Puritanical Bra Burner

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.

37 thoughts on “Puritanical Bra Burner”

  1. A word of empathy– because I suspect that we share similar views on sexuality, and it’s hard to accept that discomfort… but I share your view. I think nudity as entertainment at a business event is entirely inappropriate– that sexuality and business pushed together like that is wrong; even when I worked in sex education with a very sex-positive community, that would never have happened. If it were a social sex-positive community event, I might feel differently about the power balance and acceptability of that. But this? Sounds wrong.

  2. Yeah Lauren, I agree, I think I would have felt the same way… and we could discuss about it how these “immunity” or “carelessness” to this kind of exploitation or whatever we should call it has permeated society in all kinds of ways (commercials, videos, etc…) .
    BTW I wrote you an email to the APW account.
    I hope you had a nice day !

  3. I would have also felt uncomfortable.

    What bothers me is not the burlesque, exactly. It’s that you went into an event not knowing what the entertainment would be. If you went to a burlesque show, knowing it was a burlesque show and felt uncomfortable I would feel badly for you, but wouldn’t think it was necessarily an inappropriate situation. BUT, if you go to a company-sponsored event and are forced to watch a woman take off her clothes? That’s not ok. Every person should have the right to consent to the amount of nakedness they are exposed to. It’s not ok to flash someone on the street. It’s not ok to push your nakedness on someone without asking.

    So when the performance crossed the line from talent and dance and art to being as-naked-as-possible for entertainment, it became pretty inappropriate.

    Not to mention the fact that I do not think it’s ok for a company to pay for a woman to shake her breasts in an employee/man’s face. Even if everyone in the room consented to seeing it (which they didn’t) it’s not all professional.

    1. I agree, I think that I would be shocked and uncomforatble to see this at a work event. There is a line with colleagues that I think just shouldn’t be crossed, especially when the entertainment is a surprise.

      I am also surprised as I am pretty sure that someone could claim to feel sexually harrassed over this and am surprised that someone senior at a company would sign off on it.

    2. YES. I think burlesque as an art form is beautiful. But at a company event when the attendees aren’t expecting it? Gross. I would have been uncomfortable too.

    3. I totally agree with this. While I’m actually a big fan of burlesque in a sex-positive, women-positive environment (and sex-positive, women-positive environments for sex workers do exist, even if they can be hard to find), having it at a company party is completely unprofessional (not to mention just icky – I don’t want to watch any sort of nude people with my coworkers. ever.), and it can also take away the consent of employees to watch or not watch. Some people might argue that Lauren and Kamel gave their consent because they could have left the party any time, networking at business parties like this often doesn’t feel optional, and so leaving may not have felt like a possibility. Overall, not the best choice for a business.

      Lauren, I hope the rest of the trip was much better, and that you had a wonderful birthday!

    4. Totally hit the nail on the head. I think burlesque is totally awesome. But attendees need to know what they are about to witness. They need to be able to opt out without feeling uncomfortable. And a company definitely should not be paying for that kind of entertainment.

    5. Agreed! I’ve been to burlesque shows and quite enjoyed them, but I would be very uncomfortable watching burlesque with some of my co-workers. As others have said, it’s a very different thing to opt-in to go to a burlesque show than it is to suddenly be in one and either just stay or actively opt out–very different type of consent. I’m sorry that you had such a negative experience with burlesque, and I hope you’ll check it out in a more sex-positive setting some other time! It really can be a very empowering art form when it’s not treated as a substitute for strippers.

  4. I agree – it was completely inappropriate to have this type of show at a work-related event. Even if you’re not prudish, there was a good possibility that there would be other people there who were. Plus, it’s both men and women in the audience, some of whom might not know each other well. Really not a good call on the part of the conference planners. Especially since it didn’t stop at a slightly suggestive song and dance, but went down to the skin. Wow.

  5. ugh, well first, sorry you were made to feel so uncomfortable on your birthday!!

    I have never seen a burlesque show, but I’ve always been intrigued by them, and wanted to see one, but I’ve been hesitant because of the reasons you’re talking about. I think they have a time and a place, and the event you’re describing doesn’t seem like that time and place. I think going to a burlesque show in an entertainment venue is a completely different situation from going to what sounds like a company party, and having a burlesque show sort of thrust upon you. Your discomfort certainly seems justified. man I have been sitting here contemplating my reply forrrr 2 hours? and I’ve hardly said anything.

  6. “I think the balance of power in a room full of men and women when there is a naked woman as entertainment, shifts dramatically.”

    I agree with the comments that any kind of sexual entertainment is inappropriate at a work event, and I think that beyond the level of it just being icky, it’s also because it’s unfair. It’s unfair because having your “entertainment” be a naked woman does shift the balance of power among coworkers. It puts the attending women in a uniquely uncomfrotable situation, and has the danger of allowing male coworkers to view their women counterparts as the entertainment, not the professionals that they’ve worked to become. Plus, there would never be a male strip show at a work event, now would there.

  7. I’m sorry but I’m a little…confused.

    You seem to know enough about burlesque to praise it as an art. So you have to know that many burlesque shows do go exactly how you described. Now the beauty of the art is that a performer can do as much or as little as she wants and still have it considered “burlesque.” That this particular performer went too far for your tastes is unfortunate, but certainly not an indictment of the performer, her agency (or whoever she works for), or the company that sponsored the event. They wanted to put on a burlesque show and they put on a burlesque show.

    It looks like you just weren’t ready for one, despite thinking you were.

    You were having as much fun as everybody else when the performer was doing the dancing/teasing act at “just barely covered enough not to be considered nude.” Taking her top off did not dramatically change her act from where it was just seconds before, when you were “transfixed and clapping.” If you accept teasing and gyrating in a little gold bikini, you should be able to accept teasing in gyrating in tassels. It’s still art. It’s still burlesque.

    That it happened in a business setting shouldn’t be relevant to this discussion, considering you were looking forward to the show when it was announced in the same business setting.

    Unless this experience fundamentally changed your views on burlesque as both an art and a business, I have to find your feelings on the matter inconsistent at best and hypocritical at worst.

    1. Eric, you completely missed the point.

      Lauren never once said she was uncomfortable with burlesque, and I think it’s unfair to tell her she wasn’t ready to watch a performance.

      I’m pretty familiar with the art form (helped produce a burlesque show, in fact), and I’ve seen both what you’re talking about, and what Lauren is talking about. They are not the same thing.

      For the act of removing her top to not change anything about the act, just taking it a step further, NOTHING ELSE about the act must change. Burlesque, at its best, is tease and fun and laughter and EYE CONTACT. The performer owns it and carries on. Continuing the same routine, with one less article of clothing? Awesome. Let’s go. The routine progresses, and everyone has a good time.

      But what Lauren describes seems to me to be something else entirely. When the top came off, the attitude of the show changed. From fun and tease to a flat out don’t-look-at-me-just-look-at-my-boobs act. That IS a shift, and one Lauren is well within her rights to be uncomfortable with. You don’t go to a strip club looking for burlesque, and you don’t go to a burlesque performance looking for mindless titillation.

      For that matter, I have to disagree with you that what the show changed into was “still burlesque.” It went from being a striptease to being something else entirely.

      That the performer didn’t stay for applause screams at me that something was off. Every burlesque performer I’ve known stays. It’s a character they’re playing, and they eat it up. As well they should, like we’ve said, it’s art. To not back off and switch it up when half the room is uncomfortable? Also a red-flag to me. Any performer worth her feathers knows how to shape her show to each audience.

      Who’s to say if the problem was with the performer herself, or the company she works for. If it’s her, pushing herself past her own boundaries, I have nothing but pity. If it’s the company, dictating this type of show, well then shame on them for taking an art form and making it mindless.

      It’s out of line to call Lauren a hypocrite because she’s not comfortable with what she saw. She found what she’s comfortable with in a burlesque show and what she’s not. Who are we to tell her how she feels is wrong? It’s not like she came out and damned the entire concept of burlesque, she just said “Here’s the line, for me. Where’s yours?” Give the girl a break.

      1. 1. What Sarah said. Seriously.

        2. Taking her top off did not dramatically change her act from where it was just seconds before, when you were “transfixed and clapping.”

        I think you’ll have a hard time finding people to agree with the idea that a topless woman is no different than a woman wearing a bikini top (tassels or no).

        And it DID dramatically change the act. Both in the sense that there was an identifiable change and it caused Lauren to feel and think differently about what was happening. Whether or not it would have changed how YOU felt or thought is irrelevant. It doesn’t make Lauren’s thoughts or reactions “hypocritical.”

        3. Context is everything. A topless woman is not treated or seen the same way in all scenarios. A topless woman on the beach, a topless woman in her bedroom, a topless woman in an office… NOT THE SAME THING.

        4. Looking forward to an experience or even initially enjoying an experience does not mean that the whole experience is automatically ok. If I look forward to hearing someone give a talk and find it interesting at first doesn’t mean that if the speaker starts using graphic or explicit language that I can’t object or that my discomfort would be hypocritical.

        1. Just to be super super super clear on all fronts on what this was and how I feel.

          First, I had never been to a strip club OR a burlesque show or ANY type of ANYTHING that had to do with women taking their clothes off. Ever. So, all of my opinions pervious to this have been based on ideas and suggestions from television and film.

          Second, I struggle a lot with women who take their clothes off for entertainment across the board. I actually struggle a lot with anyone taking their clothes off as the main point of entertainment whether they be male or female. I know many of the commenters are pro sex entertainment as empowering, but I have my issues with that and am not 100% convinced.

          And third, I wasn’t saying merely that the woman was being exploited because of her show. No. I was saying that women are exploited in this scenerio – which includes me, fully dressed, sitting at a table. It’s not just audience vs her, it’s the way a culture views body parts and the expectations of “whatever, it’s just for fun, lighten up.”

      2. Wow this comment says it all! Long time fan of the blog but newbie commenter. But there’s a world of difference between a women’s sexuallity encompased by her entire being and especially her personality which is the essence of burlesque. When all that is replaced by a single body part (or 2!) That sexuality becomes comodified. A good burlesque performer is an individual, a woman with her boobs shaking can be replaced so easily by any other for the same effect. Think its really telling that she couldn’t stay for her applause.

        Anyway just my two cents worth as a womens studys grad!

        Love the blog Lauren x

    2. “That it happened in a business setting shouldn’t be relevant to this discussion.”

      I’d have to disagree–I think it’s 100% relevant to the discussion.

      We all have different personas–Work Persona, At-Home Persona, Out-on-the-Town Persona. Hopefully for most people these identities are not too separate from one another, but we all do it. For example, I may be passionate about politics, but Work Persona would never discuss politics at work. We are viewed one way by our co-workers, and another way by our friends and family.

      My “Not at work” persona may be TOTALLY comfortable with going to a burlesque show, or even a strip club. I have CHOSEN to go to see this, I have chosen who I want to see this event with, and it’s on my own terms.

      My “Work” persona may be 100% uncomfortable with this. What if I’m watching this performance, and my creepy cubicle mate who I cannot STAND is next to me, watching these tassels go around in front of our faces? I suddenly find myself in a completely uncomfortable situation, and it’s entirely because it IS a work event.

  8. I agree this is messed up.

    I’ve also been to burlesque shows (festivals!) and felt very empowered afterward, but that’s because the audience was there intentionally and was already supportive of the art form. Also, the performers were mostly women, but they had widely divergent bodies– from quite thin to Rubenesque– and there were also acts that challenged gendered norms: male performers, acts with a man and a woman, a performer who started off covered in masculine suits and stripped down to a very feminine bra and underwear, etc., etc. Instead of re-inscribing our gendered culture, these acts seemed to resist it in prostest.

    It sounds like your experience was much different: it cemented gender roles and says a lot about the people who organized this “event” because they figured it would be cool with everyone. (Also a bad move to serve as entertainment something that makes it okay for dudes to practice what would be sexual harassment in the office….) And, it seems like some of the men were acting like it was a strip club while the performer also stepped across the line from burlesque art to degrading images of flapping mammary glands. Yuck.

  9. i KNOW what you mean. i spent 20 minutes in a strip club when i was 18 for my birthday because i wanted to be that girl…who was cool with all of it. that girl who was just that chill and could spend HER birthday in a strip club with her boyfriend. but i wasn’t…and i don’t think anyone is, really…you know?

  10. I am 100% with you on this one.

    I would have been completely uncomfortable and probably would have walked out of the room. Any sexualized form of entertainment is wholly inappropriate is the business world ESPECIALLY when women are among the antendees. Putting those performers up there to dance next to nude automatically alienates all of the women in the room and creates a serious divide. I dont think you’re being puritanical at all. I can only imagine how uncomfortable the situation was especailly considering it appears some of the men seem to have acted like they were at a strip club. This story makes me really mad at the employer. Like really really mad – I’d file a complaint if I worked there and consequences be damned. I don’t get how anyone thought this event would be suitable entertainment.

  11. Yeah, that is a little awkward to be at a work-event and have boobs flopping around in yours/co-workers faces. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I were at something like that for work. I’d feel extremely uncomfortable.

    Now burleque dancing as a whole is pretty awesome. My best friend from high school is a burlesque dancer in NYC and she’s awesome. They do the pasties, etc., but it’s done at a place where people are attending because they want to, not because it’s a work event or something. It’s also frustrating when men treat burlesque dancers in a degrading way, when (like you said), it’s an art.

    I’m sorry you had to deal with something like that and I totally understand why you felt uncomfortable. I don’t want to be put into a situation without the option of “do I want to be here for this?” It’s unfair that that was put onto you and other women (and men who may have felt uncomfortable, too!) at the event.

  12. I think we’re all getting a little too close to blurring the line between burlesque and stripping.

    Not even remotely the same thing, guys. You’re not going to find Burlesque in a strip club, period. (Or in the movie Burlesque for that matter, but that’s an entirely different deal.)

    Yah, it probably wasn’t appropriate to have a burlesque show as part of a business function. Knowing the companies involved, and knowing the nature of the function? It startes to get a little grey for me … probably not the best idea, but not the worst either.

    Seems to me, the problem was with the show itself. Or maybe just the first dancer. She switched from “this is fun, have fun with me!” to “this is what I have to do to pay my bills” (that’s my interpretation), didn’t deviate from that, and wouldn’t even look the audience in the eye when it was all said and done. That’s never fun, for anyone.

    Think about it this way. Two people you know each have some art nude photos done. Both are stunning photos, non erotic. (Just to set some parameters here.) One of those people is thrilled with them “Look what I did! Aren’t they great?!” The other hides them away, and views them as something shameful. To me, the first set of photos is crazy empowering, and the second is uncomforable. Not because of the subject matter, but because of the attitude of the person invovled.

    This is the same deal.

    Lauren, it’s sad to me that your first experience was one where the second situation was on display.

  13. I’m so glad you addressed this. I’ve seen a few pro-sex industry posts and a few vehement anti posts. I think your post articulately describes how the sex industry affects women in the professional workplace without being extreme. It’s well thought out, and it’s honest – two things I very much appreciate.

  14. Exactly, exactly, exactly.

    I’ve also never been to such a performance and I can guarantee that I would have been JUST as uncomfortable. The woman became the entertainment not because of the art of the performance, but because of her lady bits. Lady bits that all the other women in the room share. It frankly disgusts me that this was the entertainment at a business function. It is WILDLY inappropriate.

    Also Lauren? I really hate that you’ve come under fire for this. There are such better ways to broaden the conversation.

  15. I like to think I have a pretty “whatever floats your boat” mindset, and even if *I* don’t appreciate something, I try not to get judgemental.

    That said…given the venue, that sounds like the WEIRDEST CHOICE for entertainment EVER. I would have been totally uncomfortable.

  16. Dude, I have totally felt that way. Once I was dragged out to this Sunday afternoon ’80s cover festival thing by my [best] friend, I was feeling sick already (always has a way of heightening emotions), and then suddenly I’m standing in the front row of a performance that includes mostly-naked girls dancing and getting more naked-er while their male and female *friends* stuff money in the various articles of clothing they still had on. Add to this my friend’s running commentary on which girls were *real* strippers, etc. etc.

    And I was sooo uncomfortable. Months later, I still can’t quite put my finger on why. I don’t have a problem with naked ladies. I’ve been to a strip club, and I’ve watched porn in mixed groups of mostly strangers with less discomfort. The only conclusions I sort of came to where that 1) it was totally unexpected, and strangely inappropriate timing. I may not be religious, but 2pm on a Sun doesn’t feel like the right time for public nekkid-ness, and 2) the was zero precedent in my instincts for the “right” way to respond to such a thing… so I just froze uncomfortably until I could get away.

    Don’t know that I can offer any wisdom on this one, other than to say I get it, and that there’s a huge difference between consciously attending a burlesque show and having one unexpectedly thrown in your face.

  17. I’ve written and deleted and rewritten like five different comments. I know people won’t agree with me, but I just am going to be out with it– I look forward to the day when a naked woman using her body to make money wasn’t looked down on, but embraced and respected the way it should be. From my perspective, I wouldn’t feel exploited if I was up there shaking my ta-ta’s for a room full of people. i would feel empowered and confident and happy to make money in such a fashion. I wish that everyone agreed with me–that being half naked doesn’t exploit, it shouldn’t earn a woman less respect. It only demeans if her, or women in general, if we all agree that it does. So we need to start disagreeing with it.

    What I DO agree with, is that is is disrespectful to those in the audience that didn’t sign up for such a show. It’s borderline sexual harrassment as far as I’m concerned. And it’s totally unfair to the dancer to put her in front of people that don’t agree with what she’s doing.

    1. I love this comment. I LOVE THIS COMMENT. And I so wish it would have been an amazing time, I so wish that I had been like YEAH GO BOOBS! I so so wish it had been.

      But it wasn’t.

      And as much as I love love love women’s body’s, I can’t ignore the ickyness of the situation. I don’t want to be told “Lighten up, what’s the big deal??” When the ickyness was not just about boobs, it was a vibe, a thoughtlessness, an exclusion. It’s very very difficult to put this exactly into words. All I can honestly say is, the shift in power dynamics in the room was palpable. And it wasn’t fair.

      1. This could be a really a huge discussion. Like, who was making the room feel that way? Was it the dancer? Or the reaction of the audience? Or just some of the audience? Or the fact that people were not there on their own free will? Or the fact that having women perform at a work shindig makes it feel like the workers *should* be men? I don’t know…. but it’s a deep issue.

  18. Interesting topic of conversation. Burlesque can be a wonderful form of art. Belly Dancer’s can be a wonderful form of art. Anything to do with feminism and the female form can be a form of art.

    It is how the art form is portrayed from start to finish. If the artist wants to be shown as something other than art, that is her choice. It is our choice as a society to either support it or reject it. The women who got up and left had their right to do so. They made the distinguishing line to say ‘BOOBS’ in the crowd and in the face was to much. Yet the “men (still) throw their hands up in frustration when she didn’t gyrate ENOUGH in front of them.” Men will never change. It is combination of the tease, the sexuality, the female form and the artistical dance that is intriguing. Creating these senses of art is ultimate challenge. Let them men sit there in awe

    I agree with Christina’s comment:
    “From my perspective, I wouldn’t feel exploited if I was up there shaking my ta-ta’s for a room full of people. i would feel empowered and confident and happy to make money in such a fashion.”

    Women who have a wonderful figure are wonderful to look at. Plain and simple. It is their choice how much to show as well as the dances they perform.

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