This post is part of a resource for flow arts and movement communities to address issues of consent and boundaries. You can access the full resource here.
Gender, Sexual Violence, Power, and Control, Part One: Why we need to learn about broader trends in gender, sexual violence, power, and control
Dance and movement practices, followed with intention and a focus on self-exploration, can lead to growing understanding of how gender, sexuality, power, and control express in your own reality, your own body, and your own interactions. Continued and regular movement practice with a shared community can lead to greater understanding of how gender, sexuality, power, and control express in those with whom you share space. We all, however, swim in the same cultural mix of patriarchy, silence, and expectation, and even our subcultures are necessarily part of the greater cultures in which they exist.
This was a hard reality for me to swallow in sociology classes in graduate school, as someone who wanted to believe that my immersion in subcultures of accountability, queerness, and sustainability meant that I was not susceptible to (or responsible for my) participation in broader cultures of violation, excess, and materialism. The more I read the more I understood that even a subculture that thrives in its resistance to the dominant culture is itself (at least partially) defined by the the broader culture through the ways that it differs and the points for which it is counterpoint.
Communities in our patriarchal society that emphasize tender masculinity cannot escape the specter of toxic patriarchy culture against whose dominance they will always seem an alternative. Communities emerging out of our repressed society for whom sexual freedom is an absolute ideal will, at least until a new norm is established, express as and be perceived as a movement of resistance to a Puritanical norm.
And any resistance-formed subculture runs the risk of enforcing its own hegemony within its bounds as part of its compulsory rejection of the dominant, broader culture.
For example, subcultures encouraging tender masculinity might so privilege gentleness as to pathologize even healthy expressions of anger, power, and confidence. Subcultures promoting freedom of sexual expression might so privilege sexual adventurousness as to pathologize vanilla sex or monogamy, even for people who find exquisite pleasure in more culturally-normative patterns of sexual experience.
Subcultures that privilege owning your own reactions and asserting your own boundaries might do so at the expense of recognizing real and harmful power dynamics that influence how boundaries are received when expressed, or the ways that each of us assert boundaries according to our own experience, communication styles, or capacity.
While no community can be entirely responsible for the ways in which its members navigate boundaries and consent, communities can hold a framework of accountability that encourages clear setting of boundaries, an expectation of respecting boundaries, and a willingness to provide some structured protections and accountability processes for the times in which setting or respecting of boundaries becomes challenging. Many movement communities have developed norms and frameworks about concepts of bodily autonomy and consent, and these existing frameworks can be part of a community’s prevention and response to consent violations.
That said, subcultures, for all the reasons listed above in this section, would be remiss to not look first to the broader movement against sexual violence, which has been researching, working to heal, and developing best practices around patriarchal conceptions of gender, power, control, and consent for decades. Not all practices and philosophies will fit perfectly, and many will need to me modified somewhat before being put into practices in flow arts and movement communities. Still, however flow arts and movement communities choose to respond to consent and boundary violations in their circles, whatever response they develop will be stronger, more effective, and more likely to be trauma- and evidence-informed if it draws upon the existing body of knowledge within the field of sexual and intimate partner violence for its starting points.
As someone with a foot in both worlds – as a dancer and flow artist as well as anti-violence professional – I can see the areas of overlap easily, and can anticipate the areas in which approaches might need to be customized or tweaked to fit movement and dance communities better. First, though, let’s cover some basic norms on which the movement to end intimate partner and sexual violence which include abuse, assault, rape, harassment, and stalking.