Sunday, September 21, 2008

Strip shows, and empathy with the cat

If you haven't received this picture in your e-mail, you probably don't have e-mail. I hasten to say, this is not my cat. Sherlock's head is much bigger than your average lime, and he would never sit still for this. And I would never do it to him. A cat is going to hate smelling like a lime. Being relatively odorless is one of a cat's instinctive protections.

I chose this picture in a weird, right-brained move because no way was I going to put up a picture of a stripper. Didn't even want to search for one. What gets me to that subject is "The Ethicist" column today's NYTimes Magazine. Randy Cohen is asked whether it is okay for an employed professor to hold a bachelor party as a strip club. His answer is excellent, as usual, but my interest is in his opening statements.

Nobody should attend strip clubs, those purveyors of sexism as entertainment. Strip shows are to gender what minstrel shows are to race.

Wow, was I glad to read these words, and coming not from another "crazy feminist," but from a man. They are statements I would not have dared to make at one time, knowing I would be labeled "a prude."

This issue became personal for me on my late brother's fortieth birthday. He planned a big pool party. It was hinted that his partner was going to hire a stripper. Of course, all the family was invited. (This was long ago, and the people I'm talking about are dead.)

I knew it would not have been enough for me to attend; I would have been required to give every appearance of enjoying this performance. My mother, whose conditioning was more thorough than mine, told me about it later with much laughter. She seemed to be daring me to say one disapproving word. A surprise stripper did come in and did her act right in front of my brother and his girlfriend. It made me a little sick to picture it. My mother muttered, "Why someone wouldn't come to their own brother's birthday party!" though I suspect she really knew.

"It was a hundred degrees that day!" I said. That would have sufficed in a sober family, as I was on a medication that gave me a very low tolerance for heat; but I could tell it didn't wash. My family could guess how I'd think, though probably not how I'd feel: keenly embarrassed and sad and conspicuously out of it. But I didn't say those things. I saw it as not seeking conflict. The truth is, I myself didn't have confidence in either my values or my feelings.

When to speak? A problem reserved for human beings.

Just today I told a happily opinionated friend that you can have strong opinions and not necessarily express them. Speaking is an action, and actions have consequences. But my friend was profoundly suppressed as a girl, more than usual, and speaking out is important to her. It is healing. I suppose that's why I am writing about this today. Speaking has consequences, but so does not-speaking, long after the party is over.

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