Occupying space

Someone posted a photo of a man ‘manspreading’ on the tram to facebook, and there was a good discussion about it. For me, manspreading is a physical version of mansplaining, or of patriarchy. A (male) friend made this comment about the original post:

I sit like that..but i would 100% sit less comfortably so that i dont put others out like that. I find both men and women go about thier day unmaliciously unaware about how inconsiderate they are towards other people across a range of general day to day activities. I think if everyone made an effort to be empathetic in general things like this wouldnt happen..

This is a very sensible and reasonable response. It’s what I tend to think of as a humanist or individualist response to a feminist critique. On one level, I’m in agreement. But on another, I don’t think this approach actually captures the nuance of human relationships. Feminism begins with the assumption that men and women experience the social world in different ways. And these experiences are shaped by social forces and institutions which favour men.
I like to add detail to this, by adding the notion of ‘patriarchy’. Patriarchy is an organising force or ideology that organises institutions (schools, business, markets, hospitals), discourses (discussion, media, the exchange of ideas, things), and lived reality (our physical experiences). One of the key features of patriarchy is that people are organised not just by hierarchies of gender (where men have more power than women). They’re also organised by class (rich men have more power than poor men), by race (white men have more power than men of colour), by sexuality (straight men have more power than queer men), by age (middle aged men have more power than teenaged men) and so on. The ‘most powerful’ man, then, is rich, white, straight, and middle aged. We describe this type of ‘most powerful’ man as hegemonic masculinity.
It’s important to note the difference between ‘man’ and ‘masculinity’. ‘Man’ is about biological sex. Masculinity is a social construct. That means masculinity is a product of the way boys are taught and learn to act as men through formal institutions like schools, churches, and armies, and informal relations like families and peer groups.

Most recent feminist talk has approached this issue in terms of ‘intersectionality’. In the late 80s the more common term was ‘diversity politics’ or even postmodern feminism. But that thinking has been refined and developed to become intersectionality. The word gives us the image of a number of sphere or lines ‘intersecting’ at a particular point. Here’s an example. Let’s imagine a woman called May who has Shanghainese parents, is a lesbian, was born in Australia, and is the mother of two children.

Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 12.52.51 PM

All of these things make her the person she is. Let’s also imagine May identifies as a Chinese-Australian lesbian mum. This identity is the intersection of the traits that May considers most relevant (to this conversation at this time).
Of course, May’s person is the intersection of many more characteristics.

Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 12.50.38 PM

She’s also tertiary educated, cisfemale, middle class, lives in urban Sydney, and is able-bodied. At any time she may identify as one or a combination of these characteristics. This is important: choosing how to identify, is a mark of social power.

If we return to our hegemonic masculinity, we can see that this identity also exists at the intersection of a number of characteristics:

Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 1.05.36 PM

The important point here, is that the power of this hegemonic masculinity lies in not recognising the different elements that contribute to this status. A man like this, occupying a position of power and influence, a businessman for example, might describe himself as a ‘hardworking, self-made man.’ He may attribute his position of power to working hard all his life. Which may be true. But his gender, class, ethnicity, and sexual identity mean that he is allowed to marry the person he wants, has access to better housing and health care, and has not faced racial discrimination.
Not acknowledging these advantages is an important part of patriarchy. The myth that power and success comes from hard work (rather than privilege) is an important part of capitalism as well.

So let’s go back to manspreading.
How is this an example of patriarchy at work?

I replied to that comment above with this

It’s partly about how men and women feel about occupying public space. Women are trained to take up as little space as possible – to be smaller, to talk softer, to be less confident, to avoid conflict by becoming invisible. Whereas men are trained to sit wider, stand wider, talk louder, disagree, to ‘stake their claim’ on space and ideas, to ward off conflict with a show of strength, take up more physical and audible space.

If a woman does break these rules – is louder, bigger, more confident, more visible – we have lots of ways to shut her down. Slut shaming, comments about being ‘strident’ or ‘shrill’, etc etc.

So manspreading enrages women because it’s about men being so comfortable with occupying space they don’t even to stop to consider their behaviour.

NB this is culturally specific.

When I talk about ‘public space’, I’m placing it in opposition to ‘private space’. Public space includes inside public transport like a tram, on the street, in shops (though these are technically private spaces, they function as publics), in the media, online, in parks, and so on. Private space includes the home, family, inside a car, personal email.
When I say ‘men and women’, I am talking about the men and women of urban Australia, a post-colonial, space in the modern, white-dominated developed world. The photo of a white man manspreading was taken on a Melbourne tram, where he is occupying more than half a seat he shares with a white woman:
Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 1.12.23 PM
Using textual analysis and an understanding of discursive context, we can identify them both as white, probably white-collar workers in urban Australia. We could make some guesses about age, and we could probably extrapolate about sexual preference. But the most important features here are gender and posture. He occupies more space with his wide legs, his relaxed, open shoulders, his joined hands, extended elbows, forward-facing posture, raised chin. She takes up less space with her closed legs, drawn-in elbows, compressed pecs, biceps and shoulders, her bag across her shoulder and in her lap. And so on. She also ‘closes’ herself to him by turning away and speaking on the phone. His ‘open’ posture suggests confidence and almost challenge (considering the context).

This sort of posture is not something that you see on peak hour trains in Seoul. Because Seoul commuters (the same class and age as these two) are taught culturally and socially to share space in a more communitarian way. There are certainly hierarchies of age and gender in the Seoul underground, but they operate in different ways.

Why is this the case?
If we follow the individualist reading, we could argue that the man has ‘won’ more space by being more confident, and by simply ‘stepping up’. But there is extensive research and observation proving otherwise.
Women in our culture are trained to think of public space as ‘dangerous’. They’re taught to be wary of rapists and physical assault, to preserve their ‘modesty’ and avoid unwelcome sexual attention by covering skin and literally keeping their legs together. They’re taught to avoid interaction and conflict by not ‘challenging’ others by using more than their ‘fare share’ of public space on a seat or in a tram. This includes speaking softly, not making eye contact, keeping their body ‘contained’ and ‘covered’, not speaking to or challenging men, not expressing their opinions, not laughing loudly, not swearing, not moving in a free way.

Women who don’t follow these ‘rules’ are disciplined with a range of strategies: men may ogle them, comment on their appearance, touch them, or interact with them despite being told to stop. These women are seen as having forfeited their ‘right to autonomy’ by being in public in particular way. Other women may be less overt, more effectively censorious: they may sneer at a woman’s body (she’s too fat!), eye her clothing (it’s too revealing!), mutter about her (she’s too loud!), draw away to avoid touching her (she’s contagious!)
The most important thing that I can say about this process, is that it is impossible for a woman to every behave or dress or be in a way that keeps her ‘safe’ from male attention and female policing. Because, despite the insistent slutshaming mythology of our culture, she is not responsible for men’s behaviour. Men are responsible for the way they disrespect women, though they are rarely held accountable. This is a very important point, because it makes women complicit in their own oppression. It makes women feel guilty for and accountable for men’s behaviour. It treats men’s behaviour as ‘natural’ and ‘inevitable’.

Even more importantly: if women are busy feeling guilty and vulnerable and taking responsibility for men’s behaviour, it stops them being confident and capable and asserting themselves. And this is how patriarchy polices women: we are convinced that we don’t deserve equal space on the seat, equal time in the conversation, safety in our homes, safety in public spaces.

Of course, power and privilege are largely invisible to those who have it. That white man on the tram probably has no idea he’s pushing that woman off the seat, or that the observing photographer is judging him. He might move over if you ask him to. Or he may be just as likely to huff and make a fuss about being inconvenienced by having to share. Because ‘when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels Like oppression‘.
Women, though, are far more likely to be aware of this inequity. Women are hyper-vigilant about their safety and bodies in public space. They sit in a particular part of the tram in a particular way to avoid conflict (note that woman’s almost apologetic use of the seat, her attention diverted by her phone to avoid a challenge). They avoid eye contact with strangers. They won’t tell an intrusive man to fuck off if he hassles her. Women wear coats over a skimpy dress in public, they don’t laugh loudly, they don’t ask these manspreaders to move over and share the seat. Because that manspreader is likely to see this request for equity as an injustice or challenge.
And here, of course, is the clincher. Women are trained to see themselves as vulnerable. Women are trained not to confront men about seat sharing, because they are afraid that man will hit them, shout at them, or humiliate them. Or – not impossibly – wait for them when they get off the train, then punish them verbally or physically. Women are taught to carry their bodies as though they were weak and vulnerable. To not ‘challenge’ male dominance with open, strong posture or direct eye contact.

This is where mansplaining comes in.
This dominance of physical space extends to verbal or intellectual space. Men are taught that their ideas are more valid, more important, more urgent than anyone else’s. More importantly, they are taught not to notice this, and to see this as normal. So when they do have to ‘share the floor’, they perceive an equal distribution of speaking time as inequity. And they respond to this as a challenge to their…status? Virility? Power? Who knows.
There’s a vast body of literature (primarily in linguistics and spoken discourse analysis – an area I did some work in during my MA work, and later employed in my analysis of online talk in my Phd) studying exactly how men and women talk in same-sex and mixed-sex groups in different settings. This somewhat dodgy post gives some interesting links (do make sure you read to the end.) Men and women use language in different ways, and they talk in different ways. I think it’s absolutely fascinating.

I have extended this model to my analyses of dance. Because I approach social dance as a public discourse: a place for the exchange of ideas and discussion and articular of identity. Through dance. So I see manspreading and mansplaining as two examples of male dominance of public space/discourse. Verbal/audio space and physical/visible space.

How does this relate to dance specifically? Well, we can look at the way some leads perceive the idea of ‘sharing improvisation time’. They may feel they are giving the follow equal time, but they do not see the power dynamic at work. Firstly, they do not understand that ‘giving a follow space’ is an articulation of the idea that the lead is the ‘boss’, rationing out ‘space’. This policing of improvisational space actually ensures that the lead is always in control of the whole dance. And of the follow’s body and creative voice. Secondly, their notion of ‘sharing fairly’ is skewed; it is not an equal division of time and space at all. In this situation I’d argue that this whole paradigm is poop.

This is partly why I really dislike the ‘dance is a conversation’ analogy. Because the type of conversation many men imagine they are having with their partner has more in common with mansplaining and manspreading: there is formal turn taking, but men interrupt more, take more time, and are more defensive and more aggressive, discouraging women from doing or ‘saying’ anything that could potentially embarrass or challenge a male partner. Deborah Tannen (linked to in the post linked above) points out that women and men use interruption in a different way. Women are more about collaborative meaning making (interrupting to exclaim “Oh my god, no way!” vs interrupting to mansplain and paraphrase a woman).

I would like to remind you that we need to think about intersectionally, here. While I’m saying ‘men’ and ‘women’, I should be saying hegemonic masculinity and talking about whiteness and class. The lead-follow relationships in modern Australian and American lindy hop are marked by class and race and gender and power. Much as people may like to pretend they are recreating the Savoy, they are in fact continuing the thinking and behaviour and relationships of their wider lives in the current moment.

As an example, listen to Frankie Manning’s discussion of leading and following as challenge in this video. He makes it clear that he enjoys being challenged by female partners. He also relies on women partners to help him get through improvisation. And he listens to his women partners’ improvisation and timing. It’s not exactly feminist talk, but Manning is articulating (and embodying) a masculinity that is an intersection of other identity markers: heterosexual working class masculinity of early 20th century urban Harlem New York jazz dance culture.

I’d like to add an addendum here:
In my experience, women who speak up about injustice – who question men’s behaviour or ask for equity – are attacked. Verbally. Physically. Legally. Financially.
I very rarely attack specific men personally for their behaviour, and if and when I do, it is always with bountiful evidence and with the express purpose of protecting women from his actions. Yet I am continually bombarded with emails, facebook messages, blog comments, letters, shouting down and interruption in public. I’m not particularly rude and I’m not aggressive. But I am perceived as such, because I’m not actually sitting down and being quiet.

It can be scary, but now that it’s happened so many times, it’s not scary any more. It’s just irritating. And I’ve also discovered that women are just much better at this public talk and action than men. Bitches get shit done.

(mis)uses of power in responding to sexual harassment

A clever point was raised in the teaching swing dance fb group I’m part of.
This group has an excellent vibe: mutual respect, constructive talk, be nice.

Here is a question asked by one member of this group (I’ll keep her anonymous in case she needs to be, but will happily add her name later if necessary).

…there has long been a culture of “dominance” and coercive sexuality based on dance prowess or fame … in the swing scene. And it is absolutely tied to the rockstar status within subcultures.

What do we do to shut down the rock star culture, while still honoring those who are stellar teachers? What can International teachers do to take the focus off them as celebrities while the community at large promotes their contribution to dance and their value as teachers? (and I suppose we need to ask this of the competitor population, too, but I think the crossover population is the actually the one in question)
In conclusion, what can we each bring to our pool to help build a better community that supports our often juxtaposing desires?

This is what I wrote in response. The first paragraph is the most important, I think.

I don’t think the dance world is any worse than the rest of the world for assault and harassment. I actually think we do quite well on reporting and responding – hence the number of reports coming up in the last two years since we saw the public response to Steven Mitchell.

We are quite active and getting well organised in Australia, with almost all events and schools having codes of conduct, and a few events having really, really good response, reporting, and prevention strategies. Vivi Kalman and her MLX safety champs crew are well and truly leading the way on this.

Despite the awesomeness of some organisers, we do have some recalcitrant bastards who are either supporting accused men, or refusing to act beyond setting up dodgy cut and past codes of conduct.
But, well, baby steps.

We’ve also found in Australia that most reports of assault or harassment haven’t been reporting high profile or powerful male teachers. Offenders all sorts of men, most of whom are operating ‘under the radar’ for event organisers, but are well known among the more ‘intermediate’ or general dance population.

Personally, and as an organising person, I am much more worried about organisers and other teachers who cover for offenders. There is clearly a culture of hide-and-ignore protecting high profile male teachers who sexually assault women. There were certainly organisers who protected Steven Mitchell, and we have seen that other teachers protected Max Pitruzella.

So while I’m all for undoing some of the hero-worship and unquestioning adulation for teachers, I’m actually much more concerned about the way organisers protect known offenders. I think that organisers gain a lot of status from ‘getting’ the A-list teachers, and I know that organisers also risk money and status when they put on an event.

I’ve also seen that the worst offenders are booked by organisers who run events with exploitative conditions: underpaying or not paying teachers, DJs, staff; not making workplaces safe; overworking staff and volunteers, etc etc etc.

So I think that one very important way to combat this issue is to think of sexual assault and harassment as issues of power and exploitation (not sex), and that they are just one point on a spectrum of exploitation. So to prevent assault and harassment, we need to address broader issues of power and exploitation.

eg if you don’t run your event legit (eg don’t get visas for teachers, don’t pay tax, don’t pay people properly, don’t invoice properly), you’re less likely to call the police if you an assault is reported at your event. I’ve seen organisers botch things very badly when assaults are reported. eg letting an offender ‘apologise’ to classes before putting them on a plane. That’s a whole series of unethical and illegal actions there.

And one of the biggest issues in all of this, is that inexperienced people run events, and don’t know about half the issues that need addressing – from music use licences to OH&S, and beyond to writing agreements/contracts and how to manage people.
The dodgiest teachers (and why are there so many in the blues scene?) target these inexperienced people, saying they’ll pay their own flights over, if the local person puts on an event. The local person feels super flattered, puts on the event, and then all manner of bad shit goes down.

Help the helpers

Hey there fronds. Are you working on sexual assault and harassment, safe space, and other issues relating to shit stuff that men to do women, children, and other men at dance events?
 
You may be feeling pretty fucking bad at the moment, what with Turmp, Max Pitruzella, Steven Mitchell, shit going on in your own scene, etc etc etc.
 
It can be a mix of total awful hearing terrible stories about awful men doing awful things, and total amazing fighting the power, kicking heads and taking names.
Either way: emotional roller coaster.
 
Please be looking after yourself and each other.
Keep an eye out for the symptoms of reactive depression, anxiety, and other illnesses, as well as just generally feeling poo. These don’t mean you are ‘nuts’ or going to be ill forever. It means you’re ill and run down and need to take care of yourself.
 
Me: I find working on this stuff pretty bloody depressing. I feel frightened for my own safety, for my friends’ safety, and very, very angry. I get particularly angry with men, because most of the people working on these issues are women, while almost (99%) of the people offending are men.
 
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? Why are we once again picking up after you shits?
 
Me again: while the rage can keep you warm, it often dies down into depression (where I personally despair of humans), anxiety (being afraid of my email inbox as i receive another raft of vicious hatemail), frustration and irritation (fucking dancers, not being able to step up and help each other), and a general disinterest in dancing. The millionth time I read the same organisers or dancers list a million reasons why they can’t act on an issue (whether it’s paying people properly, banning a known rapist, or stepping in to tell some jerk to stop hurting women on the dance floor), I just feel like screaming. And then making good use of one of those bags of warm dog poo.
 
Things I do to manage these very normal feelings:
– set limits (what will I read, what won’t I read, how often will I read about these things)
– set limits (what am I prepared to act on? when will I stop acting?)
– set limits (no, I won’t talk to you about X, I’m sorry, because I haven’t the strength)
– set limits (soz, no known rapists, sexual assaulters, harassers or stalkers at my events. No excuses, no explanations, you’re just out on your arse)
– set limits (if I do think I might lose my shit and physically attack the next man I see hurt a woman on the dance floor, I take a deep breath, tell a friend I’m going in, and tell him politely to quit it. Talk before punching.)
– set limits (never too many beginner dancers; never too many dogs to pat, never too many early nights)
 
– get help. Talk to a GP (I love mine), talk to a counsellor (hey, they teach you how to respond to these issues). Talk to a professional rape counsellor so you know how to manage these issues and when to handball them to a professional. Tell a friend you feel terrible.
 
– pat more doges.
 
– remind yourself of the wonderful women you know. Then send them a message telling them that you think they’re wonderful. They need it, and it means you’ll be spending less time thinking at dumbfuck men, and more time thinking about wonderful people.
 
 

If you’re someone reading along who doesn’t help out on these issues, it’s time you did. And you should begin by finding out how. I’m talking to you, men. This isn’t our problem; men assaulting women is the problem. That’s you, and your male friends. If you don’t step up and do something, say something, you are complicit.
So share the load, hey?
And a general fb post where you offer to walk women to their car or to ‘talk’ to a doodbro on request is not helping. That just maintains the status quo. Instead, you could talk to doodbros when you see or hear them being dicks. Check yourself: what sort of jokes are you telling? How’s your gendered language? How do you proposition someone? Have you volunteered to help out at a dance event lately (no, not DJing or MCing, something actually essential)? Did you take your trash to the bin at the end of the night? Did you say ‘thanks’ to the vollies or staff at a local dance? Did you recommend a woman for a gig you wanted? Have you asked a woman dancer to show you that cool trick they just did?
 
Hell, start walking known or suspected offenders to their cars. Because they’re the ones who need watching. THEY’RE the ones who are trouble, not women.
 
 
Here is a useful resource: https://www.livingwell.org.au/professionals/confronting-vicarious-trauma/

Sydney is winning, you know

IMG_9080Screen Shot 2017-01-28 at 1.45.17 PM

Check out this simple little symbol on this event flyer.
It says ‘we support safe spaces’, and it’s slipped in there next to the venue, organising body logos. This placement says ‘this is as important as who runs this event’ and ‘we are proud of this’.
It’s not the perfect little symbol, and I’d probably say ‘this is a safe space’, but it WORKS.

Just like flying a rainbow flag or having a rainbow sticker in your window, just like the pink triangle, this little symbol says “We are onto this.”

I’ll be attending EASY DOES IT…. tonight. (well, I probably would anyway, because live band, two floors dancing in a squashy bar: my favourites.

I do have a question, though: this is a public event, and the venue is a bar. How will the venue be enforcing safe space policies? Legit question, and out of curiousity, as we work closely with the PBC, and rely on their own commitment to equity and safety.

Now I’m all excited about community partnerships in working for safety and equity at dance events. I’d be curious to see how Nevermore Jazz Ball and Jenny Shirar and Christian Frommelt approach these things in their very-community-focussed event.

 

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!