Students move into pole position

by Rachel Bell on January 8, 2007

Published in The First Post on 8 January 2007
View the published article here

While many students embrace raunch culture, a growing number are refusing to accept sexism on campus.

The normalisation of porn and the sex industry is creating conflict on the campus at York University. ‘Pole Exercise’ is its biggest student club and ‘Playboy Mansion’ one of the most popular undergraduate nights. But not everyone is joining in the ‘harmless’ fun. Since the sexual commodification of women has been rebranded as a confidence-boosting form of fitness and the porn empire, a cute brand for school children, some students believe this is in fact harmful.

‘Myself and a few others complained about the poster campaign for a Pole Exercise event called Goldrush and the use of the name Playboy Mansion at Goodricke college’ says Bronach Kane, 25, a third year student at York. ‘Depicting a naked woman sliding down a pole made of coins sends the message that the Pole Exercise offers an erotic exhibition of female pole ‘exercisers’ in exchange for the £6.50 entry fee. Like the ‘Playboy Mansion’ theme for events at Goodricke College, the hook being used to attract students is the sexual objectification of women and the idea that we can be bought and sold for money.’

Sarah Potter, 21, a member of Pole Exercise says ‘The Goldrush poster is our club logo and we raised money for charity’ while Pole Exercise president Matt Hood, says of the club ‘There is no sexual element whatsoever, they learn gymnastic tricks.’

Why did Chair of Goodricke College, Matt Burton, 21, choose the Playboy Mansion name? ‘The theme of our college nights has been sexual in the past and we wanted to tone that down,’ says Burton. ‘We had nights called G-Spot and another called Re-hab, which was advertised with an image of nurses as sexual objects. When I took over as chair I rebranded events and made sure the posters weren’t offensive. We still wanted a fun brand and the name Playboy Mansion was chosen by my committee. We do a range of nights ‘at the Playboy Mansion’ including an actual Playboy Mansion event where lads dress as Hugh Hefners in dressing gowns and girls dress as Playboy bunnies. The latest is a Baywatch theme.’

Over at Loughborough, the student union invited the FHM High Street Honeys and Nuts Brat Pack Tour to visit, the latter promising students the chance to meet the Brat Pack Girls and get their photo in Nuts. The newly formed East Midland Feminists, demonstrated in protest.

The Lilith Project has found that the increasingly mainstream pole dancing and lap dancing industries are careful to hide their links with prostitution, trafficking, sexual violence and the abuse of women, instead calling their objectification of women ‘entertainment’. The same can be said of pornography. Is it fun to pretend to be part of these industries?

Students rightly expect academic institutions to promote gender equality. According to Kat Stark of the NUS: ‘These women are not against sex, they are against sexism. It is nothing to do with prudishness, just a question of political awareness. Sometimes it seems as if feminism never happened. We are not having to go right back to the very beginning, but it is terrible that after women fought so hard for their sexual freedom all those years ago, it is now being stolen from them again in this horrible way.’

Bronach Kane says, ‘I am misunderstood as being pro-censorship but my approach is raising awareness.’ She is asking students to consider how much the popularisation of poles and bunny ears empowers women and how much it costs them.

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