I was offered a job as a topless barmaid once. Buying a bottle of wine at one of those inner-city old man/biker pubs that is now a yuppified local, the owner leered at my chest and asked if I wanted a job. Twenty-five dollars an hour to pour beers with my boobs footloose and fancy free.
But I admit that deep down I was a little chuffed. I was good-looking enough to be a poorly paid topless barmaid. Woohoo!
Because as much as I wanted to be considered smart and funny and interesting, there is one thing no young woman wants to be. Ugly.
What a shame that no matter how much we baulk at Miley Cyrus and her twerking tongue-laden nudity, the lie that sex object equals female empowerment not only continues. It has become legitimised.
All of a sudden strip clubs have moved beyond the mainstream and into the hip. With witty and ironic names like Titty Twister and Schnitz 'n Tits, they are no longer relegated to seedy pockets of the city. Hipster hangouts like Gertrude and Chapel streets are the much preferred venues.
The idea of schnitzel being served by young topless women is considered so cool in fact that, this year, there was a public feud between restaurant owners over which establishment had the rights to the Schnitz 'n Tits name.
Perhaps the biggest irony of all, however, is that by playing on the retro hip factor and inviting women to join in the fun, places like Titty Twister and Schnitz 'n Tits legitimise sexism in a way that The Men's Gallery never could.
Unlike more old-fashioned strip joints, the hip new strip club encourages female patrons. On their websites some even suggest it a great place for a date. Sure, female customers are welcome at Goldfingers, but they are not really expected to have fun. These places are male dominated realms, naughty fantasy fuelled retreats where men get drunk and throw their cash at women who try their best to look like they are having a good time. They are sexist and uncool. Definitely not a place to take a woman you're trying to romance.
But as hipster culture finds irony in everything and substance in pretty much nothing, women are now expected to be able to enjoy ogling hipster dreamboat waitresses, with their full-sleeve tattoos, short fringes and exposed breasts, just as much as men do. And if they don't? Then they're uptight and sexually prudish.
In An Intimate Life, the brilliant memoir about her career as a sex surrogate, Cheryl Cohen-Greene exposes the fragility of the line between being sexually empowered and sexually exploited. In one scene Cohen-Greene reluctantly visits a swingers party with her husband. Within half an hour she finds herself drinking wine and making small talk while her husband has sex with a strange woman on the floor beside her. Wanting to appear open minded and sexually liberated Cohen-Greene pretends to be accepting of her husband's behaviour when in reality she feels jealous, insecure and rejected.
Just as Cohen-Greene makes clear, sex between consenting adults should be talked about, celebrated and enjoyed. We are lucky to be living in a time when sexual diversity and pleasure are more openly discussed and acknowledged. But sex should always be on equal terms. And while the waitresses at places such as Schnitz 'n Tits and Titty Twister look as edgy as a singer from all-girl punk band, they are playing a role that is as conservative and regressive as manufactured pop. Their primary aim is to please men by taking on the role of sex object.
So until I am able to drag my husband along to a Doodles with Noodles night, I hereby swear to never eat a parmigiana without acknowledging the strained smiles of those ladies in the audience at Schnitz 'n Tits.
This piece first appeared here: http://www.theage.com.au/lifestyle/life/why-stripping-becoming-hip-isnt-cool-20131023-2w0uf.html