Am I empowered by my sexuality?
Working out whether you are being exploited or not is harder than you think
“I loved your performance,” a guy says, not bothering to look up from my cleavage. “It’s so great to see girls taking control of sex without making it feminazi.” I smile politely and bow out. Am I actually funny, or do men just like how I look and present myself?
It can make me pretty paranoid. Which is quite silly for a girl who revels in being a ridiculous, camp and slightly drag queen onstage presence. I’ve never had more fun than when I’m in a corset muttering Shakespeare in a ridiculously breathy Chelsea voice. Sexuality can be really, really funny. But do people like seeing me because of what I do with classic material, or because I’m straddling a guy? Honestly…I think it is a bit of both.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely niave. I know perfectly well that a low cut top and my 1950s voice isn’t exactly innocent. I know how to look at men across a dinner table, I know how to bat my eyelashes, I know how to sashay into a room. I don’t pretend it is unconscious. Even as a baby, I was apparently a flirt. I used to drop my napkin whenever a man walked past my parent’s table in a restaurant. Is it an attention thing? I’m not entirely sure. I have a love hate relationship with my body and my persona.
I like the juxtaposition between uptight, RP accented feminist and breathless sarcastic pin up girl. That is something I play with in my writing, my acting and my music. The problem is that both sides of it are true. I am a slightly frumpy academic who gets her kicks reading about evolution or the mistresses of Charles the II. I am also fascinated by high heels, pretty dresses and working out how I can change my face with make up. I’m a comic actress, but I’m also a BSc Biological Anthropology student. I love discussing theology, but I also love dressing up and putting on silly accents. And all inhabiting my burlesque body. And men really struggle to realise I’m not the joke I present online or onstage.
I can do the wide eyed sarcastic sexy impression if you want. I can put on my petticoats and slap you with my fan. I can act innocent and vulnerable and then swear mid scene. But I don’t do it to give you a hard on. A lot of my stuff is actually aimed at women. It’s nice to point out how ridiculous 1950s female characters are. It’s nice to ridicule the expectations of men about how we respond to catcalling. I thrive off sarcasm and satire. But at some point, you will meet the Madelaine who wants to shout about sexism in cognitive theory and sit in her huge glasses and no make up. And doesn’t sound so breathless. Because I am actually a person and not a joke persona.
Would I still be as popular or funny if I didn’t have so much sexuality in my act?
Probably not. And that kind of sucks.
There are men who definitely follow me or attend my shows to get turned on. I don’t pretend there aren’t. Does that make me anti feminist, exploited and playing the system? I don’t think so- I do still ridicule the patriarchy, make fun of the eroticised image of women, and comment on how ridiculously women are treated. My act is inherrently tongue in cheek.
Can it be invasive, upsetting and depressing to realise that to some people I am just 32C, a 24 inch waist a potential one night stand? Of course.
But I think society would still treat me like that offstage anyway.