Thursday 29 April 2010

Feminism: Has It Gone Wrong? (2nd Part)

And tonight we finish the debate about feminism that we started last Tuesday 27th April. To read the first part, including the five bloggers' biographies, click here.

4- It looks like womanhood - whatever that means, and please, contribute your own thoughts to the definition of that word - and feminism are mutual friends and foes, depending on the context and the individual. What's your take on it?

Deborah: As feminism celebrated being female, it had a distinct tendency to decry femininity. While it would be simplistic to view femininity as a ‘one size fits all’ concept, so is it incorrect to assume that the level of importance placed by an individual woman on ‘feminine’ pursuits, interests or perspectives is in inverse proportion to her belief in, or commitment to the basic tenets of feminism. The extremes of the early movement have been tempered over the years, but the debate over whether a woman can be ‘not feminine enough’ or ‘too feminine’, still goes on. I can’t speak for women in general, but my experience of the difficulty making choices that allowed me to be flexible and true to myself without appearing to betray what I expected of myself as a feminist was shared by a number of female friends of my age. An ideology that suggested compromise with men was essentially subjugation and that what could be termed classic feminine urges to nourish and support were evidence of our lack of self-worth (to name but two examples), contributed negatively to the already complex dance of the sexes. On the other hand, influenced by women who were competent and confident, whose perspectives had value, whose goals were humanistic, and who committed themselves to a better world for women made me proud to be female, more confident to be who I was without measuring myself against the almost wholly male-centered standards of pre-feminist society. It took a few decades for me to realize that feminism and femininity could happily co-exist, and the irony of that is that it took a man to convince me of it.

Hema: What is womanhood? There is no one universal definition for it, because it means different things to different women. In fact, I would take it a step further and say that the word means different things to the same woman in different contexts. Womanhood (free of all cultural connotations attached to it), for me, is basically defined by the sum of all the principles a woman holds dear. I do not agree that depending upon the woman in question and the context in which she finds herself, feminism and womanhood are rivals. If a woman’s view of feminism (because even this word has many layers to it) is in-line with the principles she upholds, then she could be a feminist and still be true to her definition of womanhood.We hear every day about women (in their own confessions) who are forced to compromise on their integrity, among other things, to achieve success. It is my belief that in cases such as this (where the woman has the luxury of thinking about success as opposed to survival), there has been a deviation between the woman’s ideals and her definition of success, or there wouldn’t even be a question of a compromise. And her choice that led to the compromise is a personal one, and cannot be blamed on feminism.

Miriam Levine: “Womanhood” refers to the adult stage of life after girlhood. For me, the word “womanhood,” connotes maturity, strength, and wisdom, qualities hardly in conflict with feminism.

T. Allen Mercado: Womanhood? Laughs. "Isms" really complicate things, don't they? Speaking for myself, my womanhood and feminism are mutual friends. One of the ways I broach/defend the topic when it arises, which is often, is by reminding my friends/colleagues/etc. that feminism is about equality and choice. Therefore, there are and will always be facets of the movement (I prefer lifestyle) I opt against, because I have the freedom to do so.

Catherine: I see ‘womanhood’ in two different ways. It is the biological extras that come with being female – primarily being a mother and thus a caregiver, which for many women is a privilege, and something to strive towards. Other women see child-bearing as a hindrance to an independent life, cutting short or diminishing any potential career, but of course, bearing children is not a prerequisite to womanhood – rather womanhood is a prerequisite to having children, and women have the choice not to have children if they don’t want them (I cannot comment on any pressure that women who don’t want children may face, as I have never encountered that myself, though I am sure it exists).
The other side of womanhood does limit women, to the point where I question how much of me is me, and how much of me is ‘woman’. This womanhood is what we see in the media, in advertising, in all women around us everyday; women feed this image of womanhood, and this is what fuels the type of repression Charlotte Raven talks about in her article. The image of the pretty, feminine woman in the frilly apron is exactly the same in its nature as the heartless career bitch in a suit, and both are as stilting to women’s progress as each other.

5- In the same way that market forces created the metrosexual man at the end of the 90s and beginning of the 2000s (clean-shaved chins, a more effeminate look and Brazilian waxes, although I would definitely stop at the latter), the same consumerist, publicity machine gave birth to pole-dancing, guilt-free promiscuity and alcohol-fuelled hen nights. Female liberation or misogynous Neo-colonisation?

Deborah: Neither. It’s a posture, depicting sex as currency and masquerading as the seeking of some basic truth. It’s as limiting as any of the pre-feminist ideals and expectations of women. Sexuality is a complex, nuanced, aspect of being human and highly individual, as any sex therapist or will tell you. Any media- or marketing- based perspective that reduces sex to mere sensation or sensationalism or appearance should be regarded with the scepticism it deserves. We lose—all of us—when we give in to the suggestion that there is an ideal expression of sexuality, particularly when it is flavoured by self-interest and personal power.

Hema: Can we blame this new phenomenon entirely on consumerism?This is definitely not female liberation. If it is, then it is implied that all those (majority, I would like to point out) women who refuse to embrace this so-called trend are: subjugated, down-trodden, and uncouth. Also, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it colonization, because that would imply that the larger chunk of today’s women think that way, which is untrue. If anything, this tendency is as much a personal choice, on a case by case basis, as anything else. And why should it be called misogynous, when women are the ones facilitating this shift, to the most extent, by choosing such a lifestyle? I blame it on a combination of: excess of love for themselves, a skewed definition of success, and the fashionable “I’m worth it” attitude going overboard.

Miriam Levine: Exotic dancing, strip tease, belly dancing existed long before the market forces of the 90s. Remember Salome. Most men like this visual stimulation. However, pole dancing, etc. demeans women: they become brainless objects. I’d be interested in what these women have to say about their work. I once heard a talk by a showgirl in Las Vegas. She spoke as she gave a demonstration of how she put on her make-up. She was articulate and gracious—nothing like the pole dancers in The Sopranos. How much promiscuity actually exists? Cheers for women dining and drinking together. What’s the matter with hens? They lay delicious eggs. I prefer free-range, so let’s free them from cages. Keep in mind the long tradition of poker playing and bowling nights-out for men. Think of private men’s clubs! Come on!

T. Allen Mercado: I'm compelled to go with the latter, and I'm not lumping all participants under that clause, but somewhere along the way-even the best intentions at reclaiming, expressing and/or defining our sexuality went awry. Does it surprise me? Not at all. Historically this has been the Achilles' heel of most "isms". I certainly think a series of one-ups on the generations' previous led to the decline we see now, much like a game of Jenga.

Catherine: This aspect of feminism has the potential to be argued forever by two women standing at different angles. The way I see it, women who express their sexuality on their sleeves are fuelling sexual repression amongst all women. However liberating or enjoyable they may find pole-dancing, they are putting a beacon over all women as sex objects and performing animals. I’m certainly not saying that women who wear miniskirts are asking to be raped, but there is a reason that one in three women is sexually assaulted in her lifetime, and I don’t think that is only down to men. Men are presented with the image of sexually ‘liberated’ women every day, putting themselves out on the table to be ogled at, twisting their bodies around poles with such pleasure, wearing tacky penis-shaped headbands and feather boas as they stumble out of bars. This is not liberation that we are seeing; this is pure sexual repression, desperately calling out ‘look at me’ as the human inside the promiscuous outfit hides behind the image of society’s sex godess. Surely, to be liberated is to say no to this misogynous idea of sexualised women?

Next Post: 'Sunday Morning: Coffee, Reflections and Music', to be published on Sunday 2nd May at 10:00am (GMT)


  1. Apologies to anyone who popped by last night and didn't find the second part of the debate. I don't know what happened. I programmed the post to appear at 11:59pm but it didn't and I've just found out now during my lunch break. Sorru.

    Greetings from London.

  2. The Blog has reasons of its own, Cuban..don't try to count on logic to find your post!!
    Now, a question..why did pre-feminist society last for so long? Seems that nature, nurture were set in place in the first cave and power held sway for a mighty long time before we got past our cultural fate.
    We(women) had to turn the world upside down..and now as usual we have to find a personal and cultural system that works..but, one size fits all?
    Freedom is not just another word for nothing left to do!

  3. I meant 'sorry'. Oh, dear, I'm losing my marbles! :-)

    Lyn, you're quite right. If you go back to the primitive communal system things were pretty much equal. Even in certain tribal settings nowadays women have the same rights as men. I've always been of the opinion that division of labour, the appearance of capital and technology have conspired againts certain groups throughout history.

    Thanks for your comment.

    Greetings from London.

  4. nice post but its too lengthy
    hope it take time to read all see u tomo i will definetly come to you

  5. Wow. That's a whole lot of issues covered in one post. I agree with some points and not others. For me, womanhood is simply the biological basis of being female, I don't connect it to any cultural or societal parameters. And I don't think that dressing in an overtly sexual or feminine manner has anything to do with being sexually assaulted. It's all about the inner core. You can be confident and empowered wearing a mini skirt and you can be insecure and looking for appraisal wearing a mini skirt. A sexual predator is looking to dominate and the women's manner will indicate whether this might happen, not her clothing. I really think that's the point of feminism. To have the freedom to choose our lifestyles, careers and clothing without being saddled with paternalistic expectations and requirements.

  6. I am not going to argue with the idea that our culture is obsessed with shallow depictions of female sexuality. Nor am I going to make the case that promiscuity =liberation. As Deborah says, sexuality is a complex, nuanced aspect of being human and highly individual and it s indeed dangerous to subscribe to the idea that there is an ideal expression of sexuality. But am I hearing correctly that a female expression of sexuality that is flavored by personal power is a bad thing? That women who are choosing to participate in overt displays of sexuality have an excess of self-love? That they are responsible for encouraging the perception that women are sex objects? It may be true that some of these women are suffering from a need to be admired and are finding any means to get that attention. But I find it deeply disappointing that when the topic of sexuality and pole dancing comes up, the overall consesnus is that women who choose to participate in this activity are doing feminism and themselves a disservice. It's the same argument that early feminism made against women who chose to stay home and raise their children.
    As someone who has pole danced for three years I can assure you that I gain tremendous plesure from my practice, and it's not because I'm being ogled, or because I am a victim of a patriarchal marketing strategy that tells me what I should and should not like. It's because I am connecting with a deeply feminine, deeply erotic part of myself. As someone who wrote her thesis for her MA in Somatic Psychology on how pole dancing can help women to reconnect with their sexuality, I can assure you that I am not alone in my experiences. Sexuality is, after all, primarily experienced in the body. Dance (and erotic dance in particular) can be an excellent vehicle for exploring the body and its accompanying sensations. There is tremendous healing potential in learning to express and process emotions through movement. That I gain a sense of personal power with reards to my sexuality from this practice should be seen as positive. If I choose to share my sexuality with a partner or in a public venue, that is my right. How another person perceves me - as a whore, as a traitor, as an empowered woman, as a goddess - is the result of thier own personal experiencs and belief systems. I'll leave you with this rather fantastic quote from Jack Holland's book, titled Misogyny:
    "If choice is so central to women's evolution (and therefore to human evolution), then so too is her sexuality, and her right to display or emphasize it. It is one of the characteristics of cultures where misogymy is a part of society's 'common sense' that they seek to repress this right. A deep ambivalence towards women's beauty remains in our own culture as part of the Judeo-Christian hostility towards the body. When Mary Wollstone-craft famously called on women to 'resign the arbitrary power of beauty' or they would 'prove they have less mind than man' she was echoing that hostility. As the psychologist Nancy Etcoff observed, 'the solution cannot be to give up the realm of plesure and power that has been with us since the beginning of time.' The solution is not to reject beauty, but to reject misogyny."

  7. Catherine, I cannot speak for the other participants, but my answer didn't intend to paint every woman who dressed a certain way or expressed herself a certain way as suffering from an excess of self love. That would be too naive an outlook, and everyone should have the freedom to choose their own road. I cannot agree more!

    This debate had its basis in the article by Raven. Most of the examples cited in the article - women who are in the glare of media - come across as self-indulgent. If this is the only kind of role-models that young girls these days have to look up to, isn't the whole generation (and beyond, possibly) of girls being short changed?

    It is a personal choice how anyone wants to conduct oneself, but once someone gets into the public eye (as a celebrity), they become role models whether they want to or not. They may deserve to act as they wish as individuals, but they also have a moral responsibility and accountability at that point that comes with fame.

  8. Oops, I meant to address my comment to Claire, not Catherine. Sorry!

    Looks like your comments section is craving "sorry"s today, Cuban! :-)

  9. Many thanks for your kind contributions.

    Claire, I work with someone who teaches pole-dancing and I only found out when she mentioned it in passing. My inner expression was: Oh! whilst my face remained immobile. Why? Because of the stigma. You're a valuable addition to this debate, which by the way, and I'm not tooting my horn, has left the original article way behind. And the main reason why Charlotte's essay has ben found wanting? Because she comes across as rather patronising occasionally in the feature. And that's one of the problems, not just of feminism, but also of many movements that act as umbrellas for groups that have suffered discrimination and alienation.

    My colleague who teaches pole dancing is a perfectly functional, normal human being. Who am I to criticise her choice? Why should anyone, come to think of that?

    As I mentioned yesterday in one of my comments, the question of choice or the lack of it thereof has been at the forefront of this debate. Bu the elephant in the room is that no matter what or how women choose, they will still be criticised. Damned if you do and damned if you don't.

    Many thanks for your feedback. Keep the debate going.

    Greetings from London.

  10. Ah! Hema, thank you for that clarification of context, and within that particular framework, I could not agree more with your original comment.

  11. Excellent reading, CIL. The older
    I get the more my view becomes
    The most interesting and not
    surprising, aspect of this series
    is how who we are, in this case
    reading the "bio." of each woman
    participant informs exactly what
    we believe to be true.
    And in most cases "truth" is what
    we carry within our minds and
    hearts already. We simply seek out
    that which validates our meaning.

    As always, your blog is intellectually seductive.

    Please visit poemflesh2. for
    Part 1 of my dialogue with the
    the mind-soaring Nevine.

  12. Thank you, Cuban! I'm happy to contribute to such a warm and intelligent community. Most definitely to be continued....

  13. This is such a tough subject to explain succinctly but I will try-here's a bit of text from an interview I did recently about a Feminist series:

    I’ll be honest, when I first encountered feminism as a field of study in college, it wasn’t too appealing and I felt that it didn’t address my interests. At the time, I was helping a family member deal with an immigration case, and it didn’t seem as if this issue could be understood in terms of feminism. There was a lack of connection for me because of that, at least initially.

    I just didn’t know that it was about women being strong and putting their skills to use through community efforts. Dealing with that case was such an influential time in my life, and many friends supported us. Perhaps that was my first true encounter with community organization and the great results that it can bring.

    After that, I realized that action is a major part of feminism. I read about early feminists and their cause: voting rights, which is still an important topic in American politics. The suffragists were the first feminists. They have influenced activists working for the environment, the arts, workers’ rights, and other great causes. This is what historians call “first wave feminism.” In our everyday lives, it’s better known as an important step for women in the United States and abroad. The more popular understanding of feminism is rooted in the “second wave” of 60s and 70s feminists that were concerned with equal opportunity in the workplace.

    I believe that we are now at 77 cents to the dollar that men earn. Many people think of bra burning and the invention of the Pill as memorable events during this time. In addition to that, many women of all backgrounds were involved and they began to talk about other parts of their lives, too, such as racism. By contributing their ideas, they helped to shape activism today.
    The contemporary version of feminism, which scholars refer to as “third wave” feminism, includes race and ethnic group relation studies, environmental studies, LGBTQ studies, and popular culture as topics of discussion.

    For a helpful summary of third wave feminism, check out The 3rd WWWave: Feminism for the New Millenium

    I hope that that is not too long :) Thanks for posting this-I always enjoy considering other positions on this philosophy, which can be highly misunderstood.

  14. Another Brilliant Post brother,

    Sorry that I've been MIA....

    Hope life is treating you kindly my friend, M

  15. Many thanks for you lovely and thought-provoking comments. One of the most positive outcomes of this post is to learn about other people's lives.

    Maithri, welcome back, bro.

    Greetings from London.

  16. Both Catherine and Deborah make valid, thought-provoking points and further my position of free choice.

    While I have my issues with women who wear their sexuality on their sleeves so to speak, I understand, by way of my own sexuality and expressive choices that they too have a choice, and that much like mine their choice is contingent upon their complex unique perspective. I believe for some women, they feel liberated and equal and while it isn't for me-I feel ALL women's choices need be respected. To devalue their contributions or perceptual self-worth is to denounce their capacity to think for themselves and assert their identity, and I suppose that's not very feminist-like.

    I recent wrote an article about "Booty Pop Culture" and the sudden love affair with the derriere happening in Western pop culture. I questioned whether women (particularly women of color) have gone too far in vying for a way into the mainstream beauty box. Our waist to hip ratio was historically demonized, and we were portrayed as hyper-sexualized Black Jezebels-now known as the music video vixen-but at what cost? I was not at all surprised to find that many of the women did not agree with me and instead welcomed the acceptance-at any cost. Le sigh...

  17. In response to Cuban's question about guilt free promiscuity, my problem with it is that it's a falicy. There's no such thing as sex without consequences yet the media has taken to portraying it as if it's a truth. In shows like 'Sex in the City' women have sex with whoever they feel like and it's all fine as long as they can talk about it with their girlfriends. This is not only dangerous for women it's also not at all like how a woman's mind works.

    I disagree with Catherine that women who strip or pole dance are doing so because they enjoy it or find it freeing. Desperation, circumstances and abuse lead women to take paths like that. Poverty leads women to take paths like that. No healthy sane well adjusted woman grows up wanting to be a floozy or thinking that it is a great liberation.


  18. Thanks, Jai. I do disagree with you on the point of pole-dancing. I should have made it clear that the woman I wrote about was a teacher at the primary school where I work. And as I mentioned before she is a nirmal, perfectly functional human being.

    On promiscuity, I'd rather leave that to female visitors. From a bloke's perspective, all I can say is that it might be a reaction to an action. The action being women told who to date, when to do it and how to do it. The reality is that women, as individuals, are free to sleep with one or one-hundred men if they so wish. The problem is that society will still put htem into a little box and give thema label. Sex and the City glamourised promiscuity but in my humble opinion, it didn't do much for the working-class, average-earning woman, who happens to be the majority. Not everyone can wear JImmy Choos and sip overpriced cocktails in a upmarket bar in Manhattan whilst flirting with the waiter.

    Thank you very much to you all for your feedback.

    Greetings from London.

  19. Oh dear... how to define womanhood? That's quite the question... and what a can of worms... though an interesting can, this one. I was watching an episode of the program "Taboo" on National Geographic Channel the other day, and the topic was "Prostitution". It was interesting to listen to women who are prostitutes declare themselves happy and loving their job. Part of me wanted to believe it because, hey, if you love your job, no matter what you do for a living, you're a happy person and all the power to you! But the other part of me just couldn't wrap my head around it. Maybe it's me... though I try not to sit in judgment of anyone. And I wasn't being judgmental... at all. We all sometimes have to do what we have to do to make a living. I was just being realistic, I think. When we have sex for pleasure, it's quite a different matter than when we can't choose our partner. He chooses us, and so, where's the freedom in that? I can't fathom... I mean, we can't say no... realistically. How are we making the choice we say we're making?

    And are we equal to men? Not by a wide margin. But I don't want to be equal. No offense, but wanting to be equal to a man would mean that I want to be a man. And I'm quite happy being a woman. I like it when my husband opens the car door for me, or he opens a door and allows me in first, or he seats me at the table when we go out for dinner. I like it when he does that for other ladies, as well. And I don't mind doing the cooking as long as he's washing the cars. I most certainly don't want to be doing that part! Just me... just saying. Now, when it comes to being paid the same amount of money for doing the same jobs, there shouldn't be any discussion on that. What's to discuss? Someone is getting the job done, and efficiently. Why the pay difference?

    Cuban, what an interesting debate? And so many interesting opinions, too. You certainly know how to keep us all entertained, and most intellectually so! Thank you!!!


  20. Sort of continuing what Jai and Cuban talked about last... This ties in with my previous comment about celebrities and their choices:

    Everyone should be allowed to make their own choices -- I have no doubt in my mind about that. And some choices may seem arbitrary to others, but if they are made willingly, then so be it.

    However, in certain lifestyle choices, how many of those are well-informed and judicious, as opposed to those influenced by the role models that abound these days (such as on the big and small screens, as Jai mentioned)?

    Also, is everyone ready to face the consequences of the choices they make, should they arise? Will they be able to bear them alone, because it's their life? No, at most times, the same consequences tell on not only the whole family, but scores of others as well.

    On the flip side, I have seen this tendency recently (even in the discussion here): if a woman chooses to shun the current trend in overt sexual expression, then she is automatically categorized as a misogynist. This is not only unfortunate, but also alarming.

  21. Hey Cuban,

    I'm a little confused. The colleague that you're talking about teaches pole dancing? As in an exercise class or as an art form?

    In my previous comment I wasn't talking about exercise classes or someone who teaches dance as an artistic expression. I was talking about the women in strip clubs and bars that take off their clothes and dance for money. What I have found in my life experiences and what I've read and studied is that many women who work in places like that are either in desperate circumstances (financially) or are driven to do what they do by other reasons. Many of them are abused (sexually or otherwise) and because of this they have such low opinions on themselves that they go down these paths - even if outwardly they may profess to love what they do.

    On a side note, there are many forms of dance and many of them are sensual and seductive. I'm not labelling any type of dance form or art as demeaning, including pole dancing or belly dancing. My point is about the majority of women who work in seedy bars and dance for men to make money. That's a completely different scenario to a woman doing a lap dance for her husband or expressing her own self in dance before public. It's about the motivation behind that dance that's I'm talking about.

    I myself have studied belly dancing and various other forms of dance. I have no problem with any of them because they're about art and expression.

    Thanks for this debate, Cuban. So many interesting thoughts!


  22. Hmm, I have a lot to say. Hema - you misunderstood my quote. I was not suggesting that you are misogynist if you do not put your sexuality on display. How a woman chooses to relate to her sexuality is personal, and I by no means think that my choices are for everyone. What I was suggesting was that judging, shaming or otherwise marginalizing a woman for her sexual choices is a form of misogyny. To assume that you know enough about pole dancing, striptease or strip clubs without any sort of inquisition into the matter and to then make assertions about what is right or wrong about the choices another woman makes in that arena is a form of aggression (aggression is low-level violence). Additionally, jumping to these conclusions forecloses any possibility of understanding the power of the embodied feminine. I understand that to many people on this thread what I am doing seems dangerous to them, because I am promoting a vision of women that is "hazardous" and the assumption, then, must be that I'm misguided. However, I would ask that in the spirit of friendship and true solidarity, you become curious about your own reactions to my choices.
    Part of the question I think we are trying to answer (when it comes to pole dancing anyway) is: is the embodied feminine, or the willingness to be vulnerable, or the pleasure a woman might take in being looked at or being the object of a gaze a perversion or a power? Another question might be how do we give women the space to explore their own subjective experience of sexual desire so that they might be able to formulate their own opinions on such things?
    On the one hand women are given a great deal of visual imagery from the media on how they should dress and behave - usually for someone else. If they take this direction to the extreme, they are perceived as weak, and caving into the patriarchal values et upon them by society and they risk judgment from other women. However, if they ignore it entirely, they are perceived as being too masculine. If they do have the good fortune to be able to fully own their sexuality and understand that it is theirs to share (or not share) with whomever they please, they are often considered dangerous, "loose" women and relegated to the status of " whores" by both men and women. We have given women very little space to explore and unleash their sexuality without fear of being judged. And this is quite deliberate. Female sexuality is power - it is the seat of a woman's power. It is wrapped up in her ability to create, to give birth, to give life. And it resides in her body.
    Now that I've probably started a shit storm, I'm going to change the subject. See Part 2

  23. This is Part 2 of my Comment:
    Hema- with your regards to the comment on lifestyle choices being well-informed and judicious - I hear you. But at the same time, I would argue that Jai is, in this case (with all due respect, Jai), ill-informed and imprudent in her response. s In her comment, she makes the assumption that 1. she knows how all women work with regards to sex and sexual exchanges 2. all women who either pole dance or strip are floozies (by this I'm assuming she means unintelligent, shallow and lacking in personality) 3. pole dancing and working in a strip club are the same thing 4. a woman who works in a club is never ever freely choosing to do so and never ever enjoys her work, in other words, sex work is never enjoyable 5. a woman who chooses to pole dance is not liberated and has no-self respect. All five of these assumptions are uninformed, reactionary and reflect a low-level aggression towards the women who participate in stripping and pole dancing. Moreover, the matter of a woman making well-informed and judicious decisions about her sexuality has much more to do with her relationship to desire and how she experiences desire in her body than it does with any sort of intellectual understanding about sex. In fact, there is a woman by the name of Deborah Tolman (a psychologist) who spent a chunk of time researching sexuality in young teenage girls. She found an alarming trend in these young women - namely that they were unable to experience or pinpoint desire in their bodies. Their experience of desire was not "What I want is this", rather it was, "Does he/she want me?". When asked about their sexual experiences an overwhelming number of them reported feeling numb during the interactions. Tolman (who is not a somatic psychologist, by the way) named this phenomenon (and her book) "Silent Bodies" and warned that women who are not able to experience sexual desire - that is to say, to know what they want - are at a much greater risk of falling prey to other people's desires and just going along with them. As I said in my previous post, one of the most effective ways to explore sexual desire (which is a bodily experience) is movement or dance, particularly erotic movement. If a young woman, through erotic dance in an all-female dance studio, can begin to feel in her body what she likes and doesn't like, what feels good to her and what doesn't, if she can begin to relate to her sexuality, not just as being accessible to a man, but as something that is hers - to share or not share - then perhaps she will carry that out into the world, and into her interactions with men and women. And if she does, than she will be better equipped to know, through her own internal direction and guidance, what she wants and doesn't want when it comes to sex. And, to come full circle, this is a very individual decision.
    No, I'm still not done.

  24. Part 3. I told you, I have a lot to say!

    For example, I happen to find being vulnerable in front of others in my dancing, being the object of another's gaze in my dance class to be incredibly empowering. My dance classes, however, are all-female, there are no mirrors, and I get nothing but love and support reflected back to me. I have danced in public only once, and while it was initially intimidating and I had moments of hesitation, I absolutely felt empowered by the experience, thrilled to share my dance, my eroticism and my sexuality with others, and thrilled that it was overall well received and appreciated by men and women alike. There was one moment in the beginning of my dance where I was swinging slowly around the pole in my hoodie and a woman yelled at me to "Take it Off!". For a second I was confused and unsure how to respond. Was she being disrespectful? Was I being objectified? I let my body take over and I ended up looking straight at her and smiling. "Do you want me to take it off?" I purred. She was grinning and nodded enthusiastically. I smiled and pulled off my sweatshirt, slowly, enjoying the tease. Was she eager to see me in a tank top? Maybe. Was she trying to embarrass or degrade me? Probably not. Was she projecting her own desire to peel away layers, to play with her sexuality? Possibly. One thing that became very clear to me after performing in public was that many people in the audience project their sexual fantasies/frustrations/belief systems/hang-ups about sex onto you. AND because you are putting your sexuality on display, they feel not only entitled to do so, but they are pretty sure that whatever they are projecting onto you is not a projection at all, but really who/what you are. That being said, there is something deeply fulfilling (to me) about embodying the female erotic and sharing it through dance with others. And it's my hope, that through dialogue and education, we can begin to see the value in this display, the value in the exploration of this movement even if we choose not to explore it ourselves.

  25. Yes, Jai, she does pole-dancing as a form of exercise. That means that I agree with you on the point you made about women having the right to choose. If pole-dancing is the only option available, then it's not just harmless fun, is it? It's the only way they have to express themselves.

    Claire, thanks for your response. Much welcomed. The scenario you depict in the third part of your argument has more to do with human sexuality and our hang-ups than with pole-dancing per se. That woman who told you to take your top off might have been projecting her own inhibitions on you. It's funny that when we, humans, find ourselves at a point in our lives when we are comfortable with who we are, sexually speaking, it provokes all kinds of adverse reactions in others.

    Many thanks to you all for your kind comments. Nevine, I hear you. Cavalier attitudes are going out of the window. Why? Why should it be seen as odd that a man opens up a door for a lady or gives up his seat for her on the tube? To me that's about good manners, not a male/female issue.

    Greetings from London.

  26. Cuban,
    I've just now come to read all the comments and have been most interested in the dialogue between Claire and others. Fascinating stuff!! Thank you so much for having opened up your blog to a discussion on this topic. I've learned things, been made to reconsider my own perspective and in at least one case, recognized it as quite reactionary and ill-informed.

    Thanks again for the diversity and intelligence you bring to the blogosphere.

  27. To T.Allen,

    Where can I read your essay on "booty pop culture"?


  28. Claire,

    I have to state that I believe you misread what I said.

    Another point I must make is that no other person in this debate refered to anyone as ill-informed or reactionary or aggressive - yet you refered to me by all these terms. Thus I have to conclude that you were being reactionary and aggressive to what I had to say.

    What did you get so defensive about? This is a debate. Your behaviour towards others says a lot about you and your opinions.


  29. May I just come in now as the blog author and moderator and counsel respect and tolerance, please?

    Claire, I do agree with Jai and really, I should have mentioned that in my comment this morning but was focused on the last part of your response so forgot to reply to the second part.

    I don't think that Jai ever implied that:

    '1. she knows how all women work with regards to sex and sexual exchanges 2. all women who either pole dance or strip are floozies (by this I'm assuming she means unintelligent, shallow and lacking in personality) 3. pole dancing and working in a strip club are the same thing 4. a woman who works in a club is never ever freely choosing to do so and never ever enjoys her work, in other words, sex work is never enjoyable 5. a woman who chooses to pole dance is not liberated and has no-self respect.'

    In fact, I believe that Jai's been very careful in wording her comments so as not to cause offence. Same with me and everyone else who's participated in this debate, including you. However, when we use words such as aggression, ill-informed and the like we risk being misinterpreted. Let's not forget that writing is subjective and debates like this one will always attract strong arguments.

    May I also take advantage of this opportunity to thank you all again for your comments?

    Greetings from London.

  30. So first of all, let me apologize to Jai and anyone else If I was in any way rude. I did read Jai's second post where she made the distinction between pole dancing and stripping, but not until I had already posted my comments. I appreciate her clarifying her stance immensely.

    With that said, I stand by the rest of my observations on Jai's first post.
    Let me break it down for you:
    "In shows like 'Sex in the City' women have sex with whoever they feel like and it's all fine as long as they can talk about it with their girlfriends. This is not only dangerous for women it's also not at all like how a woman's mind works."
    The assumption that all women's minds work the same way when it comes to sex is false. To make the assumption that you know how all women's minds work is dangerous.

    "I disagree with Catherine (I think she meant me) that women who strip or pole dance are doing so because they enjoy it or find it freeing. Desperation, circumstances and abuse lead women to take paths like that. Poverty leads women to take paths like that. No healthy sane well adjusted woman grows up wanting to be a floozy or thinking that it is a great liberation."

    In this comment Jai does not make a clear distinction between stripping and pole dancing, states clearly that the circumstances that lead to stripping are unilaterally ones of desperation and abuse and that no woman who is healthy and sane or well adjusted would ever want to strip. She also implies that a woman who strips is a floozy and that there is no pathway to liberation through strip dancing.

    With all due respect, Cuban, I don't think that comment reflects careful wording or respect, and Jai, as someone who has spent a fair amount of time in strip clubs, been taught by many strip dancers and also researched the topic extensively, I do think that your assessment of women in strip clubs is misinformed.

    But when I used that word, I was juxtaposing it against Hema's comment about making "informed and judicious lifestyle choices". The point I was trying to make was that what we consider to be valid information and how we filter information is the more salient question. A unilateral view of pole dancing, strip work and the embodied feminine as something hazardous and misguided is not an informed view.

    Finally, the point I was trying to make about aggression was that when we approach a topic with our assumptions about the choices someone makes and why they are making them already in place, and what kind of a person they are as a result of those choices, we are being aggressive (with our ideas and our belief systems). Aggression creates a defensive response in people. If I said that I think feminists are for the most part dried-up angry husks who have no clue how to enjoy their femininity and that any woman who claims to be a feminist is a repressed prude (not what I think, by the way, just trying to make a point) how would you respond? What is so frustrating and ironic is that Jai, you do this not once, but twice on this thread. First when you make the assessment that "no self -respecting women would ever want to grow up being a floozy (stripper)" implying that a woman who chooses to strip is both a floozy and lacks self-respect, and a second time when you say that my responses and behaviour "say a lot about me". I'm not attacking you personal character when I suggest that you are misinformed and being aggressive. You, on the other hand, are. And that's completely unnecessary and quite frankly, hurtful.

  31. Cuban, thanks for your comments.


  32. I think that everything else I've said here is pretty much self explanatory so I won't clutter up the comments section with repetitions or laborious explanations.


  33. Right of course because, being thorough in your thought process Jaiwould be far beyond your intellectual capabilities. Better to be a passive aggressive bitch. I'm done here.

  34. If you're done here, Claire, it's just as well. Your latest comment was deplorable. Really, really disappointing, to say the least. I'm not siding with Jai, I just fail to see what she's done to you to merit that kneejerk response.

    If the way you react to mild criticism (and I still don't think that Jai picked on you personally) is by hurling insults, then I think you forfeit the right to be treated fairly.

    This experience, the first one of this kind on my blog, has taught me a valuable lesson: open up the forum to similar issues. Because I think that people like you, Claire, (and I might be patronising you a little bit now, so just bear with me on this one) have been misinterpreted for so long that you snap the minute someone allegedly disagrees with you on a particular subject.

    I just want to make it clear to you and to anyone else who attempts to use language like that on my blog that it will not be tolerated and the person(s) not accepted here anymore. A pity really, as I did praise you honestly for your approach to the debate at first.

    Thanks to all the other posters for your feedback. It's been great having you on board.

    Greetings from London.

  35. yeah! it's really easy to take these debates personally but I will relay a great piece of advice that a (male) instructor gave me:

    "It's so boring to be just one thing." He was making a point about the occasional waves of excitement that happen regarding not-so-new philosophies, and as we saw recently with "female misogynists" and "Girl Power" before that, feminism seems to consistently be transformed along with the growing dialogue about sexuality.

    Do you remember that scene in Trainspotting when Renton is at the dance club and he realizes that eventually we all just be a bunch of "wankers"? Well, I hate to say it, but we kind of are haha! In a good way-a way that allows for us to be gay, straight, queer, sexually overt, submissive, dominant, all of it. And that could just be one day!

    For the many people that continue to perceive feminism in terms of just sexuality, it's a limitation that is keeping us from really seeing other aspects clearly. Worry about whether we have abortion rights, not whether someone thinks you're a slut. It's a better way to spend your time.

    Was that mean sounding? I hope not-it's really just a reminder that we really have come a long way as feminists.


  36. You are right, Cuban. My last comment was completely disappointing. I am disappointed in myself. I have a terrible temper, and I owe you and Jai an apology. Knee jerk reactions are my achilles heel. Please forgive me. I am completely embarrassed.

    I know that Jai wasn't making personal attacks, but I do not think she was being careful in her word choice or respectful. It upsets me Cuban, that you do not see that. Combined with your comment about "people like me" I have to wonder about your biases as well when it comes to strippers. You know nothing about me. So let me tell you: I come from a bougie family in D.C. I have an MA. I've never worked in a club - only spent a lot of time in them. I'm not a downtrodden stripper. But if I was, boy would your comment irk me. But I understand that you were upset with me, and rightfully so, rightfully so.
    I did apologize initially for offending Jai and I got a dismissive comment about taking up too much space. Not so sweet. As you can all see, I have put quite a bit of thought and time into my responses and I'm deeply passionate about the subject. Again, I apologize for being rude.

  37. Fantastic discussion here. Wish I'd caught it earlier!

  38. Fantastic discussion here. Wish I'd caught it earlier!

  39. This is just the most complicated question.
    I must say that I'd like to be reincarnated as a man, tall, imposing, a person who is listened to... but I'll probably be a snail. (Someone I know who doesn't apologize for killing a spider, but says, 'Good luck' because it's going onto the next incarnation. I apologize.)
    What occasionally bothers me is that I can't imagine people leaving messages on most men's answering machine saying, "You've got to change this message!"
    Thanks, Cuban....



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