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The Shimmy Shake Protest: Queer Femme Burlesque as Sex-Positive Activism
Unformatted Document Text:  The Shimmy Shake Protest: Queer Femme Burlesque as Sex Positive Activism The 1980’s saw the volatile emergence of the feminist sex wars, in which feminists argued over the appropriate nature of pornography, sex work, and sadomasochism (Creet, 1991; Duggan & Hunter, 1994). On one side of the debates, activists like Katherine McKinnon and Andrea Dworkin lobbied to censure pornography that they felt degraded women; they became known as “anti-sex” feminists 1 (Duggan & Hunter, 1994). On the other side, activists like Gayle Rubin and Patrick Califia argued that feminists should not aide the censorship of sexual expression; they became known as “pro-sex” feminists (Califia, 2000). There may have been bisexual and lesbian women on either side of the debate, but as Minnie Bruce Pratt (1995) reflected on the debates, asking queer feminists to censor sexual expression was asking them to attack their own hopes for living as out queer women. Not even a decade later a similar debate erupted amongst GLBT people. After the AIDS epidemic and the homophobic cultural and legal responses to it, gays and lesbians became factioned between people who believed gays should focus on respectable non- sexual aspects of same-sex relationships in order to attain rights and people who believed a radical pro-sex politic was more libratory (Schulman, 1993; Hollibaugh, 1996; Warner, 1999). This faction has been solidified in the division between reformist gays and lesbians who lobby for marriage rights and military service and queers who critique the very existence of the institutions that deny them rights (Gamson, 1995; Warner, 1999). In the event described above, a member of the queer burlesque troupe, The Von Foxies, collected tips that would later be donated to a queer writers’ organization; her 1 It is important to note that they did not name themselves “anti-sex” feminists; many of them would likely disagree with this title by arguing that they were against particular kinds of sex and sexual expression. 1

Authors: Ryan, Maura.
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The Shimmy Shake Protest: Queer Femme Burlesque as Sex Positive Activism
The 1980’s saw the volatile emergence of the feminist sex wars, in which feminists 
argued over the appropriate nature of pornography, sex work, and sadomasochism (Creet, 
1991; Duggan & Hunter, 1994).  On one side of the debates, activists like Katherine 
McKinnon and Andrea Dworkin lobbied to censure pornography that they felt degraded 
women; they became known as “anti-sex” feminists
 (Duggan & Hunter, 1994).  On the 
other side, activists like Gayle Rubin and Patrick Califia argued that feminists should not 
aide the censorship of sexual expression; they became known as “pro-sex” feminists 
(Califia, 2000).  There may have been bisexual and lesbian women on either side of the 
debate, but as Minnie Bruce Pratt (1995) reflected on the debates, asking queer feminists to 
censor sexual expression was asking them to attack their own hopes for living as out queer 
women. 
Not even a decade later a similar debate erupted amongst GLBT people.  After the 
AIDS epidemic and the homophobic cultural and legal responses to it, gays and lesbians 
became factioned between people who believed gays should focus on respectable non-
sexual aspects of same-sex relationships in order to attain rights and people who believed a 
radical pro-sex politic was more libratory (Schulman, 1993; Hollibaugh, 1996; Warner, 
1999).  This faction has been solidified in the division between reformist gays and lesbians 
who lobby for marriage rights and military service and queers who critique the very 
existence of the institutions that deny them rights (Gamson, 1995; Warner, 1999).        
In the event described above, a member of the queer burlesque troupe, The Von 
Foxies, collected tips that would later be donated to a queer writers’ organization; her 
1
 It is important to note that they did not name themselves “anti-sex” feminists; many of them would likely 
disagree with this title by arguing that they were against particular kinds of sex and sexual expression.
1


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