My husband and I were recently invited to a 40th-birthday party for a neighbor. We've known these people for many years. They're a married couple with two young kids, and they (like us) live within spitting distance of the local elementary school. My husband likes the birthday boy a lot. He's the kind of fellow who's happy to crack open a beer on a hot summer day and sit in the backyard with his buddies, listening to a ball game on the radio.
The party was to be a backyard barbecue, and several couples from the neighborhood were coming. Just grown-ups, we were told, and that was fine. My kids have reached that blissful age where I don't need to hire a sitter. I just order a pizza for them for dinner and tell them where we're going to be, and that I'll keep my cell phone on in case they need to reach me.
I bought a bottle of cabernet and put a birthday ribbon on it. We dressed in shorts and t-shirts, grabbed the wine, and took the short walk down the block to the birthday party. Our neighbors had put up a tent in their backyard and strung lights, and they'd set up a table with snacks and a serve-yourself bar. Lots of familiar faces were there, and I found myself hugging the lady who lives across the street (whom I never seem to see enough of), as well as the parents of some of my kids' friends. I got myself a beer and sat down next to one of the dads to chat with him about the business he had recently set up. My husband was about twenty feet from me, chatting with a teacher friend of ours.
I was so engrossed in my conversation with my neighbor that it took me a moment to register that the music had changed. I looked up, and there on my right, in front of the chair in which the birthday boy sat, stood a pretty young woman. Her back was toward me. She was not wearing any pants.
I looked again. Nope, my first impression was correct. She was definitely not wearing pants. She was wearing a leather jacket and a biker hat and one of those thongs that goes up the crack of your rear end so that you don't get panty lines. Though, as I mentioned, she really didn't need to worry about panty lines.
She began to dance, and a hush fell over the small crowd. Everyone turned around and looked. And then the young woman removed her jacket and tossed it aside, revealing that she was wearing nothing underneath except tiny little pasty things that covered up her nipples.
Oh my God. Our hostess had hired a stripper to entertain her husband on his birthday.
The stripper climbed into the birthday boy's lap and began gyrating. Everyone started laughing. The hostess walked around, passing out one-dollar bills for us to put in this woman's -- I don't know -- hat? "No thanks," I said. If I told you I was extremely uncomfortable with the situation, I'd be the author of the understatement of the century.
"I'm going to get something to eat," I told the dad with whom I'd been chatting, and I got up.
"You're not offended, are you?" asked his wife.
"Actually, yeah, I am," I said. I walked over to the food table to pile my plate with snacks. The teacher who had been talking to my husband followed me.
"Don't be upset. That poor woman is just feeding her family," she told me. I looked at her, horrified. Did she really just say that? Would she be okay if her daughter were gyrating in a stranger's lap to feed her family?
I went inside, where there were a few other guests, some of them horrified like me, and others laughing. My husband joined me after a few moments and said that if I was uncomfortable, it would be okay with him if we left. We didn't leave right away; there was a ball game on the TV, so we watched that with some other couples for a while. As the party began to wind down, we were among the first to leave.
I like to think of myself as being pretty liberal-minded. I don't stop my husband from attending his friends' bachelor parties, though I know (or at least suspect) what goes on at those things. Right before I got married, some of my bridesmaids threw me a bachelorette party, and we went to Chippendale's in New York, which is a famous club where screaming women stuff money into the underwear of nearly-naked male dancers. It was cheesy, but it was sort of fun, in a slummy way.
So what's different about the stripper at my neighbor's birthday party? Why was I offended?
I guess that part of my problem was that I was caught off-guard. I had expected a friendly neighborhood get-together, not a bachelor party, and I was completely stunned at the hosts' poor taste. I'll also freely admit that I have a problem with stripping for money; it strikes me as a watered-down version of prostitution. Women being paid to use their bodies to entertain men. It's a women's issue that makes my feminist-o-meter buzz. (Now, I'll admit that my feminist-o-meter is a little more sensitive than most people's, but still.) And, finally, I am bothered by the lack of etiquette involved in throwing a party with entertainment that will make at least some of the guests uncomfortable. When I throw a party, I want my guests to have fun and to leave hoping that they will someday be invited back.
Would you ever a hire a stripper to entertain your husband or another close member of your family? Or invite one to your home to perform for a gathering? Do you agree with my teacher friend that stripping for money is a legitimate way to make a living? What are your thoughts about this?