Responding to critiques of burlesque cheat sheet (crazy-making edition)

It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of burlesque. I think it’s a boring, overplayed example of what you might call neosexism or retro sexism —  meaning that the “vintage” veneer and claims of “subversion,” “irony,” or postfeminism are meant to disguise the fact that it’s just the same old sexism that’s been going on for centuries. When it comes to burlesque, and, for that matter, anything that looks like sexism (see: pole-dancing classes, American Apparel ads, and “feminist pornography“) but is billed as not-sexist-because-women-like-it, the most useful tests to apply are these:

1) Are dudes doing it?

2) Are dudes trying to explain to you that it’s actually feminist?

If dudes aren’t doing it but are simultaneously trying to convince you that it’s liberating, empowering, or progressive, then you can count on a 99% chance of sexist fuckery.

Having published the odd critique here and there, and, more generally, mushed burlesque in to the sexism-in-disguise category with the assumption that a phenomenon centered around women getting naked on stage doesn’t need all that detailed an explanation of the ways in which these performances still objectify women, even if these women are enthusiastically participating in their own objectification and the objectification of others, what I’ve learned is this: It doesn’t actually matter what your critique is and how well you articulate it, because the burlesque community will respond to you in the same way every single time.

As such, I’ve compiled a helpful list of every single response you will definitely get, over and over again, every time you say anything marginally critical of burlesque. I’m not sure what the purpose of this list is except to encourage you to ignore these types of responses because there is not a single thing you can say or do to avoid them, as well as to point out the absolute unwillingness of burlesque defenders to engage in any self-reflection or critique of their fav hobby.

While the arguments can be generally summed up as: “But I like it,” I’ve provided you with more detailed responses as well. Enjoy!

1) You haven’t done enough “research”

I’ve been getting this same response for years. No matter how many burlesque shows I endure, I have never been to enough, so long as I continue to critique the phenomenon. I am told that, either, I have only seen “amateur” performances ( though I have watched plenty of awkward amateurs, I have also seen the professionals, who are equally as boring and objectified), or that I haven’t been to enough “alternative” shows.

What’s the rule here? How many burlesque performaces do we have to sit through before we are allowed to decide that, not only do we never want to sit through another burlesque performance again, but that we have good reason to avoid doing so in the future?

What this argument boils down to is that those who love burlesque refuse to believe that any other human being might not love the thing they love which, to boil it down even further, is to say: “As both the center of the universe and a petulant child, everyone must like what I like. If they don’t like what I like they are wrong and offend me by forcing me to think about the things I like and why I like them, which makes my head feel funny.”

2) You don’t understand

Similar to the “you haven’t done enough research” response, “you don’t understand” stems from an unwillingness to use (or lack of familiarity with using) one’s brain for the purposes of critical thinking. This response translates to: “You don’t agree with me/like the same things I like and I can’t come up with a logical response to your argument.”

“You clearly don’t understand burlesque” is kind of a hilarious response if you think about it, because burlesque really isn’t very complicated. What they really mean is: “You aren’t inside my head/bubble and I don’t care to acknowledge that which exists outside my head/bubble.” Again, it’s that problem of thinking about things when one doesn’t particularly like thinking about things issue.

3) Anything I do that makes ME feel good is feminist! (FUCKYEAH)

I don’t have much to say about this response. It can be easily addressed by repeating this handy mantra: “Just because you like it, doesn’t make it feminist.”

Which is not the same thing as saying you can’t like it. I like all sorts of things that aren’t feminist, despite the fact that I am a feminist. I just don’t pretend like my undereye concealer is some kind of radical movement. Patriarchy does not live in my undereye circles, nor will it go away if I appear less tired/sickly.

4) But there are women in the audience! Women erase sexism!

As we’ve learned from things like “feminist pornography” and pole dancing classes, just because women are doing things that are sexist or rooted in misogynist practices, doesn’t negate the sexism.

Women internalize the male gaze. You probably notice the way you look at women on the street — I do. Women sexualize women’s body parts just as men do, focusing on their bodies and appearances in ways we tend not to with men. When we watch things like film, television, and pornography, as well as when we look at ads, we are looking through a male lens. So we all learn to adopt the male gaze. When women’s bodies are objectified on screen or in American Apparel ads, we learn to see women as objects. We do this regardless of whether or not we are men.

The male gaze is still present even when there are women in the audience. Women go to strip clubs too — does that suddenly make strip clubs feminist? Does that mean the women performing at the strip club aren’t being objectified when women are looking?

This argument makes no sense but is brought up again and again with aplomb as though it’s never occurred to us before and will BLOW OUR MINDS into little tiny pieces.

You are welcome to spend an hour trying to explain the male gaze to these people, but at the end of the day I’m not sure they care. If they did they probably wouldn’t be doing burlesque in the first place.

5) Boylesque

Repeat after me: The exception does not make the rule.

You can reuse this argument in response to classics such as these:

– but women abuse men too

– but men are prostitutes too

– but men post sexy selfies too

– but men do strip shows too

– but women take up too much space on the bus sometimes too

6) Different body types in burlesque = feminism

I appreciate the representation of bodies that aren’t skinny white ones. I really do. BUT women who are not skinny and white are objectified and sexualized too. I find it very odd that people think that, somehow, if you objectify bigger bodies or if you objectify women who aren’t white, this is somehow progressive.

In any case, most women in burlesque are still skinny and white. So whatever.

7) If you don’t like burlesque then don’t go to burlesque shows

Ok, deal. I promise to never intentionally go to a burlesque show ever again so long as you promise not to objectify women in order to sell your “art.” No deal? How about I don’t have to stare at ass while reading my local paper? Or how about every single lefty or feminist fundrasier ever doesn’t include a burlesque performance? Also no? Aw man. I feel like we’re going to have to keep talking about this then, eh?

Local "artist" promoting his "music" (This ad ran in The Georgia Straight through December 2012.)
Local “artist” promoting his “music” (This ad ran in The Georgia Straight through December 2012.)

8) You are turning me into an object by talking about the objectification of women

This is a tricky one. So, this is the same as telling people who point out racism that they are being racist. In talking about the objectification of women, we are not, in fact, turning anyone into an object. Pointing out that women’s bodies and body parts are treated as and viewed as things which exist to-be-looked-at doesn’t reinforce that phenomenon — rather it is critical of it.

In making this argument (that those who point out objectification are actually doing the objectifying), you are asking people to stop thinking and to stop speaking up about inequality. Which makes you a reinforcer of the status quo. Bad move!

9) I’m not being objectified because I choose to objectify myself

So, everyone makes choices. Sometimes and often those choices are limited by our place in society and the culture and systems that surround us. Choosing to prostitute oneself, for example, does not make prostitution a feminist industry. It also doesn’t mean that you are responsible for patriarchy or men’s sense of entitlement around access to women’s bodies; but simply inserting the word “choice” into a sentence doesn’t actually change the meaning or root of the action or situation. I “choose” to watch The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (and Orange County!). Does that mean that I’m subverting patriarchy from my couch? Just as “choosing” to post sexy selfies on Instagram doesn’t amount to a feminist act simply because you’ve decided to objectify yourself. It doesn’t make you a terrible person either. Do you see what I’m getting at here? If not, please refer back to point number three.

10) You have to be on the inside to understand/form a valid critique

Ok, so let me get this straight. In order to be critical of anything (and in order for that critique to be legit), you have to actually be the thing you are critiquing? Does this also mean that women who haven’t been abused or raped can’t be critical of abuse and rape? Does it mean white people can’t be critical of racism? Does it mean men mustn’t say anything negative about prostitution because they themselves aren’t prostitutes? Am I not allowed to say that fast food is bad for you unless I eat a bunch of fast food? Drivers shouldn’t run people over! Oh wait — I’m not a driver, can’t say that 🙁

This is the dumbest argument ever. If we left critical conversations only to the people who were actually doing whatever we were being critical of then nobody would get to say anything about anything ever. Ex: “Capitalism sucks!” “SHUT UP, YOU AREN’T A CAPITALIST. YOU DON’T GET IT. YOU’RE NOT ON THE INSIDE.” See what I’m getting at? Stop this crap. It’s illogical and anti-intellectual.

11) You’re a prude and you hate boobs

I also hate sex, men, vaginas, penises, and joy. Can we move on?

But seriously. I have little to no interest in engaging with this silliness because it’s an anti-feminist, cheap, meaningless trope. Accusing feminists of being man/sex-haters because they speak against the exploitation of women is what sexist, anti-feminist men do. If you want to participate in that sort of thing, again, why are we talking? We clearly have different goals in life — yours being to ensure equality and freedom is never a thing, and mine to work towards women having “human being” status some day.

As a general rule of thumb you will learn, if you ever bother writing anything remotely critical about burlesque (which I doubt you will because, honestly, does anyone really give two shits about burlesque anymore? I feel like a broken record at this point…), that people who like burlesque only like burlesque. They don’t bother engaging with other topics yet suddenly develop a passionate interest in whatever they’ve decided feminism is once someone starts talking about the inherent sexism in taking off one’s clothes and shaking one’s boobs for an audience. Your response should be: If you have no real interest in the feminist movement or in liberating women from patriarchal oppression, why are we talking? And then don’t talk to them anymore unless you get masochistic pleasure from being screamed at by people who once took half a Women’s Studies 101 class and left as soon as they heard the word subjectivity.

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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  • Mmmm, thanks. Useful for other topics as well. “If you already know you hate my philosophy, why are we having this conversation?”

    • There isn’t much burlesque being staged in Quebec (thank the Goddess!), but it seems to me that almost all of your fab counter-arguments could also be addressed to female defenders of pornography and/or prostitution in general. Would you agree, Meghan? What adjustments would be appropriate in your essay to make it apply to that overarching problem (oops, ‘golden road to empowerment’)?

      • Meghan Murphy

        Many of those arguments are very similar, yes, though I have to say that I find the burlesque defenders particularly defensive/illogical/self-absorbed…

        It seems as though critiques of burlesque are taken personally to an extent I don’t see elsewhere.

        But yes, defenders of porn/prostitution make the “choice” argument often, as well as the “you aren’t in it so you can’t be critical” argument.

        • Pkrt

          So true! I think that defenders or burlesque are also more likely to defend prostitution (I could be wrong of course, that’s just my opinion based on personal experience).

          Thanks for such a great article, absolutely brilliant 🙂

  • Rowan Lipkovits

    At the time, I was sorely tempted to use a little photoshop to invert the respective locations of CR’s face and the posterior on the poster, but my skillz weren’t up to my attempt to confront the spectacle with its own irrelevance.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Oh MAN! GENIUS.

  • K

    Yeah, pretty much. I once posted to my facebook an article critiquing burlesque, from the perspective of a former burlesque dancer. My boyfriend then reposted it asking his friends for “thoughts,” but really just inviting his burlesque dancer friends to argue against it. It ended up being me vs everyone else, and it was assumed that I hated nudity and sex and was basically a complete prude, and another dancer took great offence at my position that her chosen hobby-job wasn’t feminist. She remains convinced that I just need to go to more of the shows she puts on, but I have seen enough, and it was actually one of the shows she organized that turned me off for good. Also, the hooting and slipping money in women’s underwear, popping balloons to reveal boobs, really doesn’t feel so different from a strip club to me. I also noticed at all the shows I went to that the men (and some women) in the audience definitely talked about the women dancing in a really derogatory manner. It made me super uncomfortable.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Deja vu, eh?

      • K

        Also this is still something I can’t really discuss with my boyfriend. He does not at all seem to understand my criticisms of burlesque and just agrees not to go because it upsets me, and assumes that I don’t like him going simply because I have been cheated on and don’t like the idea of my partner hooting at boobs. Which, I don’t. But can’t I not like that because i just simply don’t like that, not because i am paranoid and jealous and think he’s getting off on it and will inevitably cheat on me? When I sat next to him at a burlesque show and he hooted and whistled, I felt disgusted by him, not necessarily jealous.

        And fucking vancouver and all the events I would otherwise go to if not for the random burlesque.

        • Meghan Murphy

          Oh jeez. That is awful. No boyfriend of mine will be attending burlesque shows (voluntarily)… Luckily mine agreed that the whole scene was brimming over with fuckery.

          I HATE the “oh you’re just jealous” argument dudes pull out when we don’t want them watching porn/going to strip clubs, etc etc. There are VERY GOOD REASONS for not wanting our partners to participate in the objectification of women. It isn’t “jealousy.”

          And yeah, Vancouver is out of control with the burlesque everywhere. I refuse to go to any event that features burlesque and there sure are a fucking lot of them.

          • Of course it’s not about jealousy. It’s about partitioning. The general idea is that some women are nice girls and men are supposed to be respectful to them, but here is this other class of women who deserve no respect. The latter class are considered disposable.

            Jealous, my ass.

          • Meghan Murphy

            By the way — I’m not trying to make you feel bad/worse about your bf’s response… I’ve certainly heard that from men before. It just makes me crazy mad is all…

        • lizor

          Ug. How frustrating that your boyfriend is so profoundly self-absorbed that he presumes that your legitimate critique is really all about him. Good luck, K and don’t take any crap.

        • vouchsafer

          You’re perfectly within your rights to assert that you’re not attracted to those that participate in events that objectify women, and to insist on your right to choose for your mate someone that does not.

          This is my pat response at least any time it comes up.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Agreed, vouchsafer. Admittedly, it took me a few years before I realized that I had to straight up tell men, right away, that I won’t start a relationship with someone who uses porn, goes to strip clubs, etc. In the past I feel like I was already well into the relationship before stuff like that came up/started to bother me. It’s much easier if you are clear right from the get go.

            Women think they can’t expect this from men. But they can. You don’t have to be in an intimate relationship with a man who doesn’t respect women.

          • vouchsafer

            Word.

            And to all those that are already in relationships, its not too late. Just take a stand.

  • liza

    I am wary of Queer burlesque too, even if doods are participating. Theoretically the gals are ogling the gals and the boys are ogling the boys, but they refuse to say exactly what the mean by Queer. It seems they think anyone can be Queer, even heterosexuals, since Queer is the new Hipster, so I’m betting that plenty of doods are ogling the women in tassels and whatnot. Whoever is ogling whom, it still reeks of serving up bodies and sex in the name of irony and liberation.

    Of course, I have not gone to enough to be entitled to an opinion. I refuse. Sorry to say that in my smallish New England city, there are more queer burlesque shows than Queer political meetings. It seems like I see an ad for one almost every month. And they think it’s soooo liberating. Or something.

    Feh.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Yes to this: “Whoever is ogling whom, it still reeks of serving up bodies and sex in the name of irony and liberation.”

  • marv

    Meghan, your pensive intellect is only surpassed by your exhilerating sense of humour.

    Opposing burlesque from a feminist position is like yelling “fuck you” in a church, mosque or temple; it’s blasphemy. The patriarchal consensus of liberal society is akin to a new male led religion. Its proselytizing force is no less fanatical than the old male conservative faiths. Both doctrines illustrate that the reasoning of liberals and conservatives is worthless. Their designs have failed. They weigh down the heart and burden the thoughtful mind. We can still flout them though.

  • Donna

    Fucking feminists. You shit me. What makes ‘you’ the morality of burlesque. If you don’t like it don’t go. Get off your high horse! Yes you are entitled to your opinion but what annoys me is that some feminists seem to think its their mission to destroy anything sexy, sexual or erotic. You bore me!!

    • Meghan Murphy

      Har. Are you a burlesque-bot?

    • theFword

      Actually, this person does not represent The “Feminist” perspective or Feminism. There are plenty of us, who differ in opinion. So before you coat us all with the same paintbrush (“Fucking Feminists”), keep in mind there are vastly differing opinions.

      I can tell you, I know a lot of feminist burlesquers AND fans, men & women alike. Being “feminist-minded” is NOT mutually exclusive with disliking burlesque.

      HELLLZZ NO! I love it, support it, and do it myself.

      • Meghan Murphy

        What on earth does “feminist-minded” mean? And stop misrepresenting the point/arguments. No one said you, or anyone else had to “dislike burlesque.” Like whatever you want. Burlesque isn’t feminist. It perpetuates the idea that women are sexualized objects to be looked at.

  • Donna

    Ah Meghan Murphy. You seem to be on a roll to spread your dislike of burlesque. What is your problem? Get another hobby. The burlesque community does not care what you think. It is obvious you hate woman and the male gaze. Boring!!

    • Meghan Murphy

      If you don’t care what I think then why are you reading my blog and commenting on my posts?

    • Wait, is Donna here trying to imply that hating the male gaze is bad? LOL burlesque pseudo-feminism.

  • Donna

    Meghan you irritate me and many others with your ongoing comments about burlesque. What did burlesque ever do to you? You totally miss the point. Why don’t you slander every other artform? Why burlesque? Is it because burlesque has elements of striptease and therefore you are scared of it? Sure it bores you, sport bores me but I don’t go around slandering sport just because its not my cup of tea. I just don’t watch it or go to a game even though its everywhere and most people like it. I do other things. You my dear are on a mission to bring burlesque down and thats boring!
    Feminists seem to get all uppity when there is any hint of sexuality or eroticism in the adult world. It like it should not exist. Lets wipe it out. BORING!! I hate to tell you this but you can’t kill it!!
    GET ANOTHER HOBBY!!

    • Meghan Murphy

      Feminism isn’t a hobby, dipshit.

      • Donna

        Dipshit you say!! Wow charming. I am not referring to feminism but your hatred and continuous slandering of burlesque. Thats what I was referring too.

        • Meghan Murphy

          Do you think burlesque will sue?

    • vouchsafer

      Shaking your breasts onstage is contributing to men’s overall societal impression that they have entitlement to female sexuality.

      This expectation of entitlement is at the root of why women are perceived as subordinate in society.

      • Veronica

        Wow… make broad, sweeping generalizations much?

        • Meghan Murphy

          Have you ever seen a burlesque show?? The entire point is the boob-shaking. It’s what each and every performance leads up to.

      • Donna

        Oh please. You have no idea what you are talking about. Burlesque performers don’t just shake their breasts! As long as there are men in the world there will be the male gaze. You can’t avoid it or wrap it up in more clothes. You cannot avoid sexuality. Its how the world turns.
        in general 80% of women come to burlesque shows and the men who do are very polite and respectful. Please don’t judge from behind your computer unless you have complete understanding of the burlesque community.

        • Meghan Murphy

          Donna, I’m not letting you comment anymore here until you learn to read, ok? Best of luck.

        • Missfit

          So the world turns around the male gaze? And where is a woman’s place in that world? Oh, I see…

          I think Donna used all the arguments Meghan highlighted in the article, proving her points right. Thank you for that clear demonstration.

          • Meghan Murphy

            It’s funny how perfectly they demonstrate it, isn’t it? You should see the “vagina-hater” comments I deleted!

    • Candy

      I have nothing against eroticism or sexuality in art, but our culture puts them in such narrow boxes. Women’s sexuality is often submissive, subservient, with a cinched-in waist artificially made five inches smaller, slathered in makeup, walking on stilts, and often quite fake. This is a clear example of societally-made differences between men and women that don’t actually exist. You see it walking out the door, you see it in porn, you see it in beauty magazines, it’s ubiquitous.

      Burlesque exists within these differences. Though I’m aware there’s more to burlesque than this, I don’t see anything artistic about twirling some pasties around. Hell, I could do that. I’m not a fan of the Dita von Teese school of burlesque whatsoever. But as for the less mainstream forms of burlesque, I’d like to see more creativity in the ways men and women are presented, and a more drastic deviation from the norm.

  • I see that once again you have blogged on about how much you hate Burlesque. Good for you! I also see this time you’ve written your own answers to your own questions and argued them. Again, good for you (pats you on the head and asks “What are the voices telling you now, my dear?”

    As a male burlesque performer I take offense on behalf of the WONDERFUL and AMAZING friends I’ve made in this industry. These beautiful and STRONG women have the power. Not the audience member. We on stage dictate what happens. Not the audience. If you feel good inside and want to share that with others, then GO AND BE BEAUTIFUL I say.

    Burlesque is sexy, powerful, funny, alluring, imaginative, a journey, interactive, retrospective and… a choice.

    Much the same way you CHOOSE to belittle something you are not part of. So YOU enjoy your little KKK moment and WE’LL continue to enjoy ours.

    • Meghan Murphy

      HA! This comment is awesome. Thank you, Defy, for presenting us with such a perfect example of the idiocy and anti-feminism that is intrinsic to the burlesque “community.”

    • vouchsafer

      at defy,

      interesting, so do you get naked too onstage or is it just the women? Because if you don’t, calling them strong and empowered for baring their bodies in an unequal setting is just putting new lip gloss on the same old inequality.

      • Aurora

        Many male burlesque performers or “boylesquers” get just as naked as the ladies. There are some incredible and beautiful male performers out there that are making fabulous art in the name of burlesque.

        • Meghan Murphy

          Of course those men make up about 2% of burlesque performers and are not the 51% of the population negatively impacted by rape culture and porn culture… Men are also not objectified in the way women are. “Boylesque” is a derail, as I addressed in the post.

        • lizor

          “There are some incredible and beautiful male performers out there that are making fabulous art in the name of burlesque.”

          Seriously? Because pretty boys are taking it off it’s feminist? And also it’s “art”???

          You know that this is exactly what John “Buttman” Stagliano claimed about his gonzo porn on CBC radio: his production suit was a wondrous artistic expressive enclave of
          highly educated and progressive individuals.

          http://www.cbc.ca/q/blog/2010/10/15/is-porn-hijacking-our-sexuality/

          As a professional artist, your comment offends me deeply. Making art is a long-term commitment to rigorous practice and self-critique. Whipping it out or showing off your pretty abs and butt is not.

          • Dixie

            As a professional artist, you should know that art is subjective. You cannot dismiss this as an art form. That is a serious contradiction. You offend me with that comment. What makes what you do more valid than what I do? Nothing. I could take a crap on a table and call it art and it would be art because I consider it so. People couldn’t deal with Mapplethorpe’s work, and today it’s part of the study of photography.

            The work these artists put in never ends and most of the dancers I know work their asses off whether they have day jobs or not. I have spent many hours far, far past my bedtime finishing a costume or fine tuning choreography that just isn’t right and I know my peers do as well. The amount of time it takes to craft a beautiful costume is stupid ridiculous and very expensive. I consider the costumes alone works of art. The attention to detail is insane, at least it is on my end. Everyone is constantly taking workshops in a variety of dance, aerial arts, contortion, wigs and stage make up…pretty much anything that can elevate what they are doing. Making light of those people’s commitment is shameful.

    • NitroGirl

      As a Black woman I find your “KKK” comment offensive. No one ever lynched anyone because they were Burlesque dancers. This must be the pinnacle of “oppression” burlesque dancers face—critisism. Oh god I wish that was all I had to worry about in the world,someone not liking my hobbies. Also, I stopped reading your post at “As a male”. Sorry.

      As for the topic, I really don’t see what’s so subversive about burlesque. Is it because it’s an old practice? Like how hipsters romanticize eras they weren’t even born? Just seems like old-time patriarchal manafestations with a possible modern twist. Eh.

      • lizor

        “This must be the pinnacle of “oppression” burlesque dancers face—critisism. Oh god I wish that was all I had to worry about in the world,someone not liking my hobbies. ”

        Exactly. This underscores the immense self-absorption and privilege of these commenters.

        • NitroGirl

          Yes, a pity the people who liked that comment I responded to weren’t brave enough to publicly co-sign him co-opting struggles to his boring,unoriginal hobby that even old men who used to wank to no longer give a crap about.

          According to his pics he linked to,he is White. White boys on the internet think everything is oppression.lol

          • Meghan Murphy

            And, interestingly, their responses to those who criticize their hobbies is virulent misogyny! Wheeee!

        • gxm17

          Self-absorbed pretty much sums it up.

    • lo

      “and… a choice”

      Oh again that “choice” thing… -_-‘

  • switchboard7

    I once saw an interesting “burlesque” show that tried really hard to be body positive and feminist in nature. The only boobie tassels were on the boylesque member of the group, there were interesting numbers critiquing “binders of women,” Twilight and Twi-hards, women as objects (they turned themselves into sofas and foot stools, among other things), women falling for literature and philosophy books instead of men, and interesting “I won’t be a housewife, mom!” piece, another on putting clothes on instead of taking them off, etc. etc.

    These are performers who have experimented with lots of styles of performance, mostly dance, to get feminist messages across with different levels of success. In many regards, it wasn’t a traditional burlesque performance – no “real” nudity or lingerie, no dollar bills, etc. – but there was definitely a lot of suggestive body movement and, of course, the dear boys nipple tassels. In the larger context of performance history for this group, I can easily see why they would call themselves feminists and this particular performance set a feminist critique, but on the other… All those undulating hips and fleshy shimmies and high heels made for a really uncomfortable moment for me.

    • switchboard7

      Egads, I just reread that. I promise I know how to use accurate grammar. Late nights and cold medication are a nasty combination…

  • Laura

    Hey Meghan – great post – I often feel like I could tape record my answers to these arguments and just play them for all the different people that think they’re coming up with it for the first time.
    Wondered if you knew that the phrase “rule of thumb” derives from an old English law that it was permissible for a man to beat his wife with a stick provided it was no thicker than his thumb? I try not to use this phrase.
    (search for “thumb” in this judgment about a wife beater if you’re interested: http://scc.lexum.org/decisia-scc-csc/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/599/index.do)

    • Meghan Murphy

      Ack! I did not know that! Thank you for letting me know… Will definitely not be using that one again 🙁

    • lizor

      I believed that to be true for the longest time and cringed every time I heard the phrase, but it turns out to not be accurate. It came from usage indicating less-than-precise measurement employed in craft and also some association with woodworking.

      http://www.debunker.com/texts/ruleofthumb.html

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_of_thumb

      • Meghan Murphy

        Also good to know. Thanks for the info, lizor!

  • sporenda

    “Sure it bores you, sport bores me but I don’t go around slandering sport just because its not my cup of tea. I just don’t watch it or go to a game even though its everywhere and most people like it. I do other things. You my dear are on a mission to bring burlesque down and thats boring!”

    Boredom is not the point in this discussion.
    And the main criterion to decide that something is socially good or harmful is not that you find it boring or not.
    Lots of people find child porn not boring, very exciting in fact, that doesn’t make it socially acceptable.

    “Feminists seem to get all uppity when there is any hint of sexuality or eroticism in the adult world. It like it should not exist.”

    Sex work is the polar opposite 0f free and pleasurable sexuality, it’s a tedious JOB, done by women solely for men’s pleasure.
    There is nothing in it sexually for women–the fact that they might have sexual desires that are not just about pleasing men is totally ignored.
    It’s only about extracting money from men by FAKING being sexual.
    This is as anti-sex, anti-pleasure and anti-women as it can get.
    .

    • lizor

      “Sex work is the polar opposite 0f free and pleasurable sexuality, it’s a tedious JOB, done by women solely for men’s pleasure.
      There is nothing in it sexually for women–the fact that they might have sexual desires that are not just about pleasing men is totally ignored.
      It’s only about extracting money from men by FAKING being sexual.
      This is as anti-sex, anti-pleasure and anti-women as it can get.”

      Yes. Yes. Yes. This.

      “You’re anti-sex/anti-pleasure because you critique the sexism of mainstream [narrow, received , predictable] sexual representation/performance” is like saying you are anti-bread because you won’t eat Wonderbread.

    • idnami

      ” it’s a tedious JOB, done by women solely for men’s pleasure.”
      Also money. Don’t forget about how it’s one of the highest paid “tedious jobs”for unskilled women. Oh and it’s also not always tedious. Sometimes it’s a lot of fun.
      A lot of this comes from an automatic assumption that men really don’t care about women ever. Or that the man who is forced to pay for sex because for whatever reason he can’t get it any other way isn’t grateful, respectful and kind. Sometimes he is. Prostitution is older than patriarchy.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Lots of men who pay for sex “can get it elsewhere.” Tons of johns are married, have girlfriends, etc. The reason they pay is because they think they can treat prostituted women differently than they can treat their partners. Because men who buy sex don’t respect women. They also like the power of being able to pay someone to degrade them.

        Obviously most women are in prostitution because they need the money…

      • Kat H.

        Oh, yeah, ‘forced’ to pay for sex. Because if they don’t have sex, they’ll shrivel up and die *EXTREME EYEROLL*

        I don’t care if a man can’t ‘get sex’ for whatever reason. I seriously could not care less if some dude never has sex in his entire life. Cry me a goddamn river. I care way more about the women the men CHOOSE to buy.

    • gxm17

      “Sex work is the polar opposite 0f free and pleasurable sexuality, it’s a tedious JOB, done by women solely for men’s pleasure.
      There is nothing in it sexually for women–the fact that they might have sexual desires that are not just about pleasing men is totally ignored.
      It’s only about extracting money from men by FAKING being sexual.
      This is as anti-sex, anti-pleasure and anti-women as it can get.”

      ****

      This x eleventy.

      I can’t for the life of me understand why these burlesque-bots confuse the androcentric inanity of burlesque with “sexy” and “erotic.” It’s not. It’s really rather sad and depressing.

  • Aurora

    This article makes no sense. You invalidated your own argument with your own test. When your two main points are:

    1) Are dudes doing it?
    2) Are dudes trying to explain to you that it’s actually feminist?

    …and the answer to first one is a resounding “yes,” you really need to get off your soapbox at that point. Instead you back pedaled with your “boylesque” argument because you realized your own argument was invalid. That was just sad. There is a ton of boylesque happening in our community. They are hardly just an exception. The fact that you lined up “abuse” with posting “sexy selfies” speaks volumes.

    Is there sexism in modern burlesque? Absolutely. There are some misguided producers and sometimes audience members that are missing the point of this boisterous art form. Is all burlesque sexist? No. The majority of it is pioneered by strong and empowered women, and some by men that are our allies not our enemies. Women are out there producing their own shows, employing other performers, growing this economy, and having an amazing and fun time while doing it. Ninety percent of the time when I’m booked for private events it is a woman that books me. The best part of performing is that my audience is made up of not only men but mostly beautiful women that understand and appreciate what I do and are not threatened by it. This is whether I’m performing in a lounge, nightclub, a wedding, or a lesbian bar (explain away the “male gaze” with that one)!

    We as a burlesque community get it. We really do. You don’t like burlesque. That’s great! Not everything is meant for everyone. Frankly I can’t stand M.M.A. I feel that it perpetuates violence. Bruised fruit angers me to no end! I’m not writing articles on public forums spreading the gospel against these things. I just move on and focus my energy on things I do like. If I’m sitting in a restaurant and it (MMA) starts being played on television, I don’t go home and cry about it online. Shit happens. Get on with it. As a “feminist” all of your energy and time wasted on this could be put to so many better things than against burlesque. Female genital mutilation needs outside voices to speak up against it in the name of feminism. Burlesque does not.

    Lastly, any response on your part will fall on deaf ears, but have fun raging back with your predictable responses. It seems you’d much rather be surrounded by anti “burlesque-bots” preaching the same canned answers so I’m sure there will be plenty more people to pat you on your burlesque hating back. Me personally, I’ll be too busy rehearsing for my next show!

    • Meghan Murphy

      Did you even read the post? Your “points” about boylesque and that women book your shows or are in the audience are addressed. Your delusion that women who are critical of burlesque are threatened is just sexist.

      In any case, why are you all so desperate to tell how wrong I am about burlesque if you don’t care what I think?

      I have to say it’s kind of an odd experience to write a post specifically about how, when you critique burlesque, defenders will make the same irrelevant and nonsensical points over and over again, despite what you actually have said, and then to see that exact same thing play out in the comment section.

      Is there something particular about burlesque performers that cause them to lack any self-awareness whatsoever? Is it a reading comprehension issue? Or simply a distaste for reading at all? Someone should do a study.

      • Lynn

        There is this weird sameness to every reflexive defence of burlesque. Ir’s an amazing community!!! of strong and empowered women!!! They all love each other!!!!! They’re having fun! They make fabulous costumes! They feel great!

        Sass and tease and blah blah blah. It’s a girly-girl echo chamber of self-congratulation. It sounds like everyone’s campaigning to be Miss Congeniality on the sequins and tassels circuit.

        I’ll agree that promoters of burlesque are sometimes correct in their lauding of their craft. I’ve seen some enough of it in my city to know that there are some very talented singers, dancers, designers and costumers putting on burlesque shows here.

        But what they fail to understand is that most of it is, *as burlesque*, artistically bankrupt. Real satire and subversion are rare indeed. Without them then all you have left is someone taking her clothes off, distinguished only by a cover of sequins and empty justifications.

        Fortunately it’s a fad, like other fads, and eventually it won’t be so ubiquitous.

    • sc

      HERE HERE! If I see another ” I would NEVER let my boyfriend see a show ” I’m going to scream.

      My boyfriend goes to all of my shows and then some. He even attends boylesque shows with me. Because he is not close minded.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Oh I see. Open minded men like strip shows. Got it.

        You guys are too funny.

        • NitroGirl

          Openmindedness in Feminism is Everything,from Blinking Eylids to Pooping, is doing things that are already well recieved in a patriarchy. A man resisting pornography and stripclubs,for non-religious reasons would actually be subversive,as opposed to just doing what men percieve to be an male right for centuries.

      • lo

        Then, everything that is about Objectification of women is just about being open-minded?

        lmfao

    • lo

      It is not just about “i like”… That’s not an argument…

  • Vrg

    Hey defenders of Burlesque. Maybe seeing the issue from an uneducated male lens will help you understand the point that the author is trying to get across:

    I am a man. I watch porn and I have gone to strip clubs. I have seen many a burlesque show. I group all of these things into the same category. I think it’s fine for you to love burlesque. I think it’s great that it makes you feel good. That’s all well and good. I too enjoy them on a visceral level. However, on an intellectual level, there is nothing that can convince me that any of these things are feminist, empowering or furthering women’s position in society. At all. Period. It’s not a judgment on your likes or dislikes, it’s a judgment on how you choose to categorize this activity. To reiterate – just because you like it, or lots of people of all shapes, sizes and demographics like it, does not make it feminist. The fact that you all get SO defensive speaks to the deep-seeded confusion you seem to have about this issue. Try and think critically. Also, it is painfully obvious when someone responds to an article that they have CLEARLY only skimmed. Because a lot of these arguments are right there in the body of the piece.

  • Stacey- aka Kitten Kaboodle

    Interesting read – posts and comments. I have never identified as a feminist, but I do believe in humans who are kind and fair. Idealistic in some respects, i suppose. I was fortunately raised by loving, supportive folks. I have been a burlesque performer for 7 years. I started when a few friends got involved, and it was a wonderful opportunity for me to step onto a stage – something I had secretly wanted to do for years, but was unsure of how to start. I started as the emcee for the group, as I was too shy and body conscious to get nearly naked in front of anyone – including my boyfriend. Too many years of absorbing negative body image thoughts from the media and peers.
    After a while, a mixture of “underwear envy” (you can read that as wanting male attention from being scantily clad if you want), and desire to dance together in a group (something I have always loved from musicals) brought me to where I am now – a full-fledged burlesquer.

    It has been an awesome ride for me.

    Burlesque gave me a chance to create mini-plays where I got to write, choreograph, costume and star in. It gave me an opportunity to be in the spotlight, even though I don’t really dance, and I can’t carry a tune even if it’s in a basket with handles. I can act, it turns out, but how often do you get to play the part of yourself X100 when you act??

    I have been told that I am entertaining. Have I sold my self down a patriarchial path? Perhaps. But it has been empowering for me, personally. And an odd thing happened when I started performing. I got into this for myself – make no mistake about that! I wanted to do something in theatre, to escape from my Monday to Friday world of emergency veterinary medicine. But the weird by-product that happened, was how many times women would come up to me and my troupe mates after a show and thank us for going on stage. Many felt better about their bodies after seeing me and my co-horts shaking what our mommas gave us! I am white, but not stick-thin. I have booty to spare, and boobs that would be heavily photoshopped (read: added to) if I were to be featured in a magazine. Being on stage and being proud of my body was truly an empowering thing for some women! Again, I am not a person that identifies as a feminist, but I think anything that strips away a women’s shame and hatred of her own (beautiful) body is a good thing – right? I didn’t get into burlesque to make other women feel better about themselves, but it has been a lovely side-effect.

    I will wholeheartedly agree that burlesque isn’t for everyone. Like another poster said – she doesn’t like sports, but can respect the fact that thousands of people will pay to see an NHL game live. Everyone has their own preferred way of spending their time and money. Everyone has their preference – some like horror movies, some like sci-fi, some like rom-coms, and some (like me) fall asleep in any movie. Trick is to respect that there are many different ways to enjoy your time, and perhaps the energy spent hating burlesque could go to something more positive in the world. You can choose to never see it again – and I get that! No worries – move to something that does inspire and elate you!! And put your passions to positive things!!

    With respect ~ Kitten Kaboodle

    • stephanie

      I respect all the hardwork that goes into burlesque, and I respect it as a way for people to explore empowerment and sexuality. With that being said, I would admit that its drawing from patriarchal practices by setting up situations where we equate sexuality with women as performers, women wearing make-up, women with good hair styles, and women with certain clothing styles. Its just a much more modest and artful form of objectification imho that simultaneously has the ability to empower its performers and some audience members by making them feel better about their bodies and more comfortable with their sexual interests. I would not advocate for the abolishment of burlesque (nor do I think that author of the article is doing this). But I do think we need to make room to critique it and understand how forms of sexism keep reappearing in our society, regardless of how empowering they can be for the people involved. I get how it can be body positive and allow more women to feel sexy about themselves. This is a great aspect of burlesque. But maybe because we are still in a patriarchal society, it can help reinforce some sexist attitudes towards women… for example, the idea that people deserve access to women’s bodies whenever they want for their own pleasures(they can just watch porn, go to a strip club, or go to a artful and thoughtful strip tease show). It presents sexuality in a pretty bow, with all the shiny, gorgeous outfits and representation of women as nice looking things — and that seems like a very shallow thing, like I have to adhere to these kinds of dressed up representations in order to feel empowered and sexy or be sexy. I think its more complex than just providing empowerment. Yes its empowering for men to understand that all kinds of body types are sexy, and yes its making progress in that realm. However, using sex to sell the idea that body type shouldn’t devalue someone’s sexual agency and attractiveness, maybe reinforces the idea that we have to make ourselves valuable through sex and by “repackaging” certain types of bodies as sexy. Although I acknowledge this this kind of work likely helps people understand the value in all kinds of body types, it still posits the idea that these bodies need to be valued as sex objects in the first place in order to be acceptable. So yeah, burlesque to me is totally empowering through the lens of body positivity and feeling sexually empowered by sharing your body with others in order to feel valued… but wait… i just said i need to share my body sexually with others in order to feel valued and empowered. Can you see the double edged sword I am trying to communicate?

  • CC

    We have lived so long in a patriarchal society that alot of us do not realize what patriarchal oppression is. Or that feminism’s aim is to benefit all genders. I have a great love for certain feminist writers, bell hooks being my fave, and feel that her work has made clear to me how patriarchy does not fully support men or women.

    I feel the some of your arguments make sense from a feminist point of view and I applaud your commitment to view things in is this way. A commitment to feminism is necessary for women to gain a “human status” and for men to have choices around what being masculine means.

    I too am a burlesque performer too, however, and have been for many years! I love the art form and all it has given me in my life. My ability to share my creativity has been immensely therapeutic and the friendships I have made in the community are some of the closest I have experienced to date. So I cannot be on board with your article but hey, that’s life.

    As a feminist I feel it is healthy for two women to disagree on something and not have either person walk away bruised. But rather recognize we are each powerful enough to make our own choices and be happy with them. Good to have some opposition from the public as an artist as well. Keeps me fresh!

    I am sure this time next year you will still be writing articles like this and I will still be stripping. And we will both see it fit to do so.

    God Bless Ya! (Did I mention I am catholic too? A stripping feminist catholic).

    • stephanie

      there is another way. it is to admit that there are some things about burlesque that play into patriarchial issues, but that you understand that and still choose to move forward with it, because for you the personal benefits are good enough to do so. not all women have that option and choice, but i am honestly glad that you have found an artform that you love. It’s great that you have found a community.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Exactly. Why can’t you just like it because it makes you feel good and not try to force it to be feminist when it isn’t? There are plenty of things I ‘like’ to do because I enjoy them or they make me feel good that I don’t try to twist into feminism or pretend like I don’t do them because of patriarchy/capitalism or gender norms.

  • Nicole

    I agree with all that you’ve said. There’s often a blind spot for performers and fans. They love what they do and what they see. I do question why the goal has to be viewed as “sexy” per burlesque as opposed to funny. Where are all of the female stand up comedians challenging the notion that “women aren’t funny”? Why does it always have to be about being sexually desirable (hence your male gaze comment)?

    It’s easier to take off your clothes and act coy. There’s less barrier to entry. Therefore more substandard performances get in.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’ve performed burlesque. I’ve produced burlesque and I’ve watched burlesque all over the world. The majority of performers are performing for themselves and the audience takes on a support group mentality. That is fine. It heals the performer and it heals the crowd. It is obviously an essential need since it is so popular.

    It just makes me sad.

    I want a woman’s self worth to be determined by what’s between her ears and not between her shoulders or her hips. If it takes the form of nudity then that is perfectly acceptable. I would just hope that women know and realize it’s not the only option.

    • Lynn

      Popularity indicates “essential need”? Pet rocks were more popular in the 1970s than burlesque could ever be. Don’t be ridiculous.

      Big clue: if you want a woman’s self-worth to be determined by what’s between her ears, having her believe that her power resides in people’s desire to look at her is Doing It Wrong.

      Where do these people come from? Is it the glue from the sequins? Gah.

  • Jen

    I think the ubiquity of burlesque in the Vancouver music scene can also be discouraging for women who want to participate in the independent arts scene but don’t want to put on a burlesque inspired act or persona.

    What’s the impact on female musicians who share a bill with burlesque performances? Are they taken as seriously as male musicians? Do they feel increased pressure to sex up their act, or risk being irrelevant and ignored? Do female musicians who don’t sex-up their act end up with less invitations to play, thereby impacting their ability to pursue their passion and craft?

    Just some of my reflections on this. Thanks!

    • Meghan Murphy

      Exactly. Do we need to get naked to be paid attention to? Are women expected to perform alongside a strip show and be totally fine with that?

      Thanks for your thoughts, Jen. Good questions to ask.

      • gxm17

        That’s what I’ve been thinking. Is there any “performing” art that is male-dominated that includes nudity and seductive contortions. Why is there even “boylesque”? Shouldn’t it be a given that half the burlesque audience has no interest in the gyrations of a nude woman?

        Which brings us back to the male gaze. The assumption is that half the audience, the half of the audience that matters, is absolutely *not* interested in the gyrations of a nude man.

  • RJ

    I’m confused. I thought one of the prime dictums of feminism was that women get to do what they choose to do. So if a woman of legal majority, sound mind, yada yada yada, looks at burlesque and says, “Hey, that looks like fun; I want to do that!” and goes off and does it… how does what she chooses to do invalidate in your eyes her ability to choose for herself?

    • Meghan Murphy

      Yes you are confused. Feminism is not about everyone doing whatever they want (though they *can* do what they like, that hs nothing to do with building an equitable society or ending violence against women) — it is about ending patriarchy.

      • RJ

        Isn’t part of an equitable society respecting the choices of the members of that society? That’s where you are losing me.

        • Meghan Murphy

          “Respecting the choices” like, point blank? That seems crazy to me… We are supposed to simply “respect” every single choice anyone makes ever and that is going to magically create equality? That is honestly one of the most absurd arguments I’ve ever heard.

    • Missfit

      ‘Choice’ is irrelevant when we are analyzing media content or art. When you discuss a theatre production for example (or a book, a movie, advertising, etc.) you might want to look at what is being portrayed,what message/values it conveys,how it fits in a broader context, etc. The fact that actors chose to participate in a movie is irrelevant to the critique of it. And as feminists, the questions we usually ask are what it says about gender relations, how does it reinforces/challenges patriarchy, etc.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Thank you, Missfit. Exactly. We are talking about representations — how are women represented, what messages are being conveyed? The ‘choices’ of the individual performers aren’t relevant in this context, imo.

  • sporenda

    “. The majority of it is pioneered by strong and empowered women, and some by men that are our allies not our enemies.”

    Very unfortunate language. When I see the words “strong empowered women” associated to “sex work”: RED ALERT.

    When I read these words, I know who is talking: pimps, pornographers, paid advocates for the industry, madams, the few women who are high enough in the sex business hierarchy to be relatively privileged and able to exploit other women.

    “Women are out there producing their own shows, employing other performers, growing this economy”.
    Employing other performers, that’s what female pimps do too, hardly a reference.
    Growing this economy: dealers grow the economy too.

    I don’t object to your way of making a living, but what I find ridiculous and disingenuous is your insistence on present sex work as empowering and feminist.
    It’s the most traditional , the most subservient feminine activity there is: showing your meat to please men sexually.

    The modern discourse on sex work is pure orwellian: slavery is freedom, serving men is empowering, pretending to be a sex toy to extract money from men is feminist.

    • RJ

      Your thesis then is that being a feminist and a sex-worker are essentially incompatible? So, women who do self-identify as feminist sex-workers are in your view… what? mistaken? deluded? lying? What gives you the ability or authority to invalidate their self-identification?

      • Candy

        Anyone can identify as anything.

        For instance, in my gender studies class I brought up a book called the Sexualization of Childhood, in which a pornographic website where people can pay $38 a month to watch “young innocent girls” be “deflowered” was mentioned. The website includes pictures of young but supposedly legal “virgins” with teddy bears and lollipops, along with pictures of a girl’s vagina being stretched as it displayed an “intact” hymen; the porn itself contained a scene where she’d be grimacing and he would pull out and wipe the blood off on her).

        I told the class that not only is the website itself disturbing in that it’s linking emblems of childhood such as stuffed animals with perceived “innocence,” it’s perpetuating blatantly false ideas about the nature of a woman’s hymen.

        And you know what? A couple “choice feminists” told me I was slut-shaming. So no, not everyone is a feminist simply because they identify as one. I believe it’s possible to be a feminist sex worker, but to say the act itself is somehow overthrowing patriarchy with its empowerment to women is baffling. I also believe that burlesque has the potential to be a feminist act, but I, like Meghan, have seen few subversive ones. Just because a woman is doing something with her body doesn’t mean we all should be jumping for joy. I have seen a few burlesque shows that I found to be artistic and lovely, but then I’ve seen burlesque shows in which I was left wondering how the women could function in such tight corsetry. In many ways, burlesque doesn’t seem to challenge the status quo as much as it could.

        When feminism puts more value on individual choice than social reform, it ceases to be a movement and becomes simply another philosophy in the cauldron.

        • Meghan Murphy

          Right-o, Candy! You can identify as a feminist all you like, but that doesn’t mean your hobbies are feminist.

        • RJ

          If feminism doesn’t respect individual choice, how does it differ from the patriarchy you seek to overturn?

          • Meghan Murphy

            If you want a “movement” based on individual choice as the epitome of freedom, perhaps you’ll feel more comfortable in a forum for libertarians?

          • RJ

            A question for you: in a world where feminism has achieved its goals, can you imagine an art form such as burlesque existing?

          • Meghan Murphy

            If it did exist, it would certainly be unrecognizable as anything we understand to be “burlesque” today.

          • RJ

            But art that celebrates the sexuality and choices of the performer would still exist?

          • Meghan Murphy

            I think art that celebrates sexuality would exist. Of course. What a ridiculous question.

          • RJ

            Not a ridiculous question. I just wanted to see if you could imagine that pro-feminist burlesque and sexual art could exist even, even if you personally hadn’t seen it yet. And you do.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Well sure. The issue is, though, that you can’t simply take things out of context and place them in another non-existent context. And, in any case, burlesque in it’s current state isn’t about ‘celebrating sexuality’ so much as it is about ‘celebrating’ the objectification and sexualization of women/women’s bodies.

    • Aurora

      Sporenda: As you directly quoted and twisted words from my post I thought I’d respond. I apologise for the wall of text…it’s getting late. Who knows if it’ll even get posted.

      Much despite what you believe, the sole purpose of burlesque is NOT “showing your meat to please men sexually.” You obviously see burlesque as sex work, pornographic in nature, and debilitating to women’s rights. I, along with many others, see it as art, an opportunity to be my own boss, and fuse all of my creative interests into one package. As a benefit it also allows me to pay my bills. It’s hardly the same thing as trolling the streets for John’s.

      I think you’re trying way too hard to turn this into something it’s not. It might just be because you’re not completely familiar with burlesque as a whole. Using “RED ALERT” to compare what I do, and align it as being a pimp or a drug dealer is pretty extreme and offensive, but believe what you will. I hardly think I’m going to change your mind on it as it seems to be set in stone, but perhaps

      I personally and once again, have no problem using the term “self-empowered woman” in relation to what I do. Although some on the outside and that are unfamiliar might, I personally don’t see it akin to sex work as you mentioned, but instead entertainment for a mature and open minded audience. Some of the best burlesque shows I’ve seen have had my splitting my sides with laughter, some have brought tears from how beautiful they were, others really touched my heart with the heavy message they delivered. So many times I’ve been completely in awe of the genius and talent I’ve seen from performers all over the world, women and men alike.
      The sheer craftsmanship that goes into the costuming is astounding. All of the time and energy spent in creating one 5 minute act is just nuts. Some acts spend a full year in production getting every little detail just right…it’s truly mind-blowing and inspirational to me as a burlesque performer when I see people pour their heart and soul into an act. There’s always going to be some random dude in the audience that is there just for the boobs, but frankly the majority of us performing are not there for that random uneducated guy such as VRG from above, who just doesn’t know any better. In our hearts we are performing for those that recognize and understand the hard work and love that we pour into this passion of ours. When I go to a burlesque show I’m not there to study women through this “male gaze” you all speak so fondly of. I’m there to be entertained, captivated and have a grand ‘ol time. The more I can laugh, the better. The fashion nerd in me loves seeing the costumes, I embrace the stories told with people’s physiques, their music, and even the lighting. It just all comes together in this beautiful, all-encompassing package that burlesque is.

      Keep in mind the majority of performers are not doing this to pay their way through this world, they are doing it as a hobby and a form of artistic expression….an outlet to get outside of their day-to-day life. I hardly doubt the same can be said for prostitution, or even straight-up modern strip club stripping, not that I am knocking those down, to each their own. Quite a few burlesque performers also work in strip clubs. Instead for many it’s an opportunity to explore and develop an outlandish character that represents a portion of themselves that ordinarily they wouldn’t have the opportunity to visit. Not all burlesque is created equal. It runs the gamut from classic (which tends to be the more sexually focused as it’s a throwback to the old era of burlesque), to political, comedic, and more. It explores social norms, body issues, sometimes sexuality, and many social issues. You should really explore more of burlesque and what it’s really all about before you’re so eager to write it all off as akin to prostitution, with pimps leading the way. I’d be happy to share some links of my favourite performers that inspire me for various reasons. I’m just afraid they would be wasted on your eyes.
      For me burlesque has been a wonderful opportunity to become my own business owner, as well as to have the opportunity to meet an incredible group of women (and men) that I greatly respect and admire. My best friends come from the world of burlesque and we are truly a sisterhood. Nobody held a gun to my head to make me perform. There was and still is no pimp slapping my ass around if I don’t suck enough dick and bring home their cut of the money. I book other performers, not because I’m a madam as you so abysmally put, but because I am a business owner. Supply and demand is the cornerstone of economics. The best thing is I have the opportunity to employ my friends and colleagues and work with so many talented people that I greatly respect. My job is amazing, one of the best things that ever happened to me, and I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to be a part of this amazing community every single day!

      • Meghan Murphy

        HOW MANY TIMES DO WE HAVE TO DO THIS.

        “You obviously see burlesque as sex work, pornographic in nature, and debilitating to women’s rights. I, along with many others, see it as art, an opportunity to be my own boss, and fuse all of my creative interests into one package”

        IF YOU SEE BURLESQUE AS ‘ART,’ THAT’S FINE. NO ONE CARES. That said, simply because you’ve elected to draw a line between what you do and the ways women are objectified in other contexts, SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY NEED TO MAKE A LIVING, doesn’t make that line true. An argument about what is and what is not art can happen elsewhere. It hasn’t happened here. We’re talking about objectification, the liberation of women from patriarchal oppression, and the male gaze. Not “art.”

        “For me burlesque has been a wonderful opportunity to become my own business owner, as well as to have the opportunity to meet an incredible group of women (and men) that I greatly respect and admire.”

        YOU KNOW LOTS OF PEOPLE YOU LIKE. GOOD. How is this relevant to anything anyone has said here?

        “Nobody held a gun to my head to make me perform.”

        NO ONE COERCED YOU. GOT IT. Again, no one is arguing burlesque dancers were coerced by gun point, ffs. What are you talking about??

        YOU LIKE BURLESQUE. GOOD FOR YOU. STOP MAKING IRRELEVANT COMMENTS. THE POINT IS THAT BURLESQUE ISN’T FEMINIST AND THAT IT OBJECTIFIES WOMEN. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE THAT YOU CAN’T MAKE A COHERENT ARGUMENT BASED ON THINGS PEOPLE ARE ACTUALLY SAYING.

        Christ. This is why I called this post “crazy-making edition.” This. Exactly.

        • annika

          Go Meghan go! Got to love the classism in there too-she’s an “artist,” not like those dirty whores on the street or strippers who work in clubs!

          • RJ

            If you are going to call out classism, you might want to look in your own mirror.

          • annika

            I have no idea what you’re referring to, and I have a feeling neither do you.

      • marv

        Aurora: “I book other performers, not because I’m a madam as you so abysmally put, but because I am a business owner. Supply and demand is the cornerstone of economics.”

        Yes, but liberal economics is a male creation as much as burlesque. The so called “laws of economics and nature” are more like habits that are socially learned. New humans are born into the collective habitual patterns of adults which are social structures that form our behaviour. We call this culture and institutionalization. Within our patriarchal traditions burlesque proprietors are consummate capitalists who unabashedly conform to the male ideology of competing as individuals or groups to achieve prosperity, progress and liberty. Here economic and sex classism are one, as in most other places. The union contains both the art and the politics of representation in the rendering of objecthood through magical storytelling.

      • Kat H.

        Give me a break. You can call it art as much as you like (even if I disagree) but I have no idea why you think this means it’ll deter anyone from critiquing it. Art is not something sacred and context free. Art is a part of the culture it’s made in and can be just as sexist, racist, homophobic, etc as anything else. It is not inherently progressive just by being art. Your ‘art’ dehumanizes and objectifies women, promotes porn culture and is helping to keep women down as the sex class. It’s misogyny. This doesn’t change just because you dress it up in pretty costumes and put on a little music.

        How much work and passion or whatever goes into it doesn’t make a difference in the amount of harm that burlesque does. It doesn’t affect the criticism it so rightly deserves. Like, I don’t see how ‘I put a lot of work into this!’ is a counter argument to anything that’s been said in the post. It just means you put a lot of work into performing for the male gaze and contributing to porn culture. We’re not impressed.

        I seriously doubt you would have as many men going to these shows and supporting them if there wasn’t the promise of t & a. I bet you if the strip tease factor were removed men would abandon it in the blink of an eye.

        • Meghan Murphy

          Love everything about this comment. Especially this: “I seriously doubt you would have as many men going to these shows and supporting them if there wasn’t the promise of t & a. I bet you if the strip tease factor were removed men would abandon it in the blink of an eye.” Word.

  • Marianne

    Hey, just curious about your critique of sex work, which seems to be part of the background to your critique of burlesque though you don’t much go into it in this post. You imply that chosen sex work is still anti-feminist. I’m wondering if you would say a bit about your criticism of consensual sex work, or point me to a blog post where you’ve discussed it before.

  • Ginger Kittens

    I graduated in 2007 with a Major in Women’s Studies and feel very strongly about feminism and our need for it. I am a burlesquer since 2008 and also feel strongly about its value. I reside on Vancouver Island and am part of a troupe of 12-14 women, all ages, all shapes and sizes. We DO feel empowered by our art but more important THE AUDIENCE gains empowerment through what we do. With a good dose of comedy and theatrics, we tour and travel to bookings in small BC towns where theaters of up to 700 people welcome us with open hearts. The demographic of our audience is often overwhelmingly mid-aged women, and gay men. In an interesting twist of fate, we receive an enormously positive response from older women,( blue hairs!) who feel inspired and empowered (their words) by seeing us and our bodies/skin/curves/butts/boobies on stage. Yes the MALE GAZE is undeniable, and sexuality and femininity has been ascribed to our bodies on a massive scale for much of time eternal. Burlesque is valuable because it has the ability to put our bodies and their meaning BACK in our own hands. First off, burlesque does not always entail stripping, and many acts happen without clothes coming off at all. But when it does I consider the literal act of “stripping” to be a transformative narrative of stripping away layers of social mores and constraints. It is every woman’s right to do what she will with her body. Burlesque is sexy, yes, but there is also so much power in using YOUR body for comedy, for example, in a way that takes the ascribed sexuality out of the equation. In this way we do not take our bodies too serious which inspires other women from all walks of life to feel comfortable in their skin. I am feminist and come from a massive feminist background, but for some women seeing this kind of humor or confidence on a STAGE is life-changing. Some women come from repressive communities, relationships, or families. You cannot tell them what they feel, right? And we do not take our stage time lightly: we put so much thought and care into our routines, costumes, concepts, and practice! Our acts are OUR stories, written with our hearts and minds and bodies, prose written through our own experience and with our own voices, often with a real heart-felt feminist message as “the point”. We really will never be able to control how others see us and the meaning ascribed… think about those who are against breast-feeding in public, those who argue that it is “indecent” are treating life-giving breasts as ONLY offensive sexual parts. Our bodies are more than sexual, they are ours.

    • Meghan Murphy

      You’re missing the point. Being “empowered” or “inspired” is fine and good. It isn’t feminist. Please read before commenting. I’m really sick of repeating myself over and over again.

      • Donna

        Meghan your responses seems to breed arrogance when they are not similar to yours and you even censor comments. Lets see if this one gets published.

        Are you the authority on all things feminist just because you studied it? Are you the gatekeeper of womans rights? Do you believe you represent us all?? You certainly don’t represent me and many others from what I can see. Many of your comments towards burlesque performers or people who support this art form are extremely negative and is condescending in nature.

        There seems to be many intelligent woman having their say on this blog and each time your view is opposing and there is a ‘holier than though’ attitude. If you push your agenda than at least respect others who equally have valid and intelligent points.

        And for the love of boobs everywhere please stop lumping burlesque in with pornography, prostitution, sex work etc. BURLESQUE is not part of any of those worlds.

        • Meghan Murphy

          1) Moderating comments does not = censorship. Please refer to the comment policy for further information: http://feministcurrent.com/1749/so-you-think-you-want-to-comment/

          Basically, it’s not your or anyone else’s “right” to comment here. It is your “right” to start your own blog and comment there. You also have the whole rest of the internet to spout off about whatever you like.

          2) What is wrong with being “negative” about things that are deserving of critique? This is the anti-intellectualism I reference. Having critical opinions is not a bad thing. It’s called critical thinking.

          3) I doubt men get attacked for their “tone” or for being “condescending” even half as much as I and other women who write publicly do. It’s sexist. If you don’t like the voice of a writer, don’t read them. It’s as simple as that.

          4) Burlesque is hardly any different than stripping. Stop pretending like it’s something it isn’t.

          5) I bet if you had been called every single disgusting, misogynist name out there, by a bunch of women and men who claim to be “feminist” or “progressive” you’d be less than accommodating or “respectful” with regard to their opinions too. The rest of you just resort to sexist tropes and stereotypes (but minus the misogynist name calling — thanks!) and make the same arguments I address in the original post or make arguments based on things I haven’t said/that no one ever has said. I imagine that if you’d been hearing the exact same ridiculous, thoughtless, nonsensical, anti-feminist opinions, based purely on a narcissistic need to defend one’s hobby from critique, over and over and over again, for YEARS, you’d become impatient too. It gets old.

          It isn’t my job to engage the same old crap, day in and day out, just because y’all think you’re saying something original. You’re not. In fact, the entire reason I wrote this post was to point that out, which seems to have gone right over all of your befeathered heads.

          The commenters here are also tired of having to make and address the same, boring, feminism 101 arguments they’ve addressed a million times over. We would like to move beyond that silliness, which means that I try to moderate the comment section in a way that encourages productive, interesting, challenging discussion, instead of forcing my commenters to slog through this “MYCHOICE” garbage time and time again.

        • lizor

          “Are you the authority on all things feminist just because you studied it?” […and have spent years writing and discussing it]

          FFS, Donna – seriously???

          What gives you the right to perform surgery just because you spent seven years studying it?

          What a ridiculous thing to say.

          My experience with Burlesque has been very limited – the one show I saw entailed two women dressed as business men who did a dance where they moved from beating each other up to making out – all in suits and ties from start to finish. I thought it was pretty sharp. However, I can see that the scene Meghan is referring to is a very different from what I witnessed and that her conclusion (based on more evidence than most social science experiments would warrant) that defenders of burlesque are extraordinarily solipsistic, is dead on.

          Thanks for driving the point home.

    • lizor

      “in a way that takes the ascribed sexuality out of the equation”

      Women PERFORMING sexuality on a stage for an audience, which is by definition put in the position to consume and to judge – that is the form of live performance – repeats the ascribed sexuality of our toxic culture where are women exposed and men concealed. It does not matter who comprises the audience and who is on the stage performing the ascribed sexual gestures.

      Yes, seasoned performers have the craft to hold and direct an audience’s attention and through that to communicate ideas, however, when the content is about sex, using this form of human communication to subvert the status quo is almost impossible. We see the same thing with the notion born somewhere in the early 1980s that if women seized control of the production of pornography they could alter its meaning. As we have seen in no uncertain terms, Marshall McLuhan was right on that score.

      I also understand that it can feel pretty great to be seen as a sexual being if you happen to fall outside of the narrow dictates that the culture enforces on women’s appearance; if you have otherwise been rendered invisible in this way. That kind of erasure is cruel and the positive attention received for Shakin’ Your Very Own can be a wonderful relief from the pain of that exclusion. However, as empowering as this may feel on a personal and individual level, it is not dismantling patriarchy. It is reiterating it.

      There are alternative means for marginalized women to reclaim their sexual power: through body-based practice including emerging body-centered sexuality practices. But jumping directly into a public spectacle form is a band-aid solution at best – and it has a strong potential to do harm in the broader context.

      • Meghan Murphy

        “I also understand that it can feel pretty great to be seen as a sexual being if you happen to fall outside of the narrow dictates that the culture enforces on women’s appearance; if you have otherwise been rendered invisible in this way. That kind of erasure is cruel and the positive attention received for Shakin’ Your Very Own can be a wonderful relief from the pain of that exclusion. However, as empowering as this may feel on a personal and individual level, it is not dismantling patriarchy. It is reiterating it.”

        Yes, this is the thing, isn’t it. I totally get how validating or empowering it might feel to be, as you say, “seen as a sexual being” after having been “rendered invisible” by a society that dismisses women who don’t fit into very narrow standards of beauty. I don’t think there’s anything “wrong” or abnormal about the desire to be seen in that way or feeling good about it. That said, it still focuses on women’s bodies and appearances and the ability to be sexualized as THE route towards empowerment.

        Feeling attractive is nice for individuals but doesn’t have anything to do with freeing women from violence or subordination. I’m not sure why we are insisting on conflating the two things?

    • stephanie

      I’ve participated as an audience member for burlesque in the midwest. I sometimes found it empowering to see different women’s bodies on stage. For me, the reason it was helpful was to note that my body was normal even if it did not meet the narrative of what a supposedly arousing female body should look like. That when real women strip (real meaning women not acting in commercialized film and media), that there was a huge variation in body types instead of “one kind” being represented. It also helped me know that several women with different body types also felt stigmatized about their bodies for not being “arousing enough”, which I assumed was evidenced of some women acting out their discomfort on stage in order to face these internal issues, an act that was sometimes reinforced by the audience’s cheers in support of their performances. But I also felt simultaneously discomforted in what was happening, despite going to several shows from different companies to support my women friends who danced in burlesque. Women that met the more normal kind of beauty & body standards were cheered on more than others. Sometimes I could hear audience members laughing at women whose body types weren’t as attractive according to the cultural narrative. Maybe this is more indicative of the midwest’s attitudes about women’s bodies (and as you said, you can’t always control the ones that are there for the wrong reasons).

      I am glad that women in burlesque find so much agency and female support, and I get that it’s an art form and I know that there is a lot of work that goes into creating performance routines, not to mention money (garments can be expensive). I think I still question that if we empower ourselves sexually by playing into the narrative that what makes us sexy is our sexual availability for others, or the amount of work we put into “arousing others” through makeup, choreography, and expensive clothing, that we are telling women that in order to be sexy they need to work on being sexual. That they in themselves cannot be sexy as they are unless they perform. Not to mention some audience members use these kinds of performances to “spice up” their sex lives and sexual appetites, as if their current partner as they exist is not enough because they aren’t interesting in performing. Yeah some cases this indicates a not good match, but in other cases, this is a representation of how women are expected to be sex objects and put work towards their value by making themselves “attractive.”

      So I think its possible for Burlesque to be both empowering, as well as disempowering,and I think its more complex than “some audience members show up for the wrong reasons and that’s why its sometimes not feminist”. there are aspects of burlesque that I think we must be open to critiquing, instead of conflating how empowering it is for some women, as being completely feminist.

      I’m glad that burlesque exists, because I think it contributes to body positivity as well as women’s enjoyment of their sexualities, but I think it still does these positive things while playing by patriarchy’s rules.

  • sporenda

    ” Prostitution is older than patriarchy.”

    Nonsensical statement.
    From what is known about the first forms of prostitution recorded in history, men were always behind it: priests, in religious prostitution, performed in or near temples.
    It’s funny to think that the first pimps were priests, that makes sense somehow.

    Prostitution is not just part of patriarchy, it’s a a cornerstone of it, it’s one the key institutions, like marriage, on which it depends to perpetuate itself.

    I understand that there is good money to be made in burlesque, I have no problem with that. I am fine with the fact that you might even enjoy it.
    And if you want to entertain the notion that it’s a form of art, up there with Michelangelo, Mozart (and Jane Austen and Camille Claudel), it’s a bit farfetched but feel free.

    But do no try to BSt us by presenting burlesque like some form of new and revolutionnary feminist strategy to advance women’s rights:

    ” Yes the MALE GAZE is undeniable, and sexuality and femininity has been ascribed to our bodies on a massive scale for much of time eternal. Burlesque is valuable because it has the ability to put our bodies and their meaning BACK in our own hands.”

    That’s balooney. You are just doing exactly what millions of nude dancers, strippers etc did before you for centuries, long before feminism was even invented: you are playing to the male gaze, for money.

    Trying to present sexwork (the oldest profession in the world, to recycle the cliché) as the great feminist plan for the 21st century is utterly laughable : either you are badly deluding yourself to justify what you are doing in your own eyes, or you think we are idiots.

  • jo

    Ugh that picture makes me feel nauseous. Gross clothed man grabbing female butt. That shit ain’t sexy. It’s very obviously that the man is meant to be the important, clothed, dominating one and the woman is some thing used for decoration and sexual use. The image could be called patriarchy.jpg

    Funny how this post got the same type of comments you answer in it, Meghan.

    Why do you burlesque lovers get so upset over some feminist critique of it – do you think it’s something so pure and 100% mega-feminist in nature that it somehow can’t be criticized?
    Or are you mad someone said something negative about your empowerful hobby?

    Just because a woman feels “empowered” by doing something, doesn’t make it feminist or free from sexism.

  • TFYFWYA

    Can we also talk about their dishonesty and how they give you this wide eyed “oh my god, no way, that would never happen” shit when you mention burlesque often happens in unexpected and inappropriate places? At first I thought maybe things just work differently in different places, and that may be part of it, but I’m honestly starting to think that they know EXACTLY what we’re talking about and that making people uncomfortable with their burlesque might be part of the overall appeal for them.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Yeah well, I don’t think exhibitionists or those who want to “shock” aren’t necessarily concerned with what other people want or their comfort level.

      But totally. So many women have told me about experiences where suddenly they’re at a burlesque show they didn’t sign up for. A friend of mine left the gym because there was a “burlesque” class going on in a glass room and she felt so uncomfortable watching these women sexy dance in their underwear, at her gym. Like, we have to watch strip shows while we’re working out now?

      Never mind the fact that practically every “feminist” or progressive fundraiser these days features burlesque, which is pretty fucked if you ask me.

  • Nicole

    Good post. However, your first requirement ignores the simple fact that women are socialized to be repulsed by the naked male body. Think of the (completely irrational) phenomenon of women finding male strip clubs “gross” (not because it’s a strip club but because there are men showing dong in the real!), women being “grossed out” by full frontal male nudity the few times it ever happens on HBO or in films, being grossed out by men with splayed apart legs for AA ads even while fully clothed (because it’s a “girly” pose) and so on. It seems even if tons of men *wanted* to play more sexual roles in something like burlesque shows, it just wouldn’t take off because (mainstream) women have been socialized to not even find that type of behavior attractive in men. So, a vicious cycle is set in place. Performing sexiness through the body and anything to do with nudity is associated with “feminine” behavior and, as such, anything that violates this mainstream code (such as men performing sexiness or being nude), not matter how progressive, will not be very successful. This makes your first requirement suspicious in determining whether the content of a space is sexist.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I see what you’re getting at but I’m not sure I completely agree… I think, rather, that we as a culture are socialized to sexualize and objectify female bodies but not male bodies. I think maybe we equate “sexy” with “sexualized” and think of sexualization as something “feminine” rather than “masculine,” which might explain why we are “repulsed” when we see men acting “sexy” because we think it makes them seem “feminine” (and, therefore, demeaned/submissive/disempowered).

    • lizor

      A comparable thought – I’ve had lots of men tell me that women’s bodies are beautiful and men’s are not, as if this is a quantifiable, material reality. The notion is completely absurd, of course. I can’t really imagine women seriously being “repulsed” by the male body except within the framework of some stereotypes of feminine fragility (swooning at the word “shit” or smell of same, for example) or the other scenario that Meghan describes: the heteronormative “repulsion” at perceived “femininity” in men.

      sporenda has nailed it – the male gaze has it’s very own world wide, predatory, culturally producing/humanity-eroding, poisonous industry. But objectification, while mainly practiced by dudes can be done by us all. If you want to reduce a human being to an object or a tool, we are equally capable of that – it’s just that it’s encouraged and rewarded in men and punished in women.

    • gxm17

      I completely disagree. If all the people who support burlesque are comfortable with nudity then it shouldn’t matter which sex is performing nude. The straight men should even “appreciate” the male performers. As a straight woman, I would much rather see a nude male body on stage. It’s the straight men in the audience who don’t want to see it and, in the default heterosexual male gaze of patriarchy, they are the only audience members who count.

      Personally, I do not enjoy seeing others prostituted so I wouldn’t go to either a male or female strip club. But certainly in our everyday entertainment (movies, TV, theater), I would prefer to see equality when it comes to nudity. Anything less, is a total and complete lie. It has been my life experience that men take their clothes off just as much as women do.

    • M.K. Hajdin

      Oh no, everything is women’s fault! If only they liked dick more!

    • stephanie

      Your comment to me is very strange, because most of my life I was surrounded by women that enjoyed commenting on men’s bodies and how attractive they were, from being in a male stripping context to liking male movie stars. I felt like the odd one out because I didn’t find male stripping very sexy, largely because it mostly featured muscular men, which I find a turn off in general, because in most cases body building represents something synthetic. But most women I know, from my grandmother and great aunts to my best friends love that.

      I do, however, find myself turned on sometimes by the “feminist” photos that place naked men into the same kind of objectifying poses that women are often in – in order to make a statement about how ridiculous objectification is. For me, it didn’t work as an argument of why objectification was ridiculous to see men pose in this way, it made me realize how sexy objectification can make men look when they are in submissive poses. I also think women can sometimes look sexy in submissive poses or when they are objectified. I am very turned on by the human body, but I think that I can act on those urges without participating in practices that minimize a person’s worth to their body or encourage me to look at people like sex objects.

  • sporenda

    It’s not that women feel no desire toward male bodies: rather it’s about women being the servant class, so what they want (sexually and otherwise) doesn’t matter, their sexual desires are not socially recognized nor validated.

    So there can be no industry built around the female gaze: not that it doesn’t exist, but it’s only the dominant class whose sexual desires are granted the status of sexual RIGHTS (guaranteed , unlimited sexual access to women, thru prostitution, rape and marriage), along with the financial and cultural power to enjoy those rights.
    Hence a whole industry dedicated to the stimulation and satisfaction of male desire.

    If you belong to the servant class, your sexual desires are not only denied, you are not even allowed to have autonomous sexual desires ( not coinciding with what men want sexually):

    for a long time, female sexuality was summed up by PIV within enforced marriages, in other words:
    – sexually pleasing not yourself but the man,
    – sexually pleasing a man you didn’t even like.

    Come to think of it, it’s pretty much what burlesque performers do.

    • stephanie

      i guess some women find it sexually pleasing to please the man, in the context of feeling sexually empowered because men (or people) want to fuck them. I find this concept hard to critique because many people think sexual desire exists in this bubble that is just representative of them and not the culture at large.

      Burlesque argues that the women on stage are feeling sexually empowered by being sexy for themselves and then sharing it with others by means of the stage. I don’t think thats completely the cases if they need an audience?

  • sporenda

    Also it should be mentioned that SOME strip and lapdancing joints
    – are run by organized crime (or strawmen for OC)
    – are used by OC for money laundering and as front for other illegal activities
    – that prostitution might take place in VIP rooms away from the stage
    – that burlesque performers are often sexually harassed (groping, fingers in vagina) and are routinely asked to perform as prostitutes.

    The line between burlesque and prostitution is not always clear and impassable.
    But of course, I expect burlesque performers to react indignantly: not me, not where I work, NIMBY.

  • Kat H.

    I think what I hate the most in these discussions is how porn/burlesque defenders always seem to want to position themselves as the great defenders of human sexuality against the prudish culture that hates sex.

    Our culture does not hate sex. It LOVES male sexuality. Movies, TV, advertising, magazines and on and on all are heavily invested and encouraging of male sexuality. Just turn on the tv and look at almost any advertisement filled with women’s objectified bodies and tell me again how much our culture hates sex. The only sexuality it hates is female sexuality that isn’t fake and plastic and performative.

    No one who is participating in burlesque is fighting the good fight for real human sexuality. They’re just perpetuating the same form of male sexuality we see everywhere. Seriously, if you brush aside the buzz words like ’empowering’ piled on top it looks no different from any of the other crap our culture serves up in the name of sex.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Right-o. And, as example, a number of them accused me of being ugly, jealous, man-hating, woman-hating, vagina-hating, and sex-hating.
      Which is kind of ironic because all of those stereotypes/accusations are misogynist, anti-feminist ones.

      It’s so obvious that burlesque and most of those in the scene are sexist or, at very least, perpetuating sexist notions. Wrapping it up in an “empowerment” bow is simply manipulative.

  • Anna

    Meghan,

    I love your blog and have been reading many of your articles. I’ve agreed with everything I’ve read here, except that I do think that there is the possibility of burlesque performance being feminist in its attempt to create femininity as not essential but as a masquerade. Thus a woman can deflect anxiety about the male gaze by feeling that she is creating the female body through costume and performance.

    Link: Excerpts from “womanliness as Masquerade” by Joan RIviere (1929)
    http://www.mariabuszek.com/kcai/DadaSurrealism/DadaSurrReadings/RiviereMask.pdf

    I think that it’s important that when burlesque performers talk about what they enjoy, they most often speak about their costumes and the time they spend creating characters. It’s possible that this costuming and “hiding” or disguising the feminine body is what is most empowering to burlesque dancers, because then they feel that living in a female body is not a burden but a creative choice they’ve made. I remember that as a teenager I played with gender a lot. For at least a year I had very short hair and dressed like a 1930’s man, even fooling some people as to my actual gender, and then after that I dressed as a retro woman. I found that the drag element seemed more extreme to me when dressed as a woman than as a man (in that it felt less like “me”), and that I enjoyed the way I could hide behind it. I remember too the men I knew not being happy with all of the heavy makeup and the drag element. But that was good, because the last thing I wanted to be was a natural, pretty girl. THAT filled me with the utmost disgust. I felt that being retro made me “queer” somehow, and that the mask protected me from male rage at having a well-functioning brain.

    The other issue here is that even though we live under patriarchy, we are never getting rid of the male gaze. It’s true that we also don’t need to cater to it, but I think that there is a female gaze too, and that it is a narcissistic gaze. I think it’s the gaze that causes women to buy fashion magazines or to watch movies featuring glamorous women in gowns. Feminism should include trying to decipher what a female sexuality might look like without patriarchy, and I think that for some women engaging in the fantasy of being a beautiful sequined performer IS their own sexual fantasy.

    I also think that having burlesque be “retro” is important because then women are trying to place their sexuality in a context before the sex industry exploded with the launch of Playboy magazine. So the retro aspect could be seen as a protest against the contemporary sex industry (in that the male gaze of 1950 was satisfied with a woman in a bikini, which a woman could share narcissistically unlike the male gaze of porn today which makes most women sick). I’m not saying that the male gaze on burlesque dancers is fundamentally different than their gaze at any other naked women, but that trying to discover what female sexuality is for individual women may be an important project for feminism.

    This is not to say that most individual burlesque performers are actually achieving any sort of transgression; whether they are doing so or not would depend on the performer and the piece. The fact that burlesque performance as a whole has contributed basically nothing to feminism in my view is because nothing that any woman does in this culture that has to do with sexuality can remain “hers” for very long. At the beginning of the sexual revolution there were all of these ideas about the promise of sexual liberation for women that didn’t go anywhere, not because women didn’t get interested in that utopia, but because they were tricked into becoming sex slaves the second they started to agree to casual sex.

    • M.K. Hajdin

      There is no female gaze, only the internalized male gaze. It will continue to be so as long as the patriarchy exists.

      Even if it existed, we wouldn’t want a female gaze, because the gaze dehumanizes people and turns them into objects. And that’s completely fucked up.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Exactly, M.K.

      • Anna

        Well I don’t know. Since we’re looking at Mulvey as being key here, she spoke of a scopophilic narcissistic female gaze that allowed women to identify with women in movies – she said they flip back and forth between this gaze and the male gaze. That gaze is not dehumanizing; it’s identificatory. It creates mirror neurons in women. She also later retracted some of her original essay to point to women’s movies as possible vehicles for female pleasure in narrative cinema. She had to do this really because there is no way to explain such films as MILDRED PIERCE and HIS GIRL FRIDAY as merely examples of male desire and fetishism. There is so clearly female desire and agency operating within those films.

      • Anna

        So, what would a world without patriarchy look like to you? Can you envision such a world?

    • stephanie

      “The other issue here is that even though we live under patriarchy, we are never getting rid of the male gaze. It’s true that we also don’t need to cater to it, but I think that there is a female gaze too, and that it is a narcissistic gaze. I think it’s the gaze that causes women to buy fashion magazines or to watch movies featuring glamorous women in gown.”

      i’m not sure that I would be comfortable telling middle school girls that they are narcissistic for looking at women’s magazines and trying to be pretty. That would especially kill my younger self that was trying to do that because I was informed that it was what I need to do in order to be attractive to men, thus valued as a human being. It seems more like a pressure to do these things being imposed by the culture.

  • Anna

    I also think it’s possible that neo-burlesque has a different meaning today than it did ten or fifteen years ago, because of the pornification of culture and the age of girls now getting into it. In the ’90s, it really DID seem transgressive, as the girls doing it then really were figuring out how to reclaim their sexuality from within their generation in which thinking women mostly rejected their femininity outright. It really was seen as odd and a bit threatening, and men didn’t even like it that much because the girls were these punk weirdos with their own sexual agency. With girls growing up today, I think it’s mostly just a cool way of feeding the porn culture in a retro chic way. I remember seeing a burlesque show about ten years ago and feeling that it really was creative, inspiring, and transgressive. But I have not seen one since like that. They now seem more like strip shows and are informed by different things. They have been depoliticized and co-opted by men’s culture and so have lost their transgressive value.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Certainly possible. And I’m sure there continues to be random transgressive, creative, non-sexist performances, it’s just that they are few and far between and the performances most burlesque performers/fans are defending are decidedly NOT those.

  • Anna

    One more thing: I think that some of the objections that the burlesque crowd raise, and which you detail here, do explain how burlesque CAN be feminist. This boils down to the notion of pleasure and who gets to have it. In a patriarchal culture, men define who gets to have pleasure (men) and who doesn’t get to have pleasure (women) in transactions such as the one between the prostitute and the john, the porn viewer and the porn performer, and sometimes (but not always) the strip club patron and the stripper. In patriarchal culture, men are the recipients of pleasure and women are the providers of pleasure, especially sexual pleasure. So this is why it’s not irrelevant that women are getting pleasure from performing or viewing burlesque, or that women are finding pleasure from being able to flaunt what they’ve got when it isn’t the norm of beauty and body image. I agree that your motto “just because you like it doesn’t mean it’s feminist” applies to many things in culture that women enjoy, I just don’t think it necessarily applies to burlesque (or at least what neo-burlesque is at its best). This is because burlesque is potentially trying to find a place outside of mainstream sexuality, whether or not the shows you’ve seen have achieved this objective or not.

    When I was in school the most life-changing essay I read was Laura Mulvey’s VISUAL PLEASURE AND NARRATIVE CINEMA, and since reading it I made it my life’s goal to experiment to see if it was possible to create a narrative cinema of visual pleasure for women. Although I have not always succeeded, I have sometimes been able to combine nudity with feminist discourse in a way which ruins the female imagery for the men so that they reject the films, and so that the films appeal more strongly to women. Men feel very threatened that a woman is trying to carve out her own space, and they can become very angry and hateful that you’ve given them an attractive women to look at, and yet have not really given them permission to look at her the way they want to without forcing them to reflect on the fact that they’re doing it. This is when you know that what you’re doing is working to challenge the patriarchy.

    What I’ve found is that for misogynistic men, the type of agency that I claimed as a director and that a burlesque dancer claims when she is conscious of what she’s doing is always already a turn-off, because all of that creative costuming and self-respect and gender-bending and playing female drag that she does places her outside of his fantasy of a generic female to use, and makes her too much of a human being for him to become aroused.

    So while yes, I agree that burlesque has not done much or anything to move patriarchy, I don’t really think we can do anything to move patriarchy when it comes to male sexual entitlement, so we just have to create our own spaces. It sounds like the argument here is that you don’t believe that a new space has been created with burlesque, but in my experience people ARE trying to create new spaces, and the details of how these spaces differ from the mainstream ones are not minor details to be shoved aside, they are the whole point of the performances; and yes, I also think these differences can make the work feminist. I’ve thought about all of this a lot for many years and was very slow in coming to accept nudity as potentially feminist. But what I’ve found is that the men will fight you and not let you have your own sexual space (or even your own subjective feminine space). Once you realized how threatened they are by your little tiny gesture of speaking to your own subjectivity, you also realize how important it is to continue to challenge them, and that it’s a fight worth fighting that MAY even chip away at the patriarchy a little bit.

    And brava to you for holding your ground on this issue. If it’s your real conviction and comes from your gut you should by all means stick to it as your personal and political truth. I will confess I’m not nearly as radical as you, maybe partly because I love theater and all types of performance so much, and have been so personally excited by the performances of dancers in old musicals which have a strong connection to burlesque.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Laura Mulvey’s work and studying feminist film theory was foundational in terms of my analysis. Mandatory reading, I say!

  • Anna

    It may be generational too. I don’t think that my niece, who is in her early 20’s, has any potential for being ironic about her feminine role. I think she wears it like an oppressive yoke, and I know she would hate to see a burlesque performance, although she is a beautiful girl who wears makeup and pretty clothes. I can just sense that she is so disgusted and depressed by the men out there that she could never just “enjoy” female objectification for its own sake, or see it as anything transgressive. That’s a burden that thinking women of your generation must bear, and it is a testament to how much worse some things have gotten that the concept of pleasure in female self-display can be so totally ruined for you. I think if I was your age I would feel exactly the same way!

    • M.K. Hajdin

      Liberal “feminists” need to learn that feminism is not about feeling good. It’s not about pleasure or orgasms. It’s about overthrowing a system of male dominance.

      Revolution is unpleasant. It’s adversarial, confrontational and scary. Liberation does not equal feeling good; rather the opposite.

      Feeling good is part of the deal women who don’t want revolution make with the patriarchy: “I’ll be content to serve men as long as I get to feel good about it, and as long as I get to feel like I have power, even if that feeling is based on no real power, just positive attention from males and from females who have internalized misogyny.”

      • Anna

        M.K.,

        Yes, that’s true. Liberal feminists mostly don’t want to think about anything and just want to have fun. And the word empowerment is thrown around way too much, and has mostly lost all of its meaning.

        But the way I see it, patriarchy has two ways of controlling women’s sexuality: one is denying that they have any, and insisting that only males get to have sexuality and that women are only the passive receptacles to male desire; the other is trying to make all women into whores for male use. I think it is women who have been subjected mainly to the former type of male control that feel empowered by expressing themselves sexually.

        My experience of burlesque suggests that there is a certain control in performing on a stage and designing your own act that seems to be outside of the structures of coercion and fear that are involved in, say, prostitution or pornography, and that it’s not primarily about serving men, although the admiration of men may be part of the incentive for performing it. It’s true that we live in a porn culture, so that we may not even be aware of what we’re doing, but I think that women do have some awareness of what makes them feel good and bad, and that these feelings can be political to some extent.

        And I do think that there is a female gaze, a narcissistic gaze, which is not the same as an internalized male gaze. That is of course impossible to know, as we will never be able to live in a society in which we were not trained as girls under patriarchy. We can never know what our desires might have been like had we been able to come up with them on our own. But there is persistent research that has shown that while women do not especially care to look at penises, thus making them indifferent consumers of heterosexual pornography, women seem nearly universally to be aroused by being considered beautiful and desirable. The enormous success of romance novels is in their catering to the fantasy of identifying with the heroine who is beautiful and madly desired by men (or by women, in lesbian fiction). And in the old Hollywood musicals, the men would look at the beautiful girls sexually, whereas the women and gay men would look at the woman’s hair, makeup, and gowns. So there was one film, but two potentially different gazes.

      • Anna

        So to clarify, I think that the narcissistic gaze is not abject. So in that sense I depart from Laura Mulvey and probably from most everyone on this blog. I love and have always loved to see showgirls in films, and I love Von Sternberg’s films which she holds up as examples of abject narcissism. I will admit that loving those things, which I’ve loved since I was a small child, is more important to me than identifying as a feminist, although in every other respect I am in alignment with radical feminism. My personal history is part of why I feel this way: my mother always watched the old musicals and was obsessed with the beautiful women in them. She was a dress designer, and took direct inspiration from the gowns designed by Adrian and Orry-Kelly. My father, on the other hand, thought her interests trivial and stupid, as he preferred serious foreign art films. He disparaged her career of designing clothes, and instead held up the fine art he did as superior. So I have always identified glamor with a feminine sensibility, something that was for women. I remember all of the women coming over and trying on her dresses, reveling in being women, while the men would drink or get stoned and talk about art. My dad was really sexist like most men of his generation, and his constant denigration of my mother was based on the fact that she was so feminine in her tastes and interests, yet she was not weak or passive in any way. From those early experiences I learned that women can get great pleasure in being beautiful for themselves, and that they often do it without the approval or even the permission of men. I sensed great injustice in male pleasures and pursuits being held up as more important or dignified than feminine pleasures and pursuits, and I’m angry about that to this day. My dad was all about Playboy magazine, where the girls wore nothing, and my mom was all about the old musicals, where the girls wore showgirl outfits. That’s somehow where I learned what I thought the difference was between male and female pleasure. My mother and her friends would not have called themselves feminists though.

      • Anna

        Hi M.K,

        To overthrow the patriarchy (or to make the world a better place for women) we have to change laws. Feminists are succeeding in doing that in so many important ways, most notably in prostitution laws and in educating the public about the sex industry. But what would you legislate about burlesque? I can understand being sort of irritated that burlesque dancers are claiming to be feminists, but I can’t see that they are important to the cause of feminism in any real way, either negatively or positively. I don’t see why they are even part of the discussion, unless they want to discuss other “sex positive” hot button issues such as prostitution and pornography.

  • Anna

    Hi Meghan,

    Not to bombard you with my opinions, but I was also thinking about the context in which Laura Mulvey wrote that essay and in which second wave feminism was born to begin with. It was in response to the explosion of pornography and the pornification of women’s images that happened very suddenly starting in the late ’60s in the name of freedom and liberation. Savvy feminists were pissed off and smelled a rat, and knew that the freedom they were being sold was intended for men and to further enslave them. The neo-radical feminism which you belong to is in response to exactly the same phenomenon – a time in history where women are being sold a bill of goods about their freedom which further guarantees their sexual slavery and status as third-rate citizens. It’s not a coincidence that radical feminism is making a comeback just now. So, while we talk about the “gaze” as if it refers to all male sexual gazing (and Mulvey also did that in her essay) the emotional response in women of disgust and outrage is really at base, I think, one of outrage not at pinups per se, but more specifically at the pornographic gaze. That’s the gaze that really offends.

    So I think that the healing power for women in burlesque is that it refers to a pre-pornographic gaze. The term burlesque itself refers to the act of burlesquing or lampooning something, and women even in the ’50s enjoyed watching other women make fun of their feminine role. It took some kind of pressure off of women to see their role as something constructed, something that could be funny. So women always liked the burlesque shows (as opposed to the strip shows which were always only for men). This is why Mae West was so empowering for women. She was defining herself as a woman with her own sexuality, who could pick and choose men rather than waiting passively to be chosen, and exaggerate her femininity so that it was like a drag performance, a role she was choosing rather than having thrust on her. Burlesque gives women a chance to make light of gender, to reframe it. In Rachel Moran’s excellent book she says, “as a prostitute, you do not get to frame the boundaries of your own sexual experience.” Well, free women sometimes do get to frame their sexuality – or at least, they can try to – and sometimes they choose to reframe it through burlesque.

    And Rachel is so smart to talk about the frame. I think about Marcel Duchamp putting the urinal in the museum, reframing it as art. Of course people could gape and point (and they did) and say, “But thats not art, it’s still a toilet!” In some sense they would be right, but they would also be misunderstanding what art is. So when a woman sits obsessively designing a costume, creating a persona, a new name, an act, and she performs in a theater rather than on a table, and for women and gay men primarily instead of straight men, and is admired as an artist rather than judged by her physical characteristics, and she has a consciousness about what she is doing and what it means, and the audience shares that consciousness, everything that goes into that scenario is a new frame, starting with the proscenium arch and the distance she puts between herself and the audience, and including the audience themselves and the ideas they bring to the performance about what it means. You will still get the occasional yahoo staggering in and pointing and saying, “But that’s still a toilet!”, and that man will gaze at her with his stupid gaze and violate her with his eyes as if she were a prostitute. But this doesn’t take away the meaning of what she is trying to construct, or the fact that yes, while it’s a toilet, it’s also NOT a toilet – it’s been put in a frame and we are asked to contemplate it within that frame.

  • sporenda

    “straight men, and is admired as an artist rather than judged by her physical characteristics, ”

    She would like to be seen as an artist, and deludes herself that she is an artist, but beyond this artistic smokescreen, the bottomline is that men attend burlesque shows to see Ts and As.

    Just like the toilet is still a toilet, and framing it as a work of art is pure make believe and fooling people.
    And lots of modern art is about intimidating the viewer into thinking that whatever the artist calls art is indeed art.
    In other words it wants you to believe that the artist is God and holds the power to name and decide reality: whatever he says goes, and you are supposed to trust him and distrust your own perception.
    Of course I don’t buy that– nor do I buy “burlesque is art”.

    The fact that “sex workers” in burlesque want absolutely to convince themselves and others they are artists is rather sad and pathetic.
    This is just one of the many ways women try to obfuscate the humiliating reality of their inferior status and the unpleasant fact that deep down men, (including the men they love), think of them as commodities.

    • Anna

      Hi Sporenda,

      I think it’s difficult to decide what is and is not art. And I don’t think art is supposed to be about intimidating anyone or fooling anyone. I do think that women often try to work through abuse and objectification through performance – through reclaiming something for themselves and thus experiencing playing a feminine role as positive instead of thrust on them. That these women are always uneducated or fooled as to what they are actually participating in, or masochists or in cahoots with men or making deals with men to be liked is a position that seems harsh to me as it doesn’t allow for variations in what is not always a standardized form of performance.

  • Anna

    @sporenda:

    We are living in particularly harsh and awful times when it comes to male objectification of women, so I can see how you could feel that way. Burlesque is no longer radical in today’s climate and no one is learning anything from it or gaining any real power from it. But as I said before, I think this is because under patriarchy any sexuality women try to claim for themselves is instantly co-opted by men and its meaning is changed and distorted so that it’s no longer for the women but for the men. This happened in the ’60s as well. A tiny bit of sexual freedom for women is immediately overshadowed by men’s further enslavement of women to a suffocating male fantasy paradigm. I’m actually obsessed with this mental and emotional enslavement of women to male desire, and I would be sad to think that every single woman who tries to escape it through working out through sexual performance might just be exhibiting some sort of masochistic form of the Stockholm Syndrome.

  • sporenda

    ” I’m actually obsessed with this mental and emotional enslavement of women to male desire, and I would be sad to think that every single woman who tries to escape it through working out through sexual performance might just be exhibiting some sort of masochistic form of the Stockholm Syndrome.”

    What puzzles me most is the support given by most women to their own enslavement, way beyond what’s required for mere survival.
    In her book “Loving to Survice” , Dee L. R. Graham analyzes what’s described as typical female psychology as collective Stockholm syndrome (loving your agressor to reduce his agression and stay alive).
    This book is a must if you are interested in understanding this basic female behavior.
    But at the end of her book, Graham states clearly that, while it might be indeed a strategy for managing male violence, loving your agressor and being intimate with him doesn’t cut down male agression, but on the contrary facilitates it through easy access.

  • Anna

    Well that’s really interesting. I had never thought about “typical female psychology” in those terms, but it makes perfect sense. I’ll check that book out.

    I don’t think that phenomenon is quite so puzzling when you see that what women are often attempting to do is end their enslavement by redefining it or reclaiming it. They are trying to superimpose their subjectivity on top of the male gaze and change the idea of what their fetishized bodies mean. I know it seems absurd that they would use a man’s fantasies as the basis for changing that idea, but they feel that these are their own fantasies.

    I once met a woman who told me she had gotten into posing for pornography because her boyfriend had gotten her into it. She had the utmost horror of naked women in magazines when she was growing up and couldn’t believe any woman would ever degrade herself by posing like that. But then once she started posing nude it became all she lived for, and although she started just with topless shots she went into hardcore porn and then into escorting, and maintains a blog where all she talks about is sex. I sometimes look her up to experience the sheer terror and horror of seeing her degrade herself, because I am sure that’s what she is doing. That woman to me is a perfect example of the Stockholm Syndrome. I know her addiction to it is that she feels she has control of her sexuality now, in turning her biggest fear into something she does every day “for herself.” But that woman I feel is deluded and has lost touch with herself.

    Sometimes one experiences these things on a gut level, and one “knows” if something is transgressive or not. I’ve only seen four burlesque shows in my life, and only the first one was good, so I stopped going. I prefer to think only of the good one and to erase the others completely from memory. The performers in the good show had honed their acts, sets, and costumes for a year and the acts were all designed to transgress something. There was a lot of humor and gender-bending, and everyone could really dance, which made a big difference because you could see all the ballet and jazz dancing these women had studied for years, and it was beautiful to watch and beautifully choreographed. Dita Von Teese herself was rejected from the show because she was too mainstream and too much about pleasing men. The tickets were very expensive and it was in an old converted movie palace. Everything about it was lush, decadent and pleasurable, and somehow one got the feeling that everyone there was playing some fun and elaborate game. I ran into the most beautiful done-up girls in the restroom, and gentlemen in period suits. The audience and the performers were all playing roles. Everyone had put in so much effort to live out some personal fantasy of glamor and elegance from the past. It was like being transported to Paris in the 1950s. I understand that radical feminists would still hate it because it was bringing back those ’50s stereotypes, but to everyone there it was magical and transformative.

    Those two experiences – that of the website of the porn performer and that of the burlesque act I saw – to me are polar opposites: one is sex work the other is theater, and the line is not blurry. But the other burlesque shows I saw were actually pretty depressing and the line was blurry for me there.

    • sporenda

      “That woman to me is a perfect example of the Stockholm Syndrome. I know her addiction to it is that she feels she has control of her sexuality now, in turning her biggest fear into something she does every day “for herself.”

      Yes, it’s another counterproductive female strategy to deal with being dominated by men and defined by them: what you can’t change, pretend that you control it, “own” it. What you have to endure, pretend that you chose it.
      But like lots of coping strategies, if the immediate consequences definitely feel good, the long term effect is self destructive.

      • Anna

        But is burlesque self-destructive? That’s what I’m trying to figure out. Can we put it in the same category as sex work and pornography? A lot of the argument against sex work is that it is damaging to the women involved, and also damaging to society, also that it gives harmful messages to women about their self-worth and to men about their entitlement. It’s something that only men enjoy, and it can lead girls down the garden path to work in the most degrading jobs because those jobs have been normalized and sanitized as if they’re like any other kind of work. I would agree with all of this. But is burlesque damaging and painful in the same way?

        If I am to understand Sheila Jeffreys correctly, my fantasies about showgirls, created from watching movies from the ’30s and ’40s while I was growing up is exactly the same as girls growing up at the same time as I did having fantasies about being a Playboy bunny or a girl growing up today fantasizing about being a porn actress. But I insist that what I loved about Busby Berkeley movies was not the nudity of the girls. I was watching these movies from the age of about three, and I was mesmerized by the costumes, the staging, the spectacle, the choreography, the collective camaraderie of backstage, the songs and orchestrations, the sparkling personalities, the sass of the women. But she would say that these were tricks to get me to submit to my role as a sex object and a showgirl.

        In ANTICLIMAX, Jeffreys talks about a lot of the practices advocated by the sexologists as being bad because women secretly hated them and had to be forced to like them and participate in them. So women liking something or not liking something was at the center of some of the original radfem arguments. “Reclaiming” was also at the center of certain arguments, such as Mary Daly saying we have to reclaim things that were stolen from us. And one of those things, she seemed to hint at, was our primal goddess energy. I always saw burlesque a part of this reclaiming movement (although I think Daly would not have agreed), and not part of the impulse to be a porn actress or a pole dancer. I agree with her that female liberation was never part of any man’s goal in creating the sexual revolution, but I still think it really is important to discuss who is getting pleasure and whose pleasure is visible and seen as important. Maybe a lot of women have the “wrong” kind of sexuality, but eventually if we keep trying to figure out what our authentic sexuality is, even through performance that might seem to be self-objectifying, we might get to less masochistic forms of expression. This happened in gay culture. Gay men used to express themselves in mostly only stereotypically female ways, having a need to compulsively perform drag to work out their gender issues, and after a lot of this they relaxed and now we get a much larger variety of types of gay men. I would love to hear anyone’s thoughts on this.

  • Magdalena

    Thank you so much for this. I really struggle with burlesque because, like you Megan, I don’t see it as anything other than a slightly-more-creative strip show. As a heterosexual woman, i am trying very hard to avoid the male gaze. But it’s hard, because in East Van, it’s everywhere. Like you wrote, a lefty cause I support(ed) do burlesque fundraisers, leaving me disheartened about an organization that I thought had feminist values. On top of that, some of my friends love burlesque, and when they go on about it, I feel like it’s inappropriate for me to just launch into a critique about something they’ve poured their heart and soul into. Walking down the street, there are burlesque posters everywhere. Half-naked ladies up on posters in my coffee shops, in my pubs. My once-favourite pub started bringing in burlesque dancers on Thursdays. My local coffee shop has done the same. Can I just go out and eat a sandwich and not have naked ladies in my face?! (On a school night, too! Sheesh.)

    But the thing that really symbolized it for me was a CR Avery promotional poster (though not the one you posted). I really enjoy CR Avery. I think he’s really great. But it made me so very sad when I saw an ad for a burlesque show he was going to do, in which him and some male musicians would play sexy, bluesy classics, and the ladies would dance and get naked. Now, as a woman who plays music as a hobby, what I’ve observed over my lifetime is that people most commonly assume a female musician is a beginner/not that good/incompetent, and that her interest in music is simply a way to bond with the boyfriend. So i’m fighting against those assumptions all the time, then I look at a burlesque poster where the boys play the music as the sexy ladies dance…It’s like, how fucking boring. How is that feminist?! And it was marketed to the broader music community and people ate it up. It just made me so, so sad.

  • Lux

    #7. I’d be willing to live and let live if not every f*cking event in Vancouver included a burlesque segment.

  • Pingback: Burlesque and Feminism | Vintage Twists Vintage Style()

  • idnami
    • Meghan Murphy

      This comic is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever read.

    • jo

      The person who drew that doesn’t seem to understand feminist analysis, which is a common problem on tumblr.

  • sporenda

    How dumber can you get:

    “Feminism is having a wardrobe malfunction.”

    And she is serious.

    • Meghan Murphy

      The comic is based on a strawman. Feminists don’t go around telling women what they can and can’t wear. Give me a break. People seem not to be capable of understanding critique without individualizing and pretending they are being persecuted or controlled. Wear what you want. That doesn’t mean feminists need to stop talking about sexualization, objectification, or gender norms ffs.

      • idnami

        They don’t? So now it IS ok to wear pasties and a g-string?

        • Meghan Murphy

          Why, are pasties and g-strings illegal now?

          • idnami

            Only unacceptable and unfeminist, according to some.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Let’s not go putting words in anyone’s mouths now, k? No one said “unacceptable.” But no, pasties aren’t feminist. Neither are my underwear. But GUESS WHAT! I’m still a feminist! Here’s an example I’ve used a hundred times to illustrate this point: I wear eyeliner. I’m also a feminist. My eyeliner isn’t feminist.

            Just because you like it doesn’t make it feminist.

  • sporenda

    Right, it’s patriarchy that tells women how they should dress, not feminists.
    It’s men who force women to wear a burka, or convince them that if they don’t wear stilettos and sexy outfits, they are ugly and unfuckable.
    And some women internalize oppression to the point of believing it’s their own choice, but these norms are set by men.

    • idnami

      To say so is to deny women agency and choice, intelligence and discernment. There are days when I really wish I wouldn’t feel wrong about wearing a burka, because that is an amazing ninja level of anonymity that I’d be happy to take advantage of if I didn’t have the whole guilt of cultural appropriation, hilarious as that is since no one would know who was under there. On the other hand I sometimes parade around onstage wearing very little and receive criticism from feminists and non feminists alike for it. Dude, let me choose and be responsible for my choices without having to represent my entire culture, my entire gender or my entire generation. We are all who we are and there is room for it. No one forces or coerces or otherwise dictates my choices in fashion or appearance. I am a thinking human being who decides my individual expression. You can do that and I can do it differently and none of it is wrong. You can be a feminist and avoid the male gaze, or deliberately attract it, or ignore it altogether. Just live and be an example of personal strength if you can. Women judging women is the BIGGEST enemy feminism has. We get judged enough. Do things for the reasons you do them and trust me that I am intelligent enough to know why I do what I do, whether I wear a burka or a miniskirt. Or a burka over a miniskirt, or ill-fitting overalls or nothing. Feminism is about giving women choices, not taking them away. And women implying that I’m too stupid to make my own choices because I don’t make the same ones you would is as bad as patriarchy saying the same thing.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Christ. No one is preventing you from parading around on stage in your underwear! Critical thinking and having critical conversations about things that impact the status of women is not the same as dictating your choices or “coercing” you into…not… wearing nipple tassles…? (Sounds weird, doesn’t it).

        And no. Feminism is not just about giving women choices. It’s about ending violence against women and patriarchy. Maybe try thinking about someone other than yourself. Feminism isn’t just about ME ME ME ME ME.

      • “To say so is to deny women agency and choice, ”

        We also deny all human beings zobly and xinzy.

        • Meghan Murphy

          Feminists are magic!

          • Women are magic, apparently.

          • To be more specific, women can apparently take decisions in a vacuum, disconnected from their social status, power, etc… unlike any other living thing on this planet. That’s pretty magical, I’d think.

            And yet that’s what you have to believe if you’re going to believe in “agency.”

          • idnami

            Like human beings all often do. Like people choose things all the time regardless of the factors you’d like to make them aware of or care about. Speaking to those people at those levels is how you make a difference, not preaching to a loyal and established choir. If you care about making a difference you must learn to communicate outside your genre. Because yes we all make choices, thinking or unthinking. But change only comes from really transforming thought. It needs more, for example, than shaming people for owning cars and buying gas, but presenting viable options to fossil fuel dependency and making them more genuinely appealing, to further the greater environmental cause. You cannot only condemn. Offer alternatives or inspire discussion of them, if you want to change something. Otherwise all that is inspired is adversarial argument which often serves no one. Because the truth is, whatever the standard, we all want what is attractive and relatively easy, not what is hard. Most people aren’t activists. that is our job. It is also our job to create easy alternative solutions for non-activist thinking types. Would you rather win the greater battle by guile and conciliation or die by stringent adherence which alienates the majority? Which will work faster and better? Which will succeed before we are extinct? Extreme radical stances have their place but rarely become policy. And when they do it is usually a really bad thing. So finding a way to communicate your stance to someone who doesn’t share it has greater value than communicating the same point to someone who already does because this is how we make change welcoming and widely possible.

          • “Like human beings all often do. Like people choose things all the time regardless of the factors you’d like to make them aware of or care about.”

            No… there is no human being that chooses things in a vacuum. That doesn’t exist. Stop believing in fantasy.

            “Because yes we all make choices”

            Nope. Stop peddling this acausal pap. You are a living organism subject to cause and effect. Just like EVERY OTHER living organism in the universe.

            [cut long bullshit about activism]

            I’m not an activist, so whatever. All I’m doing is trying to get you to stop shielding your eyes from reality with this ridiculous delusion that you’re not an animal and that women in burlesque are magical.

          • idnami

            Actively attempting to make someone think in a new way makes you an activist, so yes you are. It’s not a religion or political affiliation or something so don’t be afraid of it. It just means you care enough to argue. And that is cool!

      • lizor

        “To say so is to deny women agency and choice, intelligence and discernment. ”

        To say *what exactly* is to deny your “agency”?
        How exactly is your “agency” occluded or reduced in any way by a comment on this blog?
        What exactly do you mean by “agency”? Is it the ability to act or is it some vestige of esoteric theoretical semantics that has leaked into the mainstream which, in turn, patriarchy-supporting women can toss about in reaction to critiques of pornography in a display that, when you scratch the surface, has no coherent thought behind its positioning?

        Do you consider yourself a feminist?
        Do you consider your performance of sexual stereotypes to somehow help to dismantle embedded power hierarchies and reduce systemic oppression of women by men? If so, can you articulate how without resorting to hollow received terminology?

        If you do not consider yourself a feminist, why are you commenting here? Is it because you want to dismantle feminism? If that is the case, then please have the integrity to say so from the outright and to articulate why it is important to you to support men’s oppression of women.

        Show us your intelligence and discernment, please.

  • Donna

    Are you people still flogging this dead horse. YAWN BORING YAWN. Can’t you move onto another subject? You know what the burlesque community does not actually give a shit what you think really. Go fight another cause. It seems some feminist woman are the ones who constantly have it in for burlesque performers. Arn’t we supposed to support each other, not pull one group down. You get on your high moral ground and tell us how to think, feel and behave. You are aggressive and bullies. This is nothing new. Fight some other battle. Let us do what we want. Its a free world. The funny thing is burlesque performers don’t want to fight with you but you attack, attack and attack so we fight back. We don’t attack you ever!!!! Get off our backs. WE DON’T WANT YOUR OPINION EVER!!!!

    • Meghan Murphy

      Based on the comments and reaction to this post and to the couple other pieces I’ve written here and there about burlesque, it seems like “the burlesque community” really, really cares a lot what I and, well, everyone else thinks. The uproar it causes any time anyone says anything marginally critical about burlesque reveals a whole lot of self-obsession and a deep concern with what other people think about them. The entire community seems completely incapable of hearing any kind of criticism at all. It’s very odd. The opposition to critical thinking and defensiveness is quite astounding.

    • Why do you think WE want your opinion?

      • Donna

        Well I am giving it. So there. You talk about what I do then I have a right to defend it.

        • Meghan Murphy

          YOU. HAVE. THE. RIGHT. TO. DO. WHATEVER. YOU. WANT.
          Others also ‘have the right’ to be critical of cultural phenomenons. Why are you people so completely single-minded? Perhaps you need to get out more? Your focus on attacking and silencing anyone who doesn’t completely agree with you is weird.

          • idnami

            Why is it about “You people” Instead of simply “people”?

          • Meghan Murphy

            Because, as evidenced by this post, I have been getting the exact same responses to critiques of burlesque from the same group of people (burlesque fans/the “burlesque community”) for some time now.

        • What are you “defending”? We are not fighting against any woman’s right to do anything. Are you trying to defend the exploitation of women’s bodies for entertainment? Why the FUCK would you want to defend that?

    • lizor

      “Can’t you move onto another subject?”

      Hmmm… guess what? This commentary was posted seven months ago. Seven months. There have been many many posts since then on other topics which you seem to be unable or unwilling to acknowledge or engage with. Your entire comment is based on a fantasy that Feminist Current is singularly obsessed with your exhibitionism.

      Here’s a resource for you:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_projection

    • Maureen Master

      If you don’t want to know Meghan’s opinion, then why on earth do you keep reading her blog? It doesn’t seem like a winning strategy for someone who desperately wants to be safeguarded from her point of view. What you’re really saying is that you think she should be agreeing with you: “Aren’t we supposed to support each other, not pull one group down” you ask. You clearly don’t think it’s your job to agree with/support her, so why is it her job to agree with/support you? And this: “You get on your high moral ground and tell us how to think, feel and behave.” Where in the article does she tell you how to think, feel and behave? In fact, you’re the one telling her what to do: “Go fight another cause” you demand. When did it become your place to tell another woman what causes she is and isn’t allowed to fight? Listen, its very easy, if you don’t want Meghan’s opinion, do not read her blog. Do not read articles by her. But telling her what she should think or believe or write about is a whole different matter. What you’re really demanding is that Meghan should stop writing her views on burlesque. Guess what? A lot of people want to read those views. You don’t happen to be one of them. You don’t have to read them, but you don’t have the right to tell her what she can and can’t write — or to decide what should be available to me to read. That’s what you’re really saying here and that’s what’s actually aggressive and bullying — not critiquing a cultural practice that has meaning and importance to gender relations and the status of women.

    • Anna

      Burlesque is a form of sexualized dance, which exists in every culture throughout history. Whether dance is sexualized or not, it is an expression of the body which often includes an exaggeration of gender difference, both for males and females. It occurred to me watching part of a ballet the other day that according to your ideas about gender, Swan Lake would also be disgusting and furthering patriarchy and fetishiization of women. After all, women are objectified to the degree of being turned into birds! Many of the movements in ballet have to do with women being fragile, ethereal, and pursued by men. The climax of classical ballet is always the pas de deux, which is a sexualized mating dance. Ideas that men had about women in the 19th century as being goddesses on a pedestal that were fragile and not fully human are reinforced in ballet. So one could say that ballet is non-feminist, and that it reinforces patriarchy, and that might be true for feminists. Thinking that ballet would make certain feminists angry and scoffing made me sad, because I love ballet and for me it is pure pleasure and fantasy.

      The problem with your argument Meghan is that what is feminist or ant-feminist has not been solved for all women. I think we can agree that porn and prostitution are anti-feminist, and that they are dangerous institutions which harm all women by their existence. But burlesque is a grey area, because doing away with burlesque does nothing to either help or hurt the cause of feminism. People have so little pleasure in their lives, and burlesque dance is one way that women can enjoy their bodies rather than feeling shamed by them.

      You talk about “ending the patriarchy.” What does that mean to you? Does it mean punishing men for their gazing, and policing women so they are forbidden from catering to the gaze in public entertainment? Or is your goal to separate yourself from other women who might want to glom onto the feminist label, and say, “you can’t belong to this club because you’re an idiot who doesn’t get the issues?” If you have a vision of how the world will be changed into a woman-firendly landscape by doing away with burlesque and shaming those who participate, please share it here.

      • Meghan Murphy

        “Burlesque is a form of sexualized dance, which exists in every culture throughout history.”

        No. No it most certainly does not. This kind of ignorance is completely astounding and saddening. More women’s history is desperately needed in educational institutions.

        Also, there is a difference between ‘sexuality’ and ‘sexualization.’ Burlesque, stripping, etc. sexualizes women but it not about sexuality. It’s about performing for the male gaze.

        And I’m sorry but exaggerating gender difference doesn’t interrupt norms, it reinforces them.

        “People have so little pleasure in their lives, and burlesque dance is one way that women can enjoy their bodies rather than feeling shamed by them.”

        Why is the only way women can supposedly ‘enjoy their bodies’ by objectifying and sexualizing them for an audience? Why don’t men have to do that?

        “You talk about “ending the patriarchy.” What does that mean to you?”

        It would mean doing away with the oppressive system of patriarchy that subordinates women. It would mean ending male violence against women. It would mean that women could live their lives without fear of rape. It would mean that women would be valued as human beings, not sex objects. And, for the record, what patriarchy is is not up for debate. This isn’t just a little theory I have. The way you’ve phrased the question makes it sound like you think patriarchy means something different for every individual, which wouldn’t actually be at all surprising because you all seem to think life and movements are simply about individual choice and ‘personal’ preference.

      • Anna

        What I mean by sexualized dance is tribal dance. In most primitive cultures, there is dance that reinforces gender differences. Males behave is an exaggeratedly masculine way, leaping and squatting and simulating the hunt, women wave their hips and backsides as a kind of fertility courtship dance. You can study dance from Africa, Tahiti, etc. and find very similar types of tribal dance rituals. I am not saying that burlesque is tribal dance but that it partly emerged form tribal dance, specifically dance from the middle east (belly dancing). So yes historically when women have danced it’s been for the male gaze, but it’s also been for the tribal gaze, for the gaze of elders and children and other women, which any performance is (outside of the strip club and porn film). And I would like to know where you come up with the data that no sexualized dance that women perform can be about sexuality! Of course exaggerating gender difference reinforces norms. But I don’t equate gender norms always with oppression. I do not agree with you and Sheila Jeffries that anything that has to do with gender norms is bad. Some of it oppressive, some of it celebratory (maybe not for you, but for a lot of people, including a lot of women). That burlesque reinforces the typical male gaze is so obvious as to not be worth mentioning, and all burlesque performers know that this is what they are doing, and they like doing it and want to do it usually SPECIFICALLY for this reason. So they don’t need to be educated that they are catering to the male gaze.

        I never said burlesque is the “only” way women can enjoy their bodies. But it’s one way, just as ballet dance is.

        I asked what ending the patriarchy means to you, because I suspect some of your goals may be unattainable, not because I think that there are individual interpretations of what patriarchy means. Three out of four of your objectives are potentially attainable, but the fourth is impossible. Creating a world where men no longer think of women as sex objects? Do you really think that’s possible? “Ending the patriarchy” in my view is a naive goal. Ending violence against women, yes. Creating safe spaces for women, yes. Equal pay for women, so that women never have to resort to sex work, yes.

        • Meghan Murphy

          If you think ending patriarchy is impossible, then what is your interest in feminism? That is the point of feminism, after all.

          “And I would like to know where you come up with the data that no sexualized dance that women perform can be about sexuality!”

          That’s not what I said. I said that sexualization is not the same thing as sexuality.

          • Anna

            Well yes I knew you would think that. That’s what made me sad, because there are many art forms that in retrospect would be ruined for women if they would place them only on the is-it-patriarchal scale. I don’t think that scale should be used to judge everything.

            But I don’t think the body-punishing is inherently patriarchal. All athletes engage in a certain amount of body-punishing and they tend to be very honored and rewarded by the culture, and to enjoy the discipline.

          • Meghan Murphy

            But that’s what feminists do: look at the world, society, culture, through a gender lens. We live in a patriarchy — what is the point of pretending our lives aren’t shaped by that fact?

          • Anna

            My response was to lizor, who suggested that because ballerinas endure body-punishing rituals, that they are therefore oppressed by patriarchy. I was only pointing out that male athletes and dancers also subject themselves to body-punishing rituals. I don’t see where you would infer that I want to pretend that our lives are not shaped by patriarchy. I admitted in an earlier post that I could see that ballet is infused with patriarchal fantasies and choreography.

        • Anna

          Yes I do think that ending the patriarchy is impossible, if it includes banning the male gaze or prohibiting female behavior or performance that caters to the male gaze. I do think it’s possible to educate people about the violence inherent in the sex industry, to shut down porn and trafficking operations, to reduce rape, to fight for equal pay, and to create more opportunities in general for women. What I simply do not believe is that ridding the world of burlesque makes any difference in a world when the consumers of the sex industry do not as a rule consume it. I also believe that’s it’s foolish and naive to think that we will ever get rid of the male gaze, no matter what we do. It’s pure fantasy to think that our actions or mode of dress are what create that gaze, and that anything we do can stop it. Young women can try to make themselves as ugly and unapproachable as possible, but that will not stop men staring at them and fantasizing about them and raping them. There are women out there trying to create a sexuality that is theirs alone, a matriarchal goddess type of sexuality if you will. These women accept human sexuality as a whole, including (gasp) male sexuality, so they are not so concerned with the male gaze. In a worldview in which the male gaze is always already evil, then of course female display is evil too. I don’t think female sexual self-display is evil. Sometimes it seems depressing to me, and sometimes it seems as if the woman is trying to create her own space. I think it’s contextual. And that’s where I part ways with you.

          • Meghan Murphy

            “Yes I do think that ending the patriarchy is impossible, if it includes banning the male gaze or prohibiting female behavior or performance that caters to the male gaze.”

            I really don’t understand why you think anyone is “banning” anything. We’re having critical conversations and trying to change discourse and representations. And if you think it’s impossible to end patriarchy, then I assume you aren’t a feminist, in which case I wonder why we are having this conversation? Why have any conversation about feminism if you think there’s no hope for change?

          • Anna

            I was very clear about what I think about patriarchy. I think we can lessen the effects of it, but I think it is naive to think we can end it, especially when it’s getting worse every day. Yes I’m interested in the project of reducing gender inequality, but I am not interested in the project of lecturing to females about how they express their sexuality. I don’t see those two projects as the same thing. Maybe you do. I think there is a lot of hope for change, but unless you plan to castrate millions or billions of men I don’t see how ending the “gaze” is really a viable project.

          • Meghan Murphy

            The male gaze isn’t about dicks. It’s about objectifying women. Men can have sexualities without oppressing women in the process. If you don’t believe that to be true I fail to understand the point of having this conversation/feminism.

          • Anna

            I don’t agree that men can have sexuality without objectifying women. I think that male sexuality is built on “the gaze,” in the very practical sense that heterosexual men love to look at women, clothed or naked. You will never “end” that. But you can mitigate its dangers by legislating against the sex industry.

          • Meghan Murphy

            That makes no sense. Gaze theory came from film theory. Films have not been around since the beginning of time. You have zero actual evidence to prove that ‘male sexuality is built on the gaze,’ you’ve just bought into this ‘men are from Mars’-type crap that say ‘men are visual creatures.’

          • Anna

            If you are going to embark on a project as ambitious as “ending patriarchy,” it has to go beyond theory. That men like to look at naked women is not a theory; it is why the sex industry is one of the most profitable industries in the world. To begin to end patriarchy, you would have to start with abolishing the sex industry. I don’t believe that’s possible, because in order for it to be possible you would have to do away with the consumer – i.e. the male gazer – and that’s not happening any time soon. Even if you were able to abolish he sex industry, you would still have an endless amount of work to do getting rid of other gender inequalities. And you still have not gotten rid of the male gaze, even if you legislate pornography out of existence.

          • Meghan Murphy

            I find this conversation incredibly circular and frustrating, Anna. Yes, I am fully aware that feminism must go beyond theory. Why is it that you think I and other women advocate so heavily for the Nordic model? And for legislation that criminalizes sexual assault? Please don’t explain to women doing the work that they should be doing the work.

            “That men like to look at naked women is not a theory.” ONCE AGAIN. Looking at naked women is not (necessarily) the same as objectifying women. You don’t seem to understand (or want to understand) what the male gaze is or what objectification is which makes this conversation endless and unproductive.

          • lizor

            “I am not interested in the project of lecturing to females about how they express their sexuality”.

            If you see a critique of burlesque as “lecturing to females about how they express their sexuality”, and in turn feel that those extremely marginalized critiques have any actual effect on women’s sexual expression, then I think you have a very very narrow view of what that expression might entail, where it may be enacted and what it might look like.

            When I read your and other people’s reactions to calling BS on reductive, predictable T&A performances, and contemplate the notion that this is believed to be empowering or healthy for women, I can’t help but think that we are so extraordinarily sexually oppressed as we try to live within this restrictive little binary of sexual expression, that there’s just no hope.

            We all have eyes with which to regard our lovers. We all have skin, we all have scent, we all have a complex energy field that can meld and dance with others. The claim that the inevitable expression of such a vast range of possibility of pleasure exchange is little more than man gawping at women pretending to be so horny they have to rip their clothes off, or that they have some “dirty” body part that they’ll eventually reveal, is sad.

          • Anna

            Well if burlesque was the only form of sexual expression that women engaged in, that would indeed be sad. You’re perfectly correct that the gamut of sexual expression that people understand and know about it severely limited. I’m much more excited by alternative forms of sexual expression than by stereotyped ones myself. But I do think these dances can be empowering for women, because dance and performance are empowering. I don’t think that most of the women that are into it do it for the T & A, but because it is the one type of dance they can do publicly (aside from belly dance, which is popular for similar reasons) and get bookings. This is why I brought up tribal communities. In that article that was linked about the belly dancer, the part where she and her friends dance for each other in environments of safety and pleasure was so great. They enjoy moving their bodies sexually for themselves and each other as a form of play and this gives them great release. I suspect that it is the same for some burlesque dancers. I don’t say that everyone has to like it, and I do see how people could be offended by it within a feminist theory context, but I really object to the way people here equate it with sex work or with selling out to the patriarchy. Some of these women have been abused, and they are working out issues with boundaries: “You can only see this much and no more.” I really don’t think it’s about the body being dirty. Perhaps it was about that in the past, when men had to go to these shows to even see what naked woman looked like, but the context has radically changed since then with the advent of more and more explicit pornography. Much of burlesque performance is camp. In this day and age of men seeing anything and everything they would ever want to see on the internet, the coyness of a woman dancing for five minutes only to finally reveal a set of breasts in pasties is corny in a way that makes people laugh more than it makes them horny.

          • Anna

            “Yes, I am fully aware that feminism must go beyond theory. Why is it that you think I and other women advocate so heavily for the Nordic model?”

            Yes, that’s how I found this blog and got really excited about it: because of your fantastic work writing about the Nordic Model, which is the best I have found anywhere on the internet. I find your articles on burlesque disappointing though, because I don’t see that bitching at girls about how their sexual expression is inferior to yours, and boring and stereotyped and stupid, is going to win you any advocates for the important grassroots and legislative work that needs to be done for women’s rights.

          • Meghan Murphy

            “because I don’t see that bitching at girls about how their sexual expression is inferior to yours”
            Gosh, that really doesn’t feel like an accurate interpretation of my critiques of burlesque to me. Does it feel accurate to you? Also, I’m not going to not form critiques of cultural phenomenons that are sexist just because it won’t make me popular. That’s not how I do feminism.

          • jo

            “We all have eyes with which to regard our lovers. We all have skin, we all have scent, we all have a complex energy field that can meld and dance with others. ”

            Lovely comment, lizor.
            Porn culture and objectification is so incredibly reductive, restrictive and anti-sensual.

          • stephanie

            the male gaze is built on a social contract that says its okay, and expected of them, even natural for them to objectify women for their pleasure, regardless of the costs involved, and that by telling men they can’t do so we are denying their true biological nature.

          • Anna

            Yes of course, you don’t want to “ban” burlesque. So let’s talk about what we WOULD like to ban. I am a huge fan of Gail Dines; she focuses on educating people on what needs to be banned, and she works on legislating change. That’s the kind of feminism I believe in.

          • Meghan Murphy

            I don’t think it’s accurate to characterize Gail Dines’ work as being about ‘educating people on what needs to be banned.’ And no, I really don’t want to have a conversation about what I think should be banned because that isn’t the point of this conversation. Feminism isn’t primarily about ‘banning’ things. Maybe you just phrased it wrong and meant to say you want to talk about legislation? Either way, let’s stick to the burlesque conversation in this forum. I don’t want to go off into some vague conversation about naming all the things we want to supposedly ‘ban’.

          • Anna

            “ONCE AGAIN. Looking at naked women is not (necessarily) the same as objectifying women.”

            So give me a real-life example of heterosexual men looking at naked women without objectifying them.

            My point is that a certain amount of objectification is part of sexual desire, even within marriage. It doesn’t have to be dehumanizing or degrading, but if the gaze includes sexual desire it is always already somewhat objectifying. Or more accurately, I would think that what constitutes a “respectful” male gaze at a naked woman and an “objectifying” male gaze at a naked woman would be very hard to distinguish if that male was very much enjoying the spectacle of the woman’s body, even if he was very respectful about it. In turn, if you believe that not all male gazes at naked women are objectifying, then you would have to make allowances for the concept that some males can go to burlesque shows without objectifying the women.

          • Anna

            Okay, I thought of one example myself: a life drawing class. Maybe also the doctor’s office. Perhaps a third could be families in other countries who take the sauna together. Outside of those contexts, I can’t think of any other non-objectifying context in which a woman’s naked body is looked at by a man.

          • Meghan Murphy

            a) My point is that it doesn’t necessarily HAVE to equate to objectification. That behaviour is learned, not innate.
            b) Art doesn’t necessarily objectify female bodies. Neither does erotica (necessarily).

            Women can be naked without every single heterosexual male objectifying them. You should go to Wreck Beach sometime.

          • Lo

            “give me a real-life example”

            Yeah, it’s so easy to ask women to prove that we live in a cultural and patriarchal society.

            Stop with your essentialism stuff.

            I’ve already posted it somewhere, but here is an article WITH RESEARCH about objectification/culture:

            http://antisexisme.net/2014/01/12/lobjectivation-sexuelle-des-femmes-un-puissant-outil-du-patriarcat-le-regard-masculin/

            (it’s in french, but you’ve all the sources at the end of the article, with that you can make your own research and stop with the “menz always see women az sex objects blabla” )

          • Anna

            This is like the mad tea party. No one pays no attention to the original thread. I’m not an essentialist. I believe human beings create themselves every day. But Meghan was talking about “ending the patriarchy,” and I say that’s a ridiculous and unattainable goal IN THIS CULTURE. Men and women would have to stop being imprinted with pornography and with the bad values of hundreds and thousands of years of programming. And then there’s capitalism and how huge the sex industry has gotten and how much MORE it is imprinting everyone than ever before in history. I don’t need “scientific proof” that men can look at women without objectifying them. Of course anything is possible. I am only an essentialist in the sense that I believe that mating is built into the survival of the species (any species), and that looking is part of what men do to assess what they want. Now if you can’t even go that far with me, then I don’t know what to say. Maybe what would be helpful here is for people to try to explain how a man could look at a woman that he sexually desires without that gaze being interpreted by the woman as being objectifying.

          • Anna

            By the way, I do read French, but I don’t have time to slog through that article just now. Maybe soon. Thanks for linking it.

          • Meghan Murphy

            “Meghan was talking about “ending the patriarchy,” and I say that’s a ridiculous and unattainable goal IN THIS CULTURE.”

            Every movement has a goal. What you’ve said about the goal of ending patriarchy (which isn’t something I expect to see in my lifetime, but is the eventual goal and the whole point of doing what we are doing in feminism — challenging patriarchy) could be said about many movements. We are trying to CHANGE THE CULTURE. That is the point.

          • Anna

            Meghan: I think it is important to be accurate when we state our goals if we want to be taken seriously. “Ending patriarchy” still sounds ridiculous to me, especially if part of it is trying to eradicate the male gaze.

          • Meghan Murphy

            It’s ok to have big goals and small goals. But in order to have the small goals, there has to be a larger goal behind them. I think it’s rather narrow-minded to think that everything we do must be realistic right at this moment. Your argument could be applied to abolition, also — it’s not as though we think the Nordic model is going to magically make all prostitution disappear right now, but part of the reason we support it is because we want an eventual end to prostitution and a feminist world. Many people also argue that it’s impossible to end prostitution. Do we stop fighting because some people tell us it’s ‘unrealistic’ to expect change? No, of course not. Societies have exited in the past that aren’t patriarchal, and it’s perfectly reasonable to think they will exist again, albeit in different forms.

          • Anna

            Meghan: “challenging the patriarchy”and “changing the culture” sound like realistic goals to me. This is much better language to use.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Regardless of what language you feel more comfortable with, the goal of feminism and the reasons we ‘challenge patriarchy’ is with the goal of eventually building a feminist society — i.e. ending patriarchy.

          • Anna

            Jo, I’ve read the article. Thank you. It’s a good article. I find it surprising though that you think the article proves that men don’t see women as sex objects. The article clearly states the opposite. All of the statistics about unwanted sexual comments are about that. Maybe you’re referring to the part where studies prove that more exposure to images of objectification lead to men having more violent and objectifying thoughts about women. I would agree with that. Our brains are very plastic. But burlesque dancers are not creating those changes in the male brain. Pornography is. Pornography is specifically designed to create those changes in the male brain in order to keep males addicted to consuming it. Burlesque is a small niche type of performance, largely by and for women, which is mostly uninteresting to males because it doesn’t give them the instant rewards that pornography does. Females performing nude theater are not creating the male gaze. The male gaze is not going away if we do away with nude performance. That is like blaming rape victims for their rapes because they were wearing a miniskirt. No.

            The most interesting part of the article for me was about self-objectification. This is so much part of a woman’s reality, and it is so little talked about. Although I am not an exhibitionist myself, I think I understand the impulse. The body shame that the article talks about can be controlled through performance in which a woman chooses to be looked at sexually, but on her own terms. It’s a masochistic impulse that is imprinted in many women, and becomes their sexuality through conditioning. (It’s classic masochism a la Freud: a little girl who is terrified of taking a too-hot bath splashes some drops of hot water on herself before getting in on purpose, in order to control when and how she will experience the unpleasant feeling, and therefore to master the situation). A woman acting out self-objectification often does so as a form of self-soothing therapy. It’s therefore the RESULT of being subjected to the unwanted male gaze; it’s not the CAUSE of the unwanted male gaze. It becomes a sexual fetish in certain women. I don’t see anything harmful about women acting out these fetishes in performance. Apparently you do.

          • amongster

            “A woman acting out self-objectification often does so as a form of self-soothing therapy.”

            as a survivor and someone who was tempted to believe that bdsm could actually help me heal by accepting my submission i understand what you are saying but it is simply wrong to believe that this is really good for anyone. you see, just because stockholm syndrome is a coping mechanism doesn’t mean that it’s a good thing in itself and that the reason for it can be ignored. same can be said about bdsm or other forms of submission and self-objectification. you may get yourself to believe it soothes you, but you really need another kind of therapy.

          • Lo

            I’ve never said men don’t see women as sex objects o_O

            I said it is cultural. Maybe I was unclear or forgot a word in my post?

            “But burlesque dancers are not creating those changes ”

            Not only burlesque*: other things also like porn, media, etc

            Causes and consequences are related.

            “. I don’t see anything harmful about women acting out these fetishes in performance. Apparently you do.”

            Yes I do, being objectified is being dehuminzed.
            But again if some women CAN’T live without burlesque, I don’t care, that’s not my point.

            The whole thing is men objectifying women, and women living under objectification. Which is not something I support, since I want equality, and not just unjustified (because yes, I don’t agree with the cultural differences between a born male and a born female) differences of treatment.

            The article also explained that even good looking/hot men are not objectified by women the same way women are objectified by men.
            This just shows (with other examples) how much objectification of women isn’t about equality and will never be.

          • Anna

            This reply is for amongst: I’m sorry you had a hard time in the BDSM community. I have always suspected that that community contained a lot of people who were just perpetuating bad scenarios they should be trying to get out of. Best of luck to you.

          • Anna

            “It’s ok to have big goals and small goals. But in order to have the small goals, there has to be a larger goal behind them.”

            Yes, I totally agree. My question was put to you because I am trying to point out something larger within the context of this specific article, and that is the notion that you seem to be making the eradication of the male gaze into one of your goals. I don’t think women are responsible for that gaze, whether they strip or not, and I don’t think we can eradicate that gaze no matter what we do with legislation. But we can make the world a safer place for women, and that’s worth any kind of fight. Maybe what burlesque dancers do is not always very original or interesting, but I certainly would not want to live in a world where the only sexualized images of women were the ones created by the pornographers.

          • Meghan Murphy

            My goal is not “to eradicate the male gaze” — my goal is to live in a world wherein women are not viewed and treated as sexual objects and valued primarily for their ability to attract men/be conventionally attractive. The objectification and sexualization of women is connected to rape culture, porn culture, and obviously, patriarchy in general. It doesn’t make sense to separate the male gaze from all of that nor does it make sense to separate burlesque from all that. Whether or not burlesque is ‘the same’ as prostitution or pornography is not the issue — we’re talking about making larger connections here and looking at what burlesque means, what it teaches men and women about men and women, and why it exists as it does/what it contributes to socially.

          • Anna

            Lo, I don’t like to see people dehumanized either, but there is simply no evidence that women in burlesque are dehumanizing themselves. For the most part they are narcissistically admiring themselves. And they don’t fulfill most of the requirements in the link you posted (Martha Nussbaum’s Sexual Object Test. Women in burlesque use the images and terms of male sexual objectification in order to subvert them and to conquer their fear of them. That’s why they use that specific imagery and not some other. Creating their own sexual images of themselves can be healing for them and for other women who go to the shows. That’s the sense in which sometimes it can be considered a feminist project. Of course I am not talking about all burlesque dancers. Some are self-hating and insecure. I am talking about the confident women who make the material work for them.

            You say “not just burlesque – porn too etc.” But I don’t even think burlesque is PART of the problem. Those studies in the link are studies I’ve read before. They refer to violent pornography. If we were in 1955, perhaps burlesque would be the threat you say it is. But contextually in today’s culture it is meant to be humorously innocent. You can’t remove an act from its cultural context. I also disagree that to objectify the self is the same as to objectify others. The self by definition cannot be an object, as it contains consciousness. Therefore self-objectification is always a sort of game, a fact which is clear to the self and hopefully clear to the audience (unless it is not a game, in which case it is psychosis).

            For my amusement I made a list of the way in which burlesque does not fulfill the Sexual Object Test, and I”m pasting that list here:

            Martha Nussbaum’s Sexual object test:

            The image shows only one or more parts of the sexualized body.
            (True only for film, photography, and graphic media).

            The image represents a sexualized person as replacing an object.
            (Burlesque dancers make use of many fetish objects such as fans and gloves and heavy makeup, in order for the objectness to be displaced onto objects and away from her own body. In pornography and prostitution the naked body itself is the fetish object).

            The image represents sexualized persons as interchangeable.
            (True for pornography, prostitution and strippers. Burlesque works against this by including personas, stage names, costumes, props, humor, gimmicks, etc. which makes the individual performers distinct and memorable, as opposed to the endless parade of generic, nameless women at the strip club or the brothel).

            The image affirms the idea that one can violate the physical integrity of the sexualized person and that she is not in a state to give her consent.
            (True of all porn, webcam girl, strippers, prostitution. Burlesque dancers are protected by the proscenium which creates a wall between herself and the audience).

            The image suggests that sexual availability is the determining characteristic of the person represented.
            (True literally for porn actresses, strippers, webcam girls, prostitutes. True only symbolically for burlesque dancers).

            The image represents a sexualized person as merchandise.
            (True literally for the types of sex workers listed above. True for burlesque dancers only insofar as any stage performer is merchandise whose performance is bought with a ticket).

            The image represents the body of a sexualized person as a canvas or a support in which to draw or write.
            (True for all sex workers. True for burlesque dancers only if they purposely construct themselves that way. The blank, glassy-eyed look and lack of personality in porn is the purest example of this).

          • Lo

            Objectification of women touches everything, without it burlesque, porn, etc wouldn’t exist as they’re today.

            What people (men) see, like women objectified everywhere, is how they’ll see women. They learn to see women this way, and this way they want us to still be objectified (as i said causes and consequences are always linked).

            I really think women do not need to be objectified to be strong or healed or equal to men.

            And there is nothing different between burlesque or any other show where women are just objects.

          • Anna

            “My goal is not “to eradicate the male gaze” — my goal is to live in a world wherein women are not viewed and treated as sexual objects and valued primarily for their ability to attract men/be conventionally attractive. ”

            Well I agree with that completely. It is horrible that there is still so much pressure on women to look conventionally attractive. But women making themselves attractive is not creating the problem.

            I was reading a book recently where a psycho-neurologist was talking about the phenomenon of women becoming promiscuous after having been sexually abused. He said that women then learn to overvalue their bodies, and that when they love someone they will offer their body because that’s how they were taught to love. His analysis was that when they do this they are “having a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.” I think that as women in this world we are all living in an abnormal situation. We have much more in common than we acknowledge.

          • Anna

            Yes Lo, objectification touches everything.

            “I really think women do not need to be objectified to be strong or healed or equal to men.”

            That’s true too. But I’ve already pointed out that these women are turning objectification into a game. You can say it’s all the same, but it’s not ugly like porn for the women who perform it, nor is it a guilty or shameful thing for most of the audiences who watch it. It is not shameful because the men don’t feel they’re harming anyone by watching it. So it’s different morally. It may be all the same for radical feminists and for certain really dense men, but not to the rest of the world.

        • morag

          I hate to break it to you Anna, but belly dancing has never been about sexuality. Chubby white women in America have made it sexualized so they can “feel better about my body” but the real purpose of bellydancing was community. In the end it’s appropriation.

          • Anna

            Of course belly dancing is about sexuality. It’s also about community. That’s what I was trying to point out about most or all tribal dancing. It emphasizes gender to celebrate a woman’s fertility, a man’s strength, etc. The movements in belly dance revolve around gyrating the hips and are specifically sexual. Yes white women in America have appropriating belly dance. That’s exactly what I said: that burlesque dance came from (was appropriated from) certain kinds of tribal dance. So what exactly are you “hating to break to me?”

          • Anna

            By the way, there is a belly dance community around the world as well, and also a burlesque community, whereas you don’t have a stripper community or a prostitute community. Why is that? Because communities can only be built around activities people celebrate.

          • Meghan Murphy

            I think strippers and prostitutes would probably beg to differ, re: the statement that there is no stripper community or prostitute community. Regardless, the point that “communities can only be built around activities people celebrate” makes no sense. There are lots of communities built around activities that aren’t necessarily “good” for society. Just because there is a community around an activity it must be a “good” thing?

          • Anna

            Yes, there are communities built around bad things. But the people involved enjoy and celebrate those things. People who live in fear and are controlled and intimidated can’t and don’t make communities. You may know of a stripper or prostitute community; I have never heard such terms and think I am unlikely to.

          • morag

            The “hate to break it to you” part was because you were trying to equate bellydancing-which in it’s true form is not about sexuality-with burlesque, which has its roots in the male gaze, and saying both are the same. I suggest reading this article to see what I mean: http://www.salon.com/2014/03/04/why_i_cant_stand_white_belly_dancers/

            I find it very uncomfortable that supporters of burlesque are framing its history as some kind of homage to “tribal dance,” which is basically another way of saying those animalistic brown people are sooo intuned to sexual urges.

          • Anna

            I was not equating belly dance with burlesque. I was claiming that burlesque has its roots in belly dance (which it does). Whatever people may claim the ‘true” form of belly dance is, it is and has always been a sexual dance. It’s a fact that tribal dancing has always been partly about celebrating sexuality, just as a lot of tribal art is and was. These elements are within the art forms, not things attributed to them after the fact. Watch Middle Eastern men looking at belly dancers sometime, and see if you aren’t reminded of the strip club.

          • Anna

            Morag: by the way, I find your comments about “chubby white women” and projections about their views about “animalistic brown people” offensive.

          • morag

            @Anna
            Pointing out racism is not racist. The article I linked to is from a Middle Eastern woman expressing her outrage over cultural appropriation. I really don’t have any qualms about calling out chubby white women who say “I hate going to Zumba with skinny bitchez, I luv bellydance because it celebrates mah curves.” As a feminist, I would rather prioritize the feelings of a Middle Eastern woman in this context.

            Also, your comment about “subverting” the male gaze doesn;t work either, considering one can;t dismantle the master’s house with his tools.

          • Anna

            Yes I do find it offensive to call people chubby white women. It is a bigoted thing to say. By the way, that belly dancer was bigoted too. Where does she get off trying to forbid other cultures from practicing belly dance? No, they are not “harming her” by celebrating belly dance. Most of the comments below that article reflect these same opinions.

            That’s a nice metaphor about the master’s house and his tools, but a woman’s body is not a man’s tool so the metaphor does not work here. You can say that how he gazes is his tool and that the burlesque theater is his house, but most burlesque dancers will tell you that they are not performing for the male gaze but for their own pleasure, that they run their own shows, and that their main audience is women, and you have no proof that any of this isn’t so.

            There are plenty of gazes out there; there is not only the male gaze, there is the “hateful gaze.”

      • lizor

        @Anna I worked for 25 years as a professional dancer. Yes, ballet is deeply patriarchal and Swan Lake (as do almost all of the classical ballets) DOES fetishize women in the extreme.

        The fact that it takes an extreme commitment to training and building skill to reproduce that sort of body-punishing (turn-out is meant to flatten the dancer into two-dimensional space as per the tastes of Louis XIV) technique does not change the signification. To hold up classical ballet as an argument for NOT critiquing burlesque does not hold water.

        • Anna

          lizor, I find it very exciting that you worked as a professional dancer. I think dance is wonderful, and I admire the discipline and grace of dancers very much. Was your experience ruined by the patriarchal tone of the work?

          • lizor

            Hi Anna,

            The sexism of the dance world runs pretty deep. I’m not sure if it’s so pronounced because the work is body-based and bodies are ground zero for gender discrimination.

            It was not the choreography per se – I was not involved in classical remounts and that material speaks for itself- but the politics within the training and in the rehearsal room.

            Most successful touring companies share a history of having been founded on the unpaid and/or poorly paid work of women and then once a company is established – and the hiring of artist directors is done by a board of directors, it seems that more often than not, male choreographers get the position. Bear in mind the extreme difference in numbers between males and females who enter into professional training when you consider this. Men are treated like a precious resource while women are disposable.There is no doubt that male choreographers’ work is valued more than the works of female choreographers. Male teachers and choreographers frequently enter into sexual relationships with students and/or their hired dancers and these relationships are, also more often than not, coercive and exploitive. Dancer’s careers have been destroyed by these powerful men who can simply fire or emotionally abuse the vulnerable person once they are finished with them. There is also a great deal of abuse in the rehearsal hall.

            When I was training, the philosophy was very much along the lines of the “body-punishing” that you mention with regard to athletes. It was really about forcing female bodies into one narrow type – long limbed, under-weight. The usual. Training has progressed since then and draws on body work techniques and better understanding of anatomical movement and expression so things are not as bad in that respect as they have been in the past. There really is no need for the sorts of injuries that almost all dancers sustained at one time or another in their career and I think (I HOPE) that the romanticism attached to destroying your body “for your art” has receded somewhat.

            I could go on and on. But those are the highlights.

            That said, I love to dance, but I do not miss the professional world with its twisted politics at all.

      • stephanie

        i agree that in classical works you can also find forms of traditional gender roles being expressed and maybe there could be some issues with that. there has also been feminist thinkers involved with modern dance and creating forms of dance that have more balanced views of gender representation.

        Yvonne Rainer is a good example of this.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yvonne_Rainer

    • Anna

      I guess my point is, there are really evil, scary, soulless criminals out there who run horrifying institutions of pornography and human trafficking. And there are johns who hate women, and online misogynists who think of all women as whores, and international organizations that capture, torture, rape, and kill countless women and children. These are the enemies. Why pick on the gals?

      • stephanie

        this should be a way about critiquing burlesque without picking on the people that perform it. I think that’s what most of us are doing here.

    • Anna

      Also, there were a lot of terrible things that happened to women as a result of the ’60s-’70s sexual revolution (not least of them the explosion of the sex industry) but one positive thing is that women started to be allowed to explore their own sexuality; sexuality was not just reserved for men anymore. And many women at the time considered that to be radically empowering. What some women want is the freedom to enjoy their sexuality the way men do, to own it and claim it and express it. Radical feminists will never see that for some women, burlesque is an expression of their OWN sexuality. You can argue that it can’t possibly be so, because they have been brainwashed by the patriarchy to have a bad self-concept. But since we live in the culture and are part of it then you could say that ANY expression of female sexuality is pathetic and male-controlled. And then you are ghettoizing women.

      • Meghan Murphy

        See now, this is just more of this “if you name the problem you are the problem” b.s. By pointing out that burlesque objectifies and sexualizes women and contributes to the notion that women are pretty things to look at, that doesn’t mean we’ve been ‘brainwashed by patriarchy’ — it means we are SEEING and POINTING TO patriarchy, and discussing its effects critically.

        Burlesque has less to do with female sexuality than it does exhibitionism and performance. If it were really simply about your own, personal, individual sexuality, than why would you be ‘expressing’ it to a room full of people? Which is not to say I believe sexuality is simply a personal, private matter, but that seems to be what you all are saying — that this is just about individuals expressing their individual sexualities. It seems contradictory.

        In any case, getting naked on stage is primarily a role women find themselves in — if it were just the way people liked to ‘express their sexualities’ don’t you think men would do it too? Did you also believe that the naked women strutting around in Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ video were ‘expressing their OWN sexuality’? I’m sure you can see how illogical and silly this argument is, no?

        Blaming feminism for the oppression of women is the oldest trick in the book. You can fool yourself if you like, but you can’t fool us. And fooling yourself will bring you no closer to liberation, nor will it help any other woman around the world. It is a thoughtless, purposeless argument that hurts women.

      • Anna

        Ah no, you have misunderstood me. I did not mean that YOU have been brainwashed by the patriarchy; I meant that your view is that BURLESQUE DANCERS have been brainwashed by patriarchy. I would never criticize “naming the problem.” I think the problem does need to be named, over and over again. But where I differ from you is that I don’t see burlesque as always being part of “the problem,” although certainly sometimes it can be. And I DO NOT think that men and women necessarily express their sexuality in the same way, so I do not think that in order for something to be authentic it has to be something men do or want to do. I think it is a typically FEMALE way of expressing sexuality, and that it’s biologically coded into some women as well as being culturally learned, the same way that the urge to mate with many partners is encoded into many males. It is part of the mating ritual for females. Being the most attractive and desired female ensures that females have the pick of the strongest and kindest males, which protects their offspring, and women have been using feminine arts to attract men for thousands if not millions of years.

        I don’t know that video, but I would assume that it’s degrading and disgusting and that the women were not expressing their own sexuality, simply because you bring it up to illustrate your point, and also because MOST expressions of “female” sexuality are exactly what you say they are: expressions of a contorted sexuality that is about pleasing men.

        I would NEVER blame feminism for the oppression of women. But I would say that shaming women for performing burlesque does nothing to help feminism. And I guess this is because I would draw the line is a different place than you do. The message I would want feminism to give women is: express yourself and your sexuality in any way you please, as long as you are not harming yourself or other women, and as long as you are not supporting industries that harm and oppress women. And I think that burlesque should be okay in this context, because it draws certain lines itself. It specifically is a type of performance that is “supposed” to be outside of the pressures of the strip club. No burlesque performer is required to give a man an erection or to touch him or allow him to touch her. Burlesque performers can do anything they want onstage (in theory) and will not be fired (theoretically) if they fail to cater to men’s fantasies. I say IN THEORY and SUPPOSED, because I suspect that much burlesque performance today has come closer to the strip club atmosphere than it admits. Yet I would still draw the line in a different place than you do. This is partly because I don’t think that misogynistic men are going to burlesque clubs to get their fixes, and also because we have to pick our battles. I think that making people aware of the dangers of the sex industry, and fighting their sick propaganda, is the way to go. They are after all the ones who have glamorized sexual violence, and hidden the stories of exited women. I would go after torture porn websites, try to shut them down. I’ll bet that making more women aware of the true horrors of the sex industry would automatically put them off burlesque. But burlesque is not the real danger.

        Also, you say “you all,” as if I am part of the burlesque community. I am not part of that community; I have never performed nor do I wish to perform burlesque. I am a feminist who agrees with you on almost every issue except for this one.

        • Meghan Murphy

          Ah I see. Terribly sorry for misunderstanding you and thank you for the clarification.

          “But where I differ from you is that I don’t see burlesque as always being part of ‘the problem,’ although certainly sometimes it can be.”

          Well, I don’t think it is always, necessarily ‘the problem’ — it’s just that it’s significant, more than anything else, with regard to the status of women. What’s also significant is the way in which people respond to critiques (which is what I wrote about in the OP).

          “But I would say that shaming women for performing burlesque does nothing to help feminism.”
          I’m not sure that being critical of a cultural phenomenon or, really, being critical of anything/thinking critically about anything amounts to ‘shaming’….

        • lizor

          “I meant that your view is that BURLESQUE DANCERS have been brainwashed by patriarchy.”

          “I would say that shaming women for performing burlesque does nothing to help feminism.”

          Are you able to back up those accusations with evidence from any of Meghan’s posts?
          Of course you cannot because they are unfounded conflations of a critique of burlesque as a form with some sort of personal attack on the people who do it.

          Just because there is more hateful pornography does not change the nature of burlesque. That argument is akin to men who tell me that we should all feel ourselves lucky and therefore shut up about rape, the wage gap, and so on, because there are countries in the world where women live in much worse conditions. It’s a red herring.

          Let’s try a comparative: where would conservation discourse be if every time someone criticized the Conservative government’s rush to exploit the tar sands there was a chorus of self-identified conservationists insisting, “You’re shaming the oil field workers!! You’re saying the labourers are brainwashed!!”

          The Right via their Sun News pundit Ezra Levant justify this absurd resource exploitation on thusly: oil sands development is hunky dory because other oil development is worse. Sound familiar?

          And for the record, I personally do not think that burlesque is as benign as you think it is in theory or practice. It exists within an extreme anti-female backlash. It’s likely that sexual expression in a post-patriarchy would carry very different meanings but tragically, that is very far from our current context.

          • Anna

            Well the whole argument of all the feminists here seems to be that burlesque dancers have been brainwashed by the patriarchy, and that that’s the reason they dance. Or have I got it wrong?

            And yes, Meghan is shaming burlesque dancers by calling them boring, by insisting that they don’t know what they’re doing, by telling them they are ignorant. There HAVE been personal attacks, all through these posts.

            I don’t’ think burlesque is pornography, hateful or otherwise. I think it’s a type of dance performance. I don’t see how burlesque dance can be compared to rape. Rape is a criminal act that harms women both directly and indirectly, and causes them to live in fear. Does burlesque dance do that?

            I never said burlesque was benign. But neither do I think that burlesque is part of an anti-female backlash. I do think the explosion of the porn industry is part of an anti-female backlash. The difference is that (most of) the women in burlesque are not being exploited by men (as in, by pimps looking to line their pockets by it), simply because there is little to no money in burlesque. The reason there is little to no money in burlesque is that it does NOT simply cater to male fantasy and is not part of the sex industry and is not run by pimps.

            I understand that it can be very hard to accept images of burlesque in such a porn-riddled world. But I do think it’s important to make distinctions where distinctions exist.

          • lizor

            “Well the whole argument of all the feminists here seems to be that burlesque dancers have been brainwashed by the patriarchy, and that that’s the reason they dance.”

            I don’t agree that this is the argument. There is such a thing as visual language and visual literacy, plus we are all carriers of our cultural values and our day to day actions and practices reproduce old values and/or make new ones.

            Burlesque looks to me like a vehicle for normative gender ideology. Most burlesque dancers who comment on these fora insist that the meaning of their performances are not normative and some even claim to be subverting that normatively, but fall short of showing how exactly they are doing that. Mostly the argument is that it makes them feel good, so there. And they seem to somehow mistakenly think that if they feel good then they must be doing feminism.

            I can understand the appeal of applause. I really understand the appeal of feeling attractive – it’s a feeling of acceptance and belonging and those feelings a very powerful. Not only are they powerful, but for women, especially those who do not fit the narrow dictates of porn culture, approving sexual attention can feel pretty damn good. But it’s not shaking up the power structure.

            I think that for some women the feelings of exclusion and alienation from the larger group in society are a tough row to hoe if one feels ethically inclined to try to make positive change within the gender hierarchy. Anyone who does so is bound to feel ostracized and punished in one way or another.

            There is a difference between calling someone’s repetitive, reactionary argument boring and characterizing a person as boring. Charismatic people make repetitive boring arguments, especially when called out on narcissism or a pretence to feminism that is operatively just more conformity.

            You and I disagree on whether burlesque is part of the current backlash or not. From where I sit it sits on the spectrum of neoliberal faux-feminism, the spectre of the empowered sex-worker/entrepreneur, sexiness as female power and so on. All of that is a bill of goods that many people are sadly, IMO, buying into.

            That said, I do not make it a habit of telling people what to do. But it’s unlikely that I will agree that burlesque is subversive or helping make a safer world for women.

        • Anna

          I don’t have a problem with being critical with burlesque. I don’t that in itself is shaming. But the tone of some of the posts, especially those where people scoff at dancers and assume they’re stupid, is shaming.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Well the responses to critiques and the defenses of burlesque are, often, very “stupid”… They are extremely repetitive and often rather thoughtless and childish-sounding, a la “but I like it!” Inevitably people get frustrated and respond sarcastically. There’s only so long you can respond intelligently and politely to people who refuse to listen or engage with intellectual integrity…

  • sporenda

    Anna, thanks for presenting your arguments.

    ” I do not think that in order for something to be authentic it has to be something men do or want to do. I think it is a typically FEMALE way of expressing sexuality, and that it’s biologically coded into some women as well as being culturally learned, the same way that the urge to mate with many partners is encoded into many males.”

    It’s a typically female way of expressing sexuality ONLY IN CERTAIN CULTURES, and it’s absolutely not biologically coded, because like prostitution, it’s non existent in a number of non western cultures.
    In a number of those cultures , like the masai, it’s the men who pay the most attention to their looks, prance around and show off to attract attention, whereas women are supposed to be dull and barely visible.
    There is absolutely nothing biological in burlesque, it’s just a (mostly) western tradition that women are supposed to show off their t&as to entertain men. .

    Neither the urge to mate with many females is encoded in many males: female chimps–and not just bonobos– are as promiscuous as males, it’s just that in patriarchal cultures, male promiscuity is encouraged (men are supposed to sleep with as many women as possible to prove their virility), whereas women’s sexuality is discouraged–unless it’s about submitting to male desires.

    This is the typical BS that women are indoctrinated into in male dominated societies: that male power over women, in all it’s forms and expressions including bulesque, is perfectly natural and therefore unchangeable.

    In order to curtail the control than men have over us in those societies, the first thing we must do to get rid of the BS they feed us.

    • sporenda

      Anna: “. I was claiming that burlesque has its roots in belly dance ”

      Where did you get that?..
      Google the word and you’ll see it was born in british theaters during the Victorian era.

      • Anna

        Ah yes, that’s true. I was referring to the swiveling hip movements and shimmies in burlesque choreography, which were appropriated from belly dance after it was introduced at the World’s Fair (in Chicago I think) near the end of the 19th century.

    • Anna

      I agree with most of what you’ve said here, except that I don’t see why women have to be seen as victims who have been pathetically indoctrinated into male ideology when they do decide they enjoy prancing around in their underwear. I also was referring to Meghan saying that if “dudes” don’t do it, it’s suspicious. Women can enjoy things that men don’t enjoy. And we DO live in this culture, so it’s not always helpful to insist that we live as if we are not. Sexually aggressive women in this culture know that men respond to sexy images of women, so if they want to get a lot of partners or be the queen of all the females they may want to flaunt what they’ve got. And we also live in a frankly exhibitionistic and narcissistic culture, where both males and females are constantly showing off.

      Everyone here is acting as if I am saying that burlesque is the best and only way for a woman to sexually express herself. I never said that, nor do I remotely think it, and I myself am not impressed with most of it. But I don’t think it should be put on the same level as sex work, I don’t think it is harmful to the cause of feminism, and I don’t think that women who enjoy it should be made responsible for perpetuating the evils of patriarchy.

      By the way, burlesque is anything BUT natural. That is partly its appeal to people. It’s fake, it’s theatrical, it’s mannered, it’s old-fashioned, it’s more focused on the dress-up than on the strip. And as I’ve tried to point out many times, the appeal to women is that it seems to be something they themselves control, that is outside of male control. If it was controlled by males, you would see far fewer overweight and otherwise not conventionally attractive types, far more explicit and stereotyped choreography, far more fake boobs, and far less clothing. In fact, you would have the strip club!

  • morag

    This is in reply to Anna upthread:
    Reading your comments, I’ve come to the conclusion that you’re both racist and sexist and like to reuse the same tired arguments about how feminists are somehow the thought police. I just want to add a few points:
    1. You really don;t know what the word bigoted means if you think it applies to a WOC venting frustration over a facet of her culture being sexualized by white women. The author specifically wrote that belly dance was originally a form of celebration between women away from the male gaze, and you tried unsuccessfully to refute that by throwing the word tribal around.
    2. No one here is advocating for burlesque dancers to be banned. I find it so hilarious that men and libfems find it so scary when radical feminists just talk about a woman’s issue, as if our words hold as much weight as a male politician’s words that have actually, you know, curtailed women’s rights.
    3. You refuse to place this discussion in any form of historical context by saying that prancing around in pasties is just what women naturally do. The male gaze still exists even if there isn’t a man in the room. Furthermore, why is female sexuality defined as being looked at in a g string instead of having sex, like how men’s sexuality is defined? Female desire and sexuality is so much more complex than “passive object who has sex happen to her while wearing constrictive clothing.” I want women to break free from the idea that their sexuality is ornamental, and for women to start having amazing sex for themselves instead of just looking sexy for someone’s pleasure.
    4. And my last point: my saying this is not “denying the agency” of burlesque dancers or silencing them. Burlesque is just one limb on the poisoned patriarchal tree, and as a radical feminist I’m interested in dismantling the roots of the tree. All of us have drank the patriarchal kool aid at some point, but my pointing that out doesn;t make me an enemy of women.

    • Meghan Murphy

      “Furthermore, why is female sexuality defined as being looked at in a g string instead of having sex, like how men’s sexuality is defined?”

      Exactly. Why is it that we can only conceive of women’s sexualities being about being looked at? Like our sexualities only exist if we are turning men on? Please.

    • Anna

      Morag,

      Slurring women because of their body type or size is something asshole men do to intimidate women and assert their superiority over them. I would never refer to anyone as a “chubby white woman.” Talk about using the master’s tools, lol!

      You’re pulling the race card in the wrong context. We can talk about imperialism if you want, but that’s another topic. You are using major projection if you think that what that woman was saying was that white women have sexualized belly dance. That woman was saying white women have APPROPRIATED belly dance (and she did not call them “chubby” white women – that was your charming addition). She also did not refer to their appropriation of the dance as having to do with looking down on “little brown people” or whatever hideous phrase you used. Those were your offensive phrases, Morag. That woman had some valid points, and I understand her feelings, but none of that really has anything to do with this article. If you knew the slightest thing about traditional belly dance you would not suggest that it was never a sexual dance, and that white women made it that way. Belly dance was NOT originally made for woman between each other away from the male gaze, although women may find relief in practicing it that way. It was ALWAYS first and foremost a dance of sexual enticement. Her feelings have more to do with the fact that in a white imperialistic culture, things that belong to other races become so easily co-opted and popularized by white people. So I admit it was actually wrong to call her a bigot. I was mostly mad at you, because I think YOUR comments were bigoted, and I didn’t want you using that article as some sort of validation of what you were saying.

      And yes I am probably sexist to you, if that definition means that I mostly blame MEN for women’s oppression. Women do not cause rape, domestic abuse, violence, and male objectification by wearing short skirts, makeup, or heels, or by doing nude performance. Does any of that behavior exacerbate male violence and harm the women involved? Only if they are already involved with violent men. Did those men learn to be violent because that woman was dancing burlesque? No, and so on. Do I feel the same way about the harmlessness of pornography and the strip club? No. I do think those things (which are mostly giant capitalistic industries run by criminal international groups) exacerbate male violence and make men feel entitled.

      I do not think feminists are the thought police! Just because I don’t agree with every single thing Meghan or you says does not make that so. I am not copying anyone else’s ideas here. I am not visiting the sites of sex-positive feminists or pornographers to see how they defend themselves. I agree with you much more than I do with them!

      I do not find it “scary” to talk about women’s issues. I have been studying women’s issues for many years and I read feminist texts for fun in my spare time, and also to inform my work. In fact, I love that Meghan is writing these articles specifically about burlesque, because it’s a thorny, nebulous issue that’s the site of much contention, and I’m interested in where different women stand on it. In fact, this discussion has been very illuminating and I’ve learned a lot; not about feminism, although some people here seem to think I need a lesson in feminism 101, but about views held by actual women who are polarized in a very important debate. It’s just that there are certain points I don’t agree on. But I don’t think that a public forum would be very interesting if everyone just stroked everyone else and tried to make them feel good by agreeing with every one of their points, whether they actually did so or not.

      I never said that prancing around in pasties is “what women naturally do.” But it may be what SOME women naturally want to do. And this is the part of the conversation that really interests me. Because I think it’s possible for there to be a narcissistic gaze as well as a voyeuristic gaze (as did Mulvey and Freud), and I think that the hot debate around burlesque dancers is because they uncomfortably skirt this line. I also think it’s possible for women to be admired as fully integrated sexual BEINGS, rather than merely sexual OBJECTS. Now, I’m pretty certain this is possible inside of the woman herself who is dancing (and even happens abject circumstances, such as in consensual pornography), and that this is what women mean when they say they are “empowered;” what they mean is that they feel integrated rather than fragmented sexually. I also think it’s possible inside the minds of other women who watch burlesque shows: that they are able to see the dancers as fully integrated sexual beings, and that this sometimes uplifts and inspires them. Where the jury is out is how this works in terms of the MALE brain. One male commenter here assured us all that he objectifies all nude women alike, no matter what the context. And that may be true for all or most men that tend to objectify women in the first place.But if this is a problem in the male brain, does it mean that we must never be nude ever so as not to encourage men to be beasts? That’s how society used to run itself. Was it the best way? Was it better? I’m not saying yes and I’m not saying no, I’m just asking the question. But whether or not it was better the cat is out of the bag now and we don’t really have the option of doing away with the ubiquitous nude woman.

      As for women’s sexuality being defined as being in a g-string rather than having sex: I do think it’s distressing that female sexuality is so overlooked and ignored, while at the same time her image is so fetishized by men. This is because male sexuality is the only one that matters to men. I do think that many dancers are trying to find their own sexuality. You say they are not doing so and you insist that they don’t/ can’t have their own consciousness. I think in order to make any sort of assessment at all, you would have to critique INDIVIDUAL performances, and see if there was any level of autonomy, subversion, humor, reclaiming, etc going on. To lump all dancers into a big soup of sexism seems to lack rigor in the extreme if you are really interested in the subject.

      I don’t know what a theater performance has to do with whether or not women can have “amazing sex.” I agree 100% that we need to change ideas of how women are seen in culture. But that does not mean that there is no room for types that fall outside of your politically correct paradigm. Plus, there are only, what, a few hundred burlesque dancers out there? Clearly it’s not really as popular as you make it out to be. The reason it seems so popular it because it gets so much press from stupid magazines trying to sell copy. Because sex sells, you know. So the problem is not really that women are expressing themselves sexually; it’s that the moment a woman does anything remotely sexual in this culture, she is celebrated and given lots of press. That’s again a problem with the CULTURE, the culture that is run by men and in which men reward women for sexual display.

      I am not one of those people who said that you or anyone else here was denying the agency of people. I also did not say you were silencing them, but I think that some of the intimidation tactics used here probably are silencing tactics – like all the flame-throwing and insults which doesn’t lead to productive conversation on either side.

      I know we will never agree, and this is because you fundamentally believe that women who dance burlesque have sold out to the patriarchal forces that be, and that they are part of the “poisoned tree.” I on the other hand am not prepared to say that this is always the case (although I am prepared to say that it is sometimes the case). I’m interested in encouraging female sexuality, even if it’s not the “right kind” because as women get more comfortable expressing themselves then you will start to see other, more alternative sexualities emerging. What I want to be made clear though is that I do respect your opinion and I think it’s important for these more radical views to exist and be expressed. I have combed the internet trying to find radical feminist blogs, because I can’t stand most of what is out there. I find the sex-positive mumbo-jumbo to be duplicitous and nauseating.

      • Lo

        “I do not think feminists are the thought police!”

        The way we think is cultural anyway so………
        This reminds me the argument of the right wing “Leftists are the thought of police, socialist dictature! Freedom instead of equality dictature!!!”. Just sayin’.

        “you fundamentally believe that women who dance burlesque have sold out to the patriarchal forces that be”

        It is like the 10th time you say that… But no one has said that.

        No one is blaming people, the problem is the social structure of patriarchy, and Burlesque is a part of it. It’s just a fact.
        Even if people like it SOOOOOOO much, this won’t change facts.

        Now as I told you, if you think that being libertarian means being feminist, it’s your choice, but I don’t see how this will ever put an end to patriarchy and its structures.

        Sigh.

        • Anna

          Please, I’m not a libertarian. I’m really sick of all of this name-calling and people distorting my position.

          I BELIEVE IN THE NORDIC MODEL.

          I do not believe that any of us exist in a vacuum, or that anything in the world can exist outside of the structures of patriarchy.

          But I’ve already said that I think that the idea that we can “put an end to patriarchy” is ridiculous.

          You are the one appropriating the male gaze, not me, if you think that women who dance sexually are only ever tits and ass and are never ever capable of genuine personal expression.

          We will never agree. Let’s leave it at that.

          • Lo

            ” I think that the idea that we can “put an end to patriarchy” is ridiculous”

            Oh well, let’s just stop being feminist then, huh?
            But thanks anyway, since you don’t have any problems with patriarchy, I understand now why you defend so much its structures.

            “You are the one appropriating the male gaze, not me, if you think that women who dance sexually are only ever tits and ass ”

            I’m not appropriating the male gaze, I told you I don’t blame women, only men.
            It’s just an unbiased fact of how the male gaze works.
            And nothing can change facts, even libertarian ideology.

            Yes leave it, I’m tired with your essentialism/individualism arguments.

          • Anna

            As to ending patriarchy being a ridiculous goal, please see my discussion with Meghan above.

            Ha ha, you think I don’t have any problems with patriarchy? Where do you get that from?

            I blame women too, but not in the same way I blame men. Women’s gender identity runs a large gamut with extremes at both ends, and I think there’s room to accept both ends in performance as long as certain integrity is present. But I think the discussion surrounding sexual performance has to be more nuanced.

            If I had to pick sides – radical feminism or liberal feminism – I would pick radical feminism, because I care about human rights more than I care about individual freedoms. But I don’t see a way to pick, because I’m aligned with the radicals except for this one sticking point about the possibility of female sexual expression.

            I know that the pornographers try to defend the most egregious misogynistic material and the most criminal acts against women by talking about “agency” and “pleasure” and about how including “different body types” somehow makes it all okay. That’s not what I’m saying, and I don’t buy their arguments.

            I feel it’s more important now than ever to take radical positions. It’s just that I see certain holes in the radical arguments. For instance, no one has answered the question as to how a man can look at a woman sexually without her feeling objectified by his gaze. And no one has been able to explain why, if our brains are so plastic and capable of transforming themselves with everything we experience, it is not possible to put a new framework around the way we experience female sexual performance. Third, if certain females are in fact challenging notions of patriarchy through burlesque performance, as they claim to do, those may be the very sites where the alternative modes of perception are being created that you say you would like to see. And fourth, female burlesque performance is often a type of “drag” performance, in which women “create themselves as women” as a type of masquerade, the same way gay males do, to assert to themselves and others that this is NOT what they are naturally – it is only what they are when they construct themselves so.

          • Lo

            I don’t think that radical feminists are “anti sex” or something like that (if this is what you mean), we just want a sexuality which doesn’t objectifiy women.
            (Guess you know that men are not objectfied as women are etc etc)
            Anyway,I read your arguments, but I still see burlesque as a construct of patriarchy, like many others.

            I don’t believe the “empowerment’ theory.
            Same for the : indivual experiences >> unbiased politics/point of view.

            Let’s not forget how our culture is : women have always learn to be objectified to please men and to have a sexual life.
            And I’m against those dogmas.

            Equality and freedom are not possible with the objectification of others.

            But that’s just my opinion.

            I don’t think we’re going to agree on this topic.

        • Anna

          Lo, your posts are really illogical. You say that burlesque performers are part of the “poisoned tree of patriarchy,” but you don’t think you’re saying that burlesque performers have sold out to patriarchy? Huh?

          • Lo

            “burlesque performers are part of the “poisoned tree of patriarchy,””

            I didn’t say that =O

            Why are my posts illogical?

            If someone could explain me…

  • marv

    The belief that someone’s idea of a counter cultural narrative necessarily contradicts patriarchy is all too common. The best of intentions frequently reinforce the status quo, no matter how cheeky or alternative. We can think what we want to think; then there is reality.
    http://feministcurrent.com/8307/lily-allen-and-the-phenomenon-of-white-feminism-through-ironic-black-booty/

    • Anna

      Why are people here using race appropriation to counter arguments about a woman’s right to display her body? Both of those articles linked are good. Both are written by women of color. And both are about race appropriation, which is not the topic of this conversation. Are you, marv, a woman of color? Or you, morag? Do you think that that the racial perspectives of white women are/ can be the same as those of a woman of color who has faced racial oppression? I ask if you’re white because I don’t think a person of color would use arguments about race to prove another point.

      • Lo

        If you only you could see beyond your libertarian ideology (and of course essentialism way to see women), maybe you would understand more the impact of objectification on women.

        • Anna

          That’s interesting: counter a question about race appropriation with an accusation of libertarianism. Good work.

          • marv

            I was using the Lily Allen example as an analogy not an equivalence. No matter what kind of sexual expression is defended as feminist, people ardently claim their experience and opinions are the exception to the patriarchal rule. When you add up all the naysayers there is no rule left only healthy diversity. Poof! the male system is rendered impotent.

          • Anna

            “No matter what kind of sexual expression is defended as feminist, people ardently claim their experience and opinions are the exception to the patriarchal rule.”

            Well yes, that’s true. Most people who claim such things have not thought about it too much. I think it’s good to call out sexism and racism when we see it happening. And I see the importance of maintaining a strict radical stance against the onslaught of lazy/ dangerous ideologies.

          • Lo

            FYI I am a mixed woman.

            And I didn’t see anything about appropriation here, aren’t you the one trying to appropriate races subjects just for your burlesque thing?

            And yes you’re a libertarian and an individualist… Good work.

          • Anna

            Lo, the article is about race appropriation.

      • lizor

        Anna: This is what marv wrote:

        “The belief that someone’s idea of a counter cultural narrative necessarily contradicts patriarchy is all too common. The best of intentions frequently reinforce the status quo, no matter how cheeky or alternative.”

        It is a very clear point. Are you able to respond to it?

        BTW – there is no statement here about “right” to display one’s body. Only statements about the social implications of the action.

        • Anna

          Well yes, of course I agree with that statement.

  • Donna

    “There is not one single way to be feminist, because there is not one single way to be a woman, or a human being. One size does not fit all, and never will. If we want to move forward with feminism/equality we need to acknowledge that we are never all going to see it the same way. Your way is just the one that works best for you. Trying to force people to do it your way will never work. Feminism will not work that way. And I want it to work, don’t you? That’s my end goal.” – Glorian Gray

    http://21stcenturyburlesque.com/burlesque-and-feminism-glorian-gray-nadia-kamil-feminist-burlesque/

    • Meghan Murphy

      What is “it” exactly that you want to “work,” is the important question though, of course.

    • Donkey Skin

      ‘Your socialism is just the one that works best for you.’

      Yeah, that makes sense. Try to build a political movement to transform society on the basis of no shared principles, analysis or goals. You won’t get anywhere, and will only end up hollowing out the understanding of your movement so the word used to describe it means pretty much nothing.

      23 years ago Susan Faludi noted that the malestream media had worked very hard since the advent of the Second Wave to make feminism a dirty word, one that women were afraid to identify with. It didn’t work, and since then they appear to have developed a more effective strategy – just label EVERYTHING feminist, including specifically anti-feminist institutions, until the word means nothing, and implies no threat to the status quo whatsoever. Works great from a capitalist perspective too – now women spending large chunks of their income to conform to femininity mandates is also feminism!

      http://www.theonion.com/articles/women-now-empowered-by-everything-a-woman-does,1398/

      • Meghan Murphy

        “23 years ago Susan Faludi noted that the malestream media had worked very hard since the advent of the Second Wave to make feminism a dirty word, one that women were afraid to identify with. It didn’t work, and since then they appear to have developed a more effective strategy – just label EVERYTHING feminist, including specifically anti-feminist institutions, until the word means nothing, and implies no threat to the status quo whatsoever.”

        YEP.

  • sporenda

    ” Your way is just the one that works best for you. ”

    Total liberal individualist BS.
    “Feminism is what I decide it will be”, so if I decide that rape is feminist, porn is feminist, wife battering is feminist, does that makes it so?
    This is infantile nonsense. Get back in touch with your long lost friend, reality.

    Feminism is not defined by individual choices, because it’s a collective movement aiming to do away with the oppression of women as a group.
    As such, it has some clearcut goals and specific analyses.
    Anything that condones and perpetuates the power and control that men exercise over women is NOT feminist.
    Burlesque aims to do just that, as it is about women pleasing the male gaze.
    I would respect a burlesque dancer who would say: I am aware that I am playing to the male gaze and thus condoning male sexual right over women, but that’s the best way I have found to make a living.

    I have no respect for those who are trying to pull the wool over their own eyes and are in denial as to their perpetuating male dominance when performing burlesque.
    I understand that certain truths are painful and humiliating to look at, but being a proud and happy handmaiden is not only pathetically deluded, it’s ultimately self defeating.
    No slave is further from freedom than the slave who believes he is free.

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  • VV

    So what’s the answer here then? What is the end point of this argument? Ban burlesque? I’m reading lots of commentary about the problems with burlesque here, but not many solutions. What would you like to see as an alternative to the current status quo with regards to burlesque?

    • Meghan Murphy

      I’d like for “entertainment” to not revolve around objectified, sexualized, female bodies.

      • VV

        so ban it then?

        • Meghan Murphy

          Uh no. Who’s talking about banning burlesque?

          • VV

            Well… in terms of a tangible, practical solution to this – reading the above it sounds pretty dangerous and damaging – surely more than “talking” needs to be done?

          • Meghan Murphy

            Well we could challenge local venues to find and promote other forms of entertainment? I think conversations, critiques, challenges are probably more productive than ‘banning,’ in this case… We need to get people thinking about objectification and how it impacts women. I think people have been sold this notion that it is ’empowering’ and chosen, therefore not objectifying — we need to change the conversation.

          • VV

            Makes sense. Have you approached any venues and tried to persuade them to stop? What was their response?

          • amongster

            the venues and dancers are not the main problem but the mindset of those who demand and pay for the exploitation of others. it doesn’t get us anywhere to try and persuade individuals working in such fields if we haven’t reached and convinced more people of the problematic nature of things like burlesque and alike. you have to raise awareness first before things can change.
            as rudi dutschke said: “revolution isn’t a short act where something happens and then everything is different. revolution is a long, complicated process which must change man.”

            it seems to me as if you have not understood the root of the problem yourself yet which is why you demand “action” as a solution. i’d recommend to make yourself more famliar with feminist theory first before you call for action.

          • VV

            I know plenty about feminist theory, having studied it for a while (thanks). I suppose my concern is that yes, we can all read lots of books about it and have long debates on forums such as this. It feels a little elitist, but I can live with that. however, does this type of debate teven touch ” the mindset of those who demand and pay for the exploitation of others”. or even enter their consciousness? I’m not demanding action (actually, I’m not “demanding” anything although this has been put in my mouth twice now). But I do like to see an argument that has a goal and is going somewhere other than round in self indulgent circles.

          • VV

            Not had a reply to my last comment. So what is the point of all this rhetoric? It goes nowhere without any action. It’s just hot air. Words without action. Reams of them. Sigh.

          • Meghan Murphy

            I hadn’t realized I was under contractual obligation to respond to all comments here? I guarantee you, though, that if you demand I respond to you, I won’t.
            All the best.

          • VV

            You don’t need to – (don’t recall anything about demands, contract etc? slightly odd and OTT). lack of response and now – v convenient excuse to not respond – says all I needed to know. Thank you!

          • Meghan Murphy

            Yes, you clearly know everything you will ever need to know. Best of luck.

          • VV

            ha – who needs to know anything when we have cheatsheets like this one above telling us what to say and what to think? parallels with the patriarchy are not lost on me…

          • Meghan Murphy

            That doesn’t make any sense.

  • Hazel Stone

    Perhaps it is because we are in a cultural backwater or maybe it is the local acceptance of the Sex Industry but there’s no sign of burlesque letting up any time soon in Minneapolis.

    I am SOOOO fucking bored with it and it taking up space in lefty cabaret shows that ordinarily I love attending. Ugh.

    • Meghan Murphy

      And, just like, the regular bar scene!! Every other weekend there’s Surprise Burlesque! at the bar. Like, I didn’t come here for a tits and ass show, ya know?

  • There are many forms of art and performance that celebrate, focus on, and even exploit sexuality and sensuality. Burlesque is one of them.

    And despite your insistance that you have “endured enough” , you haven’t seen every show, so you’re not really qualified to judge every show’s credibility.

    You don’t have to like it. But that doesn’t mean that all Burlesque is anti-feminist.

    Implying that all women who perform in Burlesque shows, who take their clothes off in their act, who celebrate their sexuality or sensuality etc… are being opressed, exploited, or objectified on the other hand, only complies with society’s insistance that men who are sexually free and expressive are verile, yet women who are, are either victims or sluts.

    fem·i·nism/ˈfeməˌnizəm/
    noun
    the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.

    PS: Yes :Dudes are doing it. There are many male burlesque performers.

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