We’re socialized to view sexuality – especially women’s sexuality and queer sexuality – as a transgression.
The idea that sexual expression is inappropriate, or dirty, or should be reserved only for some (younger, thinner, conventionally attractive) people is so ingrained it becomes taken-for-granted.
This can become part of our worldview even if we are nice, even if we are progressive, and even in reference to our own selves. It is reinforced at school, through media, and often at home.
And that framing is not benign. It doesn’t remain abstract, or harmless. Too often it manifests as sexual violence, or targeted violence against queer bodies, most disproportionately against transgender women of color.
The messaging around sexuality, and the real violence sometimes executed around it, can make us feel like we are not at home in our bodies, not entitled to pleasure, or confined by “acceptable” versions of sexual expression that don’t gel with our own cultural or personal preferences.
In a recent dance class I co-taught, I was struck by how hungry we all really are to change the narrative about what is means to be sexy and why.
I was also reminded that through dance we can:
- Feel liberated and powerful in our bodies.
- Explore different ways of expressing sensuality.
- Expand the definition of sexy.
- Honor self love and community care (especially during seasons like Valentine’s Day, which typically center romantic partnership).
- Have fun expressing pleasure.
In my Intro to Sociology classes, I always show the WAP music video. Students are usually pretty delighted to watch it in class.
Then, we talk about whether the music video is “hegemonic” or “counter-hegemonic” – meaning, does it reinforce power relationships as they are or does it challenge typical cultural narratives?
Usually, we decide it is a little bit of both.
Hyper-sexualization of women, especially women of color, is pervasive and often maintains unequal power relationships. On the other hand, women claiming sexual agency, owning their labor, and showcasing collectivism is a challenge to the status quo.
As we wrap up our discussion, I ask students to consider these questions:
- What could it mean to us to be more liberated in our bodies?
- How might that sustain us for challenging political and social work ahead?
- How can we shift away from centering a *Eurocentric and heteronormative male gaze when thinking about expressions of sexuality?
I don’t have answers, but I hope the questions might help guide us as we imagine new futures. Happy (sexy) dancing everyone.
*Did I do too much for you here with the sociology terms? Here’s what those words mean and why I use them.
Eurocentric – the idea that the history and cultural practices of Europe, and of white Americans, are the “norm”, while those of the global majority of people living in or with roots in Latin America, Africa, and Asia are supplementary. This is a pervasive idea, but one common way it manifests, that helps illustrate the idea, is when European history is taught in the core curriculum at schools, while Latin American, African, or Asian history are offered as electives.
Heteronormative – similarly, this is the idea that straight or heterosexual relationships are normal, while queer relationships of any type are “other”.
Male gaze – this phrase refers to the fact that men’s views of things like attractiveness and sexiness (especially straight men’s views) have typically taken precedence over any other views.
None of these terms is actually an attack on the groups identified. Rather, they are words we use to identify and talk about power relationships as they currently exist. The goal in naming these things is to build a more just, fulfilling society.