Debate: Is Burlesque At Clare A Step Back For Women?

Burslesque is coming to Clare Ents. Is it a step back for women at Cambridge, or just a bit of fun?

Burlesque Clare College Dance ents Feminism Sex sexism women

At the end of Michaelmas term Cherry and Ruby, a Burlesque duo, will be making an appearance at Clare Ents. But is this exciting or dangerous?

EVIE PRICHARD argues that burlesque is great.

Clare Cellars is the most under-rated venue in Cambridge. Once the crypt of Clare Chapel, the hallowed stone rooms still have an air of spooky grandeur and mystery. Fill them with students and they are the perfect venue for the first Cambridge ent to feature, in the words of Caitlin Moran:” “Lapdancing’s older, darker, cleverer sister.”

As a huge burlesque fan I couldn’t be happier.

Many argue that burlesque is no different from lap dancing, pole dancing and all the other means by which clothes are removed for the enjoyment of strangers. But, if you put aside your prejudice, you’ll find burlesque is intrinsically more cerebral than its modern-day counterparts.

Most of the time, burlesque routines involve careful thought, elaborate costumes and a fair dollop of risqué humour. Even when the dancers aren’t dressed as nuns, Marlene Dietrich or a tightly bound statue of liberty dancing to Tom Lehrer’s Masochism Tango, (all of which are readily available on YouTube), the sense of spectacle and vintage fun is enough to shift the tone from pornographic to cheeky. And as Caitlin Moran explains: if gay men enjoy it, then odds are it’s okay for women to like it too.

Not only do you not need to be sexually attracted to the performers to enjoy burlesque, you don’t need to be sexually attractive to perform it either. One of burlesque’s greatest features is its freedom from the demand of a ‘perfect’ body. Fat women perform burlesque. Middle-aged women perform burlesque. Burly drag queens perform burlesque. It is an arena in which any sexuality can be expressed, independently of the demands or desires of its audience. What could be more liberating than that?

Ultimately, a woman can watch a burlesque act without feeling awkward or excluded, and this in itself goes a long way towards redeeming the whole art from accusations of sexism. Certainly burlesque exhibits female sexuality, but it does not demean it.

EMILY ALLDRIT argues that Clare Cellars are wrong to introduce burlesque.

I am not a militant feminist, I am not an evangelical Christian, but I think that burlesque, a wonderful art in many respects, has no place at a Cambridge ent.

This university has an image problem. It is thought of as a male dominated, old-fashioned institution, which thinks that women are to be looked at rather than to be engaged in intellectual debate. My college, Corpus, didn’t allow women to become undergraduates until 1986. That’s a statistic they like to keep buried, but even today, it is a 65% male college.

If we want a better reputation, it is much too soon to start parading women around as entertainment. I imagine many will argue burlesque is an art that celebrates how talented and beautiful women can be, but we all know it won’t be like that. It will be a grim, sleazy affair, full of rugby players. It will not enhance the status of the feminine form in Cambridge, but cheapen it. I would love to see a celebration of femininity and female sexuality, but this ent is quite clearly just going to be about objectification.

The majority of men at Cambridge are not sexist. When it is explained to them (feminism is the belief that women are equal to men), some of them will even admit to being feminists. But this ent will not only serve as a rally for the un-englightened, it will project an image that belongs deep in the past. Women have worked too long and too hard to be respected in academia for it to be scoffed at in an evening’s light entertainment.

The beauty of the female form cannot and should not be denied. But while this university’s embarassing history remains recent, and there are still students who believe a woman’s place is the kitchen, we cannot afford to reinforce our reputation or humour our lingering resident chauvinists.

What do you think? Use the comment board below to share your thoughts.

Illustration by Esther Harding