#metoo We Have a Choice to Make

There is great potential in the tidal wave of posts related to the #metoo campaign which demonstrates the scope of how women are treated in our society. I acknowledge that women are not the only ones affected by this. Children, men, trans and non-binary gendered people are affected. It’s not an isolated issue, it’s not a simple issue, it has no simple answers. Yet several posts in my feed call for action to respond to #metoo. What will the outcome be?

From my perspective, we could go in a few directions.

One direction leads to a flop, a blip on the radar:

  • A flurry then fade effect that it inspires action for a short time before the status quo regains its hold. I can hear your inner cynic predicting this outcome. I know mine is!
  • Reactions in heated online discussion provoke further suppression. Of course, this isn’t desirable at all, and possibly our worst outcome.

Another direction could take us into new territory. Our collective voice making space for something unprecedented to emerge. What would this mean?

  • Men being inspired to raise their voice in support after reflecting on what it means for them and society. This is starting to happen on a small scale.
  • We begin to behave differently. We speak up when we witness and experience harassment and others back up these dissenting voices.
  • We educate ourselves about what harassment actually is and what constitutes assault,  adopting an attitude of intolerance of these behaviors.
  • And we are compassionate as we create this new normal, we make it ok to speak out we make it safe for those who engage in harassment and abuse to heal too.

That last part is the one I am most concerned about. I would like to think we could accept responsibility and work through this difficult issue, but that cynical part of me is quite loud. This stuff is generations old, back in the day rape within wedlock was legal. It wasn’t even considered rape, women were, effectively property. To make the shift from acceptance and tolerance of women being treated as objects to respect for self-determination is going to take a serious stepping up.

Unfortunately, I see little evidence of our capacity to make this transition well (yes, my inner cynic). It will be messy and uncomfortable. We will be tempted to simplify, stereotype and point fingers. Attacking and shaming perpetrators who speak out, sadly emulates the abusive and disrespectful behaviors we so desperately want to leave behind. We don’t know how it will turn out but we have options about how we engage, behave and advocate.

We can make a courageous choice in each interaction. It’s possible for us to take collective responsibility for how we behave toward each other and bring empathy and compassion to the healing process. Of course, that’s far easier to say than do, but despite my loud inner cynic, I also have a perennial optimist that has faith in humanity. And I will keep banging on about what’s possible for my own sake as much as anyone else’s. What will you do?

 

This is day 2 of 45 posts for 45 years. It was hard two write but I did it anyway.

Art Fag Heaven

During my time in Vancouver I went to a party where I was the only woman, it was primarily members of of the Vancouver Gay Men’s Choir. In this environment, my gender was irrelevant. I spoke with at least 5 of the other party goers 1:1 and a few in 2s and 3s, all of them treated me like one of them. Their ages ranged from a few early 30s guys to 70s or 80s.I relished in the soft spoken yet camp expression of the punky butch looking boys, it was a true delight. Short shorts, white leather motorbike jacket, 3cm spacers in the ears, plaid pants held up with suspenders and accompanied by black combat boots.  There were many neatly manscaped beards, as on most faces of the men I met in Vancouver.

The place was in West End, in the middle of gay town, a penthouse with three balconies. It was exquisitely decorated. Rich red feature wall, table set with ornate china, a mirror with an embellished antique style gold frame, vases of modern looking bouquets. My inner art fag was in heaven.

Inukshuk: From artist Ben Houstie's page on Cap & Winndevon

Inukshuk: From artist Ben Houstie’s page on Cap & Winndevon

I was introduced to one of the hosts of the party as I was about to leave. A framed piece on the wall caught my eye. It was of a group of four hummingbirds, they were colourful but in the traditional native shapes. It was exquisite, I’d never seen anything like it. The vivid colours were striking, the space between the birds reminded me of seeing a group of hummingbirds furiously buzzing around a feeder at a friend’s lakeside cabin. From my days of studying anthropology I recognised the Northwest Coast art. My attention was diverted mid-sentence, I immediately expressed my appreciation of the piece. The host responded with “I have more, you can have…” I didn’t quite hear the end of the sentence, or maybe didn’t believe what I thought I heard.  He went off and came back with a large art folder, easily 100cm by 60cm. It had several pockets with different prints, at least 10-20 of each. He started pulling out prints as he told the story of meeting the artist, and commissioning him to do some images, going with him to the art store to get supplies, asking for some in brighter colours. It took him a while to find the hummingbird one, he pulled a few others out while he was finding it. One of a bright green heron, a duck, a spirit bear, a dragonfly, salmon, Inukshuk (not traditional to Northwest Coast art), sun rays, many brightly coloured except the salmon. The salmon were traditional red and black. He pulled them out saying we could have them, I felt unsure, was this for real? Was he really offering to give out prints of this artwork?  I was flabbergasted.

He talked about the business arrangement he had with the artist, Ben Houstie, and that he’d worked with Bill Reid (the most well known native artist in Canada), that his work was on the old $20 bill. He talked about the challenging relationship with Houstie, who had been ripped off in the past, the stories of others in the art industry who had been greedy and disrespectful. Although he didn’t say it overtly, his commitment to integrity in this arrangement, his appreciation of the art and respect for the artist was clear. He wouldn’t value them, it was a big unknown. Especially, unfortunately, while the artist is alive, it can be a bit arbitrary. He wanted us to have these prints so the art could be appreciated. I was so moved, and still a bit incredulous but I accepted the gift, a few others who were there also accepted this heartfelt generosity. My inner art fag was deeply humbled, and my anthropologist self thrilled, yet my activist self was a bit cautious of this man giving art away, though the artist had been paid, how much, we don’t know.

My friend Ashley took the Herron and Inukshuk, I took the sun rays (for my partner, her colours), the duck (for my mom), and the spirit bear (for my aunt). Another person took the hummingbirds, I didn’t want to be greedy, I took what was left. I feel weird about using the world ‘took’. Still in shock and awe we left the party. I didn’t want to leave too late, I had my school reunion the next day and my host, Jason, had left the party early to go to bed and had been messaging me to find out if I was coming home soon, he was going to sleep.

As we walked up to Davie Street to catch a cab with the poster tube of incredible art, Ashely and I still couldn’t believe what had just happened.

Part of me felt quite uncertain about having accepted the gift, and to refuse would have felt even worse. When it was all happening I started to think of offering to pay something but decided it wasn’t appropriate. I felt childlike in my uncertainty. How do you value something like this?

I have spent years learning to value my own work, which is a very different kettle of fish but part of the same question. What is value? Something is as valuable as you say it is and someone else agrees to pay that amount. But in this case the value for me was the experience, the generosity and the gift. For me this is invaluable.

It still leaves me with lots of questions, however. Was the act of accepting this gift respectful or disrespectful to the artist? When the host was asked if the artist was still alive, he said he’d seen him from across the street just recently. For some artists, having their work appreciated is their intention, for some it’s their bread and butter. I’m left with questions, wondering if I am contributing to exploitation of aboriginal artists or if my appreciation of the art and giving it to others is part of paying this gift forward. I am certainly interested in more of his work. In writing this I did some research and found that his art is available on everything from scarves, and notebooks to children’s toys and spectacle frames. In looking at other art sites, I found the hummingbird image and the sun, there were several I’d seen at the party that were not included on the site.

This experience was a perfect opportunity to receive, something I’ve found challenging in the past. In the end, rightly or wrongly, I now have not only this exquisite artwork that I brought home to Australia to put on my wall and appreciate, but also my experience of awe and humility.