I dunno. I’ve never been to a strip club of any kind, but my one experience of going to a burlesque show at the Sugar Club made me wonder if they’re really so different. It’s strange to be told that a woman gyrating near-naked on a stage is ‘empowering’ or ‘ironic’ in one context and always ‘demeaning’ in another. I appreciate that in a respectable burlesque show you can be reasonably confident that the dancers are being properly paid and treated respectfully by management, but it still boils down to taking off your clothes for other people’s entertainment. Which, regardless of context, is either absolutely fine or not a good idea at all. Plenty of the blokes I saw there were just treating it as an opportunity to get an eyeful that was somehow acceptable to their female companions.
I’d like to see us get away from this idea that whether a woman’s actions are demeaning or empowering mainly depends on the way men react to them. I think it’s entirely possible that burlesque could fall into the first category while ordinary strip clubs could fall into the second. The critical contextual difference, it seems to me, is the reason why the performer is there in the first place. It’s what she is getting out of it, not what he is.
You’re absolutely right, Wendy. I suppose the point I was making is that I don’t quite understand why burlesque shows are deemed socially acceptable in a way that strip clubs aren’t just because they are more popular with women. If the performer on stage is comfortable then it doesn’t particularly matter what the gender make-up of the audience is, or what their motivations in watching the show are.
I’d just like to say that Burlesque is not sex work. The Burlesque performers referred to in the above article do not dance 40 hours a week in a highly explicit, sexualised environment. ‘Strippers’ are sex workers. They dance a full time job. Strip club stripping is a pornographic industry, Dublin’s Burlesque scene is not. Rather, it is a dynamic community of grassroots performers and creatives who use the stage space in a highly playful and inventive way, and yes, sometimes in a sexy way too! Like the woman on the sex ed video shown me in school said, “But that’s ok!”
I enjoy cabaret and burlesque because it reclaims the playful and childish aspect of sexuality and nudity. I think that we need to be self aware as performers and audience, and I think that conversing about sexualization and objectification and the dynamics of power at play in these situations is very important! It’s true however, that these conversations are often the domain of women. As I was quoted saying in Hot Press this month: “Women perform, women are objectified, and it’s male privilege that they don’t have to talk about these issues”. But I think burlesque and cabaret, intelligently crafted, can be a space to reclaim our sexuality and explore an opportunity to be playful in our sexuality – an opportunity sometimes denied us in the face of pornographic capitalism and it’s societal twin, puritanical conservatism.
I also think that the devices for understanding dynamics of power presented to us by second wave feminist theorists, including words such as ‘objectification’ are sort of worn out! We need new, more nuanced ways of understanding dynamics of power, exploitation and desire which consider the complexities of these issues and avoid a reductionistic, polarization of how people ‘do’ their sex, performatively, voyeuristically or whatever else.
Finally, I LOVE to pole dance, just not as a full time job. I have practiced it as a sport for conditioning rather than as a sexy enterprise or indeed, for financial survival. But since we are on the subject, a hero of mine, Kathleen Hanna once wrote in a fanzine article entitled “Lots of girls get bad reputations”: “I, personally decided to become a sex trade worker cuz I feel a lot less exploited making $20 dollars an hour for dancing around naked than I do getting paid $4.25 an hour (and being physically, psychically and sometimes sexually exploited) as a waitress or burgerslinger”.
Sex, capitalism, nudity, desire – they are complex issues… but it’s frustrating when burlesque and sex work are somehow equated. That is a mistake.