A friend of mine – Lea Rice from The High Tea Cast – posted a link to Laura Bates’ article in The Independent on sexist advertising on her Facebook timeline yesterday. The article points out (yet again) why dismissing casual sexism as ‘banter’ is actually rather harmful, and Lea added the following comment to emphasis that fact: “Please read it and let it sink in. The fact the such a great proportion of society is so blasé about something so terrifying is not acceptable – it’s why I believe in the No More Page 3 campaign and those like it. Women deserve respect, not objectification.” Within a couple of hours, Lea had received comments from a male friend, questioning her allegiance to the No More Page 3 campaign because Lea is a burlesque performer in her spare time. He clarified his position by posting this: “Of course women deserve respect. & jokes about rape in a national advertising campaign is a bad idea. I just found it hypocritical for someone that performs naked to be critical of others doing something similar. Having said that. I’ve always thought page 3 was weird & unnecessary.” As you might imagine, this sparked a rather heated debate! Seeing as this person clearly doesn’t know what burlesque is, I thought it was probably time for some more myth busting.
Burlesque is NOT the same as Page 3
If you’ve never been to a burlesque show, your opinion of what burlesque is has probably been formed from the images you have seen of it. Many people’s experience and knowledge of burlesque only extends as far as having seen photographs of Dita von Teese, and that is perhaps where the problem lies. First of all, Dita’s performances are at the showgirl end of the spectrum and bear little resemblance to what most burlesque audiences pay to see in cities like London. Many burlesque performances are challenging, comical or subversive. Even those who perform acts that are little more than a basic striptease will have a character, a playfulness and a level of choreography that sets them apart from people who perform in strip clubs. Burlesque is about the performer teasing and entertaining an audience. The aim is not to turn your audience on (although that can happen), and that is perhaps why burlesque audiences usually contain far more women than men. In addition, if you’ve only seen photographs of these performers, you’re probably only going to notice that they’re not wearing many clothes. You won’t have seen how they got there, via a carefully crafted set of moves and costume deconstruction, just those final tassel-twirling moments. Looking at photographs of burlesque performers with their tits out is like only reading the punchline of a joke – you miss the point entirely.
Being a burlesque performer does NOT mean you lose your right to comment on Page 3
If you enjoy kickboxing classes in your spare time, does that mean that it would be hypocritical of you to express a negative opinion regarding violence in the media? Of course not. Kickboxing classes take place in a controlled environment with the consent of everyone involved, and no one has to watch if they don’t want to. The general public aren’t exposed to kickboxing classes on such a regular basis that they begin to think that kicking and punching others is not really a big deal at all. If anything, people who attend kickboxing classes are in a better position to comment about violence in the media as they are perhaps more aware of the dangers of promoting unsafe forms of violence. The same could be said of burlesque performers and Page 3. When a woman has been able to use her body as part of a creative performance in front of an audience who appreciate the skill involved, she has control. It’s a safe space and one which is relatively free from misunderstandings. It is also not considered suitable for family viewing – just look at the rumpus cause whenever a burlesque performer is on Britain’s Got Talent! – but apparently Page 3 is. When the only women that are appearing in the most read national newspaper are there to be mocked or ogled, do you not think this might normalise the idea that women don’t matter and that burlesque performers might actually be well placed to comment on that?