Deborah Dunafon is unapologetic about the sign she posted saying Toxic Masculinity Welcome Here despite unsurprising outrage on social media
Deborah Dunafon knew that a big sign outside her strip club that read Toxic Masculinity Welcome Here could land her in trouble. But she thought it needed to be said on behalf of her clientele and men everywhere, who she says have been given a bad rap in the news lately.
I think its horrible to accuse men of being toxic, because theyre not, said Dunafon, owner of the 35-year-old Shotgun Willies strip club, which is also a marijuana dispensary, in Glendale, Colorado. Our business is men, and men are not toxic.
How many men are we gonna pick on until finally theres no men standing? How would you like a society with men meekly running around with little bonnets on their head?
Shotgun Willies is located in Glendale (whose mayor is Dunafons husband, Mike), a hamlet surrounded on all sides by Denver the city where a coffee shop recently found itself in hot water over a sandwich board sign that read: Happily Gentrifying the Neighborhood since 2014.
That sign was not received well in a historically black area where residents had been displaced. A statement from the ad agency behind it said it was intended to be a cynical perspective on the issue, and claimed a misunderstanding about the definition of gentrification.
At Shotgun Willies there is no cynical marketing gimmick, and certainly no apology.
I didnt put that up because of marketing, Dunafon said in an interview. I put it up because Ive been watching whats going on in our country as far as men are concerned and its infuriating.
I have a son, I have four grandsons, and I feel sorry for my grandsons because theyre all teenagers and Im afraid for them. Im wondering if theyre gonna have to make girls sign a contract before they can even go on a date.
A photo of the sign was taken by Bonnie AD, a Denver activist for conscious sexuality, who posted the image on her Instagram account, @eroticselflove. It duly made the rounds on social media.
I had a visceral reaction of disgust when I saw the sign, because toxic masculinity is not a joke, AD said. I wanted to share the image because I think that community accountability is vital for social change. Largely, the response on social media has been one of disgust.
This message is approving of toxic masculinity, which is socially irresponsible and culturally poisonous. Anyone on the feminine spectrum, especially sex workers, already have to deal with the covert problems of toxic masculinity and rape culture, so when an establishment publicly makes this kind of commentary, they are adding unnecessary weight to an issue that is already a burden, and a danger, to many people.
Dunafon put up her sign on Tuesday, a day before revelations that two popular media hosts, Matt Lauer, of NBCs Today show, and Garrison Keillor, of public radios A Prairie Home Companion, had been fired: Lauer over allegations of sexual misconduct and Keillor over allegations of inappropriate behavior. The accusations were the latest against powerful men in the torrent since the public downfalls of Bill OReilly and Harvey Weinstein.
I think almost all of them are being accused unfairly, Dunafon said. In my business Ive dealt with sexual harassment a lot, because it is a provocative business.
Harassment was a very subjective thing, she said. Like today, the Garrison Keillor thing, Im sorry, but thats obscene.
Shotgun Willies is located in an area used by shoppers at Target, Home Depot and the Cherry Creek Mall. It is no stranger to controversy. Just before they were married, Mike Dunafon cast the deciding vote on the approval of his then fiancees application to add a marijuana dispensary to her strip club the first such endeavor in the nation.
Mike Dunafon is a cigar-smoking former Denver Bronco who ran for governor in 2012 on a pro-marijuana, anti-mass incarceration platform, landing the endorsement of rappers Snoop Dogg and Wyclef Jean, who recorded a campaign song and accompanying video with him.
Earlier this year, four former dancers filed a class action lawsuit against Shotgun Willies alleging a pay-to-play arrangement with performers.
An erotic dancer who works for multiple strip clubs around Denver other than Shotgun Willies and wished to remain nameless said she had seen pictures of the toxic masculinity sign on social media, and found the message problematic.
I believe that Dunafons heart is in the right place, but toxic masculinity isnt about targeting men, it is about fighting the current social concept of what is manhood, the dancer said. As a sex worker, I find that the current strip club environment is a place where many can embody these negative qualities, qualities that might lead to actions that would get them punished in the real world.
Not to say all men come into my place of work to intentionally treat women poorly. But I have had many men, and women, harass me, grab me inappropriately, trying to pull on my clothing or me while I am on stage, trying to place body parts or cash into random orifices.
I have been working in strip clubs for almost four years and while I have had many great exchanges with people, I have also had my fill of people who come to strip clubs as if they are places to treat the women that work there as objects. It might not always be intentional, but toxic masculinity does seem to rear its head more aggressively in these businesses.
At Shotgun Willies on Wednesday, an attempt to talk to some of the dancers was rebuffed by an employee.
Deborah Dunafon resented the idea that any of her dancers were exploited in the course of their work, and said her entire team stood behind the statement about male toxicity.
We believe that men in society today are totally being picked on, she said. Shotgun has a lot of different guys come in blue-collar guys, white-collar guys and Id say 98.99% of them are good guys. And they dont want to be accused of being monsters, because really theyre not. They come in for fun.
Every once in a while one of them is unruly and we kick them out, but the entertainers are in total control of them.