Dear Carol and Anne
I am one of the burlesque dancers you seem so intent on dehumanizing and invalidating.
I am also a rape survivor.
When I originally read Carol’s letter, I was hurt, she was after all, effectively telling me that my efforts to support my fellow survivors were invalid simply because our feminisms don’t align. She was telling me that her feminism is better and more valid than mine. But I made an effort to understand where Carol was coming from, her feminism, and how what she was feeling might have some validity based on her background and beliefs. Despite her very weak attempts to “research” burlesque and her complete refusal to actually engage with a single one of the dancers she was condemning, I tried not to judge. I even considered thanking her for her part in creating Rape Crisis, an organisation that I wholly support today. Even if the organisation and those who operate within it have moved on, moved forward, hers was a vital and necessary role back in her day, and I wanted to acknowledge that.
Then I read Anne’s letter.
Then I read them both again.
Now I am angry.
Now I will tell you exactly what I think, without the diplomacy and empathy I had originally considered, since you clearly have none of your own.
Your radical feminism is just another form of control, your words and opinions are just another form of violence that we survivors have to face.
Anne and Carol, women like you are the reason I did not report my rapes (plural) in 1997 and 1999. Women like you, with your judgement, and your need to dictate how women should and should not express themselves are the ONLY reason I let my rapists get away with what they did to me. You, and all the men like you made me feel guilty and ashamed of my sexuality and sexual expression. You are the kind of women who called me promiscuous and made me feel like I was at fault for my own violation.
That, my friends, is not feminism; that is patriarchal violence. Congratulations!
I have worked for years to recover from my violations. I did the counselling. I did the traumatic muscle memory accessing. I cried through physical memories and the inability to inhabit my own sexual body. I confided in friends and lovers. I peeled away the fear and self-loathing slowly, painfully, constantly. I did it all. And yes it helped. Yes I moved past it. But I never recovered my self-esteem, never truly felt whole and female and sexy and like I had the absolute right to my body, my autonomy and my ability to say no.
Until I started Burlesque.
I get on stage in my “sparkly G-string” with “tassels on my nipples” to “gyrate sexually” for myself. I get on stage for my 72% female audience. I get on stage for every single woman who comes to me after the show to thank me for showing them that a woman, any woman, no matter her shape, size and past traumas can own and be proud of herself and her body. I get on stage in spite of the men who made me feel like an object. I get on stage in spite of the men who made me feel like being called beautiful was dirty. I get on stage in spite of women like you who feel you have the right to police my body and my actions and my intentions. I get on stage because I love it. It makes me feel whole. And it means I get to show women like me that there is life after rape. I do this in service of no man. I do this in service of women and myself.
I am proud to be associated with the Rape Crisis of today, with the women and men who work so tirelessly to make survivors feel safe, heard, human and whole. I am proud to support them and contribute in any way I can. I would have been ashamed to be associated with you. I was. You shamed me.
I hope you are proud of yourselves. Because today you succeeded in making a rape survivor, someone you claim to fight for, feel even less human than her abusers ever did. For a moment, you undid all the hard work I have put into making myself and others feel female, whole, human, valuable and valid. You have dredged up all the trauma and violence I felt once again. Carol you speak of feeling dishonoured, well you have dishonoured me. Anne you speak of burlesque as being an insult, well you have insulted me. Betrayal by one’s own kind is far worse than any patriarchy, ladies.
Fortunately I have an incredible network of women who support me, who lift me up and who will help wipe away the stains of your nasty, bigoted words through dancing and love. We are women who support women, something you, despite all your proclaimed efforts, apparently still know little about.
You can quote all the accolades and academic distinctions in the world to me, all I read in your words are discrimination and oppression.
“Miss Fluffy Kitty”*
“Miss Fluffy Kitty” (*not her real name) is a member of the Rouge Revue Burlesque Company. She is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Social Anthropology with interests in identity, sexuality and gender. She is passionate about issues of LGBTQI rights, body positivity and sex positivity.
The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. We invite anyone reading this to share your opinion and submit your piece to our Director, Kathleen Dey, at firstname.lastname@example.org for publication on this site. We hope to spark our own debate to see what feminists of today, and any other day, think and feel.