You are on page 1of 9

734561

research-article2017
QIXXXX10.1177/1077800417734561Qualitative InquiryWaling

Article
Qualitative Inquiry

I Cant/Can I Touch Him?


19
The Author(s) 2017
Reprints and permissions:
Erotic Subjectivity, Sexual sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav
DOI: 10.1177/1077800417734561
https://doi.org/10.1177/1077800417734561

Attraction, and Research in the Field journals.sagepub.com/home/qix

Andrea Waling1

Abstract
Sexual attraction and desire in the field have long been taboo subjects, where the researcher is expected to remain an
objective observer, devoid of sexuality. Recently, scholars have advocated for the acknowledgment of sexual attraction and
desire in the field as a way to think reflexively about the research process and subsequent impacts, known in anthropology
as erotic subjectivity. This article reflects on the ethical dilemma of the female feminist researcher doing ethnographic
fieldwork in such a space where sexual performativity and active desiring is demanded of them by the research subjects
themselves. Based on an ethnographic account of professional mens strip-tease show, this article details the dilemmas
concerning the need to remain objective and distanced from such acts as a researcher, the feminist discomfiture in the
blatant objectification and sexualization, both physically and visually of men, and the expectation to publicly perform
sexuality by peers and research subjects alike.

Keywords
mens stripping, sexuality, erotic subjectivity, objectification, embodied reflexivity

Opening Number shape their analysis, very little has been done to explore
sexual feelings within the process, and the difficulty in nav-
He walked down the aisle way, clad in nothing but a shiny igating the blurred boundaries of the professional and
gold g-string, body sculpted, glistening. Women reached out play landscape.
to him, desperate to touch any piece of flesh on offer, bulg- Sexual attraction and desire in the field have long been
ing biceps, strong broad shoulders and abdominals looking taboo subjects, where the researcher is expected to remain
like they had been carved out of stone, a hint of a smirk an objective observer, devoid of sexuality (Kulick, 1995;
gracing his lips. I could feel my own heart pumping, racing Malam, 2004). Scholars have advocated for the acknowl-
as he walked closer; I was nervous, anxious, desirous. I edgment of sexual attraction and desire in the field as a way
wanted him to come toward me, to privilege me with his to think reflexively about the research process and subse-
attention. He was in front of me, I could almost reach out quent impacts, known in anthropological discourse as erotic
and touch him, but I hesitated, I remained frozen, head subjectivity (Cupples, 2002; Grauerholz et al., 2013). Most
down, eyes avoiding. He turned away, his attention on reflections on sexual attraction in the field are framed as
another, and in my mind, a more beautiful girl. I felt jealous, by-products of human interaction, inevitable as researchers
insecure, angry, and lacking in desirability. develop emotional bonds with their research participants,
******************* where the celibate researcher is but a figment of the imag-
There is a saying that researchers must venture beyond their ination (La Pastina, 2006). Such thinking, however,
comfort zones. Not just beyond a comfort zone of what a becomes complicated when confronted with research in a
researcher researches but also the comfort zone they hold in
avoiding a critical self-reflection of their own identities and 1
La Trobe University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
blurring of work and nonwork worlds. In particular, ventur-
ing beyond the comfort zone of the neutral, objective Corresponding Author:
researcher to explore facets of critical self-awareness when Andrea Waling, Research Officer, Australian Research Centre in Sex,
Health & Society, School of Psychology & Public Health, College of
conducting research. Although research is now acknowl- Health, Science & Engineering, La Trobe University, 215 Franklin Street,
edging the researchers space and place, social identity, City Campus, Melbourne, Victoria 3000, Australia.
their access to privilege, and how their experiences might Email: a.waling@latrobe.edu.au
2 Qualitative Inquiry 00(0)

space where sexual desire and performing sexuality is not accounts have been centered on womens experiences in
only active, but encouraged and expected. being strippers (e.g., Eaves, 2002).
This article reflects on the ethical dilemma of the female However, the concept of erotic subjectivity (to be dis-
feminist researcher doing socio-ethnographic fieldwork in cussed) has not been applied to such research. Rather,
such a space where sexual performativity and active desir- reflections have a tendency to explore issues of empower-
ing is demanded of them by the research subjects them- ment and unequal gendered power dynamics (Egan, Frank,
selves. Based on an account of professional mens strip-tease & Johnson, 2006). Personal accounts of sexual desires as
show, this article details the quandaries concerning the need either object or subject remain absent in these consider-
to remain objective and distanced from such acts as a ations. In this article I ask, how might erotic subjectivity be
researcher, the feminist discomfiture in the blatant objecti- useful in exploring researcher reflexivity within a space
fication and sexualization, both physically and visually of where the researcher is meant to be, an active sexual sub-
men, and the expectation to perform publicly sexuality by ject? What can be learned in exploring such subjectivity?
peers and research subjects alike. Through such a consider-
ation, I am able to reflect on not only how mens stripping
and research in the sex industry continues to raise questions
Erotic Subjectivity
about appropriate and ethical research conduct, but also The notion of the erotic within anthropological and by
how it challenges the researcher to, in perhaps an uncom- extension, sociological research emerges when Rubins
fortable way, consider their own sexual and gendered posi- (1975) groundbreaking conceptualization of the sex/gender
tions within the culture they are studying. To make sense of system paved the way for studying sexuality outside of a
these experiences, I draw from anthropological concepts of scientific model (Allen, 2012).1 Researchers have tradition-
erotic subjectivity, as well as sociological and feminist ally been positioned as objective and neutral, where the
accounts of sexual objectification, gender performativity, sexuality [and sexual desire] of the researcher remains a
and ladette culture. I begin with a discussion of the litera- subtext that is systematically erased (Cupples, 2002,
ture concerning mens stripping, followed by defining erotic p. 382). Despite the shifts away from this idea that research-
subjectivity. I then explore the contentions between ers are objective/neutral, focusing on the personal erotic
acknowledging sexual desire of the self, the expectation to continues to be seen as an illegitimate research area (Kulick
act on such desire, and the ethical and professional con- & Wilson, 1995). As such, many researchers feel their aca-
straints of the female feminist researcher. demic credibility would be questioned should they engage in
this practice (Cupples, 2002; Lerum, 2001). This practice of
focusing on the desires and sexuality of the researcher in the
Mens Stripping: A Brief Overview field is known as erotic subjectivity introduced in Kulick
Mens stripping has become a popular area of analysis for and Wilsons (1995) collection of essays concerning the
researchers in the last 30 years, where early accounts began taboo of talking about personal desire. A significant moment
the exploration into what was then considered a new emerg- within anthropological studies concerning field research and
ing phenomenon regarding womens participation as con- the limitations of objective observational research, research-
sumers in the sex industry (Clark, 1985; Dressel & Petersen ers are encouraged to acknowledge their sexual identities/
1982a, 1982b; Petersen & Dressel, 1982; Prehn, 1983). desire, a practice that is supposed to help them explore the
Newer works have explored male strip shows as homoso- embodied researcher and better understand data collection,
cial bonding spaces for women (Montemurro, Bloom, & analysis, and theorizing (Thomas & Williams, 2016). In
Madell, 2003), mens motivations for stripping (Tewksbury, doing so, the focus on silenced or taboo subjects repositions
1993, 1994), mens lived experiences of stripping (Margolis the ethnographer and ethnography in the production of
& Arnold, 1993; Scull, 2013, 2015), the interactions knowledge (Irwin, 2006, p. 159). For example, La Pastina
between male strippers and female consumers (Liepe- (2006) notes in his own reflection of sexuality how his fear
Levinson, 2002; Smith, 2002; Wosick-Correa, & Joseph, of outing himself as a gay man had subsequent impacts on
2008), mens stripping as spaces in which women are his data collection and interactions with his key informants.
invited to explore their sexuality (Johnson, 2002), womens La Pastina (2006) felt barred from being able to immerse
motivations for attending strip shows (Montemurro, 2001; himself due to worries concerning his sexual orientation and
Montemurro et al., 2003), how mens strip shows continue identity as being marginalized within Brazilian culture.
to privilege men by humiliating and controlling womens Similarly, Jones (1999) notes that her conceptualization of
sexuality (Pilcher, 2011, 2013; Tye & Powers, 1998), and indigenous sexuality was dependant on how they viewed her
gay, bisexual and straight mens experiences of stripping for in relation to their system of sex, gender, and sexuality,
other men (DeMarco, 2007; Tewksbury, 1993). Additional rather than on her own observations of them.
areas include self-reflections on stripping, either as autoeth- Although considerations of erotic subjectivity have been
nographic endeavors or reflective memoirs, where such focused on positions of sexual orientation, identity, and
Waling 3

gender within a particular culture (e.g., La Pastinas posi- Feminist Discomfiture in Objectifying
tion as a gay man in Brazilian culture), contemporary Men
works, such as Allen (2012), also seek to include the
nuanced, everyday interactions of sexuality within the field. Emerging research in the last three decades has noted an
Allen (2012), drawing from the work of Parker (1989), increased trend in which the visual representations of mens
builds on erotic subjectivity to move beyond basic connota- bodies are eroticized and sexualized, both for the gay mens
tions in the acknowledgment of sexual identity and desires, and for the heterosexual womans gaze and consumer mar-
to sexual life and what he terms practices of desire. For ket (see Rohlinger, 2002). There is a continuous rise in the
Allen (2012), erotic subjectivity is not just about recogni- erotic representation of mens bodies, including (assumed
tion of desire or considering the implications ones own heterosexual) male strip shows orchestrated for womens
sexual identity label or gender may have on their engage- consumption and pleasure.2 Mens stripping in particular
ment with a particular community and the data they procure for women is designed to denote the male body as erotic,
as a result, it is also about the practices of desire in everyday sensual, and desirable to the approval of women (Smith,
interactions within the field. In particular, Allen (2012) is 2002). Such representations have been linked to a now
interested in the nuances of how sexual desires of the believed objectification of (heterosexual) men, and assump-
researcher might play out, such as simple touches or ways tion that there is a role reversal in which women are the
of communicating (e.g., flirting). Furthermore, such prac- active, predatory subjects, as well as a cultural shift in the
tices are considered within the approach that erotic subjec- acknowledgment of womens (assumed) desires and plea-
tivity is intersubjective; it evokes a shared self-connection sures. Research regarding sexual objectification of men
that is also political (Allen, 2012). In other words, erotic questions whether or not we can say there is a female-
subjectivity is not just a consideration of the sexual self in gaze (Pilcher, 2011, 2013) and is only just starting to
relation to the research but also the critical and political reflect on whether such objectification can be said to be par-
meanings such a reflection has when considered against allel to the objectification of women. To engage in sexual
broader social dynamics. objectification as the subject (generally understood as men)
As such, it is Allens (2012) approach to erotic subjectiv- is often regarded as a devaluing and degradation of the
ity that I am interested in when reflecting on the interactions object for the pleasure and desire of the subject (Gill, 2008).
between myself, the women who attended the show, and the So what does it mean, when women are invited to
male strippers in the field. I am interested in how such objectify men sexually and engage in practices feminists
reflections have, in some ways, forced me to reconsider my have criticized for decades? My experience led me to
own position as the objective, sexuality-less researcher. something that I had not expected in my consideration of
sexual objectification. Although I had expected to wrestle
with feminist contradictions concerning whether it is
The Scene right or wrong to objectify men, I instead found
Manpower differs from the traditional strip club setting, as myself struck by feelings of jealousy in not being objecti-
it is a traveling show hosted at various venues across fied by the men on stage. I was envious of the women who
Australia. The night I attended Manpower, it was held in a were chosen to go on the stage, who had the opportunities
nightclub/function space above a tavern in an outer, working- to touch the men in an intimate fashion. In reflecting on
class Melbourne (Victoria) suburb. The room was large and my own response to how I felt in the scene, in being
vast, chairs were lined up in rows in front of a well-lit stage, ignored by the male dancers as they chose other women to
a bar sat in one corner. Apart from a bartender and a couple of pay their attentions to, women who fit a conventional
bouncers, not one single man was to be found. The women notion of attractiveness in Australian (Western) culture
ranged in ages, as young as perhaps eighteen or nineteen, than I (skinny, White, petite, young), I could see clearly
upward to women in their late sixties to early eighties, though how the gendered dynamics within the space continued to
the bulk of the demographic, at a glance, but cannot be ascer- reinforce an almost violent heterosexualized politic con-
tained, seemed to be women in their late twenties to forties. cerning womens competition with each other to be the
The show was comprised of six dance numbers alongside an most desirable (Ringrose, 2008). In particular, representa-
opening and closing number, each one featuring a dancer and tive of what Ringrose (2008) contends is a competitive,
theme, such as Tarzan, evoking stereotypical masculinized sexualised aggression, which is actually a repression of
fantasies of mens desirable heterosexuality to women, and outward directed desire and a fetishisation of recognition
ending with a private dance for a girl who would be pulled through being constituted as object of others desire
from the crowd on stage. In between the dances, a male host (p. 36). In other words, even though I was meant to objec-
would chat with the women, encouraging them to behave and tify and sexualize these men, I also desired to be objecti-
act in particular ways, and at the conclusion of the show, fied and sexualized by them, an occurrence also noted by
ended up being a dancer himself. Pilcher (2011, 2013) and Liepe-Levinson (2002).
4 Qualitative Inquiry 00(0)

As such, I was left stuck, paralyzed by a feeling of inau- not through the collective act of objectifying men, but
thenticity as both a feminist and as a professional researcher. rather, the collective act of being objectified by these men.
This space reminded me that despite my profession, I still A newfound solidarity emerged when I engaged in this
remain a gendered and sexual being, even as a feminist, I space with other women. We are still bonded, but not
am not above the feelings of inadequacy and jealousy, through presumed beliefs about womens sexual empower-
and that despite my ability to critique such patriarchal ment and reversal of power in the space, but rather, the
moments, I am still, in many ways, just as trapped by them. ways in which our identities as women are used to support
In this space, I was acutely aware of a challenge to my femi- a heteronormative and patriarchal aggressive male hetero-
nist ideals and beliefs, in particular to that of needing to be sexuality. In this sense, the male strip show is a shared expe-
seen as desirable by men as a way to legitimize self-worth. rience of male power, and leaves questions as to whether it
I was unable to remove myself from the effect of these feel- is possible for women to reclaim power, or whether we are
ings, and was reminded of Gills (2012) work on exploring continuously doomed to constant power upheavals under a
adolescent girls media literacy. Gill (2012) found that guise of sexual empowerment. What this space did for me,
while her young female participants were aware of the as a feminist researcher, is take me back to my feminist
problematic and altered media portrayed to them, they still roots and methodology. To see such ideas, I had to embrace
felt affected by it. Despite their ability to evaluate critically my own feelings of desire in wanting to be objectified, and
and criticize problematic and digitally altered media por- has caused me to rethink previous conceptions of sexual
trayals of women, they still to some degree wanted to look objectification as inherently bad. Am I guilty of only
like them. Here, I was struck by a flaw in my own under- becoming another robot to patriarchy in which my value
standing of feminist methodology that highlights a similar and self-worth hinges on the approval of the naked men in
dilemma found in Gills (2012) study. Even though I could front of me? Is it so wrong to want to be a sexual object
see, and critique, problematic relations between women in within a particular time and place? Can it be not one or the
this space, and the heterosexist manner in which women other, but perhaps both? In the blurring of my professional
were made to compete against each other for the male strip- and personal landscape, it has tasked me to think more criti-
pers attention as part of my feminist training, I was still cally as to how we understand theories of sexual objectifi-
deeply affected by them. Thus, I was left in a bind. By cation and the female gaze. I am left questioning whether
admitting to such feelings, I demonstrated an inability to such a gaze is able to exist even in a male stripping environ-
remain professional in the traditional sense regarding ment, and what it really means to want to be objectified.
being an objective and neutral researcher. In wanting to be
recognized as a sexual and desirable being by these men, I
Performing Public Sexuality
had in way, disregarded the ethical expectation to remain a
neutral, genderless, and sexualityless3 being in the field. Daniluk (2003) notes that womens sexuality within the pub-
Although I refrained from engaging in any form of contact lic space has historically been understood as either oppressed
with the male strippers, the desires remained, and I was and kept secret; considered to be either uninhibited or in
stuck in a peculiar circumstance of feeling as though I had need of control by men; framed within a model of for con-
failed, both as a professional researcher, and as a feminist. ception and eventual motherhood; or, expected to uphold
However, by actually embracing these feelings of jeal- values of modesty and chastity. Recent explorations of
ousy as shaping my research experience, I could see that womens sexuality relevant to the study of mens stripping is
previous research designating mens stripping as a homoso- that of ladette culture, where women are positioned as enjoy-
cial bonding experience for women and the experience of a ing increased freedoms of hedonism and a liberated sexu-
power reversal (see Montemurro et al., 2003) is in some ality, but such expressions are then rendered as pathological,
ways, false. Rather, the presumed nature of attending a dangerous, and warranting fixing (Dobson, 2014).
mens strip show as a homosocial bonding experience Watching the performance, I was caught in a dilemma
guises the very real competitiveness between women that is around how to behave in relation to being, at work. The
played upon throughout the night. From having women women who attended the show with me pushed me toward
compete in fake orgasm contests to win prizes, to picking the men when they walked down the aisle while I hesitated
women out of the crowd for personalized dances, women and balked at the scene before me. I was at the show to con-
who attend the male strip show are strategically pitted duct research, limiting my potential for engagement. Many
against each other to be regarded as the most desirable. I am of the women were cheering, commenting, reaching out to
part of that competition, not above or beyond it, but just as touch the mens bodies, and I wondered, now being pre-
affected by it. This is something that is known through sented with the situation, what level of engagement with
my gender role conditioning as a woman, to always com- these men I could have without it becoming an ethical issue
pete with other women to seek the coveted desires of men. relating to the researcherresearch subject dynamics. As my
Homosociality within this space, in this understanding, is research interest was regarding the eroticization of mens
Waling 5

bodies, I was in an ideal place to explore this, and yet felt my sense of sexual subjectivity. I was guilty of engaging in
barred from being able to do so beyond a visual exploration. a behavior of self-hatred that I have critiqued greatly in my
The expectation to perform my sexuality in a particular way own feminist beliefs and values. I was allowing those who I
was expected by my peers and the men stripping on stage perceived as attractive determine my own self-worth and
alike. I was encouraged to touch the men, to reach out and desirability, rather than fighting back and reclaiming this
grab at them, to go on stage with them, and to take pictures. for my own as feminist theology dictates. I also felt that
When I failed in doing so, I was ridiculed by my peers for such a performance would strip my identity of its feminist
my awkwardness. I found myself, to my surprise, that I was leanings, and greatly compromise my professionalism as a
turning my eyes away from the intimate dances performed qualitative researcher. Considering how the performances
between the men and chosen girls. This moment of awk- were routinely encouraged and guided by the men on stage,
wardness peaked when a stripper straddled my lap, placed a and such performances were aggressive and required
cowboy hat on my head, and pretended to grind. I was women to behave in an almost desperate hedonistic fash-
incredibly embarrassed, and forced by his hand to touch ion, I was hesitant to engage. I felt that such engagements
his abdominals before he whisked away to another girl. I would render me the samedesperate, hedonistic, and
was expected by my research subject to engage in the activ- pathological (see Dobson, 2014). This feeling was a revela-
ity, and when I refrained, was pushed into it, crossing the tion of how despite my feminist leanings and beliefs in
boundaries between professional researcher and active par- choice and sexual agency for women, and my support of sex
ticipant in a sexual activity. positivity and liberated expressions of sexuality, I myself
I was perplexed, why could I not touch the men until right was confronted with a realization that I was quite uncom-
to the end, and only when I was forced to? Why was I so fortable in this setting. I was challenged to engage in a raw
embarrassed when they made women compete in a fake expression of hypersexuality and hedonism within the
orgasm contest, and simulated intimate sexual acts, in par- space, expected to perform what Ringrose (2008, p. 36)
ticular the act of giving women oral sex? Why could I not, in notes is a sexy-aggression that would contradict the mid-
a space designed for the pure leisure and play of women, dle-class feminine good girl I had been brought up to be
engage in such an act? Pilcher (2011) notes that these emo- (see Walkerdine, 1991).
tions are not uncommon, that many women did experience Not only was I uncomfortable, but also judgmental of
similar feelings of awkwardness, embarrassment, and dis- the women around me, feeling as though they lacked the
comfort in the expectation to perform and engage in a semi- critical capacities to see how their performances were not
sexual activity while at the strip show. Furthermore, she liberated, empowered, or authentic, but rather, controlled
contends that women are often encouraged to behave in a by the men in the show. In my attempts to separate myself
certain way by the host of the show. Pilcher (2011) notes that as critical feminist from the women who attended the show,
such behavior is then ridiculed by the host. Even though I was guilty of what Brundson (1993) and Gill (2007) note
women are positioned as active, sexual subjects, they are is the feminist tendency to separate women as agentless
actually treated as sexual objects, directed to behave in such victims to patriarchy, and feminist identifying women as
a way that reaffirms the heterosexual desirability and sexual having enlightened critical capacities. Such a tendency
subjectivity of the men on stage. continues to maintain a divide between women, rather than
Yet, it was not the knowing how to behave, or the per- encourage solidarity, empathy, and understanding. To
ception of not knowing how to behave that struck me. I claim that these women are uncritical in their capacities to
knew exactly how I was supposed to act in the space as engage with these menmindless robotsunderlines the
evidenced by the women around me, and the encourage- feminist consideration of choice and empowerment.
ment of the strippers and the host. I was startled to find that Simultaneously, to grant full agency to women, is as Gill
I felt in a way, quite unworthy to touch these mens bodies. (2012) notes, ignoring the cultural and social forces that
As someone who does not work to maintain an idealized shape these womens lives.
physique in Western culture, my hesitation to touch their Through an expectation and subsequent resistance to
bodies was not only a result of feeling unsure due to profes- performing my own sexuality, I was confronted with the
sional constraints, but a much more, inner reflection on a realization of how complicated doing research in a highly
belief that my perceived lack of attractiveness and desir- sexualized and gendered space is. In considering my posi-
ability meant I could not touch them. Furthermore, in being tion as objective researcher, feminist, and desiring sexual
left in a peculiar situation regarding these feelings of want- being, I was left to wrestle with personal feelings of inade-
ing to be objectified, and feeling jealous that I was not, I quacy, political motivations to engage in feminist chal-
also felt that I had no legitimate reason to engage in a per- lenges to such feelings, and professional constraints as a
formance of my sexuality. I was again confronted by a real- researcher. In this space, I realized that to effectively do
ization that I was allowing social constraints concerning good research, I had to effectively decide what was most
who can, and who cannot, be considered desirable to affect important. To be objective and professional, to be the
6 Qualitative Inquiry 00(0)

feminist activist, or to be the desiring woman. I realized I of inadequacy and jealousy within this space, in recogniz-
could not authentically claim any particular one identity to ing my own personal desire to be an object, I was reminded
achieve the said aim. Each facet of my identity was hostile that as a feminist researcher, I am not separate from my
to the others as I attempted to navigate the highly sexual- research participants. I am part of a broader political fabric
ized and gendered space before me. Instead, I had to constrained by heteronormativity and patriarchy. Such a
embrace all three facets of my identity and their contradic- revelation reminded me of the dangers of separating the self
tions to comprehend the scene before me. I had in a way, from research, that I had strayed from feminist methodol-
failed at performing what I felt was expected to be a good ogy of personal experience as critical to understanding
researcher, but I gained in understanding of how highly women and subjectivity in my attempt to remain objective
volatile research can be in a space riddled with complex and neutral. It has demanded I rethink how I approach the
sexed and gendered power dynamics. It forced to me to separation of self, political ideology, and professionalism in
critically consider, as Gill (2012) has suggested, how I the research space, especially when despite my protests,
understand choice and empowerment in relation to my such research affects me more than I had considered.
sense of self, and how I use such understandings when In this process of embodied self-reflexivity, it brings to
researching those around me. mind what researchers such as Del Busso (2007) and
England (1994) have discussed in their own works regard-
ing embodiment and researcher reflexivity, in particular,
Closing Act reflexivity that recognizes the critical complexity of
attempting to empower research participants and dismantle
An older woman in her eighties sits on the stage. Four men
hierarchal power structures between the researcher and the
dance for her, groping her, move around her. The main
researched. Embodied reflexivity is generally positioned as
dancer, the host, gets onto her lap and grinds her. The crowd
a way to reflect on the researcherresearch subject dynamic
is laughing and cheering. He finishes the dance by giving her
in ways to empower research participants. In these consid-
a big kiss, grabbing her hand and placing it down his pants,
erations, embodied reflexivity is understood as a way to
and the show ends. I sit perplexed. Did that just happen?
become more sympathetic and empathetic to research sub-
***************** jects, and to be mindful of unequal power dynamics that are
What is it about this space that renders conventional produced in the research process through exploring physi-
approaches to fieldwork challenging and perhaps in some cal reactions and subjectivities (Finlay, 2006). England
ways, insufficient in capturing the complexity of the gen- (1994) recognizes through embodied self-reflexivity the
dered power dynamics? By exploring my own personal issue of the failed research project whereby her attempts
reflections relating to desires and desirability on doing to do good research that does not marginalize or colonize
research as a female researcher in the male strip space, I voices of the Other were conflicted with her increasing
could see a number of issues emerge in being able to con- discomfort in not being an insider in the space. As
duct good research using conventional ethnographic England (1994) notes, my failed research taught me that
methods and attempting to remain neutral. In particular, the recognising or even being sensitive to these power relations
expectations regarding the performances of particular does not remove them(p. 84). Rather, she contends that
(female/audience and male/performers) heterosexuality and reflexivity instead can make us more aware of asymmetri-
subsequent control of the space by men where this perfor- cal or exploitative relationships (England, 1994, p. 86).
mance for women took place. By drawing from erotic sub- However, England (1994) continues to frame the
jectivity in confronting personal feelings of guilt, desire, researcherresearch subject relationship as hierarchal, with
jealousy, and embarrassment during the research process, I the researcher always in the position of power. Del Busso
was able to reflect on what is occurring in the space of (2007) offers a genuine intervention here, where she ques-
mens stripping for women. I was able to see how previous tions the structure of power in her own embodied reflexiv-
conceptions of mens stripping as a space for homosocial ity. For Del Busso (2007), who interviewed lesbian women
bonding between women could guise the competitive nature about feminism and bodily appearances, her experience of
of how women are positioned to vie for these same mens being Othered herself by the women she interviewed within
attention. the interview process has left her questioning the complexi-
Had I not admitted to such feelings being present while ties of power in the research method. Del Busso (2007)
in my space of work, or remained impartial to them, I could noted that a few of her participants exercised power in the
not have seen beyond this premise of assumed homosocial ways they off-handily denigrated her appearance, making
bonding among women. As such, these feelings resulted in her feel as though she had effectively failed in an authen-
me questioning the nature of separating emotion and sexual tic bodily presentation of being a feminist to connect with
desire from the research space. By embracing my feelings her participants. For Del Busso (2007), this does not remove
Waling 7

the researcherresearch subject power dynamic, but rather, suggestions made by the anonymous reviewers; guest editors
complicates it. Associate Professor Hilary E. Hughes, Dr. Sarah Bridges-Rhoads,
In both of these examples, there is a sense of failure and Associate Professor Jessica Van Cleaveof this issue; and
that is intertwined with researcherresearch subject reflex- editor of the journal Distinguished Professor Norman Denzin. I
would also like to thank Jaz, Sharon, and Sandra for taking up the
ivity and considerations of power. My foray into the mens
dreadful burden of attending the mens strip show with me.
stripping space points to both a kind of failed research
project, and a question of power dynamics in relation to
feeling authentic. As a feminist researcher, I expected that Declaration of Conflicting Interests
my position would have me in power, and that I would need The author declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to
to be mindful of this as feminist orientations of care decree the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
(Edwards & Mauthner, 2012). Yet, in the space and through
my own embodied reflexivity, the ways in which I felt in Funding
such a space pointed to myself as Other, rather than the men The author received no financial support for the research, author-
and women I observed. Instead of being in a position of ship, and/or publication of this article.
power, I felt increasingly as though I had no power as I
became aware of what I perceived were failings of my Notes
bodily appearance in attracting the attention of the men. My
1. Thinking about ethnographic research and personal sexual
inability to engage in the practices set before me, my feel-
desire does predate Rubin (1975), such as Malinowskis
ings of inadequacy physically, and my constant questioning
(1967) controversial reflections of the Trobianders of Papa
of my role as researcher, feminist, and desiring being left New Guinea, where the negative reception of his work
me in a rather complex state. I was both in power in being reinforced the taboo against revelations that would link
the researcher, and yet, in many ways, lacked power. anthropologists to lust, desires, and disgusts while in the
Furthermore, I could not think to a theoretical moment to field (Ashkenazi & Markowitz, 1999, p. 5). However, it
describe this complexity within the space. was the introduction of Rubins (1975) work that enabled
It is indicative of Gallops (2002) notion of anecdotal researchers to unpack such revelations in a critical fashion
theory, where she argues that subjecting theory to incident (Allen, 2012).
teaches us to think in precisely those situations which tend to 2. It is important to note here that by assumed I am referring
disable thought, forces us to keep thinking even when the to the belief that all males who perform in strip shows for
women are heterosexual, when in fact, some gay men also
dominance of our thought is far from assured (p. 15). Or, in
engage in stripping for women (and likewise, some straight
other words, how scholars currently conceptualize theory,
men engage in stripping for the gay mens market).
including that related to researcherresearch subject dynam- 3. I say sexualityless as opposed to asexual in respect to the
ics, can and will fail in the mundane moments of lived expe- emergence of asexuality as a recognized sexual identity (see
rience and everyday life despite rigorous research training. DeLuzio Chasin, 2011).
In thinking about power and the researcherresearch subject
dynamics, my experiences remind me that it is not always a References
black and white understanding of hierarchal interpersonal
Allen, J. (2012). One way or another: Erotic subjectivity in Cuba.
dynamics. Even theories on embodied reflexivity in the
American Ethnologist, 39, 325-338.
research process can fail in the moment when the personal
Ashkenazi, M., & Markowitz, F. (1999). Introduction. In M.
experience does not subscribe to the reality at hand. Rather, Ashkenazi & F. Markowitz (Eds.), Sex, sexuality, and the
power can and does shift in the moment of research, and that anthropologist (pp. 1-21). Chicago: University of Illinois
there are multifaceted layers of identity work occurring Press.
within any research process, made even more complicated Brundson, C. (1993). Identity in feminist television criticism.
when working, thinking, and playing worlds are blurred. As Media, Culture & Society, 15, 309-320.
such, it has taught me to respect the inner tensions I wrestled Clark, R. (1985). Male strippers: Ladies night at the meat market.
with during my observation, to embrace the contradictions The Journal of Popular Culture, 19, 51-56.
rather than agonize over their inherent differences. Doing so Cupples, J. (2002). The field as a landscape of desire: Sex and
has allowed me to see and theorize things differently, and to sexuality in geographical fieldwork. Area, 34, 382-390.
Daniluk, J. C. (2003). Womens sexuality across the life span:
reflect on the expectation for researchers to separate them-
Challenging myths, creating meanings. New York, NY:
selves from that which they study.
Guilford Press.
Del Busso, L. (2007). Embodying feminist politics in the research
Acknowledgments interview: Material bodies and reflexivity. Feminism &
I would like to thank Dr. James Roffee, Associate Professor Psychology, 17, 309-315.
Jonathan Allan, and Dr. Masha Davidenko for their reviews and DeLuzio Chasin, C. J. (2011). Theoretical issues in the study of
suggestions on this piece, as well as the helpful comments and asexuality. Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 40, 713-723.
8 Qualitative Inquiry 00(0)

DeMarco, J. R. G. (2007). Power and control in gay strip clubs. Liepe-Levinson, K. (2002). Strip show: Performances of gender
Journal of Homosexuality, 53, 111-127. and desire. New York, NY: Routledge.
Dobson, A. S. (2014). Sexy and laddish girls. Feminist Media Malam, L. (2004). Embodiment and sexuality in cross-cultural
Studies, 14, 253-269. research. Australian Geographer, 35, 177-183.
Dressel, P. L., & Petersen, D. M. (1982a). Becoming a male strip- Malinowsk, B. (1967). A diary in the strict sense of the term. New
per: Recruitment, socialisation, and ideological development. York, NY: Harcourt, Brace & World.
Work and Occupations, 9, 387-406. Margolis, M. L., & Arnold, M. (1993). Turning the tables? Male
Dressel, P. L., & Petersen, D. M. (1982b). Gender roles, sexuality, strippers and the gender hierarchy. In B. D. Miller (Ed.),
and the male strip show: The structuring of sexual opportu- Culture and human sexuality: A reader (pp. 334-350).
nity. Sociological Focus, 15, 151-162. London, England: Cambridge University Press.
Eaves, E. (2002). Bare: On women, dancing, sex and power. New Montemurro, B. (2001). Strippers and screamers: The emergence
York, NY: Knopf Doubleday. of social control in a noninstitutionalised setting. Journal of
Edwards, R., & Mauthner, M. (2012). Ethics and feminist research: Contemporary Ethnography, 30, 275-304.
Theory and practice. In T. Miller, M. Birch, M. Mauthner, & Montemurro, B., Bloom, C., & Madell, K. (2003). Ladies night
J. Jessop (Eds.), Ethics in qualitative research (pp. 14-29). out: A typology of women patrons of a male strip club.
London, England: SAGE. Deviant Behavior, 24, 333-352.
Egan, D., Frank, K., & Johnson, M. L. (Eds.). (2006). Flesh for Parker, R. G. (1989). Bodies and pleasures: On the construction
fantasy: Producing and consuming exotic dance. New York, of erotic meanings in contemporary Brazil. Anthropology and
NY: Thunders Press. Humanism Quarterly, 14(2), 58-64.
England, K. V. L. (1994). Getting personal: Reflexivity, position- Petersen, D. M., & Dressel, P. L. (1982). Equal time for women:
ality, and feminist research. The Professional Geographer, Social notes on the male strip show. Journal of Contemporary
46, 80-89. Ethnography, 11, 185-208.
Finlay, L. (2006). The bodys disclosure in phenomenological Pilcher, K. E. M. (2011). A sexy space for women? Heterosexual
research. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(1), 19-30. womens experiences of a male strip show venue. Leisure
Gallop, J. (2002). Anecdotal theory. Durham, NC: Duke University Studies, 30, 217-235.
Press. Pilcher, K. E. M. (2013). Empowering, degrading or a mutually
Gill, R. (2007). Postfeminist media culture: Elements of a sensibil- exploitative exchange for women? Characterising the power
ity. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 10, 147-166. relations of the strip club. Journal of International Womens
Gill, R. (2008). Empowerment/sexism: Figuring female sexual Studies, 10(3), 73-83.
agency in contemporary advertising. Feminism & Psychology, Prehn, J. W. (1983). Invasion of the male strippers: Role align-
18, 35-60. ment in a small-town strip club. The Journal of Popular
Gill, R. (2012). Media, empowerment and the sexualisation of Culture, 17, 182-186.
culture debates. Sex Roles, 66, 736-745. Ringrose, J. (2008). Every time she bends over she pulls up her
Grauerholz, L., Barringer, M., Colyer, T., Guittar, N., Hecht, J., thong: Teen girls negotiating discourses of competitive, het-
Rayburn, R. L., & Swart, E. (2013). Attraction in the field: erosexualised aggression. Girlhood Studies, 1, 33-59.
What we need to acknowledge and implications for research Rohlinger, D. A. (2002). Eroticising men: Cultural influences on
and teaching. Qualitative Inquiry, 19, 167-178. advertising and male objectification. Sex Roles, 46(3), 61-74.
Irwin, K. (2006). Into the dark heart of ethnography: The lived eth- Rubin, G. (1975). The traffic in women: Notes on the political econ-
ics and inequality of intimate field relationships. Qualitative omy of sex. In R. R. Reiter (Ed.), Toward an anthropology of
Sociology, 29, 155-175. women (pp. 157-210). New York, NY: Monthly Review Press.
Johnson, M. L. (2002). Jane sexes it up: True confessions of femi- Scull, M. T. (2013). Reinforcing gender roles at the male strip
nist desire. New York, NY: Four Walls Eight Windows. show: A qualitative analysis of men who dance for women
Jones, R. (1999). Husbands and lovers: Gender construction (MDW). Deviant Behaviour, 34, 557-578.
and the ethnography of sex research. In F. Markowitz & M. Scull, M. T. (2015). The self-concept as a side bet: How strip-
Ashkenazi (Eds.), Sexuality and the anthropologist (pp. 25- ping enhances the self-views of men who dance for women.
42). Chicago: University of Illinois Press. Deviant Behaviour, 36, 890-909.
Kulick, D. (1995). The sexual life of anthropologists: Erotic Smith, C. (2002). Shiny chests and heaving g-strings: A night out
subjectivity and ethnographic work. In D. Kulick & M. with the Chippendales. Sexualities, 5(1), 67-89.
Wilson (Eds.), Taboo: Sex, identity and erotic subjectivity Tewksbury, R. (1993). Male strippers: Men objectifying men. In C.
in anthropological fieldwork (pp. 1-28). London, England: L. Williams (Ed.), Doing womens work: Men in non-tra-
Routledge. ditional occupations (pp. 168181). London, England: SAGE.
Kulick, D., & Wilson, M. (Eds). (1995). Taboo: Sex, identity and Tewksbury, R. (1994). A dramaturgical analysis of male strippers.
erotic subjectivity in anthropological fieldwork. London, The Journal of Mens Studies, 2, 325-342.
England: Routledge. Thomas, J. N., & Williams, D. J. (2016). Getting off on sex
La Pastina, A. C. (2006). The implications of an ethnographers research: A methodological commentary on the sexual desires
sexuality. Qualitative Inquiry, 12, 724-735. of sex researchers. Sexualities, 19(1-2), 83-97.
Lerum, K. (2001). Subjects of desire: Academic armour, inti- Tye, D., & Powers, A. M. (1998). Gender, resistance and play:
mate ethnography, and the production of critical knowledge. Bachelorette parties in Atlantic Canada. Womens Studies
Qualitative Inquiry, 7, 466-483. International Forum, 21, 551-561.
Waling 9

Walkerdine, V. (1991). Schoolgirl fictions. London, England: Verso. Her research interests include theoretical and empirical examina-
Wosick-Correa, K. R., & Joseph, L. J. (2008). Sexy ladies sexing tions of men and masculinity, mens health, and investigations of
ladies: Women as consumers in strip clubs. The Journal of sex, sexuality, and gender in the media. She is currently working
Sex Research, 45, 201-216. on Muscling Up: Australian Men, Sexualisation and Body Image
Enhancement (2015-2017), an Australian Research Council dis-
covery project with Prof. Gary Dowsett, Dr. Duane Duncan, and
Author Biography Dr. Steven Angelides at ARCSHS, as well as a series of projects
Andrea Waling is a research officer in the Australian Research investigating LGBTIQ experiences in tertiary education, LGBTIQ
Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS), as well as an assis- community safety, and experiences of violence, with Dr. James
tant lecturer in the School of Social Sciences at Monash University. Roffee at Monash University.