A couple of months ago, I posted a cryptic and derogatory comment about pole-dancing. Naturally, I offended at least one pole dancer, who promptly left a polite but cryptic comment. This week, one of my podcast listeners sent me a few links to stories about the rising popularity of pole-dancing parties in the suburbs, including this one to a story in the New York Times.
I made a few disparaging remarks, which surprised him, but then proceeded to think about just why this whole pole-dancing thing rubs me the wrong way. (That pun just happened, by the way. I didn't plan it.)
I should begin by saying that I once knew a woman who was a dancer in Las Vegas, pre-pole-dancing era. She denigrated the pole dancers whenever the subject arose because she saw them as talentless. "They wrap themselves around a pole. Big deal. I've been dancing my feet off and wearing elaborate costumes for years. How can they call themselves dancers?" That was my first introduction to the pole-dancing phenomenon. My friend had led me to believe -- and I had no reason to doubt her -- that pole-dancers were simply an inferior version of exotic dancer.
What do I know from exotic dancing, really? I grew up in suburbia, was an honor student, and went to KC and the Sunshine Band concerts in high school. When an exotic dancer tells a non-exotic dancer that pole-dancers are the bottom of the barrel in the exotic dancing business, the non-exotic dancer tends to accept that information as truth.
So, my next exposure to pole-dancers was via The Sopranos. Here we have a seedy strip club with women who look like they'd just as soon scrub a toilet as let you watch them pretend a large pole is, in fact, your cock. They look bored and unhappy, and what the fuck, they work at a place called Badda-Bing! for cryin' out loud. Not a resume-enhancer, you know what I mean?
Now, I am aware that it is often unwise to base an opinion on what one sees on television or the movies. If we all did that, we'd think that all crime labs had the latest technology (a la CSI) and that everybody in America only eats barbeque between the months of June and August (according to the Food Network). Nevertheless, what else did I really have to go on?
When my friend sent me those links this week and was surprised by my reaction, I had to devote some time to thinking about why I felt as I did and figure out whether I was really being fair to the much-maligned pole-dancing crowd, whether they love their poles as a livelihood or a lark.
I read the New York Times article and had several reactions. It's always been my belief that anything that makes a person feel sexy is a great and worthy pastime. I also believe that an experiential one is better than a virtual or imaginary one, meaning that pole-dancing in your living room is going to make you feel sexier than doing it in Second Life or having me write a story about you doing it. I don't have children to sap my energy and I don't have a boring or sexless domestic life, but I know I'm lucky in that regard -- plenty of women do need activities or interests that will reignite their sexual selves. Who am I to find fault with whatever does this for them?
Pole-dancers who dance for money have made a conscious choice to do so, and whatever motivates them is obviously no different than whatever motivates any stripper or exotic dancer. That they choose a pole as their primary prop is of no never-mind to me. If they're happy and having fun, great. The world should be full of people who are happy and having fun.
My beef is not with professional pole-dancers -- it's with the women who do it in their living rooms, at parties, and such. I find it sad that a woman's sexual self could be so buried that she must emulate the movements, wear the clothing, and employ the props (namely, the pole) of women that society tells her are sexy.
For me, this pole-dancing-at-home phenomenon is yet another symptom of applying a topical treatment to a systemic ailment. Yes, women will feel temporarily exhilarated by pretending they are pole-dancers. Ten years ago, women were reading about how to strip for their men. Three years ago, they were learning to "make love like a porn star."
Yes, these are harmless pastimes and they may help loosen some inhibitions. But they may also frustrate women who approach them expecting to feel sexiness descend upon them. Lots of women will discover that sexing up a pole feels silly to them, that stripping for their husbands or boyfriends only makes their men look at them quizzically, or that making love like a porn star means that they are acting rather than feeling passionate. They will feel inadequate because aren't these things supposed to make them feel sexy? There must be something wrong with them, they'll think, if these activities are failing to meet that goal.
Realistically, what can we expect bored, confused, desperate, naive, young, or sexually shut-down women to do to feel sexy? They can't ship their kids off to boarding school or make their husbands work fewer hours. They can't afford to hire maids and cooks to relieve them of housework. (And in the case of young women, they aren't old enough to look within for their inner source of sexuality and sensuality. We have to excuse them, I guess. They are led to believe that if they look and move like a Pussycat Doll,, they will be sexy, not understanding that they will be perceived as sexy, which is different than the confidence that comes from knowing who you are sexually.)
Pole-dancing seems innocuous to most people. To me, it's just another way that our culture has distracted us from introspection and self-examination so that it can lure us with quick fixes and immediate gratification. After all, the former are free but the latter can be had at any price the market will bear. I feel sad that so many women think they have to pay somebody to access what is available to them 24/7 at no cost whatsoever.
Okay. Now go ahead and attack me. I'm ready.