The Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival gals started up the #sodemeaning campain on Twitter / other social media as a response to the suggestion that Burlesque was demeaning to women, which came in the rejection letter to their request to book the Hebden Bridge Picture House. (which I blogged about last time) Lots of people who are involved in Burlesque, and don’t feel in the least “demeaned” have contributed.  But it got my little etymological brain thinking and wondering about this whole demeaning thing.

What does it mean, to demean? (what is de meaning of demeaning…?)Who demeans? Is an action demeaning? Can it be? Who gets to decide?
And also the term “objectifying” – which is also used, and was repeated several times in the town hall meeting the other night. I know it is a commonly used term and concept – I get entirely what it means in the context – but I hate the word. I find it nonsensical.

The dictionary definitions of to demean are interesting.

To demean: cause a severe loss in the dignity of and respect for (someone or something):
To demean oneself: to do something which is beneath ones dignity.

So lets throw in dignity too:

the state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect:
a composed or serious manner or style:
a sense of pride in oneself; self-respect:

So – people are saying that Burlesque causes a severe loss in the state of being worthy of honour or respect of women.

Or, – Burlesque causes a severe loss in the serious manner or style of women.

Or, – Burlesque causes a severe loss of the sense of pride in themselves and self respect of women.

Or. Burlesque is beneath the dignity of women …

I see an awful lot of subjectivity here.
And a horrible concept that anything a woman does can be used as an excuse to deem her un-“worthy of honour or respect”. Doesn’t matter if a woman wobbles naked on a pole with pencils up her nose and a teacosy on her head, she’s a human being, a living creature and so is worthy of honour and respect.  If other people choose not to treat her (or any woman) without honour or respect, it is not her actions which cause it and are at fault, rather their reactions, attitudes, and subsequent behaviours. Ditto if people think less of women because Burlesque exists, – is that Burlesque’s fault? (or – lets face it, we say burlesque, but people don’t seem that bothered by the singing, comedy, dancing – it’s nakedness, or the removal of clothing they don’t like)

Burlesque causes a severe loss of the sense of pride in themselves and self respect of women.  – This is about how a woman feels about herself, and only she can know. If someone performing Burlesque feels such a loss in pride / self respect, then God yes, stop it immediately, put down the feathers, step away from the sequins, it’s not for you. But most performers I have heard comment say the opposite. It has increased their confidence, their pride, their self respect.  Or let us think about if it is the woman watching who loses her pride, etc. Again, many audience members express the feeling that there is something about Burlesque which they find empowering and confidence building. Granted not every woman might feel that way. People’s attitudes to nakedness and sensuality are widely different. Someone might see  a woman joyously bouncing nearly nude with sparkly tassles on her nipples as fun, funny, celebratory – someone else might find it embarrassing and tasteless. Neither is wrong, both are right – for themselves.

And what then for the “Women” in general – not the performers, or the audience – the general category of women. Does it affect their pride in themselves that other women do this? That this exists? And if it does, is that something that can be helped – a valid reason to stop the continuation of an activity which, as has been noted, other women find empowering. Or is it possible that there is more going on in the mind / life of the women who object – that may not be solved even by the disappearance of the Burly crew?

Leaving us with Burlesque is beneath the dignity of women. It is something unfitting for them to do. Who says? Who gets to say what is fitting for women? Presumably not men – but, did we get together and have a vote, to say, this is what x amount of us want to be included in the list of activities fitting for a woman to do – therefore we will all be held to it? Was this the same vote that meant there is a sneer on the face of some professional women who hear of someone choosing to stay home and look after the household and/or children? Which said we should all pursue “equality” with men by pretending to be them in the business sphere?

Oh – I missed one out.

Burlesque causes a severe loss in the serious manner or style of women.

I should hope so too… Maybe they have a point 😉

Equality of opportunity I take to mean that everyone, regardless of gender, race, sexuality, age, political belief etc. – should have equal access to opportunities for education, employment, healthcare, etc etc. Not that we should have access to things we didn’t have before, but no longer do, or take pleasure in anything which may have once figured in a more restrictive scope of woman’s capability.  No one should be forced into any form of work, or feel they have no option but to do a kind of work they don’t want to do – but that could equally be scrubbing floors as it could stripping. Whatever work someone does by choice, they should not be exploited, they should be given fair reward. But if someone enjoys what they do, is well rewarded and in no way coerced, we should respect that choice.

A brief note on objectification too – which we will take to mean that which makes a woman be viewed as a sexual object. I agree there is too much in society which presents women in this way – and only this way. I object to Page 3 and Lads mags – because they objectify, and dehumanise women not just in the imagery but also in the associated text. I don’t object to pictures of naked people. Is a nude portrait objectifying? If not why not?  And – what about those moments you want to be viewed as a sexual object? Not just a sexual object, but you want someone to notice that aspect of you, while accepting there is more to you than that alone. Might be for personal, intimate reasons, or perhaps public, performing reasons. Are women not allowed to choose to be objectified, even for a little while?

Objections to the above (using the word object too much now) – seem to me to not be about the “object” or “action” – not the performance, the body, the picture – but about the behaviour of certain men in response to those stimuli. And yet we seek to place the blame on Burlesque. Cover up we say. And yet in another voice might condemn a culture which requires women to wear a burqa to protect men from sin.  Men are capable of learning self control, and knowing when something is and isn’t appropriate. That men misbehave, are rude, letcherous, and occasionally abusive and criminal – is never the fault of a woman, but the men themselves.


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