November 08, 2018
NEW YORK—They just passed a new policy at Under Armour, the giant sports-apparel company with the cool corporate headquarters facing Baltimore Harbor:
No more business lunches at strip clubs.
Well, actually, that’s not what they said. They said no more charging visits to strip clubs on the corporate credit card. If you’re hanging out with, say, Ben Roethlisberger or Steph Curry and the words “hit a few titty bars” come up in casual conversation, there’s no reason not to splurge on some lap dances in the VIP Room, just so long as you don’t put it on the corporate card.
Back in the Bronze Age, when I was briefly involved with the broadcast radio business, almost every business meeting was at a strip club, or, in the parlance of the day, a gentlemen’s club. Gentlemen’s clubs didn’t have strippers, they were always called “dancers.” Sometimes they were called “exotic dancers.” Some of them, like the legendary Cabaret Royale just off Stemmons Freeway in Dallas, were so elaborate that they had actual choreographed stage shows, like the old days of burlesque, but with better costumes. During its heyday, dancers from all over the country would fly in just to work at Cabaret Royale for a couple of days, or even just one night when certain conventions were in town. (Anything involving oil technology was considered a bonanza for G-string exploitation.)
But here’s my point. There was always a woman who was in on the “let’s take four guys to a strip club and close this deal” stratagem. If I could describe the type, she was 35, slender, knew how to wear a business suit that had one too many buttons undone on the blouse, and could match six-inch heels to any outfit. She knew how to cuss just the right amount, she knew which fruity cocktails could be sipped all afternoon, and she knew how to laugh at men’s jokes. She never slept with the clients, but she flirted with them to an outrageous extent. She paid for lap dances and she put them on the corporate card. Her sales numbers were always the best in the shop.
But here’s the other thing about the saleswoman who was “just one of the guys.” (And by the way, the same type could be found at newspapers in the form of beautiful reporters who always managed to land interviews with powerful men.) She had enormous respect for the strippers. She always had ongoing deals with the ones she trusted. She knew which ones were the savvy “deal closer” types and she cultivated friendships with them and made sure they saw her when she walked into the club so they would come over to her table and then, after the men tipped them poorly, she would tip them well. She considered them soul sisters—women who were smarter than men.
I’m bringing this up because the official reason for the new corporate policy at Under Armour is that the old way of doing business is demeaning to women.
The strippers probably wouldn’t agree.
Yes, there was a time in—I don’t know—the ’60s, I guess, when strippers were treated like slaves at sleazy beer joints where they were expected to perform backroom sex acts. And yes, there are still low-end dive joints where working girls get ripped off by the management, the deejay, the bouncer, and the “house mom” who manages the dressing rooms. But it’s 2018, people. Most women who work the high-end clubs are extremely skilled at what they do—even if they’re just doing it for a couple of years to get through college—and much of the clientele consists of couples and females.
Taking a client to a strip club is not that different from taking him or her to Cirque du Soleil—both are weird fantasies that are not for everyone. You don’t go there unless they’re predisposed to like French-Canadian acrobats in chiffon and/or women in thongs and push-up bras moving through the room like sinuous seductresses. If you suggest it and the guy says, “Nah, I’d rather go to the Timberwolves game,” then you don’t go to the strip club.
To say it’s demeaning to women is to say that all those women that do it are somehow anti-woman, and since I’ve known quite a few of them, I can tell you with assurance that they tend to be pretty serious feminists. (I’m gonna get my feminist terminology wrong, but I think they’re “third wave” feminists, meaning the ones who think nudity and sex work, and especially the striptease, are empowering.) They know every detail of their business, including how to position a bunch of twenty-dollar bills in your garter so that it looks like a hundred guys have already tipped you. They’re such good listeners that, after ten minutes with a guy, they can tell you most of his life story and all of his fetishes. Some of them are better than others at the actual dancing part, but all of them know makeup, hair, and costuming better than the most accomplished expert at Sephora, or Toni & Guy. They remind me of exploitation film producers I know. They have a list of “high concept” moves and lines—things that always work—and they milk those for the big tips.
So you could make the argument that banning all strip clubs from the corporate credit card is actually demeaning to women, because what you’re really saying is “These guys that play for the Timberwolves are real entertainers. These girls that dance at Spearmint Rhino are just strippers.”
How very 1955 of you.