The Stripper Pole in the Room- or why we all need to stop slut-shaming strippers!

As pole fitness and pole art make their way into mainstream culture, we’ve begun seeing a some polers (meaning those of us who pole for fun and fitness) shaming strippers (meaning those who pole for profit while taking off their clothes).  Similarly, there’s been a history of some feminists shaming polers (and by extension strippers), which was part of my motivation to start this blog.  (Please note my emphasis on the word “some” in both sentences!)  In my opinion, this all needs to stop!

https://i2.wp.com/i.imgur.com/xwQgU.gif

Gif from here.

And (in a few hundred words) here’s why!

 

What some jerks in the mainstream think of polers

When I think of pole dancing, I think of the incredible athleticism, strength, grace, flexibility, hard work, and sisterhood I’ve grown to love and appreciate.  Not to brag, but I think of this:

What's up? Oh, just my feet!  Being held there by my knee and thighs.  No biggie.

What’s up? Oh, just my feet! Being held there by my knee and thighs. No biggie.

 

However, there are some people for whom the image of pole dancer conjures up clubs filled with drooling men while the dancers are taking off clothes in a lack luster and possibly drugged out stupor.  In other words, this:

Those trashy, trashy bunnies!  Image stolen from here.

 

Sometimes, the vitriol can be pretty intense.  I recently read a Facebook post from a man who pretty much said all polers (and by extension all strippers) were teen run-aways addicted to drugs with scores of illegitimate children and destined for a life of homelessness and unhappiness.

I remember a few years ago, Australian super-star Dirdy Birdy (her stage name) had several of her videos reposted without credit and tagged with offensive, sexualized, and graphic language.  As a woman who has a substantial brand to represent, this not only had the potential to hurt her as an individual, but her professional reputation and brand.

(For a good example of Dirdy Birdy’s amazing dance work, check out her freestyle to “Say Something” below:)

As a result, some polers try very hard to distance ourselves from women who learn to pole in clubs and have worked as strippers.  It’s understandable, but it has a problematic element.

Why Polers shouldn’t look down on Strippers

So, here comes my (short, I promise) lecture about checking your privilege.

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Gif from here.

Essentially, as the stereotype goes, strippers are working low-status jobs and come from lower education backgrounds and a lower socio-economic status family of origin.  While these assumptions do not necessarily hold up under my brief research (i.e. googling), there remains the mainstream assumption that stripping is “low-status” work and lacks the “respectability” of being a fitness instructor.

Or a lawyer.

Or a lawyer.

So, some polers work very hard to demonstrate that what we do is oh-so-different than what strippers do.  We’re aerial gymnasts, not “dancers”, damnit!

Nope!  Nothing sexy going on here!

Nope! Nothing sexy going on here!

While there are many stylistic, contextual, and economic differences between Pole Fitness and Stripping, and there is certainly nothing wrong with explaining those differences in a non-condescending and non-judgmental way, it’s a short leap from saying, “my dancing isn’t like that type of dancing” to saying, “I’m not like those women.”  In the spirit of not doing this, here are my top 5 reasons to avoid slut-shaming strippers.

1.  There, but for the grace of God(ess), go I. 

I’m the first to admit that I’ve had it good.  I was raised by nice, middle-class parents who are still happily married.  I’m able-bodied, (mostly) heterosexual, and cisgendered.  I’ve gained even more privilege through my education and profession.  BUT, if things had been a little different, my opportunities a little less, my education not paid for, I might be one of the 33% of strippers using the job to pay for school. In this day and age, I certainly wouldn’t judge someone for trying to avoid (or reduce) student loans!

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Gif from here.

Essentially, what right do I have to judge someone else’s life choices when I haven’t had their life?

2.  The people who slut-shame polers don’t distinguish us from strippers, so why should we do it for them? 

A few days ago, I saw the following on my Facebook newsfeed:

Apparently, I missed the week in Sunday School where they said, "Thou shalt not rainbow marchenko."  Also, they must have covered the part of the bible where Jesus tells the apostles to pay women less for doing the same job, but that's a different rant.

Apparently, I missed the week in Sunday School where they said, “Thou shalt not rainbow marchenko.” Also, they must have covered the part of the bible where Jesus tells the apostles to pay women less for doing the same job, but that’s a different rant.

It’s an offensive post on several levels (Christians can’t be strippers/All Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist women are strippers/You’re going to Hell if you strip/Feminists are all strippers/All feminists are going to Hell/The only kids worth saving have blond hair and blue eyes/whatever).  I’ve seen many of these, and they all have at least one thing in common beyond stupidity:  They don’t distinguish pole dancing from stripping.  I’ve had similar problems with people at bars, dating websites, and even chatting with a colleague on my way back to the office from court.  It doesn’t matter how much I insulate myself from criticism by leading a law-abiding, socially conscientious, and respectable life.  Once I identify as a pole dancer, these people see only one thing:  a slut.  (Or worse, a wannabe slut.)

All of my eloquent explanations as to why I pole, what benefits I get from it, how exciting it is to learn a new trick, the friendships that develop in class, all of these comments fall on deaf ears, because once this person labelled me a slut, they no longer care about what I have to say.

So, I say, screw ’em!  Who needs this jerk’s good opinion?  Certainly not any of the strong, interesting,and confident women I meet while poling!  Let’s work instead to change the culture, so that more and more people start respecting women, regardless of our sexual histories.

 

3.  It’s a hard job. 

Pole fitness is one of the most difficult challenges I’ve given myself.  It tries you physically and emotionally, and you come out a lot stronger for it. But, compared to how strippers learn to pole, we are pampered people!

I know, the bruises on my armpits would happen in both scenarios.

I know, the bruises on my armpits would happen in both scenarios.

Imagine trying to work on a new trick or a frustrating spin, EXCEPT instead of doing it in front of your instructor and classmates, people who are rooting for your success, imagine you’re doing this in front of a room full of strangers who have never been on a pole themselves, some of them have been drinking, and some of them aren’t particularly nice or have a lot of respect for women.  Also, imagine that these people are more interested in whether or not your boobs are big enough or whether your butt has too much cellulite on it than your incredible core strength.  Finally, imagine that you are doing this pay your rent (or car payment, or food for your child, or tuition payment), and you have only a few minutes to convince this crowd to give you their attention and their money.  Sound hard?  You bet, it does!

Whatever reasons women who strip have for doing that job, and whatever compensation they get (either enjoyment or monetary), there is no denying that this is hard work on a physical and an emotional level.  I know, there are many problems and abuses that happen within the strip club industry (ranging from problematic pay structure, substance abuse, and human trafficking), but that is no reason to belittle strippers.  Instead of criticizing the women who perform this difficult job, how about we treat these women with respect and work to correct and eliminate the abuses?  Working to reform the industry by working with the women who are most effected by its problems will do a lot more good than calling them names and telling them they’ve made bad choices.

4.  It’s a bit hypocritical to criticize stripping as something that reduces women to objects when we, in our criticism, are reducing women to what they do for a living. 

Many of these arguments are addressed towards my pole sisters.  This one is addressed more towards my feminist sisters.  I love both groups, but we all need some helpful reminders once in a while.

One of the biggest objections many feminists have about stripping (and by extension pole dancing) is that it is objectifying the female body, reduces a woman’s value to how she looks through the male gaze, and it commodifies her sexuality.  I get these arguments.  Long before I took up poling, I had held some similar opinions.  That was, of course, before pole became a part of my life.

I still read and enjoy Ariel Levy as much as the next third-wave feminist, but I now have the benefit of knowing several people who have worked as strippers, and their words and opinions are what have changed my mind about all this.  Since I came out of the pole closet, more and more people I know have told me about their experiences as strippers.

And you know what?  Strippers have aspects to their personalities and experiences beyond what they once did (or currently do) for a living.

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Gif from here.

Moreover, they are a widely diverse group of women with different motivations and experiences.

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Gif from here.

Crazy, right?  It’s almost as if, strippers are individuals and not a monolithic set of victims/whores.

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Gif from here.

So, as feminists who work to gain respect for women as group and to gain for women the right to be treated as individuals with multiple facets of their identities, it behooves us to grant the women who strip respect and to recognize that they are not only what they do for a living.

5.  When we slut shame anyone, we legitimize it as a reason to silence someone else’s voice. 

Now, I come to my over-arching point.  We really shouldn’t slut shame anyone.  I know, I know.  It should go without saying, but it doesn’t.

Every time we slut shame someone else, we are really saying that because of their sexual behaviors, their opinions and their experiences don’t matter.  This is something that goes beyond the pole community and affects women with all sorts of unorthodox fitness hobbies.  When we call strippers “sluts”; when we call polers “strippers”; when we call bellydancers part of a harem; when we talk about gymnasts’ leotards and yoga instructors’ skills in bed; we are taking away someone’s voice on the basis that they’re not the “right” sort of person.

I know, we can do better.  As polers, as feminists, as athletes, and as women.  Together we can work towards a world where we’re all treated as people and judged by the content of our words and actions.  We can start by standing up for each other and demanding that we all get the respect we deserve as people!

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Gif from here.

 

As a reward for reading through this whole thing, here’s a video of one of my favorite pole artists who is both a poler and a stripper, the inestimable Felix Cane!

 

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15 thoughts on “The Stripper Pole in the Room- or why we all need to stop slut-shaming strippers!

  1. As a former stripper and now Exotic and pole DANCING studio owner, I agree with you wholeheartedly because-for real-i am a published church scholar and have given tours based on my book in St. Peter’s and Papal Rome.
    My book, “The Deaths of the Popes: Comprehensive Accounts Including Funerals, Epitaphs, and Burial Places (McFarland, 2004) is also in the libraries of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, to name a few…

    I also earned my Masters in Medieval History from the University of Reading in England, where I stripped in London part-time to help me pay for school!

      • Thanks! It really is. I wrote The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Exotic & Pole Dancing too, but that book doesn’t have a Quick Death Chart in the back.

        The pope book does, and what fun is a book without a Quick Death Chart??

  2. You Go Brett! I love this and admire your passion for what is right and just! I also love the pic with the book- and I can’t begin to imagine how you must train so hard for all those amazing positions!

  3. Loved this article! I’m also a former stripper, and current pole dancing studio owner. As well as a body positive sex educator with degrees in anthropology. Stripping paved a way though undergrad financially, but it also changed the negativity I held toward my body in my teens and early twenties. My career helping people love their bodies, and explore their sensuality and sexuality in healthy, living ways would not have happened without my experiences as a stripper.

  4. This is beautifully written! I just started my pole journey and I felt that everytime I would share any aspect of my hobby the reactions were either “Wow! That takes lots of skill!” Or “that’s so slutty, will you be able to uphold your reputation?” I’m still a social worker regardless of the 6′ platforms people! Love this! Follow my blog because now I am ALL over yours! AlishaJCotton.wordpress.com

  5. Pingback: Why Polers Need Feminism | Feminist POLEmics

  6. Pingback: Changing Hearts and Minds- or how to have a dialogue about pole with non-polers | Feminist POLEmics

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