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.