Monday, October 1, 2012

Holy smoke!

Howdy ya´ll! Welcome to Monday-night special with your host Gigi! Tonight I thought we´d discuss a matter that I find quite interesting: occupational hazards. What is the first thing you think about when you hear that? Astronauts, truck drivers, police officers, fire fighters? High noise, falling cement, poisonous gases? Yes, all that but the one hazard I´d like to talk about is actually attitudes. Attitudes that follow people in certain occupations even if we live in year 2012, not 1912. Nor 1812.
I´ve worked as a flight attendant, a bartender/waitress, cleaning lady, kitchen help, nanny... but seldomly have I tripped across so much attitudes than with me being a teacher. I´m talking, of course, about the attitudes about what one is allowed to do and/or have as a hobby as a teacher. I have been aware that since burlesque rises quite some eye-brows and a lot of people are unaware of what it is, there is a lot of prejudice. People just love to have opinions about stuff they really don´t know about, don´t they? As far as I´m concerned it really wasn´t anything I thought about but then two things have happened lately: I got a blog response from a lady asking if i don´t feel that "getting naked as a teacher is inappropriate" (if you read Finnish, it´s here) and the other one is that some of my old students seem to have found my burlesque persona (friend requests on facebook even if they know that I don´t accept...and that I have a waiting time for ca. 5 years for ex pupils as well :) . So alas, I think I need to respond to this somehow. For you all who read my Finnish response this might be old news but so it is.

So, a teacher. I think a lot of the worried, disapproving and even condemning attitudes towards teachers doing burlesque or anything else that someone might see as "risky" or that involves any kind of possibly nudity is clear: the fear that we will bring that part of our lives in to the classroom. Teachers are still considered role models and as such we somehow should live "pure" and innocent lives 24/7. There are (at least) two things I have to say about this. First: professionalism. I have studied many years to become a teacher. I have a Master´s degree in pedagogics and the subject I teach. I have quite some years experience as working as a teacher. Don´t you think I am a professional person who can keep my job and my personal life apart?!?! I can honestly say that I get along with my "customers" very well and that has got nothing to do with what I do outside my job. Well, maybe a little. In burlesque everyone is welcome as they are. I tend to be openminded, non-judgemental and fair and try to keep both heteronormativity and old fashioned gender models out of my classroom. Maybe that explains why I get along with teenagers?
Secondly: I would like to discuss these things "risque". Why is it ok to show violence on TV but not a pair of boobs? Why is female genitalia ok for prime time but never a flaccid penis? What makes bare skin so scary? How come we live in a society so warped that we can discuss mass-murderers and school shootings around a coffee table and nobody blinks an eye but if you bring up any topic of sexuality you are certain to get some negative response? Think about it. And if you can, please explain it to me.

Tapani Kokko´s art work that decorated our wedding cake. his penis is huge and her boobs saggy. Is this appropriate?
So what would be "risky"? Would it be ok for a teacher to  participate in a amateur theatre play that the Finnish Summer is filled with? Oh wait- but there usually is that one person who runs across the stage buck-naked because it is considered funny. Or, would it be appropriate for me as a girl to take on some "masculine" hobby? To maybe pilot a hot air balloon? Or pilot an airplane? We´ve all heard those jokes about female drivers, right? Still I have never seen anyone drive a car with his/her genitalia... Maybe an appropriate hobby could be "twiddling" lace. You know, as in making lace yourself. All the things one can make, even art like the picture here. My friend, artist Marko Suomi, took a lace class and learned to do these. He takes his models from gay datesites on the internet. I have this piece of art on my wall, it´s called "Kikkeliskokkelis" (names are the actual nics used on the site).

Kikkeliskokkelis. Appropriate?

Last but not least: have you ever asked your cashier at the local market about what they do in their life 'outside the market'? No? What about your banker friend? No? Ok so how about going up to the farmer and asking her? Still a no? So why is it so important how teachers spend their time outside of the classroom? Your hairdresser might do BDSM  and whip the shit out of his sub when he´s not massaging your scalp. Your kids swimming coach might like to crossdress. Your grandmothers physiotherapist might love nipple clamps. You probably don´t care about it and you shouldn´t: they are professionals and what they do outside their job you meet them in is none of your beeswax (unless you want to get whipped. Then you might want to ask. Nicely.) Are you getting my point? And no: I am not comparing burlesque or hot air ballooning or BDSM with each other and neither should you. I´m trying to say that we all are allowed to have ANOTHER LIFE outside our jobs or another job all together.  Me, I guess I just look a bit more colorful then a lot of the others but then again I could be just really in to retro. My husband knows and supports my burlesque activity. My mother has seen me on stage (and applauded), as have my sisters. My dad knows about it but feels weird about the whole burlesque thing (cultural differences of upbringing, is my guess). A lot of my colleagues have seen me on stage. They ran a front page article in the biggest newspaper around here with the title: "Teacher dresses in sequins" last May. It´s not like it´s totally secret even if I don´t take it up with my students because it´s none of their business what I do outside the classroom really.

Some of you might remember the case of the teacher who got sacked when her past as a sex worker came out. Melissa Petro´s story is an eye-opening one about attitudes. You should read it here. Also yesterdays Helsingin Sanomat (the largest newspaper in Finland) ran a story about Henriikka Rönkkönen, who, among other things, keeps a sex blog about sex all in all, not her personal stuff even if people seem to think so. She also is a teacher but says in the article that because of her blog she probably never could work as a teacher (in Finland). Her master´s thesis was about porn novels and she now lives in the US. She writes about sex and sexuality in Finnish here.

And then there´s mothers. Holy Mothers. I was really shocked to find out that some of my friends in burlesque who have kids have been told they really should NOT perform now since they are Mothers. It´s like...really? Madonna/Whore? STILL?!?!? It seems like the myth of Motherdom is still strong among us, the fact that as a mom you can´t be a sexual being and sure as hell not act as one at least. It made me really mad.  I salute all you wonderful, beautiful mothers in burlesque who have been on stage pregnant and gorgeous! And after having the kid. You go, girls! The double standard is mind-boggeling. Here´s something I found in the latest Vanity Fair. A poll of what people thought of mothers of small kids posing naked for playboy. As you can see, it´s more accepted for fathers but still a bit iffy. Also the numbers for OK are quite a bit higher for men. Again: why is that? Is it really so that female sexuality is still seen as such a dangerous thing that we should keep it locked up and safeguarded? 

Proof. Appropriate?
So I ask you: why not let people do their things and trust that they do it well? Why not put aside those prejudices, preconceptions and fears of things unknown? We are, and always will be interested in different things. Burlesque for some is art,  it might be comedy, it could be political or or others might see it as "purely" striptease. For me it´s a performance and a story I put up to entertain people and I want to do it as well as I can. I think it asks healthy questions about gender roles, norms and body image. But whatever it is to you please don´t try to force that opinion upon others but let everyone make up their own mind about it. As with everything else in life as well. Discussion, change of opinions and picking other peoples brains is awesome and should be done as much as possible. Go see a burlesque show, a good one preferably. Check out your local scene. And don´t base your opinion on just one show, there´s plenty to choose from in the neo-burlesque scene!

Ok, ... *climbing off my soapbox*, I´m off to my rockabilly class with hubster. Have a wonderful Monday <3

P.S I just got a note from my confession father (yes, I have one) that norms change slowly even if it is a changing world out there some things change slower than others. And the slowest to change are institutionalized social norms. Yes, I agree. But I also believe that when we work with the change it will happen sooner. So work with me here, folks :)


  1. Thank you Gigi for writing this. Greets from a fellow teacher, who performed couple of months back in tight leather pants and rapped about booties.