Why do male strip shows exist? Why do women go to them? And why was the show in Invermere at Copper City Saloon on Friday, July 26th so popular that the VIP section sold out in advance? The Pioneer went on an investigative mission to find out.

M, who is 34 and single, said she was there: “Cause I’m just a perv… I was hoping to get into perv row.”

With the VIP section full, she and her friend settled for a tall table in the second row.

“This is how I’m justifying it: entrepreneurs. I’m supporting entrepreneurs,” said A, who is 36 and single, as she sat near the back before the show and confessed to having jangled nerves. Would she stay for the show or bolt into the night? She wasn’t sure.

Closer to the stage, B and V, both 30 and in common-law relationships, were enjoying a feast but scooched over in their booth to chat about why they were there.

“It’s having something to do that you can just do as girls. You go out with your girlfriends. I don’t know if it’s even about the guys. Leave the boyfriends and the husbands at home and go and have a good time,” B said, adding that she usually only goes to the bar with her boyfriend.

“I don’t even know if there’s a sexual appeal or anything like that. It’s just something different. You kind of go as like a joke,” said V. “For me, every time I see male strippers – it’s usually for a bachelorette party or just like a girls’ night or I’ve been to them with my girlfriends in Vegas – it’s always about no men. It’s about just having a good time with a group of girls. You can go to the bar and not have to share the bar with a bunch of dudes that are wasted.”

From there the girls, joined by A who was feeling more settled, talked about how paradoxically the strip show was a safe space from unwanted attention from men. They still felt that way when Austin Stone came over to their table, told the giggling ladies how “it’s really important to stretch” and popped his leg onto the back of their booth.

His theory on why women flock to see him and his cohort is that: “Maybe they don’t get the appreciation and respect at home that we show them here. We get to make all those girls in that room feel beautiful… It’s somewhere where they can come and let loose without a whole bunch of dudes judging them – especially in small towns when it’s all like mailbox gossip.”

Later on A said: “I was paranoid to leave our drinks. Who here is going to roofie our drinks?! Mind blown… I think it’s almost like the liberation of women – free from the male gaze that we don’t choose. Instead we get a choice of our level of participation from a doting, safe male.”

Her preferred level of participation was to be an observer who wanted no contact with the men but who kept remarking on their strength as they lewdly hoisted the most-enthusiastic participants onto their shoulders or sprang into a handstand over a woman they’d placed on the floor.

“I can have one lap dance tonight, but that’s pretty much it,” said K, who is 27 and in a common-law relationship. “I’m so nervous but I’m so excited… They’ve all got tattoos and nice calves.”

After Bobby Drake was finished writhing over her, she reported back to a table of bystanders: “He literally told me: ‘You can touch me, you know.’”

Other women didn’t need the encouragement and groped the men with abandon – and with permission.

There was a theme of permission that obscene evening, with the emcee asking the audience how much clothing they wanted the entertainers to remove and indulging those in the VIP seats who cheered the loudest for the full show.

As the night ended, A mused about consent and how a night of such questionable entertainment might have a side benefit of being therapeutic for the women who get to transgress their normal boundaries, knowing that the men will stop and that they’ll remain safe.

Maybe male strip shows are “rituals of rebellion” – an anthropological term for reversing the social order and creating a temporary change in power dynamics – that much like Halloween puts the candy – or the bums – in the hands of those who have traditionally held less power.

Then again maybe they are just about the bums.

“What incredible movements,” A said, trailing off. “If I didn’t have self respect…”