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Stripping Independence Down as an Unattainable Dream

As we approach “Independence Day” I marvel at how far we have not come in terms of truly obtaining our so called “independence.” No, I am not talking about the 4th of July celebration, though I could easily go there, as I did this time last year when I posted my 13th topic to the blog titled “A Snapshot of Patriotism and the 4th of July (June 29, 2007). Why just the other day I was telling a friend of mine that two of my buddies were coming to town and we were going to hang out in Montreal, Burlington, and maybe Lake Placid while they were here. The first reaction I received from her was an assumption that we were going to do one thing specifically. She said, “So you guys are going to hang out at strip clubs, huh!”

My friend must not have heard me say Burlington and Lake Placid! Unless I am mistaken, I don’t think either one of them has a strip club. So why would she have automatically thought that one of our destinations would be a strip club? What is it about men (or perhaps me and my boys) hanging out that automatically suggests we will end up at a strip club? Yes, I teach a class called Romance, Sex, Love, and Marriage! Yes, I once wrote a graduate paper titled “Objects in the Mirror are Closer than They Appear,” which was an ethnographic study on objectification and commodification within nude dance settings (I actually had the pleasure of presenting this paper at an academic conference at Oklahoma State University). Yes I think the female body is a thing in which to admire. But none of this necessarily suggests that all my friends are interested in that type of research, or even that I still am. And if I choose to visit a strip club, does that automatically make me a lesser person in some people’s eyes, or a better person in others. It is quite intriguing to me how 60 minutes in a strip club out of 21hours in Montreal across three trips in five days (including 11 hours in the Casino gambling) can be perplexing or the defining moment for some people, many of whom have never even visited Quebec, which is only twenty minutes away from Plattsburgh. Of course, some are also judging the gambling as well. Some would even surmise that both are gambling to varying extents. Then they put out their cigarette, or finish their high cholesterol, highly caloric dessert.

It’s funny, but one of the major loves of my life used to be approached by her friends about my research when I was in the midst of it. Her friends who knew of it but didn’t really know either one of us would exhibit quite a judgmental attitude about me or any other man going into what they obviously deemed a den of inequity. The irony of the situation was that before that research, I had only been in a strip club twice, while my lover and her friends went four to five times a year (even inviting my mother along on numerous occassions) to Chippendales. As a matter of fact, that special woman in my life used to tease me for being a prude in my views about female sexuality and self determination. I did have a one dimensional interpretation of the reasons people strip to their underwear or less for money. But like most people, until I started “talking” with the people who had chosen that lifestyle, temporarily or permanently, I knew as much about them and the culture they were a part of as someone knows about the culture of someone of a different race from outside the race.

Comedian Chris Rock once said that his sole purpose in life was to make sure his daughter stayed off the pole! Is there something different going on, in terms of societal interpretations, when a man vs. a woman decides to enter an erotic, tantalizing, titillating space? At what point will we achieve any type of independence if we stand outside of relationships not knowing the agreed upon “rules of engagement” of the couples we are critiquing, and judge those relationships by a criteria to which we adhere? And yes, I know that once upon a time women had less choices. I also understand that today the choices are often not necessarily made without societal coercion. But this is quite a complicated topic that we need to strip bare (okay, maybe I could have gone without that bit of wit)!

Oh, and before I leave this subject, perhaps some of you could also enlighten me as to why a U.S. Customs’ guard four years ago would insist that my two friends and I, along with a student of mine, had to be reentering the country after a foray at an infamous strip club north of Rouses Point? We were crossing at Overton Corners (the border crossing between Champlain and Rouses Point) to avoid the potential traffic at the more congested Champlain crossing. When my two friends (both educators doing major things in the academy), the student and I answered the question that we had just come from Montreal and the Casino, the guard asked me “Are you sure you aren’t coming from the strip club above Rouses Point? One last thing, the student and my two friends were Black, the guard was White? I would like to think that doesn’t make a difference. What do you think?

Will we ever be truly independent of projecting onto others our baggage? Or, are we slaves to a reality that simply locks us into one dimensional perspectives on other’s behavior?

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Comments

You say: Unless I am mistaken, I don’t think either one of them has a strip club.

I'd be shocked, personally, if Burlington doesn't have a single strip club. It may be the smallest capitol city in America, but strip clubs are popular everywhere, and I'd expect Burlington to have at least one. And I have no expectation of Lake Placid. But either way, that's just speculation on my part. To the "meat" of your post:

I've never been to a strip club, and I can honestly say I don't see the point. Now, I understand that seeing a naked woman dance can be physically pleasing, but isn't that pleasing-ness offset by the degradation of paying for it?

My personal problem with strip clubs is that it is the glorification of selling one's body. I knew a girl once (yes, she was above 18 y/o, but her mind was that of a teenage girl) who dreamed of being in Playboy, whose highest aspiration was to be in Playboy. There is something wrong with such a situation! She was capable of much more, all humans are, and yet she did not think that of herself. She thought, that she herself, was of little to no use, if it was not for the purpose of turning men on sexually. Now, a whole ton of factors went into affecting this girls mindset--but strip clubs, are an example of this.

Or for another example: a friend of mine was driving about Plattsburgh and was picking up his GF from someplace. I was friends with this woman too, yet her bf dropped that she was working at a strip-club, and she *flipped the F*** out*. She was angry with him for telling me; she justified her anger with, "the more people know, the more people are likely to talk about it" (and here I am, talking about it! but I can at least leave out names) But frankly, I sense that her anger was more than just that. She may have felt shame or guilt, or some other negative emotion, but she was certainly not *proud* of her "choice".

I cannot help but feel that strip-clubs and Playboy, and the like, are male-dominated industries that "put women in their place" that place being to arouse men. Women are capable of just as much intellectual and spiritual growth as men, and to see them for their body alone is unjust. Strip clubs never advertise "smartest women in town" but instead "sexiest women in town" and for whatever my two cents are worth, I prefer a woman with brains.

*** Brennan, unless I am mistaken I don't think Burlington is the capitol of Vermont. And your question "isn't that pleasing-ness offset by the degradation of paying for it?"about a patron not really enjoying the experience since they must embarrassingly pay for the pleasure of watching women defrock is not far from the ridiculousness of people paying for the opportunity to over imbibe and embarrass themselves with drunken behavior or a potential DUI. The fact that they are offset for their degrading consequences doesn't play out until the pleasure experienced is in the rear view mirror.

I agree that your example of your friends mentality towards working in strip clubs appears to be quite problematic. We would hope that people would strive for more, especially if they are capable of more. However, there are many reasons why people settle for less. One of the reasons is that many people don't see their full potential, or even the potential many others might interpret them having. Strip clubs are one of the factors that contributes to this, but the foundation for some women settling for less in society may be established far before they enter a strip club or the notion of a strip club even seeps into their consciousness. Little girls sitting at the feet of their fathers are taught lessons by joining their dads watching football or basketball, or boxing matches, to name just a few of the problematic moments of socialization. The cheerleaders and round "girls" (the women who hold the cards that announce which round it is in a boxing match, while scantily clad) that are glamorized or thrust into the limelight are introductions into the world of celebrating beauty over brains in support of male activity while noticing that men aren't paraded in the same way for the same reasons. While I assume you may not be a sports fanatic, your condemnation of strip clubs, while admirable, is less admirable if you haven't at least acknowledged how culpable other less challenged public offerings are in contributing to dysfunctional self images that may result in self deprecatory choices. While we would hope our women would make better choices, we must also recognize that like bystanders who are culpable in the act of bullying, we often are bystanders culpable in the act of degrading the very same women we claim to love!!! *** -- J.W.

J.W Wiley and Brennan, you have presented a tantalizing piece on different dimensions of sexism and racism. J.W, I think with the border patrol’s prejudicial comment is a sign of racism and sexism or maybe I’m over thinking it? In fact, you know this yourself; society continues to see African American men as hyper sexually active. The evidence does present itself, especially when the car is compacted with four black men and no female present. Although, most of us would like to think that it doesn’t make a difference, there is no denying that there are aggregate possibilities of the assumption made by the border patrol agent.

In fact, I had a friend who told me to “chill out,” because negative vibes can be self-created and at times they can be blinding. Maybe the border patrol created that assumption because strips clubs are ideally seen as a spot for a “guy’s night out.” Especially, when you have three older men and a young student, the border patrol agent probably thought you guys were guiding him through his rights of passage towards manhood. The reason why I state this, because I’ve seen fathers taking their sons to a strip club for their 21st birthday.

Man, going on, this summer has been a trip. Recently, I had the opportunity to be spotted by paramount pictures (Maybe it’s not paramount pictures, but I did see a truck with a huge paramount picture logo.) to be an extra in a gangster movie. Sad to say, that honor is nothing but spoils and disappointments.

I went to the set, which was at a famous New York City deli, with my pin strip suit and my greasy slick hair. I assume they wanted me to play a sophisticated gangster like Don Corleone or Frank Lucas, but I shouldn’t be so quick to jump the gun. The executive told me with a condescending tone, “You look great, but we want you to look more like ‘Flavor Flav’.” With my eyebrow raised and my fist clenched I asked, “What kind of gangster is that?” The man despicably told me “Come on, you know the audience don’t take you guys seriously, we’re paying you $75 an hour and all you have to do is wear oversize jeans with your boxers sticking out. You don’t even have to say anything, but you do have to look ‘fit’ for what the director wants.” I don’t know what he meant by “you guys,” but I would like to think that he’s not making a reference to my ethnicity (what do you guys think?).

I stood there with my eyes, scanning all the actors and actresses and there it was, a bunch of Chinese thugs in probably the most outrageous clothing that even “Flavor Flav” wouldn’t even wear. With my pride and admiration for my people, I told the executive, “I refuse to play a role that will cripple the image of my people and recycle this image of us ‘Chinese peoples’ as clowns. I am not going to be like that reject from American Idol ‘Willam Hung.’ I refuse to lower my self respect and put up a fake Chinese accent, so that I can entertain a bunch of movie goers, pointing and laughing ‘O, look at those Chinese thugs wannabe.” I told the executive he can rip up my legal papers and he told me I can go. Everybody looked at me like I just turned down an opportunity of a lifetime. I know I walked away doing the right thing.

*** Jay Koo, you may be correct in your assertion that society continues to see "some" or perhaps "many" Black men as hyper sexual, but not all. Barack Obama, most likely our next president, is the most high profile Black man in the country, and is not seen as hypersexual, at least by most I would imagine. I think it is more the case that those that see Black men and women as hypersexual do so because of their limited perspectives created and cultivated through inadequate images perpetuated throughout the media and our general culture. When W.E.B. DuBois articulated the "inevitability of black crime" in his essay "Of the Sons of Masters and Men" in Souls of Black Folk, he was also projecting as a part of that necessitated crime a certain propensity towards the marketing of black bodies as a way to produce capital. With Black folk forced to sell themselves and non-Blacks needing to explain it to understand this phenomenon, an articulation of hypersexuality of Black people does offer some type of explanation, though absent of any cause and effect considerations.

I am sure you know this, but I will say it anyway. The rights of passage towards manhood can also be achieved through a young man accepted into a mature male conversation, though any notion of the rights of passage towards manhood directly contributes to notions of male supremacy if manhood is an achievable state (it begs the question of women's rights of passage which then insists on some type of gendered comparison).

The "you guys" coming from the director's assistant did appear to be stereotyping "you guys." You broke the stereotype by challenging him and walking away from the coercive cash, but recognize that in an alternative universe where Jay Koo has a family to feed he unfortunately may be performing in some type of humiliating ways, as a Chinese Flava Flav! *** -- J.W.

I see no problem with strip clubs and have always been fascinated by the art of pole dancing. It takes talent to get up on a stage and perform the moves that these women/men execute. When done tastefully, the performance can be an expression of one’s inner beauty. If society would only view the body as a form of art and not a sex object than there would be less crime in this country. But unfortunately anyone seen entering one of these clubs is considered lewd and immoral. Until you can “walk on water” or “turn water into wine,” then you should not be judging these people for their actions.

As for the white Customs Inspector (not Border Patrol – these are two separate entities who work together to keep our country safe, yet have completely different job duties) who made the obnoxious remark, there was absolutely no reason for it. On behalf of all Caucasian people, I wish to apologize to you and your buddies for such and absurd statement. No matter how hard you try to educate people on diversity, you are always going to run across a few ignorant individuals who will never be able to see past the nose on their face.

*** LMM, you sound as if you are a closet wanna be pole dancer. What intrigues me most about your post is your notion of a pole dance being "tastefully done." Who determines exactly what is "tastefully done?" If a nude woman gyrates her body 6 feet from a client's face in contrast to 6 inches, is her dance less tasteful because the client is perhaps closer to actually obtaining a taste of the dancer's expertise?

Thanks for the education on the different entities that protect our borders. Also, thanks for the appreciated but unnecessary apology for all Caucasian people, though you may have difficulty apologizing for all of them as Caucasians when some of them may not see themselves as anything other than White. I would accept for all Black people, but too many of them are probably mad at me for calling them Black, when they may consider them selves African Americans. *** -- J.W.

Wow!

Jay, you have courage that people can't even dream about. I admire how you handled that situation and refused to put a negative spin on the representation of your race.

I wonder what would have happened if there were a woman in the car at the border crossing. Would the patrol agent have said something else in attempts to be clever or would he have just kept quiet while thinking politically incorrect thoughts?

Independence is a funny word because everyone is dependent on somebody or something. For instance, in the land of the free, there are a number of races to choose from to hate on so people can feel some sort of justification as to who they are as people. Without these differences, people would not feel special. This is not independence.

When it comes to women and their bodies, we will never be independent. Even if we decide that we want to show off what we have and flaunt ourselves without modesty, we are still being controlled by what men want. We may see it as being sexy, but sexy by who's standards? Further, how do women define sexy without conforming thoughts of sexiness to men's standards? It seems like a vicious cycle that will eventually end when human existence does, but what kind of history are we leaving behind?

Don't worry about trying to answer all my questions JW. Just letting my mind wander...

*** Via Via, your mind and my mind wander down similar roads sometimes it appears. Your assertion about people needing to oppress others to obtain a certain level of status for themselves I often frame through the lens of bystanders in bullying situations. Most of us convince ourselves that victims are unfortunate to be accosted by bullies. We don't own the fact that the essence of the bully's power comes from his/her ability to entertain bystanders. If we as bystanders refuse to be entertained by bullies, and then ourselves avoid succumbing to bullying antics, we may be on the road to dismantling dependence on other's oppression. *** -- J.W.

Watching someone dance, clothed, partially clothed, or naked can be an enjoyable form of entertainment. A beautiful body, male or female, is something to admire and appreciate. In general, I don't believe it is immoral for adults to attend strip clubs and while it's not something I would choose to do as a profession, I wouldn't dislike or judge a person for choosing to be in this type of business. I would be curious as to why they chose the path they did and what circumstances led to their decision.

However, there are variables which I would consider factors in determining the morality of supporting certain types of strip clubs. For example, if it were common knowledge that a certain strip club was gang owned/affiliated and the proceeds of the business were used for illegal activities, perhaps, my conscience would lead me to do the right thing.

I am not in any way implying that the patron is doing anything illegal by supporting the business, but, does the average patron of this type of strip club really care or understand how their contribution to the organization may be part of the profits used for criminal activities? Or, is it easier to say, I am only one person, what difference would it make? The latter would allow for that person to indulge in their fantasy without feeling any sense of responsibility.

When an establishment advertises it is a strip club, but in actuality, it is a brothel, employing women who are exchanging sexual acts for drugs or cash, my views also become conflicted.

Perhaps, as a consumer, I have been remiss in making educated choices about the businesses I support. This topic inspired me. I think I may need to do a little research so that I am able to make responsible spending decisions.

*** S.S., what did you mean by not choosing it as a profession? Are you saying you wouldn't choose stripping as a profession, or becoming a professional participant in the sex industry? The easiest assumption is that you are talking about not being a stripper. However, one could imagine you could mean not frequenting these clubs to an extent that you become viewed as animated, automated teller machines.

Your concern that the proceeds of a strip club might further leverage ill conceived activities shouldn't only be germane to gang owned/affiliated businesses. White collar criminals (who often collaborate with other white collared criminals but are seldom called gangs) can be gangsters themselves who reinvest their money in illicit activities, only those activities are done within or under the auspices of sanctioned structures that classism or our capitalistic economic system cloaks or codes these activities.

When you start your research on the businesses you support as a consumer that may contribute to the degradation of women, make sure you also consider the reality that situates some women who receive compensation for displaying their bodies as prostitute-like while others who receive compensation through expensive dinners and gifts are conveniently labeled as "dinner dates" for very similar attention only packaged differently. *** -- J.W.

There's nothing wrong with a woman dancing naked if she chooses. I suspect that could be quite liberating as well as psychological in that the one dancing gains an illusion of control over the minds behind the eyes watching him or her.

But the reality of the strip-club environment is much more complex than that, because no matter how many women are "on the pole" for reasons of empowerment, entertainment and freedom, there are some trying to obtain some sense of self worth through men who largely see them as a vessels to invade. And even if all the women were self actualized, the men create a dangerous scenario by promoting this idea that a woman is merely a sexual object to be conquered. Pornography has already gone a long way in stealing the personal from the sexual experience for men and transforming the woman, again, into a tool with which to achieve climax. This mentality is mentored to sons, nephews and an array of other young men looking up to grown men trapped by dysfunctional behavior in engagements with women, and thus the cycle continues.

Not all men who enter strip clubs share this psychological impairment, but the handful that don't aren't going to carve a sliver out of the mentality running through the very grains of the wood of strip club floors.

*** Stephen, while I concur wholeheartedly with your points on how the sex industry continues to impact the psyches of men, you somewhat flirt with framing the reality of the sex worker as a direct result of working in the sex industry alone. This allows other contributing factors to the degradation of women to go undetected if not avoid blame. Undoubtedly men control this industry, but the role women can play in mitigating men's dominance should not be understated, or the risk of further perpetuation looms even larger. *** -- J.W.

Well...I'm not exactly sure what the point of that blog was, but it mentions strip clubs and prejudice. I find it less than banal that people go to strip clubs, which really are nothing but saloons where one has something to look at while getting plastered. (Alcohol also breaks down the barriers of sexual timidity, something one might find useful at a strip club.)

That a Border Patrol officer asked you if you and your friends had been to a strip club, well...that's not so much prejudice as just one of the questions they ask to get people in the car talking. The more they hear, the better they can understand the situation. I've had those agents ask me why I was returning from visiting my relatives in Ontario. What did he think I was there for, a sales convention??? It was just a way of prolonging the conversation so as to ascertain my state of mind.

In fact, it may well be that Border Patrol agents are trained to ask questions that are potentially irritating. Drunk people will fly off the handle, and those with ill intent will get visibly nervous. Not a bad strategy, if you ask me.

*** Emmett, the point of the blog was to have a conversation about some things I recently wandered in to.

I'll give you the point that Border Patrol agents may ask questions, even irritating one's, but I don't buy into it as right, by no means, and don't agree with you that is might be an acceptable strategy. If we allow it to be such, how far do we allow such behavior to be exhibited before it traverses inane behavior?

I also don't think that the people who establish policy for border crossings green-light this type of behavior, therefore making it perhaps far more criminal than the behavior of the average traveler. If arbitrary behavior is acceptable by Homeland Security agents then we might as well change the name of the agency to Homeland Insecurity, since if it becomes necessary to verbally berate or attack others it could be indicative of a heightened sense of paranoia predicated on prejudgment. *** -- J.W.

Emmett definitely has a valid point there, and one that is likely the reality of the situation, at least from my experiences over the past 18 years crossing the border.

J.W.,
When I stated I would not choose it as a profession, I was referring to stripping. There may be some aspects of it I would enjoy, but overall, I don't think it would serve me well. The idea of being a "professional in the sex industry" was not even part of that thought.

"Animated automated teller machines" is an imaginative and clever way to describe an avid strip club patron. There are so many different types of ATM's out there!

My point about gang owned strip clubs was one example I used because I think there is obvious knowledge of this in our not so distant area. It is more of a concern to me when people choose to frequent an establishment that supports illegal activities and don't care that they are part of the enabling force. I don't doubt there are other criminally inspired scenarios which have been successfully cloaked by those with the power to do so, but when someone blatantly supports a business that is contributing to the problems of our society, how can that be justified?

I realize there is only so much a member of society can do to ensure they are making informed and responsible choices in the businesses they support. Perhaps the information is not available to the consumer or the consumer does not have the skills it takes to do the research. I am not implying it is feasible to expect the majority of the population to take this position. I recognize that I may not even be fully able to make the best choices. I would not limit my research to businesses that contribute to the degradation of women, as there are many other members of society other than women that are degraded or abused, including, but not limited to, children and minorities.

What gives you the impression I’m in the closet and I want to be a pole dancer? Are you assuming I’ve never had any experience in this area and therefore prefer to carry out my fascination in private? Your assumption may be right…it may be wrong. Do you know what I do or what I did in my younger years for a living or entertainment purposes??

As far as being six inches or six feet from the viewer, distance has nothing to do with how tasteful the dance is. It takes talent to revolve around a pole in positions that not everyone’s body can conform to. Just as a liturgical dance is enjoyed more when done in a spiritual manner, a pole dance is better received with positive reaction when the moves are graceful and polished. The size and form of one’s body also contributes to the tastefulness of the dance. I wouldn’t expect a three-hundred pound dancer to be able to achieve the same maneuvers as eloquently as your average-size performer. Nor do I think the dance would receive as many positive responses. But, that’s just my opinion….what’s yours?

*** My opinion is that while a larger pole dancer may not be capable of moves that a smaller woman may make, she would also probably be in command of some that a smaller woman also would not have access to.

Also you may have been a pole dancer in a previous life, alternate universe, or may have it in your future. If you are not certain you want to do this, then stay away from poles. You may even want to avoid trips to Poland! *** -- J.W.

Regarding the question by the customs officer about the strip club, I don't believe it had anything to do with race. Many young and older people alike, the majority men, cross for the purpose of going to a strip club in Canada. In fact, I was asked the same question when returning into the U.S.

Maybe one of the reasons the question was posed, was to find out the nature of the trip into Canada. Was it for legitimate reasons? If so, then the nature of the questioning would subside, and the travelers would be released. If that did not satisfy the officer, then more questions might be asked determining if the persons or vehicle should be searched.

In this day and age, it would be nice to know who is entering our country and for what purpose. From what I read in the press, every so often a large amount of narcotics are apprehended at border crossings. This doesn't just appear in the open to these officers. They ask questions, check data bases, and look for visible signs of nervousness.

If the question was just to make small talk, then you or any other person crossing the border have the right to make a complaint. Maybe that should have been done!? Especially if you felt it was unjustified in the context of the questioning. Those officers should be professional in all aspects of their behavior.

Thanks a ton for taking the time to post these online quite often. I am sure you have lots of fans, just like me looking forward to your next posts. I always wonder how on earth can you create such wonderful profound information that one can pick straight off the peg and use right away. Well, I am really waiting to read more of what you have to say.

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