I started learning tango in Australia when ‘tango for export’, ie., tango outside of Argentina, was in its infancy. Internet was Web 1.0, used only by the more astute organisers to promote themselves. If things went wrong, or didn’t work, there was no Youtube videos to consult, or websites discussing the Codigos. When Web 2.0 came I was expecting that all of the problems would be solved simply by the fact that information will be flowing and people will be made aware of the pitfalls and problems through global online communication.
Alas, it was a false promise. All that global communication seems to bring is anonymous blogs reporting weekly milonga sorrow and lamenting the very same things that plagued us in the prehistoric era of Web 1.0. How is that possible, I started asking myself. There must be deeper reasons for the incessant frictions of what ought to be weekly Dionysian festivals yet often amount to little more than drab tangotainment limbo. My suspicions were confirmed by the fact that in most places people ‘know’ about the cabeceo and the codigos and yet it makes little difference.
Thus, Robin, my favourite source of introspective tango blues, writes about her experience of people ignoring her refusal of an invitation:
I am aware men experience their own version of this as well. Usually men who are experienced dancers lament that they have a hard time saying no to aggressive women. They can spend an entire night trying to get a dance in with women they choose. I am not attacking men. I am frustrated with myself for not knowing how to be efficent and respectful in getting out of this awkward situation when it happens. Even writing this last paragraph here to make sure I don’t offend anyone… guilt. A premptive — I’m sorry.
This elicited a thought process that goes something like “What happens when we lose “No”?”. For what is “No”? “No” means a limitation: I want something but it is denied. When do we learn what “No” means? Well, we learn it when a rule is enforced, starting in childhood. Yet our society wants to eradicate the enforcement of rules, and hence the meaning of “No”, eg., on the grounds that we don’t want children to ‘feel bad’. Culture based on clear morality and meanings has been replaced by a ‘postmodern’ insistence on personal preference and flexible categories. The idea that rules should be enforced (other than through ‘social justice tribunals’ I guess) is increasingly associated with an oppressive and repressive ‘patriarchy’.
My thought process is that this creates a conceptual problem (a contradiction), namely, that you cannot really have a meaningful “No” without some sort of a hierarchy. For example, I accept the view that men exert control over each other in a way in which women cannot due to the fact that there is the possibility of physical violence. Traditionally men sorted out their differences, at least sometimes, by fighting. Men need to, at some stage, face the risk of physical violence from other men in order to have a palpable understanding of their boundaries. Also, men need to organise into hierarchies. So what that means is that if you project the idea that male aggression is essentially toxic, and that hierarchies are essentially bad, and also that women can compete with men, what seems to happen is that you invert the prior (I hesitate to say ‘normal’ or ‘natural’) order of things.
So I would argue that “No” intrinsically implies a hierarchy or a set of hierarchies. In a ‘patriarchal’ social system a man who harrasses women would be noticed by the other men and brought into line (by ‘patriarchal’ I mean the Western society prior to its current incarnation). In other words, ‘patriarchal’ men would keep track of things and feel a sense of responsibility for the women. There would be norms that are more or less actively enforced by these ‘toxic’ men. But if society decides that hierarchies are oppressive and everyone is equal, and should look after themselves, and that aggression and enforcement of rules is ‘toxic’ (unless its by social justice tribunals), and furthermore that women are competitive and independent, then it seems to me that the behaviour of both men and women will change in rather fundamental ways.
‘Liberalism’ in the American sense means, if anything, a dislike of social limits, ie., of a firm “No”, so that fewer and fewer children get a chance to hear from their parents or teachers. Why then would we be surprised that “No” has no meaning in our society? Women tend to me more agreeable than men, and a firm “No” is inherently disagreeable. It is thus not a typically feminine or motherly trait. Men and some women are aggressive, typically due to testosterone, and when social control is removed what you would expect is that the people who are most aggressive will actively pursue what they desire, now without any internalised sense of morality, ethics or an inner “No”. That is, there will always be people who are less agreeable, but now they face the much more flexible boundaries which are set by the public ideology of niceness and agreeableness, ie., the dominant ‘matriarchy’. I’m not saying that agreeableness is somehow a bad thing in itself, but rather, whether it can work as a dominant ideology.
So finally, the guilt one feels in complaining that rules are not followed is also a consequence of this. When there are no rules one is never sure whether one is doing something wrong. In a ‘liberal’ society everyone pursues their own individual goals and criticism and complaining is generally frowned upon and one is expected to ‘suck it up’ and ‘be happy’. My suggestion is that it is also pointless to complain unless one is willing to accept that ‘matriarchy’ doesn’t really work, and that contrary to the claims of some bogus anthropologists, there has never existed in human history a functioning matriarchal society, which is probably good evidence that it cannot in practice actually work. Sadly, all we can do is sit and watch this social experiment unfolding and see where it takes us, hoping that it’s not a total apocalyptic “Fall of Rome” style wipeout.
To summarise, (1) there really are no rules without enforcement (a priori, conceptual impossibility); (2) “No” has a meaning only in the context in which people believe that rules will be enforced; (3) traditionally men (ie., the ‘patriarchy’) have done the enforcing; and (4) without ‘patriarchy’ the meaning of the ‘matriarchal’ “No” becomes so vague as to be completely useless, as in, the child will be always pushing the boundaries and the mother will tend to yield. When the child is actually a grown adult only adults who are stronger or higher up in the hierarchy, and who are firm in their resolve, are in position to set a limit.
Finally, I would also argue that the aggressive people on the tango scene are self-selected, because except for young women and high status men (ie., the categories of people with a high sexual market value), people who are not aggressive don’t get dances and are more likely to drop out. High sexual market value people, ‘by definition’ as it were, don’t need to be aggressive to get dances. Again, one might argue that the fact that aggressiveness and sexual market value determine behaviour at tango events is a manifestation of cultural regress: we have substituted social control (‘toxic patriarchy’) for biological instinct (‘natural matriarchy’). Lets see where this takes us …
PS. An interesting discussion on the issue of patriarchy, ‘toxic musculinity’ and ‘playing by the rules’ by Jordan Peterson: