09 January, 2017

"I'M a feminist TOO" - What it means for pole to be associated with stripping.

Twenty minutes to six o'clock, the front door opens and in walk a mother and daughter, entering the threshold of the studio. "We're early, but I just wanted to talk to you about what it is you do". She's worried about the connotations of pole dancing and her daughters only 17.

Rewind to a few years ago and I would have spouted some bullshit about how pole is a sport now, how it really has no connections to the strip club and that what we do is far removed from that world. It wasn't my own philosophy but I did believe that it helped sell my classes. I still tell a story, but a truthful one. "You can't get away from the fact that pole dancing did originate in the strip club" I tell them, and explain the many different types of pole, the competitions and the way many do it for fitness. I assure her that I would never teach her 17 year old daughter anything inappropriate. It is, after all, a rule of mine to not teach under 18's anything particularly sexy. Primarily for worry of what would happen if word got out; to the public, to parents. Secondarily because I thought I was an adult at 17, and I wasn't. Heck, I was barely an adult at 21.

I slip in that there's nothing wrong with stripping.

"I'm a feminist, I don't agree", she says, clearly getting a little ruffled and mildly defensive but keeping her cool.

So, I tell her passionately, but I hope calmly, "I'M a feminist TOO," my hands grasping at my heart, "and I believe that there is nothing wrong with female sexuality, it is healthy to express it, so long as there is consent. No one is ever forced to do anything they don't want to in this studio."

She seemed to think on this, "But I am concerned about all the women who are forced in to stripping and prostitution".

"Yes, that is concerning, but all of the strippers I know made that choice. Not many of them will tell you that it is empowering, but many of them were able to use their time stripping to create businesses and careers. I take note of your concerns and assure you I will not teach your daughter anything inappropriate". I should have told her that women being "forced" is a separate issue onto itself. I hope that this is taken as a given. It seems obvious but I feel like I have to say it; I fully condemn any action in which women are forced to engage in stripping or sexual acts against their will.

She seemed content on that; as she let her daughter stay; an incredible dancer, beautiful lines and fairly strong for a beginner. She smiled at me as I said goodbye to them both. I hope I'll see them both again next week.

The rest of the evening I was left thinking to myself, what is it that people really think when they associate pole with stripping? What do I think when I associate pole with stripping?

This lady seemed genuinely concerned that her daughter not engage in an act, that to her, has been brutally forced upon other women. A valid concern, though one that misses the agency of these women; particularly those who have built pole dancing empires on the back of the frail male ego.

Others see strippers as dirty, uneducated, S.T.I ridden, drug addicts who are the dregs of society, and why would you want to do something that they do? Why would you want to degrade yourself to that and mimic them? Why would you want to be a slut?

There are many shades of "concern" in between. All are filled with judgement or misunderstanding.

For me, if being associated with women who subvert the male gaze, in order to trick them in to giving up their cold hard earned cash, is a bad thing, so be it. If being associated with the same women who had the business acumen to take pole dancing to the dance studio is a bad thing, so be it. If being associated with women who created, from little, a nearly entirely female driven industry, that seeks primarily to empower other women, is a bad thing, so be it. If being associated with the women who saved my damn life is a bad thing, so be it.

There is negativity in our industry, in our art form, but for the most part I have experienced love and respect. I have been shown that I AM GOOD ENOUGH and more. The women who paved the way for me to experience this are goddesses. They are talented, they are confident, they are mothers, they are business women, they are married women. They are so many things. Ultimately they are humans of every walk of life.

And they can do it all in a pair of 8 inch heels. Damn, If this is what it means to be associated with strippers, I am all for it.

We need to stop being afraid that people will turn away from us for telling our truth; speak it freely, with passion and respect. You might be surprised. You might change someones mind. Whether or not her mother now sees the issue in a different light I do not know, but I did my best. That's all anyone can ever ask for.