There are a number of mobile ads for strip clubs that circulate throughout Philadelphia. Some are for the Penthouse Club, some are for Delilah’s Strip Club, some are on the sides of buses, some are actually vehicles with a designated billboard devoted to advertising the venue, but no matter how many times I see them, I am shocked.
It was one thing to see magazines on newsstands when I was an adolescent growing up in NYC. I might spy a woman, breasts on display, demanding I peek to see what else might be available. The fact that “woman as sexual object” was largely confined to the newsstand gave me some kind of comfort. Nowadays I am invaded by images of these women in their fantastically clad but still pornographic poses. There I am driving, thinking about some truly important problem, and along comes (no pun intended) the Penthouse truck, and I swear it hijacks my attention. It actually stops traffic, it causes children to point and ask premature questions, and most importantly as a woman artist it makes me lose my train of thought. I even start devoting a blog post to the Penthouse truck! I start to wonder, “Is that young woman in the picture getting paid well for having her image/ass paraded throughout Philly?” “Or is she paid a flat rate?” “Does her mother know she’s on the truck?” “Did she have to beat out a lot of other ‘girls’ for this job?” “Is she an actual stripper or just a model?”
And of course I think of my own child, and the fact that these women on the truck are gorgeous, and that my daughter, also gorgeous, loves fashion, seeing attractive women in pretty outfits, and has not yet asked what these images are all about. We sometimes pass the window display for a clothing store, and the grand gowns beckon her. “I love that Mommy,” she says “can’t you just see me in that?” I don’t want her to make the same leap when she sees the strip club ads, and gets the notion that that is what it’s like to be a beautiful woman. I know it’s just a matter of time before she brings up the Penthouse truck.
Apart from the fact that it feels like a gross invasion of public space, what really upsets me about the Penthouse truck? I wish there were images of women like Sonia Sotomayor, or Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the side of the truck. I wish we walked down the street and could learn about Elizabeth Caddy Stanton by reading the side of a bus. I wish we would hear the stories of what it took for these women to really achieve …… in the world, and could learn about the myriad paths women take to make a difference in the world. I want to hear and see the stories about women that are so beautiful in what they are DOING that I can’t stop staring at them and how beautiful they are. And so I guess I have to admit, that when it comes to these ads, I’m not really bothered by the nudity, it’s the narrowness of how it teaches us to look at women’s beauty, when the reality is we could never exhaust its true depth.