Stalking: online and face to face harassment

NB this post is part of a series:

Hello!
This year I’ve received, on average, about a report per month of men harassing or assaulting women in the lindy/blues/bal scenes. Which puts us at about 9 for the year so far.
Most of these reports have been about Australians, and most of them have been about men in Sydney. Yes, including who are part of this facebook group. Yes, if you are harassing women, we have seen you, and we have written reports. Even if you are hassling women interstate.

Most of these reports have been about harassment. So I thought I’d write a quick bit of info for the men in this group who’ve been harassing women.

The most common report is about a combination of face to face and online harassment. So, here bros, stop doing this stuff (especially to brand new dancers or young dancers):

  • Asking a woman for her phone number so you can ‘Help her find out about dancing’ the first time you meet her at her first dance. This is creepy. STOP IT.
  • Immediately facebook friending a woman you’ve just met at a dance and then sending her HEAPS of messages, commenting on all her posts, tagging her a lot, asking for her phone number, address, dates. This is creepy. STOP IT.
  • Taking photos of her and then posting them online and tagging her. This is epic creepy. STOP IT.
  • Sending lots (ie more than 2) facebook messages within an hour or two, or a day or two. If she doesn’t reply, or doesn’t send the first message, she’s not interested. STOP IT.
  • Sending lots of texts. If she doesn’t reply, doesn’t send the first message, or responds only with emojis, she’s not interested. STOP IT.
  • Demanding a woman reply to messages and texts, and getting angry or upset/saying how sad you feel if she doesn’t answer your messages IMMEDIATELY.
    This is crap. STOP IT.
  • Driving her home after a dance the first night you meet her, then ‘dropping in’ at her house randomly afterwards. This is hella creepy. STOP IT.
  • Asking her about her relationships (boyfriends, husbands, girlfriends), sex life, or intimate history. This is CREEPY. STOP IT.
  • While dancing: holding her too close and then passing it off as ‘a blues hold’ or an ‘experienced move’; touching her inappropriately (on her breasts, buttocks, groin, upper legs – you know what we’re talking about). This is really gross. And other people in the room see you and will do something about it. SO STOP IT.
  • While dancing: Physically lifting or pulling a woman into a dip, lift, or jump, even if it seems ‘small’. This is not respectful or safe. STOP IT.
  • At dances: touching too much. Unwanted cuddles or hugs, massages or ‘dance lessons’, constant ‘platonic’ touches, hand holding, ‘accidental’ touches. If you haven’t asked for and received permission for this stuff, STOP IT.
  • Continuing to do any of these things if she’s asked you to stop, or said something like “It’s a bit full on to get so many messages.”

NOTE: We SEE YOU. Other people in the room see you doing stuff that isn’t ok. And they will do something about it. So STOP IT.

— CONSEQUENCES —
If you’re doing this stuff, you’re going to get busted. What usually happens:

  • you get warned,
  • you get banned from local events,
  • you get banned from interstate and international events.
  • bans are enforced by security at events, and all event organisers are very willing to call the police if offenders try to turn up anyway.
  • yes, organisers and teachers do talk to each other about this stuff, both within Sydney, and between states and countries.

— PROCESS —

  • The woman/women you’re targeting speaks to their friend who then speaks to someone like me who organises events, to a teacher, or to a dancer who’s been around for years.
  • This person then tells you/the harasser to stop that shit, or they tell a person who can do something about it (eg an event organiser).
  •  You get an in-person warning, or an emailed warning. If it’s from me, you will get an immediate ban from all my events and parties.
  • The organiser/friend will tell other people, including other organisers and DJs in other cities and countries, who will then ‘watch’ you or warn you when you visit their town.

It is common for offenders to threaten the woman/women they’re harassing if they ‘tell someone’ about this.
Most organisers have a process in place to keep the reporting women safe: a friend or agent does the reporting, and the woman stays anonymous.

NB: most offenders harass more than one woman, and we are finding more women are reporting now.
Most offenders are seen by _other people_ who then report them. Yes, other men will report your behaviour.

— SOME DEFINITIONS —

  1.  “Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.”
    (ref: https://www.humanrights.gov.au/…/…/guides/sexual-harassment…)
  2. This can be online or face to face.
  3. Face to face harassment can include (and this includes examples of stuff I’ve read in reports this year):
  • Staring or leering eg Staring at a woman while she’s dancing or talking;
  • Deliberately brushing up against you or unwelcome touching eg Squeezing past someone to get to the water dispenser, touching her while she’s talking to her friends, holding her too close and in a sexual way during dances;
  • sexy or sexualised comments or jokes eg asking a woman about her sex life, or how often she has sex, or about her sexual preferences;
  • insults or teasing of a sexual nature eg making jokes like “X likes it a bit risky don’t you?”
  • intrusive questions or statements about your private life eg “Who is your boyfriend? Do you have a boyfriend? Why isn’t he here?”
  •  displaying posters, magazines or screen savers of a sexual nature eg Showing women explicit vintage ‘cheesecake’ pictures and photos on his phone at a dance;

4. Online harassment can include (and this includes examples of stuff I’ve read in reports this year):

  • displaying posters, magazines or screen savers of a sexual nature eg Sending women explicit vintage ‘cheesecake’ pictures and photos of sexualised vintage wear to women via facebook, suggesting she wear this outfit or would ‘look good in this’;
  • sending sexually explicit emails or text messages
  • inappropriate advances on social networking sites eg lots and lots of messages on facebook, or text messages, asking for dates, or asking invasive questions about her private life;
  •  accessing sexually explicit internet sites
  •  requests for sex or repeated unwanted requests to go out on dates eg Asking a woman to come for coffee after dancing, or to go for dinner before dancing.
  • behaviour that may also be considered to be an offence under criminal law, such as physical assault, indecent exposure, sexual assault, stalking or obscene communications. eg groping a woman’s groin, buttocks, or breasts while dancing, forcing kisses and ‘cuddles’ at the end of a dance or at the end of a night of dancing.

If you are resisting addressing sexual assault at your event, you are actively enabling it.

The thing is, the only possible reason for aggressively resisting addressing sexual assault at your event is that you’re an offender. I’d add ‘or you’re actively concealing offenders’, but that’s pretty much par for the course. Aggressively resisting addressing sexual assault prevention and response processes conceals and enables offenders.

If you don’t develop policies for prevention and response, you leave the actual work up to your people on the ground – your volunteers, your door staff, your ‘middle managers’. And because they don’t have a clear policy guiding their decisions, they’ll be forced to either develop their own policy, or respond in an ad hoc way. You’ll also be making _them_ entirely responsible for OH&S at your event. Which is fine if that’s their job – OH&S officer. But if they’re the Registration coordinator or the head chef in the kitchen, then that’s not appropriate.

None of us are just naturally born knowing how to prevent and respond to sexual assault and harassment. In fact, many of us are trained by our families and home cultures to _avoid_ addressing these issues. And women are even further trained to be _afraid_ of addressing these issues, trained to perceive themselves as the ‘natural’ victims of assault and harassment. But despite this training – this socialisation – women in the lindy hop world have started figuring out how to respond to and prevent assault and harassment. And done a pretty darn good job. Our time line has been relatively short, from the public reports about Steven Mitchell to this moment. It’s been less than ten years. We’re pretty bloody good at this.

So if you want to run an event well, just as with decisions about what food to serve, and what to charge for tickets, you train your staff, or hire staff trained in these particular areas.

In the lindy hop world, we now have a fairly large body of first hand experience with dealing with s.a/h specifically in dance communities, _as well as_ a whole range of literature and training from other social spaces and bodies. And we are very, very good at learning and working in collaboration. It’s the one defining feature of the modern lindy hop world: we specialise in learning how to touch each other.

So why not offer your staff support and direction with a clear policy? If you’ve hired the right people, they can then go on and develop specific processes, training, and support for your event and your staff.

As I said above, the only reason to _not_ actively address these issues is that you are an offender attempting to conceal and enable your offences. The other implicit or explicit consequence of your inaction or resistance is to conceal and enable _other_ offenders.

But as a final point, I’ll also add:
Even if _you_ discourage work on these topics, your staff will be working on preventing and responding to sexual assault and harassment. Because dancers are reporting offences and expecting your event to be safe. And that is a reasonable expectation: that we will be safe at your events. So your staff are already acting on these issues.
The key issue then becomes: will you support their work, and provide them with the resources to do this well, or will you get in their way and fuck shit up?

Class ‘content’

We’ve just finished a six week long beginner lindy hop block. This whole block could be summarised in one hour (as we did tonight) with the below points. If I had time, I’d also list the specific class plans we had for each individual class.

Specific dance stuff:
– gliding (dancing in closed with no particular rhythm), aka floor craft, partnering, leading and following, comfortable closed position, finding 1, stopping and starting independently;
– circles, aka a specific rhythm (which someone pointed out tonight is 2 x 4 counts) with a specific direction and shape – leads leading and follows following, efficient and deliberate movement through space, being able to choose a smaller step size, etc;
– swinging out from closed position, aka knowing where ‘halfway’ is in a circle (on count 5 or after the triple step), continuing rhythm, leading with your body and the physics of rotation, understanding how far to go away from your partner;
– jazzing in open, then re-starting again, aka keeping time and changing between a single time rhythm and a step step triple step rhythm, leading in from open using your body, following in from open;
– using rotation again to ‘catch’ the follow, making contact with your body to follow the lead;
– combining the two to make an open to open swing out, with or without time jazzing in open, aka hearing 8s, phrases, keeping time, swinging time, etc, improvising, changing rhythms;
– charleston on your own (and using the groove to transition between the two);
– moving from a circle into side by side charleston then out again (using the groove to keep time, knowing when to change, using your body to change direction and suggest a change in rhythm, recognising changes in your lead’s body movement, maintaining a rhythm until it changes);
– the kick through in side by side charleston (how to lead by moving your own body – kicking in and out, pivoting on one foot, pivoting on one foot and turning, a new charleston rhythm, etc etc)
– leading the whole group in a big apple, in turn (hearing the phrase, knowing how to prepare for, then pass the turn to your neighbour, knowing how to pass without stressing, understanding how to lead a move successfully for a group, etc)!
– moving through space (rotating partners!)
– swivels, boogie back and forward, itches, push it, push it out, etc, rocking, and many other jazz steps.

Learning skills:
– learning-by-watching;
– working with a partner;
– dealing with not getting it right first time (aka patience and perseverance);
– i-go you-go learning style in pairs and in groups;
– sticking with a task (no matter how ‘simple’) and refining it;
– working with a range of partners of different abilities, and finding the fun;
– knowing how to stop, chillax and find the groove, then restart and start dancing again with many different partners (esp after ‘making a mess’);
– working on a problem or challenge before asking for help (independent and team problem solving);

Social skills:
– how to ask for a dance, how to accept one, how to introduce yourself;
– how to ask a partner how to change how they’re touching you, how to accept that comment from a partner;
– stopping, then chillaxing, then restarting with a partner to manage stress or making mistakes;
– staying calm and cheery under pressure, and accepting challenges and obstacles as a useful part of learning, without getting angry or anti-social;
– respecting partners’ bodies, and when they ask to stop, change, or adjust a physical contact;

Musical skills:
– finding the beat;
– swinging the beat;
– finding the 1;
– finding the 8;
– accenting 2, 4, 6, 8 (as in boogie back);
– difference between 20s and 40s jazz and how it affects charleston emphasis;
– finding a phrase (consciously and also implicitly);
– recognising a 12 bar blues and 32 bar chorus format;
– finding the right place to start in the music, then getting started and dancing;
– moving between different rhythms (single time, half time, step step triple step, charleston, a range of other rhythms) in partners and alone as solo dancers, and also as solo dancers with a partner;
– being able to recognise, retain, then repeat a given rhythm (as in I-go, you-go);
– being able to transfer a rhythm from clapping to different parts of the foot, to stepping, to physical movement through space.

They learnt so much!
I’m also happy that I’ve learnt how to rethink a class and course structure. I used to teaching thinking ‘ok, what moves will we teach’, and now I can think ‘ok, what skills do we want’, then develop a class that fosters these skills implicitly (rather than through lots of talking). But still uses and shares historic vocabulary and musical knowledge.

Teaching: follows’ skills

Someone asked in the teaching group this week:

Planning a workshop focused on follow mechanics. What skills do you think separate great follows from good follows, and how would you train those skills?

There were some interesting comments from people asking if there would be leaders in the class (yes), a male lead chimed in to say how much he learnt as a lead participating in this type of workshop, and there was general chat about how to run this sort of thing. All fascinating.

Me I tend to feel that leaders and follows have very similar goals and skills. I do think of leading and following as very distinct roles within the partnership, though. Leaders have the map, the follow is driving the rally car. The leader points out a side road ahead, the follow decides whether to turn, how fast to turn, whether to u-turn etc. An approach I learnt from Jenny and Rikard. So my response below reflects this.
I also see this question as a consequence of a general push in lindy hop teaching to address follows more directly in class.

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Things I might look at with follows:
“You are responsible for carrying the beat, and for maintaining your own rhythm. Don’t sacrifice that for the lead.”
This means that you take the steps and move across the floor in a way that feels like the music, and is also a choice. So not always reacting to the lead, but completing each movement, giving each piece of the rhythm the right amount of time, whether it’s a quick weight change or a slow one, a tap or a jump or whatever.

“Know what you are doing.”
This might not be a conscious brain thing, but your body should be making confident choices about your movements. I _choose_ to echo my lead, to synch with them, to add something new. Just as I _choose_ to echo the music, synch with it, or add something new.
This is about being PRESENT in the dance. I am right there in the moment, in my partner’s arms. I’m not predicting the next step. I’m there, with them. Emotionally, physically, rhythmically.

“Both partners find a shared sense of groove.”
This means that it’s not the follow’s job to just ‘match’ the lead. It’s both partners’ responsibility to listen, express their groove (ie dance, not just ‘wait’) and find a nice ‘connection’ (both physical and social – communicative). I think of it as ‘taking the measure’ of a partner before you start to do moves.

“If leads call the rhythm, follows respond.”
In the first few steps of the dance, a leader might ‘call’ step step triple step, or step-step kick step, kick kick-step with their bodies: swing out or charleston. As a follow, I respond to this. I might (as I describe it), listen for a second, and then say “ok, yep, I’m on board with this” and then pick up that rhythm. I hold that rhythm until the lead suggests a change. eg I hold down that step step triple step until the lead suggests a new one ( eg step-step kick step, kick kick-step).
I think of that as the first sort of ‘finding consensus’ part of a dance. As a follow, I say with my connection and facial expression, “Ok, I’m paying attention. Where would you like to start?” and then we do that rhythm together. It’s like the lead lays down a time step, and I get on board and do it too. Until we change it up.
From here, as the music changes, and I get the measure of my partner, I may add in rhythms – ‘call’ a rhythm. The lead can ‘get on board’ by joining in, or by listening, or by holding down that time step/basic rhythm while I improvise on top. It’s all good. But the the type of relationship you have with that partner depends on who you are as people, what the music says, how you feel, etc etc.
So as a follow, you pay attention to how the lead is feeling about all this.

-> As a lead, I don’t want the follow to just copy everything I do, and try to synchronise with me. It makes me a bit sad (and frustrated, really), as a lead when a follow apologises for ‘not getting it’. It’s ok. If we’re together in our embrace, we can do completely different stuff below the waist.

“The follow’s feet are their own business.”
As a lead, I don’t try to tell the follow how to get from point A to point B. I do NOT demand they synch up with me perfectly like I’m the boss. NO.
I might suggest the speed and direction, but they choose whether to maintain that, change it, do something completely different. Because I expect this active response from the follow, I have to pay lots of attention: with my eyes and my body.

“Take care of your body.”
If it hurts, let go. Stop. A lead who clenches your hand when you’re trying to let go is bad news. Leads: if a follow wants to let go of your hand – “Let it go, let it goooooo!”
You want a nice, natural posture with a neutral spine and engaged pelvic floor as default. Don’t ‘stand up straight’ or ‘squat’ or whatever as default. Your natural resting position should be whatever feel right for that dance with that partner. That first moment in closed, hearing that song will tell you what you need to be safe and ready. From here you can adjust or engage or disengage muscles as needed. You don’t have a ‘frame’, you have a lovely system of muscles and veins and bones and things, that you use in lots of different ways to respond to lots of different signals in the music and your partner.
So you want to be able to choose what to do when, not default to something out of panic or habit. So being mindful of your own body, and really present, is really important.

-> learn to read the signs. Sore shoulders? You may be tensing up in your upper body. So soften your knees, think about your pelvic floor, let your arms swing, maybe reorient to your partner from squared up to 3/4 profile (or whatever). See how that feels now. One sore knee? You might be overusing that leg, so perhaps make sure that the other leg is being placed on the ground clearly and with purpose.

etc etc etc. Basically, observe, accept, be ok and safe.

“Check in with your partner”
Visually – look at them! How do they feel? Are they smiling?
Physically – do they feel ‘on’ all of a sudden? Are they relaxing in their muscles? etc etc
-> use your observation skills. Don’t worry about the next ten beats, be right there in this beat, with this person.

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More talk about consent and blues dance: the consequences of trauma on discourse

In a continuation of the discussion begun by Damon’s post, Kelly posted a lengthy, intelligent piece on facebook. This one was only visible to friends (not everyone), so I won’t copy and paste it here. But she did begin some interesting discussion about being a white woman engaging with this topic. I chimed in there in a less careful tone than I would on Damon’s post, as I know Kelly better, and I wouldn’t splash my feels all over the page of someone I don’t know.

Anyhoo, this is how I responded:

While i can get behind the statement, ‘Some historic blues dance styles are defined by a close embrace’, i cannot endorse the line that walking through the door at a blues dance event _is_ giving consent for a closed embrace.
Whatever the history of a dance, drawing an equivalence between those two points is rubbish.

I’m also very unkeen to just recreate the past. Honour our history, yes, but i’m not just going to give a blanket ok for wholesale reenactment of ‘history’.
I go to dances with my brain and eyes open. One of the most important parts of the cultural transmission of dances between generations, communities, and cultures, is adapting them to make them socially relevant. That’s why canel walk in 1930 and camel walk in 2018 aren’t exactly the same.

So i’m saying it bluntly: even if the historical ‘truth’ was that you (women, it is implied), give up the right to withdrawl consent at blues partirs, i am NOT ok with that now. And i do not want to revive or preserve that little nugget. And i sure as shit won’t tolerate retrosexist bros who use this ‘history’ to enable contravening women’s rights.

No punches pulled there, right?
But I’m finding it so difficult to stay chilled on this topic.

A couple of black men responded, but again I won’t cut and paste their comments here, as they weren’t publicly visible. When a post and comments aren’t public, we assume that the authors assume a degree of anonymity or ‘safety’.

But I did continue, after some thought, with the following post. I think it best sums up by difficulties in dealing with this topic. It’s so, so hard to unpack privilege and assumptions about race and ethnicity when your brain is being pounded by the effects of vicarious trauma.
Lately the topic of intergenerational trauma has entered Australian discourse about indigenous Australian rights and compensation. Part of me would like to talk/write about the physical consequence of trauma and violence (and living with the threat of violence) for people trying to participate in public discourse. Basically: it’s fucking hard to be calm and coherent when your brain is pouring adrenaline through you. And I think that this is why we need allies. We need people who have the privilege and advantage of not being physically threatened by patriarchy to do some heavy lifting.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I get so upset about this particular point. I understand with my brain, but then my emotions just come raging in.
I think it’s an old school trigger. I have heard men use exactly this argument -“It’s a blues hold”, “Relax and go with it,” “This is how you do blues dance” – when a woman asks them not to hold them so tight it hurts, not to touch their breasts or groin, or gets so upset they cry and leave the dance. I’m dealing with these men in my local dance scene at the moment.

So when I hear just the beginning of this sentence, it’s like a switch gets flicked in my head, and I hear those women literally crying, ashamed, and telling me what the man said as he held her down and groped or assaulted her. Repeatedly. “Relax. It’s a blues hold.” It’s line built for gaslighting.

I know I feel this way because I’m dealing with vicarious trauma from working on so much s.a. and harassment stuff. But my brain isn’t in control here. My emotions are.

At this stage, I simply can’t accept this approach. As I type this, I’m starting to feel a bit distressed. But right now, I’m 100% not ok with even getting anywhere near supporting or even taking apart this argument to see how it works.

I’ve also been wondering: am I doing some low-key racism here? Am I policing a topic for my own privilege? I’m not sure. I do know that I’ve heard white male offenders appropriate the ‘this is authentic black history’ argument to justify serious harassment, as social dancers, and as teachers, _teaching_ other men that this sort of behaviour is legit. And that makes me super, super angry.

So I’m going to sit on this for a while until I don’t get so seriously triggered. Then revisit it.

When do you give consent: blues dance and historical context

Damon Stone, a high profile black male blues dancer recently made this post on facebook:

Blues dance post following –

Asking for consent before dancing in close embrace. If you are at a blues dance and someone asks you to dance, the expectation is that you are going to do blues, be it freestyle or a specific idiom…if they say yes, that *is* consent for you to dance in close embrace.

Like all other activities and aspects of consent, such consent can be withdrawn at *any* time, but if you do not want to dance in close embrace with someone politely refuse the dance. If you don’t want to dance in close embrace with anyone, then, respectfully, find a different dance.

EDIT: This is assuming two things, 1) that the person is dancing correctly, 2) that not every single blues idiom dance is a close embrace dance, but blues idiom dances use close embrace as their starting position.

I read this post in light of the recent (and most excellent) comments by black women about white blues dancers (which I note in my post ‘Stop Dancing’), and ongoing about how to negotiate consent and avoid sexual assault and harassment in the contemporary blues, balboa, and lindy hop scenes.

My response was as follows.

I think there are a few issues here for me as a dancer and observer:
– One is the history of blues (and we are talking about a dance that includes a very close embrace – just as tango does),
– One is the different current cultural contexts of blues music and dance around the world today,
– And one is the different notions of consent and negotiated physical contact in different cultures today and then.

I think this statement is problematic:

If you are at a blues dance and someone asks you to dance, the expectation is that you are going to do blues, be it freestyle or a specific idiom…if they say yes, that *is* consent for you to dance in close embrace

Why?

Because people take this statement and this concept at face value. As a relatively experienced dancer, I know what it means: if I go to a blues party at Damon’s house, I should expect some pretty close physical contact. I’ll be able to tell a bro or a woman to back off if I’m not ok with what they do, but I should expect a close embrace (vs no physical contact at all, as at a tap jam).

But an awful lot of people take this sort of dance etiquette and map it onto their relationships throughout the dance world. An awful lot of men and women are trained to expect this: that a woman or man must say yes to a dance invite, a close embrace, a partner doing as they like with our body. Because an awful lot of people don’t know how to touch other humans with respect.
In my world (fuck, in Trump’s world), men expect to touch women as they like, women expect that men will try to touch them without permission, and learn to avoid that in a non-confrontational way. Men learn to exploit this and exploit women.
So when we go to a blues dance, some people need to be told, explicitly: you don’t get to do what you like to your partner’s body. You have to ask permission.

I’m rolling my eyes too. For fuck’s sake.

Blues as a historically-rooted dance comes from black communities, where notions of how to touch and when to touch and who to touch were something black kids learnt growing up, engaged with as teens, and then continued to negotiate and renegotiate as adults.
These ideas of ‘appropriate’ touch, how to ask for permission to touch, how to reject touch and so on weren’t monolithic across black communities in the US. I mean, there’s that iconic story that Frankie Manning told about imitating his mother dancing by dancing with a broom and getting into big trouble. The implication here is that dancing that way was something adults (sexually mature people) did. And they certainly didn’t do it across generations (part of his mother’s reaction was no doubt to do with the fact that Frankie was watching his mother, not some random woman, in an intimate embrace).

So we have generational differences then. We also have generational differences now. And young women regularly police the boundaries of when old is ‘too old’ to dance intimately (and sensuously) with (“eee gross! He is too OLD for you!”)

Then of course, we have different regional differences (country v city, city v city, etc), and different class differences (eg the super close intimate dancing has long been associated with ‘low’ culture, and wasn’t appropriate for huge, cross-generational dances in ‘polite’ company).

In all those spaces, people figured out what was appropriate and what wasn’t. A good slap would tell a man if he’d crossed a boundary. From that woman, or her brother or father. And then a series of stern frowns, lectures, and ‘punishments’ from a world of aunties and grandmas and mothers.
But, for many dancers today, blues dancing isn’t situated in that close community network. Their aunty is never going to know what they did at that party and come after them with a broom. There isn’t that inter-generational education about how to touch and be touched on the dance floor.

Blues dancing today also exists in lots of different cultural and social contexts, with all sorts of attendant social mores and modes of behaviour. We are at this moment having very public discussions about the role of race, cultural heritage and who gets to police these values. Who gets to speak in these discussions, who gets listened to, and whose words last are subject to broader socio-political forces.

I’m saying this not to be patronising (I know you all know all this), I’m saying it to signal that I’m aware of these issues. I need to talk context, and I am aware of the bigger issues, and the intensely personal issues at hand.

But I think that one of the voices I’m not hearing in many discussions about blues dance (and how to touch a partner on the dance floor) is black women’s. I think that Cierra’s Obsidian Tea piece about dating is really useful here, for me (as a white woman in another country). It says, ‘Hey, mate, your rules of physical intimacy may not apply here. Pay attention.’ So I’m paying attention.

BUT there is also an ongoing contribution from black women talking about their rights to decide how and when they give consent, and to whom. As a full-on example, a queer black woman at a blues dance not automatically give consent for a man to hold her in a closed embrace. Nor does a straight black woman. They might not need to give and receive verbal consent, but they certainly have a right to set boundaries about their bodies.

So I figure: in this moment, when we are renegotiating blues and lindy hop, we don’t assume anything about how we touch other people’s bodies. I might go to a tango practica expecting to be held and to hold in a very close embrace. But each dance that I have in that session will involve some degree of negotiation. I might invite a close embrace, but I might also reject it. I might end a dance early. I have a right to do all these things with no notice, both on and off the dance floor. How I do this depends on the traditions of that scene, and my own social skills (or lack thereof).

In my culture (white woman in urban Australia), women are strongly discouraged from publicly embarrassing men. To protect their own bodies, but more to protect the reputations and status of that man. So we are trained not to slap a handsy man on the dance floor (though goddess knows I’d like to). We’re trained not to say “STOP THAT” to that handsy man on the dance floor. We’re trained not to move away from that handsy man on the dance floor.
And I don’t know what a black woman my age at a party in Chicago would do in those situations either. I’d probably watch and learn, and ask my female friends questions, and figure it out. But I’m in Australia, and I’m white. So I’m figuring it out long distance. And this is why I really really want to see black women talking about how they do this stuff.

We might sensibly assume that if we go to a blues dance or event that is advertised (or described) as a party in the sense of the historic blues idiom, that we might be doing some close embracing on the dance floor.
(which I think is your original point, Damon?)

BUT I think that we should never assume that we can embrace someone or touch someone without asking for and receiving consent to do so. And to continue to check in and to see that our partner is ok with this. And being prepared to end the dance ourselves if our partner isn’t into it, or if our partner wants to end this.

Can you ban someone from your dance if they don’t do anything ‘wrong’ at dances?

What do we do if a guy assaults someone outside of dancing; can we (ethically) ban him from our dances if he didn’t break our code of conduct at our events?

First: of course we can, ethically.

Secondly: it’s important to think about hate crimes (and I include rape here) as working not just as individual instances (eg raping someone; beating someone). A ‘hate crime’ isn’t just the single instance of violence. It is the culmination or total sum of a number of moving pieces.

So when I ban someone for ‘stalking’, I’m banning them for the total sum of their behaviours, which may only include ‘not taking no for an answer to dance invites’ and ‘dominates a young woman dancer’s time’ happening in dance spaces, but also include ‘constant fb messages’, ‘lewd comments’, ‘constantly pushing boundaries’, and other things in non-dance spaces.

I expand my idea of ‘dance community’ from just ‘dance spaces’ (dance halls, classes, weekend events) to social and cultural spaces. I look at behaviour not as single incidents, but as the _relationship between acts_.

So, in the context of racist hate talk, we can ethically ban someone from our dance events even if they’re very careful not to to use racist slurs or beat anyone up at dances.

We can do this by:
– Expanding our idea of what constitutes ‘dance community’ from ‘dance spaces’ to lots of other spaces: online, face to face, the parking lot outside the studio, the train home from the party, the carpool to dinner before dancing, etc. This then expands our network of personal responsibility: we owe our dance buds a duty of care, even when they’re not dancing.
– Seeing ‘racism’ not just as individual incidents like using a racist slur, but as a pattern of incidents, and the _relationship_ between incidents.

So it’s not the individual actions we call out, it’s the patterns of behaviour that we call out. And that means that we need to get specific. We need to learn how to identify and record the ‘tricky’ stuff we can’t see or measure:
– What was that joke that was borderline? Write it down, record it. How did it make people feel? What was the ratio of black:white people in the room?
– What sort of things does that person share on their fb page? Who do they tag in discussions?

….and so on. We need to be able to articulate why we feel uncomfortable about someone.

We have had to do that with sexual harassment and assault. And that is just like racism, in that it’s about people using power to control or manipulate or degrade other people.

Maybe that means it is time to stop dancing.

To be honest, dancing itself covers a multitude of sins. All that adrenaline and endorphins and social
manoeuvring can mess with our powers of observation.

YES please

I think often of the two men who intervened when they came upon Brock Turner assaulting an unconscious woman at Stanford — they knew instantly that something was wrong, because she was clearly not participating. Contrast that with Evan Westlake, who in high school witnessed his two friends raping a semi-conscious girl at a party in Steubenville, Ohio. When asked why he didn’t intervene, he told the court, “Well, it wasn’t violent. I didn’t know exactly what rape was. I always pictured it as forcing yourself on someone.”

I’m sure there are many differences between Westlake and the two men in the Turner case… but the one that stands out to me is that Westlake was raised here in the US. The two men on bicycles in Palo Alto were Swedes, raised in a country that teaches healthy attitudes toward sexuality and gender in school, starting in kindergarten, including lessons on not just biology but healthy relationships, destigmatizing taboos around sex, and, yes, affirmative consent. They knew that a woman who is lying still and not participating in sex is a woman who isn’t consenting. And it prompted them to take action (Jaclyn Friedman ‘I’m a sexual consent educator. Here’s what’s missing in the Aziz Ansari conversation.’)

This is of course our next task: how to let someone know, if you’re really into having a dance with them, and how to know if someone is really into dancing with you. This came up in a discussion about teachers being paid to social dance: who wants to social dance with someone who has to be paid to do it?

If we train our new dancers to always say yes to a dance, I’ll never know if they really want to dance with _me_. I want to be a dance partner people enjoy dancing with. And I think it’s very hard for many of us to admit that: that we’re hurt when people don’t think we’re nice to dance with. If people _have_ to say yes to our dance invitation, then we never have to face the fact that not everyone wants us (as dance partners).

So a good, enthusiastic “Yes PLEASE!” is as important to practice as “No thank you.”

Thinking about sexual assault and harassment as OH&S

I’ve started to get really interested in the way labour relations and workplace bullying/safety feeds into these issues. After all, the work place offers a model for describing and engaging with the patterns of power at work in these spaces. It also allows us to shift the idea of ‘work’ from strictly pay-for-labour to ‘paid and unpaid labour’, which of course lets women, POC, and other people into the discourse.

I’ve actually chosen to take the OH&S policy approach to responding to and preventing s.h. and assault in my dance work. From documentation and training to reporting and policy. Partly because I run a dance business, but also because OH&S discourse has all sorts of useful language tools: responsibility, legal responsibility, moral responsibility, mutual responsibility. I have been quite excited by this idea of ‘responsibility’, and have turned it around to become the phrase ‘we have each other’s back.’
I found that my repositioning s.h. and assault as a ‘safety issue’ for everyone, just one example that sits next to things like unsecured ladders, a lack of fire escapes, violent punters, and professional bullying, it gives the community a way of engaging with it. We can bypass the sexual stuff (with all its attendant taboos and gendered assumptions) and consider s.h. and assault as just one example of a harassment, bullying and exploitation. It also turns out to make perfect sense, to see s.h. as just one tool in an offender’s tool box. It’s very unusual, I’ve found, to see an offender _only_ s.h. They are likely to exploit in lots of other ways as well.
This approach also makes it clear something that many feminists (except perhaps Garner and Alcorn) realise. Rape and harassment aren’t so much about sex as about power. So if we set aside the ‘sex positive’ subtext (where it’s implied that I’m supposed to think about assault and harassment as sex, and if I’m against anything sexual, I’m a prude), and position s.h. and assault as a failure to ‘look after each other’ – a safety issue – we can rock on.

In my work on s.h. and assault in the dance community, I regularly have to point out the difference between a happy, consensual sexual touch/interaction and uncool stuff. This helps me move away from dichotomies of consensual and non-consensual, and repositions the whole discussion as asking the question, “Do you have your fellow dancer’s back?” I use phrases like:
– we have your back
– we’re looking out for each other

And in our training manual, I require all workers to practice realising when they need a 5 minute break (self care) and realising when their colleague needs a 5 minute break, and how to step in and encourage them to take that break (mutual care).

In our dance classes, we also spend quite a bit of time on learning to observe our partner. I often phrase this as ‘check in with your partner’, and we practice verbal ‘checking in’ (how to give it, how to respond to it), visual ‘checking in’ (what does their facial expression tell you?), and physical ‘checking in’ (what does the way they touch you tell you?, how is their body communicating their feelings?). In a dance setting, it’s quite simple to then make the next link, and say ‘a successful dance is one where both partners are working happily together, communicating well. And we have plenty of practical dance games and specific moves that require lots of ‘checking in’ with your partner, including copying, call and response, building on something a partner introduces.
I think we can make that same practical connection in non-dance spaces. eg being an audience and a speaker at at conference, managing employees and being managed, carrying a table from one room to another. etc. The key is to have practical, real time experience with these models, where people actually experience the benefits of them.

So the important parts seem to be:
– a discursive repositioning of s.a. and s.h. from ‘sex’ to ‘safety’ (and specifically OH&S)
– putting s.h. and s.a. in the same family as ‘if you see someone who feels sick, help them get a cup of water or take a break’ and ‘running a safe event includes preventing s.h., fires, and underpaying workers.’
– providing a language and model for _positive_ and happy, healthy physical contact. ie knowing the difference between sex and social dance, knowing how to talk about and ask for specific things, men in particular learning to read women’s emotions nonverbally

Most importantly, repositioning s.h. and s.a. as one point on a spectrum of exploitation helps us get past social taboos and discomfort associated with sex, and to think about the actions not as sexual, but as exploitative, violent, aggressive, manipulative, etc etc etc.

A spectrum of behaviour vs a continuum of harm

Ah, another post which is really a bunch of facebook comments masquerading as coherent prose.

A friend linked up Gay Alcorn’s Guardian post ‘Helen Garner’s The First Stone is outdated. But her questions about sexual harassment aren’t’ the other day. I was flabbergasted by the piece. It made me incoherently angry. I literally could not write or talk about it.
I wrote a furious comment, but then retracted.

A few days later, I found a way in, when a man asked a useful question.

Please, first read the article above, then read on.

I began with this response:

Nope nope nope nope nope.

Which escalated to:

I think this Alcorn article is bullshit too. I’m so angry I have to step away from the computer.

But my way in came in the form of a specific discussion about a ‘continuum of harm’. Garner and Alcorn argue that a grope is less important than a ‘rape’. They argue that there’s a continuum of harm/seriousness, and neither really understands why women don’t just ‘deal’ with offenders in less serious cases. This made me very very angry. It’s an attitude profoundly lacking in empathy, but it also suggests to me that this sort of woman is enabling and participating in rape culture by dismissing claims about the ‘severity’ of an offence.

This is what I said next:

I actually don’t buy the continuum of seriousness model, where we have ‘totally not a big deal’ at one end, and ‘horrible violence’ at the other. It simply doesn’t work in practice.

In my experience working on s.h. and assault within a community over the past couple of years, it’s the relationship between incidents and behaviour that is significant. So a whole heap of ‘minor’ things all add up, within the context of patriarchy, to a pattern of exploitation and abuse. It’s very important to recognise these ‘small’ things as part of character type, so that you can predict what will happen next.

So I like to use a ‘spectrum’ of behaviour, where it is the connections between actions that are important.
I think… no, I _know_ that dismissing something like a ‘boob grope’ as inconsequential is a way of dismissing women’s concerns, and making them question their own instincts.

At any rate, should we wait til a man violently rapes a woman, or watch for patterns of behaviour and intervene well before that point?
Garner and Alcorn seem to be suggesting the former, I argue – angrily – for the latter. In fact, I think that Alcorn and Garner’s attitudes are dangerous and betray a profound inexperience with practicalities of dealing with s.h. and assault in real communities with real people. The theory of assault is nothing like the realities of dealing with it in real settings, with real people.

Me, when I see the pattern develop, I step in. I ban men who are potential trouble, because I am not fucking waiting til they do something ‘serious’ enough to warrant a police report. And I devote a lot of my class time to teaching men and women how to identify inappropriate behaviour, and how to respond to it.
This is the deal: women under-report assault and harassment. Men don’t report it. Women question all their instincts. Offenders train women to question themselves and downplay the seriousness of offences.

Garner completely fails to see how her demanding to know all about an event, and to have access to all the details is about her presumption of privilege. Basically, the right to disclose or not to disclose information about assaults and harassment is a key – central – most important! – part of responding to reports.

In my work, we have found that protecting anonymity is SO IMPORTANT. Because women who report, and women who act as agents reporting for survivors, are threatened – physically, legally, financially, emotionally. Within my dance community we’ve had to develop complex networks of relationships to make it possible for women to make reports anonymously. Garner’s coming into a situation like that, behaving the way she did, endangers women.

Reporting to the police? I fucking laugh. That’s far too dangerous and public for almost all the women I know who are reporting assaults.

Garner can fuck off.

I’m getting so angry writing about this, I have to stop. It’s seriously triggering my own vicarious trauma from working on these issues.
Garner, Acorn, and their opinions are fucking bullshit.

Someone then asked:

What’s the difference between a continuum and a spectrum of transgression?

And this is where I really go to town.

A continuum ranges from A to E in a straight line, suggesting A leads to B leads to C leads to D leads to E in gradually increasing severity.

A spectrum thinks in at least 2 dimensions – imagine a circular field, with lots of points all across that field. Instead of progressing in a straight line, offenders commit numerous offences and do many things that in themselves seem ‘unimportant’ or less ‘severe’, but taken as a whole network, add up to a more complex understanding of sexual assault and harassment behaviour.

It’s very very important to note that most offenders defend things like a breast grope or a very tight hand hold, or repeated invitations on dates, or persistent facebook messages, or standing too close, or interrupting women, or not using their proper titles as ‘small’ things. They often admit to doing these things, apologise profusely, and profess ignorance. They target younger, less experienced, less confident, less ‘visible’ women and girls. Women and girls less likely to report and less likely to believe their own instincts.

Taken one by one, each of these is ‘small’. It’s the relationship between all of them, and the repeating, ongoing ‘snow’ of actions that add up to important character profiles.

Most women actually tend to dismiss all these individual things as ‘unimportant’. More significantly, they may not even recognise that men are doing these things to them – eg a woman might feel ‘uncomfortable’ talking to Mr X, but not realise it’s because he’s standing too close, touching her ‘accidentally’, making a lot of eye contact, asking for too much personal information, choosing to speak to her in smaller rooms with no windows, etc etc etc.
It’s easy to apologise for a ‘small’ thing: “Oh, sorry! I didn’t realise! I’ll never do it again. I’m so sorry. Is it ok? Do you feel ok? Let me make it up to you.”

So we have a second important point: women are trained to doubt their very good instincts, men are trained to take the assertive role in these interactions.

A third point: women are trained not to notice or give weight to these many ‘small’ actions/offences.

A fourth point: women are trained to prioritise politeness, male comfort, and avoiding social awkwardness above their own discomfort. So they won’t move away, let alone speak up or ask a man to stop.

A fifth point: women and men lack a language for talking about these minor things, let alone major things.
Women are discouraged from using precise terms to talk about their own bodies: vulva, breast, bottom, stomach, small of the back. This means when they try to articulate where they were touched, they are imprecise: “He touched me down there” rather than “He brushed his finger tips across my vulva”; or “He boob swiped me,” rather than “He trailed his whole hand across my left breast as I turned away from him.” This social awkwardness combined with lack of _words_ makes it difficult for women to explain why they felt uncomfortable, why it hurt, why they didn’t want him to do these things. So when they report these ‘small’ things, they blush, tremble, stutter, hesitate. All signs that suggest ‘fabrication’ or ‘dishonesty’ if you’re looking for a lie.

A sixth point: offenders are really fucking good at hiding what they do in plain sight. I’ve stood and watched a man holding a woman in his arms while dancing, knowing he was groping her, but not being able to see it. I had to trust the woman’s report that he held her too tight, wouldn’t let her go, squeezed her fingers, pressed her groin against his leg. So ‘minor’ things in combination are easy to hide, and also work in concert to make a woman a) doubt herself, b) feel utterly trapped, c) make it impossible for her to report. What does she report? “He touched my hand in passing that one time? He sent me a lot of fb messages?”

A seventh point: other men are discouraged from calling men out on their behaviour, especially when it’s smaller stuff: “Lighten up, mate, it’s just a joke.” They’re trained to dominate space, and to prioritise their own feelings. So they don’t ‘see’ when a woman is trying to get away from a man in a public space in a non-confrontational way.

And, finally, I have seen that offenders invest a lot of time in all this ‘small’ stuff, training women to be quiet, isolating them from friends and help. And then, they escalate. They most commonly seen to escalate to becoming a ‘boyfriend’ who may not actually declare the relationship, but insist it’s casual or just for fun. And within that relationship they often escalate the violence of sexual encounters, and use a lot more controlling, gaslighting, and isolation techniques.

All this is why it’s super important to remember that rape is something that usually happens in the home, domestic or work space, by men women know well.
When we position rape as ‘violent attack on the street by a stranger’, it’s inexplicable (what was she wearing? why did this happen?).
But rape isn’t a bear attack or an earthquake. It’s not an inexplicable natural disaster. It’s often a very carefully planned and executed act of control, and just one expression of a whole continuum of control and exploitation.

So when we want to ‘look’ for sexual assault and harassment, it’s not useful to ‘look’ for the most ‘extreme’ incidents (which are usually defined in terms of phallic power, often literally in terms of vaginal penetration). If we want to find (and stamp out) sexual assault and harassment, we need to look for the ‘little things’, and then the relationships between these little things.|

This is how it’s essential to consider rape and harassment within the context of patriarchy. Everything about that story in the First Stone establishes this as a serious example of sexual harassment. If I was investigating that incident, I’d look for other, non-sexual(ised) incidents of his exploitative and controlling behaviour. Did he use women’s real titles? Did he take them to dinner a lot, or pay for a lot of drinks? Did he only hold meetings in his own office? Did he fail to pursue delayed pay or conditions for employees? Did he ask people to work late?

And so on.

I also need to add that I didn’t really understand how all this worked until I worked on it my dance community myself. I started seeing clear patterns in women’s reports and men’s behaviour. There were a lot of things that I couldn’t articulate or pin down about what made something ‘dodgy’. Luckily dance gives me a good vocab for talking about how to touch someone. But still, it was super difficult, and I still feel like I’m not quite there. I’m missing something. Most telling, I find my own empathy for women reporting assaults, and my own vicarious trauma change the way I think about and respond to reports.

I just don’t think that Alcorn and Garner had or have this understanding of the practical experiences of working on these issues. Too much office time, not enough observation and listening time.

Of course, if you’re reading along as a dancer, and as someone who’s read my other posts, you’ll realise that this is why I get so niggeldy about gender specific language in classes, about the types of photos of dancers we see at events, and whether the lead or the follow is listed first in competition couple announcements.

The ‘continuum of harm’ model is too simple. It suggests only two options: bad or not bad. Which is a) intellectually dishonest, and b) actively disempowering women and survivors of assault. It forces them to decide, ‘Was I raped/harassed or not?’ when the question should be ‘Is that man’s behaviour threatening others?’