Saturday, May 31, 2014

#YesAllWomen Means Burlesque Dancers Too

I haven't talked much about feminism and burlesque because it's a tired conversation that has gotten nowhere (the link reveals truly how long the debate has gone on). However, as an unapologetic hardcore feminist and overall social justice rogue, I can't avoid the topic. This past week, the #YesAllWomen movement has really taken off, and it really warms my hard heart to see burlesque dancers use the hashtag to share their stories and stand in solidarity.

my second cosplay ever:
Umi Ryuuzaki from
Magic Knight Rayearth
It's about damn time. A year ago, the "Cosplay Is Not Consent" movement began, uniting cosplayers all over the world against harassment. Many were already sharing their stories before then, but this helped bring the problem to the mainstream. I remember the second time I cosplayed, the first time I attended a convention, almost resulted in me quitting. Thankfully there wasn't any unwanted physical contact or too lewd remarks (though what kind of world do we live in when we're thankful of that?), but it was obvious that the people did not even consider that the group had underage member.

 I bring up my cosplay experience for several reasons. The first is that Elsa S. Henry proposed a same movement last year for the scene. Before reading article, I had only dealt with minor incidents of harassment and inappropriate behavior. How naive of me to think that burlesque was "safe". To make things worse, when I talked about it to non-burlesque friends and how I didn't know if I wanted to go to BHoF anymore, a couple said, "Well, what do you expect?" Cosplay and burlesque are not the only scenes subjected to rampant misogyny. It's everywhere, and that is why #YesAllWomen was created.

With burlesque though, there is more cause for outrage. Dancers using the hashtag have been accused of being hypocritical and told that they "deserved" to be harassed or worse due to what they do and what they wear. What bullshit. I got harassed in my Umi Ryuuzaki cosplay which covered every inch of me except my face, neck, and hands. I've been harassed while wearing business casual as much as I've been harassed while in a bra and panties. It's especially hurtful when feminists turn on dancers because it weakens the movement. Yes, burlesque has bawdy origins and you can catcall the dancers on-stage, but like cosplayers, we are still people. We are people who work hard at what we do and are proud of it. Those who enjoy the fruits of our labor but can't stomach our humanity, who won't accept the brains and heart that comes with the beauty, can head out the door; slut shamers are not welcome here.

Respect shouldn't depend on what you're wearing
or whether you're working press or stripping.
Obviously I did not quit cosplay because I wasn't going to let a bad experience get me down. I still am incredibly frustrated at the misogyny, whether it's my sexy cosplay sisters getting accused of being "attention whores" or dealing with a guy who does not understand that "You're a cute Asian" is not a legit reason to take my photo when I'm not in costume. I'm equally frustrated at burlesque shows when guys try to sneak behind the merch table or when drunk women say they'll pay me to bend over like I do on-stage. Sometimes I wonder if I should speak up, but there's always a fear that the perpetrator will freak out and make a scene (and that's not the worst that could happen). Then that just looks bad for me and the show.

This is why the solidarity I saw this week is so important. Knowing that we have each other's backs makes me feel a little safer. On top of that, seeing male dancers share articles in support reveals that we are being heard by the guys. I know that there is an element of fantasy in both burlesque and cosplay. However, as I've said before, we are real people. We deserve nothing less than the respect shown to co-workers, family, and friends. We deserve to have our voices heard because #YesAllWomen includes us.

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