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Why Linking Human Trafficking And Prostitution Hurts Efforts To Deal With Both

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As a quick thought experiment, take a moment to picture the appearance and circumstances of a typical plumber. Chances are you’re imagining a big-bellied, greasy-haired, middle-aged man who prides himself on wearing old jeans that expose his butt crack. As stereotypes come, it’s fairly crude, but harmless for the most part.

Now, take a moment to picture a typical victim of human trafficking. Chances are the images you conjure are a lot more distressing. Depending on how much you’ve read into the issue, you can picture a scared young woman from a foreign country huddled in a corner, traumatized and broken after being exploited by her ruthless captors.

Chances are, those ruthless captors conjure some nasty images as well. You imagine they’re sadistic, deviant men who smile at the sight of a scared young woman, having to sell herself sexually in order to pay off a debt that she didn’t even ask for. Such men are the closest thing we have to real-world super-villains.

In terms of terrible crimes, human trafficking ranks near the top in terms of things that offend every sense of decency, humanity, and justice. It’s one of those crimes that’s so horrific that it’s almost impossible to scrutinize without a sense of outrage clouding our judgment. Any effort to do so is usually overshadowed by the horrors of the crime itself.

Despite those obstacles, it’s still an issue worth discussing. If anything, the fact that human trafficking is such an egregious crime makes it that much more relevant. When there’s something that’s so objectively evil, people tend to line up in droves to play the role of a hero. It’s not quite like virtue signaling because this is an actual crime with actual victims.

However, and this is where I’m sure I’ll lose some people, the assumptions surrounding human trafficking and the efforts to combat it aren’t as clear cut. That image of a typical human trafficking victim that I described earlier is, like the plumber, a popular perception that doesn’t quite reflect reality.

Now, none of that is to say that human trafficking isn’t a terrible crime and a serious problem. I want to make that abundantly clear before moving forward. The point I want to make here has more to do with our attitudes towards this crime, its association with prostitution, and how it reflects certain gender dynamics.

For better or for worse, human trafficking is linked to prostitution. It’s major component of the popular perceptions surrounding the crime. As such, a great deal of opposition to the legalization of prostitution comes from the idea that it will increase human trafficking. The veracity of that claim does have some data behind it, but even the most comprehensive studies concede that the link is inconclusive at best.

It’s that link though, however true it might be, that gives human trafficking its insidious reputation. It’s why it is often cited by feminists, human rights advocates, and moral crusaders as an issue worthy of outrage. Battling human trafficking means battling exploitation, sexual promiscuity, and exploited women all at once. That appeals to a lot of people, but it also obscures the true nature of the crime.

That nature is not entirely dependent on sex or prostitution. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), approximately 22 percent of estimated 20.9 million human trafficking victims are exploited for forced sexual labor. That’s still way too many people being exploited, but what about that other 78 percent?

That portion of human trafficking victims are primarily forced into labor of a non-sexual nature. That labor includes work in sectors such as agriculture, construction, domestic work, and manufacturing. That kind of exploitation affects victims of any gender, as well. While women make up about 55 percent of the victims, that still leaves 45 men and young boys, who can also be sexually exploited as well.

The hard data alone undermines the popular perceptions surrounding human trafficking, but it gets even more complicated than that. Since human trafficking is a criminal enterprise that’s exceedingly difficult to prosecute, it’s hard to get accurate data on the scope and scale of the issue.

Back in 2001, a terrifying report from the University of Pennsylvania made headlines by claiming that approximately 300,000 children, mostly young girls, were being sexually exploited. Understandably, this caused a lot of outrage and horror among politicians and activists.

That claim was not accurate, by the way. The report, which was based on outdated data from the 1990s, only covered children “at risk” of being sexually exploited. It didn’t refer to actual victims. That data is harder to come by, but most figures are nowhere near that egregious number. In addition, the methodology for gathering such data is both incomplete in some areas and flawed in others.

Even with those flaws, though, the perceptions surrounding human trafficking and the mental images it conjures are more than sufficient for people with agendas to garner support. Unfortunately, it’s not the forced labor or the 45 percent of victims who are male that get the attention. It’s the women and the sex that gets the emphasis.

As a result, policies and legislation intended to combat this issue tend to focus primarily on that component. Earlier this year, a couple of major laws were passed with the stated intent of combating human trafficking. However, the primary impact is being felt by sex workers, as a whole.

These laws explicitly mentioned sex trafficking. It said nothing about forced labor, which makes up the bulk of human trafficking victims if the data from the ILO is accurate. That’s akin to passing a bill that punishes the maker of ski masks rather than focusing on those who actually use them to commit crimes.

That’s not to say efforts to combat the sexual exploitation of young women aren’t justified. However, why does that particular variation of a crime warrant more laws and resources than another? Why is sexual exploitation the main focus and not the forced labor that is more likely to impact men and boys?

It says something about both our priorities and our attitudes when the exploited sexuality of women is given a greater priority than the enslavement of men. It sends the message that the pain of a sexually exploited woman is somehow greater than that of an exploited man. Pain is still pain, last I checked. When you prioritize one, you undermine the other, by default.

Moreover, those noble efforts to combat human trafficking may end up making the situation worse by coupling it with anti-prostitution efforts. Like the war on drugs, making prostitution illegal does nothing to mitigate the demand for prostitution, nor does it make things easier for those who are prostitutes. It just puts the industry in the hands of criminals.

In recent years, it has become popular in some countries to pass laws that prohibit the buying of sex, but not the selling of sex. It’s an approach that still criminalizes part of an act and, according to a 2012 report by the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, it has not achieved the desired effect of reducing prostitution or human trafficking.

It’s because of these shortcomings in combating both prostitution and human trafficking that organizations like Amnesty International now favor the full decriminalization of prostitution and stricter laws against forced labor. To date, no country has attempted to enact such a policy.

That’s not to say that Amnesty International’s measure will eliminate all instances of human trafficking or forced prostitution. Like any imperfect society, there will be cases of injustice and exploitation. However, that’s exactly why it’s so important to have reasonable policies that emphasize the full spectrum of an issue.

Human trafficking is a terrible crime. Forced labor, be it sexual or otherwise, is just as terrible. There’s no denying that, regardless of how uncertain we may be of its prevalence. By focusing only on its links to prostitution, though, we don’t just undermine the full scope of the crime. We do a disservice to all victims, regardless of gender.

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Filed under gender issues, political correctness, prostitution, sex in society, sexuality

Five Life Lessons I Learned During My First Visit To A Strip Club

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What can you learn at a strip club that can help you with life in general? That’s not a rhetorical question or something Glenn Quagmire said on an episode of “Family Guy.” That’s a legitimate question with real answers. I know that because I’ve been to strip clubs. I’ve contemplated those questions. I’ve also surmised my share of answers.

I won’t claim those answers are definitive. Everyone’s experience at strip clubs are different, be they of the male or female variety. However, during that fateful first visit to a strip club, I found myself learning a whole lot more than I expected. I went in just hoping to see beautiful women getting naked. It ended up being much more than that.

I’ve shared my love of Las Vegas before. I’ve shared experiences I had and even based one of my novels on both Las Vegas and strippers. The city is near and dear to my heart, is what I’m saying. It’s one big spectacle, one that goes out of its way to overtly sexy. There are sexy shows to see, sexy sites to visit, and plenty of sexy people in general just walking the strip.

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For a lover of romance and all things sexy, Las Vegas is a fantasy paradise. I learned that quickly during my first visit, which occurred shortly after I turned 21. It was a truly magical experience at a time in my life when I was just starting to come out of the shell I’d built around myself during high school.

One of those experiences, naturally, involved my first trip to a strip club. Needless to say, I was excited and anxious. This would be the first time I would be in an adult establishment where I could admire abundant nudity on something other than a computer screen. Like everything else in Las Vegas, it blurred the lines between fantasy and reality in the best possible way.

I won’t share all the details of that first strip club experience, but I will gladly share some of the critical life lessons I learned that night. Out of respect for the women I saw and any legal ramifications, I won’t say which strip club I went to. I’ll just say it was a fairly prominent one that most Las Vegas veterans have heard of.

Again, I won’t claim that these lessons are the definitive insights a man can glean from his first trip to a strip club. Everyone is going to learn different lessons from different experiences. These are just the five lessons I learned during that fateful first adventure into this sexy world.


Lesson #1: Admire, Don’t Stare (And Know The Difference)

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The first thing I noticed when I walked into that strip club for the first time was there was a lot to see. This was Las Vegas, after all. Las Vegas is to strippers what the Pro Bowl is to the NFL. You go into a Las Vegas strip club and you won’t see any rookies. You’ll only see seasoned pros who have the stats, talent, and game.

That said, just looking at all the beautiful women isn’t enough. Staring won’t cut it either. Most women, strippers or otherwise, don’t want to be looked at the same way most look at a golden toilet seat. They want to be admired. Give them that admiration and they’ll show their appreciation, sometimes very directly.

That involves doing more than just staring blankly at a topless woman. It involves smiling, moving a little to the music, and clapping when she does something amazing like hang upside down from one leg. Throw in a few tips and she’ll appreciate it. If she’s generous, she’ll even reward that admiration with some of her own.

During my first visit, I made it a point to single out certain women who was uniquely endowed for her job. By that, I mean she had breasts that were about as natural as the Hoover Dam. As I admired her every move, she responded by mashing my fast between her breasts after I tipped her. That, in many ways, showed me how much more valuable it was to admire a woman rather than just stare at her.

There is a difference. To know the difference, spend some time in front of a mirror. Take a moment to just stare blankly at yourself. Then, put a little effort into admiring yourself. The difference should be obvious. It’s just much more obvious for strippers.


Lesson #2: Personality Helps, But Energy Helps More

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I admit when I first entered the strip club, I was shy and overwhelmed. My social skills were way behind to curve, thanks to all the issues I had in high school. However, I was at a phase in my life when I was just starting to catch up. I wasn’t some moody, self-loathing teenager anymore. I was an adult man with an emerging persona.

That persona helped me stand out in a crowded strip club. I was young, eager, and full of excitement at all the sight of naked women. I admit it was a little immature because of my youth, but I made up for it by having a respectable, endearing personality. The women at the club really responded to it.

However, personality only went so far. That only informed them that I was a decent guy who wasn’t going to drool over them like a slob. To show I was worth getting to know, I had to put a little effort into the experience. I had to take some of that youthful energy I had and make it stand out.

That meant clapping more, cheering more, and smiling more. I showed genuine excitement for the women as they danced, giving compliments and even dancing a little in my seat. I definitely showed more energy than the older guys around me and the fact that the women gave me more attention showed there’s something to be said about channeling your energy.

Excitement is infectious. When someone near you is excited, you tend to get excited to. Human beings are a social species. Strippers are human too and they’re just as prone to getting excited. Sure, it’s part of their job, but a little excitement in your work helps make that work all the more rewarding.


Lesson #3: Half-Truths Are Better Than Outright Lies

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This is one of the tougher lessons I learned in my first visit to a strip club. Las Vegas is a fantasy town and people love fantasy, in general. There’s a time to be blunt and brutally honest about who you are or why you’re doing something. A strip club in Las Veags isn’t one of them.

That doesn’t mean lying, though. I came into that strip club with a roll of $20s. I even made sure that roll was thicker than it really was, which the Bouncer seemed to notice. That, in turn, got me a front-row seat and some extra attention from the bartender. I didn’t tell them that I wasn’t the son of a wealthy hedge fund manager. I did’t tell them I wasn’t, either. Sometimes, it doesn’t hurt to let others assume.

When talking to the strippers, though, you can’t rely too much on assumptions. You also can’t blurt out every detail of your life story. I got a little overly chatty with a couple women early. At some point, I realized that throwing too much hard truth in a fantasy setting was really a turn-off. To the credit of the women working there, they didn’t make it more awkward than it needed to be.

I quickly learned that it works better to use half-truths or vague hints about why you’re there. If someone asks how much money you have, don’t give an exact dollar figure. When one woman asked me, I just responded with, “That depends.” That wasn’t entirely wrong or wholly true, but it sent the right message.

More than anything else, I learned that it helps to be a mystery to people to some extent. That’s not just a tactic to pretend you’re a high roller with a stripper. It’s a way of getting someone interested in you and actually wanting to learn more about you. Whether they’re just looking for a tip or seeking true love, leave them with something to find. They may end up finding more than they expect and you’ll be better for it.


Lesson #4: Know How To Negotiate Your Intentions And Desires

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There are a lot of official and unofficial rules in a strip club. Officially, these beautiful women are there to entertain you, entice you, and extract tips. That’s it. That’s the end of the arrangement. If you’re looking for them to be your girlfriend, your therapist, or your servant for a day, you’re undermining the rules.

In strip clubs, the dynamic is much more overt. In exchange for money and attention, the strippers give you a fantasy and some intimate affection. You want something from them. They want something from you. The key is negotiating the best way to get it. Neither of you will always get what you want, but understanding the rules and being able to negotiate will go a long way.

In many respects, my first trip to a strip club gave me a crash course in what it meant to convey my attentions and negotiate with someone on getting what I wanted out of the experience. It wasn’t just about saying, “Here’s some money. Let me touch your boobs.” It was more akin to, “I want an experience. How can I convince you to help me make it?”

Outside a strip club, we negotiate our desires all the time. Sometimes it’s with a lover, a co-worker, or a relative. Sometimes it’s with a total stranger. In any case, there’s are rules and expectations. If you try to subvert those rules or make unreasonable expectations, you’re bound to run into trouble. In a strip club, that can get you thrown out. In real life, that can have even worse consequences.

Like it or not, people in the real world usually want something from you. Whether it’s money or love, the key is navigating it responsibly. Going to a strip club gave me a chance to be more direct about it and it was a great experience. Being able to see beautiful women naked was a nice bonus as well.


Lesson #5: How You Present Yourself Matters As Much As What You Say

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This is where I kind of have to give credit to my mother. Yes, I know that’s an odd thing to say about experiences involving strip clubs, but I think this warrants an exception. Before I even left for Vegas, my mom insisted I get some fancy new clothes that were nicer, albeit less comfortable than I was used to. Even though I complained at first, I’m really glad she convinced me to spruce up my wardrobe.

When I ventured into the strip club, I wore a nice button-up shirt, a new set of jeans, and dress shoes that most guys wouldn’t wear outside a wedding. I definitely didn’t look like some college student just experiencing Vegas for the first time. I looked like a refined, well-dressed, well-groomed gentleman. That sends a powerful message to men and women alike.

It showed in the way the bouncer was extra nice to me. It also showed in the way the bartenders and strippers treated me. Compared to some of the other men in that club, who were primarily wearing T-shirts and flip-flops, I stood out for all the right reasons. I sent the message that I care enough about myself to look good. I also sent the message that I care about presenting a good image of myself to others.

That sort of approach doesn’t just attract a man to strippers. It attracts a man to everyone. I know it sounds obvious, but I don’t think some people appreciate the true impact that presentation has on others. I treated going into a strip club kind of like a job interview. I wanted to look my best and present myself as someone worthy of attention.

In addition to good clothes, presenting yourself with confidence and energy helps supplement your efforts. It says even more about the kind of person you are. It gives the impression that you’re excited about life and you want to share it. The inherent social nature of people in general will draw them to you. It’s simple biology.


That, my friends, concludes my list of critical lessons that I learned from a strip club. To the women working at that club and the fine folks who managed it, I sincerely thank you. You taught me more about life than just the inherent beauty of topless women. I hope others can draw from those lessons as well. When applied properly, they can help you in ways that go beyond having a great time at a strip club.

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Filed under gender issues, Jack Fisher's Insights, sex in society, sexuality

On Gender Double Standards And Male Strippers

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When I was 21-years-old, I took my first trip to Las Vegas. It was truly a magical experience. Even though I was young and socially awkward at the time, I had a lot of fun there. It was the first time I had been somewhere that really treated sex like a spectacle. That spectacle can bring out a very different side of people.

One incident, in particular, really exemplified this during that first fateful trip. It occurred when I was walking down Fremont Street, also known as the old part of Las Vegas. This is the area that gets glorified in gangster movies like “Casino.” Today, it’s largely full of street performers, tacky vendors, and Elvis impersonators.

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However, the one spectacle that stood out most occurred when I passed by an unusual crowd near the Golden Nugget. The crowd was unusual because it consistent mostly of women and they were making noises that I had never heard women make to that point in my life.

When I moved in closer, I saw that the source of the spectacle were a few male strippers, specifically the big, muscular types that worked at places like Chippendales. Despite being straight and shy at the time, even I found these guys to be attractive. However, it was the behavior of the women that really stood out.

They were all over these guys. They were cheering and laughing as though they had just won the lottery. They were taking turns hugging them, kissing them, and feeling around their perfectly chiseled muscles. Some women had this look on their face that resembled a kid looking at a giant chocolate cake. It was quite a sight.

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Keep in mind, these weren’t Las Vegas showgirls. Most of these women looked like soccer moms who could’ve easily been friends with my parents. At that moment, though, they were utterly uninhibited. The things they said to those strippers, and on a public street no less, would’ve made an experienced porn star blush.

At the time, it was just an amazing sight that I hadn’t seen before in my youth. As the years have gone by, though, that experience has taken on a very different context. That context has gained even greater meaning as trends in feminism, popular culture, and social justice have really changed the conversations we have about gender.

The particulars of that conversation really stand out when you focus on strippers. Specifically, the double standards within those conversations become a lot more apparent. I know I talk about double standards a lot, but some are more egregious than others. I would even go so far as to say that those involving strippers are most revealing, if that’s not too loaded a term.

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For any man who has gone to a strip club featuring female strippers, most quickly learn that there’s a lengthy set of guidelines to follow. I freely admit to going to multiple strip clubs so I’m pretty familiar with all of them. They usually involve these kinds of  rules.

  • Do NOT touch or grope the strippers while on stage or during a lap dance
  • Do NOT try to solicit sex or sexual services from the strippers
  • Do NOT yell at or disrupt the stripper while they’re on stage
  • Do NOT invite a stripper back to your hotel room or to a private residence
  • Do NOT address the strippers in a vulgar manner

There are usually other rules, but these are the most basic. Every strip club is different and some are better about enforcing those rules than others. For the most part though, these are the expectations and failure to meet them often means getting thrown out or arrested.

The rules and expectations for male strip clubs, however, are very different. It’s not just that it tends to be louder and more intimate, so to speak. There are things women do at male strip clubs that would get most men thrown out of female strip clubs, if not arrested.

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A couple years ago, Vice compiled testimony from male strippers about some of the behavior they encountered during their work. Their experiences included, but weren’t limited to being puked on by drunk women, women getting up on the stage to dance with them, and being flat out groped.

It’s also both common and expected that women will hook up with male strippers. Sometimes they’ll offer money. Sometimes they won’t. In either case, it’s exceedingly rare for them to face scrutiny or arrest for that sort of behavior. In fact, some even see it as empowering.

Never mind the fact that such empowerment requires such an apparent double standard. Women being sexually uninhibited and free to pursue whatever decadence they want is seen as liberating. However, men doing the same is seen as oppressive. The principles and mechanics are the same. The social stigma is not.

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That stigma also effects women in more indirect ways. There are more than a few stories about women being fired from their jobs after someone found out they worked as a stripper or porn star. Men who work as strippers, though, don’t usually have this issue. Former stripper Amber Rose pointed that out, noting how men like Channing Tatum get praised for his portrayal of a stripper while she still faces stigma for her past.

In both instances, the stigma is damaging. The double standards are asinine. Sure, you could argue that patriarchal traditions have helped forge these standards, making overly sexualized women taboo while overly sexualized men are prized. However, as with most double standards, they still require one too many assumptions and just as many taboos.

In both cases, the double standard is built around the idea that women should be sexually limited in most aspects of her life. There are even those who claim that women being sexually uninhibited undermines civilization. Nobody should take those claims seriously. Chances are those same people have unhealthy, regressive views about sexuality in general.

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That same standard also asserts that men are unthinking, unfeeling beasts. They want to be objectified by women. They’re expected to be dispassionate brutes who exist only to lure women into their bed the same way a rancher would herd cattle. Never mind the fact that some male strippers do indeed feel objectified. Their feelings don’t matter as much as their female peers.

However, while female objectification is decried, male objectification is celebrated at male strip clubs and movies about them. At the same time, women who dare to be sexual, either as strippers or just in general, are subject to stigma and scorn. Both are a byproduct of sexual repression and both are equally wrong.

Therein lies the most revealing implications about this double standard. It essentially exposes the script that men and women are expected to follow with sexuality. In that sense, I honestly can’t blame the women I saw that day in Las Vegas for going so nuts around those male strippers. They’re scorned for doing that in every other aspect of their lives. When they finally get a chance to break free, they go all out.

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Conversely, men still have to follow the script. They still have to jump through all the hoops and layers that tell them their desire for sex is inherently damaging. Their desire to just indulge in one of the most basic acts of intimacy in nature is an oppressive force, one that must be mitigated by the strict rules and guidelines prescribed by strip clubs.

In the end, strip clubs are a microcosm of the different sexual expectations for men and women. One form of sexuality is damaging, oppressive, and needs to be managed. The other is liberating, empowering, and forcibly contained by taboos and stigma. The fact that strip clubs even exist in the first place are a hint that those expectations are not entirely healthy for either gender.

 

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