Thursday, 4 August 2011

Will you dance with me?

As I warned, I have little time for articles this summer.  In any case, I have very much been in the German society recently and have been influenced by events there, so have less than normal to say about life in Poland.

However, an event which happened last week has inspired this reflection on 'pair-centricism' and 'heterosexual-centrism'.

First, a brief look at the nature of living abroad (I say this in order to try to make clear that I am not anti-Polish.  Some people on the internet believe this).

Cultural conformity

A word I often hear in terms of living abroad is the German word 'anpassen'  This means both 'fitting in' and 'conforming' in English.  'Fitting in' and 'conforming' are two different ways of dealing with situations that are foreign/strange.  While the former may be less radical, it nonetheless involves a change in behaviour and outlook, a change seen as many for getting on with people from different cultures.  You learn what hidden rules they have, and you follow them.

It is assumed that I, as a trainer who tries to help people from different cultures to understand and get on with each other will advocate such an approach.  I more or less do.  The thing is, 'conforming' or 'fitting in' or not is not a black and white issue.  How one decides to deal with foreignness/strangeness is very subjective.

In looking at subjective things like perceptions of cultures one is largely making self-revelations of a sort.  To say, for example, that 'Scandinavian people are reserved' can actually mean that the message is 'I am an open person'.  One defines oneself against that which is perceived to be foreign.  Self-awarness is therefore vital to understanding other cultures.

Therefore forgive this writing about myself.  Now, if it is to be considered that I wish to conform to cultures in Poland or Germany one should ask oneself whether this heavy-metal listening, fuck you I won't do what you tell me, protesting against governments, member of a pro-LGTB group within the Anglican church, white poppy wearing, refuse/resist argumentative bastard is going to try to conform to any culture. 

Ask, though, whether I try to fit into Liverpool FC fan culture (say, by not singing woolish songs) or the Russian Orthodox church (by crossing myself and kissing icons and stuff) and I'll give you a different answer.  I, like everyone else, pick and chose when to try to fit in and when not to.  We all have our borders.  We can try to get to know them, and change them, but sometimes one finds oneself rebelling, if that is seen to be part of ones character.

That introduction out the way, let's look at pair-centrisim and heterosexual-centrism in Poland.

Will you dance with me?

There have been a few occasions where I have been quite lost at discos.  There has been some good music (and I don't mean slow romantic songs) and I wanted to dance, but everyone, and I mean everyone who is dancing is in a male-female pair.  I sit there, thinking 'Should I ask a girl to dance?'  or 'Am I offending some girl by not asking her to dance'?  and getting frustrated that if I was to get up and dance alone I would be stared at.

It's all about perspective.  Let's try to understand them:

The individualist approach

Here I am, banging my head to Motörhead.  It's cool to dance with others, but ultimately I will do it on my own on a dance floor if needs me.  I see fun as something I can have my myself.  While I can prefer dancing with others, it is the music and my reaction to it that is more important.

The collectivist-centrist approach

Music is fun.  I like to dance with my friends.  I get bored dancing on my own.  I want to share the experience and sing and whatever with them.  I don't really need to love the music.

The pair-centrist approach

Dancing is an activity for couples.  The point of music is to enjoy music with a member of the opposite sex.  Perhaps I shall end up being romantically involved with this person, or perhaps not.  It is not important.  The society exists so that men and women can try each other out to see whether they want to be with them.  That is how we are made to be.  A man and woman shows respect to each other by dancing with them.

Between these approaches can lie misunderstandings.  The individualist can be seen as closed, the collectivist as dependent on others (these both aspects demonstrate the introverted/extraverted dynamic).  It is the pair-centrist approach where big misunderstandings can take place.  A request by a man towards a girl to dance with him can be seen as flirtatious, when in fact nothing is meant like that.

I struggle with the pair-centrist approach.  I've been to weddings in Poland and that the music was utterly shite did not matter a jot to the other guests, as they were more interested in having fun with other people and meeting new men and women.  For me the music is the most important thing.  There's nothing I like more than a good moshpit, but I can quite happily dance on my own.  Dancing can be done for enjoyment, not just for the narrow scope of couples.

Heterosexual-centrism, gender roles and a fear of male sexuality

There's another subtext to this.  I have asked men to dance with me and have been emotionally rejected.  Nothing really bad for me, but I am convinced that a heterosexual-centrism lies behind pair-centrism: One can only dance with a member of the opposite sex.

Now, while in this model lads will dance with lasses, girls dancing with other girls appears to be more accepted.  That does not disprove my argument, rather, it proves it.  One of the girls can play the 'male' role.  That is allowed.  We all know it does not mean that the girl can be lesbian as showings of affection between women is more socially accepted than that between men.  Affection is seen to be 'female', therefore it is 'OK'.

A male (and I say this about men in different countries) faces pressure not to be seen as being gay.  Any hint of being gay, such as dancing with another man is to be feared.  That one does not want to be seen as being gay makes sense from the perspective of wanting to display ones openness to women on one side, but on the other side is a form of homophobia: 'I do not want people to consider me to be gay as being gay is a bad thing'.

Of course, being thought to be or being gay will produce discrimination.  On the other hand, a fear of being perceived to be gay can also be a form of homophobia, 'What?!  Me?  Gay?  Fuck off!'.  A homophobia rooted in fear of themselves resulting from a lack of awareness of themselves.

This largely affects men.  Both men and women are more accepting of lesbians than of gays.  It is more OK for a girl to be either girly or masculine than the other way around.  Men are under more pressure to be masculine, which is why this becomes OTT in some cases.

Now, when I say 'sexuality' I don't just mean 'the sex who one wants to have sex with'.  Sexuality is much more than sex, it is also about how one shows ones own sex.  It can involve the wearing of make-up, playing sport, or whatever.  It can also involve the enjoyment of the company with people who share ones sex.

(Generalised statement alert): I believe that men generally like physical contact with other men.  They may not always admit it to themselves, but if you find them on a football terrace, in a concert or when they are drunk you will find them enjoying that physical contact with other men.  This is not true of all men, of course.  Look at men in Turkey, walking arm in arm with each other.  No bother there.  No, heterosexual man are very much capable of enjoying physical contact with other men.

The problems arises when men do not admit this to themselves.  Any such a liking or desire can be seen to themselves as proof that they are gay.  This shows a lack of confidence in ones own sexuality, like they haven't proofed to themselves whether they are heterosexual.  Ironically, this does not show strength (something a 'real man' should aspire to), it shows weakness.  It is as if they are scared of liking being close to the other male.

This is what I mean by fear, fear of ones own sexuality.  They are not in touch with their own maleness (Our societies don't help us, it has to be said.  Thank God for initiatives like International Men's Day.)

This fear can then be projected onto others, largely actual gays.  They become the scapegoat of that part of us that we fear, by which I mean both that part of us that likes physical contact with other men, or for some that part that is sexually attracted to other men.  Surely it'd be more 'manly' to be comfortable in ones sexuality, no fear?

Let's not let the girls off

Women propound this as much as men.  While some may desire a more 'open' man, they will also show an aversion to male-male physical contact.  This may take the form of jokes or pulled faces.  They may gossip about 'which man is gay' if he behaves a bit differently, a gossip rooted in the question of whether this man is open towards girls or not, but is also rooted in fixed gender roles.

It is these fixed gender roles which harm women as much as anyone.

Anyway, hopefully by this time next week I'll be seeing one of the best bands of history: Judas Priest, in Spodek in Katowice.

That their singer, Rob Halford is gay is well-known.  So, in a purely heavy metal spirit you may find me ignoring the cultural rule of 'You can't dance with me', or rather acknowledging it and then ramming it down.

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