You are probably all bored of the Strippers vs. Pole Fitness debate by now, and I’m not here to throw my two cents into the ring because it isn’t necessary. What I want to explore is why some in the pole community still have an issue with the sexy side of pole, and stripper style dancing, even when it is quite clear the roots of modern ‘pole fitness’ have their origins in that culture.

Now, people frame their arguments around what is ‘good’ for the pole community, about how to make it acceptable to a mainstream audience, and having their athletic dedication and training appreciated, but the real core issue lies in societal attitudes to sexuality, female sensuality and moral codes regarding the nude body. I will just be addressing the issue in relation to female presenting individuals, just because binary identities and non-cis bodies / expressions are whole other, complex issues in their own right, so I will be referring to ‘women’ in this piece.

During my Art History degree, my studies culminated in my dissertation on the relationship between pornography and fine art. There are a lot of interesting parallels between what I studied and wrote about in that essay, and what I see happening with stripper style pole, but today I am going to refer exclusively to the idea of the Panopticon Theory.

The Panopticon Theory was used metaphorically by Michel Foucault in his work Discipline and Punishment as a means of describing how hierarchical societies use the idea of omnipotent and omnipresent power to force those within it to self-police their behaviour. The ideas comes from Jeremy Benthem’s design for a prison; the design describes a prison built in a circular shape with a singular watchman’s tower through the center, saying this would enforce good behaviour among the inmates. Because the prisoners cannot see who is in the tower, and therefore do not know if or when they are being watched, they are more likely to behave and follow the rules as a result of the fear of being caught and reprimanded.

Many feminist writers have used this theory to explain how we self-police our gender and sexual identities. Society provides the ‘watchtower’, and because of the fear of being reprimanded for breaking the ‘rules’, we self-police our behaviour, even when no one is watching us. Think of your gender expression or sexual expression as a costume; there is nothing inherently or biologically feminine about a piece of cloth made into a skirt, and yet biological males would be reprimanded for wearing one. Likewise, the idea that being naked, acting in a sensual manner, or celebrating your sexuality are somehow wrong, hinges upon a subjective ‘moral’ guideline set up by a hierarchical society that counts on you ‘self-policing’ in fear of being punished if you step out of line.

Over time individuals have become conditioned to agree with the overarching societal opinion, and because they can’t break the rules, they take up the role of ‘prison guard’ and dole out the punishment when they see perceived ‘infractions’. Someone posts a stripper style routine, they may call them a ‘slut’ or say they are ‘making it too difficult for us to be accepted’. Someone posts a naked selfie and they call them ‘tasteless’ and say ‘I just don’t want to see that on my feed’.

Now, this becomes incredibly complex within the pole world, because even pole fitness is considered ‘too sexy’ for a lot of muggles. When you have someone who does pole, but condemns strippers, stripper style dancers and sensual polers, they are simultaneously rejecting one moral code, whilst enforcing another. They are self-selecting which part of society they are going to bend to, and which they are going to rebel against. Honestly, I have no idea how they cope with such cognitive dissonance , but it might explain why they are so eager to stamp out and reduce the visibility of sexual bodies and sensual polers as much as possible. If they do not see them on their facebook feed, then they don’t need to deal with the conflict that they present to their world view.

Society wants women to be sexy, but not too sexy. Beautiful, but they shouldn’t know it. Confident, without letting the world hear about it. They shouldn’t be a prude, and definitely not a slut. The messages we get are consistently inconsistent, and when you become a pole dancer who embraces the sexy side of pole, you inevitably end up breaking those rules. Own your confidence, own your beauty, own your sexuality.

Beautiful? Post those selfies.

Confident? Brag about all the things you’re amazing at.

Love your body? Dance in pasties and a thong. Dance naked. Dance in whatever you like!

Sexy? Do sexy the way YOU want to do it. Aggressive, scary, feminine, gentle, obscene. Don’t let your sensuality be dictated to by what you ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ be doing, or how you are ‘meant’ to express yourself. Some people feel sexy when the audience has a look of terror in their eyes. Some people feel sexy when you’re in awe of their celestial majesty.

Once you realise that people are only fighting you because they’re too scared of the Panopticon and you’re a fearless Queen, then their comments slowly become background white noise to the soundtrack that is your one-woman action movie. You’re the protagonist, you’re the script writer, don’t let them force you to change yourself just because THEY don’t enjoy the film you’re making. Besides, every super hero needs an opposing force to battle against, otherwise it wouldn’t be a very interesting action movie. Those ‘haters’, as much as you would like to educate them, only bolster all the reasons why your fans love you. Every success story needs its haters.

Your friends, pole family and fans, those are the ones buying your tickets to cheer you on, they’re the ones who matter the most. In the words of Rupaul’s mama, “If they ain’t gonna pay your bills, pay them bitches no mind.”

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