CALL TO ACTION:
Challenging Sexism in Our Community

Content warning: This piece contains references to sexual harassment and sexual assault.

        Amidst the #metoo’s, the sexual harassment claims, the confessions, and the Silence Breakers, it seems only necessary that we address this issue as it manifests across our dance circuits – that we put an end to the complicity running deep within our community.

        We’ve all witnessed the gendered and sexual transgressions that appear to so easily manifest amid the blaring music and dim lighting of a congested after-party. The crowd on the dance floor becomes a simple pretext for women to be groped and prodded without their consent. Making friends with her at the mixer sparks the notion that he can “win her” at the after-party. Simply agreeing to dance invites an assumption that he’s going to “get some tonight.” Yet, even as we hear these conversations and witness these behaviors, some of us turn a blind eye, some of us feel powerless and uncomfortable, simply whispering “gross” to ourselves, and then chalking it up to “hookup culture.” Of course, by no means are we implying that consensual hook-ups are inherently wrong. However, to consider forcible actions and demeaning language as justifiable “hookup culture” is an extreme fallacy – a fallacy that many of us have internalized and excused as merely the result of “horny men.” By maintaining such a “boys will be boys” mentality, we implicitly pardon these behaviors, thereby allowing the same experiences to ensue for someone else.

        Often going unnoticed is the undercurrent of sexism that builds up to the sexual harassment occurring at the after-party. Throughout competition season, during practices, bondings, within group chats, female and femme dancers are constantly diminished to their looks alone. Their skill and grace is hardly recognized, but rather lumped into the objectification of their bodies – bodies treated as mere pieces in the game of who can “get” her at the next competition. This socialized behavior is maintained by men encouraging other men, policing each other’s masculinity and implicating that it is contingent on objectifying women. Though not all men engage in these behaviors, systemic power dynamics that favor masculinity put women in a particularly vulnerable position when they are reduced to “hot bodies” by the men who do engage. Some women have even begun to internalize this dehumanization, perceiving the staring at after-parties as desirable attention and wishing for the label of “hotness” to be cast upon them. Thus, the oppressive roots of objectification have been normalized, deeply impacting women’s psyches and creating a fleeting boost to their self-esteem, which in reality has been damaged for years by growing up around such omnipresent objectification. Such perceptions of women’s bodies are largely perpetuated by oppressive language such as “get some” and “I could f*ck with her” – phrases so frequently and casually used in our society that the degrading culture undergirding them is forgotten. The sexual harassment and assault that occurs at after-parties then serves as a tragic reminder that this culture exists. But what if we didn’t need a reminder? What if we had addressed this culture – standing up to such oppressive language – before it got to this point, before women had to say “#metoo”?

        This competition season, we’d like to call to action our community across DDN – dancers, other competition boards, D.J.’s, judges – to put an end not only to the nonconsensual behaviors of after-parties, but also to the treatment of women’s bodies as prizes to be won, to the blatant disregard of their talent and beautiful personalities in favor of sexualizing the physicality that cloaks them. We recognize that we’ve allowed these issues to manifest during our own competition, and we would like to sincerely apologize to those who have undergone such experiences under our watch. Now, we are challenging ourselves, and we invite you to join us: let us grow to be aware of the behaviors occurring at after-parties as they happen, actively stop what we see as coercive, and call out those who use oppressive language against women both intentionally and unwittingly. In the face of resistance from friends who jokingly urge you to “chill out,” let us stay firm in our resolve. Let us discover our agency and finally begin to tackle the deeply rooted culture of objectification that underpins why so many women must proclaim #metoo.  

***

This piece focuses on the objectification of women as it relates to sexual harassment and assault within our dance circuit. We recognize that objectification of all gender identities exists, and we call you to action to combat this issue as well. Finally, we acknowledge that this piece does not reflect the experiences of everyone in the community.

— Tufaan Executive Board 2018

Written by: Dhivya Sridar

Keya Amin

Reema Amin

Nicole Antony

Neha Basti

Rishika Bheem

Swati Garg

Vishal Giridhar

Veda Girishkumar

Nikita Jain

Sai Maddike

Swetha Marisetty

Nirmal Mulaikal

Swagata Patnaik

Suhas Penukonda

Rushi Shah

VOICES OF OUR COMMUNITY

These quotes were written by members of DDN who have seen or experienced the issues at hand. To view all the quotes, please scroll using the tabs below. If you would like to share a quote or story, please click on the button below.

“When the lineups for next comp season come out, we should make a bingo card with girls from different schools and teams on it and hook up with girls from these schools to get bingo” as overheard at an afterparty last year. We are not numbers on a bingo card. Being admired is acceptable; being objectified is not, and there is an ocean’s difference between the two. We’re not asking for it with what we’re wearing. We’re not asking for it when we’re drinking. We’re not asking for it when we’re alone. It is not a compliment when strangers grab and kiss you in public places. It’s sad that such surprise moments that we cannot prevent or erase have somewhat become unavoidable if you want to participate in public life.

— Anonymous

**The names in the following story have been changed to protect anonymity.**

11:00pm.

The after-party had started an hour ago – we laughed at how dead it would be as my team knocked back shot after shot. Another one for the captains!

I thought to myself: We might not have won the comp, but we’re gonna be winners tonight.

11:45pm.

As we pulled up to the curb, it was just starting to really heat up – we were right on time. My co-captain, Sapna, latched onto a group of guys further up in line.

She’s done this before – she’ll be fine.

12:30am.

I had to pee. As I waited in line for the urinal, the guys behind me started scheming as to which one of them was going to sleep with the girl in the “lacey black top” tonight.

Psht, she’s probably out of both of your leagues

1:00am.

This is wild!! I finally pushed my way through the heaps of sweaty bodies so I could take a second to breathe by the bar. I see Sapna making out with a guy in the corner.

Yaaaa, get it girlll!

1:45am.

It started winding down and my real responsibility tonight was making sure everyone got home safe. After spamming our groupme, everyone was finally in the same place… wait where’s Sapna?

Eh, she can take care of herself

2:00am.

After arranging Ubers back to the hotel, I finally call Sapna.

“Yo, where are you?”

“Heyyyy – I’m going to a postgame at Nithin’s place!!”

“Who’s Nithin?! Are you alone?”

—the line goes dead—

I send her a quick text. “Ima be up for a while, call me if you need me. Be safe!”

She’s probably known Nithin for a while

3:00am.

I get a call.

“Please come…now”

Oh no.

3:30am.

I take an Uber to the address the sends me, and it’s pitch dark inside. She’s sitting outside, her “lacey black top” torn while make-up and tears streaked down her face.

What happened? How could everything have gone so wrong?

4:00am.

She’s cried on my shoulder the entire ride home. “I don’t want to talk about it,” she whispers as she crawls into bed.

What do I do?

I partly blame myself for that night.

She had been held down, thrown around, and sexually assaulted.

I could have stopped it.

It was all just so “normal.”

It’s. Not. Normal.

— Anonymous

I was a freshman at one of my first after parties dancing with team members, when the captain of my team starting coming closer to me, pulling me to him. At first I thought it was friendly and harmless but he started to get more aggressive, pulling me and holding me against him dancing against me, trying to kiss my neck and kiss me. When friends around us noticed my discomfort they tried to intervene and he got angry, saying that we were just having fun. I played it off in the moment because as a freshman on the team I didn’t want to accuse my captain of hurting me or making me uncomfortable; I was supposed to look up to him. I was ready for the night to be over and left to return to the hotel. As I was getting ready to sleep he entered the room I was in and tried to get into the bed with me, once again trying to kiss me and touch me. I was stuck and didn’t know what to do. I’m forever thankful for the friend lying next to me who stopped him that night, when I couldn’t bring myself to.

Thinking back I’m not sure what stopped me from saying something or doing something about it after, or even in the moment, other than that I didn’t want to cause a scene. I didn’t want to be the freshman on the team accusing the captain of something so serious. I didn’t want to be “that girl” and didn’t want to make him “that guy”, which is such a large part of the problem.

–Anonymous

I was standing with team members at an afterparty, when a guy walking past me decided to reach around me and grab my breast, slid his hand down my body, grabbed my butt and just continued walking. I felt violated.  I was angry, but also so confused – by what made him think he could do that to me, if I gave him any reason to, if I should do anything. But in that moment of thought that had me frozen, the moment had passed and he walked away and I didn’t even know what he looked like.

— Veda Girishkumar

Being a leader is hard. Being a leader as a woman is even harder. It’s hard to lead by example, even when you’re tired, or to sacrifice your own fun for the betterment of your team. These types of things, though, are things that we can expect to happen in a leadership position. We know they’re coming. What was most surprising to me, were the things that I didn’t foresee…and the challenges that came with something I couldn’t even change. I started noticing that even though I would take charge, do my research, plan things in advance, etc., people would naturally look to a male figure for words of wisdom and advice. They would want to hear a male voice commanding them…and there was really not much I could do about that. I felt like my voice was less important, and even questioned sometimes, whereas the voices of my male counterparts were not.

— Neena Singhal

Hanging out or spending time with people from a different team doesn’t mean they owe you anything. They don’t owe you a hook-up, they don’t have to kiss you or dance with you.

— Anonymous

Having been a part of the circuit for almost 4 years now, I have experienced and seen this beauty flourish, but I cannot speak on behalf of everyone, especially women. I’ve seen them face sexism and objectification left and right, whether as a part of an all girls team or as individuals. During my first year of dancing, I saw how many of the all girls teams were not given the amount of respect or recognition by others in the circuit from other teams, judges, and individual dancers. Nothing had to be said, but I simply saw that there was a lack of representation and inclusivity of the all girls teams in general. Many of them were trying their hardest to get their name out there with their different styles of choreography, which to some people was not entertaining enough, or too sexy, or too feminine overall. All guys teams had the upperhand in getting a crowd going at competitions, but it always baffled me as to why all girls teams wouldn’t get the same reactions or energy from the crowd as other teams did. And not only did this power difference show in the crowd reactions, but it showed on judges reactions too. Many of the all girls teams didn’t get a chance to place in competitions, even though they put their best efforts in to do so. Being my first year in the circuit, and to see all this, it definitely stuck that something had to change. Over the next few years, I saw that change happen. More all girls teams started rising up, they became more competitive, and became more recognized by everyone else, pushing themselves up to the top. It took a change in mindset over time, which came about through a lot of discussions on social media, especially the Desi Dance Network page, to really emphasize that women are powerful people in this circuit and that they can help make this circuit even stronger and that they are here to stay. I’ve seen what the circuit has done to women, but I now see what the circuit has done FOR them. There is still a lot of work to be done to completely eliminate the sexism that women face, however I do know that the circuit is taking steps in the right direction to bring about that change.

— Rahul Malewar

A moment that has remained with me even after a couple years was at an afterparty when I saw a guy dancing on and kissing a girl who clearly wasn’t able to even hold her own weight or stand up straight, let alone provide consent. I walked over and tried to pull her away to talk to her and check in, and got a lot of angry remarks from the guy (“What the f*ck” “What’s your problem” “This isn’t your business”). When I got her on her own though, she said something that has really stuck with me: “I just didn’t know how to say no.”

 

It hurt to hear that and it made me so sad that she felt this way especially because it reminded me of my own experiences as a freshman and my realization that our dance circuit in some ways is a terrible environment for first year college students. While simultaneously comforting the girls on our teams after they get hit on by “a creep”, we congratulate our own teammates when they show up in the hotel room the next morning boasting about hickeys and not remembering their hookup’s name. So even as we speak of our disgust, we continue to normalize the idea that other people can be thought of as conquests, and in turn, make it so much harder “to know how to say no.” Moreover, we move farther from the idea that it shouldn’t have even happened unless it was a “yes.”

 

In my mind, we need a dynamic shift in culture within the circuit and for individuals to own up to the idea that whether it be things we see happening at afterparties, or how we talk about hookups, or whether we decide to intervene even when situations are awkward or sticky, that it is always “our business” and it will take the entire community to improve.

— Prachi Keni

It was my first competition weekend. As a freshman, I had been waiting for this weekend that our captains had repeatedly told us would be worth all the hours we put in to our show. On the way to the competition, one of the older members mentioned how “our team was tame last year, but this year, it would be wild because of all the freshman”. The next day I remember some guys on the team talking about our liaison and debating how they wanted to get with her. I immediately felt a pang of shock and fear. Shock that close friends were discussing their intentions with a woman in this manner. Fear because if friends I believed to be mature and responsible talked like this, then what could others be thinking, saying or even doing? I don’t think these feelings fully registered in my mind at the moment. Especially with the buzz of the competition energy in the background, it was easy to let these comments slip in the moment.

     We had a great performance that night and with a celebratory mood, our team made our way to the afterparty. It was at a bar located in the downtown area of the city. The bar was dark, crowded and loud. Not only was there not enough room to dance, there was barely room to stand, with one body glued to another. This space restraint became more problematic than I assumed at first.

      I was walking through the bar with a group of friends when a man who I didn’t know brushed his hand slowly along the front of my waist, where a bit of my skin was exposed. Immediately, I looked at him, a part of me expecting him to apologize. Instead, he smiled at me. I walked away quickly, catching up with my friends as I thought to myself, “it was probably an accident… everyone was standing so close to each other anyway”. Inside, I felt sick that someone had touched me like that. I regretted wearing the top that I had chosen.

       My fear had come true.

— Swagata Patnaik

Afterparties. It’s the end of competition weekend and everyone is just trying to have a good time to celebrate. Throughout the weekend, boys are trying to figure out that girl. The one girl they are going to try and find at the afterparty to make their weekend complete. The social norm has taken over the circuit and truly created a negative impact on the culture. Men continue to objectify women with phrases like “Who’s the hoe on this team I can get with” or “Hey dude, who on your team is down Saturday”. Being primarily on a girls co-ed team, I’ve gotten these questions many times and I myself was at fault for trying to set people up. Over time, I’ve realized my mistake and told guys “C’mon you can be better than bro”. But one person is not enough to change the culture that has taken over the DDN circuit.

— Anonymous

Personally, there have been times when I’m walking down the street at night and get cat-called like almost every woman has probably experienced at least once in their lives. And I’d like to think that when I hear things like “ *whistle* Hey hottie” or “What can those long legs do?” my blood would boil. And honestly, I want it to boil—to get angry and fight back in some way. But instead, I just get chills on the back of my neck. Not anger, but fear. And the most jarring part of the entire experience is knowing that a few words can make your entire existence feel so small and meaningless.

— Anonymous

In my experience, the Desi dance circuit and Indian community in college fostered a kind of latent sexism from the beginning. Guys would openly discuss the incoming freshmen girls as if scoping out their prospects. One time I was on a committee composed mostly of boys where one of them would literally turn a deaf ear to my suggestions and comments but respond enthusiastically if another guy said the same thing. It took years to recognize this deeply embedded culture. By senior year I was one of four girls on an executive board of 14 people. I had to point out to boys in leadership positions that they were talking over or laughing off genuine ideas from female board members.

On a dance team, where everyone is a family, these things play out differently. I would never say anyone in college was overtly sexist, but it was easy to see that younger people on the team—especially boys—paid closer attention and followed instructions when another male was leading them. Too often it felt like our female captains were only instructing other female dancers, because that’s who automatically listened to them instead of the group as a whole.

— Proma Khosla

This message is predominantly for the circuit’s straight men: I came to the DDN circuit searching for a community who thought about, felt about, and participated in South Asian culture the same ways I did. I sought autonomy, understanding, but most of all, friendships. While I found many of these during my time on Anubhav, I also found a poisonous, heterosexist, dangerously heteronormative and masculine aura in my frequent interactions with a lot of men (especially during afterparties). Many of these interactions elicited memories of a stereotyped high-school men’s locker-room scene: jokes about skin color, being dark, being “fair”; being “fat”; calling one another or writing off women as “crazy/insane,” “thirsty,” “hot,” or “bi***es;” ranking people as a function of their congruence with societal beauty configurations; and homophobic and transphobic prejudice. While for many of the men, hooking up ended with bragging rights, for women, its implications remained greater: I have seen my own friends feel worthless, or come to judge themselves based on how circuit “superstars” — prominent personalities, team (male) leads, and more — view them; some of these women now struggle with mental health challenges, like self-esteem issues, depression, and eating disorders, all compounded by circuit sexism and culture. While the circuit is a phenomenal space, it has years of improvement left to become the Safe Space its founders intended for it. I have seen women made to feel insecure, berated, degraded, and treated as nothing beyond objectified brown bodies morphed into afterparty sex toys. It is possible to participate in hook-up culture without denigrating the women who help enable our circuit in the first place. And now, MeToo and TimesUp are here; together, crush this sexist virus while it still thrives.

— Archit Baskaran

When I was a liaison a few years ago, I was walking a group of men on my team to a practice space.  They pressured me to rank the women on their own team in order of physical appearance.  As a woman, I felt extremely uncomfortable, but it was my job to be nice to them.  I didn’t know what to do.

— Anonymous

Just within my freshman year I was sexually assaulted/harassed three distinct times at after parties. By the time sophomore year came I was genuinely nervous to go to an after party because I wondered if it was just going to be a repeat of those instances. I should not have had to feel fear at a time when I was supposed to be celebrating with my friends and team.

First instance: A man watched me from the bar for three hours. I was not the first one who noticed, my friends alerted me that I was being watched and was told not to walk around without another person because they were afraid that he would grab me if he got the chance. They were right. At one point I stood a little too far from my group and he grabbed me by my arm and pulled me by the bathrooms to isolate me. He then continued to show me the pictures he had taken of me throughout the night, all while taking more pictures during our ‘talk.’ He demanded I give him my number and swore at me and became violent when I refused to give him my real number. I am so thankful for my teammates who found me and pulled me away.

Second instance: An after party had ended and I was going to get some drunk food with some of my teammates. I had forgotten my coat inside the club so I went back to get it and told my friends to just wait down the street for me. When I got inside a man approached me and very tightly grabbed me by my arm. He told me that I was going to go home with him and his ‘brother’ because they wanted a girl to take home that night. I told him that I was good and that my friends were waiting for me and his grip tightened. He was trying to take me out a side door while still forcibly make me go with him when my friend came inside to see what was taking me so long. I am so thankful for that friend’s gut instinct because I do not think I would have been able to pull myself away and I cringe to think what would have happened that night otherwise.

Third instance: I was dancing with a group of my friends at an after party when a guy approached me from behind. He was very aggressive about dancing with me despite me telling him I just wasn’t interested. Apparently he saw my dress as an invitation because he reached his hand around me, bypassing my stomach or side, to instead touch my vagina. Partially shocked and 100% disgusted I tried pushing him away. Instead he decided to pull me back with him by grabbing my boobs and not letting go, he whispered in my ear that he thought I would like it and that he’s ‘just trying to have fun.’ He only stopped and left me alone when a male teammate forcibly grabbed him and pulled him away from me.

The saddest part is that this was every after party and I was so conditioned to it that I should have been horrified but instead I felt pressured to laugh it off. I wasn’t the only one this was happening to and I have noticed how it’s changed over the past three years, it’s become more open and blatant and it’s disgusting. Something needs to change.

— Anonymous

I was on the board for my all girls team, and we were all getting ready to go out to the after party. While walking to the bar, whispers of “stay close” “don’t interact with them” and “don’t make eye contact” could be heard as we made our way in groups of 4 or 5 through the crowded street full of cat callers to the bar. I got called a bitch for not saying “thank you” to a guy who called out “nice ass” and not engaging.

We get to the after party and this one guy is being extra creepy. He asked me to dance and I said no, and then he went around to every girl on my team who all said no. He wasn’t happy with that answer so started dancing behind us and kept trying to rub against us or grab our waists or hands. He came closer to me and I put out my hand in order for him to stop. He didn’t stop, he kept coming near us. All I could think was “I need to protect my girls” and told him he needed to walk away and that no one was interested.

Later that night, my best friend comes up to me in a panic because that guy grabbed her under her dress and tried to get his hands into her underwear. I was furious.

Still later, he comes circling around my team again and I grab all of them and make them move. He sees me do it and gives me a look.

An hour later, I was dancing with my team and he comes up behind me, grabs my waist, and slams his pelvis into me twice and then pushes me forward. As he walks away he’s giving me the “I’m watching you” sign. I’m screaming after him cause I’m so mad that he’s been terrorizing my team and now put his hands on me, and it’s not because I thought I was any match for him but because I couldn’t let the freshman see me just backing down, I had to protect them from this creep too.

I recognized this guy I met at the mixer and asked him to be a buffer between me and the other guy because I didn’t want to be grabbed again and he kept circling and staring.

He never got any consequences for everything he did, but I can’t stop replaying that because he violated my friend, he terrorized my team, and even after I pushed him away and said no and even yelled at him, he wouldn’t go away. And no one else around us thought anything of it. Some guys even awkwardly laughed when they heard me yelling. And that was terrifying.

— Anonymous

When I joined a team in college, I was super excited. It was also the first year the team had gotten into an out of state competition. What threw me off right off the bat was after party stories. I wasn’t much of a drinker or partier so it was alarming when I heard the guys on the team discuss them out in the open.

When I got to my first circuit after party, a team mate of mine asked if I needed a condom ‘just in case’. I was just blank. I think my male team members assumed that me being a man, I was expected to pull someone tonight. At the after party I felt a sort of pressure from my male team members in the back of my head. The next morning, my team mates still discussed the hook-ups they had and who was hot and ‘not’. It was the most disappointing flight home.

— Anonymous

Every year, I see male fusion teams using femininity as a gimmick, getting cheers from the crowd as the mix suddenly changes and they act “playful” or “girly” or “sexy.”  When female teams do the same, they are berated for “trying too hard,” or “thinking that they’re really hot.”  I’m sick of seeing this double standard.

— Anonymous

Consent. The one word it seems like people in the desi community don’t understand. When someone says no, stop what you’re doing and back off. If someone says yes and then tells you to stop, thus taking their consent back, stop. Men, especially, in our circuit do not understand that they don’t own women’s bodies. I have been sexually harassed by a teammate and sexually assaulted by someone I trusted and cared for. These events have scarred me for life and make intimacy difficult. Always ask someone if they’re down for it. And if they ever take back their consent, STOP, or else by definition you are a rapist and assaulter.

— Anonymous

Well, it’s not just guys, it’s also girls that expect that hookup culture. When I was at comps and just talking to my friends who were girls, other girls just asked me “yo did you have sex with her?” I was being respectful, talking to my friends who I didn’t see for like months after practicing for so long, asking girls to dance and being a gentleman. I just want to make it clear that it’s not just guys that need to be accountable, it’s also girls too. You need to make sure you get all sides

— Anonymous

I was with my best friends at a dance competition after-party, just wanting to spend some time with them, when some random guy grabbed me by my waist and tried to force me to dance with him. I know that it’s not obvious that I’m a gay woman by appearance, but I wish that people–especially guys–wouldn’t just make assumptions. Even if I was straight, I would have never been okay with that. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I reacted pretty quickly and somehow escaped his restraint. My friends and I laughed it off and moved on with our night, and I honestly didn’t even think much of it which says a lot about our society and how we view sexual harassment. It’s just so normal that we rarely bring attention to it, and the men who do these things never face any consequences.

— Kavita