I have been called a hypocrite on three occasions between now and December. Not a nice thing to be called to be honest, and only the right move to make if your reasons are incredibly solid. Alas, it seems that some think the aforementioned solid reason to whip out the H word is that I support the No More Page 3 campaign while holding a part time occupation as a burlesque dancer.
This occurred on Facebook and Twitter, which saw me argue my case on a public forum. Each occurrence resulted in people stepping in to stick up for me (including Lucy Holmes herself – official founder of the No More Page 3 campaign) and others questioning whether I really could show full support for a campaign that is trying to remove public nudity. I was even blogged about on Rarely Wears Lipstick.
Following several angry exchanges and hours of breakneck typing, I think it’s time to clarify exactly why I should not be compared to the likes of the infamous Page 3 girls.
Unbelievably, this is the Facebook status that kicked it all off:
It was (quite rightly so) just a nod to an article in the Independent flagging how important it is that domestic violence and rape is not used as a basis for a jokey marketing campaign (FHM, ZOO Australia and Virgin Mobile I’m looking at you). Desensitising the public on these issues to make them casual, unimportant topics is dangerous and unhelpful, and when you add exploitation dressed up as role model behaviour into the mix, we’re just another step down the treacherous path of the undermining of Western females, a continuation of inequality between the sexes and a fear for the safety of females in a world where being sexually assaulted is seen as a laugh. Think I’m being too prude? Too literal? Too fascist? Ask a victim.
To be met with the response “but don’t you dance naked?” knocked me for six. Considering I had shared content about rape and violence against women, this person appeared to be saying I had to put up with it because I partake in burlesque. Stripped down (for want of a better phrase), is this not regressing back to the age old “asking for it” accusation? Asking for it by doing something that I’m actually supposed to have every right to do?
If burlesque shows had a countdown until a dancer’s sixteenth birthday – when she can legally have sex, though apparently an entire nation of people ogling at the breasts of a minor is completely acceptable – then I would not dance at them. As it is, I dance in safely organised events where people have consented and paid to see me dance, rather than me bump and grind on every coffee table from Glasgow to Brighton and beyond, no matter who was there to see it. Because that, surely, is what the case is when someone puts down a copy of The Sun in public.
Unlike the Internet, a newspaper cannot have parental controls placed on it. And unlike a porn site or the doors of a theatre or even the doors of a strip club, access to a newspaper is in no way restricted, accessible by children both in and out of shops because a young girls tits are shoved right there next to a “news” item like it’s the most normal thing in the world. If anything, viewing by children is encouraged – brands like Lego run child targeted promotions with them.
What kind of example does that set to the next generation? I’ll tell you. The very same example set by prehistorically opinionated, power hungry, sexist men from the 50s, 40s, 30s and indeed right the way back in history where despite being the givers of life, primary carers of the young and sick and the rocks of wartime society, women were regarded as mere instruments of pleasure.
The difference between me as a stripping dancer and the girls published in that godforsaken rag is that I’m in control of who I share my body with. It’s safe for me. I am seen there as a powerful and alluring figure, not as something pretty with a countdown next to my name so that anyone who picks up a newspaper can feel less guilty about wanting to fuck me despite being too young and therefore not fully developed as a woman. Also known as a child. And I seriously judge anyone who is of age and poses for them whilst being fully aware that this goes on.
So I will continue to dance in the face of such an ignorant backlash. I will continue to strip in burlesque clubs and theatres and cabaret venues. What’s more, I will continue to demand respect for it, and not cheapen the art of burlesque dancing by keeping quiet instead of dutifully arguing that Page 3 and the trivialisation of rape should be removed from our newspapers. Western women already have the right to dance naked if they wish to, but if those who want to do it are still compared to this kind of perverse PR stunt and – more importantly – are held back and judged against it, how will we ever break that mould to be able to live that lifestyle if we want to? All we have to remember is that using your body as an art form has a time and a place, much like heavily political discussions, religious debate and having one too many pints. Page 3 is not the time or place for this imagery.
So to those who called me a hypocrite, and tell me that as a performer I sacrifice my right to respect, protection and physical safety: You tell me whether it’s still worth taking the integrity away from my occupation.
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