Especially in my romantic relationships.
I’ve known many women who were the same. Women who scorn certain female celebrities because their husbands are fascinated by them. Women who break up with their boyfriends for surfing porn on the internet. Women who insist on accompanying their partners everywhere so they can keep an eye on them.
I used to cry and yell if I saw my man even subtly appraise another woman. I would be filled with insecurity, anger, and jealousy. Once I found a big stack of “girlie” magazines under one boyfriend’s bed and threw them all away when he wasn’t looking. I loathed the women who displayed themselves to men.
Then I became a woman who displayed myself to men. Hard up for funds, young, a small-town girl trying to make it on her own in the big city. It was easy to rationalize. I already hated men and loved to dance. I’d skinny-dipped in my hometown, so stripping was the natural next step.
I reasoned that I could make money off men’s perverted sexual natures. But my feminist education told me I was the one being exploited in such an exchange. I felt conflicted by my feminist beliefs – ashamed for “perpetuating women’s oppression” by going over to the other side of “bad” women and men. But exploited? Not at all.
I began to develop some feminist theories of my own, based on my experience. When I proposed to expose them in a university setting, my instructor gave me some great news. These theories had already been around for awhile, just hardly anyone knew about them.
And there began my transformation. I read literature by Norma Jean Almodovar, Veronica Monet, and Scarlot Harlot. My world opened up and my shame dropped away - shed as easily as my clothes were the first time I stripped.
I found words and experiences I could identify with. I learned there were feminists out there whose theories about sex did not lay blame, condemn, and criticize. I realized the reason my feminist education hadn’t jived with my sex industry experience was because it was written by women who’d never found empowerment through sex work – women who’d never even been sex industry workers.
Women like Nina Hartley, on the other hand, reinforced my own perceptions about how men love all women’s bodies, not just the ones shown in popular culture. Exotic dancers are flesh and blood which means zits and cellulite. They have bloated days and bad hair days. They come in all different shapes and sizes, and yet they are admired equally by their audiences. Barbie has nothing on this narrow-hipped, freckle-faced, short girl with small breasts.
Suddenly, I had permission to enjoy my job. I didn’t have to compete with other women anymore. And men. Suddenly, I could love men again. It was a moving and freeing experience.
I began to feel more confident, more empowered. I hadn’t realized what a burden it was trying to control the men in my life. Letting go of my anger allowed me to let go of my anguish as well.
Now I take for granted that I am a woman and therefore men admire me. Instead of feeling victimized by men’s attentions or jealous of their attentions towards other women, I feel joy and understanding. Men aren’t evil, perverted beings. They are strong, coarse, sexual beings. Their capacity to see beauty in women’s bodies is a natural gift, not a perversion. Men are pretty damn great just the way they are, actually.
Camille Paglia helped me to discover that I am not an object in mens’ eyes. I am a warm, soft, feminine body – not a collection of dead parts. They might look at any pretty face to be sure (so will I), but it is the woman showing through that draws them. It is the person within that will ultimately bring a man to his knees.
Armed with this knowledge, I realize how my formerly insecure behavior and disgust for the opposite sex was actually making me less attractive. It was souring my relationships. And it was making me unhappy.
Likewise, learning to accept and value men just the way they are and embrace other women regardless of how beautiful they are, has made me more attractive. My friendships are stronger, my relationships deeper, and my sense of self truer.
This complete turnaround in perception changed my life. Still a staunch feminist, I seek equality through harmony rather than conflict with men and other women. I feel like this is what it means to be a woman – offering nurturing and unconditional love.
“Girlie” magazines are now a part of my library, having found I enjoy them more than the ones targeted towards women. I’ve also found that pornographic movies are a great way to get your man in the mood even when he’s hopelessly tired from work. Not surprisingly, my new attitude has improved my sex life too.
This realization has also impacted the lives of women who know me. Women who have embraced my philosophies have thanked me for freeing them from themselves. They’ve learned to embrace their natural sensuality as women and value man’s natural response to it.
Feminism like this unites women rather than polarizes them on one side or the other. “Bad girls,” like strippers and prostitutes, can be part of the debate and share their valuable lessons with all women. “Good girls” can look on other women with camaraderie rather than competition.
Now’s a great time to be a feminist. You don’t have to burn your bra or stop shaving your armpits. And when you walk past a construction site and get a few whistles – you’re allowed to enjoy it. I know I am. With stripping a thing of the past and Mom-duty the focus of my days, I’ll take what attention I can get and make no apology for it.