Ah, the fan. That dainty, fluttering thing whose owner
"Directs its wanton motions so,
That it wounds more than cupid's bow;
Gives coolness to the matchless dame,
To ev'ry other heart a flame."
In the 18th and 19th centuries, when the fan dance was exercised with unequaled seriousness and complexity, within the very narrow space of a ball, or a dinner, or a masquerade, women had the upper hand. Armed with these works of art made of wood and paper, hiding their faces and showing their feelings, they communicated what they wanted to the gentleman who was willing to watch and read her face and hands.
During the hours which she stepped out of her home and away from the constraints it housed, she could enter a world where she could pretend to be free. Free to arm herself with pretty baubles and ribbons and paints to enter a world of competitive flirting.
It was a subtle, delicate game where both parties were lying and knew it. But it would make for an entertaining evening and when it was time to be handed into your carriage at dawn (when most successful parties would be winding down), who was the worse?
The fan was used to say what couldn't be shouted. Some fan-makers came up with systems where each movement of the fan would correspond with a letter of the alphabet. Some systems tacked a phrase to these movements:
Twirling fan in left hand: 'We are watched'
Covering left ear with open fan: 'Do not betray our secret'
Letting fan rest on left cheek: 'No'
Opening and shutting fan: 'You are cruel'
Fanning slowly: 'I am married'
And on and on…
It was make-believe. It was escapism. What would these women find when they returned to their homes? Loneliness, boredom, abuse…many things, but rarely what the magical evening promised. The men would leave, shaking their heads at those two-faced protected women while checking their pocketbooks to make sure they had enough money to take their courtesans out to dinner.
But for one evening, within the safe confines of the ballroom, the lady can dress up and flirt, always stopping just short of her bolder cyprian sisters' behavior.
Does all this demonstrate a dearth of communication between men and women? The smothering of truth? Well, I see it like this. People want to arrive at the truth too quickly. They want to take the shortest path. Even if that takes them over the bumpiest roads.
I prefer to take the scenic route.