Features: Ms Carr Gets A Lapdance (part one)

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

By Alison J Carr

Let me start with a defence of my research.  I do not remember when or where I was, or whom I was speaking with, but shortly after Lana Del Rey released her single ‘Born to Die’, a female friend told me about the video.  She was saying I had to watch it because she was ambivalent about the visual messages of the video: ‘It ends with her limp body being carried by her boyfriend’, and she wanted to know how I interpreted the video and her lyrics.  Later that day I watched the video and I loved it.  The song ‘Born to Die’ describes the mental tumbling downward through a destructive compulsion toward, in this instance, the archetypal bad boy – is it even him she loves, or just how he looks? Moving back and forth between the so cool it hurts car-bonnet sex in jeans-shorts and Converse and sitting, queen of her dominion with a her tigers, in white femme-fatale dress, blue rose-crown and red lips, there is no sexier way to tell the story of the love-affair that nearly killed you. The affair, here, a love affair, but also we could insert any death-drive behaviour that we will upon ourselves, bringing us back into our own body. The song is an ode to the pleasure of the descent. Lana chooses to pursue the pleasure of falling, for the wrong boy, the wrong life choice, the wrong drug. But this is the song of the sober person.  It is a narrative, it is at a safe distance.  This is play.  A safe space.  Lana remains, throughout the story, queen of her dominion.

I want to underline what I can do with my research, and why I think it has value.  I am invested in reading images of women, recognising where she has dominion over her body, her mind, and her agency.  I want to affirm and champion these instances.  Sometimes, I reflect on the value of my research.  And then, the recent furores created by Samantha Brick’s article in the Daily Mail and Ashley Judd’s puffy face make me realise this is important research.  We need to be able to recognise a woman’s self-possession and dominion over herself more than ever.  I am here to do that.

Until April, I had never been to a gentleman’s club.  For my research, this omission was something I had no rationale for it; I could not justify not going.  So, I went.  I went to Spearmint Rhino on Tottenham Court Road with a fellow researcher: female, looking at the histories of striptease.  We had called them up beforehand to ask if we could enter without a man.  We could, but we had to mention this conversation, take a name down, and mention it at the door.  As we drew near to the door, a bouncer began to say ‘sorry ladies’, but we mentioned the name, gave our names, and were allowed in.  As we paid, we were told you have to sit at a table, tables are free, but wait for the bar staff to come to you and take your order.  We had to hang up our coats, as we did so, we could hear door staff downstairs speaking through ear pieces ‘yes, I see them they are down here’ before we were approached and taken to our table.  Whilst this was happening, we felt that our presence was a threat, a non-fit.

We were seated very near to a raised stage area—a thrust stage/catwalk with a pole installed.  The light was dimmed; the seats were velvet padded, golds, velvets, chandeliers, there was a softness to the décor, plush, not hard.  House music pumped.  We had been told we were not permitted to dance, or touch.  Behind us was a podium with a dancer, across the room another podium and another dance area on top of the bar.  Topless dancers gyrated slowly, coyly, sometimes smiling, occasionally looking around, sometimes moving caught in an internalised state.

I watched the stage and the cheeky, confident energy of the dancer, in fishnets with a visible access hole, a trilby, with long black and blonde hair.  Bad girl stripper chic.  An underdressed waitress in a waistcoat, hotpants and fishnets took our order. She was friendly and helped us to accustom ourselves to our surroundings.  We watched the next two dancers, both with thin long bodies.  I wondered what the limits of the acceptable body type in this context was.  I looked up at the podium, and saw a dancer with a body closer to my own size 14 body and I smiled at her as I let my look linger.  She held my gaze.  At some point, I could not handle the looking any more, and so I looked away.  I was in the position of a man, I could look, but I was not used to this kind of permission to look and it takes some practice.

Men were secreted into banquettes, booths, and around tables.  The architectural details and high seats meant that scanning the room, I could not get a sense of the volume of men in the place.  At the end of the night, when the club emptied out, I sensed that there were fewer men in the club, rather than visibly see their absence.  The dancers moved around the room, sometimes alone, sometimes in pairs, holding hands.  They sat and chatted to the men.  Initially, the dancers did not approach us.  The place had a calm to it. As though desires were sated.  When I was younger and I went to nightclubs I remember the meat market atmosphere.  As a woman I could feel this strange rampant energy, being looked at.  But here, the space had none of that frightening energy.  Male desires were catered for.  They did not have to behave in a predatory way.  Their needs were acknowledged, administered to, in what felt like a safe space.

Ms Carr Gets a Lapdance (part two)

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