An update from our Stripping Correspondent Edie Lamort, who is thinking about “objectification” and the gifts she receives from her fans.
One of the reasons I find the term ‘objectification’ doesn’t fit with my job as a stripper is in the gifts we receive. Sometimes you find yourself being taken by surprise by the things the regular customers say and in what they buy you. A good example of this, is if you learn some new pole tricks, or maybe change a tried and tested routine on the stage. Someone in the audience is bound to point this out.
“Oh you did the spin before going upside down this time.”
“Eh?! You noticed that?!”
“I love that new trick you did on that pole on the far side.”
There are a couple of men that come in who I have named ‘The Dance Critics’. They should come in with scorecards because they sit up the front and critique the stage shows. (The front row is known as Gynaecology Row in the stripper argot) I think I might make them big score cards just for fun. Numbers 1 – 10 in bold black ink on white A4 paper.
‘Oh you were a little bit unsure about that new move weren’t you? But your shoulder mount is improving.’’
I usually receive rather odd or thoughtful gifts from punters, some are baffling and some have proved to be great. I sat with a regular customer one day and said ‘why do I get these odd gifts?’ His reply was, ‘because we can see who you are.’ So here are some of the odd gifts I and others have been given over the years.
Very Spiritual Water
I have mainly worked in East End strip pubs so there are a lot of Asian men who come in on their own and some of them will befriend us and become regulars. There was a Pakistani guy, who owned a leather shop in London and had a factory back home, who became our quasi-stylist for a while. He would tell us which of his jackets or coats would suit us and then make them and sell them to us at cost. Pretty soon a lot of sexy strippers were sporting leather jackets of all styles so this could have been a canny sales technique on his part.
I had an Indian customer who I would see fairly regularly. He was always very polite and earnest, would have a chat, a few private dances and then go. He was interesting and told me a lot about the hippy side of his homeland and the various spiritual pilgrimages he would do. He recommended drinking ‘very spiritual water’ from the source of the Ganges. The pure H2O goodness from the Himalayan snowmelt, and the thawing of the Gangotri Glacier, that was supposed to sooth the soul.
After Christmas one year he went back to India for a few months to visit family and soak up that famous spiritual atmosphere so I didn’t see him for a while. When he returned he brought me this famous ‘very spiritual water’. He walked into the dark cavernous pub with a couple of shopping bags looking pendulous and heavy and set them down by me. He then pulled out a bag of ‘very spiritual water’, which was a sealed plastic bag full of water. It was ornately decorated in reds, golds, oranges and yellows and looked very Indian. I was surprised and flattered that he’d made the effort to carry these heavy bags of water half way across the world in order to assist my spiritual well-being. I took the water home and drank it as recommended and no, I didn’t get ill, but maybe my spirit was cleansed. Who knows?
I have more of these than I can possibly fit into my house. My bookshelves are bowing under the weight of book after book piled on top of each other but, like shoes, they are so pretty I can’t bear to part with them. Some of the books I get from customers are just really odd and about things such as corporate management. What puzzling motivation inspired that purchase? I am certainly not someone who easily fits into the corporate world; I am one of those arty hippy types. Other books have been really interesting. Sex and Punishment by Eric Berkowitz was a good read and I do recommend it. Now when I see the book-buying customers I tell them what I’d like to read next. I find it quite amusing that whilst I’m stripping, apparently being objectified, there are men sitting there thinking, ‘nice arse, I wonder what books she likes to read?’
Well of course! Shoes are a must but I usually approach this in a practical way. Shoes are a necessity. Stripper shoes get scuffed and easily wrecked on the poles and stage so you are reluctant to spend lots of money on them. A tube of superglue is an essential item in your workbag as is a black marker pen to colour in all the scrapes on those cheap plastic shoes. There is a particular regular who will always oblige me with shoes. I tell him what needs replacing, my size and what colour I’d like and as if by magic they arrive!
‘Well, I was in the jewellery shop and bought my wife a pair of earrings so I thought I’d better buy you a pair too’, said a regular who then handed me a small neat box, wrapped with a silver ribbon. I smiled and thanked him, pulling the bow open and taking out the long amber earrings.
Why did he think he needed to buy me a gift as well as his wife, it’s not like we were ever going to cross paths? Was he overcome with a moment of guilt for the stripper he liked to visit, when buying his wife a gift? I was puzzled by this sense of obligation. It’s not as if I was his mistress but they’re nice earrings, I get complimented on them.
The giving of documentary DVDs is along the same line as books. Usually after you’ve been talking to a regular customer about a particular topic. Some guys have no one else to talk to like that and do appreciate conversation. Some are also very intelligent, just unlucky in love and lacking in confidence. So you usually have a few customers that are a nice relief because you can actually have a conversation beyond ‘Where you from? What’s your name? No what’s your real name?’ These men are also the ones who buy you books and documentary DVDs are a natural complement to this. Most recently I was given a documentary featuring author Jared Diamond. This is because I recommended his books to a customer who’s now a fan.
Chocolate men and feeders
I can’t imagine we look undernourished, we are dancers not models, our job is a workout. There are quite a few voluptuous strippers around but some men feel the compulsion to feed us. At a Soho strip club I worked in we were frequently visited by ‘the chocolate men’. There were two of them who would eagerly arrive with supermarket bags full of chocolate and sit themselves down on Gynaecology Row. They were always eager and wide-eyed despite years of seeing the same things again and again. They looked pretty dodgy, and like they lived on Pot Noodles and rollies, so I always assumed they’d been shoplifting on their way to the club. I couldn’t imagine them buying all that chocolate; surely they’d been out on a week long thieving spree before coming to see us.
They were awkward and geeky, and it was clear why they were single, but they were harmless. They didn’t tip in actual real money but they eagerly handed out boxes of chocolate. Sometimes a little too eagerly so you found yourself conflicted between ‘what a shame, he’s a bit simple/come near me again and I’ll fucking knock you out’. Charmless as well as harmless.
They would only stay for the first hour or two of the evening as there would come a point where the charity of the strippers and the management would wear off and they would have to go. The strippers would point out that ‘we want to be rich not fat’ and the manager would need them to buy more than one beer only. So off they’d scuttle, probably on their way to rob Tesco.
When you work in a strip pub you get used to all kinds of eccentrics. Everyone is fairly relaxed about them and just leaves them be. In fact it’s probably one of the only places they can just sit and have beer, have a pretty girl say hi and be left in peace. One odd character is someone we call ‘red wine and poetry man’. I have no idea what his real name is, no one does, but he buys whole bottles of red wine, sits at the bar with an A4 pad and writes poetry. As the night progresses he gets more and more drunk, the poetry gets worse and worse and he ends up crying. It’s strange but he does it again and again.
Of course he’ll give his verses to the dancers as tokens of affection. In the changing room one night a Brazilian girl showed me what he had written for her. I read it through with disappointment, it was an Oasis song and he was hoping she wouldn’t realise, as English was not her first language. We both laughed and said ‘oh dear, oh well’.
So to say the customers all look at us only as mere sex objects doesn’t quite fit if someone has taken the time to think about a gift for you. It also ignores the fact that people are often wrapped up in their own world and their loneliness, so are looking for any kind of connection. ‘Feminist’ groups shrieking ‘objectification’ ignore the humanity in these situations. And if someone does look at me and simply think ‘phwoarrr nice tits’ rather than ‘goodness I wonder what she thinks about art/ history/politics/theatre etc? Well, who gives a shit? I certainly don’t have time to contemplate everyone’s inner workings, and I do have nice tits.