on the Body
On Women, Dancing, Sex, and Power
Elisabeth Eaves, Alfred A. Knopf, 295 pages, $24
No matter your gender, you’ll want to see what Elisabeth Eaves
looks like after you read her account of the stripper’s life.
It turns voyeurism into art.
Even though Bare is profoundly feminist, it’s also
by, and about, a woman proud of her sexual magnetism. Whether
such self-regard makes Eaves the commodity she so desperately
wants to avoid being is a question she doesn’t quite answer,
giving Bare an appeal that blends wistfulness and power.
This book also begs for photos. The question is, would illustrations
from her past life constitute a form of pornography? Despite
Eaves’ ambivalence toward her former profession, the stripper’s
life clearly honed interpretive powers that she wields provocatively.
An excellent reporter and social analyst, the Vancouver native
explores the link between the dreams of the everyday housewife
and the practices of the everyday whore. Bare is an
exploration of the standards—single, double, even triple—that
inform the Western view of women. Eaves came to understand
those standards during three years she spent stripping, primarily
at Seattle’s Lucky Lady.
difference between a stripper and a woman modeling bathing
suits was that the stripper acknowledged her intention to
arouse, whereas the model could pretend ignorance,” Eaves
observes upon discovering that the cast of the Lucky Lady
were paid to help men jerk off. “I felt uneasy at the sight
of all these men because I had crossed the line from passivity
to engagement.” On the other hand, when she joins the Lucky
Lady, Eaves embarks on a lucrative career with nearly instantaneous
reward, discovers a solidarity among the women, and enjoys
the freedom to pursue other interests. The life seems ideal
for a while. But as Eaves, whose stripper name is Leila, becomes
close to other strippers Kim, Zoe, Abby and Satire, she also
sees how that life facilitates emotional distance.
sex biz was nothing more than a sophisticated arbitrage operation,
dealing in morals rather than financial instruments,” she
writes. “The greater difference between the sort of sex people
wanted and the sort that was socially sanctioned, the more
business thrived. It exploited the spread between lust and
deeply ingrained social expectation.”
At the end of her 20s, Eaves quits the profession to become
a reporter for Reuters in London. She also begins to research
where she’d come from in an attempt to discover why she’d
lived the way she had. She finally comes to understanding,
if not resolution. In so doing, she finally fuses her sexuality
some the term ‘feminist stripper’ is ironic, but it’s not
an oxymoron—it’s just that one has to become a very extreme
feminist to remain a stripper. When men don’t matter at all,
stripping makes perfect sense. It’s the natural result of
combining sexual freedom with a hostile, anti-male feminism.
. . . A stripper can be a feminist, if she is one who wants
either revenge on men or their total exclusion from her life.”
At the end, Eaves returns to the Lucky Lady as customer and
reporter, gazing through the one-way window at a dancer who
reminds her of her former self. Eaves hasn’t settled into
conventionality or compromised her individuality; if anything,
she has enhanced it, realizing she no longer has to perform
to be sexy and/or powerful. Her trip, which might have been
merely titillating, is liberating.