My sixth form college (16-19) has just started ‘pole fitness’ classes and put this very large banner up to advertise them. The college’s take on this is to see ‘pole-fitness’ on a level with Zumba – It’s simply a different form of exercise that young women (let’s face it – it’s primarily women who will attend either) can use to empower themselves, but the former’s just a bit more aethletic and more ‘Burlesque’ than Zumba.
However some staff have commented that it just doesn’t seem appropriate for a 16-19 college to be promoting something that is associated with the sex-industry. The sexual connotations are visible in the banner – you can ‘clearly see cheek showing’ as one member of staff recently pointed out.
Of course I had to go away and do some digging on the issue, and it comes as no surprise that there are a wide range of opinions about whether or not Pole-Fitness is empowering or oppressive to women. To summarise just two…
Clare Mohan, writing at the Varsity Blogs about Pole Fitness in Cambridge University sets out the argument against it….
‘Whatever you name it, pole fitness or pole dancing, you’re still participating in the social context of the pole. Everyone knows where it comes from, that pole dancers are to be found in strip clubs and sex establishments up and down the country, and that pole dancing (which is, a huge percentage of the time, an activity carried out by women) is a dance form specifically designed to excite the watcher (who is, a huge percentage of the time, a man). So pole dancing encourages a view of the dancer [as a] sexual object.’
For more information on the objectification of women see the ‘Object‘ website.
The ‘Pro-Pole’ voice comes from a number of women who both ‘pole’ and identify themselves as Feminists over at the StudioVeena.
Two of the more compelling arguments for ‘poling’ being empowering include…
(From ‘Nilla’) “Maybe people feel that way because stripping as a profession is often seen as something women would only do as a last resort, and that it’s degrading for any woman who does it (It can be, but so can working in the fast food industry). So in a way, taking pole dance out of the stripping/sex industry context and doing it for your own enjoyment is the ultimate act of feminism, kind of taking the activity back for your own control and enjoyment rather than having to do it for the enjoyment of someone else.”
(From ‘Poledanceromance’) ’”To me, the answer is very simple (sex positive feminist): feminism must be about choice. It’s about women supporting other women in our efforts to explore undiscovered parts of ourselves. If I want to explore my potential by staying at home full-time to be the best mom I can be, you’d support me in that. If you wanted to explore yourself as a sexual being by experimenting in different sexual relationships, I’d support you in that (provided everyone is being safe!)”
If you read through the arguments for poling, many of them focus on the notion that it’s good for women to be allowed the freedom to express whatever they like through dance, including their sexuality if they damn well please, and they argue that in pole-fitness this process of exploration is completely liberated from the context of male domination and objectification that may exist in stripping.
What’s interesting is that both Pro and anti-pole stances see a sexual link in the activity, which brings me back to the original question – Is it right for a 16-19 college to be promoting something that has obvious sexual connotations? Moreover, is it right to do this when we all know that it will be mainly, probably solely young women, rather than young men, engaging in this sexualised activity?
Personally I don’t feel particularly comfortable with the college’s promoting pole-fitness, but am I just showing my age here? Or maybe this is my ‘inner patriarch’ just wanting to control young women from expressing their freedom? Or my ‘inner dad’ wanting to prevent young women from growing up?
Maybe I just need to get over it and start promoting pole-fitness in tutorials? Maybe that’s the future… ‘And don’t forget… final UCAS deadlines are this Friday, next Wednesday there’s a guest speaker talking about how to break into Journalism, and any young women wishing to explore their inner sex kitten are welcome to attend our new pole-fitness classes on Tuesdays… Please undress appropriately.’
Comments more than welcome…