Harassment Is the Problem, Not Grinding


In a few short weeks, I will be turning 34 years old, which means that roughly 18 or 19 years have passed since I first stepped on the floor of a high school gymnasium and found myself gleefully grinding up against some boy to thumpa-thumpa dance music and hip-hop. Many things have happened in the years hence, including the gradual growing out of the age where you can still grind and get away with it: three presidential administrations, two official and half a dozen unofficial wars, the shift from rock to hip-hop as America’s number one favoritest music, the rise of reality TV, the invention of the blogosphere, 90s fashion becoming “retro”, and Nirvana getting played on the oldies station. 

So why on earth is the New York Times running an article that treats grinding like it’s some new things the kids are doing these days?  Many of the kids interviewed for this weren’t even born when people my age first were shocking our elders by grinding on the dance floor.  I’m sure the majority of the people actually teaching them in school have gleefully backed it up to a thumping bass line in their adolescence.  What’s next in the New York Times trend story hopper?  A hand-wringing report on how the kids these days are watching something called “music videos?”  An alarmist story on how analog music is giving way to digital forms like CDs and MP3s?  Will I log on to the Times website to discover a story about how this thing called the “internet” is being used by people seeking news and commentary?

But the New York Times pretending that adolescent sexual provocation and experimentation is some new thing isn’t even the most offensive aspect of this story.  No, just to make it all the worse, this article conflates the existence of grinding with the issue of young men grinding up on young women who didn’t consent to it.  The former isn’t a problem, and adults would be better off remembering that we did it, too, and there appears to be no real harm for it.  The latter, however, is sexual harassment and indicates a very real problem that has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with sexism.  Let me repeat: that kids these days like to experiment with sexual displays isn’t really the issue.  That some young men don’t respect their female peers enough to obtain consent before invading their personal space, however, is. 

Look, one of these things is not like the other:

“Grinding is exactly what it sounds like,” said Tom Rosenbluth, head of the middle school at Francis W. Parker, a K-12 independent school in Chicago, who says he has had so much experience with this style of dancing among his seventh and eighth graders that he cannot help but refer to himself as a “grinding expert.” He added: “It’s basically sex with your clothes on in public.”

Or:

How to combat a grinder? Just telling the offender to walk away won’t work, she says: “They don’t care. They hear stuff like that all the time.”

The first quote is clearly just sexual hysteria aimed at young people that is so over-the-top that it might as well be a parody. (As someone who has done some grinding in her time, I promise you that it is not sex with your clothes on, in much the same way that riding the stationary bicycle at the gym is not the same as racing in the Tour de France.) The second quote describes a very problem of young men refusing to take no for an answer.  The second quote also indicates the overall tone of the piece, using the term “grinder” when the writer, Jennifer Conlin, actually means “non-consensual grinder”.  Obviously, someone who only grinds with women who want to grind with him is also a grinder, but he doesn’t need to be fought off, because, duh, he takes no for an answer. 

The weirdest part of this is by conflating consensual grinding with young men manhandling non-consenting young women is that it ends up minimizing young women’s very real concerns about bodily autonomy.  Concerns about consent get rolled up into generic sexual panic about young people, making it easier to dismiss young women’s problems as just more prudery.  But that some young men are not bothering to get a young woman’s buy-in before invading personal space, and that some even refuse to take no for an answer, indicates a much deeper and widespread problem than that kids are play-acting sexuality in public, something that they’ll do anyway in different (and eventually more subtle) forms for the rest of their lives. It indicates that many young men are buying the message that young women aren’t full human beings deserving of respect, but are instead treating them like objects whose feelings don’t matter.

It’s a real shame that Conlin decided to conflate irrational panic over youthful sexuality with actual concerns about consent and respect.  If she started with the assumption that grinding itself isn’t the problem, she could have written a genuinely interesting story about the problem of guys grinding up on girls who don’t consent, and how young women are reacting.  Within this atrocious story are the actual voices of young women, who make it clear that their concern isn’t the style of dancing so much as young men rejecting their right to say no.  Not one girl quoted complains about other people doing it because they want to, just that guys are literally pushing it on them through emotional manipulation or even force.  Getting rid of consensual flirtatious behavior doesn’t solve the problem of young men who feel entitled to push young women around like this. 

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  • beenthere72

    Oh, I loves me some Jenna Marbles.  She’s hysterical!  

     

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wRXa971Xw0

     

    It is really disturbing watching young teenagers grinding on TV.    When I was a teenager we danced like Belinda Carlisle.    But now with all this reality crap on MTV, the grinders are getting younger and younger. 

  • beenthere72

    Yay!  More Jenna on the topic:

     

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWoUH6k_sh4

  • sschoice

    It’s also interesting to note that the referenced NYT article ends on a quote and on points where the author seems to “get” that this sort of dance move may actually teach guys something about sex and consent:

    (begin quote)

    And the guys? Maybe pity is the best option. “You have to understand,” said Sam Dodge, 20, a junior at the University of Michigan, “guys don’t know how to dance.”

    He was in the seventh grade, he explained, when a girl at a dance suddenly backed into him. “Grinding allows guys to just hold onto the girl and follow her moves,” he said. “You dance away if she seems really rigid and uncomfortable with it and continue dancing if she seems pretty casual and relaxed in her movements.”

    But, he added, somewhat uncomfortably, “Then there are the girls who really go to town.”

    (end quote)

    Of course, this sounds like this is “blaming” girls who “go to town” with grinding for…it’s not clear…here are some possibilities:

    a) Making a public spectacle of themselves?  Don’t these girls know they should keep moves like these behind closed doors and in front of their webcams?

    b) Scaring the horses hired to pull the haywagon that brought them to the dance so that they’ll all have to walk home?

    c) Threatening a further downgrade of US debt status, perhaps to a simple (easy) “A”?

    …but this quote at least shows that this guy, now 20, did “get it” that dance moves like “grinding” are a way for guys to learn how to dance with moves that their dance partner enjoys, and it doesn’t need to go on to say that guys who learn moves like this in dance may learn how to better relate to women in other ways, including sexually.

    In other words, this sort of dance can help to explain what the “gentle” part of the word “gentleman” is supposed to mean.

    Yes, it would have been much better if the article had quotes from women who actually enjoy grinding and “freak dancing” in all genres of music, and if it had avoided talk of a “trend” toward a “backlash” against this sort of dance move, when there has really always been resistance against this from some other teens and chaperones, etc.

    It would have been GREAT if the article had talked about how much money it costs for teens to be “competitive” vs. their peers to participate (to dress, to get there and especially for special events like prom to party afterward) in these school-sponsored dances, and there may be rather vicious competition for attractive partners for participating teens to attend the dance with in the first place.

    That might have been a little less entertaining and satisfying to write about for the masses, but it would have made for better commentary.