Today’s topic is burlesque. Specifically, this question a friend tossed at me while I was whining that I didn’t know what to write about.

blog on whether burlesque is a celebration of female sexuality or an objectification of women, and is it really objectification or just good advertising if it’s consensual and it’s the woman herself who is objectifying herself?

On the first part, the short answer is “it depends”. Burlesque is simply too broad a category, taken as a whole, to be classified like this. You’ll find shows that are either, neither, both, or even “reply hazy, try again later”. Worse, celebration & objectification are both subjective concepts with fuzzy edges. Thanks to confirmation bias, watching the same show with different expectations could give radically different opinions.

I can say something similar for the second part, lots of good (or at least effective) advertising also objectifies women. Often more clearly than your average burlesque, I mean few burlesques can be boiled down to “look at these tits, now buy our beer!”

I think the tricky part here is that there’s a sort of low-grade objectification of women suffused throughout our culture. There’s been a concerted effort to eliminate it for a while now, with a slow but certain improvement. We’re not there yet, but we’ve been making progress. There’s also been quite a lot of pushback against this in the last year or two, which is now being called the “War on Women”.

A lot of people associate objectification with sex. Well, who could blame them? Just look at how many advertisements treat women as prizes to be won or payment to be earned, and the subtext is always sex. As though the only reason a man might want to have a woman around is to be decorative until he wants a fuck.

You see what objectification is really about is treating people like things.

  • “Any brave knight who can vanquish the dragon will win the princess’s hand in marriage!” Doesn’t it matter what the princess thinks about that?
  • “Use this body spray and women will follow you everywhere!” Just like the rats in the Pied Piper of Hamlin, women have no free will and are completely slaves to their base instincts.
  • “God had Satan murder Job’s wife, but it’s okay because God gave him a new wife later!” Are wives really interchangeable?

At least the body spray one is obviously hyperbole.

I’ve wandered a bit. It’s been a long day. I really don’t know what modern burlesque is like, which is a little embarrassing because at least two women I know are fans of it and have invited me to shows. What can I say, I don’t get out much these days.

I suppose if the message of the show is, “Look how sexy this is”, that’s not necessarily objectifying, it’s just shallow. It’s when a person is denied their humanity that they’re really being treated as an object. Frankly I doubt burlesque could possibly compete with television on that count.

About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on March 13, 2012, in Daily Post and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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