Feminism | Posted by Leah RD on 09/15/2009
I had been at college for three days, and my friends and I were anticipating the First Chance Dance, an annual tradition meant to facilitate fun and friendship during the notoriously uncomfortable orientation process. My dorm’s resident advisor encouraged us to go, advising that it provides “a great opportunity for sexual exploration.” Some of my newly minted classmates obviously saw it that way; the First Chance Dance would be better described as “a room full of sweaty teenagers in varying states of sobriety engaging in fully-clothed sex on the dance floor.” Not an exaggeration.
First of all, the “grinding” phenomenon demands a discussion. Let’s be honest: grinding is basically simulated sex on the dance floor. I try to be sex-positive and am generally comfortable with open expressions of sexuality. But isn’t dry sex in a public setting, and with someone who you’ve known for less than a week, just kind of awkward? For me, yes. Maybe for some it’s not, but this questions leads to the broader idea of consent and its applications.
Consent doesn’t only belong in the bedroom; consent should follow ambiguity wherever it may lead, which, in this setting, is the dance floor. “But,” my friends object, “isn’t it super awkward to be dancing and then to suddenly be like, ‘Hey want to grind?’” Yes, that is awkward, but wouldn’t it be easy to ask, “Is this ok?” as you move closer? Or even to pay attention to your dance partner? ?I recently witnessed a girl engrossed in gyrating against a fellow freshman’s groin, as he TEXTED. I’m not implying that he wasn’t appreciative or consenting. However, this situation clearly lacks mutual interest and communication.
I love to dance, meet new people, and sing along to blasting music. But when the lyrics are “Shush girl, just shut your lips… do the Helen Keller and talk with your hips” (shudder), it’s hard to dance to the beat while completely ignoring the words and the underlying message of objectification and misogyny that they promote. As much as I want to dance to 3OH!3 or Lady Gaga (and I do dance, despite my unease with her word choice about disco sticks), I often feel like a hypocrite at dances where I should just be enjoying myself. I feel like a strange superhero: young feminist by day, self-objectifying dance-floor maven by night.
I’m wary of criticizing youth dance and music trends, because there exists a long tradition of censorship of American youth popular culture. I’m not one of those anti-rock n’ roll fanatics à la “Footloose” who claims that the new dance styles are the devil incarnate and that our country is going to hell in a hand basket as a result of promiscuous dance floor antics. In fact, my first week at college has indicated the opposite: overall, my classmates are a smart, articulate, generous, interesting, genuine, diverse, and empathetic group. But imagine a dance with music that doesn’t objectify women, or music whose beat could be conducive to dancing that consists more than just simulated sex—dancing that would be more inclusive, more inviting, more energetic, and more fun.
Ok, so maybe the DJ was just bad. After all, his turntable did have a sign that advertised “Phat beats, skinny bitches.” But, as many people my age would surely corroborate, the grinding trend is indicative of our overly sexualized culture that extends far beyond my college campus.
I’m looking forward to the Feminist Prom, sponsored by my school’s feminist organization. I just wish that my friends and I, both male and female, didn’t need a special event to dance to music that doesn’t reduce us to vehicles for sex and nothing more.
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