Saturday, April 26, 2008

Women and Rave

Carrying on the discussion about gender and dance music, here's an extract from 'Women and the Early British Rave Scene' by Maria Pini, originally published in 'Back to Reality? Social Experience and Cultural Studies', edited by Angela McRobbie (Manchester University Press, 1997). Maria Pini based this work on interviews with women in the rave scene, and later expanded on the subject in her book Club Cultures and Female Subjectivity: from Home to House.

In general, I would argue that rave's appeal to women is tied with its opening up of new modes of 'looking', its set-up of particular interpersonal relations and its encouragement of new understandings of 'self'. Women within this context feel freed from traditional associa­tions of dancing with sexual invite, and in this sense rave seems to repre­sent an 'alternative' space… many of these women articulate their involvement within rave, and the pleasures it is seen to afford, in terms of an implicitly feminist dissatisfaction with traditional sexual relations and particular forms of masculinity. For instance, Jane speaks of other social-dance scenes as 'pick-up cities', and describes the kind of feelings she associates with these:

‘There was always a feeling that you could fail- if you didn't get picked-up, and also, if you didn't get picked-up by the right person - then what was the point? There was always the idea, when you got approached of 'oh God, are they going to demand something from me that I'm not going to give­ - meaning a snog, or a fuck, or a date, or a phone-number or whatever’.

The rave dance-floor, I would argue, is one of the few spaces which afford - and indeed, encourage - open displays of physical pleasure and affection. Explicit displays of 'ecstatic' happiness, and the relentless drive to achieve this, have never been so central to a youth culture's meaning. Arguably rave represents the emergence of a particular form of 'jouissance', one which is more centred on the achievement of phys­ical and mental transformation and one which is possibly best under­stood as a non-phallic form of pleasure. Many of the interviewees did speak of rave pleasures as being 'sexual', but many had difficulty in clearly 'languaging' what this 'sexual' was. I would suggest that this is because these pleasures do not dearly 'fit' standard, patriarchal defini­tions of sexuality, and eroticism. To illustrate this difficulty:

“I kind of see it as a place where I can feel sexually about other people, but it doesn't actually go anywhere ... It doesn't have to go anywhere 'cause that's it really: (Catherine)

“It's not sexual, but orgasmic .. I wouldn't say it was sexual. It's different from being sexual. It's orgasmic in the sense of being very intense and reaching a peak”. (Miriam)

“Well it's sexual kind of ... no, it's not sexual- it's different. (Helen)

“When I go raving ... it's very ... um ... well, one word that really comes to mind is auto-erotic ... because you're getting off on yourself. And you can dance quite sexily and you can enjoy it ... and you can get really into being a sexual being. It can be sexual, but it's a kind of self-contained sexual, so that auto-erotic spreads out- out of the erotic- and into a whole personality thing”. (Jane)

Also Jane points out that although she might normally feel 'guilt' around certain forms of self-pleasure (and here, she mentions masturbation), auto-eroticism within rave is normalised:

“But, somehow it's sanctioned more in a club - 'cause if you look round you think other people are doing it too so, it's OK. It's normalised because like, everyone is doing it and you can always see somebody out there with less clothes on than you and dancing way more sexy than you - and all you think is 'wow, they look like they're having a good time' - and it actually helps “.

Hence, what seems to emerge within rave is a space for new modes of femininity and physical pleasures. In terms of how this space fits within a wider life-context, many interviewees described the rave scene as pro­viding a space for the expression of 'other sides' of themselves. As Jane puts it;

“It's about letting go of being conformist, and being professional and proper and ... 'together'. It's 'other' to presenting that face of you. It's not necessarily the dark side of you - but it's the messy side of you ... It's about something you do which isn't about working. It's about the time you spend doing things which are about freedom”.

To close then, despite women's relative absence at the levels of rave pro­duction and organisation, at other levels rave can be seen as indicating an important shift in sexual relations, and indeed might suggest (with its emphasis on dance, physicality, affection and unity) a general 'femi­nisation' of 'youth'.

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