Feminism as happiness

And as this week continues, we hear more and more brave women talk about being assaulted by Max Pitruzella. Even worse, we hear more and more men making excuses for why they didn’t step in and tell Max to stop that shit and quit being a fuckwit. It is difficult to stay positive in this climate.
One of the hard parts of feminism is that it often feels like we have to be continually angry and hating on things. But it’s not true. Feminism is very good stuff. It can bring you happiness and power.

I see the dance world’s action on sexual harassment as a very lovely part of feminism.

One of the ways I turn this issue around (and why I love teaching beginners so much), is by focussing on how to treat your partner with respect, but in practical ways. Our whole Swing Dance Sydney teaching and learning group has come up with very good, simple and practical ways to integrate respect and consent with old school lindy hop dancing. It’s easy, it’s FUN, and it makes classes rowdy, full of laughter and happiness. I do recommend.

What we did with our beginner (week 1) students this week was explain about how to ask for a dance, to introduce yourself before you touch someone, and how to make sure your partner was touching you in the right way, and to be sure your partner is ok with the way you touch them.
With the intermediates we talked about how to understand your partner’s body language as communicating their feelings: how a clenched hand and tight arm might mean an uncomfortable, worried, or nervous partner. And we talked about how to be nice so your partner feels safe. And we reminded both leads and follows that we don’t ever demand or tell our partner to do a rhythm step. We invite them to join us in that step. And that we should be totally digging their response, whatever it is! Even if they ignore us!
All of this was part of a very general discussion about having relaxed swing outs where we let go early, don’t yank in early, and take care of our own posture and rhythm. Leads don’t try to micro-lead, follows bring their shit. People dig that, because they see straight away that this type of partnership is how the jazz gets in.

Our intermediate students are already right on top of these issues. Most of them volunteer or work on our events, so they know our safety policies, and how to deal with reports, the police, etc etc. They are all very active about spreading the word to other people too.

I’m lucky. They are a very wonderful group of people. I’d hashtag this blessed but I’m too cynical for that.

I love the Petersham Bowls Club

I love the Petersham Bowling Club. They took a punt on us when we first starting teaching lindy hop there in 2012. They let us put on live band nights whenever we want (well, any Wednesday, and a lot of Sundays). They have air conditioning, and they don’t try to force us to make our dancers drink more. They are a community-run, pokey-free venue that has solar energy, tank water toilets, and are in the black. Their staff are lovely, and we love them. I love going every week and seeing Jon and everyone. I don’t drink, but I love their care and attention for quality beers, and will happily listen to a long story about the latest barrel, and even have a taste.

They are pretty much the perfect venue for our dance classes, and we love them. LOVE them. We ran the first weekly solo jazz class in AUSTRALIA there every week for years. The PBC was where I ran my first Sam-run live jazz gig. It has good acoustics. The musicians love it – we’ve had local bros, and big international acts play for our beginners, and it’s been wonderful every time.

I love the PBC.

 

Look after yourself, friends

Hello friends,
With yesterday’s report of another high profile dancer – Max Pitruzella –  sexually assaulting a woman, you may be feeling pretty awful. Terrible. Despondent. It’s exhausting stuff, and it can make you feel unsafe and afraid.
Remember you can call Lifeline any time on 13 11 14. https://www.lifeline.org.au

Something I’m trying to remember: if women are reporting assaults, it means they feel safe enough to speak up. There probably aren’t more assaults in our community than any other, but it is becoming clear that reports are met with positive action. Men who have been assaulted: you are not alone; men assault men as well. You may not want to make a public announcement, but you deserve safety and support. Please reach out to someone.

So take care of yourselves this week. If this incident is triggering anxiety, depression, flashbacks, or distress, do please reach out. You can speak to your GP, who can then referr you to a therapist under a mental health care plan. These appointments will be covered by medicare.
Treat this as you would another dancing-related injury, and act early. You deserve to feel happy and safe.

Feminism, akshully

This article “Why I no longer identify as a feminist” is a bit simplistic. Feminism has always been wider and more diverse than a ‘liberal feminists’ v ‘radical feminists’ dichotomy, and the author’s overview of developments in feminist thinking is both simplistic and defined by one white, straight woman’s understanding of feminist history.

She writes:

I think it’s time I accepted that “feminism” no longer means “the aim for equal rights for women” but is understood to refer to the current feminist movement which encompasses so much more and very little that I want to be associated with.

Feminism today is as diverse and contradictory as it ever has been. You’ve never had to accept and align yourself with every position identified as ‘feminist’.
Me, I can understand and sympathise with lesbian separatism (which is far more radical than the ‘radfems’ Pluckrose mentions – she seems a little sheltered, tbh), but I don’t have to adopt a lesbian separatist lifestyle, and I can disagree with some tenets of some writers’ work.
Just as I can be frustrated by women like Pluckrose who identified as ‘liberal feminist’, but who I would say needs to learn a little more about the lives of women outside her peer group and own experience.

Pluckrose also writes:

I used to be pleased when people told me that I had made them think more positively about feminism, but now I fear that this may simply have prevented that person from criticizing a movement that really needs to be criticized.

Which upsets me, because it takes a very conservative/reactionary or right wing position, which is that feminism has somehow become a dominant discourse.
I wish! If this were the case, we would have female prime ministers and presidents, we would have access to free and safe contraceptive, all women would be able to choose whether, when and how to have children, queer kids would not be bullied or beaten at school, and trans folk would not be murdered. If feminism was a dominant mainstream discourse the American president-elect would not be a self-confessed sexual harasser and rapist, we would have as many women news presenters as men, and women would be as likely to lead as follow in lindy hop.

While I am ok with Pluckrose declaring that she is no longer a feminist (that is her choice, after all), I’d like her to clarify some things. I’d like to ask her how she can make this declaration and still hold a job, write in the public sphere, or make decisions about her own body. For, while she might not identify as feminist, she is doing feminism every day when she engages in these innately feminist acts. I think she might need to stretch her understanding of the term ‘feminism’, its history, and it’s current incarnations as movement, political project(s), and discourse.

Feminism is big, but it’s not monolithic. From those early moments of postmodernism and on into these much more exciting days of intersectionality, feminism is necessarily dependent upon diversity within its ranks. One of the very premises of feminism is that the masculinised notion of ‘human’ (or ‘mankind’) excludes everything but a single type of male experience. Feminism is about adding to our understanding of what it means to be alive, to be human.

Feminism speaks (to use a phrase I really like) ‘from the margins’. Because women’s voices are absent in arenas of power (politics, economics, religion, art, etc), feminism argues that women are disempowered, and life is therefore the poorer for all of us.

We come in all ideological shapes and sizes, but feminists are all concerned with a few basic concepts: that gender is important, and that women’s experiences of the world are shaped by gender and power. More importantly, as an activist ideology, feminism seeks to change the status quo, and to include women’s experiences in law-making, houses of religion, and public discourse.

From this point we might all split out into more and more specialised or specific movements with interests in particular (or combinations of) projects: sexuality, race, ethnicity, gender identity, class, fertility politics, ageing, marriage equity, ecological and environmentalism, medical politics, anarcho politics, labour relations and work, creativity and the arts, music, dance, education of girls, reproductive health, bodily autonomy…. and so on.

But we are all doing feminism. And there is room for all of us.
Come on in – the feminism’s fine!

Don’t fucking apologise. Just get it right.

“Where’s My Cut?”: On Unpaid Emotional Labor

I’ve stopped saying “That’s ok,” when a man apologises for fucking up something in a business transaction. Like a shop failing to deliver an order I’ve paid for, or a tradesman failing to turn up on time. When they say, “Sorry about that,” I give a small smile, or I just wait for them to continue speaking. I might say something about how inconvenient it was, or how this aspect of the transaction has led me to reconsider our arrangement. But I don’t say, “That’s ok.” Because it’s not.

I only say, “That’s ok,” if it really is. And it is rarely is ok. It’s fucking annoying or inconvenient, and I’m not about to reward professional incompetence with a little emotional labour so they feel everything’s ok. I won’t rant and shout like a man (though I often want to.) So mostly I just wait. I’m getting better at managing the uncomfortable pause, and I always like to wait and see how they’ll dig their way out of it. In most cases I receive freebies or additional compensation.

Because honestly, I’m worth it. #GiveYourMoneyToWomen

The Uses of Anger

A friend posted this on fb:

15094419_1241545139216963_1921813439569508420_n(text reads:

“[People of color] are expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world. The oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions.
-Audre Lorde”*)

[Note: the phrase ‘people of color’ replaces Lorde’s original words, which are ‘Black and Third World People”. I think it’s important to use Lorde’s original words, as she is using ‘black’ deliberately, and referring to the ‘third world’ in a particular way. She wants to talk about developing nations (the global south), and she wants to talk about black americans. This is not the same as ‘people of color’.]

And a white bloke commented

I think that everyone can educate (read: teach) everyone else a thing or two. It’s not a burden but an opportunity, as long as they are willing to learn.

And it gave me the living shits.

So I replied:

…if it’s the people with the least amount of power (time, capital, etc) with the greatest responsibilities for teaching the most powerful…. hm.

This is one element of oppression: forcing people to continually justify their existence. To have them say, over and over again, “I have a right to exist.”
It also makes women, POC… basically everyone but white, straight men responsible for white straight men’s behaviour and thinking.

In a society where institutions, discourses, and ideology make difference invisible, undesirable, problematic, pathologised, or ‘other’, the marginalised have to continually say “I exist. I have a right to exist.” Because they do not exist in media discourse, in political discourse, in social discourse. They are marginalised, disallowed access to places of power.

White straight men occupy the positions of power and influence: they make laws, they are heroes in stories, they have cultural capital, they are religious leaders. Everything in our society says, “White men exist. White men are important.”

The crux of this is that fact that the most powerful people – white, straight, men – have the most power and the least responsibility to others. Which is how patriarchy works. There’s a Greer line: the opposite of patriarchy is not matriarchy, but fraternity. The idea of mutual responsibility.

This is why white, straight men should take the greatest responsibility in dismantling patriarchy. But they don’t, because they are the ones who benefit most from this system.

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(image text reads: Strategy for white people to dismantle white supremacy: “when the forced Muslim registration begins at Mosques, the first 8000 people in line better be white.” – Linda Sarsour, Director of Arab American Association of New York”)
(source, but note, I don’t have a good reference for this text.)

Relatedly
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And then that white bro continued, despite being told, by a number of people in a range of ways “Stop.”
One of the most useful comments was a link to this good cartoon about tone policing.
I always miss that, because I’m either too angry and replying or too angry to reply. I do like the reminder about tone policing. But the white bro totally missed the point: that anger is important. He missed the point of the original post: that marginalised folks spend all their time justifying their existence, while the powerful continue on oblivious. It was almost painful to see such a complete lack of self-reflexivity, mansplaining of being a woman to women, and just general fuckwittery.
Another good response linked up Feminists are not responsible for educating men.

And even after that, he posted

Of course people are allowed to get angry, and are perfectly justified in doing so. It’s not about that. I just don’t think it’s the most effective way of enacting change.
If someone came up to you and demanded angrily that you respect them for something that you have no appreciation of, your first response may well be a beligirent one.
If you build empathy first, it can turn out very differently.

And after a couple of snarks in response, I thought, ‘Why I am wasting my time with this deadshit? Why not continue the thoughts and ideas raised by the initial post? So I went and looked up the reference for that Audre Lorde quote. And posted:

I was just thinking ‘this is real-time version of that tone policing cartoon’. Then I thought, ‘how come this discussion became all about some bro’s feels?’ and then I checked [the] original post, and I remembered: while we’re busily justifying our existence and the legitimacy of our concerns and modes of engagement, “the oppressors maintain their position and evade responsibility for their own actions.”

The reference for this quote is Audre Lorde, ‘Age, Race, Sex, and Class: Women Redefining Difference, from the collected works publication ‘Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches,’ Random House: NY, 1984. You can read the whole thing here.

So I want to stop responding to one man doing some ‘tone policing’, and I want to move this discussion back to its original point: that it is not our responsibility to educate men (or whites, or straights, or…). Our anger is important. It is both creative and empowering; it need not be destructive (though it can be), it need not be irrational (though it can be). It is borne out of our own lived experiences, our own lives.

Lorde had a profound influence on me when I was in my late teens and first discovering feminist writing at uni. Re-reading her work (and thanks for linking it up, Georgia!), I can see just how inspiring and influential her poetic language has been on my own writing. The mode of communication is as important as the content. At every point.

In this speech she describes a ‘mythical norm’ (white, male, christian, etc). In this same piece she explains how focussing on one point of difference from this norm (race, gender, sexuality, etc) is limiting. I think this is a very clear example of a discussion of intersectionality and its importance to feminism or a social justice project.

The next chapter is called, “The Uses of Anger: women responding to racism”, and it’s very exciting. An insistence on sitting down, being polite, being kind, being gentle, being loving, is a key part of patriarchal policing of women and girls. We aren’t allowed to be angry.
But I think it was Lorde who made it clear to me that being angry is a feminist act. Saying, “No!” and “Stop!” is a feminist act in itself. This is why I think we, particularly in the lindy hop scene, need to practice saying ‘no!’ Not only because it means we’ll be ready when it comes time to stay ‘NO!’ but also because the act of saying no, of being ‘disagreeable’ is profoundly empowering for women. Who are trained from birth to avoid conflict. To be nice. To be pacific. To be kind, and at all costs to preserve the peace of mind of men.

Lorde writes:

Women respond to racism. My response to racism is anger. I have lived with that anger, ignoring it, feeding upon it, learning to use it before it laid my visions to waste, for most of my life. Once I did it in silence, afraid of the weight. My fear of anger taught me nothing. Your fear of that anger will teach you nothing, also.
Women responding to racism means women responding to anger; the anger of exclusion, of unquestioned privilege, of racial distortions, of silence, ill-use, stereotyping, defensiveness, misnaming, betrayal, and co-option.
My anger is a response to racist attitudes and to the actions and presumptions that arise out of those attitudes. If your dealings with other women reflect those attitudes, then my anger and your attendant fears are spotlights that can be used for growth in the same way I have used learning to express anger for my growth.”

(“The Uses of Anger: women responding to racism” in Sister Outsider, 1982:pg 124)

And I went straight to abebooks and bought a copy. I’d forgotten how exciting Lorde is. And inspiring she was to me as a young feminist.

And even after that, the same white bro chimed in with yet another ‘poor me’ comment.

I wanted to post this here so I could remember how exciting it was to rediscover Lorde after so many years. I didn’t want that man to rob me of this excitement. And I wanted to block him and his pathetic ‘poor me’ bullshit.

I’ve seen a few too many posts getting around on fb lately, exhorting patience and understanding for Trump supporters, for racists. I don’t want to bring peace first. I want to be angry. Because it is very important to be angered by these things, and not to ‘accept’ them (with peace or otherwise). This is not a time for gentleness. It is a time for activism and anger.

*It’s worth noting that Lorde writes

This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns. (pg 113)

Boogie > Jump Blues > Rock n Roll

I was thinking about replacing some of my favourite 50s songs with earlier versions (when I DJ). eg Basie’s 50s Roll ‘Em Pete with this Joe Turner and Pete Johnson 1938 version. But this is too boogie, and not swing enough for lindy hop… or is it?
…this is related to my ongoing concern that I play too much jump blues.


linky

I often play the 1950s Joe Williams/Basie version(s), both live and recorded, because the boogie factor is pared back, and the bigger band setting gives it a proper swinging feeling. It’s super dooper fun…


linky

I also play this version with Big Joe Turner, because Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson. I usually play the Basie if I want to transition from shouters to big band, or this one if I want to go the other way.


linky

…incidentally, the Hornsgatan Ramblers played a version of Jumpin The Blues (as sung wonderfully by Rikard Ekstrand) in Seoul, which was quite excellent. And they’re super old school nerds, so I’m a bit reassured.


linky

I have never played or even heard this Chuck Berry version of Roll ‘Em Pete before, but it does make the move from boogie to jump blues to rock n roll very clear.


linky

Patterns in behaviour: towards a discursive understanding of sexual harassment in dance

[note: this is a discussion that began as a fb post, then outgrew itself as I commented on my own post zillions of times.]

The list of people I’ve blocked on fb over the years correlates with the list of men who’ve been accused of sexual assault and harassment. This behaviour doesn’t happen in isolated incidents.

As R said on fb, “Scary stuff!”
…and yet kind of helpful. We can learn to identify the common traits of offenders.
This is one reason why we should be asking questions about events that don’t pay workers, don’t provide clear, written terms of employment/agreements, and don’t address other issues of equity and justice.

There is also often a correlation between exploiting workers (whether volunteers, paid employees, or contractors) and sexual harassment and assault. Which makes sense when you think of harassment and assault as being about power and control, instead of just being about sex (or even being about sex at all).
I’ve also noted that an insistence on not writing down terms and agreements also correlates with exploitation and harassment. If you don’t write down the terms of the agreement, then the worker (or the less powerful person in the relationship) can’t refer back to it to respond to questionable behaviour. It is much easier to gaslight someone (“It didn’t happen! You’re imagining it! You’re overreacting! It was just a joke!”) if you don’t have a clearly articulated list of what the job does and does not involve.

Incidentally, this is another reason why I actually explain what we define as sexual harassment in our code of conduct. So that people who just ‘have a feeling’ can follow up those ‘feelings’ with reference to a list of specific behaviours. When you have a list like this, and it’s in writing, and available to everyone, it’s much harder for someone to gaslight you, or pass off their behaviour as a ‘misunderstanding’.

I really like a code of conduct to be very specific.
And why I insist that people read it before they accept a job with me. If they read it, then we all know what’s on and what’s not on. And we remove that airy-fairy, amorphous confusion that benefits the people with social power (eg the power to physically intimidate).

A code of conduct is a way of empowering less powerful people. It gives them the tools to articulate their concerns, and to say, “Hey! STOP! I don’t like that!”

If you rely on ‘common sense’ or ‘the rule of law’ to determine how dancers treat each other, you assume that all parties have the same ‘common sense’ or the same understanding of the law and willingness to abide by this.
Which is obviously not the case.
In my case, I don’t think ‘the law’ actually does a good enough job of articulating behaviour I think is wrong or inappropriate. Nor does it deter men from offending.
And because dancers come from different cultures, different backgrounds, and share different values, we don’t have a ‘common’ sense of how we should treat each other. And it’s patently obvious that offenders do think it’s ok to harass and assault people.
So we need a clear outline of these values or sense or laws.

The truly terrifying thing is that I’m beginning to suspect that there’s a network of mutual protection between male offenders in the lindy hop scene.
As J said on fb, “I want so badly for you to be wrong about this…” Me too. But it’s logical. In many cases offenders don’t believe what they’re doing is wrong, so they don’t quash that behaviour in other men, and don’t manage their events to prevent it.

These thoughts were prompted by my going through my events for the rest of the year, and my DJing and traveling for next year. What are my limits as a punter and DJ. What events will I avoid? Do I need a written agreement and code of conduct to attend an event? If there is no explicit code, what sort of broader set of guidelines and strategies will I accept in substitute? If I do refuse to hire known offenders, how do I find out who these offenders are, if women are unwilling to publicise this knowledge, for fear of their own safety? And how do I develop the networks that can help provide this information?

All terribly cheering thoughts in this last, busy part of the dancing year.

New music: Cats and Dinosaurs

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Hej hej, Sverige!

‘Swing på barrikaderna’ – Cats and Dinosaurs– 2016

Disclaimer: I was approached by Tove Casén Nylander to review this album, and provided with a digital copy of the album.
I then met 
Filip Bagewitz, another band member, at Herrang, and we made friends.

This is another of those happy stories of a band working with dancers, or being a band of dancers.
Cats and Dinosaurs are a Swedish band, based in Gothenburg. More importantly,

The socialist-feminist swing collective Cats & Dinosaurs plays original lindyhop dance music with political lyrics in Swedish.

I was approached by Tove Casén Nylander by email to review this album in month, and then I failed completely to write a review. I think I seem to do my reviewing when I’m stuck on a bus or a plane, and have time to sit and think about the music without interruption. So apologies to everyone.

This is an interesting one. First off, all the lyrics are in Swedish. Which is both excellent and frustrating. Excellent because SVERIGE! But frustrating because the musicians are politically engaged and vocal. The band members I met are all fairly lefty, and very much interested in issues of gender and sexuality (providing a neat dovetail with our feminist fika that year). And the lyrics of these songs, and their delivery, are informed by this thinking. But I don’t speak Swedish, so I don’t know what they’re talking about!
Ah, well.

They remind me a little, musically, of the Underscore Orkestra, for their inclusion of a range of European folk musical influences, mostly in the violin and a few percussive instruments. There are strong New Orleans street jazz influences in instrumentation, delivery, and intensity. Some of the vocal deliveries are similar as well – sort of shouty, again informed by lefty folk pop. I hear echoes of bands like Tin Pan in the earlier days in the discordant bits, and Choinure Boys in the shouty exuberance. These seem particularly relevant to a music which always had one foot in the popular, and the other in the political.
Unlike the Gamble and Doyle albums, this is not a carefully mainstream swing recording. It is not going to attract a huge mainstream lindy hopping audience.

I quite like it. I like the vocalist’s almost androgynous quality. Is this a man or a woman? Does it matter? Not so much. ‘Jobba Mindre!’ is a fun opening to the album, with a shouted, repeated chorus which makes for good singing-along, and there are shouting and clapping bits, which everyone likes. It gets in and out in 2 minutes, BOOM. Total pop song material.
I do like the combination of piano and violin. It very much positions it in European folk music, but by way of American street jazz. There are bits in songs like ‘Sång till valfriheten’ where the instrumentation is particularly awesome at the beginning (though sadly it lacks a bit of variety later). And ‘Sex timmars arbetsdag’’s use of the vibes is quite lovely. I think this band would be a lot of fun live, especially at a rowdy party. The feels are strong, and convincing. I feel, even without any Swedish, that the musicians are committed to the story their music is telling, the feels they are communicated.

It is, though, the album of a relatively raw jazz band. They straddle styles in a way which many dancers would find uncomfortable. Your hardcore lindy hopping purists wouldn’t enjoy this band, but the more relaxed jazz dancers and newer dancers would.

I’m off to DJ in Seoul this week, so I might see how this song goes down. There’ll be Swedes in the audience, so I’ll enjoy seeing how they respond to the radical left wing lyrics in a fairly politically conservative city. I have a feeling it would go down well with Japanese dancers who are used to bands like Choinure Boys.

I wouldn’t recommend this band for hard core lindy hop DJing, but I would recommend it to people who are interested in this particular type of ‘jazz fusion’ (ie street jazz + european folk music + radical politics + fun). Buy it to support and encourage the musicians, who are also dancers.

‘Swing på barrikaderna’ – Cats and Dinosaurs– 2016