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    Volume 8 Issue 66 | April 24, 2009 |

  Cover Story
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  Neighbours - Manoj   Tiwari: “Gorakhpur’s   Obama”
  Food for Thought
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Food for Thought

The Ultimate “Confidence Trick”?

Farah Ghuznavi

Injustice and inequality are almost always easier to recognise, and therefore understand, in their most extreme forms. This is true whether the inequality we speak of is based on gender (e.g. sexual abuse/rape) or social stratification (e.g. the caste system) or financial status (e.g. homelessness or destitution). That's why, for example, it is much easier to build a campaign to combat problems such as dowry demands or wife beating, than it is to deal with the more subtle aspects of gender discrimination.

Sometimes negative gender attitudes can be hard to identify, let alone contest. Indeed, the social pressure is often such that all of us - women and men - may end up accepting such things as "normal". And as a wise man once said, the greatest success of any system of oppression is when those who are oppressed begin to collaborate in their own subjugation. So it is when women internalise negative social values and begin to help perpetuate them that patriarchy really wins!

While most societies have come a long way from the mandhatar-amoler attitudes that viewed women's education as unimportant (and more recently, in Bangladesh for example, that boys are best suited to study the sciences, and girls should be relegated to the humanities stream), the long held priorities asserting that being intelligent is more important for boys and being beautiful is more important for girls still linger in some form, not too far below the surface. Such prejudices are not by any means limited to developing countries in general or Bangladesh in particular. After all, it is not an accident that in so many parts of the western world there remains a significant wage gap between women and men for work that is similar or the same! But the form taken by such prejudices can vary considerably between societies, and in cases where they are “packaged” right (and it should be noted that the advertising industry is particularly helpful in playing an advisory role here), women can in fact end up perpetuating such attitudes as frequently and with as much enthusiasm - as many of their male counterparts.

So in South Asia, just as the need for girls to be fair-skinned is widely accepted when the senior females of the family go out in search of a bou (bride), in some Western societies - and increasingly, next door in Bollywood - the need for women to be considered “sexy” has been taken to a fairly unhealthy level. Among other things, the latter preoccupation has led to an increasing sexualisation of young girls, with provocative marketing measures in recent years including clothing items for children that range from T-shirts using words like "bitch" and “future porn star” to underwear that features explicit messages.

One supermarket chain even brought out a "pole-dancing kit" aimed at preteen girls. In case you're wondering what that's about, it's the smaller sized version of the poles seen in strip clubs, usually featuring scantily clad women wrapped around them. It's hard to understand quite what a sick mind would come up with this as a product for children! And the store's defence that it was aimed at parents who want to "help their children get more exercise" really does beggar belief…

But then, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. I was fairly disturbed to read about the so-called health craze that has led to the popularity of pole-dancing classes for adults in a number of countries in the last five years. But what really upset me was the justification provided by those running the classes, that many highly successful women professionals felt that taking these classes had "given them more confidence" by making them feel like “real women”!

That seems a little hard to believe. If the financial success, high levels of education and professional recognition already achieved by these women had not been sufficient to raise their confidence levels beyond a point where they needed to writhe around strippers' poles to feel better about themselves, surely that says something really sad and frightening about the society they live in? I find it hard not to be outraged by the fact that someone can be so utterly brainwashed by certain social stereotypes that in order to feel like a "real woman", she should feel compelled to play out a typical male fantasy related to strip clubs.

After I had spent some time seething about all this, I finally found someone who not only shared my views on the pole-dancing craze, but managed to articulate them far more effectively than I ever could. According to the American comedian Wanda Sykes: "All these women are taking stripper classes in hopes that men will stop going to strip clubs. But all you women should know something - first of all, you can't compete with the strippers because stripping is a lifestyle; you gotta have the stripper clothes, the stripper language, and most of all the stripper mentality: namely, the ability to lie like a dog for a measly buck. Because a stripper will tell your man anything for a dollar, like "Oh baby, you're so handsome, you look just like Brad Pitt!"

"Now, these stripper classes are very popular. Women are getting poles installed in their basements or bedrooms. Your man will play along and I'm sure he appreciates your efforts… But it ain't gonna keep him out of the clubs, because it's not the same thing! You might go to your nephew's Little League game, but you're still gonna watch when the major league teams play. You can't beat the pros. The main thing that women don't get is, men like going to strip clubs because their wives aren't there!" Whether this is true or not, I don't know, but I'm glad to come across anyone (so clearly both funny and cool) who supports my view that this is not a social craze to be viewed too benignly...

Just how pervasive influence of the so-called "adult entertainment industry" (AEI) is in our lives, whether we know it or not, was made even clearer to me by a satirical message (reproduced below) that I received in response to an e-mail rant I had inflicted on my friend Leon. For anyone who is confused by what is written below, let me make it clear that Leon in no way supports pole-dancing; he's just being sarcastic! His message was as follows:

"I need to correct your misguided understanding of pole-dancing. Firstly some background. There are those who have helped us understand that "adult entertainment" industry (now referred to as "AEI") is actually a business innovation incubator. Many current industries have learnt best practice from the adult industry. For example:

1. Pharmaceutical companies have re-learnt the meaning of consumer based communications, after the AEI have shown them how to sell drugs and therapeutic goods online. Some call it junk mail, others mass marketing. Actually it is estimated that 1 in 5 emails sent on the Internet today is from the AEI. Think of all those lonely people who now have a friend!

2. When going to make an online payment at Amazon or E-bay, remember - secure online internet payment was introduced in the mid 1990's by - you guessed it - the AEI!

3. Do you use YouTube, Yahoo Video, or any of the news or infotainment services streaming video live to your computer? The pioneers and much of the technology delivering these services was developed originally and is still being refined by the AEI (since they are the ones making the most money). They are now pushing this out to mobile phones and are at the forefront of Internet TV.

4. While Internet Chat was originally developed for friends to chat online, the AEI has turned Internet Chat into an extremely lucrative industry. Now you can chat with thousands of AEI "therapists" all over the world in real-time.

5. A report that I recently saw claims that somewhere between 20%-40% of broadband usage involves AEI material. That is 20% of a multi-billion dollar industry!

So your complaint that the AEI are now entering the health industry is not surprising. Yes, pole-dancing was invented, perfected and commercialised by the AEI. Now it is moving from the clubs, into your bedroom. Just like triathlons, step classes and yoga, it is being promoted as the latest sporting fad at many gyms. There are also pole-dancing competitions happening all over the place, so the next step is clearly for them to make it an Olympic Sport!"

Joking aside, as I said, Leon is not a supporter of the AEI nor does he advocate pole-dancing. His message did however make me realise just how insidiously the sex industry (let's be frank, that's what it is, no matter how euphemistically it may wish to describe itself!) has managed to influence our everyday lives, not least by entering into additional sectors such as health and fitness. So, as Leon puts it, with the launch of the pole-dancing industry, the so-called adult entertainment folks have shown us that their "Innovation Factory" just keeps on rolling. One can't help wondering which industry will be the next in line for assistance on how to further innovate!

Sadly for Leon, his wife Siri refuses to let him install a pole at home to meet his fitness needs, so it looks as if he will just have to use the children's jungle-gym in the garden if he wants to delve into this new pastime that is sweeping the world. Or maybe he'll just read a good book instead! Anyway, I will leave the last word on the issue to him, since he has come up with an appropriately delusional slogan for the sex industry - "Not exploitation, but innovation"…And as he says, if you believe that, you'll believe anything!


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