“Feminism wasn’t about burning your bra and not shaving your legs. Feminism was shaving your legs and working in a bar as a sex object, but knowing that you were. […] And not selling your pussy and your soul for a wedding ring.”
- Judith Stein
Burlesque is a profession shrouded in public scrutiny. Callously written off as little more than strippers, selling their bodies, the women who’ve performed this art of seduction have often been shamed for their less-than-conventional career choice. Arguments are made that these women mark a regression for Feminism. That they behave unladylike, crass, twisted, and vile. In actual fact, these women embody one of the fundamental rules of Feminism; it’s all about choice. Alongside equality with men, a woman’s right to control her life, and her body, is solely her own.
Even if that means showing some skin.
Following some of the legends and pioneers of burlesque on the cusp of inclusion into the Legends of Burlesque Hall of Fame, League of Exotique Dancers is a remarkable film about the power and ferocity of a woman’s right to choose. To choose a spouse. To choose a job. To choose what to do with her body. To choose her life.
Director Rama Rau has created a dialogue that will undoubtedly make some uncomfortable, while liberating others. It presents these women’s unconventional stories without a veil of judgment or shroud of righteousness. It makes no fairy tale pretense of reality. These women share every truth of their lives as honestly as they expose every inch of flesh; through the empowerment and liberation, alongside the drug use and threat of sexual abuse.
What it does most effectively is challenge the notion that a woman’s sexuality is for her spouse. That, in order to express ones sexuality, or to feel provocative and sexually evocative, a woman must be both married, and keep said sexuality confined. This is an unfortunate fallacy created by contemporary social norms that have, in many ways, stifled women from embracing their deepest pleasures. Rau, and her scintillating subjects, dare to challenge that norm. “One of the nicest things you can do for your body is […] put on some music and dance,” Judith Stein says in the film’s trailer. “If you can dance naked, even better!”
League is the provocative new age feminist manifesto we all deserve. It’s exhilarating, liberating, and, dare I say, inspirational. I can only hope that, by 40, I’m even half as in love with my body and the power of my sexuality as these women are in their 70s and 80s.
League of Exotique Dancers screens today at 1:30pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox.