Open letter in response to SUSU Trustee Board's refusal to accept a pole fitness society.

 

Dear SUSU Trustee Board

We have considered your response and taken feedback from our membership and wider pole community.  We conclude that one of the following three courses of action must take place:

  1. You must justify your position.
    In doing so, please refrain from the use of the statement "we believe..." and instead use a phrase such as "it has been shown that..." followed by evidence of what has been shown.  We welcome any expansion or explanation of your stated beliefs as the statements made by you thus far are unfortunately, unworthy of rational argument.

  2. You must reverse your decision.

  3. You must resign your positions on the board.
    The stance taken by you is an embarrassment to common sense and unbefitting of a board paid for by the students and tasked with such responsibilities.  You should therefore allow the students of Swansea University to elect a new SU board more befitting of this respected educational institution.


As a membership organisation, responding to our members wishes, we are rightfully tasked with ensuring that one of the above options takes place.  Please be assured of our resolve in this regard.


Pole Dance Community
www.poledancecommunity.com

 

 


 

 Here is a link to the letter written by the SUSU Trustee Board

 

Below are a selection of comments and emails we have received in the last few days.  All names and addresses were supplied.


"I am a lecturer in law, and I specialise in sexual exploitation - trafficking, prostitution, etc, so I know a thing or two about actual exploitation.  I studied my undergrad degree at Swansea, so it is sad to see my Alma Mater taking such a rash and ill-informed decision. The utter bilge that SUs are spewing forth about how pole has become a recruiting ground for the sex industry is a result of a real lack of research on the part of those who publish these articles. As a feminist, almost anything is empowering provided you CHOOSE to do it! Consent and choice is the crux, and there is no lack of consent element to attending a pole fitness class...."


"Your decision was unfounded and your argument for doing so is not only poorly constructed, but erroneous, poorly researched and blatantly insulting; not just to the “young women” you purport to be protecting, but to many women across the world. "


"SUSU’s actions are paternalistic, patronising and diametrically opposed to the very gender equality SUSU claims to hold so dear."


"SUSU has blithely abandoned facts, research and objectivity in favour of subjective bias and the maintenance of the very stereotypes it claims to fight."


"I am shocked that such a narrow-minded and misguided attitude can prevail in a committee attached to an educational body."


"As a student myself, if I were to make those arguments in an assignment without any sort of citation or reference, I would fail""There is no evidence that pole fitness increases the risk of violence against women. To throw in this statistic, which is obviously a serious and upsetting one, in order to try and back up a rather feeble argument is underhand and transparent."


"The insinuation that it is the behaviour of women that makes it acceptable to commit violence against women is more harmful to women than pole dancing will ever be."


"A woman's body belongs to no one but herself and to take measures to restrict her freedom based on other people's expectations is to enforce an ancient brand of misogyny that has no place in a modern university."


"I would like to inform you that your decision is not only misogynistic in itself, it is also wrong and quite frankly insulting to the intelligence of young women in my age group."

and more...

 

To whom it may concern,

 

I am writing to voice my indignation and outrage at your decision to ban the Pole Society at Swansea University. Your decision was unfounded and your argument for doing so is not only poorly constructed, but erroneous, poorly researched and blatantly insulting; not just to the “young women” you purport to be protecting, but to many women across the world.

 

Credit where it’s due, one aspect of your response was correct, even if not in the way you had intended. One cannot delineate pole fitness from pole dancing, because the group you have banned comprised of individuals who were pole dancing for fitness. That is where any connotations with the sex industry end. The term pole fitness was adopted to distance the practice of pole dancing for fitness from pole dancing for entertainment, for the benefit of ill-informed and judgemental people such as you.

 

What struck me most is how poorly informed your committee, or at least the author of the letter, seemed to be. It is interesting that you condemn pole fit as duping women into believing they are empowered, taking charge of their sexuality and their decisions. However, the irony of you preventing those women choosing to be part of a pole fit class, and removing the source of their empowerment, seems to be lost on you. For a woman to feel empowered, she need not conform to societal norms, nor should she need to conform to what you deem to be empowering. Empowerment is the process of obtaining opportunities for marginalised people, and, with all due respect, what an individual deems suitable in providing them with self-efficacy, confidence, self-awareness and, often in pole, improved body image, is none of your business.

 

I was further interested that in the course of my research I noted that your dance society holds belly dance classes. I assume, due to your approval of this class, that you are unaware that early belly dancers were temple prostitutes. These were girls whose services and virginity were offered to a great goddess to benefit the village and to promote fertility – hence the abdomen, as the source of fertility, being the focus of many belly dance moves. Moreover, it is impossible to delineate the tradition of belly dancing from older generations of gypsy travellers, who are known to partake in dubious and often illegal practices. Belly dancers commonly wear a lot less than pole dancers, opting to expose more flesh through sheer material and using veils to entice and excite the viewer – notably belly dance was not always practiced for male viewing, but has increasingly been considered an erotic dance for men to view femininity in the purest form. Even the coin belts I would imagine your class attendees wear for classes, are inspired by the old customs of spectators throwing coins at belly dancers for encouragement and payment for letting them view the dance. Modern pole dancing has been influenced not only by belly dancing, but by Chinese acrobats, Indian wrestlers and both rhumba and tango classes (I not that you also hold tango classes!).

 

My research further highlighted that you have both amateur boxing and kick boxing societies. Are you not concerned about the link these activities have to violence, aggression and domestic abuse? As far as I am aware, there is just as much evidence to suggest that an attendee of kickboxing will be the perpetrator of domestic violence, as there is to suggest an attendee of pole fit will be the victim. You also have a beer pong society, but it would seem no acknowledgement of the fact that in 80-90% of cases of domestic abuse, one or other parties (please note women can a) be the perpetrator of domestic abuse and b) increasingly rely on alcohol as a coping strategy when they are victims) will often have consumed alcohol. Yet, it is by pole dancing that a woman makes herself vulnerable to suffer domestic violence? You also have a poker society and a baking appreciation society. Are you not concerned by the inextricable links to gambling addiction and the growing obesity epidemic? I think you can see how spurious the links i am making are, I very much hope you can see how this reflects your decision making.

 

Finally, and I must say most astoundingly, my search indicated that the rowing club have sold a 2013 naked calendar (a bargain at £5!) to raise money for club funds. I must demand that you explain your decision to punish a group of girls for keeping their clothes on for their sport, but do not punish the rowing club for taking their clothes off for theirs. Could you further clarify how this amounts to anything other than exploitation? The calendar verges on pornographic (please see photo taken from facebook page at the end of this letter), and thus not only has inextricable links to the sex industry but also seems to contravene your decision to ban “lad’s mags”, sexist adverts and prevent the objectification of students – just so you know, men can be objectified too, and this seems like a prime example.

 

It has not escaped me, that the front cover of your “Welcome to Swansea” booklet for new students this year (see end of letter), features three young girls, one of whom is wearing exactly the kind of outfit she would wear to pole dancing, and yet in the context of advertising your university it is suitable and in the context of an exercise class it is objectification. Equally, the message shown in the pictures throughout the brochure is that men come here to party and drink, but women come here to shop (and chat to boys!). If this didn’t raise enough concerns about the education delivered by Swansea University, the people “representing” the students, voicing such ridiculous arguments certainly helped. I am further concerned that your university is not encouraging your students to developed sufficient critical thinking skills required to make a well informed decision and to avoid being duped into making the wrong choice (i.e. attending pole fit). It strikes me that individuals being provided with a decent university education should be able to construct valid, well researched and well thought out arguments. It is therefore a surprise that you consider your students so unable to do this, you have to remove their decision making skills from them. Perhaps this is something to address.

 

I assume that your reference to “Raunch culture” refers to the book by Ariel Levy ‘Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture’, in which Levy suggests that in (American) culture women are objectified, objectify each other and objectify themselves. I have a number of issues with this:

 

1. In order to be objectified one first must be viewed. Whilst in pole dancing and lap dancing clubs there is almost always going to be an audience, in a pole fitness class there is almost never an audience. Without that audience no objectification can take place.

 

2. Your suggestion – by citing raunch culture – is that women objectify each other, but that is nothing short of unfounded. Had you ever attended a class with the pole society (it is widely reported that no one from your committee accepted invitations to see how classes were run), you would know that the only feelings any pole fit attendees have towards each other are: envy - because she’s more graceful, flexible or strong than you; pride – because she’s nailed that move she’s been working so damn hard on; and admiration – because women are inspiring.

 

3. The suggestion that by taking a pole class one is objectifying one’s self is nothing other than absurd. By taking a class to become stronger, fitter, more flexible, more toned and more aware of my femininity, sexuality and on a basic level just the way my body moves in space, I am in no way objectifying myself. I would in fact argue that it is the first time I have ever freed myself.

 

 

 

I would like it to go on record that the last time I felt objectified was after a pole class, when I was a couple hundred yards away from our studio and a man wolf whistled at me in the street – simply because I was wearing a skirt – and when he got no response, attempted twice more to grab my attention in this fashion.

 

In the logic you display in your letter, I somehow deserve this, because by allowing myself to participate in pole dancing, I somehow allow for myself to be objectified in other contexts. I must say that some aspects of your argument have connotations to the continually perpetuated rape myths that “if you wear it, you deserve it”. The tone you seem to be presenting “if you do it, you deserve it”.

 

In our pole community, we have students, teachers, local government employees, health care professionals, daughters, mothers (maybe even grandmothers!), wives and girlfriends. Above all, we have strong, independent well educated and intelligent women, capable of making their own decisions, without fear of exploitation. We have no links to the sex industry, we do not perform for the eyes of men and we do not objectify each other. We are athletes, who perform a sport for our own self-worth, self-confidence and for our own empowerment. Perhaps it is about time you stopped seeing your female students as vulnerable victims and started seeing them as strong independent women too, because currently, all you are actually doing is encouraging objectification, disempowerment, victimisation and, actually, being the perpetrators of everything you have accused pole of.

 

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I am compelled to write in response to the Swansea University Students’ Union Trustee Board’s letter to the Pole Fitness Society in order to address the misconceptions, factual errors, and stereotypes the Board gives as its ill-thought-out reasoning for withdrawing the Pole Fitness Society's membership.

 

It seems to me that the essential arguments put forward by SUSU are 1) that the sex industry and the poledance fitness industry are one and the same; and 2) that women, especially young women, are incapable of deciding what is right for them. My response will focus on 1) demonstrating that the sex industry and the poledance fitness industry, while undeniably connected in their origins, are two separate and fundamentally different industries; and 2) demonstrating that SUSU’s actions are paternalistic, patronising and diametrically opposed to the very gender equality SUSU claims to hold so dear.

 

I am particularly concerned by the disinformation that has been presented to SUSU and SUSU’s inability or unwillingness to challenge a catalogue of assumptions and look for empirical evidence. These assumptions are inaccurate, ill-founded, out of date and entirely out of step with a healthy and egalitarian attitude towards women and their wellbeing. The poledance fitness community is working hard to challenge these assumptions in a fair, assertive and constructive way, to encourage people to look past stereotypes and anachronistic beliefs. For those willing to open their minds to challenge, I recommend reading “The Sex Myth: Why Everything We’re Told Is Wrong” by Dr Brooke Magnanti, which uses verifiable facts and evidence to debunk some popularly-held beliefs.

 

Finally, the letter left me with the overwhelming impression that SUSU feels that there is something inherently “bad” about women’s sexuality in any form and therefore seeks to ban anything even vaguely related to women’s sexuality, which is extraordinary for an organisation that claims to be in favour of gender equality. The choice of language in SUSU’s letter indicates that SUSU believes that young women, in particular, need to be protected from sex and sexuality, that there is something inherently distasteful or unwholesome about women engaging in an activity that merely has a (an increasingly distant) link with the sex industry; and, most worrying of all, that SUSU believes that young women are incapable of deciding for themselves what is empowering or not (deceived, hoodwinked). Do you really think so little of women that we need to be protected from ourselves? And if so, who appointed SUSU the moral authority?

 

About me: I am both a student (since 2006) and an instructor (since 2010) of poledance fitness, and I am a 3star Approved Instructor with the Pole Dance Community. I work in a senior management position in UK local government, and have a first class Master of Arts degree (I mention this only as evidence that I am intelligent and therefore capable of deciding what is, and is not, good for me).

 

For ease of reading, I have entered my comments in red/bold at the appropriate place in the letter.

 

The views expressed herein are mine alone, and do not represent the views of any organisation.

 

 

 

 

 

SUSU TRUSTEE BOARD RESPONSE

 

RE: POLE FITNESS SOCIETY

 

On September 12th 2013, a Swansea University Students’ Union Trustee Meeting was held. As part of the Agenda, a list of proposed Societies for the academic year 2013-2014 was presented. These were looked at in succession and a decision made on whether or not to accept each one.

 

The criteria used on which to base this decision was; whether the Society had applied in time and filled in all the required paperwork; whether the Society’s aims, objectives and activities met the Union’s aims and objectives; whether or not the Society was acting legally and whether or not the Society was in the best interests of the university’s students.

 

The Pole Fitness Society was discussed in turn and at this point a paper was presented by one of the Trustees who believed that the Society did not meet the criteria needed to be accepted. It was this paper that was the basis of the long discussion that took place. The following is the outcome of that discussion and the reason why the Pole Fitness Society was refused acceptance as an official Students’ Union Society.

 

The Trustees believe that ‘pole fitness’ classes are increasingly marketed as an empowering way for young women to keep fit and regain control of their lives. I couldn’t agree more about the empowering way for women to keep fit, but I am very puzzled by the apparent suggestion that young women's lives are out of control and they therefore need to regain control? From whom? Where is the evidence for this unsubstantiated belief? This is a strangely paternalistic starting point. This is especially true on university campuses. We asked ourselves however, is it empowering to gain fitness in a way that is inextricably linked to the multi million pound sex industry?

 

What right does SUSU have to rule on and/or tell anyone else what is or is not empowering? Surely that is for an individual to decide. Has a SUSU member ever been to a poledance fitness class? Or even spoken to anyone who has? If he/she had, he/she would know, and therefore have evidence, that such classes could not be further removed from the sex industry.

 

Pole fitness and pole dancing are a direct spin off from lap dancing. Can we separate ‘pole fitness’ from ‘pole dancing’? This is the wrong question. The question is “Can you separate the sex industry from the poledance fitness industry?” and, if you cannot, it is because you have chosen not to look at the overwhelming evidence that they are entirely separate industries. I do not deny that poledancing has its origins in strip clubs. However, in the last decade, had any SUSU representative cared to investigate even a little, a movement run by women (almost entirely) for women (mostly) has become established and mainstreamed: this is the poledance fitness movement. It has taken the gymnastic, athletic, technical and artistic skills of poledancing and moved them into an entirely new arena: the fitness arena.

 

Poledance fitness businesses are run almost entirely by women; the sex industry is not. Poledance fitness customers are overwhelmingly (though by no means exclusively) female; sex industry customers, as far as I am aware, are not. They use the same piece of equipment – a pole - for entirely different purposes. Massage takes place in a clinic and in a brothel. No one would suggest they are the same, or that all masseurs/masseuses work in the sex industry, so why apply this lazy reasoning to poledance fitness?

 

We believe that you cannot, because whatever you name it, pole ‘fitness’ or pole ‘dancing’, you are still participating in the social context of what the pole represents. What the pole represents is entirely subjective. What it represents to SUSU is clearly quite different to what it represents to poledance fitness enthusiasts. For me, the pole represents the following:

 

Athletic endeavour and pushing my physical fitness boundaries

 

Self-expression through the artistic medium of dance

 

Determination, persistence, perseverance and commitment to master technique

 

Significantly enhanced body confidence and self-esteem

 

Greater understanding of my and others’ learning style

 

Strength, agility, flexibility, grace, sensuality and power

 

A supportive and encouraging community of fellow students and instructors

 

Everyone knows where it comes from, that pole dancers are to be found in strip clubs and sex establishments and that pole dancing is a dance form specifically designed to sexually excite the watcher. Pole dancers are almost always women, and watchers almost always men.

 

I have never worked in a strip club or "sex establishment" (whatever that is? Do you mean a brothel and, if so, how do you know they have poles?) but I am aware that strip clubs have poles and poledancers, usually but not always female, and that they have a paying audience, usually but not always male. I agree that this is part of the sex industry. It is categorically NOT what happens in a poledance fitness class, where there are no spectators, and the aim is to master technique, not sexually excite anyone.

 

Poledance fitness classes are fitness classes featuring a piece of gymnastic apparatus; some classes include an element of dance, (just like aerobics, Zumba etc); there is no audience and therefore no "gaze"; women and men train in athletic, dance and gymnastic techniques on what is effectively a vertical barre; and there is no nudity and no sexual behaviour.

 

Some studios run showcases and/or competitions. If a SUSU representative had attended one of these, he/she would know that the audience is overwhelmingly female and they are there to support their friends, not throw money at them.

 

Although ‘pole fitness’ is sold as an empowering activity, we believe that women have been deceived into thinking this is a way of taking charge of their sexuality and their own decisions. Moreover we believe that it is just a further debasement of our culture and another sign of a creeping backlash against women’s true empowerment and a show of misogyny.

 

Why does SUSU have a problem with any woman taking charge of her sexuality and her own decisions, in any way that she deems reasonable? What business is it of SUSU’s? Why does SUSU want to take decision-making power away from women? Because women can’t be trusted to know/do what’s “right”? Welcome (back) to the dark ages!

 

Dance in its many and varied styles is a globally-recognised art form and means of self-expression. It may encompass a wide range of physical movements, emotions and expressions, including sensuality, and when you start to censor such self-expression under cover of "protecting" people, where will it end? Would you ban the internet? Would you ban photography? Both of these are inextricably linked to the sex/porn industry! Would you ban ballet, with its skimpy outfits and leg-splaying moves? Many forms of dance, including ballet which was certainly not the respectable and distinguished art form it is considered now, have in the past had links with the world of courtesans and prostitution, but guess what? They EVOLVED. This evolution is what is now happening in poledancing.

 

How would SUSU define "women's true empowerment", and is it limited to only the empowerment of which you approve? Not very empowering after all!

 

Poledance fitness classes are the opposite of misogyny: but how would SUSU know that if its representatives have never been to one to find out? They are a celebration of the feminine. Participants, usually mainly women, cheer each other on; share the quest to learn what their bodies are capable of; share the celebrations of nailing a new technique; look after each other's safety through spotting techniques; and laugh and learn together.

 

We believe that this is linked to the rise of ‘Raunch Culture’ in our society and our ever increasing pornified world where women are increasingly being portrayed and treated as objects for sexual enjoyment. This is a jaw-droppingly inaccurate statement. Poledance fitness classes have no causal link whatsoever to the so-called rise of “raunch culture”, or to a “pornified world”, or to objectification, but don’t take my word for it, get the Board members to a class and I guarantee they will reconsider. This not only normalises the practice of ‘pole fitness’ but encourages and hoodwinks young girls and women into accepting and embracing this behaviour. What behaviour exactly? What does SUSU imagine (fantasise?!) happens in a poledance fitness class?! What happens in a poledance fitness class is simply light years away from what happens in a strip club.

 

Even if individual women can separate pole fitness and pole dancing in their own minds, we believe that once context and politics are taken into account they are inextricably linked. Women as a class are detrimentally affected by activities such as ‘pole fitness’ which upholds and bolsters sexist attitudes and behaviours. What is useful about pole fitness – to the sex industry at least – is its association to pole dancing and lap dancing. Whereas we are not saying that anyone who attends pole fitness classes are training to move into pole dancing or lap dancing, what we are saying is that it is normalising the practice to the wider group of young women and girls who see work in the sex industry as a viable option. Are women so detrimentally affected that we are incapable of noticing this bolstering of sexist attitudes and behaviours and need SUSU to tell us? Or is it that SUSU feels a moral superiority and therefore obliged to protect us from ourselves? To say that pole fitness upholds and bolsters sexist attitudes simply tells me that SUSU is entirely ignorant of the aims, objectives, content and outcomes of poledance fitness classes. Where is the evidence to support this assertion that poledance fitness “upholds and bolsters sexist attitudes and behaviours”? Have SUSU representatives taken a class? Surveyed participants? Regarding working in the sex industry “as a viable option” – there is absolutely NO evidence of cause and effect. Where is the evidence that a pole fitness class normalises work in the sex industry? This is pure fantasy.

 

As a Student’s Union, we should not be deaf to the very real issue of ‘pole fitness’ playing a part in upholding this Raunch Culture and objectification of women and girls and the impact of this on our female students. We have achieved some outstanding work on gender equality, notably by banning the sales of Lad’s Mags in the Union, the banning of sexist advertisements and the Zero Tolerance Campaign. We believe that allowing the Pole Fitness Society would not be in line with our gender equality work.

 

Female students have gender equality legislation behind them in allowing them a student experience free from inequality, sexual oppression and objectification.

 

Swansea City Council has recently passed a ‘Nil Policy’ for the establishment of Sex Entertainment Venues in the City, and Welsh Government has a ‘Right to Be Safe’ Policy which outlines its strategy for ending Violence against Women and Girls. Pole dancing and the sex industry is a part of that and are seen as a form of violence against women.

 

Pole dancing is seen as a form of violence against women? Well, we do get bruises... But this has to be the most ludicrous statement yet, and again emphasises SUSU’s refusal to acknowledge the fact that there is a clear and distinct difference between what happens in strip clubs and what happens in poledance fitness classes. The latter are essentially gymnastics classes.

 

This frankly bizarre and blinkered determination to equate poledance fitness with the sex industry, no matter what, in spite of the total absence of evidence, is incredibly alarming. We are not being exploited, we are perfectly capable of making up our minds about our selves, our brains, our bodies, our beliefs, and our behaviours, and we do not require the paternalistic protection of a misguided and misinformed self-appointed moral authority.

 

At the most basic level, SUSU persists in equating poledance fitness with the sex industry and uses the terms interchangeably. This is simply wholly incorrect and any student or university representative should know that rigour in researching your subject is of the utmost importance. Instead SUSU has blithely abandoned facts, research and objectivity in favour of subjective bias and the maintenance of the very stereotypes it claims to fight.

 

I sincerely hope the SUSU letter is in no way a typical example of the quality of critical reasoning of Swansea University students and their representatives.

 

Evidence also shows that young women aged 16-24 are the group of women who experience the most domestic and sexual violence. This is the age of a large group of our female students. We believe that activities such as ‘pole fitness’ contributes to an atmosphere where women are viewed as sexual objects and where violence against them is acceptable. SUSU may believe this, but it is entirely unfounded. Where is the evidence that poledance fitness contributes to an atmosphere where women are viewed as sexual objects and where violence against them is acceptable? Once again, this is the figment of an overactive and skewed imagination, with no basis in hard fact.

 

The decision of the Trustee Board was unanimous in refusing the Pole Fitness Society official Students’ Union status.

Please consider the evidence, open your minds to challenge and reconsider your decision.

 

 

 

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I was an active member at Warwick University's Pole Dance Society and an executive member in my final year of study. I believe the ban is absolutely ludicrous. At Warwick we encouraged both male and female members to join our society and there was no connection between our society and strip clubs or lap dancing. I found pole fitness very empowering. I was very shy before I began but getting fit, participating in performances and the inter-university competition has really improved my confidence. Such confidence has been a real benefit in interviews with the law firms I have applied to work in as a graduate. In fact I have even written that I do pole fitness on applications and been invited to interview. I also made a wide group of friends through the sport. Swansea's club is certain to have similar benefits.

 

 

 

 

 

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I'm disgusted at the decision of Swansea uni not to recognise pole fitness for what it is...FITNESS....the ignorance of the board is insulting to every woman and man who takes part in the sport, as a 45 year old woman who takes part in lessons and also has a pole at home, that by the way i teach my grandchildren on,I'm horrified at their remarks..the remarks are archaic and do more harm to the status of women...I find it hard to believe that cheer leading is acceptable an activity which in my mind is sexual exploitation of young women....I suggest the board attend a lesson before they make unfounded judgments....I cannot express how angry this has made me.....to the board of Swansea uni i say get on a pole and see for yourself what a hard sport this actually is to master....

 

 

 

 

 

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I have just read about the Swansea University banning the pole fitness 
society. 
I am shocked that such a narrow-minded and misguided 
attitude can prevail in a committee attached to an educational body.



I am 56 years old and have been pole dancing for 3 years. I attend classes in 
Milford Haven with my instructor Jamie Alexah Taylor. Jamie teaches pole 
dancing, not pole fitness. The emphasis of her classes if fun. When I joined I 
was accepted by the pole community right away, even though other people thought 
I was too old/fat. With the pole community there is no judgement on how you 
look, all are welcome if they want to participate. The classes not just improve 
your physical strength and fitness, but build your body confidence and self-
image. There are hundreds of pole moves to learn, some more difficult to 
achieve than others. When you first see some moves demonstrated you think "I'm 
never going to be able to do that!". However, you try. You fail miserably at 
first, but with practice you improve. Eventually you succeed in the doing the 
move you never thought you could, and you celebrate your success. You 
colleagues in class celebrate your success also. You provide support for each 
other and there is a unique bond that grows between class members. The "I can 
do it when I really try" attitude that pole produces, spills over into other 
areas of your life, and you find you can face challenges that you would 
previously have shied away from. Surely students should be encouraged to find 
the "can do" attitude. Isn't that what the committee would want? The improved 
body confidence and self-belief would also stand students in good stead when 
they finish university and try to get that all important first job. What 
employer would prefer to employ a shy, nervous, unconfident candidate over one 
that one walks in confident, self-assured and friendly?



I would also add that in all the pole competitions and shows I have attended, 
the audience is generally made up of at least 80-90% women, and 10-20% men, so 
the statement that pole dancing is mainly performed by women and watched by men 
is ludicrous!



Pole dancing is not "demeaning to women" and I do not know any pole dancers who 
have ever felt exploited in any way. The professional pole instructors I have 
met who used to work in clubs are some of the most confident. successful and 
powerful women I have ever met, and are not victims of the sex industry. The 
only victims of the sex industry are the men who spend massive amounts of their 
money to watch unattainable women perform. 



All I can suggest is that the committee members go to one of Dawn's pole 
fitness classes and find out for themselves what a wonderful form of exercise 
it is, then go and reconsider this archaic ban.

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I have read the University's response regarding the pole fitness society a few times in order to make sure I understood it correctly.  What I would like to discuss is shame.  It is unfortunate that the University is attempting to shame the men and women who pole dance by associating those who dance with "raunch" and the sex industry.  Many now-accepted forms of dance were once considered suggestive and were frowned upon.  Pole dance certainly is earning it's title as an accepted form of dance, for both fitness reasons and for those who want to dance to gain confidence or feel empowered.  It is unfortunate that the University would like to perpetuate the myth that pole dancers are automatically strippers and sex workers.  While I understand that many pole dancers are still fighting the stigma placed on pole dancing and pole fitness, I believe that the world will soon understand that pole is here to stay.  I would encourage the Board to take one class with Dawn Roberts before finalizing their decision. 

 

 

 

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I would be keen to see some evidence of the following:

"Pole dancers are almost always women, and watchers almost always men."

"Women as a class are detrimentally affected by activities such as ‘pole fitness’ which upholds and bolsters sexist attitudes and behaviours."

"Whereas we are not saying that anyone who attends pole fitness classes are training to move into pole dancing or lap dancing, what we are saying is that it is normalising the practice to the wider group of young women and girls who see work in the sex industry as a viable option."

 

These strike me as extraordinarily broad, sweeping statements to make without any actual evidence. As a student myself, if I were to make those arguments in an assignment without any sort of citation or reference, I would fail. I expect sweeping statements and generalisations from lazy journalists looking to twist arguments, not a university.

"We believe that this is linked to the rise of ‘Raunch Culture’ in our society and our ever increasing pornified world where women are increasingly being portrayed and treated as objects for sexual enjoyment. This not only normalises the practice of ‘pole fitness’ but encourages and hoodwinks young girls and women into accepting and embracing this behaviour."

 

I was alarmed by the whole letter, I must admit, but the above statement and especially the text in bold may well be the most alarming part for me. I would be interested to know of what evidence this particular extract was born, as I can accurately state that none of the many pole dancers I know, both male and female, feel that they have been (as so eloquently put in your letter) "hoodwinked" into accepting and embracing women as sexual objects.

 

I am particularly concerned that the banning of the society is justified under the heading of gender equality. I am open to debate on this matter, but surely by banning something on the basis that the SU does not view it as suitable for its female students, you are not empowering those women who decided that they wanted to join the society but are in fact disempowering them, by making the decision for them? Do you believe that these women are unable to make this decision themselves, a decision that concerns their bodies and their bodies only? Please be assured, these are genuine questions and I would very much appreciate an answer that fully addresses these questions. Whilst I am on the point, might I add that despite my personal opinions it is no more the SU's business than it is mine if a student, male or female, makes an informed decision to enter the sex industry.

 

I realise that the SU has a duty to protect its students and I agree with you that the SU has its priorities right when it comes to gender equality. The work that has been achieved is very much necessary and I am not disputing that, however banning the pole fitness society based on the beliefs of the committee strikes me as an ill-judged knee-jerk reaction. As such, I would urge you to reconsider your position. Pole fitness and recreational pole dance has a long way to go before it can fully break free of its undeserved, seedy image but an incredible amount has been achieved in the last decade. The support of high-profile organisations (such as universities) makes a world of difference to the pole community. I don't doubt for a moment that all pole schools or classes offer safe environments, and I'm sure some of them have underlying agendas that may well be linked with the sex industry, but that clearly is not the case the with SPFS. Surely your energies would be better channelled into tackling the real problem here, which is those people that view women, and men, as sex objects. Would it not be better to educate that objectification of either gender is unacceptable?

 

 

 

I honestly hope you reconsider your stance on the banning of SPFS, or at the very least, that I have given you something to think about. As a final point - when justifying its actions, might I suggest that the SU refrains from the use of the statement "we believe..." and instead uses a phrase such as "it has been shown that..." followed by evidence of what has been shown. I make this suggestion purely on the grounds that, for example, whilst I may choose to believe that the universe was created by a flying spaghetti monster, it doesn't necessarily mean it's true.

 

 

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I just wanted to request that you bring up pole fitness's roots in Chinese circus and Mallakhamb.

 

 

 

 "Pole fitness and pole dancing are a direct spin off from lap dancing," is an anglo-centric and culturally insensitive position, that denies and ignores the legitimacy of non-Western sports and entertainment.

 

 

 

Most Universities strive to be culturally sensitive, rich and diverse. This point might strike a cord. 

 

 

 

It is also worth noting that the University of Edinburgh, one of the top ranking universities in the world, has a pole dance society.

 

 

 

 

 

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Dear SUSU Trustee Board,

 



 

I am absolutely appalled at your letter regarding Swansea Pole Fitness Society, and the small-mindedness it demonstrates. 

 

 

 

I am a professional 24-year-old woman, in a full-time job, and am in no way involved in the sex industry (nor have I ever been, nor intend to be). I have been taking pole fitness classes for nearly 3 years.

 

 

 

I refute some of the sweeping statements made within the letter, and can only conclude that those who made this decision have had no exposure to or experience of pole fitness; rather, they have judged it based on commonly-held and ignorant generalisations about the sport (yes, sport) without bothering to try and understand it or speak to those involved in it.

 

 

 

Please see my comments in response below:

The Trustees believe that ‘pole fitness’ classes are increasingly marketed as an empowering way for young women to keep fit and regain control of their lives. This is especially true on university campuses. We asked ourselves however, is it empowering to gain fitness in a way that is inextricably linked to the multi million pound sex industry? 

 



 

Yes, poles were first used for dancing in the sex industry. That doesn’t mean that pole fitness, which is a sport akin to gymnastics, is intrinsically linked to the sex industry. It is, after all, just a metal pole, which is used as an apparatus for the sport - just like bars are used in gymnastics.

 


Pole fitness and pole dancing are a direct spin off from lap dancing. Can we separate ‘pole fitness’ from ‘pole dancing’?

 

 

 

Yes, you can. One involves dancing in a suggestive manner around a pole, in clubs, in order to sexually excite (generally) men, whislt getting paid. The other involves dancing (and sometimes more gymnastics than dancing) in studios, often with mostly women, in non-provocative clothing, often in an athletic way, not for the purposes of sexually exciting men or getting paid to do so. They are different things, and should be treated as such. Otherwise, you are saying that all women who partake in pole fitness are basically strippers. Clearly, they are not.

 


Although ‘pole fitness’ is sold as an empowering activity, we believe that women have been deceived into thinking this is a way of taking charge of their sexuality and their own decisions. Moreover we believe that it is just a further debasement of our culture and another sign of a creeping backlash against women’s true empowerment and a show of misogyny. 

 



 

This statement is greatly insulting; it suggests that women aren’t capable of making their own decisions and that someone (presumably men) has manipulated them into thinking in a certain way. Who is supposedly 'deceiving' us? I’d like you to go to a pole fitness class and ask the women there if they feel they have been ‘deceived’. 

 



 

I started pole fitness because I hate traditional forms of exercise, liked dancing and thought it looked like fun. No one deceived me, I didn’t do it to ‘take charge of my sexuality’ and I certainly didn’t do it for men. I did it for fitness and fun, and I've continued doing it because it has built my strength and fitness, and is still a whole lot of fun. Ask the women who do pole fitness, and the majority will tell you that it’s empowering because it builds your strength, it makes you fitter, it gives you a sense of achievement, and it is also a great way to meet other women. 

 



 

And yes, some do it because they want to feel sexy. And what’s wrong with that? Sexuality is a big part of who we (everyone, men and women) are, and feeling attractive/sexy is enjoyable to many. It makes them feel good - who are you to judge them for doing something they want to do, and enjoy? Working on that basis, you could say women shouldn’t wear high heels or make up because that would be ‘taking charge of their sexuality’. 

 


We believe that this is linked to the rise of ‘Raunch Culture’ in our society and our ever increasing pornified world where women are increasingly being portrayed and treated as objects for sexual enjoyment. This not only normalises the practice of ‘pole fitness’ but encourages and hoodwinks young girls and women into accepting and embracing this behaviour. 

 



 

Lots of pole fitness isn’t remotely sexual. There is a common misconception that pole fitness is the same as pole dancing in strip clubs, but anyone who has seen any actual pole fitness will understand that there are big differences. Everyone has their own style, but the majority of women I see doing pole fitness do not do it in a ‘sexy’ way. There is no grinding, no stripping, no gyrating. It is pure strength and athletic moves. It is often done in bare feet, not heels, and is not done for the gratification or enjoyment of anyone else, only for the dancer. The only women being treated as ‘objects for sexual enjoyment’ in pole fitness are those that have specifically chosen to be so, and that is their right and choice to do so. 

Even if individual women can separate pole fitness and pole dancing in their own minds, we believe that once context and politics are taken into account they are inextricably linked. Women as a class are detrimentally affected by activities such as ‘pole fitness’ which upholds and bolsters sexist attitudes and behaviours. What is useful about pole fitness – to the sex industry at least – is its association to pole dancing and lap dancing. Whereas we are not saying that anyone who attends pole fitness classes are training to move into pole dancing or lap dancing, what we are saying is that it is normalising the practice to the wider group of young women and girls who see work in the sex industry as a viable option. 

 



 

Women as a class are detrimentally affected by activities such as 'pole fitness'” Can you provide some real evidence of this? I think every woman taking part in pole fitness will disagree with you. From what I see, and I’m sure this will be backed up by anyone you speak to involved in pole fitness, it's a brilliant community. It’s full of women supporting and encouraging each other, of women improving their health and fitness, of friendships and challenges and hard work. Pole fitness is an incredibly difficult sport that takes dedication, practice, sometimes pain and lots of determination. It’s not just spinning around a pole looking seductive – take a look at some of the world’s top pole dancers and see an example of incredible strength, athleticism and power. How a community that brings women together and improves their health is detrimental to women 'as a class' is a mystery to me.

 

 

 

Also, although you may not agree with the sex industry (and nor, as it happens, do I), it isn’t illegal and some women do want to work in that industry. If they are learning pole dancing because they want to do that, then that is their choice. It is not up to you, or anyone else, to determine what is ‘acceptable’ for them and the tone of your letter is incredibly judgemental. To refuse society status on the presumption that a minority of women might use the sport as training for the sex industry is ridiculous.

As a Student’s Union, we should not be deaf to the very real issue of ‘pole fitness’ playing a part in upholding this Raunch Culture and objectification of women and girls and the impact of this on our female students. We have achieved some outstanding work on gender equality, notably by banning the sales of Lad’s Mags in the Union, the banning of sexist advertisements and the Zero Tolerance Campaign. We believe that allowing the Pole Fitness Society would not be in line with our gender equality work. 

 



 

Female students have gender equality legislation behind them in allowing them a student experience free from inequality, sexual oppression and objectification. 

 



 

Firstly, many men do pole fitness too - it's not just a female sport. Again, this just demonstrates an ignorance towards the sport. Have you spoken to your students? Have you asked them if they feel that a pole fitness society will have a negative impact on female students? I find it interesting that, as pointed out in the Pole Society's response to you, you do allow cheerleading - a form of dance that often involves dancing provocatively in revealing outfits, and one that is also dominated by women. 

Swansea City Council has recently passed a ‘Nil Policy’ for the establishment of Sex Entertainment Venues in the City, and Welsh Government has a ‘Right to Be Safe’ Policy which outlines its strategy for ending Violence against Women and Girls. Pole dancing and the sex industry is a part of that and are seen as a form of violence against women. 

 



 

Pole fitness is not part of the sex industry. It is not the same as pole dancing and stripping in adult entertainment venues, as I've explained above.

Evidence also shows that young women aged 16-24 are the group of women who experience the most domestic and sexual violence. This is the age of a large group of our female students. We believe that activities such as ‘pole fitness’ contributes to an atmosphere where women are viewed as sexual objects and where violence against them is acceptable.

 


To associate pole fitness with domestic and sexual violence is, quite frankly, insulting to the entire pole fitness community. There is no evidence that pole fitness increases the risk of violence against women. To throw in this statistic, which is obviously a serious and upsetting one, in order to try and back up a rather feeble argument is underhand and transparent. Domestic and sexual violence is a concern for all women, the pole community included. Do you think women would be doing pole fitness classes if they thought if encouraged violence against their peers? I don't think so. 

 


The decision of the Trustee Board was unanimous in refusing the Pole Fitness Society official Students’ Union status. 

 

 

 

To refuse the society status based on the reasons given within the Board's letter is outrageous and insulting. Pole fitness is a sport, that combines dance and gymnastic type moves, which happens to involve an apparatus that started in adult venues. Some pole dancers dance in what could be considered a ‘sexy’ way, but many don’t. The same applies to most other forms of dance – some ballet, hip hop, or modern dancers could also be considered to be sexually provocative.

 



 

The arguments in the Board's letter appear to be based on sweeping generalisations, little evidence and a large amount of misguided personal opinions. The letter treats women as some 'other' - incapable of making their own decisions, with pole fitness pushed on them by some mysterious power - when, in fact, you will find the pole community full of 'normal' women with their own lives and personalities - students, mothers, young, old, fat, thin, shy, outgoing. I've met all types of women in this community, and they all chose to be there, for different reasons.

 

 

 

The pole community and organisations such as the International Pole Sports Federation are working hard to beat the generalisations and misconceptions about pole fitness, in order for it to be recognised for what it is - a sport. Much progress has been made, but it saddens me that the sport is still clearly misunderstood and judged by many, such as it has been by the SUSU Board. 

 



 

I am appalled, as I’m sure the rest of the pole community is, at the judgemental and small minded approach the Board has taken in this matter and urge them to reconsider. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dear SUSU, 

 

I have recently read your letter depicting the reasons as to why you will not allow a lovely bunch of Swansea University students the wonderful opportunity of starting and running their very own pole fitness society. I would like to take this opportunity to reply to your letter, even though I know from previous experience that this is a waste of time, as you are inexplicably closed-minded on this issue.

 

Firstly, before moving onto the issue of whether or not grown adults should be allowed to decide for themselves if they would like to take up an aerial hobby, I would like to question your interpretation of feminism. I do not, by any means, draw parallels between a woman’s right to vote and right to be treated equally in the workplace with the right to hang upside down from a pole. That would be ridiculous. However, for me, as a woman, feminism is about the woman’s right to choose. A woman can choose to work, she can choose to be a housewife, she can choose to run for government, she can choose to run a marathon. In short, women are grown adults who can make their own decisions to live their lives the way that they choose, without men, or other women, telling them that they are wrong.

 

Now, I have had the utmost pleasure and privilege of being one of Dawn’s pole students for several years. I read in your letter: “we believe that women have been deceived into thinking this is a way of taking charge of their sexuality and their own decisions.” How dare you imply that I am stupid and incapable of making up my own mind? No one has deceived me.

 

I pole dance because I enjoy it.

 

I do not pole dance for empowerment, I do not pole dance to regain control of my sexuality, I do not pole dance to impress men, I do not pole dance because I am weak of mind. I just simply enjoy it. It keeps me fit, it increases my strength, it helps with my flexibility, it compliments my other sports, I have made a fantastic group of friends and because it is something fun to do inside during these god-forsaken winters that we are blessed with.

 

Please, explain to me clearly the problems with that. And don’t say:

 

Swansea City Council has recently passed a ‘Nil Policy’ for the establishment of Sex Entertainment Venues in the City, and Welsh Government has a ‘Right to Be Safe’ Policy which outlines its strategy for ending Violence against Women and Girls. Pole dancing and the sex industry is a part of that and are seen as a form of violence against women.”

 

As Swansea Council admit that pole dancing is not a part of the sex industry, Studio 95 continues to do a roaring trade and by illegalizing sex establishments you are pushing the industry underground making it incredibly dangerous for women who either choose to work in the sex industry or who have been coerced into it.

 

And do not say:

 

We believe that this is linked to the rise of ‘Raunch Culture’ in our society and our ever increasing pornified world where women are increasingly being portrayed and treated as objects for sexual enjoyment. This not only normalises the practice of ‘pole fitness’ but encourages and hoodwinks young girls and women into accepting and embracing this behaviour.”

 

Absolutely nothing I do is part of the ‘raunch culture’. I would never encourage young girls to try to be ‘sexy’, I partake in a private dance class and I practise in the privacy of my own home. Are you implying that by doing this I am to blame for the sickness inside some men’s heads that causes them to rape women?

 

Yes, some of the origins of pole fitness do come from strip clubs, some of the origins also come from the circus. But if you worried about the origins of dance, would you not have to ban belly dance, tango and flamenco? Would you not have to ban street dance, due to its undeniable links to inner-city gang culture that glorifies gun violence and gang rape? And surely, if you have something against scantily-women dancing ‘sexy’ we would have to ban Strictly Come Dancing? At least by taking part in Dawn’s classes I am not in my pants grinding against someone else’s husband during prime time TV for the benefit of old ladies.

 

Attempting to link a pole fitness class with violence against women is utterly wrong and dangerous. Men are violent against women for power, not for sexual attraction. To blame the violence of some men on the actions of women is buying into the rape culture and passing even more of the blame onto women. This is such a dangerous thing to do. Violent men get away with it as they convince women that it is their fault. I am not sure if you have ever experienced sexual abuse, but you are not left with a feeling that you have been attacked. You are left with a feeling of being dirty and guilty and that you have something to hide. By blaming anyone other than the guilty man you are causing untold suffering to countless women. You need to think long and hard about your arguments.

 

Dawn’s classes provide a safe haven for women and men (lets not forget that her co-instructor is male) to get together and to express themselves through dance in a non-competitive environment. They do not, by any means, contribute to violence against women.

 

Your reasonings for disallowing this society are petty and formed through ignorance. I am a former Swansea University student who chaired one of the sports clubs for some time. I know the work, effort pleasure involved in sharing your passion with other students. By disallowing the Pole Fitness society you are denying these girls the chance to do this. These are intelligent university students who have made up their own minds. They are not silly little girls who can’t think for themselves. By implying that they are silly little girls who can’t think for themselves are you not objectifying them?

 

I look forward to you doing your research, opening your minds and campaigning against the issues that do actually encourage violence against women. In the meantime I shall continue to use pole fitness as a way of strengthening my core to prevent any back injuries postpartum.

 

 

 

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Pole dancing and empowerment are often used in the same sentence and pole dancing schools do indeed frequently market their classes as being empowering to women.  It is usually people who have never attended one of these classes, and who aren’t well informed enough to be making such blanket statements, who scoff at the idea of the empowerment and insist that it is a misguided attempt by women to take control of their bodies and to perform this dance as a way of sexually expressing themselves.  They may well scoff but this is in fact not the reason that pole dancing is empowering.  Pole dancing is empowering because it makes a woman feel fit, strong, confident and able, both in and outside the classroom. You only have to watch an advanced pole performer to know that they have to be exceptionally strong to be able to do what they do and they will have worked extremely hard for many long hours to be able to achieve these abilities.  Pole fitness is one of the best forms of exercise out there, it conditions every group of muscles as well as being a cardiovascular workout – something you will not get in such great measure from any other dance class.  Pole dancing is difficult, hard work and often painful with friction burns and bruises as well as the frustration that comes with working towards difficult goals.  It requires a great deal of stamina and practice to become proficient and therefore the people who reach advanced levels of this discipline have something to be very proud of.  The fact that you refuse to recognise these qualities and only choose to look at the archaic idea of pole dancing being purely a form of eroticism shows that you are in fact guilty of gender inequality and oppression yourselves by trying to prevent women in your university from doing something that they love.  More and more men are attending pole classes yet you have chosen to ignore this fact as well and are stubbornly sticking to the idea that pole dancing is synonymous with lapdancing and women shouldn’t be allowed to do it.

 

 

 

You cite “gender equality” as being your main reason for banning the pole fitness society, but the definition of gender equality is allowing men and women to do the same thing. You’re stopping women from doing what they want.

 

 

 

is it empowering to gain fitness in a way that is inextricably linked to the multi million pound sex industry? “

 

 

 

It’s only ‘inextricably linked’ by decisions like this which refuse to allow it to move away from the sex industry.

 

 

 

Pole fitness and pole dancing are a direct spin off from lap dancing”

 

 

 

All dance started off as a sexual expression – the earliest forms of dance were purely mating rituals.  In African tribes dance is still used primarily as a mating ritual – are you going to ban Bokwa?

 

 

 

pole dancing is a dance form specifically designed to sexually excite the watcher”

 

 

 

In a sexual context it is designed to excite the watcher, as are most forms of dance you will find in any nightclub, but in a pole fitness or pole dancing class there is no audience to sexually excite nor is the content of the class itself designed to sexually excite.  The women (and men!) are there for their own fitness and exercise purposes and anyone who has attended a pole class will know that it is strength, endurance and ability that are taught, encouraged and celebrated in these classes, not eroticism. Salsa dancing is a very erotic dance, originally designed to sexually excite the dancers and the audience, yet you’re happy to have salsa classes on your timetable because salsa has become acceptable in the mainstream. It is only actions like this that prevent pole dancing from becoming accepted in the same way.

 

 

 

 

 

There is another form of pole dancing which is called Chinese pole. This originated in Chinese circus and usually involves men performing acrobatic tricks around one or more poles.  Chinese circus pole has never been accused of being ‘inextricably linked to the sex industry’ yet the core fundamentals are exactly the same – they are performing moves and positions around a vertical pole.  Traditionally Chinese pole is performed by men – this is the main difference between Chinese pole and pole fitness, so how can you claim that banning pole fitness is to uphold gender equality?

 

 

 

 

 

We believe that women have been deceived into thinking this is a way of taking charge of their sexuality and their own decisions”

 

 

 

This sentence is patronising and insulting.  You suggest that women can be so easily ‘deceived’ by the use of a single word and you suggest that the women who attend pole dancing classes aren’t intelligent enough to make their own informed decisions; they must have been duped into them. No one is suggesting that pole fitness is a way of taking charge of your sexuality – sexuality doesn’t come into it any more than it does in a yoga class and anyone who has attended a pole fitness class would know this.

 

 

 

Female students have gender equality legislation behind them in allowing them a student experience free from inequality, sexual oppression and objectification”

 

 

 

A woman who attends a pole fitness class does so to increase her fitness levels, learn a new acrobatic skill and often to socialise with other people.  She is not objectified or discriminated against in her class nor is she exploited. For you to tell her that she cannot attend these classes because you don’t think they’re good for her is the very definition of sexual oppression. You are the only one oppressing these women.

 

 

 

activities such as ‘pole fitness’ contributes to an atmosphere where women are viewed as sexual objects and where violence against them is acceptable.

 

 

 

To synonymise pole dancing with violence against women is frankly ludicrous.  If anything, a woman who has attended a pole fitness class for any considerable time is less likely to be victimised because she will have gained immense strength and confidence from her class.

 

Finally, you claim that pole fitness is too sexually explicit and you don’t want to encourage this type of behaviour at your university.  This picture (attached) is on the Swansea University Dance Society page. One girl’s placard states she is guilty of “slut dropping on the dance floor”. Yet you ban pole dancing for being degrading to women..?

 

 

 

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It is clear the university has made its decision,and while I respect the institution's right to determine who they would like to be associated with, the manner in which they describe their decision is deeply disappointing. There are two areas in particular that I feel need to be addressed.

1. Despite being an institution of higher learning, the university relies on stereotypes of women involved in pole fitness rather than engaging in even a minimal level of research. Is this the standard of eduction that they promote? One example, in their letter they state that the observers of the activity that they are denying are overwhelmingly male, but anyone who has been to a pole fitness competition can easily see this is false.

2. The insinuation that it is the
behaviour of women that makes it acceptable to commit violence against women is more harmful to women than pole dancing will ever be. Do they mean to say that women who embrace their sexuality are objects? Is this the kind of rape culture that this university promotes?

Clearly, you are dealing with puritans that probably see the sexual freedoms that women have gained since the invention of the pill as a "step back" for women. However their lack of endorsement of this activity does not make it okay for them to spread misinformation or to justify violence against women who do not behave to their standards of "morality."

 

 

 

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They say about trying to move away from gender oppression but then tell women that they can't do what they want, based on blind opinions with no real evidence behind them. I was lost for words when I read this article earlier. Surely if the only opinion you have of something is that narrow you should try to experience it first hand? If only to confirm that your bias is correct. It doesn't look like any member of the student union committee has ever stepped a toe into a pole fitness studio or they would realise how much of a positive impact the sport can make on men and women's mental and physical health. It's a terrible shame that in a culture that promotes free accessible knowledge and freedom of choice for its citizens, any group of young people would cling to such outdated opinions of a rapidly evolving sport in order to restrict the choices of the adults that they represent. 

 

 

 

 

 

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I read with increasing incredulity the letter regarding the banning of the Pole Fitness Society by the SUSU. Pole Fitness is an extremely disciplined method of keeping fit and is enjoyed by many people, from many different walks of life, with a common goal - to achieve a level of fitness and flexibility whilst participating in an activity that they enjoy.

 

 

 

Are SUSU for real? Maybe they are too busy promoting other Societies such as the Beer Pong Society. This society promotes £1.50 pints and £6 pitchers. The SUSU also lists 4 bars on their web page, again promoting cheap alcohol - or as they describe it "and of course.....a fully stocked bar!!!".

 

 

 

Now it's becoming apparent why they are so against the Pole Fitness Society - it must be extremely difficult to perform a hands free crucifix whilst suffering from the after effects of alcohol and the risk that the developing beer belly may affect one's balance.

 

 

 

Shame on you Swansea University Students Union.

 

 

 

 

 

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It is very sad that there are still many people who associate pole fitness with the sex industry and nothing else.  It is excellent that the PDC stands up for its members and the sport, you are to be congratulated.

 

 

 

Three years ago I had that same lack of understanding but I was invited by a friend to join her at her pole lesson.  I ached for a week afterwards, it is very hard exercise.  Since then I have been hooked and have recently become an instructor in Southampton.

 

 

 

Anyone who has seen me knows that there is nothing remotely erotic about what I do while engaging in pole fitness.  I am a happily married family man aged 55, an IT manager; it is hard to think of anyone who is less like the popular preconception of a pole dancer than me.

 

 

 

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I have recently read your letter which refuses the Pole Fitness Society Student Union Status. I have poled both with my own university (University of Leicester) and several independent organisations over several years and find your views on pole fitness ungrounded and offensive. Pole fitness is a sport. I find your views regarding the origin of pole fitness extremely limiting, and I don’t believe the origin is relevant to the sport we have today. Many kinds of classical dancing were born out of sex and lust, yet classical dancing is seemingly legitimate. Pole takes physical strength, determination and skill. It’s a test of body and mind as much as any other sport. Pole is fun, hard work, confidence building and a great way to meet like minded people. Pole does not discriminate based on size, gender or ethnicity and even suggesting that it’s harmful to women, is damaging to this sport, which in turn is damaging to women. I have never in any way felt sexualised whilst poling. Pole leaves me covered in bruises, sweaty, and above all, happy. You are restricting young women of their self expression and their fitness and you are reducing a serious sport to sex work. I don’t feel you’ve taken into account the damage you are causing a sport which encourages men and women to get active. I ask you to reconsider this decision and perhaps participate in a pole fitness lesson in order to gain a fuller view on the matter at hand. Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

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As an academic and ardent feminist, I am deeply disappointed by your recent decision regarding the Swansea Pole Fitness Society. While you may insist that you are protecting girls from the consequences of “Raunch Culture” (yes, please lump us in with the adolescent antics of Miley Cyrus), you are in fact generalizing the issue to the detriment of the very women you claim to protect. Yes, there is a plague of sexism infesting our current pop culture: hip-hop videos devote more screen time to women’s asses than their faces; advertisers exploit sex to sell everything from liquor to Hot Pockets. Music encourages rape! But that you place pole fitness in league with these atrocities reveals your ignorance about our community.

 

Your armchair assessments of pole fitness make clear that you made no effort to investigate the pole fitness community; frankly, your assessments and accusations disgusted me. If you’d done your due diligence, you’d know that the majority of pole dancing studios are owned and run by women. Most classes are women-only (with the rare serious male student—men who are respectful of us, and cooperative with us, in a way that university-approved fraternities wouldn’t dream to be) and provide a safe and supportive space for women to feel out the capabilities of their bodies. In no other sport have I seen such diversity, with students representing an amazing array of ethnic and sexual backgrounds; as a marginalized art-form, pole embraces marginalized people. Our female-dominated competitions already prove pole’s place as a burgeoning art-form… Have you bothered to watch video of our competitions? Oona Kivelä, Danielle Romano, Mai Sato—these women are TRANSCENDENT artists. And they, not some anonymous strippers, are the role models of women in the pole community.

 

But, as I already stated, your comments reveal that you didn’t bother learning any of this.

 

Perhaps most importantly, it troubles me that you seem to participate in a practice that is equally as harmful as female objectification: suppression of female sexuality. I was raised Catholic, and that culture denied me ownership and enjoyment of my sexuality, and pole dancing (I’m not interested in the semantic games of “dancing” versus “fitness”) has helped me to combat the damage. I learned and then taught pole dancing while in graduate school, and it made me love my body in a way that no number of feminist theorists could. YES, pole dancing originated in the sex industry. But so did jazz and tango, two art-forms which are uniquely human and beautiful BECAUSE they are sexual and accentuate the beauty of human sexuality. Fortunately, some great artists had the vision to see beyond the initial titillation to that truth. I wish you shared their wisdom, rather than contributing to the blanket demonization of female sexuality.

 

So, please, do not blame us. Do not claim that you are protecting our women and girls, when, in fact, you are afraid of a perception (not the reality of pole fitness) and how that perception will reflect on you. What matters most is the impact of pole fitness on those involved in it. I am one of those individuals, and I know hundreds of others, and so I am speaking up for us in an attempt to correct your myopic guesswork.   

 

I have already posted your insulting letter to public forums and seen it re-posted. Please don’t rush to denigrate large communities of strong women in the future. We don’t appreciate it.

 

 

 

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I'm the treasurer for the University of Bristol Pole Fitness Society, and I was shocked to hear the Swansea University Board of Trustees had banned their Pole Fitness Society.  Obviously Pole Fitness has negative connotations, but as you rightly pointed out in the letter the societies no more sexist or exclusive than the Cheerleading one at Swansea.  As a committee we have worked hard to encourage more men to join but sadly have only managed to get one male member this year, which I personally put down to a worse stigma of the men at Bristol University, who feel they cannot join - to have fun, try something new, and get very fit - without being ridiculed.  We are not the ones displaying sexism, it is the rest of the public's opinion of our form of exercise and expression that is the problem.

 

 

 

I feel that the Board needs to be corrected on some points, as they state:

 

"Pole fitness and pole dancing are a direct spin off from lap dancing. Can we separate ‘pole fitness’ from ‘pole dancing’? We believe that you cannot, because whatever you name it, pole ‘fitness’ or pole ‘dancing’, you are still participating in the social context of what the pole represents. Everyone knows where it comes from, that pole dancers are to be found in strip clubs and sex establishments and that pole dancing is a dance form specifically designed to sexually excite the watcher. Pole dancers are almost always women, and watchers almost always men."

 

This is simply untrue, as pole fitness can be traced back 800 years or more to the Indian sport of mallakhamb, which is a male strength sport still highly regarded in India.  A quick search of youtube shows the strength, flexibility, balance, and endurance needed to compete.  It then became a Circus Performance skill, designed to awe and entertain, not in a sexual manner but again in terms of strength, flexibility, etc.  The fact that pole dancing is done in strip clubs and lap dancing also happens in strip clubs is not a strong enough link to imply that pole fitness is a spin-off from such a sordid place.  I once read that the requirement for pole fitness or dance is a pole and some strength, but the requirement to be a stripper is that you strip; sometimes people need to be reminded that these are separate conditions, but they are perfectly easy to determine in my mind.  As every poler knows, the crop tops and shorts are necessary to have enough bare skin to stick to the pole (unless you can afford the £150+ pole sleeves) and without that skin-pole contact you will simply slip off.  Again, looking back at mallakhamb, the men competing wear briefs so they can grip the pole properly, so this is not a choice made by pole fitness enthusiasts to make the performance more sexy.

 

 

 

I am sure someone else may have worded this better, but I felt like it needed to be said!

 

If you wanted to send anything of this to them and were planning to name the individuals who've sent their opinions, I'd appreciate it if you would make it clear these are my views and not necessarily the views of the University of Bristol (although I would assume they'd agree as they allow us to continue...) as I don't want to make any statements on their behalf!

 

 

 

 

 

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By not accepting the Swansea Pole Fitness Society the SUSU decided that the men and women formerly in that society are no longer permitted to do as they wish with their own bodies, a decision that represents a much greater degree of sexism than any pole fitness class in which I have ever participated. 

 

 

 

A woman's body belongs to no one but herself and to take measures to restrict her freedom based on other people's expectations is to enforce an ancient brand of misogyny that has no place in a modern university. Telling an intelligent, autonomous woman what is and what isn't good for her does not benefit anyone. She can decide for HERSELF what to do. She can decide for HERSELF what to wear. And she can decide for HERSELF how to dance! These women are students at Swansea University - not idiots. The SUSU letter makes great mention of empowerment while simultaneously stripping (pun intended) women of their freedom to do as they see fit. I would go as far to say that this letter betrays a complete lack of understanding of what constitutes sexism. 

 

 

 

A basic tenet of feminism is that both men and women should be able to live the lifestyle of their choosing. In this case that means women should not be prevented from doing something with sexual connotations regardless of who is watching, and that men should not be teased or laughed at for doing something stereotypically feminine. Unfortunately, many pole fitness institutions are women-only because the women who want to learn are afraid of being objectified by men in their class or judged by other women for being 'slutty'. This denies men in certain locations the opportunity to learn but it is made a necessity by the very 'raunch culture' described by the SUSU. A mixed environment such as the Swansea Pole Fitness Society is a rarity and such organisations should be praised for their open-mindedness and bravery. 

 

 

 

More to the point, even if a woman were to dance provocatively on a pole, even if she was getting paid for it that is her choice. Only when a woman is forced or coerced into dancing does it become wrong. Equally wrong is forcing a woman to stop dancing against her will. It would seem that the SUSU, for all its feminist credentials, does not know the difference between sexism and empowerment.

 

 

 

To clarify:

 

A woman choosing to dance IS NOT SEXISM.

 

A woman choosing to get fit IS NOT SEXISM.

 

A society running classes with the aim of helping women dance to get fit IS NOT SEXISM.

 

Forcing a woman to stop doing something she loves because you, as an outsider, have decided on her behalf that it is not suitable IS SEXISM.

 

 

 

The SUSU has completely failed in its mission to combat sexism to the extent that it has itself enforced sexist ideologies and humiliated many of its female members by implying they are incapable of making sensible judgements for themselves and, even worse, taking away a harmless, benevolent fitness activity/social event. If the SUSU truly cares about the welfare of female students it will reinstate the Swansea Pole Fitness Society as soon as possible and offer its sincerest apologies to all whom it oppressed.

 

 

 

Finally, I would like to recount a short story of how a young girl who was taught to dislike her body by a misogynistic, conformist culture came to realise that many shapes of women are beautiful and that fat does not mean unfit. I attended my first pole fitness session at the age of seventeen. It had been recommended that I wear a top and shorts to the lesson and I was worried about how I would look and how others in the class would perceive me. Upon my arrival I encountered not the group of tall, slender, glamourous ladies I had imagined but a class of real, fleshly women. These women were different shapes, had different strengths and different levels of flexibility. Some were very curvy and could lift themselves far higher and more elegantly than I could. Some were incredibly thin and couldn't grip the pole the same the way the bigger girls could but could arch their backs and touch their toes with ease. And of course there were many women in between. None of those women had the same body as me but seeing them helped me to accept my shape as a perfectly valid shape. Now instead of seeing in the mirror something that doesn't fit the specifications I see my strengths, I see the parts that have become stronger since I started pole fitness and I see the weaknesses which no longer seem so abnormal. I have developed more muscle on my back and shoulders and now the sleeves of my T-shirts are tight, and I can no longer fit into many of my old skinny jeans because of my thighs. And I simply do not care. I fit the mould even less than I did two years ago and I do so triumphantly. I like my new found strength and flexibility. Many regard it as 'masculine' to have more than just skin on your bones but I like it. Pole fitness has encouraged me to value strength over a tiny frame and I am eternally grateful. Without pole fitness I never would have started going to the gym and I never would have signed up for a weightlifting class. 

 

 

 

So in many ways pole fitness has changed my attitude towards health and beauty. However, there are things beyond its influence. These include my relationship with my boyfriend, my relationship with my family and my belief that I am capable of making decisions for myself. I sincerely hope that the next time the SUSU considers taking away men and women's right to do as they please with their bodies it reflects on what I have said.

 

 

 

 

 

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I am part of Newcastle University Pole Dancing society (NUPD). I do not feel in any way that pole fitness or pole dancing in this way is at all sexual.  Would Swansea class rhythmic gymnastics as sexual? A mix of dance and gymnastics to music with props, often in small, tight leotards? Or cheerleading which is a mix of dance and gymnastics to music with props (pom poms) which is also in small outfits? And these are even more targeted for women to do, while pole has both male and female members who are treated as complete equals.

 

 

 

At our end of year showcase there was probably more girls in the audience than boys, personally I had more than twice as many female friends attend than male friends. When showing male friends moves from my classes they never mention a girls appearance, they mention the strength and ability it must take to do that move. I have never had any negative male attention for doing pole lessons. I have never been linked to the sex industry or mistreated. It has made me stronger, both physically and mentally. The confidence boost cannot be found anywhere else I think. People of all abilities and shapes and sizes can do it. This is probably not true in all your societies, especially sport where you have to have a certain level of ability to be able to become part of a team.

 

 

 

By not allowing your students to be part of the SPFS I believe that you are the people who are discriminating against people for their choice of fitness. If a woman or man wishes to take part it is their right to. It is Swansea university that is linking the society to the sex industry. They are saying that by doing these fitness activities they expect something negative to happen, such as the members becoming part of the sex industry. I have never found this to be true.

 

 

 

Pole fitness is a great way to keep in shape as well as build confidence.  I am disappointed that Swansea university is so close minded that they cannot separate it from sex. I would like to point out one of the possible origins of pole dancing, the Maliakhamb. This is an old form of Indian dance which translates to gymnast's pole and is a form of strength training based on an iron pole. This is in no way sexual. People often have incorrect assumptions from certain areas of modern day dance. The same can be said for belly dancing which was originally created to help widen the helps for an easier child birth.

 

 

 

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I run a poledancing studio in Sheffield and have in the last two years been an instructor for both Sheffield Hallam Poledancing Society and The University of Sheffield Pole Society.  The girls who attended my classes were a joy to be aroundI have spent my entire working career as a fitness instructor and am qualified in Exercise To Music, Pilates, Personal Training etc.  I am a happily married woman who has NEVER worked in the sex industry and never will.

 

 

 

Having done or taught just about every type of fitness class going in the last decade, I can safely say for me poledancing was THE most effective form of exercise I have ever done.  I was literally stopped in the gym today and asked how to get abs like mine - my answer was 'poledancing'!  And this actually happens quite frequently!

 

 

 

I can honestly say poledancing has changed my life for the better, not just my body.  I have more friends, more confidence and run my own business all thanks to poledancing classes.  At the start of this year I started aerial silks at the local circus school - many people take up aerial acrobatics as a result of doing pole classes as the two are actually very similar... Arguably far more people who do poledancing classes go on to try aerial acrobatics than take up lapdancing!!

 

 

 

Both men and women attend my classes, which we do in shorts, vests and bare feet.  I find just about all the letter written to Circadian Pole Fitness pretty offensive to me and my career, and largely irrelevant to a modern pole fitness class.  The jump from pole fitness to domestic violence leaves me speechless - where did THAT idea come from?!

 

 

 

I'm just grateful that I live in a fantastic city with wonderful universities that actually check what they're talking about before jumping to ridiculous conclusions.  Two years ago the University of Sheffield women's officer opposed a pole society for many of the same reasons as Swansea student union are citing.  It was met with a huge outcry from the girls who wanted the society and from local pole instructors, followed by debate at the university and finally it was allowed as it was clearly shown that she really didn't know what she was talking about.

 

 

 

I really hope Swansea University change their minds, or at least try and understand that pole fitness nowadays is so much more than just what they do in the strip clubs

 

 

 

 

 

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I teach at a university. In fact for one of my classes I'm paid by the uni through a government funded programme so the students can learn for free; to encourage exercise and sports participation in an increasingly overweight and unhealthy generation.

 

 

 

I’m not sure how they justify ‘pole fitness and pole dancing are a direct spin off from lap dancing’……… as far as I am aware lap dancing doesn’t require a pole ….. just a lap.  What about the history of Chinese Pole (male dominated and thought to date back even further than the 12th century) and Mallakhamb (male dominated and over 250 years old). To dismiss all those influences on modern 'pole fitness' is ignorant.

 

 

 

Seems to me that Swansea SU are the ones trying to take away women’s freedom of choice and expression. I wonder if they would ban a wrestling club for allowing male participants to writhe around on the floor in underpants….. because doesn’t that contribute to an atmosphere where men are viewed as sexual objects and where violence against them is acceptable?

 

 

 

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I am writing with regard to the ban of the Swansea university Pole fitness society, and the argument that the reason behind such action is that the society itself indoctrinates young women and normalises the idea of pole-dancing as a profession, regardless of its association with the sex industry, as well as encouraging misogyny.

 

 

 

I would like to inform you that your decision is not only misogynistic in itself, it is also wrong and quite frankly insulting to the intelligence of young women in my age group.

 

Your decision to ban the pole fitness society indicates a quite alarming belief that women aged 16-24 are not capable of critical thinking, differentiation of the concepts of vertical gymnastics (to which pole fitness has sometimes been referred) and, most importantly, making decisions that are vital to our safety and well-being. Your letter explaining your reasoning also adds to the misogynistic culture in our society that states that if a woman is assaulted she must have done something to cause it - in this case, taken lessons in pole fitness.

 

 

 

I am proud to call myself feminist, and I am equally proud of the fact that I, a 20-year-old woman who before joining the Plymouth pole fitness society wasn't even capable of doing anything dance-related with the grace required (despite having done ballet for two years while growing up), can now not only support my entire body weight with one hand but have also developed more self-comfidence and am significantly more graceful in my movements than I would have been otherwise. I have acheived this by going to pole fitness classes.

 

 

 

The instructor at the society I am part of, who I believe has already written a comment with regard to your decision, has always made it perfectly clear to us that working in the sex industry is ill-advised and dzangerous, and not something she would recommend. She has also endeavoured to ensure that our journies to and from lessons are as safe as possible, even going so far as supplying us with rape alarms to ensure we can deter anyone who would wish to cause us harm, and I am fairly certain that any other pole fitness instructor would be perfectly happy to supply their students with the same information as Sam has given us. These, as I am sure you would agree, are not the actions of a society dedicated to "hoodwinking" young women into working for the sex industry.

 

 

 

Furthermore, the decision to ban the pole fitness society on gender equality grounds is unfounded, as it is clearly stated that both men and women can and have joined, particularly when the cheerleading society at Swansea university, which only accepts female applicants, is still running, and cheerleaders are just as sexualised, if not more so, than pole dancers (the pornography industry, as I'm sure you're aware, likes using cheerleaders in a large amount of its videos, most of which can depict violent scenes that themselves promote domestic violence as something sexually gratifying).

 

 

 

In addition to this, you are missing the  point that the majority of media - advertising, films, television shows, music videos etc - have recently been displaying content that promotes domestic violence and the sexualisation of the female body. If you were to look in any magazine aimed at teenagers and above I would challenge you to find fewer than six advertisments that sexualise the female body - the majority of adverts include a naked woman or a woman "in her place" at the feet of a man, and I'm sure you won't forget the Dolce and Gabbana advert that depicted a gang rape scene a few years ago. Even Yoghurt adverts are geting in on the act, with the advert for the "amore" yoghurt range on television depicting a scene suggestive of a female orgasm. Films and Television serials in the modern day depict rape regularly and the majority of them do not address it as it should be addressed, but rather as something that is the fault of the victim or is perfectly normal and something the victim should just have to deal with and get over - hardly something that will help men or women of any age to be more confident in speaking up against their attackers. As for music, I don't think I should have to remind you of the outrageous song "Blurred lines" by Robin Thicke, the video and lyrics for which are misogynistic and rape-apologist and which has already been banned in six universities on the grounds of its promotion of rape. As of October the 11th the students’ unions of Kingston, Edinburgh, Leeds, Derby and West Scotland universities have banned that song due to the lyrics promoting rape culture, since you are suggesting a pole fitness society has the same results, I assume you will be joining the growing list in due course, otherwise I will be somwhat confused.

 

 

 

I hope you will reconsider your ban on the society, or at the very least re-think your reasons behind doing so, as none of the ones you have cited are accurate,

 

 

 

 

 

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I am a lecturer in law, and I specialise in sexual exploitation - trafficking, prostitution, etc, so I know a thing or two about actual exploitation. I discovered pole 2 years ago, and all I can say is I wish I had discovered it a decade ago. The strength and fitness and flexibility that I can now exhibit at the grand old age of 32 would have been an amazing thing to have when I was at Uni - I have never been fitter and stronger (I also jog and attend aerial hoop classes, but pole is my staple). I studied my undergrad degree at Swansea, so it is sad to see my Alma Mater taking such a rash and ill-informed decision. I guess they have not heard of Daniel Rosen, or any of the numerous famous female pole dancers out there. I think there is nothing wrong with 'sexy' pole classes if that is your thing - I only attend pole fitness in the stricter gymnastic sense as that is where my interest lies, but I am in no way adverse to others engaging in pole dance that is sexy/sexual.

 

 

 

I think it is very sad that they always assume that pole fitness classes are tantamount to the sex industry - I attended gymnastics classes for a few years as a child and I can truly say that pole is the missing piece of equipment there. The utter bilge that SUs are spewing forth about how pole has become a recruiting ground for the sex industry is a result of a real lack of research on the part of those who publish these articles. I think part of the problem comes from this idea that we are all using pole to 'empower' ourselves and 'embrace and reclaim our sexuality' - perhaps some women are, and that is fair enough, but I do it because I knew it would vastly increase my strength, be a lot more fun than the gym, and generally make me fitter all round, as well as give me more confidence and get me more in tune with my body. As a feminist, almost anything is empowering provided you CHOOSE to do it! Consent and choice is the crux, and there is no lack of consent element to attending a pole fitness class....

 

 

 

 

 

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It seems they are operating a double standards: their own subjective interpretation of pole dancing and it's link to 'raunch culture' may be one thing. However, they have a Beer Pong society advertised on their union website. 

 

 

 

My question to them would be why do they accept a society which clearly contributes to the binge drinking culture that the UK suffers from, and which costs our police and health systems so much money? Why is there a double standard? And why do they feel they can interpret and have the moral authority on pole fitness, but not binge drinking? 

 

 

 

Surely, as intelligent men and women, it's up to their students to decide. If membership is high, then it's what the people want. If there were huge campaigns, then they obviously don't want it. 

 

 

 

As a first step, all societies should be looked at with the same moral code, and I feel that promoting a society whose objective is a drinking game is far more harmful than a pole fitness society. Plus, banning the pole fitness society is just insulting to everyone out there who is intelligent enough to make a decision for themselves. 

 

 

 

 

 

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