This year, one of my friends is in The Slutcracker, a burlesque version of the Nutcracker. This show puts both men and women, though mostly women, on display, perhaps allowing the objectification of their bodies by turning them into spectacle. In Cornell’s article, she describes the ordinance against pornography that allowed a woman to complain if she was negatively affected by pornographic images “that presented her exclusively as a sexually viable commodity and thus silenced other forms of her self-presentation” (3). Burlesque could be thought to turn men and women into one-dimensional, purely sexualized images – stripping them of true identity. However, Cornell also asks, “can sexually explicit…art…serve the purpose of sexual freedom?” (11). In the context of strip clubs, Jeffreys posits that women are not free, for they are used as sexual objects empowering men. However, the ideas of those she is arguing against can be applied to burlesque to answer Cornell. In this show, there is no chance of anyone harassing performers, so it can be a “transgressive” space (Jeffreys 153). The “empowerment or expression of agency” that Jeffreys says women cannot gain by being strippers can perhaps be gained by being performers in burlesque (162-163). Cornell asks of sex clubs if they can “serve sexual freedom, especially women’s sexual freedom more directly be giving us the space to act out?” (8). And this idea of a “space to act out” is key because there are few public spaces where it is acceptable to “act out,” perform, or revel in one’s sexuality. Sexual exploration is generally private and thus can be rendered shameful, something to be hidden. So, though burlesque may seem to objectify its actors, it can also give them a key space to explore and display their sexuality, a space where it can be appreciated without being exploited.
Cornell, Drucilla. Feminism and Pornography.
Jeffreys, Sheila. “Keeping Women Down and Out: The Strip Club Boom and the Reinforcement of Male Dominance.”