Wesely, Jennifer K. 2002. “Growing Up Sexualized: Issues of Power and Violence in the Lives of Female Exotic Dancers.” Violence against Women 8(10): 1182-1207.
Female body constructed as “an object of (hetero)sexual desire in a patriarchal culture” (1182) – sexual objectification as major component/characteristic of female identity, serves as a tool of oppression (Bartky 1990; Bordo 1993; Chapkis 1986; Griffin 1981; Martin 1992). Women learn (socialized?) to understand their value as a (hetero)sexual body, guided by impossible ideals, yet constantly work toward these goals. Sexual objectification reinforces/reminds women of inferior status, fragmentation à women seeing themselves as objects, garners women the most attention.
Bartky (1990: 27) — “While it is true that for these men I am nothing but, let us say, a ‘nice piece of ass,’ there is more involved in this encounter than their mere fragmented perception of me. They could, after all, have enjoyed me in silence. I could have passed by without being turned to stone. But I must be made to know that I am a ‘nice piece of ass’: I must be made to see myself as they see me. — *** Use as a chapter opener.
From French feminist work, patriarchal culture as ‘phallocentric’ (a la Irigaray 1985a, 1985b; Cixous and Clement 1986) – phallocentrism represents male power, women’s exclusion from “legitimate” power arenas/forms – “They do not control the shaping of laws, language, or the development of thought; they are excluded from political, social, and economic realms that create and perpetuate power relations” (1183) – thus, women are only valued for their “worth” as commodified sexual object.
“Women then engage the market in the only way they are allowed access in the phallocentric culture: by substituting possession of phallic power with their sexualized bodies, their femininity, as an item of exchange” (1183 – see also Irigaray 1985a, 1985b) – does not increase women’s power to equally compete with men in an exploitative ‘market’ – instead, stabilizes their object status —– exotic dancing as a way to attain power in phallocentric society? — *** Festival objectification to gain power/status in a field where they have been socially/economically/politically excluded/underrepresented?
“As a subordinate group, women in general have responded to men’s macromanipulation of social institutions by using micromanipulation – interpersonal behavior and practices – to influence the power balance” (Ronai and Ellis 1989: 295, see also Lipman-Blumen 1984, here 1184 block quote). — Rewards women sexualized behavior and appearance, but does not address the multiplex/fluid manifestations of power. Navigating structural oppressions through micro-interactional resistance. Foucault (1988, 1995) – individuals reproduce power through micro-levels — re/creating meanings of the self (offering individual agency) — feminist interpretations criticized as portraying women as oppressed victims, instead of active in the ongoing negotiation of their oppression.
“how do we value our sexuality when ‘to be valued for our sexuality’ is a primary instrument of our oppression?” (Nagle 1997: 6).
Early independence as most influential factor in choosing career in exotic dancing (Sweet and Tewksbury 2000) – in world where children are sexualized, at high risk of sexual violence. Learning at early ages that sexual emphasis and provocative behavior offered attention, and sometimes power. Perception that sexuality attracts men, stability – response to familial modeling of sexual exploitation, abuse, sexual power.
“The very body that gives women power also represents the loss of this power” (1191).
Sexuality as a means to reclaim abused bodies, feel powerful after experiences of powerlessness. “[…] the same bodies that are degraded, violated, and abused also signified female identity and granted them some form of power. The complex ways that these messages intertwined for women (as girls) seemed always to lead back to the body: As the locus of both powerful and powerless feelings, the sexualized body became the only clear point of identity for the developing sense of self” (1195). ‘Using’ men, getting resources.
“Playing the game” — “These privileges, however, bear little impact on structural inequalities: a late pass, a discount. These women are not afforded agency within the market; the small privileges they receive serve to maintain the phallocentric culture” (1196).
Ronai and Ellis (1989): “Being the purveyors and gatekeepers of sexuality has always provided powerful control for women… it served this function even more for those women who make sexual turn-on into an occupation” (295). Financial, social resources — being remembered, acting as a fantasy. Money and attention are exchanged for sexualized performance.
Cons – feeling as if your body is not “owned” by self, but by others – “colonized” a la Cixous and Clement 1986 — controlled by bosses, customers — financial vulnerability often is hedged against personal safety. Fragmentation and commodification of bodies, creating person as whole as meaningless. Defending against perceptions of entitlement over women’s bodies, as they are “products” for use (transactional attitudes that facilitate physical, emotional, sexual abuse)— easily upending sentiments of women’s power and control.
Movement between power and vulnerability — “Yet the micro-level rewards that women do receive for their sexualized bodies often reinforce the feminine preoccupation with sexualized appearance” (1204).
“[…] Although they could use their sexualized bodies to manipulate men, men were the ones who controlled the ways these bodies became sexualized. The narrow and proscribed definitions of female sexuality that fragment the body into parts were the only images that could be used to manipulate. Thus, the women learned to feel powerful using a sexuality that they themselves did not discover and create” (1204).
“[…] the female sexualized body can be the site of both attention and violation, the greatest power and the most profound powerlessness […] It is important to realize that women can and do confront the limits of their power by negotiating different meanings of their sexualized bodies. Nonetheless, for the women here, these negotiations and resistances were confined to their bodies, instead of being broadened into other contexts of existence. Such embodied restrictions on meanings of power in a patriarchal society are intimately linked to female identity, and until we leave room for the creation of new forms of power, the oppression of women and related violence against them will not be alleviated” (1205).
Bartky, S. (1990). Femininity and domination. New York: Routledge.
Bordo, S. (1993). Unbearable weight. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Chapkis,W. (1986). Beauty secrets:Women and the politics of appearance. Boston: South End.
Cixous, H., & Clement, C. (1986). The newly born woman (B. Wing, Trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Foucault, M. (1988). Technologies of the self. In L. H. Martin, H. Gutman, & P. H. Hutton (Eds.), Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault (pp. 16-49). Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.
Foucault, M. (1995). Discipline and punish (2nd ed.). New York: Vintage.
Griffin, S. (1981). Pornography and silence. New York: Harper & Row.
Irigaray, L. (1985a). This sexwhich is not one (C. Porter, Trans.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Irigaray, L. (1985b). Speculum of the other woman (G. Gill, Trans.). Ithaca,NY: Cornell University Press.
Lipman-Blumen 1984 – CITE MISSING
Martin, E. (1992). The woman in the body. Boston: Beacon.
Nagle, J. (Ed). (1997). Whores and other feminists. New York: Routledge.
Ronai, C.,&Ellis, C. (1989). Turn-ons for money: Interactional strategies of the table dancer. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 18, 271-298.
Sweet, N., & Tewksbury, R. (2000). “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”: Pathways to a career in stripping. Sociological Spectrum, 20, 325-343.