White man discovers his experience of the world is not universal

Andy Reid recently wrote this on fb:

Lindy Hoppers: Many of you came to the dance and found a comfortable space where you could spread your wings. You found a place where you could be geeky, nerdy, techy, punky, introverted, extroverted, or whatever. You could be any of those things feel like you belonged. For many of us, we wouldn’t be the people you are now if we hadn’t found a place like this were we could be boldly ourselves. Beautiful, isn’t it?
This is NOT the experience for everyone who comes to this dance. In this case, this is not the experience of many LGTBQIA+ who have come across this dance scene. We are pushing people away. It takes courage to be “out” in this scene. Some utopia.
In the past few years, the illusion that our dance scene is a place free from the dangers of the real world has been shattered. As a result, we’ve done a lot to listen, learn and are making worthwhile changes. Also, we took our heads out of our asses. We can be proud of that. It’s beyond time to do the same here and realize that this haven that we found, is absolutely not a haven for everyone. We have to realize this and change, just like we shown ourselves capable of doing.
We need to open the doors – fucking wide. We need to shout “I see you. You are not invisible. You are welcome here”… just like others did for us. If (part of that) that means we make gestural changes like changing names of cheesily named dance contests, go for it.
But, far beyond that, I suggest you to take a moment to lightly and politely ask someone different from you about their experience in the scene. If they feel like sharing, you’ll learn something. If you think you don’t know any LGTBQIA+ folks in your local scene, either you are wrong and they are hiding (that speaks volumes) or your scene is tragically homogenous (also speaks volumes).
In the comments, I will be posting statements from different LGTBQIA+ people in our dance scene. Straight (and straight-ish) friends, before discussing this with your other straight (and straight-ish) friends, read some of these – including the comments, some of which are profound – no joke.
It takes effort to try to see the world through other people’s eyes, but it is immensely worthwhile.

This is what I started writing in reply, but didn’t leave on fb:

Nice vibes, Andy. And I dig your post.
Here is my rant.

I’d probably rethink the pronouns, because your call does not rework the status quo or question power:”We need to shout “I see you. You are not invisible.”

As though it is only through being recognised by the straight white male gaze that the other becomes real.

The lindy hop ‘we’ already includes peeps who aren’t straight, white guys. The lindy hop ‘we’ is already queer, black, trans…. everything _as well as_ straight white men. The LGTBQIA+ folk in our scenes ARE ALREADY SPEAKING. Maybe the straight white masculine world of lindy hop should _stop_ speaking for a second.

I’m also a bit suspect about “politely ask someone different from you about their experience in the scene.” Are we outing people now? This ‘asking’ is still an act of managing the public discourse. Why is it everyone else’s responsibility to educate the straight white man? Why is it everyone else’s responsibility to make sure the straight white man is looked after? AGAIN?

Maybe you should be quiet and listen and watch for a while instead. Because WE ARE ALREADY SPEAKING. Maybe you should watch for a while, before asking. See when a man gropes a woman on the dance floor, then tell him to quit. Hear when a straight man makes a bullshit gay joke, then _not laugh_.

So perhaps your call should be, “Hey, straight white guys. We’re the numerical minority in this community. So we should ask why we hold the majority of positions of power and influence. Maybe we should cede our place to the rest of the community. Also it’s time for us to stop talking.”
The lindy hop world is not that special or unique: it is within and a part of the wider community in which it lives. Of course sexism and homophobia and racism are here. Because it is in our wider lives as well.

This is how this will have to work: the most powerful people in our communities will need to give up some of that power. That includes the power to ask questions and speak. And they’re not going to be too happy about that.

I’ve also been struck by some of the comments like this from (straight white male) dancers: “In the past few years, the illusion that our dance scene is a place free from the dangers of the real world has been shattered.”
I was especially struck by the recent ep of the Track where Gordon Webster spent quite a bit of time telling us how shocked he was by the Steven Mitchell issue. He recounted some heart warming stories about the safety of the dance scene, and how surprised he was to discover that things Have Changed.
And I got really really angry. YES POWERFUL WHITE GUY, THE WORLD IS A PRETTY SAFE AND LOVELY PLACE FOR YOU. Your being able to leave your envelope of cash unattended, and without any accountability IS A MARKER OF YOUR POWER. Your being able to set aside the responsibility of paying your staff before you go off and get on stage IS A MARKER OF YOUR POWER. Your leaving the door staff to sell your CDs and make change from your band’s pay IS A MARKER OF YOUR POWER.
It wasn’t because ‘the scene is a utopia’ that that envelope of cash didn’t go missing. It’s because you are a powerful, influential person. And it’s good to be king.

I was especially angry about his reluctance to believe that HIS friend could possibly be dodgy as fuck. When even I, who’d only met Mitchell once or twice and live in another hemisphere, could tell he was a pain in the arse and well dodgy. He didn’t see the problems with Mitchell, because they didn’t affect him directly. He WASN’T LOOKING FOR THEM.

The rest of the dance world (who aren’t straight, white, or male) were already quite sure that the dance world wasn’t a utopia.

News at 5: ‘white man discovers his experience of the world is not universal.’

Because the women, POC… pretty much most of the peeps who aren’t representing hegemonic masculinity in our scene know that it’s not a utopia. And we’ve always known that. And we’ve been talking about it for years. Hell, even Norma Miller’s been shouting it at people for years, and not even she’s been listened to!

Occupying space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I replied to that comment above with this

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

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

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

NB this is culturally specific.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flat vs heirarchical power in safe space discourse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I really like all this stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

Feminism as happiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look after yourself, friends

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

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

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

Feminism, akshully

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

She writes:

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

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

Pluckrose also writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t fucking apologise. Just get it right.

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

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

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

Because honestly, I’m worth it. #GiveYourMoneyToWomen

The Uses of Anger

A friend posted this on fb:

15094419_1241545139216963_1921813439569508420_n(text reads:

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

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

And a white bloke commented

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

And it gave me the living shits.

So I replied:

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

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

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

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

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

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

screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-12-20-09-am
(image text reads: Strategy for white people to dismantle white supremacy: “when the forced Muslim registration begins at Mosques, the first 8000 people in line better be white.” – Linda Sarsour, Director of Arab American Association of New York”)
(source, but note, I don’t have a good reference for this text.)

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

And even after that, he posted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lorde writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

*It’s worth noting that Lorde writes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why we (still) need codes of conduct and sexual assault response strategies

Here are some reasons why we need feminism in lindy hop.

First:
This year a number of high profile, influential male dancers have told me in conversation that women fake rape reports to threaten men’s reputations.
Response:
This is untrue. If a man says this to you, he cannot be trusted, and you should have a care for your safety, and for the safety of other women and girls. You should be suspicious of the men he hires or works with. You should keep an eye on his dance partners and students.

More importantly, we must always respond to a report of sexual assault as someone asking for help. So help.

Secondly:
I’ve also been told that it’s ‘common sense’ not to rape people, so we don’t need to do any more than rely on men following ‘the law’.
Response:
If this was the case, there’d be no sexual assault. And because we believe women who report assaults (and because women know that sexual assault is both common and very close to us all the time), we believe that men rape.
The law and legal systems of various countries fail women repeatedly. This is why we need to be specific and to clearly set out our rules and limits. And enforce them. We must evict dangerous men from our scene, and we must all work to protect and encourage vulnerable people.

Thirdly:
Women are feeling brave enough to report rapes. This week another high profile woman dancer reported a rape and series of assaults to the police.
Response:
These women are telling us that they need our help. So we help.
Laws do not prevent rape.
We are not done. Men are still assaulting women. So men need to change their behaviour, and we need to demand that they do so. There is no excuse.

Fourthly:
I received this charming comment from a person named ‘Henry’, whose ip address is ‘192.108.24.24’. The post was Why we need codes of conduct and sexual assault response strategies.

Are you mental? Men have a greater responsibility to call out others for sexual assault because we happen to have the same gender? This kind of neo-feminist bullshit has no place in the swing world. If you want to prevent sexual assault then teach women how to recognize the signs of manipulation and sexual intimidation and tell them to speak out. Stop acting like the fucking victims you want the world to treat you as.

From the language, I’m assuming this is an Australian.

This comment really is the reason we need codes of conduct and sexual assault response strategies. Because men blame women when they are assaulted. Because men are not held accountable for their own behaviour, nor do men feel accountable for the behaviour of other men.

Response:
If you come across this man, avoid him, and put him on your mental ‘watch list’. If a man speaks to you with such aggression and threatening language about sexual violence, avoid him, report him, and put him on your ‘watch list’.

Because men still believe this, and are willing to tell women this (even with cowardly anonymity), we need codes of conduct and sexual assault strategies. Here, friends is one of the ‘signs of manipulation and intimidation’ that lead to sexual assault. A man demanding we take responsibility for the offences of men. A man telling us that it’s our fault we were assaulted, because we ‘didn’t read the signs’ and ‘speak out’ before we were raped.