Feminism | Posted by Kate S on 02/3/2010

International Night for Dummies

yay diversity.

yay diversity and stereotypes

This post occurs at the same boarding school where girls have to wear pastel dresses for commencement. Ah, the bright future that lies ahead of us as the esteemed, Ivy-Leagued educated CEO’s wives…

Another tradition (among many) that irritates me is International Night. This is an evening event hosted by yours truly, ASB, where the student body celebrates its diversity through ethnic dinners, performances, and finally, dance. The motivation behind the event is truly commendable: a campus fraught with students from various regions around the world takes benefit of its diversity and celebrates it. However, when applied, it becomes a crow-pleaser—a victim of superficiality.

As an avid critic of school events, I have never attended this event since my freshmen year (a traumatizing event we won’t get to…) but in order to be a good friend, I decided to go since many of my friends were performing. What greeted me as I entered the supposed “microcosm of the world” were pathetic backdrops and amateur decorations: the Sri Lanka section had exotic drapes of different pastel-slash-neon colors and the China section had the famous lanterns. I don’t know a lot about the cultures represented last night, but I am pretty certain that the atmosphere was, at best, quasi. The next irritating aspect was the food. Each booth had catered food from decent restaurants around the campus, but an absence of truly representative food made the menus from each booths all identical.

After meandering around aimlessly, I finally sat down for the performances, completely unaware that I would be even more disturbed. There were some great moments: many student performers took their responsibilities seriously and maintained poise throughout the show. The Spanish folk song, Chinese traditional dance, and Bollywood dance were superb! The majority of performers, however, were giggling, indifferent, and ditzy. The girls in Chinese sword dance were giggling, desperate to make eye-contact with their man-friends in the audience; some of them looked like they didn’t want to be there (then why are you wasting my time?). The next was the Hawaiian hula. Strategically, they had the regular-hula-practitioner at the front to charm the audience, hoping that their inability to shake their pelvises would be undermined by the leader’s grace. But I saw through that.

typical hula dancing outfit

typical hula dancing outfit. sextastic.

First, the boys were not fully dressed: they were shirtless, as if to flaunt their pubescent sexuality and they had forgotten to tuck in their underpants (I never knew that hula dance outfits consisted of blue checkered underpants). Then the girls. Oh, how visible it was that they girls were lured by the revealing aspect of the hula outfit. Instead of paying attention to perfecting their dance moves, they were busy pulling their skirts up. But alas, this was only the beginning.

What followed was an Israeli hip-hop where the group’s mentality was that if you play an Israeli music despite the very-American sweatpants and very-American moves, the dance can be officially categorized as “Israeli.” Not only was the dance pathetic to look at (since physically-challenged person like I could imitate), but the attitude of the group, frankly, infuriated me. Girls stood with their hair down and flirted surreptitiously (but visibly) with their partners and the whole purpose of the dance was not in conveying the Israeli culture, but rather in presenting how popular they were in school.

Perhaps I was being too critical, but in my mind nothing about the evening was international—it was pathetic.. I commend the school’s efforts to take advantage of the diversity but it has clearly failed to add some gravity to the event. These are people’s cultures we are trying to understand through festivities. Chinese culture has more than Panda Express and the Israeli hip hop is not about the sweats. Not to mention the implicit gender discrepancies. It was so evident that the girls had joined to flaunt their bodies and boys to have access to them (I guess the need to flirt and mate is an international theme). The entirety of the evening undermined the richness of cultures and amplified how stupid my peers are.

My conclusion: there was a reason in never attending this event for the past three years.

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  • Vee @ at 4:08 pm, February 3rd, 2010

    My secondary school had a similar night. There lack of diversity was so disappointing. Africa was considered a single country and the only other culture explicitly represented was India. Everything else was shambles and undefined with tags just thrown at the performances for the sake of appearing to have a wide range of cultures. Like you, I commended my school for trying but the lack of diversity made me wish they hadn’t tried in the first place.

  • Zoe @ at 10:24 am, February 4th, 2010

    I used to work at an all-girl’s school in the kitchen while in high school. They used to have an International Night too. I think their International Night was a little more genuine. The school had a good international population so all the booths for the different countries were run by the girls who prepared the food and decorated the booth accordingly. Unfortunately, since I only got to see the kitchen, I have no clue what else International Night involved but I can say at least from what I saw, it was pretty cool!

  • Steph @ at 4:07 pm, February 4th, 2010

    Umm, not that I don’t think your thoughts aren’t important, and they are, but they smack to me of judging others for not being ‘authentic’ enough. So what if the Israeli group did hip-hop? Hip-hop has been part of israeli youth culture since the early nineties. DJ Liron Teeni and Subliminal spring to mind (also, check out Subliminal – he’s got some english songs, and they’re not bad).

    Again, this just felt to me like you were policing these people’s performances for not being true to what you, as an outsider, thought they should be. And that doesn’t sit well with me.

  • KS @ at 9:11 pm, February 5th, 2010

    Hi Steph,

    I wish I could describe the scene to you. As a musician myself, I value performances of all kinds and forms. What disturbed me about the Israeli dance was not in its lack of authenticity but in its lack of sincerity. The “dancers” were visibly apathetic and more concerned with fixing their hairs. I walked in, hoping to learn more about the Israeli culture (since I have absolutely no idea about it) and walked out, rather confused; in fact, even my friends from the region were irritated.

    KS

  • Cristina @ at 10:33 am, February 8th, 2010

    True, some of these women might have been trying to flaunt their bodies, using the cultural costumes in this event. But calling a hula outfit “sextastic” is a little much … Indian and Hawaiian societies take pride in those cultural outfits that they have had for hundreds of years. If you don’t want to see women shakin’ their thing, cool me neither, but don’t disrespect Hawaiian heritage.

    However, I definitely do agree that the women may have taken advantage of the fact that the hula dance outfit consists of a bikini top and straw . . .

  • Rey Bosket @ at 12:55 pm, February 10th, 2010

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  • clai @ at 7:48 am, February 16th, 2010

    My school (feminist catholic girls school) pulled off cultural events with sincerity, and I think that was because they reflected the diversity of the school. The dances were lead by young women who were actually involved in the culture, plus their friends. I think schools should encourage a student’s interest in other cultures, the cultures of their peers and their culture of origin (if they aren’t already aware)before events like this are successful.

  • Micah Dormane @ at 3:45 am, January 14th, 2011

    You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be actually something that I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and extremely broad for me. I’m looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the hang of it!

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