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Posts Tagged ‘poledancing’

Apparently the Students’ Union at my uni has a pole-dancing society. I wasn’t aware of this before, and I can’t say I’m up in arms about it now. Which isn’t going to stop me talking about it, because what I’ve seen sort of exemplifies the problems with contemporary feminism.

Few things will mediate your reaction to something offensive like the stupid things people who are theoretically “on your side” will say. For instance, one person described aforementioned society as “shameful.” This person is a man, and a man who has a history of blatant misogyny at that. However, it doesn’t stop him from going into full-on Paternalism Mode and doing exactly the sort of “slut shaming” the patriarchy loves to engage in, for the sake of a tiny scrap of moral high ground.

“Shame on you!”

I watched a really awful and mean-spirited BBC “documentary” about feminism a while back, and in it, “shame” was exactly the word those alleged feminists threw at porn stars who were going to some porn industry awards show. Feminists– women who by all rights should recognise the pressure the patriarchy puts on women to gratify male sexual imperatives– were shouting “shame” at these women. Shame, indeed.

Then on the other side of my imaginary dichotomy are the people who defend nonsense like this. It’s “empowering,” they say, and they no doubt believe that. Patriarchal society has conditioned women to use their sexuality as a way to get what they want– from marriage to prostitution to stripping to dating– and so of course people are going to confuse the attention that comes with doing something sexual with personal power. People are paying attention to me! That means I’m in power, right?

You’d think people who have any familiarity with our celebrity-obsessed culture would recognise that attention is one of the worst things you can have, but then, if that were the case, Britain’s Got Talent wouldn’t have so many people gagging to be on it.

Anyway, the point isn’t how transparently flimsy the “empowerment” argument is, and how it’s just a smokescreen for the “pornification” of our society. The point is that our actions take place in the context of a patriarchal, woman-hating society rather than some ideological vacuum where we’re free from misogyny. My stance as a feminist is that women should be allowed to do whatever the hell they want, but with an awareness of how sexism and the patriarchy shape us from birth.

We’re all subject to the social forces of our culture. For instance: I pluck my eyebrows. Sometimes I wear makeup. And while I recognise that I have a choice in these things, I don’t operate under the delusion that I make this choice without any pressure from the culture I live in. Do I feel guilty about this? Nope. Do I feel like a “bad” feminist? Nope. We all capitulate to the patriarchy in one way or another, and guilt is one of the ways that patriarchy controls women and makes them hate themselves. But I’m not going to claim that it “empowers” me to spend a couple of hours every week yanking out eyebrow hair, either.

There are other things I could discuss about this issue, like the inherent middle-class-ness of it all: uni students appropriating something which is a reality for poor women all over the place, for the sake of a safely contained frisson of titillation. Mostly, though, I have to roll my eyes at the whole thing.

An intelligent argument might actually make people realise why things like pole-dancing are just patriarchy repackaged, pseudofeminism for the 21st century, but what will likely happen is the same kind of reactionary crap I’ve seen before at uni. I can see people organising some sort of protest about it, maybe an online petition. Probably a bit more slut shaming. Nothing that will actually educate anyone or make the world a slightly better place, but everyone will go home feeling pleased with themselves for fighting the good fight. Viva la revolución.

ETA: A friend pointed me to this, which is a perfectly justified form of shaming which we should see more of.

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