Last night, I fumed. A knot grew in my stomach and my eyebrows crept higher and higher up my forehead until they threatened to to lose themselves amongst my be-rollered hair. Was I reading Blair’s memoirs? Was I considering the car-crash unfolding of the Hague affair? No, I was reading ELLE magazine in bed with a glass of wine.
Every month since I was a teenager I’ve scurried off to the newsagent for my latest fix of intelligent, grown-up style in the shape of ELLE, the more popular alternative to Vogue and my own personal, very private treat. My fondness for ELLE has increased in recent months with its focus on truly beautiful, interesting covers and Editor-in-Chief Lorraine Candy’s recent rallying cries for a new generation of feminists to wake up and get active.
Last night, like always, I got out the shower, put rollers in my hair and curled up in bed, ready to start at the very beginning. I quickly skipped over the cover, featuring, for the second time this year, lovely Kate Hudson (yawn) in the kind of make-up job I associate with the sluttiest of my Barbies back in 1987. I flicked longingly through the advertisements and came to the first really meaty bit of content, the Opinion column, which I always read, particularly when the title is a juicy and appealing as ‘Are You As Empowered As You Think?’. Am I? Roving reporter Craig McLean thinks not.
I could spend a week picking McLean’s argument into tiny, amoeba-like pieces, but the thrust is this: Western women are living in a fool’s paradise in which our fake boob-loving, heel-wearing, sexy dance-learning antics are pathetically misinformed attempts to commodify sexuality in order to gain power over men when really we should all just keep our heads down, work hard and then really nice men will just love us all for who we really are. Phew, thanks Craig, I can’t believe we never realised this without your guiding voice.
This is not just bad journalism, it is pitiful. For the sake of brevity I will focus on one pivotal point in his argument; his very telling confusion between ‘lap-dancing classes’ (of which I have never heard in all my life) and pole-dancing classes, which is what I think he means. ‘They strengthen stomach muscles and tone buttocks. And they put men firmly in their place: sitting down, supplicant, needy, desperate… No woman should need to bump and grind inches from a man’s crotch to show her worth or potency. And, ladies, any man who does need that from you, frankly, isn’t worth having. He’s not a keeper. He’s pathetic. And probably a pervert’.
I gasp at the sheer inaccuracy and male-centered bent of this horrible, damaging opinion. I have two friends who take pole-dancing classes, one who is an instructor and I know a very large number of training and performing burlesque dancers. Not that it is any of Mr McLean’s business, but every single one of these women is in a long-term relationship with genuinely lovely, although I’m sure utterly perverted, men. Two even got married this year, Heaven forfend. But more importantly, not one of these women has ever expressed any desire to subjugate men by pulling on a pair of frilly knickers and shimmying around a pole. In fact, I’d be willing to stake everything I own on the proposition that barely a second’s thought is given to the male of the species at these (covens) classes.
For a year or so I used to go to trapeze classes, and through my friends I am given to understand that the appeal of these classes is almost identical to that of a burlesque or pole-dancing class. Primarily the joy is in seeing what your body can do, putting it to the test and watching it move and change throughout the class and the term. Bruises are a badge of honour and seeing one’s own and other’s bodies in new, challenging situations only makes you appreciate your flesh-and-bone corporeality in a way Mr McLean could probably never imagine.
Secondly, radical though it may seem, I believe that a great deal of women attend these classes in order to meet and befriend other women; to be silly and laugh and talk and dance. McLean states that ‘it’s a sad reflection on modern society that some women still feel the need to commodify their sexuality to feel empowered’, I would suggest that it is far sadder that because of their own insecurities and psychological bindings most men will never experience the breath-taking freedom and camaraderie of classes based on bodies, sex and movement.
At best this article is an outdated, old-fashioned feminist relic of the bra-burning ’70s. At worst it is a damaging, pointless exercise in misogyny made all the worse as it is placed in such an ostensibly pro-female position. As a mere blogger I would never dream of telling the Features Editor of a magazine like ELLE how to do their job, but if I were in such a position I think I’d find a celebration, rather than a condemnation, of women (boobs, bums, burlesque and all) much more interesting and informative. This article is not controversial, it is conservative and destructive. Shame on you, ELLE.