Flat vs heirarchical power in safe space discourse

Following on from my last post, Conflict or Bullying?….

There are technical definitions for harassment, abuse, and bullying in various government or medical literatures. But I’m finding these aren’t as significant as the perception of these differences within the dance world.
For context, the last two years since Steven Mitchell was openly outed as a serial rapist and sexual offender, have seen dance scenes around the world leap into action to develop policies, processes, and practices which respond to and prevent sexual assault and harassment. This could be referred to as ‘safe spaces’ discourse in the scene (even though many people don’t use that phrase).

Now that we’re two years in, particularly in Australia, where we’re actually a little ahead of the game, we’re seeing people moving to a next stage. How to maintain these processes how to support and care for safe space workers, how and when to lift bans or enforce stronger measures. We’re also seeing organisations exploring formal legal options and advice, and in Australia, there is a general movement towards coordinated efforts. A sort of loose national consortium or more accurately loose network of communication. This means that various bodies and individuals who run events, teach classes, or are active in their local scenes are talking about these issues and sharing information and resources.
In an activist sense, we’ve moved from agitate to educate and are now into organise.

We can say that there is, on the whole, a very general (though not comprehensive) agreement that we need to address sexual assault and harassment in the scene in an active way. This is quite a different culture than the one I wrote about in 2011 in A Difficult Conversation About Sexual Violence in Swing Dance Communities.
I think this is a very good thing.

We are also seeing another interesting (and occasionally frustrating) issue developing: dancers are beginning to talk about and act on a range of anti-social behaviours, but they don’t always (rarely?) share the same understanding of ‘bullying’, ‘harassment’, ‘conflict,’ and so on.
Two of the key issues seem to be: what do we take responsibility for responding to (as institutional bodies)? How do we respond to various behaviours? And what is our scale for ‘anti-social’.
So, while we’re all on board for ‘improving safety’, now we’re seeing clear differences in how people think ‘we’ (as a community) should respond, who this ‘we’ is, and when it should happen.

I’ve seen two general groups of thinking:
1. Peeps who would like to preserve a hierarchical, top-down power structure, where we have powerful people (organisers, teachers, etc) who respond with authority to incidences and reports.

2. Peeps who would like to see broader cultural change to undo some of these hierarchies, so we have a flatter community power structure, and more people feeling powerful enough to intervene in unsafe situations, or to stand up for themselves and others.

I’m in the latter group.
I’ve noticed that people in the first group are very focussed on processes of reporting, ‘punishment’ (from ostracising/banning to police intervention), and essentially maintaining the status quo.

People like me, who are in the latter group are much more focussed on doing things like changing the way we teach dance, and on building class cultures where students do stuff like ask each other to dance in class (and know how to say yes or no, and how to deal with either response), know how to say ‘please move your hand’ or ‘I’m not ok with that’. For a lot of teachers, one of the important parts of this approach is to rethink the lead-follow dynamic, from changing the emphasis on heteronormative gendering (where men lead and women follow) to shifting from moves-based dancing (where leads lead a zillion moves in a row and follows execute them), to movement-based dancing (where both partners interact in a more collaborative way, with an emphasis on rhythm and the music rather than executing moves. The ‘ambidancetrous’ movement is a part of this latter group, but also what I think of as ‘gentle teaching’, where classes are less focussed on mini-routines, teacher-centredness, and class ‘levels’. A ‘gentle teaching’ approach focusses more on social dancing skills in class (eg students counting themselves in, lots more music in class, etc etc etc).

I’ve talked a lot about teaching, but there are other projects that have similar goals (cultural change) and aren’t focussed on teaching. A good example is a very wonderful shift away from school-organised parties in Sydney, and towards individual- or friend-organised parties. This has meant that we’ve seen lots of smaller, more collaborative parties in the last couple of years, where the people putting the events on work with friends and aim to have fun. My favourite part of this is the collaboration with musicians. Whether they’re blues musicians, gypsy jazz bands or swing bands. From a nerdy music POV, I’ve seen that these bands rarely work from written scores; they tend to do more improvised stuff, and there’s more to-and-fro between musicians in the band, and between musicians and dancers. It also seems that musicians like these gigs a LOT more than the other type of gigs.

I really like the second as an example of cultural change, as we see a move away from centralised hierarchies (with power and decision-making centred on one or two people) to localised, flatter hierarchies (where decision making can by done by anyone, and anyone can run a party, and we attend because we think it sounds fun, or because they’re our friends, rather than because we feel institutionally obligated).

One of the interesting parts of the second approach is how Sydney (as my working example) has integrated safe space practice and discussion into this culture. If we are localised (rather than centralised) and we have lots of people making decisions, how does a code of conduct work?
Things I’ve seen in Sydney:
– people share resources and ideas
– people are saying ‘I am personally responsible for my friends’ and my own safety’. And I see men saying this too. So individual people are feeling engaged, rather than relying on a powerful person at the top of a hierarchy to ‘fix things’.
– there’s more communication between individuals running parties, but also between people who are working on events in other capacities. eg the people who managed the door at Jazz with Ramona this past weekend also manage the door at other parties and events, and they are taking their experiences with both groups’ safety policies and growing a practical, tailored approach that works in both spaces.

I really like all this stuff.

But a clear consequence of these two general groups of thinking has been some clashes in ideas about who should do what. And about what ‘counts’ as harassment, bullying, or conflict.

So, right at the end here, I’m actually in favour of shunning or ostracising in some cases. The most obvious of these is when groups of women say ‘no thank you’ when a known groper asks them to dance. They feel confident enough to say no without justification. And they are making it clear to him that they are the bosses of their bodies, and his antisocial behaviour has had consequences.

If those women had chosen instead to make a complaint to a powerful person, who had then ‘warned’ that man, then those women remain disempowered, and the organiser has the power.

Of course, in this environment, knowing when to do formal bans, warnings, and escalation of responses is a more complex issue. And this is where I (and a few friends all over the world) are now: how do you use official roles and processes in a flatter power structure?

Hence my interest in understanding the difference between conflict (which I think is inevitable and ok – especially as it teaches us how to manage conflict in healthy ways) and bullying/harassment.

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.

Amplification

“Female staffers adopted a meeting strategy they called “amplification”: When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.”

From Claire Landsbaum’s piece Obama’s Female Staffers Came Up With a Genius Strategy to Make Sure Their Voices Were Heard.

I’m quite surprised by how common it is to be edged out of conversations when I’m hanging with some DJbros or some jazzbros. As you can imagine, I’m not the quietest person in a conversation, and I’m usually reminding myself to let other people talk too. But there are definitely bros who aren’t interested in anything a woman has to say. Just because she isn’t a man.

My usual solution is to just walk away and find someone more interesting to talk to. While these women couldn’t really walk away from these bros if they wanted in to the power, we can in the jazz dance world. And if I want jazzbros (particularly musician jazzbros) to pay attention, I change my mode of interaction. All those years hanging out with punker musician bros and academic bros in my 20s has skilled me up.

But honestly. Bros. How dull.

Women of colour respond to white appropriation of the margin(alised)

Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s piece ‘I walked out of the Brisbane Writers Festival Keynote Address. This is why.’ is being linked up a bit in my book-friend circles, with emphasis primarily on Shriver and the topic of the piece. But I’m mostly interested in how the author got up the guts to walk out of this talk in such a public way. It’s essentially a marginalised woman ‘speaking up’ in a white elite space. It’s an act of bravery.

Breai Mason-Campbell’s talk ‘Dancing White: Race, America, and the Black Body…’ was linked up in a dance group last night by Anaïs, and something about it reminded me of this keynote article. I think it’s Mason-Campbell’s highlighting of the literal framing and display of OGs* at a dance event. It’s very much like the framing and display of marginalised folk in Lionel Shriver’s keynote.

And both pieces are by women ‘speaking out’ about the appropriation of POC’s bodies and minds by people in power for their creative work. In one case the ‘speaking out’ is non-verbal and in the other it’s after the fact. Both of which reduce the ‘danger’ of these acts for the women.

But these two pieces together are making me think and rethink very carefully my approach to OGs in the modern lindy hop scene. Part of me wishes we did ‘acknowledgement of traditional custodians’ at the beginning of every dance event. And that we asked our OGs if they wanted to do a ‘welcome to country’, and if they didn’t, we didn’t go ahead.
*(Original Groovers)

Mason-Campbell’s talk (start at 37.20):

We do not try to hide it.

It’s been quite a long time since I posted here, mostly because I have been SO BUSY. But also because my attention has been caught by facebook. A long time twitter user, I used to talk about interesting stuff with my friends there, in the relative privacy of a protected twitter account. But then every started to move away from twitter, and towards facebook. And I went too.
I’m hesitant to float all my ideas on facebook, simply because the audience is so much wider than my twitter readership. And the audience is more diverse. On twitter I was writing for and with people who largely had a background and politics like mine. People who knew how to discuss and test out ideas. Clever, curious people. But when I post on facebook, I know that those people are still listening and reading, but they’re just one group out of many. I hesitate before posting loaded articles or comments, because I know that most readers and commenters will write without pausing to think, and the discussion will degrade into frustrating derailments.

So why don’t I post here instead? The audience is smaller than facebook, and the long form I really enjoy using here is deterrent enough for most readers. In other words, I write so much most people don’t bother reading til the end. So I can hide a lot of my thinking and writing in plain sight. But it is long form. And I like the to-and-fro of twitter, where you can float a quick thought, and get a dozen quick, witty, or thoughtful responses. But that doesn’t happen on twitter any more. Twitter has largely gone dark. In my sphere anyway.

Most of the people I speak with on twitter were friends I met online in the earlier days of blogging. Ten, eleven years ago. When those conversations happened in comment threads, and in responsive posts. We moved onto twitter as our lives changed, even though some of us might still be dropping the odd blog post. Or newspaper or magazine article or journal article. And now we’re speaking on facebook. We’re making longer status updates, discussing links or stories, and engaging in discussions in comment threads. Again. And we’ve brought those ten, eleven years of experience talking and writing online to facebook. Thing is, facebook’s mass audience doesn’t have that experience.

My larger problem with writing and thinking on facebook, is that facebook is one of the places where I work. That’s where I do the promotion and advertising and posting to support and promote my business projects. My dance classes, my larger events, my DJing. Despite this, I’ve recently shifted my public professional talk to represent my private and public political talk, which I might previously have kept a little to the side. This has been made possible (necessary?) by issues developing in 2015.
The first, public, and largely positive discussion of Steven Mitchell’s long term sexual harassment, rapes, and grooming of women and girls within the lindy hop and blues dance scenes. The bravery – and power – of these women and girls speaking up and naming names. Talking about issues which have largely been awkwardly ignored by the lindy hop community. All of these things made me realise that my public, professional talk needed to be more clearly informed by my more private political thinking. I saw this as another example of my engagement with lindy hop moving closer to my background, my training in academia.

So I have, as my social media manager colleagues say, ‘shifted my public professional brand to incorporate my feminist politics’. In part because the public lindy hop discourse now allows this sort of talk. I can talk about gender, power, sexuality, class, ethnicity, etcetera, as a dance teacher and organiser, and I’m not written off as ‘too radical’. Because, sadly, the Mitchell issue has made it impossible to ignore the fact that we need to talk about these things.

In a practical sense, I can use my academic background in my current role. My deep, critical knowledge of gender politics, discourse, and ideology gives me the thinking and practical skills for addressing sexual harassment within my local dance community, via my business activities. It’s been quite exciting to see that I have the skills required for writing and talking about gender and power in a dance context. And working at a higher, postgraduate, or professional academic level. This seems to me the logical extension of feminist thinking: practical activism. And I really, really like it that this work can happen at a very local, very personal level. I find it essential to think about what I do and write as having immediate, practical consequences for people I see every week, and speak to every day. This isn’t academic; it is immediate and practical.

One of the things I quite like about my current job, is writing every day. I really quite like learning to write about these issues as part of a broader strategy for a) selling dance and music (through classes or events or DJing and so on), and b) promoting sustainable community development (where the community is centred on dance and music, but reaches out into the broader community). Where sustainability is recorded in financial, social, and cultural measures.
And I do like the way this writing asks me to articulate ideas I have about dance and music as art and as a site for activism. This means that I tend to lean on ideas of vernacular dance as a public discourse. A place for ordinary people to exchange ideas and to discuss and argue. But it also means that this public discourse is also a site for public, collaborative creative work. And lindy hop being what it is, most of this creative and intellectual work is also joyful. Full of happiness and light.
I think that this is why lindy hop is a particularly powerful tool for feminism. It lends itself to jokes, to kindness, to a lightness of heart. Frankie Manning is often quoted as saying that lindy hop is a very happy dance. But I think it is far more a hopeful dance. After all, for a dance with its roots in slavery and african american segration and oppression to feel happy, it must be bloody well loaded up with hope.
I’m often struck by the coincidence of Frankie Manning’s birthday being Sorry Day in Australia. A day of national reconciliation. It’s a day where we acknowledge our darker history, and hope for kindness and change. For reconciliation. I find it difficult to read the almost beatific accounts of Frankie Manning’s life on facebook on that particular day. Because it is a day where aboriginal Australians remember and speak up about the more horrible parts of Australia’s history and present. But I do think that it’s also appropriate. Frankie Manning was no stranger to racism and segregation. He knew people who had been slaves. He knew people who had been lynched. He would have understood the importance of the reconciliation movement.

For me, lindy hop and jazz dance, and jazz music are tools for liberation and reconciliation. They are handy tools in the activist’s tool box. I really do enjoy the fact that good lindy hop requires partners listen to and respect each other. I do love it that we can say to our beginner students, “Check in with your partner. Do you have your lines of communication open? Are they with you? Do they dig what you’re doing?” We say to our beginners in their very first class, “Each person you dance with is a different size and shape, and they listen to the music in their own way. You need to adjust for that, and you need to take time to get on the same page.”
This is profoundly feminist to me. I see my dance classes as feminist work. As well as bloody good fun. I do like it that I can use this language and these ideas for running events as well as classes. And the fact that lindy hop requires this mutual respect and communication to do good creative work is very exciting. It’s a very nice place to begin a discussion of working conditions and labour in lindy hop. It’s a fantastic model for mutual respect and healthy, consensual relationships between men and women (whether sexual or not).

Anyway, I don’t have much more to say. You’ll be disappointed if you thought this was going to be an inflammatory rant. But if you’re a meninist who believes in feminist conspiracies, you’ll be delighted. Except it’s not a conspiracy theory. It’s a reality. There’s a whole bunch of us out there using lindy hop as a tool to fight patriarchy. And we certainly don’t try to hide it.

Using femmo stroppo tactics. Or, Bitches Get Shit Done. Or, disagreeable feminists will discomfort you.

I think it’s worth copying this discussion from fb to here. Not too long ago I got into a ‘discussion’ on fb about why codes of conduct are important. One of the things that struck me was how aggressively one woman rejected the idea of structural change to reduce attacks on women (ie codes of conduct), and also tried to get me to moderate my tone. A bit of ‘tone policing‘.

I often have people (especially men) say they won’t read what I write, or don’t think what I’m saying is important because I swear too much, or because I’m ‘too aggressive’. In the case of this woman, somehow a discussion about whether codes of conduct are important became a bit of a ‘pity party’ for her. It was interesting, because I see this sort of tactic from women quite often. They’re disagreed with, so they respond by playing the martyr so people will ‘stop being mean’ (read: stop disagreeing with them). This is interesting in this case, because she’d said earlier in that thread that she didn’t think we needed codes of conduct because she feels confident enough to speak up for herself.

The tone policing is important, because the very point of the discussion was to change conditions so that women had more room to speak up for themselves, to accuse an attacker, to prevent harassment of other women, to agitate for social change, to be disagreeable.
I find that whenever I’m particularly confident or fierce in my language (even without swearing! :D ), I’m described as being ‘aggressive’ or ‘bullying’. When I reread what I’ve written, I’m really not being aggressive or bullying. I’m being confident. What I suspect is that the cliche of people seeing a woman who speaks at all in public as ‘aggressive’ applies here. And, more importantly, this idea of an ‘aggressive’ woman is deeply unsettling. For men, and for women who identify with a conventional gender identity.

There’s a lot going on in this exchange, but the bits that caught my interest were:

  • this woman used her personal experience to justify resisting a policy which would protect people who had other experiences;
  • the combination of ‘I’m strong enough to speak up for myself’ and the ‘stop being mean!’ in her language. It was conflicting logic which unsettled the discussion, and established her as a little ‘unstable’ and conventionally feminine (hence justifying the idea that we should be kind to her);
  • I was actually rather moderate in my responses to her – I didn’t swear at her (I rarely do that; I swear near people all the time, but very, very rarely swear at people – that’s not cool), but I very clearly engaged with her points individually. This was the point at which she switched tactics from ‘oh, but I don’t think we need that’ to ‘don’t be mean!’ She positioned herself as being ‘attacked’, rather than being engaged in discussion;
  • somehow we ended up a long way from a discussion of actual, physical attacks on women, instead having one woman positioning herself as ‘under attack’ when she was really just being disagreed with.

This is something that women often do. They manage a conversation that isn’t going their way through a combination of performing a defenceless victim role, and quite selfish arguments against working to safeguard other women. To me, this is the most disturbing part of patriarchy. It recruits women in their own disempowerment.
One of the consequences it had for me, was to doubt my own thinking. Was I ‘being mean’? I went through and reread the discussion. No, I wasn’t. I didn’t add any personal attacks (where I attacked her, rather than her argument), I didn’t get nasty with her. I just engaged each of her points, outlining how they were inaccurate. I think this was the issue: she saw a sustained disagreement as an ‘attack’.
I know there comes a point where we should abandon arguments online, or face to face. For all sorts of reasons. And usually I do, because GOD TIRED. But at that point I decided I’d see this through and untangle each of the points she presented.

What I was left thinking, was that when a woman does engage in public disagreements, using consistent, persistent logic or resistance, she’s perceived as ‘aggressive’. This is so in conflict with my training as a Phd and MA candidate, that I can’t quite accept it. I am trained to think through a point to it’s logical conclusion. I’m trained to hang onto an idea, working it over and over, to see where it leads.
I know that women are trained to avoid conflict, to use other methods for disagreeing or disapproving. But I think that it is important to be persistent in discussions sometimes, particularly as a woman. I deliberately chose not to adopt that preferred feminine mode of response where I would have apologised or reframed my points to make her feel comfortable. I wanted to discomfort her logic. Just that one time.

Because I get so tired of being sensible and calm and gentle. I’m tired of hearing the ‘you catch more flies with honey’ line. Being angry is important. And in this instance, where we are talking about sexual assault, physical attacks on women, I think it essential that we get angry. We need to persist. Being angry and loud and disagreeable is powerful. It’s feminist. It should unsettle and disturb. Those men who harass women rely on their not speaking up. They rely on women keeping quiet to avoid drama, violence, or being accused of being ‘aggressive’. So we should practice speaking up.

Anyhoo, moving on. This exchange was an example of how one woman argued that her personal experience was justification for not adopting systemic change.
I’ve also heard this argument against adopting codes of conduct: ‘we deal with these issues on a case by case basis’. This argument is a way of insisting that individualism is more important than collectivism. Or, more clearly, it makes it impossible to see the forrest for the trees. If we respond to each assault as a ‘single case’, we are so busy dealing with ‘cases’, we don’t see patterns. I think that the case by case approach is an explicit tool for resisting change, and enabling sexual assault. Because it responds to sexual assault, rather than preventing it. Assaults will still happen; women will still be attacked. The power of the authority ‘dealing’ with incidences is maintained; women are kept powerless. They’re not given tools to prevent assault. Men aren’t taught that assaulting women is not ok. I discussed this in my previous post, ‘yes all men, and all women. all of us.’.

Societies and cultures and communities are groups of individuals. But we are also people with shared experiences, and there are patterns of behaviour and experience. Collectivism is an important concept if we are to prevent sexual assault, not just respond to it.

Anyways, this brings me to my next point. That post ‘yes all men, and all women. all of us.’ was a post on fb. And one of the comments was quite interesting. A man asked:

What’s an example of a systemic barrier in organisations? I’m not being difficult, it’s just sometimes easier to see things once they’re pointed out that’s all

This was the perfect question. If we aren’t dealing with sexual assault on a case-by-case basis, if there are ‘systemic barriers’ (or broader cultural patterns of disempowerment), how do we identify them? This is a tricky one. And such a good question.

I replied:
In a lindy hop context, not paying women teachers as much as male teachers, or only offering dances classes at the times babbies need the most care (ie 6.30pm). Both are examples of how an organisation or system makes it harder for women to continue teaching or learning, and favour men or people who don’t have child-caring responsibilities.
Still a systemic barrier, but more about discursive barriers: always referring to follows as ‘she’ or ‘ladies’.

Learning to see barriers is harder if you tend to benefit from barriers that affect others inversely. I keep my radar out, and the things that usually ping that radar are, for example, structural things that are divided by gender, or only affect women. So, for example, ‘wearing high heels in lindy hop’. If only women wear heels, or are encouraged to wear heels, I’m immediately suspicious. Similarly, if beginner dance classes divide students into leads and follows, but use gendered language to do so (eg ‘ladies over here, men over here’).
Context is important, of course. So because we live in the context of patriarchy, I tend to be suspicious of things that are related to gender. But you might also be looking for things like ethnicity: are all the teachers in a school white/anglo? Are all the performers in a troupe white/anglo? Are all the students in a class white/anglo? If that’s the case, then the next step is to ask ‘why?’ If you see broader patterns, then it’s probably structural or systemic barriers at work, preventing or discouraging certain people from entering the group.
The next step is then to start investigating. You can ask people of colour (POC) why they aren’t taking dance classes, but it’s more useful to start by observing things like language, social settings, clothing and other cultural stuff, etc etc.

Luckily, we have a few generations of feminists and other activists and thinkers to give us an idea of what to look for, and how to look for it.

Probably the most important tool for you, as hooman, is critical thinking. If you see something (eg no women on a DJing team), ask ‘why’, rather than just accepting it, or accepting an excuse like ‘there just aren’t any women DJs’. Similarly, if we see it’s only women, or mostly women being sexually harassed in a dance scene, ask ‘why?’ Because there are patterns (ie it’s women, not women and men being harassed in large numbers), then there are probably broader factors at play, beyond individual people – eg systemic, structural, discursive, cultural factors.

Once you’ve observed those systemic barriers, you can set about dismantling them. If you are in a position of relative privilege, then you are in a great place to do this sort of work.

I feel, as someone who benefits from systemic barriers (because I am a white, middle class women living in a big city in a developed country), I feel I have a responsibility to ask questions, and to be curious or suspicious. The nice thing about jazz dance, is that as a vernacular dance (ie a street dance, or ordinary social dance), it really works well as a tool for changing things, or asking questions, or being curious and creative.

I think, then, to summarise, addressing systemic change is about empathy. Thinking beyond your own personal experience. And I think that this is where my real problem with that woman at the beginning of this post lies. I believe in using empathy, imagining what it’s like to be someone else, to address patriarchy. That woman made an explicit call for empathy: ‘don’t be mean’. But I persisted, even though it caused her discomfort. Was this unfeminist? If sisterhood is at the heart of feminism (for me), then should I have stopped ‘being mean’?
It’s a tricky one. When I write on fb or here on this blog, I always remember that there are far, far more people reading along than commenting. So when I continued in that discussion, not heeding her ‘don’t be mean’ response, I risked alienating readers. Particularly female readers.
But I know that demonstrating how different ways of being a woman is important. Just as the best way to get more women leading in lindy hop is to have more women leading in lindy hop, having women speaking up and being disagreeable – and coming out of it unscathed – is a way to model speaking up for yourself when you’re sexually harassed.

The irony, of course, is that many conservative peeps find it difficult to empathise with women who aren’t conventionally feminine, who aren’t quiet and meek victims. Who are confident and vocal and disagreeable.

But as we all know, bitches get shit done.

In that setting, I figure I can be that outlier – the bitch at the far end of the spectrum. And hopefully someone else can fly under the radar, being sneakily subversive, rather than loud and stroppy. Me, I don’t have the patience. I’m femmo stroppo because my friends are being assaulted – attacked, raped, hurt – by men. And there’s no time to waste.

Ok, I’m not going to let my anger and sadness weaken me

Hey, dance event organisers and teachers!
Feeling pretty bloody awful about sexual harassment? You’re not alone. Want to _do_ something? You can!

Do you have your sexual harassment and OH&S policies and strategies up and working? No? It’s not that hard. And it makes you feel really good and powerful. Like you’re really making a difference and being the boss of jazz.
You don’t need to worry about ‘being a downer’ by addressing these issues. Making plans, training up, and then acting on them will make you and your peeps happier, healthier, and fully legit awesome.

If you want to talk about how we’re going about doing things with Swing Dance Sydney, with the events we run, and in working with other organisers – drop me a line! Email me on sam at dogpossum at dogpossum dot org

We have:
– A code of conduct (with helpful tips on how not to assault/harass someone);
– Explicit tips for not being a poop to other dancers in our FAQ:
– Response strategies for our volunteers, managers, and organisers (getting hassled at the door? Tag in your ninja-like event manager! Call the cops!);
– In-class teaching strategies for tooling up students with mad harassment-destroying skills, and getting teachers fighting fit for dealing with dodgy behaviour;
– Super powers: saying NO and STOP with confidence and pride, being cool when someone knocks you back for a dance. Like GUNS;
– Guidelines for teachers who work with us (both weekly and for big weekends): we are looking out for YOU;
– Strategies for teaching musicians how not to be pervs, and how to be forces for jazz GOOD (rock on super-powered musos!);
– Draft agreements for DJs, teachers, bands, and organisers to lay out the rules, and remind them that we all deserve safety and wellness;
– Event management rules to reduce stress, and increase joy (including the 5 minute time out rule; knowing your limits; work with a buddy; running events should be fun; listen first, talk second; speak slowly and clearly into the microphone, and be sure to point out where the toilets are).
– And most importantly: the ability to improvise, innovate, and change our strategies. Because we are jazz dancers, and that is what we DO.

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And more.

Honestly, maintain the rage, but also get into the agitate-educate-organise side of things. If learning the Big Apple makes you feel powerful, imagine what learning to kick a sexual harasser out of a venue can do for you. If we’re a community of dancers, then we got to look out for each other. Step up.

[edit]Something I added to this post on fb:
Oh, and if you are running teeny tiny events or classes, and not sure you’re ‘ready’ or ‘big enough’ to tackle these issues? NO way! You’re in the perfect position to get started on this. Just like we start learning to social dance right from our first classes, you can learn to develop a good, solid oh&s policy/process with just your weekly casual practice session, or your irregular DJed party night. You’re totally in a great position to pwn this stuff.
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[edit 2]And I also think it’s important to think about the things that you can do if you’re not an organiser. Punters are powerful. Organisers make money from events, they garner status and respect. Don’t buy any of that ‘I’m just doing this for the community’ bullshit. That is fucked up martyr bullshit. YOU are the community, and organisers have a duty of care to provide as safe an event as possible. So call them on it!

1. Have a look at the event’s website. Do they have a code of conduct? No? Ask them publicly on their facebook page where it is. Public questions are important, because it says “Hey, this is important to me.”

2. Most of the dance code of conducts I’ve read are completely token and useless. No practical tips, no definitions of harassment. If you read a code of conduct and you’re left with any questions, it’s not good enough. And there’s a code of conduct, but no information about what to do if you need help, ask a public question on the facebook page.

3. If they have a code of conduct but some sort of vague line like ‘see one of our staff’ (rather than ‘speak to Person, contact a door person (who will speak to Person), then you should ask a question like ‘How do I know who can help me? Will they wear a name badge? What happens after I tell them?”

4. If you are volunteering at an event, do you know what to do if someone comes to you saying they need help? Is there a written handbook or emergency process? Who is your point of contact? What do you do if there’s an accident? When do you call the cops or an ambulance? You should know this information before the event starts.

5. Check in again after a week or two. Still no response/code/strategy? Ask again. Be a pebble in their shoe. A little big of niggling can keep you and friends safe, and it can make it clear you mean business.

6. And if you want to say not to a dance/drink/whatevs, just say “No thank you” and leave it at that. If someone says “No thank you” when you ask them to dance, say “No worries” and move on. If you aren’t ok with people not wanting to dance with you, you haven’t grasped the fundamentals of _social_ dancing. No one is obliged to dance with you.

DJs:
You are watching the room all the time, right (RIGHT?!)? That puts you in a super powerful position for keeping an eye on creepers and dodgy behaviour.
But you’re also stuck at a desk with a computer. Virtually every time I’ve DJed at a big event, some random dickface bloke has hassled me. I’ve been groped by sound guys, hit on by punters, hassled by dickhead dancers. I’ve had dancers take photos of my computer screen without permission, random men (they’re always men) have touched my computer and scrolled through my sets. Most recently I was hassled by some fuckwit dancer from Canberra while I was DJing at SLX. If I could remember who he was, I’d name and shame.

This shit is happening to all of us. If it’s happening to me – who’s pretty darn intimidating – you can be sure worse things are happening to your less scary friends. You need to step up and speak out for them. And for yourself.

Statistically, one of you reading this facebook comment is a harasser or offender. We DJs are WATCHING you. The door staff saw you come in, they took note of your vibe. They’re watching you too. And if you see me in the room, you can be damn sure I’m going to call you on bullshit if I see it. Have done before, will do again.

It’s important that organisers see that we take this seriously, and that your attendance will depend on how safe you and your friends feel at an event. If you don’t raise the issue, organisers won’t do anything about it.
Volunteers are particularly powerful, because events simply can’t work without masses of free labour. So you can really make a difference.

Organisers: if people are asking you these questions, it means you’re not doing a good enough job. So don’t get narky, get ON it.

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Code of Conduct – draft

Nicole Zonnenberg’s post A Contribution to the Discussion of Sexual Harassment in the Swing Dance Community (21 April 2015) is great because it clearly and simply explains how a code of conduct could have reduced distress or provented conflict in specific instances.

I’ve decided a code of conduct is essential for dance events. But they can’t be randomly copied documents of meaningless. You have to really mean what you say. And be prepared to act on this code. I’ve finally put together a code of conduct and am working on specific response strategies. You can read a draft version of it here on google docs. I am interested in your comments (though you’ll need to add them as comments to this post, not directly into that google document, because I don’t have time to moderate one million sites).

I’ve also started formalising and compiling my various workers’ agreements. I’ve been using these for years, though each copy has a slightly different form, as it is a negotiated agreement including the worker’s preferences and stipulations. This is important: this is an agreement, not a contract (it’s not legally binding!), so you must have consensus between all parties.

There are, of course, plenty of other relationships that require contracts or agreements – and these above should technically be covered by contracts rather than agreements – and you can find templates for them on the Arts Law Centre of Australia website. Note, you must pay for these.

[Edit]
A friend added an interesting comment to my post about this on facebook:

Really appreciate you keeping us all accountable Sam. I think Codes of Conduct are great but as you say, they’re useless if people don’t know how to take action with them.

This person has right-on politics, so I want to start here. Who is accountable for our actions? Are we only responsible for ourselves and what we do and think? Are we only responsible for the people ‘below’ us in a power structure? Are we responsible for each other – all of us? Are men responsible for the actions of other men, or just for their own? Is sisterhood an important idea, that women are accountable for the safety and actions of each other?
It’s a tricky one. I personally feel that I have a responsibility to look out for the safety of other women and girls. That’s where I start. I’ll also call out people who make racist/sexist/ist jokes. That’s my job, that’s one of the responsibilities of privilege (for me). To speak up.

So why don’t men call other men out on their behaviour? Why am I the one who’s telling men to stop pulling air steps at social dances? Why aren’t men doing this? Why did that male teacher try to discourage me from talking about and responding to sexual harassment by insisting that women harass too? What makes men feel like this isn’t their job too? Maybe they just don’t realise how powerful they are. Maybe they really don’t realise how much ‘safer’ patriarchy makes them.

Maybe this is a symptom of liberal individualism. This idea that we are own bosses, and we all need to work harder, and if we are poor or vulnerable, it’s our own fault for not working hard? Maybe this is the most important part of feminism: collectivism. Socialism. Caring about other people. Doing things for them and with them when we can.

I dunno. Aren’t you a lindy hopper? Isn’t the whole point of what we do to be awesome in partnership with other people?

I’ve been thinking about this. I don’t actually like the idea of one person making other people accountable for their actions; I don’t want to replace patriarchy with matriarchy. The thing that bothers me most about codes of conduct is that we all KNOW these things are totally not ok, and yet we still do them! And we don’t call other people out on their behaviour! So rather than deconstructing this top-down power dynamic, we reproduce it with a code of conduct, which we assume the ‘management’ or ‘powerful’ will enforce.
What I’d like to see is a) more women feeling powerful and in control of their lives and bodies, b) more men calling other men out on their behaviour – it’s not a women’s issue, it’s a men’s issue!, and c) more men regulating their OWN behaviour, and questioning their own assumptions about who and what they are entitled to do with their own and other people’s bodies.

But how do you do all that in the _context_ of patriarchy? The commodification of dance in formal dance classes doesn’t help, as it reinforces this power structure. …I guess that’s why I think you can’t talk about responding to s.h. without acting to prevent it with broader cultural change. Sets of rules and then punitive measures just reproduce unjust power dynamics.

…maybe the best sorts of response strategies are those that everyone can enact, not just an ‘authority’? Anyways, I’m still struggling with this part of the process.

Let’s get material about sexual harassment

As part of my 3-part response to sexual harassment in the lindy scene, I’ve started getting keen on the idea of visual assets. ie paper postcards, a useful website, etc.

My 3-part response:
1. Develop a code of conduct.
This is basically a set of ‘rules’, but also a clear statement of intent.
– the in-progress code of conduct and sexual harassment policy I’m developing

2. Working towards cultural change through:

Teaching in a way which explicitly helps women feel confident and strong, and provides tools for men looking to redefine how they do masculinity.
– using tools like the ones I outline in Remind yourself that you are a jazz dancer and Uses of history: Frankie as teaching tool

Teaching in a way which implicitly discourages sexual harassment, by encouraging good communication between leads and follows.
– I am keen on the rhythm centred approach as a practical strategy. Less hippy talk, more dancing funs.
– I like simple things like talking to both men and women about being ok with people saying no to you.

3. Developing strategies for actually confronting men about their behaviour.

– I talked about how I do this in class in Dealing with problem guys in dance classes
– I’m working up to addressing the more nebulous issue of sexual harassment by practicing on more concrete stuff like telling men to stop pulling aerials on the social floor
– Talking to and about men confronting other men. Because it’s men who are doing the dodgy stuff in most of these cases, and we need to ask men to take responsibility for their own actions. Whether those actions are harassment, or condoning/enabling harassment by not using their power to speak up.

Working on this, I’ve discovered that a bunch of words is next to useless. We need simple graphics, pictures and posters. Using a range of resources (the AFL’s response to sexual assault is particularly powerful and useful), I’m thinking that we need to add a few things to the prevention/response strategies. I’m considering making up a simple, powerful website and postcard outlining what’s ok, and what’s not. They have to have a light-hearted, fun vibe (because lindy hop), but they also have to be very useful and not too twee. The tone of these texts should suit the vibe of my business, but also give an idea of national and international lindy hop culture (as if there was such an homogenous thing!)
These two assets could work in concert with a poster or sign, and with a practical training program for teachers, door staff, and ‘safety officers’ (ie the people you go to when you need help).

Luckily, lindy hoppers have already gotten on to this. We actually have a discourse of ‘etiquette’, which is the way we manage and control social interactions in our scene. We also talk a lot about ‘floor craft’, which is another way of managing how we take care of ourselves and others on the dance floor. The basic message of both is ‘Look out for others or you won’t get any dances.” Lindy hop has a powerful shaming tool at its disposal, and we should make greater use of it.

I think we can just tweak these two sets of ‘rules’ a little to make them a bit more powerful and directly address sexual harassment and assault. A lot of dancers don’t want to address rape and sexual harassment explicitly because it’s a downer (and lindy hop is supposed to be all happy clappy all the time), and it’s a bit of a social taboo to talk about sex and sexual violence in an explicit way. And it’s really difficult to talk about sexual assault and violence without actually talking about breasts, vulvas, vaginas, penises, bottoms, and how we touch and use them.
Added to this are the broader social myths about women’s bodies, women’s sexuality, and men’s sexuality. The bottom line in responding to sexual harassment and assault is that you have to accept that it’s about power and violence more than it’s about sex and sexuality, and you have to accept that patriarchy exists. A tall order for people who ‘just want to dance’.

But I don’t want to reinvent the wheel when there’s fab stuff like this around:

Lindy-Hoppers-etiquette-1024x723

This is an etiquette guide produced by Holy Lindy Land, the Israeli lindy hop community. Which of course you should know about, because they sent an open letter of peace and friendship to the lindy hoppers of Palestine, which makes me cry like a little baby with the love. (You can read more about the two scenes’ work in this lovely piece).

I like this poster because it does simple things like replace my awkward description

Avoid ‘boob swipes’, touching a partner’s bottom, groin, upper legs – you know the deal. If you accidentally do so, apologise immediately. If you do this repeatedly, you will be warned, if not ejected from the event.

with
Lindy-Hoppers-etiquette-1024x723

I think that lindy hop could also do with some of the sharper edged humour that would help us get real about sexual harassment.

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There was a most excellent swing memes thread on yehoodi years ago, where most of the images are sadly missing now :( I’m especially fond of Good Guy Greg.
And of course tumblr brings the gif with people like lindy hop problems.

But these are, of course, not ‘official’ responses to sexual harassment. They are very important, because they give us a way to comment on issues, and also to ‘talk back to power’ if we don’t think organisations are stepping up.

I’m thinking something by an artist like Tomeito would be pretty useful:

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At any rate, I’m working on it. Slowly but surely…. :D

Resources:

  • Mobtown ballroom code of conduct (casual, human tone to the talk)
  • the SES (State Emergency Services) position sexual harassment as an occupational health and safety issue rather than a ‘women’s issue’ or ‘sexual issue’, and have some EXCELLENT training material available
  • AFL (Australian Football League) have Respect and Responsibility, a hardcore response to s.h. and assault which targets men (because it is a male-dominated sport), and uses the Australian discourses of ‘mateship’, ‘team’ and community responsibility (or club-loyalty) through the language of the sport (‘taking the tackle’ etc) in a powerful way. Their posters are great. I admit it, my Uses of History: Frankie as Teaching Tool in-class strategies are an attempt to do the same thing. To use the language and model of our most important and powerful cultural imagery as a strategy for dealing with sexual harassment.
  • Australian Human Rights Commission (for identifying and defining s.h., and researching the legal status of s.h.). My federal government’s current push to destabilise and ultimately destroy the AHRC is making me very angry.
    AHRC’s ‘know the line’ campaign, which feels a bit naff to me, but uses a strong poster campaign and website/poster tie-in.

Where are we at on this sexual harassment and assault thing?

This post is a three-parter.

Part one: Where are we at on this sexual harassment and assault thing?
Part two: Be ok with people saying no to you.
Part three a: How To Get A Date With A Lindy Hopper, by Sam (currently entrenched in a happy, healthy 13 year relationship with a lindy hopper)

So, since that incident a few weeks ago when the lindy hop world were faced with incontrovertible evidence that sexual assault happens in the lindy hop world (and that it might in fact happen everywhere), we’ve seen a series of responses:

  • Shock and disbelief.
    People simply couldn’t accept that someone they admired/hired/learnt from/loved attacked people. So they got angry about it and blamed the victims of his actions for their distress. Either explicitly or implicitly.
  • A lot of talk about ‘victim blaming’ and what it meant.
    A lot of the people who were shocked and disbelieving were doing ‘victim blaming’ but weren’t ok with admitting it. Understandably. First your hero does something shocking and awful, then you’re accused of attacking the victims of shocking and awful actions.
  • People and organisations rushed to slap together ‘Codes of Conduct’.
    Some of these are wonderful, some are token gestures. I personally feel that it truly is a token gesture if you don’t
    a) have a clearly achievable process for enforcing them (or responding to breaches of these codes),
    b) make broader cultural changes, and
    c) address the fact that the perpetrators of sexual assault and harassment are often the most-popular, most-liked, most-powerful people in a community. In other words, the people putting together these Codes of Conduct are quite likely to be the perpetrators. YOU could be sexually harassing someone. I have yet to see a strategy or code of conduct which deals with this issue.
  • People, organisations and individuals start talking about sexual harassment as a real thing, and not just as ‘feminist ranting’ or ‘feminist paranoia’. And they found this realisation – that it’s all true – deeply upsetting.
    Some of them have been doing brilliant work – truly wonderful Codes, response strategies, and so on. It’s been truly inspiring to see.
  • Women are speaking up.
    The women who are experiencing sexual harassment and assault are speaking up. Just in my city alone, I’ve had so many women tell stories about frightening, intimidating, harassing behaviour by men, that it just makes me want to cry. But I will NOT be overwhelmed! Men are not volcanoes or wild bears, forces of nature that we have to protect women from. Men are capable of policing their own behaviour. And it is so NOT my job. So, you men: get ready to be noticed, and to pick up your act.

All these things are great. But I don’t think they address the real causes of sexual harassment in a community: the culture itself. The power dynamics. The everyday behaviour that makes sexual assault a possible and forgiveable action. In other words, we haven’t developed broader strategies for dismantling rape culture in the lindy hop world. Mostly because it’s fucking hard. But also because it’s difficult to see how ‘small things’ that seem ok contribute to making sexual assault possible, if not easy.

I think that many of us were convinced that the lindy hop community was this magical space where hatred and violence and assault and so on didn’t exist. Because we’re lindy hoppers! We’re nice!
Those of us who have a background in feminism or gender studies, or who are, well, you know, women know that sexual harassment and assault have always existed in the lindy hop world. And have been talking about it for a while.
This community is a subset of broader ‘home’ communities and cultures. Who we are on the dance floor is a reflection of who we are and how we behave in the wider world. We simply don’t just leave all that behind when we dance with people. So because sexual assault happens in our houses, it also happens in our dance venues.

And you know what: most of the sexual assaults and the sexual harassment that happen in the lindy hop world are perpetrated by men on women.
So this is my next point, and it’s going to be controversial:

MEN. Stop raping women. Stop sexually harassing them. No, don’t give me you’re #notallmen talk. If you aren’t calling other men out on their behaviour, you’re condoning it. You are enabling rape and sexual harassment. You are an accessory to it.
So, actually, ALL MEN have an obligation to stop raping or to stop other men raping. It is your JOB. It is your DUTY. And it is your RESPONSIBILITY.

Yes, women do sexually harass men. But MEN do most of the assaulting and harassing. So let’s start right here: STOP it.

Right now it’s pretty much heart breaking to think of this. Especially if you haven’t ever really had to face this before. Especially if you’re in a position of power or relative ‘safety’, you’re a teacher or organiser.

But don’t be disheartened! Remind yourself that you are a jazz dancer. You are capable of amazing things!

If I stop and think about this stuff for too long I get utterly depressed. I love jazz dance and music so much, it’s almost unbearable to think that there are people I dance with (and like!) who are out there harassing and assaulting my friends. I feel guilty and awful and powerless. But then I remind myself.

Start small.
Make incremental changes.
Change what you can.
Encourage people to be better.

I wrote this a while ago:

I think that we need to bloody well open our eyes and engage with the everyday places in our lives where we can make a difference. On the bus. At the shops. In cafes. On the dance floor. Make eye contact, hold doors open, step in when someone needs a hand, ask your employer if they do maternity leave, even if you don’t need it yourself. And I also think it’s a good idea to make it as fun as you can.
Getting angry is useful. But in and of itself, it’s not productive. You need to be an agent for positive, constructive change, as well as a mighty smashing force of rage. Find small ways, everyday, where you can fuck shit up. Or at least vibrate at very low frequencies until you rattle that patriarchal bedrock to bits. (I vant to be alone)

And I try to remind myself: the small things are actually the important things. We dismantle rape culture in small ways. It’s something that we all can do. And the very process of talking about and taking acton on these issues can empower women and dismantle rape culture!

Wait, what we do?

Part two of this talk: Be ok with people saying no to you