Today I need to talk about something serious. It is a topic that is often on my mind, but this past week, with the focus on negative language being used for women, it is especially heightened.
We often waggle our fingers at conservative Muslim cultures for placing women in burkas, and yet, in our American society, we are not very different. It is often accepted that sexual responsibility be placed on the heads of women, whether it is to prevent pregnancy, to prevent rape, or even to spare boys from having naughty thoughts.
Thanks to male western orientalist harem fantasies, those of us in the belly dance world are often faced with this more than the average woman. I often hear the myth that belly dance's purpose is to "turn the man on." Those of us who study its history and culture academically have an uphill battle when it comes to educating a population that doesn't want to be educated. And since people can post whatever they want on the internet without having to back it up with research, myths are continuously perpetuated.
However, we also have our own to contend with. Some women are so offended by the overt sexualization our society has forced on belly dance that they have sought to make it completely asexual. This is not the answer either. See, we have been socialized from an early age to be ashamed of our sexuality. Why? Why are women so afraid of their feminine beauty? We go back to the idea that it is our responsibility to keep our men on the straight and narrow. Well, here's an idea: how about we get to be womanly and feminine and beautiful without fear or shame, and boys learn to practice self-control?
I actually don't care for performances in which dancers "act sexy." In fact, I often tell my students that they do not have to sex it up, because what they are sharing is womanliness, and that is beautiful and sensual already. I am female! I have round hips and soft angles and am a glory to behold! When I perform, I am not trying to get anyone hot and bothered; I am telling my audience that I love them, bringing a visual aspect to the music, having fun, expressing joy. Am I pleasing to behold? I hope so! That is my goal. I love my feminine beauty. It is something to share, not something of which to be ashamed. Does a rose hide behind its leaves?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating that women should all start running around in pasties and hot pants. I remember watching "American Muslim" and one of the guys was describing the power his wife has because she wears her hijab. He was saying she chooses who sees that aspect of her. I thought that was interesting. I still don't buy it completely, but I suspect there can be a happy medium. It's what I shoot for. I was raised here and the battle against body shame still rages within me, though much, much less loudly since finding a voice, a sense of empowerment through belly dance. I intend to raise Alice to know that there is a time and place for everything, and that if she is comfortable with her own extensive beauty, she will know which is which. I hope she never runs around in scanty clothes just as a desperate cry for attention as well as never feeling like she has to cover herself because she is embarrassed by her own body.
Women are beautiful, and in that beauty lies a certain power that petrifies many men. And you know what it is that is so scary? The idea that they must learn to be responsible for their own thoughts and actions. I, for one, am so over it. When I was sexually assaulted when I was 22, I wasn't wearing a push-up bra or spike heels. But even if I had been, would that have made it my fault? Of course not, though there are people, still, in our society who would say I would have carried some of the blame. It's just an excuse so that boys don't have to be held responsible. Really, that's not fair to anyone. It's depriving boys the opportunity to be mature men, and it's depriving women the opportunity to be wholly, completely, wonderfully female, because we're forbidden the enjoyment of being beautiful.
I think it's time women allow themselves to be proud of their feminine beauty. Without fear of nasty names. Without fear of shame. Without fear.