” out myself (and at myself), and so it’s back to being a boring, responsible adult again, one who now incorporates the word “cheekprints” into her/his vocabulary.

  5. Literacy H. Dogfight says:

    A completely fair question, Bertha and Nonny–it absolutely does make it sound like I doth protest too much when I return after all that ambivalence. But the ambivalence is the point: I didn’t totally hate it. It’s compelling, almost riveting. And Pigpie, I appreciate your valiant defense of the fact that I was pressured that second time by drunk-again companions who were more into it than I was the first time out, though I can’t completely deny agency, of course. But there has been no third time for me. In the same spirit, I corroborate that Miner was flim-flammed into that lap dance. Does it justify my own return if I also add that by the time we went back, I had already started writing the post and was looking for more details to add? That’s actually true, but perhaps a little too convenient . . . like reading Playboy for the articles, right?

    By the way, I am currently eavesdropping on a phone conversation between Pigpie Jones and Miner Abomination, who are the last two piggies in my post, and I can hear them both swearing to each other that they aren’t going to be the last little piggie. I shall keep you all posted should I hear any telltale “wee wee wee”s in the near future.

  6. Miss B. Haves says:

    What a terrific and funny recounting of that event. You made me laugh aloud–so rare while reading blogs. You are a gifted narrator. I, too, had to cringe a few times as some of the sordid details came back to this little piggie who had enough saki and cocktails to forget that there was an “erotic lotion show”. That was so awsome! My moment during the night where the feeling of sleeze and self disgust couldn’t be held at sufficient distance by a shield of irony, stylized roll-playing, and a shared group enjoyment of perversity was while stepping outside for a smoke with Pigpie Jones when we were approached by one of the other patrons. He had a weird military haircut and the way he talked made it sound like he was no stranger to roughing up ladies. Gross. That’s when some of the “innocence” of the forray felt kind of tainted. you know, when you stop to look at the clientelle. Still, Still, still. how could yall go back without me? this little piggie is not done visiting strip mauls. thanks for the good times.

  7. Miss Ann Thrope says:

    Rub a dub dub
    A Tale of a Tub
    Peter, Martin and Jack

    They went to the pub
    Then to the strip club
    And Swiftly ever after went back

    (apologies to Jonathan)

    There are a few places on god’s green Earth that one shouldn’t try to ponder the complexities of, else he be left in a philosophical and/or emotional pit of despair. Some of these being Chinese food joints, Babies R’ Uses and strip clubs.

    The less questions asked, the better.

  8. A Nonny Mouse says:

    Actually, as one of the participants of this field trip and at least one of the follow ups, I was most struck by how normal the whole thing seemed. What was so crazy about strippers? Doesn’t anyone watch HBO? The ladies seemed like nice, normal folk. I got a kick out of the bling bling pimp daddies who threw fistfulls of dollars all at once. I could see how it would get worked into a weekly routine, especially if it was right there in your neighborhood.

  9. LIteracy H. Dogfight says:

    Well, then, Nonny (if that IS your real name), why would you question why I went back at all, when YOU were one of the ones pressuring me to go after that long night of oysters, champagne, and more oysters? Your previous comment rings very differently now that I know you were a perpetrator . . .

  10. A Nonny Mouse says:

    I just wondered how you got dragged back given the general ambivalence of the post, though I realize that the tone of your piece has something to do with morning after skeeves. In the moment you sure seemed to be smiling a lot. I think you’re still mad about not getting your lap dance.

  11. to change the subject, if only for a moment …

    isn’t anyone out there willing to stand up for an oldfashioned feminist position? i see literacy wavering in that direction, but i also wonder about the position that held that stripping doesn’t just degrade female sexuality (as literacy has it) but degrades all sexuality. circa 1991 literacy would be seen as blaming the victim and all strippers would have been seen as oppressed into their professions. anyone care to go there?

  12. Stephanie Wells says:

    I do, actually, Bryan. For the same reasons that song “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” troubles me–is it really harder for him, or for the women he exploits and abuses?–I do think that strippers (indeed, all sex industry workers, at least those who have some tiny modicum of choice in their profession) pose a thorny question for feminists about the realities of sexual empowerment.

    I think that the late-’90s culture of female sexuality being empowering in any form, while good for the repression that has been socially applied to female sexuality, actually has the possible downside of perpetuating the idea that the only power women can have is sexual power. And seeing sex workers (is that even the right term for a stripper or prostitute? or does that only refer to sex therapists and surrogates?) as empowered is possibly affirming, but it’s also possibly dangerous because it strips (sorry) their dubious position of the air of victimhood that provides perhaps its only source of compassion in otherwise judgemental outsiders. I don’t know if that’s making any sense, but what I’m trying to say is that while “do-me feminism” might be great for autonomous women who don’t have to make a living off their sexuality–though even then I’m skeptical for the reasons listed above–I think it’s harmful to women who are exploited in the sex industry because it falsely positions them as empowered and thus not in need of support. I don’t know whether it’s better to provide them with some shred of dignity, as this position does, or to show the whole thing for what I think it often is, which is degrading even when they insist it isn’t. It’s like when I try to talk about feminism with my students and they all say they’ve never experienced sex discrimination and it doesn’t exist anymore: if a stripper claims to be doing it fully out of free choice because she loves her body and it makes her feel sexy and powerful, how do you answer to that?

    There’s actually a relevant article in the latest Bitch magazine by a former professional dominatrix who writes, “In my own experience, while the belief that I was at the helm of my own sexual exploitation persisted for a good long time, in the end, I saw little difference between the conformation of Playboy models to a certain female ideal and my own to a different one. The distinction served mainly to bolster my own feelings of superiority and maintain the kind of estrangement between women that I had always been staunchly opposed to.” She’s referring to the related problem that such jobs create a false and limited standard for female beauty, but also touching on the same conflict that I’m struggling with above.

    Believe me, I grapple with these issues all the time, and half of me still feels like if that form of sexuality empowers a woman, it’s better than her feeling sexually repressed or controlled; I want to be able to celebrate whatever sexual and/or professional choice anyone makes, as long as it’s truly her choice. But the other half of me still doesn’t trust that that power is real or in any way upsets the sexual hegemony that has always existed.

    And that’s not even getting into the ways that, as you point out, stripping also undermines male sexuality, or sexuality in general. And of course, I know that not all strippers and prostitutes are women. But maybe it’s true that all are, to some extent, oppressed, even if they don’t think they are.

    And finally, sorry for using language like “hegemony” in a comment on a post whose vibe is really way more “cheekprints.”

  13. A Nonny Mouse says:

    I don’t know, Stephanie — “The Hegemony of the Cheekprints” just about sums up that smudgy mirror the second time we wound up there.

  14. Scott Godfrey says:

    Okay, here’s my bullshit attempt at seriousness…

    In a speech given in 1905, entitled “Revolutionary Unionism,” Eugene V. Debs said: “…the capitalist who owns the establishment…believes in labor unionism if it is the ‘right kind.’ And if it is the right kind for him it is the wrong kind for you.” In other words, never trust the power of a union you are allowed to be a member of.

    I think this same principle can be applied to contemporary beliefs about “empowerment.” We think a magic wand is waved over our heads when we reclaim words like queer, nigger, and bitch; suddenly, we are EMPOWERED. Of course this false belief works into the hands of the truly powerful, as does any pressure release mechanism on a large group of angry people. It’s much preferable to fire hoses and rubber bullets.

    Anyway, that’s my 2 rubles.

  15. Your answer, Stephanie, is exactly the one I would have given for a long, long time, and am still tempted to give, even though I’ve not been immune to post-feminist propagandizing myself & wonder whether people who enjoy stripping & make a decent living at it shouldn’t be given a little more credit.

    RE: the repentant dominatrix: “In my own experience, while the belief that I was at the helm of my own sexual exploitation persisted for a good long time, in the end, I saw little difference between the conformation of Playboy models to a certain female ideal and my own to a different one. The distinction served mainly to bolster my own feelings of superiority and maintain the kind of estrangement between women that I had always been staunchly opposed to.”

    …isn’t there a way to see most gender performance in similar terms, as performances of perceived ideals generated by desired others? Is there really an opposition between “regular” women who wear high heels and lipstick and strippers with implants, or between guys who go to the gym every week and kids who quit school to live on the Abercrombie farm? Or do we all just fall somewhere on the spectrum of how seriously invested or extreme we are in our gender performance? If so, it seems, again, to imply that sex work is not that radically different from many other types of “work” we do.

    Having said that, I also realize that post-feminism has created some seriously flawed mindsets in people who are just coming into their adulthood now. The Duke case should be on the table for this discussion, right? When we were staying at your place I read the Rolling Stone expose on student attitudes toward sex at Duke. Lord have mercy. There’s a piece about it in the Times today as well.

    And yet I think it’s worth asking whether Literacy’s original scenario — a night out for a group of reasonably civilized, enlightened adults — should necessarily be linked to this kind of thuggish, misogynistic behavior.

  16. Stephanie Wells says:

    Nonny, don’t tell me the details of your nasty foray into the strip club; I think you can tell by my previous comment that I would never patronize a place like that because I would never contribute to its patriarchal oppression of women and its objectification of female sexuality. You and your perverted friends can leer away but don’t get me involved. It’s pretty obvious from Bryan and Scott’s comments that they feel the same way.

  17. Stephanie Wells says:

    Bryan, to respond to your comment: Yes, I do think that this issue bleeds into things like gender as performance: where do we draw the line between dressing up, performing our gender, buying into what we’re told we have to be, and a complete performance like stripping? And I also see the connection to horse racing that you make with Stella’s post. (I share her ambivalence when I go to the aquarium or the zoo, both of which I love but feel are somehow wrong.) Your final question about linking misogyny with the escapades of “reasonably civilized, enlightened adults”–which I truly believe that Nonny, Literacy, Pigpie, Miner, and even Miss B must be–is especially interesting, because whether or not the five of them can contextualize and separate what they’re seeing shouldn’t necessarily have an effect on the fact that such things are still being sold to much less discerning audiences without the tools (or the desire) to distance themselves and “read” it as a sociological experiment they can write about on their blog with their educated friends. I mean, not that all media doesn’t send similar messages, so maybe it doesn’t matter.

    Your ambivalence and mine about how we’re supposed to view all this from an enlightened post-feminist perspective without feeling like a Puritan when we revert to Dworkin-era feminism in our guts is, I think, exactly the reason Literacy’s original post contains so many sentences that end in question marks. Okay, I’m done theorizing in tired and useless ways. Back to the cheekprint zeitgeist.

  18. literacy h. dogfight says:

    Ahem. Thanks for the backhanded compliment (if that’s what it was) Stephanie, in your assurance that my friends and I are genuinely enlightened and civilized. But are we to assume that you and your demographic, which you assume includes us (the “more discerning” types), are above taking genuine pleasure from this kind of sexual spectacle? Or are you just so educated and class privileged that you can’t help but have to be ironic and anthropological about it? Maybe the bling-bing dollar throwers Nonny mentions are simply more honest about both sides of the transaction — performance and gratification?

  19. Stephanie Wells says:

    How did I know this was coming? Of course I’m not above taking pleasure from such a sexual spectacle–who isn’t? I can’t even count the number of times I revisited San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair ( year after year. Let’s just remember that there are many many sides to all of us–including (and ESPECIALLY) you, Literacy.

  20. Ruben Mancillas says:

    Don’t worry I’ll try to get all concerned and academic with you but no one commented on how great the title “Miss Nude Mississippi Rising Star 2005” was. C’mon guys, our ironic novelists get great reviews for thinking up stuff half as good and here you guys throw it away like a (get ready for it) base indian threw away a pearl richer than all his tribe.

    A few thoughts:

    Strippers prefer to be called dancers.

    A number of years ago Adriean and I went on a double date with a friend and his dancer date and she indeed did have absurdly inflated breasts which were instantly dubbed “clownie” by my wife.

    As for the debate, much of it for me comes down to a class issue. It sucks for anyone to be doing a job they don’t want to be doing, for too little pay, that exploits and degrades them, etc.

    I do wonder, however, about who gets to define the exact nature of this relationship.

    For example, a starving graduate student goes to a strip club and tips a dancer who makes more in a week than what he makes in two months. You can mock him his compulsions but is he really The Man here? I know, I know, she wanted to volunteer her time down at the women’s shelter and was forced to do this against her will but the Mr. Vernon in me sees some dancers who bemoan their station as yet another student who thought that it was all bullshit when it was suggested that she try coming back to school for that last semester.

    The linkage of sex and cash deserves comment as it pervades so much of our world but the exchange can be just as nuanced and interesting (and yes, exciting) as it can be banal and depressing.

    Finally, while I agree that I wouldn’t want to hear about a dancer’s progress toward a real estate license (regular Stern show listeners will note that almost every porn star is going to go to law school as soon as this contract is up) let me just note for the record that there is nothing hotter than having two kids. Except maybe three…

  21. literacy h. dogfight says:

    yes, your wife was exactly the “friend” I was quoting when I footnoted “clownie.” the fact that you didn’t realize that makes my eyes, albeit unused to the melting mood, drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees their med’cinable gum.

    and you two are exactly who I was referring to when I mentioned having three kids being hot. It’s even hotter when they’re triplets.

    any questions?

  22. […] Literacy H. Dogfight, “Strip maul” Lane Twitchell, “Various cults” Tim Wager, “My left hand” […]