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January 10, 2010

that stupid bra colour thing

Posted by dogpossum on January 10, 2010 10:51 AM in the category lindy hop and other dances | Comments (3)

Ok, so there's thing on faceplant where you're (as in you, women) are encouraged to post the colour of your bra in your facebook update, but not to explain what you're doing. I'd dismissed this as just one of those fb games and not really worth thinking about. As it's progressed, colours began popping up in people's fb updates, and men began asking about it. As this snowballed, I started hearing a mild alarm bell tinkle.

I'm not sure I'm ok with public games that ask women (only women, mind you) to discuss their underwear in a privately owned public forum. I've also been feeling a bit strange about the edge of titillation here. As you might expect, the more purile male faceplanters immediately sexualised the game. The 'keep it secret' element seemed to fuel the sexy element. This really emphasised the fact that women's underwear - bras, specifically - are sexualised objects.
I know this kind of sounds a bit durh to type out loud, but sudden association of this fairly silly but minor bit of fluff with breast cancer really made me stop and think.

The tweet that caught my eye:

The page at the end of the tweeted link:

Lauredhel's Hoyden discussion of similar issues is probably a lot better researched and thought out than my little post.

When a friend essentially called the faceplant bluff, revealing her bra strap in a photo accompanied by characteristically dry commentary, the sexualisation was undone.... to a certain extent. I think that the important elements in this entire non-event are/were the idea that: a) women's bras are inherently sexy; b) bras are sexy because they are/should be hidden; c) women's bras are sexy because they have something to do with breasts; d) women's breasts (and women) are _always_ objects for male sexual desire. My unease lies with the effects of this association on/in breast cancer awareness campaigns and on public perceptions of breast feeding.

To return to faceplant, though... The most concerning The fucking irritating part of this is the gradual seeping-in of comments from men on women's updates on faceplant which read as sexual harassment. The majority of these have been from your standardly socially inept swing dancers, but I think an attendant unwillingness to call men on this type of commentary indicates the pervasive tolerance of chauvinism in swing dance culture. The online world simply allows us to point to specific, recorded examples of this behaviour.
More interestingly, it's worth thinking about the consequences of sexual harassment in this context. In basic terms, sexual harassment works to keep women feeling unsure of themselves, powerless to control the terms upon which they - and their bodies - are considered in public dance/online discourse. This is significant with dance, as women's bodies are necessarily open to the public gaze, and there is a continuing negotiation of the sexuality/isation of women's bodies on the dance floor. Don't get me started about fucking high fucking heel fucking shoes!

Let's talk context. There are usually more women social dancing than men, hence the term 'follow heavy' and the explicit suggestion that too many women is a bad thing. For other women. Having uneven numbers of follows and leads at a dance (where following and leading is clearly gendered) results in one group (almost always the follows, almost always women) competing - either explicitly or implicitly - for the attention of men, in order to secure a dance.
This results in tensions and competitiveness between women in swing dance culture, and, rather than working together to achieve positive outcomes, women tend to work to secure their _own_ dances/happiness, etc. This situation is exascerbated by the large number of younger women (the teens to twenties) and the emphasis on physical appearance (both in terms of conventional beauty but also performances of physical dancing ability) in social swing dance. It also serves to secure the confidence of male dancers. Simply put, it feels good to be competed for. It also improves your dancing to be on the floor, dancing all the time. And when you're on the floor all the time, dancing and feeling and looking confident, your status rises and, well, you get a feedback loop which recreate the same old boring gender dynamics.


As you can imagine, this shits me TO TEARS. Tears of rage and FURY.

But rather than sit about being angry and resentful and generally furious, I'd rather get proactive. After all, one of the side effects of this bullshit - patriarchy - is to reduce women in confidence, to keep us sitting idly, frustratedly, powerlessly by. These are things that I do to get around this bullshit:

  • I lead
  • I dance alone

Simple, and effective. In both scenarios I dance with women and I side step the broader challenges of men-leading-women on the social dance floor. It makes me feel good to develop new skills, and it makes me feel good to simply step out of that unhealthy cycle of self-blame (aren't I a good enough dancer/pretty enough/young enough/cool enough) and rage (wtf is wrong with you?!). I've also found that setting an example to other women is important. Because I'm not the only one standing there, bored, I find that other women are just as keen to get dancing - with me, alone, with each other. And I'm also very willing and keen to follow the example of other women leading or dancing alone.
One of the most important parts of this process is stepping out of the silent to-ing and fro-ing of unspoken competition between women. I think the unspokenness is significant, just as with the bra colour thing. As soon as you simply stop participating in a silent cycle that disadvantages women, you break it.

Posted by dogpossum on January 10, 2010 10:51 AM in the category lindy hop and other dances


Posted by: glen at January 11, 2010 7:09 AM

How did the facebook bra strap stunt start?

I thought it was some thing about wedding dresses, lol

Posted by: glen at January 11, 2010 7:09 AM

Posted by: Simon Grant at January 11, 2010 9:54 AM

Thanks for this nice post. I have been swing dancing at several places for many years and I completely agree with what you said. I think that if men have an exclusive power to ask women to dance, it will result in a situation where all the pressure to look good and dance well is put the women. Congratulations for learning how to lead and dancing alone. If I may suggest, I have come up with other ideas that I have applied over the years and have had a positive impact (sometimes).
As a boy, I also follow.
I encourage girls to ask the boys they want to dance with, and to refuse boys who ask them if they don`t look good enough or don`t dance well enough.
I don`t ask the girls for dances all night. For several hours each night, I wait for them to ask me, say yes, and then sit down if they don`t ask.

It works best when girls stay on the dance floor at the end of the song, walk their lead to the side, stay up and then ask the next one they want to dance with.

I wanted to reply to part where you wrote:
"These are things that I do to get around this bullshit:
I lead
I dance alone"

I think that asking the boys you like and saying no to the boys you don`t like really is a key element and I hope you`ll add that to your arsenal.

Best of luck,

Posted by: Simon Grant at January 11, 2010 9:54 AM

Posted by: dogpossum at January 11, 2010 10:28 AM

Glen: I got no idea how the bra strap thing started.

Hi Simon,
Beginning with your last comment and then moving backwards:
- Yep, I'm very happy to accept an offer to dance. The only times I'll say no are: if that guy happens to be one who's very rough or hurt me in the past; if I'm absolutely buggered and need a rest; if they're my friend or someone I like and I'd really much rather talk to them and catch up than dance.

I think the general point of my approach is to disturb the heterocentric imperative of swing dancing. ie, the idea that the 'only' or 'best' ways of dancing are men dancing with women. Hence my interest in women dancing with women, women dancing alone. I haven't talked about men here in part because of the broader social context: patriarchy. But I take it as a given that women should/do/will/can ask men to dance; hells, this isn't the 19th century for Goddess' sake! I'm not sure how to comment on your strategy (of not asking women to dance), because I don't know you or the scenes where you dance or how you implement this strategy.

I'm not sure how I feel about a woman feeling ok about saying no to particular men. On the one hand I'm all for it - I think there's a pressure for women to accept every dance invite, simply because 'it's an invite!' So to a certain extent women participate in and perpetuate this irritating state of affairs: they don't say no because they like being asked to dance a lot. Heck, who doesn't? But it's also very difficult for women to _refuse_ a dance, even if the man asking is rough, creepy, etc. That is full of suck.

To speak more generally about my approach to social dancing... yes, I dance alone and I lead. But I also love to dance with male friends and men generally, and will happily accept dances. I am also prepared to tell a man if he hurts me when we're dancing - something that's pretty bloody taboo. But I figure: the guy hurt me! I try to do it very politely and nicely, and sometimes I simply don't bother. I usually tell them on the second time we dance together. If they respond positively (ie do something about it), then we dance again. If I get attitude or a line suggesting that I'm in pain because of something I'm doing (ie they don't accept the idea that they could be doing something wrong), I don't dance with them again.
Social dancing is like socialising. I wouldn't stand about talking to some misogynist bastard at a bar, so why would I dance with him? I wouldn't stand about waiting for a man to come and talk to me at a bar, so why would I at a dance? And I certainly wouldn't talk only to men at a bar, so why would I at a dance? I like nice people, funny people, interesting people, unusual people. I don't care what they look like. I'm not 18, so I'm not particularly interested in some shallow rule about only dancing with hot guys (or girls). I'm also particularly unimpressed by men who have this 'only dancing with hot girls' rule: they can go and get fucked. But first, I will ridicule them.

Posted by: dogpossum at January 11, 2010 10:28 AM

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