This past weekend I traveled to New Orleans with a group of friends to celebrate Mardi Gras and a friend’s 21st birthday. Counting myself, there were three girls in the group and we had never been to a strip club. We convinced the boys to take us to one on Bourbon Street, and I saw an opportunity to complete the assignment in a prime location for studying the anthropology of sex.
The strip club, Lipstyxx, had the usual (or so I’m told) mix of people, mostly male. The pole and dance platform was in the middle of an octagonally-shaped room, with chairs circling the platform, and tables interspersed throughout the room. The bar is located against the back wall of the room, and a door to the right of the bar leads to the VIP back room. Dancers can be taken to the back room for $40 a lap-dance. One of my guy friends, who is a NOLA local, told me some of the strippers also offer up other options. His previous trip there with the boys, he was solicited for “anything he could think of” for a flat rate of $250, in the upstairs of the club.
I chose to focus on a guy that had situated himself right up next to the stripper’s platform, where the strippers would trade out each song or two. The man was probably around 35-40, with a slight build, and about 5’10”. He had a rather wild look about him—evident in the mane of dirty blonde hair that stuck out in every direction from his head, and the goofy smile perpetually on his face.
The method of getting a stripper’s attention at this particular club (it may be at all clubs, but I’m a newbie) was to place a dollar bill either on the edge of the platform or in the participant’s mouth and wait for the stripper to notice. She would then either come and dance for the participant, or get more physical. In the fifteen minutes I was watching this guy, he perfected the “come hither” method with every single stripper that came up at least two times during her time on stage or more. Bluntly, he wasn’t playing around, and wasn’t bashful in the least about what he was there to enjoy.
The man watched each and every dance intently and obviously paid attention to detail. He tried and seemingly failed to get some of the dancers to do more than their usual dancing. Others, he succeeded at getting boobs in his face, and motor-boating a couple, always for another dollar in the g-string.
He had one companion with him, a guy with similar looks and seemingly a bit younger, who didn’t get as into the strippers as his friend did. He was drinking Budweiser the entire night, and didn’t go back to the VIP room while I was observing. He sat straight up in his chair and watched with rapt attention at first, but occasionally lost interest in a couple of the dancers. I noticed he wasn’t particularly choosy about what type he liked, but seemed to be more of an “ass man” as the time wore on.
I must not have been very inconspicuous, because the fellow approached me about an hour after I had ceased observing him. I was offended at first, but as my friend reminded me, he probably though, “well she is in a strip club too.” He told me, “You have piercing eyes, they haunt me from across the room, absolutely beautiful.”
I said thank you, but he persisted. He turned out to be from Alaska (if he was telling the truth, which for some reason I feel like he was…reminded me much of Grizzly Man) and was visiting his nephew (his companion) for Mardi Gras. We left, at my request, soon after, before he had the chance to ask me to dance for him.
Prior to being approached by my individual subject, I observed a group of college-age boys from LSU (judging from their baseball caps and misplaced swagger). The boys arrived after our group and immediately placed themselves in chairs that were right up against the dance platform. There were four boys in the group.
First five minutes:
Two of the boys in the group seemed to be the ringleaders and masterminds behind the strip club jaunt. These two were enraptured by the strippers and spent dollar bill after dollar bill tucking them in, throwing them up, or using them to solicit boobs-in-face. The other two watched as they did this, and occasionally threw a dollar onto the stage.
Second five minutes:
The two ringleaders remained in a trance, watching each and every stripper come up, oohing and aahing at the more acrobatic dancers as they swung upside down on and off the pole. The third guy in the group was beginning to get slightly more interested. The fourth guy was beginning to seem bored/agitated. He pulled out his phone and began scrolling through Facebook and only glancing up at the stripper every so often.
Third five minutes:
The ringleaders attempted to get tricks out of the current stripper on stage. She didn’t appease them, and they became rude and crass. They mouthed obscenities at her and made some crude gestures. The third watched lazily but did not act. The fourth guy, Facebook boy, however, became increasingly annoyed as the gestures got worse. By the time Alaskan man came to speak to me, the fourth boy got up and left the club.
The boys were all drinking steadily throughout my observation, and as it was Mardi Gras, I’m sure they had been drinking all day. They also, with the exception of the fourth guy, seemed to feed off each other and act accordingly.
While the situation/environment I was in was slightly different from a bar, in which singles go looking for a romantic interest, I think there are some interesting points to make in this circumstance.
I didn’t originally intend to do my observations in a strip club. However, I think it will provide interesting contrasting discussion for the rest of the class if the majority did their work at bars. The strip club, after all, is the embodiment of sex. Not only that though, but the method of picking up strippers, and my experience with a strip club-attendee are both worth noting in terms of “picking up”
Me and the wild Alaskan man:
He did follow the five stages of courtship to some extent. Instead of thinking I was odd, he took my keen observation as an invitation to hit on me (1. Attention getting). When he saw me continue to observe him, he could have taken it as recognition that I was interested. Stage three: he approached me to talk. Stage four even progressed, as he gave me an awkward side hug while speaking to my guy friends. Unfortunately total body synchrony didn’t pan out as my only interest was in leaving as soon as possible.
Strippers and the bros:
An interesting scene to watch was the method of “picking up” the boys employed when talking to the strippers. They were paying for any services they might receive, yet they still used many of the classic moves we all expect guys to use in a bar situation. The gentle touch of the hand on the back, the cocky look on the guy’s face as he spoke to the girl, and the looks to his friends to determine interest were all there. Only in addition to these were the not-so-respectful advances, such as the ass grab, which morphed into a gradual slide down the leg. Only a small change in scene and girl and the guy suddenly felt entitled to touch, speak and act entirely differently.
Besides the group I discussed, there were several other interesting facts about the place. For one, the DJ in question chose the genre of music he played for each dance based on the stripper’s ethnicity, almost every single time. Whether or not this was intentional, I don’t know. The bouncers of the club kept a protective eye on the strippers milling about the room, but also took their turn in grabbing the occasional ass as it walked by. The most interesting thing to observe was the look in the eyes as the audience watched the girl on said pole, and the facial expressions that matched each pair of eyes. Almost always, a hungry look accompanied eyes that never left the “essential” body parts.
Having been to many bars and only one strip club, I think the comparison in relation to “sex” one can make from both experiences has large similarities. Both are hunting grounds, in a sense. To be honest, the club made me kind of sad. From an anthropologist’s view, a strip club is an excellent place to study. As a woman, it made me sad to what the women working had become desensitized. I would think it would be interesting to go to a male strip club, to see if my feelings were different in that sense, and if it were easier to view the place as an ethnographic opportunity, rather than constantly thinking about the objectification of the women working inside.