Burkas or Burlesque?
So David Cameron struggles with the concept of being a feminist? It’s a difficult declaration to make these days when you’re a woman so why should we be surprised when the cause is effectively on life support, just getting wheeled out by the chattering classes at dinner parties and in order to put the PM on the spot? I suppose when you see what’s kicking off around the world right now it’s no surprise that the subject should be put on the back burner. After all, who cares? We pretty much have equality now, the battle has been won and we can afford to take things to a different level. We’ve got the freedom to take it to the extreme, behave like dickheads and play the ‘it’s empowerment’ card when criticised. And with this New Feminism – what do we inevitably find at the centre of the discussion? What to wear – more or less, literally.
I’ve seen both sides of the coin recently and neither has struck me as being particularly empowering for women. Firstly let’s take the inalienable right for a woman to take off her clothes in public in the name of entertainment – stripping, right? No, silly – they’ve given it a veneer of middle-class respectability and called it ‘burlesque‘. It’s so life-affirming for the woman, filled with post-modern irony and it was all over the Edinburgh Fringe like a bad case of herpes. Particularly depressing was that while there were loads of talented women doing stand-up, solo shows – in fact everything that the men were doing – it did seem a lot of the time that all they were called on to do was get ’em out and shake ’em about. I thought it bad enough at the start of the Fringe when happening upon the Silhouette Burlesque, but at least the women were exhibiting a few circus and vocal skills while they stripped, but by the time of wandering into the Voodoo Rooms on the last night it seemed that we had really reached the fag-end of endeavour. While male performers were allowed to sing and tell jokes, a lone female took to the stage dressed as Margaret Thatcher and took her clothes off. Yes, that was her sole contribution. I don’t think I have to point out the irony of a powerful woman – whatever your politics – being reduced to a mute, naked mannequin…
I suppose the other side of the coin is a woman having the right to cover herself up from head to toe and walk down the street without attracting attention or disapproval. Now if we’re talking a boiler suit and balaclava we wouldn’t be surprised at getting the attention but should we be shocked when disapproval is shown towards women who wear the niqab or burka in public? Well, in the current climate – and there’s no escaping it, none of us lives in a vacuum – anyone who presents this image and cries foul when criticised is being disingenuous at best and a wannabe Samantha Lewthwaite at worst, and whether the reason cited is ‘doing it for my faith’ or ‘doing it for my sisters’ it all seems a bit hollow and another screwed-up idea of female empowerment.
So whether you want to walk down the street wearing next to nothing saying ‘fuck me’ or cover yourself from head to toe saying ‘fuck you’ … go ahead, but maybe stop and think first just exactly who you’re empowering and who you’re harming with your actions.