It’s an unfamiliar scene, I’m at a country dancing bar, surrounded by cowboy hats and boots, listening to twangy music that’s foreign to me. If it sounds like I’m not enjoying myself, I am. Partner dancing- country, swing, and ballroom- was one of my favorite pastimes in high school and college. Although that was awhile ago, I still love it and country dancing is a popular type of partner dancing in Arizona. Unfortunately, my husband is not interested in joining me, so I go with my cousin when she visits, which he doesn’t seem to mind. This means it the second time in my adult life I’ve been to a country bar. What I find are couples dancing the two step and country swing, spinning and twirling around the dance floor.
This time, as I watch the dance floor to see which guys know how to lead, and waiting for one of them to ask me to dance, I get bored and ask a guy next to me if he knows how to dance. Unfortunately, it’s so loud he doesn’t hear my question and thinks I’ve just asked him to dance. Which wouldn’t be a problem if he could dance, and was sober. But, I’ve just lost the Texas Roulette and this guy is not a winner. He’s holding my hand and back SUPER tightly and swaying around like a drunk person. Oh, that’s because he’s drunk. He tries to dip me, this fails, he briefly grabs my behind and then I’m really uncomfortable and irritated, wishing the song would end so I can escape his death grip. While I’m not a regular to these events, I’ve never danced with a guy like this. When the song finally ends, I walk to meet my cousin and tell her about the creep who just pretended that swaying and groping were actual dancing.*
That’s when it hits me, his behavior was inappropriate and unacceptable, but I didn’t stop him. I didn’t push him and walk away. I was the one who stayed. I felt trapped, I didn’t like the situation I was in, but I didn’t change it. I didn’t teach that guy he couldn’t treat me or any woman that way. Suddenly, I was irritated with myself and the drunk punk who pulled me around the dance floor.
The next day, I was at a family party for my uncle. He and his son had fashioned a zip line with small wooden seat. One of the teenage girls takes a ride and the seat breaks. Her mother mentions this to the rest of us, telling us that she’ll be really embarrassed and upset and we should not bring it up. So, when she comes in, the first thing my uncle does is make rude joke about her breaking the wooden seat. She is humiliated, obviously embarrassed about her body and that the rest of us know what has happened. The implication of the joke was that she was fat (ironic, because my uncle is 80+ lbs overweight). It was very upsetting for her, but the man just laughed, thinking his tactless joke was a gift to the party. Silently breathing fire, I held my tongue. It was this man’s birthday we were celebrating, I didn’t want to ruin it by calling him out in front of everyone.
But I should have. I should have called him on behavior that hurt and demeaned women.
Both these scenes happened within 24 hours of each other and I was startled to see how misogyny is alive and well all around me. Because I spend so much time thinking, talking, and writing about feminism, I can’t believe I let both of these men off the hook for their actions. Mostly I’m upset that I didn’t see in the moment the broader issues of misogyny. In both situations, I felt trapped, and chose to stay silent instead of speak up against the systemic problem of misogyny and male dominance. Knowing that my silence contributes to this problem is still very painful for me, almost as painful as the actions of these men. The more I analyze my response, the more I see that I felt isolated, powerless, and myopic. I wasn’t looking at the bigger picture, or evaluating my choices to see which was the best. Instead, I just held my breath and wished it would be over, not wanting to make waves or break social convention.
Clearly, by standing up for myself and other women, I wouldn’t necessarily change their long-term behavior, but I would be one more woman who doesn’t accept bad behavior from men. And if all of us do that, then we may start to see change.
By comparing these situations, I don’t mean to imply that they are exactly the same. The dance partner situation has a very simple resolution, I should have walked away the second I realized the guy was not interested in really dancing. On the other hand, I’m still uncertain how best to have handled my uncle’s misogyny. It’s common for him to make jokes about women or feel like he can comment on women’s bodies. He’s been told by many women, including his former wife, that this is inappropriate, but he continues to do so. If I had confronted him during the scene at the party, it probably would have helped the girl to feel better, but it may added to the current family drama.
Have you been in a situation where men have behaved badly and failed to stand up for yourself or other women?
Why do women do this? Especially women who care deeply about feminism?
*Fortunately, I found some great dancing partners shortly thereafter and had a really great evening, dancing, twirling, and even flipping on the floor. There are lots of men who like to dance and are very respectful to their partners.