The Vagenda

Sometimes Dancing is Just Dancing: On Carnival, Twerking, and Female Empowerment


Why there is nothing hypocritical about feminists twerking or dancing in the streets at Carnival

 Apart from the worst bank holiday weather since 1986, the lead news story from last week’s Notting Hill Carnival was that of Mary Brandon, the student who pushed away a man after he groped her and was badly beaten up for her trouble. If such despicable acts were more depressing than the rain, the silver lining in it all was Brandon’s defiant response: ‘I’d take a punch again from this loser or any other loser who thinks it’s okay to treat women like this.’

As I applauded Brandon’s zero-tolerance approach to criminal behaviour (and where some feminists complain that respondents to sites like the Vagenda and Everyday Sexism spend more time moaning about this criminality online than taking men to task about it, I wish to point out that fear of precisely this sort of retaliation is a valid reason why so many women do not), the episode got me thinking about (some) men’s behaviour more generally when we are in certain situations (such as Carnival or a nightclub) and the way we as women feel about how we ourselves behave.

Notting Hill Carnival is an event close to my heart.  Every August bank holiday, my girlfriends and I play mas: we spend the entire day chipping (basically walking, with rhythm), dancing and drinking on the road behind a truck with a bar and a soca DJ. We love the music. We love the dancing. We love the rum, the sense of abandon: we call ourselves bacchanalists with good reason.  The spirit of the carnival is joyous, vibrant and inclusive – many of us have forged friendships on the road in that small corner of west London.

It also happens that we do all this while wearing what is essentially a bedazzled bikini and a feathered headdress. We dutty wine and attempt the six-thirty (Google it) dressed like this, while thousands of people watch and take photos.

Lately, in light of recent events and a seemingly ever-pervasive rape culture, some of us have been wondering whether, as good feminists, we should really be okay with disporting ourselves in this way. I cringe, for example, when I hear people describe lap-dancing your way through college as ‘empowering’. Yet that is exactly the word that springs to mind when I think about how prancing about in public, scantily clad, makes me feel. My friends and I wine in the streets, sometimes with each other, sometimes with guys, always with guys looking on – and we love it. Yet one of my friends has recently admitted to ‘modesty pangs’ and a ‘weird double standard’, and cites only the mask-like effect of the costume as permission to behave ‘like someone else’.  Another friend referred me to the origins of Caribbean carnival in inverting normal roles, where ‘a dustman can be king for a day’ and vice versa, implying that it is only the topsy turvy land of Carnival that makes our behaviour acceptable.

Are the ‘cultural’ aspects of Carnival really the only way we can justify our behaviour?  Or are we just hypocrites?

Why do some feminists feel guilty about stuff that’s fun?

I first started thinking about this about a year ago, when internet debate about Blurred Lines had reached fever pitch. Among many others, this website was vocal on the subject – and that was before Miley Cyrus at the VMAs. One of the things that struck me about this Vagenda article was a sense of the author’s internal conflict: her initial instinct was to enjoy the song and emulate the girls in the video, and her later reflection that the video is “an orgy of female objectification” fails to extinguish this:

“However, instead of being repulsed by the video, I felt repulsed by myself. Because I still wanted to prance around in the nude thong while being admired by Pharrell.”

A similar theme seemed to emerge in this post, in which the author agonises over whether to  continue attending the twerking classes which clearly give her pleasure, versus taking a stand against twerking because “it isn’t terribly feminist”.

Ignoring any discussion of Blurred Lines itself, my reaction to these articles was ‘Why would anyone admit to enjoying something, and then go to great lengths to rationalise why they were wrong to enjoy it? Why are some sexy women viewed as ‘empowered’ while others are seen as victims? Who decides these things?’  Having sensed something of the same conflict creep into my enjoyment of Carnival, I decided to probe these feelings further.

How Carnival voyeurs make me feel

In my first year as a masquerader (‘mas’ is short for masquerade), I remember the surprise I felt at Japanese tourists approaching me and asking for a photo while I touched up my make-up, before we’d even started. As I dashed to follow our truck as it joined the parade route, being I was taken aback at the rows of camera lenses lining the barriers either side of the road.  Amidst all the pre-Carnival prep (lots of talk of ab crunches and a ‘bootcamp’ regime, hardly any actual ab crunches or bootcamp regime), I’d forgotten that Carnival is a tourist attraction.

That first time, I felt coy and self-conscious. But since then, I’ve accepted that being part of the spectacle is half the fun, and I enjoy the attention. Mainly it’s from tourists wanting a snap of those headdresses, which look so photogenic against the grey London skyline; but I’ve always been aware of a contingent of men with zoom lenses who despite the event’s cultural context, are obviously enjoying the sight of our bikini-clad bodies, gyrating to the music, in a sexual context. My awareness of these spectators fades in and out according to the song that’s playing, the amount I’ve drunk and whatever little dramas are unfolding in our group at any given time; but it would be disingenuous to deny that we are there to display ourselves to other people as well to party.

Most of the time, I feel nothing but flattered by this sort of attention. In fact I would go as far as to say that the feeling of being sexually attractive to onlookers is one of the things I enjoy about playing mas. It’s not the biggest thing (dancing gets me higher), but it does make me feel powerful, sashaying down the road feeling like I own it, until that feeling simply dissolves into the joy of hearing my favourite tune come on and forgetting everything except dancing and singing along. I don’t usually feel like that in my daily life. I am not a model or a dancer, I am an ordinary woman who once a year masquerades as someone far more sexy and gorgeous, and remembering that I have that within me and the effect it has on other people is empowering.

I say ‘most of the time’. Fortunately I have never experienced any kind of assault at carnival, but last year – this year was too rain-soaked to count – I realised that I hadn’t been sure what my boundaries were until they’d been crossed. I saw a couple of young men crash the barrier and take a selfie of themselves posing with thumbs up and smug grins, either side of my friend’s bottom, without her realising until afterwards (I was too far away to stop them). They were inches away from her. Later on, when I decided to call it a day and head home, I stepped aside on the pavement to pull a pair of shorts and T-shirt on over my costume. Two more young men rushed up with their camera phones, and ignoring my angry ‘No!’ leaned right in and snapped me as I pulled my shorts up, and looked highly pleased with themselves.  Both of these incidents felt extremely disrespectful and invasive, with a total disregard for personal space or feelings and a total failure to understand boundaries and context.

Boundaries are rarely blurred lines

The line between enjoying your own and others’ sexuality, and disrespecting, objectifying or exploiting it, is highly instinctive. This is why arguments concocted to explain why one woman is ‘empowered’ but another is ‘exploited’ can sound contrived. Boundaries are just something you feel and are subjective, as Sex and the City aptly illustrated: remember the episode when Samantha unexpectedly discovered she did have limits after all, on witnessing her new friend perform a lewd act under a restaurant table?

(Seriously, is there anything that show didn’t cover in a 25 minute TV episode? It really was very comprehensive.)

For most of us, the mere awareness that someone is sexually attracted to us does not traverse our boundaries. An unwanted admirer may make us feel uncomfortable, but as long as he or she sticks to admiring, it’s socially awkward at worst. The majority of men who feel sexually attracted to someone else manage to avoid harassing, objectifying or sexually assaulting that person. It is a minority – and criminals – who don’t. Most people too, instinctively understand the importance of context. It’s obvious that once someone has stepped off the parade route and is changing into her civvies that it’s business as usual: like leaving the beach behind, that temporary set of rules that permitted you to watch and photograph her dancing on the road no longer applies. It’s obvious that dressing up in a bikini and headdress does not mean you consent to total strangers making a trophy out of one of your intimate body parts. When men get these social cues wrong, it is clearly they who are at fault, not us.  It does not make our behaviour less feminist.

Sometimes dancing is just dancing

Dancing in particular is where some people seem to get confused. I know it can look sexually suggestive, when we do some of those dance moves. Legs are apart, pelvises are thrusting, girls are wining together, guys are joining in. But I wouldn’t say it feels sexual as such – it’s sexy in the broad and liberating sense of being free with your body, of opening up muscle groups and moving your body in time with someone else’s. When someone comes up and wines with you, or twerks or daggers or whatever, our skin may touch but I’ve never felt anyone put their hands anywhere except my waist. It’s all just a load of fun, and I’ve frequently observed that a group of heterosexual girls on their own will happily dance in this supposedly sexual style, not to try and attract each other, not to ‘practise’ for when men may be watching, but just because it feels really fun. Sometimes ladies sit with their legs wide apart, because it’s comfy. Mmmm, feel that inner thigh stretch!

I guess where that brings me to is that men who see me at Carnival – or at the beach, or in a nightclub in a mini-dress – may or may not be objectifying me in their mind. But provided nothing in their behaviour crosses my personal boundaries and makes me feel disrespected or uncomfortable, it has more to do with them than with me, and I haven’t caused this by dressing or dancing ‘provocatively’.  We all have different boundaries: as one of my friends put it, “Yes true I am effectively walking around in a bikini in Notting Hill, but how I conduct myself on the road does not scream vulgar or disrespect. I think all women should have the right to choose how they are comfortable presenting themselves and what situation they put themselves in.”

Enjoying your sexuality should not be treated as an act of rebellion

Nor do I feel any shame in enjoying feeling sexually attractive to other people.  There is nothing transgressive about female sexuality – although the media would often have us believe otherwise, which is why some female performers get slut-shamed (Miley, Rihanna, Madonna) and others invoke their sexuality as an act of subversiveness (Miley, Rihanna, Madonna). But if we can’t enjoy our sexuality, then we’re just back to being female eunuchs. Not only are the women in the Blurred Lines video are portrayed as beautiful, sexy and desirable, but there is chemistry between the male and female performers. Wanting to emulate this is natural (although the desire to wear a nude thong, less so). There doesn’t have to be a contradiction between this and distaste for other aspects of the song or video.

The issue of whether a lap dancer, for example, has felt empowered to make a personal choice and enjoys her work, versus being exploited, is also subjective and it is wrong to assume that lapdancing can never feel empowering. On the other hand if the only benefit you personally derive is the extrinsic one of money, while third parties enjoy your body, that doesn’t sound very empowered to me. I would question what agency a woman had in making that decision (this is a male feminist friend of mine’s test for establishing whether a woman is being exploited or not and I think it’s a good starting-point).

But if your behaviour gives you intrinsic joy, whether it’s dancing in a bikini in the street; attending a twerkshop; enjoying feeling attractive in your sexy new evening outfit; or strutting around your bedroom in a nude thong pretending to be Emily Ratajkowski, you are acting for your soul’s own benefit and nothing else.  What could be more feminist than that? If someone else sees something different – sees ‘gagging for it’ where you feel ‘liberated’ – that’s their mistake, not yours.

- Catriona Edwards

21 thoughts on “Sometimes Dancing is Just Dancing: On Carnival, Twerking, and Female Empowerment

  1. I absolutely agree that other people shouldn’t judge you as “gagging for it” when you just feel liberated”. But I’d go further … “gagging for it” should be perfectly permissible in its own right (indeed, I suspect many men are in this mode much of the time).

  2. I love Vagenda because it always sparks an internal dialogue. My perspective is as long as you feel happy and safe and you are doing something for yourself, what is the harm, feminist or not?

  3. This is an excellent piece – I fully agree that the subjective/objective divide is the source of much angst and disagreement over issues of empowerment and objectification.

    Another dimension of the issue concerns how realist/idealist one is towards the men on the other side. Subjectivism is a non-problematic approach to take to questions of objectification and empowerment if (and only if?) others fully respect and understand and respect one’s subjective agency. Otherwise, if the observer fails to see the individual’s choice as individual, and instead treats it as representative of the class of individuals in which she falls (her gender, say), then her subjective choices might have the external effect of creating a quasi-objective standard against which other women are measured.

    Consider, for instance, Miley Cyrus’s twerking. While some might worry that she’s not doing it for the right reasons (her own reasons, as opposed to, say, those of the record company), a broader problem is that she may simply reinforce some observers’ prejudices about female sexuality. And not just men’s – some women or girls may feel that they have to behave in a similar way to be feminine, perhaps because they understand how some men or boys interpret Cyrus’s (Pharrell’s etc.) clothing and behaviour. Such a problem wouldn’t exist if all of these people understand these behaviours as simple expressions of subjectivity, but unfortunately many people (perhaps mainly men?) don’t appear to understand this. The guys who crashed the Notting Hill Carnival barriers to take photos of you and your fellow dancer certainly didn’t – they seem to have seen your bodies as there for their consumption (your subjective expressions of joy, in other words, were compatible with their objectification, even if they were indeed making a mistake). Might it be possible that if such men already commodify women’s bodies, that gratifying them might further reinforce their objectifying ways, regardless of your intentions?

    Maybe none of this is an issue because if we all simply respected one another’s boundaries, there’d be no problem to speak of. That’s true of course, but if everyone was fully respectful in such a way, there’d be no need for us to think about subjectivity and objectivity either. All acts would be automatically subjective because there’d be no other form of agency. But we need a conception of subjectivity precisely because we worry that many people engage in sexualised (or seemingly sexualised) practices without really wanting to (or without wanting to for the right reasons). In the world in which we live, in other words, inter-subjective respect is not yet guaranteed, so how our choices might impact upon others would seem to be important.

    None of this is to victim-blame or even to refute subjectivism – I am myself staunchly subjectivist (qua individualist), and I agree that the blame for objectification sits firmly at the feet of those who objectify. It’s simply the case that the narrative of “she wants it” is so very dominant (cf. Robin Thicke’s stupid and truly awful song) – and, indeed, that it’s OK for her to want it if she wants to – that it’s difficult to ignore the claim of those concerned with objectivism (or with positive freedom, to use Isiaih Berlin’s concept) that SOME choices, no matter how freely chosen, may simply reinforce the widespread assumption that women exist for sex and sex only. (This is the claim against Page 3, right? As far as I know, no one’s suggesting those women don’t want to show off their bodies.)

    • If your point is that some freely chosen behaviours may reinforce the objectification of women, and that they should therefore avoid those choices, I (and presumably the author) absolutely disagree with you.

  4. This. True freedom and equality for women means acknowledging that women have the right to fun, and we have sex drives as well – at least when they’re not beaten, harassed, shamed, co-opted, redirected or terrorized out of us. Just because some, or many, expressions of women’s sexuality are co-opted by others for their own self-interest doesn’t mean this very co-optation is the “true” representation we should accept as authentic and final. Intent is real; even more real than the male gaze. That society interprets our inner lives in a way to further entrap us does not makes this “the way things are”, just the way things are in the minds of those deciding out fate.

  5. I love that this issue is being discussed; feminists are often accused of being ‘hypocritical’ but the reality is just that many issues surrounding objectification and sexualisation are very complex.

    I think the purpose of an act is important when thinking about these kinds of situations. Performing or dancing at Notting Hill Carnival is first and foremost for that person’s own enjoyment but because of the sexualised society that we live in, there will always be men (and women) who watch this and see it in a sexual way. It’s something that can’t really be helped.

    A woman performing a lap-dance at a strip club, however, is dancing as a sexual object. Her purpose is to perform sexually for a man’s enjoyment, and she’s most likely only doing it to get paid. The same could be said for many other situations…..the girls in the Blurred Lines video, glamour models, etc.

    To me, that’s what makes dancing at Notting Hill Carnival, or in a club or at a party, completely different to the sexual objectification we see every day in the media.

    Carry on dancing!

  6. “But if your behaviour gives you intrinsic joy, whether it’s dancing in a bikini in the street; attending a twerkshop; enjoying feeling attractive in your sexy new evening outfit; or strutting around your bedroom in a nude thong pretending to be Emily Ratajkowski, you are acting for your soul’s own benefit and nothing else. What could be more feminist than that?”

    My personal opinion is that this is far too simplistic. Once again we seem to be confusing ‘free choice’ with empowerment. There is no ‘free choice’. Everything we as women think and feel is necessarily dictated by the society in which we live. The patriarchal, sexist society in which we live.

    We need to start really questioning what (potentially fucked up) societal pressures are forming our wants and desires. Particularly when it comes to sexuality.

    I’m not going to tell any woman that they shouldn’t enjoy being daggered but I’d certainly want them to really look deep into why.

  7. In response to The Mighty Rechecki: that isn’t my point at all – I’m not even sure it’s Georgia’s, above, and she goes much further than I do. Like her, I am not interested in telling anyone what they should or shouldn’t do (and neither, importantly, is the author of the piece above).

    My point is (intended to be) more nuanced. The subjective element of our choices is only one element of that choice – it is an expression of our individuality, agency and, in the cases the author is describing above, our enjoyment. In this sense, it has clear, individualist boundaries – the boundaries we set as individuals on what others may or may not do to us. Our (subjective) agency exists within this space and as long as these boundaries are not transgressed, our choices are simply self-expressions, and nothing more (thus, ONLY a dance INTENDED to be sexually provocative can be sexually provocative, not all dancing per se).

    As Georgia seems to think as well, this is a particularly individualist approach to the issue. I’m not uncomfortable with that (as Georgia is), however, I’m well aware of the limits to individualism.

    In particular, I don’t think the author’s position goes quite far enough to address the “other” in the situations she sets out, namely those around her interpreting her choices. There is an interpretive gap, in so far as the motives for one’s choices are never fully clear to an observer (even after explanation – we simply cannot KNOW what another means (we can only think we know), which always leaves space for mistakes. This leaves open the possibility that others (of any gender or age) might mistake the nature of one’s choice as conforming to a norm rather than as liberating, with the result that that the norm is reinforced. Again, consider Page 3 here: I know of no one who claims Page 3 models are coerced into modelling; instead, the claim is about the nature of the exploitation of women’s bodies. The subjective, free choices of Page 3 models is thus less important than the external effects we envisage those choices to have, right? Similar claims are made by sophisticated feminists against some elements of the porn industry and prostitution.

    Another way of thinking about this point is to ask when are comfortable making the kinds of choices the author is talking about above. Context appears to be everything – whether one is in the carnival or a club, etc. This is important, because contexts help us interpret situations: it is because one is IN a carnival that observers ought to respect that she is just carnival dancing. What about twerking in a club, though? Many men don’t seem to respect women’s boundaries in straight clubs (and indeed in some gay clubs, to my experience), because many clubs have cultivated the belief that women are there for men’s pleasure. In this case, the sexism inherent in the context needs to be challenged and addressed before twerking can be “just” twerking. And if this is so, then the same applies for the whole gamut of sexist assumptions in our culture: until these are addressed, we simply have to accept that no matter how freely chosen, our behaviours may have the unintended consequence of reinforcing discriminatory stereotypes. (And, let me repeat: how we respond to that is up to us.)

    Having said this, I think Georgia goes too far when she says:

    There is no ‘free choice’. Everything we as women think and feel is necessarily dictated by the society in which we live.

    This is to deny that women (or men, or anyone) have subjective agency at all. Certainly, we all respond and react to the world around us, such that it influences how we think and make choices (which is my whole point, really). But feminism would not have been possible if you were correct here, and the Vagenda seems to me to be proof that free, feminist thinking is very much alive and well.

  8. Paul what a great response. I totally agree with everything you say about being aware of the effect our choices have on others. No woman is an island.

    However, my point about free choice I perhaps didn’t explain very well. The author is saying that if twerking gives you ‘intrinsic joy’ then go ahead and do it. I would say that if twerking gives you intrinsic joy then question why. Same goes for pretending to be Emily Ratajkowski in Blurred Lines.

    We all know what a huge impact gender roles have had on society. I would argue they’ve had a similarly huge impact on our notions of sexuality. A much more extreme example of this is rape fantasies. Are women who role play being raped in the bedroom empowered by this?

    It’s far too simplistic to say that if something feels good then it’s necessarily a good thing. Our sexuality is hugely influenced by the (sexist, patriarchal) society in which we live. Until we are able to unpack the forces behind why we desire the things that we do we will never be empowered.

  9. You’re both trying to have it both ways: both saying that you are not being prescriptive about other people’s behaviour, and actually being prescriptive about it.

  10. I’m a little confused by this. Where do either of us make prescriptive claims?

    One might argue that it wouldn’t matter too much if either of us were making such claims. I think it’s a good idea to abide by the law (even laws one doesn’t agree with), so I tell people they should do so. I also tell people they should treat others with respect and that they should attach a value to human dignity. These are prescriptive claims, but they’re totally acceptable.

    The kind of prescriptivism I think you’re accusing both Georgia and I of must be less minimalist than this – maybe you think we’re claiming that women should do some things and avoid doing others. And worse still, we think this because we’re holding women to different standards. This would be a very simplistic and inaccurate reading of both of our points. Although we differ, we seem to agree on this:

    It is perfectly plausible, and quite compelling, to say that only one’s free choices are valuable. If I coerce you to make a choice (leaving aside the coercion implied by law, which is about minimal conditions for order rather than maximal conditions for well-being), I’m both robbing you of your dignity and preventing you from using your choice as an expression of individuality and personality.

    But this doesn’t mean that every free, uncoerced choice someone makes is therefore dignified and fulfilling. In particular, there may be a subset of choices which are unconsidered in such a way or which have external consequences such that we might think those choices problematic, even while we respect the agency of the chooser. Clearly this is not restricted to women, or men, or children, or anyone, but in the context of the piece above, the question here (and over on the piece about feminists judging other feminists) is whether there might be some choices which reinforce certain biases or which facilitate other behaviour which, on balance, is detrimental to all.

    This is not to say that the right response is to prescribe better choices – it can’t be, because on the claim above, only freely made choices are valuable choices. But it does leave space for us to say that some choices are morally or politically significant – in particular, those in contexts of entrenched power inequalities and social conditioning, in which “empowered” choices are often indistinguishable from those encouraged by the context. Even in this case, of course, the best outcome is still for people to freely choose how to live/act. But it’s obviously less desirable for them to choose in a context of egregious influences (such as the ubiquitous sexualisation of women’s bodies or the pressure to conform) than in one in which all possible choices would be treated with equal respect.

    There’s nothing prescriptive about this position – it simply recognises that human choices are not made in a social vacuum.

  11. “It is perfectly plausible … that only one’s free choices are valuable. If I coerce you to make a choice … I’m both robbing you of your dignity and preventing you from using your choice as an expression of individuality and personality.” — strongly agreed.

    “But this doesn’t mean that every free, uncoerced choice someone makes is therefore dignified and fulfilling. In particular …a subset of choices may [be] problematic” — strongly agreed.

    But … then what? This is where we appear to differ. If, for women, twerking or victim rape fantasies are seen to be part of the social norm, then let’s change the social norms, rather than expressing concern about the behaviours.

    I’m being deliberately challenging by name-calling your positions as prescriptivist, because you’re both only expressing your disapproval of some choices, and obviously (as a non-prescriptivist) I support that expression!

    But I really don’t think this is how you change society. I think it is just as unacceptable to grope a pretty girl in a short skirt twerking in a nightclub as it is to grope a woman in a burka buying onions in Tesco. How do we get the rest of society to agree? By a lot of introspection about why we really feel we should do any twerking at all, Georgia? Or by keeping the twerking for Notting Hill, Paul?

  12. “I think it is just as unacceptable to grope a pretty girl in a short skirt twerking in a nightclub as it is to grope a woman in a burka buying onions in Tesco”

    Just to make this clear before the tidal wave of outrage begins. Neither of us are in any way trying to victim blame. Of course those two situations are both as unacceptable as each other.

    If I’m being prescriptive it’s only to say that I wish we would all start really questioning and challenging how gender stereotypes have affected our wants and desires. I think it’s a shame that this blog hasn’t even tried to explore what particular forces have created a society in which women get a kick out of being daggered or pretending to be the woman in Blurred Lines.

    Of course, if a woman wants to explore her sexuality in this way she should be free to do so. However, I think we need to stop confusing that with being empowered.

  13. It’s great to read such intelligent comments, cheers to the commenters above!
    I am wondering why here on Vagenda it is such a recurrent theme to question whether a certain behaviour is ‘feminist enough’ with guilt and full of moral judgments. I think the point of feminism is not to prescribe the appropriate behaviours, but to explore the reasons behind it, as has been elaborated above. For example, it is not that ‘feminists should dislike pink colour’, a feminist will just explaint the mechanics of ascribing a certain colour to a certain gender.
    Although articles on this blog open a lot of interesting questions, I think they often lack deeper analysis, which would eradicate the need for judging the acts of individuals and instead turn the attention to the ideological reasons for them.

  14. The recurrent theme Polo refers to on here at present is indeed striking. Alongside this and the article on being feminist enough, the discussion on names after marriage is also fascinating. Each article has inspired similar concerns and issues, but I think Louise’s point in response to the “feminist enough” piece is absolutely spot on. She says:

    “[N]ot all acts performed by women who call themselves ‘feminists’ are necessarily feminist acts. Feminism is about the advancement of women as a social class, not a way of justifying all women “doing what you want to”. This brand of Choice Feminism may be a good way of attracting followers, but it’s a terrible basis for a coherent movement.
    If we’re going to maintain that the personal is political (which is kind of the basis of second wave feminism, after all), then we have to scrutinise our own behaviour and debate it.”

    The point here is that our choices are separate from our politics. Although in many cases our politics inform our choices, they do not always. So it doesn’t make sense to say that a political position such as feminism always entails supporting each and every choice an individual makes (as Rechecki seems to be saying). Indeed, this position appears to me to be patronising in the extreme; to say in advance that you will not allow yourself to disapprove of people’s choices, you’re essentially saying that you won’t take them or their ends/values seriously, that if they make a mistake you will be unwilling to treat them like an adult and tell them. As Louise and Georgia suggest, this seems incongruent with feminism, which is about challenging sexism and its insidious effects on many women’s (and men’s!) choices, and which has never shrunk back from engaging with anyone in mature, thoughtful and robust discussion.

    So to answer Rechecki’s question about how to change society, the answer is surely to keep engaging in the kind of robust debate that has got us all this far. Choice is a part of being free, so for that reason alone it is important to respect and celebrate. But we must equally respect one another as inter-connected beings who in the course of our lives contribute to the lives of others (and receive contributions therefrom) in countless ways. To live valuable lives, we must attend to these contributions, and this will by necessity always be a collective process, no matter how much individualists would wish it away.

  15. Endless debate does not change society: action does. What is the point of arguing whether female rape fantasy originates in a patriarchal society, genetics or just random sexual choice (remember, for instance, some men like to be dominated even though that isn’t the social norm)? It’s interesting academically, but it does nothing to advance the freedom of women. Women should be free to chose their own fantasies and behaviours regardless of the prevailing social norm and the social norm will have to change. Debating about it, analysing it, agonizing over it — does not help female emancipation or readjustment of social norms. Doing stuff, on the other hand, does.

  16. Let’s not forget that twerk (‘twerking’ is definitely the appropriated name for it, since it usually originally appeared in the singular, impersonal form), originated in bedrooms and living rooms, with women getting together with their friends, dancing freely, practicing in the mirror, and experimenting with new ways of moving to the music. It was not developed through sexual exhibitionism, though it developed into a popular style of party dance, but from women who carefully practiced in the mirror until they had discovered new ways to push their bodies. It’s born out of sensuality; the gyrating movements are meant to hypnotize and synchronize with drum and synth beats as much as they are meant to celebrate the body and the buttocks especially. So in African American & Caribbean homes, teenage girls would hang out with friends on Friday nights and pass the whole night at home, enjoying themselves and giggling over who could invent a new move, such as the hair flipping and whining of Caribbean dancehall, and who could out-exaggerate who. Therefore, this first foray into sexual expression was taken in the confidence of friends, even if it later became popular in parties and night clubs. When the author expresses her joy in expressing herself through dance, she is expressing the feelings of the many women who see carnival and twerkshops as safe spaces to explore their bodies and feel like powerful and sexual beings.

    • This is a more personal examination of the dance, but it corresponds to the personal experiences of women who twerked longed before Miley made it into a national talking point. My point is that in this larger discussion of female empowerment, an individual’s or group’s enjoyment should not be overlooked.

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