Monday, January 16, 2006

Bootylicious Burlesque?

Now I admit when the song came out I would catch myself singing it. It's catchy, I admit, but when I listened to the lyrics, I was less impressed.
(What started this, you say? Well it was an article posted on cbc.ca)
Booty Rhapsody

So are we able to reclaimour own bodies by exploiting them in the same way as men? Hell no, and it's really starting to get on my last nerve that people keep telling me that it's possible. Becuase posing for pornography (as in the Suicide Girls) when your body type is not the normal body type seen in porn and stripping (excuse me, I must mean performing burlesque although the last time I mistakenly got caught at a burlesque show (long story and I left soon thereafter) it seemed mostly like being at a strip club so I'm left wondering what the hell's the difference. Yeah, dancing on tables must be so liberating) when your body type is the kind most often left out of strip clubs is liberating! Look! I can exploit myself! Yay!!!! But don't worry you leftist men who want to seem anti-sexist when you truly are, this is liberating for women so you can sit right back and enjoy it.

Now this rant has been brewing for a long ass time. Last spring/summer a group of Earth First! activists held a fundraiser for a woman with cancer (noble cause, and definitely something that deserves fundraisers put together by the community) with (I bet you know what's coming) a burlesque show complete with a kissing booth. Hmmm...why don't I tree sit anymore (that's another long story, but this seems indicitave of the problem.) Really, that's all great and wonderful, but why the hell is burlesque so damn popular with the radical and art communities? I, for one, can not figure it out (and I've been trying.)

Now I understand the need for women to affirm their body shape/size as something to love whatever shape/size you are, and I wholeheartedly support any positive forms of this expression, but how the hell is proving to the patriarchy that you too can be seen as a sex object accomplish anything? Really, (I hope) most women are fighting against being seen as sex objects, but now we're starting this again and I'm supposed to be happy becuase you're calling it burlesque and art instead of stripping? Just to be clear, whatever women need to do to get by I support. I support strippers, not stripping, but all the people who I've seen/heard of doing burlesque do it as a side thing not as a primary means of earning money.

Burrlesque is definitely sexual, but is it feminist? Taken from the article:
"A lot of women are doing politically-edged performance," says Baldwin, referring to performers such as Chicago-based troupe Lickity Split. They use their dances, lyrics and comedy to speak out on reproductive rights, the war and gay and lesbian issues. "It's almost like sugar-coating something. You're taking a heavy political point, but it's wrapped in rhinestones and music and a pretty girl."

Oh yes, because so many people (read: men) take me seriously when I'm fully clothed, it would be much better if I was wearing only a thong and pasties (with maybe a little glitter and feathers). Then they'd REALLY take me seriously. You hear that people? All we have to do to end patriarchy is to prance around in our underwear (or someone else's, cuz I sure as hell don't own any of that stuff.) Dammit I have problems with some activists (you know, the ones purportedly on my side) not being able to look me in the eye because their attention is elsewhere. How the hell are rhinestones and music supposed to cure that?

And why the hell is my not liking burlesque or porn mean that I'm sex negative? Because really I love sex, and I would love it a whole lot more if I didn't have to think about how everyone in this society has been taught to objectify and sexualize me. Even if I love and care for them I know how insidious sexism and patriarchy are. Really you can't get rid of all the brainwashing and it's kind of (read: really) painful to think that someone you love, who is an ally in every sense of the word is prone to percieving you in an objectified way. Really, that's shitty. Think of how much more fun sex would be without that horrendous baggage! (A lot better then you've ever had.)

Ugh. SO much more ranting to do, so little time.

63 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Oh yes, because so many people (read: men) take me seriously when I'm fully clothed, it would be much better if I was wearing only a thong and pasties (with maybe a little glitter and feathers). Then they'd REALLY take me seriously. "

GREAT quote! Could you imagine a male politician wearing little clothes and a lot of glitter? No, he would look ridicilous and it would destract the the audience from the importance of his words.

Anonymous said...

-Antigone

I agree with the thrust of your post, but I have to ask:

Is there anyway for a women to enjoy her body AND her sexuality without it being exploited for the patriarchy? IE, is there a way for me to be seen as a sexual BEING rather than a sexual object?

*sigh* If I want to get on a table and dance, for my own reasons, independent of the patriarchy (like that's ef-ffing possible since I was raised in the US) could I?

lost clown said...

I have gotten on bars and danced with friends. What I noticed with the women who were doing the burlesque show (dancing on tables) was that it was not just dancing, but a grab for the attention of all the males surrounding them.

Ok, maybe to clarify better when I got up on the bar to dance it was to dance, not to bump and grind with the air or pole that's nearby. Sure I got attention getting up on the bar, but the point was not to turn myself into a sexual object, but to dance/have fun. (I also did not stick any part of my body in men's faces that were sitting nearby and I was fully clothed. I think if you want to jump up on a table and dance that there are plenty of ways to do it without turning it into a one person burlesque show.

(and the image of a male politician in all the crap is Hi-larious!!)

Lina said...

God, I agree entirely! That it is liberating to have your income dependent on men's approval, and somehow empowering to have men want to f*ck you. Urgh.
Great post, found it via Feministe (really enjoying this Carnival).

AckAckAck said...

Hadn't seen that Beyonce video before. At least she didn't title the song "My Rump, My Rump."

lost clown said...

or "My Humps"

God the Black Eyed Peas annoy me on so many levels. Why is that song popular?

Doctor Slack said...

Also came here via the latest "Carnival of the Feminists." I agree with you that people trying to attribute some grand feminist political stance to burlesque are mostly full of shit. I'm not so sure that this necessarily means they're playing sucker for patriarchy, though.

To wit:

Is there anyway for a woman to enjoy her body AND her sexuality without it being exploited for the patriarchy?

Depends on how you define "being exploited for the patriarchy." Obviously people have little control over the private reactions and motives of others; a burlesque dancer has little means of controlling, say, the number of men and women in the crowd who would tacitly assume she "deserved" it if she was sexually assaulted.

Whether she should really care about this is another question. Purely on the level of choice, I would say it gives way too much power to the male gaze to dictate what women should and shouldn't wear, or how they should or shouldn't dance, based on how patriarchy might want to exploit it. On the other hand, it's pollyannish to pretend that much of what currently constitutes the sex trade in any form (and burlesque is a form) is driven simply by the healthy, autonomous choices of those involved. The parts of the sex trade's ecology that aren't driven by the razor's edge of economic necessity are often feeding on compulsions tied to abuse-related neuroses.

I'd put the resurgent burlesque decidedly on the healthier end of the spectrum, in that I think many of the people doing it are there because they genuinely and healthily enjoy doing it. And I think it would be disrespectful to simply assume they're doing it out of some insecure or unhealthy need for male attention (or, by the same token, that the audience enjoying it must necessarily be a bunch of patriarchal exploiters). But it's on the spectrum, and the seedier aspects are certainly there; there's nothing inherently feminist about burlesque that would ensure otherwise.

ClizBiz said...

Interesting debate going on here but as an actual burlesque dancer, I'd like to add my two cents. I have to agree with Doctor Slack, as I think too much weight is given to how men 'might' perceive all this. Frankly, who cares? I do it for myself and have ended up forming some lifelong female friendships while having a blast. Are men going to attend the shows at gape at our forms and objectify us sexually? Um, do you mean more than usual?

Perhaps, but this argument is not giving proper respect to the men in the audience who (gasp!) might be more complex than that. Frankly, I'm quite pleased to see live men and women cheering us on when god knows, they could be at home, alone, online, searching for kiddie porn.

I recall touring with my troupe, The Devil-Ettes, down to Los Angeles to the annual burlesque convention, Tease-O-Rama, and having some very enlightening conversations with men in the audience. Two brothers from East LA, in particular, had talked about going and when their mother overheard, not only encouraged them but offered to buy the tickets. Her philosophy: "I'd rather see you boys celebrate real womens bodies rather than these underfed airbrushed creatures that we see everywhere." They were so happy they did and furthermore, they were perfect gentleman to me. Do I care that they may have gone home and thought about screwing me silly? No, not really because that is not the point.

When I see the question asked, "Is this feminism?" I want to scream. Why does such a huge concept always have to be forced into such narrow terms? It is highly frustrating and cuts many of your worthwhile sisters out. Women are not all the same; oddly enough, that is the very crime you are attributing to the men.

I observed the same thing with the black community - to be a success and break out from the cycle, be like The White Man! Inevitably, folks came along and changed that, establishing success on their own terms while celebrating ties to their own culture. Why can't we do the same? I'm sick and tired of this 'That's just not proper behavior for a real feminist' - give me a fucking break.

This is why when someone asks if I am a feminist, I pause and stammer. It shouldn't be so as there are a million ways to live the philosophy, not just one. Burlesque happened because there are a ton of woman who are fiercely independent, politically involved and intellectually vibrant but who also enjoy being putting on fake eyelashes. Confusing?

I'm sorry, Lost Clown, but I think it would do you some good to be kidnapped for an evening and tossed into a vat of glitter.

lost clown said...

If it's not about how men would percieve you, why that kind of show? Seriously I don't understand the stripping and air humping. Those are just because you like to hump air and strip before an audience? (I mean we each like different things. The balloon thing would personally drive me batty. I'd rather perform on stage (cuz I am a clown)

Her philosophy: "I'd rather see you boys celebrate real womens bodies rather than these underfed airbrushed creatures that we see everywhere." They were so happy they did and furthermore, they were perfect gentleman to me. Do I care that they may have gone home and thought about screwing me silly? No, not really because that is not the point.

This is my point, that it's still objecitifying sexualization. One is not better then the other. Your post seems like almost all arguements defended burlesque/stripping (yes, I know a lot of strippers) and that is, well I have fun, they're (men) going to exploit me anyway, but at least they're not (to take your example) looking at kiddie porn, but us instead.

It's not that easy. Objectifiying women doesn't turn off because someone watches a show or a movie. They apply things that porn and no burlesque teach us that women are there for your arousal, instead of for their own merit. You say you'd rather they look at you then kiddie porn, but they may need to go home to that kiddie porn to finish off the night. It's a fallacious arguement. You think it's better for men to see you perform because you're not an airbrushed woman from the magazines, well while various body types yay! it's still men sexualizing and devaluing women. Defend all you want. I've had years of stripper friends to perfect my arguments. Again, I don't blame any of the individual women, I blame the patriarchy.

Go out to the woods and you'll find me running around buck naked (especially near swimming holes.) Also, I have donned fake eyelashes, I don't get the connection to burlesque. The Diva ain't stripping for no one (the Diva being a charatcer extension of me who wears 5 in platforms, a long ass red wig, and yese, false eyelashes that are orange, blue, and gold! And also as a fair warning to anyone else who gets the idea: try to toss me in a vat of raver scabies (glitter) you will lose body parts at the least.

Doctor Slack said...

Okay... now I'm starting to be reminded of the old joke about Methodists disapproving of sex standing up because it might lead to dancing. Your point would seem to be some combination of the following*:

[* NB: I'm not trying to put words in your mouth here. If any of the following misunderstands the substance of what you're getting at, I do hope you'll correct me.]

a) Any expression of sexuality in which more than one sex is in the room is inherently objectifying.

[Whether or not a burlesque dancer is "objectified" by her audience is dependent on the particular inclinations of the audience, and is not inherent in her "type of performance" any more than, say, the tango or the lambada should be seen as inherently "objectifying."]

b) All burlesque and/or other forms of stripping must automatically and solely be about hetero desire, and reducible specifically to sex; it's not conceivable to you that the people involved could be having fun on any other level whatsoever.

[Most people who have seen a burlesque show would probably disagree.]

c) Burlesque acts as a kind of Mind Control Ray that competely rules out any possibility for those observing the dancer that she could be more than just sexual.

[I'm being a little tongue-in-cheek with the "Mind Control Ray" thing, but the point is this is where your argument would seem to lead. The problem is that audiences are not passive sponges that soak up what "porn and now burlesque teach us;" what a thing "teaches us" depends in no small part on what we bring as people interacting with the material.]

There are parts of the sex industry that go out of their way to cater to the least healthy portions of the market and are specifically designed to amp up anti-woman attitudes; the porn industry in particular is justly notorious for this. But I think it's unfair and, tob honest, a bit intellectually lazy of you to equate either that, or stripping, with burlesque. These things may be on a continuum, but that doesn't make all parts of the continuum morally equivalent; the cultures surrounding them and the audiences they cater to are far from identical.

As for the defenses you usually hear for stripping (that it's keeping the men away from doing worse things) I do understand where you're coming from; this usually sounds like a bit of rationalization to me, too. But it's not that simple. History provides ample evidence that men who have unhealthy attitudes toward sex and women will have them whether there are burlesque shows available or not -- and the patterns that tend to obtain in sexually repressed and puritanical societies hint that "stripping as therapy," rationalization though it sometimes seems, may not be entirely bunk. In any case, if you're worried about those attitudes I think the dancers are the wrong target to rail against.

I'm sorry to be so long-winded, but hopefully this is useful on some level.

lost clown said...

OK, I don't have enough time to fully post this, but I did write that I do not blame women doing whatever they need to to get by. That's why I have friends who are strippers. It is not their fault that we live in a society that values women for their bodies and the sexualization of those bodies above all else. (as I said before, I blame the ptriarchy)

lost clown said...

All right, still don't have enough time, but I have some quick thoughts before my friends drag me out the door midpost. And I feel you have terribly misread me.

Burlesque, by definition and act, is about women using their sexuality in a performance. Burlesque is indeed inherently objectifying.

The idea of objectifying/sexualizing women is NOT a concious thought. It comes slowly and it attacks us from all around: the pornographization of the media, porn itself, burlesque. Anything that reduces a woman to a sexual object or encourages the viewing of women as purely sexual objects adds to this.

Can women do burlesque, have fun and feel empowered? Yes, strippers do it all the time. I never said that one woman may not feel this way, but the point is that on an overarching cultural scale it hurts women and supports the patriarchy. Just because porn may not be as outwardly misogynist as porn, it has the same effect on how people view women. ALso I know plenty of people who liked sex work to begin with and then hated being treated like meat. It may be fun for a time, but ultimately harmful.

and again (so I will have said this 3 times now) I don't blame the women for anything. I'm railing against burlesque itself, not the women in it.

Fang Bastardson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
minerva said...

Yep, definitely getting to the heart of things here - or rather the black hole that is generated when we try to discuss women's agency in sexualized acts/images.

Where does co-optation end and agency begin? is there actually a point when we have one or the other by itself? probably not.

Not, at least, while women are taught that our sexual availability/attractiveness to men is vital to our self-esteem, success, and survival. Given this fundamental paradigm, what woman can hope to seek an expression of sexuality in a heterosexualized, commodified format that is not at least in some way co-optation?

Well, one answer has been brought up - the lesbian gaze certainly can bust up the neat identification of 'man look - woman display.' As does the fact that a goodly number of strippers and other 'heterosex' workers are also lesbian, bi, or transgendered. (Just picture that - she's not there for you at all, buddy!)
So the potential of the lesbian participant does expose a potential for the (straight?) woman to take her power on stage, etc.

But why this? (why not, say, sports, performance art, or other interactions of the body?) why now? why this venue? Why not what we think of as regular stripping? IS there a difference? and is that difference the veneer of acceptability that Lost Clown has pointed out? if one would do burlesque but not be a stripper, why? and does that unease uncover some of the shifting border between agency and co-optation?

Doctor Slack said...

One of the joys of insomnia is that it provides an opportunity for some interesting discussions. So, once more unto the breach and all that (apologies again for going on at length, I'll try to keep it as short as I can but we're getting into complicated territory):

Quoth lost clown: Burlesque, by definition and act, is about women using their sexuality in a performance.

I'm with you so far. But when we get to this step:

Burlesque is indeed inherently objectifying.

... I'm reading this as a claim that all use of sexuality in performance is inherently objectifying.

I just can't follow you there, because it seems inaccurate to me to say that sexuality in a performance inherently reduces the woman to an object. It can potentially do so, but in order for that loop to be completed there need to be some specific attitudes and inclinations happening on the viewer's part. You seem to be assuming that misogynistic objectification can be assumed to be predominant in all audiences and contexts -- hence your later claims that burlesque "hurts women" and "supports the patriarchy" -- but I think that assumption is deeply flawed.

Now, there are specific performances of sexuality that, because of our cultural context, we can pretty safely assume to be feeding into objectification. There are forms of the sex industry that are specifically crafted by men, for other men, using women as vehicles for conveying and fostering fundamentally anti-female attitudes. Even in these cases, objectification can't reliably be assumed to be happening at all times, because the audience has the means (and increasingly, the inclination) to subvert it. But it's far likelier to be true of some forms than others.

The idea of objectifying/sexualizing women

For reasons stated above, I don't think "objectifying" and "sexualizing" can be used interchangeably.

is NOT a concious thought.

Or not entirely, though I think it's fair to say that historically, societies have spent a great deal of energy in consciously convincing themselves that the urge to objectify is "natural."

OTOH this isn't the only subconscious inclination in play; one of the key achievements of feminism in the past forty years has been to push forward not just a conscious, but also a subconscious appreciation of women as more than merely sexual. (I'm not trying to be pollyannish about this and say "the battle is won," or anything; just that the picture is a lot more complex and contested today than, say, forty years ago.)

It comes slowly and it attacks us from all around: the pornographization of the media, porn itself, burlesque.

I find the idea of sexual imagery as something "attacking" us to be disagreeably puritanical. If we accept this logic, it's hard to envisage a circumstance arising in which sexual imagery could ever be assumed to function on more than the level of mere "objectification," which makes this ultimately amount to a claim that sex itself is inherently harmful to women and supportive of the patriarchy.

ALso I know plenty of people who liked sex work to begin with and then hated being treated like meat.

I've known a reasonable number of sex workers, both male and female, and known extremely few (none, really, come to think of it) who got into it because they genuinely liked the work per se; almost invariably they would say so initially, but on digging a little deeper there were other, darker issues involved. I actually think it's comparatively rare for strippers to enjoy or feel empowered by what they do.

But I also think it's invalid to simply generalize from stripping and other forms of sex work to burlesque. One of the reasons this post drew my interest is that I happen to know a woman who runs a burlesque troupe, and have thus gotten to know quite a few members of the troupe... and the culture and overall "vibe" is far different from what's prevalent in the dodgier sectors of the sex industry. (This should be no surprise given the institutional differences, and differences in audience, between the average strip club and a burlesque revue.)

Basically, the upshot of all this is that I think you're trying too hard to flatten various contexts into an undifferentiated patriarchal whole. You may not be "blaming" the women involved, but you seem to me to be doing them a disservice by assuming that their choice amounts to their being used by patriarchy. I don't blame Cliz for being insulted by this.

Doctor Slack said...

minerva notes: . . . a goodly number of strippers and other 'heterosex' workers are also lesbian, bi, or transgendered.

Incidentally, Elisabeth Eaves talks about this -- among many other things -- in her excellent book Bare.

But why this?

Guess: another manifestation of retro- and alterna-culture, specifically motivated by a rebellion against the underfed waifs of the fashion industry and corresponding interest in older "pin-up girl" beauty standards.

Why not what we think of as regular stripping?

Guess: regular stripping isn't amenable to the beauty standards being celebrated in neo-burlesque.

IS there a difference?

Guess: yes. Neo-burlesque revues tend to be conceived and run by women and to perform in atmospheres radically different from the "collection of mouth-breathing punters and drunken frat boys" model that often dominates strip clubs.

and is that difference the veneer of acceptability that Lost Clown has pointed out?

Guess: the "veneer" of acceptability arises directly from the difference.

My God I need to sleep. Bye all -- hope I haven't been too obnoxious in monopolizing yr comments thread.

minerva said...

good thoughts Doctor Slack

this is a good point:
"it seems inaccurate to me to say that sexuality in a performance inherently reduces the woman to an object. It can potentially do so, but in order for that loop to be completed there need to be some specific attitudes and inclinations happening on the viewer's part."

-though I think we need to add the omplex of media, gender politics, etc that can be 'present' beyond the the performer and viewer....

lost clown said...

sweet. I got called puritanical.

Burlesque does not happen in a vaccuum (as minerva pointed out, thank you) it happens IN SOCIETY and that society is a misogynistic one that exploits women. Burlesque cannot *not* exploit women. I've talked to women in burlesque shows too, I've also talked to their audiences. Yeah the men all see how empowering it is and how human (not sex objects) all the women are. (OH WAIT, they DON'T!!!!) If Burlesque did appear in a nonpartiarchal vaccuum I wouldn't call it inherently objectifying.

And the audience differences, since the burlesque shows are in bars here and there are no strip clubs (YAY!! I live in a town without strip clubs!!) the audience makeup of burlesque are the frat boys and the mouth breathers. Here, in Seattle, almost everywhere I've seen one (they work burlesque into a lot of shows. I just leave, but that's annoying.) In Bisbee it occured in a place where there wasn't supposed to be a burlesque show, just music and the audience was not these enlightened people you speak of.

Not, at least, while women are taught that our sexual availability/attractiveness to men is vital to our self-esteem, success, and survival.

Is it empowerment? Or does it feel good to be wanted. I'm on stage a whole lot, and I see the way that the women in my show who are more sexual are recived by the audience compared to me. I know what to do if I want attention, I just don't want *that* attention.

Arwen said...

My queer sister does activist burlesque and she LOOOOVES it. She's a big 'ole exhibitionist, and she likes to show herself off generally. She's also a radical cheerleader, and a community activist, and runs make your own fetish wear courses.

I think a lot of this is about choosing your room. Frat boys are not who my sister performs for. Mainly, her audience is dykes and transgendered folks and queers of various stripes, with the occasional hip hetero thrown in. It's in your face - like the "yeasty girls" song about cunnilingus, YES it's sexual, but it's also pretty explicitly about the performers.

Now, exhibitionism in and of itself may be due to a wish for appreciation, but I don't see much different between what my sis does and what the local politicians or actors do: performance for appreciation and to to get a message across. One of my sister's fundamental messages is that she's Hot, and she has FUN. She does everything sensually.

Is it objectification? Sure. She wants to be her own artwork. Tattoos and sparkles and armpit hair and belly and platforms: she's also a visual artist. But the *way* my sister does it is utterly tied to who she is. There's no watching her and conflating her with a Playboy Bunny. It'd be like comparing Janet Reno to a Bunny: you could do it if you were convinced on the sameness of women, but you'd be the idiot, not her. It'd be like bitching that the Mona Lisa didn't have enough cleavage.

Anyway. Audience does make a difference, I suppose. Janet Reno would have a hard time in a room with Rush Limbaugh whether she was talking law or talking about her sexuality.

Arwen said...

Y'know, one of the things that offended me most was a quote attributed to Paris Hilton: that she works at being sexy, but not sexual, cuz that's just gross.

What my sister does, and those who perform with her, is make it about being SEXUAL, but in no way Bunny-Sexy: exactly the opposite. She's absolutely acting out against the patriarchal gender roles that are out there: she's making her sexuality in your face and demanding attention to it. She's got libido and she demands it has public voice.

Any person wanting a vapid, undemanding, heeled-and-hairdoed-and-boob-jobbed sexual partner object (female as sex toy) is going to walk out declaring my sister is a "bitch", because her burlesque is all about her demands. Political and sensual. Sexual and gendered.

I get uncomfortable, frankly. But I utterly see the legitimacy of it as a feminist enterprise: the point is to make me uncomfortable that I'm not comfortable being large and sexual, or old and sexual, or a mom and sexual, or queer and sexual... to hit me right between the sheets.

Doctor Slack said...

Burlesque does not happen in a vaccuum (as minerva pointed out, thank you) it happens IN SOCIETY and that society is a misogynistic one that exploits women.

Well, as I said earlier, I think you're trying to paint "society" with too broad a brush here. Parts of our society are indeed misogynistic and exploit women, but you have to simply ignore large swathes of population, opinion and lived experience and decades' worth of feminist activism to pretend that this is the only possible factor at play in any given context, or that it must be overridingly dominant in all contexts.

Yeah the men all see how empowering it is and how human (not sex objects) all the women are. (OH WAIT, they DON'T!!!!) . . . the audience was not these enlightened people you speak of.

I'll grant you that it's possible to oversimplify the boundaries between burlesque and "regular stripping" audiences, and I'm not saying that burlesque shows are asshole-free or anything. But your blanket characterization of what must be going on in the audience flies directly in the face of the experience of most people I know. (And "enlightened people" is a bit of a strawman; you don't have to be Siddartha Gautama to be able to enjoy a burlesque show on more than one level, or to see a sexual image without automatically reducing it to a sexual "object." Perfectly normal, flawed people -- yes, even male people -- are capable of it.)

Now, it could well be that our community contexts are different enough that the burlesque phenomena we're talking about are radically different from each other. If so, all the more reason not to be broad-brushing "Society" with a capitol "S."

On the whole, you still seem to insistently conflate the acknowledgment of sex and desire with "objectification" as though these were inherently the same thing, and you still seem to be avoiding complicating features like the non-hetero gaze. Those tendencies are the main reason I distrust your intuition about what constitutes objectification and how burlesque must signify in society, and they're what prompted me to use the word "puritanical." I'm sorry if that offends you, but it really is the most applicable term for that kind of thinking -- the only difference being that religious puritans would substitute the word "sin" for "objectification."

Lorenzo said...

Wow. I'm surprised to see productive discussion on this topic in the comments. 99% of the time this kind of discussion degenerates with blinding speed into invective.

I'm inclined to take a critical (as in questioning) stance towards the possibility of alterna-porn and burlesque being empowering or feminist, or of having any substantive connection to women's sexuality. I don't see how alterna-porn or burlesque substantially differ from regular porn or stripping in that they are performances for men's sexuality performed by women.

Simply because the women who perform in the altera-porn and/or burlesgue don't conform to the beauty standard doesn't mean that they are not still performing for men, but rather they are performing for men who find the appearance and performances by women who look and act different to the beauty standard enticing.

And that performance for the sexuality of men is the basis for calling porn and stripping objectifying. The performers are means to satisfying the ends of the male customers, ends that exist irrespective of whatever desires the women who perform have, or of their own sexuality. The point is that whether or not the woman performing is an exhibitionist and enjoys performing is completely irrelevant the the male customer.

Doctor Slack said...

quoth minerva: -though I think we need to add the omplex of media, gender politics, etc that can be 'present' beyond the the performer and viewer....

I agree completely. And in doing so, we need to give the viewer credit for being able to engage that complex in a wide variety of different ways, not all of which necessarily fit into the pattern of dominant misogyny that lost clown appears to be thinking of as the default.

quoth arwen: she's making her sexuality in your face and demanding attention to it. She's got libido and she demands it has public voice.

This reminds me of an earlier point that I lost sight of in all the talk about audience makeup and context... which is that the creative priorities of the performers should take priority over obsessing about what the dominant paradigm might think of them. Blues and jazz music, and everything that came out of them, would never have existed if black musicians had been too worried about white opinion to perform publicly.

lost clown said...

Thank you Lorenzo, that's what I've been trying to say and you do it so succinctly.

Doctor Slack said...

One more quick one, in response to lorenzo:

I don't see how alterna-porn or burlesque substantially differ from regular porn or stripping in that they are performances for men's sexuality performed by women.

I think we're all agreed that they're sexual performance and substantially hetero (though not entirely or simply so). But the basis of using the term "objectifying" is about more than there being sexuality in performance -- it's about reductive sexuality, the assumption that the performance will be solely about sex and will encourage viewing the women as purely sexual objects. Trying to claim that burlesque is "objectifying" in such a way is IMO to be too profligate with the term.

lost clown said...

Lesbian and queer communities can be just as objectifying to women. I have observed/been in many queer/lesbian communities where they feel that objectifying women is not a problem, that it's ok because they are women or they're gender queer. They pull the same shit men do and when you call them on it they get just as pissed as men being called on their patriarchal/misogynistic behaviour. I am not saying all lesbians or queers are this way, but there are definitely enough to make it a problem (and noticable to people who don't normally watch the patriarchy)

Please stop calling me puritanical, that's such a great way to shut down people who disagree with you and shameful in my eyes. I am not right wing and I've probably done thiings that would make you blush so stop trying to intimate that I am anything like them.

To quote one of my commenters:
Perhaps that will also allow women who don’t want to participate say no in a clear and informed way, without shame - & we can stop calling them frigid.

Doctor Slack said...

lost clown: Please stop calling me puritanical, that's such a great way to shut down people who disagree with you and shameful in my eyes.

I'll refrain from using the term, but will point out that I'm not trying to shut you down -- simply noting that the line of reasoning you're using puts you in discomfiting intellectual company. (And I stand by my criticism of the insistent conflation of sexuality and objectification, whether or not we choose to tag it with the term "puritanical.")

I am not right wing and I've probably done thiings that would make you blush . . .

I am so not touching that. Have a nice night, folks... and seriously, many thanks to lost clown and others here for the productive discussion. I do love Carnival of the Feminists for things like this.

lost clown said...

What? Was it me?

Arwen said...

I think the problem is what we think of as "objectifying".

For me, the PROBLEM of sexual objectification is not: "Hey. That person makes my bits feel tingly and I like looking at them."

To me, the problem of sexual objectification is simply: "That person would make a good sex toy."

The problem of porn is not naked people with their genitals exposed. (And I personally dislike porn quite strongly).

The problem of porn is when its packaged in such a way that the person becomes a commodity: the person is a sex toy.

I have seen and now strongly believe that there are ways to publicly celebrate/explore/artify/expose one's sexuality in a way that forces the viewer's understanding of your personhood. Even if they think you're twisted.

So, yes: if fat girls do fat girl porn in such a way that they're simply being packaged for a consumer market and they're yet another sex toy on the "women as sex toy script", they're not doing anything different.

OTOH, for artists of all stripes who put what they want, are, and believe out there in their work, you *can't* simply consume them the way you do Playboy or Britney Spears. You can't. You are forced into some sort of thought process - and sometimes that's going to be anger and hate in an explicit and misogynist way.

I understand, myself, the reaction you're having. I went through all of it quite intensely with my sister and her particular lifestyle... I was sure she was acting out a script. However, she's really, truly not; and many of the women she works with aren't either. They're doing something else entirely.

My sister was pissed at me at first for my analysis. Essentially her argument was, "Fuck you. I have a brain." And she does.

I would encourage people who are skeptical to take it far enough to see that there are and can be women who are doing this very thoughtfully: but if it makes you personally uncomfortable, that's utterly cool too.

Arwen said...

Lorenzo said: I don't see how alterna-porn or burlesque substantially differ from regular porn or stripping in that they are performances for men's sexuality performed by women.

I should have just said this: for a lot of performers (at least in my area), it's very much about the performer's sexuality. They don't spend a hell of a lot of time worrying what's going to please. They do what they like, and if their audience doesn't like it, too bad.

lost clown said...

And if you've all ready been there you can't have this analysis? I call bullshit, because I know all the reasons and all the defenses of things like this, and I must say that I woke up one day (I was always a feminist). It doesn't make me uncomfortable b/c I'm uncomfortable with nudity, it makes me uncomfortable because it's women exploiting themselves. This is the problem with internet debates. No one assumes that the other side could actually come from a place of firsthand experience/knowledge.

lost clown said...

(Basically what I'm saying is that years ago I was those women. Not anymore. I woke up and realised how horrendous self-proclaimed objectifying empowerment was. (and it's not empowering, not in the long run anyway)

Arwen said...

lost clown: I wasn't assuming anything, actually, about your past. I also have had negative experiences. However, I will say this: what is true for you and for me is not necessarily true for everyone.

I was a child of sexual assault. For many years in my adult life, I had consensual sex that wasn't truly consensual because I was utterly packaging my sexuality for my partner. Since my partner at the time didn't see anything wrong with it, it very much ended up being a dynamic such as you and Lorenzo are speaking to in burlesque. I participated in my own exploitation. It was horrific.

Since then, various work I've done has allowed me to reclaim my sexuality. I now have fabulous sex. What changed was an acceptance of what really made ME tick sexually, and what I enjoy: I make sex about my own tastes. My partner(s) have of course been interested in their own sexual gratification, but they'll have absolutely no choice to have sex with me with my sexuality not present.
(Short of rape, of course. In which case, they'd have the chance exactly once.)

I personally am not so fond of the exhibitionism, so I wouldn't choose that for me. If I got up on a stage, my sexuality wouldn't be there: it'd be back to exploiting myself for the consuming viewer. I couldn't do what my sister does without experiencing cultural, sexual, entrenched abuse.

BUT: I was being patronizing to my sister when I assumed that would also be true for her.

The question I pose to you is: do you think the urge to exhibit oneself sexually is essentially patriarchal? If your answer is yes, then your argument would be utterly true. However, if there are other reasons to want to be exhibitionist, then there are ways to do that even within patriarchy that both confronts and discusses patriarchy within those bounds. Because it is the case that patriarchy is everywhere.

Arwen said...

Oh, and my sis and I have had the opposite discussion: she's questioned my choice of heterosexual monogamy! For many of the same reasons Twisty would... Have I accepted the patriarchy in my role of wife and mother? Many would say yes.

At some level, we have to allow each other variation of taste and style. On another level, we can ask that we talk about our choices in the greater framework. But we're all so unique, and we're going to make choices that would hurt other women in the same situation.

ClizBiz said...

Wow! Ya'll been busy while I've been off objectifying myself.

Apparently, Doc Slack and I are on one side of the peak-a-booth and Lost Clown (whom I respectfully credit with sparking this discussion) is on the other.

I'd just like to know one thing: Why does everything we gals do off/onstage have to be viewed through this tiresome male lens? When I hear/read a feminist whine about this "misogynist society" I want to clamp my hand over her mouth and warn her that she is helping to further this by declaring it so - over and over again.

Again, when I am not debasing myself publicly with the help of fishnets and push-up bras, I work for a global public relations firm that helps Fortune 500 companies deal with their shit. One of the basics of "managing messages" is to refrain from ever repeating negative declarations, i.e. 'the enemy slogan.' Every single damn time one of you declares our society male-based publicly, you are helping to make it so. I know ya'll are worried about boobies and such but it is words, my friends, WORDS that will ultimately work for or against us.

Finally, one more thought about audiences full of evil horny men that are victimizing us poor helpless females who just don't know any better, I have a thought to munch on.

Seems everyone has a 'stripper friend' these days and here's what mine said:
"Everyone always talks about how this profession exploits woman and that is such crap. The men are the ones being exploited. They come in here and pay through the nose for their desires. In my mind, we are the ones taking advantage and its about goddamn time."

lost clown said...

I don't think that the urge to exhibit oneself may be totally patriarchal, but the problem is we will never know while there's a patriarchy in place. While we all may accept a level of patriarchy into our lives, but that's not gonna stop me from fighting against it. Unfortunately it's not a freeing thing when we still have people viewing it in the same old paradigm. (And most burlesque I've seen in BC, OR, and WA is not even making people think or challenging them excpet with different size bodies.)

Again, i blame the patriarchy, not the people who perform. I feel that it can only be nonobjectifying (and I'm not sold on the idea that it ever can) post-patriarchy. (Isn't that a nice place to think about?)

Andrea said...

Yeah, getting your tits out for the lads doesn't contribute to a patriarchal society at all, it's feminists making it so by saying it is.
Sorry, but that's absolute bullshit.

lost clown said...

"Everyone always talks about how this profession exploits woman and that is such crap. The men are the ones being exploited. They come in here and pay through the nose for their desires. In my mind, we are the ones taking advantage and its about goddamn time."

False logic. I've heard that one over and over. I used it a few times. Ultimately it's a lie, a false sense of empowerment. Ultimately we're the ones who are demeaned and objectified because our bodies (not our minds) are of value to this society. Sure the men shell out money, but they keep (and increase) their power over us when they exploit us, or better yet, we exploit ourselves.

(and what andrea said)

Lorenzo said...

Doctor Slack,

I think we're all agreed that they're sexual performance and substantially hetero (though not entirely or simply so). But the basis of using the term "objectifying" is about more than there being sexuality in performance -- it's about reductive sexuality, the assumption that the performance will be solely about sex and will encourage viewing the women as purely sexual objects. Trying to claim that burlesque is "objectifying" in such a way is IMO to be too profligate with the term.

I would disagree with this characterization of "objectifying." I was using the term in its original philosophical sense as the reduction of a human being to a mere means to the satisfaction of the ends of another. Thus it ivolves the consideration of the objectified person only inasmuch as they are useful to the ends of that other person. This is precisely the sense in which the term was originally used by Kant as well as a number of existentialist philosophers.

Lorenzo said...

Arwen,

should have just said this: for a lot of performers (at least in my area), it's very much about the performer's sexuality. They don't spend a hell of a lot of time worrying what's going to please. They do what they like, and if their audience doesn't like it, too bad.

However, part of my post outlined that I had trouble seeing how the performer's sexuality or experience of performing was relevant because, as I noted, the audience is still their to have their desires satisfied, even if they self select first for those whoose desires would be satisfied by the kind of performance in question. I'm not saying it is impossible, as I find your mention of kinds of performance that force the recognition of personhood and consideration beyond the performers ability to satisfy the desires of the (still primarily male) audience.

What I mean, to be less verbose, is that I don't see why the male audience would care what the performers desires as long as their performance satisfied their desires. After all, even in conventional performance for men, the performers are expected to at least pretend to like it.

Lorenzo said...

ClizBiz,

I'd just like to know one thing: Why does everything we gals do off/onstage have to be viewed through this tiresome male lens? When I hear/read a feminist whine about this "misogynist society" I want to clamp my hand over her mouth and warn her that she is helping to further this by declaring it so - over and over again.

I don't see how it could be considered outside of the male lens when men make up the vast majority of the customers? In their absence, their wouldn't be many left to pay to watch the burlesque shows.

I would also contest that calling this society "mysogynist" does anything other than acknowlege the existant reality and certainly doesn't contribute to making it so. I would instead argue that not calling it patriachal simply serves to normalize the existing condition.

Doctor Slack said...

First things first. Lost Clown asked: What? Was it me?

Didn't mean to sound offended -- I was just saying that there are certain things that are way too involved to get into on a comments thread.

I really liked arwen's post about her own experience and her debate with her sis. Nicely conveys, in a much more personal way, a lot of what I've been trying to say.

I also have to second much of what cliz says about the self-defeating nature of continuing to privilege "the patriarchy." Lost Clown later says: we will never know while there's a patriarchy in place. . . it's not a freeing thing when we still have people viewing it in the same old paradigm.

I'll just try this from another angle, using a (somewhat) parallel example:

There will always be a white gaze in predominantly white societies that potentially looks down on black athletes and entertainers, or imagines because of their existence that all blacks are good for is soft-shoeing or running down a basketball court. Does this mean blacks should avoid becoming entertainers, or that all black entertainers are the equivalent of a turn-of-the-century minstrel show so long as racists exist? No. Does it mean that blacks should try to control their own choices and frame their own images, whether or not whites might approve of it and whether those choices take them to an office job or a stage... or both? I would say yes. Is a society in which they can do this a better one than one in which they can't? Again, I would say yes, though that society may never be entirely post-racist.

Privileging the male gaze puts you in a no-win situation, just as privileging the white gaze would be no-win for nonwhites. Any choice people make could theoretically be defined as furthering an "old paradigm" that might approve their choice and seek to exploit it, and therefore no change or progress can ever really be acknowledged. The most thoroughly racist societies were deeply uncomfortable with the notion of black entertainers and athletes, whose existence wasn't always taken for granted (Louis Armstrong more than once left gigs a few steps ahead of a lynch mob); similarly, the most patriarchal societies currently on the planet overwhelmingly condemn the public display of female sexuality. (The persistent fear of objectification -- and it's elucidated as such -- is the primary argument for requiring women to wear hijab in certain Islamic societies, for instance.)

Since the "old paradigm" can always be at work in one way or another, demanding that everything should be evaluated by whether patriarchy could use it basically yields an outcome in which post-patriarchy is impossible, a dream that women will always be yearning for but never able to realize no matter what they choose. That's why I think the difference lies in the ability to control one's own choices, not in the ability to control what others might think of them.

most burlesque I've seen in BC, OR, and WA is not even making people think or challenging them excpet with different size bodies

Where I part ways with activist burlesque is that I think it's expecting rather too much of casual entertainment for it to do the work of an academic paper or an article, to be always "making people think" or "challenging them." A form of entertainment doesn't have to profess high-flown political goals to be interesting in constructive ways and healthily enjoyable for those involved.

Lorenzo said...

I'd overlooked this,

Seems everyone has a 'stripper friend' these days and here's what mine said:
"Everyone always talks about how this profession exploits woman and that is such crap. The men are the ones being exploited. They come in here and pay through the nose for their desires. In my mind, we are the ones taking advantage and its about goddamn time."


I think this is completely and demonstrably false. The men are able to use money to have their desires satisfied using women. In order for those women to make money they are therefore required to perform in accordance with the desires of the male customers, irrespective completely of their own perspective, feelings or desires. How they view it is completely irrelevant because their performance must conform to male desires, and they must at least to pretend to enjoy doing so regardless of how they actually feel.

Whether they enjoy it, hate it, feel its empowering or not doesn't matter to the male customers. They only care about, and are paying money to, have their desires catered to by women. This may be different in alternative forms such as Burlesque as Arwen argued that women in those performances could perform in such a way as to compell the male audience to consider the performers intentions and preferences, however I don't see how this is at all the case in conventional stripping.

Doctor Slack said...

lorenzo: What I mean, to be less verbose, is that I don't see why the male audience would care what the performers desires as long as their performance satisfied their desires.

Surely the nature of any performance, sexual or not, is that the audience is more interested in satisfying their own desires than in what the performer is feeling. The crowd at a classical recital doesn't care if the violinist had a good breakfast that morning, what matters to them is that the music is good.

But that seems irrelevant to what we're talking about. That the audience -- which, in the case of any burlesque show I've seen cannot be assumed to be all- or predominantly-male, incidentally -- is there to satisfy their desires is a given. That doesn't mean we can safely assume that desire to be wholly sexualized the moment a sexual element comes into the performance. It doesn't mean we can safely assume that the audience is too stupid and venal to be able to imagine that whatever group the performer belongs to might have more interests than just that type of performance. And it certainly doesn't mean that the perfomers' satisfaction is irrelevant just because it's not a primary audience concern.

Burlesque itself is sexualized on a certain level, but to what extent and for which viewers is an open question. I personally find it to be far less of a turn-on than an amusement -- though it's certainly more fun to watch than "regular" stripping, which I've always found utterly depressing any time I've been subjected to it -- and I doubt I'm alone. (In terms of sheer sexiness, for my money neither burlesque nor "normal" stripping can compete with certain forms of modern dance; Manon Oligny routinely choreographs way more outrageous things on a stage than you'll ever see at a burlesque show, but she'd have words with anyone who accused her of merely "objectifying" women, to put it mildly. And I'd agree with her.)

lost clown said...


I would also contest that calling this society "mysogynist" does anything other than acknowlege the existant reality and certainly doesn't contribute to making it so. I would instead argue that not calling it patriachal simply serves to normalize the existing condition.


Naming is a very important thing for oppressed groups to do. If that which is oppressing us has no name then what, exactly are we fighting? I will continue to call out misogyny until we force it to go away.

and dr. slack as per your comments: we don't find black entertainers doing minstrel shows and calling it empowering. (and YES it is the same thing)

lost clown said...

similarly, the most patriarchal societies currently on the planet overwhelmingly condemn the public display of female sexuality. (The persistent fear of objectification -- and it's elucidated as such -- is the primary argument for requiring women to wear hijab in certain Islamic societies, for instance.)


Patriarchal societies take on different faces. It is all part of the oppresssion of women, it's just that in western societies men get to sexually exploit women as well as oppress them in many of the same ways as the other societies. this is not but/or kind of question as long as each type of oppression exists so will patriarchy.

lost clown said...


Surely the nature of any performance, sexual or not, is that the audience is more interested in satisfying their own desires than in what the performer is feeling. The crowd at a classical recital doesn't care if the violinist had a good breakfast that morning, what matters to them is that the music is good.


As a performer I assure you that if we were to substitute what we want to do (a circus) with a burlesque show that there would be many disappointed people there. The difference is that my desires are reflected in the audience. You draw the kind of people who want to see that kind of performance. If they want a nonfeminist circus then they don't come. This is a silly arguement b/c what I want as a performer (and a ringleader) is for my audience to go home satisfied. Much different satisfaction when you're comparing burlesque to circus, though.

Doctor Slack said...

Lost Clown: we don't find black entertainers doing minstrel shows and calling it empowering. (and YES it is the same thing)

Neo-burlesque isn't similar enough to the original to support this claim. Clever rejoinder, though. :)

Doctor Slack said...

Lost Clown: The difference is that my desires are reflected in the audience. You draw the kind of people who want to see that kind of performance. If they want a nonfeminist circus then they don't come. This is a silly arguement b/c what I want as a performer (and a ringleader) is for my audience to go home satisfied. Much different satisfaction when you're comparing burlesque to circus, though.

You've lost me here, sorry. I think what you're trying to say is that in a circus, the performers and the audience want the same thing, whereas in burlesque they must want different things?

lost clown said...

no, but according to you they do.
This reminds me of an earlier point that I lost sight of in all the talk about audience makeup and context... which is that the creative priorities of the performers should take priority over obsessing about what the dominant paradigm might think of them.

becuase their intentions overrule audience intentions, right? I smell something...

Doctor Slack said...

LC: no, but according to you they do.

According to me, who do what?

And yes, I've argued that the audience's intentions shouldn't determine what the performers choose to perform. So... what?

And what's with the "I smell something" snark? Have I been impolite to you, or something?

lost clown said...

well the fake apology about calling me puritanical stings, but I was going to say I call bullshit, but went with that instead. So only supposed to be as snarky as me calling bullshit.

According to you burlesque performers don't want the same thing as their audience. Never seen that with any other group of performers, although I know plenty of burlesque performers who want the audience to find them sexy, etc. (That's objectification btw. Female sexuality has nothing to do with getting other people off. hell, mine sure as hell doesn't. Although I can't say this as eloquently as some people who all ready have here.

Doctor Slack said...

LC: well the fake apology about calling me puritanical stings

Hmmm. Well, it would be "fake" for me to pretend to disavow an argument when I can't honestly do so. About all I can do is retract the choice of words if it offends you. I'm not trying to be rude, just honest. Sorry that pains you.

According to you burlesque performers don't want the same thing as their audience. Never seen that with any other group of performers . . .

Okay, I'm following you now. No, what I'm saying is that we can't assume what burlesque's audience does or doesn't want, just as in an audience for a Manon fait de la danse show some will be there because they think the dancers are hot, others will be there because they're into the enaction of feminist body theory, and others will be there because their significant others dragged them there. The only "thing" that both parties can reliably said to want is competent performance -- the ideology or inclinations or desires underlying that usually vary with each person on the stage and in the audience.

That's it for me, I'm off to vote. Do pray for Canada, all...

trillwing said...

Very interesting discussion! I must admit I don't frequent burlesque shows myself, but I have seen ClizBiz perform, and by no means was the audience mostly, or even majority, male (esp. not straight male). Honestly, as one who has never been very comfortable with my body (it took a pregnancy and childbirth for me to become more so), I enjoyed watching contemporary burlesque--especially in a vibrant, lefty, urban atmosphere. It's refreshing and even (may I employ the overused word?) empowering to see women in their 30s and 40s, with their stretch marks and cellulite and breasts that are starting to sag, get up on stage and perform (and no, Cliz, I'm not implying anything about your gorgeous self!). There's a joie de vivre in it, at least at the show I saw. And at that show the performers mingled with the audience between sets, so they had voices as well as bodies.

Doctor Slack said...

Oh, BTW, I missed this earlier from lorenzo:

I was using the term in its original philosophical sense as the reduction of a human being to a mere means to the satisfaction of the ends of another.

As my subsequent comments on performance probably hinted, I think this definition of objectification would functionally apply to pretty much any performance, and is thus broad enough to be unhelpful in addressing the specifically feminist concerns that LC raised.

Thanks to trillwing for weighing in.

Arwen said...

Way back upstream I talked about my own experiences with child abuse. I think there's a pretty clear parallel between sexual abuse and cultural exploitation of women's bodies. They mutually enforce each other.

I mentioned that sex for me for many years was a place where I exploited myself, similar to the way that you and Lorenzo are mentioning regarding burlesque. I was packaging myself for consumption for my partner at the time.

Yet, now I love sex. It was work to get there. I still have sex with people who are interested in the pleasure part of having sex. They don't see me as a sex toy, which is my definition of objectification, but they do see getting into bed with me as a means of receiving pleasure. Obviously, they're not getting into bed with me in order to get their taxes done or experience deep humanitarian compassion.

What changed was my own perception; I would say my own opinion of what's happening does matter far more to my sense of self (my empowerment) than to the perception of the male I happen to be with. I do NOT define myself in the gaze of the guy beside me. I wouldn't have sex more than once with someone disrespectful or unable to converse sexually with me: but BAD sex is no longer a reminder of rape and disempowerment my experience. I'm not going to ever feel like a non-person again. And feeling like a non-person was what really, really hurt.

My burlesque lovin' sis doesn't define herself in the view of some random frat boy asshole who might wander into the audience.

To be empowered you have to be able to shrug off whatever pressures patriarchy and history have given you and listen to your OWN voice and preference.

Female sexuality has nothing to do with getting other people off.

Hey, now.

I, at least, sometimes very much enjoy getting my partner off: that's very much part of MY active, healthy sexuality. (My partner, male, also very much enjoys getting me off too.) If it's not your bag, that's fine, but absolutes are dangerous here.

Arwen said...

Although, rereading your original piece, I'll say this: If burlesque was happening at a martini lunch of the Democratic National Convention, or a Microsoft Shareholder's Meeting, then yes: I'd have a problem with it. Using sex to further a non-sexual agenda ends up being universally not about the sexualities of the people being used or manipulated, either way.

Lorenzo said...

Hey, now.

I, at least, sometimes very much enjoy getting my partner off: that's very much part of MY active, healthy sexuality. (My partner, male, also very much enjoys getting me off too.) If it's not your bag, that's fine, but absolutes are dangerous here.


Yes, however that isn't what lost clown meant, as far as I can tell.

If I understand her correctly, I believe she meant that women's sexuality isn't primarily about getting strangers off without reciprocation (i.e. it isn't about performance). I hardly think she meant that women couldn't or woundn't enjoy getting their partners off in the context of a broader sexuality that ultimately rests on the woman's desires being fufilled.

lost clown said...

exactly lorenzo.

Michelle said...

Thanks for this blog post about burlesque. I stumbled upon it quite by accident. My issue with burlesque (queer or otherwise) isn't that it's objectifying or political stuff wrapped in glitter- but that it just seems to take itself so seriously. So many burlesque performers I've met and performances I've seen are so careful to distance themselves from stripping. As far as I can tell, the only thing that makes burlesque burlesque is that it's "not stripping." It's a nice way for middle/upper class queer girls to be "naughty" without losing their privilege. Lame. My 2 cents- thanks for this blog post. It's about time this topic was problematized. I feel like a lot of people are on the burlesque bandwagon and they're not interrogating it. -Michelle in DC

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the blog post...I too stumbled across this while doing a search for the Modernization of Burlesque Entertainment: Who took the tease out of Striptease. I am highly interested in this subject as you see I myself was a Burlesque Entertainer and used it as a means to pay for college. I can say from quite a personal perspective that the difference between stripping and burlesque in today's society strictly is up to the entertainer. Now I can completely agree that being objectified is one of the hardest parts of the job...(not profession)...it's more the stereotypes that the entertainer is faced with on a day to day basis. Some who believe themselves to be "feminist" would say that these entertainers are exploiting themselves. Entertainers who believe that they are "feminist" would say that they are exploiting the audience. Who is exploiting who here? Is it not easy to think that men are willing to pay to see a woman remove her clothing, but then it is also easy to think that if the woman accepts that money, they are accepting a price. and by accepting a price, they are giving reason to believe that there is a price for everything they advertise in their performance. But I will say from experience that knowing that the audience has the idea that there may be a price (the more they pay the more they get) I know that they are willing to 1:buy me drinks 2: give me money 3: continue 1&2 thus paying me and the establishment that I work in. So is it politics covered in rhinestones and glitter? No. Simply it is a business, it is a job, and that woman are sexually objectified gives a driving force in the business....The difference between burlesque entertainment and stripping is quite simply...is it a job or a profession, and does everything you advertise in your performance have a price?

mata shakti said...

Thank you so much for this blog time and space, LC! Bringing awareness to the “Neo-Burlesque” as Retrogressive Feminism discussion is a personal and political act, and a needed one. We are living in a time where entertainment as the ultimate escape is perhaps at its highest peak … and even in relatively aware circles, anyone who is the least bit informed on global and local news is having healthy responses of depression, and a tendency towards despair.

And how we choose to live in such times can take many paths, the most commonly taken ones OFTEN being those that are ego-gratifying with as quick a “fix” as possible. It’s often been this way in humanity… and I really think the understanding the historical context around female-as-showgirl is essential. Several previous posts here have mentioned what is available for sale for a price, the exchange and trade of sexuality for money. What about being unavailable for purchase? What about pricelessness? I, for one, have experienced it as a tremendous realm of power. Imho, the truly wild woman stays off the market.

BTW, I’m a woman, women’s yoga teacher, birth attendant, midwifery scholar, recovery/sacred-sexuality educator, rape and other things survivor, general creatrix, neo-soul music and acid-jazz fan, and (technically) 42 years old. Like most women, I also have siblings and friends who have many stories of survival and transformation, or lack of. I myself have managed to only prostitute myself in disparaging office jobs-for-money, and have made choices, against the odds, to not sell myself otherwise, as the opportunities have been replete.

I really feel this subject is in great need of revisioning if we are to collaborate for global shift in consciousness for a better world as the ice caps melt and all hell is breaking loose in terms of civil liberties and human rights. It also is deserving of the wisdom to call a spade a SPADE: the fragmented, fixated state of mind that is commonplace in today’s urbanized world, and is well esconced in the booming realm of neo-burlesque entertainment –the specialty of distraction and fetish – that lends a cleaner modus operandi to the greasy strip club world. Also, a critical inquiry into the history/herstory on this is a worthy endeavor.

Feminine power and wisdom have been a long interest of mine, and through yoga and good mentorship I’ve accessed my internal connection to feminine self-awareness. I feel passionate about facilitating discernment and context to modern urban women’s culture because of the potential for major, positive social change, to be truthful.

The ancient yoga principle of “shakti” – sacred feminine force – and the outright reverence given to woman in this tradition have helped me clear my own lens in early Aquarian millenium when pimps and porn queens are celebrities, and “showgirls” and “hootersgirls”are commonplace. The shakti tradition (like the modern Ashley Montagu Ph.d, RIP) holds that woman is superior, supremely gifted and empowered, simply because she is the mother/creatrix of all, and has special visionary and intuitive capacities, if she uses her brain. Woman as mother (physically and/or otherwise) gives birth to universes of new possibilities. Gandhi had a mother, so did Guatama Buddha, Peace Pilgrim, Sojourner Truth, Anandamayi Ma, and Christ.

Need something to focus on in meditation? The yogis say: just meditate on the mother of any person who has experienced their divinity, uninterrupted.

In my humble opinion, the greatest enemy of feminine brilliance is betrayal among women, NOT the generally stupid men who apply the intelligence they do have to traffic in women or host/promote objectification. All the performance and tease technique that we have put into our roles as showgirls and playthings also represents brain cells and thought forms that could be otherwise channeled to, say, prevent the trafficking of young girls or to, say, register voters in housing projects, or, even raise consciousness of the innate, sustainable beauty in this world that we are leaving to the next generation.

mata shakti said...

What about entertaining the concept that a woman, as a birther/creatrix has no price? Cannot be bought, is innately erotic, and IS NOT available to the general public as sex object? (What a concept :0)

In the very least, as individuals who are marginally free, we DO have the choice to set into motion an example of such a reality...

While chewing on that, here's some his/herstoricity:

Modern burlesque in the 1930s (both in film and performance) occurred in very grim times right after the bloodiest war on earth(the Great Depression), and catered or pandered feminine glamour distraction to the masses, at great profit to filmmakers and a few performers. It was a time of industrial slavery, gigantic immigrant slums, and tremendous rural poverty – while the usual bosses and affluent politicians lived the high life. Film was a great propaganda machine to counter lurking Marxism and socialist-illuminati artist circles meeting in salons and coffeehouses. The inner thigh crotch shots of high kicking dancers in Buzby Berkeley films was well-pimped, and mind-numbing to many, and least for awhile, at least until the next movie. And MGM made millions.

After that, and after another horrible war, the very scary 1950s to early 1960s ensued, with a swirl of unspoken gender angst, a bottomless pit of material acquisition, mixed with alcoholic humor and violent obstetrical trauma for unwitting women and babies across the nation. Oh, and the happy pinup sex object gal who had 'nothing to do with such things' became an archetype, along with the walking and talking ones, well-corsetted, and well-gagge by their own complicity.

I think we can all pretty much agree that femininity is a powerful force. We are all born from a woman, and we all crave the all-encompassing embrace of the unconditional feminine. It is a force that has been traded, bought, sold, and marketed for a long time… either after rape/molestation OR simply as a means for a woman to control the conditions of exploitation that are random,, unavoidable and real, leaving no option but to manipulate it to the best of one’s ability.

There is also the case of feminine force being imprinted as plaything (as disposable as a toothpaste tube)… the monthly BunnyMate etc. Countless young girls have grown up with the mindf**k of their father’s/uncle’s/brother’s voyeurism and skin magazines – and a short-term way to integrate that is to morph into the sex object. The dubious Hef has even featured several young women who made it their life goal and fascination to be a Bunny! Fancy that!?!?! The feminine ego is vast, and it is actually rather easy to morph into a sex object and join the sex object community rather than go through the painful process of waking up to one’s self.

Dita von Teese (formerly known as stripper Heather Sweet) well articulates this psyche, as if the feminine art of beauty and self-creation is the domain of the sexuality performer rather than being a core state of the sexually mature, feminine woman who KNOWS she has dominion over all her aspects, that she is ecstatic, knows that she is self-governing, knows she is the beauty of the universe, and knows she ROCKS, no extra feedback required.

Bump n’ grind, flirtation and tease appeal to the base Dominator culture mindset (whether than be a man or a woman, and whether the genre be called stripping or burlesque) and perpetuate it. Strippers, tease-strippers, and their classier sisters are commonly hired by all stripes in the political spectrum, or at least informally paid bystanders.

Women are naturally masters of illusion and capable of tremendous insight and intuition. I’m so NOT impressed by the marketing of burlesque shows and restaurant bellydance. We have a choice as to how much our egos get hooked into being owned by the camera, the stage, the fans. I want my daughters, my sons, all children that I know, to soar in self-aware wisdom, focused on being who they really are: unconditioned spirit… I am.

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