A Letter to Carol and Anne

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.

Kind Regards,

“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 kath@rapecrisis.org.za 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.

 

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About rapecrisisblog

We have a vision of a South Africa in which rape survivors suffer no secondary trauma, and are supported throughout their interaction with the Criminal Justice System (CJS). Our mission is to promote an end to violence against women, specifically rape, and to assist women to achieve their right to live free from violence. Rape Crisis Cape Town seeks to achieve its mission through counselling and training of women, thereby reducing the trauma experienced by rape survivors, and encouraging reporting of rape and the conviction of rapists.

9 thoughts on “A Letter to Carol and Anne

  1. To Dear Burlesque performer.

    I realize that I hurt you personally by using your nom de plume, which I thought I’d made up, but when I checked it IS actually what you call yourself! Carol and I were not intending to have a go at the dancers but to criticize the Rape Crisis board for associating a fund raising event with a Burlesque show, but in my anger and frustration I described what the dancers do, which is what I saw on your website. Actually what you do to entertain yourself or as your hobby is not something that we can control, but we have the right to express the opinion that we regard it as sexist.

    I am truly sorry that you were raped, as you probably know I was too, and of course in those days I blamed myself. It took a few years of serious emotional hell before I discovered the feminist analysis of rape, i.e. that it was patriarchal political terrorism intended to keep women afraid and compliant and from then on I became an anti-rape activist.

    Personally I love music and I love dancing and I am sexual being who more or less likes herself and I do have a sense of fun and also absolutely love being in the nude. I enjoy swimming in the nude and walking along isolated beaches in the nude, I used to be a nudist when Sandy Bay was not popular. It is now frequented by mostly unpleasant people and become dangerous. I used to be an artist model and three famous artists as well as many not famous, have painted and drawn me in the nude, one Pinker painting hung in the National Gallery!

    Before it lost it’s funding and had to close, US radical feminists could go to the Michigan Women’s Music Festival. It was held at the height of summer and thousands of women camped out in the woods. I was privileged to go once. Many of us walked around in the nude or semi-nude, it was a blast! In the evenings, the comedy was radical feminist, radical feminists sang and played music and during the day the workshops and discussion groups were run by mostly radical feminists, some of the spiritual kind and others of the political kind.

    So you see we radical feminists are not sour, anti-sex and joyless and we are certainly not violent though we do get angry. Sure we don’t encourage or support certain types of behavior that women get caught up in and we have the right to express our opinions, just as you have the right to defend your behavior and express your opinions, but playing the victim is not an intellectual form of engagement in any debate and to project on to Carol and me the image of oppressors and cruel controllers, how ever angry you are, when we have made it our life’s work to further the liberation and empowerment of women, girls and children, is absolutely ludicrous!

    I’m sure you are a talented dancer and actor; I think your love of performance is admirable and you obviously do it well as you say you get so many congratulations after a show. I would be more interested in and supportive of your work if you depict something less Fluffy Kittenish. What about being more lioness like, if you want to stick with the feline theme!

    Anne

    • I’m sorry but I have to write a comment on this debate: Anne. I’m very glad that you’ve found it in your heart to apologise. Yours and Carol’s comments managed to hurt a whole community of women – not just burlesque dancers and rape survivors.

      “Miss Fluffy Kitten”, I suspect, is not the dancer’s real name, nor her stage name. I imagine she used it in irony having read your post. There may well be a Miss Fluffy Kitten, but there are also burlesque dancers with strong names. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

      I’m a retired psychotherapist and I used to specialise in trauma. I have quite a bit of experience with rape cases. Each and every PERSON who is raped has been violated and traumatised in the most unimaginable way. I say person, because I once worked with a man who was gang raped by another group of men. As a result of the gang rape, he contracted HIV. This was in London, not here in South Africa. So rape isn’t just about feminism. It’s about violation of basic human rights.

      There are many therapeutic approaches to working with trauma, and in recent years, thank goodness, we have progressed to techniques which have a relatively quick and positive impact. However, each case is unique. Each person is unique. Some therapies work well for one person but not for another. I always had a ‘toolbox’ of approaches so that I could weave and layer them to the best possible outcome for my client. One size does not fit all.

      Anne. You dealt with your rape by becoming a radical feminist. I’d never heard of ‘radical feminism’ until Carol’s blog. I grew up in 1970s England. Feminism was burning your bra. It was Germaine Greer, Susie Orbach, Naomi Wolf. It was about women’s rights and breaking the glass ceiling.

      The Patriarchy is male dominance. There are male and female aspects in each of us. Spiritual and personal development is about balancing these two in perfect harmony. The female aspect is receptive. The Yin Principle. The male aspect is active. The Yang Principle. It seems to me that radical feminism is the new patriarchy. To quote The Who, “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.” Your strident views on what should and shouldn’t be the funding criteria for Rape Crisis are dictatorial and judgemental. That’s exactly how the patriarchy behave…

      “Miss Fluffy Kitten” (not her real name, nor her stage name – let’s call her Tiger the Tease – I’ve just made that up) found a different way of dealing with her rape. She became a burlesque dancer.

      Please. We’re all sisters here. We are one race. The human race. We are one. It’s time to let go of the old ways of judging and seeing differences. It’s time to embrace our wholeness and our right to be unique pieces of the greater jigsaw.

      I’d like to finish with a quote from Marianne Williamson:

      “Women are still in emotional bondage as long as we need to worry that we might have to make a choice between being heard and being loved.”

      Be at peace. Two women. Each raped. Each finding a way to heal. That’s all.

      In Loving Kindness,
      Bridget

  2. I’m sorry that you had to display your pain publically in order to be heard or seen- a form of violence that queers, women of colour, rape survivors and students with mental health issues have called out in institutions and given us language and validation in order to name.

    Another violation that is being perpetrated by the two blog posts and this type of ‘radical’ feminism is the debate of lived experience and self expression- building blocks of personhood- through intellectual egoism which reduces, demeans and invisibilises the object of the ‘debate’.

    This is the antithesis of safety: people are not debated. Concepts are. When you debate people’s lives you injure them.

    It’s like these women fell for the oldest patriarchal trick in the book: that the mere sight of a woman’s body, or her sexual freedom, strips her of personhood and agency and marks her for public judgement and ownership.

    That’s in the eye of the beholder and not the performer.

    I’ve seen and appreciated and been inspired by your performances. Thank you!!

  3. Thank you, Miss Fluffy Kitten. What an amazing piece you’ve written. You’re one brave, beautiful & incredible woman & you absolutely have my support should you ever need it… Which I doubt you will, Miss Courageous, Authentic Lady. Respect! 💜

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