This post is part of a for and against debate, for the other side of the debate visit Pole dancing is a sport, not a ‘recruiting ground for the sex industry’.
The NUS recently attempted to start a campaign to ban pole dancing from campuses, and I can definitely see where they are coming from. Pole dancing as it currently exists is incredibly sexualised and cannot be otherwise.
Pole dancing has existed for centuries, though until the mid-twentieth century it was a male dominated activity in India and China, used to demonstrate physical strength, flexibility and agility.
It wasn’t until the 1950s when burlesque became popular that women began to participate in pole dancing. It was then that it became sexualised, being an activity that was entirely designed to titillate a male audience with a scantily-clad female performer.
The roots of modern pole dancing are undeniably sexual, and to deny how it came to exist and the way it has been received by media and popular culture is to deny its reality. If you disagree with pole dancing’s sexual connotations, then you should probably do another activity for fitness. Pole dancing and the sexuality surrounding it are inseparable.
In 2012, 6% of students admitted to turning to sex work to help support their degree, double the amount from 2011. Part time jobs are becoming increasingly rare, student loans are not increasing in line with the cost of living, and a wave of new businesses such as ‘Sponsor a Scholar’ are all very real problems.
Combine these with a marketable skill in pole dancing and the three, soon to be four, strip clubs in Portsmouth, and we could see a further increasing percentage of students forced into sex work through desperation.
Last week Brunel University held an event much like one in our own Union bar where female students were auctioned off in a fundraising event. At Brunel, if the woman was auctioned for over £100, then she was pressured into giving her winning bidder a lap dance in front of everyone.
This kind of behaviour is feeding into a campus culture of derogatory behaviour towards women and causing our unions to lose the “safe space” label that they so often boast.
When this debate is seriously considered, it needs to be noted that there will be no simple resolution. We cannot simply demonise pole dancing and sex work, nor can we ignore the implications of such an activity in a Students’ Union that already has so little respect for its women’s campaign.
Is it better for our students to allow them to pole dance in a safe space, or is allowing pole dancing in our Union a step towards making it an even less comfortable environment for those who don’t pole dance?
As there is no safe space for pole dancers and strippers in the real world, I doubt we will be unable to offer a safe space within the Union, especially in unions such as UPSU and Brunel where lad culture is rife and male students claim ownership of their female counterparts’ bodies so obviously without opposition.
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