News, Culture & Society

JAN MOIR: A case of naked hypocrisy?

At the end of a long night of swelling biceps and swivelling hips, grinding, thrusting, whipping and stripping, Donna Mitchell is not best pleased.

Outside the Northamptonshire County Cricket Ground, where she has just watched a troupe of male strippers called The Dreamboys perform in a two-hour show, the 32-year-old receptionist is feeling short-changed.

‘For 45 quid, I wanted to see the full monty — and I didn’t,’ she cries.

Is she not happy? ‘Of course I’m not happy. I paid £45 for my VIP ticket. I was sitting there right at the front of the show. And I didn’t see one single full-frontal all night. Not one.’

She is warming to her theme: ‘I’ve even seen her boyfriend naked.’ She points to a startled friend. ‘But I didn’t see a naked man tonight. It’s not right. It’s downright criminal.’

That is a debatable point, but what does seem against the rules of fair play is the double standard that Donna’s disappointment so neatly demonstrates. If a man had talked about a female performer in the way she disparages The Dreamboys, he would be deemed desperate, sexist, sad and ridiculous.

Harmless fun: There is no suggestion that any women at The Dreamboys concert in Northampton (pictured) behaved inappropriately 

Yet, set in the same context and judged by the same rules, her complaints are considered amusing and droll. No more than a laugh.

However, when you reflect on the febrile atmosphere surrounding current sexual politics — where every man is born guilty and the moral high ground is a female-only zone of furious hashtags and slogans — it suddenly feels not funny at all.

Donna was part of a 7,000-capacity crowd who jammed into the cricket club sports hall last Saturday to watch The Dreamboys strut their stuff. Instead of willow on leather, it is a night of torsos in leather and a professional determination to bowl over as many maidens as possible.

The Dreamboys, Britain’s answer to The Chippendales, are the most popular troupe of male strippers in the country, perhaps even Europe, and the all-female crowd — I spotted only one man — are up for a good time.

The eight performers, most of whom are professional dancers, put on a show that they promise will take their fans ‘on a crazy journey’.

Well, it certainly takes them somewhere, but is it any place we should want to go?

The Dreamboys mine the stereotypes of female fantasy, dressing up as cowboys, commandos and Top Gun pilots, then just as quickly dressing down again. They oil up in firemen’s oilskins, then peel them off in a blaze of rippling muscles.

Harmless fun: There is no suggestion that any women at The Dreamboys concert in Northampton (pictured) behaved inappropriately

Harmless fun: There is no suggestion that any women at The Dreamboys concert in Northampton (pictured) behaved inappropriately

And when they come on stage dressed in white naval uniforms for a routine based on the hit film An Officer And A Gentleman, the women go bonkers. If it is true that love lifts you up where you belong, we belong in a cauldron of bubbling hormones, a place where the hot, perfumed air is regularly pierced by primal roars of prosecco-soaked lust.

While Donna may have been disappointed by the lack of full-frontal male nudity, the majority seem more than thrilled with the goods on display.

Indeed, when The Dreamboys venture into the audience to select volunteers to join them on stage, the women waste no time in grabbing, groping and fondling the performers with the relish of the Man From Del Monte speed-selecting peaches for his range of canned fruits.

It’s shocking. Unbelievable. It verges on the obscene. Again and again, perfectly manicured hands reach out from the throng to grab, squeeze and paw the young men in their midst.

If the genders were reversed and it were males enthusiastically groping skimpily-dressed female burlesque dancers or strippers, they would be arrested on the spot.

They would end up in jail, be hounded from polite society, quite possibly sacked from their jobs and publicly shamed for sexual harassment, at the very least.

Yet, out here in hen party land, where the chattering-class topic of gender politics doesn’t make the agenda, it seems that anything goes.

The rules of the new puritanism that have swept through society do not apply here. The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, both sparked by the Harvey Weinstein scandal, were formed to combat the sexual harassment of women by men in the entertainment industry.

Scandal: The Presidents Club dinner at the Dorchester 

Scandal: The Presidents Club dinner at the Dorchester 

In Formula One racing, the grid girls have been banned because of political correctness and the feeling that their glamorous presence at Grand Prix events is now ‘at odds with modern-day societal norms’.

Meanwhile, the Presidents Club charity closed recently following allegations — never proved — that some of the 130 hostesses were groped, offered money for sex and subjected to lewd comments from male customers at a fundraising dinner in London’s Dorchester hotel earlier this year.

Of course, in the fraught world of modern sexual politics, there is no correlation between stripping, posing and serving drinks, just as groping a male stripper is not the same as (allegedly) raping an actress.

However, it is indicative of the blatant double standard that exists and which underlines the anomaly that it is only male behaviour being criticised under a furious feminist microscope, when, as every right-minded person knows, women are equally capable of behaving badly.

If there is a shred of logic to the #MeToo movement, it would do well to consider expanding its sympathies to include a #MenToo division.

No wonder male resentment is growing about the protections and respect afforded to females not extending across the gender divide.

The uncomplaining Dreamboys, who accept that lewd behaviour towards them comes with the territory, just have to grin and bear it. ‘It is whoosh, both hands, straight in,’ said Dreamboy Conrad Brissett. ‘You’ve just got to smile it out.’

At the age of 48, the Birmingham-born performer is the oldest dancer on the team, a veteran who has auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent and who closes tonight’s show by squeezing a sponge of soapy water over his chest, taking everything off, but — sorry, Donna — covering his modesty with a Union Jack flag.

Like all of The Dreamboys, he is philosophical and thoughtful about the unwanted attention: ‘I guess, in a way, we signed up for it. But, sometimes, I have to say to the women: “Hang on, I’m a human being, too.” ’

Kane Silver, 27, has been a Dreamboy for a year. Originally from Cardiff, he has worked in Los Angeles and been a backing dancer for performers such as The Pussycat Dolls lead singer Nicole Scherzinger.

Now, he has developed a coping strategy for a different reality.

‘Some women come along and they are a bit more drunk than they need to be. Or they are a bit more forward than they need to be,’ he says.

‘Sometimes, I say to them: “Would you do that to me if my mother was here?” I once asked this woman if she had a daughter. And when she said “yes”, I said: “Well, how would you like it if I did that to her?” ’

And what did she say? ‘She agreed that she should stop. Overall, I try not to let it affect me. Sometimes, I do think: “Well, she was a bit rude. But she might have had a bad day.” ’

It seems strange to think that just 60 miles north of here, a major piece of research is under way to assess the success of the introduction of misogyny as a hate crime.

Nottinghamshire Constabulary has conducted a pilot scheme — being closely watched by other forces across the country — which means that if a man as much as leers or whistles at a woman in Nottingham, he could find himself being charged with a hate crime and quite possibly put on the sex offenders’ list.

Meanwhile, the world of male stripping is booming. The Dreamboys have begun a 140-date UK tour, which will keep them on the road until Christmas, performing in concert hall-size venues.

Their junior colleagues in The Dreamboys Hen Nights division put on shows in nightclubs in 12 cities across the country every Saturday night. If anything, these events are even more raucous.

Trouble is not unknown. Earlier this month, at a similar type of event, photos emerged of a woman straddling a dancer on the floor of a venue in Middlesbrough.

And last year, after a performance at the For Your Eyes Only strip club in Central London, one Dreamboy was charged with two counts of sexual assault when two women claimed he molested them during a private dance in a secluded booth at a hen party. In the end, Florin Haiduc, 29, was cleared by a jury on both counts.

Giving evidence, he said that when the bride-to-be and her bridesmaid squeezed his groin and scratched his back, he asked them to stop. The bride was ‘absolutely fine’ when she left the booth, he said, but later made a complaint which ended up in court.

It seems remarkable that a male stripper selected by a woman to perform for him in private could still find himself on the wrong end of a sex charge, but perhaps this is indicative of how the pendulum in the sexual politics arena has swung too far in one direction. Mr Haiduc is no longer a Dreamboy, while his accusers have vanished back into the fog of legal anonymity.

The ongoing success of The Chippendales in America and films such as The Full Monty and Magic Mike has put a new generation of male stripping firmly on the map — one that they like to think is a little bit classier.

As one Dreamboy explains, stripping used to be the preserve of ‘bodybuilders with two left feet, bless them’. Now, it is regarded as more of a performance, with most Dreamboys boasting a pedigree that includes dancing in West End musicals and pop videos.

The troupe’s choreographer, Jordan Darrell, 33, feels that it is ‘more of a burlesque than a strip show and there is humour, too’.

Indeed, The Dreamboys appear as a Mexican mariachi band at one point and even wave unfeasibly large sex toys at the audience. Even so, the women do sometimes get out of control. ‘Of course they do,’ says Jordan. ‘They creep up on stage in the blackout and try to grab us. If it gets too out of hand, our security get involved.’

In a recent investigation into the sexual objectification of The Chippendales, where it is not unknown for the performers to be bitten and scratched by fans when they run through the crowd, Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis went to Los Angeles to interview a Chippendale called Ryan.

‘It’s very rare, but it does happen,’ he told her, adding that he did not feel objectified because he was a participant in the show and ‘objectification means someone’s reducing you against your will — this is not against my will’.

Still, he has never played on a cold night in Northampton, where the prosecco is cheap, the shots are flowing and girls are being sick before the show even begins.

What do you hope to see tonight? I ask a group of women in sparkly tops and hen party hats. ‘We want to see boys and lots of hard bodies,’ says one. ‘Boys, boys, boys!’ chant her pals.

I ask one of the older audience members what she thinks of it all. ‘I know what women are like,’ says retired machinist Beth Bolshaw, 65. ‘And some women get more out of this than others.’

In the dressing rooms, The Dreamboys have shaved their bodies — they don’t wax as ‘it’s too painful’ — and the air is heavy with fake tan and coconut oil.

‘Baby oil has too many parabens. We use coconut because we like to be organic and natural wherever possible,’ says Luca The Latin Lover, aka Luke Baker, 29, a former ballroom dancer, national sprinter and six years a Dreamboy.

He confirms that they rarely go full-frontal because ‘the majority of venues won’t allow it. The most you see is bum’. So, do they wear thongs instead? ‘Oh God, no,’ he says. ‘We wear black pants. We don’t just get our bits out.’

Does he feel objectified? ‘You get a few who take it too far, but you have to be professional and deal with it. I laugh it off, even if in my head, I’m thinking: “My God, what the hell is going on here?” But I knew what I was walking into.’

After each show, the boys travel through the night to the next gig on their coach, which is equipped with beds. No women are allowed on the coach, but that doesn’t stop them trying to board it each night after the show.

It sounds like a nightmare that never ends, but The Dreamboys manage to be polite, even gentlemanly. ‘Oh, they just get very huggy,’ says Kane. ‘They say: “Ooh, let me touch your muscles!”

‘Honestly, I have no idea why they think they can do that. But then, I am not a woman. I don’t know how their brains work.’ 

Some names have been changed.



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