Midweek Media: Sexualized Little Girls, Take Two

In May of last year, Jenn made a post talking about a YouTube video of some children dancing to the recent hit “Single Ladies.”

(The above link features a bunch of kids dancing in tap pants and sports-bra-like tops. It’s a clever routine — they keep the Fosse influences pretty obvious, and the opening pose directly references Charlie’s Angels)

Here’s a quote from one of the original news articles:

“People have always admired young ballerinas in scanty costumes,” says Friedman, “but those performances weren’t explicitly sexual — there was an aesthetic that didn’t remind you of being in bed.” That’s not the case with the this dance, she says.

Cory Miller, father of one of the girls, defended the dance on “Good Morning America,” saying the girls’ performance was “completely normal for dancing” and just “doing something they completely love to do.”

FIRST OF ALL, that’s just wrong. Ballet WAS explicitly sexual. That’s why abonnes “stalkeddancers. But anyways…

During the Hathor convo, I highlighted that it’s not the moves themselves or the bodies performing those moves that make the dance seem so “sexy.” Another commentator was really insistent that it WAS the move, and that hip-hop/urban pop dance styles were “too sexy” for little girls. What really irritated the shit out of me is that the conversation at points veered dangerously close to body-shaming, with this same poster insisting that it’s praise-worthy to avoid teaching girls how to move with EVERY part of their body… because why? Hips are automatically “sexy?” How body-shaming, to imply that children (especially girls) have to manage those parts of their body that might jiggle in a provacative way. How slut-shaming, to blame a child for the reaction her body causes in adults, to clutch your pearls over a kid dancing because she’s got a body she’s having fun in.

Anyways, I found this:

It looks like at least two of the dancers from the “Single Ladies” vid, doing a jazz routine to a remake of “My Boyfriend’s Back.” Okay, are you noticing what I’m noticing? The same type of moves, set to a song with ickier lyrics, but no internet furor over kids being too sexy?

Again, same type of moves, different song genre, no internet panic over girls being too sexy for their age. I think part of the response to that “Single Ladies” video had to do with the connotations of the song being a BLACK song by a BLACK singer in a BLACK genre, that the link between black female bodies and sex is strong enough that the idea of a group of white appearing girls getting sucked into all that blackness caused a panic over white feminine innocence, and that that’s a problem for us as adults and anti-racist activists to dismantle, not something for a bunch of kids taking a dance class to get blamed for.

Comments

  1. says

    Yes, great analysis of a lot of stuff that just didn’t even occur to me when I watched the original video.

    I think my main problem with both performances is the lingerie. Lingerie is designed exclusively to signal that a woman is available for sexualizing (which is why men can’t ever wear it without being suspected of Teh Gayz). This is a very specific connotation. If they left off the ruffles and stockings, you’d have equally revealing costumes to show off the moves, but not the lingerie “sex me, baby!” signal. To ME, that would make a huge difference.

    I agree that the moves are similar enough that we should expect the same outcry about both videos. I do find the moves in the newer video sexual -not because I’m free of racist associations about dance moves, because I’m not, and that’s something I learned from our earlier discussion. I just mean that tossing in a few ballet moves didn’t happen to “legitimize” the performance for me in any way, because ballet has always struck me as highly objectifying of women (like most everything else in this culture).

    But until Maria started talking about it, I’m sure I would have said without blinking that hip gyrations were more sexual than those crotch-revealing splits ballerinas do.

    Like I said, I see both performances as the equivalent of little boys doing Chippendale performances in Chippendale costumes (that being the closest thing to a male equivalent of lingerie’s “sex me, baby!” signal that I can think of). Where is that “adorable” performance? Carefully SO NOT HAPPENING because the last thing we want to teach our boys is to be sex objects. But girls? We can’t even conceive of a way to make them look adult that doesn’t involve making them resemble LOLZSexObjects.

    I am still thinking a lot of this through, so feel free to rip apart my remarks to reveal any latent racism in them.

  2. says

    You’re right. The same moves are appearing in all three videos. *shrug* Not much else to say there. If it looks like racism, and it smells like racism…

    Jennifer Kesler,

    The ruffles in the first video look more like a ballerina’s tutu to me, but I can also see a lingerie influence. However, I don’t understand why you say stockings are lingerie. Stockings are worn in a lot of other contexts. Two times in my life when I myself have worn them were in my Catholic school uniform and my Irish dance costume. And while I understand that these roles are fetishized and sexualized by our society, I don’t think it’s the clothing that’s doing it.

    I guess I’m just hesitating at the idea that little girls wearing stockings is sexual, as opposed to fashionable or even just practical. I vaguely remember having different stockings for my dances depending whether the venue was indoor or outdoor, and if outdoor, depending on the time of year. So I think they serve a purpose beyond fashion. But even if they don’t, why jump to lingerie as the inspiration instead of other influences?

  3. says

    Sylvia Sybil,

    Because the stockings come halfway up the thigh, and hetero men I’ve known and talked to consider that an explicit sexual signal. They don’t feel the same about waist-high hosiery, which stays up better and rendered thigh high hosiery unnecessary. I believe their assumption is that thigh highs are purely decorative, and since they are decorative unmentionables, they are being sexually pandered to when they see them.

    Now, I’m just answering your question honestly, not arguing that this makes my point right, nor that what I’ve heard from guys is universal, nor that what het men think necessarily should matter.

    And the reason my mind “jumps” to lingerie instead of other inspirations is because when society was trying to teach me to see everything the way white men do, since that’s the only valid way to look at the world, one thing I learned was that grown men see it as only slightly naughty to have sex with an underage girl, and I think they would see this as propping up that sort of confusing gray area in which many people conclude Samantha Gaimer wasn’t “rape-raped.”

    I do a lot of basing my concerns not on how things look to ME, but how I’ve heard them interpreted by men, and in particular, especially predatory men, which I’ve had the misfortune of knowing more than my fair share of.

  4. Maria says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    Also, Jen — do the stockings really come that high? in the first one they look like they’re knee-highs and in the second over the knee.

    I’m only asking because I keep REMEMBERING the stockings being higher and then being surprised they’re not.

  5. says

    They come up above the knee in the first one, and thigh-high in the second one. If they’re sexual because of associations with little girls, I’m not sure what that does with the point I was offering, LOL. Getting so confused here…

    I keep trying to dig deeper into my instinctive reactions, and I’m getting that there’s some massive enforced gender essentialism going on when girls are presented this way and boys are not. I think gender essentialism is at the heart of rape culture, so even when it’s arguably harmless in a particular context, it’s still part of the problem in the larger context. What I still keep coming back to is: where are the little Chippendales? And I think if you asked parents of boys in dance troops about that, they’d react in horror because:

    –It might make boys effeminiate/gay!
    –It might get them beaten up!
    –It might get them raped by a child molester!

    But ABSOLUTELY EVERY BIT OF THAT IS TRUE FOR THE GIRLS, TOO. No matter your cis-gender, being “feminine” earns you loathing, disrespect and a higher chance of violence and in particular sexual violence. How come it’s good for girls?

  6. Patrick McGraw says

    I’m just agog at the claim that ballet wasn’t explicitly sexual. I invite the writer of that article to actually WATCH a ballet performance. Maybe Giselle.

  7. says

    Okay, I’m obviously struggling with this, so one more try.

    People “protect” boys from feminine behaviors and cues, even if the boys really want to play in that world, because they recognize that being feminine puts boys at risk in a sexist society. Most of them never seem to think for a second that being feminine also puts GIRLS at risk in a sexist society. And even when they do get it, they shrug, “Oh, well” and accept it as what nature/God intended.

    I think one of my most radical and deeply held beliefs is something I’ve never quite put into words before today: if you force/pressure me to be “feminine”, you must hate me. You must want me to be treated as second class, raped and kicked around all my life, because you KNOW this is where being feminine leads, yet you refuse to question your flawed assumption that “that’s just how it is.”

    How exactly that factors into the videos, I’m not quite sure. It may be irrelevant upon analysis. I’m just digging down to the stuff in my mind that’s entirely visceral about why this bugs me, and trying to put it into intellectual terms.

  8. says

    I think anytime someone says, “I oppose the sexualization of children! So they should stop doing things that sexualize them until they have boobs! And then it will be their fault at last!” I think they sound like a grown-up from Daria, though I might just be channeling Jane Lane’s bitterness and sarcasm in my response to them.

    Honestly, to me, the ruffles in the first video are the only thing that makes the girls’ outfits not look markedly like “Girls’ Dance Uniforms” in my head (it’s normal, particularly in competitive sports like dance, cheer, and gymnastics, for girls to show a good amount of skin to display the physical mastery attained in the moves being performed). Red/black as a color combination is often culturally loaded as a sexual mix (WHICH IS STUPID BECAUSE THOSE ARE COLORS), and if, say, the outfits had been all black, like Beyoncé’s leotard in the Single Ladies video, or if the color scheme had been black/white, people would have reacted differently. Which is hilariously horrible, but also interesting from a color theory pov.

    And the connotation with lace and sexuality is also weird, because I know lace is considered this very feminine thing, but I haven’t actually worn lace stuff except for church/as a child (my brassieres, they are boring). It’s probably because it’s fairly labor-intensive stuff to make and has ties with the Catholic church (according to Wikipedia), which makes it ~luxurious~, I guess, and culturally/racially marked even before social acceptability waned for lace in menswear. Even lingerie started out with freedom of movement vs. heavy and bulky undergarments (function over form, though form was part of the equation), so lace would have had to be re-introduced into the picture for most women.

    …Which is besides the point, because I think they’re actually wearing tulle, which is much cheaper, but seems to be being confused for lace in the context of the kids’ outfits being “sexy”? Because when I think “tulle” I think tutus, crinolines, and itching. Anyone who’s ever worn tulle knows it is the opposite of sexy and alluring. But red and black makes it sexy where yellow and black would make an adorable bumblebee, so idek, man.

  9. says

    Maria,

    I remembered the costumes being more risqué, but I think that was just the reaction to them? Because I could see someone thinking the girls’ tops were designed to imitate corsetry, but from what I can see here, it looks like ruffling under buttons, which is a standard (cute!) design, and the tap shorts and tutu with knee-high/juuuust over-the-knee on some of the girls socks are also fairly tame. Maybe some of it’s the variable sheerness of the socks on the dancers? But that just has to do with skin tone and how hard children pulled up their socks, so, uh.

    Also, thigh highs are considered decorative now mostly because if you choose thigh highs instead of knee highs, you are wearing or suggesting clothing that reveals your legs (and therefore “invites” objectification), and if you choose thigh highs instead of full stockings, you “invite” moral scrutiny and objectification over… that maybe you don’t feel like having a progressively sagging layer of nylon in your crotch? There are plenty of reasons I want to have “easy access” to my panties when I wear a dress, but most of them involve the commode, y’all. Also, a general underclothes fetish (see also: garters). The impression I got from the dancers, however, was more of the knee-high/children’s socks imagery– which, to be fair, is culturally sexualized imagery, which is messed up– and a way to extend/break up/draw attention to the leg line of dancers.

    Jennifer Kesler,

    One of the things about heteropatriarchal sexualization is that to sexually objectify someone, you are at the same time dehumanizing them, which is different than victimization or endangerment because you can only victimize or socially endanger someone if they are a full person to begin with. There tends to be an outcry against children’s dance, cheer, gymnastics, and pageantry because way more people are bothered by those concepts– and rightly so– when imposed upon children. However, instead of focusing on a culture that self-enforces those standards and norms upon its populace in whole (since anybody can internalize those messages), the scrutiny tends to be placed on children’s parents when they aren’t yet considered sexual beings, and on children themselves around or just after puberty, depending on racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic status.

    That’s the impression I got, anyway.

  10. Maria says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    On the one hand I see what you’re saying about the forced femininity. I really, really do. Gender essentialism is a building block of rape culture. However, I think that with girls’ dance, there’s a lot of social narratives at play, including race, ethnicity, and class.

    Plus, also, there’s the thing about girls’ enjoyment of their bodies as dangerous or bad: in the first clip (the SL one) they look like they’re having such fun! It kinda makes me think of that LoGI post a few weeks ago analyzing that pic of the woman accusing Herman Cain of sexual harassment, where she’s happy and just back from horseback riding. Good women/girls don’t show honest enjoyment, don’t smile big or act goofy by singing along with their choreagraphy. I think that’s why it’s easier to see that “Fragile” clip as more “artistic” or “age appropriate” because it doesn’t look like she’s having fun.

  11. M.C. says

    Jennifer Kesler:
    No matter your cis-gender, being “feminine” earns you loathing, disrespect and a higher chance of violence and in particular sexual violence. How come it’s good for girls?

    I’ll argue with that. Being “feminine” doesn’t earn you loathing and a higher chance of violence – just a different reasoning for that loathing and violence. If you’re a tomboyish girl, you’ll get hating for not conforming to gender norms, people will suspect you for being a lesbian and you’ll be in danger of “corrective rape”. That’s one of the reasons why military women are in greater danger of being raped: because they dare doing things that are considered being masculine.
    Not matter how you behave, if you’re not born with a penis, you’ve already lost.

  12. says

    M.C.,

    I don’t think that’s quite correct. I can’t find any suggestion that lesbians are more likely to be raped by men than are women in general. Women in the military, and women in college, are more likely to be raped than women in general, and these are often clearly feminine, hetero women. It’s not that they’re tomboyish (many aren’t), it’s that they’re invading a space that has been male dominated. Young women going to college mainly to meet a husband are not at less risk of being raped than women who go to college to get degrees that will help them kick ass in the corporate world.

    I would also like to hear more about one aspect of “corrective rape” – does it happen to butch lesbians and other lesbians that hetero men don’t find attractive? Or just to the lesbians men WISH were hetero, because they’re conventionally attractive? That might shed some light on whether it’s really the gender transgression in general that bothers them, or just the fact that something they want is being denied them. If the former, then you’re right. If the latter, which is what I suspect based on what I know of NPD, then I’m right.

    But I would also suggest you consider the fact that “femininity” cues are ALL about appearing weak and submissive. In my experience of speaking with authority and expecting men to take me as seriously as they take each other, the non-misogynist majority responds to the male cue as if I were a man, and takes me seriously, while the studied misogynists just sort of panic and ignore me because they can’t process what’s happening.

  13. Maria says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    Jenn, rates of LGBT sexual violence are a little higher than for hetero identified people

    http://www.libraryindex.com/pages/2059/Rape-Sexual-Harassment-Around-World-RAPE-AMONG-LESBIANS-GAY-MEN.html

    and hate crimes against LGBT-identified ppl often includes sexual violence.

    Also, where are you getting that it’s mostly femme women in the army getting raped? From what I heard during DADT’s repeal, one of the ways sexual violence in the military was tacitly supported was that butch queer women couldn’t report a rape or their presumed straightness would get questioned… plus, this:

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2010/11/25/judge-lesbians-military-turn-straight/

    IDK, I’m just thinking of the thread from a couple weeks ago on Ripley’s costume choice, when in the comments we started talking about how agitated people get when mil-women start doing stuff that’s not omg!feminine…

    http://thehathorlegacy.com/open-thread-sigourney-weavers-aliens-costume-choice/

    eta to correct spelling and because words disappeared, wtf.

  14. Maria says

    This really spoke to me, and seemed really relevant:

    Perhaps it’s time to float another theory: That some rapists rape because they see women (or gays, or trans people, or other groups who are marginalized) who have autonomy over their sexuality, and they just really, really hate them for that. They seek to return control of that sexuality to its rightful owners—heterosexual men.
    http://youdontlooklikeafeminist.tumblr.com/post/2132608906/deconstructing-rape-myths-on-short-skirts-on

  15. says

    Jenn, rates of LGBT sexual violence are a little higher than for hetero identified people

    http://www.libraryindex.com/pages/2059/Rape-Sexual-Harassment-Around-World-RAPE-AMONG-LESBIANS-GAY-MEN.html

    and hate crimes against LGBT-identified ppl often includes sexual violence.

    I’m aware of those, but unless I’m missing something, it still doesn’t tell us how often the rapist’s motive is “I’m being denied something I want” and how often it’s “I’m going to teach that transgressor a lesson.” Which, unless I’m missing something, is relevant to the question of whether femininity puts women, as well as men, at risk.

    Also, where are you getting that it’s mostly femme women in the army getting raped?

    I said “many aren’t” – no intention of implying that “most” aren’t. I just mean that, as far as I know, being tomboyish and joining the military does not *increase* your chance of being victimized, as it would if MC’s theory is correct (that un-feminine cues put women at greater risk than feminine cues do). I find it hard to imagine that women who join the military but wear makeup and dresses and giggle whenever they’re off duty are at less risk of being raped or harassed than women who join the military and tend to look and act tomboyish when off duty. If you have better info to that specific question, please let me know!

    IDK, I’m just thinking of the thread from a couple weeks ago on Ripley’s costume choice, when in the comments we started talking about how agitated people get when mil-women start doing stuff that’s not omg!feminine…

    It’s difficult to tease out all the overlapping and intersecting prejudices. Here’s my attempt to simplify it:

    –Being feminine puts boys at risk, and being masculine removes that risk
    –Being feminine also puts girls at risk, in that feminine=weak,submissive.good target for rape etc.
    –Being masculine doesn’t erase the risk for girls, because we are denied any option that would relieve us of the increased risks that go with being feminine.

    So, being masculine can certainly put a woman at risk of being “punished” for gender transgression, but I believe it’s not being submissive and weak and available to men for sex enough that gets women “correctively raped” as we discussed in my recent article.

    Rape culture has multiple motives and many different fronts, and I think it’s important to sort them out. Otherwise, we couldn’t answer basic questions of this early feminism we’re in, like, “Is it more important to police women and prevent them making choices that might support rape culture, such as being strippers, or more important to let women have a choice and sort out other factors later?”

    I mean, there is NO disagreeing with the point that just being perceived as female puts you at risk, but what I want to get at is how that overlaps with us being expected to ACT like easy victims to reinforce the idea that we deserve to be at risk, and being punished if we don’t behave in ways that invite victimization. By no means do I mean “deserve” victimization – I’m just saying, all else being equal, a victimizer would choose the person who seems the most weak, submissive, flighty.

  16. says

    Maria:
    This really spoke to me, and seemed really relevant:

    Perhaps it’s time to float another theory: That some rapists rape because they see women (or gays, or trans people, or other groups who are marginalized) who have autonomy over their sexuality, and they just really, really hate them for that. They seek to return control of that sexuality to its rightful owners—heterosexual men.
    http://youdontlooklikeafeminist.tumblr.com/post/2132608906/deconstructing-rape-myths-on-short-skirts-on

    Uh, okay. Harassers who would never rape anybody profile significantly differently than rapists, so I feel like we’re mixing apples and oranges. Male harassers may indeed be focused on returning sexual choices to hetero men only. Rapists don’t see themselves as part of society. They are entirely self-interested. If they are irritated by someone’s sexual autonomy, they see it explicitly as “she has no right to deny me what I want” even if they phrase it as “they have no right to deny us what we want” to gain solidarity with non-rapists who share their concerns about women getting all uppity, but in a more general “what is society coming to” way. It kind of comes out to the same thing, because we’ve allowed rapist types to shape the society we’re all stuck with now, but if you were trying to figure out how to, say, teach parents not to raise rapist types in the first place, it’s a distinction you would need to understand.

  17. John says

    Um. (TW: description of events leading up to a rape, brief mention of the rape, then the events that followed. Attempted suicide, corrective rape, and violence.) http://balladofthebullet.tumblr.com/post/12075719826/horror-of-south-africas-corrective-rape
    “We’ve failed to make it understood that there is a price for rape. Sexism is still deeply embedded here. There is still a strong sense among men that they have power over women, women’s bodies and there’s also a strong sense that there’s not going to be consequences because most often there are no consequences.”
    Yeah. Really fucking common, actually.

    As for the videos: I have a problem with the move at 1:47-48 in the first video because they’re kinda highlighting their boobs, in my opinion. Other than that, I don’t think that the little girls were doing anything other than having fun, despite my ingrained knee-jerk reaction at the rest. (Which I know is bad, and am trying to fix.)

  18. says

    John,

    John, that’s the exact article I talked about a few weeks ago. I’m not sure what your point is, but I explained in the other article that research on rapists indicates they don’t have even a twisted sense of public spirit. They are completely narcissistic. They will USE cries of “what about the children” and so on to gain support, but really, they just think they’re entitled to everything, and consider sex a most effective way to torture someone who challenges that entitlement in some way.

    To everyone: can we bring this around to the videos, because it’s really not clear to me what’s being argued. Are we debating whether one video is more “sexy” than the other and, if so, what that says about internalized racist ideas about music and dance? Or are we debating whether anything other than racism could have prompted my initial article which claimed the girls were being sexualized (but did not attempt to blame any individuals)? Or something else? I’m really confused and exhausted by this thread.

  19. says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    I don’t think it’s so much femininity that puts people of both genders at risk so much as a culture that reinforces a patriarchal hierarchy, penalizes Otherness (gender, gender-role, and sexuality included in that), and normalizes sexualization, violence, and sexualized violence as something to be consumed and something that is acceptable or promoted to be acted out upon “lower” ranks as well as non-conformists to those cultural standards. Femininity being associated with weakness depends on what aspects of the “feminine” you’re talking about– because there is a lot of performative weakness/strength and emphasis on perceived gender differences (including various kinds of strength) ingrained in performative gender tropes.

    Furthermore, I think to imply that femininity or lack thereof puts a person at more or less risk of victimhood is phrased in a really victim-blaming way– when you’re talking about the motives of violent and sexual attackers, cultural context and what they’ve been “trained” to feel entitled to/resent (or not) may play a role, but the choices made (or not) by their victims are a separate matter.

    To bring this back to the dancers, the differences I noticed between the three videos were that the outfits worn in the Single Ladies performance were only more “sexual” in the color scheme of red/black and inconsistent sheerness in the knee socks and armwarmers, particularly because in the My Boyfriend’s Back video, the girls’ legwarmers are higher (midthigh) and more adorned, and the girl’s outfit in the Fragile video shows significantly more skin. All three videos’ choreography utilizes similar dance and body movements, and similar levels of physical mastery, flexibility, and strength– but since Single Ladies is racially marked music, the “type” of moves were discussed in the context of racialized “types” of dance being inherently more sexual in nature, which Maria pointed out was a logically flawed argument in the first post. Additionally, Single Ladies’ lyrics, imo, are less provocative than those of My Boyfriend’s Back, and, in the original response to the video, the song was labeled by some people as inappropriate for children to dance to in the first place.

    If you look at the cultural responses to all three videos, and similar performances in each vein, the difference either boils down to the semiotics of “sexual” clothing, and how that is being projected onto children– which has little to do with the amount of skin being shown and everything to do with specific cultural markers in clothing placement– and the type of music the girls are listening to, and enjoying, while they dance. While that does tie in to a lot of kinds of intersectional oppressions, including racialized and classed, it can play into anti-feminine and/or anti-Queer sentiment separately or at the same time. Quantifying suffering is a quick way to get into a game of Oppression Olympics, and no one ever wins. I think it says something that in a discussion of adult sexuality being superimposed onto children’s sport– and, keep in mind, this is not a discussion we would be having over gymnastics or martial arts, because the cultural connotations of dance have always been sexualized– the conversation was derailed into an argument on violence, sexual violence, and hate crime.

    Just my 2c.

  20. says

    Okay. Sigh.

    Gena: Furthermore, I think to imply that femininity or lack thereof puts a person at more or less risk of victimhood is phrased in a really victim-blaming way

    All discussion of abuser/killer/villain motives tends to sound that way, but that only reflects how victim-blaming their thinking is, and how very like a serial killer is our entire society. I agree that one has to be careful, but I did try to make it clear that *I* was at no point blaming anyone other than a rape society for anything.

    Gena: Single Ladies is racially marked music, the “type” of moves were discussed in the context of racialized “types” of dance being inherently more sexual in nature, which Maria pointed out was a logically flawed argument in the first post.

    Again, I thought I did NOT make that argument, unless I said something that is either being misunderstood or reveals something unconscious that I’m still not comprehending. (I did re-read the post yesterday.) I found it sexualizing. I find the other two sexualizing as well.

    And it sounds like what you guys are telling me is that my opinion that ANY of this is sexualizing is wrong.

    Maybe my lack of familiarity with dance is making the costumes look more “sexy cues” than they are in the context of the dance world. But to me it’s a bit like the clothes made for very little girls which are designed to look like adult sexy evening clothes – sheer blouses, weirdly low cut stuff, etc. It’s not “cute.” I think I could totally see these girls’ moves in a unitard, and while a unitard is tight, it’s not part of any porn fetish I know of, like the thigh-high/knee-high stockings.

    I also found a lot of clothes for women in the 90s to be very sexualizing. In the 80s, we didn’t wear fitted tops, and then suddenly every top carefully cradled your breasts, showing off every curve of them. For women who wanted to dress that way, that’s absolutely fine by me, and if anyone gets any nasty ideas from it, that’s on the nasty idea haver. But *I* would have liked a choice about not showing everyone every curve of my breasts because that’s just not my style. Suddenly, I was being sexualized by the wardrobe.

    And I guess that’s how this makes me feel: if I were 8 now and wanted to be a dancer, I guess I’d have to like showing everyone not just my moves but my body. Women are supposed flaunt their bodies and hide their brains, and I’d greatly prefer it the other way around because I’m far more intellectual than physical. I see these girls as being pushed into letting others enjoy their bodies, not just enjoying their own bodies (which is great).

    And that’s really the best I can put it, and I’m done. I’m still listening, but I don’t think I can explain it any better, and I don’t feel like everything I’ve said has been understood, but I know that cuts both ways, too (I am trying).

  21. M.C. says

    Jennifer Kesler: I just mean that, as far as I know, being tomboyish and joining the military does not *increase* your chance of being victimized, as it would if MC’s theory is correct (that un-feminine cues put women at greater risk than feminine cues do).

    You misunderstood me. My point was that dressing and acting more feminine doesn’t put you in greater risk of violence. Because if that were true, then dressing and acting more masculin would lessen your risk of violence. Which it doesn’t. Because any woman who doesn’t confirm to gender norms is in danger of getting punished for that.

  22. says

    M.C.: My point was that dressing and acting more feminine doesn’t put you in greater risk of violence. Because if that were true, then dressing and acting more masculin would lessen your risk of violence.

    You’re still missing my point, which is that there are two different things going on here. (1) Being masculine IS a reliable way to lessen one’s risk and (2) women aren’t allowed to use it, because we’re not allowed to lessen our risks in any manner (which is why the “don’t get yourselves raped” lists are doubly absurd and cruel). Rapability has been assigned to women, and feminine cues are designed to reinforce the perception that we are rapable. Consider the very plausible theory some posters here taught me: that the reason women are on average so much smaller than men (much moreso than most other female mammals) is that girls were denied food so that they WOULD grow up smaller, and the ones who survived were the small ones who could live on fewer calories, so now it’s bred in.

    All I’m saying is: from a very long time ago, the human species has been working hard to make sure half of it was convenient to prey on. Femininity is the by-product of that. Men who engage in femininity are reminders that it’s a social construct, and that really bothers people who can’t tolerate the idea that gender (not sex) isn’t biological.

    Women who engage in masculinity… well, in my experience, this isn’t as carefully policed, but others can speak up. I have big breasts and long hair and am short, so I couldn’t look masculine if I tried. But I TALK like a man (authoritatively, with the expectation I will be attended). I write like a man. I put off a lot of calculated male cues that are more subtle than a masculine look, and I have never been sexually harassed and I tend to get treated with respect by men, generally. NOW, VERY IMPORTANT: I don’t know if this is cause or correlation. Maybe it’s pure luck that I haven’t been harassed. And even if it IS my “male cues” protecting me, that’s not implying “if women would just learn to do X, men would behave better” because that’s not true: they’d just readjust their victim threshold.

    Reversing femininity won’t turn everything around and make women equal. But dumping the idea that femininity and masculinity are natural parts of being born to a sex is crucial in creating a world where people get to figure out who they are individually before someone’s pressing them into a cookie cutter and lopping bits of them off.

  23. says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    I’m really sorry I wasn’t clear– I was never trying to imply that your response to the Single Ladies video was the one Maria was responding to, I was referring to the links she’d posted to the comments of the original Single Ladies post, when one of the commenters was saying hip-hop dance was more explicit than, say, ballet. I was also referring to responses I saw when the clip was aired on a morning news show, not anyone here in particular.

    I’m also not trying to attack your opinion, I’m just disagreeing with what I had perceived as the way you structured your arguments around femininity, femaleness, and risk. That said:

    All discussion of abuser/killer/villain motives tends to sound that way, but that only reflects how victim-blaming their thinking is, and how very like a serial killer is our entire society. I agree that one has to be careful, but I did try to make it clear that *I* was at no point blaming anyone other than a rape society for anything.

    The impression I got was that when you said femininity puts one in danger or earns one loathing and disrespect, that’s still deflecting the blame from an assailant in themselves onto the target of their motives, which would be the abstract of the cultural femme. “Femme”-ness can’t put anyone in danger on its own, because it’s a construct and a label– if the choice of femme-ness is what puts someone in danger, then the blame is placed on the person making that choice, which is victim-blaming. If the choice is to attack femme-ness, then the assailant is the one who put anyone in danger, selecting victims based on motives of attacking models of “femininity.” That still doesn’t make being “femme” a danger. It makes existing in– whether or not you are complicit in the perpetuation of– a society that conditions its inhabitants to believe violence against women, whether “feminine” or not, and gender-based-/sexually-Othered and Queer members of the population, is acceptable and to be encouraged. Femininity isn’t the enemy, the violent demonization of it is.

    Additionally, it’s been my experience that while “femininity” might be a factor in an assailant’s motivation to choose potential targets, “femme” behavior is marked as passive and adhering to a status quo, whereas female “butch” behavior is an active stance against being femme– much as male “femme” behavior isn’t just being “feminine,” it’s also actively not being “masculine.” Stereotypical assumptions that go along with perceivable Queerness as well as assumptions based on a gender binary would play into assumption of strength/weakness/vulnerability, but the act of wearing a skirt isn’t “weak” so much as the cultural significance of what a skirt means about the wearer and what it means (or is meant to mean) to a person looking at the wearer. One could assume a butch woman might be stronger or more aware of her surroundings or is more likely to be armed than a femme woman, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually true, because clothing isn’t a universal language.

    Likewise, when you’re talking about “femme” vs. “butch” as putting a woman in a more or less vulnerable position, especially when compared to heterotypically butch men, you’re basing that argument on the idea that a woman is being viewed as a person to begin with. For many WOC, being “femme” or “butch” makes a marginal, if any, difference in day-to-day treatment and perceptions of oneself. As a marked body of color and a female body, personhood is generally not necessarily going to be a given; and in addition to social structuring that often places WOC at dehumanized levels of Western culture to begin with, if not rendering them invisible (and therefore prime victims, because disappearances will go unnoticed, unremarked upon, and uninvestigated, for both children and adults), WOC are often viewed as hypersexual and hypersexualized objects from the get-go. If the Single Ladies video had featured an all-Black dance troupe, the outfits and the choreography would have macroculturally been considered “normal,” and the My Boyfriend’s Back and Fragile videos would have been considered very conservative– because what is sexualizing and inappropriate for one subset of the population is expected from a group that is perceived as “naturally” more promiscuous, less responsible with their children, and generally “inferior” (and therefore more disposable) to/than the dominating cultural groups “above” them. That’s why there’s a lot at play in each of the performances in question, and why I pointed out what I saw as differences between the videos themselves and the reception to them.

  24. says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    Rapability has been assigned to women, and feminine cues are designed to reinforce the perception that we are rapable.

    While I do agree that often behaviors that communicate vulnerability, weakness, and/or subservience are often assigned a “feminine” label, perceived vulnerability is what reinforces the idea that a person is rapable and/or that a rapist could attack them and get away with it, not the inherent femaleness or “femme”ness of the person attacked. That’s why child abuse is often part of domestic abuse as well, including sexual assault and rape, because it’s a violent enforcement of a power structure where the victims are subordinate to the attacker. Men are also raped plenty, and, as I said, Queerness and Otherness can mark someone as vulnerable just as much as “femme”ness can.

    You also seem to be basing a lot of your statements on particularly Western, patriarchal societies, and when you’re talking about cultural evolution, that’s a logical fallacy. Colonial structures did impose a lot of “traditional” patriarchal models worldwide, including the physical gender binary of men being much larger/taller than women (which isn’t true everywhere), but when you talk about phenotypic/genotypic tendencies being “bred” into a given population universally, that erases both ancient and extant cultures and historical evidence that contradict the motives that are your evidence.

    As far as engaging in “masculinity,” I also know plenty of women, myself included in that statement, who have been harassed and assaulted despite authoritative behavior, “butch” dress and carriage, (or the lack of both,) and of varying physical appearance and body “type.” At this point in my life, I tend to get respected– because I surround myself with people who respect me as a person. But 1) that wasn’t always the case, 2) there are other factors that play into my perceival as “femme” or “butch” (use/lack of makeup, obesity, WOC, work uniform vs. street clothes, tone of voice, etc.), and 3) my experience is my experience, and varies even from the experiences of the women I live with. There are no hard and fast rules.

  25. says

    Gena, feel free to attack my opinions (just not me). :D Seriously, when it comes to my unconscious privilege, please feel free to be blunt because sometimes that’s the only way to get it across to me.

    Gena: The impression I got was that when you said femininity puts one in danger or earns one loathing and disrespect, that’s still deflecting the blame from an assailant

    Okay, bad word choice there. What I meant was, even if women do their utmost to uphold gender norms, we’re not rewarded with lower risk as you might expect, because the whole purpose of enforced femininity is to create a victim class. I strongly agree that no one is responsible for what others do to him or her.

    Gena: For many WOC, being “femme” or “butch” makes a marginal, if any, difference in day-to-day treatment and perceptions of oneself.

    Now I get it. I’m honestly not sure it makes much different for white women, either, but at the very least we come closer to being granted personhood than do WoC. It seems to me, from my vantage point of white privilege, that white women are presumed available for sex in exchange for something between dinner or marriage, but WoC are presumed available in exchange for nothing. And I can see how that plays out in the response to the videos.

    Gena: You also seem to be basing a lot of your statements on particularly Western, patriarchal societies, and when you’re talking about cultural evolution, that’s a logical fallacy. Colonial structures did impose a lot of “traditional” patriarchal models worldwide, including the physical gender binary of men being much larger/taller than women (which isn’t true everywhere), but when you talk about phenotypic/genotypic tendencies being “bred” into a given population universally, that erases both ancient and extant cultures and historical evidence that contradict the motives that are your evidence.

    It sounds like you know more about it than I do, so I retract what I said that was un/misinformed.

    I still think enforcing femininity on women is a tool abusers have created and benefited from, because it creates a situation in which women don’t feel empowered to “just say no” or “just leave” and often get severely punished for trying either tactic, and then even nice non-abusive men (for whom “no” and “I’m outta here” are tools that work pretty well, who don’t see that it’s different for women) wonder what’s wrong with women that we put up with shit we don’t want to.

    But maybe that’s wrong, because I know men put up with shit from other men. I just think our enforced difficulties in standing up for ourselves makes it hard for even the best-intentioned men to understand just how disenfranchised we are. Or something. :)

  26. M.C. says

    Jennifer Kesler:
    Women who engage in masculinity… well, in my experience, this isn’t as carefully policed, but others can speak up. I have big breasts and long hair and am short, so I couldn’t look masculine if I tried. But I TALK like a man (authoritatively, with the expectation I will be attended). I write like a man. I put off a lot of calculated male cues that are more subtle than a masculine look, and I have never been sexually harassed and I tend to get treated with respect by men, generally.

    Your visual femininity has protected you from the harassment that butch women and trans*people encounter every day. Because there are enough areas (especially work places) where women are allowed – or even expected – to act like men as long as those women still offer enough visual cues that they submit to gender norms.

  27. Cheryl says

    One thing that came to mind when comparing the first and second videos is the music in the second video is about a man saving the helpless damsel in distress, which fits traditional gender roles and expectations, and the costumes look less like lingerie. A lot of the moves the girls do in both vids are ones we associate with strippers, so the moves come pre-loaded with sexual connotations, if you will.

    As a society, we’ve been conditioned to see ballet as artistic and pure and, today, not in a sexual way. It’s art! If it was about sex, she’d be out there gyrating and thrusting to a song with a fast tempo and a beat and excitement and zing. Her costume isn’t bright, the color scheme is limited, and it covers a bit more skin on the body, which also helps to mute perception of the moves as being sexual in nature. Ballet can be very beautiful, but it sure as heck wasn’t developed by anyone who gave a rat’s ass about the health and well-being of the dancers.

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