An issue pertaining to the sexual assault of a stripper by members of a provincial rugby team has recently been making the rounds of the various media outlets in New Zealand, including on their Facebook pages.
And likewise, there has been a volley of responses on the Facebook page to the story. Mostly negative of course, but in this instance many of these comments are essentially shifting the burden of guilt from the actual perpetrators themselves onto the victim herself. And it is this victim blaming mentality that irks me just as much as the offending acts do. It is adding insult to injury when a stripper, whose occupation was traditionally centered around pure spectacle without groping, is accused of being irresponsible and subsequently culpable, at least in part, for her actions. And during my academic tenure, particularly with regards to those papers which focused on gender politics, I was instructed in various theories such as patriarchy, hegemonic masculinity and sexual objectification. Of course, in mainstream popular discourse, such theories are often dismissed as being politically correct, predicated on alleged feminist bigotries, without any real world substance whatsoever. I do however, find much sympathy with theories of objectification, the treating of people as objects or things.
In light of this revelation, it seems rather obvious that much of what was discussed during the course of my studies was not “loony leftist” drivel at all. Indeed, we see it through the media, on television, in movies and even in video games. People, in particular (but of course, not exclusively) women, are rendered as objects of lust and sexual desire, fetishized for the purpose of points scoring, be it audience numbers or customers. Take for example the recently released film Suicide Squad, featuring actress Margot Robbie as a Harlequin-like character sporting skimpy shorts and an exposed midsection. When this is analyzed using the appropriate intellectual lenses, it doesn’t take an academic to deduce that sex sells. In such contexts, individuals are rendered as commodities, or property, if you will.
And it is this very commodification of individuals, particularly in the form of a sexualized fetish (when I use the word fetish in this context, I use it within the traditional anthropological context of the word, which refers to an object of worship that is imbued with specific powers) that we see people reduced to the status of property. The incident of the groped stripper is a classic example of people being reduced to the status of sexual property. On one hand one may argue that she is merely being entrepreneurial in providing a service to a market full of perverts. That assumption is quite likely correct. On the other hand she is a product of our society, where this innocent assumption of entrepreneurial endeavor is confused with what is essentially sexual slavery, the selling of oneself for the gratification and usage of others. The perpetrators in this instance see her as property – they’ve paid her the money for a set amount of time, and for that amount of time they own her. It is thus rather predictable that the perpetrators would try and grope her – at the moment of financial transaction she ceases to be an individual and instead becomes property, a commodity. It is little wonder that these people tend to believe that they can do whatever they like!
And because of this socially institutionalized commodification of individuals, people are quick to lay the blame at her feet. Again they reduce the likes of her to the status of an object. In truth, it is the perpetrators who in part ought to take the rap – the rest of the blame lies with society. People are not objects, never have been and never will be, irrespective of color or genital configuration. Strippers are people too – one may disagree with their choice of occupation, but nobody can use this to deny them basic civil rights.