It began when she was a teenager with an awareness of her body and the reaction other people had to it. It continued with the realization that women’s bodies often gave them a strange power over men. As an adult, it became a fascination with professional sex workers, leading to a plunge into their world. And when Elisabeth Eaves left the world of peep shows and private dancers for the more socially acceptable career of international journalism, she found she could not put that fascination behind her. Her experiences had left her with too many questions and too few answers. So she returned to the world she had left behind. Now, in this candid and insightful book, she recounts her firsthand experience of stripping and gives us a new understanding of women’s sexuality and contemporary sexual mores.
Bare follows the author and her fellow dancers through Seattle strip clubs and bachelor parties, exploring in riveting detail Eaves’s own motivations and behavior, as well as those of her coworkers, as they make their way through the sometimes exhilarating, often disturbing world of stripping. Grounded in an understanding of the intricate dynamics of exchanging sexual services for money, Eaves’s narrative examines the ways in which the work affects the women: how they negotiate the slippery boundaries between their jobs and their “real” lives; how their personal relationships are altered; how they reconcile themselves—or don’t—to the stereotypes that surround their profession; whether the work is exploitative or empowering or both.
In its unstinting honesty, Bare demands that we take a closer look at the way sexuality is viewed in our culture; what, if anything, constitutes “normal” desire; the ethics of swapping money—or anything else—for sex; and how women and men navigate the perilous contradictions and double standards that make up today’s socio-sexual conventions. The stories Eaves tells—outrageous, funny, sad, and deeply affecting—provide an engrossing and unforgettable look at a group of women who have a lot to reveal, not only about one of America’s largest and most taboo industries, but about the restrictions, joys, and hypocrisies of the world in which we all live.
From the Hardcover edition.
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About Elisabeth Eaves
Elisabeth Eaves was born and raised in Vancouver. She has a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University and has worked as a journalist for Reuters. She lives in New York City.
A Conversation with ELISABETH EAVES author of BARE
Q: Tell us a little about your background. A: I’m from Vancouver. I have a bachelor’s from the University of Washington in Middle Eastern studies and have a master of international affairs from Columbia University. In the three years between college and graduate school, I traveled for over a year and held a variety of jobs including stripping. After graduate school I worked as a reporter for Reuters in London.
Q: How did you start stripping? A: I answered an ad for "luscious blondes" in the back of a weekly newspaper.
Q: Why? A: Out of long-term curiosity and because the time was right.
I was curious because I had the impression that strippers enjoyed a level of sexual freedom that others did not. No one told them what to wear or how to behave, or so I thought. I was also curious about using sexuality and sexual power for gain, and the sex industry is one of the few places where such behavior is not only tolerated but expected. I wanted to know if stereotypes of strippers had any basis, I wanted to know if the women who did it were different from me, and I wanted to know if I could do it.
The time was right because I was young enough, at 25, and I was in limbo. I didn’t have or want a full time job, and I expected to move away from the city where I was living. I felt like it was then or never.
Q: Was it a positive or negative experience? A: Both.
Q: Do you think stripping is a good or bad thing for the women who do it? A: It can be both. It can be an incredible confidence booster, because it confirms a woman’s desirability every day she goes to work. Depending on where she strips, it can give a woman a sense of control by putting her in charge of what she does, when and for how much. It can give her a sense of control over how men look at her.
I think that for most women, though, the negative consequences pile up the longer they stay in. On a practical level, it’s simply hard to get another job with the gap in one’s resume left by years of dancing. Plus many dancers find it difficult to go from earning money quickly to settling for an hourly wage.
Stripping can also have negative personal consequences. It can lead to a more manipulative and dishonest approach to sex, and cynicism regarding men. It’s a job that makes many boyfriends and husbands uncomfortable. It can be alienating. It can erode one’s sexual boundaries. It can make it hard to distinguish one’s professional sexual persona from one’s real sexual self.
Q: What about for society? A: I think there is great pressure on women to turn themselves – in looks, personality and sexuality – into consumer products. It comes from sources as blatant as advertising and as subtle as the still-widespread expectation that men should be breadwinners.
This pressure urges conformity and encourages women to value themselves based on their appearance. Stripping, along with sex work in general, does much to add to it. It contributes to the notion that women are for sale. This is one of the reasons I quit, and that I wouldn’t do it again.
Q: How did it change you as a journalist? A: Most of my time as a stripper was before I became a journalist, so it didn’t change me as one. Writing a book did though. When I started writing I was still very resistant to talking about myself. As a journalist I was trained not to, and I am also naturally fairly reticent. I’m much more comfortable asking others questions and putting them in the spotlight.
But once I started working on the book there was no use pretending I wasn’t deeply involved in the subject. And I felt that while I was asking others difficult questions about their motivations and the consequences of their work, I should also be asking myself.
Q: Do you find that people in the United States have a puritanical view of the body and sex? A: I would say not so much puritanical as compartmentalized. We have two separate strains of morality. In one, women are discouraged from being overtly sexual, and find their characters’ judged based on how much they wear and who they sleep with. In the other, pornography, prostitution, and sexuality in advertising are completely acceptable. We live with both, and they’re difficult to reconcile.
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