Camille Paglia - a leading feminist academic gives her view of why women need to be encouraged (or even told) to stand up for themselves. This applies in all situations in life, not just at folk dances.

Taken back to their roots, some dances are a sort of mating display - and this applies to other species as well as humans. Some birds take the whole affair very seriously: they have developed ornate feather displays that are used only at times of courtship.

Many dances are, to some extent or other, ritualised sexual display and properly include an element of exhibitionism. The history of dance over the last few hundred years has many examples of how some types of people (dancers as well as non-dancers) have sought to control or extinguish these aspects of dance - yet this has proven difficult. Time after time, people have disobeyed 'authority' and danced as they wished to do.

In contemporary folk dance (and in many other types of dance) there is necessarily some physical contact - holding, touching, etc. It is therefore possible for men (or women) to overstep the mark and do more than is required by the dance itself. In these situations the aggrieved party needs simply to tell the perpetrator to desist - and that is all that is ever necessary except in extreme examples (see discussion here). However, many dancers arguably hold less firmly than is required, and the quality of the dance then suffers.

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Image from a dating website profile.

Some folk dance and festival organisers delight in treating women as helpless beings who are incapable of looking after themselves. They seek out opportunities to exercise their own power, to tell other dancers what they can and cannot do. Examples from one festival are discussed here.

Sometimes these 'bossyboots' and despotic characters go to extreme lengths to find trouble where none had even been reported - for example by soliciting women, asking if they had any complaints about a particular dance partner.

All of this has its roots in the thrill of exercising power over someone else - a trait seen the world over in anyone given a uniform or (in the case of folk festival stewards) a walkie talkie radio, a fluorescent jacket or even a stewards badge.  Election as a 'committee member' can have much the same effect on particularly inadequate people.

But the heart of the matter is that women should be allowed, encouraged and where necessary told to stand up for themselves. Unless and until they do so, they are in effect submitting themselves to live under the authority of other people (often men) and admitting they are incapable of fighting their own battles.

But don't take my word for it - listen to a woman!

The iconoclastic American feminist Camille Paglia summarized these issues in an article published in the Spectator magazine (UK) in October/November 2016. The article (written by Emily Hill) was centred on Paglia's dislike for Hilliary Clinton - and dislike is putting it mildly. She also mentions courtship dances (of pigeons). I have downloaded the full text in case the link becomes inactive (please let me know if this happens).

The relevant paragraphs for present purposes are reproduced below. The article was published before Donald Trump's election victory.

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Adapted from : Spectator magazine (UK) 29 October 2016.

Paglia is pro-liberty, pro–pornography, pro-prostitutes and anti- any and all special treatment when it comes to women in power: ‘I do not believe in quotas of any kind. Scandinavian countries are going in that direction and it’s an insult to women — the idea that you need a quota.’

Perhaps, like all radicals in pursuit of the truth, Paglia is still hoping the revolution will come. ...... Her book Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender, Feminism will be published next year (March 2017).

Professor Paglia does not seem to mind much if she makes herself violently unpopular with her contemporaries — she’s an expert at it. Currently professor of the humanities at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, she first shot to fame in 1990 with the publication of Sexual Personae — a manuscript turned down by seven publishers before it became a bestseller....

‘My philosophy of feminism,’ the New York-born 69-year-old explains, ‘I call street-smart Amazon feminism......The way I was brought up was: the world is a dangerous place; you must learn to defend yourself. You can’t be a fool. You have to stay alert.’

Today, she suggests, middle-class girls are being reared in a precisely contrary fashion: cosseted, indulged and protected from every evil, they become helpless victims when confronted by adversity.

‘We are rocketing backwards here to the Victorian period with this belief that women are not capable of making decisions on their own. This is not feminism — which is to achieve independent thought and action. There will never be equality of the sexes if we think that women are so handicapped they can’t look after themselves.’

Paglia traces the roots of this belief system to American campus culture and the cult of women’s studies. This ‘poison’ — as she calls it — has spread worldwide. ‘In London, you now have this plague of female journalists… who don’t seem to have made a deep study of anything…’

Paglia does not sleep with men — but she is, very refreshingly, in favour of them. She never moans about ‘the patriarchy’ but freely asserts that manmade capitalism has enabled her to write her books.......

‘I wrote a date-rape essay in 1991 in which I called for women to stand up for themselves and learn how to handle men. But now you have this shibboleth, “No means no.” Well, no. Sometimes “No” means “Not yet”. Sometimes “No” means “Too soon”. Sometimes “No” means “Keep trying and maybe yes”. You can see it with the pigeons on the grass. The male pursues the female and she turns away, and turns away, and he looks a fool but he keeps on pursuing her. And maybe she’s testing his persistence; the strength of his genes… It’s a pattern in the animal kingdom — a courtship pattern.....…’

But for pointing such things out, Paglia adds, she has been ‘defamed, attacked and viciously maligned’ ........

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In conclusion Professor Paglia states:

Girls would be far better advised to revert to the brave feminist approach of her generation — when women were encouraged to fight all their battles by themselves, and win.

‘Germaine Greer was once in this famous debate with Norman Mailer at Town Hall. Mailer was formidable, enormously famous — powerful. And she just laid into him: “I was expecting a hard, nuggety sort of man and he was positively blousy…”

Now that shows a power of speech that cuts men up. And this is the way women should be dealing with men — finding their weaknesses and susceptibilities… not bringing in an army of pseudo, proxy parents to put them down for you so you can preserve your perfect girliness.’

.............As with Greer, it is Paglia’s power of speech that utterly devastates. Her collected works read like a dictionary of vicious quotations. (Leaving sex to the feminists? ‘Like letting your dog vacation at the taxidermist.’)

.............yet if Trump wins it will be an amazing moment of change because it would destroy the power structure of the Republican party, the power structure of the Democratic party and destroy the power of the media. It would be an incredible release of energy… at a moment of international tension and crisis.’

All of a sudden, the professor seems excited.

As a methodology for how women should be encouraged to deal with men at folk dances in the West, the view of Professor Paglia are to be recommended. Women in both the UK and the USA are completely free to express their views and to look after themselves - and they should be encouraged to do so, if only to limit the scope for despots to assume authority over often trivial and imagined complaints as a means to enhance their own self-importance.

However, in less developed countries women are still severely disadvantaged. There are many influences: one of the most pervasive is that religion (of all types) is male-dominated. For both social and environmental reasons, religion needs to be phased out. This has already happened to a large extent in the UK but not in the USA - where over 50% of people still apparently believe that there is a god in white robes looking after their country! Many even believe (and teach) that the Earth is only 6000 years old.

Ex-president Jimmy Carter of the USA has his own views on how little some men care for women's rights. The internet is also awash with extreme religious and feminist ideology - take your pick of which views to support!

Full Spectator article.

Article in Progressives Today

My Folk Diary - 2016 - index page

Brief history of folk dance : (part of folk club section).

Folk dance section

Folk festival reviews 2016

Gittisham Folk Dance Club

Home page.