Burning Man and the failure of feminism?

“I feel like feminism is dead,” I said despondently to my campsite mates at Burning Man 2011.

(For an uplifting Burning Man 2011 representation, click here, btw.)

“I’m walking around  and looking at these young girls dressed up in costumes that are all about marketing their sexuality.”

“You’re right,” said one of my friends, assuming that my concern was about the sexuality. “It’s the opposite of feminism–it’s utterly hedonistic.”

Frustrated, I said through clenched teeth, “Listen, it’s not the sexuality that’s the problem. I’m a third wave feminist–I’m about as sex positive as a pastor gets. But they’re using their sexuality as a tool to lure men, as if it’s the only power they have, and as if it’s power.”


I told this story at a dinner party a few months later, and another decent, upstanding woman who had gone to Burning Man, said, “Yeah, but you just called it. You third wave feminists created that dynamic. They saw you all claiming sexual equality and lipstick feminism and $400 strappy sandals and they thought, ‘so that’s what it means to be a woman.’ They’re the logical extension of you.”




So for those of you who think this terminology is fuzzy, here’s a GREAT article on all the different types of feminism out there from a third wave magazine whose name I will only list here as B****. But to boil it down, if I have this right, first wave feminism (to quote my fabulous friend Bromleigh) is “Hey! We should vote, too!” Second wave for me is about equality in the work place and reproductive choice (sixties through eighties). And the article I listed basically says, “If you’re under 40 and a feminist, you’re third wave, no matter what your issues.” But I sometimes describe third wave as “Sex and the City” feminism, more about the fact that we should eliminate double standards related to sex and sexuality than about our political or workplace clout (although most third wave feminists would say all of those things are connected).

As a clergy woman, I’m really intentional about not wearing a robe, because I do not want people to get away with hearing me because I hide my body while they feel free to ignore other women who can’t hide theirs. And as a matter of fact, my body, my person, my being a woman, actually matters to the way I engage God and the people around me. (And my congregation is much healthier about this than many. When I sang at a worship service in Modesto once, a woman in the congregation complained to the pastor that she couldn’t pay attention to my song because of my cleavage. First of all, it was the same outfit I preached in that morning, and second of all, WOW–I’m a pretty good singer, so what does that say about my cleavage?) I work really hard at modeling embodied Christianity, because I think we need to honor all of how God made us instead of being ashamed of it.


And yet I wonder–how have I contributed to the next generation missing the distinction between celebrating the body and commodifying it?

An amazing and courageous artist colleague of mine, Favianna Rodriguez, recently wrote a column on slut positivity. It’s not exactly where I’m going, but I’ve been really grateful for her making me chew over the issue of third wave feminism in a really important way.


And I know eighth grade girls who go down on boys so the boys will like them. This makes me sad not just from a loss-of-innocence perspective, but from an inequality perspective. And I wonder what I as a third wave feminist am called to do about it.


As a side note, on my despondent Burning Man day, I went for a walk by myself at night to reflect on the end of feminism as I saw it. I came upon the Flaming Lotus Girls getting ready to put on their annual fireworks spectacular. As a tightbodied woman in shorts and a hard hat chatted with people while doing crowd control, someone shouted out, “Will you be at the party at ____________ campsite?”

“Yeah, we’ll all be there!” she responded casually. “Come to the party and collect the whole set!”

I noticed all of the men and most of the women hanging on her words and even just her aura. Most of them would have LOVED to go home with her at the end of the night. And not because she had commodified herself, but because she was so bada**. And I found myself thinking, “Well, maybe third wave feminism isn’t dead at Burning Man after all.”

7 thoughts on “Burning Man and the failure of feminism?

  1. I am a feminist and am thinking about attending BM this summer. Could you recommend any feminist or women-centered camps?
    Thanks so much,


  2. Thanks, Judith!

    Also, if I could hang out with the Flaming Lotus Girls all week, I’d be a happy woman. 🙂


  3. I am a radical feminist and a virgin burner with a ticket to this year’s burn. I’m 46.

    Your post is discouraging. I don’t know if I want to go.

    I am going to the regional event this weekend (Mooseman, in Ontario, Canada) and depending on my experience there, I just might sell my 20 year longed for BM ticket.

    Although as a radical feminist I might be the first to ever venture on the playa. And perhaps that’s why I still need to go.


    1. Orla, please be aware that there are a LOT of self-disclosed radical feminists who claim this as an inspiring and powerful and liberating space. Two things: (1) I didn’t realize going in that Burning Man’s greatest value is to people who don’t get to be their fully integrated selves in their day-to-day life. But if I had realized that, I might have been better able to spot the people for whom this was just a continuation of who they were. (My amazing friend Judith Katz who posted earlier in this thread is a good example.) I kept trying to find my tribe and couldn’t, but that was good news ultimately, because my tribe is the city of Oakland. Had I known that, I would have spent a lot more time hanging out with the eco folks and digging the art. 🙂 (2) Find the Flaming Lotus Girls. Seriously.


    1. Sounds like you don’t know much about feminism if you think it isn’t about radical inclusion. Also, not your problem that I didn’t experience BM in a positive way, but you’re a pretty lousy ambassador for the cause there, son.


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