Physical Empowerment: Showgirls & Sexual Politics

Women retaking their bodies from the male gaze.

Showgirls was famously misunderstood on its release, interpreted by critics as shameless male fantasy when in reality it's almost the complete opposite. Director Paul Verhoeven is famous for creating satire which embodies the thing it is meant to criticize so precisely that the critique often goes unnoticed. Starship Troopers was also notoriously misunderstood, with most critics missing the way the film attacked the militant jingoism it portrayed. With Showgirls, Verhoeven turns his attention to the entertainment industry and its contradictory exploitation of and dependence upon the female body.

Elizabeth Berkley plays Nomi Malone, a young woman on her way to Las Vegas to become a dancer. Without references or much of a work history to recommend her, she has to start in a strip club where her talent is unappreciated by her audience and her body is objectified by her boss (and, let's face it, probably by the audience too). But she has talent, and more than that, she has an unrefined, soulful energy that gives her dancing something special, something unique to her. Her abilities are eventually recognized by the lead in a local production called Goddess, and she gets an opportunity to join the big leagues. Unfortunately, the more time she spends there, the more it looks like the top isn't much different from the bottom.

The story starts out on a common trajectory: we see our hero at the bottom, and hope for her to get to the top. Nomi starts as a stripper (which, if we didn't assume was the bottom, we figure it out when her boss demands a blow job from a new dancer) and eventually climbs up into the stardom of "real" dancing (with its associated fame and fortune). But once she gets there, we see that the top is actually just as exploitative as the bottom, if not worse. Nomi is still coerced into sexual acts, with the men (and women) around her assuming that, just because she makes money using her body, she is therefore an object to be utilized outside of work by anyone who feels the need.

As her friend tells her, whether she's stripping or on a big production like Goddess, all the audience wants is tits and ass, and at least with stripping they're being honest about their desires. And yet, even though this message is spoken directly in the film, it's easy to miss because of the way Nomi's character interacts with the world. She believes in dancing the way romantics believe in love, and she's willing to do it even if it means showing her body on stage because it's what she wants to do. I can see how easy it is to see this as a movie wanting it have its nude cake and have sex with it too, but for me the nudity was shot in a way that was fundamentally unerotic.

So I can understand that some viewers just didn't "get" it. What I can't understand is how Showgirls was so widely panned when Nomi is such a great character. She's so sincere in her passion for the world that it's impossible not to fall in love with her. All of her emotions play out completely on the surface of her performance not because Berkley is a bad actress, but because that's who her character is. She completely lacks that psychological barrier that prevents people from saying what they mean, and that makes her incredibly endearing. She puts everything up front in such an adorably honest way. I smiled so big every time she got an audition or won the praise of her peers. She's just a lovable person.

Unfortunately for me, it's also in her character when the movie has her take revenge for the abuse done to her best friend. That's totally something I can see her doing, and I understand that thematically the film is trying to portray her as an empowered woman, but it just doesn't work for me. I can even buy into the harassment her friend has to put up with, particularly since it functions so well as a representation of the unspoken violence of the male gaze, but casually glorifying revenge is something I always have trouble investing in emotionally. The moment is definitely earned, so maybe this is my own baggage, but it kept me at a bit of a distance from completely embracing the film.

Still, it took me a while to warm up to Starship Troopers like I have now, so maybe it'll just take a few more viewings for me to fall in love with Showgirls. There was a lot I liked about it this first time through, and I'll definitely be taking up its defense the next time I hear someone attacking it.

Paul Verhoeven | Girl Power
Tell Me What to Watch Again! #8

PS. This has to be one of the weirdest films to double feature with Shame, which I watched yesterday. Sexuality first as male impotence, now as female empowerment. Such a weirdly serendipitous pairing.

PPS. "But I do wonder as a third-wave feminist if it's even possible for women to reclaim their sexuality in this deeply entrenched patriarchal society, or if claiming to do so is just a lie we tell ourselves so we can more comfortably cater to the male gaze."


  1. The erectile organ needs enough blood for it to get erect during love making. If there is a decrease in the blood that is supplied to the sexual organs, it can lead to sexual weakness.
    enlast cream reviews

  2. Manigat, MDN/Hubert Deronceray, and KONAKOM/Victor Benoit as examples of leaders who are elected for life within their political parties.guarantor loans

  3. This writing has instilled a certain confidence in the audience.
    Joseph Hayon

  4. These disorders are an instability experienced in an unspoken response of sexual nature in the physical form, which is described as normal. This was initially outlined by Masters and Johnson in the late period of the 1960s.links

  5. This is really awesome... I like your post and looking forward to it..mobogenie 9apps appsara

  6. Nice blog with lots of information vidmateyou can watch video too. think there are many people who likes and visit it daily.

  7. VidMate is a fast online HD video downloader app for Android. VidMate app allows to download install apps, watch movies, listen songs in high quality, browse hundreds of video sites like Facebook, YouTube, DailyMotion, Vimeo and many other sites. Vidmate

  8. Looking for the best site for Vidmate Download ? Vidmate Official site is the right place for you!

  9. Thanks a million for your heart touching article.I like this so much. I like to share you something which is a very entertaining part of our day to day life..
    Vidmate is an app that allows you to download videos and songs from the Youtube and from many others sites.
    download 9apps vidmate appstore

    Agronomy is the science and technology of producing and using plants for food, fuel, fiber, and land reclamation. Agronomy has come to encompass work in the areas of plant genetics, plant physiology, meteorology, and soil science.
    Agronomists of today are involved with many issues, including producing food, creating healthier food, managing the environmental impact of agriculture, and extracting energy from plants.
    Agronomists often specialise in areas such as crop rotation, irrigation and drainage, plant breeding, plant physiology, soil classification, soil fertility, weed control, and insect and pest control.
    For more information Visit our site :
    Agromic Industry

    Manufactured using superior quality brass, the wide range of Industrial Brass Items offered by us is offered at competitive market prices.
    The industrial brass items are efficient and also strong. This is widely used in many industries, these brass items are highly demanded by customers and users in the domestic market.
    For more information visit our site :
    Brass components

  10. Thanks a million for your heart touching article.I like this so much. I like to share you something which is a very entertaining part of our day to day life..
    Vidmate is an app that allows you to download videos and songs from the Youtube and from many others sites.
    vidmate application,
    download vidmate,
    vidmate for pc,
    vidmate tool,
    vidmate- movies,
    vidmate download,
    Vidmate features,


Post a Comment