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Changing The Social Narrative Through Politically-Charged Burlesque

Culture

Although burlesque may seem like unexpected vehicle for making a statement on social issues, Earlecia Richelle believes the art of dance is an empowering way to convey powerful, unexpected messages to an audience.


“I like unconventional ways to tell a story,” says Richelle, the Beverage Director and Cultural Curator at NYLO Hotel in NYC. “For me, it’s not through writing a book or an essay. Instead, I want to tell stories through bartending and through the art of burlesque. I like taking these issues that have a lot of depth to them and apply them to arenas that are very social. You go to burlesque show, you think you are seeing skin, and that it will be sexy. You’re not thinking you're going to get a history lesson. You think you are just going to have a good time.”

Richelle, who began her career in editorial, said she always knew she wanted to work in New York City in the creative arts. In her third year at college, she moved to Manhattan to pursue a career in magazines.

Earlecia's Solange & Sage Cocktail Recipe

1.5 oz Ketel One

.75 oz Sage Simple Syrup (1:1)

.25 oz Suze

.50 oz Lemon Juice

2 Whole Blackberries

1-2 drops Preserved Lemon Brine

​Directions:​

Muddle blackberries in a cocktail shaker. Add the rest of the contents and shake with pellet ice. Dump contents in rocks glass. Top with pellet ice. Garnish with a burnt sage leaf and edible gold glitter.

Once in the city, Richelle got an internship at Essence Magazine, despite no longer being a full time student (a no-no at the time). According to Richelle, she kept up the clever ruse so that she could eventually follow her dreams of storytelling through unique mediums.

They kept asking me for my papers and I kept saying ‘I’ll get them,’” laughs Richelle. “I just stretched it out until I couldn’t anymore and then I made an excuse why I had to leave.”

Thanks to her shifty maneuver, Richelle says her internship helped open many doors for her. Richelle next went on to work at Sephora, where she worked in the beauty editing department, helping them build out their blog. From there, she began an editing role at Henri Bendel, and while she enjoyed experiencing the New York City world of beauty and fashion, Richelle felt something was missing.

“What I really wanted to be was a stylist and an editor and I wasn't having that much success in the magazine side,” said Richelle, who soon joined forces with an accessories designer, becoming a stylist assistant. “I was styling music videos and editorial shoots. I was still in and out of school trying to finish my degree, but I had all this passion [that had still been untapped]."

After attempting to launch her own online magazine, while concurrently moonlighting as as a cocktail waitress, Richelle said she was feeling a lack of creativity. She decided to

"check out a burlesque show" called Brown Girls Burlesque, and suddenly, Richelle says the world opened up for her.

“When I tell you it was a moment that changed my life, it was” says Richelle, who is of Panamanian and African descent. “I was like ‘Yes! I can finally tell the stories I have been trying to tell through burlesque. This is totally the platform. Looking back I understand that I’m very much a storyteller of my ancestor’s stories; that is who I am. I wanted to tell stories of people who looked like me; I wanted to talk about the things that represented me and where I came from, which being told in mainstream media. Women of color are so fly and our culture is so rich , why don’t I see that [reflected in the media]?. I didn't understand it."

These days Richelle is focused on telling stories that have to do with relevant issues including race, culture, and even global warming through burlesque and mixology. In one of Richelle's burlesque acts called Toxic Bee (which is danced to Britney Spears’ Toxic), she plays a bee in love with a sunflower. In the skit, eventually the love, like climate change, poisons the dance, culminating in a dramatic fashion.

“In other countries, say, Latin American cultures, daughters are raised to be accepting of their female forms, says Richelle, making the point that by embracing Burlesque, she is able to rise against the American tendency to have self hate. "They dance, they own their body, and they learn that from a young age. For me burlesque takes me to that original place if I had been born in Panama or Africa, and I had felt very disengaged from that.”

In her newest role at NYLO, Richelle is still telling stories. Now, a maestro of mixology, the outspoken beauty spends her time creating meaningful cocktails like Strange Fruit, meant as a a reflection in America's gruesome relationship with the hanging tree; Roses and Ash, a smokey rose sour inspired by Van Gough's painting Roses which he created right before leaving the Saint-Remy asylum; and Viva La Loba- playing homage to my most adored book, "Women Who Run with the Wolves"

“I want to continue creating high concept cocktails that create a craft cocktail experience fused with culture and unique engagement,” says Richelle.

The Quick 10

1.What app do you most use?

Lyft.

2.What's the first thing you do in the morning?

Check my emails.

3.Name a business mogul you admire.

Dita Von Teese.

4.What product do you wish you had invented?

Red Lipstick.

5.What is your spirit animal?

Maxine Waters.

6.What is your life motto?

Keep creating, no matter what.. "you can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have." Maya Angelou

7.Name your favorite work day snack.

I forget to eat most days at work.

8.What's something that's always in your bag?

Lipstick, wine key, and business cards.

9.What’s the most inspiring place you’ve traveled to?

Lesotho, southern Africa.

10.Desert Island. Three things, go.

Gin & tonic, avocados, and some kind of hat.

Career

Male Managers Afraid To Mentor Women In Wake Of #MeToo Movement

Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.


In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.

What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.

Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.

Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.

While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.

According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.

In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.


Source-Alex Brandon, AP

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.

Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.

The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.