…for her respectful and articulate critique of the reinforcement of harmful gender norms present in the Man Dance at this year’s Frelon performances.
Ellen rightly points to this dance as “an astonishingly offensive display and reinforcement of problematic gendered power dynamics”, and calls for “more thought and dialogue about the role of gender and sexuality in future Frelon performances.” Her criticisms are thoughtful and insightful, and we thank her for her willingness to bring this issue to the attention of the campus at large.
As Ellen said in her article, this conversation is not meant as a condemnation of the institution of Frelon, which is a phenomenal organization and a great outlet for the creative talents of this community, nor is it meant as an insult to any of the individual dancers who participated in the Man Dance. Her intention was to incite open dialogue about the ramifications of this kind of objectification of women, and why we allow it to exist on our ostensibly progressive and fair-minded campus.
We are shocked and appalled by the level of unadulterated, unproductive hate that has surfaced in certain venues, which has largely echoed the sentiment that feminists should “pick [our] battles wisely and [we] might win one for once.”
This is precisely the kind of silencing of women’s voices in regards to issues that are fundamentally oppressive to us against which we dedicate our lives to fighting. Ellen should be commended for refusing to ascribe to this “sit down and shut up” mentality and addressing the harmful and demeaning expression of women’s sexuality that we too see at work in this dance.
But the dance is only the beginning. The backlash that has resulted from it, in conversation around campus but, more troublingly, behind the relative anonymity of online bullying, has been not only vociferously negative and unproductive, but appallingly misogynist and, at times, blatantly threatening to Ellen’s person.
A Facebook thread about the article includes comments from several men who intimated that “someone needs to pop miss Ellen’s K-bubble”, and that “the male members of Frelon [would be] doing it because they always like taking their pants off”.
Though the authors of these statements have defended them as jokes and sarcasm, that apology misses the point. The fact that jokes about rape culture are considered funny, or even merely acceptable, perpetuates that culture and is just as harmful as the jokes themselves.
The fact that an article meant to insight productive dialogue about the harmful appropriation of women’s sexuality to male desire degenerated so quickly into threats of sexual violence against its author, a woman who “needs to get laid and loosen up” and who “had it coming” because of her willingness to speak up about them, is not only unspeakably disgusting, but reinforces the truth of what Ellen points out about the Man Dance.
The author of this piece is being told that her sense of outrage at seeing her gender portrayed as sexual object onstage is simply a consequence of not being enough of a sexual object herself. That by “getting laid” and conforming to the very same damaging sexual scripts she’s speaking out against, she will “loosen up” and, by the same token, shut up. This only shows us that these incredibly destructive expectations for women’s behavior, and that men should assert their own sexual dominance to subdue this behavior, are alive and well at Kalamazoo College.
This kind of dialogue, demeaning and invalidating as it is, falls precisely into the horrific cycle of silencing women through sexual objectification and enforced conformity to patriarchal mandates against which Ellen has so eloquently spoken out. It is unproductive and damaging for everyone involved, including the men whose gender privilege allows them to make serious threats against another human being with impunity.
This conversation is one that needs to happen. It is crucial for us, within society and on our own campus, to have respectful and animated dialogue around the subject of womens’ rights. We must critically examine the ways in which women are portrayed in media of all stripes, and the reasons why we allow these demeaning representations to propagate through our silence. We must be able to voice divergent opinions without fear of crucifixion, because only then will we ever be able to break this harmful cycle of systemic oppression.
Maghan M. Jackson
Dr. Michael Sosulski
Dr. Gail Griffin
Dr. Jennifer Einspahr
Dr. Amy Smith
Dr. Daniel Kato