Global warming conference, take two

Another look at the Aussie upset over burlesque performers paid to entertain scientists.

Published September 11, 2006 10:44PM (EDT)

I'm hoping this is a no-brainer: Not all feminists think alike. In response to news that female burlesque performers were scheduled as entertainment at an Australian conference on global warming, causing several attendees to walk out in protest, a fellow Broadsheeter cracked, "Don't get your panties in a ruffle." Meanwhile, I had indeed gotten my knickers in quite a twist.

The problem isn't that stripping or burlesque are inherently degrading or sexist. Plenty of compelling feminist arguments have been made for the possible empowerment, pure enjoyment, or staggering money-making opportunities in these professions. But if not sexist, these performances are overtly sexual, and scheduling burlesque performers to titillate scientists at a government-sponsored symposium on global warming is about as appropriate as holding a lunch meeting with coworkers -- or a session of Congress -- at the local Hooters. As one reader wrote in, "Hey, I love a good burlesque show as much as the next girl, but I don't think I'd find it appropriate during working hours if I were talking about giant hurricanes and melting ice floes."

Of course, it also doesn't help that this stunt was executed within a field notoriously unfriendly to us womenfolk. Another reader wrote in, "As someone who has worked in a male-dominated field (in my case IT) where entertainment provided at professional gatherings would sometimes seem to assume that all of us were male, I can understand why some of the female scientists were upset at sexualised entertainment, even if it was relatively tame. Having your minority status thrust in your face, clad in vintage underwear covered in balloons, is not necessarily entertaining."

Performer Rebecca Gale, who appeared at the conference clad in balloons, which she encouraged attendees to pop in order to reveal her corset and hot-pants, defended the act, saying, "I got some of the ladies to pop the balloons as well. I wasn't discriminating." She also added, "It's not like we were 18 and blonde with big boobs." But, as Leslie Cannold argues in Australia's The Age, the warranted upset over this silly stunt has nothing to do with the virtues of burlesque, which can often subvert typical beauty standards: "[W]hile the way in which women are constructed as hot or not matters, it must at least take equal place beside the important feminist goal of defending a woman's right to occupy public space and garner public respect regardless of whether men find her horny or not."

Upsets like this one are held up as proof positive that feminists are humorless prudes. After all, if it wasn't for us killjoys, dull conferences and business meetings could be spiced up with T&A! But it's possible for some feminists to appreciate the artistry involved in burlesque -- even the fun of a debauched strip club outing -- without wanting to see pasties and corsetry make an appearance at work.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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