Whore Chic: The New “Feminism”

pole dancer 

Welcome to the world of "sexual subjectification", where middle-class, professional women get a kick out of pretending to be strippers and performing various acts of public exhibitionism:

…  Cake, an outpost of mainstream, third-wave, sex-positive feminism, where women are encouraged to be as wild as they want to be — and reminded to respect themselves in the morning. A New York City institution after only five years, this woman-run, woman-centered "sexuality enterprise" wants to start a new branch in San Francisco. The company offers a helping hand to primarily hetero, well-off young ladies, giving them a space to publicly explore and express their sexuality…

"Things have progressed," says Cake co-founder Melinda Gallagher in a later phone interview from New York. "We've gotten over the large myths and misconceptions; we've accepted that women's sexuality is a good, positive thing, with pleasure and all that. Now it's about the details. It's about getting down and dirty with yourself."

Cake has provided a wildly popular venue for that dirtiness, both in New York, where parties easily draw 800 people, and at its more recent satellite location in London. Women strut their stuff, and men are allowed past the velvet rope only if escorted by a lady. Some of the group's events have a more educational theme, like the lesson on female ejaculation (partygoers cheered on the demonstrator), and others have played with male exhibitionism, with men recruited to be amateur strippers and lap dancers. But those affairs are outnumbered by the strip-a-thons, lingerie parties, and regular events at which hordes of women turn out to take it off. Cake has succeeded because it taps into a trend that's much larger than the group itself: In a cultural moment defined by porn chic, the sexual habits of the mainstream American female are raunchier than ever before.

Instead of these women paying money to go to a club to see professional strippers and sex workers perform, they pay money to do the performing for their own pleasure.  Some say this is feminism, and that it is done in an environment that is non-threatening, because the men in attendance are all kept on a tight lease. 

What happens at a Cake party has nothing to do with being objectified or objectifying other women, [Emily Kramer, one of Cake's co-founders] explained. Rather, it's about becoming a sexual subject, in control of the agenda and enjoying every moment of it.

"It's not just about what a guy thinks about seeing someone in lingerie," she said. "It's about, 'What are your fantasies? How do they relate to what turns you on, to what makes you feel good, to what you think about the next day?' It's less, 'What does a guy think about her the next day?' but 'What does she think about?' And from the female perspective, how does being in this environment where your sexual pleasure is encouraged and supported affect the next day?"

A sexual subject, in control?  How can a subject be in control of anything?  I don't understand what is so empowering about showing your sexuality off to a group of strangers (unless you are an exhibitionist).  Just why do these women feel the need to share their sexual selves with the rest of the world?  Wouldn't it make more sense to focus on maintaining a fulfilling relationship with a partner (or other people whom one is intimate with)?  Just how is showing your body to a group of strangers empowering?

Critics say this kind of behavior is both elitist and insensitive. "A lot of these women, they're trying on these roles because they think it's edgy or hip," says Rebecca Whisnant, who co-edited a book called Not for Sale that was discussed at Girl Fest Bay Area. But they don't think about the effects of that play-acting, she explains. When camera-ready girls talk about stripping by choice, they camouflage the fact that many women in the sex industry have few other options.

It's a symptom of free-market feminism, says Whisnant, in which the rights of the individual consumer are paramount. "This is something that you see a lot in the statements of 'feminist' porn producers and so on. 'If this doesn't harm me, if in fact it's good for me, then it's feminist' — which is about the most piss-poor conception of feminism I've ever heard. Feminism is dead at that point, as far as I'm concerned," she states. "Feminism is not necessarily about doing what's good for you — hopefully it will be good for you. But it's about considering the implications of your choices and everybody's choices for women in general. That has just disappeared completely from the whole world of so-called sex-positive feminism."

These women are just slumming.  Like a lot of men like to role play and pretend to emulate the "thug" stereotype, these women are focusing on something that happens to be popular in the public imagination and are trying to change the connotation of what it represents.  Stripping and performing sexual acts in front of a "safe" audience is okay, as long as one doesn't choose to do it on a permanent basis. 

The big, unanswered question is why so many women are embracing exhibitionism. Two splashy books recently came out that tackled parts of that query. Pamela Paul's Pornified and Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture both say Cake is one symptom of a much larger problem.

Women are emulating male sexual behavior, they say, in a garbled attempt at equality. By reading Playboy, admiring porn stars, and adopting a more casual, anything-goes approach to promiscuity the modern girl is trying to show that she's one of the guys. She doesn't sue her boss if he invites her along to the strip club after the client dinner; she looks at it as a mark of his favor and a good networking opportunity.

"I think it's a very twisted way of looking at women's liberation to assume that every step towards aping men is a step forward," Paul says. "I think women are kidding themselves. They talk about owning something, empowering yourself. You can talk about all of that, but if I go out and eat 20,000 Big Macs, am I owning McDonald's? Am I empowering my body by co-opting it myself? It doesn't make any sense. "

While some women legitimately enjoy the power that comes with exhibitionism, not all who pull their tops off are fulfilling a secret desire. In early March, for example, the American Medical Association conducted a survey of female college students and recent graduates. Asked about behavior on spring break trips, 57 percent agreed that being promiscuous was a way to fit in.

If most of this exhibitionism is done just as a way to fit in, then how can it possibly be empowering?  How can it credibly be tied to feminism?  Even arguing that a stripper is using her own body to make money, at least the stripper has that excuse: she is doing it to make a living.  What excuse do these other women have?  They are willingly disrespecting and objectifying themselves all because they can't figure out a better way to have fun.  How sad.

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2 Responses to Whore Chic: The New “Feminism”

  1. cauri says:

    Wow, thanks for sharing this article…I hadn’t even heard about this, but I absolutely agree with your point of view!

    When you said, “Just why do these women feel the need to share their sexual selves with the rest of the world? Wouldn’t it make more sense to focus on maintaining a fulfilling relationship with a partner (or other people whom one is intimate with)? Just how is showing your body to a group of strangers empowering?”

    That’s exactly what i was thinking. They found a way to be confident about their bodies? Great. Share it with your partner. I’m appalled that this is being praised as being a feminist act.

  2. dParker2.0 says:

    Thanks for your comment. The thing that bothered me most when I read the article was the fact that these women have to be “reminded to respect themselves in the morning”. If what they are doing is supposedly so empowering, then why do they need to be instructed to respect themselves?

    I have no problem with women wanting to do whatever to express their sexuality… but they shouldn’t be confusing things like this with Feminism.

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