As many of you will be aware, there has been a great deal of discussion in the media about the performance of Dita Von Teese at the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery. As feminists living in Bristol, we were deeply concerned about the performance happening in a public, council owned building, and whether the performance was in fact reneging on the Bristol City Council’s gender equality duty. We felt that, although we have a lot of respect for the art of burlesque and the talent of Dita Von Teese, having a strip tease in the museum did not send out the right message about the importance of gender equality and the need to combat the normalisation of pornified culture.
We were approached by BBC Radio Bristol to take part in a debate on the issue on Friday 15th May. During the debate, Jenny Rintoul explained the concerns we had, making it clear that our campaign was not an attack on Dita Von Teese or burlesque. Instead, she explained that the performance in the museum can be seen as being part of a process that normalises sexual objectification.
The story was picked up in the BBC Radio Bristol news bulletins throughout the day. However, the way our opinion was reported showed a shocking lack of respect for our views and unbiased reporting. Rather than presenting our argument that the normalisation of hyper-sexualised images of women creates a harmful atmosphere, feminists in Bristol were described as being against the performance of Dita Von Teese due to the ‘sexiness’ of the content.
This was a complete misrepresentation of the arguments we put forward. We had clearly stated that the objection was to the ‘promotion of a Playboy style sexiness which research has shown is damaging to women’. In fact, when presenting our views to BBC Radio Bristol, we quoted recent research that 44% of young girls experience mental disorders around body image and anhedonia (the inability to experience pleasure). Furthermore, we explained, NSPCC and Home Office research has identified a huge increase in abuse and violence in young peoples relationships as being partly linked to the increased treatment of women in the media as sex objects.
For the BBC to represent the protest against the event as some kind of campaign against sexiness not only tells a lie about our views, but also creates a strong bias in the story that completely makes a mockery of fair reporting. The way our views were portrayed fell back on to old boring stereotypes that those concerned with gender equality and sexual objectification are somehow anti sex or prudish. It is lazy journalism at best to have so clearly ignored our statements on this issue. At worst it is a deliberate misrepresentation of our argument.
We have constantly reiterated that our problem is not against burlesque or Dita Von Teese. It is a protest against the normalisation of the sexual objectification of women in our society. An objectification that causes harm and damage to women of all ages. Our protest was against the Bristol City Council for ignoring their gender equality duty in endorsing a performance in a public space that re-enforces the idealised woman’s body as an object for public consumption. This was not a campaign about Dita Von Teese. This was not a campaign against burlesque. And it certainly wasn’t a campaign against sexiness.
It is for this reason that I am writing this, to try and get our voices heard.