Don’t worry, not a feminist rant coming up, infact I don’t really like the word feminist. I’m one of those annoying people that says I believe in equality for all, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, age, health, race or any other factor that make you marginalised. Of course I am relatively well read and I do get the concept that Feminism is not a dirty word and that much of the movement IS infact about equality. Equality for women, often from a female perspective.
As a women then surely you are a feminist by birth right? Surely every women has their own interest in the forefront of their minds and a desire for equality for themselves and their ‘sisters’? Apparently not…according to some. There are always the extremes of any movement and there are plenty of women out there who will tell other women that their choices harm women/the movement. That by making certain choices they are perpetuating the female stereotype, or even that their choices are not their own. Sometimes I read condescending articles telling women that a patriarchal society presents them with options that mean they are forced to play their part in the anti-feminist society in which we live. Or similar. And there’s the few, the fanatical minority, that are branded ‘men haters’. The ones who might tell you that even consensual sex is tantamount to rape because of the dynamic between the sexes. Well, you obviously know these people are the extreme.
Can a man be a feminist? Seriously, Google that. There are way too many articles on the subject. Some saying being a feminist as a man is misogynistic (yeah, I haven’t grasped this yet myself). Or that men can’t understand the female struggle, which has a truth to it. However I fail to see how a man can’t be interested in gender equality and can’t at the very least sympathise with women. Afterall, I’m white Caucasian, does that make my being involved in anti-racism campaigning somehow racist? I bloody hope not. I just want to live in a world where people are nicer to one another and more tolerant.
I understand that equality is a lovely concept, but it’s huge. An equality movement wouldn’t make the same inroads as separate factions that focus on certain aspects that people can identify with. (That’s not say never the twain shall meet, black feminists being the supreme example. But for the ease of thought process let’s move on). That all makes sense to me. So I support gender equality, I support feminism in theory – though some of the radical ideologies leave me cold. I’m wary of the word when I shouldn’t be and I’m wary of the arguments surrounding what should be such a simple concept.
Oh, and I love it when someone opens a door for me. Not because I’m a weak female who needs a heavy door opened. Or because I think I’m superior. Or because I value chivalry as a male quality. Nope. Just because it’s polite and nice, whoever holds open the door, and I like polite, nice people.
So where does this leave me, as a woman in her thirties in 2014 who enjoys burlesque? Apart from deeply confused and also afraid of the scorn of the harshly opinionated about my understanding of my own gender. A good question.
I have a successful career, I’m in a heterosexual relationship, I’m white, we’re not on the bread line, I went to university, I don’t have children, I’m engaged, I read broadsheets, I can appreciate both hip-hop and classical music, I like foreign films, I give money to charity, I’m a liberal, I buy food on Ocado and I own some Cath Kidston print. Yep, I’m decidedly middle class. I almost feel embarrassed and ashamed by this, like somehow I need to apologise for it. What could I possibly know about struggle?
Well of course that’s nonsense and I can provide some equal lists that give my other credentials. My mental illness, my punk sensibilities, my own personal tragedies, my Welsh nationality, my sexuality, my goody two shoes volunteering work etc. etc. But it shouldn’t be a contest, or about credentials.
I enjoy baking, I like retro 1950s fashions and music, I prefer my men manly and not metrosexuals, I am drawn to BDSM, I want to get married. There are some people who will tell me I’m an exciting kind of new wave feminist and there are others who will be shocked at my blatant ‘buying in’ of retro sexism.
So, I find my choices questioned and conflicting but equally well argued articles abound about my place as a woman and I get confused. I used to be an amateur burlesque dancer, it felt sexy and empowering and I enjoyed it and got excited by all the shiny. It is seen by some as decidedly feminist, or ironic. Woman choosing to display their big or small bodies and create entertainment how they see fit. It’s about tease, seduction and humour. Often women don’t get naked, a lot of the audience are females. Everyone has fun and what’s the harm? But then some see it as dangerous and neo-sexist, doing more damage to the ‘cause’ as it starts to mainstream erotised females. I won’t even bother with the debate that men do burlesque too.
I gave up for many reasons but the primary being a foot problem, plantar fasciitis, which has plagued me for several years. I could barely walk for a lot of 2012. I’d always been on the heavy side, after an illness around age 25 made me gain weight. But I was always floating between a size 16 and a size 18 and I had, through burlesque and good friends, learned to love my curves. And why shouldn’t I? They suited me well, I was healthy, I looked good and had my fair share of compliments. But I always had that nagging feeling I ought to lose weight and return to the size 12/14 of my early 20s. Then as the weight began to pile on again in 2012 I no longer felt comfortable taking off my clothes. (Insert obligatory comments here about the negative role of the media in perpetuating the stereotype of conventional beauty as thin).
There are many that would use the above as an argument against burlesque. Saying that it has had a negative effect on my body image. I can assure you it’s not burlesque that does that. Air brushing, the inability to find my size in high street stores and the nasty purple stretchmarks on my body do play their part. Yes, my socialisation and the ideals presented by the media are hard to get away from. But most importantly, I’m no longer happy with how I look. I don’t feel sexy. I’m not a healthy size. I need to lose weight for my health and my mind. And so I am working on that, slowly but surely.
Am I a feminist? Who knows, it’s become too confusing to tell! When I return to my goal size of a voluptuous size 16 I may choose to dance again, I may not. But I am lucky enough to live in a society where that is my choice. I hope it stays that way.