I tell you, after a few years writing about politics, you realise that you couldn’t make this stuff up.
Hot on the heels of Cameron, Clegg and Brown, Burlesque performer Dita Von Teese is coming to Bristol. She will be performing at the City Museum and Art Gallery on May 15th 2010.
The California-based Corey Helford Gallery in collaboration with our very own Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery present:
Art From The New World – A Big Brash Exhibition of the New American Art Scene
Join us for an evening of celebration as we unveil the first look at this unprecedented collection of work by some of the finest emerging and noted living U.S. urban and contemporary artists from the New American Art Scene. Many of the artists will be in attendance and the evening includes drinks and canapés, a live DJ, and will be capped off with an exclusive performance by International Burlesque Star, Dita Von Teese.
The opening has been delayed, but – confirmed by a message on her Twitter account – Ms Von Teese will still be performing. Now I don’t know art, but I know what I like, and may I be the first to say “phwoar!” <crack> Ouch, sorry, the wife. Via my underground network of Internet-based troublemakers, I received the following fantastic internal email exchange from the council.
The blue touch paper was lit by the Bristol Fawcett Society, “closing the inequality gap since 1866”:
Please tell me this is wrong…
The museum is a family venue, aside from anything else.
Last year we saw the promotional video for Bristol that involved a female dancer jiggling her naked buttocks at the camera, and now we are to host an international stripteaser? The press release for the exhibition talks about the male artists who are topping the bill but fails to mention the strip show. Dita von Teese’s website doesn’t mention anything about art on the home page, it just offers opportunities to “See! Dita in Corsets! Stockings! Lingerie!”
Now that the new licensing laws are in, presumably the museum will need a sexual entertainment venue licence? Or perhaps there is a technical loophole?
I would like to know whether the leadership of the Council are
- a) unaware of this or
- b) have been consulted and agree what a great idea it is? Is my tax paying for this?
Aside from the fact that the Council, in hosting this event, are encouraging a view of women as sexual objects for consumption, on a personal note I would just like to say how deeply alienated this makes me feel from engagement in the city’s leisure and culture programme.
The wilful use of the phrase “international stripteaser” officially raises the humour level from “jolly funny” to “most ribald and chortlesome” [Can we call it DitaGate? Go on, you know you want to. Not quite as catch as Coconut Gate but it’ll do.]. Quick to reply is Labour Group Leader, and former leader of Bristol City Council, Lady Helen of Holland:
I have only just found out about this and am appalled.
Only last week I was at a Members Training Session about how the City Council can use the new Sexual Entertainment Venue legislation, and we were not given any idea there that the City Council itself was planning to host a “show” of this kind. I can imagine what our reaction would have been if we had been informed.
As well as your ccs, I am copying this to the Council’s solicitors who led the training for their comments.
Like you, I would like to know just who in the Council’s officer or political leadership knows about this, and what they were thinking of when they approved it.
kind regards, […]
Cllr Helen Holland
So, council to run burlesque show. Council solicitor asked to comment. Humour level now raised to “guffawing loudly”.
Dear Councillor Holland [replies a Senior Council Solicitor]
[…] I have made enquiries and am informed that the event you are referred to is a private event organised and paid for by the Corey Helford Gallery, which is presenting an exhibition at the City Museum from May.
As you are aware the legislation we covered in the training has only recently come into force and even if adopted in an area does not come into effect straight away, so the impact of the new law is currently academic. For the reasons we discussed in the training a performance of burlesque may or may not be caught by that legislation in any event; each case will turn on its own facts. You will also recall that the legislation exempts occasional performances, i.e. no more than one performance per month over the previous year.
In response to your specific question about Officer and Member involvement, I am told that Julie Finch took advice from Kate Davenport to ensure that the private view remained private; David Bishop [Head of City Development] is aware of the full programme of exhibitions in the next year; the Chief Executive [Jan Ormondroyd] was briefed as was Councillor Simon Cook [Lib Dem, Executive Member for Culture, Sports and Capital Projects].
Humour level raised to “knee slapping and gasping for air”. No cost to taxpayers, so I’m officially happy. Can this get any funnier? Yes. Yes, it can. The response is relayed to the Bristol Fawcett society, who reply:
Thank you for this response, which does not address a number of issues.
The Council’s duty to promote gender equality is not addressed here. i am a gender equality consultant and I have been unable among all my professional colleagues to find a single expert on gender equality who does not agree that this event acts against the interests of women’s equality. The Council, unlike private bodies, is bound to consider the impact of its decisions on gender equality.
This is not optional: it is enshrined in legislation for a reason. That reason is that public bodies were failing to take their obligations regarding gender equality seriously, until legislation was introduced. If you would like me to, I will refer you to literature which sets out what is or is not burlesque. Dita Von Teese’s act is striptease (the clue is in the name, as well as on her website) and reflects what is known as ‘retro-sexist’ ideology. Retro-sexism allows troubling sexual objectification to be claimed as ‘cutting-edge’ and ‘radical’ rather than exploitative. It is not challenging to gender narratives or gender stereotypes and it does not play with notions of social class.
The latter is a definition of ‘burlesque’. I can also refer you to literature that sets out why the presentation of women as performing sexual objects/knowing sexual subjects is problematic in our sexist culture.
2) Privacy. This event is by invitation only. That does not exclude the Council from having a role as it owns the building, among other considerations. What will be next, a private party at the Council House where the Black and White Minstrels are invited to perform? If that would not be allowed, why would this striptease be allowed?
3) Privacy. Dita Von Teese has advertised this event on her website.
That is how I found out about it. You will see if you visit her website that she posts pictures of her performances on her website. She is pleased to have the opportunity to take her clothes off in the splendid historical setting of Bristol Museum for a reason. Assuredly, records of this performance will be circulated.
I am extremely disappointed at what I consider to be the weighing up of sexism (and the breaching of legislation) against considerations of – what – whether it would be embarrassing to inform the gallery that procedures were not properly followed and the council has realised that it is unable to host the performance because of our country’s equality legislation?
If the performance was truly to be ‘private’, in private premises not in premises owned by the people of Bristol, there would not be any complaints. This is an issue that is controversial, not in an ‘edgy’,'arty’ way but in a way that pits the rights of Bristolian women to believe their city stands up for gender equality, against elite interests.
[Bristol Fawcett] are appalled and bitterly disappointed at the lack of gender equality awareness demonstrated thus far.
[…] I have one further point to add, which is that for more than twenty years it has been recognised that the display of sexually objectifying materials (such as posters of women in states of undress, posing sexually, in lingerie or corsets or nipple tassels – see Dita Von Teese’s website for some examples) are entirely inappropriate in the workplace because of the fact that they cause a hostile, degrading work environment that affects the dignity of women workers. This is enshrined in legislation and I am quite sure that workers at the museum would not expect that their jobs require them to be subjected to a live striptease performance in their workplace.
I’ve had my differences with Cllr Simon Cook before now, but may I congratulate him for arranging this contribution to local culture (and for finally arranging something that isn’t a complete money pit). Now let’s get to the heart of the matter: why wasn’t I invited? I’m a new media and social networking pioneer, innit?
The Bristol Fawcett Society does raise a valid issue about Council staff being exposed to such a hostile work environment. So rather than paying Council staff overtime to participate in the event, and force them to watch Dita Von Teese, perhaps we could arrange some volunteers from the local community?
Form an orderly queue by the comments section if you’re interested.