a Feminist Ideal
By Linsey Lindberg (a.k.a. Mama Lou)
Images: Sweet Dirty Parla
As women artists and revolutionaries,
we believe that the visual image communicates with people and expresses
the tone of a movement in a
special way that cannot be filled by words because people communicate
through art and because art is part of the growing revolutionary counterculture.—Stacy
S. of the Chicago Women’s Graphics Collective
In the early 60s women of the feminist movement were fighting for reproductive
choice, educational and occupational options, legal rights and pushing
the levels of acceptability in personal relationship power struggles.
Today’s neo-burlesque scene speaks to all these issues.
Here in NYC, if you slip into the back room of some small bars on any given night,
you are likely to find something of the “burlesque” sort going on.
But why are hip communities of people all over the U.S. warmly embracing it?
After all, burlesque was the original strip tease. If “old burlesque” was
the equivalent of a trip to Scores Strip Club, then why the comeback? And why
are so many smart and ‘normal’ women flocking not only to see this
art, but also to participate? The answer is fairly simple and absolutely wonderful.
The resurgence of burlesque has to do with reclaiming an art that has garnered
a negative female stereotype for so long.
Traditionally, women have been told that their body and sexuality is something
to be seen and enjoyed only by men, that we are not allowed to be both smart
and sexy for our own pleasure, and that in order to be “beautiful” the
female body must measure up to the standards codified by our Britney and Paris-crazed
society. These are the ideas that neo-burlesque challenges by recasting those
stereotypes. Watch a burlesque dame strut her stuff and remove key articles of
clothing and you will see a confident, smart, sophisticated woman who is unafraid
of social pressures and proud of her body and her sexuality. She mocks and makes
jest of the role women have played in men’s fantasies—changing it
over to ask the more important question, what role do I want to play in my own
Let’s look at an example of the subversive mocking and re-casting of neo-burlesque.
Burlesque starlet Peek-a-boo Pointe created an act where she is dressed as a
1950s housewife. In this piece, Ms. Pointe’s happiness is found doing her
husband’s ironing. As she dutifully irons she beautifully mocks the pseudo-happiness
of the Donna Reed age. She continues her task, quickly becoming fixated on the
crotch area of her husband’s trousers. Inhaling the wafting sent from his
pants’ crotch, she becomes exceptionally randy. This aromatic must inspires
her to undress and begin ironing her own clothes in lovely sardonic fashion.
Do we challenge being part of a separate stereotyped “feminine” sphere
by drawing so much attention to it and effectively mocking it? Absolutely. Are
we promoting the agenda of the women’s liberation movement? While it may
not be intentional, it speaks inevitability of a step forward in feminist thinking.
It emerges in an art form like burlesque because everyone is ready for it to.
And performers are interested in sharing this synthesis of sexuality and creativity
with all women.
Burlesque is about bringing women together through our mutual sexuality, common
fantasies and the natural beauty of each individual female body. One of the best
things about burlesque is that the women who perform don’t fit into a cookie
cutter mold of “appropriate body-type.” We are all women, all curves,
some more on top, some more on bottom, every single one of us has cellulite,
we eat cupcakes, candy, drink sodas on stage… After all, we aren’t
trying to “be” anything other than normal women who are also sex
Ultimately, the “meaning” of burlesque is up to the viewer. But if
you listen to what I’m saying—watch what I’m saying—when
I’m on stage you’ll start to notice the difference between burlesque
and stripping. I’m not saying, “Look at me because I’m a female
and I can get you sexually excited.” I’m saying, “I’m
letting you look at me because I’m okay with my body and I am a sexual
and creative creature and what I offer is a gift to all I give it to.”
The point is we open ourselves up in order to discover our own freedom and power.
We go against everything we have been brought up to believe is “good” for
self-respecting girls. But I’ll tell you, I have more respect for myself
now than I ever did before I started performing burlesque. I have challenged
myself, my self-image, my standing in society and with my family. I’m risking
a lot, but I’ve gained so much more. If you’re performing burlesque
for the right reasons you’ll never be looked down upon by anyone who is
worth being seen by, because it is the inner beauty that shines in spite of the
presumptions and the “dirty” connotations it holds for some. The
fact is, if an audience member isn’t comfortable with female bodies (specifically
your own body) then please don’t come. I can’t make you see your
own fat thighs as beautiful. I can only show you that I think my fat thighs are.
Art can be a revolutionary and powerful voice of the feminist movement without
requiring stylistic standards. Women love burlesque because it allows them to
make the connection that it’s okay to be the best most fabulously sexual
woman you can be.
Mama Lou is a character-driven performer who uses clown, commedia, mask, and
buffon training to produce burlesque performances that are funny, sexy, and above
Out at the Movies
The Satya Interview with Steven Jenkins
At a time when mainstream media either ignored gay or lesbian
themed film or distorted it to promote pre-existing stereotypes,
Frameline stepped in to give artistic voice to the vast and diverse
From film festivals to college campuses to first-run theaters, people
are watching and discussing queer films. Foremost in the industry
is the San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival—the
world’s oldest and largest event of its kind. This year’s
29th annual event presented by Frameline kicks off on June 16th and
offers a showcase of the best of LGBTQ culture and cutting-edge films.
Now an 11-day event that takes place at four venues, it attracts
about 80,000 spectators.
After decades of media activism—and over 175 titles for rental and sale—Frameline’s
mission to “support, develop, and promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender,
and queer visibility through media arts” still holds true. Kymberlie
Adams Matthews had a chance to talk with Frameline’s Associate Director, Steven
Jenkins, on the upcoming festival and the political side of film.
How did Frameline begin?
Frameline began back in 1977 with a need perceived by three local impresarios
and film mavens for a festival exclusively devoted to lesbian and gay films.
This was in part to combat stereotypical images that were being seen in mainstream
media at the time…if at all. It started with a small festival—with
only a handful of films—and was accepted with open arms by the community
who were very eager to see more represented images of themselves. It has just
grown ever since.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender film and video makers are encouraged to
apply for the Frameline Film and Video Completion Fund. Can you tell us about
We currently grant $20,000 annually to filmmakers whose work shows enormous
promise. We recently awarded four $5,000 grants to filmmakers to complete their
they are moving into the post-production phase when they apply for the grants.
This year we will be showing two of the grant works at our festival. We are
looking to increase the grant money because this is really an important part
filmmakers locally, nationally and internationally.
With Frameline’s video distribution, what has the reaction been
from the educational community? How are the videos perceived?
Very well. We distribute widely to the educational market—from university
to K-12. There aren’t too many companies dealing with this type of media
as distributors, especially in the education-oriented titles. We are about
to publish a catalog that highlights our collection so that the education market
can get a better sense of what we have available. As well, we distribute to
and cable. We do broadcast sales and now have a limited but soon to be expanded
home video distribution plan.
Does Frameline host any free screenings in San Francisco?
We have a program at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center on Market Street
with free screenings each month. They tend to deal with social issues—for
the community to further their education—and as a way to engage local audiences.
For example, we are showing Jeremy Simmons’ documentary School’s
Out, A Life of a Gay High School in Texas, which deals with eight students in
America’s first private gay high school. Last month we screened of a
series of shorts, Mind If I Call You Sir: FTM, Butch and Beyond in the Bay
dealt with female to male transitions and issues of butch identity that played
to an absolutely packed house. And after each screening we have a panel with
filmmakers or community organizations who can speak on these issues more in
Do you view film as a form of political art?
I think film is certainly an example of that. Our films are meant to galvanize
viewers and get them thinking and acting more about the issues on view—gay
marriage, gay bashing, trans issues or gay youth issues. We are also devoted
to ensuring that the LGBTQ community remains in power over its own images—that
no studio or network go unchallenged when they manipulate images to make a
Do you think political uses of film have changed mainstream media’s
portrayal of the community?
Sure. There has been an explosion within the media with things like Queer Eye,
Queer as Folk, The L Word, and LGBTQ—well, LG anyway—characters popping
up on prime time sitcoms. Most still tend to be comfortably packaged for more
mainstream consumption but people are pushing a bit. You see much more interesting
advancements with works made by LGBTQ artists—where coming out issues and
issues of acceptance are not the focal point anymore, where maybe 15 years ago
that’s what all the pieces were about. It’s sort of a given now that
people are out and all kinds of other stories are being told instead. And that’s
What are your hopes for the future?
I think we are going to see higher quality feature films that represent the
community and all of its diversity. The industry realizes there is a large
works with LGBTQ issues.
For more information on Frameline and the San Francisco International Lesbian
and Gay Film Festival visit www.frameline.org. For more information on LGBTQ
film festivals in your area see www.outintvandfilm.org/resources/festivals.