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Archive for December, 2020

Responding to critiques of burlesque cheat sheet

It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of burlesque. I think it’s a boring, overplayed example of what you might call neosexism or retro sexism — meaning that the “vintage” veneer and claims of “subversion,” “irony,” or postfeminism are meant to disguise the fact that it’s just the same old sexism that’s been going on for centuries. When it comes to burlesque, and, for that matter, anything that looks like sexism (see: pole-dancing classes, American Apparel ads, and “feminist pornography”) but is billed as not-sexist-because-women-like-it, the most useful tests to apply are these:

1) Are dudes doing it?

2) Are dudes trying to explain to you that it’s actually feminist?

If dudes aren’t doing it but are simultaneously trying to convince you that it’s liberating, empowering, or progressive, then there is a 99% chance of fuckery.

Having published the odd critique here and there, and, more generally, mushed burlesque in to the sexism-in-disguise category with the assumption that a phenomenon centered around women getting naked on stage doesn’t need all that detailed an explanation of the ways in which these performances still objectify women, even if these women are enthusiastically participating in their own objectification and the objectification of others; what I’ve learned is that it doesn’t actually matter what your critique is and how well you articulate it, because the burlesque community will respond to you in the same way every single time.

As such, I’ve compiled a helpful list of every single response you will definitely get, over and over again, every time you say anything marginally critical of burlesque. I’m not sure what the purpose of this list is except to encourage you to ignore these types of responses because there is not a single thing you can say or do to avoid them, as well as to point out the absolute unwillingness of burlesque defenders to engage in any self-reflection or critique of their fave hobby.

While the arguments can be generally summed up as: “But I like it,” I’ve provided you with more detailed responses as well. Enjoy!

1) You haven’t done enough “research”

I’ve been getting this same response for years. No matter how many burlesque shows I endure, I have never been to enough, so long as I continue to critique the phenomenon. I am told that, either, I have only seen “amateur” performances (and though I have watched plenty of awkward amateurs, I have also seen the professionals, who are equally as boring and objectified), or that I haven’t been to enough “alternative” shows.

What’s the rule here? How many burlesque performaces do we have to sit through before we are allowed to decide that, not only do we never want to sit through another burlesque performance again, but that we have good reason to avoid doing so in the future?

What this argument boils down to is that those who love burlesque refuse to believe that any other human being might not love the thing they love which, to boil it down even further, is to say: “As both the center of the universe and a petulant child, everyone must like what I like. If they don’t like what I like they are wrong and offend me by forcing me to think about the things I like and why I like them, which makes my head feel funny.”

2) You don’t understand

Similar to the “you haven’t done enough research” response, “you don’t understand” stems from an unwillingness to use (or lack of familiarity with using) one’s brain for the purposes of critical thinking. This response translates to: “You don’t agree with me/like the same things I like and I can’t come up with a logical response to your argument.”

“You clearly don’t understand burlesque” is kind of a hilarious response if you think about it, because burlesque really isn’t very complicated. What they really mean is: “You aren’t inside my head/bubble and I don’t care to acknowledge that which exists outside my head/bubble.” Again, it’s that problem of thinking about things when one doesn’t particularly like thinking about things issue.

3) Anything I do that makes ME feel good is feminist! (FUCK YEAH)

I don’t have much to say about this response. It can be easily addressed by repeating this handy mantra: “Just because you like it, doesn’t make it feminist.”

Which is not the same thing as saying you can’t like it. I like all sorts of things that aren’t feminist, despite the fact that I am a feminist. I just don’t pretend like my undereye concealer is some kind of radical movement. Patriarchy does not live in my undereye circles, nor will it go away if I appear less tired/sickly.

4) But there are women in the audience! Women erase sexism!

As we’ve learned from things like “feminist pornography” and pole dancing classes — just because women are doing things that are sexist or rooted in misogynist practices, doesn’t negate the sexism.

Women internalize the male gaze. You probably notice the way you look at women on the street — I do. When we watch things like film, television, and pornography, as well as when we look at ads, we are looking through a male lens. So we all learn to adopt the male gaze. When women’s bodies are objectified on screen or in American Apparel ads, we learn to see women as objects. We do this regardless of whether or not we are men.

The male gaze is still present even when there are women in the audience. Women go to strip clubs too — does that suddenly make strip clubs feminist? Does that mean the women performing at the strip club aren’t being objectified when women are looking?

This argument makes no sense but is brought up again and again with aplomb as though it’s never occurred to us before and will BLOW OUR MINDS into little tiny pieces.

You are welcome to spend an hour trying to explain the male gaze to these people, but at the end of the day I’m not sure they care. If they did they probably wouldn’t be doing burlesque in the first place.

5) Boylesque

Repeat after me: The exception does not make the rule.

You can reuse this argument in response to classics such as these:

–  but women abuse men too

–  but men are prostitutes too

–  but men post sexy selfies too

–  but men do strip shows too

–  but women take up too much space on the bus sometimes too

6) Different body types in burlesque = feminism

I appreciate the representation of bodies that aren’t skinny white ones. I really do. BUT women who are not skinny and white are objectified and sexualized too. I find it very odd that people think that, somehow, if you objectify bigger bodies or if you objectify women who aren’t white, this is somehow progressive.

7) If you don’t like burlesque then don’t go to burlesque shows

OK, deal. I promise to never intentionally go to a burlesque show ever again so long as you promise not to objectify women in order to sell your “art.” No deal? How about I don’t have to stare at ass while reading my local paper? Or how about every single lefty or feminist fundrasier ever doesn’t include a burlesque performance? Also no? Aw man. I feel like we’re going to have to keep talking about this then, eh?

8) You are turning me into an object by talking about the objectification of women

This is a tricky one. So, this is the same as telling people who point out racism that they are being racist. In talking about the objectification of women, we are not, in fact, turning anyone into an object. Pointing out that women’s bodies and body parts are treated as and viewed as things which exist to-be-looked-at doesn’t reinforce that phenomenon — rather it is critical of it.

In making this argument (that those who point out objectification are actually doing the objectifying), you are asking people to stop thinking and to stop speaking up about inequality. Which makes you a reinforcer of the status quo. Bad move!

9) I’m not being objectified because I choose to objectify myself

So, everyone makes choices. Sometimes and often those choices are limited by our place in society and the culture and systems that surround us. Choosing to prostitute oneself, for example, does not make prostitution a feminist industry. It also doesn’t mean that you are responsible for patriarchy or men’s sense of entitlement around access to women’s bodies; but simply inserting the word “choice” into a sentence doesn’t actually change the meaning or root of the action or situation. I “choose” to watch The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (and New Jersey!). Does that mean that I’m subverting patriarchy from my couch? Just as “choosing” to post sexy selfies on Instagram doesn’t amount to a feminist act simply because you’ve decided to objectify yourself. It doesn’t make you a terrible person either. Do you see what I’m getting at here? If not, please refer back to point number three.

10) You have to be on the inside to understand/form a valid critique

OK, so let me get this straight. In order to be critical of anything (and in order for that critique to be legit), you have to actually be the thing you are critiquing? Does this also mean that women who haven’t been abused or raped can’t be critical of abuse and rape? Does it mean white people can’t be critical of racism? Does it mean men can’t say anything negative about prostitution because they themselves aren’t prostitutes? Am I not allowed to say that fast food is bad for you unless I eat a bunch of fast food?

This is the dumbest argument ever. If we left critical conversations only to the people who were actually doing whatever we were being critical of then nobody would get to say anything about anything ever. Ex: “Capitalism sucks!” “SHUT UP, YOU AREN’T A CAPITALIST. YOU DON’T GET IT. YOU’RE NOT ON THE INSIDE.” See what I’m getting at? Stop this crap. It’s illogical and anti-intellectual.

11) You’re a prude and you hate boobs

I also hate sex, men, vaginas, penises and joy. Can we move on?

But seriously. I have little to no interest in engaging with this silliness because it’s an anti-feminist, cheap, meaningless trope. Accusing feminists of being man/sex-haters because they speak against the exploitation of women is what sexist, anti-feminist men do. If you want to participate in that sort of thing, again, why are we talking? We clearly have different goals in life — yours being to ensure equality and freedom is never a thing, and mine to work towards women having “human being” status some day.

As a general rule of thumb you will notice that if you ever bother writing anything remotely critical about burlesque (which I doubt you will because, honestly, does anyone really give two shits about burlesque anymore? I feel like a broken record at this point…), people who like burlesque only like burlesque. They don’t bother engaging with other topics yet suddenly develop a passionate interest in whatever they’ve decided feminism is once someone starts talking about the inherent sexism in taking off one’s clothes and shaking one’s boobs for an audience. Your response should be: If you have no real interest in the feminist movement or in liberating women from patriarchal oppression, why are we talking? And then don’t talk to them anymore unless you get masochistic pleasure from being screamed at by people who once took half a Women’s Studies 101 class and left as soon as they heard the word subjectivity.


The Protestant Reformation is up there with the French and Bolshevik Revolutions in terms of historical significance, but one of the most poorly understood.

There’s a rich historiographical tradition of describing the events of 1641-1649 as the ‘English Revolution’ or even the ‘Puritan revolution.’ Those are much commented on designations, and the latter would meet some skepticism, but there is no escaping that in this time a faction, primarily represented in the House of Commons, did take up arms against and overthrow the Stuart government. Conrad Russell, an eminent scholar, has written about how the breakdown in government functioning after the Bishop’s Wars that lead to war in England was a product of the constitutional problems facing a monarch trying to reign over the politically and religiously divided domains of England, Scotland, and Ireland. The obstinacy of Charles I and his insistence of his own absolute authority brought this basic problem, which had existed under James I and in a few aspects even during the Elizabethan religious settlement, to a boiling point and war with the Scottish Covenenters and English Parliament.

It wasn’t until the Second Civil War, in 1648, that the Parliamentary party seriously considers executing Charles I. They had always maintained the pretense that they were fighting against the King’s illegal actions or bad advisors and wanted him to continue to reign. But when his army was decisively defeated, and he was held in captivity, Charles I negotiated in entirely bad faith while organizing and fomenting another war. After this he was popularly known as ‘Charles Stuart, that man of blood’ (a Biblical phrase) and the fervor against him among religious radicals in Parliament’s army (which is edging towards military dictatorship) is so intense that the majority conciliation party in Parliament is forcibly ejected from government by the army during Pride’s Purge.

The English Revolution, or revolutions, was not just constitutional or political, but profoundly social and economic. These are the years of religious ‘enthusiasm’, or fanaticism, and of radical ideas like those of the Levelers, a faction in Parliaments army of common men arguing for manhood suffrage and radical democracy or the Diggers, a much talked about but less important protocommunist agrarian movement. Parliament’s revolution, and later the army’s, produce revolutions in the Church such as the abolition of Church courts (yes, in the 1630s the church could try you in their own legal system), abolished tithing and established a whole new system of religious governance, as well as selling off a bunch of the state Church’s assets, only a little of which was recovered after the Restoration (and some of that squandered by the restored Bishops, but that’s another story.)

So now we’ve had 2 big revolutions, and lest you underrate the importance of the Glorious Revolution because of its relative lack of violence consider the following: the Glorious Revolution produced a Whig ascendancy, exemplified by the prominent aristocratic progeny of the Immortal Seven, that conclusively put the landed classes, represented in Parliament, above the monarchy. The first decades of this order were to cement governance by ministers rather than the Crown.

Now this order prevails for some decades, but to end consideration of Revolution in England there would be a grave mistake. It is true that the Glorious Revolution produces a settlement that solves some previously persistent constitutional problems, but Britain does not then settle into a total slumber. Firstly, there is the Revolution in America, which as another poster pointed out was essentially British, considered as such at the time, and increasingly recognized to be so today. Too often forgotten though is the vibrancy of many of those same radical sentiments in Britain itself during the 1790s and Napoleonic wars and culminating in the Great Reform of Parliament in 1832.

The Restoration really is a product of agreement amongst the same Parliamentarians, gentry, and merchant interests that overthrew Charles I that monarchy, of whatever kind, is preferable to continued military dictatorship– throughout the 1650s these people had tried to impose limitations on Cromwell’s dictatorship by trying to get him to accept the crown and enter some kind of constitutional arrangement. His refusal to do so doomed the Protectorate, and Charles II was able to return on the condition of making those groups specific promises (told to him by General George Monck, instrumental in these events) in return for his Restoration. Charles II’s Indemnities and Oblivion Act comes to be known as ‘Indemnity for his [the monarchy’s] enemies and Oblivion for his friends.’

Charles II pursues a careful relationship with Parliament, skillfully using the goodwill he has built up and shying away from major crisis by building a coalition of Anglican/Tory gentry. He spends this capital on a pro-French foreign policy and a much larger revenue than his father ever enjoyed. When James II, his younger brother, succeeds the throne in 1685 there’s an immediate problem– he’s Catholic. Still, he has 2 Protestant daughters and no sons, and is relatively old, so that aforementioned party of established interests accepts him and offers him early support. But James I was personally unsuited to the throne–his brother Charles talked about his ‘heat’ and specifically predicted he’d last 4 years as king. In attempting to grow a standing army, under Catholic and specifically Irish officers, while offering religious toleration to Catholics he alienated the monarchy’s supporters. When James II has a son, threatening a Catholic succession, the Appeal to the Protestant Dutch monarchs is made.

James II still had support at that point, and probably could have resisted the Dutch invasion, but crucially he lost his head and chose to flee, allegedly throwing the Royal Seal in the Thames. He was hoping, at this point, for massive French intervention in his favor. His close relationship with Louis XIV can hardly be overstated– he grew up together with him and they shared political and religious views, in letters between the two James takes a submissive and worshipping tone similar to that of a younger brother. But because the French decline to intervene James II loses basically all of his support outside Scotland– how can the party that supported monarchy for its stability and predictability support a guy who creates a crisis then abandons the throne?

So now we’ve had 2 big revolutions, and lest you underrate the importance of the Glorious Revolution because of its relative lack of violence consider the following: the Glorious Revolution produced a Whig ascendancy, exemplified by the prominent aristocratic progeny of the Immortal Seven, that conclusively put the landed classes, represented in Parliament, above the monarchy. The first decades of this order were to cement governance by ministers rather than the Crown.

Now this order prevails for some decades, but to end consideration of Revolution in England there would be a grave mistake. It is true that the Glorious Revolution produces a settlement that solves some previously persistent constitutional problems, but Britain does not then settle into a total slumber. Firstly, there is the Revolution in America, which as another poster pointed out was essentially British, considered as such at the time, and increasingly recognized to be so today. Too often forgotten though is the vibrancy of many of those same radical sentiments in Britain itself during the 1790s and Napoleonic wars and culminating in the Great Reform of Parliament in 1832.

Radicals in Britain were definitely perceived to have dangerous revolutionary potential by the state and were suppressed accordingly. Indeed, there’s an argument to be made that the reason the British state was so effective in suppressing rebellion in these years was that it had so much experience doing so as a result of the earlier disorders and the recurrent Jacobite uprisings of the 18th century.

****I’ll add as an extension about the growth of Reformed theology in England. This covers the years between 1580-1638.

After the defeat of Protestantism in France’s religious wars England receives large numbers of Huguenot refugees. Tens of thousands of French Calvinists streaming in to England’s cities and large towns in modern Britain’s first influx of peaceful immigration. The refugees introduce Calvinist theology to England and there’s an explosion of dissenting/reforming Protestantism over the next decades. Who did Calvinism appeal to in England?

Calvinism appealed most to the ‘middle sort of people’ or ‘industrious people,’ reflected the concerns they had about society, and provided a vehicle for self-affirmation/class organization.

I want to break that down. By middle sort/industrious I’m talking about a group distinct from the modern concept of a middle class. These are gentry (non-noble landowners, usually with tenants); established artisans (who have workshops employing journeymen); tradespeople; and certain civil functionaries like lawyers/clergy. Lump in people who aspire to these positions as well, who imitate the Calvinism of their idols.

The social concerns that Calvinism addressed were these:

1) Continued widespread corruption in the Church. The English Reformation took the monasteries and their land away from the Catholic Church but did not, as Protestant ideologues like Luther wanted, give it to the poor. Instead the land was appropriated to enrich the nobility and their hangers on. Ecclesiastic courts are another major irritant for this group. They are accused, with some justice, of bringing cases for offenses like adultery primarily against these middle people. The fees, fines, and legal costs that these middling sort bring in create an incentive structure for the courts to prosecute them; the poor by definition cannot pay anything and the aristocracy is superior in practical authority.

2) A monarchy that seemed unaccountable and amoral. This is complex, but broadly speaking many Protestants found the Stuart monarchy to be actively impeding the Christian mission, for instance by allowing most entertainments on Sundays. James I was known for conspicuous consumption on a grand scale. Under the direction of literary great Ben Jonson James I staged masques that could cost thousands of pounds (a very great lord’s yearly income.) Charles I toned down court celebrations considerably but still managed to collect some of Europe’s finest art.

3) A highly hierarchical Church in which only the least Protestant clergy could advance. This ties into 2; the religious appointments and policies of the crown (Arminian, sacramentalist) were viewed as being too close to Catholicism and chosen to legitimize the sinfulness of society. These policies were promulgated and enforced by Archbishop Laud, who would soon meet a bad end at Puritan hands during the Civil War.

4) The ‘middling sort’ were a group who had attained success but were still in danger of penury. The doctrine of election corresponded to their precarious positions and inspired a self-confidence based on moral superiority to a dissolute aristocracy or hedonistic lower class.

5) Readers of the English language Bible are drawn to Protestantism. The King James Version increases English readership of the Bible significantly. Personal access to scriptural texts is in itself a revolution in approach that encourages further revolution. Bible readers become critical of official Church teachings and perform their own radical exegesis. Often this morphs into a kind of extreme biblioidolatry– a conviction that the official church is entirely untrustworthy and only personal/Spirit-assisted reading of the Bible can bring a person to true religion. This can lead to idiosyncratic readings by some individuals, but also new practices like Sabbath-keeping which was a major Puritan mania.

Class organization: Calvinist churches were organized on the principle of election. Councils of lay elders would be responsible for choosing preachers and maintaining church ‘discipline.’ These elders would usually be economically substantial community leaders. The group of morally and socially elite ‘elect’ leading a broader ‘unregenerate mass’ of people whose salvation was uncertain. Contrast this with the official Anglican church, where the priests are appointed by the monarchy and everyone below is lumped together indiscriminately. The middle sort don’t want to be considered to be the same as irreligious peasants.

I’ll add as an extension the thing I wrote a few months ago about the growth of Reformed theology in England. This covers the years between 1580-1638.

After the defeat of Protestantism in France’s religious wars England receives large numbers of Huguenot refugees. Tens of thousands of French Calvinists streaming in to England’s cities and large towns in modern Britain’s first influx of peaceful immigration. The refugees introduce Calvinist theology to England and there’s an explosion of dissenting/reforming Protestantism over the next decades. Who did Calvinism appeal to in England?

Calvinism appealed most to the ‘middle sort of people’ or ‘industrious people,’ reflected the concerns they had about society, and provided a vehicle for self-affirmation/class organization.

I want to break that down. By middle sort/industrious I’m talking about a group distinct from the modern concept of a middle class. These are gentry (non-noble landowners, usually with tenants); established artisans (who have workshops employing journeymen); tradespeople; and certain civil functionaries like lawyers/clergy. Lump in people who aspire to these positions as well, who imitate the Calvinism of their idols.

The social concerns that Calvinism addressed were these:

1) Continued widespread corruption in the Church. The English Reformation took the monasteries and their land away from the Catholic Church but did not, as Protestant ideologues like Luther wanted, give it to the poor. Instead the land was appropriated to enrich the nobility and their hangers on. Ecclesiastic courts are another major irritant for this group. They are accused, with some justice, of bringing cases for offenses like adultery primarily against these middle people. The fees, fines, and legal costs that these middling sort bring in create an incentive structure for the courts to prosecute them; the poor by definition cannot pay anything and the aristocracy is superior in practical authority.

2) A monarchy that seemed unaccountable and amoral. This is complex, but broadly speaking many Protestants found the Stuart monarchy to be actively impeding the Christian mission, for instance by allowing most entertainments on Sundays. James I was known for conspicuous consumption on a grand scale. Under the direction of literary great Ben Jonson James I staged masques that could cost thousands of pounds (a very great lord’s yearly income.) Charles I toned down court celebrations considerably but still managed to collect some of Europe’s finest art.

3) A highly hierarchical Church in which only the least Protestant clergy could advance. This ties into 2; the religious appointments and policies of the crown (Arminian, sacramentalist) were viewed as being too close to Catholicism and chosen to legitimize the sinfulness of society. These policies were promulgated and enforced by Archbishop Laud, who would soon meet a bad end at Puritan hands during the Civil War.

4) The ‘middling sort’ were a group who had attained success but were still in danger of penury. The doctrine of election corresponded to their precarious positions and inspired a self-confidence based on moral superiority to a dissolute aristocracy or hedonistic lower class.

5) Readers of the English language Bible are drawn to Protestantism. The King James Version increases English readership of the Bible significantly. Personal access to scriptural texts is in itself a revolution in approach that encourages further revolution. Bible readers become critical of official Church teachings and perform their own radical exegesis. Often this morphs into a kind of extreme biblioidolatry– a conviction that the official church is entirely untrustworthy and only personal/Spirit-assisted reading of the Bible can bring a person to true religion. This can lead to idiosyncratic readings by some individuals, but also new practices like Sabbath-keeping which was a major Puritan mania.

Class organization: Calvinist churches were organized on the principle of election. Councils of lay elders would be responsible for choosing preachers and maintaining church ‘discipline.’ These elders would usually be economically substantial community leaders. The group of morally and socially elite ‘elect’ leading a broader ‘unregenerate mass’ of people whose salvation was uncertain. Contrast this with the official Anglican church, where the priests are appointed by the monarchy and everyone below is lumped together indiscriminately. The middle sort don’t want to be considered to be the same as irreligious peasants.