A question that has troubled me since I began burlesque performance was whether burlesque really was a part of female empowerment or just simply women consenting to being objects onstage. Having not been around when burlesque began, it is impossible to comment on performer’s reasons for taking the stage and slinging, but I certainly believe that its twenty-first century revival has been taken up by strong women looking to take contol of their own sexuality.
Burlesque is subversive partly because of the sort of girls who seem to have taken it on. Inspired by Bettie Page, these girls (and myself included) are usually alternative, sometimes pierced and tattooed, and certainly not the types of performers you would be likely to see at your local strip club. Indeed, the burlesque scene is full of strong women who seem to have modelled themselves on an image of their own.
It is from this idea that my newest routine, “Masculine Women Feminine Men,” was born. I wanted to create what could be argued to be a feminist burlesque routine. It was an idea that took a lot of considering, before I finally decided to put a costume together and to begin to work on the striptease itself. Quite quickly, I decided that the simplest way of showing feminist ideas visually was to play on ideas of gender. I have always been interested in the concept of gender being a patriarchal construction, and so I decided to explore this throughout my performance.
The routine takes on a Neo-Victorian/Steampunk theme, and this choice was inspired by novels like Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet amongst many others. I take the stage as a Victorian boy and take on a series of stereotypical masculine postures.
However, as the music changes, my movements become gradually more feminine, and I begin to striptease to reveal myself as a woman.
From this, I feel that the routine to some extent highlights gender as a social construction and as something that is performative, rather than biological.
The first part of the music is the beginning of a piece called ‘Masculine Women Feminine Men’ from the 1920s, which I have since found out is a song that was adopted by the LGBT. The song explores the idea that at the beginning of the twentieth century, the lines of gender were already beginning to blur. I thought that this song would certainly be fitting my routine. The song then cuts into a song by The Dresden Dolls, who I have always considered to be a feminist band to some extent.
I debuted this routine at the Nemacon Afterparty, which was the afterparty for an anime convention based in Middlesbrough. I thought that it would be the most suitable of my routines for such an event due to the steampunk image of the costume. The routine was very well received and although the audience members that I had the opportunity to speak to afterwards mostly commented on elements of my costume, some did still recognise and enjoy the gender theme as well.
Overall, I think that this routine works on two levels. If you enjoy the discussion of gender playing throughout it then that’s great, however, if you prefer to view it as a steampunk routine, then that is absolutely fine too.
I’ve performed this routine so far at a number of venues, and it is fast becoming one of my most popular routines.