Sexual misconduct at the milonga

“What we are witnessing at the moment is nothing short of an uprising of women against sexual assault. They are revealing its epidemic frequency in our society and all the ways in which it is enabled by a culture of silence.” 

Laila Lalami, The Nation

I wrote in this post about sexual misconduct in the milongas, but I failed to use those words.  I began writing this post in 2017.  It hasn’t been easy for me, but all the media attention focused on sexual misconduct has helped.  This has been a big wake-up call.

I’ve experienced sexual misconduct in many ways for many years in the milongas.  The problem was I didn’t react appropriately when it happened; I just laughed about it and excused the behavior in my mind as no harm done.  I’ve joined others at #MeToo by speaking out here.

There are so many terms for things we didn’t want to talk about and if we did, we women took the blame:

  • Sexual misconduct includes sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual abuse, and any conduct of a sexual nature that is without consent, or has the effect of threatening or intimidating the person against whom such conduct is directed.
  • Sexual assault occurs when someone touches any part of another person’s body in a sexual way, even through clothes, without that person’s consent.

Sexual assault goes on in the milongas of Buenos Aires.  Of course, there are men who act appropriately, but some who take advantage of being intimate in the embrace with a woman for only ten minutes, even in a public place.

It’s time for me to write about this from personal experience.

We know that tango is a dance of intimacy unlike any other.  Inappropriate touching and sexual comments are common.  Workplaces have rules about sexual harassment, but there is nothing written about appropriate conduct at the milonga.  Sexual misconduct in the milonga is public.  Very few women talk about it.  They know if they don’t accept an invitation for “coffee” (a euphemism for sexual relations), future invitations to dance won’t happen.

There is a general acceptance of that type of behavior.  I know.  I’ve accepted it for years.  I had my butt patted as I returned to my table.  I had unwanted tongues in my ear while dancing.  A kiss on my neck is not how I want to end the tanda, but my laughing response was only encouragement.  Saying “no” in the moment is the only way to change the culture of the milongas where some men expect women are ready for a sexual encounter after dancing with them.

Too many of us tell ourselves, “it wasn’t that bad.”  The truth is it’s all unacceptable.

A milonguero told me: I touched her breast with my hand when we danced, and she didn’t say anything.  In his mind, the woman likes what he’s doing to her without her consent.  I doubt it.  She’s in his embrace in a public dance.  What can she do?  Push him away and tell him to stop?  That’s long overdue, but she remains silent like a good little girl, and let’s him have his cheap thrill while she hopes that no one notices.  Ladies, what do you say or do in these situations?

I spoke my truth as I was leaving a milonga.  I had the courage to say “no!” to a milonguero who turns on his seductive behavior when greeting women. I avoided him for weeks.  He approached me, and I offered my cheek for the customary cheek-to-cheek air kiss, but he went further by sucking my earlobe!  I looked him straight in the eyes and said “NO MAS.”  He smiled as though he didn’t believe me, so I said it several times for him to understand that I didn’t like his unwanted sexual advance.  We’ve danced only a few times and have no contact outside of the milonga.

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6 Responses to “Sexual misconduct at the milonga”

  1. douglasjrhodes Says:

    It’s troubling to even read this much more to experience it. Being a man, I already feel bad that so many ladies have to just sit and wait while all of us men are dancing as much as we want (if we are any good). It’s a shame and unfair to have to deal with that too. My heart goes out to you ladies, and you have my utmost respect. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and yes speak out to these disrespectful low life…

  2. Lina Says:

    I guess I have been a feminist too long.. I have been dancing tango in Buenos Aires for 12 years. I have walked off the dance floor quite a few times because of inappropriate behavior. These men will never ask me to dance again, that’s okay with me. If women refuse to dance with these guys, it will stop.

  3. Patricia Says:

    Another excellent reason for the cabeceo.

    However, if the invitation comes in the form of a direct approach (from either a man or woman), then we all should feel OK about saying “No, thanks”, and not have to explain ourselves.

  4. andreas Says:

    Sorry Patricia, it’s exactly the other way round. It’s a strong reason against the cabeceo.

    The silent and unobtrusive communication of the cabeceo protects and covers the man and his misbehavior. He can easily continue the sexual misconduct with other women without any risk to become public. The cabeceo has been invented to protect (mainly the men) from loosing their face for whatever reason. Unfortunately this includes sexual misconduct.

    Only a clear and public reaction and refusal will stop the misbehavior and protects other women.

  5. Chris Says:

    “The silent and unobtrusive communication of the cabeceo protects and covers the man and his misbehavior.”

    I can’t believe I just read that.

  6. Patricia Says:

    Andreas, I agree with your final point regarding a clear and public reaction (including deserting the offender on the dance-floor) in the event of iunwanted advances.

    However, on another note, I fear that you misunderstand the purpose of the cabeceo. It exists to allow choice, for both men and women. So, if I don’t like the behaviour of a man at a milonga, I make a point of not looking at him. He no longer exists in my line of sight. If, despite this, he approaches me wanting to dance, he will experience the consequence: a clear “No, thanks”.

    This milonga code provides ladies with protection against unwanted advances. Besides, word gets around about creepy behaviour. Haven’t you noticed that ladies sitting together often chat amongst themselves?

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