This post was written by Lindy Shopper.
In light of a post I wrote on dressing appropriately for dances and the subsequent response (and many other responses) it garnered, I am shedding my Lindy Shopper hat for a post to address you all as a person. I would like to accomplish two things: 1) clarify some misconceptions about the post I wrote that have been taken to places I never even fathomed and 2) talk about how we can accomplish constructive criticism and incite meaningful, respectful discussion about topics within the community that we may agree, disagree, or agree to disagree on.
My intent with the Assaulted by Breasts post was to posit that you should dress appropriately for the athleticism of Lindy Hop, with considerations of mutual respect for those around you. I still agree with everything that I wrote, but I also agree with the feedback I have received that I should have tempered my hyperbole with more constructive how-to advice and delved more into considerations of mutual respect and boundaries.
Part of my hyperbole was in the use of the word “assault” in the title. For those of you who do not know me personally, I am an attorney by trade. If you know any attorneys personally, you probably know that their definitions, ultimate understanding, and frequency of using certain words is different from non-attorneys. When the topic addressed in my post came up in a discussion amongst friends at Lindy Focus, someone noted that in a comment on Dance World Takeover a male dancer had used the phrase “assaulted by breasts” to describe his discomfort in a particular situation. I began thinking about what I knew about assault after attending law school and practicing law and how that might relate to an incident where someone is on the verge of a wardrobe malfunction.
Assault, by definition (from the Barron’s Law Dictionary in my office – it was cheaper than Black’s), is “an attempt or threat, with unlawful force, to inflict bodily injury upon another, accompanied by the apparent present ability to give effect to the attempt if not prevented. Threat, coupled with a present ability, may be an assault. As a tort, an assault may be found where no actual intent to make one exists if the actor places the victim in reasonable fear. Because an assault need not result in a physical touching so as to constitute a battery, no physical injury need be proved to establish an assault.”
I’ll stop there, because there are many more considerations and variables that can come into play with assault, but I’m going to move on and address my rationale. You are given this basic definition, which, in turn, has been muddied, stretched, and pushed to within an inch of its meaning in order for lawyers to create arguments that will either meet the elements of the tort in order to obtain a conviction or judgment or argue a case that will absolve their client of liability. In my torts class in law school we read a case that I, in vain, have tried to locate (it must have been a handout, long gone, instead of in my textbook), but what I remember from the case is that the Plaintiff was a bystander/witness to a pretty gruesome automobile accident. If I remember correctly, his/her claim was that, by witnessing the automobile accident, this constituted assault and the Defendant should pay for their mental anguish.
I could see, in hyperbole land, how I could liken the assault contemplated by the Plaintiff in this case to a bystander’s apprehension and/or witnessing of subsequent wardrobe malfunction. To clarify, I in no way think that this is a real tort or that this argument would hold water in a court of law.
Subsequently, I see that my use of the word assault was extrapolated to mean sexual assault, which was not my intent, but a leap that people made in reading my post, perhaps based on addressing issues of leads being uncomfortable asking a potential wardrobe malfunction to dance. This then lead to outrage, and, ultimately, to the use of the phrase “slut shaming.”
I was not familiar with the phrase “slut shaming” prior to reading the comments I received on my blog post. In Christina Austin’s response to my post, she links to the Wikipedia article on “slut shaming,” which is defined as “the act of making someone, usually a woman, feel guilty or inferior, for engaging in certain sexual behaviors that violate traditional gender expectations. These include, depending on culture, having a large number of sex partners, having sexual relations outside marriage, having casual sexual relations, or acting or dressing in a way that is deemed excessively sexual. This is often done by name calling (often using the word “slut” itself) as well as covert shaming.” The article goes on to cite “an incident where a Toronto Police officer told a group of students that they could avoid sexual assault by not dressing like ‘sluts.'”
This kind of phenomenon pervades in our society and it is one of the most terrible atrocities of perception that we live with in our society. As someone who is, first and foremost, a woman who is both educated and liberal, and secondarily, a lawyer who has studied a body of rape case law spanning the past two centuries and who represents women who are victims of domestic violence, I understand, fully, the implications of this phrase, from a social, psychological, and legal standpoint. As a person, I have been assaulted, battered, and almost kidnapped by a man I did not know. If you would like to know more about my views and experiences, I would be happy to elaborate in a less public forum, but my point is that I disagree with “slut shaming” and everything that it stands for (and stands against) as to women.
When I started to get feedback on my post relating to “slut shaming,” initially from the amazing Sam Carroll (aka Dogpossum) who I admire and respect for her activities online and in her dance community, I had immediate anxiety about how the meaning of my post could be misconstrued. Could I/should I fix it? I reread my post again, and, in light of my personal background and experiences, I thought it was still OK and hoped that others would pick up on the hyperbole and know that I was not capable of having such a negative viewpoint of women. I have not met Sam in person, so it was entirely possible something was lost in translation.
I see now that a lot has been lost in translation and I have learned my lesson about the use of hyperbole. That said, I believe that tossing around accusations of “slut shaming” is a very serious matter having very public and serious implications online. Before taking something to that level of seriousness, I would want to be sure that I was clear about someone’s viewpoint before I labeled them with principles or values that they do not identify with or claim as their own.
Which leads into my second point – how to have a reasonable, constructive conversation or debate in the Lindy Hop community. Some might argue that this would be an impossibility, like having a reasonable debate in our U.S. Congress, but I have faith that we, as Lindy Hoppers, can maintain an environment of mutual respect and respectful dissent. We have this joyful dance in our lives, surely all is not in vain!
How can we have more constructive discussions?
Let’s say you’ve read something that makes you pause. Angry, even. You’ve read something that is so fundamentally against who you are as a person that you are personally offended and must take a stand. Now, take a minute to think.
1. Re-read the post.
I always go back and re-read the post I have just read. Read it three times. Read it until things don’t pop out as new to you. Every time I pause and go back and re-read a post, I find more intent, I find things that clarify, and I find more useful information to help me formulate an opinion and, in some cases, a response.
In this case, I am amazed at the number of people who have responded in a way that indicates they read my post to mean “no cleavage,” when I clearly state at the end of the fourth paragraph, “I am all for cleavage, but proportion, fit, and security are certainly factors to consider.” But I digress.
2. Think about all sides of the issue.
Take 5 minutes this time. Take a day. Take however much time you think you need to think about where this blogger is coming from and how they might have crafted this viewpoint based on their surroundings, their upbringing, their personal experience. We are all unique and our collective experiences have made us who we are and formed our opinions. You may not have experienced the same things as another person, or experienced them in the same way. It’s important to take the time to know where someone is coming from and understand their reasoning behind an idea, even if you disagree with that idea.
3. Don’t jump to conclusions.
If they said X, then they must believe Y! Go back and think about all the sides of an issue – if you can’t think of any other possible explanation for X other than Y, then it’s probably time to seek clarification and confirm that they do, indeed, believe Y. Regardless, it’s good to have clarification, rather than base your opinions or your writings on speculation.
4. Ask questions.
If you are unsure of a person’s position on a certain issue or find yourself jumping to conclusions, it’s a good idea to ask questions. If comments are open, you will most likely garner a response from the author and may further the discussion in a constructive manner, so that we are all clear on a certain issue. You may also further the discussion amongst other people commenting, who may chime in with their own opinion on that particular issue.
5. Be respectful.
There is a way to set forth your opinion on a topic in a manner that is respectful. I will often reword a sentence in a comment or a post several times before I publish it to make sure that it conveys my meaning and intent in an optimal way, especially if it is a topic on which I disagree. Resorting to name-calling, labeling, or strong language is disrespectful, doesn’t convey your ideas, ultimately detracts from your message, puts people on the defensive, and also detracts from the poster’s original message.
6. Reference the post.
I find that if I am crafting a response longer than a sentence, I will go back to the original text and compare it to the single idea or thought I just crafted, just to make sure that I am addressing the topic or issue I want to address and to make sure that I have crafted a relevant response.
If you find that, after all these things, you are still so angry about a particular post or article, keep in mind that you can be the bigger person. Your viewpoint is important, but, unless you can engage people in ways that will make them think rather than react, then your communications may not be as effective as you would like for them to be.
I think an effective response to my post was written by Aries Reyes, who I met at Lindy Focus this past year. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with Aries, but what time I did spend with her I gathered that she was a liberated, kind, engaging, and thoughtful dancer. Her response reaffirms my positive perception of her and, though she disagrees with me, she sets forth her position in a manner that is respectful, engaging, and informative.
I would like to further the discussion of how we can have reasonable discussions within our community. I’ve outlined a few points above, but I’m sure there are tips I haven’t addressed that would be relevant and constructive. I hope that, in the future, we can all continue to engage in new ways online and show the world (since everything we post is public) that the Lindy Hop community is as welcoming and wonderful as I know it to be in person.
EDITED: To add that this post is, in no way, meant to attack Christina or call her personally unreasonable, childish, or disrespectful. There have been a couple of questions about this and I wanted to clarify. I have mentioned her in this post because she has been one of the driving forces behind furthering this discussion. This is an important discussion to have in our community and addresses issues that go beyond our little dance bubble. I’ll also add that intent is not magical and it is entirely reasonable that the words I used in my Assaulted by Breasts post were read to contain problematic messages. If any of you were hurt, offended, or angered, I apologize for using those words in a way that hurt, offended, or angered you. The pen is, indeed, mightier than the sword and I will, in the future, wield my pen with more consideration and responsibility.
Also, if I haven’t moderated or responded to your comment, please be patient as I have been bombarded with comments and communications about all of this.
EDITED: To add that Christina and I have had reasonable discussion about this and she has posted a follow-up: http://clausti.blogspot.com/2013/02/on-having-adult-discussion-in-lindy-hop.html. Sometimes things are better stated in private conversation and I’m happy that we have been able to effectively communicate our ideas.
EDITED: To add that Dogpossum has a timeline with links to relevant posts about this discussion, if you’d like to catch up on the background and full discussion as of February 8, 2013.