Don’t lie. You’ve been there.

Morgan Morel
Betty and Ludacris, finally together as fate intended. (Courtesy of XXL Magazine, WW Norton, Def Jam, Ms. Magazine, GQ)

If you’ve ever been a first-year female student at this esteemed University of Michigan, “dancing” in the hazy, unsure common quarters of Phi Psi or some other God-forsaken fraternity house during Welcome Week, this one’s for you. Yeah, you’ve toasted your half-empty cup of Natty Light at an invisible friend while grinding your miniskirt-clad backside against some warm-bodied stranger, the latter action perhaps an effort to follow the soundsystem’s instructions to a) “bend over to the front, touch your toes / back dat ass up and down and get low!” or b) some variation thereof.

And you absolutely loved it.

The dancing, if you can call it that, prevalent at bars, clubs and campus house parties these days is unbelievably freeing. It’s the only legal, close-contact American activity that can be performed in public where the two (or more) participants don’t even have to be face-to-face. This ass-to-crotch dance phenomenon that’s been evolving for the past few years – especially with popular music’s movement toward hip hop, away from the teeth-gnashing, saccharine rock-lite of the ’90s – is at once intensely personal and distant. You can’t look shame in the face if you can’t see the face of the one you’re with. Ever wonder why some prostitutes have a no-kiss policy and prefer to take it from behind?

This is either a major fall backward for feminism or a remarkable new assertion of identity. After all, considering it took years for women to break away from the hegemonic molds of Stepford wife, sex kitten, Pretty Young Thing, etc., why would we want to want to put ourselves, literally, in such vulnerable positions in a social setting?

NOW, Ms. Magazine and Gloria Steinem be damned. The only statement made by the lack of a bra is the suggestion that maybe, if luck will have it, there’ll be an accidental nip slip. The new feminine mystique is the young woman’s confidence in her ability to rap the occasional Ludacris verse – screeching about dirty South girls giving dirty South head is less offensive today – and dancing suggestively because she wants to.

And that makes all the difference.

Women think it’s culturally permissible to act in ways once deemed, to put it mildly, whorish because in a sense it’s allowed. We’ve built ourselves up to the point that, although we’re still making 25 percent less than men in the workplace, we can be alpha dog in the bedroom. We’ve taken pejoratives like “bitch” and “ho” and turned them into terms of empowerment.

Popular music today is like a competition to see who can be the most crass, and the predominant reason why artists like the otherwise forgettable Petey Pablo stay on the charts is because the public allows them to. The listening audience hasn’t just become more open to profanity and explicitly sexual lyrics, it’s become seemingly immune to the genuine offensiveness of casual propositions like “Do you want it in your pussy? / Do you want it in your ass?” (“Freek-a-leek,” Petey Pablo). And increasingly, singers like Kelis – and she comes up again and again in this argument – have made it perfectly acceptable to relish in a woman’s ability to please a man. Is a song less demeaning since it’s a woman championing her prowess at an act that Luda was demanding months ago?

It’s certainly easier to look at all of this apart from the dance floor, away from the tequila shots and drunk, chattering girlfriends. Getting all up on someone can be a fucking great time. Like really, really great, I-just-met-this-guy-at-the-bar-and-its-amazing-the-way-he-grabs-at-me-when-we-dance fun. But next time you’re aping T.I., not quite sure to whom you’re posing the query about “saying no” and “panties so wet,” check yourself. It’s a surprisingly dejecting revelation.

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