We had a pretty thought-provoking panel this week in my equity class: all three guest were white, straight men talking about their experiences with patriarchy. It was really interesting because they have all taken a path to counter patriarchy in their lives, and they discussed how this has affected their relationships with their families of origin, how they view the world, etc.
One little comment at the end was evident to me that the men took different feminist views than me:
One man made some disparaging remark about “ugh strip clubs” and “yeah, isn’t it crazy Portland has like the highest number per capita?” [Subtext: isn’t that awful??]
I caught my professor’s eye and she sort of apologetically/nervously smiled at me. I felt pretty calm; I expect to encounter that kind of attitude sometimes. I know it’s a pretty dominant discourse (strippers are oppressed women who have internalized patriarchy; there is no other explanation that tells us why women engage in sex work. Or, women are forced to strip or engage in sex work to make money. The power flows from the dominant group-men-to women in the form of exchanging money for sexual energy.)
The thing is: I can’t really argue that strip clubs don’t support patriarchy. I also can’t say that I’m not stripping outside the patriarchal system. I know I have been socialized to desire attention and to dress and present myself in ways that are pleasing to those gazing upon me (namely, men).
But the explanation that patriarchy has oppressed me and forced me to strip is too simplistic for me. There are so many other factors at play (which I have discussed at length in various posts).
It’s fascinating to me, and I try as best I can to simply remain curious about, the variety of views within the folks who identify as a feminist. This particular guy, who so clearly and evidently opposed men powering over women and supported women as equals, inadvertently took agency and power away from the women who engage in sex work. Simply by making a negative comment, and assuming he knows the motivations and stories of all sex workers, he once again assumed the dominant role: “I know what’s best for women: not stripping.”
[Of course: people can have different views, and I think that first-wave feminism language is powerful and persuasive. But again: for me, it takes away power from individual women and is too simplistic. This picture assumes that one cohesive “feminism” has the answers to dismantling a thousands-year system of privilege and oppression, when in reality, there are so many diverse beliefs under that umbrella and so many ways of subverting power.)
The truth is, for me, is that all of these factors (including the system of patriarchy) have influenced me. Which means I embrace the “both, and” approach to life, not the “either/or.” I can be a stripper and a feminist and queer and straight-looking and a lover of consent and someone who has non-consent fantasies. I hold many complex, seemingly opposing desires and beliefs and identities, inside me, as do (I believe) most people.