I get naked in public… a lot. I do burlesque and performance art with a number of groups and much of it involves taking my clothes off.
Recently, I was a participant in an event called Strip Vocabulary. It was at a bar in Sacramento, CA and part of Drunk Poetry. Drunk Poetry is a monthly event at this bar. It brings in poets for rounds on on-the-spot poetry writing and geared at a fun night out. It has dirty haikus, limericks, poetic gangsta rap and other such activities. This is not high-brow academic-form poetry. It is geared at making poetry fun.
Strip vocabulary involved me and one other woman on stage and long list of vocabulary words on the wall. People wrote poems with the vocab words. If they used a word correctly, we lost a piece of clothing. One poet managed to do a verse that got the other woman on stage to strip 7 pieces of clothing in under two minutes! An impressive feat (see AndYes’s new album for more excellent poetry).
After the event, two women who had been in the bar cornered the emcee and man who puts on the event and read him the riot act for exploiting women and objectifying us for his profit. Since it was his event, I didn’t confront the women, but it did raise an issue that comes up over and over again at shows. Women who call themselves feminists feel a need to stand up for us “poor, naive creatures” who don’t understand how much we are “exploited and reifying the patriarchy.”
Feminists Who Hate Feminine Power
I have an issue with “feminists” who automatically assume any woman taking her clothes off or performing something with sexual overtones is somehow totally exploited and just don’t get the ramifications of my work.
I find burlesque and other forms of performance which involve teasing and nudity to be empowering. I find burlesque a great way for social commentary and protest pieces. I feel great about the comedy pieces I do. It is an amazing outlet for my creativity and I love flirting with an entire audience.
I find my work to be at least someone intellectual. Even Strip Vocabulary, which wasn’t hugely head-centered as a performance required that audience members look up obscure vocabulary and write poetry and were rewarded for smart use of the words.
I take issue with feminists who do not believe that sexuality, when it is on stage, is anything but exploitative. There is a long history of “anti-porn” feminists. These are people who believe that all pornography and performance associated with it is demeaning, exploitative and cannot be entered into freely by a woman in a patriarch society.
Women Trying to Control Women
These women try to control female sexuality as much as men who tell us to cover up and ban nipples on Facebook do. They are as anti-woman as the men who vote against birth control funding. They want women to hide their bodies and only be exulted for their brains.
The thing is, my femininity and my body have power. My body is mine. I can decided when to strip and when not too. I am not doing this because it is my only way to pay the rent. I am not doing this because of deep-rooted issues with an absent father. I am not doing this to get even with an ex. I do this because I want too.
I understand the social and historical constructs that created strip tease and sex work. I know that there are plenty of women who are coerced or forced into some form of sex work. I get that minors cannot consent in their own engagement for sex work. I also know that as an adult with multiple options for making an income and a deep desire to be faithful to and please the man I love, I can also choose to get naked on stage.
The women who chose to yell at the event’s producer never spoke with myself or the other female participant. They never asked what our motives were for our participation. They never thought that a woman could chose something different than what they themselves would have done.
That is the problem with so many of the anti-porn feminists. They choose to make arguments against work involving sex or sexuality without ever talking to the women who choose to do this. They tend to represent those of us in such work as simpletons who cannot possibly understand what we have agreed to. I find this position insulting and demeaning. Women who cannot or chose not to see the difference between a woman who chooses to engage in burlesque, strip tease, or sex work and those who are coerced into it don’t see the realities of womanhood. And that makes them the worst representatives for what women need and want for equality.