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?