Is Burlesque really a “platform for social commentary”?

A group of Burlesque girls got their placards out and went on protest in Edinburgh recently after receiving a less than complimentary review in The Scotsman.

Yet, the girls weren’t protesting because their show received a bad review, they were protesting because the review implied:

that if you were a burlesque performer you could not be a feminist

Sally Scott had tactfully suggested that the women’s expressions were like that of a  “blown-up sex doll”. That’s one way to ruffle the feathers of a bunch of burlesque ladies.

The performers, obviously not best pleased at being compared to sex commodities, said of the review Continue reading

Sexism and The Orange Prize

AS Byatt caused a bit of a stir at the Edinburgh Fringe when she criticised The Orange Prize, a prestigious literary award that is given only to women. The Guardian quoted her as saying:

The Orange prize is a sexist prize […] You couldn’t found a prize for male writers. The Orange prize assumes there is a feminine subject matter – which I don’t believe in. It’s honourable to believe that – there are fine critics and writers who do – but I don’t.

In 2008, novelist Tim Lott also claimed that the Orange Prize was sexist. His argument is based on the fact that women sell more books and to a largely female market, which makes the prize “unfair”:

Could the establishment of a men-only prize, with men-only judges, be justified given their level of relative exclusion in schools and the marketplace? Can you imagine the derision with which it would rightly be met?

Woman’s place in the respected literary canon has been a thing of controversy since women began writing. It started even before the publication of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own in 1929, and long before the wave of feminist criticism in the 1970’s, with the Brontes,  Jane Austen and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who metaphorically writes about the difficulties facing women writers in her short story The Yellow Wallpaper.

The Orange Prize is no stranger to controversy. In 2008, the appointment of Lily Allen as a judge, resulted in questions over the ‘seriousness‘ of the award. There is no doubt that Lott and Byatt will face criticism over their comments, but I wonder, does they have a point?

Having a ‘no-men-allowed’ award negates the progress that women writers and feminist theorists have achieved in the past 100-or-so years. It says: “you’re writing isn’t quite good enough to be worthy of a Man Booker prize BUT here’s a special award just for you.” Surely if women writers want to be regarded as equals to their male counterparts, then they should aim to be judged alongside them. Continue reading