Bristol's Badass Burlesque Show
“…we shouldn’t have a problem with burlesque – lap-dancing’s older, darker, cleverer sister. Yes, I know; it’s stripping in front of men, for cash. Given the patriarchy and all that, I can see how many would say, ‘But that is like eschewing Daffy Duck and then loving George Costanza from Seinfield. They are both essentially the same thing.”
Caitlin Moran, How To Be A Woman
Sometime ago I wrote this blog. I guess really this is something of a take two. Something with a bit more thought and information.
Despite having written the blog and done bits and pieces of academic work on feminism, I still wasn’t quite sure what feminism was most of the time and didn’t really consider myself a feminist. Why? Because like many I had grown up with years of confusion – this wave, that wave – and derogatory references to Germaine Greer, making you assume she was to be considered an annoying busy-body rather than role model.
It has only been in the last couple of years that I’ve realised a lot of my thinking is “feminist” but still was reluctant to attach any labels – too busy and confused to try and work out what the hell it is all about.
Recently I read Caitlin Moran’s ‘How To Be A Woman’ and this has cleared a lot up for me, I recommend it whole-heartedly to you all! So to clear up any further confusion, I will use Caitlin’s words to help you find out whether or not you are feminist.
Stick your hands down your pants.
If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulation! You’re a feminist.
I think we can all agree that ownership of our cooch is at the very heart of burlesque.
So I am going to go out on a limb and state my opinion (feel free to disagree), that burlesque IS feminist. Intentional or not, whether the performer purports to be a feminist, I am arguing that by its very nature burlesque is a feminist act.
To illustrate this point I am going to once more quote the iconic Moran from her chapter “I Go Lap-Dancing”. In this chapter, Moran and a fellow journalist check out a lap-dancing club for research purposes (and free champagne). As a result of this visit, Moran makes some observations about what she felt to be the differences between burlesque and the club atmosphere she experienced in that 90’s lap-dancing club.
Moran’s quotes throughout are comparing burlesque to her experience of lap-dance clubs, as one being feminist and the other not, I have tried to use them to illustrate burlesque as a feminist act.
The power balance:
“With burlesque, not only does the power balance rest with the person taking their clothes off – as it always should do, in polite society – but it also anchors its heart in freaky, late night, libertine self expression: it has a campy, tranny, fetish element to it. It’s not – to use the technical term – ‘an easy wank’.”
Again, this is surely at the heart of burlesque. How many shows have you seen where the audience is in the palm of the performer’s hand? For me a great example of this is Vicky Butterfly – her effortlessly graceful acts have the silent audience often in tears by the end – she has absolute power over them. But that is the extreme. Even the fledgling performer with their quirky little routine and cheeky smile can find the audience hanging on her every move.
You only need to see and feel the confidence being exuded by the performers on stage to know they have the power. No one has told them how they have to act, what their routine should be like. They have created this from the very beginning and have had total control and power over it since its inception. In fact this is what draws a lot of us to it!
I personally used to be involved in local theatre and made the move to burlesque many years later, instead of going back to theatre, because I wanted to have the power over it. I wanted to be my own choreographer, costumier, music tech and director. I wanted to have that creative power, and along with it came the power of being on the stage. Looking down at an audience and seeing that power reflected in their eyes! It’s a rush and it’s exactly at the heart of feminism – we own it! We work it! For ourselves, for our power!
Sexuality as fabulous and enjoyable:
“… burlesque artists treat their own sexuality as something fabulous and enjoyable – rather than something bordering on a weapon to be ground, unsmilingly, into the face of the sweaty idiot punter below.”
Burlesque can be argued to exude sexuality, taken at the basic level of the divesting of clothing, there is a sexual element to even the most comical and quirky or dark and sultry routines. At the very least, it has to be said that for a woman to perform burlesque she must be comfortable with sexuality. And yes, the majority of us find it fabulous and enjoyable – we celebrate our sexuality. We celebrate being women and having these bits and bobs and boobs and such. We love our bodies, we love that the audience loves our bodies. We are firmly putting our hands down our pants and saying “this is mine, I’m in charge of it, and I’m letting you think you might get a glipse of it – but baby, you’ll never be that lucky – you’ll have what you’re given and you’ll bloody well like it!” And they do. They love us for it. The audience love to see us rejoicing in our sexuality. And don’t we just love to do it?!?
A place for girls:
“… burlesque clubs feels like a place for girls. Strip clubs – despite the occasional presence of a Spice Girl , ten years ago – do not.”
As I covered in my own blog (see link above), the opinion of burlesque, strip clubs, and lap-dance clubs etc, is often that they are controlled by men, to make money for men, whilst sexually exciting other men. I think we all know, that this is pretty untrue of burlesque. Yes there are some nights run by men, and the majority of them are fine and lovely gentlemen who love the world of burlesque and worship the ground we walk on. Occasionally, some of them are dicks. This happens in all walks of life and cannot be used to counter the fact that the majority of burlesque clubs and events are run by women, often fellow or retired performers, and even those run by men are welcoming and familial.
It is also clear that the atmosphere at burlesque shows is accepting, fun and they are predominantly attended by couples and groups of women. Again this is something I covered in my previous blog post, but it’s one of those things that is worth repeating! Women love to watch us strip, they love to see us all of all shapes and sizes be accepted for what we are, just as we all wish could be the case in everyday life!
We have names that make us sound like sexual super-heroes:
“They explore sexuality from a position of strength, with ideas, and protection, and a culture that allows them to do, creatively, as they please.”
This is my favourite of Moran’s points!! We are totally superheroes! Feminist icon superheroes who own their cooch and crunch it at will!
Haven’t we all always wanted (even just a little bit) to be a super hero? It’s a conversation we all have, right? “What would your super hero power be?”
Well, your luck is in ladies, we are superheroes!! But actually, other than the super powers, this isn’t a huge exaggeration. Think of your idols, your inspirations in burlesque – aren’t they sort of like super heroes? Normal people don’t have the ability to do that with their thighs! Normal people can’t mesmerise an audience so completely. Normal people do not look THAT HOT!!!
We all live in hope that to someone, someday, we will be a superhero – someone to inspire others.
On the purely fictional side, I just love to imagine members of the South West Burlesque Collective as super heroes (we should definitely have our own cartoon!). I can see Tuesday Laveau as quite literally the Voodoo Queen – her super powers would be raising the dead, and general magicy, witchy earth mother powers (think a more awesome and sensual Storm from X-Men). Poppy Von Tarte – obviously has the super power of being able to charm and speak with snakes, in fact she can control all the snakes on the planet and they do her bidding! A sexy and awesome Lord Voldemort who uses her powers for good (mostly!). Lily Belle would be some sort of chaotic whirlwind of activity and action occasionally resting to recharge, a mix between The Flash and Tazmanian Devil, spreading awesomeness and tequila wherever she goes (her costume can occasionally feature a sombrero!). Me? Well my power would be invisibility – not really related to what I do burlesque-wise but to my tiger stripes (and the fact that when asked many years ago what I would like my super power to be I replied “the ability to hunt down and kill my sister’s abusive boyfriend with no one finding out it was me and punishing me”. Feels like invisibility would help with things like that). So maybe an expansion of my power is that I would use it to right wrongs, do good and suddenly appear semi naked in unusual and entertaining places (supermarkets, A Level exam rooms, the dentists?).
Super heroes or not, that is my argument – burlesque by its very nature is a feminist act. We take ownership of our coochies, in ways that someone women on this planet can sadly not even dream of! We are crunching them, and nobody is going to stop us!
Big ass love (as always)