How do strip clubs hurt me?

My husband did what many men do, but I cannot get over it

Topics: Since You Asked, Feminism, Strippers, Marriage,

How do strip clubs hurt me? (Credit: Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I don’t know what to do. I am happily married and pregnant with our first child. It’s been an easy pregnancy, and my husband is overjoyed, involved, and supportive. But there’s something between us that I just can’t shake and that time doesn’t seem to be healing.

Two days after I found out I was pregnant, he left for a long “bachelor’s weekend” (whatever happened to a simple party?) in Mexico. I wasn’t happy about it at all, as the groom and his friends are all douchey fratboy types, and I knew that their idea of “fun” might include activities that I was uncomfortable with.

But I also knew that it would have been unreasonable for him not to go  –  he had already paid for everything and one of our dear mutual friends, who is both gay and decidedly not a douche, would be there with him. I also trusted him because I knew how thrilled he was about becoming a father, and so I just quietly hoped that the weekend would consist largely of sitting around on the beach and drinking.

Well, I wouldn’t be writing you if that’s what had happened.

Though he called me every day to check in and reassured me that “nothing too crazy” was going on, I later found out that instead of sitting on the beach drinking, they had been going to parties so that the single members of the group could meet women, and on one occasion they went to a strip club. I get that in some cultures that’s a normal thing to do, but in my book, it’s stupid and offensive. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a prude. I’m fine with porn and I get that female bodies are nice to look at.

But if you’re in a committed relationship (married, say, or about to become so), then paying for real live women to take their clothes off and pretend to be sexually interested in you is tantamount to cheating. I just can’t imagine a reverse situation in which a man would feel fine with his woman being touched and sexually titillated by a bunch of nude men.

Not to mention the fact that a strip club in Mexico, a nation recently overrun with criminal organizations that do a healthy trade in human trafficking, is more than likely exploiting some or all of its female employees. Though my husband insists all he did was sit at the bar with a gay [male] friend and drink his minimum, I’m disgusted that he even supported the place with his cover fee.

My personal politics aside, though, it just hurts me to know that hours after we spoke on the phone, me leaving my second doctor’s visit feeling kind of sad and overwhelmed, him on the beach with a beer, he went to this place knowing full well how I would feel about it.

Maybe he was drunk at the time and didn’t really stop to consider how I would feel about it if I knew. But he certainly learned when he returned home and I coaxed the details out of him. I screamed, I cried. I may have even hit him when he tried to touch me. My rage was no doubt buoyed somewhat by new pregnancy hormones, but the pain was very real. After a while we spoke calmly, and he explained how awkward it would have been for him to sit in the parking lot while the rest of the group went inside, and how harmless sitting at the bar was, and how he doesn’t even like strip clubs to begin with.

It was perfectly rational. I might have done the same thing in his position, and I should have let it go there. But I couldn’t. Though outwardly I forgave him, I couldn’t look at him the same way for weeks. Every time I remembered hanging up with him that day, not knowing what he was about to go do (though he knew exactly what his plans for the evening were), I literally winced in pain. I was injured and I didn’t know how to heal.

Over time, I willed myself to not think about it. Unfortunately, there are reminders everywhere: specifically, his friends. They maintain a group text from their trip in which they exchange bawdy jokes and the occasional reference to the stripper who performed a lap dance for the groom. I have to see them socially from time to time and pretend not to hate and disrespect them.

God or Cary help me, I just can’t stop feeling horrible. It’s been six months, and while I’m not dwelling on it constantly anymore, I become ill for hours (if not days) every time it comes up.

About two hours ago, out of the blue, the scene popped into my head again. I tried to think of something else, but instead I felt anger and sadness overwhelm me physically and my mind began to race. (Incidentally, if you ever want to feel really bad about feeling bad, try doing it when you have a child growing inside of you.) I’m still trapped by this feeling and these thoughts, and I’m so sick of it.

I love my husband dearly — that’s probably why I felt so betrayed. And I can’t stand that, at random, I will lose a few hours of my life to hating him over this one mistake. In the scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter, right? He didn’t cheat on me, he wasn’t the ringleader of this band of morons, and he called me twice every day to check in on me while he was away.

I’ve Googled “letting go of anger” and tried to apply what I’ve read. Nothing seems to be working. Please don’t tell me it’s just hormonal. I’ve had a few silly emotional moments, but for the most part I’m sane.

At least, I think I am. Why can’t I truly forgive him and move past this? Please help. It feels so horrible to have this Jekyll-and-Hyde dynamic governing my love.

Carrying More Than a Baby

Dear Carrying More Than a Baby,

Eventually all wives will come to see that masturbating to porn and getting lap dances from strippers are vital, healthy activities for their husbands, and they will encourage their husbands to do it more often, not less — and in public! No need to hide! Men who have felt ashamed by their sexual enjoyment of the degrading objectification of women can now come out and start masturbating to porn on the front lawn. Soon all the men of the neighborhood will be outside on the front lawn watching porn and masturbating.

Instead of being hidden away in dark strip clubs, strippers will come to the front door and perform while the children eat breakfast, and everything will be healthy and above-board the way it should be. Children will learn in a healthy way that masturbating to porn and going to strip clubs are healthy, invigorating activities, and the children themselves can then begin masturbating to porn at a much earlier age, and strip clubs can begin admitting younger and younger patrons, which will help ensure that this important American institution maintains economic vibrancy.

Oh, but you say you find the idea of your husband going to strip clubs offensive. Why might that be? Aren’t strippers admirable entrepreneurs, willing participants in the free market?

Why would you find your husband’s enjoyment of strip clubs offensive? Might it be that you find it offensive because it represents something that is truly offensive? And what might that be? Might the selling of women’s bodies be in some way offensive, as the selling of slaves’ bodies is offensive?

I think it’s pretty clear that something in the human spirit rejects the notion that a human body can be sold.

Of course there is an occupational difference between a stripper and a prostitute. The difference is real and important for the woman doing the work, but for the customer, it is only a matter of degree. Psychologically, it is the same thing: He is paying for a woman’s body — not for her personality or her interests or her longings and cravings and wit and all those human things that make her who she is, but for her body, which he then symbolically owns and does with whatever he wishes.

Something about this deeply offends you, and it’s not about the sex. It’s about women’s position in society.

So let’s stop saying that women are upset about porn because there is something wrong with the women. Strip clubs may treat their employees well and the employees may claim they are doing it voluntarily, but a strip club symbolizes a dark political truth of women’s lives. For you, it symbolizes what it feels like to be a woman in our society.

That your husband does not recognize this disturbs you.

So you need to make the argument — the painful, upsetting, destabilizing argument — that relations between you and your husband are not outside of society and history and that your relations are part and parcel of relations between slaves and masters worldwide. They are part and parcel of relations between the weak and the powerful; they are part and parcel of relations between first-worlders and third-worlders, between developed nations and developing nations, between Caucasians and Hispanics and Asians and blacks, between children and adults, between working class and professional class, between urban and rural. You have to have the painful conversation that recognizes that romantic love does not exempt you from your other social roles, from the effect on society of what you accept and what you do not accept.

You have to state the case that, as a woman, you believe strip clubs portray, or enact, the real power imbalance between women and men, and this power imbalance is so politically wrong and so personally painful that for him to enjoy its representation makes it feel like he is the enemy.

It is quite upsetting for a man to wake up and realize that the woman he loves has discovered him to be the enemy. But when we men honestly confront our own upbringing and assumptions, we conclude that in certain cases we are indeed the enemies of women’s freedom. We do indeed enjoy our privileges and do not necessarily want to give them up. Then we must do the hard work of taking ourselves apart and putting ourselves back together again.

Depending on the social milieu we grew up in or are enmeshed in, it might be impossible for us to leave our sexist milieu. We might have to abandon our friends; we might have to live by a code that puts us in the minority of men. We might have to forgo certain experiences others take for granted, much as the alcoholic forgoes the casual drink, or the believer forgoes certain pleasures in following his faith.

I suggest if you find yourself alone with your feelings that you align yourself with feminist women and find a rhetorical, intellectual and ideological home for your intuitive and emotional grasp of the situation.

It’s not just in your pretty little head, darling. Or, as one concerned citizen of the world puts it, “Just because you get an erection when you see a woman being objectified onscreen doesn’t mean women deserve to be objectified.”

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>