11/21/2012 11:24 EST | Updated 01/21/2013 05:12 EST

Is Sexism Alive at Burning Man?

I can't help but wonder if Burning Man will be a bit too much like the rainbow batherings I checked in the early 90s where I realized quickly that urban mentalities like sexism also permeate counter-culture. The young women at the Rainbow Gatherings danced topless around the drum jams while the men drummed and ogled them

People walk toward the temple at Burning Man near Gerlach, Nev., on the Black Rock Desert on Friday Aug. 31, 2012. (AP Photo/The Reno Gazette-Journal, Andy Barron)

I've been thinking about going to Burning Man this summer, at the urging of a few friends. But I'm not sure I have the gusto to be in a week long party full of 50,000 extroverts. I can't help but wonder if BM will be a bit too much like the Rainbow Gatherings I checked in the early 90's.

The first Rainbow Gathering I went to was in Vermont. Reputed to be a strong counter culture gathering where no money was allowed, I hiked two full days up, up, up into the hills to find thousands of people gathered in the wilderness. Water was being tapped from the streams, and Hare Krishna's were offering the best meals I could have imagined.

There were full day drum circles, no electricity, and elderly fair skinned women bravely boasting beards. You could go to "pancake kitchen" at almost any given hour, and eat decadently. One of the days I was there, I went to the main trading centre. People had their wares set up on blankets for barter only -- batteries, toothbrushes, handmade jewellery, animal pelts, root vegetables, clothing, tampons, Advil. Anything you needed was there. Cash-free economy. Right on.

"Welcome home" was the rainbow greeting heard everywhere. The concept of finding home among strangers where nudity was allowed, food was free and the land was to be left untouched (and re-seeded) made me feel hopeful. I was younger then, and a less experienced woman, but already held distrust for commodified culture and urban ideologies. The rainbow community concept gave me pause -- maybe we could make a better world than cities indicated?

I realized quickly, though, that urban mentalities like sexism also permeate counter-culture. The young women at the Rainbow Gatherings danced topless around the drum jams while the men drummed and ogled them. The encouragement to "just be free and let go" was mainly aimed at women as a way to get our tops off. "Welcome home my beautiful rainbow sister," men would say to me throughout my day. They would embrace me, and the embrace would sometimes last long enough to become a grope. Agile fingers would start to unbutton my dress, with a warm gaze and hushed words against my neck, "Just let it go, sister. Be your beautiful self. Shed the trappings of babylon and your city clothes." Ew.

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Photo gallery Burning Man ~ The Esplanade Series. See Gallery

It seems like Burning Man holds the status of a heavier, more muscular cousin to the hippied out Rainbow Gatherings I went to 20 years ago. I want to check Burning Man out, but the online images look so much like a modern Rainbow Gathering. The whole tits and ass on display thing seems so alive and well, and it's not exactly exciting to imagine being stuck in an atmosphere where that's the norm. I already deal with that all day every day in mainstream and urban culture. The idea of escaping into a more pronounced culture of exhibitionism is daunting. Online searches show a solid glossary of nearly naked babes; 80 per cent female, of course.

But I also see MASSIVE installation sculptures online at BM -- some are, of course, naked female bodies, but some look like cool tucked away video sculptures and mini cities. Big summer skies, cool modified vehicles and bikes, mud parties, and sound stages. It looks like the hugest party ever, and a place where someone who loves art and human celebration can see blocks wide installation pieces, and costumes that inspire!

Unfortunately, it also looks like the party party party never stops, nor do the crowds or sound crews, nor does the extroversion and look-at-my-ass boudoir wear. Stuck in the desert with 50,000 people blowing off a years worth of frustration from their 9 to 5 realities, all wearing the oh-so-current steam punk chic? This sounds like a potentially beautiful, but likely exhausting, experience.

Who is taking care of each other at these massive BM party party parties? In an era where every where I turn, in every city I work in, there is another advertisement for another burlesque event, and another picture of another nearly naked chick marketing another event, where do these attitudes that women are entertainment go once the masses congregate for something as "free" as BM?

Is the widely-held philosophy that our asses are on display quelled once people gather to party in the desert? I sure would like that. To be free from that construct for a week or so would be liberating. And yes, I know some women like being on display. I know many women who crave being looked at as confirmation that they are "hot."

As a matter of fact, they desperately need that confirmation, and will do anything to get it. And that constant struggle to be prettier, more gazed upon, isn't that making us sick? Many of us are actually putting our health at risk to "get more hot" on a daily basis, all over the world. Even wearing high heels daily endangers our spines and feet, but we still wear them. Cuz it's "hawt"?

And inside a counter-culture gathering like BM, it looks kinda similar to mainstream culture. Maybe more dusty, but still a contest to see who can be the most "hawt," the most "free," the most "expressive" -- and so much of the expression looks like the stamp of "look at my ass," pornified MTV culture.

I know, I know. I sound like a scrrrrdy cat. Too modest? Not adventurous? Just be free? Let it go, sister? But as I write this blog, I realize my solitary nature outweighs my need to see those big beautiful art pieces under the Burning Man sky.

I think I'll just google those sculptures and let the extroverts party in their lingerie and tutus while I sit somewhere quiet, swim nude in lakes, saving my look-at-me gusto for the next time I perform on stage.

That's when I'll be extroverted; for my audience, because it's my J.O.B.