Mental exercise: You are a fresher and your hall has organized a couple of events for the weekend. Friday is Ladies’ Night and Saturday is dedicated to the Gents. Everyone will help provide the entertainment for hall mates of the opposite sex. What will you and your peeps be doing exactly? Undressing. Get ready to strip, baby.
Maybe that seems far-fetched. Or maybe that happened last semester in John Burnet Hall.
Students stripping at an event sponsored by a university’s residence facility seems obviously inappropriate, but why? Students may claim it is empowering. They might even feel sexy and powerful in the act of stimulating their peers to arousal (although they could probably accomplish this on their own time). In any case, isn’t it just light-hearted fun?
No, it’s really not. If a university allows stripteases at hall events, what is it endorsing? First, it endorses the idea that drawing value solely from physical appearance is (sometimes) appropriate. It also suggests that sexual objectification is acceptable within the semi-professional realm of a university. And it implies that stripping is a relatively positive, healthy activity, rather than a deeply controversial moral and political issue.
Let’s get into the details. In my words: stripping is the progressive removal of clothing by one party (group or individual) for the purpose of arousing another party. This act – an exhibition of the body to elicit arousal – is inherently an act of sexual objectification in that it focuses the aroused party’s senses explicitly on the bodies of the stripping party, who find their worth externalized into physicality.
Of course, people objectify themselves all the time. Sex drive is normal and healthy, so let’s draw a line and say flirtation becomes self-objectification when it is based entirely on physical appearance and sexual innuendo. Stripping is the next level.
I am a feminist. I firmly believe that men and women are equally capable and powerful and that both sexes deserve full personhood and empowerment – not narrow and limiting definitions of what it means to be female or male.
Recently, feminists have begun to engage on a thin line simultaneously challenging sexual objectification by the aroused party and embracing it as empowering for the stripteasing or scantily-clad party. Last summer, philosophy professor Nancy Bauer of Tufts University asked this question on the New York Times’ website: “Is this [the “Telephone” music video] an expression of Lady Gaga’s strength as a woman or an exercise in self-objectification?” My answer is both.
Let me be clear: I am a fan of a new movement called SlutWalks that spread in only a few months to more than 75 cities around the world. I am not a fan of the crime shows that visit a strip club once every two to three weeks. Get real – not every criminal and her posse hang with strippers 24 hours a day.
But I digress.
The SlutWalks marches represent the feminist understanding that wearing provocative or revealing clothing is not a signal that rape is ever invited. It is the ultimate negation of the statement “she was asking for it” by women who march together wearing anything from a skimpy swimsuit to sweats.
The movement is making two arguments. 1. Women can and should be allowed to dress as they please and should not be threatened for it. 2. It is empowering to feel sexy – and not inherently slutty.
All of these ideas are within the realm of public discourse. There are privately-held, publicly-regulated institutions that provide a venue for the baring of bums, and there are political movements that choose a particular appearance to deliver a particular message. The significance of stripping within these contexts is central and clear.
Then there is the question of stripteases endorsed by other organizations, specifically universities.
So what would you, the impressionable fresher, do? Learn the words to “I’m Too Sexy” and prepare a routine? Sit out in discomfort?
Or call out for the administration to step in and stop the madness?
More on this tomorrow.
A version of this post appeared in the Emory Wheel on 9 February, 2012.