The usefulness of being specific

Kathleen Rea’s piece “That lady”: The story of what happened when a woman put up a boundary in the contact improv world is a great post by a woman about her experiences setting up ‘boundaries guidelines’ for her dance session.

I especially dig her points about using specific language:

My guidelines evolved over the years, but have always been very clear and direct in their language and guidance. I have faced both praise and critique for this direct approach. I think one of the reasons they have been controversial is that I leave little room for misinterpretation. In the guidelines, I say things such as, “Do not intentionally caress another dancer on their breasts or genitals”, and, “Non-consensual pass-by pokes, kisses, tickles, caresses, massages or pats while dancing or passing by someone in the studio or hallway will not be tolerated”. I think this approach was unusual in the contact dance improvisation world. I had said something which is usually not said, and as well I was a woman saying these things.

I’ve tried to be specific in our Code of Conduct, because I think that being coy can lead to problems. It also suggests that if actually saying ‘groin’ or ‘breasts’ is impossible, then talking about someone touching your groin without permission is utterly anathema.

If we use precise terms simply and casually, we make it clear that it’s ok to talk simply about our bodies and what we do and don’t like. It gives women the language tools to speak up about what’s happened: “He grabbed my breast.” If we don’t have these tools, it’s even harder to actually explain what happened and why it wasn’t ok.

Of course, using appropriate language tools is also a very good way to be specific about how you do like to be touched, or how you would like to touch someone: “Could you grab my breast, please?”

If we get used to speaking about our bodies like this, it’s even harder for offenders to claim they ‘misunderstood’.

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