Should You Try Stripping?
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My reaction isn't uncommon. Ariel Levy, in her book "Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture," explores the exalted and surprisingly mainstream place strippers and porn stars have come to hold in our culture. Porn doesn't hide under the bed and strip clubs are no longer euphemized as "boys' night out." As Levy illustrates, today we live in a world where Jenna Jameson's memoir can be on the best-seller list for six weeks, Crunch gyms offer a "Cardio Striptease" class, and ads for "vaginoplasty" run in LA Weekly. American royalty like Paris Hilton launch careers with sex tapes. And as Levy points out, "Hilton isn't some disgraced exile of our society. On the contrary, she's our mascot." No wonder Randi's profession catches like a fishhook in my stomach.
Stripping is a tricky topic for me, a feminist enamored of Gloria Steinem, Hillary Clinton, and the history of "womyn's lands." Taking your clothes off can be the ultimate symbol of caution-to-the-wind liberation. But if you're doing it because that's the accepted mark of being sexy and successful, then that's a different game. And for more and more women, that's the reason. With raunch-culture ever on the rise, sex appeal isn't just one of the many cards a girl can play; it's the ultimate trump, no matter how smart or talented she is.
In fact, our culture has written a new fairytale. And Randi Newton, Jake's new girlfriend, is currently living it. You see, she isn't just a stripper. Part of her claim to fame, the reason she was on the cover of The Post, and the reason her book deal will likely be six figures, is that she used to work on Wall Street. That's the story we're looking to buy these days. "Pretty Woman" has been replaced with the real-life story of Diablo Cody (who was portrayed as the ultimate teen girl's role model in a recent episode of "90210″). It's not the hooker with a heart of gold; it's the stripper with an MBA or a literary agent.
And it's pervasive. I have a picture of Diablo Cody on my wall -- an article actually. It's from the New York Times and profiles Cody and her three best writer pals, all of whom command seven figures per feature-film screenplay, or close to it. The article talks about how hard they work and the fun they have. And it makes sure to underline how "gorgeous" the four women are, exuding "four distinct styles of glamour." It's not that I'm objecting to admiring beauty (though not every culture requires this of its celebrities). It just seems to me that the message being delivered to young women isn't that the hot women can be smart, it's that the smart women need to be hot. Stripping is not just a potentially lucrative side job; it's a step toward a storybook ending. And that's a tricky message to be faced with at a time when so many markets are laying off smart girls (and guys).
But, I don't want to judge a strip club by its front door. So the next night Randi is working, Jake arranges for me to talk with her in person. Randi works at Rick's Cabaret, and it's not hard to figure out that Rick's is one of the finer of its breed. I don't normally go to bars alone, but here I feel at ease. In fact, I'm shocked by how pleasant the atmosphere is. The plush chairs gathered around small, candlelit tables are warmly inviting, the soft light glows placidly, the music is not too loud. There's even a flatscreen with a football game running by the bar. It's the opposite of the scary, jarring club scene I was expecting. It feels even more comfortable than the bars my friends take me to. Except there's the issue of the naked ladies.