Wersha Bharadwa: Take it from me: lap dancing is not sexy, nor liberating

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The Independent Online

Oh dear, Orangina. While I welcomed the outrage over showing anthropomorphised, hyper-sexual animals pole dancing in G-strings, I desperately tried to figure out how they might have come up with such an offensive campaign.

Aside from lap-dancing and lactating octopuses, bunny rabbits with post-orgasmic faces and a symbolic money shot where the drink shoots out on to bikini-clad breasts, it comes as no surprise that females are represented as traditional prey while the male is a big, predatory bear.

Nobody is suggesting Orangina wants us to head to Twycross Zoo and get off on burlesque performing pandas in an E cup. I hope. But here's a thought. Maybe, just maybe, the agency that created the ad, FFL Paris, was confident that stripping animals captured one of the biggest mainstream afflictions of the last decade: a culturally accepted obsession with the erotic dance industry.

In Britain the number of lap-dancing bars has doubled to more than 300 since 2004. Kate, Lindsay and Paris have all spun on poles. Aerobic striptease DVDs and pole-dance classes are promoted as respectable ways to get fit. The pole has become a shrine. Orangina just wanted in. As, I must confess, I once did.

Growing up with the constant bombardment of messages about how liberating it was to hang out at strip bars (I first came across the concept during an episode of Friends), I found myself agreeing to tag along with male friends. After all, stripping isn't prostitution, is it? Later, while writing an article, I enrolled in pole-dancing exercise classes. The myth of the "feminist" stripper as a powerful, sexy and autonomous woman became a fun, girly movement.

We are told of the commanding look-but-don't-touch allure strippers have over males. Of the competitive hourly rates and what they can teach us about confidence and self-esteem. But while working for "acceptable" pay may be empowering, let's not pretend it's not demeaning work.

I have no hostility towards women who enjoy stripping for a living, but it's time we stopped holding them up as the poster girls for our times. Because the double standard is that, while we're encouraged to emulate the exhibitionism and deception of women who are paid to do so, once you take to the pole, sheesh, you can forget about it. The stigma of strippers as thick, cheap, drug-addicted prostitutes-in-training still exists. Men don't go to strip clubs because they want to see a powerful, liberated woman doing it for herself. Ha! They want dehumanised swinging breasts and thongs.

Misogyny as a whole is a clever ideology, one that has always made women blame each other for their own oppressions. So it's hardly useful blaming ourselves. No, in my coming clean, I hope to highlight how much work is needed to deglamorise strip culture and turf out our two-faced championing of it.

Figures brought forth by the Lilith Project on the impact of lap-dancing clubs in Camden reveal the physical fallout of stripper chic. The 2003 report by the London-based group, which works to eliminate violence against women, said incidents of rape had increased by 50 per cent since the opening of gentlemen's clubs in the area, and indecent assault of women by 57 per cent. While I don't assume lap dancing is a direct cause of such abuses, it plays a part in legitimising hostile views about women.

On that account Orangina is guilty of two charges: exploiting an already exploitative industry and eroticising female inferiority. Of course, adverts have been sexing up products and perpetuating the weaker sex myth for years. But here misogyny has been taken to shockingly menacing heights.