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The pole thing

I would like to open a discussion about pole dancing, in light of the article in the current issue.  Pole dancing may be a cliched, trite and easy imagining with which to simplisticly infuse post and radical feminist dichotomies, but as a feminist leaning towards the radical, and wary of the significance and acceptance of porn and prostitution in mass culture, I am incredibly uneasy with the the attitude that pole dancing is simply fun exercise and bears no relation to sex work.

Of course it does. If it didn’t it would be called Polercise (TM) or Polefit or something boring and offputting like the rest of the exercise programs (and let’s not forget you can also take striptease and exotic dancing classes). Such a name would go some way towards disassociating the exercise nature of the class from its stripper function (but getting rid of the ‘pole’ part would be better!).  When such a name is used, such as Studio Verve’s PoleFit® class, the fact that it is advertised as something to do for a Hen’s Night reinfuses the classes with eroticism. Pole dancing is being marketed to women as a way of exploring their inner stripper.  Polefit sounds boring: it is about strength and flexibility. Pole dancing is about performing, with a pole, to be seen.

Check out, for example, http://www.suzieqpolestudio.com.au/ . This site features a lady’s ass barely covered in sequins. Teacher SuzieQ is ‘Miss Pole Dance NSW, Runner Up Miss Pole Dance Australia, Miss Nude Australia 2008, Runner up Penthouse Pet of the year and one of Australia’s most respected pole dancers’. This is a pretty clear indication that pole dancing and Penthouse porn cannot be so easily separated.  SuzieQ’s dancers perform in nightclubs. One class is advertised ‘Want to get your “Sexy Back”? Learn the art of Lap Dance and Striptease from our professional dancers that work in the industry.’ So the appeal of this studio is that you won’t be taught excercise, but how to professionally striptease by sex-industry workers.

Some studios do try to gloss over the sex part. One such is Pole Princess, the website of which uses terms such as ‘conditioning specialists’, ‘challenging strength training’ and ‘health of our students bodies’. If one is interested simply in conditioning, strength training and healthy bodies, then why do pole dance? If one is interested in strength training that involves performance and fun, why not do circus (which has many more cool things to become airborne with than just a pole) or gymnastics? If you are interested in dancing, there’s swing, salsa, tango, rock and roll, ceroc, the list goes on. Surely a woman chooses pole dancing precisely because of its association with an overt sexuality.

A look at some articles on pole dancing supports this. One lesbian writes in Curve that, amongst other reasons, she was attracted to pole dancing because she’s a ‘lifelong perv’ and that, ‘Being told how hot I am for a full hour is definitely cool’. Ebony magazine quotes one woman as saying, “I know that pole dancing has built up my upper body…. Manipulating your own weight is a challenge, and I think it’s something all women should master. Also, you get to bring something home for your husband. It’s a workout that has benefits for the both of you’. Another is paraphgrased as saying that ”getting women past the stigma of pole dancing is a challenge. But once they overcome it, look out. They exude sexuality and sensuality. Returning students become spirited and confident inside the studio, at home and at work.’ “Women love to feel sexy,” this same woman says. “It’s also powerful knowing that you can literally hold your weight.”

This kind of talk belies fitness instructor Catherine John’s belief that time will disassociate exercise pole dancing from strip club pole dancing. She is quoted in the Express and Echo as saying, “A pole is a tool, like a hand weight or a stability ball…We use the same tool, but what we do is nothing like strippers’ dancing. I have nothing against strippers but what they do is much easier. Their job is to entertain men and we are trying to entertain ourselves.”  (Though how hoisting one’s own body weight up is ever entertaining, whether its for a chin-up or a pole trick is beyond me – no wonder one must also need to feel sensuous and sexy…).

Some classes are advertised as providing an opportunity for women to get comfortable with their sexuality. For some studios, the empowering sexuality of pole dancing is meant for the purely narcissistic gaze, while for others it is for the benefitt of one’s chosen man. Now, while I would be loathe to oppose encouraging your sexuality to sit comfortably on you, I’m with Airel Levy and her ilk in thinking that your sexuality is probably better off not tied up with public peformances of nudity for paying men. If you are pole dancing for your partner, that is after all the culturally-charged fantasy that you are offering him – his own personal stripper.

While you may perceive the sexy dancing you do for your partner to be a gift of self-expression, it is likely that he sees it as all about him.  Several strippers interviewed by Andreas Philaretou individually mentiontioned that their boyfriends didn’t like them stripping. One presumes that, for these boyfriends, even though the stripping is merely a job, requiring no positive emotional investment in–indeed quite negative views of–the men being danced for, eroticism is not understood as a form of self-expression or self-appreciation and is only barely tolerated as economic empowerment because it is mostly seen as the validation of ownership of a female body, however momentarily, by a male. As boyfriends already claim these women’s bodies they do not want said bodies to be offered to other men.

I would be lying if I said I never did a nude dance for a male partner who asked me for one, and I’d be pretty prudish if I insisted that any sensual activity with any reminiscence to sex work should be strictly off bounds. But I do think one must recognise that in the current climate of a culture highly sexualised by the media, the ongoing prevalence of sexual abuse against women and children, the rip-roaring trade in hard-core porn, and the violence of globalised sex trafficing, to participate in an activity that bases women’s sense of strength, power, fun and value in her sexuality is problematic. This is historically where any sense of women’s power, fun and value has always been located–and then turned into her weakness, her sin, her immorality and subhumanity.

Perhaps the lesson to take from the proliferation of pole dancing classes is that exercise with no other element of dance or creativity is deadeningly boring and shouldn’t be done. I suggest if you are interested in developing strength in a fun setting that sees you climbing poles and swinging through the air, circus–with its emphasis on costume and clowning, but also with an unfortunate element of eroticism–is a better option. The aerials in swing dancing are a good option too and in swing you get to fling yourself around an actual man who is dancing with you rather than gazing at you gyrating around a pole. However you choose to express yourself sexually, to get fit, have fun or feel empowered, remember always to question your motives (Is my sense of self-worth based on being though sexy by someone?) and remind yourself that the personal is political (What I do has an enculturated meaning that impacts upon other women and society as a whole that I cannot necessarily control, despite whatever value my activity has for me.) Once you’ve acknowledged the structural rather than purely individual complexity of your decision, you can do what you think is best, whether that be going to that pole dancing class or becoming an anti-prostitution activist.

Here is some further reading. I’d like to offer more, but there doesn’t seem to be that much that is freely available on the internet (as opposed to having to be subscribed to online journal content or reading books).

http://www.iom.gr/inst/iom/gallery/Everyday%20Pornographies.doc

http://www.catwa.org.au/?q=pornography

http://www.apa.org/pi/wpo/sexualizationrep.pdf

22 thoughts on “The pole thing

  1. I’m taking burlesque classes with the Scoundrelles, who also do pole dance. The ladies who run the class fully acknowledge the sexuality aspect of it – they find it silly that some pole classes want to distance it from its sex work history, and indeed find it offensive. They also find burlesque and pole as a way to be comfortable with your body, to have fun, to express your sexuality the way you want it to. (Difference between burlesque and strip-club striptease, aside from burlesque not always involving nudity: with burlesque you concentrate on YOU, not on audience titillation.)

    I LOVE IT. So what if it has a connection to sex work? I’m a feminist and I’m sex-positive; I’m all for people having the freedom to go in and out of sex work if they wish. We’re lucky here in Australia that it’s actually legal and offers protections. Sex is sex – if people want to commodify it, so be it. Not everyone treats it as some “omg special” thing and it doesn’t have to.

    So some men find it titillating. So? Whether you want to do it because you want to get a guy’s attention, or because (like me) you’re a big ham and just want to jump around on stage – more power to you. At least here the burlesque/pole scenes are dominated by women both as participants and as audiences. (There’s a guy in my burlesque class!) It’s about enjoying and supporting each other, being vulnerable and silly, not worrying about whether you fit a certain body shape or look – because everyone is beautiful and sexy.

    I find it empowering. I come from a conservative background where there were lots of limits on self-expression. With my classes I get to express myself fully in my BODY – and I’m usually a person stuck in my brain. I get to tap into my sexuality and my erotic power – something that was denied to me in my past, something that was always hushed up. I get to experiment and explore, and not only is it allowed, it’s celebrated.

    Pole dance ABSOLUTELY has tons of creativity. Have you taken a pole class? It’s about connecting your moves with the music, building your limbs (it’s SUPER HARD and I have hundred times more respect now for polers everywhere!), coordination, confidence. I’m also taking circus classes as part of an artsworker traineeship and there’s often crossovers between the two groups. What I learn from one class helps a lot with the other.

    So some people want to tap into their sexuality. So for some people there is an extroverted performative show-off quality to it. Is that so bad? Is it worth “slut-shaming”?

  2. Greetings Rachel,
    Little old Lena Marlene here. I am head mistress and co-director of Scoundrelles Pole, Burlesque and Performance School. I understand your misgivings in regards to Pole Dancing but I have to ask – have you ever done a Pole Dancing class? Or witnessed one? As a lady who has been a stripper in the past and is now a Burlesque and Circus performer I can assure you that there is very little in our world that isn’t infused with eroticism. And would be very naive to think that Swing Dancing or Ballroom or Circus is not. I actually believe that the pole schools that are taking the dance aspect out are loosing a vital component. The pole dancing that is taught by most schools today is very definately a combination of the circus apparatus ‘Chinese Pole’ and provocative dance but having quite some experience in this area I can promise you when the provocative dance part is taken out many an average gal looses interest. I perform Russian Silks and Lyra as well and love them incredibly but you would have to admit they are a discipline that requires above average courage, strength and flexibility where as Pole Dancing can start at a very achieveable level.
    I am often surprised that some feminists seem to have a problem believing that other women have a sexuality of their own – perhaps not identical to yours. Perhaps it doesn’t work for you but might you be willing to admit that for some women dancing in a sexual way is something that THEY find sensual? It’s not always for an audience you know and even in front of an audience it’s not all about them. And if dancing in this fashion for their partner makes them feel strong and sexual are you criticizing them? I think perhaps you are taking your feminism so far that you are coming out the other side if you think that a woman’s dancing could only be for the purpose of pleasing men. Might you have forgotten to consider how she is feeling and what she is getting out of it?
    I often get very defensive of people criticizing Pole Dancing – not on my own behalf because I know why I do it – but for the literally thousands of women I have taught over the past several years. To see the pleasure that these lovely ladies get from class, to see them get stronger (physically & emotionally), to see their joy when they achieve a difficult trick and to know (and I do know) that they feel good about themselves because of it – not just when they are in class but in every day life.
    Why not do a circus class, or Swing, or Flamenco…why not indeed? But why not do Pole Dancing? I actively encourage my students to do other classes – life is too short! Why not try them all? But why should Pole Dancing be stricken from the list? Are you actually suggesting that Swing Dancing is not about sex? I used to teach Ballroom dancing and I can assure you it is charged with sensuality. Are you seriously saying that it is fine thing for you to be pressed up against a man (who is not always the man you are in a relationship with) doing the tango while a solo spin around a pole is bringing on the down fall of society? I have to ask you what on earth does going to a Pole Dancing class have to do with sexual abuse? That’s like blaming marriage for spousal abuse. Or sex for Sex Trafficing.
    I have been married for 14 years and I can promise you that the way my husband treats me has nothing to do with my job or my hobbies. While I tend to agree that men and women in our society still aren’t on an equal footing (and I pretty much doubt we ever will be) it’s up to us to ensure that they do not ‘claim our bodies’ in any way but lovingly and if some women find their strength in their sensuality while some find it in denial then I think, as a feminist you should be happy for them…No matter how they found it. I may have been a stripper and am a Pole Dancer & Burlesque performer but I can promise you no one owns my body but me!
    I love physical fitness but gyms bore me to tears. I have no doubt they have this effect on many. Surely anything that gets women out and about and excercising is a good thing!
    I also think that you’d only have to come along and watch 1 hen’s party to see that it’s all about fun – I know the world can be an ugly place but please remember that sex can be fun and consensual too.
    And as for Suzi Q, she is an excellent performer with strong ties in the Adult Entertaniment Industry but she does not perform in a sexually explicit way in any inappropriate forum. I think you should watch the Saturday morning film clip shows on TV and worry about how sexual explicit they are. And you only have to look at Suzi Q’s or Felix’s physiques to see that they know a thing or two about fitness.
    I don’t think that Pole Dancing will ever be strictly about fitness but neither is Swing dancing, Ballroom or Circus. If it was it would become as boring as the Gym and I wouldn’t want it too. I think it will loose a bit of it’s association with Strip Clubs as people begin to realize how difficult it can be and the skill it takes to do it.
    I could go on and on but really you would only know the truth of what I am saying if you came along to class….are you game?

    Scoundrelles will happily oblige….

    Love,
    Lena Marlene

  3. Hi Rachel,

    You do raise an interesting and important point, and I do respect your view and freedom of speech. But I cannot completely agree with it.

    Sure, I am male so you might be thinking that the comments follow will be disrespectful and chauvinistic, that is definitely not my intention.

    I’m all for feminism and I do believe it has its part in the world, however I do see myself leaning more towards 3rd wave feminism, the total dissolution of gender roles and further individualism.

    I think that if woman want to be empowered, they should be. I also think that if men want to wear make-up or cry they also should be allowed to (things I’ve both done on occasion). I also think that if men or woman want to be sexualized or “submissive” that’s their choice. Prejudice is a destructive thing, and I think the world needs less of it, and more understanding and love (as cliché as that sounds).

    So I pose these questions:

    1. Can’t pole dancing just be for fun? I have friends who do it for this reason. I think it’s definately subjective of whether or not is boring or uncreative. Different people like different things, I don’t understand why a lot of guys like football, but hey it’s their lifestyle not mine.

    Sure it’s definitely sexualized and it can be seen as a bit “tarty” (the words of a friend of mine who does it) but there is a humorous quality to saying, “I’ve done pole dancing classes”. I think it’s an assumption that all woman “do it for men”. And it does look like hard work, I’m sure it could get you fit (although I haven’t tried myself, I don’t think they cater for men just yet).

    2. Also, is publicising our sexuality such a bad thing (I include men in this)? I have no problem with woman being sexualized but I think men should be equally so provided both parties have a choice in the matter. I think the issue with pornography, yet again is entirely a subjective matter, some woman and men enjoy “putting on a show”, surely that’s their choice? Don’t get me wrong I DESPISE the idea of trafficking woman and prostituting them against their will or for drugs, but I think the association of something sexualized and trafficking woman for sex is a fairly loose one.

    I think we need to remember that we live in sexually intolerant times (you might disagree with that) when you compare it in a historic perspective. Just look at some of the more ancient cultures for an example, such as the Greeks, Sodomites and Indians.

    Our current view of sexual intolerance (and I’m sure a lot of feminists will hate me for saying it), in fact descends from a secularised patriarchal vision. Like it or not, the west has been dominated by male Christian thought for hundreds of years, and we are still seeing repercussions from it.

    Thirdly, is sexualization just part of our nature? Are we expecting too much from ourselves? We are animals after all and have specific drives. If you look at it from a psychological perspective, our brains are all triggered to find certain shapes sexually appealing. And most men would find the arse of the woman you linked to as sexy, does that make us “sinners”? Should people be deemed evil/wrong for something that is just part of evolution?

    Lastly, you do talk about questioning in this article and I really do respect that (good conclusion), but I would like to go one step further, I think we all need to remember that our questions are usually limited by our own discourse and cultural limitations.

    Finally I think it is important to remember, 3rd wave feminism does introduce an important point about 2nd wave thought, and pretty much that is that woman can choose to interpret things in a negative light or they can choose to interpret them in a positive light. At the end of the day I know what I would choose, that’s the view point that makes me feel less powerless and angry. It really does distress me to see people feeling that way, but for the most part our perceptions are in our control.

    I look forward to hearing back from you,

    Cheers,

    -Ian

  4. Hello Rachel,

    I can see were you are coming from, but because you are referring to Issue 17′s article of “No, I’m not a stripper”, Michelle green in the last paragraph said: “Since I have started pole dancing I’ve got more strength and confidence” Isn’t that what the female community is working towards?

    Also, you can not just go off one website (http://www.suzieqpolestudio.com.au/)

    Check out the following:

    http://www.girlfriendfunandfitness.net/
    http://www.poledance4fun.com/
    http://www.poledivas.com.au

    “POLE DANCING CULTURE
    After years of extensive research, Pole Divas have devised a ground breaking movement that combines the techniques of gymnastics, yoga and dance, perfected by the sensual movement of traditional stripping moves, for that extra bit of spice!.”

    The list continues.

    It is girls/boys prerogative in what they want to do with pole dancing, sexually or just for fun.

    Everyone must put the good with the bad, it’s how we learn our life lessons?

    Quickly,
    Alfred

  5. “… disassociating the exercise nature of the class from its stripper function (but getting rid of the ‘pole’ part would be better!)”

    Does the objection to the use of a pole as a tool or prop in erotic dancing or exercise come from the phallic connotations of “sliding on a man’s pole”?

    Would people consider the following pics erotic? Possibly.

    How about these?

    And what do you think of these?

  6. Balancing the argument.

    Hi to everyone who has commented so far, what an interesting topic thanks for raising this Rachel.

    I would like to point out the following:

    1. The meanings of “sex-positive feminism” and ” third wave feminism” are entirely debatable.ie. I consider myself very ‘sex-positive’ and I am a feminist, yet I do not do pole dancing or burlesque dancing, or erotic dancing etc. in public.
    In my opinion explicit sexuality in public ought not to be the definition of a sex-positive feminist, woman, person, man etc. and nor should it be the new definition of ‘women’s empowerment’.

    Also, lets not assume all feminists agree on what feminism should do next, therefore forming a cohesive “WAVE”. This is just academic jargon.

    2. Freedom and liberation are relative to the society that they are experienced in, they are not just a ‘feeling’ one gets when doing something. ie.Just because something is fun, makes the participant feel free, does not necessarily mean that it is in fact improving or contributing to realised freedom.

    3. To Ian, contrary to you’re suggestion about how Rachel would react if you were her, I think Rachel’s expression of what she believes and feels about this issue IS being free. Feminism arose out of women getting angry and if this makes her angry then let her express her opinion as it might hold some very important truths that are worth sharing with women who are caught up in all the fun and coolness of this latest craze. Someone with a negative, or more serious response can be a bit sobering, but why dismiss it?

    For example, how might other women and girls be affected by women sexually objectifying themselves?
    http://www.apa.org/releases/sexualization.html

    Also to Ian, who says “2. Also, is publicising our sexuality such a bad thing (I include men in this)? I have no problem with woman being sexualized but I think men should be equally so…”
    if this were the case (that there was sexual equality in society already and that this wave of explicit sexual expression were coming from both men and women) then it would be unlikely that women like Rachel would feel anger, discomfort, affront, and question or be concerned about what these kind of ‘fun’ trends are doing for women on the whole.

    CONCLUSION

    There is much that could be said about this topic, but I think the main thing to remember is everyone has different views that are neither entirely right or wrong, but by debating maybe we can find the truth that could lead us to sexual equality and freedom one day.

    another interesting opinion on sexualization of women:
    http://www.re-public.gr/en/?p=163

  7. Pole dancing CAN be ‘just for fun’ but has usually (historically) involved the sexualisation of women and generally contributes to the sexual oppression of women. ALL women are subjected to the pornification of culture in the West (the massive ‘trillion dollar’ sex industry, including lap / strip dancing clubs, red light districts and sexist outdoor advertising) and non of us can escape it. All women live in the sex industry if we choose to go out the house, choose to go into a news agents, choose to go to the pub – it is there constantly in our faces. There is no such thing as ‘choice’ because we cannot choose not to be exposed to hate speech depicting our sexuality through the medium of the sex industry.

    What is so POSITIVE about that?

    Women will never have really live in a sex positive society until the lies about us stop!

    I don’t belive there has ever been such a thing as ‘third wave’ feminism, I think women have just been dealing with a back lash and trying to make sense of a confusing, anti feminist, post modern backlash that has depoliticised the women’s movement.

    I believe we are about to embark on a third wave, which will focus on women fighting for abolition of the sex industry. Over the last couple of years we have seen an emergence of thousands of angry young women who are out to expose the lies and expose the truth about the damage that pornography and prostituion and lap dancing clubs etc. is doing to ALL women, and I believe that movement will grow and grow. Then we have a chance at creating real positivity for women.

  8. I am a bit hesitant to respond further in this discussion because the more I try to write the more difficult it is to say what I really mean without the possibility of it being interpreted as disrespectful rather than different – and I don’t want to be either dominating or boring. But since I’ve been asked specific questions, I would like to respond. General response first, then to Tiara, Marlene, Ian and Albert. And to Michelle – I’d prefer they put shorts on gymnasts. Or perhaps long lycra pants like the men often wear.

    I think the crux of the argument is that I fail to understand how pole dancing – as a representation/celebration/encouragement of female performative sexuality/sensuality (but not sex itself) is empowering. Exactly what kind of control, freedom or agency does a woman get from being sexualised, aside from a dubious economic power, which is not the kind that you are all arguing for here?

    From what I can tell the feeling of being desirable is being equated with empowerment. A woman who learns to striptease is gaining the power to make people want her, or to put another way, it allows her to feel wanted by other people, whether those other people are in the room or not. But not her, her self, but her body and a performance of her body at that. So….men or other women want to have sex with you. Women might be jealous of you. And?

    I draw attention to the difference between power and empowerment. An eroticised woman may gain the power to make people desire her or desire to be her, but that is an unequal power relationship of dominance and submission, which is why it necessarily needs to be commodified. By paying for it, and by a woman needing the money, the male gazer is once again in the dominant position. Once you take the real men out of it, they need to be replaced by the fantasised ‘male’ gaze (which can certainly be embodied in a woman) or else there’s no point in performing sexuality.

    If it’s so empowering to pole dance, then why aren’t men flocking to it? It is because their power, which is also very much tied to their sexual selves, comes not from their ability to wriggle their ass, but from their control of and recognition in the public sphere.

    Much of the way I conduct my feminism is to look around at where male and female behaviour, attitudes and experiences are split by gender. Until I see men lining up in somewhat equal numbers to learn striptease in classes where they are sharing their sexuality with other men and feeling empowered by doing so, I will continue to believe that the fact that the great majority of striptease teachers and students are women is all to do with the media, institutions and attitudes that form women’s environment, rather than any freely chosen urge in women.

    I don’t believe in some innate difference between the sexes whereby women naturally choose to be explicitly sexual and men naturally choose to watch them. Men have ensured that this gendered division continues and women cooperate in assuring that women’s worth and esteem is defined by their sexuality rather than their other, more public and varied qualities.

    If women need such outlets as striptease to become comfortable with their sexuality it is because a swathe of patriarchal cultures have made sexuality such a problem for us, but pole dancing is playing right into the hands of that patriarchal culture, not diverging from it.

    Tiara –

    You feel empowered by being able to express a sexuality that you were originally told was something bad or to be hidden. I’m glad you found an outlet to allow you to own your sexuality and your body, but if we had a truly positive attitude to women, bodies and sex then you wouldn’t need to learn to express a sexuality that was never repressed in the first place.

    Marlene-

    You write, ‘there is very little in our world that isn’t infused with eroticism’. Agreed. I have a problem with this because mostly it is women who are eroticised, not men.

    ‘I can promise you when the provocative dance part is taken out many an average gal looses interest.’
    My point exactly. It’s about being sexually provocative. That’s why women do it.

    ‘I am often surprised that some feminists seem to have a problem believing that other women have a sexuality of their own – perhaps not identical to yours.’ I don’t see how pole dancing is a sexuality of one’s own. It’s a commercialised, popularised sexuality being taught to you and its purpose was originally to reflect a male’s sexuality not a female’s.

    ‘Are you actually suggesting that Swing Dancing is not about sex? I used to teach Ballroom dancing and I can assure you it is charged with sensuality.’ One of the reasons I love swing is because sensuality does not need to be a part of it. Ballroom and Latin dancing – especially in their competitive capacities – absolutely requires a sexuality that I was never comfortable with and therefore never stuck with it. Swing is open to any style you choose. I personally go for the fun and silly style and leave the sensuous capacities of my body out of it.

    ‘I have to ask you what on earth does going to a Pole Dancing class have to do with sexual abuse? ‘ It has to do with a gendered relation between heterosexual men (in general) and women (in general) whereby women’s sexuality is seen as something the purpose of which is for men’s gratification and therefore they have the right to demand it if it isn’t willingly bestowed. It has to do with seeing women primarily as sexual objects rather than people. Objects can be easily violated and mistreated and disrespected. It’s more difficult to do that to humans. By reducing a woman to her sexuality she become something it is okay to abuse and mistreat – as sex workers are too often made aware of, not to mention daughters, wives and girlfriends. Just because you have had only positive experiences pole dancing does not mean that other women aren’t abused by the culture of sexual objectification. Accepting the current mediated valuation of sexuality, which pole dancing is a representation of, condones and participates in male objectification of women where women are the objects of desire and men the one with the power of desiring.

    ‘I think you should watch the Saturday morning film clip shows on TV and worry about how sexual explicit they are.’ Yes, those bother me even more than pole dancing. I don’t see pole dancing and music videos as separate phenomena. Where do you think women get the idea that pole dancing will make them desirable?

    ‘I could go on and on but really you would only know the truth of what I am saying if you came along to class….are you game?’ Scoundrelles will happily oblige….’ I would of course accept a complementary pole dance lesson so that I can put my body where my mouth is. Thank you for the offer and thanks for your considered response.

    Ian –

    I don’t think because you are male your point of view is disrespectful or chauvinistic. We are in accord in seeking ‘the total dissolution of gender roles and further individualism’. My point is that stripping is a specifically female gender role that has been with us for probably millennia and therefore does not further the aim of gender role dissolution but rather solidifies it.

    ‘I also think that if men or woman want to be sexualized or “submissive” that’s their choice.’ Yes, choice is the rhetoric of postfeminism and neoliberalism. But I question why a healthy, empowered person in a truly free and equal society would ‘choose’ to be submissive or sexualised. I admit that this opens another area of contemplation for me: given that many people are not healthy and have pretty crappy and abusive emotional histories, if self-flagellation, self-objectification and submission helps them to get through their lives then should I try to dismantle their opportunities to lay claim to their experiences? But surely we could come up with better ways?

    ‘1. Can’t pole dancing just be for fun? ‘ Sure, but so can rape, harassment and murder.

    ‘2. Also, is publicising our sexuality such a bad thing (I include men in this)?’ When it is restrictive, exclusive, tits and ass focused, gendered, coercive and capitalist, I think yes. And yes, I get it, pole dancing lets every woman, regardless of shape and size feel sexy. That a large or otherwise unattractive woman would have to take a pole dancing class to feel sexy is a problem in and of itself. Why should she have to be sexy? Why can’t she be sexy despite her inability to conform to a certain narrow ideal of attractiveness that is partly promoted by the sex industry?

    ‘I think we need to remember that we live in sexually intolerant times (you might disagree with that)’ Agreed, again part of the problem. It is okay for women to play at being sexual for the edification of men and people trying to sell us stuff, but women actually being sexual is hugely problematic for our culture. This is one reason women who are sexualised may not always actually have power – because they are also demonised.

    ‘If you look at it from a psychological perspective, our brains are all triggered to find certain shapes sexually appealing.’ Brains are formed by culture as well as nature. Finding a shape appealing and disassociating it from the person to whom it belongs and then feeling the need to own it through penetration or payment I am not sure is natural. Plus, much of what is natural is highly shitty, which is why we have developed such a rich culture. I have no problem with us being sexual creatures, but why has it becomes a public performance divorced from any individual relationship so that women gain gratification from being viewed as body parts?

    ‘I think we all need to remember that our questions are usually limited by our own discourse and cultural limitations.’ Of course, which is why discussion is so important.

    ‘3rd wave feminism does introduce an important point about 2nd wave thought, and pretty much that is that woman can choose to interpret things in a negative light or they can choose to interpret them in a positive light.’ The problem with third wave interpretative feminism is that it doesn’t interpret for the positive on the behalf of the collective. Most of the arguments here have been ‘if it makes me/her feel good then why shouldn’t I/she do it?’ My argument is essentially that it may make you feel good but it hampers the equality, freedom and respect of women as a collective entity in the current cultures of 2009.

    Albert-

    ‘Michelle green in the last paragraph said: “Since I have started pole dancing I’ve got more strength and confidence” Isn’t that what the female community is working towards?’ Sure, but there are many less femininely gendered ways to develop strength and confidence. I found learning to use power tools and build things to be a good option.

    ‘Also, you can not just go off one website (http://www.suzieqpolestudio.com.au/)’ I didn’t. I made reference to at least three.

    Thanks to everyone for participating in this discussion. I hope we all come away with some clearer idea about ways women’s bodies are a site of struggle over ownership, freedom, recognition and expression and the ways we variously attempt to ease these struggles. Despite our differences, I think we all are trying to work in the best interests of women – we just have different understandings of the way sexuality manifests structurally and the effect that manifestation has on women both individually and collectively.

  9. Sorry, Alfred – I called you Albert – sorry! I do know your name!!! I’m just a lot more used to typing Albert!

  10. Annette, I can’t think of a worse thing for women to focus on than the abolition of the sex industry. I know several women who are exotic dancers (and a couple men) and they are some of the smartest, most confident women I know. They use their careers to put themselves through school and to support themselves, feel very positive about their work, and never allow anyone to act disrespectful towards them. They are quick to stand up for their rights and each other, and will always defend their right to sell their skills.

    Prostitution will not happen any less just because it is illegal. It is the legalization that causes the problem to vanish, because with regulation standards are formed an upheld, and safety for all those involved increases.

    How would abolition of the sex industry empower women? It would force it to move even more underground, make women’s sexuality even MORE taboo, and hide it like we try to do now.

    I’ve watched a fair amount of pornography (as a bisexual woman) by myself and with lovers, for arousal and for information. Pornography can be fun, arousing, and helpful, and just because you’re ‘morally above’ something doesn’t mean you should be allowed to deprive other people of something. Pornography doesnt hurt anyone. If people don’t buy porn that demeans women, then there wont be a market for it and it won’t be made. If thats what our society creates, is men who want to hurt and demean women, then thats what will happen regardless of the law, regardless of what videos they watch, regardless of whether prostitution is legal or not, etc.

    Theres a trillion dollar sex industry but the beauty industry is worse. Women spend insane amounts of money every year on beauty products, plastic surgery, liposuction, etc. If they want to take a poledancing class and it makes them feel sexy and beautiful and empowered, why not promote activities that make them feel good about themselves and their bodies?

  11. for some it might be that they’d like to be more sensual, sexually expressive, to feel sexy and be sexy, but they aren’t confident in their ability to be so, feeling awkward, shy, silly when they try to be. so pole-dancing might teach them how to look and feel this way, how to move and dance in a provocative way, gradually building up their confidence and ability.
    i’m a guy and don’t pole-dance so this is pure speculation

  12. Hi Alex

    I didn’t mention my position on legislation and I actually believe that the abolition of the sex trade will only happen through feminist revolutionary organising. I think there are legislative models that have made improvements (the Swedish model for example) but they are really just quick fixes and in fact most of the change that has happened in Sweded to reduce the industry has happened due to a shift in attitudes about women and due to a good welfare state, maternity leave etc, all which improve the position of women in society. I don’t agree that there is a binary between an underground and overt sex industry. Where one is big, the other is usually just as big. Take Holland for example: the overt sex industry is huge and so is the underground industry. There are a large number of women living with HIV and a large number of women are raped. I also do not agree that the overt industry is safer or nicer – it simply puts hatred towards women on display (e.g. the shop windows in Holland).

    You say that pornography does not hurt anyone but I know that is not true because the existance of pornography hurts me and many other women that I know. on a day to day level. Personally I find that pornogrpahy bombards public space continuously (on TV, in newsagents, on sexist billboards, in red light districts) and I see it as hate speech against all women, including myself. If a pornograhic poster were put up in my work place, I could make a complaint to the equal opportunities commission because it is illegal and classed as sexual harassment, but it is legal to put up porn in all other public spaces. That is unacceptable!

    I think pornogrpahy is always misogynist or peadophilic, that is what makes it pornography. If you are filming yourself doing sexual things for your own benefit or for your mates and it is all consensual, that is not pornography. It’s a little like religion. Having your own beliefs about spirituality is not religion but when it is imposed on society in order to control how people behave, then it is religion and it is damaging. Pornography is certainly used to control women and how they dress and behave and our sexuality. The vast majority of pornogrpahy depicts women as sexualised for the benefit of men. I find that incredibly disempowering. The sex industry is there to benefit men, not women.

    I agree, the beauty industry is awful for women and I oppose that too. I believe we should fight any industry that reinforces our subordination – these industries cannot be made nice for the women who work in them or the women who have to live the ‘pollution’ and hatred that they create!

    I agree lets promote activities that make women feel good about themselves. I do not believe that activities that replicate sexualised femininity for the benefit of men can really be empowering.

  13. To me, pole dancing isn’t directly connected to sensuality, but more to sexuality. See, if I were to think of dance forms that I feel would help women to feel more sensually and sexually expressive, I’d think of belly dancing and burlesque. Traditionally, belly dancing isn’t performed in front of men, but just among a group of women, but it definitely teaches you how to feel more confident and comfortable in your body. I believe burlesque would do the same. Pole dancing however evokes too many connotations with the sex industry and doesn’t seem quite as classy to me. But that’s just my personal opinion. I’m sure there’s many who would think differently. It seems foolish though to try and separate pole dancing from its history… would you study ballet without learning the French terms connected with or learn the tango without knowing where it originated?

  14. RE: body confidence:

    I think becoming more confident is an excellent goal for women to have.. young and old… and there are so many ways to increase confidence.

    Any physical activity (doesn’t need to be focussed on sexuality) that makes you feel stronger, more coordinated, and in control of your body, and increases heart-rate, will make you feel more confident and also increase your libido.

    Confidence in what your body can do for YOU is a great way to stop being self-conscious about how you appear to others. This kind of confidence does not need to be gained through pole-dancing, which is going to make you more conscious of how the way your body moves ‘looks’ to others – this has been shown in clinical tests to hamper the way women execute physical activities.

    I agree with other comments that the confidence gained through pole-dancing can only make sense in the context of a society that constantly bombards women with ‘ideal body’ images, and therefore lowers confidence in the first place, and increases self-consciousness. Even while women are engaging in sexual activity, making love, or whatever you like to call it, they are often self-conscious. Think of all those Cosmo body tricks women were taught to hide their faults and make their bodies look great while naked!!!

    Sure, your version or group of pole-dancers, or burlesque dance group might be open to different body types, but how different, and how accepting are audiences and society in general to different bodies? And you might gain more confidence to move in a way that will ‘attract, and hold’ attention, and play around with that idea. But don’t you think it makes women appear to be trying harder than ever to do what they have been doing for centuries anyway?

    I’m not talking about a private audience of one, your own relationship dynamics are not up for debate. But if the performance is public and I’m in the audience, I feel embarrassed for the woman who is doing the strip-tease, and more-so pole-dancing, because I don’t really see it as an art-form, even if a more theatrical style of strip-tease like burlesque (which reminds me of a woman jumping out of a cake at a bucks party). This could be because I don’t experience the stripper or pole-dancer as empowered, even if she does, unless you mean in a more animal sense of competing for attention of the opposite sex (because she probably has that while she is shaking her tits at them). I see her as giving away her power. Has anyone actually surveyed audiences anonymously to find out what they experience? eg. Do men in the audience feel like she has power over them, that she is equal to, or above them while she performs? Or do men in the audience feel they are in a position of control, being served, entertained and titilated? Thats a whole other topic I guess.

    Back to confidence,
    Women seeking body-confidence, have already been doing so in other ways long before pole-dancing or Burlesque made its way into popular culture. There are a multitude of physical activities, sports, and other forms of movement like yoga, tai chi,or contemporary dance (if you are needing to be looked at as some commented they were), where moves are executed in the same way for both sexes.

    So what would the world be like if women were not objectified?
    What would we do if we weren’t objectified any more?
    We’d save a lot of money, and get to work, school, and out to have fun a lot quicker I reckon.

    But seriously, I think that as long as women are sexually objectified, or objectify themselves, we will not have sexual equality.

  15. Greetings again Rachel,
    You are on! Please feel free to email me at lenamarlene@scoundrelles.com.au and if you would like to come to a Brisbane class Scoundrelles would be pleased to have you in Pole and/or Burlesque.
    And as for men going to pole classes, well we do have 2 in Burlesque and have had many enquiries for men’s classes. They also have been taught at the Wickham Hotel from time to time. The only reason Scoundrelles haven’t offered them yet is that we are too busy with the girls and would have to create a whole nother curriculum (not to mention marketing etc) as no matter how feminist any girl is we have to admit that the boys are built in a different way. For ladies pole dancing does wonders for your upper body strength, an area we often miss and generally the boys are stronger in this area already. Hence a lot circus courses and nearly all gymnastic classes, once beyond beginners, tend to be divided. Also, at least in Australia, I think you’ll find that any dance or movement class be it ballet, contemporary or tai-chi is nearly always going to have a higher percentage of women than men.
    I hope you give us a chance to show you that we do just see things a little differently. I can definately see truths in your philosophy but I am also confident that neither of us speak for everyone.

    Lena Marlene XXOO

  16. Lena, that is exactly my point!

    (although it doesn’t apply to Thai Chi, which is well patronized by men especially at the instructor and elite levels – and its a martial arts and not a performing art)

    However i would definitely agree that it is the case that ballet, and contemporary classes are predominantly female in australia
    (though i think this would apply more to hobby level and not as much to elite levels)

    so the point you have made there is that women are already over-represented in the performing arts that are about looking at the body, this is hardly surprising after all considering previous comments.

    I have also been keenly aware lately that men far outnumber women in other areas of the arts like blues, rock, jazz musicians for example

    doesn’t this demonstrate that women really need no encouragement to become visible, or to exhibit their bodies in expressive or decorative ways any more than they already are. and that doing so is just perpetuating and even exaggerating an imbalance that is already apparent.

    what women do need more encouragement in is to use their bodies (fine and gross motor) to execute skillful movement that is not concerned with appearances at all, may be about art, or practical activity and achievements, or sporting pleasure and achievement (not that we don’t have some great sportswomen, but the average girl still gets made fun of – and boys still taunt each other with ‘ohh you girl’ if a guy performs poorly or with a lack of strength and skill).

    whereas men, on the other hand, quite clearly need encouragement to express themselves more freely, perhaps sensually and sexually through their bodies and not just see that as a feminine art, and to not only see their bodies as a tool for achieving something practical or competitive

    its interesting tthat in european and other non-western cultures men seem to feel more free to express through movement of their body

    I would like to see more of a push for women and girls to stick at their skills and talents, whether that be in the arts or not, and to waste less time worrying about how sexy they look, this is not just for feminism but for their psychological and physical well-being. It could prevent a lot of eating disorders as well as other problems.

    i also think there is an opportunity to create new dance styles that are not gender specific, or based on gender roles and traditional dress ie. women exposes her body parts while the man displays her and supports her movements

  17. I’ve never had to show myself to men (aside from my male classmates who are in the same position I am) nor do I have to feel like I have to satisfy anybody’s fantasy except my own. I’ve never felt judged for my body, I’ve never had to conform to any standard. Indeed, I’ve felt more accepted in burlesque classes than I have in school, or even in more traditional feminist circles (where I already feel out of place because I’m Asian and come from a very different perspective).

    Take Tarnished for example, a 4-person burlesque show that toured Australia last year or so. Among some of the segments? Dirty underwear, an angle grinder to your crotch, and shared chewing gum! Not typically titillating (and there were definitely a few “ew”s). But that’s the point though – burlesque isn’t straight-up titillating. It’s erotic PARODY – more like baudy pub songs than come-hither. It takes aspects of eroticism and subverts it to poke fun at something. Nowadays there is more of a showgirl aspect to it, more about “pretty” than “funny”, but that doesn’t mean burlesque had become completely about having the audience think you’re hot.

    My experience is not your experience, but doesn’t mean our experiences are invalid.

    Annette – isn’t it disingenuous to modify the definition of porn so that it suits your own purposes? “It’s only porn if it’s misogynistic or paedophilic. I hate porn. So all porn is bad.” But there’s more to porn than just that.

    This is an argument I read from someone else (She was working on a uni essay) about porn but I think it applies here too: porn (and striptease/pole dance/burlesque/etc) is not INHERENTLY exploitative or demeaning; they’re just affected from the side effects of a patriarchal misogynistic society. In an ideal world, they wouldn’t be as bad as some people feel they are – but we’re NOT in an ideal world. Never will be. The best we can do is work around it to find ways to open up these avenues – eroticism, sexuality, the relationship of bodies and societies, privacy and public exposure – to more than just one viewpoint or perspective. There’s a growing number of people who work to create sexual media and art from not just a stereotype man-centric view (assuming that all men think alike!!!) but from what turns *them* on, what makes them feel good about themselves, what they find fun.

    I find sexual stuff fun. Hilarious. Comedic. I’ve been to stripclubs and had a riot. I find it empowering because I get to indulge my sense of humour and fun without someone looking at me going “you’re a harlot and we must save you” (come to my hometown sometime!). But even if my sexuality had not been repressed, I’d probably still enjoy them too – perhaps even more openly – because I find them entertaining and good fun. It cheers me up. I mean seriously…you can’t really take bootyshakes soooooo seriously, it’s silly!

    We all have choices and we should respect the choices people make. I appreciate that your choices are not mine and vice versa, but let’s not fall into the trap of taking away people’s agency or assuming that anyone who works in anything remotely sexual is only doing it for the “male gaze” (uh, hello, lesbians and bisexuals and genderqueers exist, for one) and not because they find it a hell of a lot more interesting than doing a run around the part (snooze!).

  18. …and in an ideal world
    we would ALL have a choice
    ie.
    if i don’t want to participate in stripping or porn or etc etc
    i wouldn’t have to even see or view these activities or images unless i chose to
    and
    if i thought the objectification of women was damaging
    i wouldn’t have to view objectifying images of woman all day every day

    but as Tiara so aptly put it
    we’re NOT in an ideal world

    so…
    how does everyone get to live the way they want to?
    and have a choice?
    while some people choose to have their versions of fun, and promote their fun, and wear their fun etc. in full public view

    who is getting the choice here?

  19. Pingback: Flamenco Dancing Guitar and Cajon Spanish Music » Blog Archive » lip magazine: for girls who think feel create speak out live » The …

  20. Very interesting topic with some excellent contributions. I would like to add a male perspective on burlesque, since the discussion has meandered into that area.

    I have been to a couple of burlesque evenings to find out what all the fuss is about. I don’t find it at all sexy or appealing. I don’t understand why a modern woman would want to adorn herself in heavy makeup and pornstar-like lingerie and footwear. How can such stereotypical concepts of beauty be empowering? Surely we’ve moved on from the restrictions of corsets, perfect grooming and perfect makeup being regarded as attractive? I would’ve thought modern women would be rejoicing in being freed from all this artifice and embrace the more natural look our society now allows. All the men I know hate women wearing too much makeup, and at the end of the day, lingerie and other regalia don’t add anything to finding a woman appealing. It seems to me to be an extremely self-indulgent hobby. Miss Marlene is all about how much she’s added to women’s lives, and very keen to promote her business too. If she really wants to contribute to making women feel empowered, why not volunteer in a domestic abuse shelter or rape crisis centre? But I suppose that’s a little too ‘real’ and doesn’t allow her to stroke her own ego.

  21. Hi Rachel,
    Always good to hear a different view! My response is below:

    Quote: “‘I also think that if men or woman want to be sexualized or “submissive” that’s their choice.’ Yes, choice is the rhetoric of postfeminism and neoliberalism. But I question why a healthy, empowered person in a truly free and equal society would ‘choose’ to be submissive or sexualised. I admit that this opens another area of contemplation for me: given that many people are not healthy and have pretty crappy and abusive emotional histories, if self-flagellation, self-objectification and submission helps them to get through their lives then should I try to dismantle their opportunities to lay claim to their experiences? But surely we could come up with better ways?”

    Couldn’t we also question whether or not it is healthy to want to be “empowered”? By enforcing our own power, don’t we just show that we have none? Surely true power does not have to be demonstrated? I think power comes from within and is based on our own perceptions, we may look submissive yet aren’t necessarily, this comes down to choice.

    The fact of the matter is, that we will never be able to completely control other people or things in this world, we can only influence them. That said I think all arguments are valid, and what I disagree with, when it comes to some forms of feminism is the notion of censorship.

    quote: “‘1. Can’t pole dancing just be for fun? ‘ Sure, but so can rape, harassment and murder.”

    Hmm, I really see that as reactionary based argument. It’s a bit different for someone to choose to pole dance, then it is, for someone else entirely, to rape, harass or murder, someone against their will. At least in the instance of pole dancing there is a clear choice being made by the participant.

    And well all know by definition, you can’t rape, harass or murder if both parties agree, they are different things entirely.

    Quote: “‘2. Also, is publicising our sexuality such a bad thing (I include men in this)?’ When it is restrictive, exclusive, tits and ass focused, gendered, coercive and capitalist, I think yes. And yes, I get it, pole dancing lets every woman, regardless of shape and size feel sexy. That a large or otherwise unattractive woman would have to take a pole dancing class to feel sexy is a problem in and of itself. Why should she have to be sexy? Why can’t she be sexy despite her inability to conform to a certain narrow ideal of attractiveness that is partly promoted by the sex industry?”

    Again, good point it is wrong that some women, are made to feel unattractive because they don’t meet the right body shapes. I agree with this. But if someone does choose to do pole dancing as a way of dealing with this, and it does work, who are we to judge them?

    Quote: “‘I think we need to remember that we live in sexually intolerant times (you might disagree with that)’ Agreed, again part of the problem. It is okay for women to play at being sexual for the edification of men and people trying to sell us stuff, but women actually being sexual is hugely problematic for our culture. This is one reason women who are sexualised may not always actually have power – because they are also demonised.”

    Yeah, I completely agree with you on this one. I really dislike the stigma attached to sexually active women. Personally I just choose to mock people when I see them use it.

    Quote: “‘If you look at it from a psychological perspective, our brains are all triggered to find certain shapes sexually appealing.’ Brains are formed by culture as well as nature. Finding a shape appealing and disassociating it from the person to whom it belongs and then feeling the need to own it through penetration or payment I am not sure is natural. Plus, much of what is natural is highly shitty, which is why we have developed such a rich culture. I have no problem with us being sexual creatures, but why has it becomes a public performance divorced from any individual relationship so that women gain gratification from being viewed as body parts?”

    I’m sure some men to view woman as body parts. To be honest, I think they miss out, as they need to realise there’s a lot more to women than just parts, which frankly are far more interesting.

    Quote:”‘3rd wave feminism does introduce an important point about 2nd wave thought, and pretty much that is that woman can choose to interpret things in a negative light or they can choose to interpret them in a positive light.’ The problem with third wave interpretative feminism is that it doesn’t interpret for the positive on the behalf of the collective. Most of the arguments here have been ‘if it makes me/her feel good then why shouldn’t I/she do it?’ My argument is essentially that it may make you feel good but it hampers the equality, freedom and respect of women as a collective entity in the current cultures of 2009.”

    How can you ever achieve a completely positive light on a collective? Every decision made, someone will disagree with (even within a collective). That’s why I think an individual approach at the end of the day is more effective. Woman/People etc can’t always change the perceptions of others but they can change theirs. And if gives people what they want. Allows them to live as they want.

    I think a lot of feminist argument seems to hang on stereotypes, making it ineffective.

    Progress has been made, and I think we need to focus on the positives whilst pushing for change. I would like to see equal pay for women, less labelling and more individualism all round. If we focus on the negatives we become powerless and you no longer have the drive to push for that change. Ive been very angry about being powerless in the past because of government policies (counter-terror laws, censorship propals (even womens rights!) etc), but getting angry about it, only made it worse for me, and hindered my effectiveness as I could come across as a loony lol. I still drive for change, but I focus on the positives and feed off those, which gives me greater strength and in the end im able to relate to people more and influence them more effectively.

    I can certainly see some important points you’ve raised, I just think you could have a more effective approach.

    Maybe even the notion of respect is overrated? Some people don’t respect me, I don’t care, they miss out.

    I think respect is gained through respecting yourself, and respecting others. You get it on an individual level, any other level it doesn’t matter, it’s a stereotype. Stereotypes only affect you if you choose to associate with that stereotype and apply restrictions to yourself based on those stereotypes.

    This is not an attempt to sound condescending but I think that freedom is found within the mind, no were else. That said, there are physical boundaries, which we should still try break! :)

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