Burlesque's Real Tease—Since new burlesque gained popularity in Albuquerque several years back, I've tended to confusedly take issue with the distinction between it and other forms of titillating clothing removal.
Burlesque performers are thought of as daring, fun and sexy, while, say, strippers aren't. Sure, burlesque is an art, while stripping is a profession. You won't see any dude's smug face buried in a burlesque performer's gyrating ass, while at strip clubs such is a reasonable sight to behold. Burlesque is a socially acceptable way for a woman to get nearly naked in public, whereas stripping is just bodily exploitation. Strippers sell their sexuality while burlesque performers playfully give it away. One means of nudity has a validating degree of old-fashioned charm. But why get naked in the first place?
In late November my disorganized, noncohesive thoughts on the issue came together with the help of NPR's “Fresh Air” and a woman named Ariel Levy. Levy wrote a book entitled Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture which had just come out in paperback, and she was being interviewed by Terry Gross. It was a lengthy interview, but in summary, the point she made (on NPR and in her book) is that America has recently seen the development of a new kind of "feminism" wherein women gain empowerment via exposing flesh, exploiting one another and generally being game when it comes to practices traditionally seen as tenets of male chauvinism.
Suddenly everything made sense. This is why local girls were taking off their clothes in the name of charity, art and rock ’n' roll. That's why Albuquerque has two burlesque troupes that seem to be loved by all. That's why a co-organizer of a local pinup calendar told the Alibi last year in regard to the project, "You can't really ogle the woman without recognizing the woman as a person." That's why the raunchy Pussycat Dolls, originally a L.A. burlesque troupe, can claim to be "classy, yet sassy." Supposedly, feminism has achieved its goals, and now girls can relax and just have fun. Under the new system, public nudity is seen as liberating, if not a rite of passage.
I hereby call bullshit. While I personally don't have a problem with burlesque, pinup or any other kind of artful nudity, claiming not to exploit your body, or to actually become inclusively empowered by participating in such activities, is arrant nonsense inspired by trends in the mass media. Whether or not you put old-fashioned sass into what you're doing, you're still removing your clothes to get men off and simultaneously submitting to current attitudes of crass commercialism.