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 it’s horrible to accuse men of being toxic, because
they’re not,” said Dunafon, owner of the 35-year-old Shotgun Willie’s
strip club, which is also a marijuana dispensary, in Glendale, Colorado. “Our business is men, and men are not toxic.
many men are we gonna pick on until finally there’s no men standing?
How would you like a society with men meekly running around with little
bonnets on their head?”
Shotgun Willie’s is located in Glendale
(whose mayor is Dunafon’s 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 Willie’s there is no cynical marketing gimmick, and certainly no apology.
didn’t put that up because of marketing,” Dunafon said in an interview.
“I put it up because I’ve been watching what’s going on in our country
as far as men are concerned and it’s infuriating.
“I have a son, I
have four grandsons, and I feel sorry for my grandsons because they’re
all teenagers and I’m afraid for them. I’m wondering if they’re 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.
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.
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 NBC’s Today show, and Garrison Keillor,
of public radio’s 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 O’Reilly and
“I think almost all of them are being accused
unfairly,” Dunafon said. “In my business I’ve 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, I’m sorry, but that’s obscene.”
Willie’s 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 fiancee’s 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 Willie’s alleging a pay-to-play arrangement with performers.
erotic dancer who works for multiple strip clubs around Denver other
than Shotgun Willie’s – 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 Dunafon’s heart is in
the right place, but toxic masculinity isn’t 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
“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
“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 Willie’s on Wednesday, an attempt to talk to some of the dancers was rebuffed by an employee.
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 I’d
say 98.99% of them are good guys. And they don’t want to be accused of
being monsters, because really they’re 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.”