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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Dear Shira


Dear Shira:

Is Belly Dance Compatible with Feminism?



The Question

Dear Shira:

I recently started learning to belly dance, and I really love it. However, a male friend recently told me he doesn't understand why I, a feminist, would want to do a dance whose purpose is to please men. I wasn't sure how to answer him. Any suggestions?




Shira Responds

Dear Feminist:

I've always considered myself a feminist, and I've worked my entire career in a male-dominated industry. As a college student, I did not take any women's studies courses, so my response to you is based on what feminism means to me, personally. Academic feminists would have a different perspective. That said, here's my response....

Men often make the mistake of assuming that everything that they like that's done by women is intended for men. Well, it's not.

Most of the time, women do what we do because it pleases us, and if a man happens to like it, well, that's okay, but it's not why we do it.

Feminists have many priorities other than pleasing men. The same is true of most belly dancers. Feminist priorities include equal pay, equal access to education, equal entry into the work force in the jobs we want to have, and much more.

Sure, some of us like to belly dance, do yoga, study ballet, or do other activities that men like to watch us do. But we do these things because:

  • They allow us to express ourselves creatively
  • They allow us the sense of achievement of setting & reaching goals
  • They make us feel good about our bodies
  • They allow us to find pleasure in exercising
  • They provide a great framework for hanging out with other women

Consider this thought: if a woman wants to seduce a receptive man, there are many tools available to her to do that, most of them much easier to do than belly dancing. For example, simply saying, "I'm in the mood," is usually quite effective. If a woman belly dances for her partner, it's because she finds personal pleasure in doing so, and not because she needs it to light a spark in him.

The overwhelming majority of women in North America who do belly dance performances are dancing for audiences of primarily women. And the only men we're interested in pleasing are the ones who appreciate strong, independent, multi-dimensional women who have more to offer than simply doing a sexydance for the male gaze.

Many people incorrectly think that belly dancing originated as a dance of seduction. That's because there has been a century of movies, cartoons, and other mass media in North America promoting that idea. It's an idea that men like very much, because they like to fantasize about the idea of being a man in a harem full of women all trying to please him. See my article Mass Media, Mass Stereotypes for more insight into where the "dance of seduction" stereotype comes from.

As I said at the beginning of my response, my perspective represents my personal interpretation of what the word "feminist" means. For an academic feminist's view of this topic, I invite you to consider Andrea Deagon's article Feminism and Belly Dance.

— Shira

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Lina Jang, New York City, New York.




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About this Column

Shira has received many questions from readers over the years related to various aspects of the dance. In this column, she picks some of the more interesting ones to answer publicly. Details contained in the questions are sometimes removed or disguised to protect the anonymity of the person who asked the question.



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