Power and Choices

A few years ago there was a kind of novelty fad for male strippers, like the Chippendales. I was taking classes and knew a few students who had the qualifications. They were gym rats, rather vain, and thought stripping was a laugh.

I asked myself why this seemed so different from, say, the 17-year-old girl who came into the clinic for STD treatment and mentioned that her older boyfriend was helping her with her job at the ‘gentleman’s club’.

The difference, of course, was power. None of these guys was ‘just a stripper’. For them it was slumming. It was pretty harmless to them, and pretty harmless generally. The male sex has not historically been told that their place is in the home, or that their gender bars them from meaningful work and leadership. Even if the ex-strippers decided to run for office they could make a joke out of it. That would not be true for a woman.

Men don’t have to worry about reinforcing a culture of disrespect for their gender. Men have their troubles, but they don’t have the burden of being the second sex– the one created by God as helpmate and commanded to obey.

I’m recalling this as a beginning, as an approach, to a subject I just found too painful to write about. A post in Mother Jones by Mac McClelland where the author considers getting work as a rich man’s mistress to pay off some of her college loans. Hers was the first I read on this subject. There followed other essays by young women who, like McClelland called themselves ‘pro-sex’ feminists. I could only see them as a travesty of feminism.

Feeling safer and more powerful than they actually are, in the illusion of middle-class respectability. Totalling up the cash value of parental care, good health, orthodontia, nice manners, education– all to market themselves to men who might be criminal, and who surely have a deep sense of entitlement. Reinforcing the old slur that all women are whores.

What else would these women sell, I wondered? Their vote? Their sworn testimony? Their labor for a bad cause? In fact, Mac McClelland was considering selling flattery and subjugation to a man she found repellant. She was blind, or chose not to see the women she harms by treating prostitution like those men I knew treated stripping– a kind of slumming but nothing that would stick to their reputation. I think she was wrong about that.

The women who have to deal with the world without the protection of affluence know that there’s bad situations you can get into that you won’t get out of. They work hard and they struggle on low pay. What is Mac McClelland saying to them? That they should keep on with the essential honest work that keeps society going, but an educated woman with a bright future can’t be bothered with the sh-t jobs?

I am still deeply troubled by the social pressure that turns everything of value into a commodity. The anti-trafficking movement in RI consisted of people with diverse views and experience. If anything united us, it was a concern for human dignity, and a humane society where people would not be deprived of their choices, or forced to live as if they were only ‘for’ someone else.

Via Feministe, whose ‘Shameless Self-Promotion Sunday’ has given this blog many hits, I found Penny Sociologist at Junkland , who posted a deeply thought-out essay on the commodification of sex, desire and our sense of ourselves…

Now it seems to me that there is an ever-widening gulf between privileged women who have some choices, and disadvantaged women (economically or otherwise) who have little or no choice. It seems to me that many women are increasingly divorced from both a sense of liberation from patriarchy and solidarity with each other (not that women have at any time nailed solidarity on the head).

This is particularly evident and disturbing in regards to beauty, bodies, and sexuality.

It’s more than a little suspicious to me that the ‘choices’ of privileged women coincide so perfectly with male and media-driven consumer capitalism. That the totems of male and media-driven consumer capitalist conceptions of beauty and sexuality- extreme waxing, extreme thinness, breast implants, skyscraper heels, heavy makeup, dressing hyper-sexually, stripping, prostituting- turn out to also be the empowered choice of masses of privileged women is… well, it’s a bunch of junk. I can’t be the only highly sexual woman with more interesting and nuanced ideas about my beauty, my body, and my sexuality than those copied from mass media and male ‘fantasy’ (I’d also like to believe there are men out there with more interesting and nuanced ideas/fantasies about beauty, bodies, and sexuality than those for which they are generally credited).

read the whole post here. It’s really good.

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4 thoughts on “Power and Choices

  1. Great post! I think you said this perfectly:

    “The women who have to deal with the world without the protection of affluence know that there’s bad situations you can get into that you won’t get out of. They work hard and they struggle on low pay. What is Mac McClelland saying to them? That they should keep on with the essential honest work that keeps society going, but an educated woman with a bright future can’t be bothered with the sh-t jobs?”

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