Bristol's Badass Burlesque Show

Burlesque, feminism and superheroines!

 “…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.

Germaine Greer circa 1970

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. 

  • Do you have a vagina?
  • Do you want to be in charge of it?

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.

(c) Vicky Butterfly

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?!?

Dirty Martini for Karl Lagerfeld

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?”

Burlesque Superhero/Nerd Ally Katte

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?).

Lily & Her Lime

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)

11 comments on “Burlesque, feminism and superheroines!

  1. Ally Katte
    May 12, 2012

    I would like to point out that that is the only time I will ever wear un-shined latex

  2. Pingback: Burlesque versus stripping from the feminist book How to be a woman by Caitlin Moran

  3. Pingback: Burlesque as a Feminist Act – Revisited « Coochie Crunch

  4. Claire
    November 25, 2012

    I agree, burlesque is feminist. Those who want to outlaw it or make stripping illegal aren’t seeing the bigger picture.

  5. Cyn
    September 11, 2013

    I couldn’t disagree more! You are encouraging the objectification of women and saying that as long as you are in creative control of it then it is a “feminist act”… Such a huge step back for women. The sad thing is that this objectification and over-sexualization is being perpetuated BY women! It saddens AND infuriates me.

    • coochiecrunch
      September 11, 2013

      That’s a shame, I’m sorry you feel that way.

    • allykatte
      September 11, 2013

      Oh hey, yeah, tell me that what I’m choosing to do with my body is wrong. Tell me that my sexuality is wrong. That my career is wrong. That the 80% female audience who enjoy my work are wrong.

      Oh no wait. I’m a self made, hard working woman in charge of who I am.

      Sorry bout it.

  6. bedsitbonnevivante
    September 12, 2013

    Nothing says feminism like telling women what they do with their bodies and time is wrong…oh wait i thought that was patriarchy…

    I guess women can only be feminists if they dress modestly and don’t promote their sexuality…oh wait…i think its that dreaded P word again. Bugger.

    Feminism is about choice and having the right to that choice, if the choice is to strip down to a merkin and some tassles in front of 100 paying people then i’m all for it, same as i am for the right to abort, the right to vote and the right punch an asshole in the face for making a kitchen joke. Perhaps you need to take a step back from your tiresome, handwringing, radfem bullcrap and leave the women that can look after themselves and know what the stand for to it.


  7. Tiger Tiger
    September 12, 2013

    Thank you for your comment. You might be interested to read the followup post I wrote to this which identifies ways in which burlesque might not be feminist. I am unable to link it from my phone but perhaps one of the others might oblidge?

    Although I appreciate your opinion and your right to it, please remember that it is just that – an opinion, not a fact based on statistics or the like.

    Burlesque is about choice and freedom of expression. Having been to many shows as both a performer and audience member in the years I have been performing, I have never felt objectified, threatened, insulted or even remotely uncomfortable. I don’t want to speak for my sisters in our local burlesque community – which amounts to many girls and boys and those inbetween and decades of experience as performers and teachers – but I feel their experiences largely mirror my own. I have felt celebrated as a person and as a woman, and applauded for the command and self possession of my sexuality.

    As such, you may understand that the opinion of someone who likely has little if any experience of the burlesque world (please do correct me if I am wrong), is equally infruiating to those who do. The implication being that we don’t have the smarts to understand that we are being exploited or objectified and I can assure you this is wrong – in the local community we have between us a plethora of undergrad degrees, a smattering of postgrad degrees, and a large number of successfully self employed and business owning women. There is so much strength and success in our local community that it makes it hard to understand opinions like yours.

  8. Bertrand Vessier
    September 12, 2013

    If I may, I’d like to comment from the male side of the fence. Now before you dismiss me out of hand because of my gender (a very patriarchic attitude if you ask me) and on the grounds that I do not understand daily discrimination and objectification let me introduce myself.

    My name is Bertrand and I’m a French burlesque photographer and part time show promoter (alongside my wife). Now you are partly right, I do not suffer from daily sexual objectification. I do however have to deal daily with what it means to be a foreigner in a foreign country. Now matter how well integrated into this society I am (married to an English woman and father to 2 British born children’s), I still have to deal daily with barbs on account of my nationality (and yes even from friends which has to be regarded as banter but can still damn annoying). My opinion is still regularly dismissed on account of my being French. Apparently even though I have lived in this country for near as can be half of my life I still wouldn’t be able to understand because I’m French. I have also in the past suffered near a year of constant bullying at work from members of staff based on what? Well my being French of course.

    Now if you were to transpose the being French with being female I guess you could recognise a few of the issues I’ve just vented.

    Now with regards with the opinion that Burlesque is in itself a feminist act, well I guess I’d have to agree. The crowds at the burlesque shows which I run is on the vast majority female. And guess what, it isn’t a crowd which comes to objectify a certain type of woman but to applaud and bask in the reflected glory of performers of all ages, shapes and race. Performers who’ve decided to stick two fingers up to what the patriarchic society we live in tell them what they should:

    A: look like

    B: act like

    C: be like

    Now if you can’t see it as a feminist act then I believe you are the poorer for it but it is only my opinion. And I guess as a male member of the human specie, my opinion isn’t one you’ll even recognise or be willing to hear.

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This entry was posted on May 12, 2012 by in Coochie Crunch Blog and tagged , .

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