Saturday, November 29, 2008

Stripping and poledancing as workouts

I was reading Feministing and there was an article about the recent craze of sexual aerobics, such as stripteases and poledancing. The author was arguing that it was degrading to women and demonstrated the internalization of the male gaze into all members of society. She quoted a girl who talked about how she liked the pole-dancing classes because it was a safe and fun environment to act out her sexuality. The author responded that if that was her idea of sexuality, then that in itself was skewed. I’m torn because I can see both sides of the argument. I was talking to some of my friends about this. One of my friends and I agreed that if it was in a safe space, and only meant for their significant other to see, it was fine. Taking pole-dancing classes does not mean that these women will go out and get a job dancing in a club, displaying their bodies for a couple of bucks and any random men that walk in the door. It simply means that they want to have fun and show off to their significant other, and I do not think there is a problem with that. Another friend asked if this would still be thought of as sexy if it weren’t for poledancers and strippers. I could see her concern, and if that was the only reason why these women’s dances were viewed as attractive, because of workers in the sex industry, then that would be problematic. But, stripping and dancing has always been something that is attractive.
The internalization of the male gaze is also an interesting argument. If these women are learning these dances in order to please their husbands, than that is definitely internalization of the gaze, but, as long as it stays between people who really love and care for each other, what exactly is wrong with that? Part of sexual relationships is pleasing your partner, even if it might not be terribly pleasing to you, simply because you want to make you partner happy. An important part of this pleasing the other is definitely reciprocity, and if one partner is the only one pleasing the other, that is definitely problematic. But, I think if a woman learns a striptease routine as part of a fitness class, and wants to show it to her husband, especially if he in turn strips for her or does something equally pleasing to her, than it is fine.
This fad can be frightening, though. A friend and I were looking at a website for one such studio, and they were talking about how a mother bought her daughter and eight of her daughters friends a poledancing class at the studio for the daughter’s Sweet Sixteen. This definitely sends the wrong messages to these girls, and it is very unlikely that they all had boyfriends. This tells the girl that poledancing is attractive and sexy and the way that they should attract boys, and also reinforces the glamorization of sex work. But, if it is educated adults making the decision to take these classes, I think it alright.
There are also women who take these classes and never show anybody what they learned, and I think that is equally harmless. I remember the first time I bought pretty bras, I didn’t have a boyfriend at the time, and no one really saw them, but the knowledge that I had them made me feel prettier and more confident. I could imagine a similar phenomenon happening with women who take these classes and never show anybody. It could boost their own self-image without exploiting their body. Although, then there is the argument that if their self-image relies on their ability to swing around pole, and relies solely on their perception of their sexual appeal, that is also problematic.


The clip that Amit showed in class from The Price of Pleasure really made me re-think my ideas about pornography. I did not attend the screening of the film, because I could barely handle the trailer that we watched, and I decided it would be too intense for me. But, I did start thinking about it. I never really thought too much about porn before, and basically had no real opinion. I think there definitely are people who could enjoy working as a porn star, and as long as they had thought about it and made an educated decision, I would not have a problem with the actual person. And then I was talking to a friend of mine, and she said she was all for porn, as long as it wasn’t too degrading or insulting to women. I agree, and I think gang-rape, violence, and inclusion of animals is going a bit too far, but then where do we draw the line? Is porn with just one man and one woman acceptable? How intense can it be before it gets too violent? What about orgies? Is it okay if it is something that people would do normally, and then unacceptable if it’s too extreme? But that’s an arbitrary distinction, because there will always be some people who are into all sorts of unusual things.
Also, as the clip mentioned, pornography is often the first and sometimes only form of sex education that children receive, and is obviously not a healthy education. But then should there only be very simple pornos so that children will not learn bad behaviors? It’s additionally difficult, because I think porn affects all people differently, and some people can definitely watch violent porn without perpetuating that same violence in their personal lives. But, in order to not be affected, I think the person would have to have a healthy and educated attitude toward sex. Often this is not the case, which is why these violent pornos can affect the viewers so radically.
There is also the issue of feminist porn, which my friend is all for. I would ultimately like to see that documentary about it, because I feel like I do not know enough about it to make a statement. But, the Lusty Lady was known as a “feminist” peep show, which does not mean that the women were treated any better or that they were showing their bodies any less. If the same is true of feminist porn, that the women are basically treated the same and perform the same tasks, then there is virtually no difference, and feminist porn is no better than any other kind of porn.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Reflection on "Arranged"

I recently watched "Arranged" for my Images of Women in the Middle East class. It is about two women, a Muslim and an orthodox Jew, both living in New York, and both facing arranged marriages. They both work as teachers, and get to know one another through their work. They have problems going to one another's houses because of their parents and family being less than happy to see either a Jew or a Muslim show up. They bond over meeting horrible prospective husbands, but in the end both end up happily married. It was interesting from a feminist perspective, because although both the main characters, Rochel and Nasira, are strong, independent, educated, working women, both end up agreeing to an arranged marriage. They both go through arguments with their parents over men they do not want to marry, and Rochel keeps saying she wants to take a break from looking at men, but neither of them flat-out refuses. This explores the intersectionality of gender and religion. Both women are devout and steadfast in their beliefs, and also really respect their parents, so it is an internal battle between their heart and their religion and parents. It ends up that Nasira falls in love with one of the men her parents pick, and Rochel falls in love with a man Nasira suggested to her matchmaker. In this situation, the end is happy because they fall in love, but what would have happened if they hadn't? Would these strong women have ultimately given in and married someone they didn't love? Rochel tells her mom repeatedly that she refuses to "settle," but would the family pressure have been so intense that she would have? How do arranged marriages infringe upon women's independence, and how do women reconcile this?
This movie was set in the present (it was made in 2007), in the secular society of New York. What new challanges has secular society posed to arranged marriages and the women in them? Now women are surrounded by a society that approaches love and marriage far differently. Rochel does have a period when she is unsure whether she wants to stay in her Jewish community, and goes and visits her cousin who left the community, which also meant leaving her family. Rochel ultimately returns to her family, but the temptation must be much greater for women facing arranged marriages in the present than how it was hundreds of years ago, when everyone in a society would have arranged marraiges.