The Gurlesque movement obviously borrows a page from the burlesque, where artists perform their femininity in a mocking manner. However, having been forced to sit through the movie Burlesque on the plane, I would say that Minky Momo in Lara Glenum’s Maximum Gaga and Christina Aguilera in Burlesque could not be more different. The impeccably manicured, sexualized young dancers in Burlesque are the opposite of the monstrous meat machines in Maximum Gaga. The element of burlesque that is incorporated is the fetishizing of the body and the extreme femininity performed onstage. Grotesque bridges the gap between Burlesque and Gurlesque. It is the male gaze that strips the performer down to her essence: a bag of meat. When this huge element of monstrosity is thrown in with the campy performance of femininity, we get Gurlesque.
I saw a piece at an auction over break that distinctly reminded me of the Gurlesque movement: it was a case with two handguns crafted from pink blown glass, with pink bullets flying in between them. It was an undeniably violent and strange piece, but it was also strikingly feminine because there were delicate streaks of pink in the glass and the handiwork was so fine. That piece of art captures the more kitsch, quirky side of Gurlesque because it takes our conceptions of femininity and adds enough of a cheeky twist to make us think.
Of course, there is a darkest, much more grotesque side to Gurlesque, where meat hooks and eyeballs and diamonds falling out of assholes abound. One of the strangest pieces that resonated with me in Maximum Gaga was Feminine Hygiene. It completely defies my own conceptions of gender. The language is repulsive and it attacks the reader’s very sense of decency. The words Feminine Hygiene conjure up images of a neat row of feminine products in a supermarket, but Glenum violently overturns this association. She begins by speaking in the Normopath’s voice, labeling society’s definition of femininity as the “female disease”, and then says this so-called “disease” can be “manicured in no time”. The narrator Minky breaks free from the Normopath’s narrow definitions of her femininity. Instead, she glorifies in being a hairy, oily, sexually voracious exhibitionist performing in a skybox for all to see.
Gurlesque uses vicious language to convey the vulnerability of the female species. It bounces back and forth between extreme cuteness and violence. The body of Gurlesque writing is in itself monstrous. It is amorphous and unsightly, and it is created to make the audience squirm uncomfortably, lose their appetite for days, and (hopefully) question their own preconceptions of gender.