Feminism and Burlesque: not exactly at odds

Posted: February 10, 2011 by Rogue Nova in Sex-Positive Feminism
Tags: , , , , ,

This started as a comment on another blog.

A comment on another blog that didn’t get posted, because I wasn’t smart enough to get what the poster was saying — or so her story goes. Whatever. I’m posting it here now. Because honestly, I think it needs to be said.

I consider myself a burlesque performer. Ok, so I’m not involved in a troupe formally, and I haven’t really been doing much between my 3 or 4 jobs and full time school, but I am putting together sketches, costumes, dances, audio tracks, and basic ideas. And I am involved in the burlesque scene by virtue of my partner, who helps out with a Vancouver burlesque troupe, and just by virtue of loving it so much that I go to shows and then help clean up afterwards.

I’m also a feminist. Up until now I didn’t see much conflict between these two things, but the light: it has been shown to me. Apparently one can’t be a feminist and a burlesquer. Can’t, capital C, CAN’T. It’s impossible.

And while your post does show what burlesque performers think about burlesque, it lacks a feminist analysis.

Ok, maybe that doesn’t say it’s impossible to be feminist and burlesque. But it sure as hell implies it. (For the record, the above quote was not directed at me — it couldn’t be, for my post was not approved.)

Now, don’t get me wrong — she has some good points. We do need to be critical about what exactly we, as burlesquers, are upholding when we do our acts. We need to be conscious of it. We also need to pay the bills, and sometimes — sometimes that means sacrifice. Bums in seats is the first rule of theatre — and you’re always going to get bums in seats for a strip tease. Hard-hitting political commentary or lampooning? Not so much. It’s a certain demographic that the more political, artistic side of burlesque appeals to — and in order to make a living, you must appeal to more than one certain demographic. You must be broad.

And, you know, up until seeing her response to my post (which she didn’t approve) I was rather willing to cede those points to her. But apparently there’s such a fear over at that blog about dissenting viewpoints that she couldn’t even let my comment be seen or read by anyone else.

I’m a fierce believer in owning your words. My comment policy reflects this. This is part of my feminism. I can’t hope to fight against oppression if I allow censorship.

So in the interest of not being censored, I am going to reproduce my comment for you here. You can see what was so scary to read over there. And then I’m going to make a few closing comments and post this blog, and then you can make comments of your own. Sound good?

Ok. So I didn’t really tackle anything really big there, even. I shared personal experience. Experience from a two-decade career in theatre that has ended because I was tired of the sexism. A career that I fled for burlesque because of the latter art form’s lack of sexism.

(At least, how I’ve experienced it in Vancouver. I do think that the structure of the art form itself lends itself to a less patriarchal epistemic system — there is no hierarchy. It’s a group of women who make up their own sketches and put them together into a show. There’s a real sense of community building in a burlesque troupe.)

You see, to me, what this whole post really just stinks of is sex-negative, everything-that-pleases-men-is-bad feminism. It’s still feminism; I won’t try to redefine the word because I don’t like what some feminists say. But it’s crappy feminism, in my point of view.

“Freedom from the patriarchy! Freedom for women! But only if they don’t want to strip, because stripping makes men happy and that’s bad! Also, women only think they’re empowered if they strip! The patriarchy has just brainwashed them into thinking that. They’re not really empowered, they’re playing into the hands of the patriarchy. High-necked collars for feminism! Wooo!”

This is such an old argument it’s downright boring. Not any less insulting, however. When you state that women are doing things because they’ve been brainwashed by teh ebils patriarchy, it takes away their self-determination, their autonomy. It disempowers them. It does what they’re claiming burlseque is doing.

Burlesque needs serious examination, it’s true. Like everything else, it’s become mainstream, which is steeped in cultural norms — patriarchal ideals about women’s beauty and worth.

But if burlesque needs serious examination, so does reality TV, and webseries, and shows by Joss “I’m so fucking feminist” Whedon who really just shows women who can only be powerful if they’re fucking supernatural, for gods’ sakes. (Exception being Zoe.) So does theatre (especially theatre), so do movies, so does every other form of entertainment we have.

And yes, that examination is absolutely necessary and absolutely useful. If we do not examine ourselves and our actions we will never improve, as people.

But just because burlesque needs examination does not mean it’s un-feminist. It does not mean that a woman dancing with pasties or tassels on while lampooning some common cultural myth is objectifying herself (which, again, you can’t do by virtue of the word’s very definition). It does not mean that you cannot be a feminist and a burlesque performer.

It also doesn’t mean that everyone has to like it. Ok, fine, you feel uncomfortable at burlesque shows. Your choice and I’m not going to hold it against you. But using that discomfort to spin it into a long tirade as to how burlesque is anti-feminist and “upholding the male gaze,” whatever the fuck that means, and objectifying and a whole host of other Ebil Penis Patriarchy Ills — that is what we call sex-negative, and I’ll go so far as to say anti-kink as well. Doesn’t mean you’re not a feminist. It just means that, in my opinion, you’re a bad feminist.

Nothing personal.

-The Fierce Femme

  1. Oh Katje. As you’ve made clear in your post, I did not say that it was impossible to be feminist and a burlesque performer. Nor does saying that April’s post lacks a feminist analysis imply this. Her post focuses on whether or not burlesque dancers feel personally empowered by burlesque. It does not address feminism nor does it question the assumed empowerment aspect from a feminist perspective. Hence my comment to April. Your comment was not posted because you put words in my mouth and, as I clarified in the thread, re: comment moderation, I won’t be posting comments which accuse me of arguing something which I did not, in fact, argue. Feel free to edit your comment so that it accurately reflects what was said/argued, and I would be happy to post it. On the bright side, as you know, you are free to post your misrepresentations/misunderstandings of my post and our podcasts anywhere else on the internet. Just not on my blog.

    • Katje says:

      Thing about honest discourse: people will read what they read from your posts. I read what I read and I let you know what came across to me (also shared my own experience regarding theatre and burlesque, but you’ve made it quite clear you don’t actually care about other women’s experiences if they go directly against your argument). You decided other people shouldn’t see that someone else saw a different POV expressed in your post. Tone doesn’t always translate that well in text. I was trying to let you know I read a different tone.

      But then, approving my comment might have let people know that there are those who can disagree with you “on a feminist level” and not just from the view of a burlesque performer (and you seem to think the two are mutually exclusive, with feminist being superior, which is busted, by the way), and you can’t possibly have that on your blog. Because real honest discourse might show more than your side of the story, and what if people decide you’re wrong? Fate worse than death.

      That’s cool. I’m ok with people disagreeing with me on my blog, but I guess not everyone can be.

    • Stephy says:

      Wow. That wasn’t a patronizing response AT ALL, was it? Your entire blog post smacked of sex-negativity. While you may not have used the phrase “sensuality is anti-feminist,” your attitude certainly upheld the conclusion. So don’t “Oh Katje” her. You’re not familiar enough with your subject matter to fully understand what you wrote, or the implications thereof, and you’re compensating for your lack of knowledge with an extra dose of attitude.

  2. Oh. And censorship? Really? No….As there is no law that prevents you from posting comments on my blog, alas, comment moderation does not equal censorship. Please let’s not conflate the two. I reserve the right to moderate comments on my posts. Your freedom of speech is not being squashed because I didn’t approve your comment. As Melissa McEwan wrote: ‘this is not a public square’.

    • Katje says:

      Melissa McEwan is also supportive of transphobia, so I take her words with a grain of salt.

    • Katje says:

      Also, dictionaries are your friend:



      1. suppression of published or broadcast material: the suppression of all or part of a play, movie, letter, or publication considered offensive or a threat to security

      2. suppression of something objectionable: the suppression or attempted suppression of something regarded as objectionable

      3. ancient Roman office: the office, authority, or term of an ancient Roman censor

      4. psychiatry suppression of memories: the suppression of potentially harmful memories, ideas, or desires from the conscious mind

      You didn’t approve my comment. It was suppressed because it was objectionable. No, not as HUGE or BIG as legally mandated and enforced censorship, but it still fits within the scope of the word.

  3. Yes. Clearly, based on the comments on this particular blog posts, as well as many of my other posts, I refuse to publish dissenting arguments. Dude. My blog is not your gage for freedom of speech. Clearly you are not being suppressed here. And unmoderated comments sections are, in my opinion, practically unreadable. It is not my duty to post comments on my blog. Particularly if they say things that are irrelevant and untrue. The censorship argument, in these terms, is ridiculous. That said, it has become clear to me that it’s time to post an official comments policy in order to avoid future ‘STOP CENSORING ME’ whines. Best of luck with your blog, a shining example of true democracy.

    • Stephy says:

      You know, it’s not often I use the term “bitch” as an insult, but…wow.

    • Katje says:

      democracy (dɪˈmɒkrəsɪ)

      — n , pl -cies
      1. government by the people or their elected representatives
      2. a political or social unit governed ultimately by all its members
      3. the practice or spirit of social equality
      4. a social condition of classlessness and equality
      5. the common people, esp as a political force

      Hey, another word that means things!

      Unless you were being sarcastic, um, yeah, my blog is an example of democracy. (Hint: democracy isn’t everyone agreeing with you all the time.)

      When you write a blog, you are inviting commentary from all corners of the internet. Otherwise why write it? If you don’t want to hear certain arguments — just the ones you agree with — then post it to your Facebook and let your friends fawn over you. A public blog is much the same as your own personal soapbox in Xwayxway/Stanley Park. It’s not a journal, not a personal notebook. It is open to the internet, which makes it very much public.

      Except in the case of obvious trolls, assholes, or spam, I would think that a feminist blog would want to welcome honest discourse, especially from other feminists with different viewpoints. Isn’t that what the “s” in your “feminisms” is for? Respecting that there’s more than one feminism out there?

      Or were all the other domain names just taken?

      I’m betting the latter.

  4. Wheeee! Freedom of speech! Democracy! I. feel. so. free. Except from sexist hate speech. Whoops!

  5. I would highly recommend that you actually read our blog and comments section. I think you might find exactly what you are looking for. And I think you may have missed the point – which is that you are free to criticize whatever you like. Anywhere on the internet. Like here, for example. But just because someone has a blog it does not mean they have an obligation to publish comments that are irrelevant or inaccurate. We (and you, in these circumstances), are the only ones who get to decide whether or not we publish comments and which ones we do, in fact, publish. Decisions not to publish specific comments clearly (again, I direct you towards our actual blog/comments section for further examples) has little to with dissent and you will certainly find dissenters galore talking and yelling and laughing and sharing thoughts. Rather, your comment was not posted as it was irrelevant and inaccurate. All we ask is a little accountability. Be respectful, be truthful, stay on topic, and disagree all you like. And congratulations on your incredible ability to google words. Very impressive. I will be certain to use this strategy as a research tool in the future.

    • Katje says:

      My personal experience with theatre and burlseque was “inaccurate”. And irrelevant, when it related directly to the topic at hand.

      Ok then.

      Anyway, I’ll probably take a look at the rest of the blog when I have a chance. I can read only so much in my spare time; I work 3 to 4 jobs and go to school full time.

      (Oh, by the way, I don’t listen to podcasts because I have an auditory processing deficit, and for the most part podcasts frustrate the hell out of me. I have to see someone talking to get what they’re saying.)

      • Me too! I have 3 jobs and am doing a Master’s degree! Bu.sy.
        Anyway – I have no issue with your comment or experience, apart from the last two paragraphs, in terms of our blog. That’s all. The rest of your comment may well be problematic, but I have no issue with posting it all all.

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