Hate the striptease, love the human

Posted: Apr 21, 2006 10:05 PM

Questions about Duke's stripper crisis have been instructive in unintended ways, and may have provided the tipping point for re-evaluating laws protecting rape victims.

Among the more compelling questions: What was the lacrosse team doing hiring a stripper in the first place? The typical answer goes something like this:

"Oh, it's perfectly natural for guys to get together and ogle a half-naked woman. What's a little flesh as long as everybody's happy?"

Moreover, stripping has become mainstream, so much so that women have begun taking pole-dancing lessons so they can amuse their husbands and/or significant others.

At the same time, we've managed to romanticize the stripper as something close to a heroine - a woman who works hard for her money to put herself through college (as in the Duke case), or who is just trying to put food on the table for the little munchkins.

That gust of wind you feel is 10,000 feminists hyperventilating at the inference that I'm about to blame the alleged victim. I'm not finished yet, so grab a paper bag and breathe deeply.

I admit that I'm not a fan of strippers - or the men who hire them. I don't admire the sexual objectification of women - which is an old-fashioned feminist position, by the way, as opposed to the absurd notion that women sexualizing themselves is a form of advanced feminist expression.

If women enjoy selling their bodies, have at it, but don't call it liberation and don't demand respect for it. Why? Because men will never respect women who doff it or sell it for a buck.

At the risk of offending the International Union of Pimps and Ho's, here's one of the jungle's unpleasant truths: No decent man wants his wife, mother, sister or daughter to be a stripper - even if he'll pay to watch someone else's. And therein lies one of this episode's lessons.

A disturbing portion of the American public - at least judging from my mail and some commentators - doesn't believe the Duke stripper deserves our sympathy or even our suspension of judgment. She's a stripper after all. A radio interviewer put it to me just that way.

I'm sorry, but I can't go there. A woman raped is a woman raped, no matter what her ill-chosen profession. Furthermore, the fact of this woman's being a stripper doesn't sway me to eliminate laws that protect an alleged rape victim's identity, as some have suggested.

Arguments that such laws are unfair to the accused are rock solid. They are unfair, and as a mother of sons, I find the double standard objectionable. Thus, this tipping point may require some adjustment to our rape laws, perhaps toward keeping all identities under wraps until post-verdict.

Meanwhile, the fact that the argument for publishing rape victims' names has resurfaced largely because this particular alleged victim is a stripper suggests we need to objectively examine our standards.

Pretend she's not a stripper but your virgin 18-year-old sister or daughter, an honor student who works part-time at a nursing home and volunteers at the Humane Society.

Let's have her kidnapped from a shopping center, where she was distributing leaflets to Save Darfur, and viciously raped by three prison escapees.

Hypothetically, is her rape worse than, say, the rape of a stripper in a house full of college athletes? And should she have her name and face published on the front page of the paper along with the faces of the three men accused?

On some visceral level, it does seem worse. She's an innocent, after all. But aren't all rape victims innocent?

My point: The rules, once changed, change for all. Whether a stripper, a virgin, a mother, a sister, a harlot or a nun, a rape victim is a victim is a victim.

By the time a woman charging rape gets to court, she's had to relive the horror of her experience dozens of times in interviews with cops, investigators, doctors, nurses and social workers - only to face defense lawyers in public court who can ask her the most personal questions imaginable.

Add to that the public humiliation, both for the woman and her family, of being exposed through the usual sensitivity of the media mob. Then ask yourself if the goal of gender equity outweighs the societal benefit that accrues from the exercise of empathy and decency toward a victim of such intimate violence.

Whether this stripper is truly a rape victim remains to be seen, but the principle that she deserves to be protected from public scorn remains clear.

If the Duke lacrosse players are innocent - and I sincerely hope they are - we'll throw them a parade.