Tag Archives: Women

As a man, I am involved

The organic campaign #metoo has taken many shapes and spheres as it moved from Weinsteins cases of rape to denouncing and confessing to sexual harassment and intimidation in general. The movement has become so multifaceted that it has become hard to fathom and even harder to criticize. But there’s one thing it seems to agree on: society should no longer tolerate men’s behaviours. We men have to change. In the past week, I have felt threatened by the tone of some of the exclamations that have passed my screens. I’ve been confused about whether and how I should look at female people on the street. I’m concerned about the polarizing effect this discussion seems to have. And especially about the slippery slope of equalizing lust-inspired acts to rape.

First a step back
Okay let’s go back to the positive side of #metoo. Many women have resisted the urge to declare their experience of rape to the police. The ruling power structures, as well as their own beliefs and other individual reasons have withheld them from claiming their rights. Society has discouraged them to do so. This week, through a somewhat anonymous outlet, they can air some of the remnant frustration and, more importantly, display the omnipresence of the problem to those man enough to look into the gaping wound. It’s indeed important that people feel the confidence to act against such violence. And that people don’t perform it, or let it happen around them.

Let’s not forget the elephant in the room
Looking at our actions, we are collectively largely ignoring climate change and associated manmade ecological collapse. If society breaks into chaos because of these, women as well as men will experience a state of existence that offers less space for safety. And more for rape. These impacts cannot be stressed enough, and have to be mentioned also in this context. We are trying to move to a better world, so we all have to deal with climate change. And keep building society together.

Tension
At some point, men started answering #metoo with #Ihave and #Iwill. Confessions. Online promises. Sometimes quite mundane in my view, sometimes clear disclosures of criminal acts. Audacious, but not a proper substitute for turning yourself in. Then, people saying ‘men’ should not make this discussion about themselves. This was about women who were raped. Here’s where I went: “What? Why are we not allowed to be part of the conversation?”

A point followed, I guess, where we have to do our best and look through social media and their slaves from journalism to see what is really happening. But what is really happening? Is this a new wave of feminism? Where does it want to head to? Not being raped? Good, but how? Is this a new kind of anti-terrorist movement that wants to accuse a large group of innocent people for the acts of some very guilty ones?

The status quo
For me personally, there’s nothing I think I should admit. Sure, I’ve played the game. I’ve looked, I’ve touched, I’ve joked around. But I haven’t threatened, raped or harassed anyone in a way that clearly bothered them. I also check, sometimes, if everyone is still comfortable with the group dynamics. And yes, I have noticed ambiguity among women and wished they would be more expressive about it.

Yet let’s not forget that sexual or semi-sexual acts occur in the context of personal relationships. They should always be seen that way. I don’t think it serves a purpose to reframe acts of the past and deny this relationship. And if I may speak for other men as well: to us, the status quo here in the Netherlands is quite allright. Not the street harrasments, those are wrong, but the general atmosphere at work, on the street and at parties. If you look at history, we have reached quite a good spot. Not perfect, but quite good.

It creeps in on you
One of the best stories I read these days was in Dutch by Bregje Hofstede of De Correspondent. She explained how being grabbed under her skirt has made her live more reluctantly. It reminded me of the time I was blindfolded in the back of a taxi in Peru. Not that time itself. I think I managed to keep myself toghether quite well there. No. Afterwards. Looking behind my shoulder all the time. Not going through parks on my own by night. Heigtened vigilance. A reduction of the extent of your world, Bregje called it. I tell myself that it’s wisdom. Knowledge by experience. Knowing the danger. She sees it as men taking her freedom from her. She feels afraid, now, when men look at her intensely.

Even if I fully understand the feeling she descibes, and I acknowledge such events occur more often to her than to me, something inside me turns bitter when I hear these views. We are now in an era that is safer then ever. More luxurious than ever. There are disagreements on how to approach the other gender, but aren’t those what makes life interesting? What makes love interesting? The act of exploring each others boundaries.

Power struggles
Women are now teaching men that we cannot know what it’s like to be a women. True. And women cannot know what it’s like to be a man either. It is us who generally have to play the leading role when breaking the physical barrier. Not always, but most of the time. And, yes, we make mistakes with that, but if we don’t try, we don’t get laid. Or married. Not all people have the same level of perception when it comes to body language, nor are all people equally expressive when it comes to things they do or do not want. Not everyone is equally sensitive. So yes, mistakes occur, but that does not make the intent bad. I think framing or perceiving it that way is harmful.

But we men have an excellent grasp of what fear can be. All of us, men and women, are contributing, daily, to the accumulation of dark acts that is happening all over the place. Being forced to do things we do not necessarily agree with is a society-wide phenomenon. Whether it is out of insecurities, strategic career choices, or because we are being pushed pysically or emotionally, this concerns us all. Where #metoo becomes more vicious, is where it denies our common ground. And it shouldn’t. Men don’t need to take these wild accusations.

Can we move forward?
The way this hashtag unfolds does not help the conversation; I think we’re rather arriving in a deadlock. Not the idea of the hashtag, that’s good, but the way people are treating it. As if there needs to be retaliation. As if we should move towards a world where men and women avoid touching each other altogether. No. Let’s move towards a place where we see the sexual tension for what it really is. A role we play. Just like everything else. A role we need not get too caught up in. And yes, respect each other, like most women and most men have always done. Something that can be joyful. Let’s see this as a call, yes, to better education for everyone where that failed. But let’s also cherish the freedoms we have acquired. We are in this together. And we are not in a time and a place where we can use more division.

So let’s all keep talking.

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Men

Do you know what I love about being a man? We can do the most stupid shit we can imagine, break all social, moral and political rules possible and still feel genuinely cool about it. Men long to attain the unattainable. We thrive on breaking down the status quo just for the hell of it. We are not held back by little voices in our heads, we’ve silenced them even before we turned into boys. Men move forward to conquer and destroy! Until we crash upon other men.

Take a look at the picture above and allow me to explain the situation. The little boy was sitting on the middle chair. Chilling, listening to his music, he was king of his domain. The big man arrived with his female companion. He didn’t want to keep walking, so he sat down right next to the boy, creating a new domain for her, while taking some from the boy. The boy stayed put while the man, in his full male strength, took a few thorough looks at his back, then turned his head away. On the opposite side of the railway, a seemingly independent witness saw the emotional tension rise , took his camera out and captured them both in their moment of combat. Hoping the two not unattractive girls on his right had noticed this subtle move, he felt victorious.

You have no doubt taken note of the Goddess talk resounding through New Age communities and their relatives for the past few decades. You might have heard that before we entered this patriarchal age, the world was ruled by the mothers of their time. Men structurally murdered the powerful ones and climbed their thrones. Of course we have. We are men!

Admitted, we may not have the most attractive specimens of the sexes among us, and no, we may also not be the wisest, but we don’t care! No other sex can fight like men can! No other sex can undress the other sex with just a glimpse. No other sex can be blind, even with a healthy mind.

Men lead where others follow. We crush the threats to defend all those who bow. We will even be gentle to some if we have to. We don’t mind. We’re men! And at night, when we lay down our head, those who rest next to us will hopefully be the beautiful ladies we secretly admire. And we know that the rumbling rage was not for nought if it yielded just a single drop of her love.

We are men. And men don’t die.

A night with Sabina Nore

December 30th, 2013

Sabina is a soul with broad interest for many arts. She currently presents herself through the visual, having her work described with terms such as Fantasy and Surrealistic. With her rational and creative mind, she challenges the audience to break out of what she calls ‘loops’, repetitive ways to respond to situations. I am staying at her house in Vienna. Being around her is losing the sense of time. Day and night flow into each other and lose their grip on me. She has inspired me in writing. It’s almost midnight when we move to her atelier, and I start taking notes. While we talk, her son Christopher unleashes a cascade of photographic clicks, taken from any angle you could imagine. His constant movement and effort for the proper picture are impossible to ignore but they quickly become an appreciable part of the setting, Sabina’s life.

I’d like to let her paintings guide our conversation. She gladly explains them in more depth. We start with the Divine Fury, because that one hangs in the permanent collection of the Viennese Museum Für Phantastische Künste. It is also one of my favourites. It represents a goddess of vengeance. The painting is the first in a set of three, which together show a chronological story. They express female resistance against those who disturb the natural order. Though fury itself may appear negative, it is in fact an important thing. Goddesses of vengeance have been painted regularly since the Medieval Age, but they were historically depicted as ugly, because male painters perceived female goddesses that way. But the anger they possess exists with just reason. If you suppress the divine, there will be a reaction.

The Divine Fury shows a personification of the ancient wisdom that existed long before the emergence of religion. Her hair is tied to the tree of knowledge, this woman is knowledge herself. Weak men demonize women of knowledge. They represented women either pure as a muse, or as the devil herself. The bloodsuckers on the body of the woman on Divine Fury represent those who attempt to capture her energy. The burning cross on the background represents the burning of the witches. Wise female’s voices were violently silenced, sometimes even with mortal methods.

“So, she has all the reason to be mad…” I say
“Wouldn’t you be?” Sabina looks at me with a slight flame in her eye.
“Write that down!” – commands Christopher.

In Fury Rising, the second painting, the goddess breaks out to restore the natural order. It combats strong players who prey on fragile young beings. It removes the sources of mass delusion we are currently dealing with in society. The trash that is being sent upwards in the background represents the cleaning of the place when fury comes in action. There’s a medusa head statue on the background which is crying. From her tears grow roses. It is a renewal.

Sabina says that she was far less passionate to paint the third painting, but it had to be done to complete the story. It shows the fury as a content, blissful being. The pools have a male and a female figure in them. They are in balance. When everything is in order, there is no reason for fury. The painting is an important part of the story, because it shows what the fury strives to.

When I ask Sabina if these paintings also represent aspects of herself she answers that they have nothing to do with an internal conflict. She explains that she chose to build her own career so that she doesn’t have to deal with the crap society has gathered throughout the years. From a distance it is easier to see what others are facing in their daily lives. These paintings are about women setting the angry part of themselves free. Women’s drive for justice is not as hideous as has been framed for ages. That’s easier to see if you are not part of it. She tries to represent that in such a way that people understand it.

When I ask her if she ever felt angry while painting she answers she was all the time. She was the fury. Sabina becomes that which she paints. The emotional charge was highest during the first painting. Most of the emotions happened inside, invisible to others, but sometimes a spark of anger would come out. It was exhausting for her. After finishing the first painting, she realised that she had to paint a few more. She apologized to her family in advance. During Fury Rises, she repeatedly listened to the same song; hating the haters by Niereich, not something she would usually listen to. When she finally got to the third painting, there was no fury left.

We move on to the Privileged Lovers. The title was based on a poem with the same title by the mystic poet Jelaluddin Rumi. It is about love without ego or games. It’s about giving yourself to each other without fear. An alternate title is The Quintessence, the place where the gods reside. I ask her if such love can last, she answers yes. She explains that a funny chain of events led to her painting this. She had started writing an essay about love with the mission to demythologize it and unveil the illusions poured over people’s hearts and eyes. She was ready to give up on the quest for the perfect other even if she had thus far always very strongly believed in it. While she started the essay in the belief that she had read too many fairy tales in her youth, she explains that fate set things up to change her mind. She didn’t want to finish the story. She first painted the Immortal Quest, which is essentially about the never-ending search for egoless love. After that, she painted the Privileged Lovers.

In this case she didn’t experience the love while painting, but something similar, seeing the potential. When asked, she says this kind of feeling cannot exist when you’re on your own. You can experience many other beautiful experiences while alone, but this one needs the meeting of Yin and Yang. She does not believe that just any two humans can reach it. Each one would have to be quite evolved. If either of the two has too much ego, that gets in the way, and then it is not possible to give yourself completely.

I ask her if she has tips on how to encounter such love. She answers that more important than finding the right match is to be the individual that can establish this kind of connection. If you find the one, but you are not ready, you might wrongly conclude that he or she is not who you are looking for. To become that individual who can recognize such a connection is a quest on itself. It is very blissful.

We move on to the final painting, Sub specie Aeternitatis. The title was a word invented by Spinoza, meaning “from the point of view of eternity”. The unique feature of this painting is that there are two versions: one with the foreground scene, and one without. The one without is called Aeternitas, eternity.

The background represents the hall of lives. It is the perspective where you overlook them all. Sabina believes in reincarnation. She has always lived her life from the point of view of eternity. Eternity is now for her. From the point of view of eternity, every moment matters. Living in the now means not to dwell too much in the past, nor to focus on the future all the time. If you’re always in the moment and make all choices from this point of view, every moment brings something important. You either give everything you have, or you learn something new. Sabina enjoyed painting this, because it meant being in the space of eternity, believing she could stay in that hall forever. Paint that from now on.

The woman on the foreground is a traveller. She is living her life from the perspective of eternity. Carpe diem, carpe noctem, carpe vitam. That’s Sabina’s motto. Seize every moment of our entire life. Seize life itself. By leaving the woman out in Aeternitas, Sabina stressed that this is not just a personal thing, but a choice anybody can make.

There are plenty of details left to discover in Sabina’s paintings, but I stop writing down her words. We spend another few hours talking. Christopher goes to sleep. We watch a film, then talk some more.

Pride

When I say pride, you say … ?

I’ve been wanting to write this one for a while, partially because homosexuality is hot, but also because I feel the need to contribute to the discussion and because I like to walk on thin ice.

When it concerns the gay, there is much to say and even more to say wrong. To avoid confusion, I’ll start with my own position (isn’t it strange that one can speak about a position towards gays?). I have several close gay relatives. I have kissed several guys for fun, and had to conclude girls are better kissers. I have been offered gay sex on several occasions, but I was disgusted by the idea, so I respectfully declined. I was present at the last gay pride parade in Amsterdam, and though I enjoyed the boats, I think the whole thing became pretty lousy after six. Biologically speaking, being gay makes little sense to me, but I have no problem with gay marriage, because it has economical and psychological benefits for some. At occasions, however, I can be quite annoyed by gay extravaganza. I don’t think many gays are like this, but they do spoil it a little for the rest.

That said, I have a problem with people who publically come up for homosexuals while heaving no idea what is going on. Gays are the new Jews sometimes. Russia for example, is not much different from the way the West was fifty years ago. It’s easy to judge the Russians because they have people in power with priorities we don’t understand. But how many gay defenders would not experience a moment of deception when their kid comes out of the closet? Imagine looking into your parents’ eyes and seeing that lack of understanding for something as beautiful as being in love. Those who fight hardest are probably the ones who have not accepted it. Be honest to yourself and ask: how would you react?

We cannot change Russian politics, just like they can not change the sexual preference of their people. Being pro-gay is similar to being anti-gay. In both cases, people are trying to change a sensitive feeling with pressure. Such acceptance needs time. One who has fully accepted gays does not fight in their favour either. Ultimately, the only healthy state is open. Neutral. No position. Every person has his peculiarities.

Gays don’t own the rainbow. We all do.

The Departure of Julian

The door has to stay open for the ventilation of some plants on the first floor. This dark, empty space calls out to me while I’m waiting in the hall for my girlfriend; you know how women are. I feel melancholy and sadness about what this room turns out to represent. Failure of a friend. The loss of many dreams. We all lived along and saw it happen. We tried to interfere at times, tried to help him change, but we were bound to fail. What started as joy and empathy gradually turned into irritation and later into frustration. His disappointments were ours as well.

When I approached our house, packed from a four-month stay in Peru, I was delighted to see it was surrounded by pots with plants. Julian had taken over Giels room. He collected plants that were about to be thrown away by garden centres, and sometimes he bought one. His room was full of them. It was a beautiful new start. The plants gave an impulse. Together with Felix, another new housemate, we were a dynamic trio. We gave the house a makeover, organised a house party themed Jungle, relocated the campfire to a more accessible place for visitors and we organised winter cafés. Julian attracted the people, we hosted them.

Over time, most of the plants in his room turned brown, filling it with death and abandonment. His collection of living and dead plants kept growing, and occupied more and more of our living space. His projects got postponed, and our belief in his stream of promises slowly faded away. Our bond got a bitter side taste. Very often, when we wanted to call him for dinner, we could not find him. “Where is Julian?” became the house question. We tried to help him, we asked him to respect us, he heard us, but he could not act on it. Later, he was gone for months. Unreachable. Then returned unexpectedly, stayed for months, and left again.

A few weeks ago, when I was back to visit Zuzana, he arrived with his dad. He has a girlfriend now. His announcement was plain and clear: ”I’m moving out”. It hurt my heart, but came with a relief. He stayed for a week, then left without goodbye.

The dark emptiness of his room still expresses the memories. It’ll change. Soon, Johanna will enter and bring in new personality. He will be out there, in the big wide unprotected world. Whenever he’ll return, things will seem more hopeful. His goal now, is to build an energy neutral airplane. And you know what? Some light inside me thinks that somehow he’ll succeed.