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.