This month, The Man Files brings you Jessica Pauline â€” a writer and feminist with experience working in some of the dicey-er Los Angeles strip clubs. Lots of ink has been spilled on the sex worker debates. Are women oppressed by sex work? Liberated? Both? How is trafficking distinct from, say, dancing one’s way through law school? In this entry, Jessica leaves those debates for another day and instead turns a keen eye to her observations of the men who make it rain. (â€”verb: to throw wads of cash in the air for dancers to retrieve as tips.)
Like Jane Goodall and her chimps, I spent a good deal of time during my tenure as a stripper in some of L.A.â€™s seediest nightclubs observing the behavior of the primates. Not the dancers, mind you â€” the men who came to watch them.
Based on my humble observations, I came to discover that certain behaviors are both predictable and categorical, and that most hetero men, when confronted with a pair of boobs in a semi-public setting, fall into a few choice archetypes.
Letâ€™s start with what I imagine to be the most common breed of American strip club patron: white, middle-aged men who golf and vote Republican. They swagger in to the club with an air of ownership, their masculinity stuffed into their wallets and tucked neatly into their pressed khaki pants. Observing the dancers with the same level of detached interest that one might imagine theyâ€™d use in selecting a prime rib-eye, they pick a girl, begin to talk to her in their most sensual voice while rubbing her back and her leg, and shortly thereafter are ushered back to the VIP room with very little to-do. This is the kind of easy sell around which strip clubs were designed, and for that reason, weâ€™ll call this breed Strip Club Men (SCM).
Now, strip clubs have been around long enough for a type of strip club rebellion to brew amongst men. So imagine, if you will, if the SCM had a son. This son desires nothing more than to be the antithesis to his stuffy, conservative father, and so he becomes sensitive, wears ironic t-shirts to demonstrate the fact that he doesnâ€™t take himself too seriously, and quite possibly sports artistic, sentimental facial hair. Letâ€™s call this breed Feminist Men (FM).
When forced into a strip club, maybe because of a bachelor party, or maybe in search of a place to talk quietly on a Tuesday night, the FM immediately seeks to set himself apart. Rather than sexualize the dancers, he opens with a nice conversation, carefully keeping his eyes above the neck. But as the FM gets less and less guarded, a strange thing begins to happen. He becomes more willing to let his eyes wander down. His friendly conversation becomes more imbued with sexual innuendo. And finally, often after spending copious amounts of money on what he has come to believe is a â€œreal connection,â€ he tries to get the dancer to go on a date with him. (This, as an aside, is both insulting and never going to happen.)
The final subcategory of men falls deeper into FM territory, and warrants mention simply because of the unique validation that they seek. Theyâ€™re easy to recognize, because no sooner does some indie chick start swaying her hips to Tom Waits, the King of Melancholy himself, then the Tom Waits Man (TWM) begins nodding in recognition. Before long, heâ€™s dug a crumpled dollar bill out of his pocket and walked up to the stage where he will deposit it, but not until heâ€™s made sure that the dancer sees him so he can compliment her taste to her face and thereby secure his place as profound, mysterious and, of course, different.
Maybe youâ€™ll read this and think that I oversimplify. But since the most honest interaction in sex work is based on a respectful, fun partaking of the service provided, it canâ€™t hurt for men to examine their own behavior with at least as much gusto as I examined it (donâ€™t worry, I took some long, hard looks at myself, too). Without that, gentlemen, you are really just entertainment.
Jessica Pauline is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. An NYU graduate with a degree in music, her writing appears regularly on LAist.com, and has appeared in $pread Magazine, The Printed Blog, the Ventura County Star, and a number of other websites and local papers. She is currently working on a book about her experiences as a feminist stripper, and lives in Silver Lake with her fiance and their dog, Molly.