THE MALE GAZE
Have known a few strippers in my time and am currently developing a friendship with a woman who was a bikini dancer at a club. At least I think I am. It makes sense to suceed at this profession you have to be able to attract the attention and approval of men so they will give you money. How does that not bleed into the rest of your life? I have heard from these women: "I like men to buy me things." "I try to stay sexually attractive to men." "I have a hard time saying no to men." That last one especially makes my skin crawl. How can you act or think like this and have healthy relationships with men or have any kind of healthy self-image? After 40+ yrs. this has caused me to question my use of porn more than anything else. Even amateur and camgirls (kind of a modern version of stripping). I am definitely not anti-sex or against images of sexuality. Trying to be in shape or physically healthy is different than being mostly focused on sexual attractiveness to men. I am just looking for a healthier heterosexuality.
Women are conditioned from childhood to be nice, to not fight, to smile, to share, and to make themselves as pretty as possible. This is our social CONDITIONING, not inbred traits, and just like male conditioning, it is very hard to shake. In the sexual realm, this can translate into rather dishonest and unsavoury behaviors. A girl doesn't want to tell her boyfriend that he's rough, or clumsy, and she may very well pretend she likes what she's getting, even though she doesn't. I grew up thinking of myself as sexually advanced and liberated, especially compared to my mother. Yet for the first 10 years of my sex life, I never had an orgasm; never even knew what I liked. My childhood conditioning kept me from even being very interested in my own sexual satisfaction; being desired, and wanted, seemed more important at the time. My boyfriend expected fellatio, but did not reciprocate. The few porn films which I saw as a young woman seemed awful to me (Behind the Green Door, Deep Throat and Last Tango in Paris were some of them), yet my boyfriend liked them, and considered them edgy and arousing. I obtained birth control early, in the form of the pill; my father disowned me for doing this (being sexually active outside the married state), yet my boyfriend was praised and encouraged for being sexual by both of his parents. What a double standard! Why was I even dating this guy, you might ask. Believe it or not, he was the "catch" of the neighbourhood, and my social status was enhanced just by being his girlfriend.
These memories are as close as I can come to the mindset of your new <friend>, who wants men to buy her things, and can't say no. It's taken me decades to develop a healthy sexual expression, and even now, dating in my 60's, the double standard continues to haunt me. I've been very disappointed in my last few lovers (all men), but what do I say to them? That I expect a man in his 60's to know how to kiss? That reciprocity would be nice? I do pay my own way, always, but the men I know expect gold stars just for showing up.
I'm not certain that I possess enough knowledge to speak to this specific issue. While I'm of the belief that healthy childhood relationship with parental and other adult authority figures is of immense help to laying the foundation for socially appropriate adult-to-adult behaviors later in life, that's about as far as I'm willing to go. I'm hesitant to say that all or even most women who do this have abuse in their backgrounds.
If I were in your shoes, I'd try hard to withhold judgment as long as possible, but also try to keep my eyes open and my guard up if the friendship seems to move towards a level deeper than the platonic. I'd look for things like: a history of few long-term relationships with men (I'm distinguishing this from promiscuity, which may just be enjoying sex), a history of infidelity when in supposedly monogamous relationships, frequent projection on others of a lack of veracity or other traits associated with moral integrity, inability to control drug or alcohol use, constancy of creating or agitating interpersonal drama over petty matters, poor financial decisions, and most of all, self-respect issues.
Again, I'm not saying that's going to be the case with every woman who decides to show what she's got in exchange for money, and certainly not with your new friend. I hear the other voices on this thread cautioning that yes, there really are some women who just do it for the money and don't take the work or the culture associated with it home with them. So it's likely a prejudice on my part, but I'd suspect those sorts of traits to be more frequent within this group of people than in others, and those kinds of toxic behaviors suggest that this person may not be a good choice to be a close friend or a romantic partner.
Well, it rather depends on the woman. Some, if not close to a majority might have issues of some kind because it does take a certain kind of person to be able to display their bodies in that sort of deviant way. (I use deviant here to reference the acts being out of the usual social norms, not as a judgment of morals.) I know some camgirls personally and only two out of five of them I would say have "issues". For those that strip live there may be more "issues" going on because they have to put their bodies the line more than a camgirl or amateur porn actress does.
Putting aside personal "issues" however, if we examine your title here of "The Male Gaze" while it is certainly something to be considered if a woman chooses to thrust herself into the Male Gaze then there is nothing wrong with that - especially if it is their job. In instances like this, I like to reference Erving Goffman and his Dramaturgical approach to understanding the way people interact - basically, we all put on a performance depending on what kind of situation we find ourselves in. These women are putting on a performance for the men watching and doing what they know will get them the most money in that job: Convincing the men they are telling the truth. If that means calling a guy "piggy" or mocking his dick size they'll do it and if that means saying "yes daddy" or admitting they are a slut that can't say no they'll do it too. No matter what they do there as an act it does not represent their true selves and in their own personal lives with family or friends, they are going to behave in a different manner.
Living in what used to be the capitol of the sex industry, I can tell you one thing is for certain...don't ever stereotype someone working in that field. Sure, some if not many do come from broken homes or sexually abused backgrounds, but not all. A lot of them do it because they have the looks, and they can't run an Excel spreadsheet. Others just because they like the adventure.
I'm sex-positive and anti-shame but totally over porn. Generally I say let consenting grownfolks do what they want as long as no one gets hurt, but...
Some folks are not going to get someone to go to bed with them without paying. Most of those folks will survive; some will go on a beheading rampage. Okay. Legalize prostitution and tax and regulate the hell out of it. Treat it like a noble, sacred calling to provide intimate companionship for those who otherwise would be deprived. If young fit business studs just prefer paid sex, fine. The money goes to victims of sex abuse/assault, orphans, whatever.
As for stripping, I think it could be treated mostly the same way but I think it's currently a legal substitute for prostitution: if the latter were legal, I think demand for the former would go down.
I don't like telling adults they can't do things but I also don't like the idea of reinforcing unhealthy ideas and behaviors. Sexual frustration can mess with your head, and some of the ways of dealing with it (e.g. porn, stripping) can mess with it worse. This is to say nothing of those providing the services!
TL;DR: if everyone got laid who wanted to, I think everyone would be a lot happier, some violence would decrease, and demand for porn and strippers would decrease.
Good for you. I did an anthropological study in college on strippers working in the Combat Zone of Boston. You'd be amazed how many are trying to pay for college but the stigma is so great that it sometimes leads to drug use, addiction to more serious drugs like cocaine and heroin and even suicide. The girls have quotas to get customers to purchase drinks and champagne at overinflated prices. Some are trying to get off the street and supporting young children. It's amazing what happens in these girls lives.
What's the difference between a stripper, porn star, cam girl etc. and a girl who otherwise seems "respectable" and isn't in a profession like that, but dates men for their money or because he has a great job or inheritance etc? What about a woman who has a job or career and a good upbringing, and makes a living, but won't date a man that doesn't make decent money?