Taking ‘sexist’ back

Working as a journalist and columnist over the past 15 years, I’ve developed a pretty thick skin. I can’t begin to count the number of times someone has attacked my character, called me names, trashed my writing or told me I should be ashamed of myself for expressing an opinion. Tempting as it is to respond to such unconstructive criticism, I generally resist the urge to fire back, for two reasons. First, I appreciate anyone who takes the time to read my work, think about it and write something in response. Second, the people who resort to personal attacks and name-calling are morons. (Yes, I realize I just stooped to their level, but facts are facts.)

I make an exception, however, when the rhetorical bombs are being lobbed by an elected official.

On April 22, Holly Seeliger, who was elected last fall to serve on the Portland Board of Public Education, published a post on her personal blog accusing me of sexism. My alleged offense: pointing out that she is a burlesque performer whose act is a heck of a lot like stripping.

Again, facts are facts. You can watch Seeliger, who performs as Holly D’anger, take her clothes off while dancing and hula-hooping in public in numerous YouTube videos. She is not, technically, stripping — in one video, her nipples are covered with tassels; in another, with fake leaves — but even if she was I wouldn’t care, and that’s not the point.

The point is that I have never said Seeliger is inferior to men because she performs as D’anger. Furthermore, I have never asserted that she is unfit to oversee the education of children for that reason. It’s the baseless accusations and yawning gaps of logic in her blog post that now give me doubts about her fitness to serve on the school board.

Seeliger says I have written “several articles” about her. In fact, the number of news articles I’ve written about her is zero. Her name appears in two opinion columns I’ve written for this newspaper, and she is referred to obliquely in a third — last week’s column about “The worst of Portland,” in which I jokingly note that burlesque is so common around here these days that a performer holds public office.

In the column I wrote last July, “Burlesque candidate strips away stigma in Portland school board race,” I lauded Seeliger for being upfront about her burlesque alter ego and noted her community involvement, educational experience and policy priorities — hardly an example of what she calls “one-dimensional objectification.” It’s true that I also noted her act could be offensive to some voters, but I included her response to those people and never counted myself among them.

Last October, Seeliger was mentioned again, briefly, in a column about a drag queen who was then running for City Council in the same district. And again, far from being critical or belittling, I applauded the fact that people with risqué alter egos have the courage to run for public office.

Seeliger takes offense that I compare burlesque to stripping in all three columns, but again, watch the videos and see for yourself. Seeliger writes that she wants to “clarify to readers that there is a difference between burlesque and the profession of stripping” but never does so. Instead, she goes on to say that she has “friends who are or have been strippers,” but why that matters is a mystery.

“Perhaps Busby is afraid that a ‘stripping’ hobby will be so distracting that I will lack the brain capacity to serve on the School Board!” she writes. I’ll let that exclamation speak for itself. She continues: “It is a fact that female politicians and those in the public eye are commonly scrutinized, made hollow, and objectified by the media.” Maybe so, but not by me, and I challenge Seeliger to either prove otherwise or publicly apologize.

Seeliger says I’m “condescending to the burlesque scene.” To the contrary, I have actively promoted the scene for years, having included burlesque performances in the Highlights section of The Bollard more than a dozen times since 2009.

“Although I believe that it is my First Amendment right to do so, I will consider stopping burlesque if it is too offensive to my constituents,” Seeliger writes in the concluding paragraph of her post. The day after she published this, Seeliger and the rest of the school board approved a budget that would cut 55 education positions and still raise property taxes. I’m pretty sure most of her constituents are more concerned about Seeliger stripping teachers of their jobs than stripping on stage. I strongly suggest she get her priorities straight lest those constituents vote her bare behind out of office.

Chris Busby

About Chris Busby

Chris Busby is editor and publisher of The Bollard, a monthly magazine about Portland. He writes a weekly column for the BDN.