Chromosomes, justice, and art.
OK, people… this is a post I’ve been putting off for a while because I’ve been afraid of it and the reactions it might solicit. I’m not a gender studies specialist. I am not trying to make enemies. But, seeing as this blog has been a place for me to vent my frustrations about belly dance, and this topic is something that has frustrated me for a while, I should finally just write about it. So, here we go…
When I was a figure skater, I entered local competitions in which boys and girls competed in the same categories, against each other. It never failed that regardless of a boy’s skill, the judges would place him higher in the results than girls who were better skaters. The judges wanted to encourage him, to make sure he didn’t quit skating, because there are often so few boy skaters and so many girls. This phenomenon frustrated me. And I think it would have frustrated me equally if the genders were reversed. Skill is skill, regardless of gender, regardless of chromosomes (females having two X chromosomes and males having an X and a Y. Other than that difference, male and female genetic make-up is fundamentally the same). Why place someone higher in the results if they’re not actually worthy of that medal or if they have certain “bits” (as the Brits would say)?
Now, as a belly dancer, I’m seeing something similar. We don’t have competitions in this dance (although sometimes I think mandatory competitions might be a good thing for this dance form, but I just don’t know how they’d be structured), so the question of “judgement” is left to the audience. But it seems to me that male belly dancers, because of their rarity, are often put up on proverbial pedestals, with seas of screaming female audience members at their feet. This is not to say that there aren’t male belly dancers who deserve such praise; Rashid from Bal Anat and John Compton of Hahbi’Ru being the first two who come to mind.
I think there are a few things at play. (Again, I am not a gender studies specialist, and I know that many of you readers are more experienced in that field that I am, so please chime in.)
One is the encouragement of males in a female-dominated field. Clearly, there just aren’t many men in belly dance right now. It seems that we want to encourage the few men who do take a chance and try belly dance. What’s wrong with that, you ask? My problem with this is that I feel like we should encourage anyone who wants to study this art form, regardless of chromosomes. We shouldn’t be giving more praise and encouragement to one gender or kind of person over another. It’s not just to give preference to one gender over another, not in belly dance, not in the workforce, not in art. Period.
The other is sexual repression on the part of the screaming women in the audience. Have you seen the audience at a festival when a male belly dancer is performing? I’m almost embarrassed for my gender at moments like these. The screaming is so loud and fervent that it seems to verge on sexual abandon. Maybe I’m sensitive, but I’m seeing this as akin to a group of men hooting and hollering at a female exotic dancer, telling her to “take it off”. How would the women on stage feel if the men in the audience screamed with such abandon? I have a feeling that many of the women would be offended, claiming, “this dance is an art and not for the sexual fulfillment of men!” (We’ve all heard that line, yeah?) Seriously. Listen to the audience next time a male dancer is performing. This is not to say that there’s anything wrong with sexuality or with male belly dancers, but take a moment, if you will, to reverse the roles. I’m just asking for a sense of awareness…. are you aware that the sentiment of the crowd changes when a human with an X and a Y chromosome takes the stage vice a human with two X chromosomes? Or are you going along with the wave of excitement and screaming along without a moment of self-reflection?
Would you encourage that dancer the same way if he were a she? Or if she were a he? Are you judging a dancer on his or her skills, not on the his or her gender, appearance, race, or ethnicity? Are you aware of what your own personal evaluation of a dancer actually is?
I just want dancers to be evaluated on their skill, their presence, their technique, their emotional expression… not their gender. Not their race. Not their sexual orientation. Not their ethnicity… not their costume, not their music, not their gimmick. Give me honesty. Give me dance. Give me art.