Can Burlesque Help Towards Gender Equality?
Sukki Singapora seems to think so.
There has never been a bigger or better time to talk about gender equality than now. With women finally finding the courage to stand up against the age-old misogynistic behaviour of many industries, as the slogan goes, the time for women is now.
But the topic is so much more complicated than just talking about it, the womens movement needs action, it needs voices and it needs direction. One such voice is Singaporean born burlesque Queen, Sukki Singapora.
How do you define Sukki Singapora? It would be easy to write that she is a burlesque dancer as this would be true, but she is also first international burlesque dancer from Singapore, she has also fought tirelessly for burlesque to be legalised in Singapore. With strong and outspoken political and social views, Sukki created The Singapore Burlesque Society in 2012 to protect Asian women who wanted to pursue this art - earning herself a nomination for 'Asian Woman of Achievement' award in the process.
Believing that burlesque is an art form for women, by women, she passionately believes that it helps break down the notion of gender equality by helping the artists reclaim their bodies. Here we talk to her about how burlesque is helping women find their voices and just what we can do to help bring that all important notion of gender equality finally into fruition.
The concept of burlesque doesn’t automatically sit with gender equality – can you please explain your thoughts on this?
I can’t help but admit that this is one of my favourite misconceptions to dispel. Actually the concept of burlesque sits exactly with gender equality. After all, nothing says gender equality more than an art form in which the artists are reclaiming their bodies, their sexuality, and pushing back against objectification, for no one else but themselves. In many respects, burlesque is in fact one of the most powerful faculties of the “entertainment industry” when it comes to challenging gender inequality. It is predominantly a performance by women, for women. It is an incredibly feminist art form in which women can express themselves and their sensuality in a way that is absolutely not submissive or placating to the opposite sex. In fact, up to 80% of my audiences are women. It’s by women for women. It’s for women to stand up against patriarchy and make a statement that what we do with our bodies is our choice. But in addition, it’s also not excluding of men. After all, there’s such a thing as “boylesque.” It both empowers women, but also brings men into the dialogue of gender equality. It’s a phenomenal artistic tool for which we can challenge harmful gender discourse.
How do you realistically think we can achieve gender equality?
That’s a huge question! I think really gender equality can only be achieved when both genders are working together equally to make us equal! What I mean by that is, it’s extremely common for just women to push back on what has been a lifetime of struggle when it comes to women not having the same rights, support or opportunities as men. However we must bring men into the discussions. We must make men as much feminists as ourselves. When the United Nations came up with “He for She” I think it really highlighted this. One gender alone cannot fight for equality whilst the other remains silent. We both have to work together for real, true change.
In our day to day lives, what steps can we take for female empowerment?
I think to be genuinely empowered as a woman is to not have to feel we need to change anything about ourselves in order for us to be equal. To me, a huge part of that has been fiercely challenging the feeling we have as women to androgenise ourselves in every day situations in order to earn equal power. I recently posted on Instagram a phrase that came to me, and really summed up how I felt, which was: “I don’t power dress. I’m powerful IN A dress.” What I meant by that was that, as women, we should never have to compromise our femininity or our sensuality because it might cause us to be treated differently. If we don’t take control, if we don’t stand up as powerful and sexual beings, and teach society that this absolutely does not give them the right to judge us or take advantage of us when we do so, then we will never be empowered as women. A sexually empowered women is not “distracting” or “counterproductive” to female empowerment, a sexually empowered woman, like a burlesque artist for example, plays a huge role in educating society how to truly behave around physical gender differences, rather than repressing or censoring them. For me personally, that’s one of the biggest steps we can all take as women. That, and always speak up. Never be afraid to say what might be uncomfortable, or unpalatable, especially when you’re in the public eye!