Thursday, February 21, 2013

Strippers for Teens (or, How the Internet Always Manages to Shock Me)

Apparently, the mother of a 16-year-old boy decided it was a good idea to hire strippers for his birthday party. She has since been arrested for that decision, and now news of this incident is spreading across the internet which is, incidentally, what brought about the arrest in the first place. See, her 16-year-old son was not the only one at this party. In fact there were 80 (80?! I had like seven friends when I was sixteen) people at this party, some of them as young as 13. Several of the other party-goers also received lap dances. Once the photographic evidence of this celebration showed up on social media, parents of the other attendees began to get upset. One eventually called the police, and now the mom is facing up to a year in jail for child endangerment.

Birthday Candles
Apparently this is no longer an acceptable way to celebrate your birth. 
I have come to understand that the way I see the world is not always within the realm of the majority view. I get that I'm slightly more sensitive to some issues, especially those pertaining to things like objectification and what I perceive to be prejudice. I thought I had come to terms with the fact that things that upset me just aren't going to upset a lot of people. 

But I thought, honestly, for real, that we could all pretty much agree that buying lap dances for middle schoolers isn't okay.

I was wrong.

There are people who say they don't get what the big deal is. Sure, these are internet comments, so we always run the risk of getting some bizarre outlier, but it's not just one person, and it's not just anonymous people. If you take a look at the comments on this Gawker piece, you'll see the following:
"Uh how is getting strippers at a party for teenagers endangering the welfare of children? Am I missing something here?" -Pepper_Ann
"By the time I was 12, I was already looking at dirty magazines (the internet then still needed those annoying phone-line modems) so a stripper at 16 doesn't seem so crazy. Plus, don't most kids have sex around this age anyway?" -Punaki
"The 13 year old should've been taken out, but come on. I'm sure those boys have watched porn more vulgar than what was going on at that party.
What are the courts thinking in jailing her for a year? Are they bored? Are they that clueless when it comes to teenager's sexuality?" -bcagrey
"As in "endangering" the kid's likelihood of never been called a "pimp" at his school?" -Cam/ron
"My best friend's dad got us a stripper on my friend's 16th birthday. It was awesome. At no point did I feel endangered. At many points did I have a boner." -T. Pain
I just. . . what?! Seriously. These comments go on and on and on. The primary defense for this being "no big deal" seems to be that 1) teenage boys are already seeing porn 2) teenage boys are likely already having sex.

I am not trying to demonize sex work. I understand that the intersections of feminism and stripping/pornography/prostitution are complicated and that people far better-versed than I am have taken a look at those intersections before.

Without trying to gloss over those complications, can't we agree at the very least that a healthy approach to sexuality that treats people as human beings shouldn't begin with lap dances before we've gotten through puberty?

While there are some dissenting commenters in the bunch, many of the people talking about this incident seem focused only on the momentary pleasure the boys got from being fondled during their interactions with the strippers. Very few people seem concerned about the things that concern me the most, namely 1) how did the strippers feel about having to perform for a room full of children 2) what did this party teach the boys about how to interact with women and 3) what does the general public response to this story mean for how boys and girls are learning about sex?

This last question brings me to a post I read at Love, Joy, Feminism earlier this month. As part of a series called "Forward Thinking," a variety of bloggers responded to a prompt asking them what they'd tell teenagers about sex. The themes that emerged from these conversations are important ones. The writers talked about the importance of teaching consent and bodily autonomy. They also talked about the need to arrive at sexual encounters in safe spaces. They talked about how sex can be a rewarding, pleasurable, and loving experience. They talked about how sex is a mutually arrived at interaction. They talked--many, many times--about respect.

One respondent (Miri) had this to say: "You don't owe anyone sex or intimacy. . . You don't owe it to anyone to stay in any situation that you feel weird about."

We can agree on that, right?! We can agree that that's a good lesson!

How can we simultaneously say that we should be teaching our children (and yes, 16-year-olds are still children, even if they are sexually active children) that they don't owe anyone sex (also, that no one owes them sex) when we are literally buying them sex? Here were a pair of women who literally "owed" these young boys sexual acts because of a purchase, and they performed in a room full of fledgling men who would take this lesson forward into the rest of their lives.

I am not saying that the boys in that room are all going to grow up to be sexual predators, but I am saying that we need to recognize the way that our cultural participation in these discussions shapes the world we live in. If we laugh off how these young boys could go back to school and be "pimps," then we're part of the problem. A problem that manifests itself in very real, very scary ways.

Here's an infographic that shows the alarming statistics about sexual assault on college campuses, the place that most of the young boys in that room will end up in just a few short years. Notice that it ends with tips on how women can get out of scary situations, including calling ahead to your apartment to have someone watch you walk from your car to your door, never going out alone, and keeping a mobile app open that will allow people to track you by GPS if you get abducted.

I can't even count how many times I've seen these tips called "Through a Rapist's Eyes" being shared through social media. In addition to keeping our GPS trackers on and being watched as we walk from our cars, us women are also supposed to avoid wearing our hair in a ponytail because it can be grabbed, avoid going out between 5 and 8:30 am (or, you know, the time most of us have to go to work), avoid grocery store parking lots, and always carry an umbrella.

While I think it's wise for people to be proactive about their own safety, perhaps we'd have to spend a lot less time trying to advise young women on how to avoid being raped if we spent a little less time defending young boys getting trained in how to objectify women.  


  1. i was horrified when i heard this story about the strippers--esp as a mother of a 15 year old son. i just wrote a piece a few weeks back about talking to him about rape on college campuses or other parties (we talked about the Steubenville OH rape case). I agree it's fine to teach girls some common sense safety measures, but we need way more emphasis on boys and what we teach them about valuing women. And that is the problem, as you say, with this recent incident. It teaches young men that women are play things. The WORST possible message we can send. ugh.

  2. hey, this party happened in my home town. also, newsworthy was the 15 year sentence a creepo who indulged and perpetuated child pornography received this week.
    True story. Yay. WINNING. one drop in the ocean at a time!