I’ve written here before about my friend, Melinda.
In addition to working as a counselor for the children of sex workers in impoverished areas of India, she also directs, choreographs, and dances in Les Filles Rouge - an amazing local burlesque troupe.
I’m a recent addition to this troupe.
“Why would you agree to dance in front of the entire town in your underwear?” you might be asking.
And I might reply, “Because all of the proceeds go to charity.”
Or maybe, “Because Melinda’s my friend and it was a way to spend time with her doing something she loves.”
Or perhaps this: “To try something outside of my comfort zone.”
All of these things would be true. But there’s really more to it than that.
The truth is, I want to be a “bad” woman.
There. I said it. Now it’s out there, and I’m glad.
Because here’s the sad reality. In our culture, the Madonna / Whore-Complex is alive and well. You know. The whole “Ginger or Mary Ann” debate. There are lots of examples of this powerful cultural dichotomy, but a recent one is the Sandra Fluke incident in which a female law student was called a “slut” by a radio personality because she spoke publically about birth control. You can also see the effect in those organized events where fathers make pledges with their teenage daughters - complete with the symbolic exchange of rings - that the teenage daughters will abstain from sex until they marry. Yet another powerful demonstration of this dichotomy can be seen in our society’s tendency to blame the victim in a sexual assault if the victim was dressed “promiscuously.”
And when I look at all of these examples, I reach the same conclusion time and time again. If I have to choose between the camp of the Madonnas or the camp of the whores, then I pick the whores.
(Note to self: “Whore Camp” is an amazing name for a ‘B’ movie.)
It’s kind of like how I feel about NOT wanting to go to “heaven.” I don’t want to go to heaven because the people who insist that they’re going to be in heaven seem like people I wouldn’t get along with. Further, all of the people who are supposedly going to “hell” are people I kinda like and agree with. So, hell it is, as far as I’m concerned.
Hell and whores.
I bet there will be champagne, at least.
Because when I look at all of the women throughout history who have led thoroughly interesting lives, very few of them followed conventional doctrine, or did the things that society told them a “good woman” should be doing. When I think about Joan of Ark or Aphra Behn or Hillary Clinton, the phrase “well-behaved” isn’t the first thing that leaps to my mind.
So for these reasons, I’ve decided that I have no interest in being a “good” woman. I don’t want to behave myself. I don’t want to talk quietly or sneeze daintily or giggle coyly. I don’t want to avoid talking about thoughtful topics because someone might be offended by my opinions.
I want to misbehave.
I don’t know if Les Filles Rouge is unique, as far as burlesque troupes go - I’ve never belonged to a burlesque troupe before. However, my instinct tells me that it is. The women in the troupe cover a range of ages and body-types, but one thing we all share is an enjoyment of living within the skin we are in. And by enjoyment, I mean loving and respecting our bodies, but also treating our bodies with a sense of humor.
We are normal women who have to squeeze in rehearsal time in between day jobs and families, so a sense of humor is pretty much essential. Our dance steps aren’t perfect. Our “stripteases” contain a wide range of nakedness combined with silliness. We stop in the middle of a song to laugh outrageously at one another, or at something someone offstage has done, or at a person in the audience who’s giggling has infected us all.
As Melinda puts it: “What is titillating about burlesque is only partially the skin; most of the allure comes from the slightly scandalous feeling one gets from watching women have way too much fun. The promise of nudity helps to draw the crowd, undoubtedly, but the ebullient, infectious enjoyment we get from dancing around in our underwear is what keeps the crowd in their seats.”
And I say if dancing around in my underwear with a bunch of other beautiful, hilarious, smart ladies makes me a “bad” woman…
Our last show is Saturday, June 9, at the Gualala Arts Center.
Proceeds go to an education fund for Melinda's girls in India.
If you’re going to be in the wilds of Northern California, click here for tickets!
Les Filles Rouge photographs by © CYoung Photography.