Choice Feminism on The Talk

I don’t watch The Talk but someone on Twitter sent me a link to this segment, which aired earlier today, in which the hosts discuss a Las Vegas strip club that is actively recruiting “recent high school graduates” (i.e. 18 year old women).

The strip club, called “Little Darlings” (uh, gross?), created ads with slogans like, “Now auditioning the class of 2015″ and “Pay your way through college.”

KVVU-TV reports that Little Darlings manager Rick Marzullo says he is “offering a way for young women 18 and older to make good money in a struggling economy” and “helping” young women who are struggling to pay rising tuition fees. (What a guy!)

The signs are quite obviously playing on the “barely legal”/”college co-eds gone wild” themes that are so popular in pornography and with older men who buy sex and frequent strip clubs. It’s common knowledge that johns and porn-consumers alike often seek out the youngest women possible.

During the segment, Darlene (also known as Sara Gilbert) says “This is so sick to me — preying on young, 18 year old girls… These girls don’t know how this is going to impact their life later — they just know they have to pay for college now.”

Another host, Aisha Tyler, responds: “At 18 you can vote, at 18 you can drive, at 18 you can go to war… I would never strip and I would never want my child to strip but, as a feminist, I don’t want to take away the agency of a young woman to make whatever choice she thinks is right for her life at that time. Stripping is not prostitution, these women are protected.” She adds, “I know a lot of men who have gone to strip clubs and are like, ‘Look, I just went in there and a girl danced on the stage and now I don’t have $7000 in my pocket, so who really got taken advantage of in this situation.'” (Darlene looks peeved, at this point.)

Now, we’ve heard these arguments many times before. Men pretend like they are the ones who are “vulnerable” in these exchanges, because they are the ones “losing money.” Of course, if paying for sex or lap dances or going to strip clubs removed men’s power, you’d think the patriarchy would be a thing of the distant past by now… What isn’t discussed by Tyler is that a primary reason these women are taking off their clothes, on stage, for men, is because they are economically disadvantaged, whereas these men are not. Therefore the power imbalance will always remain. When a wealthy CEO pays a factory worker to make his product, that factory worker is not taking advantage of that CEO. Class does not work that way.

Of course, that existing power imbalance serves men, which is why they continue to ensure women don’t have access to other options outside the sex industry to pay for college/life. If suddenly these women had access to free post-secondary school, or good jobs, or universal daycare for mothers, or whatever, there would cease to be a need for women to resort to stripping. Men are not the vulnerable ones, simply because they are paying to objectify young women. That’s why they have $7000 in their pockets in the first place and aren’t up on stage shaking their dicks around.

Tyler goes on: “We victimize and we fetishize women constantly, but I don’t want to say that that’s not a way to make a living that could be better than sex work.”

Darlene responds, clarifying that she isn’t interested in making strip clubs illegal, “I’m saying, ‘Don’t put ads that are targeting people that just turned into adults.'”

So I guess I have a couple of questions — if you wouldn’t want to be a stripper, yourself, and you also wouldn’t want your daughter to work in strip club, what makes it so A-Ok for other women?

Of course, the answer to that question is “choice” and “agency.” Also known as, “It’s the American way!”

America doesn’t want to do anything about poverty, porn culture, a sex industry that preys, particularly, on marginalized women, and they continue to privatize the shit out of everything, which further reinforces class and race disparity, but they do want to talk about how much “choice” and “agency” American citizens have.

The argument that says, “These women are 18 years old, why shouldn’t they have the choice to become strippers” is the same argument that doesn’t question why, 1) Men aren’t making these “choices” in droves, and 2) Why women aren’t offered access to college without having to get naked for predatory men.

Tyler continued the conversation on Twitter, after the show aired:

In one tweet she says, “As a feminist, I refuse to slutshame, as tempting and enjoyable as it may be.” I’m not sure what this was in response to, because no one was shaming women who work in strip clubs, nor do feminists call other women “sluts.” Rather, it is men who label women “sluts” and enjoy degrading them. That’s why they go to strip clubs, abuse prostituted women, and watch porn that degrades women and sexualizes male violence and rape. It is a neoliberal manipulation to call the women who fight against misogynist terms like “slut” and who challenge men who enjoy degrading women, “slutshamers.” It also conveniently avoids addressing the real problem.

But I wonder what would happen if men used all their agency to make the choice not to open and/or frequent strip clubs and pay for sex and, instead, advocated for free post-secondary tuition, union wages (and supported the labour movement, more generally), affordable housing, a viable welfare system, and affordable health care instead?

Only in a world where men don’t choose to sexualize and objectify women and where women have real, viable choices, in terms of their survival, can we talk about “agency.” Until then, yeah, I guess I’m “judging.”

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.