Iceland outlawed striptease back in March 2010. Johanna Sigurðardottir, Iceland's prime minister, said: "The Nordic countries are leading the way on women's equality, recognizing women as equal citizens rather than commodities for sale." The politician behind the bill, Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir, said: "It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold." -- Wikipedia.I think Iceland make a mistake to outlaw striptease. It's not a major mistake on the order of, say, invading another country in a war of aggression, but I believe it's a mistake nonetheless. By banning all striptease, Iceland threw out the baby with the bathwater. Or so I would guess.
To be sure, I'm largely basing my guess on my own limited experience of stripping, along with a bit of more general information I've picked up over the years. And, based on what little I know of it, there is good room for improving the lot of strippers. For one thing, strippers tend to be exploited by their employers. And, depending on the club, their work environment can be dismal. Then, too, the audiences tend to treat strippers like commodities. But, to me, these problems have solutions short of banning stripping.
The first time I saw a stripper, I was 18 or 19 years old. She was so pathetic at her job that I didn't enter another strip club for 20 years. Then I told the story of my first encounter with a stripper to a friend of mine, an artist, who promptly set out to correct my first impression.
He took me to a club here in town and then to another, and another, until I had seen enough strippers to have a more balanced view of them. He also showed me how to view striptease as an art.
To think of striptease as an art comes unnatural to many of us. And, in a sense, we are right. It is quite possible -- it is actually easy -- to regard striptease as mere prurient entertainment. But it is also possible -- if not quite as easy -- to regard striptease as a form of self expression. That is, as an art in which the stripper expresses her sexuality -- or, at least, her ideas about sex and sexuality.
Indeed, there is a sense in which a stripper cannot do otherwise than to express her sexuality or at least her ideas about it. For, unless she is merely aping the views of someone else, she is expressing something of what she thinks it means to be sexy.
Now, in my experience, about 15% of strippers do an inferior job expressing sexuality; about 70% do a mediocre job; and about 15% are above average -- very competent artists at it. The latter may or may not be the best tipped strippers in the club, for mediocre almost always outsells quality, but for my money, they are the most interesting to watch.
What makes them the most interesting? I think it's largely their authenticity. That is, I believe most of us are at least somewhat attracted to people who are more or less uncompromisingly true to themselves. When we find such a person -- and such people can be rare -- we often enough seem willing to cut them some slack. They may not be perfect people, but we are drawn to them nonetheless. And that goes no less for strippers than it does for anyone else.
Back when I went to strip clubs, I usually found myself more drawn to the women who seemed authentic, confident in their sexuality, and honest in their expression of it, than to the women who seemed less so. The less authentic women most often left me feeling pandered to, while the more authentic often enough left me feeling liberated.
I believe that's important because it is, for me, that feeling of liberation that justifies stripping. To many of us, stripping is merely a matter of prurient entertainment, but I would suggest that we are cheating ourselves if that's all we get from it. For it can be a means of discovering a sense of intimacy that opens us up beyond ourselves and that, in the end, might best be summed up as "liberating".
Nor is that entirely a heterosexual male perspective on it. On different occasions, I have taken two heterosexual women to strip clubs and both -- without prompting from me -- used exactly that word, "liberating", to describe how viewing strippers made them feel.
I bring all of this up because I think it's the baby, so to speak, that Iceland threw out with the bathwater. I think that was a mistake. And while a relative minor mistake, I know of no other art form that leaves one feeling liberated in precisely the same way stripping can -- and sometimes -- does. If so, then Iceland has lost something it needn't have lost.
But what about the charges that strippers are often exploited by their clubs, that they often work in undesirable conditions, that they are too often seen as commodities by their audience? In truth, I think those are common problems in many work environments today. For instance, people working in customer service jobs are too often treated as serfs by their clients. And I have known corporations that treated their employees as interchangeable cogs. To say that such problems are limited to strippers seems an exaggeration at best. In the end, the same solutions that would work to solve most of the problems strippers face could be adopted to solve most of the problems that many employees face in many different fields of work.
But what am I missing here? Is this just another one of my harebrained ideas? Or does stripping have at least some merit as an art? Perhaps most importantly, what are all those Icelanders going to do to keep warm in the North Atlantic winters without strip clubs?