Canvassing vs. Stripping Part 2: Objectification

I wrote not long ago that stripping and canvassing are very similar. I stand by this; it's mostly the same skill set and similar interactions. I've been surprised to find, though, that there's one major difference. I actually feel a lot more objectified when I'm canvassing than I ever did when I was stripping.

There's the general problem, in canvassing, of standing on a city street for five and a half hours a day. This makes the street harassment I mentioned in my last post a constant issue and very much a part of the job. It's a sort of montage in the background of my daily life. You know, various cut scenes of "Hey baby, what's your name?" and "Aren't you pretty?" and "You got a boyfriend?" and "I'd put that on my tongue."

It also happens with the people I canvass, though. See, I'm ostensibly standing out there for a cause that has nothing to do with my looks or my body. It's gay marriage, it's about equal rights, it's a political thing. I'm being friendly and outgoing but not sexual. The size of my boobs and the color of my eyes have nothing to do with it.

And yet I get the once-over from customers on the street as much as I did when I was stripping. They come on to me just as often. The difference is that in a strip club that's part of the expected interaction. By being there in a thong, I've given the customers permission to oggle and be lewd at me, assuming they pay appropriately.

One of the things I always liked about stripping is that it took objectification, which happens every day no matter what I do, and put it in a place where it was controlled. It gave me the option to consent to it. It gave me bouncers to make it stop if anyone did it in a way I didn't like. When I was stripping, I had the option of saying "No" to someone's objectifying behavior and having it mean something. Yes, we needed the bouncers to enforce that, but we had them. It was enforced.

On the street, I can't say no. I do sometimes, but it's often ignored. I feel like I have no control over the way people treat me, and it's often with minimal respect. I feel uncomfortable a lot of the time. I feel placed into a box labeled "fuckable woman" and imposed upon. I feel objectified. Way, way more than I ever did when I had chosen to be naked on a stage.


Anonymous said...

I love this post and I can relate to it completely. At Hooters (where I bartend) I am in a controlled environment. On my way to work each day, I am able to create the necessary mindset to deal with the constant stream of come ons, innuendo, and lewdness. I know what I am getting and I know what to expect when I don those hot pants. If anyone does make me feel uncomfortable at any time, I have an entire crew of security guys on hand. When I head to the grocery store in my sweats, face bare of makeup, feeling entirely unsexy, I am not expecting to have someone follow me through the store or the parking lot with sexual comments and aggressive pleas for my number, nor do I have backup. It's unexpected, it's (at times) frightening, and it's disconcerting.

Nat G said...

Yes, but isn't this a two-way street? When you're canvassing, you aren't looking at people as people, you objectify them into potential signatures to your document. You're seeing them in terms of what they can do for you - not something sexual, perhaps, but nonetheless something intrusive. You're not canvassing at a political rally, where people are there to be politicized, but coming on to people who are there going about their personal business, and who like as not do not want to be interrupted. Again, this is a lesser state of conditions than in the strip club -- while of course you're looking there at people primarily as source of money, the people enter the establishment expecting to be treated like that, knowing that the exchange of money for flirtation or efforts at arousal is the business that goes on there.

Unknown said...

When I'm canvassing on the street, the first thing I say to someone is "Hi there, would you like to help overturn Prop 8 today?" If they say no, I leave them alone.

In other words, I give them a choice about whether they want to interact with me, and I do it in a respectful way. The only people I talk to are the ones who say "Yes, I do want to help," and choose to walk up and engage in a conversation with me.

Objectification is tricky because there are several different kinds. You're right that when I meet someone on the street when I'm canvassing or in the club when I'm stripping, I see them in a certain way. This doesn't preclude, though, treating them like human beings and allowing for normal human interactions. My favorite customers and donors are the ones I connect with on a personal level.

I guess I'm just generally in favor of treating human beings like human beings in all situations. Objectification does happen, and sometimes it's okay (check out other things I've said about it under my objectification tag), but I think having a little perspective and respect is always good.

Fantasia Lillith said...

Perhaps there is another way you can support your cause?

Unknown said...

Yes, I definitely could. Canvassing right now is, yes, part of being an activist, but it's also a lot about being able to support myself. I could be stripping more, but I'd like to also have a stable income in some way and canvassing gives me that. It's hard to find good alternatives right now, but I'm looking. Hey, if you know non-profits in NYC that are hiring, feel free to hook me up. ;-D

On living, loving, learning, and fucking with the materials I've got at hand.

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