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The online diary of an ethical pervert.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Lap dancing versus my hypocrisy

I've been following the Policing and Crime Bill on a semi-casual basis, most particularly because of the sections concerning sexual activity, including prostitution and lap dancing clubs and the licensing of so-termed "sex encounter venues" which I assume will include fetish clubs. There's an interesting (although potentially also painful to read) series of comments directed at Lord Norton's stubby article in which seeks the opinion of the internet denizens. A number of things have caught my eye, both within the wording of the bill itself and the various bits of commentary and opinions surrounding it. There's talk of exploitation, trafficking, of NIMBYism and of overzealous and needless government interference in the God given right of men to look at tits - I'm paraphrasing and in doing so showing my prejudices. So let's have a look at that.

Lap dancing. Something I feel very uncomfortable about. I don't especially like them and I often feel very contradictory and even hypocritical when discussing the reasons why, so I'm going to have another go at trying to pin down what it is, precisely, about lap dancing and similar acts of paid for exposure that turn me cold.

It can't be the nudity.
After all, I have been naked, for the purposes of sexual titilation, in front of people in public places and I'm reasonably sure I'm not a prude. So let's examine the differences, then I'll attempt to work out whether they are relevant to me or not. First, I'm not being paid to do it, unlike the stripper. Second, I'm doing it because I want to do it for my own sexual gratification, because I'm an exhibitionist (without getting into the arguments surrounding the motivations of strippers, I can only speak for myself here). Third, I'm doing it in a BDSM / fetish context, alongside other people who are of a similar mindset. When I do it, it's usually as a part of or a prelude to play, and not usually expressly in front of an audience - one might form, but they aren't my focus, the dom (or doms if I'm lucky) and what they are doing to me is. I'm not just naked, I'm extra-special M&S naked.

Right. Three differences then. Ideally I want to be able to dissect them without veering into the "it's ok if I do it, but not you" territory because that isn't especially helpful and is also extraordinarily patronising not to mention ridiculous because the amount of knowledge I have about the life of your average stripper or lap dancer is practically nil. I'm going to try and focus on what it is about the activity itself that gives me problems, not the people doing it.

I'm going to discount the "sexual gratification" one, which although interesting really is all about whether or not the stripper wants to be a stripper in the same way as I want to be naked in a club. I'm fairly sure that's not the case, but without doing some interviews, I can't know other people's motivations for doing anything and therefore can't really take them into account when discussing this.

So I'm going to assume that lap dancing is something people do for a job because they need the money and that in this hypothetical instance they have not been coerced or trafficked (because those latter things are obviously bad, but I do not think that all lap dancers have been forced into the profession and I also think that coercion and trafficking are awful things if they happen to non-lap dancers). Which leaves me with the money aspect.

Is it this the thorny issue? Maybe. I certainly had some problematic thoughts over how I felt regarding a potential paid-for sexual encounter that came on my radar in the past. However, I don't especially regard prostitution as an inherently bad thing, merely that I don't want to do it, although it is perhaps telling that I automatically lump stripping in with prostitution, falling as they both do in my category of "sexual things done for money". But it isn't the payment aspect which makes me dislike it. I think it's more along the lines of what they are paying for and the attitudes that this very public system of exchange generates.

When I think "lap dancing" what I actually think of, once thoughts of sleazy bars with sticky carpets have faded is the fact that they are very much skewed towards providing naked female flesh for the consumption of heterosexual males. Yes, there are male strippers, but nowhere near as many. For me, lap dancing clubs are emblematic of a deeply ingrained problem within society - that of the commercial availability of women's bodies. Woman as sexual commodity. The lap dancers wriggle around for the money in men's pockets and this adds to the huge pile of weighty social acts which designate female as purchasable and men as holding the purse strings. It's a public act of female powerlessness. And I hate it.

So here's the rub. How can I. who have enjoyed sexual service, stood naked and been flogged in public, done any number of sexualised, public acts with my female body have a leg to stand on when criticising the public availability of "woman for sale" or female powerlessness? I have enjoyed many acts of my own powerlessness, am I contributing to the problem as well as being totally hypocritical when I savage other acts of powerlessness?

Because it's my body and I can do what I damn well please with it and still demand to have my opinions treated with the utmost respect regardless of what I do or don't do in bed. That just because one woman wants to do it doesn't mean all women do, and just because I did it once doesn't mean I want to do it again or do it with you. Because there is a fundamental and vitally important difference between individually submitting to someone you trust and who cares about you in a consenting activities and being paid to be powerless in front of an uncaring stranger who sees you as a piece of flesh.

Even as I type this, I know that those two acts described above could look practically indistinguishable, but I genuinely feel there is a difference. I don't think I've quite yet bottomed this out, and I'm still somewhat nervous that I'm neither as clear nor as free from contradictions as I'd like to be. Work in progress, then.


Charles said...

Thought provoking .....

I don't have the answer either, I understand your position and dont see it as hypocritical. The only thing I could come up with, is the gratification line. When you were/are "flogged in public", both you and the flogger were each "servicing" the others needs, you to be flogged, his to do the flogging - the fact you both want/wanted to do it in public is a joint choice. The main reason for your naked display is not for the enjoyment of the onlooker; the flogging would probably happen without them. The same could not be said for a lap dancing club, remove the audience and the girls would not dance.

I am rather assuming, but I expect, if a partner of yours wanted you to give him a personal lap dance in the privacy of your own home, you probably would.

electronic doll said...

Well, it's nice to know that someone doesn't think I'm hypocritical, though personally I'm still not sure. I agree with the idea that BDSM participants are serving each other's needs, although would argue that so are the lap dancer and the client, however, the needs are different (one for money, one for gratification) and they are both connected by the system of economic exchange rather than one of pleasure.

Personal lap dances are also an interesting point - I have no problem with people doing this for each other and may even encourage it in certain circumstances, and if a (paid for) dancer went to a clients house to dance for him I guess it feels different to me.

I think it must be the actual clubs themselves, what they represent in the public eye.

Mind you, I don't particularly like sports bars either...

Victoria said...

Interesting. I agree with you that lap-dancing objectifies women's bodies, but I'd argue that advertising also does this - witness the extreme close-up of lips or legs or breasts, supposedly under the guise of selling some lotion or other. With the lap-dance, men's vision would be filled with only a part of a woman's body - legs, breasts, bum - and it is highly unlikely that anyone is looking all the way up at her face. Whereas dancing for someone in a BDSM context or similar is much more about being aware of the other person and what their reaction is. Any dom worth their salt would be making damn sure that this is something you both want to do, and you can change your mind at any point if all of a sudden you just don't want to. The lap-dancing patron doesn't care if you don't want to do it, any more than my boss doesn't care if I want to write that report. I'm getting paid to write it, and they're getting paid to dance - so even if they've had the worst day in the world, they still have to perform. That, to me, is a fundamental difference. It is a sexual act that the dancer doesn't have a choice in performing on any given night. Now, you can argue that she can always switch careers - and this brings me to my next point.

You put sex-trafficking and prostitution to one side when discussing this to focus exclusively on the act itself. I'd argue that we cannot do that, given the high instances of abuse, both sexual and non, experienced by those in the sex industry. Sure, there are strippers and prostitutes out there that are safe and healthy and happy and love what they do, but I would argue that they do not make up the majority. And we cannot discount the 'occupational hazard' of unwanted sexual contact, because the instances of it are so much higher for this occupation. That would be like saying that we shouldn't consider the risk of frostbite in extreme-weather workers because it's a bad thing that no-one wants to happen, and when it happens it's deplorable. Yes - but the point is that it happens with much greater frequency to this particular slice of the population. It is an increased occupational hazard that is not borne by those dancing for their partner or being flogged by their dom.

And that doesn't even count the fact that a substantial portion of the dancers don't want to be there and have no choice in the matter. Let's be conservative and call it 10% - that's still a 1 in 10 chance that the person dancing for you has been coerced into this position.

electronic doll said...

I agree with your points re advertising - it's all a big ugly bag of female bodies = consumables.

I didn't get into the issue of trafficking for two main reasons - first, I don't really know that much about it, though I know that you do and totally agree with your points, and do have serious concerns about coercion in all forms of sex-work. Second, I wanted to focus on my own response to lap dancing outwith those issues because I wanted to work out whether I would still have a problem with lap dancing even if it's all done via free will and there's no trafficking and it's in a nice, clean safe place etc. I know that we don't live in this hypothetical world, but I got to wondering whether, in a perfect world, would I still find this paid-for act problematic?

Turns out that I do, which surprised me as in a hypothetical question re prostitution in the same context I do not have the same attitude. Perhaps it's a public / private things?

Zoecb said...

I simply disagree with your opinion that dancing naked for money is an act of powerlessness.

In my eyes it's the other end of the scale - more towards the exploitation of men.

Yyes they choose to give their money, but I still consider the (often considerable) financial profit to be made from such an industry a perfectly sensible incentive to being in the 'will remove clothing for money' business. I wouldn't deem it at all incompatible with my own attitudes, only potentially other people's, people who matter to me and who have an effect on my choices. Were I unattached and anonymous (for example I would not want it to be information freely available to my parents, purely for privacy reasons) I wouldn't hesitate, given the right offer.

electronic doll said...

I understand your point - it's part of the reason why I feel uncomfortable with my own stance on it: I'm very much aware of arguments like your own, which present a very reasonable and solid viewpoint.

That said, I still don't like the idea and personally would not choose to do it, which is not to criticise people who, like yourself, would do and would feel empowered by it. After all, if it works for you, why not do it? But similarly, it does not work for me and so, I don't.

Personal decisions. All due respect to whichever choice is made as long as it's a real choice.