Life drawing… on a stag do?

Stag and hen parties have undergone a strange transformation in recent years. Time was you took your friend to the pub, got drunk and fondly reminisced about all of your youthful adventures before they got married. Things are very different now; that night in the pub has morphed into what has to be the most epic night/weekend/week EVER. This is turning some city centres into post apocalyptic wastelands at the weekends (hotspots such as Blackpool, Brighton, Bournemouth and York have particularly suffered); complete with outlandishly costumed packs of intoxicated people reaving across the cityscape toting dangerous weapons (generally inflatable penises/sheep/sex dolls).

There has also been a rise in stag and hen party foreign tourism  – of the roughly 3 million British people participating in these parties in 2010 70% of them went abroad and according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office 24% of those that go abroad get into difficulties whilst they are away (experiencing problems such as theft, assault, injury or arrest); only one third of tourists were adequately provisioned with contraception and nearly half didn’t have travel insurance.

With the average spend per person on a stag party now an eye watering £195 and many costing a lot more, there are now many companies out there keen to create a package for your party, whereby they will organise all of the activities, travel and accommodation. Stag.com appears to be one of the largest “all in one” purveyors and will happily organise trips in the UK, Europe and further afield.

On their website you can choose by Activity Type, and this includes categories such as “Bars and Clubs”, “Football”, “Driving” etc but also has a section called “Don’t Tell The Mrs“.This gives a mind boggling 35 options to choose from, lots of which are lap dancing or stripper based, but it also includes:
– Anti-stripper
– Body-eating
– Boobie-wrestling and mud wrestling
– Lesbian Dinner party
– Sexy Hitch hiker
– Life Drawing Class

Don't Tell The Mrs Section Header from http://www.stag.com/activity-types/dont-tell-the-mrs/

Don’t Tell The Mrs Section Header from http://www.stag.com/activity-types/dont-tell-the-mrs/

The idea of an “anti-stripper” is to embarrass the groom by forcing him to interact (ideally in public) with a woman who doesn’t fit society’s narrow beauty standards. Hilarity will always ensue as the website assures us:

“Stitch the stag right up with the antidote to strippers everywhere! His face will be a right picture when he sees what you’ve got in store for him on his stag weekend. We can sort you out with any kind of anti-stripper you like: roly poly, ugly as sin or ancient! Catch the groom unawares in the shower, humiliate him in public with a 10 ton monster or whip out the smartphones and capture his look of horror as the ugliest girl in town starts flinging her knickers at him. Perfect for a laugh, you can book an anti-stripper in several of our stag party destinations. Some of them are local legends, who have been scaring the pants off grooms to be for decades. Cheeky, cheerful and loads of fun, they’re the ideal antidote to all that yelling and grabbing! We can arrange for as many anti-strippers as you like, and they’ll usually perform anywhere. Ask your stag party co-ordinator to find you the perfect ugly, hairy or just plain scary lady, and the ideal location for her to get her kit off in. We recommend breakfast time at the hotel for maximum giggles!”

I find the image that they’ve used on this page particularly hilarious; THIS is supposed to represent the epitome of bodily horror and ugliness? A little bit of cellulite? She’s still got a thigh gap for fuck’s sake.

The women being used as “anti-strippers” have overstepped the societal boundaries set out for them by being overweight or not conforming to arbitrary beauty standards like removing their body hair (or, even worse, both!). However, because they will still take their clothes off (for the purpose of shaming the groom with their “scary” bodies) they have attained the status of “local legend” and are seen as being fun in spite of their physical imperfections. But why is it a badge of honour to receive a lap dance from a conventionally beautiful, thin, young depilated woman and completely mortifying to have the same from an overweight, older, hairier one? Both have had to be paid to perform the service; neither would have done it of their own free will without money changing hands. Surely that is where the feeling of shame should be coming from?

Another option is that of a “sexy hitch hiker”; your limo driver on the way from the airport (this is one for those who have gone abroad) to your hotel comments on a forlorn looking lone woman by the side of the road, and how “she’ll never get a lift”, you encourage the unsuspecting groom to agree to picking her up… she’s initially shy but grateful and when she learns you are a stag party, well, what else could she do OTHER than strip for you right there and then in the limo? And what a complete LEGEND you are for arranging this sexy stitch up surprise you fucking genius you!

The reason I started this nightmarish journey into organised stag parties was because my friend was at a wedding last night and during the speeches the best man mentioned that as part of the stag celebrations they had been on a life drawing class, and this really didn’t sit well with her at all. Before you call me a Feminist Killjoy in the comments, a life drawing class initially seemed like a pretty odd choice for a stag party. And then I did some thinking, and some research…

A life drawing is one made of the human form from a live model. It has been considered a key part of artists educations for hundreds of years and figure drawing is an element of most fine art and illustration courses.

Historically, women artists were prevented from studying nude models (male or female) as they were deemed inappropriate and even dangerous to the mores of proper young ladies . As life drawing and the mastery of anatomy gained from its practice was such a fundamental keystone of an artistic eduction this essentially excluded women from being regarded as anything other than “hobbyists” in the art world. This systematic denial of the basic training required relegated women to the less well regarded forms of painting such as still life and landscapes. See Linda Nochlin’s essay Why are there no Great Women Artists? for more information on this fascinating topic.

So, interesting historical digressions aside, searching the internet for “life drawing stag party” seemed like an odd thing to be doing. But you get 105,000 hits. This is not a niche activity; it appears to be quite the trend – and it’s on stag.com’s list (hallelujah!) http://www.stag.com/london-stag-do/nude-life-drawing-package.htm

“Tell everyone you got a little culture on your London stag weekend without going anywhere near the National Portrait Gallery! Nude life drawing is the stag activity we’ve all been waiting for. No one can complain about the fact you’ll be looking at a naked woman because it’s “art”.”

So essentially, this is a way to get to ogle a naked woman, but it’s not tawdry like a strip club; it has a micron thin veneer of respectability, a cloak of supposed cultural relevance to hide the experience’s essential objectifying nature from “her indoors” (remember, this is still in the “Don’t Tell The Mrs” section of the website).

The description continues “Nude means nude… She’ll be pretty, in her 20s or 30s and have the whole girl next door thing going on. No fake boobs or nasty tan lines”. Wow, we are really getting down to brass tacks here; obviously if you were going to a life drawing class to learn to draw and generally master human anatomy the gender, age, physical attractiveness, presence of breast implants and if they have any tan lines (?!) would be completely immaterial; you’d go to the class and draw whatever model was available to pose on the day.

But you aren’t going to this life drawing class to pick up any real artistic skills. You are going to look “at a naked woman because it’s “art”… and of course it gives you the opportunity to give you the chance to get up close and personal with some lovely naked female flesh without getting into trouble with the future Mrs. Make like London’s famous artist group and flirt your face off while you sketch”. This is an invite to objectify.

It’s particularly fascinating to me that amongst the sea of stripper/lap dancing based activities on this website the list of physical requirements for the model for this are almost the antithesis of the stereotypical “stripper” trope (I recognise that lap dancers are a very diverse group of women, but this website appears to have a very narrow world-view) and is explicitly stating that the nude model will have the “whole girl next door thing going on” with “no fake boobs or nasty tan lines”. I looked at several websites offering life drawing for stag parties and they all listed very similar qualities in the women being offered up for these sessions; that they would essentially not resemble typical images of strippers/lap dancers.

This all helps to reinforce the respectability of this as an activity. Some sites suggested it as a good option where the father of the bride was going to be in attendance for example and that this would make the traditional strip club option awkward!

A google image search for “life drawing stag party” further increased my deep sense of unease about this as an activity;

Nude model surrounded by 13 fully clothed men. From http://henandstaglifedrawing.co.uk/assets/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/192.jpg

Nude model surrounded by 13 fully clothed men. From http://henandstaglifedrawing.co.uk/assets/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/192.jpg

here we have one naked young woman surrounded by a group of men who all know each other, may be already drunk or are drinking (most providers also include some booze as part of the package) and are being expressly invited to objectify and to comment on her naked body as part of a group bonding activity (and indeed, as on stag.com, to “flirt their face off”). They are not being asked to approach it as a serious artistic enterprise, but as “art”. The pictures of a lone nude woman surrounded by13 fully clothed men highlights the massive power imbalance here and puts me in mind of the Robin Thicke/ Pharrell Williams “Blurred Lines” video which features the same dynamic (and attracted much controversy) but at least that did lead to this hilarious feminist parody 

This sanitised leering (as my friend so eloquently described it) does not make this a somehow “better” option that those going to a strip club; you’ve still gathered in a group and paid a woman to get naked for your own personal gratification, even if it has been shorn of its more smutty connotations. This is still objectification, it’s just had an artistic glaze applied. Trying to dress this up as an art class is an affront to artists, and telling women that they have “nothing to complain about because its “art”.” is a childish silencing tactic; I’m pretty sure your wife or girlfriend won’t be putting the results of your efforts above the mantle-piece when you get home from the stag weekend.

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