Use of sexuality does not equate to objectification

Originally posted here, at Temple-News.com.

My typical Saturday night is unlike most college students’. Instead of throwing back shots of vodka and snapping pictures with my girlfriends, I’m dressed in itty-bitty, sequin-adorned outfits, performing on a platform or stage. And instead of flirting with cute guys at the bar, I’m trying to ignore the obnoxious pickup lines and uncomfortable stares.

Confused? Well, I’m a go-go dancer, and I work at venues in Philadelphia and Atlantic City, dancing on the weekends to save up for my post-college adventures.

With this career, I’ve made the decision to use my sexuality to make money. And while my job does require talent, I’m fully aware that my body and my looks are what really matter in the industry.

Now, while I understand that not everyone is a proponent of go-go dancing, whether it’s due to religious or personal reasons, I’m sick and tired of being criticized for my life choices. I realize that many men are in fact viewing me as an object or, rather, a piece of meat they can watch from afar. But I also know that I am in control of my own sexuality, and that as a grown woman, I can make these decisions and should be able to do so without ridicule or judgment.

I was recently performing in Atlantic City when a woman approached me and let me know that “I was too pretty for this,” and that “I could do better.”

Maybe I should be used to these types of offensive comments, but just because I show off my body doesn’t mean that I am not intelligent, hardworking or goal-oriented, as this stranger so kindly implied. To the contrary, I have the smarts to know how to take advantage of my sexuality and the confidence to realize what my limits are.

I wasn’t always so comfortable go-go dancing. I used to feel ashamed of my body, as though I should be hiding my sexuality – something I couldn’t even identify with, let alone utilize. But through performance, I learned to own my femininity, to realize the beauty and sensuality of my own body. And isn’t that what so many women are striving for?

About a year ago, a girl unhappy with me for dating her former beau attacked me via Facebook.

“You’re a slut,” she proclaimed, citing my go-go dancing career. “You should only be showing off your body to the people you love.”

She then went on to criticize my weight, my breasts and my looks, objectifying me more than the men who watch me dance.

Comments like this made me realize that women were always going to be my harshest critics. The problem is that by using words like “slut,” “whore” and “hoe,” women are taking away the choice to take a hold of our sexuality. Instead, we are just perpetuating the same judgments we are trying to fight against, allowing others to decide how much or how little skin we can show, how sexy or innocent we can be.

So here’s my plea: My fellow ladies, can we please stop judging one another on the decisions we make concerning our sexuality? Whether it’s a porn star, a stripper or an exotic dancer, she has the right to decide what career field she wants to enter.

Instead, let’s put our efforts to instilling more self-confidence in each other, in owning our bodies rather than having someone else decide what we should do with them.

I promise as a go-go dancer, I don’t have any bad intentions. I’m not bearing my midriff or cleavage to piss you off.

I’m simply doing what I love to do – dance – and I’m OK with being sexual about it.

It’s not going to affect my future; it doesn’t give me low self-esteem; and I’m not going to have regrets looking back at my decisions when I’m older. Actually, I’ll probably think I was pretty hot and give myself a pat on the back for having the confidence to get up and dance in front of hundreds of people.

Just this past weekend, a woman came up to me to let me know that I was “beautiful” and asked for my picture. As she was walking toward me, I immediately began preparing myself for some form of an insult or a dirty, disapproving look. Her compliment took me by surprise and empowered me for the rest of the night.

So one last final reminder for those who have a problem with what I do: I am beautiful, and my body’s pretty awesome, too. I show it off, I get paid for it and I’m OK with it. You should be too.

Cary Carr can be reached at cary.carr@temple.edu.

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