Should Pole Fitness Be Banned?

Attempting to link pole fitness classes and societies with violence against women is both completely wrong and very dangerous. To blame violence against women by men on the actions of these women who choose to partake in pole fitness classes is effectively buying into the rape culture of passing blame onto women.

For those of you who either know me or read this blog regularly you will know several things about me. Firstly, you will know that I go to a wonderful institution called Swansea University, where I am currently studying in my final year of an undergraduate degree in History. Secondly, you will also know that I write for an amazing media outlet called The Waterfront newspaper, which is run by and written for students. It really helps an aspiring journalist like me out.

I've preached before about how great writing for the Waterfront is, but sometimes, when my stress levels exceed my sanity levels, I forget. Today, however, I was reminded why I love it so much as we published a story about our union banning a pole fitness society, on the basis that "it is inextricably linked to the multi million pound sex industry."

Stories like this remind us that pole dancing is still considered a controversial subject. On a global scale, for very many people pole dancing is an art form that involuntarily invokes images of strip clubs and erotic entertainment. What needs to be stressed, however, is that pole dancing is not stripping. It can be athletic and artistic, which I believe are the two core elements for a pole fitness society at Swansea Students' Union.

I've been worked up and angry about this issue all day, and now that the newspaper has gone to print, I feel that I can finally have my say on the issue. The Students' Union wrote a letter in response to the banning of the society so, I'm going to take this time to respond to their letter with my own thoughts. (The parts of the letters are italicised below):

Pole fitness and pole dancing are a direct spin off from lap dancing. Can we separate 'pole fitness' from 'pole dancing?' We believe that you cannot, because whatever you name it, pole 'fitness' or pole 'dancing', you are still participating in the social context of what the pole represents. Everyone knows where it comes from, that pole dancers are to be found in strip clubs and sex establishments and that pole dancing is a dance form specifically designed to sexually excite the watcher. Pole dancers are almost always women and watchers almost always men.

Here's my argument with that one. If a man were to dance on a pole in, say for arguments sake, a circus act, he would be applauded for his strength and flexibility. No one would call into question 'what the pole represents' and no one would ask why he was not 'in a strip club or sex establishment.' If a woman were to do the same routine, people begin the use words such as 'erotic' and 'sexual'. From my poor understanding and knowledge on the subject, (again, I'm very athletically challenged), the movements these women do are no different than gymnasts and yet, because a pole is involved, it is automatically sexual. With the creation and increase of pole dance as a sport and a means to get fit, very many people now see it beyond and outside of the strip clubs, but this way of forward thinking will not be able to progress if Swansea Students' Union cannot see beyond what the pole 'represents'.

Although 'pole fitness' is sold as an empowering activity, we believe that women have been deceived into thinking that this is a way of taking charge of their sexuality and their own decisions. Moreover, we believe that it is just a further debasement of our culture and another sign of a creeping backlash against women's true empowerment.

It infuriates me that the board are misguidedly (and probably accidentally) implying that women are easily deceived and incapable of making up their own minds. The statement is simply demeaning to women who go to these classes. I'm pretty sure that none of the trustees on the board have ever been to a pole dancing class or spoken to those who do. And I am pretty sure that these women do not pole dance for empowerment, to regain control of their sexuality or to impress men.

We believe that this is linked to the rise of 'Raunch Culture' in our society and our ever increasing pornified world where women are increasingly being portrayed and treated as objects for sexual enjoyment. This not only normalises the practise of 'pole fitness' but encourages and hoodwinks young girls and women into accepting and embracing this behaviour.

For me, pole dance isn't more sexual than other dance forms; it's that society perceives it as more sexual than other dance forms. Facing facts, yes, some of the origins of pole fitness comes from strip clubs. But if we're really concerned about the origins and perceptions of dance, would the Students' Union not have to ban street dance, due to its perception of links to gang culture? If there was a street dance society at Swansea, would that be banned too?

As a Students' Union, we should not be deaf to the very real issue of 'pole fitness' playing a part in upholding the Raunch Culture and objectification of women and girls and the impact of this on our female students. We have achieved some outstanding work on gender equality, notably by banning the sales of Lad's Mags in the Union, the banning of sexist advertisements and the Zero Tolerance Campaign. We believe that allowing the Pole Fitness Society would not be in line with our gender equality work.

Am I the only one who finds it contradictory that the university is promoting gender equality and yet, the union has fallen open to the sexist thinking that results in the prejudice around pole dance as a sport? No? Good - let's continue.

Swansea City Council has recently passed a 'Nil Policy' for the establishment of Sex Entertainment Venues in the City, and Welsh Government has a 'Right to be Safe' policy, which outlines its strategy for ending violence against women and girls. Pole dancing and the sex industry is a part of that and are seen as a form of violence against women.

Evidence also shows that young women aged 16-24 are the group of women who experience the most domestic and sexual violence. This is the age of a large group of our female students.We believe that activities such as 'pole fitness' contributes to an atmosphere where women are viewed as sexual objects and where violence against them is acceptable.

Attempting to link pole fitness classes and societies with violence against women is both completely wrong and very dangerous. To blame violence against women by men on the actions of these women who choose to partake in pole fitness classes is effectively buying into the rape culture of passing blame onto women. Additionally, if anything, women who are fit are stronger and could probably kick a guy's arse. I know several women who can do just that.

For me, the arguments of the Trustee Board against pole fitness seem to be based on prejudice and fear. I don't pole dance personally so maybe I'm not the best person to speculate, but I think the board seriously need to consider what pole dancing really is and how empowering a movement it actually is to women. It is their right to choose whether they want to take part in pole fitness or not and by banning the society at Swansea, a female student is unable to make that choice and that, my friends, is not empowerment.


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