Posts Tagged ‘empowerment’

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