Cirque and the Sexual Objectification of Men

On Friday, I went to Cirque du Soleil’s Varekai. I have been dreaming of going to a Cirque show for years, but something always got in the way of us going. So I was very excited to go. What I didn’t expect, however, was to feel utterly disgusted by the end of the show. I couldn’t believe that the show would include such base comedy nor that it would go nearly to the point of sexually harassing male audience members. But it did. And I want to share my shock of the experience.

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I went to the show expecting the majesty and beauty that I’ve come to know from Cirque. And there was that. The costumes and music were beautiful, the acts stunning to perfection. But the show itself left something to be desired.

During the intermission, I actually went back to the website for Varekai. Did I miss something? What was going on? The show is described as “A captivating forest inhabited by whimsical and enchanted creatures.” Ok, check. Looking more closely, I see a mention of “both the absurd and the extraordinary” and a tribute to the “circus tradition.”

First, the character of The Skywatcher. This character spends half the time on stage grunting or making obscene faces. Like a caveman meets a dunce. A dunce who “comically” makes rude and inappropriate gestures. Here is how he is described online:

“Mad scientist and ingenious inventor, collector of the world’s memories and interpreter of signs, this is a man who receives signals, transforms sounds and forewarns of trials and tribulations.”

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Ok, sounds ok? I can see a little bit of comedy in there, but the level of base rudeness presupposes that the audience is uneducated and only capable of laughs through the most crude grunts and gestures. So I found that insulting. Take those elements of “interpretation” (I’m being generous here) out, and the character would have more value. Particularly as he’s supposed to be “ingenious,” not an idiot. 

So let’s move on. If you thought that was it for comedy relief, however, you’d be wrong. Included in the show, but hidden from the main page, are “Clown Acts”:

“No circus show would be complete without clowns! Joanna and Steven amuse the audience with an act that’s simply absurd.”

And yes, absurd it is. I can forgive this as an intermission piece, but it’s woven throughout the story, removing all sense of fluidity and grace from the actual Cirque performance. What’s more, I felt actually offended by the content of the show. During the show, the act singles out audience members to “interact” with. They make men take their arms off of girlfriends, or pick pocket some men, or interact in other ways. There were two incidents, though, that spoke of more than just comedy.

In one incident, the performer isolated a boyfriend from his girlfriend. The male in the act went to sit with the girl (haha, I’ve stolen your girlfriend!), which would have been ok, had not the woman in the act thrown herself in front of the man, holding onto his chair while covering his body. Now, imagine a man doing this to a woman. Would you be ok with a woman being physically restrained in this way? No? Me neither. But I also wasn’t ok with this being done to a man. I didn’t find it funny. 

Next was the more serious incident. A man was pulled onto stage to be a part of a disappearing act. During the course of the act, the woman in the show was seen to throw her body onto his and pretend to kiss him. The whole act was about her sexually fawning over this audience member. So, while I object to the way she’s sexualizing herself, what really threw me was how everyone was laughing while this was happening. If a woman were on that stage and a man pretended to grope her, would that be ok? It’s NOT OK. 

I don’t know what happens in these circus acts at other shows. This is not, and has never been, my style of comedy. But if this is the norm for circus acts, it’s NOT OK. Just because men are the centre of the act, not women, does not mean we have a right to sexually objectify them. If I were on that stage, I would have felt abused. That is sexual harassment and it is NOT OK. 

Cirque, what are you doing?!?!

Some Things Shouldn’t Be Considered “Parenting Decisions”


Photo: Andrew Zuckerman

There are lots of important decisions that we make as parents, and for every decision there seems to be a pretty big debate going on in the court of public opinion. Should we allow our children to play with violent toys? How much screen time should kids be allowed, and at what age? Should we teach our children a second language or wait until they are already proficient in their first language? At what age is it appropriate for our kids to get a cell phone/start wearing make up/walk to school by themselves/dye their hair/go on their first date/get something pierced/etc., etc.? These are just some of the many valid questions that parents with children of every age are asking themselves on a daily basis, but there is one parenting decision out there that I really think needs to be taken off the table because I honestly don’t think that it’s up for debate: vaccinating our kids.

When I was pregnant, I bought in to the immunizations-as-a-parenting-decision myth until I started doing my research. The so-called debate seems to centre on whether or not immunizations are safe for young children, and in particular, whether certain vaccines cause autism. But I quickly discovered that if I only read reliable sources that based their findings on scientific research, there was no evidence supporting this belief. In fact, every single reputable source that I consulted argued quite strongly for the benefits of vaccinations.

What really turned the tide for me was an article in Wired magazine (link below) and a conversation with my family doctor. As my doctor explained, most of the vaccine debate is based on misunderstandings and misinformation about how vaccines work. The biggest piece of misinformation is the belief that children in Canada are protected from illnesses like polio, measles and mumps because vaccines have wiped out these diseases and/or because their children are protected because most other children in our society have been vaccinated. But these illnesses have not been eradicated. Instead there is an illusion that they no longer exist because the majority of the population has been vaccinated against them, and we are protected by something known as herd immunity. Herd immunity is the result of the majority of  the population being vaccinated or immune to certain diseases, which makes it extremely difficult for the diseases to spread. In the case of most diseases, 95% of the population needs to be vaccinated in order for herd immunity to be established. My doctor urged me to vaccinate my son for these reasons but also for another important reason: we live in a city that welcomes tourists and immigrants from all over the world, many from countries where childhood vaccines are not readily available. Germs, most likely brought to Canada from other countries, are responsible for recent outbreaks of both mumps and measles in our region.

For me, there is no longer a debate. The decision is clear. But if you are still feeling unsure, do your own research. Just be careful. A Google search can turn up a lot of unreliable, alarmist information on this topic. I recommend checking out a few of the books and articles listed below. I found them very helpful and all of them use credible, scientific sources to back up their claims.

Talking Breasts

Maternity PhotoshootThere has been a big online backlash to an article written by Kathryn Blundell for Mother and Baby magazine in which she called breastfeeding “creepy.” In context, she links her breasts very closely with her sexuality so, to her, having a baby suck there is “creepy.”

The article doesn’t speak to me because, unlike Kathryn, I don’t find my sexuality strongly tied to my breasts. That said, I can see her point as, now that I’m breasfeeding, my view of my own body has changed. Modesty quickly went out the window in favour of convenience, for breastfeeding in public without a wrap. But also, my breasts have become more objectified. Let me explain…

I think my breasts belong to Aiden. They are his food source. They are tied very strongly to my concept of motherhood (a surprise to me) and are a special and loving bond I share with my baby. I don’t think of them as “my” breasts anymore, and definitely don’t think of them sexually. So, from that perspective, I can see how some people would not want to breastfeed – they are so off limits right now. A pity.

Anyway, the boobs are also more of a “thing” now. I poke and prod and jiggle them through the day… am I engorged? Which one has more milk? Am I leaking? Just thinking of breastfeeding makes them tingle. It’s a whole new world of assessments and experiences.

I am glad I am able to breastfeed and, despite current and past nursing issues, I hope to continue to be able to do so. I think breastfeeding is a very personal choice and there should be no judgment either for or against it. I know, when I struggled, I put a lot of pressure on myself about my “failure” to breastfeed, but that was less from societal pressure and more from personal expectations. But that’s a whole other discussion.

I do have to wonder, though, if my breasts will ever be “mine” again. You know?