"the meat's on the stage, not on the plate"-veganism and gaze

Everyone's talking about this vegan strip club that opened up in Portland Oregon a while back (and by everyone I mean Julie Bindel). It is no secret that while I support being an ethical food consumer I am very aware that soy, wheat and corn grown the way we currently grow them are just as bad for the environment and animals as the meat consumption they (partially) support, and really the best thing to do is try as much as you can to get sustainably sourced food, whether fleshy or not. I've read a lot about how switching from meat to tofu would be ignoring the fundamental problems with industrial farming and I think that's were the issue lies (there's a bunch of links to start with in the comments, by the way, if you're curious how I got there). My boy used to be vegan and now is just generally food conscious, which is I think the more sustainable way to be (recognizing also that we culturally eat way more meat than is necessary and that's not sustainable either).

But I'm not here to debate whether veganism is right or wrong. Basically, the fuss seems to be about the fact that Casa Diablo, billing itself as a vegan strip club, is setting up another branch (amusingly, right by a strip club that's got the "best steaks you'll ever taste" according to Yelp). There was, of course, a protest, and a counter protest, and a lot of signs.

Julie of course hates the idea because all sex work is female oppression- an over simplification of the issue, of course, and one that does no one any favours. How ironic that she actively silences women who try to speak up for their experiences in sex work, using these women are examples of her point without letting them have a voice... seems pretty objectifying to me, but anyway. This isn't really about Bindel, that's another post entirely.

As there's few photos of Diablo, I'm going to give you a bunch of PETA campaign photos instead.

Casa Diablo has a myspace page (OH GOD WHY) and some interesting yelp reviews which suggest that this venue is a great place for "naked ladies and chili cheese fries". In theory, this is a match made in heaven- socially conscious stripping taken to the next level, at least potentially. But before I could really decide how I felt about it, I decided to do a little digging. And frankly, as a sex worker rights activist... I'm concerned.

The reviews unanimously say that you "get a lot for your money", which suggests that the lap dances are a lot more than just lap dances (and therefore should be more than $30 a song). One guy whines that many of the dancers didn't let him touch them, and if they did he'd give 5 stars- mm, lack of boundaries.

There's a lot of questions I have about the raunchiness of the stage shows, too, as I've read a lot of mentions of pussy right by your face.  One lady even says "if you're like me and you are not interested in being molested (really) and possibly being exposed yourself, I would stay far away from Casa Diablo". To me, that sounds like there's potential for expensive unofficial stage fees that keep the girls working the crowd in an aggressive and desperate fashion, which doesn't make me feel that great.

Plus, the title of this blog entry? That's Casa Diablo's tag line. And Johnny the owner? He blows off feminist concerns and critique as being from "feminazis", which makes him look like an asshole. Reading the forums, it sounds like he sniffs around the stripper message boards and threatens the girls who say anything against his club with no work, which seems pretty exploitative to me.

Not that this couldn't be done well, either! I love the idea, and I think Johnny has a good schtick with his ability to appeal to a wider range of people by just providing vegan food without a fuss (cheap, too, which is good, though he doesn't mention that his food is vegan and I wonder about someone who comes in expecting chicken and gets soy who has an allergy... ethical..?).

However, there's a way to do this that doesn't feel like exploiting women to save animals, and I wish there was more press talking to the dancers themselves and asking how it is to work there. River City Kitty talks about it a bit but that was back in 2008 so I wonder how it is behind the curtain. Looking at a stripper forum, it doesn't look great.

How would I do it better? First of all, I'd unionize the dancers. That gives them the ability to set some boundaries and speak up for themselves, which I think is really important in any sex work environment. Never mind that unionizing the girls draws a clear line in the sand that your intention is to collaborate, not objectify. Bring everyone up together, right? Additionally, I'd make a point of having a diverse range of body types and ethnicities- it sounds like they're fairly diverse, but without being able to find images of the dancers (even anonymized ones) it's hard to tell. And frankly, if I was doing it, I'd at LEAST have a dudes night, with sexy male strippers on stage at least once a month if not more often. 

But this isn't just about Casa Diablo. This is also about what seems like a general willingness of vegan groups to use the objectification of female bodies "for the cause"- and not just any female bodies, but white, slender, able-bodied, conventionally attractive female bodies. The Vegan Vixens do it with their dance troupe. PETA is getting in on the action with their idea for a porn site (I kid you not).

Not that PETA wasn't fairly porn-y to begin with- I've seen a lot of naked girls in cages thanks to them (and seriously, thanks, as a young kinkster some of my first images of petgirls came from PETA, which was probably not their intention). That's kind of why I wanted to illustrate this post with their images, because I bet I'm not the only one who totally ignores the vegan message to find the kink sexy.

I guess it's good that PETA is objectifying men too now, though their fat-phobia is really repulsive to me, and the fact that most if not all of their imagery is for a heterosexual consumerist male gaze makes me throw up a little in my mouth too. I bet their porn will be no different.

However. It's important to remember that it's not a big jump from "sexy woman is marked up as meat" to "woman chained up and carved" snuff porn disguised as a PETA ad. I think if SAW and PETA have photos in common, that's not the best sign for feminism. Plus PETA has done stuff like compare people who eat and breed meat to Hitler, which I think is kind of hilarious as Hitler was rumored to be (just got into a massive debate about this) a vegetarian (PS- got any data on this one way or another not written by biased sources i.e. pro- or anti-vegetarian groups/people?)

What really grosses me out, and I wonder what they were thinking when they decided this, is that PETA's porn site will "lure people in with salacious images, then confront them with graphic footage of animal cruelty." This seems like an idea that will backfire, especially as I'm imagining vegans won't buy the porn because they'll be sad to see the animal abuse and meat eaters won't buy it because they don't want to be preached at. So who will? Quite possibly people who jerk off to snuff fantasies... which, especially when you keep equating women's bodies with meat, seems like a really, really stupid idea.

Could you use a sex-positive attitude to promote animal rights? Sure. I think you can. But consistently the method used is throwing women under the bus, and until that changes and becomes more ethical and less sexist, I can't really support them.

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