The great Hebden Bridge Burlesque Battle

There are few things that get me agitated. I’m a fairly placid soul. But every so often something will get up my nose enough that I will commit that most British act of protest and write a letter. You may recall a short while ago I got my knickers in a twist about Equal Marriage. This time, it’s Burlesque.  You may or may not see the connection. For me, they are quite similar issues. It’s about the decision of some people, who don’t approve of something, seeking to stop other people, who don’t share those opinions or beliefs, from doing that something. The people behind the decision not to allow the Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival to hold a Gala performance at the Hebden Bridge Picture House – may not feel they have anything in common with the specimens who can be seen speaking against the Equal Marriage legislation currently going through Parliament, be they “family values” Tories or religious traditionalists. But how are they different?  Those who seek to deny gay people the right to marry, do so from a fundamental belief that this is somehow wrong, and sends the wrong message to society.  Those who say they don’t want Hebden Royd Town Council associated with Burlesque, feel that this would insinuate they approve of what they believe to be and activity which is demeaning to women.

Beliefs being what they are – they are not shared by all. And that’s ok. I may disagree with someone else’s beliefs, be appalled by them, whatever. But they can have those beliefs.  Where it bothers me is when someone seeks to force their beliefs on others. Usually by stopping them from doing something.  Denying them the choice to make their own decisions. As the joke goes, if you don’t agree with gay marriage, don’t get gay married.

It’s a fine line. I can see. And there are two sides to this row. One – the “rights and wrongs” of Burlesque as an art form in the wider context of a society which has many negative sexualised images of women, etc. Two – the decision of a small number of people to effectively act as moral arbiters for the town by pre-censoring the event, without adequate local consultation, as the result of some people’s personal beliefs about Burlesque.

I personally love Burlesque.  I have attended several events over the past few years and each time have come away feeling inspired and empowered.  Seeing strong, vibrant, and confident women of all sizes and different ages – helped to heal some of the wounds for me of living in the society we live in.  It may seem odd to say that I love Burlesque, and yet don’t like things like Page 3, Lads Mags, strip clubs. But what I don’t like about those things is not nakedness, or stripping – it’s attitude. It’s power, and the abuse of it. 

Burlesque isn’t just stripping.  There’s comedy, costume, dance, song, and also (s0metimes) the removal of clothes. It’s not just women. I have been fortunate enough to see a male performance and it was hilarious. And yes, he did get down to as little as he was probably legally allowed to wear. I’ve seen some magnificent, excellently choreographed, beautifully costumerd performances – but actually the ones which touch me most are the more amateur ones. Where someone has just finished doing a course, and are braving the stage. They might not get it totally “right”, they might be middle aged, certainly not perfect, but there is something magnificent about someone shucking off all of the things society tells them about getting older, having a few saggy bits, what a woman should or shouldn’t do – and sticking up two fingers and be a magnificent and beautiful, and yes – sexual creature. (Though it’s important to say – it is only our culture which seems to make nakedness always have to be about sexuality.)

When she goes home, she can be mum again. The next day, go back to her job, and excell in all sorts of different ways, at different things. But it acknowledges our inner sexuality.

I’ve always had a problem with the branch of Feminism which I call Baby-with-the-bathwater Feminism.  Women whose response to the negative sexual imagery and aspects of society, is to say – sex has no place in society. It should be behind the bedroom door, and then, only enjoyed in strictly approved ways. Who think women shouldn’t dress in particular ways, act in particular ways, enjoy particular activities.  I had one friend at uni who I thought was a lesbian. This is how she described herself. And yet I found out years later that she also slept with men, but thought it was more important to be “politically lesbian”, as sleeping with men didn’t send the right message. She did it anyway.  Personally – I think there is quite an important political statement to be made in actually being honest about yourself and who you love.

Bit of a tangent – but the point is women are different, and some find things opressive and uncomfortable that others find envigorating and exciting. Some aren’t’ that into sex. Some find it suffuses there life in all sorts of ways.  Some love hearts and flowers, some are into S&M / Submission and Dominance. Yes. Some like to be submissive. To an extent where others might feel they were being mistreated. There’s a million and one reasons why we become the sexual creatures we are. It has to be acknowledged. And to me – part of that, is by presenting positive sexual imagery and role models to counteract the negative.  Not denying that sex is part of life.  Art imitates life. Sex is going to be in there somewhere.

All of the above, is kind of moot in relation to the Hebden Bridge Picture House issue. The committee mention equality issues. The Equality Act protects various characteristics – Gender, Sexual Orientation, Race, Disability, Age, Religion or Belief.  But what does it protect? It is about equal treatment and prevention of discriminatory practice. Making sure that a man is not treated differently from a woman because he is a man, or, perhaps that someone with one philosophical belief, say, that Burlesque demeans women – is not given different treatment from someone who has an opposing belief. So long as neither is illegal.  For me, the only way to give both people the choice to exercise their philosophical discretion is to allow the performance to happen, and give people the choice whether they want to go or not.

People are saying there should be wider consultation before a decision is made. Personally I think it sets a dangerous precedent anyway – why do they need to censor legal activity?  The plebicite is on the door. If people don’t want it, they won’t go. If it’s not successful, it won’t come back. If people want to protest, debate, engage, let them. But in a way which doesn’t deny other people the right to celebrate their bodies they way they want to.

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