Strip Clubs are Bad. Here's Why.

Every year around this time, the issue of strip clubs comes up at my house. My husband's birthday is May 23rd, and his friend J.'s birthday is the day before, so it's become something of a tradition to go out for a shared birthday celebration with a bunch of other friends; the celebration often starts at a restaurant or bar, but almost always winds up migrating to one of the strip clubs J. frequents. I don't like it, and the hubby is no fan, but he wants to spend time with his friends so he goes along for the ride despite his misgivings. My distaste for strip clubs is deep-seated and difficult to articulate, so I've given a lot of thought to the issue over the past few days in an attempt to come up with a coherent explanation of what it is that makes strip clubs in general Bad Places.

Our society, which is patriarchal whether we want to admit it or not, commodifies sex. In essence, we think of "sex" as something a woman has and a man wants (think sex="pussy," as in, "I need to get some pussy," or "Bitch needs to give up the pussy."), and like all commodities, it is limited in supply. Because a woman's body is equated with sex, we think of her as somehow diminished personally when she "gives it up." This is where many of the negative connotations to slurs like "slut" and "whore" come from-- a woman who is promiscuous is essentially giving away pieces of herself to every person with whom she has sex, and if sex is finite she will eventually run out and be "used up." From this arises the classic virgin/whore dichotomy, and within this framework all women are the "sex class" no matter which category they fall into.

Sex workers-- from exotic dancers to prostitutes-- operate within this framework, and this is what makes the "but she wants to do this job" argument invalid. A woman's personal choice, even if it is miraculously made entirely free of social or economic coercion, is irrelevant to the argument: even if she chooses to participate in her own oppression and objectification, a woman is still being oppressed and objectified in such a sexist system, and it is the system to which I object, not the women's personal choices. In other words, a strip club does not hurt only the women who are inside dancing, it hurts all women because it perpetuates our standing as the sex class and reinforces behavior that demeans and objectifies women and robs us of our personhood.

In a strip club the women are ornamental. It doesn't matter that you can't have sex with them or even touch them; their purpose in that context is to exhibit their naked bodies for the titillation of men, most of whom have no hope of ever attaining the affections of a woman as stereotypically attractive as the dancers.

In an ideal world, a woman could choose to be a sex worker as if it were any other job, but our society's value judgments preclude such a neutral choice. (I don't believe strip clubs would exist in an ideal world, but that's another post entirely.) Because we view sex work as inherently diminishing to the individual who engages in it, the choice to become a sex worker is fraught with negative social value that may often outweigh the economic value of such a choice. I don't have any statistics, but I would bet that the majority of sex workers do it for the money rather than because it's an occupation they enjoy, and I submit that a person of any gender in any occupation should not have to suffer socially for economically-necessary choices. In other words, if a woman is in a position where she has to choose between a minimum-wage job and a higher-paying position as a sex worker, she should not be penalized with the social label of "whore" simply for making an economic decision. She is being punished for choosing the best option available to her within a sexist system.

So, my friends, please remember: when you support a strip club, you are supporting the subjugation of women as a class. And that's not cool.

Posted byMJ at 11:40 AM  


Roy said... 5/21/2007 9:11 AM  

I am very much anti-strip club as well. Part of my misgivings come from the knowledge that, as you point, many dancers do so primarily because it pays better than almost any other job they could get. I've known two women who danced, and both of them expressed how much they disliked the actual work, but that the money made it really hard to turn down.

My other problem is related to the commodification of the women involved. The only way that the men going to clubs seem to enjoy the experience is when the women involved don't do anything that humanizes them. As long as the dancer is a thing, and not a person, they enjoy it. As soon as the dancer starts talking to the men about her personal life, or reacts in a way that makes her a person, then the men lose interest.

I sympathize with you and your husband. I can't stand clubs, but I have several friends getting married, which, of course, means that the bacholar parties end up strip clubs. It's been really hard to say "Look, I'm happy for you, but I'm not going to take part in this, because I can't, in good concience, go to the clubs." It's definitely become a sore spot between myself and some of the friends. =/

belledame222 said... 5/22/2007 2:46 PM  

well--here's a stripper who'd probably disagree with that assessment at least to some degree:

there's also the phenomenon of male strip clubs. besides
"Chippendales" and that sort of thing, lots of strip clubs for gay men (complete with pole dancing, yes).

and I've been to a few lesbian clubs with go-go dancers/strippers. generally speaking i've a feeling those do it at least as much for love as money, if only because there really isn't much of the latter.

Renali said... 6/11/2007 8:38 AM  

That blog belledame linked to is pornographic and highly misogynistic. It deserves trigger warnings as there are graphic pictures, a lot of violent imagery and insults and a mountain of hate directed at non-porn-apologist people.

In addition to being a stripper, that blog's owner is an "actress" in violent, brutally misogynistic porn - which she spends a great deal of time trying to convince someone (herself?) that she "loves" and denies that it has any real world implications and complications for real world women. Her supporters are largely misogynists, mras and/or porn-apologists that lack even a basic understanding of feminist theory. A fact with unsurprisingly does not stop them from criticizing non-porn-apologists.

That aside, even if that one stripper would disagree with this summation of strippers - who gives a crap? She doesn't speak for everyone, her experience is rare and not even remotely indicative of that of most other sex workers. Also, it does not even slightly alter the plain and obvious reality of strip clubs. Lastly, that there are gay strip clubs or male strippers is irrelevant and does not change anything.

I'd question why belledame trolls every single feminist blog in existence to "pimp" that blog as some sort of "proof" that sex work isn't misogynistic and soul-crushing, but I'm not sure I want to know the answer.

Anonymous said... 10/13/2009 10:01 AM  

I'm way late to your post but I googled "anti-strip club feminist" and you articulated EXACTLY how I feel about this!!!
I was arguing with my husband last night but I couldn't say what I really wanted to say. Sometimes men are simply just pigs and I hate to think that as a feminist. I want to believe in the good in men, but when he advises me, "I've been to a strip club, my father/my stepdad/your dad, etc" it really makes me sick to my stomach.
"When you support a strip club, you are supporting the subjugation of women as a class. And that's not cool."
LOVE IT. Thanks so much for this (old) post.

Anonymous said... 1/26/2011 6:51 PM  

I agree with the last posting- you summed it up perfectly! I searched this topic because I have been in just about tears the past couple days thinking about this. It's easy to feel very alone on this issue, since so many seem to think it's fine and not a big deal. I was really looking for an intelligent way to think about this, because I have a hard time dealing with it- it is not a simple issue, but has many layers (personal, societal, etc.). Thank you!

Nolan said... 4/20/2011 2:39 PM  

Also jumping in late, but this is something that gets me really angry.

First off, many women do "choose" to be dancers based on what they think is a good idea at the time. Dancers in high-end clubs can certainly rack up some extraordinary tips, but this is NOT the norm. gives a range of 30-60k for a stripper. Of course, no strip club is going to have a health insurance plan for its ladies. And what happens when a dancer gets old? She starts from scratch with some other minimum wage job.
A strip club is a manifestation of the male fantasy. Women should be able to express their sexuality openly, but they can't really do that in a typical strip club. As Armed Housewife points out, clubs/strippers take extreme care to keep all signs of dancers' humanity hidden to protect their male guests' experience. However, clubs usually force female patrons and strippers to share a bathroom, breaking the wall between performer and customer. To the club, a man's sexual subjectivity is of paramount importance, and a woman's is invisible.
In the 60s and 70s, the women's rights movement made huge strides towards equality. As a reaction, the 80s and 90s saw a large increase in the number of strip clubs in the US. Most male patrons say they come because they want a place to not worry about being politically correct or well behaved. They just want to relax, get aroused, and be a man. Our culture encourages the creation of Man Spaces, because the straight male sex drive is "normal", and anything else is considered deviant. If you step into a strip club, you step into a male libido.

Anonymous said... 6/02/2011 9:13 AM  

Wow. Just 2 nights ago I had a debate about this with my husband. He is 1 of 2 bestmen in a wedding and the other is in charge of stripper entertainment. Although my version was not quite as sophisticated or well thought out, I basically came to the same conclusions as your post. It is disrespectful of ALL women. Regardless of whether it's the stripper's "choice profession," it is made an option because of the way society, in general, views and objectifies women, and in many cases takes advantage of their lack of self-respect. I just think it's unfortunate and sad that most men mindlessly go along with "tradition" rather than actually question or contemplate the reality of the situation. I am going to show him your post when he gets home. :)

Nicola said... 6/10/2011 5:00 AM  

I recently tried to articulate these same feelings of discomfort toward my fiance going to strip clubs with his friends, and when I finally felt like I knew what I wanted to say, I said almost exactly what you wrote.

You just... wrote it far more eloquently than I could say it, and what's worse, I couldn't keep up the defense with my fiance and his friend's banters back.

It's a touchy subject to approach, as a woman.

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