Burlesque: They tell me it’s just for fun…Except I’m not having any.

Two weeks ago we ran our 2-part series on burlesque. Considering the many varied perspectives among women and feminists, we felt it wouldn’t be quite sufficient nor would it present an entirely accurate representation of those varied views if we explored only one side of the argument. The first show featured local burlesque superstar, Crystal Precious and PhD Candidate, Mary Shearman, who we brought on in order to present a look at burlesque that included feminism and female empowerment, rather than a straightforward rejection of it. The conversation could have easily gone on for another hour. Our guests provided us with some super interesting ways of looking at this ‘neo-burlesque movement’, as it’s been coined. We were presented with some ways in which burlesque could, potentially, be subversive. Both from our guests and from listeners. Like thisthis,  and this.

Alas, this was not what we were seeing from mainstream presentations of burlesque.

Nor was it, no matter where we went, what we were seeing at local burlesque shows.

And while we didn’t agree with everything our guests argued, we realized that there are many out there who do. And that there are many women who enjoy burlesque; whether from an audience’s perspective or as a performer. I mean, what’s wrong with having fun right? What’s wrong with feeling sexy, right?


Weeeellllllllll….we weren’t entirely convinced.

The idea that we should just ‘work with’ that ever-present male gaze just didn’t sit well. For me, personally, it brought up a lot of that-which-I-am-ever-irritated-by in what is often presented as being the ’3rd wave’. That which the older generation of feminists, those who came from the revolutionary 2nd wave often seem to feel disappointed by – this concept that feminism is about individual empowerment. Not my feminism. This isn’t a ‘hey whatever makes you feel good’ kinda movement. Not that you can’t feel good and be feminist. But let’s get this straight – this is a movement. Not a self-help book. Feminism and neoliberalism are not bff’s. Feminism is, in large part, about changing those dominant systems that hold up neoliberal ideology. We aren’t all out for ourselves here. And individualism just doesn’t work for the marginalized. It sure doesn’t work to destroy that objectifying male gaze.

In terms of burlesque, I just couldn’t get past this idea that it takes a certain amount of privilege in order to even argue that this kind of stripping is ‘just for fun’. For so many women, stripping isn’t ‘just for fun’. It’s a living. Like, they need the money. So what kind of implications does it have when some women decide to start stripping ‘just for fun’? Does that mean stripping is supposed to be ‘fun’? Are we supposed to be doing it for free? Am I supposed to enjoy it? Should it be fun for me? The unexamined privilege within this discourse is pretty glaring. Regardless of whether or not burlesque dancers align themselves with strippers, they are not viewed or treated by society as strippers are. They are not judged or disrespected or subject to violence in the same ways that many strippers are. Particularly those who aren’t doing it ‘for fun’. But rather as a living. Out of need.

Women and girls everywhere are being told that pole dancing is ‘fun’. That flashing your breasts for Girls Gone Wild is ‘fun’. And that burlesque is ‘fun’. And you know what happens when we think something is ‘fun’? It means that we choose it. That we consent to it. And therefore it equals empowerment. Being coerced isn’t ‘fun’. Having no other alternative but to sell our bodies isn’t ‘fun’. In order for something to be ‘fun’, we must feel like we get to choose. What, then, are the repercussions for those who don’t choose to strip or flash or take pole-dancing classes – are we, then, not ‘fun’? What does it mean when I go to see a burlesque show and don’t have any fun. When, instead of liberation, I see women shaking their asses for an audience. Posing in martini glasses or on coffee tables. Like pretty objects. What happens when I feel angry, instead? When I feel uncomfortable, instead; seeing a male MC introducing his legion of ‘girls’ and encouraging the audience to tuck money into the ‘go-go girl’s’ g-string? Am I no fun?

Individualism and neoliberalism have stolen choice from the feminist movement. As Nicole Deagan so aptly pointed out on show number 2, ‘choice’ is about abortion rights. ‘Choice’ was a powerful aspect of the feminist fight for control over reproductive rights and women’s access to medical procedures. For us to be told that ‘choice’ is about our ‘freedom’ to pasties is misleading, distracting, and dangerous. Capitalism isn’t our friend. You can’t sell choice. And, let me add, having a ‘choice’ does not mean that we all have to shut our eyes and lay down. Being a feminist means we question these narratives. We question those things which reinforce the idea that women are meant to be seen and not heard, that women are ‘to-be-looked-at’, that women exist to fulfill male fantasies. And we do this because it’s easier to commit violence against objects than it is to whole human beings.

As Nicole also mentioned, and I want to include this because I think this is central to this conversation, as well as, in large part, what is missing from mainstream narratives around 3rd wave feminism: “The fact that white women have decided to ‘play’ with the role of ‘empowering’ an objectified woman performing for an audience is really telling about how disconnected they are from the actual lives of women who live in true poverty and how traumatizing it is to be living in a racist, sexist, classist world where women are sexually used by men who have access to privileges and entitlements that many women can’t even dream of.”

I have seen several burlesque shows in Vancouver. And Ariana and I went again, for research purposes; to check out what’s happening on the scene these days. Hoping we would find all sorts of subversion, you know, challenges to gender norms, maybe some comedy, something even remotely feministish. What we found was a stage and some women awkwardly taking off their clothes, with smiles pasted across their faces so we knew they were enjoying themselves. A man in a business suit ‘hosted’ the evening, and introduced all the ‘girls’. He remained clothed throughout the evening. A male MC was also allowed the privilege of keeping his clothes on. One after another, ‘girl’ after ‘girl’ got up on stage, unzipped her dress and, by the end of the ‘show’ was in pasties and a g-string, posing for a cheering crowd. Let’s play find the subversion! There is nothing new here. It’s just the same old thing. And I wasn’t having any fun.

***Authors note: Thanks to Nicole Deagan and Ariana Barer for inspiring and contributing to much of this content and to my larger understanding of what the hell it was that was bothering me so much about this burgeoning movement.

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103 Comments on “Burlesque: They tell me it’s just for fun…Except I’m not having any.”

  • Sarah

    I want to show you some of the boys of burlesque.


  • Sarah



  • Sarah

    And you can’t forget !Tigger!


  • martin dufresne

    Thanks for telling it like it is, Meghan, at the risk of sounding like a party-pooper to the “Whatever-We-do-is-Awesome” noisemakers.


  • Natalie

    Thank you very much for writing this! I totally agree with you and appreciate all the points you discuss. Especially linking it to other forms of women’s oppressions.


  • Madame Mae I

    As a current burlesque performer, and recovering crack addict with a history of prostitution for the purposes of procuring my drugs, I feel that you may have missed the mark. Not all burlesque performers come from privileged backgrounds without the understanding of what it means to be subjected to discrimination, sexual abuses, and the abandonment of ‘typical’ society.

    Perhaps, in order to get a more informed opinion, you need to have open non-judgmental discussions with MANY performers to get to know their world before deciding that they don’t understand feminism or what it is like to live outside of typical society.

    Everybody has a right to their opinion, and you don’t have to enjoy burlesque. But I think you may get a greater understanding of the community and the movement if you tried to get involved in it a bit more than seeing a few shows and talking to one or two performers.

    Case in point: Last weekend at the show that you are discussing in this blog, I did a number in which I wrote all the labels that I had been given over the years, including ‘whore’, stripped down to pasties and a thong, washed them off, and covered myself in a towel with the word ‘love’ written on it. I did that for myself…not for the male gaze.


    • ChaCha

      Madame Mae, I fully agree with your argument. As a Women Studies scholar and the founder of a burlesque troupe in a small desert town, our group’s main focus is breaking that norm of what is beautiful and what kind of woman should be considered beautiful enough to perform. I was in theater and always played in the background because my male directors didn’t think since I was “fat” i would not be as interesting on stage. I also performed on the professional ballroom circuit and was told constantly I needed to lose weight even thought I won competition after competition. With our burlesque troupe we are all different sizes, ages, and colors. We are not all white women. I am a minimum wage working substitute teacher. I LOVE burlesque because we all make our own costumes, we create our own dances, and most of my dances are more than just unzipping a dress and wearing pasties. Many dances I’ve done don’t even result in me wearing pasties. But hey if you don’t like it, that’s just fine, I hate slasher films, I never watch them they make me uncomfortable, but I know lot’s of people like them and I’m not one to judge. I think owning your perspective is awesome, just be careful not to sound too judgeish


    • Miss Titania

      I agree too. I am a burlesque performer and always perform as a powerful woman figure. I enjoy it and engage mostly the GBLT community in my area. I perform for myself first, I used to starve myself because I was unhappy with my body, and second I perform mostly to raise money for causes that I believe in. I also agree with ChaCha… I adore finding the perfect costume and perfect song.


      • Ms. Lemon Drop

        Miss Titania… you said it best, girlie! i started doing this in a class as a way to overcome the fibromyalgia that keeps me in chronic pain every single day. i decided that i did not want to give into this and that i could still be sexy and use this as a way to help the pain stop. i also felt awful about the baby weight that i gained and my burlesque class was the reason i lost every bit of it. my class is based on the idea of learning poise and grace and just to have fun and let loose in a safe all-women environment. the performances are only for our friends and families so it’s not like i’m profiting from this. my instructor is a talented woman who sees to it that we look damn good and learn something from her every class. maybe i’m an overprivaleged housewife as was stated in the original article but at least i’m an empowered housewife who feels sexy.


  • Meghan Murphy

    Thanks for your comments @Madame Mae. There are always exceptions to every argument, you’re right. Your performance does sound interesting, unfortunately, I have seen many burlesque shows, spoken with many burlesque performers and read/listened to countless interviews with performers and as far as the mainstream goes, as well as the majority of performers/performances, the neo-burlesque movement doesn’t strike me as being particularly feminist. I tried, both in this post as well as in our two radio shows, to point out the ways in which burlesque can and has been subversive. It isn’t impossible, as you know, it’s just that it isn’t happening nearly enough for the movement to be viewed, in my opinion as presenting a solid or effective challenge to patriarchy. I’ve found that most arguments which say that burlesque is ‘empowering’ sound a little bit like this: http://www.stripcheez.com/blog/2011/02/04/burlesque-and-empowerment/
    i.e. (and I’m paraphrasing here) ‘those who don’t like burlesque are moralizing and uncomfortable with naked bodies and ‘sexuality’ OR the ‘it is empowering for me’ / ‘this is MY personal choice’ argument I mention above (leaving out the fact that empowerment and feminism isn’t only about individuals and there can be no movement if we are all only working only for ourselves OR the argument that burlesque need not be empowering or present a challenge to patriarchy or the male gaze, in which case, no we wouldn’t argue that burlesque is either empowering or subversive or feminist, hence my argument above. Choosing to objectify ourselves is not feminist or ‘empowering’. I think it’s really important that we take these words back and remind ourselves why they exist, where they came from (within the context of the feminist movement) and what they really mean.


  • The more politically driven performance art pieces are at the heart and forefront of the neo-burlesque movement, but as the word “burlesque” becomes more mainstream, it also becomes another style of entertainment to become capitalized upon and made corporate. Just as many people feel that Broadway became corporate and “Disneyfied” and lost it’s creative soul, there has certainly been a lot of that involved in the burlesque scene for several years. Companies like the “40 Deuce” clubs and even Cirque De Soleil have capitalized on the rise in burlesque’s popularity and in doing so have projected a more homogenized, glamourized and less alternative body-positive image than previously presented in the neo-burlesque revival. Since corporations like those have the money and power to project their vision of the term “burlesque” on the mass public, it creates difficulties for the more avant-garde professional burlesque artists to be able to walk the line between getting paid bookings and creating art. Especially in less urban and artistic areas. Simply stated, the audience has now been taught to expect an idea of beauty and style that is not necessarily at the heart of the movement, and performers within the genre have had to acclimate and conform in order to survive as working artists. It’s a plateau every art-form crosses as it grows. I have found myself in that same rut as I have been spending more time creating performances I think the audience wants to see, rather than creating the art that I want to express myself. It’s interesting to see this topic come up now, as recently through conversations and workshops on new pieces I have noticed a lot of performers on the scene begin to feel the same need to return to their more subversive and social-political roots as performers.
    So, rather than discounting the movement, why not keep your eyes peeled as it emerges from the safety of its current cocoon and takes wing on its next glorious and shimmering form!


  • Roxette Starr

    You’re right. Burlesque isn’t Feminism. Atleast not your feminism. Burlesque is more about individuals making a statement, feeling empowered, doing good or just having fun. You state that feminism is a movement of the masses. So yes, you’re right. However, it takes empowered people to make a movement happen. It takes individuals who want change to make a movement happen. I would like to know how many of her feminists don’t feel empowered. I would also like to know how many of those feminists do something active to change it? How many feminists get up on a stage and say ‘Look at me. I am strong and powerful. I am not the media version of beautiful (and even if you are, that’s ok too). I want you to see what matters to me.’ Burlesque, strippers, prostitutes, moms, sisters, grandmas, daughters, all females are feminists in their own way. They all do something to fight the good fight as an individual. They may not go to protests, they may not speak openly about it but they do something. The word ‘Feminism’ is subjective. One person does not get to decide how feminism is displayed or how each individual chooses to fight for equality.


  • Meghan Murphy

    @Roxette – feminism is about challenging patriarchy. So if someone/thing is not working towards this I don’t see how this constitutes feminism. I don’t agree that every person is feminist regardless of whether or not they work to end patriarchy….

    I am a little confused by your comment I must admit….On one hand you say that burlesque isn’t feminism, based on my definition of feminism. Ok. Agreed. But what statement is burlesque making if it isn’t subversive? Or presenting a challenge to patriarchy? That women’s bodies are to be looked at? That the male gaze is not problematic or dangerous? Individual empowerment based on patriarchal/capitalist standards of what empowerment means does not equal ‘feminism’. I don’t agree that the term ‘feminism’ can just be arbitrarily applied to various actions based on individual perceptions. Feminism IS a movement and it is about more than just individual empowerment. Feminism is personal but it is also political – meaning that what happens in the external world matters, feminism can’t just happen in our individual minds. Just placing a label on something does not make it so.
    I would ask more from feminism. Anything doesn’t go, just because we say it does.


  • I tried really hard in my blog to present an argument for everyone involved in Burlesque. I’m not going to be the person who says Burlesque can only be one thing or way because thats not what I like about it!!! The availability of diversity in how you chose what act you do is what I think is liberating. You can be or do anything you like. A quote from Jo Boobs: “part of what the “male gaze” critique leaves out, as I’ve said and I’ll repeat, is that what is empowering about doing neo-burlesque isn’t having people think you’re a hot chick. It’s the act of self-creation. It’s the ability to design a performance for yourself and do it for an audience that is excited about that aspect of it, rather than judging the performance as an adequate display of commercially digestible beauty and/or entertainment.” Instead of looking at Burlesque as a case for violence against women.. couldn’t it be a healthy example of how sex work should/could work? On a woman’s own terms? And not all conventional strippers are being “forced” to strip because they have no other choice. I’m sure I know more than a few who would take issue with that statement. T


  • Will Thrill

    Hello all My name is Will Thrill I have been as active as I can in the Vancouver Burlesque scene for all most 6 years now for the last year Jill Thrill and I have been on hiatus with the pregnancy / birth of our daughter. Jill and I have always danced around the non-mainstream events mainly as a voyeur couple attending more notable events such as Sin City and Taboo reviews. Jill and I are a team you may find us separated but rarely is one far from the other. My interest in Pin-Up as well as Burlesque was in me before I knew they actually had genre labels when we found out burlesque shows where happening here on a regular basis we were in, well right after Melody Mangler and Violet Fem taught a mini Burlesque class at Jill’s stagette.
    Now why I give the long forward is so you understand I am not just some ego driven horn ball who comes to see girls go topless, if that was the case the are lots of places I could go that don’t cost $20 at the door. Now even before becoming part of this world as a Host/performer/sweeper general here carry this and stack those chair guy. I was or should say we were avid guests as in paying customers to many of the shows religiously attend when we could. Ok so here is goes call me what you wish but the support I will receive for my own view from my friends, yes those above, will be more than enough to comfort the blow.

    Yes as a man I love Tits and ass! Yes I love it more when it is being shaken in my face.
    OH how exciting it is if one of the girls pops a pasty.
    OH OH how exciting if she has the ovaries to not even notice carry on with her performance like a true professional.
    You can’t necessarily look at Burlesque a part of the MOVEMENT, but an off shoot of what the movement has provided, these women should not have to defend themselves to any one. If they, for their own exhibitionism, wish to display them selves to entice or excite a crowd of voyeurs, they should be supported not criticized in print. Now when I am on stage back stage or stage front I am watching the show the entertainment, the question you must ask first is this something you will like? is it your cup of tea? if not you won’t like any show you see, but if you like crazy handmade costumes, crude comedy, and watching people who enjoy what they are doing, you just might like what you see. It seems to me all your research has been attending shows while judging them on what your views are not the views of the audience or performers. I am going to end this short because my daughter who ha been so patient on my lap is sensing that I’m an quite fired up about this, if someone could help finish this with descriptions of Milikas beaten womens revenge with the dancing dummy, or Burgundys little school girl professor beat down number, Franky Pankys gorilla molester and so many more
    I guess it comes down to some people just don’t get it. it’s performance and we love it.

    Will Thrill xoxo


  • MissFortune

    I wish I could find your other articles on burlesque. I have been through 4 pages of older posts on the blog, used the burlesque tags and I still cannot find it. I like to read everything you have to say on the subject before I comment…. but unfortunately I cannot this time….. Please post a link to it.

    I have a few points to raise.

    First of all, exhibitionism and voyerism and the love of a good story and sharing what we make with others are built into us as humans. If not, there would be no movies, no TV, no theater, no dancers, no parades, not even zoos. These in themselves are not feministic or patriarchical or masochistic in itself. Humans do these things.

    The thing that should be addressed is choice and purpose. You can be a driver or you can be a cabbie. You can make art or you can be a graphic designer. you can snap photos or you can be a photographer. You can be a stamp collector or librarian. On some level, all of these hobbies and careers are choices. Everybody generally chooses hobbies and career fields by what the find interesting, enjoyable or fun. These ladies are clearly doing that. Their purpose for doing this work (or hobby, whatever be the case) is for fun. None of them are forced into this, burlesque cannot be feministic or not any more than a cabbie or a stamp collector can.

    You argue that this can be compared to women who strip for a living that are forced to work in that industry…. but that’s like comparing apples and oranges. As in the case of Madame Mae I, strippers can become burleque dancers…. and so can librarians and photo-snappers. Stripping is not the same as burlesque. They share one feature, the removal of clothes. If that makes it equal, then each and every woman who removes their clothes daily (IE: every woman) is a stripper. (we all remove clothes) We can all agree that is not the case. To be fair, another quality burlesque shares with stripping is usually it is done in front of someone or many people. Again, If you have made love to someone, or have had a roommate, or a cat or dog for that matter, you are a stripper by this definition. Again, I feel that we can all agree that it is not the case on that. Also, they both do this sort of work for money…. well, don’t we all work for money to some degree? They both involve some kind of dancing too…. Hell, we all dance in our own special way, wether well, or not-so-well….

    I am breaking it down into non-emotional terms so we can look upon this fairly.

    None of you may want to hear it, but burlesque was at the forefront of the earliest feminist movement.
    Without question, however, burlesque’s principal legacy as a cultural form was its establishment of patterns of gender representation that forever changed the role of the woman … The very sight of a female body not covered by the accepted costume of bourgeois respectability forcefully if playfully called attention to the entire question of the “place” of woman in American society.
    -paraphrasing Robert G. Allen, Horrible Prettiness: Burlesque and American Culture (Univ. of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1991), pp. 258-259.
    at its roots, burlesque took opera, plays and other things and made spoofs. Instead of men taking women’s roles, which was expected in the 1800s and early 1900s, women did.
    Later, to keep people coming back, the skits got more suggestive. These daring women challenged local laws for how much they could reveal on stage, due to starting to flip the expected gender roles and play men onstage in mythological male roles in period menswear (tights). This became such a hit, people returned to see more and more of the female form.
    and the ladies revealed more and more and the audiences came back for more. in the 20-30′s, People like gypsy rose lee and Sally rand (and my favorite, Vickie Lynn, who was a MAN doing striptease as a woman) brought vaudeville comedy and Cabaret artiface from Vaudeville, and dropped it into burlesque and it became the burlesque we know today. Soon, as Broadway shows
    become popular, the acts became larger than life and true fantasies. It went underground and “quiet” to the mainstream in the mid-to-late 20th century. It soon hit revival in the late 20th century and now with neo-burlesque with girls who are trying to take burlesque back to its glory days and honoring the past in all its forms, and the ladies who are still alive from the end of the first era.
    Here’s a link to what the neo-burlesque girls are doing with the older ladies:

    So, as you can see, burlesque is an artform coming from vaudeville.

    Burlesque sells *fantasy* pure and simple. Burlesque is about taking your audience to another world, where you act out a story for them, be it YOUR fantasy, Their fantasy, a childhood fantasy, a commont on current society, whatever. The most common show a sensual or sexual fantasy, and theres nothing wrong with that. They dont get completely naked. you see more in movies and TV…

    Burlesque is about creating a new persona to the dancer.
    Strippers are selling themselves. Men dont want to watch them take it off, that happens in 2 seconds. they want to see a gyrating naked body. any thin female will do.

    Now lets look into objectication. This seems to me to be the genuine heart of this post, correct?
    The definition of obectification is: Media that objectify women portray women as physical objects that can be looked at and acted upon– and fail to portray women as subjective beings with thoughts, histories, and emotions.
    This kind of media, I believe we all can agree, Must be changed. It reads to me that feminism and burlesque have the same problem. The media of TV and movies took the money out of burlesque and reduced it to its underground for decades. TV and and movies sell our children the very terrible concept of objectification.
    It seems to me that you and the burlesque movement are on the same side….

    Currently today, the neo-burlesque girls have a choice to do this as a career, or as a hobby. Those that WANT a career in it are needing to get paid. Those that do are going to find that in order to keep an audience’s attention, they must do several things not required in stripping. They must have a routine, they must spend hundreds to thousands of dollars on their costumes and props. They must have permission to use their music if it is something not in public domain. They must either have dance training or burlesque schooling (I know of 4 burlesque schools in seattle alone), their acts are skits and are generally thought provoking, silly or *something* that is different (or people wouldnt return to see them)
    So, they queue up quite an expence, and they make acts that are geared to their audiences… (since they are choosing this art, I bet they all have ideas they want to do artistically but they may not be able to afford it if their audience won’t like it.) Also, now that the media has a movie about it, people’s expectations on what burlesque actually IS is distorted and watered down. so, if you are paying $10-$20 for a burlesque show, you arent seeing anyone who doesnt have a day job. Hobbyists do not have to put as much time and effort into their acts, but I bet most do for love of the art….

    What I am getting at is that the media is hurting burlesque as much as it hurts feminism. An audience expects sparkling stripping like bussycat dolls, instead of fun and provoking acts. Girls’ gotta eat, they will do do what people want to see, and reserve their more challenging (though provoking) acts for cities that understand burlesque a bit better.

    (I find it odd that people were giving money to the performers. Every burlesque show I have ever gone to (in 6 different states) never once was money tipped on the stage.
    Also, most shows I have seen have had live bands, comedians, (sometimes a coherent story throughout every act, like Alice in wonderland), magic acts as well as girls
    Are you SURE you went to burlesque shows?)

    In the end, if you don’t like burlesque, that’s your decision and you are welcome to your opinions.
    But don’t spin your dislike for an artform into a political agenda.
    We can agree to disagree on this, but it IS true that burlesque was a part of the first glistenings of women breaking out from under male domination. You cannot turn your back on that fact.

    What’s next?
    Hate ballet, so you are going to say it enhances the female body issue problem because ballerinas are so small?
    Hate geisha, so you are going to write that the Japanese sould ban them because its degrading to dress women like “dolls”?

    The only hate acceptable is the hate of over-generalization and stereotyping.


    a burlesque performer
    (who just suggested a stagename for a boy-burlesque performer who is starting burleque classes tomorrow)


    • well said MissFortune, well said. I was a burlesque performer in the 70′s and was happy to do so. Many fond memories and also some bad ones. That is part of all life. It’s was a job, it’s was part of being a woman, it was part of being young and having youthful good looks to flawnt. It gave me courage, confidence, and appreciation for my own beauty and expression of, of the beauty of womanhood… in a way I may never have known otherwise. Like you, I consider(ed) it an artform, and remember the ‘burlesque’ shows, some more tawdry than others, everyone to their own talents and tastes. Life is like a boz of chocolates(Forest Gump style) and thankfully they are quite assorted! Now, I’m old and fat …and I still flawnt – for my husband! (who was a burlesque manager btw)


  • Dollipop

    I just wanted to put in my two cents. I’m a fat girl, alway have been. For me, burlesque satisfies two goals. #1 is body acceptance, challenging the Hollywood norms (what they think women should look like) that have been a huge factor in why I hated my body and hid in the dark if I was ever bold enough to let a man near me. For All of my adult life. The women of burlesque can be any size or shape, and still be accepted by their audiences and peers, plus i can now enjoy some cheesecake guilt free because I no longer feel like I have to change who I am to “fit in” or feel “normal”.

    #2 is bringing fun back to sex. Sex is supposed to be fun isn’t it? Sexy should be playful, maybe even funny. Its more than just a function to reproduce, and ideally should be enjoyable for both partners. We have been bombarded with images of what “sexy” means, hollywood makes sexy look like it needs a sandwich, porn makes sexy look like it’s painful, almost unpleasant, so damn serious. In my acts I like to focus on the humor, song and dance, laughter, things that make me feel sexy. It’s the reason I love the comedic duo The Wet Spots, they find humor in everything from masturbation to kink, set it to music and rhyme, I’m tickled pink! Also love Trixie little and the Evil Hate Monkey, their acrobatics are amazing and he gets just as naked as she, equal opportunists!!

    You must have missed out on Evil Bastard and his huge cock…pasty, he’s funny, has a great voice and can twirl that pasty as well as the next lady in the lineup. The women may outnumber the men in burlesque, but they are definitely there. I would venture to guess that the reason you didnt see the male emcee strip, is because he was the Emcee. Their job, male or female, is to introduce the acts and keep the audience engaged and having a good time. The emcees in our troupe do get naked, but not while hosting, they have their own acts, as do I suspect the male emcees you saw staying clothed. Maybe it just wasn’t their night to shine.


    • Miss Titania

      I agree with both of these. One of the reasons I continue to model and do burlesque is your first point. I was uncomfortable with my body but took a chance to get out there through some miracle of strength. I have had many women that would be considered “fat” by media standards tell me how empowering and inspiring it was to see me comfortable with my appearance and body despite “standards”. It is that fact, that my ability to do something that I enjoy can make a positive impact on someone else’s life is truly a gift.


  • Scarlette Downey

    BRAVO!!! Miss Fortune! Thank you thank you and gracious thank you!
    So long as human beings, male and female, fight for the right to have the CHOICE to control what they presenting and what they share of their own talent, their own bodies and their own sexuality, they are assisting the feminist agenda to move forward. Perhaps now Ms Murphy can stop feeling sorry for us and see that female sexuality, when presented in the ways we as women want to present it, can be incredibly empowering. Both on a personal level and for women as a group. It has contributed to liberating other women from past fears of being sexually expressive,(A fear that old school feminism helped to create, by judging women who were sexually confident… or worse pitying them!) The Neo-Burlesque movement has presented an opportunity for the audience to see a variety of different bodies and sizes as “sexy” therefore challenging the “status quo” of what is routinely packaged and sold to us. It has also offered a alternative to the traditional stripping industry (where strict body “typing” IS practiced) It has challenged the predominately non humanist, non feminist proprietors of these establishments, who make a lot of money off these women, to see that women are not buying the belief that we are only to be considered sexy if we meet these specific standards. This IS a FANTASTIC thing!


  • Meghan Murphy

    @April — I realize that you tried to present an argument that represents various perspectives on burlesque from burlesque performers. The purpose of this post and the corresponding radio show was to look at burlesque from a feminist perspective. And while your post does show what burlesque performers think about burlesque, it lacks a feminist analysis. Which is fine. As far as I can tell, the purpose of your post wasn’t to do that. I do feel frustrated by what seems to me to be both a deep misunderstanding of what the critiques of burlesque are (i.e. this isn’t in any way about puritanism or some kind of moral stance, which is discussed within the podcast) and what empowerment has to do with feminism. In regards to your point that “instead of looking at Burlesque as a case for violence against women.. couldn’t it be a healthy example of how sex work should/could work? On a woman’s own terms? And not all conventional strippers are being “forced” to strip because they have no other choice.” – well, no. I don’t think that I could view burlesque as a healthy example of how ‘sex work should/could work’ because I don’t find that these images of women are doing anything to challenge the male gaze or what has been constructed and presented by patriarchy/mainstream media. I don’t see many of these images as being ‘on a woman’s term’ – I view them as being regurgitated images of female sexuality as defined by a patriarchal society. I mean, what does a naked woman in a martini glass have to do with feminism? Also, I don’t argue anywhere that ‘all conventional strippers are being “forced” to strip because they have no other choice.’ – many women do strip because they need the money. The argument here is that, in order to be able to ‘play with’ the idea of objectifying oneself, ‘for fun’, it demands a certain level of privilege, which sometimes goes unacknowledged by burlesque performers who compare themselves to strippers OR those who claim they do it as an art form. I think that women should have more options than to have to take off their clothes in order to make a living.

    On another note – just fyi – this post wasn’t intended to be a rebuttal to your post, I would have linked to it in that case. I didn’t see your post on Burlesque and Empowerment until after I wrote this. Strange coincidence though, eh – we were simultaneously on the same train of thought! (though perhaps said trains were headed in different directions…)

    @missfortune –
    1) I haven’t written any other posts on burlesque. It isn’t exactly my pet project. I try to apply a feminist critique to and encourage discussion around various topics.

    2) I fail to see how women having the ‘freedom’ to ‘choose’ to strip for fun is representative of success on the part of the feminist movement and I doubt that is how the 2nd wave desired to see their fight culminate.

    3) Yes, the shows I have seen were most certainly burlesque shows. We also found it ‘odd’ that we were encouraged to put money in a woman’s g-string during intermission. I don’t think that having dancers ‘on the side’ of rock shows or comedy shows presents any more of a challenge to patriarchy than Dita von Teese’s performance in the midst of an award show is. I have certainly felt uncomfortable to have thought I was going to see some bands and been made to watch a woman take off her clothes as part of the intermission….

    4) I, of course, am ‘welcome to my opinions’ – thank you for your approval! I think I have made clear that this is not about a simple ‘dislike for an art form’ but about much, much more and I think that, as a feminist blogger, scholar, journalist, and activist, it is kind of what I do to place a feminist critique onto just about everything. Feminism is the lens through which I view the world around me. If you would like to frame this perspective and critique as my ‘spinning’ things into a political agenda, then I suppose that is alright with me. My ‘political agenda’ being feminism, after all.

    5) Whatever burlesque once was, from your perspective, is no longer. I have not seen everything, that’s for sure, it looks like there is some interesting stuff happening out there (as per the links at the beginning of the post, provided by April). Unfortunately what I have seen, as made clear in the radio show (linked to within the post) and on this post, was not presenting a challenge to the male gaze or to patriarchy.

    6) Who said anything about ‘banning’ burlesque? Or about ‘hating’ anything? I’m starting to feel a little bit like a broken record here, but seeing as you seem to be putting your own ‘spin’ on my post/commentary, regardless of what was actually said, I feel like I need to clarify – what I’m seeing from this ‘artform’, for the most part, is women, objectifying themselves, for fun. I’m seeing the same old images of women stripping for an audience and calling it empowerment. I’m seeing the media labeling this as ‘the new feminism’ which misrepresents the feminist movement in a very dangerous and entirely inaccurate way. If what I’d seen was something different then I would have said so. It was not.

    @Will Thrill –
    “You can’t necessarily look at Burlesque a part of the MOVEMENT, but an off shoot of what the movement has provided, these women should not have to defend themselves to any one.” The feminist movement did not ‘provide’ the ‘freedom’ for women to strip. That was the patriarchy. And this argument that whatever any person does, if they decide to label it as empowering or feminist, should be free from critique, is ridiculous. As I’ve said before, many times, the feminist movement is here to challenge patriarchy, not applaud blindly simply because we are told something is empowering. Are you seriously arguing that if something ‘isn’t my cup of tea” (which, again, is a giant oversimplification and clear misunderstanding of the argument) I should just not say anything??? So sexist and violent pornography isn’t my ‘cup of tea’ – should I just shut up and let those porn-consumers be? Trafficking isn’t ‘my cup of tea’ either – would an appropriate response towards traffickers be ‘meh’? And, hey, I also hate sexism! But to each their own, right? To paraphrase your concluding ‘argument’ – I guess when it comes down to it some people just don’t ‘get’ feminism. But it is my life’s work and I love it.


    • ChaCha

      woah also, never ever ever, have we ever asked or wanted anyone to give us money in our undies or anywhere else, just pay for your ticket to enter the show and enjoy… yikes, we also perform in a theater so it’s just not that kind of show. I think the show you have gone too was doing it’s own thing, cuz I never see bills pushed downs someones panties but I’m also here in the USA and the shows i’ve been too have been in theater like settings and no one NO ONE was tipped. Sorry to zee that was your experience.


      • Ruby Rage

        Cha Cha is right, no one in the US gets dollars down the draws, unless it’s a duet or part of an act. To most burlesque dancers in the
        US it’s considered to be rude to even throw dollars on a stage and most dancers get very upset at this.

        Meghan, you need to research more before you write. Maybe even travel around the world to get an exact view and form a more
        accurate opinion on burlesque. Many different parts of the world have different views on burlesque/cabaret. So maybe broadening your horizon would help you not get slammed down by an opinion that you think so strongly about.


        • Meghan Murphy

          Hmm. Yeah I bet there are all sorts of subversive burlesque shows in developing countries where, you know, getting naked for money is fun and empowering. Thanks for the tip.


  • Meghan Murphy

    ***note to commenters — if you choose not to read this post in its entirety or listen to the podcasts which this post elaborates on (linked to in the post, but I’ve added them in here again, at the bottom of this comment, for your convenience) and then suggest that we do something we have already done or suggest that we have argued something which we have not, in fact, argued, I probably won’t publish your comment. I obviously made an exception for some comments which either completely misunderstood the argument/what feminism is, and therefore felt I should respond to, or were reiterating common arguments I also wanted to respond to — for example the seemingly popular ‘anything goes if we say it does and everyone who doesn’t like it should shut up’. If your argument is that we should not be critical of anything anyone does, because they feel personally empowered, then you are missing something central to feminism and central to our purpose within the radio show and blog – that being that we are here to provide a feminist critique. It isn’t the only feminist critique, it is just one. Within the radio show and podcast, we showed various perspectives on burlesque, through mediated debate/conversation. To suggest that this topic went unresearched or our presentation of the topic was biased is ridiculous. Unless what you mean by ‘bias’ is ‘feminist’ in which case you are right. We are very, VERY, biased….
    In regards to ‘research’, I would suggest that, rather than recommending we do more research on what you do (as we have, really, done a lot of research and we nonetheless, still came to this conclusion, though many of you seem to feel that if we just did a little more research we would change our minds….), you do some research on what feminism is. Because this post is about whether or not burlesque is feminist. Not whether or not you like boobs.
    Burlesque: Part 1: http://rabble.ca/podcasts/shows/f-word/2011/02/burlesque-part-1-2-part-series
    Burlesque: Part 2: http://rabble.ca/podcasts/shows/f-word/2011/02/burlesque-part-2-2-part-series


  • MissFortune

    Thank you for your response, Megan, but you fail to acknowledge anything I requested.

    1. “Two weeks ago we ran our 2-part series on burlesque.”
    links please. You claim not a pet project, yet you refuse to provide me links.

    2. Choice and freedom to choose are two different things. I respect your “freedom” to “choose” to spread this nonsense. I really do…. yet I disagree with your “choice” to do so.Likewise you disagree with both my “freedom” to “choose” burlesque as a hobby as well as my “choice” to do so. If you do not understand that difference then you do not understand the difference for a woman to “choose” the “freedom” to stamp collect any more than you accept her “choice” to,say become a librarian for a stamp museum. ONE is about FREEDOM the other is about CHOICE. Feminism is about the “freedom” of “choice” not the “choice” on what activity we “choose”. we as women now have the “freedom” to “choose” Burlesque, and burlesque helped form that.

    3. on the contrary: THAT IS BURLESQUE: comedy, variety skits, spoofs.. that is the HEART of BURLESQUE. It is a SHOW. Read your history. This weekend I am attending a BURLESQUE show with a live band and GORE-lesque. women (possibly men too) wanting to sell the fantasy of HORROR-BURLESQUE and from what I hear there are TWO horror-burlesque troupes in Seattle playing up the need for “non-pretty” burlesque. How can you explain that in your narrow definition of burlesque??? I certainly CAN: burlesque is about FANTASY. Burlesque is a SHOW. They will have a live band, and possibly more “delights” other than women taking clothes off. You cannot deny. Burlesque is more than you know.If you feel uncomfortable about the whole show, you are unwilling to experience burlesque as its full art-form, therefore you are only critiqueing the media perception of it…. I suggest before you judge an entire art form that you thoroughly research…be a REAL scholar and journalist.

    4. in my anger I called it direct “spinning” I do apologize for that… but understand until you see the whole PICTURE, you have no right to place judgements…. IT MAKES you NO BETTER THAN THE MEDIA WHO EXPLOITS FEMINISM. All you are is the other side of the media coin that destroys all the work feminism has done because you are not willing to view burlesque in its real, full context. I belive your cause is just, I simply fear that you are taking issue with something that is part of your cause. I simply want you to take a CLOSER look at it.

    5. you are wrong. Burlesque has no money tips, See a show of real burlesque sponsored by the burlesque hall of fame, tease-o-rama or *something* in Seattle, New york, New Orleans, or any major city. Admit your perspective is based in a small locale and that there MAY BE better burlesque shows out there. Your narrow view is too limiting for the post you made for women who actually believe in your cause. cast a ‘wider net” and you will be pleasantly suprised.

    “male gaze” was about FILM, I am sure you understand….. get out of last century and view what todays perspective is. I am NOT saying it is 100% correct, but it is much different from the “were not originally intended to last” and that she thought of her writing as “ephemeral”:[Mulvey writes] “I often sacrificed well-balanced argument, research and refinements of style to the immediate interests of the formative context of the moment, the demands of polemic, or the economy of an idea or the shape and pattern of a line of thought.” She admits that the now-canonical essay you cite, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” ( borrowed quotation from Will)
    Burlesque does similar..Burlesque is “visual pleasure and Narrative cinema” There is no opposition here. burlesque is part of the feminist movement.

    6. HATE definition: 1.to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest 2. to be unwilling; dislike
    I never mentioned banning burlesque (I only used banning as an example for geisha to illustrate my point)
    this is a hate post. you “dislike” neo=burlesque.It isnt ‘neo-feminism” it is a revival of a past theater syle lost in the late 20th century that respects the women who came before us. i might believe “burlesque” is “feminist” but others wont. Ask burlesque performers individually.

    again., the only HATE (by definition) that is appropriate is hate of over-generalization and stereotyping.

    and you are doing that. Never judge an entire genre of theater based on a few people. Be a *journalist* do REAL *research*.

    Have you even TRIED to contact a legend of burlesque for a proper perspective? someone who has been doing this 30=40 years? or did you base your conclusions on baby-burly girls in your locale???

    Seattle has 4 burlesque schools. the most renowned is Indigo Blue’s Academy of Burlesque. We have a burlesque-con every year to meet other performers and make it a “sisterhood” and “brotherhood” of burlesque and learn from each other to sharpen our skills.

    whether you like it or not: burlesque is an art with over a century of performance proof.
    it has been here since the mid-1800s. and with the *best* in burlesque, they strive for a good, provacative show.

    Ever think that MAYBE if you paid for a 50-100 dollare burlesque show that you might see something different??? I have performed with both high end and low end shows. i bring 500+ outfits to all shows. Most women who make this a career cannot do this, but since I have a good day job, I have that luxury. Not many can. I have performed with the burlesque hall of fame AND with Dita. (I read how you feel about her…… she is a sweet, personable girl. you should never judge people by their interviews BECAUSE interviewers take only their views out of interviews (sound familiar…?)Why did you not try interviewing her yourself???
    I have performed locally for free at the Seattle’s Bumbershoot (doing burlesque for even CHILDREN) as well as the Seattle erotic arts Festival (which is for adults). There is So much MORE to burlesque than you give credit.

    Again, I respect your right to disagree, but get your facts straight. That is all I am trying to say.


    • Meghan Murphy

      @missfortune –
      1) the links are in the post. As you will notice, I’ve added them again in this thread for those who didn’t see the hyperlink.

      2) I don’t disagree with your ‘freedom’ to ‘choose’ burlesque. Nope. Not in any way. I challenge the idea that burlesque is innately empowering or feminist. I also suppose you are right that burlesque gave you the…freedom….to choose…burlesque? To be honest I’m a little confused by this entire comment. I’m not quite sure what you are trying to get at around stamp collecting, but I’ll leave that one for now.

      3) I was responding to your point that burlesque shows were alongside comedy/music/magic shows. Did you mean to say, instead, that the burlesque was, in fact, the comedy/music/magic? Again, confused. Had any of the burlesque shows I’d seen been funny and/or subversive then I imagine I would have written a different post.

      4) My deepest apologies to feminism, for singlehandedly destroying it because I wrote a post about, apparently, the ‘fake’ burlesque, as opposed to the ‘real’ (albeight invisible) burlesque. I do hope it will forgive me.

      5) Is it me that is wrong? Or is it the burlesque show we saw a few weeks ago that requested the audience place bills in a ‘girl’s’ g-string during intermission? This show was called a ‘burlesque show’ and was put on by a very well known performer in Vancouver…This fake/real conversation is a little confusing (but this appears to be a trend throughout your comment so I suppose I should get used to that) – how can one tell which is ‘fake’ and which is ‘real’? Who defines this? Where are all these ‘real’ burlesque shows in Vancouver?

      6) I do understand what the male gaze is, yes! And it is very much applicable to this century! Way to go with the feminist film theory! Mulvey’s theory is around film, but since, feminism has applied this theory, this ‘gaze’ to real life. And, as such, feminists have noted that women internalize this gaze. That others view us and we, even, view ourselves through this lens. I don’t think it is fair to say that all burlesque, regardless of what it looks like, regardless of the message, is a part of the feminist movement.

      7) I wouldn’t say that I ‘dislike intensely’ burlesque. I think it is problematic. And I don’t think that it necessarily empowers women, nor do I think it is necessarily feminist.

      8 ) I think Crystal Precious is a great source for a ‘proper perspective’ on burlesque. She is local, she is active in the scene, she is a pioneer in the neo-burlesque movement in Vancouver. So, yes, I did contact someone who I consider to have a ‘proper perspective’ (whatever that means…). We spoke with her on air! It was fun. That said, I did disagree with many of her comments. I imagine that she also disagrees with many of mine.

      9) I’m not sure what your point around burlesque schools is. Because there are schools that equals feminism? How?

      10) You can call burlesque ‘art’ till the cows come home. Once again, I will reiterate: that does not make it empowering. Or feminist. Women taking off their clothes, on stage, in and of itself, does not equal ‘freedom’. Whether or not it is art is not of particular interest to me. And, as far as I know, all art is not anti-oppressive. Nor should it be free from critique, simply because it is ‘art’.

      11) WHY on EARTH would I spend $50-100 to see a show that makes me feel depressed? I have yet to buy all my textbooks for this term, OR pay my tuition. But you’re right, once that money does appear in my bank account, I should probably skip all that and spend that money, instead, on seeing a show that makes me feel like shit about the state of the world.

      12) I am sure von Teese is VERY ‘sweet’. I’m sure she has a wonderful personality! Oh so pleasant. What does this have to do with anything I said in my post?

      Let’s stick to the topic, eh?


  • MissFortune

    PS; i read your latest comment as well as everyone else’s. I am simply challenging you to expand your research.


  • J Valery Vyntage

    Here is some food for thought. Since you have brought us back to the topic of feminism and the reason you write this blog, I will try to challenge your perception of feminism vs. mine and perhaps others who have come out in support of Burlesque in response to your ‘review’.

    You say
    ‘As I’ve said before, many times, the feminist movement is here to challenge patriarchy, not applaud blindly simply because we are told something is empowering’.

    Okay, let us examine what exactly ‘is’ the feminist movement.

    None of us would argue that the feminist movement has made its best effort to free us from the chains of patriarchy, but we are all acutely aware that this struggle continues to rage on throughout the world, regardless of the gains we’ve seen. We still have to fight for reproductive rights every time a right wing, conservative pro-life government gets elected because their agenda is still to take us back to the dark ages based on a religious ideal. So, please don’t think for a minute that I don’t appreciate what it must be like in countries where religious, sexual and physical restrictions are the norm. We haven’t come that far, and we have a long way to go. This much we can all agree on.

    I’ll be honest, I am aware that I personally haven’t done enough to fight for womens rights in my lifetime, and have even taken it for granted. But I certainly have done a lot for myself and my personal belief system and proud of that fact. Having to reconstruct what it is to be a woman and blazing trails by being an open hearted woman in touch with my femininity, sexuality and humanity is No easy task. I consider myself probably in the third wave of feminists, having been born in 1964 and watching my mother break stereotypes and taboos. I am lucky also that my father was part of the feminist movement here in Vancouver in the seventies.

    As a young person I took it all for granted and paid very little attention to feminism until my late twenties when I got a brain and stopped being so self centered. Back then I viewed feminism as being quite radical, unfeminine and almost nasty to the male of the species. It was a huge turnoff for me and it turned me against it for many years. There are personal reasons as well in relation to how my father was treated by those radical feminists friends at times because he was berated for just being a man.

    So, how could I reconcile that I liked cute dresses, dancing, shaving my legs and looking pretty with trying to be a feminist when I had no feminist icons I could relate to. I disliked the thought I had to be less girly in order to be a feminist. So I chose to be ambivalent towards to whole subject until I was ready to appreciate and understand it on my own terms. I will probably never buy into the idea of Radical Feminism because I view men with very little power as having the same human struggles against the power elite (white, rich, religious, conservatives can be male or female eg; Ann Coulter), so I can’t lump patriarchy onto all men, there are plenty of women buying into it as well.

    I personally like the term Sex positive Feminism, and perhaps this might aptly describe what my respected artist friends are trying to relay in response to your blog and what I myself believe.
    Clipped from Wikipdedia.

    Sex-positive feminism centers on the idea that sexual freedom is an essential component of women’s freedom. As such, sex-positive feminists oppose legal or social efforts to control sexual activities between consenting adults, whether these efforts are initiated by the government, other feminists, opponents of feminism, or any other institution. They embrace sexual minority groups, endorsing the value of coalition-building with members of groups targeted by sex-negativity. Sex-positive feminism is connected with the sex-positive movement.

    The cause of sex-positive feminism brings together anti-censorship activists, LGBT activists, feminist scholars, sex radicals, producers of pornography and erotica, among others (though not all members of these groups are necessarily both feminists and sex-positive people). Sex-positive feminists reject the vilification of male sexuality that they attribute to many radical feminists, and instead embrace the entire range of human sexuality. They argue that the patriarchy limits sexual expression and are in favor of giving people of all genders more sexual opportunities, rather than restricting pornography (Queen, 1996). Sex-positive feminists generally reject sexual essentialism, defined by (Rubin, 1984) as “the idea that sex is a natural force that exists prior to social life and shapes institutions”. Rather, they see sexual orientation and gender as social constructs that are heavily influenced by society.

    Sex-radical feminists in particular come to a sex-positive stance from a deep distrust in the patriarchy’s ability to secure women’s best interest in sexually limiting laws. Other feminists identify women’s sexual liberation as the real motive behind the women’s movement. Naomi Wolf writes, “Orgasm is the body’s natural call to feminist politics.”[2] Sharon Presley, the National Coordinator of the Association of Libertarian Feminists,[3] writes that in the area of sexuality, government blatantly discriminates against women.
    ————- unsnip

    So we may differ on the idealogy of Feminism, and perhaps we do approach it differently than you.

    But in creating this blog/dialogue, I would say that you are making us all think, encouraging us take up the call to arms in a new wave of feminism. But feminism in itself encompasses so many ideologies and differences of opinion. I am proud of my young friends who speak so eloquently on a subject they are passionate about.

    Yes, we as humans really need to fully understand political, socioeconomic, racial, religious and generational positions if we are to succeed in a substantial way in the future. All women have a stake in feminism, but so many women cannot promote freedom for themselves because survival is all they can do day to day. Hard to look at the bigger picture when the world you see is abject poverty, religious tyranny, abuse, recovery from abuse or racial bias.

    And in case you are wondering, this 46 year old mother of a teenage boy started performing burlesque 2 years ago to do something fun for myself and discovered that it changed me profoundly. Acceptance of self and of others is at the heart of the burlesque movement today, and it is the reason I continue to embrace and support this art form and in turn it embraces me. I do not fit into the youthful, perfect ideal of a sexual object – I mean seriously I am middle aged and feel it sometimes. But I am also a very sensual and creative woman with an ability to communicate through my art form. My dance experience from a very young age, and my interest in costumes and design have shaped my personal interest in Burlesque as an art form more than anything, and I do enjoy pushing boundaries and titillating audiences.

    Being a burlesque performer, a nudist, and polyamorous lover I am fully engaged in my own body and it means I have never felt more accepted in my life, because I am finally able to accept myself. I have been tipping the scales of my sexuality for years and I feel more comfortable being real and I can finally accept that I fall somewhere in the middle of the Kinsey Human Sexual Response scale. 10 years ago I would have been terrified to admit that to anyone and continue to live with those natural sexual responses in my head telling myself I was weird and it was wrong to be attracted to both men and women. It no longer feels wrong, and that for me is freedom. Freedom from the past of being molested at age 12, raped at 19 and 22, verbally abused by my spouse, and left to struggle in poverty as a single parent. We all have our path, and mine led me to burlesque and a pan-sexual lifestyle.

    And truly, Burlesque is just another form of artistic expression – it just happens to be risque and taboo – what is so wrong with that?

    Might I suggest you acquire a sense of humour and give burlesque another twirl and try to see it from a less staunch perspective. You might actually have fun and laugh a little.

    But, I will say this; I respect your opinion because that is your perspective. There are many sides to the feminist movement and if you are subscribing to fair and honest reporting, you could perhaps acknowledge that there are other views on feminism from far right to far left. You are very articulate and you are lucky to have an education that gave you an opportunity to learn about womens issues in a institutional setting. I would love to ‘get’ feminism, and in my 46 years – I think I have a fairly broad understanding of it, but I don’t know everything, and I do know that we learn what we learn when we come to it. And we come to it at different times and for different reasons. You are lucky to be immersed in it and to have it be your lifes work, but I wouldn’t put violent porn or sex trafficking in the same category since we are choosing to pursue burlesque and not being forced into it.

    … and one more thing…. yes, the male gaze when not in context can be intimidating, feel degrading and even dangerous, so I am not disagreeing with you there – I just happen to think the the male gaze is not all bad. Given the advent of Playgirl, Chippendales and female produced porn, I think we should give men a break for finding us attractive, since we clearly have adopted their tack in modern media where every man looks ripped and hairless – and we are now holding them to that standard. I personally like hairy men, but I don’t see it represented in the media, but I can always get my fill of a normal hairy paunchy boylesquer any given weekend in East Van… and I will cheer when they expose themselves to me!!!


    J Valery Vyntage


  • Sarah J

    I think that the patriarchy wants women to be divided and therefore weak. So let’s support everyone’s opinions as well as support the different places we are all at in our exporation of womanhood.


  • @ meghan – I am picking up what your putting down; In re: “I think that women should have more options than to have to take off their clothes in order to make a living.” I just wonder if in your mind there could it ever be considered an acceptable option to take your clothes off in order to make a living? Or to participate in sex work?


    • Meghan Murphy

      @April – I don’t actually like to use the term ‘sex work’ – I think, particularly when applied to things like prostitution, it takes away from what is really going on. I think prostitution has very little to with sex, in fact. Making it ‘work’ like any other job conceals the gendered nature of prostitution, the violence, the power dynamics, and the misogyny at play. But that question, and this (very inadequate answer) is probably best left for another blog post.

      @J Valery Vyntage – thanks for your comments. Very thoughtful. Personally, I hate (yes hate) the term ‘sex-positive’. I’ve written a little about this elsewhere, but have seen it come up in and around this particular topic a lot. This term, in and of itself, implies that there is such a thing as a ‘sex-negative’ feminist. Which a) is divisive, b) is untrue, c) is a great way to perpetuate damaging and untrue stereotypes about feminists, d) often implies that feminists who aren’t pro-porn/pro-sex work are ‘anti-sex’ which to me, makes no sense because, primarily, the reasons why feminists might fight against sex work and pornography is that they have very little to do with ‘sex’ and much more to do with misogyny, violence, and power.

      And on another note, I feel that I have a great sense of humour. I just don’t find sexism very funny….


  • MissFortune

    Forgive me for my anger. I really did not mean to offend. I need to correct something in my last post After dusting off my 2004 schedule again, I did *not* perform at bumbershoot, it was Folk Life Festival. I did what is called a “sunday school” act. (this is a term used for acts that end in bikinis.) I did not intend to mislead, it was simply foggy memories from 5 years ago.

    Thank you for the opportunity to say my piece. Thank you for the links. I will listen to them all today. I feel its important for communication that we DO create narratives about what we are doing…wether we agree or disagree.

    I ask not that you change your mind, I am simply challenging you to present the entire spectrum of burlesque, not just the segment that you find distasteful. I dont ask for you to “like” it at all, just realize what it is, where it came from and acknowledge that it actually is to the cause. These neo-burlesquers are intelligent people and make thier own choices about what to do with their body. We have no right to critique them because its those who came before us that have allowed us to have this choice. Burlesque in itself cannot be feminist any more than any other CHOSEN hobby or profession. (We fight for those without choice, and challenge the media who forces stereotypes and gender-role on us….)If you cannot then you are no better than a husband forbidding a woman to speak out in opposition to anything he says.
    You may not like the fact that these burlesque people are doing what they are doing, and that is fine.

    Below I am providing links to performers working today who are doing burlesque that is no where near what you described. They are entertaining, captivating performers. They are beautiful personas that as clearly visible and their dances exquisite. Clearly NOT awkward removal of dress.Clearly NOT just a “legion of girls”

    First, Satan’s Angel
    She has been performing since 1961 and she’s still at it– even twirling fire tassles after all these years.
    (from Las Vegas)

    Gorilla X, Eddie and Tugboat…
    (I believe this is LA or Frisco)
    ..Why.. these arent women at all! (except maybe the gorilla)

    Little Miss Never
    She does burlesque in the air.

    Ernie VonSchmaltz
    A male impersonator persona that does burlesque.

    The Atomic Bombshells:
    Not multi-genered, coherent show stories, choreography, poise and fantasy. They have it all

    Kitten La Rue
    Fantasy? I think so!

    Waxie Moon
    He is the best dancer (male or female) in Seattle hands down.

    Ben de la creme
    does burlesque as a female.

    (Lets not forget HARLEM SHAKE! the african american troupe! They are awesome!)
    I could go on….but thats plenty.

    I hope I have contributed enough to have everyone see that despite my temper flaring, I really just want everyone to get an idea of burlesque’s full scope. Burlesque is still kicking, playing with gender roles, poking at current events at times, sometimes all pure fantasy, sometimes history… Its never the same show all the time. Don’t get jaded by letting what the media wants you to believe is the whole of burlesque. research. explore.

    I know its hard to do that when you dont like the subject matter…Humans are apt to see only what they want to see when they dont like it.

    If its not fun for you, thats ok.

    I will be off now, rejoining my real life with my drag queen spouse. Gender roles be damned on all fronts. :)

    Meet agent Rhinestone and James Blonde in their award winning Spy Vs Spy routine
    (they are from Seattle)


    • ChaCha

      I’m so glad you put waxie moon up here, he is the reason I started our burlesque troupe…. he is amazing.


  • MissFortune

    ..one last thing, I was using other careers as allusion.



    American Heritage Dictionary:
    bur·lesque (bər-lĕsk’)
    1.A literary or dramatic work that ridicules a subject either by presenting a solemn subject in an undignified style or an inconsequential subject in a dignified style. See synonyms at caricature.
    2.A ludicrous or mocking imitation; a travesty: The antics of the defense attorneys turned the trial into a burlesque of justice.
    3.A variety show characterized by broad ribald comedy, dancing, and striptease.

    yes, comedians and variety acts, music, etc…. ARE PART OF BURLESQUE.


    • Meghan Murphy

      Ok….Congratulations on your ability to use a dictionary. What does this have to do with my post, any of my comments, or any of your comments for that matter?
      I fail to see how this definition has anything to do with feminism, empowerment, the male gaze, or what I’ve seen in any single burlesque performance in ‘real’ life.


  • J Valery Vyntage

    Lets try not to berate each other for having differing opinions.

    From Meghans perspective, she is out there fighting the good fight with this blog and her serious interest in womens studies. What she may be perceiving here is us selling out, or minimizing the real and true plight of women worldwide because in our western culture, we actually DO have the freedom of choice and we are choosing to do something she perceives as degrading to women. Meghan is challenging us to open our eyes to what is outside of our creative domain, and she has every right to feel the way she does, especially if she personally does not understand it and feels uncomfortable watching it. I think what Meghan may also be discovering in this dialogue, is that there are passionate women who have different beliefs, have different experiences, and perhaps want different things from life. Not every one can be an activist. but even activists have interests outside of feminism.

    The question is whether or not Burlesque is helping or hurting the womens movement. Feminists who are in the trenches working with the disenfranchised and marginalized women of our society have stronger feelings about what we are doing, they have different experiences with men on a daily basis, a lot of it on the negative side of things. We in the Burlesque community are surrounded by men who support and encourage us, not beat, degrade, or threaten our safety. We are safe to be ourselves – many women are not. But is Burlesque a problem? or a solution?

    Many women have expressed a sense of freedom perhaps even empowerment when they stumble into this artistic genre – so for these women, burlesque has enhanced their lives, telling the world that no matter how many judgements are thrown our way on a daily basis, that we are confident in our talents, our bodies, and we put ourselves out there and challenge our perceived social conventions, and we can accept ourselves just the way we are. There is nothing wrong with validation that freedom of expression provides. And it holds true for all my kink/fetish friends, my creatively unique friends, or my LGBT and transgendered friends.

    I suspect that what Meghan perceives is that not all burlesque audiences really understand that innate feminism is at it’s core. Yes, sometimes there are lots of horny, drunken men with no real understanding of womens issues and to them we really are just entertainment to cheer and leer – but as performers we are in a unique position to teach those who have a simplified understanding of the art form and women in general. And I see that happen all the time, and our audience grows. Those of us who perform burlesque are somewhat insulated from the rest of society in that we support our community from within, but we do share it with those who are looking to be entertained.

    Given the movement in Burlesque, I would say we are reaching a lot more women than men because we mirror real women, and, at the same time, we give men who don’t buy into the sexual stereotypes of the media barbie a place to feel accepted for their ideal woman that they probably don’t find in todays media. Men are shamed by other men for liking less than perfect bodies in the eyes of our society. One day men will stop holding other men up to a ridiculous vision of the ideal woman, because men are our greatest allies in the fight for feminine equality. They are fathers, brothers and sons who know the value of protecting the women they care for, and know that we are real, not an idealized version of what men want us to be. The old school will die off eventually, leaving a world that has come through the sexual revolution to make its own reality. We are still battling against so many prejudices, including from the radical feminists who think we need to be extreme in order to make a point. Men have had to adjust to this in the last 100 years and while it may seem like a slow process to many women who are marginalized, in context of human existence we have come a long way in a short time. We teach our children, and our children teach us. We don’t stop wanting equality, but as humans our basic needs come first – political change second, and those with the freedom to make a statement do so on behalf of those who cannot.

    each one of us who makes a choice to break down stereotypes and to embrace careers that are social taboo is taking a step forward in their personal freedom. In my opinion. I am a living example of someone who does not care what society thinks of me. My parents love and support me and have even paved the way for me to be free to make choices without judgement and shame.

    “The personal is political”.

    Be the change you want to see in the world.


  • Ellie

    I’m part of the F Word Media Collective along with Meghan. I wasn’t involved in the burlesque podcasts and haven’t ever actually seen any burlesque. But, I wanted to make a point on the nature of these comments. What is utterly frustrating to read, as an outsider to the debate, is a nearly complete lack of willingness for self-critique from the burlesque community. Burgundy Brixx is the only person that came close to this by acknowledging the strain of the demands incurred by the mainstreaming of burlesque: “I have been spending more time creating performances I think the audience wants to see, rather than creating the art that I want to express myself.”

    This blog has been going for several months now and the only posts that have garnered more than 5 or so comments have been from people who thought the post was a personal attack on their personal lives. And as Meghan has said over and over again: “Feminism IS a movement and it is about more than just individual empowerment. Feminism is personal but it is also political – meaning that what happens in the external world matters, feminism can’t just happen in our individual minds. Just placing a label on something does not make it so.” It’s astonishing how unable we are to get over our obsession with our personal lives long enough to think of the bigger picture.

    We all know that feminism has a history of excluding important voices. But, I think that more than any social and political movement, feminism has and will continue to work really hard to self monitor and self critique. That’s why feminist groups and women’s studies programs will spend tireless hours reflecting on issues such as colonialism, racism, imperialism and all the other intersecting issues that exist in our world to exclude certain people’s voices. The movement is so hard on itself (and often things get done very slowly because we get bogged down in the complexities of oppression) and it better fucking be. Because this stuff is important. I for one know that I’m not ‘good’ enough to be anti-racist without thinking about what that means over and over again. And, I’m going to have to do that for the rest of my life.

    Feminism needs to be continuously self critical in order to be a relevant and sustainable movement. And, that means we all need to take a big bite of humble pie and let our little piece of movement undergo the same scrutiny. Sports are my love and my pet project when it comes to feminism and I’ll be the first to tear it to shreds for its homophobia, classism and racism. And, of course, I’ll be right there to rebuild it, with other feminists, in a way that has meaning and importance for our movement.


  • MissFortune

    so I beg you please: “spend tireless hours reflecting on issues.” What Megan sees as burlesque is NOT the whole of burlesque.

    That is really all I ask.


  • Asking whether burlesque is feminist is like asking whether rock and roll is Chinese. The answer, basically, is “Not inherently” and the question is flawed from the get go.

    Any art form is a medium through which to express ideas and emotions. The ideas, emotions and agendas of burlesque performers will be as diverse as the performers themselves. It’s clear, though, that many commentors on this blog post believe you are suggesting that burlesque CANNOT advance the feminist cause because of the problem of the male gaze inherent in any burlesque performance. In my 5+ years of touring in the burlesque scenes across Canada, the USA, England and Australia, I have witnessed many hundreds of performances. Like any works of art, some are subversive, some are sublime and many are banal at best.

    What IS worth noting is that this neo-burlesque movement is born of many mothers. Some shows sprung up amidst the rockabilly and swing revivals, where the focus was on retro fashion and glamour. Another essential source was the performance art scene on the lower east side in New York City. Yet another was a particular group of San Francisco based feminists. Susie Bright – founder of On Our Backs magazine – presented a series of burlesque dance shows by women for women in the late 1980s. (Men were allowed in the audience on condition that they wore full drag.) Yet another source was the ‘whore art’ movement as championed by Annie Sprinkle. A Portland-based “Sex Worker Cabaret” featuring burlesque dance in the early 1990s inspired Cass King to present one of Vancouver’s first neo-burlesque shows.

    Many of these proto-burlesque scenes were queer, and that sensibility survives today. Many, many of the top performers today are queer-identified. Many are sex workers. Many are not from privileged white backgrounds. Few fit the contemporary MTV or even the 1950s pin-up mold. The most famous, beloved burlesque host in the world today is a drag king named Murray Hill, whose particular twinkling take on slimy old Borscht Belt MCs queers the space before the first dancer drops a glove.

    In fact, it’s worth examining burlesque and drag side by side. The two forms have fed one another since long before Mae West got sent to jail for putting queens on Broadway. Each form clowns a particular, narrow view of femininity, revels in raunchy sexuality, and happily accommodates eroticism and grotesque within a single show, or even a single performance. Many drag performers had their sexuality invalidated when they were younger, and found strength, celebration and transformation through the ritual of theatrically embodying a new, powerful, hypersexual persona. The queer sexuality of the audience is validated and celebrated through the drag show. It was the queens who manned the barricades at Stonewall. Drag made them strong.

    Burlesque performers often tell similar stories of sexual self-validation through the form, and many burlesque audiences tell stories of finding validation and celebration of their own sexualites through attending a performance. I respect that this was not your experience, but it has been the experience of other women. The sexual empowerment of women audiences via watching women performers sounds like it has the potential to further a feminist agenda. The male gaze may be present, but women usually account for 50% or more of the audience in the various shows I’ve worked at across three continents.

    One of the best burlesque shows I ever saw was at Buddies In Bad Times Queer Theater in Toronto by a self-described sex worker collective known as the Scandelles. It featured male, female and all manner of gender-fucked performers enacting an episodic, humorous history of the influence of sex workers on art. From Van Gogh’s nude models through some hilarious send-ups of Showgirls and Taxi Driver. At one point the host advised the crowd “You may feel uncomfortable allying yourself with sex workers, but as queers you share with us the experience of living in a society which is fascinated by your lives but will not grant you full citizenship”. She then segued seamlessly into a smoking hot erotic scene where a man frolicked in bed with hired male hustlers. All of whom were played by drag kings. To the Scissor Sisters’ song “Filthy Gorgeous”. Minds and loins expanded in tandem. This stuff is out there on the scene, and it is not the exception.

    To sum up, not only does neo-burlesque have the POTENTIAL to be subversive, queer and feminist, it is important to note that many of the roots of neo-burlesque lie in queer culture & queer-dominated art scenes, and that many contemporary companies and performers are queer-identified, and bring that sensibility to their art. And burlesque is a grassroots, community-based, ground-up theater movement with populist leftie politics as its default which has managed to become wildly popular. When was the last time leftie community theater got an audience without bribing them with vegan brownies?

    This does not make burlesque inherently empowering or feminist. It does, however, suggest that many artists are successfully using the form to further feminist and queer agendas. And I humbly put it to you that if you think the co-incidental presence of the male gaze somehow instantly invalidates all of this and turns it into another tool of the patriarchy, then perhaps you are ascribing too much power to my eyeball.


    • Open My Eyes

      I think this might be the most thoughtful post I have seen on here yet. I wonder if this is the conclusion that everyone could arrive at
      “This does not make burlesque inherently empowering or feminist. It does, however, suggest that many artists are successfully using the form to further feminist and queer agendas.”


  • Val

    Women taking clothes off for the gratification of men. Not empowering. Not feminist. Not furthering any agenda other than that of traditional patriarchal oppression and exploitation of women (and minorities). After wading through the increasingly desperate defenses of burlesque above, I can only feel sadness for those who don’t understand that females (even such as themselves) can and do play as active a role in exploiting and oppressing women as the most misogynist male might. It’s a pity that there is anyone – particularly women – out there justifying, promoting, and actively practicing such inequities.

    Eyeball that, if you will.


    • Miss Titania

      I have taught boy-leque,… burlesque to drag queens and drag kings… seen awesome older individuals of varied genders and the young… I don’t see the inequality. Perhaps it is the performances I choose, the people I interact with or those I teach that have brought me to this conclusion. After performances I have had many women… and men compliment me on how empowering my performance was to them. Outside of my tiny burlesque life, I work in gaining equality for young women in science and math fields.

      As with most things, how they are presented from the person doing them determines whether they are degrading or exploitative. Any action be it protest, burlesque, writing or anything else can be empowering if it is well informed, honest and moves the “crowd” to positive actions or choices. Those same things can be oppressive if they are not of a positive, well-informed and truthful nature.

      One of the main things I see in all of this is that the original article has a discrepancy that has likely offended many. The problem is that “what women do for money” in a strip club and burlesque are not the same thing. The tease, the costumes, the stripping, the comedy and the rest are completely gone in the strip club environment. Women who work in a strip club rarely actually strip these days. Usually, they come out in nothing or scantily clad to begin with. That aside there is a very disempowering idea here as well. Some women choose to and want to strip for money. Be it for talent or some other reason if the woman has a choice to be there then who are we to say it is wrong? Rare is it that a woman is in a strip club working against her will… I have personally never heard of such a thing in my time, at least not in the US. The statement that working as a stripper is a “bad thing” only furthers the shame put on these women by other sources. When men say you are “dirty” or whatever word they apply to strippers it is hard at times to handle… when another woman does it then it is even more of an impact. I know after friendships with several “strippers”.

      There is never one side to anything or any argument. Even when we believe we are doing great good we can be doing great harm.


      • Meghan Murphy

        @Miss Tatiana
        I imagine that most strippers would beg to differ. What you argue here is classism. Pure and simple. The very fact that a woman would be privileged enough to strip for free and call it art, then turn around and argue that what they are doing is COMPLETELY different than what strippers do would probably piss off a whole lot of strippers. Your concept of ‘choice’ is very simplistic. Because I am tired of repeating this argument over and over again, I send you here for a more elaborate explanation: http://www.feminisms.org/1898/the-trouble-with-choosing-your-choice/


  • Sarah J

    @ Val or Meghan: In your opinion, should there be no sexuality in performance art? People who are stage performners use their body as their medium of expression, like dancers do. If males may be watching, then should we cover up? …because having to cover up and not being allowed to show my sexuality feels oppressive.


  • not taking them off for gratification of men. for gratification of self.


  • Meghan Murphy

    @Sarah J – No. Of course I have not ever, nor would I argue that there should be ‘no sexuality in performance art’. What I have argued, above, and what I also argue in terms of the mainstreaming of pornography/pornographic images, and things like Girls Gone Wild wherein women and girls are ‘flashing’ the camera by choice (I reference ‘The Staging of Agency in Girls Gone Wild’ by Karen C. Pitcher when I talk about this in the podcast) for example, is that context is important. There are ways for naked bodies to be without them being objectified female bodies. I don’t know what ‘your’ sexuality looks like ‘onstage’ but if there is a woman up on stage, as we describe in the podcast and as I point to in this post, who is replicating the same old images of the sexualized female body, posing for the male gaze, then what does this challenge? What is new here? This doesn’t look like empowerment, regardless of whether or not she is ‘choosing’ to take off her clothes. I feel like this ‘this is for me’ argument falls short, too. Would you also argue that women, in large part, participate in pornography ‘for them’? These images make women into objects, which is dangerous.

    @J Woods – I am not ascribing power to your eyeball. Get over yourself. The ‘male gaze’ argument isn’t necessarily about individual men. The gaze refers to the way in which an audience views film, originally, but also visual culture and has been extended, via feminist theory, to refer to the ‘to-be-looked-at-ness’ of women – the way we, as a culture, view women (as well as the way a male audience views women. Because the male gaze dominates and holds power, women have also taken on this objectifying gaze. This gaze is not indestructible. It is possible to subvert this gaze or interrupt this objectifying gaze. It’s just that, often, we don’t. On film, in magazines, in strip clubs, and on stage. Because heterosexual men have, typically, been the audience for women’s naked bodies as well as the makers of culture, film, pornography, images, women and women’s bodies are often viewed that way by default. Women’s bodies have been commodified by this male gaze, cut up into sexualized pieces to be bought and sold (particularly you will find this in advertising). It takes more than just saying ‘but I’m doing this for myself’ or ‘but I PERSONALLY don’t see women that way’ to disrupt the gaze. It also takes more than having women in the audience. I realize this is actually a pretty complex concept and I apologize for not describing it further in my post. Just saying ‘male gaze’ to audience who doesn’t have a background in feminist theory and, particularly, feminist film theory, is perhaps unfair. I’m not saying this to be condescending, I’m saying this because I remember having a tough time getting this concept myself, and continue to learn and think and figure out new things around this theory all the time. Mulvey’s original theory (around film, specifically) has been elaborated on by many since she wrote it in the 70s as well as by herself. This theorizing is, in large part, why I argue that a woman taking off her clothes, on stage, is not, in and of itself, empowering, regardless of whether or not that particular individual feels empowered.

    And I agree that burlesque could be subversive. But, as it stands, most of it isn’t. It’s just the same old thing.


  • Sarah J

    Yes,that was my point, that burlesque performers are not taking off their clothes for gratification of men. But this point is not accepted by feminists who stand by the belief that when you are on stage taking off your clothes that it is for men. So I am curious what sexual expression on stage would look like to them. This is because they have a difference of opinion than me, and I like to see how other people think.


  • Sarah J

    That last one was @ April.The “yes, that was my point…”


  • Meghan Murphy

    @Sarah j – re: “burlesque performers are not taking off their clothes for gratification of men.” – I point you towards the ‘male gaze’ argument, directed here to @J. Woods, but also as a way to elaborate on this concept, addressed in my post.


  • Sarah J

    Thank you, the concept is very interesting and I am going to do further research on it. Nothing will get me off of a stage, but I do appreciate the new research.


  • J Valery Vyntage

    Sarah J asked the question; what sexual expression would look like to you?

    Since you have a difference of opinion, I would love hear what you on the other side of the argument would like to see in performance art that wouldn’t promote the male gaze and give women a new model to emulate.

    How can I as a woman feel okay about my sexuality if everything I do elicits the male gaze. Should I cover my entire body up under robes and a burqa? or should I ensure my breasts are not exposed by choosing clothing that won’t elicit the male gaze. Should I only buy designer clothes from women who are feminists? when I go the beach and wear a bathing suit, what parts of my body should I be okay exposing that won’t elicit the male gaze? when do we stop berating men for having eyes and sexual responses? is there any porn that is acceptable?

    My point here is – you have shown us the negative aspects of what you perceive in the realm of our performance art, but you haven’t given us any alternative that allows us the freedom to be who we are without eliciting this terrible crime of the male gaze.

    Also, what part do you think women have played in promoting the male gaze and what would you like to see happen in the future since many women work in media and make decisions as to what the public consumes?

    I think you have given us lots to consider as to why we are buying into the male gaze, but no alternative solution, so I for one would love to hear your solution to the problem.

    Meghan on a more personal level- do you wear makeup? what kinds of clothes do you typically wear day to day? where do you personally draw the line so as not to elicit the male gaze? how did your upbringing affect your education, did you pay for school on your own or do you have parents who paid for you to attend university? have you ever been abused by a man?

    I ask these questions because I think they are relevant to the conversation and I am hoping that I can gain a better understanding of what kind of feminist utopia YOU would like to see, besides the obvious things we all want for women over the world. I am curious how you think our world should look once men stop with their male gaze.

    I am thinking we should just add something to the water to make all men blind and then we can just take over the world and run around naked and nursing our children without having our bodies sexualized in any way shape or form. Because SEX is the root of all our problems don’t you know. (Tongue planted firmly in cheek)


  • Meghan Murphy

    @ J Valery Vyntage –
    If you want to participate in patriarchy, be an object of the male gaze, and perpetuate sexism be my guest. Just don’t call it feminism. To be perfectly honest, I’m sick of repeating myself over and over again and you seem insistent on misinterpreting and intentionally misunderstanding my argument.

    Are you fucking kidding me with this ‘personal’ question bullshit? It is none of your business, actually, but I have paid for my education by spending 10 years completing a BA because I worked full time practically the whole way through. When I finally realized that I couldn’t finish without going full time, I worked 3 jobs and went into debt. As of right now I owe about 40 thousand dollars. I have worked as a receptionist for about 12 years, as well as working in cafes, video stores, the liquor store, wherever, really. I am lucky, now, because I am a grad student to have the opportunity to work as a TA and a Research Assistant, unstable as it is, I never know how I will pay rent from term to term. I continue to work at administrative jobs because those are the only jobs that I can get that are in any way stable or pay more than $10 an hour. When I was kid we lived in co-ops, my dad worked at the post office and my mother worked at the Burnaby Arts Centre. When my sister and I were 11 they both went back to school and completed Master’s degrees and PhDs. Our income was nil. My mother is now employed as a tenured Prof but had to move to Indiana. My father is unemployed. We all rent. I have been in an abusive relationship, yes. Do I win a medal? Is this a contest? Your entire comment is so fucking offensive I can’t even begin. I am not here to teach you feminism 101. In brief – Your perception of burquas as oppression and bikinis as liberation is completely Eurocentric. Feminism does not villify men. Your questions about my personal life, your efforts to trick me into playing the Oppression Olympics with you are innapropriate and irrelevant. Your final paragraph is idiotic. If you feel like posting something relevant or intelligent or inoffensive, please do, but I won’t be posting anymore of your comments if they sound anything like this last one.


  • @Sarah- I think we were replying to the same post with the same point. :)

    @Meaghan- I think that the inclusion of ALL body types is what makes it not “just the same old thing”

    I also think we can’t not include those who are more “typically beautiful” because then its still discrimination.. just a different kind than we’re used to.

    anyway…I think we could go back and forth on this forever- I do appreciate this coming up tho- I think it will probably challenge more dancers to take risks and to evaluate what they want to stand for but I officially agree to disagree from here on in and am gonna peace out on the discussion. Wishing everyone the best. -April


  • From my personal standpoint, I perform burlesque to express creativity, entertain and make people laugh. Purely. The thought of anyone desiring me – male or female – makes me laugh. My motivation is not necessarily titillation, and not all burlesque has to be. That’s the beauty of it. Diversity-o-rama.

    I am considered ‘larger’ (thanks to PCOS), and was verbally abused about this by family members when I was younger. I used to do cabaret/60′s gogo dancing. I will never forget a relative saying once ‘What do you want to be, an overweight freak dancer?’ Lovely. So… even though I eat like a bird and used to exercise like crazy, I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to be a ‘dancer’ because I wasn’t small? Yet someone in conventional dancer shape could wear a fringed bikini and be perceived as a better gogo dancer than me due to appearance? Now THAT is anti-feminist. Yet so true. I grew up surrounded by models – yet I also had hippy parents and I saw a lot of nudity at festivals. All shapes and sizes nudity.

    I am also a talent agent and have come across a lot more insecurity and self-hate with body image in the film industry (or in your average office) than I’d ever see in my burlesque community. Across the board, women rarely think they’re ‘good enough’ and are on the self-destructive train to be thinner, tanner, dumber… whatever. How dare they be good enough just how they are???!!!

    Then I came to Vancouver, shook off the bitterness, started performing burlesque and became a very active performer and producer. Regarding the burlesque community, you’d be hard pressed to find a more progressive, open-minded and creative bunch. Diversity abounding. I forget about the judgement that I feel in the ‘outside’ world. A burlesque show is a (generally) ‘safe’ environment for me in which I do not feel self-conscious at all. If anyone feels sorry for me because of that, it’s their problem, not mine!

    For the record, in my show – The Pink Flamingo Burlesque – all the men on stage are undressed by the end of the night! We are a show with a live band. We have themes – space, tiki, old Hollywood… it’s not at all just about the strip, because to me – that would be really, really boring. It’s about the music, the talent, the costume I spent 30 hours making. For me, performance is ‘soul shine.’ Other performers may disagree, but my motivation to do burlesque is purely about that – not about trying to be a shiny object for a man! Or anyone for that matter!


  • Jessica O

    I consider myself a feminist and have done so for years.
    I don’t think that pleasing men sexually via burlesque or stripping necessarily degrades women in general or the artist in particular.

    As an ex-stripper and current burlesque performer I’ve found that if anyone was ever degraded on rare occasions, it was the men for looking like drooling baboons.
    Meanwhile, at the best of times, I honestly felt like I was glorified.

    Humans are horny creatures… it helps our species survive. Turning one of our basest urges into different forms of art is

    I also think that historically, women were oppressed and patriarchy was strengthened by the efforts to ignore that women are sexual beings.

    Now that I got my very general comments out of the way… I have a few questions that are running through my mind.

    What place is there for lust and sexuality in your version of feminism?
    What place is there for men to be lustful sexual beings yet still treat women as equals?
    Do you think there is a legitimate form of public sexual expression or should all sexuality be private?
    If you had to create a burlesque act… what do you think would make it empowering/push the envelope/promote feminism?


  • Jessica O

    oops forgot some sentence parts…

    Turning one of our basest urges into different forms of art is rapturous.

    I also think that historically, women were oppressed and patriarchy was strengthened by the efforts to ignore that women are sexual beings. I think objectifying does way less harm than suppressing/hiding.


  • Sarah J

    I am thinking of all of the beautiful animals that strut their stuff(especially peacocks). There are many facinating mating rituals, and they are beautiful!


  • Bill

    Dear Meghan,
    I realize that by now you are probably getting very tired of the figurative hornet’s nest you have opened. While I still stand by everything I say in the post below, and in the interest of free discussion I would very much like you to post it, I would also like to point out something as part of a greater context on a personal note. I come from a family which has taken an active roll in changing the way the world works, and has succeeded in various genuinely positive ways including sex tourism, disabled rights, toppling dictatorships and ensuring that key figures in the fight for emancipation were able to live another day. I do not say this lightly. My own fight may be a small one in comparison to my forebears but I do take it with equal seriousness. One of the things that was droned in to to me by my parents as a child is that you do not change things from the outside, you change them from within. This took me many years is to acknowledge and understand. While the role you see yourself in as a radical feminist is valid, the point that I make is that by taking such a polarized view of people who are working on the front lines of changing attitudes: Sarah is a phd candidate in feminist studies, Nicole tirelessly raises money for DTES women’s charities, Crystal I don’t need to tell you about, Valery is a wonderful example of how a woman can be lost within an abusive cycle and find her own way out of it, Amber Dawn , and the list goes on. These are all people I know and love and value as human beings who make the world a better place for us all; people that I feel very privileged to share experiences with and have touched me in ways I can only begin to understand or describe. Unfortunately, my real fear is that you you do more damage and subsume the feminist cause than you do advance it in this series of dialogues given the tone and candour of your discourse and I am not alone in this. You are an outsider looking in, you criticize these self-empowered, self-actualized, fully liberated women who are working towards social change without offering a productive alternative and this is what has frustrated so many contributors and what frustrates me as a liberated male capable of accepting womanhood in a way that you do not seem think I am capable of by the virtue of my sex. Evolution is a constant state, not a concrete one.

    The main crux of the second part of your discussion revolves around The [ “Dominant”] Male Gaze as outlined by Laura Mulvey in a 1973 collection of essays of film critisism.

    “Indeed, Mulvey herself began her 1989 essay collection, “Visual and Other Pleasures,” by very ethically acknowledging that those articles “were not originally intended to last” and that she thought of her writing as “ephemeral”: “I often sacrificed well-balanced argument, research and refinements of style to the immediate interests of the formative context of the moment, the demands of polemic, or the economy of an idea or the shape and pattern of a line of thought.” She admits that the now-canonical essay you cite, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” was written “polemically and without regard for context or nuances of argument.”
    -Camille Paglia “ Trouncing feminist film criticism and its cadre of ass-kissing puritans “

    As a man working in the burlesque community and as a sex-positive artist (sorry, know you hate the term but its been around for a while now.) I’d like to thank you for bringing the male gaze theory to my attention. I realized that this subject takes the centre stage in the second discussion and that the investigation of burlesque in the first show is reduced to the role of enabler: a gateway accessory to validate this theory to yourself and your guests. I think you really missed out on a genuinely interesting opportunity to engage the burlesque community and feminist academics (which, as we both know, are not exclusive of each other) in a roundtable discussion of the idea as a critique of the performing arts which is, after all, the original spin on this idea from Mulvey and which burlesque is a part of. While it may be valid to a small extent with regard to specific male individuals who come to the shows as the genre expands into the mainstream and, as Burgundy pointed out, and as you underlined in the images you chose to use on your blog to portray the medium, becomes more Disneyfied, I don’t think it is valid as a contemporary generalization -and neither does Mulvey. Having been to Stilettos and Strap-ons shows and burlesque events in queer spaces, often as the only man in the room, I can certainly tell you that the instinct that forms the basis of your personal definition of ‘the gaze’ is certainly present amongst women too, without the aid of men. This view is validated by further development and modernization of the theory by more contemporary and progressive feminist scholars and, in fact, the gaze itself was not a gender specific idea in its origin. The use of the the phrase in a wider social context is a bastardization (excuse my language) of the term which it was never meant to be applied to even though it has become a generally accepted truth amongst certain schools thought.

    From what I understand (And yes, I am over simplifying it a bit), Mulvey chose the phrase to characterize the way cinematographers did, at the time, and admittedly continue, to objectify a woman’s body for audience titillation in male centred cinema. What I feel you failed to grasp, and what differentiates burlesque from this is that a woman on stage is not a passive object on a screen with the viewer/voyeur’s gaze manipulated by a camera/director on order to elicit a desired reaction; she is a living, breathing, human being which uses her body as a tool to explore and make statements about her femininity regardless of body-type and other factors in a subjective manner. This act is empowering to many, both in the audience and on stage, men and women alike. What you seem to be saying, and please correct me if I’m wrong, is that a woman’s body, when exposed in public, is some how polluted or denigrated and objectified in the presence of a man by virtue of his gaze. And that further, a woman should not be a sexual being in the presence of this imagined archetypal predatory alpha male because all she can ever hope for is to aid and abet in the tyranny of this patriarchal/capitalist oligarchy you mention. So, should we all just give up then? Is it defacto to you that the world will never be an equitable place for women to express themselves as erotic or sexual beings in a public forum as long as men exist? How depressing if true.

    Part of the essence of Burlesque, that you seemed to have missed is that, as part of a larger movement within Western society towards a sex-positive cultural/sexual re/evolution (which I acknowledge you see as a phallacy -pun intended- and another imagined enemy in your perceived reality), it seeks to transcend gender and sexuality norms, racial and political divides. Burlesque, as a supportive environment, seeks to construct both a safe and a permissive space in which people are able to explore their identities on numerous different levels whether feminine, masculine, and/or queer identified with empowerment being only a part of this exploration as has already been pointed out to you far too many times now. Can burlesque be radical? Yes. Can it be feminist? Yes. Can it be political? Yes. Should we challenge ourselves? You betcha! Are these the main goals? Not all the time -and if they were it would really be quite boring and uni-dimensional for all involved and it would disappear up it’s own backside in a state of Eastern European socialist Grotowskian angst and socio-political flatulence. The performing arts are, after all, entertainment; an escape from the oppression of reality for both performer and audience, sometimes with social commentary. We just do it a little sexier than other folks is all.

    In order to enjoy any theatrical performance there must, on some level, be something called ‘the willing suspension of reality’; to ignore the reality of sitting in a box theatre surrounded by other people and not in the foreign land watching a story unfold for example. To come to a show lumbered down with SO much ideological baggage as you appeared to have done is to ask for disappointment; to secure failure before you walk in. Even the harshest professional critic of the performing arts has the ability to engage in this suspension of belief on some level before formulating an opinion. It is the very premise that performance has been based on since ancient times. The gravity and true nature of this baggage was made pretty clear to me towards the end of the second part when the discussion really denigrated into clicheed anti-sex tirades: “THOSE music videos!…erotic dance classes for little children!…cardio lap-dance!”. “ I wish it [burlseque] didn’t even exist!” someone hissed in pure acid inflections.

    From A to Z, from burlesque dancer to stripper to porn star to the white slave trade, in one full swoop you lumped us all together and the malevolence and venom in your voices was clearly audible to many. Those you cannot pity as victims are drawn as either naive or exploitative but both equally guilty of furthering some grand design of a catchall devil in masculine form. Furthermore, your overly frequent use of the term “privileged white women” to characterize what you see as making up the majority of burlesque performers was derogatory, insulting and uncalled for.

    You and your contributors in the second show did yourselves an incredible disservice -a disservice to your role as an academic- stooping to bald faced scare-mongering sensationalism worthy of Fox News and because of it allot of people who made a point of listening to the show with an open mind simply dismissed your discourse as a bunch of personal agenda driven bullshit. You chose to view burlesque in a domineering and oppressive manner, demeaning the women and men you saw. Sound familiar? Yup, that’s the dreaded gaze, a radical feminist gaze, but just as objectifying, just as demeaning and just as damaging. Your sex does not omit you from human nature.
    I got the distinct impression that you invited people into a discussion on the first show with the sole goal of “sacrificing well-balanced argument… to… the demands of polemic”. Rather than deconstructing your own theories and offering them up for inspection and discussion, or even challenging them at all, you had decided in advance to reinforce them and simply used burlesque as the anvil on which to strike a -really quite rusty- ideological hammer. As Mulvey herself has stated with regard to film, the central premise simply doesn’t bear a contemporary validity, nor to many of the people responding to you or the community you gave the most cursory of investigation to. We will not be used as sacrificial lambs on your alter, and if you insist on using us in this fashion do not be surprised or feign shock when the lamb kicks back.

    Within the collective culture of burlesque, in which you were a disengaged and biased voyeur, we have moved on, advanced and evolved from the kind of 70′s dialectics on chauvenist oppression and feminism you seem to adhere to. Yes, we (and that includes men in burlesque) are keenly aware that there are many parts of the world where this has not happened, even in our own backyard, and sometimes within audience members that come to the shows, but we ALL endeavour within our own context, abilities, and environment to change the attitudes you are railing against as part of a mutually inclusive -to your exclusive- agenda for social change in which feminism as a movement does have a very valid place. I simply don’t think there was ever a chance of you being able to see burlesque as legitimate in any form due to your beliefs system that reduces the human body to a state of sensual poverty, men to a state of primordial carnivores, and women in burlesque as self-deluded middle class WASPs. As my partner commented, using a Spanish turn of phrase, you are “unable to get off the donkey”.


  • Meghan Murphy

    @Bill – Nope. I don’t see this as a hornet’s nest, per se, and it certainly is not this supposed ‘nest’ that is making me tired. But rather having to explain and re-explain my argument as well as basic feminist theory over and over again to people who have no interest in actually understanding the actual words that I have written because then their argument wouldn’t actually make any sense. That, as well as the fact that so many of these commenters appear to have little interest in talking about feminism and, instead, are using this as a forum to talk about how great burlesque is and misrepresent radical feminist arguments over and over again simply in order to build up their own ‘women’s studies? what women’s studies? you mean stuff me and my friends make up in order to justify everything we do and make ourselves feel good about ourselves?’ cliched arguments. As Ellie already pointed out, these comments, in large part come from a group of people who refuse to look beyond their own community and defensiveness in order to look critically at the way in which they may be playing a part in perpetuating systems of patriarchy – a group of people who have a great deal of interest in burlesque and no interest in thinking about/learning about/talking about what the feminist movement actually is/means/has accomplished, what feminism is or, generally, feminist theory (outside of the what it says on Wikipedia). That, friend, is what is making me tired. As you may have noticed (and seriously, this is the last time I am going to say this), I am not arguing that it is impossible for burlesque to be subversive or feminist, but rather that most of it is not. Regardless of the time and energy you’ve put into this post, your understanding of my/our argument (here and in the radio show) sounds exactly like every other MRA, feminist-hating rhetoric (and if this is what you’re into, there are about 100 other websites out there dedicated to perpetuating those arguments, so, please, go jerk off over there) and is based on defensiveness and cliches. I’m very impressed that you all managed to google the same quote from Laura Mulvey. Not very impressed that none of you have any interest in understanding the the actual theory or the way in which feminists have elaborated on that theory. The fact that you quoted Camille Paglia is, um, not surprising at all. What I ‘seem to be saying’ is not “that a woman’s body, when exposed in public, is some how polluted or denigrated and objectified in the presence of a man by virtue of his gaze. And that further, a woman should not be a sexual being in the presence of this imagined archetypal predatory alpha male because all she can ever hope for is to aid and abet in the tyranny of this patriarchal/capitalist oligarchy you mention.” I bet you’d like that though, wouldn’t you? OOOOH those man-hating, sex-hating radical feminists!! I KNEW IT. Within the ‘feminist movement’ within which you are a, how can I put this, complete douchebag, we have evolved past catering to moronic dudes who know nothing about feminism but love to hear themselves talk and who use feminist forums to dominate conversations with thinly veiled misogynist fuckery. Anyhoo – I posted your comment, regardless of the fact that it is, largely, repeating what has already been said here and elsewhere. You’re welcome. In the words of my brain: get your head out of your ass and get off our blog.


  • Val

    Regarding objectification: it’s the same thing as dehumanization. It erases the individual, personality, in order to make the human being a thing – a thing that usually exists only for the gratification of the person(s) doing the objectifying. Someone is objectified if ANY of these components are present (from Wikipedia):

    * Instrumentality – if the thing is treated as a tool for one’s own purposes;
    * Denial of autonomy – if the thing is treated as if lacking in agency or self-determination;
    * Inertness – if the thing is treated as if lacking in agency;
    * Ownership – if the thing is treated as if owned by another;
    * Fungibility – if the thing is treated as if interchangeable;
    * Violability – if the thing is treated as if permissible to damage or destroy;
    * denial of subjectivity – if the thing is treated as if there is no need to show concern for the ‘object’s’ feelings and experiences.

    Just because a burlesque performer might personally feel as if they’re empowered by what they’re doing, or if they get a thrill out of doing it, doesn’t really mean that it actually is empowering. The so-called enjoyment they get out of what they’re doing is a twisted reaction of the slave identifying with the master, brainwashing, or what some would call Stockholm syndrome. It is not true enjoyment or empowerment: it is quite frankly the desperate attempt of an individual who is being oppressed to candy-coat their existence to avoid suffering… living in denial of reality to avoid painful truths.

    I have a lot of sympathy and understanding for people who have experienced so much abuse that they have created an alternative means of interpreting their reality that helps them deal with their pain. However their pain will continue – and their contortions to accept their painful reality will worsen, along with their personal conditions – until they acknowledge what has happened to them, and take steps to help themselves. It takes a lot of courage to be honest with yourself and to seek help. But help is out there and I personally hope that those in need of that help someday manage to truly empower themselves.


  • @ Meghan–Your last comment–I LOVE it. Thank you for this article, and the most interesting discussion following. I have read through the pro-burlesque arguments but I do not find them persuasive, or very interesting. In the early 90s, I participated in a few lesbian sex shows–which were a mash up of goofy sketch comedy, some s/m scene stuff (that i found disturbing, but couldn’t figure out why) strip tease things and i think a bit of burlesque. Some of it was a lot like heterosexual porn, kind of recreating the power dynamics of maleness over femaleness–playing like compulsory heterosexuality, but without really questioning it — so, you know, disturbing at worst, and boring at best.

    Some of it, though, was just dorky fun –celebrating lesbians and our way of being in relationship with each other and with the world. (Funny, they had some nakedness in them, those ones, but no sexual activity). I don’t think that burlesque, the way it seems to be proliferating these days, can do that. I’m pretty sure not at all with mixed audiences. Besides, it’s part of an increasingly vitriolic anti-feminist wave of pornography and pimp-apologist ‘culture’ that is, as you pointed out, deeply rooted in racism, classism and misogyny. I am not convinced that it can be redeemed as in any way pro-women, pro-sex, or feminist. You’ve provided some links to some burlesque that’s subversive, and some of it is a clever send-up of stereotypes–but i don’t think it challenges anything structural. Good of you to try though.

    anyhow. Thank you very much again for this article, and the subsequent comment thread. you have admirable patience, Meghan.


  • Jane

    Personally, as a heterosexual woman, I don’t see what can be entertaining about watching other women strip down to their knickers….it still seems entirely focused on male pleasure, no matter how cute the outfits or the humor. Unless they are lesbian or bi, I render to guess that most women raving about burlesque do so to please men. (Look at me, Sweetie, I’m having fun watching that chick strip, doesn’t that make me sexy?)

    At the end of the day it is still about the objectification of the female body. Women who dance burlesque can argue all they want that it’s about empowerment, “owning their bodies,” and personal choice, but ultimately they are objectifying me as well AND I DON’T LIKE IT!


  • Guncho

    Whoops, got to the party late, but an extremely interesting discussion. Meghan/Val/others, as a fellow young feminist trying to make sense of third wave feminism, could you talk a bit about some points Jessica O raised, namely:
    “What place is there for lust and sexuality in your version of feminism?
    What place is there for men to be lustful sexual beings yet still treat women as equals?
    Do you think there is a legitimate form of public sexual expression or should all sexuality be private?”

    What I’m getting is that although burlesque can be subversive, since it still exists within patriarchal structures that enable the male gaze, it can never be said to be a truly feminist art form. So what would a feminist celebration of sexuality look like in your view?

    Apologies if this is considered feminism 101; I’m kicking myself for not entering a women’s studies program, and most of my research is self-driven and internet-based.


  • Meghan Murphy

    I’m not sure what you mean by ‘what place is there for lust….’? Why is it so hard to imagine that women and men could have sex or be attracted to one another without objectification and sexism? Why on earth would all sexuality have to be private? I suppose burlesque could be subversive, but it’s not, as I’ve mentioned earlier. In terms of feminist celebrations of sexuality, I think it could totally exist but women and men would need to be rebelling against conventional gendered norms and I think that women would have to be doing more than simply trying to look sexy or strip for an audience.

    I don’t think these questions are feminism 101, so don’t worry about that – I think what I am arguing here is that most burlesque doesn’t challenge anything and the arguments around it being empowering or feminist tend to be focused on individual feelings of empowerment rather than collective and tend to ignore issues of privilege and the male gaze.

    Does that make sense?
    Thanks for your comment and interest.


  • James Breen

    One thing that a few of the posts in here keep trumpeting is the broad nature of burlesque. OK. Sure. On wikipedia it gives, quite correctly, a history of burlesque as a term and refers back to that terms usage in the 16th and 17th centuries: “… a literary, dramatic or musical work intended to cause laughter by caricaturing the manner or spirit of serious works”.

    But the nature of burlesque as a term now is substantively different. And all the palaver in the world does not change the fact that burlesque is stripping. The rest, to be frank, what usually gets bundled in with that term, is ‘cabaret’ – music, magic, comedy. I would be pretty damn certain that the removal of the male sexual fantasy dress ups (corsets, stockings etc) /striptease element from burlesque would mean that such a show would no longer be called ‘burlesque’ but’cabaret’.

    But burlesque seeks to legitimise itself by the association with other forms of entertainment.

    And it clearly also yearns to legitimise itself by pretending to a history. Hey, it looks all 19th century and French, and there were poets and artists who went to Moulin Rouge, right? So it must be ‘art’ and ‘subversive’. And didn’t Baz Luhrmann make a critically acclaimed film full of songs and colour and movement about the Rouge?

    Well. Just because Lautrec designed some remarkable looking posters for the joint does not mean it was a den of subversive art. Instead it was oppressive and demeaning and sad. 19th century France was a cocktail of horrible politics, anti-semitism, and hatred, alongside rampant creativity and radical philosophy, but venues like the Moulin Rouge were unpleasant places where courtesans drummed up clients from amongst a drunk and the leering mass through titillation and provocative dancing. This music and dance factor, the other ‘art’: that was just the means of getting that male gaze up on stage and getting business. Oppressive and clearly exploitative then.

    And this harkening back to the 50s, and the resultant implication that burlesque is somehow innocent and more endearing because of a dream that the 50s were a more innocent time is plain dumb too. The 50s: not a good time for women. Hefner came along and made sure that the new class of men with disposable incomes saw women as another ‘thing’ to add to their new car, new stereo, cool suits. And so another ridiculous historical referral. God knows how many goth rockabilly types I know love burlesque because of some misguided obsession with the twin tragic and misguided icons of Elvis and Marilyn. Why, when the former was an emotionally crippled sometimes misogynistic performer, and the latter was one of the most iconic examples of the way the male gaze demolishes women?

    Who knows.

    And going back even further on that history thing. Referring to commedia dell arte or Chaucer or mummers plays ain’t gonna cut any ice either. They were just as exploitative of women, and women’s body parts. It doesn’t make it fun and feminist if the gaze shifts from lustfulness to mockery.

    I get so fucking tired of the way burlesque claims subversiveness by association. Talking about a gypsy music burlesque show doesn’t mean that the association with a historically oppressed minority and with a non-commercial music confers subversive legitimacy on the stripping. But that often seems to be the angle burlesque goes for.

    Thanks for the article, said it all damn well.


    • Meghan Murphy

      Wow! Great points, James – thanks for your contribution to this discussion.


      • Erica Pretto

        Well said!!


  • Honey O'Gasm

    While I can see the point you’re trying to make (the male gaze is still ever present and yes, objectification is rampant) I think you’re painting in rather broad strokes. Not all Burlesque is the same. Yes, we have the more mainstream stuff (Dita Von Teese, etc.) but I think you’re drawing your conclusions from too small of a well. The Burlesque troupe I’m apart subverts gender norms all the time. No one person (because we have men too) has a body that mainstream society would consider “acceptable”. Our audience is made up mostly of queer women. When I perform, my intent is to get people thinking about what they’re seeing. I recently did an act that centered around menstruation and body hair. And they audience freaked out. I’m sure they were expecting something “sexier” but I confronted them with how a natural body looks and acts like. I’ve been wrestling around with body image issues since I was a teenager (Body dismorphia, Bulimia, etc) and here was a chance to finally come to terms with myself. I wasn’t looking for acceptance or approval (that way lies madness) but rather finally saying “Here is my vehicle. And I don’t fucking care if you like it.” It’s quite breathtaking, not giving a single thought to whether people are seduced or turned off and just doing it because YOU engendered it and YOU like it. I think Strip Clubs don’t have the same freedom. Strip Clubs offer an atmosphere that is almost exclusively male and about white, male, cisgendered, heterosexual privilege. And I’ll agreed, there are some Burlesque shows like that as well. But there are also Burlesque shows that are women-owned, women-run and viewed exclusively by women. They come in all colors. My boss is a fat woman who did male drag with her husband for a leather daddy act. I don’t think such a thing falls under “male gaze”.
    And I understand that burlesque is not apart of your feminism. But it is apart of mine. And to say “doing X is not feminist” or “doing y is feminist” is the kind of prescriptive feminism that I just can’t get behind. Because it completely ignores context, nuance and consequence of human life. For example, “Shaving isn’t feminist”. Well, what about a competitive swimmer? Should he or she just not shave and still be a “good” feminist, but not have an edge on the competition? Should I not do Burlesque even though it’s an enormous source of creativity, body positivism, and emotional stability in my life? The sweeping generalization that “Feminism is a movement, not a self-help book” (which I understand, I do) is problematic. I happen to believe there are some basic, carved-in-stone principles of feminism, but after than there are as many feminisms as there are people. And that to shatter patriarchy on a macro-level, it must first begin on a micro one. So many women and men are disenfranchised, sometimes at a very young age. I’m not saying everyone has to go out and become burlesque dancers to regain agency, but that’s what works for me because it does coincide with feminism. Plus it’s kind of fun to take tools of the patriarchy and build a feminist house with them. Just sayin’.
    The point is, there is more than one kind of burlesque show, there is more than one kind of feminism.
    Also, though I admire, respect, and appreciate second wave feminism (wouldn’t have third wave without them!), they never really took into account women of color, class, sex workers, gender identity and queer folk. I’m not saying that makes second wave a bad movement. But, you know, there’s a reason why we have a third wave.


    • Miss Titania

      I love your last part about what is and is not feminism.


      • Meghan Murphy

        “Plus it’s kind of fun to take tools of the patriarchy and build a feminist house with them. Just sayin’”
        Sure. But just don’t call it feminism, eh?
        Here’s an obscure quote for you from a lady named Audre Lorde. She wrote all sorts of things about all those things you reference, but clearly don’t understand. Like racism in feminism. I urge you to read. Her.
        “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”


  • Catherine Bailey

    I am SO thrilled to see this coverage — I’m a PhD candidate in English and Women’s Studies, and I am working on an abstract for a conference about this very topic. Very interesting stuff.


  • Ághata

    Great post. I agree totally with you.


  • Open My Eyes

    Thanks for the discussion everyone. I learned something(s). Both sides at times descended into venon and name calling to the point where the good points were obstructed but in the end what I get out of it is that: the “personal is political” the individual needs to be conscious of the collective and their place in it, while working to impact the collective, and that while the potential is there for subversiveness, while it does happen, that fact doesn’t erase the stereotypes perpetuated by “mainstream” types of burlesque or the patriarchal structure within which it exists…


  • Fun, subversive, oft political burlesque, with plenty challenges to gender norms: http://www.kcsob.com


  • What about the Female Gaze? We dance for them too.
    And the fetishist.
    And the feminist.
    And the dude.
    And the gentleman.
    The person who loves the risque in their daily lives and the person who loves the risque as entertainment only.
    We dance for each other and ourselves, in addition to you- the audience member.
    We dance, and can dance, for so many reasons that one may never understand, while some may understand immediately.


  • Kitty

    You make it sound like women only choose burlesque “for fun”, that the only was any woman would strip “for real” is if she absolutely had to. You know, in order to feed her babies, or some other tripe…
    Well, let me just tell you how wrong you are: I’m a real woman & I choose to strip, for real, for fun. It’s not my day job. It’s not burlesque (though, I’ve done that too). But good golly is it a grand ol’ time!


    • Meghan Murphy

      This comment makes no sense. You strip for fun? For free? ok… I’m not sure what your point is. I’m really, really happy that you are enjoying yourself so much. That does not mean that you exist in a cultural bubble and that the male gaze and sexual objectification has somehow disappeared. Simply because you are having fun. Lots of women have fun with objectification. As. I. discuss. in. this. piece. That doesn’t make it feminist. Please read the post. And the comments.


  • Micha Rose

    Hmm, quite good discussion!
    However, I rarely see men in the audience and if I do they’re either gay, with their wifes or boylesquers.

    I’m a burlesque performer based in Sweden and UK with a BA in gender studies in my belt, thereby I’ve a hard time to understand why Meghan Murphy keeps referring to the male gaze, (an outdated theory btw, nowadays you tend to refer to “The gaze” instead). Personally, I couldn’t care less. I’m not on stage to get appreciation from a male audience, I’m there to express my sexuality, stage persona and will to be on stage. Most of my acts are humoristic and questions gender and current events in society; politic, sociology, media etc.

    It feels as you’ve discarded a huge part of the burlesque scene, as previously said, it’s not just sexy girls with pasties and g-strings.. And even if a show decides to focus on that kind of performers, I wouldn’t mind. A “nude” performance with a slim girl with hour glass figure can still be beautiful and fascinating, or provocative, interesting, butch etc…

    So let’s just have a glass of wine and relax for a bit, shall we?
    Burley hugs,


    • Meghan Murphy

      Dear Micha Rose,
      You are full of shit. The reference is, most certainly, to the male gaze. ‘The gaze’ means nothing. Who, exactly, are all these theorists who are now only referring to the ungendered ‘gaze’?? I don’t care why you are on stage and the fact that your argument is limited to ‘this is all about me’ shows me that you haven’t actually read or engaged with the critique or any of the comments on this page. This is not about whether or not YOU ‘mind’ something. No one cares. Telling a woman to ‘just relax’ is just about one the most sexist, misogynist comments you could make here. So congratulations! You have outed yourself as a sexist. Who doesn’t like reading? Or thinking? Why are you here anyway?


      • Micha Rose

        Dear Mrs Murphy,

        I appologize if I offended you in any way, I just tried to share my perspective of being a feminist and burlesque performer. It’s not “all about me” but most performers are on stage because they have a will and need to be there, never heard of a burlesquer that’s been forced into it. It’s about enterainment and different performers entertain differently.

        About the gaze, the gaze is still crucial, but a specific male gaze is not appropriate to use in a queer environment, this has all been discussed in previous posts (yes, I’ve read most of them). What I think I’m trying to point out is that the burlesque world is not heteronormative and therefore can’t be analyzed from a heterosexual, heteronormative perspective -> queer theory.

        And about the we and wine, I meant everyone reading or taking part in this discussion, not just you…that means both men, women, performers, audience etc. Oh and I do enjoy reading and thinking.

        Kind regards,


        • Meghan Murphy

          The male gaze is the theory. And it most certainly is applicable in a queer environment. The male gaze does not disappear simply because of queerness. The maze gaze is even internalized by women, who view themselves through this lens. The theory of the male gaze is not heteronormative, though it certainly does play into reinforcing gender binaries. The male gaze is very much still present and you will see it in pornography, in magazines, in advertising, on film, on the street, and yes, in burlesque performance. Simply because there are females in the audiences, does not mean the male gaze does not exist or is inapplicable.

          I certainly do not argue, anywhere, that anyone has been forced into burlesque. I argue that most burlesque continues to present women as objects to be looked at and that, simply because an individual feels empowered by doing burlesque does not mean that it is empowering to women or feminist or subversive.

          Also, I’m not married, so Mrs does not apply. Thanks.


  • Meghan Murphy

    Just a quick note to everyone using this space to argue with me about the comments policy. This is the comments policy: http://www.feminisms.org/category/comments-policy/
    Please read it.
    If you don’t like it then please feel free to go start your own blog!
    And yes, moderating comments is akin to being God AND a nazi


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