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Why Stripping Can Never Be A Feminist Act

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Stripping is not some grand feminist statement. It is an obvious point but one worth making, that stripping is a highly gendered occupation. In the vast majority of cases it is women who strip and men who watch and pay - and it doesn't help the feminist cause because it reinforces sexual objectification of women in three important ways.

Firstly, it perpetuates the idea that women should primarily be judged on their looks and sexual attractiveness. This cultural norm causes many women to have an unhealthy preoccupation with their appearance, to engage in objectifying themselves, and thus limit the range of options they have in life. Women are far more frequently judged on current standards of sexual attractiveness than men and go to greater lengths to fit into the ever narrower mould of perfection. Women had 90% of all cosmetic procedures in 2010, the same percentage as in 2009 and 89% of eating disorder sufferers are women. It is women who swell the ranks of dieters and have any number of beauty regimes to get through in a week.

An argument often made to justify the feminist credentials of stripping is that it challenges the dominant sexual norms that define how women should express their sexuality, striking at the heart of the virginal 'good girl' image. However, the problem is that stripping falls within the realms of the highly sexualised images we constantly see - images which reduce women to sexual objects to be looked at.

In a quick experiment I decided to view music videos for the current top 10 singles in the UK charts and found that at least six out 10 feature women in bras, suspenders or knickers and in the most wonderfully original ones, a splendid combination of all three. The even edgier ones have women dancing happily and seductively on top of tables, gyrating their crotches or their enviable bottoms towards the camera. The others couldn't be clearly labelled but what is conspicuous by its absence in them all, is men in their pants, thrusting their crouches towards the camera.

Finally, in a strip club, women have to perform for men within the confines of what is acceptable behaviour for a stripper. Thus punters, who are men, have the power over women, who are primarily there to satisfy the sexual desires of punters. The men decide who they want to see dance and who they want a lap dance from - and ultimately the dancers have to please their customers.

As much as I would love to say that being a stripper is challenging the dominant sexual norms and acting outside of the confines of acceptable behaviour for a women - in a culture where a man is 'a bit of player' and woman is 'a slut' if she is openly promiscuous, I can't.

Whatever benefits stripping may have for individual women - and it will have very different effects on, and meanings for, women according to factors such as class and race - it serves to shore up the sexual objectification of women, which disadvantages women as a group. By any account, whatever else it maybe, stripping is not a feminist statement.

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