Barthes - Mythes - Striptease

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Barthes, Strip-Tease

Barthes describes strip-tease as a way of desexualising and objectifying women. In the context of the early 20th century, there is a need to reconcile the erotic and homely functions of women, as disclosed by Freud’s studies. Strip-tease represents for Barthes the way in which this union becomes possible. The essay considers the role of women and the image of sex in Bourgeois society. The fact that, contrary to other essays, Barthes does not use irony, suggests that he is trying to be more technical and make his point in a serious way – perhaps this is a subject about which Barthes feels less confident and more sensitive. We must remember that Barthes is himself Bourgeois and is dealing with a more delicate subject than, for example, the Guide Bleu, which he obviously feels more comfortable mocking. For Barthes, the strip-tease is not erotic because, in its stage form, it has been over-engineered to fulfil men’s expectations of women in a safe, non-threatening environment. The naked woman on stage represents the mythic Bourgeois ideals of how women should be, using a series of props. The woman is shown in an exotic setting which distances her from the observers’ reality, for example with a Venetian gondola. She also makes use of luxurious and stereotyped accessories like feathers and pipes, which help to reinforce the gap between the dancer and the Bourgeois wife, who has to maintain an outwardly moral appearance. The dancing itself is not sexual, it is the reminder that strip-tease is just a playful show, rather than an erotic proposition. A naked woman standing still would be more aggressively sexual and, in the bareness of the gesture, completely demystified. In mystifying her sexuality, the show appears to the Bourgeois observer as natural, projecting onto the woman the Bourgeois’ expectations. Within these expectations, the social class of the dancer is important. Whilst she cannot come from the lowest rungs of society, she cannot...
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