Radical Feminist Stream at Herrang

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Are you going to be in Herrang weeks 2 and 3 (ie in the next two weeks)?

If so, a few of us are planning to meet up and share tips and experiences for the sort of work we’re doing in our own scenes on sexual assault and harassment. Or – more likely – we’re going to meet up and have FIKA! and make friends. Because arse kicking chicks need their sisters.
We’re also hoping to do some practical sessions for developing skills. Everything from learning how to say no to a dance, to how to kick someone out of an event. Maybe we’ll get someone awesome like Naomi Uyama to talk about being a woman band leader, or something equally awesome. ImagINE A WHOLE LIBRARY TALK PANEL ON FUCKING ACE WOMEN IN DANCE!?!?!!?!

If you have ideas or want in, drop me an email on dogpossum@dogpossum.org, or grab me in person. Week 3 will be the big week (traditionally radical feminist week at Herrang), but there will be plenty of opportunities to scream GIRLS TO THE FRONT! ALL THE GIRLS TO THE FRONT! in week 2 as well.

See you soon!

ps if you’re bro who’s going to be at Herrang in these weeks, here are some radical things you can do to be more awesome:

  • When you’re at the library talks or in class, don’t be the first to ask a question; let women ask questions first;
  • Take time (not when she’s dancing, doofus!) to ask a woman lead for a tip on what she’s doing that’s awesome;
  • Always list the female teacher in a teaching couple first;
  • Take a complete beginner class as a follow, and CONCENTRATE on learning. As though you’ve never danced before;
  • Don’t rape anyone;
  • Don’t let anyone else rape anyone.

“It shouldn’t just be one person’s responsibility to deal with fuckers.”

public space, violence and white male privilege

An internet friend was responding to a discussion about black and white victims of violence, and noted the privilege of whiteness (in response to this piece). She wrote:

i tend to thumb my nose at a lot of the “safe practices” for being a woman.

And then continued, engaging with the issue of privilege and public space.
I wanted to respond to her post there, but I don’t want to get her in trouble on fb, so I’m writing it here instead.

This is an interesting one. I’ve been thinking more and more about the importance of private v public space for women and women’s bodies. The common (mis)perception of sexual assault, is that it happens in public places (eg dark parks) and is done by strangers to us. While we’re certainly at some risk of assault in these circumstances, we are far more likely to be assaulted in our own homes by people we know.

So to protect ourselves, we should be more critical of the men in our immediate, private spaces, and we should ask men to question their own behaviour and own perceptions of ‘who does violence to women’. It is not strangers; it is the men we know. Who is it who assaults white women? It is white men. White men who are our friends, family, colleagues, and employers.

I’m at the point in my work with dance spaces and violence, where it has become clear that the only way we can move forward, beyond ‘awareness’ is to a) dismantle the broader systems of power that privilege men and their desires, therefore objectifying women, and b) to say ‘yes all men’. That last statement is proving to be the most provocative. I have a sparkly sticker on my laptop that says ‘yes all men’. A friend made it, and it is meant to be a provocation. Each time I take my laptop out in public, I imagine how I’ll respond to people’s commenting on the sticker.
I think I’ll say “Yes, all men. All men are responsible for the violence of men against women. All men have a responsibility to police their own and other men’s behaviour. Because men have more power than women in these situations.”

Because the point we are at now – and this is the difficult part – is one where men must begin to give up privilege and power. They need to give up the idea that rapists are ‘strange violent (black) men in public spaces’ (ie people completely unlike themselves), and accept that rapists are their friends, families (ie people completely like themselves). They need to take responsibility for their own actions, and for those of other men.

Frankly, I can’t see too many men being ok with that.

So each time I scroll past this post of yours, and I read your line “i tend to thumb my nose at a lot of the “safe practices” for being a woman” it makes perfect sense. Because ‘safe practices’ aren’t about women’s safety. They’re about safeguarding myths about men’s responsibilities for their own actions. By staying away from dark parks, you’re not being safe. You’re accepting the bullshit about who rapes who. By choosing to walk through dark parks you are saying “Hello, rapists are responsible for raping; where and when I choose to walk does not make me responsible for the violence of others.”

Now, when we’re being asked to talk about safety and race and ethnicity, it’s made clear that the people who most need to ‘be safe’ are white men. They need to take responsibility for making the world safer for the rest of us, by policing their own behaviour. White men – men with the most power in our communities – have the greater responsibility.

It is not my job to tell you not to rape and attack women. It is your job. It is every man’s job to choose not to attack women. And the people who have the greatest power have the most opportunities to assault people. And they must choose not to. I can make a code of conduct, I can ban offenders and police those bans. I can skill up my volunteers. But at the end of the day, all men have to choose not to rape and assault and attack.
Yes, all men.

Bullying and power

First off: soz this post is a bit shitly written. Still dealing with jetlag in Germany.

This is an interesting little piece about Finland’s anti-bullying program KiVa: Anti-bullying program focused on bystanders helps the students who need it the most (Feb 1st 2016).

Reading it, I was struck by one key factor: children are encouraged to take a position of mutual responsibility. To think and care about others, and to take responsibility for their own behaviour. In other words, they are encouraged to see how they can be powerful in a social situation, and how being powerful and feeling powerful can prevent bullying. This makes particular sense in the case of bullying, where (we’re reminded), bullies target less powerful peers to make themselves feel powerful and in control.

This is the next step in my approach to responding to and preventing sexual harassment and assault in lindy hop. At this stage a lot of the work on this stuff in lindy hop has focussed on the role ‘organisers’, teachers, and other powerful people can play. But I see this emphasis as just rehashing and shoring up heirarchal power structures. When what we really need to be doing is deconstructing patriarchy – which is a very hierarchal system of power that privileges straight, white men.

Having a ‘boss’ (a teacher, organiser, or other powerful person at the top of a hierarchy) responsible for dealing with offences and offenders isn’t so great. Instead, we need to rethink relationships between individuals. In this little piece about bullying and Finland, kids are powered up and encouraged to take responsibility for situations (even if that just means understanding why they don’t/can’t step in). In the context of sexual harassment in lindy hop, we want to power up women, so they will speak up, but we also want to power up men to take responsibility for each other’s actions.

This is one of the reasons why I really dislike the expressions ‘scene leader’. We should all be scene leaders, all be engaged with community development and safety.

And I think that this is why some people will never truly get on board with wiping out sexual harassment: it means that some people will need to give up on autocracy. Which they’ll be reluctant to do, as so much of contemporary lindy hop culture is focussed on having clear hierarchies of power and status. Competitions have winners and runners up, and these competitions are then presented as defining factors in a dancer’s social and economic status. ‘International’ teachers are flown in to teach one-off workshops (and then fly out, taking no responsibility for what’s left behind). Even social dancing and ‘likeability’ is categorised with ‘people’s favourite’ awards for social dancers and general competitors. DJs are divided into ‘staff’, ‘head’ or ‘volunteer’ DJs. And so on.

If we are to get really serious about sexual harassment and assault in lindy hop, white blokes are going to have to give up power. Male DJs will have to openly and deliberately ‘give up’ high profile gigs for female DJs. Male MCs will have to ‘give up’ high profile gigs for women MCs. Male dancers generally will have to get used to the idea that they can’t just walk into workshops at a cheaper price because there’re ‘too many follows’.

There’s simply too much to be gained from these prosaic structures. These formalised systems of power privilege straight white men, and I can’t see many of them giving up this power any time soon.

Why I will not answer all your questions

A useful resource Erin hooked me up with on the facey tody: Feminists are not responsible for educating men by Cecilia Winterfox.

I’m quite regularly asked by random dudebros to help them understand feminism or whatevs it is we grownups are talking about. The questions usually start out quite reasonable (I discuss one in this post), but gradually escalate until I realise dudebro is snowing me under with bullshit questions that turn into mansplains and manrants. I tend to give them one or two questions, and then I shut shit down. That means I delete their comments and often block them on fb. Because, mates, I just cannot be fucked. And I don’t want some niggling bastard following me around fb being a pain in the arse.

But the important part of being an ally (ie a bloke who digs feminism) is that you go out and get your learn on. This isn’t a bullshit lindy hop class where the teacher just ‘gives’ you a bunch of moves, counts you in all the time, answers all your questions in detail (instead of having you test the theory yourself), and generally babies you. This is feminism, where you are responsible for your own learns. And as a bloke, you’re in a better position to do that learning.

Your annoying questions are getting in the way of grown ups kicking the patriarchy.

Teaching and caring is labour, emotional and intellectual labour. And part of feminism is uncoupling ides of the feminine from the notion of ‘carer’. It’s giving women permission not to take on the role of ‘mother’ if they don’t want to. Or don’t have time to.

Why we should talk about sexual assault in dance.

I was just thinking about why women telling their stories about being assaulted or attacked or harassed in the lindy hop and other jazz dance scenes is so important.
It’s about consciousness raising.

In an old school feminist consciousness raising group, women would speak about their experiences. They would just tell each other about the things that had happened to them.
The assumption was that their experiences were important, and unique. Worth listening to and sharing.

Kathie Sarachild … noted that the pioneering feminists had initially thought to use consciousness-raising as a way to figure out what their next action would be. They had not anticipated that the group discussions themselves would end up being seen as a radical action to be feared and criticized. (link)

I’m always surprised by the aggression in people’s responses to suggestions that we might actually talk about, let alone do something about, male sexual violence. But I shouldn’t be: it is a profoundly powerful act.
Women should be quiet. We should do as we’re told. Because we are overly emotional and can’t be trusted to be strong and capable. So many things in our day to day lives tell us to shoosh and sit down.

You’re too fat! Too uncool! Your hair is weird! Your skin is bad! Don’t draw attention to all that!
Don’t draw attention to yourself on the train (you’ll get hassled)!
Don’t wear a short skirt (you’ll get catcalled)!
Don’t ask too many questions (you’ll be seen as needy)!

Stop! Don’t! Think twice! Question your choices! Question yourself!

We’re encouraged to doubt ourselves, and that doubt keeps us in our seats. It makes us want to be invisible.

We’re also encouraged to believe that sexual assault is something that strange men do to women on the street who aren’t careful.
But it doesn’t. It usually happens in our homes, and is perpetrated by people we know.

But because women’s voices are drowned out by film, television, popular music, books – patriarchal discourse – women assume their own experiences are an aberration. Unusual. Probably their own fault. If those things even happened at all. ‘Gaslighting‘ is a particularly horrible way of making women shut up. People tell these women that what they’re talking about isn’t true, and didn’t happen. And women believe them.

So when women do speak up – just as Sarah and those other women did – it’s consciousness raising.
It tells other women that their experiences aren’t (sadly) unique.
It tells other women that they are not alone.
It tells men that they can’t get away with their actions in secret; women won’t keep those secrets for them.
It tells men that their friends, family, and partners – not strangers – are hurting women.

Because it’s the secretiveness that enables male crimes of violence.

Carol Hanisch said that consciousness-raising worked because it destroyed the isolation that men used to maintain their authority and supremacy (link).

This is why it’s not only important to speak up, it’s important to speak up in public, and to speak to other women.

But.
Once these women have spoken up, it’s our job to take the baton. We can’t ask them to do everything: this one thing that they have done has taken monumental strength and bravery. We owe them a response that is as brave and coherent as action.

A half-arsed report on our sexual harassment responses

[note]This was a post on the facey, which I’ve started writing up here.[/]

Remind me to write up a report on how our new reporting and preventing sexual harassment and accidents process went at LBW.

Short version: it worked.

Mid-length version: we put together a door handbook, reporting forms, and a process for reporting incidents. We ‘trained’ managers in the process, and we let volunteers know about the process via the handbook, email, and in person talk.

Long version: how online discussions, reports of assaults made by very brave women and girls, and getting angry and upset led to the development of policies, of material codes and rules, and then practical processes and documents. A success story.

Things we needed:

  • An online version of our code of conduct, easily accessible from one click on event website, and well publicised on facebook.
  • A brief paper version of the code printed on the back of the event program which was packed into registrants’ envelopes.
  • A full version of the code printed and put into the event handbook.
  • Paper incident report forms in the event handbook.
  • A process for making reports (including a quiet place to do the, who should do them, and how, etc etc).

Most importantly, we needed good will from all the volunteers, staff, and managers. And that was the easy bit. Everyone was really keen to make this work, and really just saw this as an extension of our Swing Dance Sydney rules:

  1. Look after your partner
  2. Look after the music
  3. Look after yourself

What a lovely group of people.
This is by no means a finished project, but it’s actually turned out to be a very interesting and productive one.

13344581_10153611377823483_2930802524378605505_n

Packing the code of conduct (on the back of the program) into registrants’ envelopes.

 

 

 

13315547_10153611381933483_5111295868712487877_n

A first version of our event handbook, which contains lots of things, including: event program in plain text, door count sheets, cash count sheets, incident report forms, code of conduct, guide to identifying wrist bands, various paper signs, etc etc. All in one central folder.
There were two copies of this handbook, and each has a plastic slip on the front for adding notes or action items when handing over shifts or responsibilities.

13315680_10153611382133483_8751312588924837771_n A first draft of our incident report form, which drew on examples provided by lots of useful people who work in places that have decent reporting processes for accidents, etc.
These forms are in our event handbook.

 

13339482_10153611382288483_6080499492564714442_nThe longer version of our code of conduct, in paper form. It explains what counts as sexual harassment, and s.h. is just part of the ’emergency’ and ‘incident’ part of the handbook, after what to do if there’s a fire.

 

13319936_10153611382293483_5897772960599469148_n The paper version of our code of conduct on the back of an event program. Which is available at the door at events, in registrants’ rego packs, and as a promotional item distributed to venues in the week or two before the event.

Having it so readily available is an attempt to normalise this sort of talk and material. So ordinary that everyone has read it.

 

[Note] That was the original post. Then there were some comments. Here are some of them.[/]

Tal Engel: Can you elaborate on the phrase “it worked”? Are there any incidents you’re comfortable discussing where the system came into play?

We had no reports (thankfully, but also – maybe we had incidents but no reports?), so I can’t talk about that issue.

But I think ‘it worked’ relates mostly to the ‘consciousness raising’ part of the exercise, to quote old school activism. So by having lots of people involved in the process, from stuffing envelopes to handling a handbook, we gave people access to the code, and to the process. We demystified our process, but we also demystified sexual assault and harassment a bit. I hope.

I also wanted to make it clear that these things are _all_ of our responsibilities, and something that happens in our public places between friends, not in dark car parks by strangers.

It also ‘worked’ as a practical skills development process for me, and for the rest of the group. So actually putting together a handbook took some practice and real thinking – far more than I had expected. And it took several drafts to create something more accessible. Still needs work I reckon.

It also worked as a way of engaging all the staff in thinking about events as community spaces, where problems (whether they’re someone needing a bandaid, or someone needing a quiet place to sit and talk) are solveable.

…I think one of the most effective parts of this whole process was the online discussion of this process on our facebook event page.

I just matter of factly laid out the deal. But this also dovetailed with the way I engage with people on the event fb page: prompt replies to queries, but professional in tone. I also use my real name and face on event pages (rather than the event’s home page ID), so that our events have a ‘face’ and a name behind them. This makes it easier for people to see who they’re ‘talking to’, but also says ‘hey, I respond to your concerns’, which hopefully sets up an example of how I might respond to reports of assaults.
More importantly, this public talk in a public forum also addresses the lurkers, who are the vast majority of readers. They might never post on the page, but they read how I engage, and see what I do.
I’d really, really hope that this also normalises modes of discourse for this topic. ie just as having other women leads in your scene encourage other women to lead, having someone addressing these issues clearly, personally, and professionally might also encourage similiar responses.

What I really hope is that people will do as I do when I go to an event: see the best stuff other people do and then copy shamelessly in an attempt to be as good at it as they are. So hopefully people will see what I did, steal the good bits, and improve on it all, fixing the bits I’m not good at.

13087454_10153541191933483_297896331261212459_n Related to this ‘putting a face and name to an event’ stuff, is having badges for volunteers. It’s something for volunteers and staff to know when they’re on duty (you take it off when you’re off duty), but it’s also a clear way of identifying staff (and you need to tell punters about this). If I had more money, I’d have done Tshirts :D

I’d add that this wasn’t a particularly difficult process. It just took a while. And we had to approach it as an iterative process: where you don’t just do it and then, boom, it’s finished. You see each version as one step in an ongoing process.

I think that it was very important to be very angry and determined to do this. If I hadn’t be so angry, and if I hadn’t wanted so much to look out for my peeps, I probably would have given up ages ago.

I think this process makes it very clear that a simple code of conduct squirrelled away on a website is pretty much useless on it’s own.

Some of the most important parts of this process were:

  • Having a lateral power structure (rather than a top-down power pyramid dynamic thingy), where everyone had a role to play, and power to do things and make decisions – from volunteers and people making reports to musicians and managers. To me, this is THE most important part of this process. If it’s just a boss ‘saving’ women, then we’re not changing anything; we’re reinforcing the status quo.
  • Getting people involved by asking for help, by posting about my sticking points on fb (eg posting that I needed a reporting form but had no clue where to start gave me a bunch of useful comments and messages, plus actual examples of other people’s forms).
  • Letting go and letting other people do stuff.

[note]After some other discussion, I got to this point…[/]
What I’d really like to do is get together with other organisers and peeps at some weekend event to talk through what we do and what they do. There’s already a very healthy network of people sharing ideas, but I want MORE!

[note]This is the bit I want to emphasise. I’ve learnt most from seeing what other people are doing. And I want MORE of it.[/]

As an example, I learnt a lot from talking to Ben Beccari about handbooks and practical emergency response stuff. He’s doing a Phd in disaster response, so he’s kind of mad skilled. I also talked to people like Liam Hogan about how the SES does stuff here. And I had examples from friends of reporting strategies (I’d better not name them in case it’s meant to be confidential :D ). I also followed up ideas with my femmo stroppo mates (like Kerryn, Zoe, Kate, Penni, Tammi, Liah, Naomi, Daniel, and MANY more) for their suggestions and ideas, which came from their big brains, and also their experience as activists at community and local levels.

…I keep adding names, but there are too many. So many people had excellent ideas.

[note]end[/]

So, that’s what I have from that post.
I’ve written about what we’ve been doing in a few other posts already:

*1. I think a code of conduct is important because it sets out your goals and ideals in plain language. I go into why codes are important in this post.
2. ‘Cultural change‘ is about changing the way we do things. The way we think about teaching and teach, the way we think about learning and learn, the way we think about social dancing and social dance, the way we think about partners and treat our partners, the way we think about ourselves and treat ourselves. All of this stuff changes what we do and think about what we do. I like to mix feminism with historical example: I have clear political goals, but I want to use and stay true to the creative and practical examples of the swing and jazz era.
3. Developing strategies for practical change means confronting men about their behaviour, training staff, and banning offenders. But in a thoughtful, organised way, not a random, ad-hoc way. Our practical actions (what we actually do) must be guided by solid thinking and a sense of consequence. We need to be safe, we need to confident, we need to be organised.

**In this one I wrote this paragraph, which really sums up my whole purpose:

There have been some scary moments, but, for the most part, it’s actually been a very exciting and positive experience. Sitting down and thinking about what we want to do, and talking about the good things we want to see has been very exciting. It makes us feel good. This is what activism is about: you start by getting angry. You do some learning, and then you start doing things which make you powerful.

***One of the most important parts of dealing with sexual harassment, is women having the confidence to speak up. To speak in public. Male perpetrators rely on women and girls being too frightened to speak up and challenge them. To tell people about the things that men are doing. They threaten women and girls into staying silent, and they rely on broader social forces which discourage women to keep them quiet.
When those women first wrote about Mitchell’s violent criminal acts on this blog, one of the responses was that they should have made private complaints, spoken to the police, been more polite. More careful.

Their speaking up was very important. Very, very important. And this is one of the reasons I’m not entirely for male feminists. I think that the very act of speaking up is a political act, and one of the key parts of being a feminist. We are told sit down and shut up. And when we stand up and say no, we are doing a radical thing.

And this is where I’ll end this post.
We have to speak up. A private email or private discussion between a woman and her attacker or an organiser is an extension of the conditions that made that assault possible in the first place. We are supposed to push issues of sex and interpersonal violence between men and women into the private sphere. It’s not supposed to be appropriate for public discussion.

In simpler terms, I know that if I send a private email to a man who is a sexual offender or one of their offenders, he’s much more likely to try to bully me, frighten me, attack me. I do my talk in public now, because it’s safer. I want witnesses. Just as I don’t ban or warn offenders in person unless I’m in a public place with plenty of witnesses.

And I know this, because it happens. So I say: speak up. Be sure you have buddies to get your back, but speak up. And by buddies, I’m saying ‘sisterhood is powerful’. This is what that expression means: when we work together, women and girls are far more powerful than most men would like to think. We can protect each other and ourselves.

And after all, that’s what all this is about: women protecting themselves and each other.

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.

Yes, all men. And all women. All of us.

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The third panel in this is actually the most important. And this is where I like to put most of my effort when it comes to addressing sexual harassment. Because sexual harassment is about injustice, and about sexism, and dealing with it on a ‘case by case basis’ is total bullshit.
This is the point of feminism: we do actually have shared experiences, as women. And these are the product of social structures, as much as (or more than) the actions of individual men.
If we deal with sexual harassment on a case by case basis, we say ‘These individual men are the problem’. When we address broader institutional and cultural factors, we say ‘The way we organise our schools and events and parties and businesses and organisations is the problem. If we fix those, we _prevent_ sexual harassment, instead of just _responding_ to it.’

Just start with believing her

The Perception Gap: Women Half As Likely to Believe Women and Men Have Equal Opportunities in the Workplace

Perceptions of gender inequity. With special mention of Lake Wobegone, aka town of Prairie Home Companion.
Unsurprisingly, the people who benefit from inequity are less aware of it than those who are disadvantaged by the status quo. I see clear links with the way men are less aware of sexual harassment in lindy hop than women, and so more resistant to changes to the status quo to prevent it.
aka the ‘it doesn’t happen to me, so it must not be true’ factor. aka the ‘I do not possess empathy’ factor. aka the ‘ffs factor’.

(props to Gina Helfrich for the link).

…I’m also thinking that one of the key issues in responding to sexual harassment, in this context, is that men simply have to believe women when they report sexual harassment. I know men who say ‘I want to hear his side of the story first’. As though it doesn’t really happen unless a man observes and reports it. As though these men need a man (ie someone exactly like them) to report and explain it. Because it is so far beyond their own lived experience.

But I’m struck by how unwilling men are to just believe a woman when she says that X assaulted her, or that she was harassed by Y. They ‘want the other side of the story’, as though this side isn’t enough.

And I always think in response, “Yeah, because that guy who tells his story is totally going to substantiate her report. ‘Yep, totally raped her, she’s 100% correct’.” I can tell you what the other side of the story will be: he will deny it, he will accuse her of lying or exaggerating or being too sensitive or attention-seeking, and you will believe him. Because you simply can’t imagine this being true, and you have no personal experience with sexual harassment, and you don’t ‘see’ it in your everyday.

When you say ‘I need to hear his side of the story’ or ‘he has a right of reply’, you are actually saying, “I don’t believe that what you are saying could be true. I don’t believe you. I think you are lying.” And you look for that ‘other side’ of the story to substantiate and echo your own experience and ‘common sense.’ Because this woman sounds ‘too emotional’ or ‘kind of nuts’ or ‘over the top’ or ‘alarmist’. So you can’t quite believe her.

Just believe her. Start there. Perhaps your own experience of the world is not universal after all?

Why we need codes of conduct and sexual assault response strategies

I believe that our dance community is generally well behaved, and I am not sure we need a codified response. Just be respectful to everyone, respect their space, dont abuse your position, much the same as in everyday life. Dancing gives no extra rights to misbehave. But we are all adults, right?

I get people like the thought of a code of conduct because it makes people feel better but all i see is another paper in a system that should be a far more simple system of either make that person leave, call the police that’s against the law common sense.

I feel that as a bunch of adults we as a community should not need a code of conduct to dictate that we obey the law.

These are a few quotes from recent online discussions about sexual harassment policies. They are taken out of context. My aim here is to show the language that’s used to defend these positions. These are actual examples of quite common phrases used in these discussions.

The number of people publicly saying ‘we don’t need codes of conduct’ or sexual harassment policies in lindy hop are increasing, the further we get in time from the stories about Stephen Mitchell. I’m not entirely sure what their motivations are. But we can read these statements as suggesting ‘I don’t think rape and attacks are important enough to change the status quo.’ I wonder if their opinions would be the same if people were being knifed or bashed or kicked. I don’t think they realise that rape involves physical pain and violence, as well as intimidation and threats. That sexual harassment or grooming of girls and women by predators involves the systematic intimidation, threatening, isolation, and manipulation over a long period of time.

That’s actually not true. There have been a number of high profile rape and assault cases lately in the international lindy hop scene over the years, and sexual harassment is an ongoing issue. The consequences (besides horrible stuff happening to our friends) include drops in class numbers and event attendees (ie financial consequences), a loss of community knowledge (ie social sustainability declines as people with experience leave). All this despite (or because?) offenders knowing that their actions are illegal, immoral, and disrespectful. All this because these offenders know that no one will call them on their behaviour and inflict real-world consequences.
Because the men in our dance community don’t seem to grasp the fact that raping women and girls is not ok, we need to be more proactive in preventing and responding to this issue.
At this stage, my main focus is on the way men don’t call other men on their behaviour. Calling out offenders is left to organisers, and to women. As the comments above suggest, there is an assumption that sexual harassment is a problem for organisers and targets and no one else. Me, I think it’s a problem we should all be looking at. Most particularly men, because it is men who commit most of these offences. Interestingly (enragingly?) it is when I call out men for not stepping up that people get angriest with me. Because, I think, this is the matter that most destablises the status quo. Or as we femmostroppos like to say, this is the point at which we address patriarchy in the most explicit way.

Why are codes of conduct important?
You may choose to have a ‘statement of intent’ or a ‘manifesto’ or a set of ‘rules’. This document or blob of words is not implied or hinted at or common sense. It is a clear and explicit statement of your values, and your limits.

Codes of conduct are important because they:
a) Are a public symbol telling people that your organisation is not ok with sexual assault and will act on reports;
b) Make explicit implicit or implied ‘common sense’ standards and rules. So that we can actually be sure we all have ‘common’ (or shared) values and ‘rules’.
c) This then gives teachers/employees/contractors within the organisation a set of clear guidelines: what are our ‘goals’? What is our position on this? This then guides future policies and actions;
d) It gives students and punters a clear outline of what the organisation’s policy is;
e) Give you an ideological guide for developing policy;
f) Give you a clear list of ‘rules’ to set in your agreements with contractors like musicians, DJs, and teachers. Basically, I say “by working for me, you agree to read and abide by this code. If you can’t agree with it, then you do not work with me or attend my event.”

b is especially important, because the vague or implied ‘common sense’ rules (instead of explicit rules) are used by offenders as an excuse – eg “I didn’t know it wasn’t ok.” It’s also increasingly clear that some men and women simply don’t know what constitutes sexual harassment. So women don’t know that they can trust their instincts, and men don’t know that what they’re doing is both sexual harassment.

My code of conducts make it very clear: if you can’t agree to not rape people, you are not welcome at my dance or in my community.

Since our organisation Swing Dance Sydney instituted a code of conduct and clear oh&s policies, dancers who identify as queer or trans, young women, decent men, have said that they feel welcome at our events, or at the least the idea of our events makes them feel welcome. Basically, we are making our events openly hostile and uncomfortable for male sexual offenders, and much friendlier and more welcoming for everyone else.
Our events are also much better as a result of all this work. We’ve just put on better events because we’ve had to think through how we look after people, how we develop and design guidelines and practices, and then we implement and communicate them to workers. This means that there are fewer fuck ups in the program, fewer technical errors, and less general bullshit. Because we’ve gone over these bloody things so many times we’ve caught most of the common problems and fixed most of the crap.

I don’t think codes are enough on their own, but they are important. I have adopted them for all my events, in both paper and digital forms.

But I have also developed:
1) Practical strategies for responding to complaints (eg banning offenders, then training staff to respond when those banned offenders turn up at events).
2) In-class teaching strategies to effect cultural change (ie making it clear that sexual harassment is not ok; skilling and powering up women to give them confidence; teaching men how to touch women with respect).
3) In-person strategies for talking about our code (eg I do speeches at our events that are both funny and important).
4) Skills for dealing with offenders myself.
5) Policies and training that skill up our volunteers and staff so they can step up.

I have already has SERIOUS and marked responses to these policies. I have banned serial offenders. I have responded to women’s complaints/requests for help. I have skilled myself up in confronting frightening, aggressive men. I have dealt with musicians, DJs, and dancers who sexually harass.
Our classes are much better, and we’ve seen students developing good lindy hop, the confidence to improvise (and not micromanage their partners), and we see great social dancing.
I have learnt how to address and teach follows in ways that actually articulate what following is. None of this ‘just follow’ crap for me. This has helped me and my students see how follows (and implicitly, women) are not just objects to be moved about by leads.
Our door staff are more confident and capable. Our musicians are more engaged with us as people (not just punters). And the parties are heaps more fun.

Our events are better. I think that this is the most important part: by taking greater care with one particular issue, and for one particular group, all our punters are better taken care of. Our events and projects are simply better, because we have had to think through these issues and implement strategies. It’s pushed us to become better at what we do; we don’t just continue to do things as they’ve always been done. I actually think this last point is the marker of working with an ambitious, motivated group of people. And they put this sort of energy and focus into their dancing too, which makes the dancing so much better as well.

Relatedly, the ‘common sense’, or ‘we’re all just decent people’ discourses that inform labour relationships (DJing, teaching, volunteering) within the lindy hop world often facilitate exploitation. The implicit hierarchies of power enable exploitation (and sexual harassment), but do not necessitate the reciprocal duty of care and responsibility that goes with formal declarations in other hierarchical social systems.

Basically, the ‘we’re all decent people’ and ‘common sense’ approaches haven’t stopped sexual assault and harassment in lindy hop. They’ve enabled it. So either we change it to help people, or we let things stay the same and accept that we are enabling rape.