This is a comment I wrote on Unpious, in response to a story written by a formerly religious author about his experience going to strip clubs; I wanted to articulate how the feminist criticism of the sex industry differs from a religious one, so I did that, and I’d like to save it here.

Most men who read this site and consider themselves to be rejecting the principles of Judaism do not also consider that American society is fundamentally and deeply based on Judeo-Christian belief; nor do they consider the fact (and it is fact) that Judaism is one of the most patriarchal schools of thought out there–it’s always been part of the Jewish male (who wrote both the Torah and Talmud exclusively, no female input) mindset that men are entitled to the sexual use of a woman’s body, and that men are also entitled to more than one woman, that there’s an obligation for a woman to be faithful to her husband that doesn’t compel a man in the same way; this has nothing to do with innate male drives, and everything to do with the fact that property and land rights, as well as last name, were passed through the side of the father among the Israelites–the Jewish patriarch wanted to be damned sure he wasn’t raising another man’s “seed” and so, strict controls had to be placed on the sexuality of Jewish women.

There’s the story of Tamar acting like a harlot with Judah, and plenty of others in the Torah and Talmud, that, at the very least, imply Jewish men were considered entitled to use women in prostitution if they wanted or “needed” to; this was better than “spilling seed” as well; if contemporary Jewish men–religious and non–continue to equate women with sex, to use women for sexual release, to use economic leverage to get sex from women who would not otherwise have sex with them, then, in my opinion, the least they can do is stop telling themselves this is somehow “violating” patriarchal thought or the principles of Jewish belief–these men, though seemingly unaware of it, remain stuck in the same mindset that women were created by a male god for men’s (their) pleasure, and to service their sexual needs, and that they themselves as males were somehow “made” by god (ex religious men switch out biologically determinant arguments about men and women’s sexual nature and “unconscious drives”–and we can thank Freud for a lot of that, who was not immune to the influence of Judaism himself–for god, but basically, they are still falling back on the argument that some “higher power” beyond their personal control “makes them do it”–meanwhile, not all men go to strip clubs, and certainly before the sexual objectification of women became as normalized and rampant as it is nowadays in pop culture, not all men used to)

I’m not a theist; my problem with men going to strip clubs is not about sex outside marriage, but with coerced sex; sex obtained through coercion means the woman isn’t having sex with you for her own sexual pleasure, & she wouldn’t have sex with you unless there were some external factor pressing her to do so–be it physical force, as in flat out rape, or be it economic force, as in pornography and prostitution which cater overwhelmingly to a male consumer pool; we live in a culture that titilates men CONSTANTLY with sexually subordinating, graphic imagery of women; men must learn the message that “this is what a woman IS and this is what a woman really WANTS–though you may have to ‘unleash her hidden nature’ or some such bs); no man in this culture is immune; and I don’t just mean porn, I mean the advertising we all see daily; women are socialized to believe we have no worth unless men find us sexually attractive (and you can see this clearly by how older women are reviled and treated as undesirable in this culture) and men are socialized to believe that happiness will come to them from fucking as many women as possible; both are empty promises, of course, but American culture is so saturated by the sex industry at this point that I don’t think most people, men or women, ever feel there are any other options.

Add to that the fact that men are encouraged not to feel and not to be connected with any of their emotions except maybe anger, and you get males who are uncomfortable with emotional connection in relationships; I’m sorry, but I refuse to believe this is some “innate” trait of men (though I know the Talmud says women are just more spiritual and moral and passive and blah blah–which, again, is PATRIARCHAL THOUGHT); I think men who feel lonely and alienated, from women especially (& I have to say, nearly every ex chassid male I’ve known has had some very painful rejection from the women in his life, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that some of them seem to feel literally afraid of women and/or women’s displeasure with them as a result), often turn to buying women in prostitution of some form or other; it seems like a quick fix–I don’t have to satisfy her because the money will take care of that–but then, the narrator of this story doesn’t sound like a very happy person, and I’d argue that’s because the human need (not a male or female need but a HUMAN one) to be personally known and accepted never really goes away)–and that tone I appreciate in this story; he seems to search for ways to blame the woman or accuse her of “manipulating him” somehow of course, but is that to assuage his own guilt? Really, what is she supposed to do? American culture says women are whores, that we’re supposed to be, and then men get mad when we believe this message about ourselves, or when we sell sex, playing the part men created for us in the interest of survival? Why wouldn’t we adapt, seriously? For a whole lot of women, the message that sex is all that we have to offer and all that’s worthwhile about us is drilled in constantly, & most women who end up working in strip clubs don’t have happy histories with the men in their lives either; many are abuse survivors; their “work” is basically just a way for them to keep reabussing themselves.

“It’s a healthy urge, I said to myself, as Cathy, the cute Hispanic receptionist, put another pile of mail on my already overflowing stack. Men all over the world feel the same, nothing unusual about it. Or perverted. I’m just healthy and normal, looking for what every male has looked for since the dawn of the Y chromosome.”

This is an interesting passage to me; the narrator seems to be trying to convince himself that thinking of women as just so much fuckable commodity is what he wants, and consistent with the person he wants to be; yet, again, he seems conflicted, at the very least, and ultimately dissatisfied with the time he spent at a strip club, or else why wouldn’t he keep going? And of course, the last sentence isn’t true–there’s a whole history of cultures that predated ancient Israel where women occupied a much higher status than they have for the past 5000 years or so, despite Y chromosomes being fully present; Gerda Lerner’s “The Creation of Patriarchy” is a great, thoroughly secular, read on that for those interested, but, bottom line, for a long time men survived really quite well without a multi-billion dollar a year sex industry to sell them access to women; that proves it’s very possible for a man to live without pornography, strip clubs, prostitution, etc. and it’s possible now too, (though I agree with one of the comments above, that this can really become an ADDICTION for many men, and, if a man has an addiction or sexually compulsive behavior, it doesn’t mean he’s “evil” or “bad” but habituated and dependent on a stimulus that works powerfully on the human brain; if he wants to stop, it’s a long process that requires a lot of courage, support, and self-forgiveness, and it’s very hard to do alone).

The notion that the sale of sexual access to women’s bodies to male consumers is okay though, just because a lot of men do it, is not a viable argument in terms of proving that strip clubs are “right” or destined to continue on indefinitely (you’ve already got secular governments in Iceland and Sweden who’ve banned them, and those aren’t religious countries, but rather, countries with a strong feminist presence at the government level, certainly not the case in the US); something can be “normal” in the sense that most people believe in it, without it being ethical or humane as well; the overwhelming majority of people in Nazi Germany believed Jews were a subhuman life form that should be eradicated; that was absolutely normal; in this country, now, the huge majority believe that everybody should follow and worship jesus christ and that those who don’t must burn in hell; that’s as “normal” as the belief that men going to strip clubs is healthy; however, just because most men do it, that doesn’t mean it’s the only worldview, or even a desirable one.