|Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling) instructs Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) in the art of looking fine|
Jacob, played by Ryan Gosling, is the highlight of the film. His arrogance and assurance (all of which turn out to be built on image and lacking in substance) are delivered with panache and one-liners Oscar Wilde might have written were he alive today. As he gives Cal (the husband) dating advice, he says cynically, “The war between the sexes is over and we won. We won the minute they started doing pole dancing as exercise.”
I spluttered with indignation over this line, because the first part is just so wrong and the second part so sadly true. A friend of mine, whom I considered liberated, educated and of above-average intelligence, recently told me that she had begun pole dancing lessons for fitness. My jaw dropped. I was lost for words – not something that happens to me too often. “Why?” It was all I could ask.
Her answer was highly unsatisfactory. For the record it was something along the lines of having a bit of fun and trying something new. Fair enough. Is it necessary to do it in a skimpy bikini? Apparently yes – it helps you grip the pole better – the tassels on your nipples are optional. A pathetic excuse: I have seen people hold onto lamp-posts at a perpendicular angle while fully clothed and, yes, admittedly, half-intoxicated. There are a gazillion sports she could have chosen to help her get fit and strong that wouldn’t have upset me the least. Actually, I don't particularly like netball, but at least it isn’t aimed firmly at the sleaze market.
I know there is much popular psychobabble about reclaiming negative sexual stereotypes. This is apparently why women choose to dress in tiny tube dresses and ankle-breaking stilettos, or why teenagers wear pink sparkly Playboy t-shirts – not because they are desperate to get men to notice them, honest! I’ve heard people pontificate about empowerment, control and turning the male gaze in on itself, but that’s basically crap.
If pole dancing is really so liberating and aerobically challenging, why don’t men do it? If a woman wants to develop her upper body and core strength she could try gym-work, water-skiing, wind-surfing, X-country skiing, swimming, yoga, rowing, athletic field events, gymnastics, rugby, basketball… The list is endless. If she wants to dance then there are infinite varieties she could attempt from ballet to tap, ballroom to hip-hop. Pole ‘dancing’ is a very limited form of movement all things considered. If she wants to support the male-dominated sex industry and present herself as a hooker (albeit a flexible one) then she should consider pole dancing.
It may just be the latest craze, but it is one that debases women (or, worse, makes them debase themselves) by objectifying themselves and creeping back to a misogynistic past. It’s not just a bit of fun; it’s dirty, filthy dancing on the graves of the women who fought (in some instances with their lives) for our right to be equal. Women have a responsibility not to trample on this right so carelessly.