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As inspired as I was by Dr. Lucky’s Boundless Burlesque Manifesto, there was one line that bothered me.
We will not let heterosexual male producers turn the variety of burlesque into a single image of what women should look like.
I believe the sentiment behind this one line shines a light on some hypocrisy in the burlesque community. Women have worked very hard to shed stereotypes and show the world that we deserve to be respected as individuals, each with our own set of strengths and weaknesses, and not shoved into a submissive, child-bearing box. I truly believe we owe a lot of our progress to the art of burlesque, and am very proud to be a part of this community. However, I don’t feel that we give the same respect to heterosexual men that we demand in return. I believe we have swung the pendulum too far in the other direction, and too often make assumptions that are not fair, and often simply untrue.
As a woman in the burlesque community who holds many heterosexual men close to her heart, and has a great deal of respect for their artistic visions, I take offense to the notion that heterosexual men are essentially guilty until proven innocent. They are guilty of objectifying women. They are guilty of having no regard for the power of female sexuality. They are guilty of perpetuating unrealistic body types. And all of this is before they even open their mouths. Before they create their own art. Before they are even given the chance to contribute to our community. Additionally, I think it’s unfair to assume that women and gay men never commit these same offenses. These assumptions, in my opinion, are dripping with hypocrisy. How can we ask them not to make assumptions about us based on our gender when we don’t do the same in return?
I’m not saying that these attitudes and transgressions are not present in the heterosexual male population. While I suspect that I am spoiled by the liberal community of the Pacific Northwest, I know that it still exists. I know that it still oppresses us. I know that it still impedes our progress. But I truly feel that we are cutting ourselves off from an entire population of allies that we never realized were there, simply by upholding these prejudices. And, in the process, missing out on important contributions to our art, whether it’s through performing, teaching, producing, or any other facet of the beautiful, empowering, and – most importantly – accepting world of burlesque.
This excerpt from Dr. Lucky’s Boundless Burlesque Manifesto is my new motto:
I promise to boycott all burlesque that is predictable
that refuses to take chances.
While I appreciate classic burlesque, I believe we have reached a point in this art form where it’s time for us to take it further. I think the new generation of burlesque performers are creative, edgy, witty, and courageous, and it is our responsibility to use these qualities to take our art form to exciting new places.
Please don’t take these statements as a disregard for the beauty, humor, courageousness, and empowerment of our burlesque foremothers (and forefathers). When our predecessors were creating this art form, everything they did involved taking chances. The women of burlesque charmed audiences in ways that they had never been able to do before. They took control of their sexuality and the potential of its power in an era that “valued” women for little more than their ability to keep house and bear children. They were groundbreaking. They were revolutionaries! And I firmly believe that, without their contributions, burlesque performers today would not be the empowered, sexually liberated individuals you see gracing stages around the world.
But it’s time to take it further. We owe it to our predecessors to continue pushing the limits and turning expectations upside down. Let’s see more scripted shows and let audiences see that we have things to say that can’t be said in a 3-5 minute act. Let’s continue to examine how we can mix other performing arts with our own to create things the world has never seen before. Let’s continue to push people to think while we make them laugh and turn them on. And, most importantly, let’s empower future generations to think outside of their boxes and take society in new, unexplored directions they never dreamed possible.
Let’s make the new generation of burlesque just as powerful as the legends to which we owe so very, very much.