Alternatively titled: “A Response to Cate Stewart and Lisa Lansio”
and originally posted here by Aida.
For those of you who don’t know, I’m one of the two co-leaders of SHEEC this year–a group with which I’ve been heavily involved since its inception in 2008/2009. I was at a conference in Colorado this week and sadly had to miss 3 of our events, including a showcase/open-mic in honor of Wear Purple Day/Spirit Day and Love Your Body Day that would benefit Sojourner House, a local domestic violence agency founded by Brown students in 1976. The Showcase featured 2 local poets, the Gendo Taiko (Japanese drumming) crew, Attitude (a dance troupe), as well as a few other performers (of the singing/acoustic-guitar variety).
After a set of great performances, the last two individuals who signed up for the open-mic portion took the stage and began to attack the event and the people who were in it, saying that having a campus pole-dancing troupe perform was “not respectful” and that “it just perpetuated gender roles and objectified women.” One said that “she came here expecting to be empowered, but that’s not what happened for her at all” and that we “need to stop singing about gendered things” (and I believe the example was getting kissed in parking lots? Which…what?).
The other added that “women need to stop playing the victimized role, stop blaming men for our problems, women bring it upon themselves” and that “women have the power just as much as men and are as much to blame for abuse as men, that women are not chained to the floor and can just walk away from abusive situations.” That same one mentioned some of the performers who talked about abuse or abused women and their mindsets have no right to speak issues that they were not physically a part of (which is actually inaccurate, but I’ll get to that later).
This is my response, not only as SHEEC’s Co-Chair, but as an individual:
First of all, the controversial pole-dancing performance. I’m tired of defending and explaining this one, so I’ll keep it short and sweet. Empowering women doesn’t mean desexualizing them. Objectification is only a problem if it’s not paired with due subjectification (read this post as well as the comments). Finally, we support a group of educated women who want to “stretch the boundaries of pole dancing as something far more than simply sexy,” who “want to create a place where people feel comfortable, athletic, and yes, sexy!” and who “consistently challenge the stereotypes that surround vertical dancing, and seek to bring together a wide range of art forms through experimentation and openness in [their] performances.”
We wanted to showcase individuals who would address the core of our event, who would speak to their relationships with their bodies via song/dance/poetry and would show us a bit of themselves through their art. This event wasn’t meant to empower every person, but provide a space so people could share what empowered them and talk about what didn’t. Sorry, Cate and Lisa, if this didn’t empower you personally, but that’s not what the event was for. We wanted to start the conversation and show the varied emotions people had regarding their bodies, trying to focus on the positive, but also trying to highlight the complexity and (thus billing it as something “silly and serious and complex” in our advertising).
Now, what I consider the most egregious part of this evening (again, from what I’ve been told) was the commentary around abuse and the power women do or don’t have.
- As a CLASS of people, no, women do not have the same power men have. This, of course, is affected by the intersections of people’s identities and how they affect their place on the social ladder/s, but if we’re only considering it on the axis of sex, no. We are not seen as equal and we do not have the same power men do. Some individual women may have more power in specific contexts, but ask yourself–is that because they’re women or is it because of something else? And furthermore, think of the difference between winning a battle and winning the war. Few and exceptional individual cases of powerful women don’t erase the massive inequalities across society.
- We are not blaming individual men for “our problems.” First of all, they’re EVERYONE’S problems. Second of all, what we *are* blaming is a system that in most instances, privileges men and masculinity and devalues or even punishes women and femininity (not that the two–m/m and w/f–are inextricably joined, but are often thought to be). It’s not the fault of individual men (or women) acting in a vacuum; it’s the fault of everyone taking actions that contribute to this system, and that’s why EVERYONE has to work against it.
- “Women bring it upon themselves” is such a problematic statement, I don’t even know where to begin. My first reaction is to say “Your privilege and ignorance are showing.” I’ll call upon the words of S. Biko: “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” READ ABOUT OPPRESSION AND POWER. Expand your myopic view. Your personal experience as a a woman and even as a victim/survivor of abuse does not qualify you to invalidate the experience of others, particularly women who have experienced trauma.
- Abusive situations are DEFINED by a power and control imbalance, so NO, if the abusive partner in a male/female couple is the male, the female partner does NOT have the same power. She is also NOT TO BLAME for the abuse; no victim of abuse ever is. Read up on slut-shaming and victim-blaming to educate yourself on this. Intimate partner abuse is also often reinforced by other forms of institutional abuse/power; again, these things don’t occur in a vacuum. Context is important!
- Many circumstances make it difficult for women (or any abused partner) to walk away from their situation, and the comment about them “not being chained to the floor” is offensive in its disrespect and flagrant ignorance. This an excellent resource that answers the “why doesn’t she just leave?” question so often posed to and/or about victims. Also check this out for more information. I personally hate this question because it blames, shames, and disenfranchises victims, though I understand where it comes from (because I once asked it too).
I commend Jenn, Chay, Linh, and the other SHEEC planners that were there and handled this as gracefully as they could given the circumstances. Thank you for positively representing SHEEC and doing damage-control, for letting those two girls know that you respected their right to have an opinion and their desire to share it, but that they did not have to attack other performers to express them. I also want to thank the performers for weathering that storm and for reaching out to us after the event with very touching emails.
Having a conversation or constructive dialogue is not the same as being argumentative and rude. Debating a point is not the same as attacking a group of people and not listening to their defense. Constructive criticism is no the same as ignorant remarks made to shame others and devalue their experiences. Learn the difference, Lisa and Cate, and then try again. We’re willing to listen if you are.
SHEEC is a group that was made to address issues of gender, sex, sexuality, and all the things that go along with it. This means we aren’t going to shy away from difficult conversations, controversy, and tackling the taboos. In fact, it means we’re more likely to address them because we come from a place that sees addressing those topics as a PRESSING NEED instead of as something to be avoided. We want to make people feel challenged and productively uncomfortable while also nourishing those who need it and providing support for folks marginalized due to their sexuality or desires. If you are looking for a “safe” group that doesn’t push envelopes, this is not it.