When I think about pole fitness or pole dancing societies/activities on campus, it fills me with dread a little bit. It certainly is not the easiest thing to engage with students about. Part of me just wanted to hide away from the issue when I first heard about a request in our Students’ Union about forming a pole fitness society. I didn’t just oppose this on my own moral beliefs, nor did I oppose it because I thought that’s what the women’s officer should be doing. I consulted our representative women’s group and tasked them to talk to women students as well.
There was one week when I was contacted by 5 different media/broadcasting groups who wanted to know my opinion on the head of Spearmint Rhinos suggesting that his clubs were a great way for women students to make money. With the rise in tuition fees and the psychological barrier that creates, I felt a pole fitness society on campus legitimised these views by the head of Spearmint Rhino. I also had growing concerns that the Students’ Union could become a recruiting ground for clubs to send people along to the society’s classes and recruit, as we already have a problem with Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch coming in and recruiting on the basis of looks. After much adjudication with women and the women’s committee, we decided we should oppose this and we didn’t want he Student’s Union linked in any way to the sex industry.
Obviously, these issues are hard to talk to anyone about and make it seem like a reality. They are so far removed from what students normally deal with. Particularly when faced with the big argument about the fact it’s someone’s choice if they want to engage in such a society and even if they want to work in a strip club. But should the Students’ Union be a ground for that? No. We didn’t think so.
It’s impossible to separate the activities that the society wanted to do, when half a mile down the road the same thing is going on in a way women are not in control and are in economic desperation.
At first all of my Officer team did not understand my argument and did not agree with me. But the best thing that you can do if you believe Pole Fitness/Dancing classes do not have a place in Students’ Unions is have the debate and raise the issues. I was so nervous about having this dialogue because it is such a blurry thing for a lot of people.
By the time it was brought to our Students’ Union Council (a mere 5 months after the initial request), the majority of the Officer team were against the introduction of pole fitness. During Council we had a lengthy discussion, probably the biggest debate we’ve had on Council this year. When it came down to a vote, it was very close, but sadly Council decided to allow pole fitness to remain.
At first I felt I had failed as a women’s officer, failed women on campus and I was sad that Council could not understand the argument and the point of view of the women’s campaign. But I came to realise that although we did not win the war, we created a dialogue with so many students, and raised issues that they probably would never have thought of. And finally after all the work we put in we were able to help NUS create a briefing to help other Students’ Unions feel confident about raising the issues and so that more women do not feel dread when they hear pole fitness societies, like I did.