My work as a stripper has given me a deep tour of the great divide between men and women. In the industry, I’ve been privy to (as well as subject to, at times) the misogynistic bitterness of some men toward women, and I’ve bumped up pretty hard against the man-hating (misandrist) flip side. But the strip-club environment has also instructed me in how to bridge that divide.
We are all guilty of being sexist in one way or another. It’s handy. Misogyny and misandry infiltrate our social lives in big and small ways (both externally and internally) and we’re all quite used to functioning with it. The thing is, we’re just bent on making generalizations that allow us to toss everything into tidy, prefab categories. You can’t really blame us, given the overwhelming complexity of life. This just makes things easier.
The bottom line: it’s an issue of identity. Generalizing comes easily, even naturally, as the prototype of a survival mechanism. But banding together as a tribe, unified against the enemy, seems empowering until that enemy becomes all of us! At that point, making broad brushstrokes becomes a real disservice. Cultivating a better way of life together, like cultivating anything, requires fighting off the pull toward the path of least resistance, or habit. It takes a little thought and a little effort, but it’s not unbearably strenuous and, in fact, ends up being far more pleasant (and sexy) in the long run.
The reason I emphasize attitudes a lot is because how we think and feel about each other pave the way toward how we function together sexually. This, in turn, fosters the kind of social environment (the parameters which create opportunity and/or limitation of expression) in which we all must live as sexual creatures. Obviously, we can all function more agreeably if we aren’t already alienated from each other by divisive attitudes as fundamental as identity.
Following my posts on recent public issues, let me take this opportunity to introduce something I call Sexual Humanism, an attitude designed to foster a more unified identity that will help us all relate better and get along.
Sexual Humanism is all about perspective. It is based upon the understanding that sexuality is a major component of the human condition. That core understanding further includes the knowledge of how badly we have all been systematically robbed of a healthy expression of our natural sexual humanity. It involves recognizing that nobody has escaped the difficulty of some form of sexual frustration, and that many of those deep-seated frustrations have shaped our social behaviors. Finally, it says that cleaning up the garbage around sex is fundamental to personal freedom and social progress.
As a stripper, I’ve learned to constantly bear in mind the simple wisdom that nearly everything on two legs carries around some degree of sexual frustration and that, when it bubbles up to the surface, all bets are off around how that’s gonna look. This perspective defuses all the drama bombs that can (and do) go off when people are defensive and reactive about other people’s sexual issues and insensitivities. Obviously, the same is true outside of the strip club.
Getting out of the explosive predicament demands honor, respect and a great depth of humility on both sides. Because sexism manifests both externally (as pejorative remarks and outright discriminatory actions) and internally (as silent, deeply assumed identifications), it also demands some self-awareness. We have to be able to see when we’re making assumptions and jumping to conclusions rather than simply listening to someone, and we have to be able to see when our own communication is colored by sexist attitudes and sweeping generalizations. We have to recognize when we are taking things personally rather than being objective, and to really look into the triggers that push our own buttons and why. The effort of reflection and correction simply must happen within each one of us, one by one by one.
Firstly, as a woman, I want to address other women about how I believe we can make enormous progress on this front.
It has been both my experience and my observation that, as women, we are still deeply imbedded in an internalized form of misogynistic sexism. There are still too many tender cords of contempt— towards our own bodies, primarily— wound tightly around the female identity. We haven’t had enough time, power and experience to free ourselves from so many inner doubts and insecurities about who and what we are in order to fully embrace sexuality with all the honesty and responsibility necessary for inner and outer well-being. There are still too many strongholds where unhealthy mindsets are reflected onto us and reinforced. This vulnerability lends us to bashing men and lashing out at other women (slut shaming often comes more venomously from women).
So, in order for women to stop being sexist requires very deep healing. We have to locate within ourselves wherever we hold misogynistic (and misandristic) mindsets. Far and away, what has always helped me the most in this regard, has been my determined pursuit of sexual expression. That pursuit has provided experience that has resulted in knowledge, perspective and, thus, empowerment. I have experienced social scorn for my promiscuity and public vulnerability in my nudity— and not only survived, but thrived. The only way out is through, ladies. So use whatever avenue you need, whether it’s a form of social or public expression (for me that was stripping), therapy, journaling, contemplation, intimate (meaning open and honest) relationships with men, intimacy with women, sexual exploration and experimentation, education, research…whatever it looks like for you personally— just do it!
Secondly, by the same token, men are navigating a world that may feel totally confusing to male identity. Lack of clearly defined roles often brings up, rather than a sense of freedom and choice, great uncertainty and conflict. As women come into our own— professionally and sexually— reforming the societal structure to better accommodate our gender, there are sure to be mixed messages regarding female demands for nurturance and autonomy. So men also need to examine themselves, figuring out where they may be harboring sex- or gender-related resentments, to get a handle on what, why and how their buttons get pushed. Men need to seek out effective ways to nurture and express natural masculinity (which can include all of the same avenues I mentioned above for women), in order to heal any festering wounds. (For one example, I watched a very close friend of mine transform from being a relatively innocuous male chauvinist into a bona fide misogynist by means of putting up with abusive relationship conditions.)
The perspective of Sexual Humanism puts us on equal footing regardless of the outward differences in our situations as men and women in patriarchal society. Women suffer. Men suffer. Differently on the surface, similarly inside. This equal-footing stance fosters compassion, allowing everyone to dial back the hatred and blame and breathe a deep sigh, knowing that underneath it all, we’re standing on common ground. Compassion doesn’t mean you bend over and take it in the ass because you feel sorry for the guy (or the gal). And it certainly doesn’t mean that you don’t take some very strong stands to take care of your own needs. Compassion is an internal environment, not a list of “thou shalt’s” to dictate your actions, or those of others.
Compassion really just means we understand, in our heart of hearts, the human condition. That allows us to stop taking things so personally, which lets us go about sanely doing what needs to be done– whatever that may be– without the overblown hysteria that causes so much collateral damage along the way.
From here we can better view where we need to go and how to go about getting there. Honestly. Responsibly. Respectfully. Sensibly.
…And then we can let go more fully— and joyfully— when we get down together!
Below, an interview with feminist Phyllis Chesler discussing women’s internalized misogyny:
Below, an article about modern issues around masculinity: