Empowerment or objectification?

The London Abused Women’s Centre [that’s London, Ontario] posted on Facebook Monday morning:

London Abused Women’s Centre withdraws support of the 2016 Take Back the Night

The London Abused Women’s Centre is withdrawing from the Take Back the Night march on September 15, 2016. We are withdrawing because we cannot tolerate an environment that condones violence against women.

Four days prior to Take Back the Night, the Women’s Events Committee posted a request on Facebook for consultation on possibly having a pole-fitness group attend the Take Back the Night gathering. This does not allow proper time for community feedback. Moreover, the consultation was framed in a way where pole-fitness was stated to be “body-positive” and “empowering.” No alternative viewpoint was provided.

Pole-fitness emerged from pole-dancing in strip clubs—where women, whether there by ‘choice’ or not, are sexually objectified by men. They are leered at and groped at by men who view them as objects for their own sexual gratification. Women and girls are also sex-trafficked into strip clubs and other areas of the sex-trade. Pole-fitness cannot be separated from this history and context. The symbol of the pole is one of sexual objectification and violence against women. Thus, while pole-fitness may be empowering for individual women, it is not empowering for women as a whole. It is a reminder that our primary role in this society has been delegated to one where we are an object to be used and abused as men, and others, see fit.

Because of this, hosting a pole-fitness demonstration at a Take Back the Night is antithetical to its purpose. Take Back the Night is supposed to be an event where women demand their right to be free from violence, including sexual violence. It is an event where girls and boys have the opportunity to learn what rights and freedoms girls should have. A pole-fitness demonstration reinforces the daily messages girls receive that their primary purpose is to be sexy and an object for the purpose of pleasing men. This is especially concerning given that young women are at high risk of being both sexually assaulted and sex-trafficked.

The London Abused Women’s Centre does not believe in colluding with messages that support the objectification of women’s bodies and violence against women and thus will not be participating in the 2016 Take Back the Night march.

The pole-dancing community is livid.

Yesterday the Centre posted a follow-up:

From the President of the Board:
The Board of Directors of the London Abused Women’s Centre (LAWC) provides direction to its staff regarding the values, beliefs and principles of the agency.

The Board is committed to ending men’s violence against women by addressing the underlying cause of it; patriarchy. In Canada 50% of girls born today will be abused after their 16th birthday; one in four women is abused by her intimate partner; and every six days a woman is murdered. There are more than 1,000 murdered and missing Aboriginal women and girls in Canada. Girls as young as 12 are recruited into the sex trade by pimps and traffickers. Globally, amongst other atrocities, women and girls face female genital
mutilation and forced underage marriage.

The London Abused Women’s Centre recognizes that personal empowerment is important. However, the goal of LAWC is to empower women as a group by ending the oppression they face in their daily lives. It is for this very reason that LAWC believes that no woman is free until all women are free.

The actions taken by the London Abused Women’s Centre are now, and have always been, consistent with benefiting our sisters across the world. As such, the LAWC team did exactly what was expected of them when they spoke out against pole fitness at the Take Back the Night event. It is unfortunate that the Women’s Events Committee chose to minimize our concern around the issue and publicly attack LAWC for its views. This backlash likely contributed to the fear some women feel when asked for input.

The Board of Directors continues to recognize the impact its staff has in shifting the culture for future generations.

The pole-dancing community is still livid.

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