Burlesque: They tell me it’s just for fun…Except I’m not having any.

Two weeks ago we ran our 2-part series on burlesque. Considering the many varied perspectives among women and feminists, we felt it wouldn’t be quite sufficient nor would it present an entirely accurate representation of those varied views if we explored only one side of the argument. The first show featured local burlesque superstar, Crystal Precious and PhD Candidate, Mary Shearman, who we brought on in order to present a look at burlesque that included feminism and female empowerment, rather than a straightforward rejection of it. The conversation could have easily gone on for another hour. Our guests provided us with some super interesting ways of looking at this ‘neo-burlesque movement’, as it’s been coined. We were presented with some ways in which burlesque could, potentially, be subversive. Both from our guests and from listeners. Like thisthis,  and this.

Alas, this was not what we were seeing from mainstream presentations of burlesque.

Nor was it, no matter where we went, what we were seeing at local burlesque shows.

And while we didn’t agree with everything our guests argued, we realized that there are many out there who do. And that there are many women who enjoy burlesque; whether from an audience’s perspective or as a performer. I mean, what’s wrong with having fun right? What’s wrong with feeling sexy, right?

…right….?

Weeeellllllllll….we weren’t entirely convinced.

The idea that we should just ‘work with’ that ever-present male gaze just didn’t sit well. For me, personally, it brought up a lot of that-which-I-am-ever-irritated-by in what is often presented as being the ‘3rd wave’. That which the older generation of feminists, those who came from the revolutionary 2nd wave often seem to feel disappointed by – this concept that feminism is about individual empowerment. Not my feminism. This isn’t a ‘hey whatever makes you feel good’ kinda movement. Not that you can’t feel good and be feminist. But let’s get this straight – this is a movement. Not a self-help book. Feminism and neoliberalism are not bff’s. Feminism is, in large part, about changing those dominant systems that hold up neoliberal ideology. We aren’t all out for ourselves here. And individualism just doesn’t work for the marginalized. It sure doesn’t work to destroy that objectifying male gaze.

In terms of burlesque, I just couldn’t get past this idea that it takes a certain amount of privilege in order to even argue that this kind of stripping is ‘just for fun’. For so many women, stripping isn’t ‘just for fun’. It’s a living. Like, they need the money. So what kind of implications does it have when some women decide to start stripping ‘just for fun’? Does that mean stripping is supposed to be ‘fun’? Are we supposed to be doing it for free? Am I supposed to enjoy it? Should it be fun for me? The unexamined privilege within this discourse is pretty glaring. Regardless of whether or not burlesque dancers align themselves with strippers, they are not viewed or treated by society as strippers are. They are not judged or disrespected or subject to violence in the same ways that many strippers are. Particularly those who aren’t doing it ‘for fun’. But rather as a living. Out of need.

Women and girls everywhere are being told that pole dancing is ‘fun’. That flashing your breasts for Girls Gone Wild is ‘fun’. And that burlesque is ‘fun’. And you know what happens when we think something is ‘fun’? It means that we choose it. That we consent to it. And therefore it equals empowerment. Being coerced isn’t ‘fun’. Having no other alternative but to sell our bodies isn’t ‘fun’. In order for something to be ‘fun’, we must feel like we get to choose. What, then, are the repercussions for those who don’t choose to strip or flash or take pole-dancing classes – are we, then, not ‘fun’? What does it mean when I go to see a burlesque show and don’t have any fun. When, instead of liberation, I see women shaking their asses for an audience. Posing in martini glasses or on coffee tables. Like pretty objects. What happens when I feel angry, instead? When I feel uncomfortable, instead; seeing a male MC introducing his legion of ‘girls’ and encouraging the audience to tuck money into the ‘go-go girl’s’ g-string? Am I no fun?

Individualism and neoliberalism have stolen choice from the feminist movement. As Nicole Deagan so aptly pointed out on show number 2, ‘choice’ is about abortion rights. ‘Choice’ was a powerful aspect of the feminist fight for control over reproductive rights and women’s access to medical procedures. For us to be told that ‘choice’ is about our ‘freedom’ to pasties is misleading, distracting, and dangerous. Capitalism isn’t our friend. You can’t sell choice. And, let me add, having a ‘choice’ does not mean that we all have to shut our eyes and lay down. Being a feminist means we question these narratives. We question those things which reinforce the idea that women are meant to be seen and not heard, that women are ‘to-be-looked-at’, that women exist to fulfill male fantasies. And we do this because it’s easier to commit violence against objects than it is to whole human beings.

As Nicole also mentioned, and I want to include this because I think this is central to this conversation, as well as, in large part, what is missing from mainstream narratives around 3rd wave feminism: “The fact that white women have decided to ‘play’ with the role of ‘empowering’ an objectified woman performing for an audience is really telling about how disconnected they are from the actual lives of women who live in true poverty and how traumatizing it is to be living in a racist, sexist, classist world where women are sexually used by men who have access to privileges and entitlements that many women can’t even dream of.”

I have seen several burlesque shows in Vancouver. And Ariana and I went again, for research purposes; to check out what’s happening on the scene these days. Hoping we would find all sorts of subversion, you know, challenges to gender norms, maybe some comedy, something even remotely feministish. What we found was a stage and some women awkwardly taking off their clothes, with smiles pasted across their faces so we knew they were enjoying themselves. A man in a business suit ‘hosted’ the evening, and introduced all the ‘girls’. He remained clothed throughout the evening. A male MC was also allowed the privilege of keeping his clothes on. One after another, ‘girl’ after ‘girl’ got up on stage, unzipped her dress and, by the end of the ‘show’ was in pasties and a g-string, posing for a cheering crowd. Let’s play find the subversion! There is nothing new here. It’s just the same old thing. And I wasn’t having any fun.

***Authors note: Thanks to Nicole Deagan and Ariana Barer for inspiring and contributing to much of this content and to my larger understanding of what the hell it was that was bothering me so much about this burgeoning movement.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • Sarah

    I want to show you some of the boys of burlesque.
    http://www.stripcheez.com/video/bro'-lesque-@-vibf-2010

    • Marvin

      Thanks for this post. I am baffled by the revival of old burlesque, which was sleazy and stupid and remains so. Here in Boston there are a couple of these troupes, and they are constantly putting on shows, and for who? Themselves, pretty much. The kind of men who want to see strip shows would hate these nudge-nudge-wink-wink shows, and the kind of men intelligent enough to get the “joke” don’t want to see strip shows at all.

      And this is the meta-irony of Neo-burlesque: it reverses the intention of the original burlesque shows it so fetishistically apes by becoming a fantasy not for the male audience but for the female performers. It remains decadent, but for its narcissism instead of its sexuality. Is this supposed to be “subversive”? If so it’s failing. Why not just dance in a mirror at home, masturbate, go to bed, and save us all the embarrassment we’re compelled to feel for you, since you clearly numbed yourself to it long ago? Whatever intellectual, socio-political justification you invent for it, at the end of the day you’re getting up and shaking your tits around on stage. Is this really the most exciting way you can think of to spend your leisure time? God help you.

      • Yet so many Burlesque Shows are sold out and the audiences full of both Men and Women…

        I don’t know what shows you went to Marvin but plenty of them are much more than striptease and plenty of the striptease is full of talent, dance, music, art, political satyr, comedy, theatrics and even at times, a message.

        And plenty of the men and women who are intelligent enought to “get it” , also enjoy it.

        You are certainly entitled to your personal opinion and not at all obliged to go to these shows but there are clearly people who want to. And those are the people we are performing for.

  • Sarah
  • Sarah
  • martin dufresne

    Thanks for telling it like it is, Meghan, at the risk of sounding like a party-pooper to the “Whatever-We-do-is-Awesome” noisemakers.

  • Natalie

    Thank you very much for writing this! I totally agree with you and appreciate all the points you discuss. Especially linking it to other forms of women’s oppressions.

  • Madame Mae I

    As a current burlesque performer, and recovering crack addict with a history of prostitution for the purposes of procuring my drugs, I feel that you may have missed the mark. Not all burlesque performers come from privileged backgrounds without the understanding of what it means to be subjected to discrimination, sexual abuses, and the abandonment of ‘typical’ society.

    Perhaps, in order to get a more informed opinion, you need to have open non-judgmental discussions with MANY performers to get to know their world before deciding that they don’t understand feminism or what it is like to live outside of typical society.

    Everybody has a right to their opinion, and you don’t have to enjoy burlesque. But I think you may get a greater understanding of the community and the movement if you tried to get involved in it a bit more than seeing a few shows and talking to one or two performers.

    Case in point: Last weekend at the show that you are discussing in this blog, I did a number in which I wrote all the labels that I had been given over the years, including ‘whore’, stripped down to pasties and a thong, washed them off, and covered myself in a towel with the word ‘love’ written on it. I did that for myself…not for the male gaze.

    • ChaCha

      Madame Mae, I fully agree with your argument. As a Women Studies scholar and the founder of a burlesque troupe in a small desert town, our group’s main focus is breaking that norm of what is beautiful and what kind of woman should be considered beautiful enough to perform. I was in theater and always played in the background because my male directors didn’t think since I was “fat” i would not be as interesting on stage. I also performed on the professional ballroom circuit and was told constantly I needed to lose weight even thought I won competition after competition. With our burlesque troupe we are all different sizes, ages, and colors. We are not all white women. I am a minimum wage working substitute teacher. I LOVE burlesque because we all make our own costumes, we create our own dances, and most of my dances are more than just unzipping a dress and wearing pasties. Many dances I’ve done don’t even result in me wearing pasties. But hey if you don’t like it, that’s just fine, I hate slasher films, I never watch them they make me uncomfortable, but I know lot’s of people like them and I’m not one to judge. I think owning your perspective is awesome, just be careful not to sound too judgeish

      • Leah

        Perhaps if you were a more astute Women Studies scholar you wouldn’t be earning the minimum wage.

    • Miss Titania

      I agree too. I am a burlesque performer and always perform as a powerful woman figure. I enjoy it and engage mostly the GBLT community in my area. I perform for myself first, I used to starve myself because I was unhappy with my body, and second I perform mostly to raise money for causes that I believe in. I also agree with ChaCha… I adore finding the perfect costume and perfect song.

      • Ms. Lemon Drop

        Miss Titania… you said it best, girlie! i started doing this in a class as a way to overcome the fibromyalgia that keeps me in chronic pain every single day. i decided that i did not want to give into this and that i could still be sexy and use this as a way to help the pain stop. i also felt awful about the baby weight that i gained and my burlesque class was the reason i lost every bit of it. my class is based on the idea of learning poise and grace and just to have fun and let loose in a safe all-women environment. the performances are only for our friends and families so it’s not like i’m profiting from this. my instructor is a talented woman who sees to it that we look damn good and learn something from her every class. maybe i’m an overprivaleged housewife as was stated in the original article but at least i’m an empowered housewife who feels sexy.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Thanks for your comments @Madame Mae. There are always exceptions to every argument, you’re right. Your performance does sound interesting, unfortunately, I have seen many burlesque shows, spoken with many burlesque performers and read/listened to countless interviews with performers and as far as the mainstream goes, as well as the majority of performers/performances, the neo-burlesque movement doesn’t strike me as being particularly feminist. I tried, both in this post as well as in our two radio shows, to point out the ways in which burlesque can and has been subversive. It isn’t impossible, as you know, it’s just that it isn’t happening nearly enough for the movement to be viewed, in my opinion as presenting a solid or effective challenge to patriarchy. I’ve found that most arguments which say that burlesque is ’empowering’ sound a little bit like this: http://www.stripcheez.com/blog/2011/02/04/burlesque-and-empowerment/
    i.e. (and I’m paraphrasing here) ‘those who don’t like burlesque are moralizing and uncomfortable with naked bodies and ‘sexuality’ OR the ‘it is empowering for me’ / ‘this is MY personal choice’ argument I mention above (leaving out the fact that empowerment and feminism isn’t only about individuals and there can be no movement if we are all only working only for ourselves OR the argument that burlesque need not be empowering or present a challenge to patriarchy or the male gaze, in which case, no we wouldn’t argue that burlesque is either empowering or subversive or feminist, hence my argument above. Choosing to objectify ourselves is not feminist or ’empowering’. I think it’s really important that we take these words back and remind ourselves why they exist, where they came from (within the context of the feminist movement) and what they really mean.

  • The more politically driven performance art pieces are at the heart and forefront of the neo-burlesque movement, but as the word “burlesque” becomes more mainstream, it also becomes another style of entertainment to become capitalized upon and made corporate. Just as many people feel that Broadway became corporate and “Disneyfied” and lost it’s creative soul, there has certainly been a lot of that involved in the burlesque scene for several years. Companies like the “40 Deuce” clubs and even Cirque De Soleil have capitalized on the rise in burlesque’s popularity and in doing so have projected a more homogenized, glamourized and less alternative body-positive image than previously presented in the neo-burlesque revival. Since corporations like those have the money and power to project their vision of the term “burlesque” on the mass public, it creates difficulties for the more avant-garde professional burlesque artists to be able to walk the line between getting paid bookings and creating art. Especially in less urban and artistic areas. Simply stated, the audience has now been taught to expect an idea of beauty and style that is not necessarily at the heart of the movement, and performers within the genre have had to acclimate and conform in order to survive as working artists. It’s a plateau every art-form crosses as it grows. I have found myself in that same rut as I have been spending more time creating performances I think the audience wants to see, rather than creating the art that I want to express myself. It’s interesting to see this topic come up now, as recently through conversations and workshops on new pieces I have noticed a lot of performers on the scene begin to feel the same need to return to their more subversive and social-political roots as performers.
    So, rather than discounting the movement, why not keep your eyes peeled as it emerges from the safety of its current cocoon and takes wing on its next glorious and shimmering form!

  • Roxette Starr

    You’re right. Burlesque isn’t Feminism. Atleast not your feminism. Burlesque is more about individuals making a statement, feeling empowered, doing good or just having fun. You state that feminism is a movement of the masses. So yes, you’re right. However, it takes empowered people to make a movement happen. It takes individuals who want change to make a movement happen. I would like to know how many of her feminists don’t feel empowered. I would also like to know how many of those feminists do something active to change it? How many feminists get up on a stage and say ‘Look at me. I am strong and powerful. I am not the media version of beautiful (and even if you are, that’s ok too). I want you to see what matters to me.’ Burlesque, strippers, prostitutes, moms, sisters, grandmas, daughters, all females are feminists in their own way. They all do something to fight the good fight as an individual. They may not go to protests, they may not speak openly about it but they do something. The word ‘Feminism’ is subjective. One person does not get to decide how feminism is displayed or how each individual chooses to fight for equality.

  • Meghan Murphy

    @Roxette – feminism is about challenging patriarchy. So if someone/thing is not working towards this I don’t see how this constitutes feminism. I don’t agree that every person is feminist regardless of whether or not they work to end patriarchy….

    I am a little confused by your comment I must admit….On one hand you say that burlesque isn’t feminism, based on my definition of feminism. Ok. Agreed. But what statement is burlesque making if it isn’t subversive? Or presenting a challenge to patriarchy? That women’s bodies are to be looked at? That the male gaze is not problematic or dangerous? Individual empowerment based on patriarchal/capitalist standards of what empowerment means does not equal ‘feminism’. I don’t agree that the term ‘feminism’ can just be arbitrarily applied to various actions based on individual perceptions. Feminism IS a movement and it is about more than just individual empowerment. Feminism is personal but it is also political – meaning that what happens in the external world matters, feminism can’t just happen in our individual minds. Just placing a label on something does not make it so.
    I would ask more from feminism. Anything doesn’t go, just because we say it does.

  • I tried really hard in my blog to present an argument for everyone involved in Burlesque. I’m not going to be the person who says Burlesque can only be one thing or way because thats not what I like about it!!! The availability of diversity in how you chose what act you do is what I think is liberating. You can be or do anything you like. A quote from Jo Boobs: “part of what the “male gaze” critique leaves out, as I’ve said and I’ll repeat, is that what is empowering about doing neo-burlesque isn’t having people think you’re a hot chick. It’s the act of self-creation. It’s the ability to design a performance for yourself and do it for an audience that is excited about that aspect of it, rather than judging the performance as an adequate display of commercially digestible beauty and/or entertainment.” Instead of looking at Burlesque as a case for violence against women.. couldn’t it be a healthy example of how sex work should/could work? On a woman’s own terms? And not all conventional strippers are being “forced” to strip because they have no other choice. I’m sure I know more than a few who would take issue with that statement. T

    • lizor

      “part of what the “male gaze” critique leaves out, as I’ve said and I’ll repeat, is that what is empowering about doing neo-burlesque isn’t having people think you’re a hot chick. It’s the act of self-creation. It’s the ability to design a performance for yourself and do it for an audience that is excited about that aspect of it, rather than judging the performance as an adequate display of commercially digestible beauty and/or entertainment.”

      I’ve been in the performing arts for many decades. Yes, designing a performance for yourself is empowering. Creating anything and then putting it out for critique is empowering. In my personal experience, designing a performance for myself and for the world that I live in – a problematic world – that nudges people towards questioning destructive norms is especially empowering. There is an infinite palate of forms of bodily expression that do not involve reductive presentation of oneself as consumable body parts.

      I am not saying that burlesque is never subversive. I’ve seen plenty that is – that presents sexual situations and images that do not involve a regurgitation of aesthetics codified decades ago by Hugh Hefner and his ilk – and lets not forget that plenty of pornographers will sell alternative bodies: “big ladies”, racially categorized female bodies, hirsute female bodies, etc. As a woman who does not fit at all the required traits of the “fuckable”, I get that being included in the group of female bodies “worthy” of objectification can feel good on some level – like the moment when you finally buy that product, the ads for which you have been bombarded with for so long you have come to feel you actually want it.

      Perhaps as a first dip into the realm of putting what one creates out for public critique, an act that involves embracing vulnerability and the very real possibility of criticism and rejection, it may feel safer to mimic the tropes of traditional male entertainment. However if we are talking about real empowerment, the benefits of digging deeper than received aesthetics and ideas into one’s true individual creative voice holds more power.

  • Will Thrill

    Hello all My name is Will Thrill I have been as active as I can in the Vancouver Burlesque scene for all most 6 years now for the last year Jill Thrill and I have been on hiatus with the pregnancy / birth of our daughter. Jill and I have always danced around the non-mainstream events mainly as a voyeur couple attending more notable events such as Sin City and Taboo reviews. Jill and I are a team you may find us separated but rarely is one far from the other. My interest in Pin-Up as well as Burlesque was in me before I knew they actually had genre labels when we found out burlesque shows where happening here on a regular basis we were in, well right after Melody Mangler and Violet Fem taught a mini Burlesque class at Jill’s stagette.
    Now why I give the long forward is so you understand I am not just some ego driven horn ball who comes to see girls go topless, if that was the case the are lots of places I could go that don’t cost $20 at the door. Now even before becoming part of this world as a Host/performer/sweeper general here carry this and stack those chair guy. I was or should say we were avid guests as in paying customers to many of the shows religiously attend when we could. Ok so here is goes call me what you wish but the support I will receive for my own view from my friends, yes those above, will be more than enough to comfort the blow.

    Yes as a man I love Tits and ass! Yes I love it more when it is being shaken in my face.
    OH how exciting it is if one of the girls pops a pasty.
    OH OH how exciting if she has the ovaries to not even notice carry on with her performance like a true professional.
    You can’t necessarily look at Burlesque a part of the MOVEMENT, but an off shoot of what the movement has provided, these women should not have to defend themselves to any one. If they, for their own exhibitionism, wish to display them selves to entice or excite a crowd of voyeurs, they should be supported not criticized in print. Now when I am on stage back stage or stage front I am watching the show the entertainment, the question you must ask first is this something you will like? is it your cup of tea? if not you won’t like any show you see, but if you like crazy handmade costumes, crude comedy, and watching people who enjoy what they are doing, you just might like what you see. It seems to me all your research has been attending shows while judging them on what your views are not the views of the audience or performers. I am going to end this short because my daughter who ha been so patient on my lap is sensing that I’m an quite fired up about this, if someone could help finish this with descriptions of Milikas beaten womens revenge with the dancing dummy, or Burgundys little school girl professor beat down number, Franky Pankys gorilla molester and so many more
    I guess it comes down to some people just don’t get it. it’s performance and we love it.

    Will Thrill xoxo

  • MissFortune

    I wish I could find your other articles on burlesque. I have been through 4 pages of older posts on the blog, used the burlesque tags and I still cannot find it. I like to read everything you have to say on the subject before I comment…. but unfortunately I cannot this time….. Please post a link to it.

    I have a few points to raise.

    First of all, exhibitionism and voyerism and the love of a good story and sharing what we make with others are built into us as humans. If not, there would be no movies, no TV, no theater, no dancers, no parades, not even zoos. These in themselves are not feministic or patriarchical or masochistic in itself. Humans do these things.

    The thing that should be addressed is choice and purpose. You can be a driver or you can be a cabbie. You can make art or you can be a graphic designer. you can snap photos or you can be a photographer. You can be a stamp collector or librarian. On some level, all of these hobbies and careers are choices. Everybody generally chooses hobbies and career fields by what the find interesting, enjoyable or fun. These ladies are clearly doing that. Their purpose for doing this work (or hobby, whatever be the case) is for fun. None of them are forced into this, burlesque cannot be feministic or not any more than a cabbie or a stamp collector can.

    You argue that this can be compared to women who strip for a living that are forced to work in that industry…. but that’s like comparing apples and oranges. As in the case of Madame Mae I, strippers can become burleque dancers…. and so can librarians and photo-snappers. Stripping is not the same as burlesque. They share one feature, the removal of clothes. If that makes it equal, then each and every woman who removes their clothes daily (IE: every woman) is a stripper. (we all remove clothes) We can all agree that is not the case. To be fair, another quality burlesque shares with stripping is usually it is done in front of someone or many people. Again, If you have made love to someone, or have had a roommate, or a cat or dog for that matter, you are a stripper by this definition. Again, I feel that we can all agree that it is not the case on that. Also, they both do this sort of work for money…. well, don’t we all work for money to some degree? They both involve some kind of dancing too…. Hell, we all dance in our own special way, wether well, or not-so-well….

    I am breaking it down into non-emotional terms so we can look upon this fairly.

    None of you may want to hear it, but burlesque was at the forefront of the earliest feminist movement.
    Without question, however, burlesque’s principal legacy as a cultural form was its establishment of patterns of gender representation that forever changed the role of the woman … The very sight of a female body not covered by the accepted costume of bourgeois respectability forcefully if playfully called attention to the entire question of the “place” of woman in American society.
    -paraphrasing Robert G. Allen, Horrible Prettiness: Burlesque and American Culture (Univ. of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1991), pp. 258-259.
    at its roots, burlesque took opera, plays and other things and made spoofs. Instead of men taking women’s roles, which was expected in the 1800s and early 1900s, women did.
    Later, to keep people coming back, the skits got more suggestive. These daring women challenged local laws for how much they could reveal on stage, due to starting to flip the expected gender roles and play men onstage in mythological male roles in period menswear (tights). This became such a hit, people returned to see more and more of the female form.
    and the ladies revealed more and more and the audiences came back for more. in the 20-30’s, People like gypsy rose lee and Sally rand (and my favorite, Vickie Lynn, who was a MAN doing striptease as a woman) brought vaudeville comedy and Cabaret artiface from Vaudeville, and dropped it into burlesque and it became the burlesque we know today. Soon, as Broadway shows
    become popular, the acts became larger than life and true fantasies. It went underground and “quiet” to the mainstream in the mid-to-late 20th century. It soon hit revival in the late 20th century and now with neo-burlesque with girls who are trying to take burlesque back to its glory days and honoring the past in all its forms, and the ladies who are still alive from the end of the first era.
    http://www.musicals101.com/burlesque.htm
    Here’s a link to what the neo-burlesque girls are doing with the older ladies:
    http://www.burlesquehall.com/

    So, as you can see, burlesque is an artform coming from vaudeville.

    Burlesque sells *fantasy* pure and simple. Burlesque is about taking your audience to another world, where you act out a story for them, be it YOUR fantasy, Their fantasy, a childhood fantasy, a commont on current society, whatever. The most common show a sensual or sexual fantasy, and theres nothing wrong with that. They dont get completely naked. you see more in movies and TV…

    Burlesque is about creating a new persona to the dancer.
    Strippers are selling themselves. Men dont want to watch them take it off, that happens in 2 seconds. they want to see a gyrating naked body. any thin female will do.

    Now lets look into objectication. This seems to me to be the genuine heart of this post, correct?
    The definition of obectification is: Media that objectify women portray women as physical objects that can be looked at and acted upon– and fail to portray women as subjective beings with thoughts, histories, and emotions.
    This kind of media, I believe we all can agree, Must be changed. It reads to me that feminism and burlesque have the same problem. The media of TV and movies took the money out of burlesque and reduced it to its underground for decades. TV and and movies sell our children the very terrible concept of objectification.
    It seems to me that you and the burlesque movement are on the same side….

    Currently today, the neo-burlesque girls have a choice to do this as a career, or as a hobby. Those that WANT a career in it are needing to get paid. Those that do are going to find that in order to keep an audience’s attention, they must do several things not required in stripping. They must have a routine, they must spend hundreds to thousands of dollars on their costumes and props. They must have permission to use their music if it is something not in public domain. They must either have dance training or burlesque schooling (I know of 4 burlesque schools in seattle alone), their acts are skits and are generally thought provoking, silly or *something* that is different (or people wouldnt return to see them)
    So, they queue up quite an expence, and they make acts that are geared to their audiences… (since they are choosing this art, I bet they all have ideas they want to do artistically but they may not be able to afford it if their audience won’t like it.) Also, now that the media has a movie about it, people’s expectations on what burlesque actually IS is distorted and watered down. so, if you are paying $10-$20 for a burlesque show, you arent seeing anyone who doesnt have a day job. Hobbyists do not have to put as much time and effort into their acts, but I bet most do for love of the art….

    What I am getting at is that the media is hurting burlesque as much as it hurts feminism. An audience expects sparkling stripping like bussycat dolls, instead of fun and provoking acts. Girls’ gotta eat, they will do do what people want to see, and reserve their more challenging (though provoking) acts for cities that understand burlesque a bit better.

    (I find it odd that people were giving money to the performers. Every burlesque show I have ever gone to (in 6 different states) never once was money tipped on the stage.
    Also, most shows I have seen have had live bands, comedians, (sometimes a coherent story throughout every act, like Alice in wonderland), magic acts as well as girls
    Are you SURE you went to burlesque shows?)

    In the end, if you don’t like burlesque, that’s your decision and you are welcome to your opinions.
    But don’t spin your dislike for an artform into a political agenda.
    We can agree to disagree on this, but it IS true that burlesque was a part of the first glistenings of women breaking out from under male domination. You cannot turn your back on that fact.

    What’s next?
    Hate ballet, so you are going to say it enhances the female body issue problem because ballerinas are so small?
    Hate geisha, so you are going to write that the Japanese sould ban them because its degrading to dress women like “dolls”?

    The only hate acceptable is the hate of over-generalization and stereotyping.

    Sincerely,

    a burlesque performer
    (who just suggested a stagename for a boy-burlesque performer who is starting burleque classes tomorrow)

    • well said MissFortune, well said. I was a burlesque performer in the 70’s and was happy to do so. Many fond memories and also some bad ones. That is part of all life. It’s was a job, it’s was part of being a woman, it was part of being young and having youthful good looks to flawnt. It gave me courage, confidence, and appreciation for my own beauty and expression of, of the beauty of womanhood… in a way I may never have known otherwise. Like you, I consider(ed) it an artform, and remember the ‘burlesque’ shows, some more tawdry than others, everyone to their own talents and tastes. Life is like a boz of chocolates(Forest Gump style) and thankfully they are quite assorted! Now, I’m old and fat …and I still flawnt – for my husband! (who was a burlesque manager btw)

  • Dollipop

    I just wanted to put in my two cents. I’m a fat girl, alway have been. For me, burlesque satisfies two goals. #1 is body acceptance, challenging the Hollywood norms (what they think women should look like) that have been a huge factor in why I hated my body and hid in the dark if I was ever bold enough to let a man near me. For All of my adult life. The women of burlesque can be any size or shape, and still be accepted by their audiences and peers, plus i can now enjoy some cheesecake guilt free because I no longer feel like I have to change who I am to “fit in” or feel “normal”.

    #2 is bringing fun back to sex. Sex is supposed to be fun isn’t it? Sexy should be playful, maybe even funny. Its more than just a function to reproduce, and ideally should be enjoyable for both partners. We have been bombarded with images of what “sexy” means, hollywood makes sexy look like it needs a sandwich, porn makes sexy look like it’s painful, almost unpleasant, so damn serious. In my acts I like to focus on the humor, song and dance, laughter, things that make me feel sexy. It’s the reason I love the comedic duo The Wet Spots, they find humor in everything from masturbation to kink, set it to music and rhyme, I’m tickled pink! Also love Trixie little and the Evil Hate Monkey, their acrobatics are amazing and he gets just as naked as she, equal opportunists!!

    You must have missed out on Evil Bastard and his huge cock…pasty, he’s funny, has a great voice and can twirl that pasty as well as the next lady in the lineup. The women may outnumber the men in burlesque, but they are definitely there. I would venture to guess that the reason you didnt see the male emcee strip, is because he was the Emcee. Their job, male or female, is to introduce the acts and keep the audience engaged and having a good time. The emcees in our troupe do get naked, but not while hosting, they have their own acts, as do I suspect the male emcees you saw staying clothed. Maybe it just wasn’t their night to shine.

    • Miss Titania

      I agree with both of these. One of the reasons I continue to model and do burlesque is your first point. I was uncomfortable with my body but took a chance to get out there through some miracle of strength. I have had many women that would be considered “fat” by media standards tell me how empowering and inspiring it was to see me comfortable with my appearance and body despite “standards”. It is that fact, that my ability to do something that I enjoy can make a positive impact on someone else’s life is truly a gift.

  • Scarlette Downey

    BRAVO!!! Miss Fortune! Thank you thank you and gracious thank you!
    So long as human beings, male and female, fight for the right to have the CHOICE to control what they presenting and what they share of their own talent, their own bodies and their own sexuality, they are assisting the feminist agenda to move forward. Perhaps now Ms Murphy can stop feeling sorry for us and see that female sexuality, when presented in the ways we as women want to present it, can be incredibly empowering. Both on a personal level and for women as a group. It has contributed to liberating other women from past fears of being sexually expressive,(A fear that old school feminism helped to create, by judging women who were sexually confident… or worse pitying them!) The Neo-Burlesque movement has presented an opportunity for the audience to see a variety of different bodies and sizes as “sexy” therefore challenging the “status quo” of what is routinely packaged and sold to us. It has also offered a alternative to the traditional stripping industry (where strict body “typing” IS practiced) It has challenged the predominately non humanist, non feminist proprietors of these establishments, who make a lot of money off these women, to see that women are not buying the belief that we are only to be considered sexy if we meet these specific standards. This IS a FANTASTIC thing!

  • Meghan Murphy

    @April — I realize that you tried to present an argument that represents various perspectives on burlesque from burlesque performers. The purpose of this post and the corresponding radio show was to look at burlesque from a feminist perspective. And while your post does show what burlesque performers think about burlesque, it lacks a feminist analysis. Which is fine. As far as I can tell, the purpose of your post wasn’t to do that. I do feel frustrated by what seems to me to be both a deep misunderstanding of what the critiques of burlesque are (i.e. this isn’t in any way about puritanism or some kind of moral stance, which is discussed within the podcast) and what empowerment has to do with feminism. In regards to your point that “instead of looking at Burlesque as a case for violence against women.. couldn’t it be a healthy example of how sex work should/could work? On a woman’s own terms? And not all conventional strippers are being “forced” to strip because they have no other choice.” – well, no. I don’t think that I could view burlesque as a healthy example of how ‘sex work should/could work’ because I don’t find that these images of women are doing anything to challenge the male gaze or what has been constructed and presented by patriarchy/mainstream media. I don’t see many of these images as being ‘on a woman’s term’ – I view them as being regurgitated images of female sexuality as defined by a patriarchal society. I mean, what does a naked woman in a martini glass have to do with feminism? Also, I don’t argue anywhere that ‘all conventional strippers are being “forced” to strip because they have no other choice.’ – many women do strip because they need the money. The argument here is that, in order to be able to ‘play with’ the idea of objectifying oneself, ‘for fun’, it demands a certain level of privilege, which sometimes goes unacknowledged by burlesque performers who compare themselves to strippers OR those who claim they do it as an art form. I think that women should have more options than to have to take off their clothes in order to make a living.

    On another note – just fyi – this post wasn’t intended to be a rebuttal to your post, I would have linked to it in that case. I didn’t see your post on Burlesque and Empowerment until after I wrote this. Strange coincidence though, eh – we were simultaneously on the same train of thought! (though perhaps said trains were headed in different directions…)

    @missfortune –
    1) I haven’t written any other posts on burlesque. It isn’t exactly my pet project. I try to apply a feminist critique to and encourage discussion around various topics.

    2) I fail to see how women having the ‘freedom’ to ‘choose’ to strip for fun is representative of success on the part of the feminist movement and I doubt that is how the 2nd wave desired to see their fight culminate.

    3) Yes, the shows I have seen were most certainly burlesque shows. We also found it ‘odd’ that we were encouraged to put money in a woman’s g-string during intermission. I don’t think that having dancers ‘on the side’ of rock shows or comedy shows presents any more of a challenge to patriarchy than Dita von Teese’s performance in the midst of an award show is. I have certainly felt uncomfortable to have thought I was going to see some bands and been made to watch a woman take off her clothes as part of the intermission….

    4) I, of course, am ‘welcome to my opinions’ – thank you for your approval! I think I have made clear that this is not about a simple ‘dislike for an art form’ but about much, much more and I think that, as a feminist blogger, scholar, journalist, and activist, it is kind of what I do to place a feminist critique onto just about everything. Feminism is the lens through which I view the world around me. If you would like to frame this perspective and critique as my ‘spinning’ things into a political agenda, then I suppose that is alright with me. My ‘political agenda’ being feminism, after all.

    5) Whatever burlesque once was, from your perspective, is no longer. I have not seen everything, that’s for sure, it looks like there is some interesting stuff happening out there (as per the links at the beginning of the post, provided by April). Unfortunately what I have seen, as made clear in the radio show (linked to within the post) and on this post, was not presenting a challenge to the male gaze or to patriarchy.

    6) Who said anything about ‘banning’ burlesque? Or about ‘hating’ anything? I’m starting to feel a little bit like a broken record here, but seeing as you seem to be putting your own ‘spin’ on my post/commentary, regardless of what was actually said, I feel like I need to clarify – what I’m seeing from this ‘artform’, for the most part, is women, objectifying themselves, for fun. I’m seeing the same old images of women stripping for an audience and calling it empowerment. I’m seeing the media labeling this as ‘the new feminism’ which misrepresents the feminist movement in a very dangerous and entirely inaccurate way. If what I’d seen was something different then I would have said so. It was not.

    @Will Thrill —
    “You can’t necessarily look at Burlesque a part of the MOVEMENT, but an off shoot of what the movement has provided, these women should not have to defend themselves to any one.” The feminist movement did not ‘provide’ the ‘freedom’ for women to strip. That was the patriarchy. And this argument that whatever any person does, if they decide to label it as empowering or feminist, should be free from critique, is ridiculous. As I’ve said before, many times, the feminist movement is here to challenge patriarchy, not applaud blindly simply because we are told something is empowering. Are you seriously arguing that if something ‘isn’t my cup of tea” (which, again, is a giant oversimplification and clear misunderstanding of the argument) I should just not say anything??? So sexist and violent pornography isn’t my ‘cup of tea’ – should I just shut up and let those porn-consumers be? Trafficking isn’t ‘my cup of tea’ either – would an appropriate response towards traffickers be ‘meh’? And, hey, I also hate sexism! But to each their own, right? To paraphrase your concluding ‘argument’ – I guess when it comes down to it some people just don’t ‘get’ feminism. But it is my life’s work and I love it.

    • ChaCha

      woah also, never ever ever, have we ever asked or wanted anyone to give us money in our undies or anywhere else, just pay for your ticket to enter the show and enjoy… yikes, we also perform in a theater so it’s just not that kind of show. I think the show you have gone too was doing it’s own thing, cuz I never see bills pushed downs someones panties but I’m also here in the USA and the shows i’ve been too have been in theater like settings and no one NO ONE was tipped. Sorry to zee that was your experience.

      • Ruby Rage

        Cha Cha is right, no one in the US gets dollars down the draws, unless it’s a duet or part of an act. To most burlesque dancers in the
        US it’s considered to be rude to even throw dollars on a stage and most dancers get very upset at this.

        Meghan, you need to research more before you write. Maybe even travel around the world to get an exact view and form a more
        accurate opinion on burlesque. Many different parts of the world have different views on burlesque/cabaret. So maybe broadening your horizon would help you not get slammed down by an opinion that you think so strongly about.

        • Meghan Murphy

          Hmm. Yeah I bet there are all sorts of subversive burlesque shows in developing countries where, you know, getting naked for money is fun and empowering. Thanks for the tip.

  • Meghan Murphy

    ***note to commenters — if you choose not to read this post in its entirety or listen to the podcasts which this post elaborates on (linked to in the post, but I’ve added them in here again, at the bottom of this comment, for your convenience) and then suggest that we do something we have already done or suggest that we have argued something which we have not, in fact, argued, I probably won’t publish your comment. I obviously made an exception for some comments which either completely misunderstood the argument/what feminism is, and therefore felt I should respond to, or were reiterating common arguments I also wanted to respond to — for example the seemingly popular ‘anything goes if we say it does and everyone who doesn’t like it should shut up’. If your argument is that we should not be critical of anything anyone does, because they feel personally empowered, then you are missing something central to feminism and central to our purpose within the radio show and blog – that being that we are here to provide a feminist critique. It isn’t the only feminist critique, it is just one. Within the radio show and podcast, we showed various perspectives on burlesque, through mediated debate/conversation. To suggest that this topic went unresearched or our presentation of the topic was biased is ridiculous. Unless what you mean by ‘bias’ is ‘feminist’ in which case you are right. We are very, VERY, biased….
    In regards to ‘research’, I would suggest that, rather than recommending we do more research on what you do (as we have, really, done a lot of research and we nonetheless, still came to this conclusion, though many of you seem to feel that if we just did a little more research we would change our minds….), you do some research on what feminism is. Because this post is about whether or not burlesque is feminist. Not whether or not you like boobs.
    Burlesque: Part 1: http://rabble.ca/podcasts/shows/f-word/2011/02/burlesque-part-1-2-part-series
    Burlesque: Part 2: http://rabble.ca/podcasts/shows/f-word/2011/02/burlesque-part-2-2-part-series

  • MissFortune

    Thank you for your response, Megan, but you fail to acknowledge anything I requested.

    1. “Two weeks ago we ran our 2-part series on burlesque.”
    links please. You claim not a pet project, yet you refuse to provide me links.

    2. Choice and freedom to choose are two different things. I respect your “freedom” to “choose” to spread this nonsense. I really do…. yet I disagree with your “choice” to do so.Likewise you disagree with both my “freedom” to “choose” burlesque as a hobby as well as my “choice” to do so. If you do not understand that difference then you do not understand the difference for a woman to “choose” the “freedom” to stamp collect any more than you accept her “choice” to,say become a librarian for a stamp museum. ONE is about FREEDOM the other is about CHOICE. Feminism is about the “freedom” of “choice” not the “choice” on what activity we “choose”. we as women now have the “freedom” to “choose” Burlesque, and burlesque helped form that.

    3. on the contrary: THAT IS BURLESQUE: comedy, variety skits, spoofs.. that is the HEART of BURLESQUE. It is a SHOW. Read your history. This weekend I am attending a BURLESQUE show with a live band and GORE-lesque. women (possibly men too) wanting to sell the fantasy of HORROR-BURLESQUE and from what I hear there are TWO horror-burlesque troupes in Seattle playing up the need for “non-pretty” burlesque. How can you explain that in your narrow definition of burlesque??? I certainly CAN: burlesque is about FANTASY. Burlesque is a SHOW. They will have a live band, and possibly more “delights” other than women taking clothes off. You cannot deny. Burlesque is more than you know.If you feel uncomfortable about the whole show, you are unwilling to experience burlesque as its full art-form, therefore you are only critiqueing the media perception of it…. I suggest before you judge an entire art form that you thoroughly research…be a REAL scholar and journalist.

    4. in my anger I called it direct “spinning” I do apologize for that… but understand until you see the whole PICTURE, you have no right to place judgements…. IT MAKES you NO BETTER THAN THE MEDIA WHO EXPLOITS FEMINISM. All you are is the other side of the media coin that destroys all the work feminism has done because you are not willing to view burlesque in its real, full context. I belive your cause is just, I simply fear that you are taking issue with something that is part of your cause. I simply want you to take a CLOSER look at it.

    5. you are wrong. Burlesque has no money tips, See a show of real burlesque sponsored by the burlesque hall of fame, tease-o-rama or *something* in Seattle, New york, New Orleans, or any major city. Admit your perspective is based in a small locale and that there MAY BE better burlesque shows out there. Your narrow view is too limiting for the post you made for women who actually believe in your cause. cast a ‘wider net” and you will be pleasantly suprised.

    “male gaze” was about FILM, I am sure you understand….. get out of last century and view what todays perspective is. I am NOT saying it is 100% correct, but it is much different from the “were not originally intended to last” and that she thought of her writing as “ephemeral”:[Mulvey writes] “I often sacrificed well-balanced argument, research and refinements of style to the immediate interests of the formative context of the moment, the demands of polemic, or the economy of an idea or the shape and pattern of a line of thought.” She admits that the now-canonical essay you cite, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” ( borrowed quotation from Will)
    Burlesque does similar..Burlesque is “visual pleasure and Narrative cinema” There is no opposition here. burlesque is part of the feminist movement.

    6. HATE definition: 1.to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest 2. to be unwilling; dislike
    I never mentioned banning burlesque (I only used banning as an example for geisha to illustrate my point)
    this is a hate post. you “dislike” neo=burlesque.It isnt ‘neo-feminism” it is a revival of a past theater syle lost in the late 20th century that respects the women who came before us. i might believe “burlesque” is “feminist” but others wont. Ask burlesque performers individually.

    again., the only HATE (by definition) that is appropriate is hate of over-generalization and stereotyping.

    and you are doing that. Never judge an entire genre of theater based on a few people. Be a *journalist* do REAL *research*.

    Have you even TRIED to contact a legend of burlesque for a proper perspective? someone who has been doing this 30=40 years? or did you base your conclusions on baby-burly girls in your locale???

    Seattle has 4 burlesque schools. the most renowned is Indigo Blue’s Academy of Burlesque. We have a burlesque-con every year to meet other performers and make it a “sisterhood” and “brotherhood” of burlesque and learn from each other to sharpen our skills.

    whether you like it or not: burlesque is an art with over a century of performance proof.
    it has been here since the mid-1800s. and with the *best* in burlesque, they strive for a good, provacative show.

    Ever think that MAYBE if you paid for a 50-100 dollare burlesque show that you might see something different??? I have performed with both high end and low end shows. i bring 500+ outfits to all shows. Most women who make this a career cannot do this, but since I have a good day job, I have that luxury. Not many can. I have performed with the burlesque hall of fame AND with Dita. (I read how you feel about her…… she is a sweet, personable girl. you should never judge people by their interviews BECAUSE interviewers take only their views out of interviews (sound familiar…?)Why did you not try interviewing her yourself???
    I have performed locally for free at the Seattle’s Bumbershoot (doing burlesque for even CHILDREN) as well as the Seattle erotic arts Festival (which is for adults). There is So much MORE to burlesque than you give credit.

    Again, I respect your right to disagree, but get your facts straight. That is all I am trying to say.

    • Meghan Murphy

      @missfortune –
      1) the links are in the post. As you will notice, I’ve added them again in this thread for those who didn’t see the hyperlink.

      2) I don’t disagree with your ‘freedom’ to ‘choose’ burlesque. Nope. Not in any way. I challenge the idea that burlesque is innately empowering or feminist. I also suppose you are right that burlesque gave you the…freedom….to choose…burlesque? To be honest I’m a little confused by this entire comment. I’m not quite sure what you are trying to get at around stamp collecting, but I’ll leave that one for now.

      3) I was responding to your point that burlesque shows were alongside comedy/music/magic shows. Did you mean to say, instead, that the burlesque was, in fact, the comedy/music/magic? Again, confused. Had any of the burlesque shows I’d seen been funny and/or subversive then I imagine I would have written a different post.

      4) My deepest apologies to feminism, for singlehandedly destroying it because I wrote a post about, apparently, the ‘fake’ burlesque, as opposed to the ‘real’ (albeight invisible) burlesque. I do hope it will forgive me.

      5) Is it me that is wrong? Or is it the burlesque show we saw a few weeks ago that requested the audience place bills in a ‘girl’s’ g-string during intermission? This show was called a ‘burlesque show’ and was put on by a very well known performer in Vancouver…This fake/real conversation is a little confusing (but this appears to be a trend throughout your comment so I suppose I should get used to that) – how can one tell which is ‘fake’ and which is ‘real’? Who defines this? Where are all these ‘real’ burlesque shows in Vancouver?

      6) I do understand what the male gaze is, yes! And it is very much applicable to this century! Way to go with the feminist film theory! Mulvey’s theory is around film, but since, feminism has applied this theory, this ‘gaze’ to real life. And, as such, feminists have noted that women internalize this gaze. That others view us and we, even, view ourselves through this lens. I don’t think it is fair to say that all burlesque, regardless of what it looks like, regardless of the message, is a part of the feminist movement.

      7) I wouldn’t say that I ‘dislike intensely’ burlesque. I think it is problematic. And I don’t think that it necessarily empowers women, nor do I think it is necessarily feminist.

      8 ) I think Crystal Precious is a great source for a ‘proper perspective’ on burlesque. She is local, she is active in the scene, she is a pioneer in the neo-burlesque movement in Vancouver. So, yes, I did contact someone who I consider to have a ‘proper perspective’ (whatever that means…). We spoke with her on air! It was fun. That said, I did disagree with many of her comments. I imagine that she also disagrees with many of mine.

      9) I’m not sure what your point around burlesque schools is. Because there are schools that equals feminism? How?

      10) You can call burlesque ‘art’ till the cows come home. Once again, I will reiterate: that does not make it empowering. Or feminist. Women taking off their clothes, on stage, in and of itself, does not equal ‘freedom’. Whether or not it is art is not of particular interest to me. And, as far as I know, all art is not anti-oppressive. Nor should it be free from critique, simply because it is ‘art’.

      11) WHY on EARTH would I spend $50-100 to see a show that makes me feel depressed? I have yet to buy all my textbooks for this term, OR pay my tuition. But you’re right, once that money does appear in my bank account, I should probably skip all that and spend that money, instead, on seeing a show that makes me feel like shit about the state of the world.

      12) I am sure von Teese is VERY ‘sweet’. I’m sure she has a wonderful personality! Oh so pleasant. What does this have to do with anything I said in my post?

      Let’s stick to the topic, eh?

    • Leah

      Hey, cool! Typing things all in capital letters means you REALLY MEAN IT and it MUST be TRUE!!

  • MissFortune

    PS; i read your latest comment as well as everyone else’s. I am simply challenging you to expand your research.

    • lizor

      And your first point in response was to ask her to repeat for the THIRD time something that was there.

      The onus is not on Meghan to “expand her research”. If you have “research” findings from, say, “travelling around the world”, as Ruby tells her to do, that shows how helpful burlesque is to women in adverse social conditions, then the onus is on you to share it. The post was based on the research it was based on. If there is more data that contradicts Meghan’s findings re: burlesque helping to alleviate the exploitation of women in patriarchy, then present it.

  • J Valery Vyntage

    Here is some food for thought. Since you have brought us back to the topic of feminism and the reason you write this blog, I will try to challenge your perception of feminism vs. mine and perhaps others who have come out in support of Burlesque in response to your ‘review’.

    You say
    ‘As I’ve said before, many times, the feminist movement is here to challenge patriarchy, not applaud blindly simply because we are told something is empowering’.

    Okay, let us examine what exactly ‘is’ the feminist movement.

    None of us would argue that the feminist movement has made its best effort to free us from the chains of patriarchy, but we are all acutely aware that this struggle continues to rage on throughout the world, regardless of the gains we’ve seen. We still have to fight for reproductive rights every time a right wing, conservative pro-life government gets elected because their agenda is still to take us back to the dark ages based on a religious ideal. So, please don’t think for a minute that I don’t appreciate what it must be like in countries where religious, sexual and physical restrictions are the norm. We haven’t come that far, and we have a long way to go. This much we can all agree on.

    I’ll be honest, I am aware that I personally haven’t done enough to fight for womens rights in my lifetime, and have even taken it for granted. But I certainly have done a lot for myself and my personal belief system and proud of that fact. Having to reconstruct what it is to be a woman and blazing trails by being an open hearted woman in touch with my femininity, sexuality and humanity is No easy task. I consider myself probably in the third wave of feminists, having been born in 1964 and watching my mother break stereotypes and taboos. I am lucky also that my father was part of the feminist movement here in Vancouver in the seventies.

    As a young person I took it all for granted and paid very little attention to feminism until my late twenties when I got a brain and stopped being so self centered. Back then I viewed feminism as being quite radical, unfeminine and almost nasty to the male of the species. It was a huge turnoff for me and it turned me against it for many years. There are personal reasons as well in relation to how my father was treated by those radical feminists friends at times because he was berated for just being a man.

    So, how could I reconcile that I liked cute dresses, dancing, shaving my legs and looking pretty with trying to be a feminist when I had no feminist icons I could relate to. I disliked the thought I had to be less girly in order to be a feminist. So I chose to be ambivalent towards to whole subject until I was ready to appreciate and understand it on my own terms. I will probably never buy into the idea of Radical Feminism because I view men with very little power as having the same human struggles against the power elite (white, rich, religious, conservatives can be male or female eg; Ann Coulter), so I can’t lump patriarchy onto all men, there are plenty of women buying into it as well.

    I personally like the term Sex positive Feminism, and perhaps this might aptly describe what my respected artist friends are trying to relay in response to your blog and what I myself believe.
    ————snip
    Clipped from Wikipdedia.

    Sex-positive feminism centers on the idea that sexual freedom is an essential component of women’s freedom. As such, sex-positive feminists oppose legal or social efforts to control sexual activities between consenting adults, whether these efforts are initiated by the government, other feminists, opponents of feminism, or any other institution. They embrace sexual minority groups, endorsing the value of coalition-building with members of groups targeted by sex-negativity. Sex-positive feminism is connected with the sex-positive movement.

    The cause of sex-positive feminism brings together anti-censorship activists, LGBT activists, feminist scholars, sex radicals, producers of pornography and erotica, among others (though not all members of these groups are necessarily both feminists and sex-positive people). Sex-positive feminists reject the vilification of male sexuality that they attribute to many radical feminists, and instead embrace the entire range of human sexuality. They argue that the patriarchy limits sexual expression and are in favor of giving people of all genders more sexual opportunities, rather than restricting pornography (Queen, 1996). Sex-positive feminists generally reject sexual essentialism, defined by (Rubin, 1984) as “the idea that sex is a natural force that exists prior to social life and shapes institutions”. Rather, they see sexual orientation and gender as social constructs that are heavily influenced by society.

    Sex-radical feminists in particular come to a sex-positive stance from a deep distrust in the patriarchy’s ability to secure women’s best interest in sexually limiting laws. Other feminists identify women’s sexual liberation as the real motive behind the women’s movement. Naomi Wolf writes, “Orgasm is the body’s natural call to feminist politics.”[2] Sharon Presley, the National Coordinator of the Association of Libertarian Feminists,[3] writes that in the area of sexuality, government blatantly discriminates against women.
    ————- unsnip

    So we may differ on the idealogy of Feminism, and perhaps we do approach it differently than you.

    But in creating this blog/dialogue, I would say that you are making us all think, encouraging us take up the call to arms in a new wave of feminism. But feminism in itself encompasses so many ideologies and differences of opinion. I am proud of my young friends who speak so eloquently on a subject they are passionate about.

    Yes, we as humans really need to fully understand political, socioeconomic, racial, religious and generational positions if we are to succeed in a substantial way in the future. All women have a stake in feminism, but so many women cannot promote freedom for themselves because survival is all they can do day to day. Hard to look at the bigger picture when the world you see is abject poverty, religious tyranny, abuse, recovery from abuse or racial bias.

    And in case you are wondering, this 46 year old mother of a teenage boy started performing burlesque 2 years ago to do something fun for myself and discovered that it changed me profoundly. Acceptance of self and of others is at the heart of the burlesque movement today, and it is the reason I continue to embrace and support this art form and in turn it embraces me. I do not fit into the youthful, perfect ideal of a sexual object – I mean seriously I am middle aged and feel it sometimes. But I am also a very sensual and creative woman with an ability to communicate through my art form. My dance experience from a very young age, and my interest in costumes and design have shaped my personal interest in Burlesque as an art form more than anything, and I do enjoy pushing boundaries and titillating audiences.

    Being a burlesque performer, a nudist, and polyamorous lover I am fully engaged in my own body and it means I have never felt more accepted in my life, because I am finally able to accept myself. I have been tipping the scales of my sexuality for years and I feel more comfortable being real and I can finally accept that I fall somewhere in the middle of the Kinsey Human Sexual Response scale. 10 years ago I would have been terrified to admit that to anyone and continue to live with those natural sexual responses in my head telling myself I was weird and it was wrong to be attracted to both men and women. It no longer feels wrong, and that for me is freedom. Freedom from the past of being molested at age 12, raped at 19 and 22, verbally abused by my spouse, and left to struggle in poverty as a single parent. We all have our path, and mine led me to burlesque and a pan-sexual lifestyle.

    And truly, Burlesque is just another form of artistic expression – it just happens to be risque and taboo – what is so wrong with that?

    Might I suggest you acquire a sense of humour and give burlesque another twirl and try to see it from a less staunch perspective. You might actually have fun and laugh a little.

    But, I will say this; I respect your opinion because that is your perspective. There are many sides to the feminist movement and if you are subscribing to fair and honest reporting, you could perhaps acknowledge that there are other views on feminism from far right to far left. You are very articulate and you are lucky to have an education that gave you an opportunity to learn about womens issues in a institutional setting. I would love to ‘get’ feminism, and in my 46 years – I think I have a fairly broad understanding of it, but I don’t know everything, and I do know that we learn what we learn when we come to it. And we come to it at different times and for different reasons. You are lucky to be immersed in it and to have it be your lifes work, but I wouldn’t put violent porn or sex trafficking in the same category since we are choosing to pursue burlesque and not being forced into it.

    … and one more thing…. yes, the male gaze when not in context can be intimidating, feel degrading and even dangerous, so I am not disagreeing with you there – I just happen to think the the male gaze is not all bad. Given the advent of Playgirl, Chippendales and female produced porn, I think we should give men a break for finding us attractive, since we clearly have adopted their tack in modern media where every man looks ripped and hairless – and we are now holding them to that standard. I personally like hairy men, but I don’t see it represented in the media, but I can always get my fill of a normal hairy paunchy boylesquer any given weekend in East Van… and I will cheer when they expose themselves to me!!!

    signed

    J Valery Vyntage

    • lizor

      Valery. I am glad to hear that you have found a path away from the damage you incurred earlier in your life.

      I have a couple of questions:

      1) what does ” in touch with my femininity” mean? I am not being snarky. I honestly do not know what “my femininity” means.

      2) when you say “the male gaze when not in context can be intimidating, feel degrading and even dangerous”, what “context” are you talking about? Not anywhere except within the safe confines of a burlesque club? I honestly do not know what context you are talking about.

      I am absolutely, deeply sex-positive, but not at all in the way you (or wiki) define it. I want women to have safe, fulfilling, fabulous, fun sex with lots of mind-blowing orgasms. I think it’s a fundamental right – after food, shelter, reproductive rights, access to health care, a living wage, physical, mental and emotional safety (none of which we can take for granted under global patriarchy).

      In the 1980s when the notion of women-centred sexual representation, feminist porn, etc was making the rounds, I was all for it. However the promise of that strategy as inciting positive change for women’s safety and autonomy has not born out. It has been appropriated by the neo-liberal consumer ethos like so many other acts of resistance. And I don’t think much of the current acceptance of objectification, commodification and consumption of bodies is giving individual women a better experience of sex.

  • Sarah J

    I think that the patriarchy wants women to be divided and therefore weak. So let’s support everyone’s opinions as well as support the different places we are all at in our exporation of womanhood.

  • @ meghan – I am picking up what your putting down; In re: “I think that women should have more options than to have to take off their clothes in order to make a living.” I just wonder if in your mind there could it ever be considered an acceptable option to take your clothes off in order to make a living? Or to participate in sex work?

    • Meghan Murphy

      @April – I don’t actually like to use the term ‘sex work’ – I think, particularly when applied to things like prostitution, it takes away from what is really going on. I think prostitution has very little to with sex, in fact. Making it ‘work’ like any other job conceals the gendered nature of prostitution, the violence, the power dynamics, and the misogyny at play. But that question, and this (very inadequate answer) is probably best left for another blog post.

      @J Valery Vyntage – thanks for your comments. Very thoughtful. Personally, I hate (yes hate) the term ‘sex-positive’. I’ve written a little about this elsewhere, but have seen it come up in and around this particular topic a lot. This term, in and of itself, implies that there is such a thing as a ‘sex-negative’ feminist. Which a) is divisive, b) is untrue, c) is a great way to perpetuate damaging and untrue stereotypes about feminists, d) often implies that feminists who aren’t pro-porn/pro-sex work are ‘anti-sex’ which to me, makes no sense because, primarily, the reasons why feminists might fight against sex work and pornography is that they have very little to do with ‘sex’ and much more to do with misogyny, violence, and power.

      And on another note, I feel that I have a great sense of humour. I just don’t find sexism very funny….

  • MissFortune

    Forgive me for my anger. I really did not mean to offend. I need to correct something in my last post After dusting off my 2004 schedule again, I did *not* perform at bumbershoot, it was Folk Life Festival. I did what is called a “sunday school” act. (this is a term used for acts that end in bikinis.) I did not intend to mislead, it was simply foggy memories from 5 years ago.

    Thank you for the opportunity to say my piece. Thank you for the links. I will listen to them all today. I feel its important for communication that we DO create narratives about what we are doing…wether we agree or disagree.

    I ask not that you change your mind, I am simply challenging you to present the entire spectrum of burlesque, not just the segment that you find distasteful. I dont ask for you to “like” it at all, just realize what it is, where it came from and acknowledge that it actually is to the cause. These neo-burlesquers are intelligent people and make thier own choices about what to do with their body. We have no right to critique them because its those who came before us that have allowed us to have this choice. Burlesque in itself cannot be feminist any more than any other CHOSEN hobby or profession. (We fight for those without choice, and challenge the media who forces stereotypes and gender-role on us….)If you cannot then you are no better than a husband forbidding a woman to speak out in opposition to anything he says.
    You may not like the fact that these burlesque people are doing what they are doing, and that is fine.

    Below I am providing links to performers working today who are doing burlesque that is no where near what you described. They are entertaining, captivating performers. They are beautiful personas that as clearly visible and their dances exquisite. Clearly NOT awkward removal of dress.Clearly NOT just a “legion of girls”

    First, Satan’s Angel
    http://tinyurl.com/4lwmzkj
    She has been performing since 1961 and she’s still at it– even twirling fire tassles after all these years.
    (from Las Vegas)

    Gorilla X, Eddie and Tugboat…
    http://tinyurl.com/4p3bdwg
    (I believe this is LA or Frisco)
    ..Why.. these arent women at all! (except maybe the gorilla)

    Little Miss Never
    http://pics.livejournal.com/rmjwell/pic/00e19qqq
    She does burlesque in the air.
    (frisco)

    Ernie VonSchmaltz
    http://tinyurl.com/4m7r345
    A male impersonator persona that does burlesque.

    The Atomic Bombshells:
    http://tinyurl.com/4cvxegr
    http://tinyurl.com/4j99z3a
    http://tinyurl.com/49xsjtf
    http://tinyurl.com/4jbj7zq
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/csb13/4507645335/in/set-72157623824883314/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/csb13/2949528682/in/set-72157607937357347/
    Not multi-genered, coherent show stories, choreography, poise and fantasy. They have it all
    (Seattle)

    Kitten La Rue
    http://tinyurl.com/4eho67x
    http://tinyurl.com/4zfwge5
    Fantasy? I think so!

    Waxie Moon
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/csb13/5310448268/sizes/z/in/set-72157625659263384/
    He is the best dancer (male or female) in Seattle hands down.

    Ben de la creme
    http://lifeasahuman.com/files/2010/10/3292210539_2aaff37921.jpg
    does burlesque as a female.

    (Lets not forget HARLEM SHAKE! the african american troupe! They are awesome!)
    I could go on….but thats plenty.

    I hope I have contributed enough to have everyone see that despite my temper flaring, I really just want everyone to get an idea of burlesque’s full scope. Burlesque is still kicking, playing with gender roles, poking at current events at times, sometimes all pure fantasy, sometimes history… Its never the same show all the time. Don’t get jaded by letting what the media wants you to believe is the whole of burlesque. research. explore.

    I know its hard to do that when you dont like the subject matter…Humans are apt to see only what they want to see when they dont like it.

    If its not fun for you, thats ok.

    I will be off now, rejoining my real life with my drag queen spouse. Gender roles be damned on all fronts. 🙂

    Meet agent Rhinestone and James Blonde in their award winning Spy Vs Spy routine
    http://tinyurl.com/4c8g4hb
    (they are from Seattle)

    • ChaCha

      I’m so glad you put waxie moon up here, he is the reason I started our burlesque troupe…. he is amazing.

  • MissFortune

    ..one last thing, I was using other careers as allusion.

    and

    burlesque

    American Heritage Dictionary:
    bur·lesque (bər-lĕsk’)
    n.
    1.A literary or dramatic work that ridicules a subject either by presenting a solemn subject in an undignified style or an inconsequential subject in a dignified style. See synonyms at caricature.
    2.A ludicrous or mocking imitation; a travesty: The antics of the defense attorneys turned the trial into a burlesque of justice.
    3.A variety show characterized by broad ribald comedy, dancing, and striptease.

    yes, comedians and variety acts, music, etc…. ARE PART OF BURLESQUE.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Ok….Congratulations on your ability to use a dictionary. What does this have to do with my post, any of my comments, or any of your comments for that matter?
      I fail to see how this definition has anything to do with feminism, empowerment, the male gaze, or what I’ve seen in any single burlesque performance in ‘real’ life.

  • J Valery Vyntage

    Lets try not to berate each other for having differing opinions.

    From Meghans perspective, she is out there fighting the good fight with this blog and her serious interest in womens studies. What she may be perceiving here is us selling out, or minimizing the real and true plight of women worldwide because in our western culture, we actually DO have the freedom of choice and we are choosing to do something she perceives as degrading to women. Meghan is challenging us to open our eyes to what is outside of our creative domain, and she has every right to feel the way she does, especially if she personally does not understand it and feels uncomfortable watching it. I think what Meghan may also be discovering in this dialogue, is that there are passionate women who have different beliefs, have different experiences, and perhaps want different things from life. Not every one can be an activist. but even activists have interests outside of feminism.

    The question is whether or not Burlesque is helping or hurting the womens movement. Feminists who are in the trenches working with the disenfranchised and marginalized women of our society have stronger feelings about what we are doing, they have different experiences with men on a daily basis, a lot of it on the negative side of things. We in the Burlesque community are surrounded by men who support and encourage us, not beat, degrade, or threaten our safety. We are safe to be ourselves – many women are not. But is Burlesque a problem? or a solution?

    Many women have expressed a sense of freedom perhaps even empowerment when they stumble into this artistic genre – so for these women, burlesque has enhanced their lives, telling the world that no matter how many judgements are thrown our way on a daily basis, that we are confident in our talents, our bodies, and we put ourselves out there and challenge our perceived social conventions, and we can accept ourselves just the way we are. There is nothing wrong with validation that freedom of expression provides. And it holds true for all my kink/fetish friends, my creatively unique friends, or my LGBT and transgendered friends.

    I suspect that what Meghan perceives is that not all burlesque audiences really understand that innate feminism is at it’s core. Yes, sometimes there are lots of horny, drunken men with no real understanding of womens issues and to them we really are just entertainment to cheer and leer – but as performers we are in a unique position to teach those who have a simplified understanding of the art form and women in general. And I see that happen all the time, and our audience grows. Those of us who perform burlesque are somewhat insulated from the rest of society in that we support our community from within, but we do share it with those who are looking to be entertained.

    Given the movement in Burlesque, I would say we are reaching a lot more women than men because we mirror real women, and, at the same time, we give men who don’t buy into the sexual stereotypes of the media barbie a place to feel accepted for their ideal woman that they probably don’t find in todays media. Men are shamed by other men for liking less than perfect bodies in the eyes of our society. One day men will stop holding other men up to a ridiculous vision of the ideal woman, because men are our greatest allies in the fight for feminine equality. They are fathers, brothers and sons who know the value of protecting the women they care for, and know that we are real, not an idealized version of what men want us to be. The old school will die off eventually, leaving a world that has come through the sexual revolution to make its own reality. We are still battling against so many prejudices, including from the radical feminists who think we need to be extreme in order to make a point. Men have had to adjust to this in the last 100 years and while it may seem like a slow process to many women who are marginalized, in context of human existence we have come a long way in a short time. We teach our children, and our children teach us. We don’t stop wanting equality, but as humans our basic needs come first – political change second, and those with the freedom to make a statement do so on behalf of those who cannot.

    each one of us who makes a choice to break down stereotypes and to embrace careers that are social taboo is taking a step forward in their personal freedom. In my opinion. I am a living example of someone who does not care what society thinks of me. My parents love and support me and have even paved the way for me to be free to make choices without judgement and shame.

    “The personal is political”.

    Be the change you want to see in the world.

  • Ellie

    I’m part of the F Word Media Collective along with Meghan. I wasn’t involved in the burlesque podcasts and haven’t ever actually seen any burlesque. But, I wanted to make a point on the nature of these comments. What is utterly frustrating to read, as an outsider to the debate, is a nearly complete lack of willingness for self-critique from the burlesque community. Burgundy Brixx is the only person that came close to this by acknowledging the strain of the demands incurred by the mainstreaming of burlesque: “I have been spending more time creating performances I think the audience wants to see, rather than creating the art that I want to express myself.”

    This blog has been going for several months now and the only posts that have garnered more than 5 or so comments have been from people who thought the post was a personal attack on their personal lives. And as Meghan has said over and over again: “Feminism IS a movement and it is about more than just individual empowerment. Feminism is personal but it is also political – meaning that what happens in the external world matters, feminism can’t just happen in our individual minds. Just placing a label on something does not make it so.” It’s astonishing how unable we are to get over our obsession with our personal lives long enough to think of the bigger picture.

    We all know that feminism has a history of excluding important voices. But, I think that more than any social and political movement, feminism has and will continue to work really hard to self monitor and self critique. That’s why feminist groups and women’s studies programs will spend tireless hours reflecting on issues such as colonialism, racism, imperialism and all the other intersecting issues that exist in our world to exclude certain people’s voices. The movement is so hard on itself (and often things get done very slowly because we get bogged down in the complexities of oppression) and it better fucking be. Because this stuff is important. I for one know that I’m not ‘good’ enough to be anti-racist without thinking about what that means over and over again. And, I’m going to have to do that for the rest of my life.

    Feminism needs to be continuously self critical in order to be a relevant and sustainable movement. And, that means we all need to take a big bite of humble pie and let our little piece of movement undergo the same scrutiny. Sports are my love and my pet project when it comes to feminism and I’ll be the first to tear it to shreds for its homophobia, classism and racism. And, of course, I’ll be right there to rebuild it, with other feminists, in a way that has meaning and importance for our movement.

  • MissFortune

    so I beg you please: “spend tireless hours reflecting on issues.” What Megan sees as burlesque is NOT the whole of burlesque.

    That is really all I ask.

  • Asking whether burlesque is feminist is like asking whether rock and roll is Chinese. The answer, basically, is “Not inherently” and the question is flawed from the get go.

    Any art form is a medium through which to express ideas and emotions. The ideas, emotions and agendas of burlesque performers will be as diverse as the performers themselves. It’s clear, though, that many commentors on this blog post believe you are suggesting that burlesque CANNOT advance the feminist cause because of the problem of the male gaze inherent in any burlesque performance. In my 5+ years of touring in the burlesque scenes across Canada, the USA, England and Australia, I have witnessed many hundreds of performances. Like any works of art, some are subversive, some are sublime and many are banal at best.

    What IS worth noting is that this neo-burlesque movement is born of many mothers. Some shows sprung up amidst the rockabilly and swing revivals, where the focus was on retro fashion and glamour. Another essential source was the performance art scene on the lower east side in New York City. Yet another was a particular group of San Francisco based feminists. Susie Bright – founder of On Our Backs magazine – presented a series of burlesque dance shows by women for women in the late 1980s. (Men were allowed in the audience on condition that they wore full drag.) Yet another source was the ‘whore art’ movement as championed by Annie Sprinkle. A Portland-based “Sex Worker Cabaret” featuring burlesque dance in the early 1990s inspired Cass King to present one of Vancouver’s first neo-burlesque shows.

    Many of these proto-burlesque scenes were queer, and that sensibility survives today. Many, many of the top performers today are queer-identified. Many are sex workers. Many are not from privileged white backgrounds. Few fit the contemporary MTV or even the 1950s pin-up mold. The most famous, beloved burlesque host in the world today is a drag king named Murray Hill, whose particular twinkling take on slimy old Borscht Belt MCs queers the space before the first dancer drops a glove.

    In fact, it’s worth examining burlesque and drag side by side. The two forms have fed one another since long before Mae West got sent to jail for putting queens on Broadway. Each form clowns a particular, narrow view of femininity, revels in raunchy sexuality, and happily accommodates eroticism and grotesque within a single show, or even a single performance. Many drag performers had their sexuality invalidated when they were younger, and found strength, celebration and transformation through the ritual of theatrically embodying a new, powerful, hypersexual persona. The queer sexuality of the audience is validated and celebrated through the drag show. It was the queens who manned the barricades at Stonewall. Drag made them strong.

    Burlesque performers often tell similar stories of sexual self-validation through the form, and many burlesque audiences tell stories of finding validation and celebration of their own sexualites through attending a performance. I respect that this was not your experience, but it has been the experience of other women. The sexual empowerment of women audiences via watching women performers sounds like it has the potential to further a feminist agenda. The male gaze may be present, but women usually account for 50% or more of the audience in the various shows I’ve worked at across three continents.

    One of the best burlesque shows I ever saw was at Buddies In Bad Times Queer Theater in Toronto by a self-described sex worker collective known as the Scandelles. It featured male, female and all manner of gender-fucked performers enacting an episodic, humorous history of the influence of sex workers on art. From Van Gogh’s nude models through some hilarious send-ups of Showgirls and Taxi Driver. At one point the host advised the crowd “You may feel uncomfortable allying yourself with sex workers, but as queers you share with us the experience of living in a society which is fascinated by your lives but will not grant you full citizenship”. She then segued seamlessly into a smoking hot erotic scene where a man frolicked in bed with hired male hustlers. All of whom were played by drag kings. To the Scissor Sisters’ song “Filthy Gorgeous”. Minds and loins expanded in tandem. This stuff is out there on the scene, and it is not the exception.

    To sum up, not only does neo-burlesque have the POTENTIAL to be subversive, queer and feminist, it is important to note that many of the roots of neo-burlesque lie in queer culture & queer-dominated art scenes, and that many contemporary companies and performers are queer-identified, and bring that sensibility to their art. And burlesque is a grassroots, community-based, ground-up theater movement with populist leftie politics as its default which has managed to become wildly popular. When was the last time leftie community theater got an audience without bribing them with vegan brownies?

    This does not make burlesque inherently empowering or feminist. It does, however, suggest that many artists are successfully using the form to further feminist and queer agendas. And I humbly put it to you that if you think the co-incidental presence of the male gaze somehow instantly invalidates all of this and turns it into another tool of the patriarchy, then perhaps you are ascribing too much power to my eyeball.

    • Open My Eyes

      I think this might be the most thoughtful post I have seen on here yet. I wonder if this is the conclusion that everyone could arrive at
      “This does not make burlesque inherently empowering or feminist. It does, however, suggest that many artists are successfully using the form to further feminist and queer agendas.”

  • Val

    Women taking clothes off for the gratification of men. Not empowering. Not feminist. Not furthering any agenda other than that of traditional patriarchal oppression and exploitation of women (and minorities). After wading through the increasingly desperate defenses of burlesque above, I can only feel sadness for those who don’t understand that females (even such as themselves) can and do play as active a role in exploiting and oppressing women as the most misogynist male might. It’s a pity that there is anyone – particularly women – out there justifying, promoting, and actively practicing such inequities.

    Eyeball that, if you will.

    • Miss Titania

      I have taught boy-leque,… burlesque to drag queens and drag kings… seen awesome older individuals of varied genders and the young… I don’t see the inequality. Perhaps it is the performances I choose, the people I interact with or those I teach that have brought me to this conclusion. After performances I have had many women… and men compliment me on how empowering my performance was to them. Outside of my tiny burlesque life, I work in gaining equality for young women in science and math fields.

      As with most things, how they are presented from the person doing them determines whether they are degrading or exploitative. Any action be it protest, burlesque, writing or anything else can be empowering if it is well informed, honest and moves the “crowd” to positive actions or choices. Those same things can be oppressive if they are not of a positive, well-informed and truthful nature.

      One of the main things I see in all of this is that the original article has a discrepancy that has likely offended many. The problem is that “what women do for money” in a strip club and burlesque are not the same thing. The tease, the costumes, the stripping, the comedy and the rest are completely gone in the strip club environment. Women who work in a strip club rarely actually strip these days. Usually, they come out in nothing or scantily clad to begin with. That aside there is a very disempowering idea here as well. Some women choose to and want to strip for money. Be it for talent or some other reason if the woman has a choice to be there then who are we to say it is wrong? Rare is it that a woman is in a strip club working against her will… I have personally never heard of such a thing in my time, at least not in the US. The statement that working as a stripper is a “bad thing” only furthers the shame put on these women by other sources. When men say you are “dirty” or whatever word they apply to strippers it is hard at times to handle… when another woman does it then it is even more of an impact. I know after friendships with several “strippers”.

      There is never one side to anything or any argument. Even when we believe we are doing great good we can be doing great harm.

      • Meghan Murphy

        @Miss Tatiana
        I imagine that most strippers would beg to differ. What you argue here is classism. Pure and simple. The very fact that a woman would be privileged enough to strip for free and call it art, then turn around and argue that what they are doing is COMPLETELY different than what strippers do would probably piss off a whole lot of strippers. Your concept of ‘choice’ is very simplistic. Because I am tired of repeating this argument over and over again, I send you here for a more elaborate explanation: http://feministcurrent.com/1898/the-trouble-with-choosing-your-choice/

  • Sarah J

    @ Val or Meghan: In your opinion, should there be no sexuality in performance art? People who are stage performners use their body as their medium of expression, like dancers do. If males may be watching, then should we cover up? …because having to cover up and not being allowed to show my sexuality feels oppressive.

  • not taking them off for gratification of men. for gratification of self.

  • Meghan Murphy

    @Sarah J – No. Of course I have not ever, nor would I argue that there should be ‘no sexuality in performance art’. What I have argued, above, and what I also argue in terms of the mainstreaming of pornography/pornographic images, and things like Girls Gone Wild wherein women and girls are ‘flashing’ the camera by choice (I reference ‘The Staging of Agency in Girls Gone Wild’ by Karen C. Pitcher when I talk about this in the podcast) for example, is that context is important. There are ways for naked bodies to be without them being objectified female bodies. I don’t know what ‘your’ sexuality looks like ‘onstage’ but if there is a woman up on stage, as we describe in the podcast and as I point to in this post, who is replicating the same old images of the sexualized female body, posing for the male gaze, then what does this challenge? What is new here? This doesn’t look like empowerment, regardless of whether or not she is ‘choosing’ to take off her clothes. I feel like this ‘this is for me’ argument falls short, too. Would you also argue that women, in large part, participate in pornography ‘for them’? These images make women into objects, which is dangerous.

    @J Woods – I am not ascribing power to your eyeball. Get over yourself. The ‘male gaze’ argument isn’t necessarily about individual men. The gaze refers to the way in which an audience views film, originally, but also visual culture and has been extended, via feminist theory, to refer to the ‘to-be-looked-at-ness’ of women – the way we, as a culture, view women (as well as the way a male audience views women. Because the male gaze dominates and holds power, women have also taken on this objectifying gaze. This gaze is not indestructible. It is possible to subvert this gaze or interrupt this objectifying gaze. It’s just that, often, we don’t. On film, in magazines, in strip clubs, and on stage. Because heterosexual men have, typically, been the audience for women’s naked bodies as well as the makers of culture, film, pornography, images, women and women’s bodies are often viewed that way by default. Women’s bodies have been commodified by this male gaze, cut up into sexualized pieces to be bought and sold (particularly you will find this in advertising). It takes more than just saying ‘but I’m doing this for myself’ or ‘but I PERSONALLY don’t see women that way’ to disrupt the gaze. It also takes more than having women in the audience. I realize this is actually a pretty complex concept and I apologize for not describing it further in my post. Just saying ‘male gaze’ to audience who doesn’t have a background in feminist theory and, particularly, feminist film theory, is perhaps unfair. I’m not saying this to be condescending, I’m saying this because I remember having a tough time getting this concept myself, and continue to learn and think and figure out new things around this theory all the time. Mulvey’s original theory (around film, specifically) has been elaborated on by many since she wrote it in the 70s as well as by herself. This theorizing is, in large part, why I argue that a woman taking off her clothes, on stage, is not, in and of itself, empowering, regardless of whether or not that particular individual feels empowered.

    And I agree that burlesque could be subversive. But, as it stands, most of it isn’t. It’s just the same old thing.

  • Sarah J

    Yes,that was my point, that burlesque performers are not taking off their clothes for gratification of men. But this point is not accepted by feminists who stand by the belief that when you are on stage taking off your clothes that it is for men. So I am curious what sexual expression on stage would look like to them. This is because they have a difference of opinion than me, and I like to see how other people think.

  • Sarah J

    That last one was @ April.The “yes, that was my point…”

  • Meghan Murphy

    @Sarah j – re: “burlesque performers are not taking off their clothes for gratification of men.” – I point you towards the ‘male gaze’ argument, directed here to @J. Woods, but also as a way to elaborate on this concept, addressed in my post.

  • Sarah J

    Thank you, the concept is very interesting and I am going to do further research on it. Nothing will get me off of a stage, but I do appreciate the new research.

  • J Valery Vyntage

    Sarah J asked the question; what sexual expression would look like to you?

    Since you have a difference of opinion, I would love hear what you on the other side of the argument would like to see in performance art that wouldn’t promote the male gaze and give women a new model to emulate.

    How can I as a woman feel okay about my sexuality if everything I do elicits the male gaze. Should I cover my entire body up under robes and a burqa? or should I ensure my breasts are not exposed by choosing clothing that won’t elicit the male gaze. Should I only buy designer clothes from women who are feminists? when I go the beach and wear a bathing suit, what parts of my body should I be okay exposing that won’t elicit the male gaze? when do we stop berating men for having eyes and sexual responses? is there any porn that is acceptable?

    My point here is – you have shown us the negative aspects of what you perceive in the realm of our performance art, but you haven’t given us any alternative that allows us the freedom to be who we are without eliciting this terrible crime of the male gaze.

    Also, what part do you think women have played in promoting the male gaze and what would you like to see happen in the future since many women work in media and make decisions as to what the public consumes?

    I think you have given us lots to consider as to why we are buying into the male gaze, but no alternative solution, so I for one would love to hear your solution to the problem.

    Meghan on a more personal level- do you wear makeup? what kinds of clothes do you typically wear day to day? where do you personally draw the line so as not to elicit the male gaze? how did your upbringing affect your education, did you pay for school on your own or do you have parents who paid for you to attend university? have you ever been abused by a man?

    I ask these questions because I think they are relevant to the conversation and I am hoping that I can gain a better understanding of what kind of feminist utopia YOU would like to see, besides the obvious things we all want for women over the world. I am curious how you think our world should look once men stop with their male gaze.

    I am thinking we should just add something to the water to make all men blind and then we can just take over the world and run around naked and nursing our children without having our bodies sexualized in any way shape or form. Because SEX is the root of all our problems don’t you know. (Tongue planted firmly in cheek)

  • Meghan Murphy

    @ J Valery Vyntage –
    If you want to participate in patriarchy, be an object of the male gaze, and perpetuate sexism be my guest. Just don’t call it feminism. To be perfectly honest, I’m sick of repeating myself over and over again and you seem insistent on misinterpreting and intentionally misunderstanding my argument.

    Are you fucking kidding me with this ‘personal’ question bullshit? It is none of your business, actually, but I have paid for my education by spending 10 years completing a BA because I worked full time practically the whole way through. When I finally realized that I couldn’t finish without going full time, I worked 3 jobs and went into debt. As of right now I owe about 40 thousand dollars. I have worked as a receptionist for about 12 years, as well as working in cafes, video stores, the liquor store, wherever, really. I am lucky, now, because I am a grad student to have the opportunity to work as a TA and a Research Assistant, unstable as it is, I never know how I will pay rent from term to term. I continue to work at administrative jobs because those are the only jobs that I can get that are in any way stable or pay more than $10 an hour. When I was kid we lived in co-ops, my dad worked at the post office and my mother worked at the Burnaby Arts Centre. When my sister and I were 11 they both went back to school and completed Master’s degrees and PhDs. Our income was nil. My mother is now employed as a tenured Prof but had to move to Indiana. My father is unemployed. We all rent. I have been in an abusive relationship, yes. Do I win a medal? Is this a contest? Your entire comment is so fucking offensive I can’t even begin. I am not here to teach you feminism 101. In brief – Your perception of burquas as oppression and bikinis as liberation is completely Eurocentric. Feminism does not villify men. Your questions about my personal life, your efforts to trick me into playing the Oppression Olympics with you are innapropriate and irrelevant. Your final paragraph is idiotic. If you feel like posting something relevant or intelligent or inoffensive, please do, but I won’t be posting anymore of your comments if they sound anything like this last one.

  • @Sarah- I think we were replying to the same post with the same point. 🙂

    @Meaghan- I think that the inclusion of ALL body types is what makes it not “just the same old thing”

    I also think we can’t not include those who are more “typically beautiful” because then its still discrimination.. just a different kind than we’re used to.

    anyway…I think we could go back and forth on this forever- I do appreciate this coming up tho- I think it will probably challenge more dancers to take risks and to evaluate what they want to stand for but I officially agree to disagree from here on in and am gonna peace out on the discussion. Wishing everyone the best. -April

  • From my personal standpoint, I perform burlesque to express creativity, entertain and make people laugh. Purely. The thought of anyone desiring me – male or female – makes me laugh. My motivation is not necessarily titillation, and not all burlesque has to be. That’s the beauty of it. Diversity-o-rama.

    I am considered ‘larger’ (thanks to PCOS), and was verbally abused about this by family members when I was younger. I used to do cabaret/60’s gogo dancing. I will never forget a relative saying once ‘What do you want to be, an overweight freak dancer?’ Lovely. So… even though I eat like a bird and used to exercise like crazy, I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to be a ‘dancer’ because I wasn’t small? Yet someone in conventional dancer shape could wear a fringed bikini and be perceived as a better gogo dancer than me due to appearance? Now THAT is anti-feminist. Yet so true. I grew up surrounded by models – yet I also had hippy parents and I saw a lot of nudity at festivals. All shapes and sizes nudity.

    I am also a talent agent and have come across a lot more insecurity and self-hate with body image in the film industry (or in your average office) than I’d ever see in my burlesque community. Across the board, women rarely think they’re ‘good enough’ and are on the self-destructive train to be thinner, tanner, dumber… whatever. How dare they be good enough just how they are???!!!

    Then I came to Vancouver, shook off the bitterness, started performing burlesque and became a very active performer and producer. Regarding the burlesque community, you’d be hard pressed to find a more progressive, open-minded and creative bunch. Diversity abounding. I forget about the judgement that I feel in the ‘outside’ world. A burlesque show is a (generally) ‘safe’ environment for me in which I do not feel self-conscious at all. If anyone feels sorry for me because of that, it’s their problem, not mine!

    For the record, in my show – The Pink Flamingo Burlesque – all the men on stage are undressed by the end of the night! We are a show with a live band. We have themes – space, tiki, old Hollywood… it’s not at all just about the strip, because to me – that would be really, really boring. It’s about the music, the talent, the costume I spent 30 hours making. For me, performance is ‘soul shine.’ Other performers may disagree, but my motivation to do burlesque is purely about that – not about trying to be a shiny object for a man! Or anyone for that matter!

  • Jessica O

    I consider myself a feminist and have done so for years.
    I don’t think that pleasing men sexually via burlesque or stripping necessarily degrades women in general or the artist in particular.

    As an ex-stripper and current burlesque performer I’ve found that if anyone was ever degraded on rare occasions, it was the men for looking like drooling baboons.
    Meanwhile, at the best of times, I honestly felt like I was glorified.

    Humans are horny creatures… it helps our species survive. Turning one of our basest urges into different forms of art is

    I also think that historically, women were oppressed and patriarchy was strengthened by the efforts to ignore that women are sexual beings.

    Now that I got my very general comments out of the way… I have a few questions that are running through my mind.

    What place is there for lust and sexuality in your version of feminism?
    What place is there for men to be lustful sexual beings yet still treat women as equals?
    Do you think there is a legitimate form of public sexual expression or should all sexuality be private?
    If you had to create a burlesque act… what do you think would make it empowering/push the envelope/promote feminism?

  • Jessica O

    oops forgot some sentence parts…

    Turning one of our basest urges into different forms of art is rapturous.

    I also think that historically, women were oppressed and patriarchy was strengthened by the efforts to ignore that women are sexual beings. I think objectifying does way less harm than suppressing/hiding.

  • Sarah J

    I am thinking of all of the beautiful animals that strut their stuff(especially peacocks). There are many facinating mating rituals, and they are beautiful!

    • lizor

      The “it happens in nature” argument? Seriously?

      OK Sarah, why then is it in birds species, as per your example, and many many other terrestrial species it is the males who wear the eye-catching colours, who strut and dance to attract female mates?

  • Bill

    Dear Meghan,
    I realize that by now you are probably getting very tired of the figurative hornet’s nest you have opened. While I still stand by everything I say in the post below, and in the interest of free discussion I would very much like you to post it, I would also like to point out something as part of a greater context on a personal note. I come from a family which has taken an active roll in changing the way the world works, and has succeeded in various genuinely positive ways including sex tourism, disabled rights, toppling dictatorships and ensuring that key figures in the fight for emancipation were able to live another day. I do not say this lightly. My own fight may be a small one in comparison to my forebears but I do take it with equal seriousness. One of the things that was droned in to to me by my parents as a child is that you do not change things from the outside, you change them from within. This took me many years is to acknowledge and understand. While the role you see yourself in as a radical feminist is valid, the point that I make is that by taking such a polarized view of people who are working on the front lines of changing attitudes: Sarah is a phd candidate in feminist studies, Nicole tirelessly raises money for DTES women’s charities, Crystal I don’t need to tell you about, Valery is a wonderful example of how a woman can be lost within an abusive cycle and find her own way out of it, Amber Dawn , and the list goes on. These are all people I know and love and value as human beings who make the world a better place for us all; people that I feel very privileged to share experiences with and have touched me in ways I can only begin to understand or describe. Unfortunately, my real fear is that you you do more damage and subsume the feminist cause than you do advance it in this series of dialogues given the tone and candour of your discourse and I am not alone in this. You are an outsider looking in, you criticize these self-empowered, self-actualized, fully liberated women who are working towards social change without offering a productive alternative and this is what has frustrated so many contributors and what frustrates me as a liberated male capable of accepting womanhood in a way that you do not seem think I am capable of by the virtue of my sex. Evolution is a constant state, not a concrete one.

    The main crux of the second part of your discussion revolves around The [ “Dominant”] Male Gaze as outlined by Laura Mulvey in a 1973 collection of essays of film critisism.

    “Indeed, Mulvey herself began her 1989 essay collection, “Visual and Other Pleasures,” by very ethically acknowledging that those articles “were not originally intended to last” and that she thought of her writing as “ephemeral”: “I often sacrificed well-balanced argument, research and refinements of style to the immediate interests of the formative context of the moment, the demands of polemic, or the economy of an idea or the shape and pattern of a line of thought.” She admits that the now-canonical essay you cite, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” was written “polemically and without regard for context or nuances of argument.”
    -Camille Paglia “ Trouncing feminist film criticism and its cadre of ass-kissing puritans “

    As a man working in the burlesque community and as a sex-positive artist (sorry, know you hate the term but its been around for a while now.) I’d like to thank you for bringing the male gaze theory to my attention. I realized that this subject takes the centre stage in the second discussion and that the investigation of burlesque in the first show is reduced to the role of enabler: a gateway accessory to validate this theory to yourself and your guests. I think you really missed out on a genuinely interesting opportunity to engage the burlesque community and feminist academics (which, as we both know, are not exclusive of each other) in a roundtable discussion of the idea as a critique of the performing arts which is, after all, the original spin on this idea from Mulvey and which burlesque is a part of. While it may be valid to a small extent with regard to specific male individuals who come to the shows as the genre expands into the mainstream and, as Burgundy pointed out, and as you underlined in the images you chose to use on your blog to portray the medium, becomes more Disneyfied, I don’t think it is valid as a contemporary generalization -and neither does Mulvey. Having been to Stilettos and Strap-ons shows and burlesque events in queer spaces, often as the only man in the room, I can certainly tell you that the instinct that forms the basis of your personal definition of ‘the gaze’ is certainly present amongst women too, without the aid of men. This view is validated by further development and modernization of the theory by more contemporary and progressive feminist scholars and, in fact, the gaze itself was not a gender specific idea in its origin. The use of the the phrase in a wider social context is a bastardization (excuse my language) of the term which it was never meant to be applied to even though it has become a generally accepted truth amongst certain schools thought.

    From what I understand (And yes, I am over simplifying it a bit), Mulvey chose the phrase to characterize the way cinematographers did, at the time, and admittedly continue, to objectify a woman’s body for audience titillation in male centred cinema. What I feel you failed to grasp, and what differentiates burlesque from this is that a woman on stage is not a passive object on a screen with the viewer/voyeur’s gaze manipulated by a camera/director on order to elicit a desired reaction; she is a living, breathing, human being which uses her body as a tool to explore and make statements about her femininity regardless of body-type and other factors in a subjective manner. This act is empowering to many, both in the audience and on stage, men and women alike. What you seem to be saying, and please correct me if I’m wrong, is that a woman’s body, when exposed in public, is some how polluted or denigrated and objectified in the presence of a man by virtue of his gaze. And that further, a woman should not be a sexual being in the presence of this imagined archetypal predatory alpha male because all she can ever hope for is to aid and abet in the tyranny of this patriarchal/capitalist oligarchy you mention. So, should we all just give up then? Is it defacto to you that the world will never be an equitable place for women to express themselves as erotic or sexual beings in a public forum as long as men exist? How depressing if true.

    Part of the essence of Burlesque, that you seemed to have missed is that, as part of a larger movement within Western society towards a sex-positive cultural/sexual re/evolution (which I acknowledge you see as a phallacy -pun intended- and another imagined enemy in your perceived reality), it seeks to transcend gender and sexuality norms, racial and political divides. Burlesque, as a supportive environment, seeks to construct both a safe and a permissive space in which people are able to explore their identities on numerous different levels whether feminine, masculine, and/or queer identified with empowerment being only a part of this exploration as has already been pointed out to you far too many times now. Can burlesque be radical? Yes. Can it be feminist? Yes. Can it be political? Yes. Should we challenge ourselves? You betcha! Are these the main goals? Not all the time -and if they were it would really be quite boring and uni-dimensional for all involved and it would disappear up it’s own backside in a state of Eastern European socialist Grotowskian angst and socio-political flatulence. The performing arts are, after all, entertainment; an escape from the oppression of reality for both performer and audience, sometimes with social commentary. We just do it a little sexier than other folks is all.

    In order to enjoy any theatrical performance there must, on some level, be something called ‘the willing suspension of reality’; to ignore the reality of sitting in a box theatre surrounded by other people and not in the foreign land watching a story unfold for example. To come to a show lumbered down with SO much ideological baggage as you appeared to have done is to ask for disappointment; to secure failure before you walk in. Even the harshest professional critic of the performing arts has the ability to engage in this suspension of belief on some level before formulating an opinion. It is the very premise that performance has been based on since ancient times. The gravity and true nature of this baggage was made pretty clear to me towards the end of the second part when the discussion really denigrated into clicheed anti-sex tirades: “THOSE music videos!…erotic dance classes for little children!…cardio lap-dance!”. “ I wish it [burlseque] didn’t even exist!” someone hissed in pure acid inflections.

    From A to Z, from burlesque dancer to stripper to porn star to the white slave trade, in one full swoop you lumped us all together and the malevolence and venom in your voices was clearly audible to many. Those you cannot pity as victims are drawn as either naive or exploitative but both equally guilty of furthering some grand design of a catchall devil in masculine form. Furthermore, your overly frequent use of the term “privileged white women” to characterize what you see as making up the majority of burlesque performers was derogatory, insulting and uncalled for.

    You and your contributors in the second show did yourselves an incredible disservice -a disservice to your role as an academic- stooping to bald faced scare-mongering sensationalism worthy of Fox News and because of it allot of people who made a point of listening to the show with an open mind simply dismissed your discourse as a bunch of personal agenda driven bullshit. You chose to view burlesque in a domineering and oppressive manner, demeaning the women and men you saw. Sound familiar? Yup, that’s the dreaded gaze, a radical feminist gaze, but just as objectifying, just as demeaning and just as damaging. Your sex does not omit you from human nature.
    I got the distinct impression that you invited people into a discussion on the first show with the sole goal of “sacrificing well-balanced argument… to… the demands of polemic”. Rather than deconstructing your own theories and offering them up for inspection and discussion, or even challenging them at all, you had decided in advance to reinforce them and simply used burlesque as the anvil on which to strike a -really quite rusty- ideological hammer. As Mulvey herself has stated with regard to film, the central premise simply doesn’t bear a contemporary validity, nor to many of the people responding to you or the community you gave the most cursory of investigation to. We will not be used as sacrificial lambs on your alter, and if you insist on using us in this fashion do not be surprised or feign shock when the lamb kicks back.

    Within the collective culture of burlesque, in which you were a disengaged and biased voyeur, we have moved on, advanced and evolved from the kind of 70’s dialectics on chauvenist oppression and feminism you seem to adhere to. Yes, we (and that includes men in burlesque) are keenly aware that there are many parts of the world where this has not happened, even in our own backyard, and sometimes within audience members that come to the shows, but we ALL endeavour within our own context, abilities, and environment to change the attitudes you are railing against as part of a mutually inclusive -to your exclusive- agenda for social change in which feminism as a movement does have a very valid place. I simply don’t think there was ever a chance of you being able to see burlesque as legitimate in any form due to your beliefs system that reduces the human body to a state of sensual poverty, men to a state of primordial carnivores, and women in burlesque as self-deluded middle class WASPs. As my partner commented, using a Spanish turn of phrase, you are “unable to get off the donkey”.

    • lizor

      ” What you seem to be saying […] is that a woman’s body, when exposed in public, is some how polluted or denigrated and objectified in the presence of a man by virtue of his gaze. And that further, a woman should not be a sexual being in the presence of this imagined archetypal predatory alpha male because all she can ever hope for is to aid and abet in the tyranny of this patriarchal/capitalist oligarchy you mention.”

      Jesus, Bill*, talk about putting words in someone’s mouth. Your long-winded post with its patronizing reductive little lecture about the difference between film and live performance and your absurd and offensive charge that Meghan “chose to view burlesque in a domineering and oppressive manner, demeaning the women and men [she] saw” speaks more to your own extraordinary self-absorption than to this dialogue. I see that while you have the time to pontificate on and on to us little ladies who have it oh-so-wrong about sexual expression, representation and the mechanisms of gender oppression (yeah, I KNOW – you’re TRANSCENDING all of that gendering that happens in the real world), and how Meghan and those of us who agree with her are doing feminism wrong and whose opinions are DANGEROUS, you are unwilling/unable to actually read and comprehend what Meghan actually wrote and insist on hectoring on (and on) about how Burlesque CAN be subversive even though she has written that in the post and over and over and over again in her comments.

      If you are in fact saving the world from sex tourism and dictators as you claim you are (by association), then good for you. However, given that you are apparently far too narcissistic to hear what the person whose blog you are a guest on is actually saying, I would imagine that most of the revolutionary impacts you claim to be making are, like the positions you imagine Meghan to be taking, in your head.

      *Meghan, I apologize for troll-feeding. I’m on a film shoot (you know: making moving images “manipulated by a camera/director on [sic] order to elicit a desired reaction”, in case you did not understand what that means) and waiting for the rain to stop.

  • Meghan Murphy

    @Bill – Nope. I don’t see this as a hornet’s nest, per se, and it certainly is not this supposed ‘nest’ that is making me tired. But rather having to explain and re-explain my argument as well as basic feminist theory over and over again to people who have no interest in actually understanding the actual words that I have written because then their argument wouldn’t actually make any sense. That, as well as the fact that so many of these commenters appear to have little interest in talking about feminism and, instead, are using this as a forum to talk about how great burlesque is and misrepresent radical feminist arguments over and over again simply in order to build up their own ‘women’s studies? what women’s studies? you mean stuff me and my friends make up in order to justify everything we do and make ourselves feel good about ourselves?’ cliched arguments. As Ellie already pointed out, these comments, in large part come from a group of people who refuse to look beyond their own community and defensiveness in order to look critically at the way in which they may be playing a part in perpetuating systems of patriarchy – a group of people who have a great deal of interest in burlesque and no interest in thinking about/learning about/talking about what the feminist movement actually is/means/has accomplished, what feminism is or, generally, feminist theory (outside of the what it says on Wikipedia). That, friend, is what is making me tired. As you may have noticed (and seriously, this is the last time I am going to say this), I am not arguing that it is impossible for burlesque to be subversive or feminist, but rather that most of it is not. Regardless of the time and energy you’ve put into this post, your understanding of my/our argument (here and in the radio show) sounds exactly like every other MRA, feminist-hating rhetoric (and if this is what you’re into, there are about 100 other websites out there dedicated to perpetuating those arguments, so, please, go jerk off over there) and is based on defensiveness and cliches. I’m very impressed that you all managed to google the same quote from Laura Mulvey. Not very impressed that none of you have any interest in understanding the the actual theory or the way in which feminists have elaborated on that theory. The fact that you quoted Camille Paglia is, um, not surprising at all. What I ‘seem to be saying’ is not “that a woman’s body, when exposed in public, is some how polluted or denigrated and objectified in the presence of a man by virtue of his gaze. And that further, a woman should not be a sexual being in the presence of this imagined archetypal predatory alpha male because all she can ever hope for is to aid and abet in the tyranny of this patriarchal/capitalist oligarchy you mention.” I bet you’d like that though, wouldn’t you? OOOOH those man-hating, sex-hating radical feminists!! I KNEW IT. Within the ‘feminist movement’ within which you are a, how can I put this, complete douchebag, we have evolved past catering to moronic dudes who know nothing about feminism but love to hear themselves talk and who use feminist forums to dominate conversations with thinly veiled misogynist fuckery. Anyhoo – I posted your comment, regardless of the fact that it is, largely, repeating what has already been said here and elsewhere. You’re welcome. In the words of my brain: get your head out of your ass and get off our blog.

  • Val

    Regarding objectification: it’s the same thing as dehumanization. It erases the individual, personality, in order to make the human being a thing – a thing that usually exists only for the gratification of the person(s) doing the objectifying. Someone is objectified if ANY of these components are present (from Wikipedia):

    * Instrumentality – if the thing is treated as a tool for one’s own purposes;
    * Denial of autonomy – if the thing is treated as if lacking in agency or self-determination;
    * Inertness – if the thing is treated as if lacking in agency;
    * Ownership – if the thing is treated as if owned by another;
    * Fungibility – if the thing is treated as if interchangeable;
    * Violability – if the thing is treated as if permissible to damage or destroy;
    * denial of subjectivity – if the thing is treated as if there is no need to show concern for the ‘object’s’ feelings and experiences.

    Just because a burlesque performer might personally feel as if they’re empowered by what they’re doing, or if they get a thrill out of doing it, doesn’t really mean that it actually is empowering. The so-called enjoyment they get out of what they’re doing is a twisted reaction of the slave identifying with the master, brainwashing, or what some would call Stockholm syndrome. It is not true enjoyment or empowerment: it is quite frankly the desperate attempt of an individual who is being oppressed to candy-coat their existence to avoid suffering… living in denial of reality to avoid painful truths.

    I have a lot of sympathy and understanding for people who have experienced so much abuse that they have created an alternative means of interpreting their reality that helps them deal with their pain. However their pain will continue – and their contortions to accept their painful reality will worsen, along with their personal conditions – until they acknowledge what has happened to them, and take steps to help themselves. It takes a lot of courage to be honest with yourself and to seek help. But help is out there and I personally hope that those in need of that help someday manage to truly empower themselves.

  • @ Meghan–Your last comment–I LOVE it. Thank you for this article, and the most interesting discussion following. I have read through the pro-burlesque arguments but I do not find them persuasive, or very interesting. In the early 90s, I participated in a few lesbian sex shows–which were a mash up of goofy sketch comedy, some s/m scene stuff (that i found disturbing, but couldn’t figure out why) strip tease things and i think a bit of burlesque. Some of it was a lot like heterosexual porn, kind of recreating the power dynamics of maleness over femaleness–playing like compulsory heterosexuality, but without really questioning it — so, you know, disturbing at worst, and boring at best.

    Some of it, though, was just dorky fun –celebrating lesbians and our way of being in relationship with each other and with the world. (Funny, they had some nakedness in them, those ones, but no sexual activity). I don’t think that burlesque, the way it seems to be proliferating these days, can do that. I’m pretty sure not at all with mixed audiences. Besides, it’s part of an increasingly vitriolic anti-feminist wave of pornography and pimp-apologist ‘culture’ that is, as you pointed out, deeply rooted in racism, classism and misogyny. I am not convinced that it can be redeemed as in any way pro-women, pro-sex, or feminist. You’ve provided some links to some burlesque that’s subversive, and some of it is a clever send-up of stereotypes–but i don’t think it challenges anything structural. Good of you to try though.

    anyhow. Thank you very much again for this article, and the subsequent comment thread. you have admirable patience, Meghan.

  • Jane

    Personally, as a heterosexual woman, I don’t see what can be entertaining about watching other women strip down to their knickers….it still seems entirely focused on male pleasure, no matter how cute the outfits or the humor. Unless they are lesbian or bi, I render to guess that most women raving about burlesque do so to please men. (Look at me, Sweetie, I’m having fun watching that chick strip, doesn’t that make me sexy?)

    At the end of the day it is still about the objectification of the female body. Women who dance burlesque can argue all they want that it’s about empowerment, “owning their bodies,” and personal choice, but ultimately they are objectifying me as well AND I DON’T LIKE IT!

  • Guncho

    Whoops, got to the party late, but an extremely interesting discussion. Meghan/Val/others, as a fellow young feminist trying to make sense of third wave feminism, could you talk a bit about some points Jessica O raised, namely:
    “What place is there for lust and sexuality in your version of feminism?
    What place is there for men to be lustful sexual beings yet still treat women as equals?
    Do you think there is a legitimate form of public sexual expression or should all sexuality be private?”

    What I’m getting is that although burlesque can be subversive, since it still exists within patriarchal structures that enable the male gaze, it can never be said to be a truly feminist art form. So what would a feminist celebration of sexuality look like in your view?

    Apologies if this is considered feminism 101; I’m kicking myself for not entering a women’s studies program, and most of my research is self-driven and internet-based.

  • Meghan Murphy

    I’m not sure what you mean by ‘what place is there for lust….’? Why is it so hard to imagine that women and men could have sex or be attracted to one another without objectification and sexism? Why on earth would all sexuality have to be private? I suppose burlesque could be subversive, but it’s not, as I’ve mentioned earlier. In terms of feminist celebrations of sexuality, I think it could totally exist but women and men would need to be rebelling against conventional gendered norms and I think that women would have to be doing more than simply trying to look sexy or strip for an audience.

    I don’t think these questions are feminism 101, so don’t worry about that – I think what I am arguing here is that most burlesque doesn’t challenge anything and the arguments around it being empowering or feminist tend to be focused on individual feelings of empowerment rather than collective and tend to ignore issues of privilege and the male gaze.

    Does that make sense?
    Thanks for your comment and interest.

  • James Breen

    One thing that a few of the posts in here keep trumpeting is the broad nature of burlesque. OK. Sure. On wikipedia it gives, quite correctly, a history of burlesque as a term and refers back to that terms usage in the 16th and 17th centuries: “… a literary, dramatic or musical work intended to cause laughter by caricaturing the manner or spirit of serious works”.

    But the nature of burlesque as a term now is substantively different. And all the palaver in the world does not change the fact that burlesque is stripping. The rest, to be frank, what usually gets bundled in with that term, is ‘cabaret’ – music, magic, comedy. I would be pretty damn certain that the removal of the male sexual fantasy dress ups (corsets, stockings etc) /striptease element from burlesque would mean that such a show would no longer be called ‘burlesque’ but’cabaret’.

    But burlesque seeks to legitimise itself by the association with other forms of entertainment.

    And it clearly also yearns to legitimise itself by pretending to a history. Hey, it looks all 19th century and French, and there were poets and artists who went to Moulin Rouge, right? So it must be ‘art’ and ‘subversive’. And didn’t Baz Luhrmann make a critically acclaimed film full of songs and colour and movement about the Rouge?

    Well. Just because Lautrec designed some remarkable looking posters for the joint does not mean it was a den of subversive art. Instead it was oppressive and demeaning and sad. 19th century France was a cocktail of horrible politics, anti-semitism, and hatred, alongside rampant creativity and radical philosophy, but venues like the Moulin Rouge were unpleasant places where courtesans drummed up clients from amongst a drunk and the leering mass through titillation and provocative dancing. This music and dance factor, the other ‘art’: that was just the means of getting that male gaze up on stage and getting business. Oppressive and clearly exploitative then.

    And this harkening back to the 50s, and the resultant implication that burlesque is somehow innocent and more endearing because of a dream that the 50s were a more innocent time is plain dumb too. The 50s: not a good time for women. Hefner came along and made sure that the new class of men with disposable incomes saw women as another ‘thing’ to add to their new car, new stereo, cool suits. And so another ridiculous historical referral. God knows how many goth rockabilly types I know love burlesque because of some misguided obsession with the twin tragic and misguided icons of Elvis and Marilyn. Why, when the former was an emotionally crippled sometimes misogynistic performer, and the latter was one of the most iconic examples of the way the male gaze demolishes women?

    Who knows.

    And going back even further on that history thing. Referring to commedia dell arte or Chaucer or mummers plays ain’t gonna cut any ice either. They were just as exploitative of women, and women’s body parts. It doesn’t make it fun and feminist if the gaze shifts from lustfulness to mockery.

    I get so fucking tired of the way burlesque claims subversiveness by association. Talking about a gypsy music burlesque show doesn’t mean that the association with a historically oppressed minority and with a non-commercial music confers subversive legitimacy on the stripping. But that often seems to be the angle burlesque goes for.

    Thanks for the article, said it all damn well.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Wow! Great points, James – thanks for your contribution to this discussion.

      • Erica Pretto

        Well said!!

  • Honey O’Gasm

    While I can see the point you’re trying to make (the male gaze is still ever present and yes, objectification is rampant) I think you’re painting in rather broad strokes. Not all Burlesque is the same. Yes, we have the more mainstream stuff (Dita Von Teese, etc.) but I think you’re drawing your conclusions from too small of a well. The Burlesque troupe I’m apart subverts gender norms all the time. No one person (because we have men too) has a body that mainstream society would consider “acceptable”. Our audience is made up mostly of queer women. When I perform, my intent is to get people thinking about what they’re seeing. I recently did an act that centered around menstruation and body hair. And they audience freaked out. I’m sure they were expecting something “sexier” but I confronted them with how a natural body looks and acts like. I’ve been wrestling around with body image issues since I was a teenager (Body dismorphia, Bulimia, etc) and here was a chance to finally come to terms with myself. I wasn’t looking for acceptance or approval (that way lies madness) but rather finally saying “Here is my vehicle. And I don’t fucking care if you like it.” It’s quite breathtaking, not giving a single thought to whether people are seduced or turned off and just doing it because YOU engendered it and YOU like it. I think Strip Clubs don’t have the same freedom. Strip Clubs offer an atmosphere that is almost exclusively male and about white, male, cisgendered, heterosexual privilege. And I’ll agreed, there are some Burlesque shows like that as well. But there are also Burlesque shows that are women-owned, women-run and viewed exclusively by women. They come in all colors. My boss is a fat woman who did male drag with her husband for a leather daddy act. I don’t think such a thing falls under “male gaze”.
    And I understand that burlesque is not apart of your feminism. But it is apart of mine. And to say “doing X is not feminist” or “doing y is feminist” is the kind of prescriptive feminism that I just can’t get behind. Because it completely ignores context, nuance and consequence of human life. For example, “Shaving isn’t feminist”. Well, what about a competitive swimmer? Should he or she just not shave and still be a “good” feminist, but not have an edge on the competition? Should I not do Burlesque even though it’s an enormous source of creativity, body positivism, and emotional stability in my life? The sweeping generalization that “Feminism is a movement, not a self-help book” (which I understand, I do) is problematic. I happen to believe there are some basic, carved-in-stone principles of feminism, but after than there are as many feminisms as there are people. And that to shatter patriarchy on a macro-level, it must first begin on a micro one. So many women and men are disenfranchised, sometimes at a very young age. I’m not saying everyone has to go out and become burlesque dancers to regain agency, but that’s what works for me because it does coincide with feminism. Plus it’s kind of fun to take tools of the patriarchy and build a feminist house with them. Just sayin’.
    The point is, there is more than one kind of burlesque show, there is more than one kind of feminism.
    Also, though I admire, respect, and appreciate second wave feminism (wouldn’t have third wave without them!), they never really took into account women of color, class, sex workers, gender identity and queer folk. I’m not saying that makes second wave a bad movement. But, you know, there’s a reason why we have a third wave.

    • Miss Titania

      I love your last part about what is and is not feminism.

      • Meghan Murphy

        @Honey
        “Plus it’s kind of fun to take tools of the patriarchy and build a feminist house with them. Just sayin’”
        Sure. But just don’t call it feminism, eh?
        Here’s an obscure quote for you from a lady named Audre Lorde. She wrote all sorts of things about all those things you reference, but clearly don’t understand. Like racism in feminism. I urge you to read. Her.
        “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”

  • Catherine Bailey

    I am SO thrilled to see this coverage — I’m a PhD candidate in English and Women’s Studies, and I am working on an abstract for a conference about this very topic. Very interesting stuff.

  • Ághata

    Great post. I agree totally with you.

  • Open My Eyes

    Thanks for the discussion everyone. I learned something(s). Both sides at times descended into venon and name calling to the point where the good points were obstructed but in the end what I get out of it is that: the “personal is political” the individual needs to be conscious of the collective and their place in it, while working to impact the collective, and that while the potential is there for subversiveness, while it does happen, that fact doesn’t erase the stereotypes perpetuated by “mainstream” types of burlesque or the patriarchal structure within which it exists…

  • Fun, subversive, oft political burlesque, with plenty challenges to gender norms: http://www.kcsob.com

  • What about the Female Gaze? We dance for them too.
    And the fetishist.
    And the feminist.
    And the dude.
    And the gentleman.
    The person who loves the risque in their daily lives and the person who loves the risque as entertainment only.
    We dance for each other and ourselves, in addition to you- the audience member.
    We dance, and can dance, for so many reasons that one may never understand, while some may understand immediately.

    • lizor

      Yeah. Nothing I love to do more than a little bump and grind or maybe a naughty fan-dance at home alone in my kitchen.

  • Kitty

    You make it sound like women only choose burlesque “for fun”, that the only was any woman would strip “for real” is if she absolutely had to. You know, in order to feed her babies, or some other tripe…
    Well, let me just tell you how wrong you are: I’m a real woman & I choose to strip, for real, for fun. It’s not my day job. It’s not burlesque (though, I’ve done that too). But good golly is it a grand ol’ time!

    • Meghan Murphy

      This comment makes no sense. You strip for fun? For free? ok… I’m not sure what your point is. I’m really, really happy that you are enjoying yourself so much. That does not mean that you exist in a cultural bubble and that the male gaze and sexual objectification has somehow disappeared. Simply because you are having fun. Lots of women have fun with objectification. As. I. discuss. in. this. piece. That doesn’t make it feminist. Please read the post. And the comments.
      Thanks.

  • Micha Rose

    Hmm, quite good discussion!
    However, I rarely see men in the audience and if I do they’re either gay, with their wifes or boylesquers.

    I’m a burlesque performer based in Sweden and UK with a BA in gender studies in my belt, thereby I’ve a hard time to understand why Meghan Murphy keeps referring to the male gaze, (an outdated theory btw, nowadays you tend to refer to “The gaze” instead). Personally, I couldn’t care less. I’m not on stage to get appreciation from a male audience, I’m there to express my sexuality, stage persona and will to be on stage. Most of my acts are humoristic and questions gender and current events in society; politic, sociology, media etc.

    It feels as you’ve discarded a huge part of the burlesque scene, as previously said, it’s not just sexy girls with pasties and g-strings.. And even if a show decides to focus on that kind of performers, I wouldn’t mind. A “nude” performance with a slim girl with hour glass figure can still be beautiful and fascinating, or provocative, interesting, butch etc…

    So let’s just have a glass of wine and relax for a bit, shall we?
    Burley hugs,
    M

    • Meghan Murphy

      Dear Micha Rose,
      You are full of shit. The reference is, most certainly, to the male gaze. ‘The gaze’ means nothing. Who, exactly, are all these theorists who are now only referring to the ungendered ‘gaze’?? I don’t care why you are on stage and the fact that your argument is limited to ‘this is all about me’ shows me that you haven’t actually read or engaged with the critique or any of the comments on this page. This is not about whether or not YOU ‘mind’ something. No one cares. Telling a woman to ‘just relax’ is just about one the most sexist, misogynist comments you could make here. So congratulations! You have outed yourself as a sexist. Who doesn’t like reading? Or thinking? Why are you here anyway?
      Best,
      Meghan

      • Micha Rose

        Dear Mrs Murphy,

        I appologize if I offended you in any way, I just tried to share my perspective of being a feminist and burlesque performer. It’s not “all about me” but most performers are on stage because they have a will and need to be there, never heard of a burlesquer that’s been forced into it. It’s about enterainment and different performers entertain differently.

        About the gaze, the gaze is still crucial, but a specific male gaze is not appropriate to use in a queer environment, this has all been discussed in previous posts (yes, I’ve read most of them). What I think I’m trying to point out is that the burlesque world is not heteronormative and therefore can’t be analyzed from a heterosexual, heteronormative perspective -> queer theory.

        And about the we and wine, I meant everyone reading or taking part in this discussion, not just you…that means both men, women, performers, audience etc. Oh and I do enjoy reading and thinking.

        Kind regards,
        M

        • Meghan Murphy

          The male gaze is the theory. And it most certainly is applicable in a queer environment. The male gaze does not disappear simply because of queerness. The maze gaze is even internalized by women, who view themselves through this lens. The theory of the male gaze is not heteronormative, though it certainly does play into reinforcing gender binaries. The male gaze is very much still present and you will see it in pornography, in magazines, in advertising, on film, on the street, and yes, in burlesque performance. Simply because there are females in the audiences, does not mean the male gaze does not exist or is inapplicable.

          I certainly do not argue, anywhere, that anyone has been forced into burlesque. I argue that most burlesque continues to present women as objects to be looked at and that, simply because an individual feels empowered by doing burlesque does not mean that it is empowering to women or feminist or subversive.

          Also, I’m not married, so Mrs does not apply. Thanks.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Just a quick note to everyone using this space to argue with me about the comments policy. This is the comments policy: http://feministcurrent.com/category/comments-policy/
    Please read it.
    If you don’t like it then please feel free to go start your own blog!
    And yes, moderating comments is akin to being God AND a nazi
    Love,
    Meghan

  • Erin Gerrity

    First of all, it doesn’t seem like you have ever seen any shows or audiences like the ones we had at the Show Me Burlesque Festival in St. Louis last week (which included a variety of acts featuring women, men, pole, silks, fire and more with audiences of all ages and plenty of women). Second, making a comparison between choosing to do burlesque/pole because you think it’s creative and fun to having to work at a strip club to support your family or put yourself through school is completely ridiculous. It’s like saying you shouldn’t have sex for fun because some other women have to prostitute themselves in order to live. Saying that all women need to have some sort of united front against stripping to protect marginalized women is just as offensive to me as a man who sees all women as objects. I am always wary of people who can’t see shades of gray, and tend to be skeptical of any movement based in black and white thinking.

    I have heard about and seen women do things just as degrading to male strippers, so what about women objectifying men or women objectifying other women? Shouldn’t the topic be objectification instead of specifically focusing on male degradation of the female? It could also be a matter of personal taste. If you are not having fun and can’t separate it from negative connotations, maybe it’s simply not your thing. Personally, I’m terrified of the stage and totally impressed by people that have no trouble going out there in front of everyone and showing off something that they’ve worked hard on physically and creatively. That’s what I get out of going to shows, and it’s different for everyone. You obviously aren’t seeing things from that perspective. You see only the man in the audience objectifying the woman on the stage/pole rather than all the hard work, time and energy put into learning the craft. Frankly, I find it narrow minded of you to think that the only reason a woman would do that is to make money off of men that will objectify them. I guess my point is that you can choose to look at anything in a one-sided negative way. Whatever the intention, you will never be able to stop other people from seeing you as an object. It is terrible that in our society we have women (and men by the way) living in hopeless degrading situations where they are stereotyped and objectified, but in my opinion, it does nothing for the feminist movement to keep women from expressing themselves in the way they want.

  • Fiona

    I’ve read this article and all the comments thus far.

    Megan, over and over again you give away the fact that your opinion on burlesque is based on your personal feelings and baggage (“What happens when I feel angry, instead? When I feel uncomfortable, instead…? Am I no fun?”). In spite of numerous commenters patiently and politely explaining that what you described (women being called “girls,” money stuffed in g-strings) is not what they’ve seen and they’ve given you copious links and examples that directly challenge your stereotypes of the genre, you simply refuse to acknowledge that what you’ve seen might not be the norm and you even go so far as to call their version of burlesque “invisible.” You responded to one gentleman (a man? HERE? *GASP*) who gave copious examples of burlesquers who play strong roles in advancing other feminist causes, provided academic back-up that the author of the “male-gaze” usage you clings to so ferociously feels the concept is outdated, and called you out on the venom, stereotyping and derogatory tone you and your cohorts took in your podcast, you resort to calling him a “douchebag.” What a mature and highly academic argument. This is after your responses to the first several intelligent arguments from burlesquers would not be successfully countered and quieted by saying you were “confused” by them. You’ve made it clear that you have no interest in reason or self-examination whatsoever and you project those exact problems onto all the commenters who have given you tons and tons of examples that contradict her flimsy arguments.

    It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a supposedly left-leaning commentator who was so utterly incapable of supporting her arguments with anything other than outdated dogma, name-calling and blatant and willful ignorance. On the issue of whether or not burlesque is empowering, one of your cohorts (Val) goes so far as to posit that burlesque performers are all suffering from some kind of Stockholm Syndrome because we’ve been somehow abused into believing we feel empowered!! It just goes from pearl-clutching and stereotyping to further and further delusion! I am a middle-aged, happily married for nearly a decade, third-trimester pregnant burlesque performer with a day job in a male dominated industry and a six-figure income. You’ll forgive me if the idea that I’ve been abused by anyone (or even by mainstream expectations) into believing that I’m supposed to be enjoying this and actually don’t made me laugh even more than your continued supposition that no one does anything that challenges the norm in burlesque. Am I “privileged”? By the strides women have taken before me and a variety of other factors, absolutely. Does that mean there’s nowhere further to stride and I should just be satisfied that I have the life and level of cultural acceptance that I have? Give me a break! I worked VERY hard to get where I am just as you’ve worked hard to get into and through grad school. Don’t be telling me I’m too “privileged” to contribute to feminism in my own way.

    I’ve performed throughout my pregnancy. I am not concerned with academic definitions of “the male gaze,” I am concerned with a real world where both men and women can see a pregnant woman as a real human being (NOT an object) conveying real thought and emotion and creativity through and with her very real body, which is a part of her whole self that she accepts and loves and not a separate, objective “thing.” If even one man who lumped pregnant women into some set of ridiculous cliches is moved to reconsider his assumptions, I have subverted patriarchy. If even one woman is less afraid of fulfilling her wish to have children because of her fears of those same patriarchal stereotypes of pregnancy and “what” a pregnant woman is supposed to be, then I’ve subverted patriarchy and helped empower another woman. That, to me, is feminism as you’ve defined it. I felt the same as a non-pregnant performer who fell outside body norms, but I feel even more strongly about it now. It IS feminism. It DOES challenge patriarchy, whether it makes you uncomfortable or not.

    Lastly, your labeling the concept of the burqua as oppression and the bikini as liberation as “Eurocentric” is asinine. It’s a FACT that societies that restrict women’s mode of dress have more violence towards and victimization of women than societies that do not. Women across the country and all over the world are harassed and victimized regardless of what they wear and they are often blamed for their CHOICE of apparel, rather than setting the behavioral expectation on the man. This is where your sex-negative (yep, I said it) outlook becomes outright anti-feminist. We are neither protected nor dignified through de-sexualization. We are only protected and dignified by promoting a culture that accepts us EXACTLY as we are, including our various sexualities, and does NOT allow sexuality or any other aspect of us to be used as an excuse for victimization or subjugation.

    You were asked repeatedly what you would consider a feminist-friendly way for women (and people in general) to express their own sexuality. Your response, after multiple dodges, was, “I think it could totally exist but women and men would need to be rebelling against conventional gendered norms and I think that women would have to be doing more than simply trying to look sexy or strip for an audience.” That is EXACTLY what all the commenters were describing to you, but you’re making a complete scene of ignoring it. You can’t admit that you and your cohorts are, in fact, yes, sex-negative in reaction to your own sets of experiences and you’re wrapping yourselves tightly in the flag of feminism as if you owned it whole cloth, alarmingly like Neo-conservatives who labor under just as many delusions wrap themselves in the American flag. I read a lot of arguments. I know when someone’s dodging and trying to persuade with emotion rather than concrete examples and ignoring concrete examples that counter their argument and the only place I’ve seen it worse than here is with the worst of the Neo-cons. You’ve stooped, Ms. Murphy, and I hope you can read back over all this with a dispassionate eye one day and think more critically about the experiences that may have shaped your passionate reaction to burlesque.

    I will not be coming back to http://www.feminisms.org, so you can snark and name-call with the same reckless abandon you’ve used thus far. This is not MY kind of feminism. I want to believe in a world that has fewer and fewer feminists of your ilk, but those of us who embrace our sexuality and express ourselves in a way that unrepentantly includes our sexuality all have to try to find a way to live with the people who have had sexuality painted in such an abusive and misogynistic light in their lives that they will never be able to accept our preferred means of self-expression as anything other than offensive and degrading. I already learned the hard way that people with your set of reactions to sexuality cannot be reasoned with because it’s completely based on how you feel, whether you can admit that or not… and I’m pretty sure you can’t.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Oh lord. Just a few things:

      1) You won’t be coming back to feminisms.org? As IF you (and any of your pals here) ever came here at ALL before I dared to post something about the magical bubble that is burlesque. This is the one and only reason you ever came here and, let’s be honest, the only reason you would come back would be if I bothered to write anything else about burlesque (which I doubt I will because honestly it’s not that interesting), and, in that case, I am almost positive that it would be in order to further monopolize the comments section with your ‘FACTS’ and contradictory arguments (which is it? I’m getting too personal or I’m too academic? Gob forbid anyone combine the two in order to build an argument). We won’t miss you here, nor do I think you will miss us.

      2) There are hundreds of other blogs out there which will provide you with exactly what you want and need. i.e. blogs about burlesque, for burlesque dancers/audiences, wherein everyone pats each other on the backs and refuses to look, even for a moment, critically at this community/these performances. It seems like you would really enjoy it there. Why on earth you feel the need to come onto my blog JUST to tell me that you won’t be coming back (which, honestly, is great) is beyond me.

      3) DID YOU KNOW that it is possible for anyone in the world (provided with the adequate tools) to start their own blog! Probably, if you did, you could also learn to enjoy the fun and relaxation that comes along with responding to the same comment over and over again and see if that doesn’t want to make you yell DOUCHEBAG at the top of your lungs. You could also write essays about how awesome burlesque is there. It is likely that the only respondents will be your fellow back patters and you can all have the exact conversation over and over again over there. I doubt anyone with an opinion contrary to your own would bother reading or engaging because (you might want to sit down for this) THIS CONVERSATION IS FUCKING BORING. This is why I have lost patience. Not because you all have brought so many new and innovative arguments to the table that I just can’t fit it all in my tiny little head, but rather, because it is the same old, mind-numbingly boring argument OVER and OVER again. I have been having this same conversation for years now. It isn’t new. It isn’t interesting. It certainly isn’t thoughtful. An intelligent argument involves critique. Blindly nodding your heads in agreement doesn’t count. I really don’t care that much about burlesque. You do. Go talk about it with your friends. This isn’t interesting.

      4) Which one is it. This is too personal or too academic? Too both? You seem to hate both aspects of this argument. Is there any particular reason why a person should not make connections between academic arguments and personal experience? Your cliched ‘this is all about your baggage’ attack is weak. Especially considering that all you ‘and your cohorts’ have done here is make personal arguments about how they are personally empowered.

      5) If you bothered to read anything else on this blog (again, I doubt, since you clearly never spent any time here in the first place), you would find other conversations about why, exactly, ‘sex-negative’ and ‘sex-positive’ mean absolutely nothing.

      6) You all keep telling me how the various burlesque performances are not ‘real’ burlesque and how what I saw was ‘not the norm’, and yet over and over again, this is what I, and everyone else I have spoken to about burlesque, have seen.

      7) You are wrong. I do acknowledge that there is potential for subversiveness in this kind of performance. It’s just that most of it is not.

      8 ) Divorcing the ‘real world’ from both academic arguments and anyone’s personal experience which does not replicate your own does not strengthen your argument.

      9) You are correct. Women are harassed and victimized and abused and raped, all over the world, regardless of what they are wearing. To argue that patriarchy has nothing to do with this, or to argue that the objectification of women has nothing to do with this, or to argue that men viewing women as sexually available and accessible to them has nothing to do with this, just goes to show how unwilling you are to stretch your mind far enough to acknowledge the reality of the culture and society we live in.

      10) Talk about ‘self-examination’! Yeesh. This criticism was relatively mild in comparison with many other critiques I have read. You are incapable of acknowledging that there could possibly be criticism of what you do. Meanwhile I have criticized, not only feminism as a whole, but my own writing and arguments, within this very blog.

      11) Again, if you really had visited this blog in the past, present, or ever planned to in the future, you would find a plethora of awesome male commenters. Some of them are, as you point out douchebags, but there are probably just as many lady douchebags here as there are men. Lots of great lady and man commenters. Some douchebags. Alas for the douchebags. In any case I have no problem with men being here. We actually get an equal amount of fanmail from men as we do from women! So maybe they don’t have a problem being here either. You, on the other hand, seem to have a problem being here. How shall we proceed? Let me know if you have any ideas.

      Warm regards,
      m

  • I’m so excited by the article “Burlesque: They tell me it’s just for fun…Except I’m not having any.” .
    I literally screamed FUCK YEAH while reading it.

    The word “Burlesque” is a verb meaning ‘to make fun of’.
    I had certainly toyed with strip tease in my formative upstart but then quickly dedicated myself to what I refer to as conceptual satire burlesque. I came from a poetry performance background and figured that burlesque was merely body language poetry. It has the same potential for content, commentary, and juxtaposition. I roll my eyes at what is perceived as burlesque never mind what is defended as burlesque. It irks me. It gets my, dare I say it, feminist backbone up. I want to shake these pretty things in their pretty swarski crystals and demand that they just call it strip tease, or please call it a fashion show where the clothes fall on the floor, but please don’t peel down an art form until it doesn’t exist.
    Strip Tease is what happened when experienced vaudeville performers {amongst other financially strapped women} couldn’t get work or achieve stardom in other theatrical measures. A strip tease artist who says she is a burlesque performer is like a stripper insisting she’s an actress.
    And on that note. All the disparaging perspectives on the stripping industry have set my teeth on edge. I’d rather respect someone who is making a living in an actual industry than see someone do strip tease merely for ego gratification and nothing more. I was aghast at the mere $30 I was being offered to perform much less the ladies doing it for free. I was never one to sit on the sidelines and simply criticize. I put my actions where my intentions were. I still haven’t to this day witnessed any show that was run as professionally and paid as highly as the shows that I was producing. I grew tired though of the hobbiest mentality that I was continually battling with. Most performers in the supposed burlesque world are psychic vampires. A real entertainer gives energy just as much as a real artist has content in their work.

    It’s akin to the definition of Art versus Porn.
    As Bill Hicks once said “any material devoid of content that induces sexual thoughts.” Without content it is gratuitous. I don’t care how referentially cute it is. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy respectfully the lust I feel for the female form. I enjoy pretty things and the feminine very much. Strip Tease puts my tongue to my cheek even if it isn’t tongue and cheek. But I loathe that women like lemmings aren’t groking that for all their empowerment theory they don’t seem to apply a bean counter mentality to what they’re getting out of it.

    When the theme of “Toybox Burlesque” came up I shivered. Every idea I had felt pedephilic. I couldn’t escape the memories of being 5 years old doing strip tease for the boys. It was an ethical challenge which fortunately inspired me to create my “coin operated boy” routine where I portrayed a woman as a blow up doll, dressed in an actual blow up doll and explored a reconciliation narrative of men’s worth in money, and women’s worth in sexuality. It was a liberation tale of defeating these ingrained social power dynamics. I didn’t create any world affected change but I at least mimed in that direction.
    I have yearned for greater voice and even grew suspect of being a dancing bear without a voice. How could my poetry be voiceless?
    I’ve been in a long hiatus. I haven’t abandoned the art form completely but I just haven’t reconciled which head is more titillated by my performances. I’ve so many dark, twisted, and rather subversive narrative pieces. I just keep thinking I might feel more accomplishment by pursuing to present my work where people are thinking rather than drinking.

    I do though feel passionately that there is a huge potential for the art forms of Pole Dance, Stripping, Strip Tease and Burlesque to be 3rd wave feminist activity. This is an attempt to make addendum to the previous women’s empowerment movement. This is an addendum that bridges the genders and attempts to heal both the male and female psyche. Where I feel our 2nd wave sisters went wrong was buying into the patriarchal shame mentality around women’s bodies. I would like to fight the knee jerk reaction that a woman’s flesh and her legitimately associated sexuality is somehow considered ‘of the devil’.
    I think it’s important to examine and it is never more revealed than in these revealing art forms. I feel strongly that both men and women need to be given and taught compassion around their sexuality.
    Both women and men are equally tied in knots by this manipulative power paradigm.
    SEX IS A SEMIOTIC GUN. It’s time we disarm it. It’s time we explore our motivations in a humble manner.
    If we look at misogyny and the patriarchal fear of women’s bodies and sexuality as if it were a symptom of a very normal psychological sickness, we might actually be able to explore the cause. Shunning a thing isn’t dealing with it! I have professed a deep compassion for men. Eighty percent of men’s personality is driven by a very intense drug called testosterone. Asking a man to not have sexual thoughts or reactions is like asking a person who is tripping on copious amounts of acid to stop hallucinating. The thing that patriarchy has been trying to cover up is that women’s sexuality is incredibly powerful. Even a burka won’t completely work at subduing the enormous vulnerability that is a mans biological motivating force. It is a complicated dual acting drug that motivates both aggression and procreation. I throw water in the face of any feminist who can’t see this plainly enough to understand just how shaky this ground is. Yes, women are like giants and it is men’s rejection to this vulnerability, the projection of this fear that misogyny is based in. As much as I want to liberate women, I want to liberate men. As much as I want to teach men to respect women, I want to teach women to respect men.
    Otherwise we are as a society in a stalemate. Shame goes both ways. Shame is the issue that these revealing feminist art forms are, albeit nebulously, aiming to collectively find catharsis around.

    A woman’s body is a metaphor. Any portrayal in these art forms has the power to expand on what a woman’s body represents. The question is, are we as women honouring that power? Are we taking it seriously? If our bodies are semiotic guns, are we wielding it responsibly and respectfully uplifting the audience for their own catharsis as well, or are we being retaliatory? Are we like children coming out of oppression suddenly realizing that we have weapons too?
    It is in the motivation I feel and it’s ability to exact the intended response. Can you perfect your skills to achieve the response you desire? Not really. So then, can you be compassionate towards a sexual response and realize that this reaction doesn’t always mean that a woman is only perceived as “a material devoid of content that induces sexual thoughts.”? The sexual response is going to happen regardless if we desire it. Having compassion for it is the first step to creating a bridge to healing the wound called shame. Any wound left in the dark will become nasty. Why not dialogue about it? Testosterone shrinks the communication centers of the brain in vitro. Women are great at dialogue. This is our conversation and it’s our chance to take this empowerment across enemy lines. Here we have a wonderful common ground. Here we can also present the content in all it’s metaphors.

  • VIctoria Peel

    I’ve been a stripper for 11 years. I also have a perfectly good day career, but for some reason I keep on dancing. I think it’s because… It’s fun! It’s fun AND it brings in good money! Performing is fun (for me). Pole tricks are fun (for all). Developing a persona & flirtation to work with different types of men is challenging (& fun for me). Being sensual & exciting to people is fun. It is after all just a “tease”. If you’re comfortable with nudity & your body (which I feel women need to be empowered to feel more often), then you can be happy naked. If you can be happy naked, it really doesn’t matter who’s looking! What other people are thinking about me is none of my business. Because I stick to my own standards of beauty & my own idea of what’s sexy, I don’t ever have to worry that I’m inspiring derogatory thoughts. In my normal life I dress to deflect attention because I think it’s rude when men gawk & I’m not looking to score. At work I’m giving the go ahead – Take a good look! If you like it just say so! There’s nothing “objectifying” about them having permission to look at me! The question is, why isn’t there more of this for women? I’d love to go out with the girls & have a table of half naked hot men sitting around flirting with us & dancing for us. If we’re still stuck in the Virgin/Whore roles, dancing is the perfect in between.

    I suggest reading about Sacred Prostitution and the love temples of ancient Babylon. As much as I enjoy seeing attractive men undress, there has always been & always will be a certain spellbinding magic around women swaying nude. Most have no clue why they can’t stop themselves from throwing more money down.

  • Satanica

    As a former burlesque performer, feminist, sex worker, and writer I am going to agree with this article fully. I like that Meghan addresses these questions and I think it is quite articulate and really helps to explain why I no longer perform. Recently there was a burlesque show in LA called Naked Girls Cooking. I found this to be completely annoying. First of all they are 35 year old women.
    The reason I find Meghan’s assessment of the neo-burlesque scene pretty spot on is because what was once challenging and wonderful has turned into something pretty darned boring and not challenging at all.
    And quite honestly I find most of these comments to be ultimately self promoting. I don’t need the links, but thanks.
    And I don’t really care how you feel as a performer when you are up on stage. I don’t. You are there to entertain me. And if you are not entertaining or fun and simply take your clothes off with little skill- well that’s not fun.
    And as your comments about tips I will say this. Many burlesque shows have tipping. In LA they pass a bucket around at several shows on a regular basis. At Dante’s in Portland they throw money on stage. They also show pussy. Is that burlesque or stripping? They show it artfully. So what’s your take on that?
    And I like to get tipped when I worked. It’s called more money for me. I also like to get paid- and not just $50. I will promise you the bar made more than that off just one patron on the night you took it off. Is it empowering to make money for a bar owner while you go home with little more than some trumped up glory? Are you saying getting paid is bad? C’mon burlesque performers- question authority. Your stripping is making somebody money. I have friend who are professional jazz musicians- but when they play in bars they call themselves professional alcohols salesmen. If someone is making money off you stripping and it’s not you it’s called being exploited. Quit defending a fucked up system. If you like being on stage and showing off just admit it.
    And again burlesque sucks because it’s not very challenging. It’s mainstream. It’s been done.
    I have nothing against being naked or sexual but I do have something against people being exploited. And if you are working in a bar getting naked for $50 and the pure wonderment of being the center of attention well you are being used so get over it. and dance monkey dance.

  • Satanica

    One more thing. I really want to make something clear, performers. It is NOT all about you and how you feel on stage. It is about your audience. Another reason why these shows are not fun anymore.
    Show offs are not fun. Skilled performers are.

    • lizor

      Thanks Satanica. I really resent posters here who imply that any critique of burlesque oppresses sexual expression and/or is about a prudish response to nudity.

      I have been in various states of undress on stage in a variety of works, both my own and that of other artists. The objectifying male gaze was always considered very carefully and in many cases we attempted, and I think for many audience members, succeeded in subverting the inherent power dynamic there. Of course performing live is always a risk and many witnesses to performance only see “dirty” bits when they see unclothed female breasts, etc.

      I have to wonder; has the extraordinary sexual repression of our time infiltrated women’s minds to the extent that most of us are unable to imagine an expression of our sexuality that is not a regurgitation of the narrow dictates of the commercial sale of the female body? The number of women who claim they paid hard-earned money to get implants “for myself”, tells me this might be the case.

      I’m also sick of people demanding that Meghan define what female sexual expression should look like – as if there was a correct answer and that human sexuality was a matter of fulfilling a specific visual image and nothing more. How sadly limiting.

  • Eden

    Thank you, Meghan, for your posts and for continuing to try to educate those who post comments here.

    As you’ve said, whether or not someone enjoys performing burlesque has nothing to do with whether it is sexist or not. The reason that one person decides to do something doesn’t change the effect of what that performance has on society as a whole. I think that is the point that many commenters are not getting. Someone who comes to see a show is not at the show because of the reasons of the performers; they are their for their *own* reasons. The reasons of those in the audience is what determines if the show is objectifying women or not.

    Part of what disturbs me about our society as a whole is that people persist in describing females above the age of 18 as “girls.” Do we do this, for the most part, with males? Not really. Sure, once in a while, someone will say something like, “Okay, boys, let’s get going,” or something, but much of the time people will use the term “men” and then refer to the females as “girls.” The way I see it, to be a little graphic, if a female is at an age where most females her age are menstruating, she should be referred to as a “woman,” or “young woman” if the someone feels the need for such a distinction.

    Again, thank you for both the original article, which is excellent, and your efforts to address the questions of those who have left comments here. I applaud you in your efforts.

  • Mame

    Just wanted to add this to the discussion. This article (see link below) is about a movement by a feminist who is aiming to “take back” the word “slut” in terms of a derogatory term for a woman. It began when a policeman told a group of university students that they should “avoid dressing like a slut in order to not be victimized”. I realize we live in an imperfect world and it is disappointing that we must cater to the lowest denominator of people who cannot control their hormones and consequently their violent actions or words, but I do feel that it important to move forward,to educate and set an example that we was women, should not have to be forced to hide vital aspects of ourselves in order to be safe.

    In terms of burlesque, just like many things, there are all kinds.But the neo-burlesquemovement, when you really research it in-depth, Meghan Murphy< is full of a surprising spectrum of expression,political and sexually liberating statements and gender bending awareness. Why should a performance based on sexual content be forbidden to women as an expression of our power?

    Please read this article and let me know your thoughts on it as it relates to this topic? http://www.alternet.org/story/151025/slut-shaming_begone:_an_interview_with_heather_jarvis,_cofounder_of_slutwalk?akid=7009.238330.iiHv-T&rd=1&t=8

    In closing, most of the burlesque troupes here in New Orleans are female owned and run and are attended and appreciated by an audience that is equally men and women. Men are sometimes MCs and occasionally men perform in the show as well (sometimes disrobing),but never have I seen a woman in a subordinate role in these shows. Her role in these shows is always in control. Also,in the shows here the audience does not touch the women,nor tip them directly.

    Also,in terms of how burlesque relates to your statement about women involved in sex work who do not choose to be there. I would like to say that I understand it is an unfortunate situation and,yes , we are from different backgrounds. But sometimes a thing that is liberating for one group may seem oppressive to another. Neo-Burlesque and strip-clubs are very different worlds. They are wholly different and if this movement is liberating to a certain group of people, why ban it because of that? The world is a big and varied place and while I wouldn't wish upon anyone that they be forced into any kind of sex work that they did not want participate in, I do think that in the right environment, with the right set of variables, and for certain kinds of people, the burlesque scene can be healing, liberating, artistic, political and yes, feminist.

  • Mame

    Can you also address the question of what, in your opinion, is an acceptable way for a woman to express her sexuality in public while remaining (or not riling up) other feminists? How does a woman openly express her sexuality and her power and control of it in a way that does not, to feminists, still address “the male gaze”?

    I say this as we are approaching a weekend during which there will be another “Drag King” show, in which some girls who do burlesque do drag king burlesque as boys. There are also some performers I know who only do Drag King, which can be very sexual in a way that I think most straight males would find quite a turn off, s does that escape the male gaze? Or is this still considered exploitative to you?

    The first paragraph of the message is my main question to you.

    Thanks.

  • JustMe

    Hi Meghan,

    There are many boylesque acts out there too. The burlesque club I go to in Dublin often has male performers…in fact the male ‘host’ has a brilliant act where his clothes DO come off. This month saw their first totally boylesque night….all male, all removing their clothes and many of the regular female acts were sitting in the audience.

    It goes both ways…poeple perform for other people and it is a beautiful monthly evening.

  • Lucy Rhinehart

    Excellent article and really genuinely thought-provoking. I completely agree with a lot of what youre saying and as a feminist and burlesque performer it challenged me to read. I do believe that a conscious and engaged subversive burlesque performance can be extremely powerful, and that burlesque, like any medium, has the potential to be radical, subversive and yes, the E-word (empowering – and not just to the individual woman) just as much as it has the potential to be another tool of women’s oppression. I wrote an article on how – when it is subversive – it can be a pretty amazing feminist artform. http://theantiroom.wordpress.com/2011/04/01/guest-post-the-beauty-of-burlesque-is-that-it-can-be-anything-and-everything/
    thanks for the food for thought and for a really insightful piece.
    Lucy

    • Lucy Rhinehart

      I meant that to read “burlesque – like MANY media/artforms/performances” – obviously not all … 🙂

  • Allison

    Super late to the party here, and mostly just want to share this with the author… thank you for writing this! You have done a great job of articulating why I am so bothered by burlesque. What really gets me is that all this talk about expressing sexuality (or whatever) is basically displays of sexuality = women. For me, burlesque would be fine and dandy if it included an *equal* number of men being sexy on stage. But most of the burlesque I have seen (or read about) is still primarily women performing sexuality. And that is why it doesn’t fit in with my idea of feminism. Sex still equals women. Same old same old.

  • Charlotte

    I am most definitely a feminist but I also love the beauty and grace of burlesque. Although I do not think of burlesque as a feminist movement, I definitely see both sides of the argument. Perhaps there are some women do dance for a living. But because I do not need to do burlesque to earn money I most definitely do it for fun. Because I, a feminist woman, love to dance and love to feel sexy.
    So can it be feminist? yes. for some.

    • Charlotte

      Also, @Allison, sexy for some is much different than for others. You can’t label it like that. Everyone has their own opinions and views on what sexy should be. I, for example think more men performing a burlesque routine would take away some of the class… think about how more objectified the women would be if more men were involved! YIKES!

  • maria

    why to be porwerfull for a woman is to be sexual object? why we don´t take politician women as exemples? men take Martin Luther King,Abraham Lincon,male movie stars that don´t prostitute themselves..why for us women,all we have is prostitutes? tired of this shit…

  • Rachael

    I haven’t read all these posts…..that would take some time. The ones I did read are well thought out and written (on both sides). I’ll start my post by saying, I don’t care for burlesque. Not for all the reasons stated above… That, however is not my point. All the political issues aside, it is an art form. Just like a lot of art you don’t have to like it and no one needs to tell you are wrong. It’s art, everyone’s opinion is valid and it’s just that, an opinion. The burlesque performers I know (men and women) can sing, dance, act, some do magic. Some are better than others, true with any art form. If women and men want to do this type of performance then go ahead. In Vancouver, a city notoriously bad at getting people out to see live entertainment, they are succeeding. They are entertaining, and have created a following to their shows. In my opinion that beats people sitting at home and watching T.V. every night. (like so many people do.)
    If you don’t like burlesque, don’t go. They aren’t doing anything wrong by entertaining the people that do like it and get inspired by it. (Creativity inspires creativity.) I get that this debate was about the feminist side of burlesque, exploiting yourself and whatnot….I kind of derailed from the original topic….sorry. But just as a last point, there are MANY different types of performances that objectify women, and I’m not saying that’s right. At least these performers are trying to create a new ideal for beauty. (Maybe not all burlesque groups are. The majority of vancouver groups though have performers of all different body types.) If you just look at all the unrealistic magazines out there teaching women (teenagers) to try to attain unrealistic standards of ‘beauty’ you’d agree something needs to start changing in our society and quickly….. otherwise we are going to have a whole generation of insecure botox bulimics heading our way.

    My 2 cents…. take it for what it’s worth.

  • Kay

    All excellent points Meghan. When I was confronted with burlesque I came to exactly the same conclusions.

    For me, the problem isn’t burlesque itself (it DOES have potential as a feminist outlet); the problem is that it’s been co-opted into mainstream Patriarchal (capitalist) culture. Now it’s being fed by mainstream P culture into the gaping hungry mouths of women seeking Full Humanity under the P (as they’ve failed at attaining full humanity using expensive moisturisers, keeping up with fashion, keeping their house clean, making their vaginas smell of roses rather than vag, ‘battling’ with their weight, having babies, Learning 10 New Ways to Please Their Man, blah blah blah…) Do you really think the P is going to allow something so (potentially) woman-friendly to thrive, without it being fucked up by them? (Example: Just cast your eye over riot grrrl. Without riot grrrl there never would have been the spice girls and their new 5 flavours for women to ‘choose’ from.)

    I digress. If a woman is interested in Attaining Full Humanity, she may seek out burlesque, and if she is lucky, she’ll find a nice local troupe of supportive performers willing to take her under their wing and guide her towards what she considers to be, personally, an empowering experience.
    But what if that woman is unlucky?

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  • Great article.

    A few random thoughts…. how on earth is the second linked video subversive? (“Both from our guests and from listeners. Like this, this, and this.”) I was skeptical but interested so I clicked through; the first one was great, but the second sure looked like violence and sexual assault to me…

    I feel confused by all the commenters/performers who say they are up on stage entirely for themselves. This is rather a dubious claim. If you are doing something entirely for yourself, why do you need an audience? I used to do theatre- the audience is both motive and an integral part of the experience. I can perform a monologue for myself at home….. I got up onstage to do so because I wanted admiration and recognition from the audience. I find it incredibly disingenuous to claim that one is going onstage to do something- theatre, dance, sing, joke, etc.- for reasons entirely unrelated to his or her audience.

    And finally, may I suggest the radical notion that it is not a more inclusive stage but rather the genuine freedom to choose not to perform at all that subverts and redistributes power?

    • Meghan Murphy

      Oh gosh, I think I was just trying to be nice. I do try every once in a while.

  • Norto

    Erm. In your first paragraph you give three examples of burlesque that are supposed to be empowering and/or subversive.

    The err, the second one is called ‘Monster on the bed’ and includes the simulated oral rape of a simulated girl child??

    I’m just a bit confused as to what ridiculous human being might have considered that empowering for women, girls, females, etc etc??? Enough to suggest it to you as an example of awesomely feminist burlesque.

    Just thought I’d query that, as it strikes me as unusual.

    • Meghan Murphy

      It was a long time ago, but if I remember correctly, it was April O’Peel, I believe, who felt those were examples of subversive burlesque. I concede to you though.

  • MorgainePen

    I agree that feminism and neoliberalism are not compatible. I also believe that women feeling liberated about their sexuality is the greatest blow we can strike at patriarchy.

    Just because some (many) women who show or sell/rent their bodies are oppressed, doesn’t mean that every woman who does it is. I don’t want women who do it “for fun” to stop; I want a world where all women CAN do it for fun. And men too.

    Liberated sexuality is the greatest threat to patriarchy. It could lead to a human value system based on pleasure, not fear.

    And BTW, I’ve been a feminist for 35 years; I grew up in the Second Wave. And one of my first attractions to feminism was the idea that I could be free to express myself, sexually. Of course, we’re not there yet. But I think that these performers, Femen, and all the other radical feminists who believe that sexuality and nudity are sacred, not evil or oppressive, are onto something.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Define ‘liberated sexuality’. Liberated from what?

  • Athena

    Thanks Meghan for this article! Expresses my sentiments exactly! I find it absolutely irksome to see burlesque being called an “art” form – then again, these days a ‘bottled flatulation’ would constitute as art, as would child pornography (by some)!
    I was brought here in an effort to understand why women continue to degrade themselves this way, and also because of a recent comment by a male friend who had attended a burlesque show here in Toronto. Apparently he saw the lady (if you can even call her that) pour hot wax on her “tits” (his word, not mine). He now wanted to try the same thing with his girlfriend. So much for empowerment and not objectifying women, eh?!
    Like one of the comments above mentioned, I truly believe this is another flavour of the Stockholm Syndrome. Most of the strippers/performers who have commented here have admitted to having body image issues in the past and perhaps this is some twisted form of sexual validation for them. I just wish they would admit it to themselves – they partake in a glorified strip show – no more, no less.
    Again, thanks for this well-written article!

    • Meghan Murphy

      Totally. And, I mean, many of us have been through that as young women — feeling ’empowered’ because of male attention, etc. I get it. The hope is we come out on the other end, realizing that this isn’t ‘real’ power in any sense.

    • Kat

      I have spent a lot of time reading the article, looking at the links, and reading ALL the comments (jeebus on that btw O.o) I also realize that I am severely behind on this discussion.

      What I find frustrating is the lack of true discourse in the comments. There is mostly just extremes: blind defense of burlesque, and condemnation of burlesque. This seems very counter-productive. Ms. Murphy wrote a blog expressing her point of view on burlesque. And she is well within her rights to do so. I realize that so many people here have spent far too much energy bashing her for her opinions because they view her words as a personal attack on their chosen life-style. But if you feel that way, why are you responding in the “same fashion”, insulting her etc? She is a person discussing what she feels to be an important issue. Be more respectful of that.

      For example, I personally have a different viewpoint on what feminism specifically is. But I acknowledge that my perspective on feminism comes from a very complicated personal history.

      Ms. Murphy,

      I am wondering if you have seen the movie Mona Lisa Smile? I would be interested in hearing your opinion on what the main message of the movie was. For myself, I agreed with the idea that a main proponent of women’s rights and the fight for them was the ability to choose how we live our lives…that then as we each branch down our own paths as individuals, being a woman would not be seen or treated as being inferior. A true freedom of choice. If a woman wished to be a stay-at-home mom, because she finds actual and honest fufillment in that outside the bubble of external marital standards…fine. In that same vein, if a woman wished to become a law firm partner, the only thing that should matter is whether or not she is good at that job. I realize that there are so many other aspects of feminism that simply perceived “life roles” so please do not think I am suggesting simplicity where it does not exist.

    • lizor

      Absolutely Athena. As a person who has subsisted quite happily for several decades through my art-making, I cringe every time someone declares this is an “art form”. Sure there is performance craft involved (to wildly varying degrees based on the burlesque I have encountered over the years) but, with the exception of a few works by some top-notch art-makers, there is very little new meaning being created here.

      Max Hardcore was on CBC a few months back claiming that all of the participants in his gonzo pornography are artists, and that it is all a wonderful, consensual, creative collaboration between highly-educated (he went out of his way repeatedly to note that one of the women had a PhD) people. If one did not know the content, one would think it was a veritable utopia of women’s “creative sexual expression”. He said “It’s an art form!” so many times, I had to go chug Pepto-Bismol (it being morning and too early for scotch).

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  • Erynn

    Late to the game but I thought I would chime in. While I am not a burlesque performer, I am a straight-identifying woman who enjoys going to burlesque shows.

    What has always struck me about burlesque is the idea of control. Burlesque and stripping are intrinsically different because of the level of control.

    In burlesque, the performer has the utmost control over what they decide to put on stage. Some of it enables mysogyny, sure. But a lot of it also fights mysogyny, because the audience gets to see only what the performer wants them to see – as little or as much of their body as they choose, how they choose, when they choose and they also have the choice of when to take it away. The performer can choose to showcase their body or a statement on art, politics, sexuality or whatever topic is close to their heart.

    It’s a form of physical expression, and while it’s not for everyone, I think that it’s important to continue to encourage this expression to people who are obviously comfortable in their own skin and with their own ideas. My two cents.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Choice is not the only issue at hand, though. You can ‘choose’ to self-objectify but that doesn’t remove the objectification or make that act ‘feminist’ simply because you have control over the choices you are making. It’s not as though some strippers don’t make choices or have varying levels of agency at times, in any case…

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  • Thank you for this article. I have been to a few of these shows and other than some of their weird visuals I was pretty much bored out of my mind. I had a similar debate with my boyfriend last night about this, and it quickly turned into a heated argument. I was labeled “jealous” and “sex negative” (he of all people should know that neither of those apply.)

    I don’t really care what color wrapper it comes in; a tootsie roll is still a tootsie roll. Call it whatever you want, “fun, sexy, creative performance art,” but please do not call it feminism. Thinly beneath the veil of it’s artist virtue is still reinforcement that women are sexual objects through the lens of the male gaze. I wonder how many people (especially men) would attend these shows if they were sans the female nudity. Yes, there is a certain amount of talent attributed to burlesque dancing – no doubt, but I am infinitely more impressed by women using their minds rather than their bodies to achieve some kind of status as powerful woman figure. If your self esteem is solely based on how sexy you are, that’s a problem in and of itself that inevitably comes to a halting dead end.

    • lizor

      “I am infinitely more impressed by women using their minds rather than their bodies to achieve some kind of status as powerful woman figure”

      You said a mouthful there, sister.

  • Asma Ahmed

    We don’t ask if men should attend burlesque shows, but we ask if women should be doing burlesque.
    We don’t ask if men should be allowed to take photos of nude women, but we ask if women should consent to having nude photos of themselves taken (i.e. Page 3 of the Sun)
    We don’t ask if men should…

    I could go on…..

    There is more focus on questioning women’s choices and restricting their behaviour (by branding what certain women do as un-feminist), among certain feminists, especially white feminists. I cannot consider your feminism authentic if it is about dictating/advocating to women what is and what is not ok. Don’t you think women already have it difficult? WHY SHOULD WE ESTABLISH WHETHER WHAT SOME WOMEN DO IS ACCEPTABLE OR NOT?
    Women don’t become feminists, to then be given further restrictions and shame. Because, here you are shaming women who do what you don’t agree with. You are shaming the very women you are supposed to support, through your discourse on them.

    Stop the hate. Start the love.

    • Meghan Murphy

      “We don’t ask if men should attend burlesque shows, but we ask if women should be doing burlesque.
      We don’t ask if men should be allowed to take photos of nude women, but we ask if women should consent to having nude photos of themselves taken (i.e. Page 3 of the Sun)
      We don’t ask if men should…”

      What?? We ask that all the time… This is exactly why we keep trying to remind everyone that our issue with prostitution is not whether or not women ‘choose’ to do it, but rather that men ‘choose’ to buy sex. Men’s behaviour is the problem. You’re right that liberal or so-called ‘sex positive’ feminists obsessively focus on women’s ‘choices’, ignoring the perpetrator/cause of the harm, but that is not our angle/analysis here.

      • Asma Ahmed

        So why are we even discussing the legitimacy of burlesque? I find this problematic. It’s like putting on trial certain women and then questioning if what they do is ok or not. I get from the comments that a lot of feminists find the activity repulsive and anti-feminist because burlesque performers ‘sexualise’ themselves.
        However, this negativity towards the exhibition of female sexuality rests on the false dichotomy (perpetrated by men) that women should either be desexualised (thus only heard and not seen), or sexualised to fulfil the male gaze (thus only seen, not heard). Why not accept that women may want to sexualise themselves for a) their enjoyment, and/or b) the enjoyment of other women? Why are forms of female sexualisation understood as necessarily catering to the male gaze?

        Dita Von Teese said herself that the audience to her burlesque performances are 80% female!

        Why do we centre sexuality of women around men? It is possible to sexualise yourself and not have the fulfilment of men’s desire as your primary goal.

        • Meghan Murphy

          For the same reason we critique any and all sexist phenomena… And because it is presented as inherently ‘feminist’.

        • vagabondi

          Being sexual is not the same as being sexualized. My sexuality is something that happens in my own body, my own nerves sending messages back and forth, my own hormones spiking. if someone looks at me and has sexual feelings, that has to do with his or her sexuality, not with mine, since I can’t experience that.

          Sex positives, I have noticed, seem not to know the difference between themselves and other people. Maybe they have some kind of boundary issues? Or something like a version of synesthesia, that make a them believe that other people’s arousal or pleasure is happening to themselves?

  • Echoislander

    Brilliant article. Thank you for such great analytic essays, Meghan Murphy!

  • rp

    From a feminist perspective, I don’t know if you need to worry much. Maybe it does not do much to empower women or end sexism. But at least you don’t have to worry about straight men objectifying women. Few attend beyond boyfriends, and the random stray straight male that wanders in is likely to bored out of his skull.

  • Deborah Hamm

    Thank you! Great deconstruction. I couldn’t agree more. 🙂

  • Amy Beth

    Men als do burlesque, so how does this argument affect them? If a woman feels uncomftable its simple dont do it.

    • Meghan Murphy

      1) Why does everything always have to be about men?
      2) The argument is clearly not about whether or not the women actually DOING the burlesque ‘feel comfortable’…

  • Meghan Murphy

    But in this context, we are talking about women. So, no, it’s not ‘about men and women.’ Burlesque is something that, for the most part, women perform. There are reasons for that.

    If you understood the article to be about ‘being peer pressured’ I’m going to have to assume you didn’t read the article.

    • Amy Beth

      I have read the article and that is how it came across to me. And mostly women go to see these shows. I feel you haven’t looked at all angles when writing this.

      • Meghan Murphy

        If women watch misogynist pornography does that make the pornography not misogynist? Where did you see me mention “peer pressure” in the piece?

        • Amy Beth

          I’m sure I replied? Anyways il wright it again. its how it comes across to me especially when you speak of how it is suppose to be fun (you don’t find it fun and thats fine everyone is entitled to thier own opinion. )And my opinion is that I think this article is biased and does not look at the whole picture. I see no difference between an actor/actress and burlesque performers. It is an act that people enjoy because they feel empowered doing it. Alot of burlesque performers are on the larger side too.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Yes but when you spoke of ‘peer pressure’ you were referring to the actual women performing in burlesque shows — i.e. their ‘choice’ to do burlesque, not whether or not women were feeling pressured to enjoy watching the shows.

            And, yes, of course there are similarities in terms of actresses, as they, too, are objectified. The problem is objectification and sexualization. I’m not sure what you mean, specifically, when you say the article is biased, but yes, it’s biased — it’s my opinion and a feminist critique, if you want to call that a ‘bias’. Everyone who has an opinion is ‘biased’ in one way or another.

          • Amy Beth

            Why attend if it is something you feel uncomftable about I think thats rather silly. Just dont go?how can you feel pressured into going to something your not comftable with?just say no.

          • Meghan Murphy

            I think you’re oversimplifying the issues quite dramatically… The pressure women feel to sexualize or self-objectify obviously can’t be resolved with a yes or no…

          • Amy Beth

            Yes it can, if you don’t want to do something dont do it, im a woman and i dont feel i have to do any of these things. Im fed up with people who blaim society and other people because they cant say no. Its that simple. Don’t do anything you don’t feel comftable with. No matter what it is.

          • Meghan Murphy

            You should tell that do all the girls and women who are sexually harassed on the street daily or who feel obligated to perform pornography for their boyfriends in bed or who hate their bodies because of objectification. Just say no, ladies!

  • Meghan Murphy

    They ‘choose’ to be harassed on the street? Ok…

    I’m not sure you understand how systemic oppression works.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Have you ever tried to go to the police over street harassment? Or rape? Or abuse?

    In response to the rest of your questions/comments, please look up “socialization” and “systems of oppression.”

  • Meghan Murphy

    Body image, self-objectification, and internalized misogyny cannot all be chalked up to ‘weak-willed’ people, unless you are willing to say that things like eating disorders, dieting, girls’ self-esteem issues, and more generally, socialization are simply just about ‘weak-willed people.’ It’s very clear that society doesn’t work that way. I understand that you are new to these ideas and arguments, but what that means is that you should explore them further, not simply assume that something people have studied/analyzed for decades has just been invented out of thin air because you don’t get it/like it.

  • keithsingleton@cox.net

    Originally, burlesque in the 1800’s was empowerment for women and a mockery of high society manners. Women stage and create their own personas, telling whatever story they want. People gaze at performers, that is what audiences do. Women traditionally had no rights and are still struggling for rights in their west, of all places. Burlesque lives on in sitcoms and Game of Thrones, and countless other golden globe and emmy winning shows. It is a chance for women to take control and mock what they want. The author of this article needs to research women’s history and how burlesque gave women rights. Mae West went to jail for her burlesque show. She and Marilyn Monroe were the highest paid women in the business. That enpowered women. Show some appreciation, snob.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I think that we need to think very carefully about what we mean when we say “empowerment.” In the 40s-60s, women did burlesque because there were so few other options for them, in terms of work. It was like, be a very low paid secretary or maybe make more money doing burlesque. So sure, depending on what kind of ’empowerment’ we’re talking about, that could be viewed as such. But what is personally and temporarily ’empowering’ for women doesn’t necessarily work towards our collective liberation…

  • Meghan Murphy

    When we’re talking about ’empowerment’ within the context of the feminist movement, it is not an individual thing, no. Personal feelings of empowerment have little to do with the collective empowerment of oppressed groups.

  • Meghan Murphy

    I’ve talked to a number of them, but who cares? It’s clear what the personal opinions are of women who do burlesque. I disagree. Talking to more of them won’t change my analysis.

  • Meghan Murphy

    I don’t go anymore. But it’s impossible to avoid. Also, like, I don’t buy sex either, and yet I have an informed opinion on prostitution. Not participating in a thing you are critical of doesn’t resolve the issue if it’s still a popular activity.

  • Meghan Murphy

    My opinion is formed through feminist analysis, personal experience, education (i.e. understanding and studying feminist film theory and the male gaze), and critical thought. You act as though those doing burlesque are the experts on whether or not burlesque is somehow ‘feminist,’ but that’s like saying that oil workers are the experts on whether or not oil fields are good.

    Like, would you tell an environmentalist that she or he needs to speak with 100 loggers before forming an opinion about logging? Or speak to 100 car drivers before determining that cars cause pollution?