Doubting Thomas

Welcome to this week’s Reno News & Review.

I’ve watched with bemusement as the question of whether the author of our cover story, “The naked truth,” Caitlin Thomas, should call herself a feminist has played out on our letters page. Here’s my take—not because Thomas is my friend, even though she is, nor because I’ve seen her dance, because I haven’t—but because nobody seems to recognize the obvious in this discussion.

By one definition, a feminist is someone who supports equal rights and opportunities for women. Another says it’s an organizer of activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.

So the question is, can she be a stripper and a feminist?

I’ve seen Susan Sarandon take her top off in movies, and she’s widely known as a feminist.

I’ve seen 10,000 women take their clothes off at Burning Man, while the men—mostly strangers—gawk. These women call themselves “empowered.”

I’ve seen local women take their tops off for photographs that have hung in local bars. They call themselves “artists.”

What about the Boho group? It’d be difficult to call those women exploited or demure.

I’ve seen two women take ecstasy and have sex at a party while men looked on. At least one calls herself “sexually liberated.”

To my mind, the power and reward in half of these examples flows only in one direction—from the women to the men. Isn’t that masculine exploitation?

In my experience, it’s the person getting the benefit who’s doing the exploiting. If Thomas is “objectifying” the men who see her topless, as she says, then that strikes me as an equal business deal. She’s a founding member of at least two campus groups that work on behalf of women, which would mean she’s done more to advance women’s interests than the majority of people I know.

The people who object to Caitlin Thomas identifying herself as a feminist appear to want to tell women, and Thomas in particular, what acceptable feminism is. And that’s the patriarchal definition, where men don’t get exploited.