NEW YORK – Self-described feminist Lydia Pembroke attended a friend’s burlesque show Monday evening in a demonstration of sisterly solidarity, and while she appreciated the show’s production values, she didn’t get it at all and had to pretend otherwise.
Upon greeting her friend at the stage door, Pembroke exclaimed, “I loved how vibrant the costumes were!” She hoped an effusive compliment would hide her ambivalence towards the medium. Was burlesque an inversion of the male gaze or a mere replication that masqueraded as progressive?
“I love how you kept your nipples covered. That totally makes it art,” she said, almost sounding convinced. She wasn’t certain if concealing nipples elevated the act of stripping to an art form or reinforced the idea that women’s nipples are obscene. She did, however, enjoy that the pasties worn reminded her of Lil’ Kim’s 1999 VMAs outfit.
During the performance, Pembroke had an urge to tip the performers like one would drag queens or strippers. But then she recalled that burlesque ISN’T stripping; it exists for women’s pleasure, despite the many men intently watching. Lydia had long assumed the distinction between woman-centric erotic performance and sex work was crystal clear, but now she wasn’t sure. She was in the middle of determining whether a women-only audience would honor the form’s intentions when she was completely distracted by someone’s butt.
Lydia was later seen leaving the theater and agreeing against her better judgment to attend a performer’s kink-positive orgy the next weekend. In the meantime, she’ll be Googling “rope play” and meditating on whether her sexual hang-ups are anti-feminist or not.