As the world celebrates America’s first woman vice president in 2020, I am reminded of how Kamala Harris was derided for dancing during her campaigns. Should an interest in dancing negate a woman’s entitlement to political engagement?
As her dancing video went viral on the internet, a disapproving columnist from Wall Street Journal described Harris as lacking in gravity and seriousness, thus ill-fitted for the position she was contending:
“For her part, vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris is, when on the trail, giddy. She’s dancing with drum lines and beginning rallies with “Wassup, Florida!” She’s throwing her head back and laughing a loud laugh, especially when nobody said anything funny. She’s the younger candidate going for the younger vote, and she’s going for a Happy Warrior vibe, but she’s coming across as insubstantial, frivolous. When she started to dance in the rain onstage, in Jacksonville, Fla., to Mary J. Blige’s “Work That,” it was embarrassing.
Apparently you’re not allowed to say these things because she’s a woman, and she’s doubling down on giddy because you’re not allowed to say them. I, however, take Ms. Blige’s advice to heart: I will not sweat it, I will be myself. Kamala Harris is running for vice president of the United States in an era of heightened and unending crisis. The world, which doubts our strength, our character and our class, is watching. If you can’t imitate gravity, could you at least try for seriousness? I hate the shallowness with which politics is now done, the absolute puerility of it.”
Let’s go back a century ago when the British parliament voted in favour of the Equal Franchise Act in 1928, giving women electoral equality with men; not just to a particular group of women, but to all women over 21 years old, regardless of property ownership. The flapper vote was coined in contempt of the new breed of young women who were seen as ‘frivolous, scantily-clad, jazzing flapper, irresponsible and undisciplined, to whom a dance, a new hat, or a man with a car, were of more importance than the fate of nations’ in a Times article of 1920. These women were dismissed for their disregard of sexual proprieties, their interest in fashion and dancing, thus rendering them unfit for political engagement.
How is this discerning attitude different from the recent derision, a hundred years later, towards a woman of colour who dances while running for the second highest position in the U.S. government? Perhaps not so different in the lingering prejudice towards dance, but with an added twist of racism. Kimberley Crenshaw who coined the term intersectionality and leads the African American Policy Forum, responded to the WSJ article with the following tweet:
For too long, dancing has been dismissed as frivolous unless it is ballet or performed in theatres. Times have evidently changed. Kudos to Harris for triumphantly shattering the glass ceiling, not only becoming the first woman and first woman of colour to be elected to the White House, but also for dancing her way unabashedly there.
- Noonan, Peggy. ‘A Good Night for Trump if It’s Not Over.’ Wall Street Journal. October 24, 2020.