A few years after Billy My Biker Buddy Put Me on the Path to Enlightenment, a new neighbor moved into the apartment directly above me. As I became acquainted with Cheri I found out she was a psychology student at the local university and was financing her education as a topless dancer. I was shocked at the amount of money this 19 year old was making. Not only could she afford a nice apartment and a new car, but she was also a full time student with no debt.
This got me thinking…Men are giving this woman a lot of money, but what were they getting in return? What were they really buying? Whatever it was it was worth a lot of money in their judgement.
A topless bar is an example of a typical marketplace. The fundamental purpose of a market is to establish value of goods and services. Buyers and sellers meet, negotiate prices for goods and services, when everyone is happy with the prices they have agreed upon we can say value of goods and services has been established.
Cheri was selling the service of dancing topless in front of an audience of men in exchange for money. Men were giving her money in exchange for dancing topless. Everyone is happy with the exchange. If the service is not worth the money, the men stop paying. If the money is not worth the effort, Cheri stops dancing.
That is the cold economic theory but my interest is in a particular aspect of this arrangement: Men are paying Cheri more than $100 an hour. What did they find so rewarding about Cheri topless that they would think their money is well spent?
Something more than just a voyeuristic thrill must be motivating men. If all they wanted was to see a bare breast, they could simply look at their wives or girlfriends. No wife or girlfriend? There are plenty of magazines around.
It has to be something more than that.
So I asked Cheri about it.
“Why do they pay me so much? I don’t know. Maybe they’re just stupid.”
Then she said something that galvanized my attention.
“I just look at them and they pay me.”
Wait a minute! What else do they do when you look at them?
“I dunno. They look back, I guess.”
Billy My Biker Buddy said that same thing about picking up women. He waited until a woman met his gaze, followed a ritual he didn’t know existed and would go home with a new friend.
I went into geek research mode again. Only this time I would not be researching in academic databases, but in a topless bar.
I asked Cheri if I could watch her dance.
Here is what I found out:
Topless dancers followed the same ritual as women in regular bars. The only difference was that they went a lot faster and there was not much subtlety.
First comes eye contact. As soon as the dancer comes on stage, she surveys the audience looking for men who had enough to drink to impair their judgement.
She makes extended eye contact with those men, just as women in regular bars do. Holding a gaze for a fraction of a second longer than normal indicates social interest. “Hey, you’re kinda cute.”
Next, she “temporarily closes proximity.”
This is the point in the ritual at which men in a regular bar find an excuse to walk past the woman with whom they have been exchanging eye contact. They can see each other a little better and both decide if the ritual continues. If so the man might return and ask to buy the woman a drink or invite her to the dance floor.
The men are immobile in a topless bar, so it is up to the woman to approach each man she had already identified. I found this part amazing. If you did not know what was going on you would just see a topless woman dancing on a stage in front of men. I saw her identify men she was about target for seduction and extract money.
Next comes the showing of the goods. Just like the mating behavior I saw in regular bars, at this point the women would present their breasts to the men. Shoulders back, chest out, once for each man she was targeting. Amazingly, the men would do the same thing. Not quite as enthusiastically as in a regular bar, but I always saw men at least make a gesture to move their shoulders back and their chest out.
How interesting, I thought. The same gender dynamics happens in the topless bar as in the regular bar. What was happening in the topless bar was the same mating ritual I saw in the regular bar. That is what men are paying for!
Of course, the men were responding with money as well. They held out bills when they saw something they liked or when they wanted the women to approach them.
That is only one side of the story.
Later Cheri told me that while she would target likely marks early in her routine, she was always ready to add to her list of potential contributors. Very often, alcohol already degraded their decision-making skills, to Cherie’s advantage. If the men she initially identified were out spent by other men, she would turn her attention from them to the men with the cash.
So what is going on here? Why do men find topless women so valuable that they willingly hand over hundreds of dollars to scantily clad young women just to see them dance? There is not possibility of anyone being picked up, having sex or starting a romantic relationship. So where is the value?
Men pay women to act as if they find the men sexually attractive. That’s it. They are looking to have their masculinity validated by an attractive woman. Even though they know it is an act, they still spend tremendous amounts of money for the illusion that woman find them attractive.
No cheap thrill, no sexual fantasy no gestures of dominance and submission. Just a desperate bid to feel what is like to be noticed by an attractive woman.
That is why men are willing to pay so much money to experience. Hormones and social pressure drive men to these extremes because being attractive to women is the crux of masculinity.
If you found this article interesting, you might enjoy these books: