Oh man you guys, we’re starting off the week with a punch straight to the boob. We’re diving elbow deep into gender. And I don’t mean the sisterhood rah-rah kind, but the critical-wow-I’m-uncomfortable-now kind. Let’s hear it for Monday.
Last week I was at a thing. A thing I cannot totally speak of (not because it’s forbidden, but because it hedges on the “things I can’t talk about on the internet because we have jobs” thing). But, Kamel and I were staying at the 4 Seasons in Santa Barbara on business monies, and attended a gathering where there was food and drinks and pretend gambling (Kamel and I attempted BlackJack), and various entertainments. This actually happened smack dab on my birthday. Lovely of them to do all of that for me, yes? Anyways, lots of different kinds of people were there. People from all over the country, ladies and gentlemen, people who made a lot of money and people who only made some money. All this to say, it was a mixed bag.
Everyone was wondering what the entertainment would be. There was a stage with a big bass and a drum set and a saxophone. When the MC announced it was a Jazz-Burlesque show I was totally pumped. Burlesque is the art of the the tease, it’s the slow removal of a glove, it’s the flash of a feather boa, it’s flirt and fun. I was craning my neck to get a better look.
The woman danced to the music in an evening gown, she gyrated her hips to the bass, she did the splits, she showed thigh, she was amazingly talented. She teased the men surrounding the dance floor, she took off this, and that, until she was just in a fringed bikini bottom and a gold bikini top. Parts of it were funny, others exciting, some were down right impressive, I was transfixed and clapping, my jaw on the table top. Everything was going so well. Until she took off her bra. Until she began to swing around her naked breasts covered in two fringed pasties, until she shook them in men’s faces, until I saw the women in the room move away from her when she threatened to come near, until I saw men throw their hands up in frustration when she didn’t gyrate ENOUGH in front of them.
I tried to play along, to think “Hey! No big deal! It’s just for fun! Lighten up! She’s not really showing anything.” Except I wasn’t ok. I was embarrassed. Suddenly, it wasn’t so much fun anymore, suddenly there was a naked woman in the middle of a room filled with clothed people, every eye on her nakedness. It wasn’t merely her body they were looking at and clapping for, it was everything flapping around, it was how at the end, another woman came out to fetch her clothes, it was how the dancer didn’t stay for applause but hurried off the floor to make way for the next burlesque dancer who came out in a similar evening gown.
During the second dance I tried to wrap my brain around how I felt and why. Kamel continually asking me, “Are you ok?” because as much as I tried to fake it, my discomfort was showing all over my face and body. I didn’t want to watch anymore. Suddenly, no matter how much free will the dancer’s had, no matter how much or how little clothing they kept on or took off, it felt exploitative. And not on an individual basis, per se, but on a grand scale. Because I have those parts she is getting paid to flash around. I have the ass cheeks and the nipples that were sequenced and tasseled. That was me up there dancing, it was me everyone was looking at and clapping for, and trying to touch, or shy away from. It was me and it was her and it was them. And it felt wrong that we would all stand around cheering it on, calling for more.
Burlesque is valued an art, a skill, and I won’t deny level of difficulty in what those women accomplished. And I am not at all prudish or embarrassed by sexuality. And I wasn’t in a dirty strip club, and the women weren’t begging for tips or on a slippery pole. And yes, and still, things weren’t right. They weren’t right in that room and they weren’t right inside me. And I know their are a lot of people who will tell me to lighten up, that it really wasn’t a big deal, oh so what, etc. But I think it was. I think it does matter, I think the balance of power in a room full of men and women when there is a naked woman as entertainment, shifts dramatically. And I really, really think it was wrong.