I used to think the internet existed for women to shout “I’m pretty!” into the void. Wishful thinking: clearly the internet exists for women to ask: “Am I pretty?”
The same could be said for the material world itself, as anyone who has ever consumed social media or witnessed the act of an adult human who is not a sex worker wearing a dress that doesn’t quite cover her vagina will attest. Last night, I was cajoled into attending a burlesque event, which proved to be an extended, IRL selfie.
By definition, the history of of burlesque includes an element of irony or parody. Unless these twenty-something women (all white) writhing around on a bar stage in suede boots and acrylic minis intended a knowing wink at and challenge of the commodification that women so eagerly assign to themselves, I missed any ounce of ironic intent.
As a generation of women raised post-riot grrrl and instead deep in the throes of the TRL era’s boring stock version of “sex”, we all just want our moment of Britney. That is, the blankest, most sexually accessible version of ourselves to be flattened on to the weak imaginations of as many men as our bustlines will allow. Even as women born in the 1980s in one of the most culturally liberal democracies on the planet, we still seek validation as successful beings primarily through the physical, specifically the body.
Perhaps most curiously, once the Catholic school collar/ fuzzy bra/”sexy” signifier was removed from the adult sentient human by herself in front of a crowd of half-drunks in a bar on a Monday night, all nipples were x-ed with black electrical tape (perhaps in current vogue thanks to the current grande dame of boring sexualism, Gaga). Does a bar need a license for nipples, like it needs one to serve alcohol on its patio? The actual sexuality of the female, then, becomes not something she owns but something that’s regulated by someone who is not her, thus able to be bought and sold. The nipples concealed somehow seem the least subversive thing of all– a rule followed, the final vestige of female nakedness just another secret kept to better tantalize the male. Radical, indeed. Anyone who didn’t yawn their way through has watched far less MTV than I, and are perhaps that much better off.