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chapter 1b
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Chapter 2b: The Strip Show Audience
  
 
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Fashion Shows, Strip Shows and Beauty Pageants: The Theatre of The Feminine Ideal
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Fashion Shows, Strip Shows and BeautyPageants: The Theatre of The Feminine Ideal
  
 
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TARA MAGINNIS
 
TARA MAGINNIS
  
Chapter I: Introduction , part b
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Chapter II: The Audience
  
Each of these seven aspects illustrate striking similarities between performances that are generally claimed to be totally dissimilar to each other. These similarities indicate the presence of some strong linking factor among beauty pageants, strip shows and fashion shows. It is the contention of this study that there is a common goal in all three performance areas. The elevation of the performer from an ordinary person into a depersonalized conceptual ideal is the chief linking factor, and these three genres of performance are, in fact, merely variations on a broader theme which shall be called "The Theatre of the Feminine Ideal."
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Part b: The Audience of the Strip show
  
The runway is a major element in this type of performance because it helps to support the performer in appearing to the audience as an ideal, the costumes are used in order to give shape to the particular ideal chosen, and the performers are silent on the runway because this helps to de-emphasize their individual personalities and better meld them into an abstract role of an ideal female image. All of these characteristics, common to each genre, support the overall goal of elevating the performer into the figurant of an ideal. It is for this reason that the label "the theatre of the feminine ideal" has been applied to all three. At this point, it would be desirable to explain a few terms as used in this work: The term "ideal" must be understood to be used with two meanings in this work, one signifying an archetype of a person who is "an ideal or perfection of kind; existing as a perfect exemplar," and the other as a mere conceptual image "existing in fancy or imagination only." As most often used, "ideal" is meant to signify both simultaneously: an imaginary or impossible image of human perfection personified.
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An almost diametrically opposing audience attitude has brought about acompletely different performer image in strip shows. Strip shows, largely attended by amale audience, have progressively become more sex-oriented as the art form has developed.Applause and increased ticket sales, in effect, bribed performers to "take off alittle bit more" and so the strip tease developed into the shape it is known bytoday.
  
Burlesque for the purposes of this study will usually be taken to refer to the American burlesque theatre of the period between World Wars I and II, not the literary or dramatic burlesques which were common in the 19th and early 20th centuries. This is an artificial distinction since there was no clean break from "old-time burlesque" to "modern burlesque," just a gradual change from a leg-and-jiggle show with a satirical dramatic script to a leg-and-jiggle show with lewd comic skits featuring "bathroom humor." Some old quotations in this work may use the spelling burlesk. Burlesque or burlesk of the Twenties through Forties could best be described as a variety show which consisted largely of chorus numbers, strip acts, and comic "bits."
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But who was this audience? Why was it shaped in that way? Who was outthere clapping their hands when strippers sang "Clap your hands and I'll take off alittle bit more"?
  
A stripper is the term commonly used to describe a woman who takes off her clothing in some sort of artistic manner while on stage. The act of a stripper doing so is called a strip act. A strip teaser is a stripper who does a strip act very slowly, and often demurely, building suspense as she removes garments. This kind of strip act is called a strip tease. An exotic dancer is a term used since the Fifties to describe both strippers and women who dance either wholly or partially nude. A strip show is a show composed largely or wholly of strip acts.
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The burlesque audience, in contrast to the fashion show audience, wasalmost entirely composed of men. Descriptions of the audience are common in the 1930'swhen the striptease had finally become the main drawing feature of burlesque and assortedwriters became obsessed with explaining why such an openly pornographic form of theatreshould be both permitted and popular in the supposedly puritan United States.
  
Strippers quoted in this study may make use of several pieces of occupational argot, which Skipper and McCaghy in "Stripteasing: A Sex-Oriented Occupation" define as follows:
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The Irving Palace Theatre, the most "uptown" (and expensive)of the burlesque houses catered to the best economic class of audience, but their audiencebehavior, as described in H.M. Alexander's Striptease; The Vanished Art of Burlesque(1938) indicates shame at their own attendance:
  
degenerates-male exhibitionists and masturbators in the audience, bird-female genitalia, flashing-lowering of the G-string so that the pubic area is displayed, floor work-that portion of a strippers performance done sitting, kneeling or lying on the floor, holding their own-men masturbating in the audience, and a strong act-a show with a high degree of overt sexual content.
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There are many people in line. They avoid your eyes when you look at them. They are embarrassed at being there. You get the first whiff of something not exactly healthy which will later be easier to define. In spite of the prices which are top in burlesque, you see quite a few sweaters and caps. There is a salesman with his zipper notebook and a crowd of engineers from Steven's Tech in Hoboken. There are a few women. Not the forty percent that the boys would have you believe, but a few.
  
A G-string is a narrow strip of fabric held up with small straps, glue or dental floss, that covers (barely) the female genitalia. It is supposedly named after the narrowest string on a violin.
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The usher...points out your seat...People have to get up to let you by, and again you intercept a feeling of shame in the averted looks and elaborate indifference....You understand them, their embarrassment, the air of tension. Onanists come to refresh their store of erotic images. The heavy bosom is encored greedily so not a curve will go unremembered."
  
Pageantry in the context of this work is a noun covering the whole world and concept of beauty and talent pageants. It is commonly used as such by the small army of semi-fanatical supporters of pageants who take part in them as contestants, judges, producers and audience members. A beauty pageant is a contest wherein at least part of the official judging of the contestants is based on their personal appearance.
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[[Tara1pagesNotes2#37|40]]
  
A beauty queen is a winner of any beauty contest, no matter how minor. So, for example, the Miss America Pageant is a contest between 50 beauty queens who won contests at the state level for the purpose of crowning one of them a beauty queen at the national level.
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Morton Minsky in Minsky's Burlesque (1986), usually one to claim thathis burlesque audience was a "family" audience from the neighborhood of thetheatre despite considerable evidence to the contrary, reported a conversation in the1930's between Gypsy Rose Lee and her sister, June Havoc:
  
Mannequin is the archaic name for what is now called a fashion model. It was in use almost exclusively until 1920 when the term model began to replace it.
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Have you ever heard of any other public who sit with a newspaper covering their lap? You see, the reason for that paper is simple--It's because they're masturbating...and I guess they'd rather not be seen by the other Johns. God! All the stuff they bring in with them---It's an education! Milk bottles and raw liver and---You don't believe me? Check the alley. See what they sweep out of here at night...let me tell you, June, my audience is no scabbier, no sicker than yours, but my audience is more useful. Oh, yes---While they sit out there jerking off, I'm the one using them. Because there's another audience coming to watch my audience watch me!
  
The interrelationship between fashion shows, strip shows and beauty pageants, has never been the topic of serious study. The omission, it may be surmised, has been merely an oversight, since burlesque theatre has been the object of sociological scrutiny since the Thirties in works such as Burlesque as a Cultural Phenomenon (1937), Striptease: The Vanished Art of Burlesque (1938), and Hot Strip Tease: And Other Notes on American Culture (1937). Further, beauty pageants have been examined by feminist scholars since the Eighties; and fashion shows, while they have not been studied historically with the attention they deserve, have had their staging dissected from a purely technical standpoint, since the first runway modeling manuals were written in the Sixties.The lack of writing on this topic appears to be the result of the fact that no one has thought to connect the data from these three forms of theatre to create a synthesis. It is not because fashion shows, strip shows, and beauty pageants were regarded as too unimportant to write about. It would therefore be valuable to review the literature which relates to these three forms of theatre individually, as well as any literature which relates to runway staging:
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[[Tara1pagesNotes2#37|41]]
  
Burlesque as a Cultural Phenomenon has been studied since David Dressler first analyzed the supposedly corrupting nature of burlesque on youth in his 1937 book of that title. (Dressler was a juvenile officer and social worker.) According to Ann Corio, "the Queen of Burlesque":
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According to Bernard Sobel in Burleycue: An Underground History ofBurlesque Days (1931) the audience could get pretty rowdy once the show started:
  
"Scholars who should be spending their academic hours poring over equations or philosophy have battled instead over the origin of this entertainment--and spent hours looking at the pictures."
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"Take that dame off," somebody shouts. "She can't sleep with me." And then everyone laughs sufficiently until the next wisecrack.
  
Corio's statement is something of an exaggeration, however, since scholarly studies of burlesque have definitely been in the minority. The most comprehensive work of a serious nature is Irving Zeidman's The American Burlesque Show (1967) which does very definitively trace the origin of the strip tease back to 19th Century precedents, as well as providing a very detailed history of early American burlesque. In covering so much time, however, the eras of the Thirties and Forties are given short shrift; and no connection is made between strip shows and other forms of theatre used to idealize the female.
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"Shake 'em up! Shake 'em up!" comes from this place and that as one of the strip dancers comes down the runway and archly shakes her finger at the insubordinate ones. Somebody flings a coin from the gallery. There are cat calls and howls.
  
Other scholars since Zeidman have studied parts of burlesque as dissertation topics, focusing on areas only indirectly related to the topic of this study. Joseph LeRoy Lesser's Top Banana Joey Fay: The Evolution of a Burlesque Comedian (1987), Joel Harvey's American Burlesque as Reflected Through the Career of Kitty Madison 1916-1930 (1980) and Patricia Sandburg Conner's Steve Mills and the Twentieth Century American Burlesque Show: A Backstage History and Perspective (1979) all are studies that focus on very particular aspects of burlesque performance. Strip Shows in Britain have also been described as part of Erotic Theatre (1978) by John Elsom, who hypothesized that strip tease would not die out (as Marshall McLuhan said it would when nudity had become acceptable as entertainment) because stripping was part of an erotic signal system in which lovers indicate their acceptance of each other, and was not simple undressing.
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"Look at those 'tits'!" exclaims a young fellow transported away by the proportions of the chorus lady's breasts.
  
More common (and oddly, more useful for raw information) are the popular works of the "Racy Memoir" and "Naughty Picture" variety. For example, H.M. Alexander in Striptease: The Art of Burlesque (1938) gives the most detailed description of a burlesque performance and its audience's behavior to be found in any work, but much of the book is simply devoted to backstage gossip of the private lives of strippers accompanied by clear black and white photos of strippers in various stages of undress.Equally filled with interesting information and gossipy superfluities are Morton Minsky's Minsky's Burlesque (1986) and Bernard Sobel's Burleycue: An Underground History of Burlesque (1931). There are many more works like these (far too numerous to mention), all providing intriguing and useful data along with gossip, but none of these works focuses more than passing attention on the staging of strip shows, or comparisons with other forms of theatre.
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[[Tara1pagesNotes2#37|42]]
  
The Miss America Beauty Pageant, the seminal modern beauty pageant upon which most presently existing pageants are based, has had its history documented in great detail in Frank Deford's There She Is (1971). Deford's book is not only an amusing work that gives countless details of pageant history but it contains many points of analysis about the significance of pageant rituals. Deford, however never makes the connection between pageants as promoters of "ideal" women, and the similarity of strip and fashion shows. Beauty pageants are also one of the topics covered in Lois W. Banner's 1983 feminist study, American Beauty, where she discusses the obvious truth that beauty pageants exist as an affirmation of the idea that it is acceptable to judge women on their appearance. Feminist author Susan Dworkin, discusses the social context of Bess Myerson's 1945 victory in Miss America 1945; Bess Myerson's Own Story (1987). The details of Myerson's reign are analyzed with an insightful historical perspective; however, again no connection is made with strip and fashion shows.
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Backstage the performers discuss the night's audience:
  
Just as important as the popular and scholarly works on beauty pageants are the many books written by the women who follow pageantry as a profession, hobby, or even something close to a religion. For example, The Beauty Pageant Manual: A Complete Training Guide (1987) by Marie Leazer Farris and Verna Meer Slade not only gives hundreds of purely practical tips for modern contestants wishing to win a beauty title, but also dwells at length upon the ideals and "improving" nature of pageantry on contestants:
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"They're fresh tonight," complains one of the strip dancers, a buxom young woman with bare breast, [sic] a jeweled decoration across her hip and a flimsy yellow robe in her hand. "Wise guys in the gallery."
  
Pageant winners aren't always the most beautiful. They are the most well rounded. They are the girls who have worked on and perfected their appearance, attitude and the way they carry themselves. Pageants are good for all contestants because they usually motivate girls to improve themselves in many areas.
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"There's an old guy out in the front row, a linotyper on some big paper. He's seen the show about six times. Can you imagine that? Grey- haired, old guy. Sends me presents of fruit, and sometimes a dirty picture---"
  
Anna Stanley's The Crowning Touch: Preparing for Beauty
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"Say," said the girl with black curls, "That fellow's out there again tonight--The one who shows you his 'sex'."
  
Pageant Competition (1989) and Barbara Peterson Burwell and Polly Peterson Bowle's Becoming a Beauty Queen: The Complete Guide (1987) are both works, similar to the Manual, which follow in a direct line from Jacque Mercer's How to Win a Beauty Contest (1960). All of these books, as well as too many others to mention, contain information about the mechanics of pageant production as well as the philosophy on which it is based. But none of these authors make the connection between the central focus of the ideal in beauty pageants, and the way strip and fashion shows similarly highlight idealized depictions of femininity. In these works, pageant staging is never compared with strip show staging. (Pageant enthusiasts feel they are on an altogether higher plane.) Fashion show staging is occasionally mentioned in these books, but only to offer a comparison of the differences between events such as pageant swimsuit competition and fashion show bathing suit modeling.
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[[Tara1pagesNotes2#37|43]]
  
In no survey history of fashion shows has there ever been an attempt to study the staging of shows from a theatrical standpoint. Surveys of fashion show history are few, short and lacking in scholarly analysis. The most complete books on fashion show production and history, Mary Ellen Diehl's How to Produce a Fashion Show (1976) and Kay Corinth's Fashion Showmanship (1970), both devote only a single chapter each to the history of fashion shows, and, naturally, do not provide any detailed analyses of the staging, or any kind of comparative analysis between fashion shows and strip and beauty shows.Showmanship merely gives hints of some of the past in its brief descriptions, offered without context or analysis:
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While obviously this exhibitionist was unusual enough an audience memberto be remarked upon by the performers, he was clearly not so unusual to warrant ejectionfrom the house. Forty years later, "Misty," another stripper, mentioned withannoyance the exhibitionists in the audiences of the early 1970's: "Some of the youngdancers, who had the brains of a radish, thought it was a form of flattery and that thepoor guy probably couldn't help himself."
  
Another history-making trade fashion show took place in Chicago, in 1917. The presentation featured a new technique that was later used extensively in the 1960s--that of showing movie footage to set a background scene for live models. For example, the first scene, "The Dawn of 1917," opened with a view of snow on the screen, quickly dissolving into a "picture of daisies with a vision of the Orient in the background." The movie screen then lifted to reveal an Oriental setting.
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[[Tara1pagesNotes2#37|44]] Thepersistence of this form of audience behavior would indicate that what Geoffrey Gorer, in HotStrip Tease: And Other Notes on American Culture (1937) said about burlesque was (andis) true, that strip shows catered, fairly openly, to the sexual gratification of menunable to afford or acquire "more solid satisfaction."
  
Most of the information in Showmanship is similar to the above--interesting facts without any background, enough to interest the reader in the subject but not sufficient for an in-depth study of the subject.
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[[Tara1pagesNotes2#37|45]]
  
How to Produce a Fashion Show (1976) provides very similar information in a similar format. Indeed, one suspects that the earlier book served as a model for the latter. Diehl, however, does attempt somewhat analytical statements about trends in shows at different times, but, in trying to cover over 100 years in one chapter, her analyses are cursory at best.
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I think it may be taken for granted that the greater number of men who go to burlesque theaters week after week, year after year--do not go there for purely aesthetic reasons, or for simple entertainment; The extra-ordinary [sic] monotony of the performances would exclude both possibilities. They almost certainly go there for sexual stimulation...this is their only dream, and they go by themselves, shut in, intent, determined to exclude the life they know; If they concentrate hard enough maybe they will get the physical illusion of reality.
  
By 1911, "living models" were used in the United States as a regular part of fashion promotions for retailers as well as manufacturers. However, from the reports, they seemed to be more akin to informal modeling than to a fashion parade. The runway show must have evolved rapidly from this because Women's Wear carried a report [on a 1912 convention that] featured two fashion shows daily on living models, with cards on stage indicating manufacturers' names--"No Lecturing." An orchestra rendered popular songs during the showing.
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[[Tara1pagesNotes2#37|46]]
  
Since neither of these books is intended to be a scholarly analysis of the history of fashion shows, these cursory analyses are perfectly understandable. The fact remains, however, that these two one-chapter synopses of fashion show history are the most in-depth studies so far written. As such, they are hopelessly insufficient for making a judgment about how fashion shows relate to strip shows and beauty pageants.Other books on fashion show production, such as Thelma Hunt Shirley's Success Guide to Exciting Fashion Shows (1978) or Bernie Lenz's The New Complete Book of Fashion Modeling (1969), have information on fashion show style over the last few decades. However, the styles described, and the advice given, far from showing a synthesized theoretical approach which might prove as true now was when the book was written, seem mired in the production styles of their times. For example, in Shirley's Success
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The furtive nature of the strip show audience had not changed when JohnElsome reported in Erotic Theatre (1974) that strip clubs in England before 1960 wereplaces that made ordinary normal men feel like sexual perverts:
  
Fashion is Drama Always think of fashion production as drama. Completely let go of the old idea of a model walking out on a runway, expressionless and pivoting as she shows new garments. That look, that approach is passe. Think Sensationalism Curtain opens on a bare stage with a large white screen on the back wall. Up front is a simple palm tree. Hawaiian music begins to fill the auditorium and on the large screen breathtaking photos of Hawaii are rear-projected as the audience begins to look with great anticipation to the wings for the models to appear..."Ladies and Gentlemen," says the commentator, "vacation and cruise fashions for your sun and fun holidays, by the talented and unpredictable (name of designer).
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This sleaziness mirrored social attitudes towards male sexual fantasies: That they were sordid, things to be kept to oneself, the product of dirty minds and dissatisfied bodies. The myth predominated that strip clubs were for lonely old men, who could not receive satisfaction any other way. The audiences in fact belonged to a wide cross-section of age and class groups, though nearly all men. But the legend was so forcibly maintained that people seemed almost physically to change as they sidled through the doorways. The young well-dressed man, full of self-confidence in Oxford Street, would hunch his shoulders, turn his collar up and seem physically smaller when he paid for his ticket to a strip club in Brewer Street.
  
What Shirley was unable to predict was that within less than 10 years of her writing, proscenium staging, projections, and commentators would be "passe" and the "old ideal of a model walking out on a runway, expressionless and pivoting" would be back in fashion, stronger than ever. As such, Shirley's book, and the many others like it, are of more use as artifacts of recent history than as analytical studies of fashion show production.
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[[Tara1pagesNotes2#37|47]]
  
Runway staging in Japanese No drama has been touched upon in studies of Japanese theatre such as Noh: The Classical Theatre (1971) by Nakamura Yasuo, A History of Japanese Theatre I: Up to Noh and Kyogen (1971) by Inoura Yoshinobu, and Japanese No Plays (1954) by Toki Zemmaro, and the development of the Hanamichi Bridge of Kabuki Theatre (the closest counterpart to Western runways) is traced from its No antecedents in Earle Ernst's The Kabuki Theatre (1956). Nowhere in these works, however, is the use of Japanese-style runways or "bridges" connected with their Western theatre counterparts in burlesque, pageants or fashion shows.
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Once in the theatre, however, with the house lights down, mob psychologykicks in and makes these embarrassed, frightened individuals into a group with somethingintimate in common, and the audience reacts to the performances with an enthusiasm thatmost performers would kill for:
  
However, Leonard Cabell Pronko in Theatre East and West (1967) does discuss the Hanamichi Bridge as it relates to more typical forms of Western staging:
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She turns around and bumps...The pants come off and she takes her bow in a G-string. There is applause, mostly from the first four rows. The white lights go up and the tramp comic and his straight man are on the stage hollering. But the first four rows won't let them go on. They keep applauding for Sylvie. The band gives her the last few bars of her song, she takes another bow, there is a blackout, but the first four rows continue to applaud...This time she comes out in only her G-string and little red hat. She pulls the curtain across her middle with one hand, undoes her G-string with another, and just before the blackout, she whirls it round and round in the spot to show that (underneath the curtain) she really hasn't a thing on...still the audience applauds. The show is being delayed. Suddenly the house lights flash on and there is an instant and shocked silence...It's the tip-off on people who come to see a burlesque show. They were all frightened into quiet because no one wanted the others to see how excited he was."
  
The Hanamichi cannot be compared with Western forms of central staging, or with Western uses of the theatre aisles or even with the strategic placement of theatre seats for interaction among actors in different parts of the auditorium and/or stage, because the Hanamichi is always a platform related to, but set apart from, the stage. It does not put the actor on the same level as the spectator, thus destroying the actor's distance and glamour.
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[[Tara1pagesNotes2#37|48]]
  
Conversely, it may be assumed that the raised runway staging of the fashion, strip, and beauty shows which is physically similar to the Hanamichi runway, augments the performers' glamour and distance, unlike these ground-level playing areas. The ground-level incursions into audience space practiced by many Western theaters in several forms of experimental staging were used instead to reach toward the audience on a human naturalistic level.
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The sometimes pathetic nature of the men in the dark is further exploredby feminist writer Deirdre English in "The Politics of Porn: Can Feminists Walk theLine?" who asks the obvious question: Who exactly is really being exploited bypornography? On a tour of New York's pornography district in Times Square, she comes tothe conclusion that the consumer is more exploited than the performer:
  
Despite the fact that no previous work has been focused on the theoretical interconnectedness of beauty pageants, fashion shows and burlesque strip shows, it should be possible to document this interconnection using the copious quantities of raw data which exist in areas related to this thesis.
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We proceeded upstairs, to a line of antiseptic-smelling booths, where men watched a nude woman dance and give little touches and tastes of herself through slots in the booth's glass fronts. It was like seeing people at the zoo feeding bits of junk food to the bears, only the other way around. It was truly sad.
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I felt overcome by the presence of so many layers of exploitation. The men are here to exploit the women; The women, too, are here to exploit the men. Actually since there are so few women (but hundreds of thousands of pictures of them), the overwhelming feeling is one of the commercial exploitation of male sexual desire. There it is, embarrassingly desperate, tormented, demeaning itself, begging for relief, taking any substitute, and paying for it. Men who live for this are suckers, and their uncomfortable demeanor shows they know it. If, as a woman, you can detach yourself...you see how totally tragic they appear.
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[[Tara1pagesNotes2#37|49 ]]
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While English is talking about all sorts of pornography consumersbesides those that attend strip shows, her conclusions could just as accurately describethe figures depicted by Reginald Marsh in his famous paintings and drawings of burlesqueshows in the 1930's and 1940's. While his strippers look lively, sensuous, andaggressively healthy and plump, his spectators, for the most part are hollow-cheeked,frowning, slumped over, with collars turned up, looking sour and depressed.
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[[Tara1pagesNotes2#50|50]] Some are even wearing dark glasses indoors.
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[[Tara1pagesNotes2#50|51 ]]Most seem to look at their shoes. Not only did the audienceshow self-contempt when they slunk into a burlesque show alone, with collar turned up andhead bowed down, but the performers frequently expressed contempt for their audience. H.M.Alexander asked a stripper in 1938:
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"Does the audience ever embarrass you?"
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"Them?" asks the stripper incredulously. "I should say not! I make more money, twice as much, as any of them. I'm better than they are."
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"How was today's audience?" you ask. "Cheap or decent?"
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"I never give much of a damn," says the stripper. "I just do anything to get them to applaud. If they give me a good hand, they're O.K.. If they don't, they're nothing but a bunch of bums."
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[[Tara1pagesNotes2#50|52]]
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The advent of the sexual revolution in the late Twentieth Century hascaused some strippers to have a more benevolent attitude towards their audience. Forinstance a stripper speaking in the 1986 documentary Stripper, about the 1983 FirstAnnual Strippers's Convention, saw her job as fulfilling a useful function in the sexlives of the audience outside the theatre:
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I think it must be difficult for men to--to maintain a decent amount of erections in a lifetime--I mean, you just don't get it, that just doesn't happen--You have to be stimulated and they like to be. They like to be places where other men are, they like to talk, and they like to have drinks and they like to watch women (pause) take their clothes off, and then I think it could be really healthy for a man to get stimulated by a dancer and then to go home and give his energy to someone he loves. (Pause) Procreate.
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[[Tara1pagesNotes2#50|53]]
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Strippers often justify the ethics of their work in terms of providingsexual therapy for the exhibitionists in the audience and sexual education for the others.According to Miller in "Entertainment as Deviant Work":
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Based in part on their experiences with the men who can be seen from the stage, many strippers claim that such shows are necessary in order to protect the society from the sexual assaults that would undoubtably occur if these men had no place to act out their sexual desires. Some strippers claim to provide an educational service for... adolescents and young men who are ignorant of the female body and sexuality.
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[[Tara1pagesNotes2#50|54 ]]
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While many of the audience members shown in the film Stripperseemed to behave in the traditional manner of the old burlesque audience, i.e. ashamed tobe seen but excited in the dark, the sexual revolution would seem to have also had animpact on the self image of certain audience groups.
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For example, the audience in the tiny Western cowboy town of Nanton,Alberta, stood up, howled and hollered in the full glare of the neon lights of the town'scoffee shop, where the normally dressed coffee shop waitresses disapprovingly served thembeer and little boys on the street pressed their noses to the large plate glass cafewindows watching. One cowboy went so far as to join one of the strippers on stage andstripped himself down to his underwear, all the while being encouraged by the other men inthe audience. This is doubly intriguing behavior in a town so small, that everyone mostlikely knows everyone else.
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Also, audiences accustomed to the more graphic sexual images ofpornographic films are sometimes seemingly shocked at not being shocked. A Los Angelesstrip club is also shown in Stripper, where the men are transformed, not into ahowling mob, but into a group of rapt worshippers as a nude dancer does an ethereal"Loie Fuller"-style dance with a chiffon cape. They sit, silent, motionless andserene with expressions of astonishment and joy, at the cleanness and beauty of theperformance.
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However, most of the audiences depicted in Stripper conform, atleast in part, to the traditional type. The shame is less and the lusty noise is more thanthat seen in theaters earlier, but the two main ingredients evidently are still importantparts of audience behavior in most modern strip clubs. And as the "positive feedback'of the audience response increases, so does the competition between performers to createthe most sexually exciting performance. As a result, strip performances becomeincreasingly graphic and aggressive depictions of stylized sex, and the strip which"started with dropping a shoulder strap...and ended up in a G-string" becomes amore openly sexual performance with each passing year.
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The burlesque strip show grew out of the American version of theclassical burlesque tradition. Burlesques were originally staged parodies of famousclassical and popular literary works. Ancient history (Greek and Roman), Shakespeare andboth popular plays and novels were all parodied in Nineteenth Century burlesques inEngland and America. Typically, the productions of these burlesques included not onlyliterary parody but "low" comedy, topical comedy, cross-dressing, and lavishsets and costumes.
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[[Tara1pagesNotes2#50|55]] The most popular cross-dressing in theVictorian Era naturally was the portrayal of "boy" roles by women, since itafforded a "legitimate" excuse for putting Victorian actresses in short tunicsand tights, without arousing the outrage of censors.
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In burlesque, however, the public taste pushed the censor's tolerancesto their limits. Tunics were shorter, tights were often flesh-toned and the comic"bits" within the show occasionally skated towards ribald humor and doubleentendre. According to Irving Zeidman in The American Burlesque Show (1967)"Burlesque has always featured soubrettes and chorines who uncovered themselves tothe limit the law would permit." Zeidman then cites several proto-strip performers ofthe early 20th Century to back his claim, among them Truly Shattuck who did an"instantaneous change from full costume to tights," "Dainty Marie" whomade a hit in 1912 by distributing her cast-off clothing to the audience, Millie De Leonwhose 1915 act in St. Louis included stripping the ruffles off her gown one at a time, andEdna Maze who in the 1919 "Patriotic Revue" Cheer Up America sang "I TakeOff A Little Bit," and suiting the action to the words, "discarded her outergarments until she finally stood revealed in black lace trunks."
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#50|56]]
 +
 
 +
According to Zeidman no single person "invented" the striptease although many different people have been credited with being the sole inventor invarious theatrical myths about the "birth" of striptease.
 +
 
 +
However literal truth is not the substantive truth to be found in anymythology. The myths (about the origin of striptease) show, not the literal, individualtruth (of who started stripping where and when), but the larger, generalised truth of howstripping developed over time. Comparing the common elements of these myths reveals theessential role that the burlesque audience played in encouraging, through the force ofapplause and improved ticket sales, the development of strip-tease from early proto-stripnumbers to full stripping.
 +
 
 +
For instance, H.M. Alexander interviewed people backstage at the IrvingPalace Theatre just before the 1938 closing of New York burlesque houses and asked thequestion, "What started all this?"
 +
 
 +
"An accident"...Miss Vivian tells you that someone in the show was...in the chorus when her shoulder strap broke. The audience riotously approved. The girl liked the applause. At the next performance she broke the strap herself."
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#50|57]]
 +
 
 +
Later Alexander confronted the stage manager in the same theatre withthe producer's story and asked:
 +
 
 +
"How did the strip get so naked? Did the bosses give more money to the girls who took off more clothes?"
 +
 
 +
"The girls who drew the most customers got the most dough...The girls knew the crowds came to see flesh. Little by little they showed more."
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#50|58]]
 +
 
 +
Ann Corio, a stripper who some quite inaccurately claim originated thestrip, related one of the most popular "origin" myths in her 1968 book ThisWas Burlesque: This was another reported "accident" at the State-CongressTheatre in 1928 where Hinda Wassau was wearing one costume on top of another.
 +
 
 +
Under the frantic vibrations of her anatomy, the outer costume started to come loose...The audience howled...At the climax of her number the costume came completely loose and she removed it. The applause at the end of her number was thunderous.
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#50|59]]
 +
 
 +
Morton Minsky in Minsky's Burlesque (1986) claimed that stripteaseoriginated in 1917 at the Minsky Theatre, The National Winter Garden, also due to an"accident" that thrilled the audience: "They wouldn't let her go. Theyclapped like crazy...Between the heat and the applause, Mae lost her head, and unbuttonedher bodice as she left the stage again."
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#60|60]]
 +
 
 +
The element most common in these origin myths, apart from the supposedly"accidental" nature of the dancers's participation, is the contention thatoverwhelming audience approval led to the continuance and further development of thestrip. In other words, the audience reaction to the "accidents" was sooverwhelming, that the audience, in effect was to blame for the origin ofstripping.
 +
 
 +
While the particulars of the origin myths of stripping cannot be takentoo literally, it is verifiable that the audience support of burlesque was strongest whenand where stripping formed a large part of the show. Burlesque's ticket sales increased inthe period between the two world wars in direct proportion to the rise of the strip act.As Variety put it:
 +
 
 +
With stripping still the basis of all burlesque layouts, business was best when conditions... permitted more stripping. When there was no stripping, there was no business, and usually no burlesque. A few stout-hearted gents attempted to buck the dry spots anyway with "clean" shows, but they didn't last.
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#60|61]]
 +
 
 +
And if audience disfavor of "clean" burlesque wasn't enough ofan inducement for producers to encourage stripping, the self-sabotaging efforts of censorsto harass "dirty" shows were. Every time a theatre was raided for publicindecency, ticket sales went up. Billy Minsky even used out oftown censors to boost his New York ticket sales by deliberately hiring strippers whoseacts were closed by the censor in other towns, and then billing them as "the act thatwas too hot for name of town ." Much of Georgia Sothern's advance publicity in NewYork was about her "escort by police" out of Philadelphia.
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#60|62]] It was this open advertisement of the supposed indecency ofher performance which led to a huge advance ticket sale. In short, the audience wanted an"indecent" performance and was eager to pay for it, which in essence is whatcaused the progressive nudity of the strip even if it didn't actually originate the stripitself.
 +
 
 +
Nancy Friday observed in Men in Love, Men's Sexual Fantasies: TheTriumph of Love Over Rage that men respond to the stimulation of seeing an actualnaked woman in person or in photographs in the same way that women respond to thedeliberately vague images of men conjured up by romantic literature--with potent eroticfantasies. This is why men generally turn to "picture-books" like Playboy andHustler, for masturbatory images, while their wives resort to "women'sliterature" ranging from Wuthering Heights to The Story of O. Whilewomen like to imagine fantasy men, men like to fantasize about real women:
 +
 
 +
In women's fantasies the men do not seem real, but actors sent from M-G-M. They are usually not friends or lovers from her present or past, but amorous strangers...Depriving the fantasy partner of a familiar face, making him wear a mask, or having everything happen in the dark are some of the most popular methods women use to handle guilt in fantasy. The definition of the demon lover for women is that he is never seen with photographic clarity.
 +
 
 +
Men react in just the opposite way---hence the great popularity of the nude in girlie magazines. The more a man can see, the closer the dream is to reality, the more specific, the more real the woman---the more exciting. Most of the fantasies in this book are built upon memories of real women. It is the boyhood neighbor next door who lights up man's imagination, the first woman with whom he ever had oral sex...The faceless stranger may be the prime feminine sex object, but a man likes to identify whom he is in bed with.
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#60|63]]
 +
 
 +
And he likes to see her in as much physical detail as possible, whichhas encouraged strippers in recent years even to display their genital area during thefloor show in response to the male interest in visual erotic stimulation. Female eroticfiction in its sex scenes tends to gloss over or omit entirely a description of the malemember. (Anne Rice prides herself on being one of the "leading femalepornographers" in America under an assumed name; but in her most famous works underher own name, The Vampire Chronicles, she has made the most erotic, sexuallycharged male figures in her fiction, vampires, completely sexually impotent.)In contrast, many men, Friday notes, love to dwell on the sight and smell of femalegenitalia, and in fantasies like this one, offer a worshipful admiration of the femalesexual organs:
 +
 
 +
If I had been a child of more primitive times, I would have been---literally (as I am now figuratively)---a worshiper of the Glorious Female Cunt. If a painter or sculptor, I am sure I would be spending all my time painting or sculpting heroic-sized copies of that most beautiful and most awe-inspiring creation of a benevolent deity.
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#60|64]]
 +
 
 +
However, Friday observes that among those men who fantasize about womenoffering up their sexual organs for view "how often they happen to have chosen tomarry women who will not permit oral sex."
 +
 
 +
This sexual double standard has also had a profound influence on stripshow audience expectations. Male audience members who would be horrified and disgusted tofind their mothers, sisters, daughters and wives behaving in an overtly sexual manner inpublic, nonetheless enjoy watching comparatively anonymous women doing so, as part of afantasy sexual ideal. That is to say that the average American male enjoys looking atcenterfolds, but probably would be shocked and dismayed at his daughter showing up as"Miss April" in all her airbrushed glory. As Warren Jamison put it in a letterto Dear Abby on March 12, 1990:
 +
 
 +
Men like to look. Some enjoy looking at horses, paintings, football and cars. But they are all genetically programmed to enjoy looking at women.
 +
 
 +
It's in our hormones; It hits us when they heat up about age 14 and stays with us for the rest of our lives.
 +
 
 +
You feel threatened because your man isn't content to confine his looking only at you. Lighten up. All this looking doesn't mean a thing--except that he's human. Your man doesn't compare you to the topless bar girls, because he loves you. He loves you for a thousand reasons, one of which is because you don't get up on a stage and prance around bare-bosomed, where anyone with the price of a cup of coffee can look at you.
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#60|65]]
 +
 
 +
This kind of Madonna/whore conflict in the expectations of male audiencemembers leads to a kind of exaggerated image of sexuality in strip performances (whichhave openly avowed their sexual content since the 1920's) because they are seen as thetheatrical equivalent of whorishness.
 +
 
 +
"Misty" a middle-aged housewife and mother, forced to stripfor a living after divorcing an abusive husband, found nearly everyone, including heraudience, automatically assumed she was a "not nice" because she stripped:
 +
 
 +
Why do men come to watch the strippers since it is not nice? Is it because they want to be titillated, and then be able to shift their guilt feelings to the dancer by blaming her for the way she makes them feel? I think so. I think strippers are considered not nice because they reflect emotions that other people, mainly men, do not like to admit.
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#60|66]]
 +
 
 +
Given this general attitude that stripping placed women in a special"not nice" category, the ideal image of strippers has generally not been that ofman's ideal of womanhood in the sense of mother, wife or daughter, but man's ideal ofpurely sexualized womanhood, the "Seductress." Obviously, every individual manhas his own personal fantasy in this direction, but there are several points upon whichmost men seem to concur, one being the importance of breasts as part of an eroticizedfemale. Susan Brownmiller in her book Femininity describes this fixation.
 +
 
 +
It is [men] who invent and refine the myths, who discuss breasts publicly, who criticize their failings as they extol their wonders, and who claim to have more need and intimate knowledge of them than a woman herself. Without doubt it was men who created the fetish of size and shape, for the ability to breast-feed has nothing to do with external dimensions, and pleasurable sensation resides in the erectile tissue of the nipples, not in the bulk. But the otherness of breasts, their service in the scheme of male erotic satisfaction, long ago promoted the myth that a flat chested woman is non-sexual or ungiving. At the other extreme, a woman with large breasts is usually assumed to be flaunting her sex or inviting attention.
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#60|67]]
 +
 
 +
Frequently successful strippers indicate that their careers were"made" by an ample set of breasts. "Susan" a topless dancerinterviewed in Breasts: Women Speak About Their Breasts and Their Lives (1979), claimedthat large breasts were an advantage in stripping: "The size of your breasts alwaysdetermined how many bookings you got."
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#60|68]] And Fanny BelleFleming, better known as the stripper Blaze Starr popular in the 1950's and 1960's,attributed her success with audiences to "big boobs."
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#60|69 ]]TempestStorm, her contemporary from Georgia, also claimed she was encouraged to become a stripperbecause she was told her abnormally large bosom would ensure audience approval.
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#70|70]]
 +
 
 +
Large breasts also were a plus in the life of Carol Doda in the 1960'sand 70's, who transformed a lackluster job as a minor stripper into an acclaimed career asthe queen of the San Francisco strip scene by getting one of the first silicone implantoperations to augment her from an A cup to a double D.
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#70|71]]
 +
 
 +
Perhaps the most famous set of breasts in the strip trade was that of avery early stripper, Carrie Finnell. Finnell, while having a frankly fat figure(occasionally described as bovine) in the lean 1920's, as well as being fairly old for astripper, had such extraordinary control over her mammary muscles that she could do"tricks" with her bosom including pointing them in any direction and tasseltwirling, male audience fascination with breasts having encouraged these rather baroqueperformances into further marvels of muscle control. (The particulars of Finnell'sperformances will receive further attention in Chapter III part b.)
 +
 
 +
Another basic male fantasy about the ideal "Seductress" orsexualized female is that she is always "ready for action." Esquire magazine, inits first year of publication, pointed out why Mae West was so popular with men while notnecessarily being as beautiful or glamorous or talented as other female film stars:
 +
 
 +
"Miss West breaks down the law...That women must take no pleasure in sex and must only with reluctance and distaste, gratify the rude desires of men...exposing the awful secret that women may desire men as much, or nearly as much as men desire women."
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#70|72 ]]
 +
 
 +
Later when Playboy had taken Esquire's place as theleading magazine devoted to men's sex interests, letters to "The Playboy Forum"by readers indicate that men are still pleased with and attracted to sexually aggressivewomen: In one issue a male reader was outraged at an article in which Adrienne Burnettedeplored "dominant women" and liked a man to make all the moves so she could"lie back and enjoy it." The male reader countered that "I and my friendshate that routine and would love nothing better than to see more women take the lead, paytheir fair share and make their share of the moves. I don't feel the least bit threatenedby aggressive women."
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#70|73]] In the same issue another manreported with delight on the action of a female co-worker in aggressively initiating a sexact in his car.
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#70|74]]
 +
 
 +
In addition, while passive females are the staple of women's"bodice ripper" pornography, the longtime staple of men's literary porn is thesexually aggressive female (the exception being certain Sadomasochistic literature). NancyFriday noted that contrary to the stereotypical "macho" image of men as sexualaggressors, men are more likely to fantasize themselves as the seduced than the seducers:
 +
 
 +
At the heart of even the most shocking S&M fantasy we find...men...turn their fury not against women but against themselves. Any call girl will tell you that more clients pay to play the victim at a woman's hands than the other way around.
 +
 
 +
In my books on women's sexual fantasies [My Secret Garden, Forbidden Flowers] the single greatest theme that emerged was that of "weak" women being sexually dominated, "forced" by male strength to do this deliciously awful thing... guiltlessly "raped" again and again.
 +
 
 +
Rape or force may be the most popular theme in female fantasy (though I've yet to meet a woman who wouldn't run a mile from a real rapist), but men's fantasies of overpowering women against their will are the exception. A closer reading will usually reveal that the woman is a volunteer or has given her consent first...pain or humiliation of the woman is usually not the goal. They are means toward an end: forcing her to admit the transports of sexual joy she has never known before.
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#70|75]]
 +
 
 +
The majority of male sexual fantasies described in Friday's work, incontrast, go even further, and feature women who either take the lead, or respond easilyand willingly to a tentative sexual advance.
 +
 
 +
This desire for an idealized seductress figure who would seem to becheerfully sexually aggressive did much to separate the most successful strip performersfrom the lesser ones. Strippers at the very bottom of the stripping profession, weredescribed by Gorer as showing clearly that they did not enjoy performing:
 +
 
 +
Her face is frozen into a smile, a smile without gaiety, without amusement, without friendliness, a hieratic distortion; A parody so empty that one wonders that one can ever have thought that a smile could have either charm or significance.
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#70|76]]
 +
 
 +
Gorer goes on to point out that strippers who convey enjoyment in theiract are better paid:
 +
 
 +
The one or two women who can convey some feeling of humanity to this act are well known and receive large salaries; Gypsy Rose Lee, who acts as though she enjoyed it, is said to earn a thousand dollars a week.
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#70|77]]
 +
 
 +
Morton Minsky pointed out that Lee, despite a thin flatchested figure,enchanted the audience with a lewd flirtatious patter in double entendre and"suggestive and seductive" costuming: "She used black silk stockings, lacepanties, red garters, and mesh netting."
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#70|78]]
 +
 
 +
Margie Hart, the next most famous stripper of the l930's and 40's alsoconveyed the impression of relaxed sexuality by performing without a discernable G-string.
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#70|79]] Hinda Wassau, the leading star of the 1920's, and one of thefirst girls to be arrested for stripping (1927), made an act of "running the handsover her body slowly and lingeringly," panting, and otherwise imitating aself-induced orgasm.
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#70|80]]
 +
 
 +
Each of these performers was at the top of her profession makinghundreds of dollars a week in the midst of the Depression because they were able to givethe audience the impression of an aggressive rather than a passive sexuality. Thisnon-passive sexuality was still preferred when "Misty" in the 1970's asked themen at her day job in an office what they thought was most desirable in a strip performer:"The consensus seemed to be that girl who smiles and seems to enjoy what she is doingmakes the biggest hit."
 +
 
 +
[[Tara1pagesNotes2#70|81]] By degrees this ability to seemto enjoy the sexual nature of the strip act went from the most-prized talent in strippingto becoming the minimum qualification, and now even mediocre strippers are expected toconvey an image of aggressive sexuality.
 +
 
 +
The audience by rewarding those performers who most closely imitated themasculine notions of an eroticized woman encouraged the performers to develop theironstage personas in line with male audience fantasies. This has fostered the image offemale burlesque performers as aggressively sexual women with abnormally large breasts whoenjoy exhibitionism in its sexual sense. This has also encouraged the development of striproutines which best display these apparent attributes.
  
 
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[[1pagesDissertationDissabst| Dissertation Index]]/Continue on to
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[[1pagesDissertationDissabst| Dissertation Index]]/Continueon to
  
[[1pagesDissertationDissch1c| Chapter I part c.]]
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[[1pagesDissertationDissch2c| Chapter II part c.]]
  
 
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Revision as of 00:36, 23 January 2014

Chapter 2b: The Strip Show Audience

File:H.t

Fashion Shows, Strip Shows and BeautyPageants: The Theatre of The Feminine Ideal

by

TARA MAGINNIS

Chapter II: The Audience

Part b: The Audience of the Strip show

An almost diametrically opposing audience attitude has brought about acompletely different performer image in strip shows. Strip shows, largely attended by amale audience, have progressively become more sex-oriented as the art form has developed.Applause and increased ticket sales, in effect, bribed performers to "take off alittle bit more" and so the strip tease developed into the shape it is known bytoday.

But who was this audience? Why was it shaped in that way? Who was outthere clapping their hands when strippers sang "Clap your hands and I'll take off alittle bit more"?

The burlesque audience, in contrast to the fashion show audience, wasalmost entirely composed of men. Descriptions of the audience are common in the 1930'swhen the striptease had finally become the main drawing feature of burlesque and assortedwriters became obsessed with explaining why such an openly pornographic form of theatreshould be both permitted and popular in the supposedly puritan United States.

The Irving Palace Theatre, the most "uptown" (and expensive)of the burlesque houses catered to the best economic class of audience, but their audiencebehavior, as described in H.M. Alexander's Striptease; The Vanished Art of Burlesque(1938) indicates shame at their own attendance:

There are many people in line. They avoid your eyes when you look at them. They are embarrassed at being there. You get the first whiff of something not exactly healthy which will later be easier to define. In spite of the prices which are top in burlesque, you see quite a few sweaters and caps. There is a salesman with his zipper notebook and a crowd of engineers from Steven's Tech in Hoboken. There are a few women. Not the forty percent that the boys would have you believe, but a few.

The usher...points out your seat...People have to get up to let you by, and again you intercept a feeling of shame in the averted looks and elaborate indifference....You understand them, their embarrassment, the air of tension. Onanists come to refresh their store of erotic images. The heavy bosom is encored greedily so not a curve will go unremembered."

40

Morton Minsky in Minsky's Burlesque (1986), usually one to claim thathis burlesque audience was a "family" audience from the neighborhood of thetheatre despite considerable evidence to the contrary, reported a conversation in the1930's between Gypsy Rose Lee and her sister, June Havoc:

Have you ever heard of any other public who sit with a newspaper covering their lap? You see, the reason for that paper is simple--It's because they're masturbating...and I guess they'd rather not be seen by the other Johns. God! All the stuff they bring in with them---It's an education! Milk bottles and raw liver and---You don't believe me? Check the alley. See what they sweep out of here at night...let me tell you, June, my audience is no scabbier, no sicker than yours, but my audience is more useful. Oh, yes---While they sit out there jerking off, I'm the one using them. Because there's another audience coming to watch my audience watch me!

41

According to Bernard Sobel in Burleycue: An Underground History ofBurlesque Days (1931) the audience could get pretty rowdy once the show started:

"Take that dame off," somebody shouts. "She can't sleep with me." And then everyone laughs sufficiently until the next wisecrack.

"Shake 'em up! Shake 'em up!" comes from this place and that as one of the strip dancers comes down the runway and archly shakes her finger at the insubordinate ones. Somebody flings a coin from the gallery. There are cat calls and howls.

"Look at those 'tits'!" exclaims a young fellow transported away by the proportions of the chorus lady's breasts.

42

Backstage the performers discuss the night's audience:

"They're fresh tonight," complains one of the strip dancers, a buxom young woman with bare breast, [sic] a jeweled decoration across her hip and a flimsy yellow robe in her hand. "Wise guys in the gallery."

"There's an old guy out in the front row, a linotyper on some big paper. He's seen the show about six times. Can you imagine that? Grey- haired, old guy. Sends me presents of fruit, and sometimes a dirty picture---"

"Say," said the girl with black curls, "That fellow's out there again tonight--The one who shows you his 'sex'."

43

While obviously this exhibitionist was unusual enough an audience memberto be remarked upon by the performers, he was clearly not so unusual to warrant ejectionfrom the house. Forty years later, "Misty," another stripper, mentioned withannoyance the exhibitionists in the audiences of the early 1970's: "Some of the youngdancers, who had the brains of a radish, thought it was a form of flattery and that thepoor guy probably couldn't help himself."

44 Thepersistence of this form of audience behavior would indicate that what Geoffrey Gorer, in HotStrip Tease: And Other Notes on American Culture (1937) said about burlesque was (andis) true, that strip shows catered, fairly openly, to the sexual gratification of menunable to afford or acquire "more solid satisfaction."

45

I think it may be taken for granted that the greater number of men who go to burlesque theaters week after week, year after year--do not go there for purely aesthetic reasons, or for simple entertainment; The extra-ordinary [sic] monotony of the performances would exclude both possibilities. They almost certainly go there for sexual stimulation...this is their only dream, and they go by themselves, shut in, intent, determined to exclude the life they know; If they concentrate hard enough maybe they will get the physical illusion of reality.

46

The furtive nature of the strip show audience had not changed when JohnElsome reported in Erotic Theatre (1974) that strip clubs in England before 1960 wereplaces that made ordinary normal men feel like sexual perverts:

This sleaziness mirrored social attitudes towards male sexual fantasies: That they were sordid, things to be kept to oneself, the product of dirty minds and dissatisfied bodies. The myth predominated that strip clubs were for lonely old men, who could not receive satisfaction any other way. The audiences in fact belonged to a wide cross-section of age and class groups, though nearly all men. But the legend was so forcibly maintained that people seemed almost physically to change as they sidled through the doorways. The young well-dressed man, full of self-confidence in Oxford Street, would hunch his shoulders, turn his collar up and seem physically smaller when he paid for his ticket to a strip club in Brewer Street.

47

Once in the theatre, however, with the house lights down, mob psychologykicks in and makes these embarrassed, frightened individuals into a group with somethingintimate in common, and the audience reacts to the performances with an enthusiasm thatmost performers would kill for:

She turns around and bumps...The pants come off and she takes her bow in a G-string. There is applause, mostly from the first four rows. The white lights go up and the tramp comic and his straight man are on the stage hollering. But the first four rows won't let them go on. They keep applauding for Sylvie. The band gives her the last few bars of her song, she takes another bow, there is a blackout, but the first four rows continue to applaud...This time she comes out in only her G-string and little red hat. She pulls the curtain across her middle with one hand, undoes her G-string with another, and just before the blackout, she whirls it round and round in the spot to show that (underneath the curtain) she really hasn't a thing on...still the audience applauds. The show is being delayed. Suddenly the house lights flash on and there is an instant and shocked silence...It's the tip-off on people who come to see a burlesque show. They were all frightened into quiet because no one wanted the others to see how excited he was."

48

The sometimes pathetic nature of the men in the dark is further exploredby feminist writer Deirdre English in "The Politics of Porn: Can Feminists Walk theLine?" who asks the obvious question: Who exactly is really being exploited bypornography? On a tour of New York's pornography district in Times Square, she comes tothe conclusion that the consumer is more exploited than the performer:

We proceeded upstairs, to a line of antiseptic-smelling booths, where men watched a nude woman dance and give little touches and tastes of herself through slots in the booth's glass fronts. It was like seeing people at the zoo feeding bits of junk food to the bears, only the other way around. It was truly sad.

I felt overcome by the presence of so many layers of exploitation. The men are here to exploit the women; The women, too, are here to exploit the men. Actually since there are so few women (but hundreds of thousands of pictures of them), the overwhelming feeling is one of the commercial exploitation of male sexual desire. There it is, embarrassingly desperate, tormented, demeaning itself, begging for relief, taking any substitute, and paying for it. Men who live for this are suckers, and their uncomfortable demeanor shows they know it. If, as a woman, you can detach yourself...you see how totally tragic they appear.

49

While English is talking about all sorts of pornography consumersbesides those that attend strip shows, her conclusions could just as accurately describethe figures depicted by Reginald Marsh in his famous paintings and drawings of burlesqueshows in the 1930's and 1940's. While his strippers look lively, sensuous, andaggressively healthy and plump, his spectators, for the most part are hollow-cheeked,frowning, slumped over, with collars turned up, looking sour and depressed.

50 Some are even wearing dark glasses indoors.

51 Most seem to look at their shoes. Not only did the audienceshow self-contempt when they slunk into a burlesque show alone, with collar turned up andhead bowed down, but the performers frequently expressed contempt for their audience. H.M.Alexander asked a stripper in 1938:

"Does the audience ever embarrass you?"

"Them?" asks the stripper incredulously. "I should say not! I make more money, twice as much, as any of them. I'm better than they are."

"How was today's audience?" you ask. "Cheap or decent?"

"I never give much of a damn," says the stripper. "I just do anything to get them to applaud. If they give me a good hand, they're O.K.. If they don't, they're nothing but a bunch of bums."

52

The advent of the sexual revolution in the late Twentieth Century hascaused some strippers to have a more benevolent attitude towards their audience. Forinstance a stripper speaking in the 1986 documentary Stripper, about the 1983 FirstAnnual Strippers's Convention, saw her job as fulfilling a useful function in the sexlives of the audience outside the theatre:

I think it must be difficult for men to--to maintain a decent amount of erections in a lifetime--I mean, you just don't get it, that just doesn't happen--You have to be stimulated and they like to be. They like to be places where other men are, they like to talk, and they like to have drinks and they like to watch women (pause) take their clothes off, and then I think it could be really healthy for a man to get stimulated by a dancer and then to go home and give his energy to someone he loves. (Pause) Procreate.

53

Strippers often justify the ethics of their work in terms of providingsexual therapy for the exhibitionists in the audience and sexual education for the others.According to Miller in "Entertainment as Deviant Work":

Based in part on their experiences with the men who can be seen from the stage, many strippers claim that such shows are necessary in order to protect the society from the sexual assaults that would undoubtably occur if these men had no place to act out their sexual desires. Some strippers claim to provide an educational service for... adolescents and young men who are ignorant of the female body and sexuality.

54

While many of the audience members shown in the film Stripperseemed to behave in the traditional manner of the old burlesque audience, i.e. ashamed tobe seen but excited in the dark, the sexual revolution would seem to have also had animpact on the self image of certain audience groups.

For example, the audience in the tiny Western cowboy town of Nanton,Alberta, stood up, howled and hollered in the full glare of the neon lights of the town'scoffee shop, where the normally dressed coffee shop waitresses disapprovingly served thembeer and little boys on the street pressed their noses to the large plate glass cafewindows watching. One cowboy went so far as to join one of the strippers on stage andstripped himself down to his underwear, all the while being encouraged by the other men inthe audience. This is doubly intriguing behavior in a town so small, that everyone mostlikely knows everyone else.

Also, audiences accustomed to the more graphic sexual images ofpornographic films are sometimes seemingly shocked at not being shocked. A Los Angelesstrip club is also shown in Stripper, where the men are transformed, not into ahowling mob, but into a group of rapt worshippers as a nude dancer does an ethereal"Loie Fuller"-style dance with a chiffon cape. They sit, silent, motionless andserene with expressions of astonishment and joy, at the cleanness and beauty of theperformance.

However, most of the audiences depicted in Stripper conform, atleast in part, to the traditional type. The shame is less and the lusty noise is more thanthat seen in theaters earlier, but the two main ingredients evidently are still importantparts of audience behavior in most modern strip clubs. And as the "positive feedback'of the audience response increases, so does the competition between performers to createthe most sexually exciting performance. As a result, strip performances becomeincreasingly graphic and aggressive depictions of stylized sex, and the strip which"started with dropping a shoulder strap...and ended up in a G-string" becomes amore openly sexual performance with each passing year.

The burlesque strip show grew out of the American version of theclassical burlesque tradition. Burlesques were originally staged parodies of famousclassical and popular literary works. Ancient history (Greek and Roman), Shakespeare andboth popular plays and novels were all parodied in Nineteenth Century burlesques inEngland and America. Typically, the productions of these burlesques included not onlyliterary parody but "low" comedy, topical comedy, cross-dressing, and lavishsets and costumes.

55 The most popular cross-dressing in theVictorian Era naturally was the portrayal of "boy" roles by women, since itafforded a "legitimate" excuse for putting Victorian actresses in short tunicsand tights, without arousing the outrage of censors.

In burlesque, however, the public taste pushed the censor's tolerancesto their limits. Tunics were shorter, tights were often flesh-toned and the comic"bits" within the show occasionally skated towards ribald humor and doubleentendre. According to Irving Zeidman in The American Burlesque Show (1967)"Burlesque has always featured soubrettes and chorines who uncovered themselves tothe limit the law would permit." Zeidman then cites several proto-strip performers ofthe early 20th Century to back his claim, among them Truly Shattuck who did an"instantaneous change from full costume to tights," "Dainty Marie" whomade a hit in 1912 by distributing her cast-off clothing to the audience, Millie De Leonwhose 1915 act in St. Louis included stripping the ruffles off her gown one at a time, andEdna Maze who in the 1919 "Patriotic Revue" Cheer Up America sang "I TakeOff A Little Bit," and suiting the action to the words, "discarded her outergarments until she finally stood revealed in black lace trunks."

56

According to Zeidman no single person "invented" the striptease although many different people have been credited with being the sole inventor invarious theatrical myths about the "birth" of striptease.

However literal truth is not the substantive truth to be found in anymythology. The myths (about the origin of striptease) show, not the literal, individualtruth (of who started stripping where and when), but the larger, generalised truth of howstripping developed over time. Comparing the common elements of these myths reveals theessential role that the burlesque audience played in encouraging, through the force ofapplause and improved ticket sales, the development of strip-tease from early proto-stripnumbers to full stripping.

For instance, H.M. Alexander interviewed people backstage at the IrvingPalace Theatre just before the 1938 closing of New York burlesque houses and asked thequestion, "What started all this?"

"An accident"...Miss Vivian tells you that someone in the show was...in the chorus when her shoulder strap broke. The audience riotously approved. The girl liked the applause. At the next performance she broke the strap herself."

57

Later Alexander confronted the stage manager in the same theatre withthe producer's story and asked:

"How did the strip get so naked? Did the bosses give more money to the girls who took off more clothes?"

"The girls who drew the most customers got the most dough...The girls knew the crowds came to see flesh. Little by little they showed more."

58

Ann Corio, a stripper who some quite inaccurately claim originated thestrip, related one of the most popular "origin" myths in her 1968 book ThisWas Burlesque: This was another reported "accident" at the State-CongressTheatre in 1928 where Hinda Wassau was wearing one costume on top of another.

Under the frantic vibrations of her anatomy, the outer costume started to come loose...The audience howled...At the climax of her number the costume came completely loose and she removed it. The applause at the end of her number was thunderous.

59

Morton Minsky in Minsky's Burlesque (1986) claimed that stripteaseoriginated in 1917 at the Minsky Theatre, The National Winter Garden, also due to an"accident" that thrilled the audience: "They wouldn't let her go. Theyclapped like crazy...Between the heat and the applause, Mae lost her head, and unbuttonedher bodice as she left the stage again."

60

The element most common in these origin myths, apart from the supposedly"accidental" nature of the dancers's participation, is the contention thatoverwhelming audience approval led to the continuance and further development of thestrip. In other words, the audience reaction to the "accidents" was sooverwhelming, that the audience, in effect was to blame for the origin ofstripping.

While the particulars of the origin myths of stripping cannot be takentoo literally, it is verifiable that the audience support of burlesque was strongest whenand where stripping formed a large part of the show. Burlesque's ticket sales increased inthe period between the two world wars in direct proportion to the rise of the strip act.As Variety put it:

With stripping still the basis of all burlesque layouts, business was best when conditions... permitted more stripping. When there was no stripping, there was no business, and usually no burlesque. A few stout-hearted gents attempted to buck the dry spots anyway with "clean" shows, but they didn't last.

61

And if audience disfavor of "clean" burlesque wasn't enough ofan inducement for producers to encourage stripping, the self-sabotaging efforts of censorsto harass "dirty" shows were. Every time a theatre was raided for publicindecency, ticket sales went up. Billy Minsky even used out oftown censors to boost his New York ticket sales by deliberately hiring strippers whoseacts were closed by the censor in other towns, and then billing them as "the act thatwas too hot for name of town ." Much of Georgia Sothern's advance publicity in NewYork was about her "escort by police" out of Philadelphia.

62 It was this open advertisement of the supposed indecency ofher performance which led to a huge advance ticket sale. In short, the audience wanted an"indecent" performance and was eager to pay for it, which in essence is whatcaused the progressive nudity of the strip even if it didn't actually originate the stripitself.

Nancy Friday observed in Men in Love, Men's Sexual Fantasies: TheTriumph of Love Over Rage that men respond to the stimulation of seeing an actualnaked woman in person or in photographs in the same way that women respond to thedeliberately vague images of men conjured up by romantic literature--with potent eroticfantasies. This is why men generally turn to "picture-books" like Playboy andHustler, for masturbatory images, while their wives resort to "women'sliterature" ranging from Wuthering Heights to The Story of O. Whilewomen like to imagine fantasy men, men like to fantasize about real women:

In women's fantasies the men do not seem real, but actors sent from M-G-M. They are usually not friends or lovers from her present or past, but amorous strangers...Depriving the fantasy partner of a familiar face, making him wear a mask, or having everything happen in the dark are some of the most popular methods women use to handle guilt in fantasy. The definition of the demon lover for women is that he is never seen with photographic clarity.

Men react in just the opposite way---hence the great popularity of the nude in girlie magazines. The more a man can see, the closer the dream is to reality, the more specific, the more real the woman---the more exciting. Most of the fantasies in this book are built upon memories of real women. It is the boyhood neighbor next door who lights up man's imagination, the first woman with whom he ever had oral sex...The faceless stranger may be the prime feminine sex object, but a man likes to identify whom he is in bed with.

63

And he likes to see her in as much physical detail as possible, whichhas encouraged strippers in recent years even to display their genital area during thefloor show in response to the male interest in visual erotic stimulation. Female eroticfiction in its sex scenes tends to gloss over or omit entirely a description of the malemember. (Anne Rice prides herself on being one of the "leading femalepornographers" in America under an assumed name; but in her most famous works underher own name, The Vampire Chronicles, she has made the most erotic, sexuallycharged male figures in her fiction, vampires, completely sexually impotent.)In contrast, many men, Friday notes, love to dwell on the sight and smell of femalegenitalia, and in fantasies like this one, offer a worshipful admiration of the femalesexual organs:

If I had been a child of more primitive times, I would have been---literally (as I am now figuratively)---a worshiper of the Glorious Female Cunt. If a painter or sculptor, I am sure I would be spending all my time painting or sculpting heroic-sized copies of that most beautiful and most awe-inspiring creation of a benevolent deity.

64

However, Friday observes that among those men who fantasize about womenoffering up their sexual organs for view "how often they happen to have chosen tomarry women who will not permit oral sex."

This sexual double standard has also had a profound influence on stripshow audience expectations. Male audience members who would be horrified and disgusted tofind their mothers, sisters, daughters and wives behaving in an overtly sexual manner inpublic, nonetheless enjoy watching comparatively anonymous women doing so, as part of afantasy sexual ideal. That is to say that the average American male enjoys looking atcenterfolds, but probably would be shocked and dismayed at his daughter showing up as"Miss April" in all her airbrushed glory. As Warren Jamison put it in a letterto Dear Abby on March 12, 1990:

Men like to look. Some enjoy looking at horses, paintings, football and cars. But they are all genetically programmed to enjoy looking at women.

It's in our hormones; It hits us when they heat up about age 14 and stays with us for the rest of our lives.

You feel threatened because your man isn't content to confine his looking only at you. Lighten up. All this looking doesn't mean a thing--except that he's human. Your man doesn't compare you to the topless bar girls, because he loves you. He loves you for a thousand reasons, one of which is because you don't get up on a stage and prance around bare-bosomed, where anyone with the price of a cup of coffee can look at you.

65

This kind of Madonna/whore conflict in the expectations of male audiencemembers leads to a kind of exaggerated image of sexuality in strip performances (whichhave openly avowed their sexual content since the 1920's) because they are seen as thetheatrical equivalent of whorishness.

"Misty" a middle-aged housewife and mother, forced to stripfor a living after divorcing an abusive husband, found nearly everyone, including heraudience, automatically assumed she was a "not nice" because she stripped:

Why do men come to watch the strippers since it is not nice? Is it because they want to be titillated, and then be able to shift their guilt feelings to the dancer by blaming her for the way she makes them feel? I think so. I think strippers are considered not nice because they reflect emotions that other people, mainly men, do not like to admit.

66

Given this general attitude that stripping placed women in a special"not nice" category, the ideal image of strippers has generally not been that ofman's ideal of womanhood in the sense of mother, wife or daughter, but man's ideal ofpurely sexualized womanhood, the "Seductress." Obviously, every individual manhas his own personal fantasy in this direction, but there are several points upon whichmost men seem to concur, one being the importance of breasts as part of an eroticizedfemale. Susan Brownmiller in her book Femininity describes this fixation.

It is [men] who invent and refine the myths, who discuss breasts publicly, who criticize their failings as they extol their wonders, and who claim to have more need and intimate knowledge of them than a woman herself. Without doubt it was men who created the fetish of size and shape, for the ability to breast-feed has nothing to do with external dimensions, and pleasurable sensation resides in the erectile tissue of the nipples, not in the bulk. But the otherness of breasts, their service in the scheme of male erotic satisfaction, long ago promoted the myth that a flat chested woman is non-sexual or ungiving. At the other extreme, a woman with large breasts is usually assumed to be flaunting her sex or inviting attention.

67

Frequently successful strippers indicate that their careers were"made" by an ample set of breasts. "Susan" a topless dancerinterviewed in Breasts: Women Speak About Their Breasts and Their Lives (1979), claimedthat large breasts were an advantage in stripping: "The size of your breasts alwaysdetermined how many bookings you got."

68 And Fanny BelleFleming, better known as the stripper Blaze Starr popular in the 1950's and 1960's,attributed her success with audiences to "big boobs."

69 TempestStorm, her contemporary from Georgia, also claimed she was encouraged to become a stripperbecause she was told her abnormally large bosom would ensure audience approval.

70

Large breasts also were a plus in the life of Carol Doda in the 1960'sand 70's, who transformed a lackluster job as a minor stripper into an acclaimed career asthe queen of the San Francisco strip scene by getting one of the first silicone implantoperations to augment her from an A cup to a double D.

71

Perhaps the most famous set of breasts in the strip trade was that of avery early stripper, Carrie Finnell. Finnell, while having a frankly fat figure(occasionally described as bovine) in the lean 1920's, as well as being fairly old for astripper, had such extraordinary control over her mammary muscles that she could do"tricks" with her bosom including pointing them in any direction and tasseltwirling, male audience fascination with breasts having encouraged these rather baroqueperformances into further marvels of muscle control. (The particulars of Finnell'sperformances will receive further attention in Chapter III part b.)

Another basic male fantasy about the ideal "Seductress" orsexualized female is that she is always "ready for action." Esquire magazine, inits first year of publication, pointed out why Mae West was so popular with men while notnecessarily being as beautiful or glamorous or talented as other female film stars:

"Miss West breaks down the law...That women must take no pleasure in sex and must only with reluctance and distaste, gratify the rude desires of men...exposing the awful secret that women may desire men as much, or nearly as much as men desire women."

72

Later when Playboy had taken Esquire's place as theleading magazine devoted to men's sex interests, letters to "The Playboy Forum"by readers indicate that men are still pleased with and attracted to sexually aggressivewomen: In one issue a male reader was outraged at an article in which Adrienne Burnettedeplored "dominant women" and liked a man to make all the moves so she could"lie back and enjoy it." The male reader countered that "I and my friendshate that routine and would love nothing better than to see more women take the lead, paytheir fair share and make their share of the moves. I don't feel the least bit threatenedby aggressive women."

73 In the same issue another manreported with delight on the action of a female co-worker in aggressively initiating a sexact in his car.

74

In addition, while passive females are the staple of women's"bodice ripper" pornography, the longtime staple of men's literary porn is thesexually aggressive female (the exception being certain Sadomasochistic literature). NancyFriday noted that contrary to the stereotypical "macho" image of men as sexualaggressors, men are more likely to fantasize themselves as the seduced than the seducers:

At the heart of even the most shocking S&M fantasy we find...men...turn their fury not against women but against themselves. Any call girl will tell you that more clients pay to play the victim at a woman's hands than the other way around.

In my books on women's sexual fantasies [My Secret Garden, Forbidden Flowers] the single greatest theme that emerged was that of "weak" women being sexually dominated, "forced" by male strength to do this deliciously awful thing... guiltlessly "raped" again and again.

Rape or force may be the most popular theme in female fantasy (though I've yet to meet a woman who wouldn't run a mile from a real rapist), but men's fantasies of overpowering women against their will are the exception. A closer reading will usually reveal that the woman is a volunteer or has given her consent first...pain or humiliation of the woman is usually not the goal. They are means toward an end: forcing her to admit the transports of sexual joy she has never known before.

75

The majority of male sexual fantasies described in Friday's work, incontrast, go even further, and feature women who either take the lead, or respond easilyand willingly to a tentative sexual advance.

This desire for an idealized seductress figure who would seem to becheerfully sexually aggressive did much to separate the most successful strip performersfrom the lesser ones. Strippers at the very bottom of the stripping profession, weredescribed by Gorer as showing clearly that they did not enjoy performing:

Her face is frozen into a smile, a smile without gaiety, without amusement, without friendliness, a hieratic distortion; A parody so empty that one wonders that one can ever have thought that a smile could have either charm or significance.

76

Gorer goes on to point out that strippers who convey enjoyment in theiract are better paid:

The one or two women who can convey some feeling of humanity to this act are well known and receive large salaries; Gypsy Rose Lee, who acts as though she enjoyed it, is said to earn a thousand dollars a week.

77

Morton Minsky pointed out that Lee, despite a thin flatchested figure,enchanted the audience with a lewd flirtatious patter in double entendre and"suggestive and seductive" costuming: "She used black silk stockings, lacepanties, red garters, and mesh netting."

78

Margie Hart, the next most famous stripper of the l930's and 40's alsoconveyed the impression of relaxed sexuality by performing without a discernable G-string.

79 Hinda Wassau, the leading star of the 1920's, and one of thefirst girls to be arrested for stripping (1927), made an act of "running the handsover her body slowly and lingeringly," panting, and otherwise imitating aself-induced orgasm.

80

Each of these performers was at the top of her profession makinghundreds of dollars a week in the midst of the Depression because they were able to givethe audience the impression of an aggressive rather than a passive sexuality. Thisnon-passive sexuality was still preferred when "Misty" in the 1970's asked themen at her day job in an office what they thought was most desirable in a strip performer:"The consensus seemed to be that girl who smiles and seems to enjoy what she is doingmakes the biggest hit."

81 By degrees this ability to seemto enjoy the sexual nature of the strip act went from the most-prized talent in strippingto becoming the minimum qualification, and now even mediocre strippers are expected toconvey an image of aggressive sexuality.

The audience by rewarding those performers who most closely imitated themasculine notions of an eroticized woman encouraged the performers to develop theironstage personas in line with male audience fantasies. This has fostered the image offemale burlesque performers as aggressively sexual women with abnormally large breasts whoenjoy exhibitionism in its sexual sense. This has also encouraged the development of striproutines which best display these apparent attributes.

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Chapter II part c.

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