Stripping the Shadow
-originally published in Gauntlet Magazine #18, 1999
Morality does not consist of simply following other people’s orders about how we should behave. Morality is based on our concern for the welfare of others as well as our regard for ourselves. Choice lies at the heart of morality. – Ira L. Reiss, Solving America’s Sexual Crises
I look ahead at the bent over derriere five feet in front of me, two bare buttocks separated by a red thong. To my right I see sparsely covered breasts shaking close to a business man’s face. I scan the entire club floor; men in chairs, at the bar, and standing in the aisles, and bikini clad women, female flesh, dancing all around. I too am one of the bare-skinned women. I smile. For a brief instant I allow myself to acknowledge that I enjoy the decadence of it all. How devilish and brazen of me to delight, and even approve -- if only to myself.
. . .
What Sigmund Freud referred to as the repressed side of our personality, the unconscious exclusion of painful impulses, desires, or fears from the conscious mind, and Carl Jung calls our Shadow, our not recognized desires, Robert Bly in “The Long Bag We Drag Behind Us,” an essay in Meeting the Shadow refers to as an invisible bag each of us drags behind us which we begin to fill as children. He writes that all aspects of ourselves that are unacceptable and displeasing to our family, peers, and society, goes into the bag and it continues to fill until we’re twenty, after which we spend the rest of our lives trying to retrieve from. These shadow selves do not disappear nor do they lie dormant but instead creep out to embarrass or shame our ego, the self we present to the world. William Miller in “Finding the Shadow in Daily Life,” in the same anthology explains it simply, “Shadow is all we wouldn’t dare do, but would like to”.
. . .
When I started dancing I was titillated by the seamy dark side, yet I felt shame. I had never known any dancers and had only heard stereotypes and saw what the media portrayed. I discovered that I enjoyed tempting and teasing so by day I cloaked myself in guilt. But at night I reveled in the bright lights, stage, thumping music, and the attention. I relished playing the seductress. I felt powerful and savored the control I held over the men because at one time they held complete power over me. They were the ones who did, or didn’t choose me, the ones who called, or didn’t call, the ones whose attention I was always vying for. I condemned myself for years while secretly gleaning personal strength and confidence through my new-found profession.
Amongst the shadows of the dance club my dark side walked right up, shook my hand, and smiled. Confronted by what I once thought was vile -- myself -- I grimaced in return and we matched wits in endless psychological and emotional sparring. It was time for my brain, which I had utilized in my science career, and my body, which I now flaunted, to form an alliance. My repressed sexuality, unrealized sensuality, non-existent boundaries, negative body image, anger, and need for control to circumvent feeling victimized were illuminated by the strobes and neon lights of the stage. The club became my safe and accepting environment where I could examine what was once banished to the invisible bag as “bad”.
Many women would like to take an excursion on the “wild side.” I see this when women come into the club with their husbands or boyfriends, they have a drink or two or three, their inhibitions are let down, and they too want to strip. They stand and begin dancing for their partners or they want to get on stage. They yearn to seduce. They’ve been told that to rejoice in their body is taboo, yet they wish to feel powerful in their sensuality. There is no such thing as a bad or good woman but, unfortunately, women who harbor such fantasies might think of themselves as bad. We are all just women and societies’ constructs have delineated us into two categories.
Without trying I’ve developed attitudes and principles around sex and my body that resemble what my parents were trying to instill in me through rigid dogmatic controls. But it wasn’t the heavy hand of God or the church or the Conservative Rights’ Principles of “just say nol.” What prompted me to have high self-esteem and value my physical self was the dance club. In Meeting the Shadow “What the Shadow Knows: An Interview with John A. Sanford,” we learn that archangels will thrust us into situations where we will be confronted by our dark side. What we do in that situation is up to us. Regardless of forethought I was drawn into an arena where it was accepted and rewarded to act out my dark side and through my own inquisitive introspection and self-motivated education, I retrieved and reexamined my self-defeating behaviors.
Within the club sensuality and implied sexuality is expected. There are persons of varying degrees of lascivious interest coming through the doors, but in a prurient yet sexually repressive society where the media bombards us with sexual innuendo, and culture upholds an unspoken double standard, this is presupposed. The exotic club is a haven where everyone feels freer to explore and express their libidinous fantasies, even if it is only in thoughts or words. Whatever they’re called - strip club, tittie bar, juice bar, lap dance club, gentlemen’s club - they all thrive in this country. America needs a place where their shadows can come out and play. A local radio personality was telling of his days as a radio reporter in Houston. He had written a story about an upscale Gentlemen’s club where a suitcoat was standard dress code. “Did your business go down?” he asked the manager, “when the Republican convention was in town?” He was told that It hadn’t only not gone down, but they’d had to put extra women on the shifts during that time.
If American society wasn’t so conservative and repressive in its approach to sexuality, people would be less inclined to feel culpable and criminal for expressing themselves as complete beings. If women and men were taught their sexuality is honorable they would participate with clear and moral conscious in only mutually respectful, self-satisfying physical acts. If we didn’t impose sexual restrictions on women, they wouldn’t feel shame about dancing therefore drinking or using drugs to mask their disgrace. If men didn’t feel there wasn't enough “bad” woman component in their partners, they wouldn’t be looking for it in the dance club. If we lived in a culture that discussed sexuality openly and honestly and allowed people to express themselves in whatever manner they chose as long as they weren’t hurting someone, we wouldn’t even have dance clubs.
Once a week I danced at the Gentlemen’s club.... I greeted the men attired in an evening gown, which I removed for dancing, and a skimpy bikini. They came attired in shame, fear, and guilt, and under cover of night we explored the shadowlands.