National Union of Students says Pole Fitness Groups Promote “Objectification of Women”
The National Union of Students in the UK has launched a briefing stating that “there are growing concerns around these societies (pole fitness groups) being used as a potential recruiting ground by strip clubs and about their role in contributing the increasing normalisation of the sexual objectification of women.” To read more of the organization’s claims click here.
Below is my response to this briefing:
Dear Ms. Temple,
I read a summary of your briefing regarding pole fitness societies. Before I discuss my objection to your organization’s position on the matter I will include several pieces of information I think are worth noting:
1. I am a college-educated woman who graduated cum laude from Montclair State University in the United States.
2. I work a regular, full-time job in New York City.
3. I have been pole dancing since 2009 and I am a certified pole fitness instructor.
4. I am not a stripper or sex worker.
5. I consider myself a feminist.
In your summary you state that there are “growing concerns” that pole fitness societies are potentially being used as a “recruiting ground by strip clubs.” This is an extremely vague statement and from my personal experience completely inaccurate. I was not able to view the entire briefing from your website without a password, but I would like to know what evidence you have to support this claim. Have you thoroughly researched this theory? Have you ever been to a pole fitness class yourself? I highly doubt you have.
Pole dance classes, and especially pole fitness classes, do not teach women how to be strippers and most certainly do not recruit them into the sex industry. Most classes are taught by highly skilled fitness professionals. It is an athletic art form. You’re forgetting one crucial element necessary in order for a woman to be labeled a sex worker and that is having sex. Pole dancers do not do that. A major job requirement of a stripper is getting naked and that is also not something that is done in pole fitness. Athletic sports bras and shorts are worn, similar to those in Olympic volleyball. This clothing is necessary to allow the dancer to move freely and expose enough skin to securely stick to the pole.
Not only do I disagree with your stance that these classes objectify women, but I believe they actually empower women. I have never felt as strong yet equally feminine as I do when I pole dance. I am proud to be a woman. I am proud of my curves, my strength. I am accepting of my body. Moving freely is a therapeutic experience for every human. One can dance in a sexually suggestive manner, one can move lyrically, one can move aggressively. It is entirely up to the dancer. This is true of pole dancing as well. The range of possibility is limitless. Both men and women can participate. There is also a supportive community that develops amongst dancers in classes and groups. They cheer each other on with enthusiasm while practicing new moves. This type of environment helps promote bonding and partnership, especially for women who are usually in a pattern of unhealthy competition with each other.
I would also like to address the connection pole dance has to exotic dance. While it does have roots in strip clubs, this does not mean that every woman who learns pole dancing wishes to become a stripper. There are also many strippers who do not pole dance and some clubs that don’t even have poles in them. Discussing the history of pole dance, Sheila Kelley (founder of S Factor) has said, “Though the exact date is not known, it is well documented that rolling, undulating hip movements were not originally intended as titillation for men but rather as expressions of the female body’s power to promote fertility in the land. In ancient matriarchal cultures, dance was performed by women and for women exclusively.” Today’s form has also drawn inspiration from the Indian sport called Mallakhamb, Chinese Pole, and side shows in traveling circuses. Why does an organization that is meant to support women choose instead to deny their lifestyle choices? Are women not educated enough to make healthy and safe decisions on their own? There is nothing that screams patriarchal dominance more than suppressing a woman’s right to be sexual on her own terms.
I sincerely hope you reevaluate your ignorant view on this subject. I encourage you to do more research before speaking so boldly on a topic you are misinformed about. Read books, watch videos, speak with pole dancers. And also… I think you need to take a class yourself. I am happy to answer any questions you have on the topic and available to refer you to other resources as well.
You can also contact Kelley Temple (NUS National Women’s Officer) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATED….After reading the full briefing I would like to add some more reaction. The most important point I want to make is that nowhere in the briefing do they support the claim that pole dancing groups serve as recruitment grounds for strip clubs. This is their main argument for attempting to remove pole fitness clubs and they have no evidence to defend it. They do provide data showing that many lap dancers are also university students, but again this does not support their main theory. They are making an assumption that these students must have some type of pole dance background to be working at a strip club. But as I pointed out in my initial letter, pole dancing is not a job requirement for a stripper, stripping is. The likelihood that a pole dancer will become a stripper does not increase with one’s pole dancing skills. In fact, the most talented dancers are performance artists with Cirque du Soleil, traveling instructors and sponsored athletes.
I’d have to say a much bigger factor in whether a female student chooses to strip would be one’s financial situation. Their statistics do more to support the claim that there is a correlation between financial issues and stripping than there is between pole dancing and stripping. If they want to prevent women from working as strippers they should work to lower tuition costs, provide alternative income sources for students and help them access better financial aid programs.
There are many grammatical errors in this briefing and also misconceptions labeled as fact. One that stuck out to me is the claim that men cannot be objectified. This archaic notion sets women back. If we constantly view ourselves as helpless victims subjected to dominant male influence how will we ever become equal? Yes women have been and continue to be victims of sex crimes. But we are not the only ones subjected to sexual violence and that part of our history does not define us as a gender.
Finally I will reiterate that I think pole fitness is actually a great practice of feminism! It is physically challenging. It helps women form bonds. It helps women with body acceptance issues. It is a creative expression and can be therapeutic. If the backers of this initiative are able to meet with an actual pole dancing group and speak with its members, they will clearly see this.