Thursday, 1 October 2015

Death to toxic inane sexist talk

Here's a quote which my friend Trud related on Facebook (it's not on her blog) from a follower technique class. She said the class was a very good one and during it the teacher said this:

“Don’t make it easy for the leaders! If you do whatever they want, even if they’re being lazy with their lead, you’re spoiling them.”
The reason Trud quoted this is that she approves of women being encouraged to focus on the quality of their own dance in class. I agree that that's a good thing to do. I don't agree that this does it.

No. What the teacher said is sexist and inane. Saying it at all conveys an unambiguous message to the women that quality in their dance exists to serve the man's, and is not worth attention for its own sake. Which is false, and toxic.

Nobody ever says to the men "Don't heave the followers around with your arms, it will stop them learning to follow". People say "Don't heave them around, it doesn't feel nice (which is bad dancing)". They say "Don't heave them around, you might hurt them (which is bad dancing)". But "Don't heave them around, you're spoiling them so they don't have to follow"? No. Nobody thinks they need to encourage a man's efforts in working on his dance by reminding him how they will improve the quality of someone else's. That would be pointless, because quality in his dance justifies the effort by itself, and he's there to work on his own dance. Whereas the women, apparently, are unpaid class assistants, automatically qualified as such because their own dance is so trivial there is no difference between qualified and not.

And then teachers who constantly remind the women how they can help the men "too", telling themselve they're just mentioning it as a kind of icing on the cake, wonder why the women dance like mice. Because you told them to, and you're contradicting yourself when you tell them to dance like tigers. The message you're not conscious of, that tells us what your beliefs are about our place in the world, will always come through more strongly, because unconcious messages are the ones people really believe. Otherwise they wouldn't give them. Because, by definition, they're not giving them on purpose.

By all means, actively and consciously recognise that women are often brought up to believe that they are there to serve and that every goal and effort must be justified and excused in terms of how it serves someone else. By all means bear this in mind, and how it drains effort and quashes ambition. But challenge it, don't affirm and reinforce it.

Tell the women to dance well. Tell them how to dance well. Tell them to make it a personal ambition, and not to betray it. Treat following as dancing. Take it seriously as something difficult and rewarding that can be done well or badly. Take it for granted that dancing well, by definition, serves everyone it is supposed to serve, and principally the dancer. Talk as though you believe that dancing the best you can is a valid, satisfying and worthy goal for anyone, an adequate justification for persistent effort, that can be allowed to stand alone. Do that by allowing it to stand alone. Refrain from talking as though you don't believe it.

People say this sort of thing all the time, it's persistent and pervasive, it has always annoyed me, from day one, and I ... would like to ask that teachers stop it.

When you hear yourself saying "Don't anticipate or guess, because it's bad dancing and it doesn't do the leaders any good either", just stop after the "dancing". Or, if the sentence still feels somehow painfully incomplete, forgive yourself for feeling like that, and then replace the missing part with something useful, and say "Don't anticipate or guess, because it's bad dancing and you are here to improve your dance, so concentrate hard on whatever happens and do exactly what you feel every time. Pay attention to small differences, which will make you get better. If you don't know what to do, ask for help."

Forgive yourself for having the stupid, toxic assumptions culture and society have put on you. Then kill them.


Anonymous said...


Always grated when I heard this comment.

Similar feeling when teachers teach the leaders "steps" and ignore the followers, expecting them to just follow, with no effort and time given to the followers' needs.

Anonymous said...

Well said. Great post, Ms Hedgehog.

Anonymous said...

Always a bad sign when a "teacher" throws their students under a bus

Izzy said...

Amazing how everything is interpreted differently. Maybe it's because I'm not a native english speaker, but I did not read that meaning at all in the quoted comment... what I understood was something like "if you do this you're shooting yourself in the foot since the leaders in your local community will not progress" (and yes, even if my purpose is to improve MY dancing, it's nice to actually have somebody you enjoy dancing WITH at your local milongas.....)

msHedgehog said...

@Izzy: it's not a question of the meaning of the words. It's the implication of the logic of saying them, and the fact that nobody, ever, says the same thing to the men - even though it would be equally (or even more) true.

Who would benefit is neither here nor there. Everyone always benefits from people doing their jobs well. That doesn't make it one person's job to fix another's performance.

It isn't ever considered the men's job to make sure that the women are nice to dance with. But, mysteriously, it is always necessary to repeatedly impress upon the women that it is *their* job to make sure the men are nice to dance with. And that has real implications - specifically that the men's dance is by definition worth more attention than their own.

Anonymous said...

Maybe because the leader's equivalent isn't punitive? "Start the tanda with simple things and stay within the follower's comfort zone (for social dancing)", rather than "start with the most complicated moves you've got and stick with them regardless, otherwise why else will she improve?"

Though I am amused at the idea of a matching punitive leader and follower basically standing still for a tanda being unable to do anything...

trutheality said...

I've heared things like "Don't heave them around, you're spoiling them so they don't have to follow," and other messages that imply it's part of the man's job to be a good practice partner.

It's a valid message to send out--that you might think you're helping by doing this extra work of anticipating/guessing as a follower, or heaving/carrying as a leader, but you're really not helping anyone.

stompyzilla said...

I agree the comment lacks a helpful focus on the follower's dancing refinement, but given some context it's neither sexist nor inane. The class was termed "very good" so normally we'd expect plenty of discussion of how followers' refinement, outside this isolated comment! IF we believe that other context happened, then it's perfectly appropriate for the teacher to mention an effect on the partner's ability to learn. It's also normal to hear teachers talk about the effect of leader precision on the follower's ability to learn. Part of the difference in how we talk to leaders and followers relates to dance structure, not just their sex.

If we DON'T believe the other context happened in the class, it could be we're projecting other experiences in judging the comment one way or the other.

We should help each other learn! As far as helping each other in a milonga, in my view it depends on the relative level and familiarity of the partners.

Perhaps there were other things about that class that taught the mice instead of the tiger? Certainly sexism, even infuriating sexism, exists in some teachers ... but this example does not seem to capture it. BTW I like how you describe the follower role in the rest.

Anonymous said...

Solid points. May Anoia cause things to get stuck in their drawers until they repent and see the error of their ways!

Yokoito said...

With all due respect, Ms. it possible that your view is just a bit too radical/over the top? I can see sense in this advice. To learn something feedback is important. Of course it is symmetrical; the advice does not exclude that other good ideas exist for leaders. I see supporting each other on the floor as a kind of investment process (sometimes I call it "gardening"). In any case it is not a black and white issue.

Yokoito said...

I don't think stuff like "whose job is it" fits. Much more important is the potential win-win situation. When one side helps the other to improve his/her dancing, this side also has a gain from it, either personally or through a higher overall level.

I had "deals" with partners about giving feedback, in both directions. The difference between mice and tigers is confidence; this confidence comes from positive experience. A good leader who understands what to do allows a follower to unfold her potential, and vice versa.

msHedgehog said...

I'm deliberately not holding back in this post.

This kind of talk, in my view, has zero positive value because in as far as it encourages people to do anything, it encourages them to do more of something they are likely to overdo anyway, even if you said nothing at all. People should focus on their own dance and their own communication with their partner. They shouldn't be focusing on their partner's dance as a goal when they are there to improve their own and they shouldn't be taught that they need their partner's dance as a reason to be there.

Even if you do try to even it out by saying the same thing to men, it won't have the same effect, and it won't even out anything, because it matters who you are talking to: you won't be reinforcing something they're drastically over-taught anyway, and the nature of the learning process if you're leading makes it impossible, rather than easy, to misunderstand and treat as trivial in the same way.