Last week I went to Stratford, Ontario to celebrate Canada Day with my family in my hometown. The weather was beautiful and I got to see a bunch of old friends.
Behind City Hall, there were food vendors, booths from various organisations around Stratford, and live music and dancing. Some were done by actors from the Festival, and other acts were done by fiddlers and tap-dancers from around Perth County. I understand that they were recruited from a festival that was going on nearby.
Partway through the event, one of the groups of dancers came on stage, and there were two boys in the dancing troupe. After they finished, the person who was emceeing the dancers made a comment that still bothers me. She said in a very tongue-in-cheek way, “Look at that—those two boys are pretty smart, aren’t they? Learning to dance with all those girls.”
The audience laughed, while I looked around in horror.
What’s offensive about this comment is the suggestion that it’s not okay for boys to learn to dance because they like dancing. That would be beneath a man’s pride. That would be womanly. There are some things that men don’t do, and dancing is one of them, and if a boy enjoys that, he should be ashamed of himself.
But learning to dance in order to pursue sexual congress—that’s another story. You can still be a man if you’re dancing in order to get in a woman’s pants. It just means you’re really shrewd about it, that’s all.
Two things immediately come to mind that are really problematic about this:
- This sort of thinking is fantastically demeaning to women. It puts women in the place of being a sexual object to be pursued by men. Not only that, but these girls were about ten years old! Why on earth is this even being hinted at?
- Having attitudes like the one I outlined puts boys in a position where they have to rationalise all their actions, preferences and their own identity through the lens of manhood. Not only that, but it emphasises how fragile someone’s manhood actually is: If just the act of dancing publicly is enough to threaten it so much that it needs to be rationalised by appeal to the subjugation of women, then you are sending the message that a person’s manhood is a very fragile thing indeed, and that it’s okay to turn a few ten-year-old girls into sex objects in order to preserve it.
I would actually be interested in knowing if there’s a way to quantify how much violence can be shown to be directly causally related in a non-controversial way to some guy trying to defend his own manhood. These comments are not benign.