we all know what a strip club looks like

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Even if you haven’t physically visited one, we’ve all been to a strip club before. Sometimes it feels like we visit them over and over again whilst watching movies and TV shows. So as I entered one for the first time it was the familiarity that took me by surprise.

The crushed red velvet furniture, the chintzy décor of Stringfellow’s was almost as if I’d painted it into life. Everything from the older men drinking whisky to the scantily clad waitresses flirtatiously making their way through the room, it was all surprisingly, unsurprising.

My relationship with strip clubs is a complicated one. Like many feminists my age I live by the line of – I totally respect the freedom of the sex workers who choose to strip, and support their right to do their job without putting themselves at risk, however there is something I fundamentally find disturbing about the mainstream strip club culture. And I’d like to put emphasis on mainstream here, as for so long strip clubs seemingly have been the domain of heterosexual men; whether it be for a stag do, part of a corporate perk or if we’re honest somewhere for lonely men to go. But alas, as I’m learning, there is much more to stripping than the Spearmint Rhinos and the Stringfellow’s of this world.

My narrow view of the stripping world comes through the gaze of an outsider. As a girlfriend hearing second hand about a private dance that shook my 18-year-old world view. A place where the men went to see female objectification personified, close enough for them to touch. For me, a young woman trying to explore my own sexuality I found its presence in my male friends lives suffocating. Was this what female sexuality looked like? It all seemed so devastatingly old fashioned and obvious. A lot of my reluctance to embrace the stripping scene is fear, fear that these women have been forced into a profession they don’t want. That by attending I would be complicit in exploiting vulnerable women.

I’ll admit, my desire to be seen as a ‘cool girl’ was what took me into Stringfellow’s that night. I didn’t want to be seen as uptight and unadventurous. How could I say I didn’t like them if I’d never been to one? But after the hangover and disappointment in myself had passed I’ve spent a long time trying to work out my complicated feelings towards stripping.

Because let’s be honest, I am not afraid of the naked body, I’m not a prude. I love talking sex almost as much as I love having it. Although monogamous I’d like to think of myself as liberally minded. So, what’s my problem?

With strip clubs the question is usually framed - yay or nay? And we get stuck. Stuck between either being in or out which leaves no space for questions about things you find problematic, perspectives of people working in the scene and showcasing a variety of what can be done inside that space that doesn’t fit into the mainstream ideal of what stripping is.

So we all know what the strip clubs of the male-dominated movie scene looks like, we all know the tales of women down on their luck with no other choice but what’s the future of stripping in a more equal world? What changes when a strip club is made into a feminist space? When we un peel the wrapper of misogyny from our society what does that look like? That’s what I’m excited to explore.

Charlie Brades-Price