Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Burlesque, Lady Gaga, and Sexuality: What's Feminist?

Fair warning, I'm about to ramble a lot. I know what you're thinking, "How is that different from any other thing you write?" Touché, hypothetical reader, but this post is going to be particularly rambly because I really haven't figured out what I think about this one. But what better reason to write than to figure out what I think? And to hear from all of you smart folks on the subject?

Can Burlesque Be Empowering to Women?

The Delphiad Blog has a post that starts by examining the claim that burlesque is "empowering" to women, moves into an exploration of a personal anecdote (visiting a nude beach with a boyfriend didn't go as he had planned) and ends with this declaration:
I can have fun when I want to, if I feel free, if I don’t feel pressured, if I do it for me first and if I don’t feel someone is shilling their agenda with ulterior motives that don’t mesh with my best interests. Whether this is the case with every instance of “fun” that gets pushed at women is another story. Only each and every woman can tell for herself, of course. 
I can see where yes, burlesque can exercise your imagination, involve your sense of play and perhaps help you claim or reclaim your body and sexual self when you need to do this, or just plain want to. 
That, indeed, is empowering. There are just so many things we get thrown at us that are not.In the end, no one can label me as a loser or a weakling for not embracing their definition of “fun”, “liberation” or “empowerment”, instead of respecting my choices and quite-considerable experience in deciding what, in fact, I truly consider “empowering”.
I agree with that conclusion, and I feel confident saying that women viewing their own bodies as sexy and enjoying expressions of that sexiness can be feminist. But I can't help but look at that conclusion and the introduction to the post as never-ending circles of a vicious cycle. In the beginning, the post had this to say:
My initial reaction, I admit, is to cringe and/or roll my eyes when I hear that word spoken in connection with anything that sounds so obviously centred around male pleasure. Let’s just say burlesque is one of those things… along with pole-dancing lessons; bunny ears; having a threesome you don’t really want, for the “higher purpose” of “liberating your sexuality”; watching lesbian porn with a boyfriend when you’re completely straight, etc.
Obviously, she started with this question and ended with some version of "but it can be empowering to an individual who finds it empowering" but we could just as easily start with that conclusion and end up with "but it isn't empowering to women who are pressured into it by societal standards."

From John-Pa

The problem becomes in distinguishing where societal standards and pressure end and individual desires and expression begin. And, to some extent, they don't begin and end. We are products of our society. I can't separate myself out from the culture that's shaped me. Even when I step into different cultural contexts, I am a product of my past experiences. The people I've known, the books I've read, the movies I've watched, the relationships I've had--that's all part of me. On the flip side, our culture is a product of us. The music we create, the blog posts we write, the words we say, the products we buy, the art we paint--those are all part of our culture. The question of "is burlesque feminist" is so damned frustrating because it's really a question of identity.

Yes, It Can Empower

Chloe Emmot has an interesting post over at The F Word that asks the same question: "Can burlesque be feminist?" Here, Emmot talks about her experiences in a burlesque class:
One of the first things I remember from class was being told that any negativity regarding our body image was not to be tolerated and that burlesque was about showing off your beauty, whatever your size, shape or colour. It may sound trite, but, as a young woman who, no matter how hard she tries, cannot fully escape the pressure to be thin and 'beautiful', a message that left me walking home noticing how my 'fat' thighs, stomach and bum wobbled - and felt so goddamn-sexy - is one worth celebrating. We were not taught to please men, we were taught to enjoy ourselves, to revel in our bodies, to enjoy our sexuality, the thrill of the tease and the sensation of being in the spotlight.
For her, then, burlesque was a way to claim authorship over her definition of sexy. While she admits to still having some reservations about burlesque (and its intertwinement with strip clubs and pornography), she ultimately believes that burlesque can be a way for women to decide what they think is sexy rather than always playing the part of what (they think) men think is sexy.

No, It Can't Empower

To be fair to this debate, I have to consider viewpoints like this one from Jill at I Blame the Patriarchy. She takes to task the notion that women can be claiming their own sexiness because she sees that "sexiness" as ultimately controlled and created by a patriarchal system of oppression:
Today’s feminist, empowered by all those articles on vibrators in Bust magazine, chooses choices of her own free will. These choices mirror her own unique sartorial, sexual, and philosophical personality. That these unique choices happen to align precisely with standard male porn fantasies, and that they are therefore rewarded with positive attention, is purely coincidental. 
Such a viewpoint is a luxury of youth. It is the great tragedy of the women’s liberation movement that fully-realized feminist consciousness is too rarely achieved by women who are still young and fit enough to take on Dude Nation in a knife fight. Too often, it’s only when a woman ages out of pornosity, and is too old to do anything but take pictures of cows, that she discovers what the world really thinks of her.
She goes so far as to decry femininity itself as degrading:
It would be many years before I would understand that femininity, the practice of femininity, and the fetishization of femininity degrades all women. That femininity is not a “choice” when the alternative is derision, ridicule, workplace sanctions, or ostracization. 
Many of the comments on the post demonstrate that feminists (young and old alike) have ascribed to this viewpoint and recognize femininity as a degradation to women. At this point, we're clearly getting into the murky waters where second-wave and third-wave feminism clash.

Trading One Set of Rules for Another?

I see a mini-version of this debate play out in the toy crusades and gendering of children. While many people recognize that ascribing narrow gender roles to children through toys is problematic, the answers on how to deal with that problem are complicated.

The Fisher Price Brilliant Basics rattle teaches infant girls that diamond rings are most important.
In her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter, which critically examines "Princess Culture," Peggy Orenstein notices that her daughter was getting the message a little too clearly. Her daughter saw that her mom was reacting negatively to the princess paraphernalia lining the stores and interpreted it to mean that there was something wrong with glitter and pink and lace. Orenstein realized that her message needed to be more nuanced. The glitter wasn't the problem; the problem was the lack of other options. The problem was the way that cultural influences told little girls they had to have the glitter or run the risk of being ostracized by their peers. But isn't rejecting glitter in and of itself just as damaging? Isn't saying that you have to choose the non-glittered option or risk being ostracized by a group of people who see glitter as insulting just as limiting? What if you really, truly like glitter?

Of course, Jill's argument is that you can't really, truly like glitter. You are just programmed to like glitter because society tells you so. I'm not rejecting that argument out of hand, but doesn't that seem a little too narrow? There's no merit to glitter? Nothing redeemable? For anyone? Ever?

Patriarchal Bargaining 

And then (you knew there was going to be an "and then" didn't you?) there's this: "Lady Gaga's Patriarchal Bargain." Guest blogger Sonita Moss wrote in this article for Sociological Images that bounces off of Lisa Wade's look at "Serena Williams' Patriarchal Bargain."

A patriarchal bargain, according to Wade is defined as follows:
A patriarchal bargain is a decision to accept gender rules that disadvantage women in exchange for whatever power one can wrest from the system. It is an individual strategy designed to manipulate the system to one’s best advantage, but one that leaves the system itself intact.  Williams is making a patriarchal bargain, exchanging her sex appeal for the heightened degree of fame and greater earning power we give to women who play by these rules (e.g., Kim Kardashian).  Don’t be too quick to judge; nearly 100% of women do this to some degree.
It's not quite "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," but it's close. Something more like "if you can't beat 'em, trick 'em at their own game." The problem is that this doesn't do much to dismantle the oppression in place to begin with. In fact, because the women who are making these patriarchal bargains often do so to gain power and prestige, they are in positions of influence and may actually be furthering that oppression.

Moss explains how Lady Gaga falls into this system:

Throughout her body of work there is a thread of what we know all too well:  ass-shaking, barely-there nudity and conspicuous consumption, just in an offbeat fashion. Gaga is bonkers, but Gaga is sexy. Gaga is political and outspoken, Gaga is skinny and [often] blond.  Indeed, “Mother Monster” may uplift her fans because of her affinity for oddness, but lest we forget, she is a lady and must inhabit the flesh that adheres to gender norms and restrictions, she reminds us:
“I would rather die than have my fans see me without a pair of heels on. And that’s show business.”
If you want to ride the ride, you have to pay the price.  And that price is patriarchy.

Expression and Language

So, with all of those complicated views bouncing around in my head, I'm trying to figure out how I feel about this. I don't know the answer, but it does remind me of a different (and equally contentious) debate: the use of the n-word.

As you may know, I don't use the n-word. Ever. If it's in a quote (like in song lyrics or a book), I'll type the word, but in my own language I do not use it. I don't feel like I have the authorial rhetorical positioning. I don't have the ethos. The history of the word is too steeped in hate, violence, and degradation. I don't feel comfortable participating in it.

However, I also don't think it should be banned (like it was in this "symbolic" ban in NYC back in 2007). While some (like Richard Delgado, for instance) maintain that some words are always designed to wound, destined to be fighting words, that view ignores the fact that words do not have innate meanings. Words' meanings are created by the people who use them. Language is fluid, constantly changing, and overlapping. Finally, banning a word doesn't ban the thoughts, and the thoughts are what worry me. If the n-word were suddenly wiped from everyone's vocabularies, I have little hope that racism would be equally wiped from everyone's minds. After all, it was racism that created the most popular meaning of the n-word to begin with, not the other way around.

I feel like banning the n-word gives too much power to the people who have used it with negative connotations. While I don't suggest we ignore those connotations and the cultural realities surrounding the word (which is why I don't use it myself), I see negative effects from fixing that definition for all time, for saying that the word can never have any other possible use. When we do that, we give the people who have championed a racist use of the word immense power. No other word gets a fixed definition that never changes. Why should these people have the power to destroy a word forever? Why should these people get the position of permanent authorship? Doesn't that just imply that the current system of oppression is forever set? The people who wield the power over the n-word and its current meaning will always do so? I can't accept that.

I likewise can't accept that women are destined to always be objectified. If we say that burlesque or lingerie or stripping or pornography are always and inherently objectification, we give the patriarchal oppression that can make them objectifying too much power. We deny the opportunity for those expressions to have alternate authorship. We fix them in a time and space in a way that denies the fluid reality of human communication and give too much credence to oppression as it currently exists. The patriarchy doesn't have ownership over sexuality.


What do you think? Can burlesque be feminist? Have you participated in a patriarchal bargain? Am I participating in a patriarchal bargain by writing these words? Have I been had? Can't glitter be nice, too?


  1. Forgive me for jumping in like this (I've been reading your blog for a while but never commented before now) but I can't resist this topic.
    As a feminist AND a burlesque dancer, I say hell yes, burlesque can be feminist. I think part of the problem is that people hear the word "burlesque" and think of the strippers of the mid-20th century (who were incredible in their own right), or of Dita Von Teese (who is also amazing), or (god forbid) the Christina Aguilera movie. And while neo-burlesque certainly contains elements of these (some more than others), it really is so much more than glitter and corsets and fitting the male gaze. Modern burlesque is not about looking a certain way; rather, it's actually about owning your own sexuality, the way you already are. For me, at least, it's about exploring my identity as a woman by stepping into these characters and archetypes and stories and subverting them in ways that are unexpected and sexy and fun. And I can honestly say that because of burlesque, I'm the most comfortable in my body that I have been, ever. Which is saying a lot, because this is certainly not the thinnest I've been.

    And yes, glitter can be nice!


    1. Thanks for your input! I've never done burlesque, but I think it's problematic (and a little patronizing) to tell people that they don't actually enjoy the things they think they enjoy, and I couldn't imagine denying people the right to define their own experiences. While, yes, culture definitely plays a role in how I decide what I like and don't like, I play a role, too.

      I especially like what you say about stepping into these characters an subverting them in a way that's fun and sexy.

  2. This is something I've thought about a lot. As a woman who both studies in a male-dominated field and spends my free time in male-dominated activities, I have rarely felt the pressure to be classically sexy and pretty and feminine. Instead, the main message seems to be "don't remind us that you're female." Acceptable women like beer and poker and don't like fashion. And they are definitely not pretty or sexy if they want to be taken seriously. For me, the feminine became feminist because it was a statement that I don't have to give in to masculine culture to be a part of the things I enjoy. I can be seen as intelligent and capable without de-sexualizing myself. Being a woman is not a disability that I have to overcome to succeed by being as masculine as possible.

    In short: My skirt does not make me less capable.

  3. As a queer femme belly dancer, I can say that sometimes my performance is empowering, like when I dance at my local college's QSA (queer straight alliance) Homecoming, or for a friend's birthday party, or for Camp Beaverton's Decompression Party (A queer camp for women at Burning Man). Other times it would be degrading, like when I am at work in my work clothes and somebody says "ooh, dance for me now!" or at the bar in rural NM when me and partner are the only women present, or even at my shows when an audience member does nothing but watch me, even when I am not dancing. It is a mixed bag.
    whatever you find empowering, someone will find sexy, or misunderstand your reasoning. It is about drawing your boundaries that make it empowering or not. I know the situations where dancing would degrade me, I know the situations where it uplifts me. I choose not participate in events that would look down on my empowerment, and instead focus on performance where it can be seen for its artistic, empowering and real aspects. It is not the act of performing that is empowering or not, it is the when, where, and how in the performer's mind that makes it.

  4. Whether burlesque/stripping is empowering to you personally is totally irrelevant to the larger context of feminism. It objectifies women, and there is no way around that. If you WANT to be objectified, or if it doesn't bother you that other people are objectifying you while you are feeling empowered, that's your choice to make as an individual woman. However, taking your clothes off on stage, artistically or no, reinforces the cultural normative belief that women should be judged on their bodies and/or their sex appeal. It may be personally empowering, but it serves as a means to support objectification as a group. I'm not arguing for banning it or that naked people are gross or weird, I'm just saying from a feminist perspective it does not work.

  5. As an addendum--of course I don't want to tell anyone what they can or can't enjoy, or in fact do or don't enjoy. Freedom of expression is great and if stripping makes you feel good, more power to you. I can guarantee, though, that the men watching are in no way interested in your process of empowerment.

    1. Thanks for your comments, and I definitely see your point. I just feel uncomfortable with subtracting the authorial position entirely out of the equation. If, yes, the men watching are using their consumption to reinforce their normative beliefs, that is a problem (and I agree that they almost always (always?) are). However, to then say that that makes it "irrelevant to the larger context of feminism" means that feminism has to be entirely about the audience, entirely about the people consuming female performance and not about the authors of those performances themselves. To me, saying that also reinforces the power of the audience, and in a way that gives us very few roads out. If--forever and always--enacting physical sexuality means being objectified, isn't that an admission that the objectifiers will continue to hold the power forever?

    2. I'm not sure that isn't the case, honestly. It seems to me that enacting physical sexuality in public, on a stage, is objectifying by definition. That would apply to either gender, although the vast majority of any sexually themed enactment (by either gender) is watched by men. As an aside, it is also telling that women who take their clothes off for money (or just for attention) conform almost completely to established standards of beauty. You won't see many strippers that are overweight or have visible scars. You won't see many burlesque dancers with hairy legs or without makeup.

      I related it to what you said above about the "n word." I feel the same way about that word that you do. It's not one I feel comfortable using in any context. I suppose that does give the people who would use that word more power; I see the rationale behind wanting to "take the word back." But words DO have power. It's not as simple as just saying "you can't have that word." The "n word" carries with it connotations of centuries of oppression, violence and discrimination.

      Off on a tangent a bit, but besides the feminism aspect, I've been considering the question of social class and burlesque/stripping. Throughout history, women have been taking their clothes off and performing various activities in a naked or semi-naked state, in large part because they had no other choice. Burlesque, for example, gained popularity in America during the Depression; most of the dancers were there at least in part for economic reasons. They did not often receive a fair share of the revenue they brought in. Many of them were coerced into prostitution as well. Likewise, strip clubs in the USA currently "employ" many vulnerable women who have few other options. Many are addicted to drugs and also perform sex acts for money. Not all--but many, way too many.

      To me, the practice of fetishizing these activities, of making them an "empowerment" or liberating exercise, trivializes the experience of the many exploited women for whom it was NOT kitschy or retro or self-congratulatory to have to be a stripper. Poverty is not cute. Being objectified and exploited is not fun. You can make the best of it, as many women do and did, but re-enacting it seems crass.

      Forgive me for going on--I've been reading up on this as part of an article I'm writing, stumbled across your blog, and it's fascinating.

    3. I also find this issue fascinating, and this is the exact conversation I've been hoping to have around it because I think it is really complicated. I hope my pushback doesn't come across as being combative, because I'm really just trying to tease out some of these complexities and I'm not trying to dismiss your viewpoint at all.

      I guess the main problem that I have is that I don't see the endgame. If burlesque/stripping is always an audience-centered act (if we always give the audience the power to determine whether or not it is objectifying), then where does that leave the author? How can she (or he--as you point out that bodies of both genders can be objectified) ever gain power?

      This is especially true to me when you point out that many strippers/burlesque dancers adhere to traditional standards of beauty. If burlesque is always objectifying, what about wearing make-up? What about putting on a low-cut top? I think that the appeal of these acts definitely grew out of a patriarchal system of oppression, but if they can never be taken out of that system, if a woman can never put on a "sexy" shirt just because she wants to wear it, then what options does that leave her? And what does that say about that system of oppression?

      It seems like rejecting the notion that we can ever act outside of that system means that it will always be in place and that the best we can do is recognize that we are victims of it. But what avenues does that leave to dismantle it? And, if recognizing that we are victims of it means consciously choosing modes of expression that demonstrate that knowledge (by choosing not to shave our legs or by shaving our heads, etc.), aren't we still just reacting to the system rather than doing something proactive to stop it?

      Finally, I agree with you about the economic issues wrapped up in the history of sexual performance, and I think we have to be very sensitive to that (both historically and contemporarily). Women who feel forced into performing by economic pressures are certainly not empowered. But I don't think that means that it always has to stay wrapped up in economic pressures. If someone truly likes performing for the sake of aesthetic or personal empowerment, that is a cultural act. And yes, patriarchal systems shape our culture, but don't we shape our culture, too? To me, if we say that women only like certain aesthetics because they've been brainwashed to do so by the larger system, it completely erases our ability to think for ourselves. We are our culture, just as our culture is us.

  6. A question for anonymous: who are you to decide what is or isn’t “the feminist perspective?” Feminism has been around for way longer than any of us, and in those years has grown and branched and morphed into countless variations. It seems to me to be rather dangerous to claim that there is simply one feminist perspective, and one that frowns upon self-expression (sexual or otherwise) if it looks too much like what used to be objectification.

    I’m also wondering how much burlesque you've actually seen firsthand. I ask because I simply cannot imagine anyone in the audience of any of my troupe’s (or the audiences pretty much any modern burlesque performances, for that matter) shows saying that neo-burlesque “reinforces” any sort of “cultural normative belief.” And I do think that it is just as much (if not more--probably more) about the performer as it is about the audience. And modern burlesque audiences get that! I think you would be hard pressed to find more than one or two people at any given show who are there for the sole purpose of objectifying or judging our bodies of the women (and men) on stage. Our audiences are smarter than that. And so are the performers! What real neo-burlesque, good neo-burlesque, sets out to do, is more than just titillate. Sure, titillation is a happy by-product, but it’s about more than that. It’s about humor, and satire, and examining the way culture looks at norms and gender roles and sexuality. The world “burlesque” itself (which I’m sure I don’t need to point out to someone who has been doing so much research) originally means to parody or satire. It's not about being who men (or society, or whomever) want us to be. It's about looking at those roles, those constructs, and turning them on their heads.

  7. Wait a sec here. I don't think I'm an authority on feminism. I did say that I wasn't out to tell anyone what they could or couldn't do, or what did or didn't feel empowering. It's my opinion, just like yours is your own. I don't believe that empowerment on a group level (whether it's empowering to you personally is a different issue) is found by an activity that reinforces cultural normative beliefs about women and sexuality. Is it liberating to be in touch with your sexuality if that sexuality is defined by what is dominant in popular culture? Is it a coincidence that the costumes and the dancing "titillate" and the dancing is sexual, the dancers are scantily clad? You may be feeling empowered by humor and satire and examining gender roles; men are looking at you because they like looking at women and watching them dance around. Yes, I've seen burlesque shows. I've been to a strip club. I've seen scenes in bars that look like something out of Girls Gone Wild. The only difference I see is the level of sleaziness, for lack of a better word. All of it is about being sexy and being a tease, at some level. However, I did note that a lot of burlesque fans are female; maybe watching the dancers, for them, is also empowering. I could see how viewing an act where women are brave enough to get practically naked in public could, at least, lend one to consider things like that. But in a larger contextual sense.. no. Whether the act is artsy and satiric or not, men are still showing up to see naked ladies. Go look at the pictures on Dita Von Teese's website where she has shots from one of her shows. The men are staring, drooling, and taking pictures with their cell phones. I'm sorry, but I simply can't agree that they are appreciating anything but her appearance.

    In general, this is how I feel about it: as a feminist, I support your right to do what you want with your body and your life. Full stop. Even though I may or may not agree with it, it's your call. But I cannot get behind the idea that any activity so clearly aimed at male pleasure and sexual titillation, as well as, yes, conforming almost completely to stereotypical ideas of what women should look and behave like, is a feminist statement. You can agree with me, or not. Again, your call.

    Jane, I think all the questions about objectification and "taking it back" or not letting the oppressor have the power are interesting and valid, and honestly, I'm not sure what the answer is. I see both sides. It does give the oppressor, or the system, power if we base our decisions on their reactions, not our own preferences. I shave my legs because I want to. I find hairy legs itchy. Someone could certainly see it as conforming to patriarchy, and maybe it is (I confess I would be embarrassed not to), but that's not ALL it is about. So.. Certainly, rejecting the system in place is empowering; however, I am skeptical as to how much women realize that they are really to some extent a product of the system. The body image issues and eating disorders in our culture start early. It's impressed upon girls at a very early age, no matter what parents do (society and advertising will get you every time): you must look pretty, primarily for the purpose of appealing to men. Thus, I am skeptical that activities that are primarily about appealing to men are also coincidentally female-empowerment activities, if that roundabout connection makes sense. I feel like "sex-positive feminism" is put forth as a more palatable form of feminism, as one that isn't perhaps as controversial or as threatening to men, and I find that troubling.

  8. Also, as an afterthought.. What *used* to look like objectification? How far have we come, really? Women have been beneath men in every sense of the word in the vast, vast majority of societies in recorded history, and still are. We do not yet live in a world of equality and there are still widely divergent expectations in terms of gender roles. We still live in a world where women (and children) are routinely exploited, victimized and abused by various sex-display or sex-work activities. I'm sorry that's the case, but it is. The bigger picture is important.

    Also, as an after-afterthought; although we may not agree, thank you both for discussing and stretching my brain out a bit :)

    1. I agree with you that there's a difference between determining if something is personally empowering or collectively empowering. To me, it's a little like finding something offensive. Just because I am not personally offended doesn't mean that it (whatever "it" is) isn't collectively offensive. So, I see how you can take that position without infringing on individuals' personal empowerment.

      While I think we're going to continue to disagree on whether or not burlesque can be collectively empowering for feminism, I think this is an important conversation to have, and I think that the ultimate answer is going to depend on how both the movement of feminism and our culture (which aren't mutually exclusive and which will inevitably shape each other) continue to evolve. I guess I'm hoping that I'm right and burlesque can be collectively empowering because that points to an evolution where women will be able to make aesthetic choices outside of the narrow confines of patriarchy.

  9. "I cannot get behind the idea that any activity so clearly aimed at male pleasure and sexual titillation, as well as, yes, conforming almost completely to stereotypical ideas of what women should look and behave like, is a feminist statement."

    This is where I cannot help but question whether you've seen actual neo-burlesque. There is a difference between burlesque, straight stripping, and exotic dance. The larger purpose in the neo-burlesque movement is to NOT confine to any of the body types that are pushed on women by mainstream consumer culture. We perform with scars, with fat on our bodies, with acne. It's not about hitting any sort of beauty ideal.

    Also, I'm a burlesque performer who specializes and revels in genderf*ck. I frequently perform as a man or as an androgyn. I fail to see how in any way this participation lends towards "completely stereotypical ideas of what women should look and behave like."

    From reading your comments it seems that you're fairly dead set against burlesque, and that's fine, that's your opinion. But for those of us who participate in the art, it's quite frustrating to read such broad, sweeping, generalizations about our art as you continue to make above. You don't have to agree with me that it's empowering, or feminist, but I take umbrage with the fact that you think we gear our performances, characters, or satire, to that of the male gaze.

  10. To be fair, I may not have seen the "neo-burlesque" you describe. I agree that a performer as a man or androgynous is unlikely to reinforce a female stereotype (unless at the end you do a striptease or something..) ;)

    In visiting the website of one of the above "neo-burlesque" participants, I saw nothing that changed my mind; reasonably conventionally attractive women in lingerie in sexually suggestive poses with sexually suggestive stage names. Again, I am NOT trying to tear down their art or point of view. I just don't see how those elements combine to make it other than "stereotypical ideas of what women should look and behave like."

    I can see how it would be frustrating to read generalizations, and from what you describe, I hear that not all burlesque acts are the same. I will qualify my statements by saying the vast majority of what I see, online and offline, appears to be directly or indirectly appealing to men. Whether this is your intent or not, I can't speak to. When cultural norms are so clearly replicated (Ms. Candy LaTasty in pasties and a thong, just to make up an example) it is hard for me, *me personally* to believe that is a coincidence. It is hard for me, *me personally* to believe that men are coming to this show to see Ms. Candy LaTasty's satiric or comedic talents. Does that make more sense? I hope so.

    1. The website you described is actually the same troupe that I perform with. While I appreciate your backhanded compliment regarding our "conventional attractiveness" you, again, make a huge amount of assumptions concerning our motives as performers and the communities we perform for. Most of the troupe is queer, not everyone is cis-gendered, and we all consider ourselves feminists, activists, and perform for largely queer and progressive audiences.

      While there may indeed be a straight man or two in our audience who show up to see ladies in pasties and a thong, usually, as the feedback we receive indicates, their assumptions about the women (or perceived women) on stage or the degree of titillation they *thought* they were seeking is turned on its head.

      I know it's hard for you personally to believe that we're fighting against cultural or societal norms in our shows - and I don't doubt that there are other performers or troupes for whom it's not about that - but I would be happy, should you ever find yourself in our area - to invite you to one of our shows or workshops so that you can see firsthand what it really is that we do.

    2. Well--thank you! I doubt I will find myself in the area since it's not geographically near me at all, but I do sincerely appreciate the offer.

  11. "I guess I'm hoping that I'm right and burlesque can be collectively empowering because that points to an evolution where women will be able to make aesthetic choices outside of the narrow confines of patriarchy."

    ..Wouldn't that be nice. I would love it if women could make whatever choices they wanted outside the confines of patriarchy. I'm not convinced that it's possible (yet?) or that it's as simple as saying "screw you patriarchy, I'll do what I want." Do women have the right to want to conform to what the larger, male-defined, male-centric culture wants them to look like? Absolutely. I am not convinced that this is empowering, however. And I think that when women choose to pursue an activity that is historically and societally charged with stereotypes, exploitation and objectification, these questions are going to come up.

    1. You're absolutely right that pursuing these activities is going to bring up these questions, and I think it's a move in the right direction to ask and explore them.

      I also really love your "(yet?)" I think we're probably after the same goal here, and the difference is just in how to approach it. When is the right time to push back? Does the pushback have to be all-or-nothing? These are philosophical differences in the how of a cohesive feminist goal, but not necessarily the what.

  12. I feel like my perspective is different now than it once was. Some years ago I would have embraced the idea that feminism means doing what you damn well please, even if that something coincidentally conforms exactly to what men want to see. And, during a brief stint as a lingerie model, I did exactly that. I didn't think I was being exploited. Now, closer to 40 than 20, I wonder how I missed it.

    I think the goal is good: let's try not to let the male gaze, and positive attention from men, be what defines us. Cynically, I question how ingrained the patriarchy is, see how all-encompassing the framework is for oppressing women in general, and see progress.. but not enough, perhaps, that we can (yet) cast aside those trappings.

    Women haven't even been voting for 100 years. When my mother was in college they were required to wear skirts to class. It wasn't that long ago, and we aren't emancipated because we think we are.

  13. Hey, Sorry for being way late to this party. As we discussed tonight I have given this topic a lot of thought, and I honestly am torn in some areas.

    I believe that this topic, at its core, is seeded in more than just feminism. For as long as I can remember I have been taught that women aren't property, meat, or simply here for my amusement. At times this was honestly difficult for me to keep in the front of my mind. (The amusement part only) I, as do countless people, deal with certain aspects of lustful thinking. Dancing is one of those aspects, and it hits home more often than anything else.
    My first thought, on this particular topic, is that dancing goes well beyond the sexual realm. Much like weight lifting dancing is a GREAT way to learn how your body moves. Dancing burns a tremendous amount of calories. Dancing also helps build self confidence. Men and women that learn, practice, and perform the art of dance learn to take pride in themselves and their accomplishments. (I personally cannot dance at all)I have a tremendous amount of respect for anyone that is willing to put in the time and effort to learn this art. The fact of the matter is they are trying, and I completely agree that they are building self confidence. In that aspect, I believe one hundred percent that they should endeavor to do this.
    Where this becomes a little muddled for me is that dancing walks that fine line with sexuality, and like I said I one of those individuals. Over the years I, through practice, I have gotten better at focusing on the intellectual side of dance and not the primal side. By that I mean that for me I can and have placed dance and sex on the same level. Right or wrong that's the truth. However as a married man I feel that because of my struggle with this I have to limit my exposure to it. Which leads me to my next point.
    I don't go to strip clubs, watch porn, attend dance classes at the gym, etc. because if I put myself in that environment I am setting myself up for failure. Not only am I unable to keep my mind focused on my wife, but I am intentionally walking into a situation where I am sexually objectifying women. Which, in my opinion, is wrong and possibly dangerous. This train of thought is what makes Burlesque dancing difficult for me to embrace.
    In the end, I would say that the act of Burlesque dancing is not inherently bad. If it is used as tool to build self-esteem, get in shape, etc. I believe that it can be a tremendously useful tool. However, if women are using it to exploit men then I believe that is wrong. NOW let me explain that point please. I see nothing wrong with a woman do her thing with her partner. Sexuality is one of the driving forces in any relationship, and a woman with a healthy sexual appetite seducing her partner is a beautiful thing. What I have an issue with is women like Gaga that will use it to make a fortune. Preying on a man's weakness to make wealth is, again in my opinion, only continuing to repeat the cycle of feminism.
    The sole blame for this issue does NOT rest in women alone either. I understand that this blog is about Feminism, but I have to point out that men are more to blame here then women. Men need to stop thinking with their primal minds and reason this out. Women are....well basically beautiful. ((Sorry side note) A woman's intellect, heart, and mind carry far more brilliance than their bodies. To find one that can encompass all of these aspect at once (body included) is a god send, and guess what there multitudes of them out there. Men just refuse to look beyond their own selfish lustful desires.) To only be interested in a woman because of her ability to move her hips or shake her tush is pitiful and shows a huge lack of character/morals on our part. Until men stop investing in women that abuse this the circle with never be broken. Sorry ladies, but you got it bad. Until men come to realize that there is more to women than what happens in the bedroom. This will always be an issue.