The first time I heard about pole dancing as a form of exercise, was from one of my students in Tokyo (I teach English as a Second Language online). When I first heard about it, I laughed and thought I would never participate--I was too bashful, too insecure and intimidated. However, after Miriam and I did an interview with TaMara Campbell of Beautifully Me, the pole became more appealing...
In a discussion piece I submitted for a sociology course, I explain how I became interested in pole dancing. I also discuss why I'm disappointed with critiques of how black women should not be depicted sexually--not because I think such criticisms are wrong or untrue, but because I think no one has an idea of what is "appropriate sexual behavior" for females in general, and black women in particular.
Here is what I shared:
What is appropriate sexual behavior for black women? How big a stake does academia have in answering this?
Two readings demonstrate that black women are freighted with a particular historical baggage concerning our sexuality. A presenter at the University of Chicago’s feminism and hip hop conference argued that the asexual mammy, sapphire and jezebel have been re-coded in hip hop as mama, wifey, bitch and hoe. For black women who understand these tropes, their sordid past and continuity, where do we go from here? How ought we express ourselves sexually?
I laughed when I read: “We now live in a porn saturated culture…women can take exercise classes with a ‘stripper’s pole’” (Hunter and Soto, 174). I hope to start pole dancing and sexy flex classes this Saturday. I hadn’t been self-reflexive about my decision as a feminist—I just knew I was getting on that pole. Now, that I sit with the idea, I think one could argue that women who participate in these classes are appropriating symbols of exploitation, nullifying and inverting their meanings—similar to the way in which black men and women (but mainly men) are said to have appropriated derogatory words associated with blackness.
A friend and I did an interview TaMara Campbell (http://liveunchained.blogspot.com/2009/08/live-unchained-had-opportunity-to-ask.html) the woman who owns the business that offers dance and sexual education classes including a tele-class in which, women call in to share their personal experiences and questions about sex and sensuality. This interview made me interested in the classes.
In terms of getting in touch with my sexuality (or, as I like to say being the C.E.O. of my sexy), I feel I’ve only been told what to avoid and who I shouldn’t be. Perhaps taking the classes places me in that feminist morally grey area that Clay highlights with a quote from Rebecca Walker (57). I don’t believe that this class is about equipping me to fulfill a man’s objectifying sexual fantasy (still, one can argue that in strip clubs, the line between subject and object is blurred)—certainly, I don’t see it as a stepping stone to a side hustle as a stripper. Yet, I do believe sex, sexuality and sensuality are important parts of life. I’m searching to learn more about this aspect of myself. I think I will the same way I learned about other important parts of me, by looking to other knowledgeable black women, who I happen to admire, for assistance. Maybe I’ll see you on Saturday…----
As a class, we discussed the politics of the pole and came up with several interesting discussion points and questions including:
- Women approach the pole with different degrees of privilege. As one of my classmates stated: "You have some women paying to take the pole dancing classes while other women are getting on the pole to make $100 to hopefully pay their rent."
- The degree to which a woman can be empowered by pole dancing depends on whose watching her and if she gets a say in whose watching her.
- Why is the sexual exploitation of black women so profitable?
The question of the day is: What is your opinion of pole dancing? Why would you take a class or not?