Sometimes I struggle with reconciling my tango life with my identity as a feminist. Traditionally, tango celebrates very patriarchal gender identities. Men are strong, assertive, commanding, in control. Woman are sexy, submissive, pliable, voiceless. Now, I admit that these are stereotypes: I have learned that some of my favorite followers to watch definitely have a voice; my best dances involve a good deal of listening on the leader’s part. I have also seen – both online and in my local scene – men leading men, women leading women, and women leading men. I have seen very strong women assert their style in a beautiful and appreciated way. I have seen quiet, respectful, gentle men who dance the night away with glowing reviews from their followers. The gender identities that I put forth don’t really hold in the community that I know. And beyond that, the video above is a reminder that a true choice can be made to fit those traditional identities. It isn’t really a problem for a feminist to choose to dress up in a slinky outfit and high heels.

But just because these tango traditions (or traditional stereotypes) don’t always hold up doesn’t mean that we don’t need a little more feminism injected into our tango culture. A month ago, I felt the need to condemn the lechers in the tango community. Just because I am a woman, just because I am dancing with you, just because I am dressed nicely (or just because of any justification you might try to make), does not give you permission to make a joke about having to go jerk off after our tanda. It does not give you permission to make uninvited (and unwanted) sexual advances. Those sorts of things are completely inappropriate. And my inner feminist screams at my initial reactions of laughing it off, downplaying it, ignoring it, or excusing it so as to not make a scene or cause a stir in the community.

I am lucky to live in a place where women are respected for their teaching, for their DJing, for their community-organizing. I am lucky to live in a place where the majority of men are respectful and know the line between dancing and relationships off the dance floor. I am lucky to live in a place where some great leaders invite women to express themselves and truly have a voice within the dance. And I feel confident that I can be a feminist tanguera, a woman who makes the choice to wear certain clothes (which might be jeans and a t-shirt one day and a skirt with a lacy top the next) and is happy as a follower (although I still want to learn how to lead). But clearly there is still room for improvement, both within myself and the community at large. Here’s to feminism.


12 thoughts on “Feministas

  1. It bothers me that people seem to feel that tango creates more of a problem for feminists than, say lindy hop. The only intrinsic distiction in either dance arises simply from the fact that one person makes them majority of the decisions, which is a necessary situation in pretty much every group where you want to get something done. Tango by committee would be even less effective than design by committee. But neither role is ‘inferior’, and anyone can take either role (despite the occasional grumbly idiot, and there are grumbly idiots in every walk of life).I think the reason that people get especially uncomfortable about tango is that horrible misogynistic old hooker-fantasy cliche, the cliche where tango is as much about hate as love. This cliche gets dragged out for every tango stage show, every tango on ‘So you think you can dance’, or ‘Dancing with the stars’ – the couple stride furiously around in fishnets making angry faces and slapping each other, as though they think passion requires domestic violence.But that horrible cliche has *nothing* to do with tango, and it’s appalling that anyone thinks it has. Real tango just involves two people connecting. Each has to listen to the other, or they’ll get nowhere. The goal is to move in harmony for 20 minutes.Meh. I don’t consider tango any more of a problem for me as a feminist than, say, having a job where I have a boss. I follow because (in tango) I’m a natural follower – if I were a natural leader, then I’d lead. I’m *not* a natural follower in life generally (I’m hyper-independent), but I don’t feel that I take a different role or turn into a different person when I’m dancing. I’m just working with someone. (*Playing* with someone might be a better way of putting it.) I’m ‘following’ him the same way that I ‘follow’ the music – which is to say, I’m dancing to someone else’s tune, but I’m still dancing my own dance. We’re no more ‘oppressed’ by a leader than we are by the music we’re dancing to.

  2. Oh, hm. Is that what you got from my post? If so, perhaps I have to do some editing. That initial bit about gender roles was something that I was worried about *at first*, but I have discovered that it is not a concern. I don’t know if I made that clear enough.What I have learned is that women are quite empowered in tango, and that’s great! My initial concerns about being expected to look or act in a certain way have been put down and resolved quite nicely. My concerns now are more the sorts of things I have run into off the floor.

  3. I think the problem is your use of the word “feminist” or “feminism”. Your encounter with a jerk has nothing to do with either of these concepts, you just met up with a jerk. A “feminist” might have asked him if he realized how inappropriate his comment was, and perhaps requested that he never ask for another dance 🙂But I’m with psyche on this; the tango “stereotypes” that continue to be perpetuated have nothing to do with the actual dance.

  4. So you don’t believe that this particular kind of jerk (i.e. men who make inappropriate comments or advances toward women based on a perceived sexual invitation) is unrelated to feminism and its concerns/goals? I disagree.And just because I failed to respond in a way that would call him on it does not make it any less of a feminist issue. It also does not make me less of a feminist … just a feminist who needs more training or practice in dealing with these situations properly.

  5. In the context in which you wrote about this incident, no I don’t. But I many not have the entire picture.I think it’s more about ignorance/ stupidity than “feminism”, depending on how you define the latter (i.e.: “the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men”). An instance of poor judgment or a lousy sense of humor does not an “antifeminist” make; persistent behavior of this nature towards all women does.I didn’t mean to comment on your commitment to your beliefs. Only that we are part of the solution for change as well.

  6. Thank you for clarifying! The thing is, I don’t claim that these men are antifeminists for what they have done but rather than feminism is a movement that addresses (and seeks to eliminate) incidents involving sexual harassment or objectification of women. I would call the situations I mentioned instances of these. The comment about jerking off was one that I tried to laugh off at the time (upon reflection I wish I hadn’t), but later I realized that I felt kind of dirty and reduced to some object/image of a woman rather than being recognized as more than that. I guess that’s where I am coming from.I can see why you would say that this doesn’t have anything to do with tango. It doesn’t have to do with the dance itself, and it didn’t happen on the dance floor. But it happened within the tango community, and I see a direct connection between things happening on the floor with this behavior off the floor. I have never had this sort of experience when I’m not all dressed up; I have never had it happen before dancing with someone; and I have gotten the sense that there is a connection between what these men perceive as happening in our dance (or the relationship they think we have built on the dance floor) and their behavior off the dance floor. I wouldn’t blame tango itself (the same could happen in any number of other communities), but I feel like there are things happening with the dancing that are being brought off the dance floor and combined with a lack of sensitivity to women’s rights.

  7. And I want to emphasize that I really appreciate all of the comments. Rereading my entry in light of what you both have said makes me think that I shouldn’t have written this all in one blog entry. The “oh hey, tango is cool with my feminist identity!” sentiments are pretty separate from the “ick, look at this ugly issue I still encounter!” comments. I think they got a little muddled, because they were all floating around in my head at the same time.

  8. I am always amazed/intrigued by other people’s experiences within the context of our shared passion. In all the years that I have been dancing, I have never been “harassed” – at least that I was aware of. Maybe it’s because I’m < HREF="http://tangowritemight.blogspot.com/2008/05/im-not-good-enough-for-you.html" REL="nofollow">intimidating<> 🙂I don’t know whether it’s because I’m not paying attention, or because it just doesn’t happen to me. At least not in Tango. I have received “cruddy” remarks from men in other areas of my life, whether or not I was all dolled up.

  9. Sorry, MT, I didn’t mean to give you the impression that I disapproved of anything you’d written – I was just writing about the topic in general.Re the sleazy guys – I can only think of one occasion where I felt really uncomfortable. A guy asked me to dance, and then basically just shifted from side to side while holding me against his hips. Ick. But, I don’t consider that incident to have had anything in particular to do with tango – he might as well have been a guy rubbing up against me on the bus. I’ve definitely encountered more ick outside the tango scene than in it.

  10. Oh, good! I do like what you had to say, just wanted to be sure that I hadn’t created confusion in my original post. 🙂I have certainly encountered a good deal of ick outside of tango as well, so perhaps this is just a proportional representation of societal sleaze!

  11. Very interesting post and comments… I don’t dance tango, but a guy I dated once told me that I would never be able to learn because I wouldn’t be able to let the man lead (he was mad at me for breaking up with him). His comment implies that he thought determined women aren’t able to relinquish control and, by default, that he thinks female tango dancers are not very determined. It was a pretty ignorant statement and I’m sure it was his alone and not the feeling of tango dancers in general. But it’s interesting to think that some might see a female tango dancer as someone who is more easily influenced just because the dance calls for her to follow.

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