16 April 2012


This Kickstarter project from Emilee Wilson aims to "show the world that pole dance is a sport." "Everyone knows it is a form of fitness," she asserts, "but does it belong in the Olympic Games?" 

[Your pun HERE!]

You're probably thinking, "Pole-dancing? Isn't that what strippers do?" Wilson and company are adamant that pole-dancing is not stripping, and that it is not done for money; their slogan, "no tipping and no stripping," appears both in the text description and in the video. It seems that Wilson is trying to deflect charges that pole-dancing is little more than slightly de-sexualized striptease. The implication is that because athletic/artistic pole-dancers do not take off all their clothes, and because they do not expect to have spectators give them cash, athletic/artistic pole-dancers are somehow nobler than women who dance nude around poles for money.

This strikes me as deeply ironic, in that it suggests an anti-feminist position regarding female sexuality and sex work. The position seems to be that it's OK for women to be sexy, as long as they aren't going to do any lap-dances, and that (maybe) it's OK for women to have sex, but it's not OK for them to have sex in exchange for money.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I should state that while I find mostly- and entirely-nude women fascinating, and while I also think that it should be legal for consenting adults to pay for striptease or for sex, I nevertheless find stripping and strip clubs repulsive. There's something about the tease of the dancing that I find personally degrading and humiliating. I hate that I can't look away from nude women who have no intention of getting to know me, let alone having sex with me. I respond like Pavlov's dog to the ringing of the bell, fully aware that my dish will remain empty. Strip clubs expose and exploit my desires without my consent.)

To return to Wilson's argument, consider the above still from her promotional video. Pole dancing isn't stripping, Wilson claims, but the video's images say otherwise. Here we see an athletic young woman with shaved limbs and a cultivated tan spinning around a pole, an iridescent curtain behind her. She wears thigh-high boots with six-inch heels. Her bikini top and bottom have bows, which suggest tying, but also--and more strongly in this context--un-tying, with a single tug. A jewel in the dancer's navel reminds us to look at her lower abdomen, while the lighting and the framing prevent us from looking at her face. Everything about the scene evokes strip clubs, and a classically eroticizing and objectifying male gaze, since this creature has no face with which to look back.

Thus the brand of pole-dancing that Wilson promotes simultaneously reminds us of women dancing in strip clubs even as Wilson and company disavow that same practice. We get the worst of both worlds: the ogling and sleaze of Roxie's at 2 AM, mixed with an equal measure of Puritanism and slut-shaming.

Consider this thought-experiment: imagine an Olympic event based on hard-core pornography. No money changes hands and nobody's genitals are exposed. Male dancers dress in black PVC thongs and bondage harnesses, and female dancers dress in lacy lingerie or leather bikinis. They perform the contorted sexual moves of gonzo pornography and live sex shows, while judges give them points in different categories. It's all strictly PG-rated. If you note the resemblance to videos of secretaries servicing well-hung bosses, or Japanese-girlschool dildo parties, or black-on-blonde anal gangbangs, the judges will arch their eyebrows, peer over their opera-glasses, and tell you that this is a rigorous sport.

In answer to Wilson's question, I'm going with, "No, pole-dancing doesn't belong in the Olympic Games."

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