In case you missed my last post, I took a few moments to proclaim my love of leading; I also addressed my gender and encouraged them to learn to lead as well.
I didn’t think much of it at the time, but my use of gender-specific pronouns in this article was apparently disquieting to many people. It was first brought to my attention when a friend began his comment with the following:
For the purposes of this post, you’re kind of assuming that woman are naturally going to be (or start off as) followers. I found that a bit jarring.
Was I just chastised for sexism in a post where I encourage women to learn to lead?
When I brought this scenario up to a few friends, I received mixed responses: while some agreed that my use of gendered language was appropriate in the context of the post, others agreed with the commenter. Another friend in particular (also male) said that “gendered language in any context is sexist,” and he encouraged me to change the language in my post, as well as all future posts.
My counterarguments are as follow:
- It is a fact that more women follow, and more men lead. Whether this norm has come about through sexism is not the point, but it is true.
- In using gender-specific language when speaking about dance, I am not confining women to one role, but acknowledging that the vast majority of women follow.
- I actively encourage dancing both roles in Lindy Hop, both on this blog and in person. My actions should, I hope, speak louder than my word choice.
- As the author of this post, it is my right to choose the language I use. While I aim to be inclusive, I do not believe that gender neutral language is always appropriate.
I realize that there is a current trend in Lindy Hop, and especially in the Lindy Blogosphere and in classes, to use gender neutral language in an effort to halt sexism our community. But – and here I’m going to meet a lot of resistance, I know – I think the Lindy Hop community is one of the least sexist communities around.
I acknowledge that sexism exists in our community to a degree. There are a bajillion posts out there indirectly and directly discussing sexism in our community. Moreover, though we generally talk about sexism against women in Lindy Hop, men often get the short end of the sexism stick due to gender imbalance. And those posts barely scratch the surface.
However, there are communities with bigger problems with sexism in the world. Think about the Ballroom and Latin dance communities, where the hyper-sexualization of females is the norm. Think about sexism in business and politics and throughout the world, where women have to fight for a modicum of equality. There’s even extreme sexism against men, which many people fail to recognize.
Now come back to the Lindy Hop Community and watch the following video, where two well-known and well-respected male dancers make finals in the Strictly Comp at ILHC – and, they absolutely killed it. Would you see this in many other dance communities? And LOOK at that sugar-push variation at 4:18!
In my opinion, Lindy Hop is one of the most respectful and pro-equality communities I know of, and I’m proud to be part of this group of people. Moreover, I think the failure to recognize our overall success in encouraging equality does our community a grave disservice.
If you don’t agree with me, I understand – many people feel very strongly about women’s (and men’s) rights, whereas I have always been a bit of a reluctant feminist. But if you really want to change the nature of our community, then consider this:
Whether or not gender inequality is a problem in the Lindy Hop community, sexism will not be solved by using gender neutral language.
Consider this: when a teacher uses generalized language to address a problem everyone in the class is having, the majority of people will assume the teacher is addressing someone else. When someone addresses the room in a general way, we as human beings mentally exclude ourselves from the group. (Be honest: you’re probably doing it right now.)
The same is true of using gender neutral language. When we eliminate gender from the conversation:
- Most people won’t ever notice.
- Those who do notice will generally observe the situation from a third-person-distant perspective, assuming they’ve never encouraged sexism through language.
- Most people who are sexist won’t notice because they associate the words “lead” with men and “follow” with women, no matter which language you use. It is, in fact, more jarring to those people to encourage specific genders to dance outside of the “normal” role.
I once took an entire workshop as a lead where my class was lead-heavy. It would have helped if I had switched to being a follow, but I had no desire to, and neither the teachers nor students ever asked me to do so. While the teachers continued to address leads as men all weekend, I never felt excluded for my gender, because no one ever discouraged me from dancing the role I chose. I could have chosen to make a huge deal of it, but instead, I chose to focus on learning to lead better. In fact, in a sea of male leads, I am more proud not to be called out in class as the only female lead because it alludes that I am recognized for my leading capabilities regardless of my gender.
Of course, if you ever feel pressured by a teacher or fellow dancer to dance in your “gender-normal” role rather than the role you choose, let me know – and I’ll have a word with that person.
If you see sexism in your community, I strongly encourage you to address that issue – but asking for gender neutral language is the least effective way to encourage equality. You will be far more effective if you teach as a female lead and a male follow (regardless of how you encourage your students to dance), or if you make finals in a highly-competitive national-level competition. You will do more for your community if you host an ambidancetrous workshop (look here for helpful tips on how to make the class structure work), put on a gender-bender competition, or even directly encourage up-and-coming men and women to try both roles in dancing.
If you encourage everyone to dance both roles, that’s great. But you’re far more likely to be effective if you directly encourage women to lead and men to follow. It’s stronger language, and it speaks to the real issue you’re trying to address.
In conclusion: I will not apologize for using gender-specific language in my writing (when appropriate), and I have no intentions to change my writing style in the future.
However, I will continue to be the best female lead I can be. I hope to teach gender-bender workshops in the future and host gender-bender dance competitions. When a girl tells me how great a lead I am, (I will blush, and then) I will encourage her to learn to do the same, because it’s a blast.
Actions speak louder than words, and I have no interest in sitting passively behind my words.
If you disagree with my word choice, I understand – but I hope you will continue to read my posts for the content I put forward. Let’s dance soon – and you can pick who leads!
Edit: This post was edited 01/29/2015 to reflect changing views on sexism in the Lindy Hop community. Notably, it acknowledges that sexism is a serious problem. My beliefs that gender-neutral language will not solve the problem, however, stands.