16 September 2009

Panic in the Aisles of Lakeland

This weekend I'm thinking of cooking something that requires a baking sheet, so this afternoon (while I was picking up my bike, having finally found the spare key) I went to Lakeland. Lakeland is a decidedly bourgeois purveyor of cooking equipment here, and like most decidedly bourgeois establishments it provides you with the near-knowledge that everything is overpriced, but because this is a university town it does carry some cheap items as well.

I should have known there would be trouble, since I went in at 5:15. I didn't know what time Lakeland closed - and given my propensities that's just as well - but since it was 5:15 and this one had an ominous emptiness, I don't know why I entered.

At this point you should know something important about me. I thought I'd mentioned it on here before, but I searched the blog and can't find anything, so forgive me if I repeat myself: I have a phobia about getting locked in stores. I should be absolutely clear, because this matters: I do not get scared when the store starts to close; I do not begin to be plagued by nervous imaginings when they start turning off the lights; I'm not worried that the shop will shut. My concern long pre-dates (or I guess pre-times) the shutting of the shop, and it begins quite a bit of time before the shutting does. If I am in a shop any time after about 15 minutes before closing, I am convinced, at an absolute and visceral level of certainty, that the shop will close with me in it, and I am petrified that I will then be shut in the shop. This means that I almost literally cannot enter a store that is about to shut. It also means that if I enter a store 15 minutes before it is about to close - or, in more extreme circumstances, if I enter as much as an hour beforehand and know that the shop will shut in an hour - I will feel nauseous, I will be panicked; and if I remain in the shop I will end up having a full-blown hysterical fit (this has only happened twice, but it's a sight to see).

(Incidentally, no one ever believes this when I tell them. I can only say, Come along and see me in a store that's about to close sometime.)

Anyway, I went into Lakeland, because it was still light out, and because I didn't know what time it was, and because there was another person there, albeit paying at the till. And no sooner was I two steps into the store than I became nauseous and terrified. Extremely so. And then I remembered a time a number of years ago when I was at the mall and I went into a store at 8 that was scheduled to close at 10. I was absolutely convinced that I was going to get locked in the store, and my level of panic and fear was precisely the same as if I'd entered at 9:55. I was under
a lot of stress that day, and today as I raced out of Lakeland (I did look for the baking sheet, but they didn't have one, and as I exited the staff were standing in the terrifying "serried ranks by the door to bid you good-bye" formation, so I hightailed it out with a chill in my bones) I realised that my fear must be connected to the residual stress from the phone/keys theft.

I bought a new phone, incidentally. It's a later version of my beloved now-ex-phone, and although not as good, it's nice. And it's probably better in terms of what it can do, and all those sorts of things.

ANYway (or, as I've learned to say in Spanish, BUEno), none of this is what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to talk about dancing. As you know, I went out to the Mexican Independence Day party. Olé! And at the Mexican Independence Day party there was mucho baile (that's "a lot of dancing" for you Anglo-Saxon oppressors). Which was superfun, and you have to like a culture that embraces a song called "Culo." Or at least I have to. But as I danced (my culo off, figuratively speaking), I began to notice the way all the girls around me danced, and it gradually became slightly disturbing. Leaving aside the ones who plain old couldn't dance, every girl on the floor interpreted "dance" to mean "grind" - without exception, the most popular dance was a woman perched on a man's leg, smack up next to him, grinding pelvis to pelvis; second choice was butt - culo! - to pelvis. And even if they weren't against a man, the dancing was essentially grinding.

Now, don't get me wrong: I like a good grind as much as the next person. But it is merely one in a repertoire of dance gestures, for me. And thinking about it the next morning it struck me that all those girls must have learned "how to dance" from hip-hop videos, whereas when I was growing up almost no one danced in videos (they had things like stories, or people playing instruments, or stuff going on, or groups of questionably hairstyled men standing around in various stages of gloominess). Well, there was Madonna, or Palmer girls, but even they didn't do much dancing (and, okay, the Palmer girls showed their breasts. But it was tame stuff. Incidentally, Robert Palmer was almost the last of a breed: the soul performer for whom a suit or at least a tie was de rigeur. At the time it made no impression, but now I see how elegant he was). And Madonna, if you watch her dance, you can see that much of that dancing is simply for her own pleasure: it requires no other person to watch, let alone participate, to make it interesting or enjoyable. But these girls...There was no sense, for me, that they knew how to dance for their own delight, that they knew how to move their bodies for the pure pleasure of that moving. Did the women I grew up with gain something because we didn't have a kind of dancing dictated to us?

Don't misunderstand me: I'm not saying that they weren't enjoying that dancing. Any kind of cultural trend eventually becomes performed disassociated from its original intent - which is a fancy way of saying, at a certain point we do things because they're the things that are done, or that we do - so I have no doubt that this dancing, as dancing in itself, was enjoyable for them. But I was saddened that, even though probably without knowing or understanding it, the kind of dancing that was giving these girls enjoyment was designed entirely to please others.

Although perhaps it doesn't make any difference: perhaps if they enjoy it, it doesn't matter if it's designed for men to enjoy.

I wonder sometimes, although not very often, what it would be like if we lived in a world where women cracked the whip and men did the jumping. Now, I know very very few heterosexual men - even those I know who like to dance tango, or who like to dance - who are good regular dancing dancers, so perhaps even if we lived in such a world heterosexual men would still not do much of the dancing (and yet homosexual men are generally excellent dancers, so it's clearly not gender-specific, and presumably in a female-dominated world men would be sexualised the way women and homosexuals are now). But what would it be like if they did? Rather more often, I think it would be a most worthwhile and salutary experience for most men if they spent 15 minutes in a world where gender roles were reversed: if they watched videos in which men writhed around, or if they were hooted and cat-called the way strippers are, or if (as I've discussed before) they were barraged with an endless stream of pictures and discussions about what men were hot, and why, and why that was absolutely fascinating.

Of course, these are feminist statements, and I also often think that it might be worth my while to stop and look at where my feminism has got me. If I had been less feminist, would I have stayed with my husband, and been happy? Well, if I were less feminist I would have been less focused on my own distractions and less inclined to give them legitimacy, so I wouldn't have cheated. Nor would I have, at an extreme, complained about his smoking, or been uncomfortable with how much he drank. So, yes, I would have stayed with him, and been happy after a fashion. But even if we had simply been mis-suited, and had broken up anyway, would I have been happier if I were less of a feminist? Well, I would have placed less value on developing myself and my interests, so I wouldn't have priced myself out of the market. And I would have been less inclined to feel I deserved better (since I would have had no notion of myself as someone who deserved anything at all), so I would probably have been satisfied with any one of my partners. And I wouldn't have been strong or independent, or proud of that strength or independence, and that certainly would have attracted more men. And, as a result of all of these, I wouldn't have been forging through my life alone. So, yes, on the whole I would have been happier and more contented if I hadn't been a feminist.

But...but...you will say if you are a certain kind of person (probably, specifically, a certain kind of woman)...I would have been terribly thwarted, and suppressed, and so I wouldn't have been happy. But, I will say in response, maybe not. Maybe, like those girls, I wouldn't have known I was being thwarted or suppressed, or thwarting or suppressing myself. I would have been unenlightened, but I would have been, a part of me whispers, happy.

1 comment:

Incubus said...

Although I sympathize with you about the Lakeland episode, I will comment on the grinding stuff. Well, I was wondering if the girls at the party really "learned" how to dance on hip hop videos, because "to dance" in the way I imagine you mean (I was not there, unfortunately - any videos? ;))is pretty straightforward for a person that has hips (and butts, as Sir Mix-a-Lot would say). A man can't do it very well, and if he tries, it would be very gay. But you know what? I really think that when girls do this kind of "sensual dancing" they are doing for themselves. It is a question of self-image improvement. They give a shit for the guy next to them. They just want to feel powerful and sexy and attractive dancing that way. They are dancing for themselves. So, you don't have to feel sorry for them, as if they were doing something only for the pleasure of the man next to them. The poor bastard is only something to lean on. Another thing I did not get is: I imagine the party was full of girls of every nationality. Since you are not in Mexico, I believe not many Mexican girls around. So, who was doing the grinding? I imagine English girls, American girls, German girls, Polish girls... do they all learn from hip hop? I really don't know.