Tuesday, 18 May 2010

More on the Evening Post issue

For those of you who haven’t been following my furious tweets and Facebook status updates this Saturday local Bristol rage-rag the Evening Post branded me and my feminist colleague ‘hypocrites’ for campaigning against the Bristol City Council’s endorsement of a strip tease performance by Dita Von Teese, whilst not campaigning against 40 women taking their clothes off in the performance ‘Trilogy’. The article has been removed from the website, but that was the general gist.

The accusation of hypocrisy in this instance was completely ridiculous and unfounded and Helen and myself are complaining to the editor. But I wanted to take the opportunity to use my blog to give, as it is, my side of the story and fully explain why our position wasn’t hypocritical. It is pretty self evident, but I think it is worth saying.

I was first alerted to the Dita Von Teese performance a while back when Helen sent an email around asking whether the council were aware of the upcoming strip tease at the Bristol Museum and whether they were endorsing the performance (an email that was subsequently leaked to a very snide blogger). She rightly pointed out that the endorsing of the performance went against the Bristol City Council’s gender equality duty, which requires them by law to work against sexism.

We felt that by endorsing the performance at the City Museum the Bristol City Council were helping to normalise the atmosphere of a highly sexualised culture that promotes a very specific body ideal and a very specific performance of female sexuality. Whatever personal opinions were on burlesque and Dita Von Teese, we felt that the important matter to address was how council involvement in supporting the performance endorsed this normalisation (please note the Council did not pay for the party or performance). We believe (and have been supported by plenty of research) that the normalisation of a very narrow, idealised performance of sexuality and a very narrow, idealised version of women’s bodies has had a deeply disturbing effect on women’s mental health. In fact, 44% of young girls are suffering mental health disorders related to a negative body image, including the inability to feel or experience pleasure. (Sweet and Weston). The normalisation of the idealised female body and male defined sexual performance contributes to that.

We repeatedly asserted that the problem with this performance lay in its context. If Ms Von Teese performed in a burlesque venue then we wouldn’t have a problem with it – mainly because it would be a private venue without the backing of the council. Again, within BFN there are lots of views in burlesque, and we felt that by taking this stance we could best reflect a variety of opinions – that the problem is normalisation, not Dita Von Teese. It was the support of the council that raised our objection, as for the council to endorse a strip tease performance involved them in endorsing the normalisation of the objectification of women, and therefore broke their gender equality duty.

We also stated again that if the context of the performance was different, for example in a female dominated venue with a range of female performers of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities, with a female compere, our objection would be unfounded. But this wasn’t the case. In fact, Dita Von Teese’s performance was in a very male dominated context, not least because the majority of the artists in the exhibition were male. We felt that whilst the art on display challenged the culture of female objectification, the strip tease performance enforced this cultural status quo.

This was all explained in detail to the Evening Post in the statement posted on this blog by me previously, and picked up by other news outlets including the F Word and Women’s Hour, neither of whom found the argument that difficult to understand.

At around 5pm on Friday the Evening Post called me (as a press spokesperson for BFN) to get a quote on the debate. She asked me why I felt the Dita performance was ‘sexist’ but not the Trilogy performance. I have to admit, I was quite taken aback by the question, as in my mind the events were so different, and although I think there are questions to be asked about why, for women, we associate empowerment with nakedness (in a way we don’t for men) I was and am supportive of Trilogy’s aims. I explained to the journalist (as above) that the issue with the Von Teese performance was the context and how the involvement of the council contravened, in our view, the council’s gender equality duty. However, as I understood it, the Trilogy performance was about celebrating women’s bodies and the diversity of women’s bodies. The key difference is that whilst the Dita Von Teese strip tease is about a performance of a very specific, male defined version of female sexuality, the Trilogy performance had nothing to do with sex and was about nakedness. The two are not always linked you know!

By refusing to recognise these key difference between the two performances, and refusing to engage in my explanation of the contexts of the performances the Evening Post have gone on to call me and Helen hypocrites. This is in spite of printing my quote that doesn’t match up to their ‘hypocrite’ headline statement. They appear to want to portray feminists as being anti-nudity full stop, as prudes, as anti-men and anti-fun, rather than giving an honest portrayal of the story. The story was, to remind you, that by endorsing the performance the council were breaking their gender equality duty.

Further to this, the paper has portrayed Helen and I as being ‘against Dita Von Teese’. This is simply not the case and is a silly attempt to simplify the issue into one woman being against another. We are not against anyone. We are angry that the Council ignored their gender equality duty.

Since Saturday I have been criticised in some quarters for trying to ban or censor art. This is so ridiculous that I don’t know if I was more offended by this or the hypocrisy accusation. I am not interested in ‘ban this filth’ style histrionics, I’m not a Mary Whitehouse in modern guise. I am interested in discovering how we can combat the normalisation of sexualised images of women that have such a negative effect on women’s mental health. I am interested in how the council’s endorsement of a strip tease performance encourages this normalisation.

I appreciate and respect that many women feel empowered by burlesque. That’s fine – if burlesque empowers them and makes them feel good about themselves then I am happy for them. It is not for me to tell other women how to feel empowered. But by the same token, it is not for other women to tell me how to feel empowered. And frankly, watching a woman do a strip tease doesn’t make me feel good about myself. My job, my relationships, my voluntary work at BFN, my writing, my ability to make excellent brownies, my friends – they all make me feel empowered. That’s my choice, that’s my decision. I wouldn’t tell other women they have to follow my example of how to feel empowered. I am also curious as to why we associate women stripping (whether in burlesque or a strip club) with female empowerment, in a way we simply don’t for men. We don’t expect men to feel empowered by the Chippendales, or by male prostitution. Is it because we view men as more than a sum of their body parts? Why are men allowed to feel strong and powerful whilst fully clothed, whilst our cultural narratives tell women the route to empowerment is performing a strip tease or having her breasts photographed?

But whatever my personal opinions are on the matter, it has no bearing on what I said to the Evening Post. And that was that the context of the Dita Von Teese performance and the council’s involvement was the reason for our objection, and the context of Trilogy was completely different. There was no excuse to brand me as a hypocrite or as somehow anti-Von Teese. It was lazy journalism at best, and deliberate smearing at worst.

That’s my side of the story anyway.

20 comments:

Bobby said...

Hi Sian,

I was really interested to read your comments and to read the Evening Post's response. I totally sympathise with you regarding the abhorent way in which the Evening Post has written about you and your views on the performance at Bristol City Council. However, I have to say, I felt quite despondent when I saw the statement you had written to Bristol City Council about Dita Von Teese's performance. I first heard about this via the Womensgrid email newsletter which is a feminist newsletter as you know.

I feel despondent because not all feminists believe that a woman who chooses to reveal her body is letting down the feminist side. Correspondingly, I don't appreciate an open statement in the name of all feminists in the Bristol area - it's certainly not something I signed up to.

By being so extremely prohibitive in your own views, you encourage a situation where women are prevented from deciding for themselves what they would like to do with their own bodies. Although I don't personally chose to perform as a strip tease act, I value my own freedom immensely and wouldn't want to feel that I would have to curtail my own behaviour in order to prevent anyone from feeling that I was objectifying the female form. In my opinion (and it is only my opinion - everybody is entitled to their own) a woman's freedom to decide what she wants to do with her life - her civil liberties if you will - are more important than than the tenuous link you are making.

You say that the performance is male-centric. I'm not sure I agree. Every single Dita Von Teese fan that I know of is a woman. There will have been plenty of women spectators at the performance. Do you feel that these women are simply misguided fools? Are these women incapable of deciding for themselves that their appreciation of Dita Von Teese as an artist isn't nothing more than an appreciation of an old fashioned dance form, and a way of safely appreciating another woman's body? Why is that in itself tantamount to letting down the feminist side?

I take your argument about how 'playboy style sexiness' can cause mental health issues in young women. But I don't agree that this same argument means that any attractive woman cannot take off her clothes for fear of causing anorexia in other women. There is a great deal of difference between a topless lads mag double page spread and a burlesque performance. And a Dita Von Teese performance is not the same as a strip bar for male punters with an abundance of rape incidents in the surrounding area.I don't think its fair to make the same comparison and I feel that it is rather patronising to other women, may of whom are involved in burlesque and many of whom appreciate it as an art form.

Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinions, but as I mentioned earlier, it makes me slightly cross that you have written the statement as a representation of feminist views in the Bristol area. I for one did not sign up to this.

Anonymous said...

I agree with and thank Bobby for the well-written statement above. I also believe that feminism is based in equality for women, meaning that women have a right to make their living as they wish, and can be sexually empowered in the way that makes them feel best- whether it be by performing or viewing a burlesque show or by NOT watching a burlesque show.
And it is very true that the majority of Dita fans are female. I once attended a book signing in London and I would say that approximately 90% of those waiting in line were female.
Furthermore, I think that the 80 women asked to "volunteer"( meaning, not get paid to perform) to appear nude in the play the same night in Bristol were the ones exploited, not Dita, who stands for a woman following a dream and making a career out of an artistic performance of her own creation. Her fame has more to do with the beauty of the costumes, sets and classic showgirl ideals than with nudity. She has legions of fans that enjoy that she goes against the modern stereotypes of beauty. She shows us that we don't need to be blonde, tan and bikini clad to be desirable. I for one and happy to see an alternative version of sexy, and I think her female fans look past the body and more into the spirit of burlesque and playful sense of sexuality.

Katy said...

I'd just like to state, for the record, that Sian has bent over backwards to stress that she is not speaking for all women, all feminists or even all of BFN.

I have read with interest her posts and attended a couple of meetings where she spoke to this subject, and in all cases she has been explicit that there is a wide range of view within feminism and that they all deserve representation.

Sian has not put words in anyone's mouths, so don't anyone dare put words in hers.

This is a very common tactic to attack feminist ideas. Because of this opponents to the museum strip tease have been extremely careful to stress that we are not speaking for all women or all feminists - in fact the first thing I had to write on this campaign was the disclaimer!

Despite all this, we have still been misquoted, misrepresented and misunderstood by those who didn't care to actually read our points or wished to willfully undermine our position.

Is this just the lazy old knee-jerk dig at feminism? Or is it actually an attempt to discredit and humiliate people who are campaigning for equal rights?

This was a lawful and legitimate opposition to BCC breaking it's Gender Equality Duty. But it seems that when the Equality Act gets in the way of striptease, us opponents are overstepping the mark!

sianandcrookedrib said...

hi - nothing i said was an attack on dita von teese, i totally respect women who choose to do burlesque, wathc burlesque and it is not for me to decide how other women choose to be empowered.

for the final, last and ultimate time, my protest was against the city council breaking their gender equality duty by promoting a strip tease act. they did not discuss this decision with equalities or with the women's forum. this is against their own rules.

i honestly do not know what else i can say to emphasise this any more.

sianandcrookedrib said...

also - thank you katy for the support.

i just needed to qualify, the reason the statement was signed' bristol feminists' was to identify it as a statement from a group of women who weren't necessarily representing BFN or bristol fawcett or any one group. precisely because we didn't want to represent every woman in bristol.

sianandcrookedrib said...

also - and i will hush up after this, in my post i say VERY CLEARLY how i would never judge another woman for finding burlesque empowering. i'll repeat that statement here:

"I appreciate and respect that many women feel empowered by burlesque. That’s fine – if burlesque empowers them and makes them feel good about themselves then I am happy for them. It is not for me to tell other women how to feel empowered. But by the same token, it is not for other women to tell me how to feel empowered. And frankly, watching a woman do a strip tease doesn’t make me feel good about myself. My job, my relationships, my voluntary work at BFN, my writing, my ability to make excellent brownies, my friends – they all make me feel empowered. That’s my choice, that’s my decision. I wouldn’t tell other women they have to follow my example of how to feel empowered."

So please don't accuse me of being anti women who are burlesque artists or try to make out that i'm making a rule book of how to be empowered because i am not. it's really unfair to say i am. i am so careful not to judge other women, or tell other women how to think. the whole time my issue has been with the council and the council alone. not dita, not women who like burlesque, not women who watch burlesque, not anyone other than the council for flagrantly breaking the law to get cheap publicity. i voted for my council representative, and they owe it to bristol to follow their gender equality duty.

Sue said...

Dear All,
These are very important issues and its good we have a serious debate about them, really thinking them through - and actually I think I do want to persuade you, Bobby and others, about the problematics of van Teese - I want to persuade you of substantive issues, avoiding who is or isn't allowed to say what about whom - I don't think that helps. But lets unpick things together and see where we get to.
I can see that when a woman performs because she chooses to and earns a living at it there is something self determining there which I wouldn't want to dismiss.
However, none of us are immune from the influence of the media which is so all pervasive these days and any performance belongs within a range of imagery and meanings that effects the culture and others within it. Dita doesn't claim to be an artist (she says she is an entertainer and fashion icon). She came up through Playboy (30 appearances and a Hugh Heffner favoirte) and I cant see that she does anything other than reproduce the same gestures and actions, looks etc that belong to that whole lexicon of being 'sexual for men.' I can give you examples of women performance artists who use their naked bodies in teh art gallery to challenge and expand notions of what it is to be a woman. But Dita aint doin that.
Now that might not matter - yes, you and others look at and expereince it differently BUT these gestures and looks belong to a wider visual vocabulary which research has shown does feed into the high levels of mental disorder and unhappiness and to growing levels of abuse in teenage relationships.
Just take a look at the links at the bottom of Sian's page (How do they get there??) Hot asian babes (for sale basically) next to Dita and a burlesque club.

It not ok, what'shappening out there (padded bikini tops for 8 year olds, increase in violence against women, poor self essteem among girls etc etc etc)_ all a part of that web of meaning- you cant choose to separate one bit out - unless in some way it really IS subversive - as I know some burlesque is (To burlesque according to the OED is to reduce to absurdity through exaggeration) . I fail to see how Dita does that - and the Council by allowing the performance is normalizing that whole web of meaning.
Goodness knows we need to find a way to occupy our bodies as sexual beings - and as complete subjects - I'm not sure how that will be done - but not by reproducing the same old same old gestures, I fear. (dont forget that most of Jordan's fans are women - so that in itself doesn't make someone a feminist icon!).
Thankyou Sian for getting this debate going.
Bobby - can you convince me that Dita breaks out of that damaging web? Cant we be more inventive, more daring.......
Look forward to carrying on thinking about all this.
Sue

Stephanie said...

I'm really grateful to Sian and others for speaking out on the subject of DVT stripping at the BCC's owned art gallery.

Sian, and others, have said repeatedly that they are 1. not attacking DVT, 2. attacking women who choose to take part in burlesque.

The reason why this was given media attention is because Bristol City Council has a duty to promote gender equality in all of the services that it finances, promotes, runs and commissions.

Allowing a striptease act to take place in a Council owned building, whether it was a private party or not, goes against the Council's GED. They know this and have admitted that they would not have allowed the performance to go ahead had it been a performance which degraded an ethnic minority, for example. Why is it ok to ignore its statutory duties where women are concerned?

What's worrying with this issue is that if a Council, which has a mandatory duty to promote gender equality, chooses not to fulfil its obligations for commercial reasons, there really isn't much hope for other, non mandated organisations to promote gender equality either. We should be looking to our public services to set the standard.

What is also worrying is the desensitisation of people to the objectification of women. Personally, I have found the number of women who have defended DVT's performance in the museum quite disheartening. I expect it of men, many of whom (from my personal experience) don't even register that there is a problem, but the number of women defending this performance is evidence, to me, of the pervasiveness of the cultural narrative which (as Sian writes) is telling women that they are empowered if they take their clothes off.

Why are we not celebrating women for their achievements, their skills, their talents, other than their "talent" to be able to take their clothes off in a sexually provocative manner which, quite frankly, isn't progress. Having women represented more equally in Parliament would be progress. Having female astronauts in space is progress. Allowing women to serve on submarines in the US Navy (not in the UK yet) is progress. Taking your clothes off for money has been going on forever.

Finally, can everyone please stop bashing Sian for being prepared to speak out about the Council's failings. The important point is not whether Sian is speaking for all feminists (she doesn't claim to), or whether Sian is for or against burlesque (she has repeatedly said that this is not an attack on burlesque), etc etc, but whether the Council is upholding its statutory duty to promote gender equality.

That affects us all so why aren't more people not up in arms about the Council's failure to do so? If it can fail in this one important area, what else will the Council not bother with next time? The GED should inform everything that the Council does and by focusing on Sian as the target people are allowing the Council to get off lightly here.

Thanks again Sian. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you have said but would not have had the courage to speak out about it on the radio or in the press the way you have done.

Stephanie said...

I'd also like to make the point that I'm fed up of being told that women are "empowered" by stripping for money. Other women are speaking for me when I am told that stripping/lap dancing/pole dancing/burlesque are "empowering".

Empowering people is about them being given power. And power comes from being able to be in control and to make decisions. That might affect just your own life or you might have the power to - hopefully - make decisions which make other people's lives better too. Jan Ormondroyd, the Chief Executive of BCC, is in a position of power and she hasn't used it wisely with the decision to allow a striptease act to open the exhibition.

To go back to my earlier point about women in Parliament, I think that this is a much better way of empowering and making decisions that impact on people's lives. Who is a stripper/striptease act empowering exactly? Other women? In my personal opinion, no. It might give them financial and sexual power over a man or group of men for ten minutes or so. Do these men respect these women? Again, from the men I have spoken to about this, they tend to categorise women into "those they can respect" and "those they don't have to". Strippers/lap dancers fall into this latter category. The "power" over a man, such as it is, isn't long lasting and doesn't generally earn their respect.

I can't help but feel - and, yes, this is my own personal opinion - that the language of empowerment used with stripping has crept up as yet another way of keeping women "in their place". Don't worry about not being equally represented in Parliament but celebrate Dita von Teese taking her clothes off in a public building!

I am pretty angry with the Council about what they've done here and it yet again normalises the commercial sex industry and the language of empowerment that is thrown at women in - it seems - all the wrong contexts.

Anonymous said...

Attacking someone for speaking out with legitimate feminist concerns is not very feminist. Why is it that people have said that Sian should go and find something more appropriate to complain about, but nobody is suggesting that pro-Dita fans do the same?

Bristol Feminists speaking out about the Council's ignorance have been so careful not to 'attack' Dita but this doesn't stop them being 'attacked' by interested parties from as far afield as America.

Dita has had surgery to manipulate her body into more of a f*ckbunny shape. She has posed for very retrogressive open-beaver shot porn pics as well as starring in porn films that I believe are harmful enough to kick the 'civil liberties' argument into the long grass. I don't think I am alone among feminists who would like her to curtail what she does in order to prevent harm to women. But Sian didn't say that, so leave her alone.

Bobby said...

I think that Sian should be congratulated for opening the debate - on this point I whole heartedly agree. And as I mentioned previously, everyone is entitled to their own opinions on these issues - and it is not for others to shoot these opinions down. I respect Sian for having her own opinion on these issues. No one is “attacking Sian”, "putting words in her mouth" or using "common tactics to attack feminist ideas". (By simply disagreeing with you I’m attacking feminist ideas? Are your ideas more ‘feminist’ than mine? Who decides this?!)

The point that I’m making is that as many respondents have pointed out, there are a wide variety of views amongst feminists on this issue and all deserve to be heard. If you open up an issue in the public domain, people have the right to respond - it's not a personal attack as such, and it shouldn't be taken that way. We're all grown up enough to realise this. Debate on the issue should be encouraged.

Sian, if the statement was signed 'Bristol feminists', the implication would be in most people's minds that you are representing most feminists in the Bristol area. You can’t be upset when people respond saying ‘hang on a minute, I didn’t sign up to this’. The fact that a disclaimer was written to accompany the statement - outlining how your action on this issue isn't representative of all feminists in the Bristol area - is a secondary piece of information that a lot of people will have missed, unfortunately. I for one did not realise this until I read your blog. If you push a story like this into the public domain I feel it’s important to get these details right. I hope you realise I’m not attacking you for this – I’m simply stating the effect it had for me personally.

I feel we should be able to take our clothes off – to strip, if you will – as an act of complete self love. Why can’t women define themselves in this way? Why can’t we reclaim stripping? Who said it always has to be for the male gaze? I think by avoiding this important question we risk reasserting the problem in the first place – which is that stripping is simply a pastime designed purely for men. I also don’t agree with the idea that any woman who has a thin waste and who strips is selling out and promoting the male ideal of a female sexualized body. I have a thin waste. Does that mean I can't strip?

I don’t feel that Dita von Teese performing at Bristol City Museum is the biggest concern that we have. She started as a fetish model; she’s always had a rather old fashioned, playful approach to her performance; for me she epitomizes a different concept of sexuality. It doesn’t surprise me that she appeared in Playboy but I don’t take this as an indication of her own misogynistic intent. How many female porn publishers were dominating the market when she was establishing her career? Avoiding performance is not going to solve this problem. Similarly, the fact that the words Dita von Teese triggered various adverts to be placed at the bottom of Sian’s blog is not an indication in itself of her misogynistic intent - it’s an indication of how the porn industry on the internet is dominated by men.

Incidentally, having worked in the women’s sector for many years, I’m aware of the arguments as to why the male sexual objectication of the female form is damaging and I don’t dispute our collective concerns about this.But I don’t believe that conventionally ‘attractive’ women should avoid any form of sexual performance for fear of reasserting this. It’s rather akin to saying that women shouldn’t wear short skirts for fear of getting raped. There are bigger fish to fry – why aren’t we campaigning to get equality pay audits on the statute book? Why aren’t we campaigning for far higher rape conviction rates? I’m sure that many of you are. The point that I’m making is that there are plenty more debates and campaigns to support and I believe we should be focusing our attention on these. But each to their own, eh!

Anonymous said...

Bobby, what a sick world we live in, where women have surgery so they can be defined as 'conventionally' attractive. For about the umpteenth time, Sian's point is about the council and its gender equality duty. NOT about whether we can reclaim stripping! I'm off now to have a cigarette in the museum... oh wait a minute I can't do that because it's a public building. There's another interesting debate.

Stephanie said...

Yes there are bigger fish to fry. Which is exactly why we need to make sure that Bristol City Council are made to deliver their mandate of promoting gender equality.

They have admitted that they wouldn't have let this go ahead had it been a black and white minstrel show. Yet a striptease act in one of their buildings is allowed to go ahead precisely because they know that the debate will be turned away from the Council themselves and onto the women who have highlighted the Council's failing here.

If it was a black and white minstrel show, people would be outraged. You wouldn't end up with the Council getting off pretty much scot free whilst a minority group defended its right to perform in a stereotypical and degrading performance.

I recall having a discussion with Sian about using the term 'Bristol feminists'. It was chosen because it represented a group of Bristol feminists. Small f. It was deliberately decided NOT to use the term 'Bristol Feminist Network' because we understood that there are a range of views out there on burlesque.

The term was not "ALL Bristol Feminists". It was chosen because we needed a collective way to categorise ourselves in a way that sounded better than: Stephanie, Sue, Sian, and Jenny from Bristol. We are feminists from Bristol therefore we can use the term to describe ourselves as such in the media.

As for women reclaiming stripping....if it so empowering, why aren't men doing it? Why do we not get groups of men dressing up with feather boas and nipple tassles validating themselves to each other by stripping off their clothes til only a couple of tassles and a posing pouch remains? Why do women need to validate their sexuality by stripping off? Is it because we are lacking power in other areas of our lives? That's the conclusion that I've come to. So we end up resorting to a tried and tested way of validating ourselves through - our sexuality.

I can't help but feel that there has been so much energy directed at Sian here that really should have been directed at the Council. This is where the fault lies and yet the press and other commenters have ignored the Council and chosen to direct their ire at the "feminists". I bet the Council are breathing a huge sigh of relief that the focus is off them.

If we are all feminists, why on earth aren't we all using our energy to hold the Council to account for their failure to uphold their MANDATORY duty to promote gender equality? They have shown that it is not a priority; they can discard their obligations if the price is right. Why aren't people more concerned about this, especially feminists?

Bobby said...

Perhaps you should canvass some more opinion from within Bristol Feminist Network and see what they say? I really don't believe that I'm the only feminist around who isn't upset about the Dita von Teese performance and feels there are bigger fish to fry.

Regarding the gender equality issue - I don't believe that the council was breaking its duty as I simply don't believe that a burlesque performance is in itself demeaning to women.

Re. men stripping -plenty of men do. Many men are involved in burlesque - many wear corsets, pasties etc. That's one of the reasons why I find it interesting!

And for the umpteenth time - no one is attacking Sian. Merely stating their own opinions..... or is that not allowed too? Come on, surely we can do better than that.

Stephanie said...

Whatever you think Bobby, the Council themselves believe that they have gone against the GED with this one. However, for whatever reason-commercial pressures mainly-they let it go ahead. This means that they could not publicly admit to being at fault because otherwise they would be hauled across the coals. The Council will not let a mistake like this happen again.

Again I can't help but feel that there is inconsistency in the argument about it being empowering. If the Council was interested in promoting equality, and a debate about the objectification of men & women, why did they only have a woman doing burlesque? Why not a man doing it too?

And, to go back to Sue's
earlier point, is a woman who has been in porn films, been surgically enhanced to make her look the way she does and been in Playboy with some very explicit shots really s good role model for women and young girls? Or is it fulfilling the same old tired stereotype? How is she any different to Jordan for example? Perhaps if they had chosen someone like Beth Ditto for the performance it would have been more different and more interesting.

Sian was well aware of the range of views about burlesque and at no time has presumed to speak on behalf of all feminists in Bristol. She was concerned
about appearing to do so. If we had called ourselves a group of women for purposes of the article, people could have levelled the same accusation-that we can't dare speak on behalf of all women! This was a triicky one that Sian handled the best way she could have done.

As Sue asked before, I'm still to be convinced that a woman who fulfils all the stereotypes and who has been surgically enhanced, who has appeared in porn films and Playboy, is an any way progressive and not regressive and how entertainment of this kind, in the form it was in, is suitable for a public building. Some people think lap daning is empowering for women. Many lap dancers haven't starred in porn films. I can't see how it is different to having a lap dancer in the museum, quite honestly.

The important thing is that the Council have now been reminded of their duties and will not be allowing this to happen again. It seems they too are yet to be convinced that an ex porn star stripping in the art gallery is progressive or subversive in some way. It echoes performances of the 1950s, when women, according to the Good Wife Guide published by Good Housekeeping, women should put a fresh ribbon in their hair to welcome their husbands home from work and not chatter too much because their poor hardworking husband has had far more taxing things to think about that they have!

Thankfully the Council have taken note-thanks Sian and others!

sianandcrookedrib said...

i really think the 'bigger fish to fry' argument is a misnomer. first up, most of the women i know are campaigning to encourage better rape conviction rates, help rape crisis centres...you just need to read the rest of my blog to see that. in fact, two posts down i'm camapaigning against danny dyer normalising domestic violence. 3 posts down about victim blaming. i won't go into a list of the activism i do...

but to me, it is all part of a continuum. the council ignoring their gender equality is part of the greater context of women being underrepresented, unseen and defined by their bodies. something which feeds into the "bigger fish to fry" of sexual violence, pay gap and gender equality.

bobby - i don't think by disagreeing with me you are attacking me. obviously within feminism there are so many wonderfully diverse and exciting opinions. that's what makes it such a rich movement that has so much energy. what i was upset by was that i have said over and over again that the issue was not about DVT or judging women or judging burlesque, it was about the council.

i don't want to criticise other women who choose to be burlesque dancers. women don't achieve anything by judging one another, criticising each other's choices - after all, men do that to us well enough without us adding to it! but i think we were right to criticise the council for ignoring their gender equality duty. if they ignore it once, how can we trust them not to ignore it again, over issues around rape crisis funding? issues around women's shelters? issues around welfare, domestic violence, representation, etc etc. they're already threatening to close down the women's forum. by letting them get away with ignoring that duty (even on this issue which some don't feel is important) we are letting them set a dangerous precedent about how they will treat women's issues and women's rights in the future.

i do not want to stand by and let that happen.

Jenny said...

A question that was raised earlier by Sue and that is, I think, really key, hasn't really been addressed and I'm interested to hear what you think, Bobby. How is it that Von Teese could be seen as subverting, rather than repeating and reinforcing, the tired old damaging constructs of female sexuality with which we are inundated and which have, consequently, become normalised (ie a female sexuality that is performed, rather than authentic, and that is for men rather than our own)?

Bobby said...

Hi Jenny,
I just feel that we have different views on this. I don't see burleque as being a performance which is strictly for the male gaze. There are plenty of feminists who don't have a problem with reclaiming porn and stripping - you are more than aware of this I'm sure. Whilst Dita von Teese may have had a seedy past, I don't think her performance at BCC needs to be vilified as it sends out the message that if you're a feminist, you have absolutely no right to be involved in burlesque or to undertake a performance involving the removal of your clothes. I appreciate that Sian has in no way villifed the performer personally or burlesque per se but this is the subtext that many people will interpret.

I've heard a lot of people here argue that as the performed has surgically changed her body, she is slavishly following a male ideal. Who decides these rules? Where do we draw the line? Is it OK for a man to surgically change his body, but not a woman? Am I traitor for wearing make up? This inability to see between the lines is something I don't fundamentally don't agree with. I don't believe that there is only 'one way of being a feminist' - and that one way is anti-porn and anti-stripping. Perhaps it would interest you to read this article on the issue, which points out how this is a difficult issue within the feminist world and one that largely results in disagreement.

http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/mcelroy_17_4.html

I could quite honestly sit here forever explaining my views, but I don't see the point actually. There are a limited number of people reading this blog, all of whom support Sian in her endeavour, and all of whom I respect totally for having their OWN opinions. So on that note, I bid you all goodnight!

sianandcrookedrib said...

whether you're pro or anti porn, whether you're pro or anti cosmetic surgery, whether you're pro or anti burlesque - the fact is if the council continue ti ignore their gender equality duty then it is all women in the city who are going to suffer. because if we can't trust our elected representatives in the council to take concerns about gender equality seriously, then who knows where that will lead the women in bristol. that is and always will be my objection to what has happened this week.

Bobby said...

Apologies Sian, but it appears the link I posted last night wasn't working - here it is again in case anyone is interested in reading it:

http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/mcelroy_17_4.html