Twerking: The Issue and What's Really Behind It
Luna Silva brings to the table a discussion on twerking and its place in society
Words by Luna Silva (with editing from Zoe Adelola).
There is a trend in post-feminism that stems from an idea of individualism and freedom of choice, that women should do what they want with their bodies. If this means that they pose in the nude while their male counterparts are clothed on adverts or if they twerk in music videos, that is their free will and thus should be respected as a liberated act.
“I believe in complexity, I believe that no discourse, no article, no words can ever truly capture the intricacy of any subject … I write this in the hope that a more constructive dialogue can be produced”
Regarding twerking and other overtly sexual dances there seems to be a binary mix of reactions. On the one hand these dances are ‘pornographic’, much too ‘sexually explicit’ or as Ed Sheeran stated “it's a strippers move”. On the other is this idea of liberated sexual freedom, of female empowerment, and of post-feminism.
I believe in complexity, I believe that no discourse, no article, no words can ever truly capture the intricacy of any subject. This is why I have taken the time, before I begin expressing any opinion; I am not, therefore attempting to portray my reality as universal. I write this in the hope that a more constructive dialogue can be produced and we can be active members of the society we live in (whichever it may be).
"The real issue is not twerking but consent. In societies where twerking is normal, it is not perceived as an open invitation to have men come behind you and feel you up"
I have nothing against twerking. The act in itself is a dance. A dance form that echoes sexuality, something that is surprisingly taboo when we think of how present it is in our lives. We talk about food, we teach each other how to cook with countless television programs, but we don't freely talk about the wonders of orgasms or the art of sex. Instead we are meant to know instinctively how to ‘do it’. We are expected to manage all on our own or with the help of specifically two visual schools: the school of pornography, which is in fact faulty as it is mainly a product for masturbation not a sex guide; the school of sex scenes in the cinema, these usually portray a very quick, dialogue-free, effortless depiction of sex. Both these schools are extremely limited. Women are always depicted as completely sexually satisfied, whereas studies have shown that this is not the case: “About half of women sometimes have orgasms during intercourse. About 20 percent seldom or ever have orgasms during intercourse. And about 5 percent never have orgasms, period.” (Elisabeth Lloyd in The Case of the Female Orgasm).
Another myth that has a negative impact on men is that penis size is all a woman cares about and is the true measure of satisfaction: “Penis size doesn't matter to most women's sexual satisfaction. If only 25 percent of women are consistently orgasmic during intercourse, then for most women, penis size doesn't matter”.
I have now diverged into the subject of sex and our society's problem with it, because sex is the big issue here, not twerking. It's not about a woman shaking her ass more than we are accustomed to see on TV. It's not about the increased issue of hyper-sexualisation in video clips and films. It's not about the fashion of S & M.
Dancing, as George Bernard Shaw stated, is a “perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire”. The links between sex and dancing are historical, as well as global. From ventilateur in Senegal to malaya in Oman, dancehall in Jamaica, danca funk in Brazil or twerk in New Orleans, there is nothing new about this form of dancing. There are many brilliant articles that give the historical context of these dances accompanied with videos. I have shared these below.
The real issue is not twerking but consent. In societies where twerking is normal, it is not perceived as an open invitation to have men come behind you and feel you up. The reality is we miss partner dances, we miss feeling the touch. Nowadays there are no codes, no rules as to how you approach a woman and find out if she wants to dance with you. One great issue with patriarchal societies is that men are not taught to take responsibility for their sexual emotions. If a girl is dancing in a sexual way and a man gets aroused he could assume that she consciously provoked that in him. But the reality is that your emotion is yours and, no a woman doesn't have to do anything about the fact that you have an erection. You can have it, that's your choice, and that's fine, but it's nobody else's problem. That's not what we are taught in our society: we are taught that women have to exert the control because men are taught they can't. Men are then seen as sexual animals that can't control themselves. Who invented that piece of crap?
Women should be allowed to be sexual beings without having to take responsibility for other people's reactions. Sexuality is normal, it's not an offence, it's not an insult, it's not shameful, it's not theft, it's not a crime, it's normal for men and for women. I have grown up in a very sexually repressed society where our backs are stiff and butts lack in muscle. We are invited to clench those parts of our body, keep them contained for fear of being raped or abused.
I have to admit I am shocked when I look at extremely explicit Jamaican dancehall videos, or the first time I saw Nicki Minaj's Anaconda video. I think there are three important things to take note:
1. People like me can benefit from loosening up
2. A society where sex is explicitly accepted, is beneficial to all
3. Men need to learn to be around sexual women without feeling that they necessarily have to have sex with them
I want to see video clips where women twerk, move their bodies and are joined by men in a respectful way, in a playful, teasing way. I want to see women refusing to dance with men and men being ok with this allowing all to dance on their own and have a blast.
Everyone gets rejected. It's not always about you; maybe she wanted to dance alone. I want to see more videos where women are twerking and it doesn't involve men because it doesn't have to. I am reminded of a time where I was once at a Brazilian party and all the girls got in a circle and started twerking, moving their asses in a sexual way. The men were not a part of the circle, they were doing the barbecue or watching in a relaxed way. My father joined the circle of women and was looked at by the other girls checking if their circle was still a safe space. He was moving his butt as well and having a great time, not at all trying anything sexual with any of them: he was therefore deemed harmless.
This is a call for a shift in the discussion around dances that are wideley considered sexual. These should not exclusively focus on the women's agency, but instead include actions and reactions of all sexes. We need to ask ourselves, what can men do? Let's imagine a man witnessing a girl twerking or moving her butt and they are getting aroused. They they feel an electricity inside. After all, they are also entitled to their reaction; emotions produce reactions. Maybe the man in question can try to establish eye contact, see if the girl might be interested in him? Maybe he should twerk too?
Men also twerk - we just don't get shown it on TV very much:
In a club where people dance solo, twerk, move their ass, move their body, they are creating a sexual energy. And some people in that room might be going home together, others might just want to be a part of that energy and then go home to their cosy bed, alone.
So, Ladies and Gentlemen, twerk away - we could all benefit from muscly bums and remember: