The gender agenda

How do we achieve equal status for all? By dragging down those already elevated, or pulling up those who are downtrodden?

When we look for equality by diminishing those who in one way or another have more, I fear we are heading down the wrong road. At this year’s Spring Forward Festival in Sofia, a number of statements about gender, and the relationship between men and women were made, but such a public platform comes with responsibility.

In Dans, for Satan, Danish choreographer and performer Hilde Ingeborg Sandvold daubs paint onto a backdrop announcing that ‘Dick is God’. Then uses her own body to reveal the second half of that sentence, with the words ‘But pussy has the power’ painted across her torso. Clearly Sandvold wants to provoke thought and debate, but what is she really saying here? That men rule the world but have no power, and that women may not have God-like status but are actually in control?

Who does that serve? Does taking power, perceived or otherwise, from one gender and handing it to the other actually create balance and harmony? When Sandvold stands on stage holding a drooping sausage, then drops it disdainfully onto the floor as if it’s worthless, what does this achieve (other than a cheap laugh)? Does disregarding and diminishing a symbol of masculinity make women stronger?

Which is not to say that the basis of Sandvold’s message isn’t valid – for centuries the subjugation of women has been an accepted societal norm, and for millions of women and girls across the globe, little has improved. The quest for equality is far from over.

But in a world where men are told from an early age not to cry, and to ‘man up’ whenever they dare show sensitivity, is it any wonder we have male leaders in politics and business the world over who don’t know how to treat others with kindness and compassion? Belittling men is not the answer to teaching them there’s another way to be.

Dance, and contemporary dance in particular, has an incredible capacity to move, to stir emotions and make a cerebral connection with an audience. How choreographers choose to use this opportunity is important – and at a time when women are in a genuinely strong position to bring unacceptable behaviour into the spotlight (Time’s Up, #MeToo), there is a need for subtlety and empathy to help put this message across.

Also at Spring Forward this year, Spain’s Núria Guiu Sagarra explored the darker side of social media, and objectification of the body, with intelligence and wit in Likes. The beauty of her strong yoga poses suddenly becomes compromised when we see her strip naked in a bid to get more attention. But nothing in her message pitches one gender against the other – it is a universal struggle for all of us to see and appreciate each other for who we are, not what we are.

Kelly Apter