I Was A Feminist Belly Dancing Tool Of ‘The Patriarchy’

And I enjoyed every damn minute of it. No apologies.

Photo from PxFuel

I blasted Celestria with my finest feminist are-you-out-of-your-damn-MIND face and exploded, “BELLY DANCING?”

“Yeah, wouldn’t that be cool? I want to get Chabi to teach a class.”

Chabi was a new addition to our Society for Creative Anachronism medievalist re-creation group. We learned the skills, created medieval ‘personas’, called each other by those names and lived a pre-Renaissance life in the past lane.

“Come on, it’ll be fun!” Celestria teased. But I was a feminist, dammit! My recollection of belly dancing’s heyday in the ’60s and ’70s tasted a bit sour, shimmying visions of background decoration in movie nightclubs or a half-naked woman dancing for men’s, and particularly Sean Connery’s James Bond’s pleasure in From Russia With Love.

It seemed vintage now, like beehive hairdos and pedal pushers. And while I didn’t object to flirting or suggestive dancing— Belly dancing?

“I don’t have the body for those costumes,” I replied, cutting through to the heart of the matter.

“We don’t have to perform, let’s just have fun.”

It’s good exercise, I rationalized. Without the embarrassing belly-baring costume, and no need to perform publicly, I was in.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Yah, okay, this is good.

You can call me a witless tool for ‘The Patriarchy’ if you like, but I enjoyed every damn minute of my 15-year side hustle.

“I’ll teach free weekly classes on one condition,” Chabi said at our first class. “You all have to dance for the Mongolian Horde this summer at Pennsic War.”


That struck a level of terror historically reserved for the words ‘Mongolian Horde’. Okay, so this re-created SCAdian subculture to which Chabi belonged was far more civilized than the original Horde and treated women a helluva lot better than the era’s affluenza-addled yuppie frat boys. The ‘Pennsic War’ was a giant SCAdian weeks-long extravaganza featuring epic battles (of course) at a western Pennsylvania campground.

This is what I did on my summer vacation for the next seven years

Perform for the Horde? Oh what the hell, they’ll all be drunk anyway.

“I don’t want to wear a skimpy outfit,” I said. “I don’t have the body for it.”

“No problem,” Chabi said. “It’s not period anyway. Women covered up. You’re thinking of modern American cabaret style.”

You mean like this? (Three months later.)

I still felt sort of embarrassed and unfeminist about the whole thing.

Then came the first lesson. Chabi taught us some hip moves and a simple ten-second dance routine set to the sexy throbbing, thumping Middle Eastern music of Eddie ‘The Sheik’ Kochak.

As my hips swung, I felt an unexpected sexual thrill race through me. I felt strong. I felt confident. I felt, and I couldn’t believe I was feeling this, damned sexy. There it was. The Power.

Moving and feeling like a beautiful, desirable woman flooded me with an unfamiliar wave of empowering sexual confidence. I am woman, watch me dance!

The high school wallflower, about as desired as a pop trigonometry quiz, who’d agreed to this adventure never wanting a man to see her making an idiot of herself in a (too much belly)-baring costume suddenly wished her male friends could see her, even if she was only wearing a T-shirt and shorts.

I imagined one of those stupid costumes. I’d be like those women in the movies! The Power felt anything but degrading.

Feminism was deadly serious in the ‘80s. Women moved into the boardroom, with big-shouldered suits to emphasize their power in male-dominated corporations. A woman who’d murdered her abusive husband was considered a feminist hero and sexual assault was a bigger threat than it is today (The 63% reduction in rapes since the early ’90s is one of feminism’s greatest victories).

Many feminists had no sense of humour, as I found when the biggest feminist in my feminist literature college class caught me dressed as a Playboy bunny for Halloween.

The feminist narrative, enmeshed in a circle-the-wagons worldview, didn’t yet acknowledge the need to be yourself, or explore the many facets of being a woman. Female sexuality was a bit taboo except for those edgy and outré enough to