Self Exploitation Argument

Have I isolated myself even from Bitch Magazine? I refuse to believe that, but the self-exploitation argument mentioned three times in the love/shove section is really getting old. See “A Total Sham” … “self-exploitation;” “The Wages of Spin” … “some women fetishize their own devaluation,” and “The Pussycat Dolls Present” … “the freedom for women to exploit themselves.”

I know that the Love/Shove pieces are supposed to be short and snappy, but if Houton were really trying to save space in her critique of the Pussycat Dolls, she might as well have been all-out bitchy and just left it at, “She thinks she sexy but she ain’t!”

That would have been more honest. Sure, the Pussycat Dolls aren’t that great. But what about pop culture is? And is it fair to claim to understand how the women in the Pussycat Dolls really feel about themselves or their profession? Is it fair of Breshears (A Total Sham) to claim that a pillowfight using iconic characters is necessarily an exploitative experience for its participants?

What these critiques lack is the depth (and respect) that would acknowledge and probe further the agency, individuality and no doubt fears and contradictions inherent in the minds of the women participants.

I’m a dancer, a stripper, a burlesque performer and a spoken word artist. I do a variety of performance using my body, sexuality and eroticism that challenges gender roles. Yet no doubt, I’ve made performances that “reinforce” a stereotypically feminine archetype. Some of my choices are financially motivated because I want to be able to live solely off performance. Sometimes I say “yes” to a gig just to get more experience. No, not every performance I’ve ever made has felt “empowering,” even if it is for a queer hipster audience in Copenhagen.

Women’s choices are complex and our stories are not always so easily interpreted. Nor is exploitation so easily predicted. I’ve felt more disrespected by supposedly well-meaning professors than some crowds of horny men in a strip club. That’s why it’s so important to spend our time inviting the voices of various women to the table instead of assuming how they feel about themselves.

Perhaps what I’d really like to hear are a few possible answers instead of critiques. Within mainstream media, what kind of expression of female sexuality is “okay”? What does a pop-cultural feminist expression of female (hetero)sexuality look like? Can it involve pillow fights? Can it involve fake breasts? Makeup? Fishnets? I think so.

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