Feminism | Posted by Leah RD on 09/15/2009

Grinding

Grinding...chain?

Grinding...truly a subdued picture.

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.

the good old days?

the good old days?

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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  • Zoe @ at 6:18 pm, September 15th, 2009

    I’m one of those people who isn’t really a fan of grinding, and there are many of us.

    I’ve heard tales from the dance club down the block from my apartment where girls are practically knocked over by drunk men who are just thrusting themselves at them. Not cool. A lot of people don’t even think to ask if their partner minds. Guys tend to think that they have the right to grind up on any girl.

    But then again, I’m just not a fan of dancing, so maybe I’m biased.

  • Sophie @ at 11:32 pm, September 15th, 2009

    I completely agree and am shocked at the relevence to my life that this post has. I’m also a freshman at college and went to my first “rave” at a frat house last Friday. I was just dancing with my girl friend, having a good time despite the sweating bodies grinding everywhere when some guy grabs me around the waist from behind and starts grinding on me. This guy thought he had the right to do whatever he wanted, and part of me felt helpless to do or say anything, even though I felt uncomfortable.
    I would have appreciated it if he asked me to dance first…

  • Brooke @ at 11:33 pm, September 15th, 2009

    Grinding is just stupid. I guess I am more a part of the hippie music culture, so it is more like odd, white people, as far away from each other (even dancing alone) dancing.

  • Mark @ at 12:08 am, September 16th, 2009

    Well, that’s why the best (read only) clubs worth going to are of the gay persuasion.

  • Str8MaleFeminist @ at 9:22 am, September 16th, 2009

    I think this is an important observation. This kind of dancing leads to the question of consent and contact in other places as well. Similar contact has been an issue on public transit in several cities around the world. On the dance floor it has the fun name of “grinding.” On the subway it’s called groping. Other than venue, what is the difference?

  • K8 AH @ at 9:55 am, September 16th, 2009

    I LOVE to dance! Um Grinding has a time and a place, in public and with a stranger generally is not the time or place… Does this make me square? Possibly… And Julie, don’t sweat the “self-objectifying dance floor maven by night” thing. Dancing is very liberating and freeing. Dance Therapy is a major at some colleges. Columbia in Chicago has a huge Dance Therapy program. Also there is nothing wrong or anti-feminist with feeling sexy or appealing. I know that intellectually you understand that but it seems that in practice it causes you to feel guilty and even censor your actions and possibly fun in the process. I agree with you on both the grinding issue and the over abundance/over acceptance of sexist music issue; but don’t let it keep you from having a good time, on your own terms even if the environment is not what you would consider ideal.
    p.s. My husband and I (a feminist couple) make dance music. I think you would like it and find that while it is dance music, it is not really “grinding” music. Actually, we are about to tour in the Midwest again. Anyway, check us out http://www.beforedawnband.com or http://www.myspace.com/thebandbeforedawn
    Maybe we could come play at your college…

  • steph @ at 11:19 am, September 16th, 2009

    Amen, sister.
    I’d much rather swing, or step dance, or one of those crazy old(er) dances that were actually about DANCING than grind any day.

  • Seabiscuit @ at 1:18 pm, September 16th, 2009

    I hate when guys just come up behind me and start grinding on me. It makes me uncomfortable; I’m just trying to dance with my friends (not well, I may add, I’m a horrible dancer) and you, a random guy, feel like you can just rub yourself on my butt? No thanks.

    It is a little different now though, since I have a boyfriend. We tried grinding this weekend at the campus toga party. Let’s just say that we’re both such awkward people that even though it was kind of fun to do it, we laughed about it later and discussed how weird it was to be rubbing on each other in front of other people.

  • K8 AH @ at 2:14 pm, September 16th, 2009

    Sorry Leah, for some reason I thought Julie had written this one… So where I wrote Julie in my comment, mentally insert Leah.

  • hannahjdavies.com @ at 7:31 pm, September 16th, 2009

    couldn’t agree more… its not fair to have the right to be an opinionated femme by day and yet a glorified lapdancer by night…*shudder* indeed at 3OH!3 there…that is very rapey indeed

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  • Issy @ at 4:36 pm, September 22nd, 2009

    the difference between the dirty dancing appalled censorship brigade of yesteryear and the concern for your own personal boundaries is that the judgment from the previous generation of the youth is an expression of distaste towards what one or more people have decided they like and want to engage in. The morality brigade has no personal stake in the actions of anther past finding it immoral or distasteful. The issue here seems to be more about how grinding relates to you, whether or not you want to engage, than just thinking it shouldn’t be allowed to exist all together. Grind away, kids, just don’t do it on me

  • Issy @ at 4:42 pm, September 22nd, 2009

    Another disturbing trend of the previous generation is the idea that if you do decide to go to a dance, rave, whatever, expect to be grinded on. Not all that recently I was at a live music concert, and during a particularly dancey song I was grabbed by the cutie I was talking with all night and, positioning me on his thigh, he started grinding me up and down his leg like we were two pieces of wood and he was trying to start a fire.

    It escalated to the point where I thought it was best to leave. But upon relating this story to a friend of the family my parent’s age, she primly replied ‘Well, that’s what you have to expect when you go to places like that!’

    You know…music concerts. The idea that just showing up in public at a social event is some unspoken agreement to be grabbed, fondled, or handled in any way is part of the problem with grinding. The idea that ‘Well, you wouldn’t be here/dress that way if you didn’t want it’. You know, the old ‘She was asking for it’

  • Isa @ at 9:09 pm, September 23rd, 2009

    Eh. I don’t like people pelvic thrusting against me without permission. I’m shy. It’s weird. It annoys me and makes me uncomfortable.

    Happily, I don’t go to many ‘mainstream’ clubs or dances. I go to goth clubs, where people just dance because they like to dance and the focus is more on expression and creativity and rocking out than on… um, humping strangers’ legs. Also, I am a metalhead, so I’m in the mosh pit more than I’m in the club. I’m there to headbang and rock out just like the guys, and if someone touches me in a way I don’t like, I can get away with hitting him! Yay! Metal shows are great for that… in my experience, a) pushing and shoving are OK as long as you’re not really being an asshole, and b) most dudes there have some respect for their metal sisters, so if someone’s treating you like garbage, they consider that ‘being a real asshole’ and they’ll back you up.

  • drewsie @ at 3:09 pm, September 28th, 2009

    yes, grinding can be uncomfortable to look at sometimes or uncomfortable to be part of but dances can make me feel powerful. instead of feeling like i have to be the well behaved girl with a skirt to the knee, i can slut around a bit and not be judged as harshly as i might be on the walk of shame or sneaking into a closet durring a party. and if some drunk idiot comes up to me and tries to dance, i have no problem simply walking away or telling him i need to pee or something. i also just love loud music and sometimes see how deep i can get into the mosh and stand there waving my arms singing while everyone around me is making out. thats the best way to have a good time at a dance.

  • hkp @ at 10:57 pm, October 12th, 2009

    I resent that grinding is the “dance trend” of our generation. Maybe I’m severely antiquated, but I just don’t see how grinding is a dance at all. If I’m dancing with someone I want to see their face, hold hands, fit our feet around the same rhythm, or at the very least, employ a limb or two. Grinding is tiresome, out-of-context dry humping. What might be titillating in the bedroom looks lewd and above all lazy on the dance floor. It’s not that there’s no fancy footwork to it (the best dancing is an artless art) but that there is no room for creativity and movement beyond rub rub, up and down. It is physically limiting the way a dance should absolutely not be. And even more than most dances with roles of leader and follower (waltz, tango, the classics), grinding allows boys to effortlessly assume a position of power. This from a How to Grind guide aimed at middle to high school guys: “She may lean forward, put her hands on her knees, and start to move her butt up and down against you pelvic area. Just stand there while she does it, you can either keep your hands on her hips or place them on her back.” Just stand there? What kind of dance is this? Most guys are already shitty dancers, why are we making it easier for them? I too have definitely seen some dude texting or drinking while a girl is bent double gyrating her ass against him. Of course, we can all dance any way we want to, but it blows me that this particular “dance” has become so prevalent. Why can’t we have an actually danceable dance, and not just an elbaorate pretext for strangers to rub their crotches against your ass in public?

  • PatriarchySlayer @ at 5:38 am, October 14th, 2009

    I am of the opinion that we do need some better manners in clubs in the first place. Just because people go to a place that is loud, dark, and where people are drinking alcohol is no excuse for us to totally disregard our manners. We’re not animals afterall. I am completely capable of respecting someone’s wish to not grind on a perfect stranger.

    I also agree with some of the above posts in the sense that it feels great some days to get all sexy, and grind with someone. It does get boring though, of course. But I am always reminded of the sexy dancing in Dirty Dancing.

    So, a little respect, and a few more dance moves would be helpful. And less bitches, hos and sluts in songs would make me feel less like one.

  • Cecil @ at 3:20 pm, October 18th, 2009

    While “being” or “looking” sexy may feel empowering for women, is it really empowering? How is it empowering? This power is still being derived from within our patriarchal society. I mean, women feel powerful in this way because they are receiving the male gaze, and being hegemonically attractive or sexy in this way awards us male approval. But based on what? Our looks? So, we, as women, are receiving power from men, but men are still above us.
    Also, who determines what is sexy? Lingerie? Stripping? Grinding? Tight skirts? Make-up? Innuendos? I think we have a very narrow view of what “sexy” is and can be, and in turn it restricts our sexuality.

  • Michael @ at 3:34 pm, October 25th, 2009

    I’ve been having trouble fully appreciating the concept of grinding myself. I’m an avid dancer–I love to dance. At 19, I know swing, salsa, waltz, and a slew of other wonderful dances. Its not the sensuality–or the closeness–of grinding that I have an issue with…but that assertion most men make that “she wants to be rubbed up on.” I don’t pick up particularly well on unspoken communication at times, so its very difficult for me to risk it…and clearly–asking is for whatever reason out of the question, as it has gotten me a “no” most/all of the time. I’m currently trying to work out a way to dance with a girl in “hip hop” clubs that isn’t overly sexual..but that isn’t devoid of any sensuality. I also agree with your comment regarding the lyrics–terribly hard to NOT objective her when the song pretty much does just that FOR you. What makes this particularly hard for me to discern, is that I go to a university where a lot of people seem to take “religious morals” seriously–especially that tidbit of “no sex before marriage”–yet on the dance floor I see those girls grinding like there’s no tomorrow. Very well written piece, at least I think so. I stay positive in the knowledge that there ARE ways to look sensual/sexy as a couple that don’t entail making the girl look like a horny skank or the guy look like a sex-obsessed freak.

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  • Samuel W. @ at 9:21 pm, February 17th, 2010

    I obviously hate grinding since it’s only for dancing to crappy modern dance & hip-hop music I can’t stand in the first place (I’ve got a sinking feeling that 3OH!3 is no good, even though I haven’t heard them. Their name is not a good sign). I say, leave that stuff for when it really counts (by which I mean back at home, if you catch my drift here)and don’t try and force the sleazy behavior on female dancers at the discotheque.

  • Fauna @ at 3:06 pm, February 19th, 2010

    I remember attending several 7th and 8th grade school dances when I was younger… the whole gym seemed to turned into one huge grinding conga line, it was disgusting. A boy tried to grind my friends, and it freaked her out – she felt violated. I agree with the need for consent with these dances

  • Pb @ at 8:37 pm, February 20th, 2010

    I am sophomore in high school. In the past I have felt very torn about the issue of grinding.

    Ever since middle school I have been attending dances that involve grinding. Basically, I have gone through the same thought process that the author of this article has, and the reason I feel torn is because, on the one hand, it looks fun, and people say it’s fun, but then other times, it absolutely makes me sick to my stomach (I’m not exaggerating) to see these guys dry-humping girls’ asses, and it’s all the more bizarre that it is done to the beat of a song, simultaneously with many other couples.

    Also, Drewsie commented that grinding can be uncomfortable to look at. I think half of dancing is the idea that it is something you do for yourself, but the other part is that it is something that is done to be seen. Yes, some skilled dancers may be uncomfortable to look at while dancing, but grinding is uncomfortable to look at in a different way. It is uncomfortable to look at in the same way that it is uncomfortable to stand and watch people making out. Essentially, it is so sexual that I don’t think it is decent to do in public.

    I think that the idea that grinding is fun is not a valid excuse for it being acceptable. Lots of things are fun that you wouldn’t just start doing in public, like having sex. Fun does not necessarily equal OK!

    Also, I COMPLETELY agree with everything the author has said about the objectification of women in music. I I noticed that in middle school, all the dances where “inappropriate” music (aka music that did not disrespect women) was not played, but equally grindable songs (regarding their beat) were played, nobody grinded (ground…?). To me, this is proof that grinding is a direct result of the objectification of women in music, which in turn proves that grinding is a misogynistic practice.

    I think it’s ok for grinding to happen in private or at private parties- honestly, I don’t care what you do beyond the public realm.

    My main point: I don’t have a problem with sexuality. I have a problem with its exploitation, and I think grinding in public places (especially schools) constitutes as a misuse of sexuality.

    Oh, one last point (I know this comment is getting lengthy, haha). I think this is interesting. I asked the Chinese exchange student at my school if she found grinding to be a cultural shock, and she told me that she did, and that nobody in China dances like that. Also, I talked to someone who had lived in Mexico and attended an international school there, and nobody there grinded. So, as far as I know, it’s just a U.S. thing. Any thoughts as to why this is/what it means? Are teens of the U.S. over-sexualized?

  • Pb @ at 4:47 pm, February 23rd, 2010

    *Sorry, meant unskilled dancers may be uncomforatble to look at, not skilled dancers

  • Pb @ at 4:50 pm, February 23rd, 2010

    Once again, correcting a typo: I meant to say that the music that disrespected women would be considered inappropriate, when I mentioned middle school dances.

  • DDChristensen @ at 9:35 pm, June 6th, 2010

    god bless this blog post. i’m a junior in college, and ever since 7th grade, grinding has disturbed me. it’s the reason I started dancing every dance i could find: ballroom dances, social latin dances, swing dances, blues dancing… just anything to have an alternative to grinding. I literally find grinding to be a curse. Dancing by one’s self became popular around the 60s, along with the growth of rock ‘n’ roll. i guess somewhere along the line we wanted to dance with the girls again, but had forgotten how to. no swing music to swing to; too much self-consciousness to try to do an actual dance ( i remember being called gay, dumb, w/e, for doing anything beside grinding).

    What ever happened to rites of passage? A boy becoming a man? Shouldn’t society demand that he knows how to treat a lady well? Shouldn’t that include knowing how to dance without embarrassing the western hemisphere?

  • Ruth @ at 1:06 pm, July 29th, 2010

    If someone touches you without permission, that is molestation. You can either kick them in the balls or call the cops. Why would anyone call that dancing? For sure, don’t continue to do it. You have the right to be respected. Your body is yours. It does not belong to some drunken idiot who wants to rub your butt with his genitals. Stop going to that kind of club and if it’s a school dance, where is the school board and principal in this? Good thing I’m not in school anymore or I’d be starting a revolution over this.
    Respect your body and demand that guys do, too.

  • Nora @ at 12:09 am, September 8th, 2011

    This is a great post. It is something that truly needs to be discussed–not because teachers and administrators find it ‘dirty,’ but because of all of the underlying connotations it has, as you mentioned.

    I used to be a fan of grinding when I was in high school; I felt sexy and cool when doing it because everyone else did it, and (I thought) it gave me some power to turn a guy on.

    However, I am now in college, and have been enlightened to feminism, activism, etc. I don’t know what came first–my commitment to feminism, or me realizing that grinding was just gross, sweaty, the worst kind of sexy, and really did not give me power over the guy at all. He had the power over me because he just stood there while I did all the work and tired out my legs.

    It took me awhile, but I have learned to be comfortable dancing solo or dancing with others without grinding (techno is great for this). Some guys are still surprised when I tell them i don’t grind, but they get over it if they really want to get to know me.

    More people need to talk about grinding and its implications, and how comfortable they are doing it.

    Thanks for bringing this to light.

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