Essay by Katy Pilcher from the Journal of International Women’s Studies Vol. 10 #3 March 2009.
‘This paper seeks to characterise the gendered and sexualised power relations of both female and male strip clubs, and to signal what this means for establishing positive definitions of female desire. It is argued that while it is not useful to present female strippers, or female patrons of male strip clubs as purely passive victims of male heterosexism within these venues, it is equally damaging to assume that these venues represent a whole-scale challenge to conventional oppressive gender and sexual relations for women. Some research has even suggested that both strippers and their patrons are engaged in a ‘mutually exploitative’ power relationship. Moreover, further empirical research documents key points where female dancers have perhaps wielded ‘more’ power over patrons at certain moments, and female dancers have highlighted feelings of empowerment and highlighted potential for gender and sexual relations which position women as passive to be subverted within stripping. However, such feelings are often temporally specific and are not applicable to all women in the strip industry. It may be particularly hard for these to manifest in women concentrated in the least economically-rewarding areas of the industry who have less ‘power’ to resist compromising their bodily boundaries. Furthermore, it is argued that women watching male strippers does little to reverse the ‘male gaze’, and nor does this male occupation carry as much negative social stigma with it as female stripping suffers. It is thus argued that the overwhelming picture, stemming largely from accounts of former dancers and from empirical studies of individual clubs, suggests these ‘