The pole community

Meghan Murphy points out that pole dancing is what it is and not something else.

Until last week she hadn’t realized that pole dancers dislike feminism but also want to be in its clubhouse.

I was aware that pole dancing classes were now being offered to women and girls as young as eight, normalized by those who ran “pole fitness” businesses as a neutral form exercise, despite the fact that this activity is marketed almost solely to females and exercise gear includes what are commonly known as “stripper heels” (even when the “polers” are young girls). But I was not aware of the awkward lingo, the fact that there was a “pole community,” or the fact that “polers” wished to be included in the feminist movement, despite their apparent distaste for it.

But on Monday, all this came hurtling to light when [the London Abused Women’s Centre aka] LAWC withdrew from London’s annual Take Back the Night (TBTN) after the Women’s Events Committee (the body responsible for organizing TBTN in London, ON) announced they were considering including a “pole fitness demonstration” in the event. Behind closed doors, LAWC had already explained to the committee that they did not feel pole-dancing was a good fit for TBTN, but some members of the committee claimed they wanted to “stay relevant to younger feminists” and felt this was a way to do it, according to Megan Walker, executive director at LAWC.

Stay relevant to younger feminists by throwing out the feminism part – let’s not do that. Feminism too is what it is and not something else. It’s not there to make life comfortable for consumers of pornified women. It’s not there to tell women that their main job in life is to be sexy. It’s not there to pretend that fuck-me shoes and pole dancing are forms of exercise just as running and weight-lifting are.

Take Back the Night is a protest against violence against women, and porn is deeply entangled with violence against women. “Reclaiming” pole dancing as empowering does nothing to change that, and in fact probably encourages it.

TBTN has always taken a holistic approach to violence against women. Rather than plucking various issues and incidences from their context, feminists made the undeniable connections between objectification, male power, rape culture, and domestic abuse visible. So when the Women’s Events Committee proposed a “pole fitness” demonstration (to be put on by The Pole House), LAWC immediately objected. Despite internal disagreement, the committee went ahead andput their proposal to social media (in a notably biased way, arguing that pole dancing is an “empowering” form of exercise and a way for women to “reclaim their bodies”), publicly denigratingand marginalizing LAWC’s position in the process. This was the last straw for LAWC. In a Facebook post, they stated:

“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.”

“Polers” responded by claiming that their practice is empowering because women “choose” it, no one has “forced or tricked” them into doing it, and because is it an “expression of female sexuality.”

Doing things that men find sexy is not “an expression of female sexuality” – it’s an expression of female submission to male sexuality. Women do things that men find sexy to please men, not to “express” their own sexuality. As Meghan puts it –

Beyond that, it’s worth asking ourselves why all these practices presented today as “expressions of female sexuality” (from burlesque, to pole-dancing, to the sexy selfies young women post on Instagram) are rooted so firmly in male-centered ideas about what “sexy” means. Why does our so-called “sexual empowerment” look so very similar to the pornified imagery men have long imposed on women? Just because we are choosing to accommodate now, of our own free will, doesn’t change the message — it just means we’ve internalized it.

Why indeed. That pornified imagery isn’t women’s sexuality, it’s men’s. That doesn’t mean women shouldn’t do it, but it damn well does mean they shouldn’t pretend there’s anything feminist about it.

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