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Are striptease aerobics classes anti-feminist?

January 8, 2009

Though I haven’t been to a class in a while, I love striptease aerobics. The classes I’ve attended were actually pole-free and the hour was filled with learning a high-energy, sexy dance routine. They were always a great workout and always fun.

As I look for new things to try this year I’m eager to move on to more advanced classes (i.e. one with a pole). But (other than the fact that my body is still recovering from being knocked to the ground by a moving car this fall) there’s something keeping me from giving these classes a twirl.

I keep wondering: Are striptease aerobics classes anti-feminist?

If you’d asked me that question several months ago I would have quickly replied, “Of course not!” and went on and on about how empowering these classes can be for women.

I would say they encourage women to take time out for themselves and get some exercise, that they make getting fit fun and that they help stressed-out moms feel sexy again.

But some of the feminists I admire most, such as founder and Yes Means Yes co-editor Jessica Valenti, have argued that the sexiness offered in striptease aerobics classes is fabricated and based on the male gaze.

Even though the classes do have a giggly, slumber party-like element, I know many women attend with a man in mind. So it’s not all about the ladies. I don’t think, however, that there’s anything wrong with going to these classes to pick up a few ideas to bring home to your partner.

What I do struggle with, though, is the idea of sexiness. When we say these classes make women feel sexy how exactly are we defining that word? Does sexy simply mean men want me or does sexy mean I love my body because it’s healthy and strong and because I can have fun with it doing things like these over-the-top dances.

For me it’s actually the latter that’s going through my head during these and other dance-based aerobics classes that I love. So for now I’m sticking to my idea that I can be a good feminist and enjoy a good striptease class.

But I want to know what you think. Am I way off base here?


4 Comments leave one →
  1. eroticundulation permalink
    January 9, 2009 7:40 pm

    Javacia, I am in agreement with you personally. Of course, I am biased because I was a proud exotic dancer.

    “Sexy” is fascinating. I believe that “sexy” is whatever turns people on. That, of course, is necessarily informed by a billion other peripheral factors- culture, time, space, world view, gender identity, sexual orientation, childhood experiences and their psychosexual consequences, etc. Most of the factors that inform one’s perception of “sexy” are changing and mutable. Culture, for instance, is never a constant. Japanese culture today, for instance, is vastly different than what it was 100 years ago, and each year in between saw certain changes in that culture. Taken together, we call it culture, but it clearly is not a constant.

    Therefore I do not believe that stripping “sexiness” necessarily is solely and concretely determined by the male gaze. More and more women are participating in sexual entertainment as consumers, and they bring their own desires and demands to play. Look at the evolution of pornography.

    Thus, “sexiness” is ever evolving.

    Yes, stripper sexiness it may have originated for men’s viewing pleasure, and may mostly be tailored to it because they still spend the most money in clubs, but even then, strippers won’t contunie to do something they don’t want to if it is uncomfortable or they simply decide not to.

    I have thought a lot about the concept of “sexy” as someone who has been in several different countries and cultures as a stripper.

    I think a lot of “sexy” has to do with the object(s) of one’s affection or attraction. It is also how one feels- which is necessarily determined in some part by the prevailing culturally agreed-upon definition of sexy. And that is never uniform- there are so many cultures within a country, and cultures even transcend space. Sexy changes with social millieu: what is sexy in a Goth group may not appeal to a Wall Street crew, and what is sexy in a Vegas nightclub may not be sexy in a Florida country club. What is considered sexy on mainstream TV may not be considered sexy in my social circle.

    Ultimately, I think each of us has the power to determine what is sexy for ourselves, and if that overlaps with the hegemonic concept of sexy, then so be it. It will always evolve to something else, and it does so by our own determinations.

    Have a blast with your pole classes!

  2. eroticundulation permalink
    January 10, 2009 6:49 pm

    You know, I have been thinking about this since I read it, and even discussed it with a few of my friends last night. My friends tend to agree with me, but they are also in the sex industry, so I don’t know how unbiased they would be.

    The reality is that even though I am retired from stripping, I dance for exercise alone in my bathroom in front of the mirrors. I get a lot out of this beyond exercise: I feel incredibly sexy, sensual, and erotic. And somehow deeply connected to the planet- like there is a cord going from the top of my head straight through me into the center of the earth. Sometimes while dancing, I completely zone out into a trance-like state and I become the music I am dancing to. There is no other feeling quite like it for me.

    I imagine others feel this way about other forms of dance or exercise. So it is a very positive experience for me, and I hope it is such for you as well.

  3. Rachel permalink
    January 12, 2009 11:12 pm

    It’s an interesting topic. I think it has a lot to do with the way these classes are marketed/handled. If they encourage women to feel good about themselves in their own way, encourage individuality and not midia version of sexyness… I’m aokay with it

  4. gracie permalink
    January 21, 2009 12:56 pm

    I agree with Rachel, it depends on the class. The majority of striptease aerobics classes I’ve seen described here in Vancouver really do focus on the woman – always something along the lines of “a fun, different way of staying fit and feeling good about yourself.” And sexy is really sometimes what you make of it, and carries different weight in different places.

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