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.
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.
Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon debate the merits of communism versus capitalism at the American National Exhibition, Moscow; ca.1959.
Here’s the debate:
Dragutin Dimitrijevic (known as Apis) – he killed one king, one heir and is somewhat responsible for beginning of WWI; ca. 1914.
Dragutin Dimitrijević (Serbian Cyrillic: Драгутин Димитријевић; 17 August 1876 – 24 June 1917), also known as Apis (Апис), was a Serbian colonel. He was a leading member of a military group that organized the overthrow of the Serbian government in 1903. He personally organized and participated in the coup against King Alexander and his wife Queen Draga that resulted in their murders, though he was not present when they were killed. He was also the leader of the Black Hand group responsible for the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria in June 1914. The latter triggered the July Crisis which led to the outbreak of World War I.
Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany riding through the streets of Berlin with Tsar Nicholas II of Russia; ca.1900
It would be tough to squeeze any more incompetent decision makers into this photo.
The geopolitics of the world wouldn’t really have changed course. By the end of WWII, we were already well on the path to the Cold War, which would ‘begin’ in earnest in 1946 when Churchill would make his ‘Iron Curtain’ speech. In 1947, the US would instate the Marshall plan, and announce its intention to maintain troops in Germany indefinitely. The USSR would respond first by sealing off East Germany and later Berlin. By then, Nazism would already become a footnote in the Great Game, the focus would shift to combatting communism in Europe and Asia. So really, nothing much would change.
So lets say Hitler either chickens out on suicide, or is captured before he can actually do it. He would be captured by the Soviets as they swept through Berlin. As a high-profile prisoner, indeed the high-profile prisoner, he would be immediately shipped off to Moscow, and kept in relative comfort in a Soviet political prison, perhaps Vladimir Central Prison or maybe in a basement in the Kremlin itself. Let’s assume that Stalin does not renege on the promises made in Yalta. He accepts to have Hitler tried before an international court in Nuremberg rather than a good communist court in Moscow.
By 1945, Hitler was not exactly in the best mental health. You know this already, if you have seen one of the infinite Hitler parodies on the net. He exhibited signs of
dementia Parkinson’s disease (of which dementia is a symptom). His famously sonorous voice had almost disappeared, his hands shook constantly, even simple tasks like writing, reading and eating were a huge task for him. He is no longer the charismatic Führer of the Nuremberg rallies. In a word, he had completely lost his marbles.1
Hitler’s trial is the last at Nuremberg. Everyone in the world knows what is going to happen to him. He will be sentenced to death. Even the most optimistic Nazi loyalist cannot deny that. The only question is, how will he go? Will he become a martyr? Will he plead passionately for his ideology? Will he make a final stand like Saddam Hussain did sixty years later?
The greatest criminal of all time must be tried by the greatest court of all time. Only the most respected judges and the most accomplished prosecutors will suffice. Maj. Gen. Iona Nikitchenko, Justice of the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union, Frederick M. Vinson, newly appointed Chief Justice of the US, Viscount Caldecote, Lord Chief Justice of England, and Henri Donnedieu de Vabres, eminent French jurist, are brought in to preside over the trial. Francis Biddle, Attorney-General of the US, formerly a judge at Nuremberg, takes on the role of prosecutor, along with Sir Hartley Shawcross, Attorney-General of the UK, Lt.-Gen. Roman Rudenko, Chief Prosecutor of the Soviet Union, and Auguste Champetier de Ribes, jurist and prominent leader of the Résistance.2 Hitler, in a rare moment of mental clarity, refuses counsel. It is the same brash self-confidence that sent 300,000 Germans to their deaths in Stalingrad.
The trial begins, with live radio coverage being broadcast over the world. Millions of Germans, Nazis or not, tune in to listen to trial of the man that held absolute power over them for twelve years. The charges are read out, and for the first time, the enormity of this man’s crimes are officially announced. Here is a man who was responsible for the death of tens of millions of people. Here is the man who drove uncountable masses of people, Jews, Germans, Russians, Englishmen, Americans, Frenchmen, all to their deaths. A man who not only willfully broke every single humanitarian convention in the world, but reached new depths of depravity, of inhumanity. A man who brought the world closer to hell than it has ever been before.3 Adolf Hitler, how do you plead?
There are a few seconds of radio silence, as the charges are translated into German. An interminable few seconds, during which the whole world reels from the sheer, awful violence of the charges. A frail, rasping voice replies, “Nicht schuldig”. Not guilty. Exactly what the Allies wanted. Over the next few days, the twelve years of Hitler’s reign of terror are dissected. Refugees who have escaped to the four corners of the world take the stand. The survivors of concentration camps describe the inhuman misery they were subjected to. The widows of the political prisoners assassinated by the SS take the stand. For days, the courtroom resounds with the stories of brutal suffering. The archives of the Nazi party are combed through, and as the trial drags on, it becomes increasingly clear. This is the man who ordered the deaths of your Jewish friends. This is the man who sent your son to die in Russia. This is the man who had your communist brother killed.4
Hitler drifts in and out of the trial. In his moments of lucidity, he rants against the witnesses. He accuses them of destroying Germany. He gives long meandering speeches on Aryan destiny. The rest of the time, he is silent. Barely looking or listening to what is happening. Indifferent to the pain exhibited for the world to see. He slumps in his chair, muttering under his breath from time to time. He has delusions about the glorious rebirth of Nazi Germany. A few days into the trial, the Allies have shown the world exactly what they wanted to show. This is the doddering old fool that destroyed your lives.5
Hitler isn’t a charismatic martyr. He is not the Führer who would rather die than give in. He is a demented wretch, whose foolishness nearly destroyed us all. He is the crazy buffoon who ranted against those thin, helpless-looking survivors of the concentration camps. He’s the psychopath who raves about race superiority, while it is abundantly clear that what he has done could never be the work of a superior race. How could the Germans have been so blind? How could they let a madman lead them to hell? The guilt and shame of Hitler’s trial would have had a profound effect on the psyche of the world. It would have destroyed Hitler’s memory more completely than any law or decree could. It would have made Nazism a far greater taboo in the civilized world. And a part of me thinks Hitler knew this. That is why he killed himself. Hitler alive is a raving lunatic. Hitler dead is a shining symbol to the neo-nazis of today.
- Hitler: A Biography, Ian Kershaw; The Last 100 Days, John Toland; Wikipedia article
- These are not the actual judges that presided over the affair. I have taken the liberty of adding more senior judges for Hitler’s trial, considering he was the seniormost Nazi.
- Hitler would have been charged on four counts: Count 1 – CONSPIRACY to commit crimes alleged in the next three counts; Count 2 – CRIMES AGAINST PEACE including planning, preparing, starting, or waging aggressive war; Count 3 – WAR CRIMES including violations of laws or customs of war; Count 4 – CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY including murder, extermination, enslavement, persecution on political or racial grounds, involuntary deportment, and inhumane acts against civilian populations. Source. The case would revolve around proving his guilt to Count 1.
- Proving this would have been no easy task, since the Nazis were very careful about destroying a large part of their records. Here, I have assumed that since Hitler was captured before he could go through with his suicide, his staff could not get around to destroying many of their archives.
- I have exaggerated Hitler’s behavior, but only very slightly. During their interrogations, Alfred Jodl, Chief of Operations Staff of the OKW, Wilhelm Keitel, Head of the OKW and Erich Kempka, Hitler’s chauffeur, would all testify to his increasingly erratic behaviour towards the end of his life.
Aww, that’s kind of cute. Maybe Hitler wasn’t so bad after all, eh? Let’s see what Wikipedia says:
“Hitler expressed doubts about the cyanide capsules he had received through Heinrich Himmler’s SS. To verify the capsules’ potency, Hitler ordered Dr. Werner Haase to test them on his dog Blondi, and the dog died as a result.”
When some proud Son of Man returns to Earth, Unknown by Glory, but upheld by Birth, The sculptor’s art exhausts the pomp of woe, And storied urns record who rests below. When all is done, upon the Tomb is seen, Not what he was, but what he should have been. But the poor Dog, in life the firmest friend, The first to welcome, foremost to defend, Whose honest heart is still his Master’s own, Who labours, fights, lives, breathes for him alone, Unhonoured falls, unnoticed all his worth, Denied in heaven the Soul he held on earth – While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven, And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven. Oh man! thou feeble tenant of an hour, Debased by slavery, or corrupt by power – Who knows thee well must quit thee with disgust, Degraded mass of animated dust! Thy love is lust, thy friendship all a cheat, Thy tongue hypocrisy, thy heart deceit! By nature vile, ennobled but by name, Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame. Ye, who perchance behold this simple urn, Pass on – it honors none you wish to mourn. To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise; I never knew but one – and here he lies. Lord Byron [1788-1824], Epitaph to a Dog.
Robespierre: a child of the Enlightenment, a tragic misunderstood figure, or a forerunner of modern dictators?
The first thing I will say is that there is no understanding Robespierre without Rousseau. There is the famous apocryphal story that he slept with the Social Contract under his pillow. But Rousseau is best understood as a transitional figure between the Enlightenment proper and Romanticism, it is in this light I think we must understand Robespierre. Today we remember Rousseau as a political philosopher, or for Emile and his educational theory, but if you want Rousseau as his contemporaries (and Robespierre) knew him look more closely at Julie or especially his Confessions. What emerges is an immensely sentimental philosophy, which considers man as largely subject to passions, passions which are beyond morality and can only be measured by the intensity of their feeling. The astonishing trick of Rousseau’s Confessions, on his audiences and many of us today, is that it consists mainly of his admitting terrible, even unconscionable things, but throughout he has such pure, consistent, and appealing sentiment that you cannot help but love him more for it.
Robespierre’s entire career is animated by a similar overwrought emotion. It fuels his success until it takes him to martyrdom: the single-minded refusal to compromise, unlike a Mirabeau or even Danton, it is his strength before it unites the multitude in guilty fear of him.
The second thing I will say is that for Robespierre Terror is a revolutionary doctrine, a republican doctrine, necessary in every respect to the Revolution in the time of its most pressing need. For Robespierre a revolution must be ‘something more than a noisy crime to distract from previous noisy crimes’ (from his penultimate speech.) What more is it? The Revolution is a total refoundation of society, a new social contract, liberty from the old regime means the opportunity for radical reformation into a new model for humanity. Of course in Rousseau’s formulation what happens to enemies and refusers of the social contract? They are exterminated or exiled. They threatened no less against the revolution. When a revolution is in peril (as it was in 1793) it must either realize itself through violence against the threatening reaction or perish.
Robespierre was never misunderstood in his own time; he is misunderstood now as being bloodthirsty. This is ignorant of the record, Robespierre was the leader of the anti-war faction when the Brissotin were declaring preemptive war, and it was his attempt to reign in the corrupt terror of Fouché that was the immediate cause of 9 Thermidor. He is tragic in that it was his absolute devotion, his incorruptibility, the very qualities that made him a champion of liberty, that brought about the downfall.
I don’t think the objectification of women is actually an accurate reflection of women’s sexuality, this is the problem. I feel like this manifestation is a gross exaggeration of men’s sexuality.
I do not think that the objectification of women is an accurate reflection of women’s sexuality, it’s a gross and inaccurate exaggeration of men’s sexuality. I think that it’s male bias that is causing this form of sexuality to be seen as our only option. Women are pretty much only allowed to display sexuality, when they’re behaving passively and submissively, paying more mind to mens’ desires than their own. We expect sexualized images of women to be highlighting women’s youth and naivety. If women are not young or naive, they’re often expected to behave as if they are, and if they can’t “pass”, they’re desexualized completely. Instances where women objectify men or express appreciation for mens’ bodies, for example, are seen as shocking, bold and out of the ordinary. They aren’t expected to ever be lustful, sexually forward or aggressive. Media that displays men in passive, sexually submissive positions is often assumed to be marketed toward gay men, rather than straight women. I think that if women were writing the songs and the music videos more often, we would see them behaving passively, acting as sex objects, fetishizing violence against women much less often. It’s true that women conform to norms and perpetuate these things to a certain degree too, but by nature of capitalism and the pressures of the market, women are forced to conform to male preferences in order to keep their head above water. In a society where women were just as likely to write a song as men were and were just as respected for it, they wouldn’t have to stick to our current “male-approved” topics. We’d see a wider variety of material coming out.
There is a huge difference between the way sexuality is treated in the music of Ani Difranco, Tori Amos and Fiona Apple, who cater to a largely educated female audience, and the way it’s treated in the music of Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift, who cater to a mainstream “male-dominated” audience. Difranco, Amos and Apple are not prudes. They often sing love songs, songs about sexual desire, raw, emotional break up songs and raunchy odes with detailed descriptions of their partners’ bodies that would make you blush. Check out Fiona Apple’s Hot Knife, or Slow like Honey, or Limp, orPeriphery.
These songs are not that different content-wise from the Rihanna’s bedroom slow jams or Taylor Swift’s “He done me wrong” tunes. But there’s something distinct about them. In the Rihanna and Taylor Swift examples, I get the impression that their sentiments have been filtered and censored to be more palatable to men. In Cyrus’s “wrecking ball”, she’s saying she came in like a wrecking ball, but her body language in the video is the complete opposite of that. She’s laying completely submissively on top of the wrecking ball. She’s allowing the wrecking ball to completely control her. The video isn’t about Miley Cyrus’s experience with the person she’s singing about, it’s about the audience’s relationship with and sexual attraction to Miley Cyrus. Her actual voice is completely secondary.Taylor Swift always expresses anger within these strict confines, she needs to be a certain amount of “feminine” when she’s expressing anger at men. She can’t betoo loud or too violent or too weird or too crazy and emotional. She still has to be pretty, she still has to be pining for the guy on some level. In Fiona Apple’s songs, she talks about sex and having crushes and going through breakups, but it’s her pure voice that’s telling the story. It’s not sugar-coated to be more main-stream. It’s not feeding into an exaggerated corporate driven male fantasy.
They also don’t shy away from the aspects of sex that women have to deal with, that make men uncomfortable to hear. Ani Difranco’s Out of Range and Out of Habit use very graphic, explicit imagery to convey her experiences with men as a musician, and her experiences with the cyclical nature of domestic violence. Tori Amos famously talks about surviving rape, in me and a gun.
I think by virtue of allowing women to be in top, respected positions in mass media, by giving them more of a direct role in the creation of these structures, rather than allowing them to make choices within structures where men still make all the rules, we would break some of this cycle, by expand the material we display and consider to be acceptable, giving people a lot more options and consequentially reducing the amount of “peer pressure” that people face now in regard to objectification.
(Haha, bitchy, catty Harry Reid is my favorite Harry Reid! The more he talks, the more I adore him.)
“David Vitter is a, um … he just is not playing with a full deck. Something is wrong there,” Senator Harry Reid said, pointing to his head. (Bwahahahaha!)
Senator David Vitter responded: “Unfortunately, the deck I’m playing with in the Harry Reid Senate is quite full -– of jokers.” (David, you are a grown man who wears diapers for fun. That is all.)