I sat in the audience while someone stood in front of me using sex and women as punchlines in his talk. Throughout the hour, he flashed hentai images, a gif of a monkey masturbating, and stopped scrubbing a video on a frame of a woman to remark, “Nice rack.” All this while littering his talk with dick jokes and an explanation of a conceptual video which centered around the idea of the domination of a woman. To my astonishment, his talk was punctuated by the sound of laughter from a handful of people in the audience.
I did nothing. I sat there and gave him my time and attention. When he finished, I filed out of the theatre with the other conference attendees and tried to sort through my thoughts amongst the many praises I overheard, “Wow, he was amazing!” I stood waiting for my colleagues and did not say much until someone confirmed what had happened. I had not imagined it. What I saw was the status quo of the industry standing so triumphantly on stage masked under the pretense of talent.
I hear from other women in the industry about things like this happening. Admittedly, I brush them off and wonder if they are overreacting or if they are overly sensitive. I contrast their reactions against what I consider to be acceptable or inappropriate as I, egotistically, consider my barometer to be somehow more correct. I tell myself, “Well, you have quite a crass sense of humour. What if it is them and they cannot take a joke?”
This was not a masterfully delivered joke by one of my favourite comedians or the bantering between husband and wife. This was just a talk, not written to entertain in a crude way, delivered supposedly to inspire and educate a group of creative professionals. This was different, was it not? Or was it different because it was me in the audience?
I have never been one to be easily offended and it is a weakness of mine that I feel I must mention this in order to legitimize my response. It is with much restraint I write this, as it is such a failure to me that I have to even address it.
I do not identify myself as a female Designer or Entrepreneur. I go through great pains to remove gender from my life in any way possible because I believe gender has no place in many conversations. Being a woman informs my life in the way that having black hair or ten fingers informs my life. My body is the cask in which I was put. Yet, here it was—a clear reminder I was not like them. Unfortunately, I am starting to realize my approach is cowardly and at best, a naive way to look at the bubble in which I occupy.
I suppose I could never write well enough to articulate why what I saw made me uncomfortable. I can only say that describing the feeling as “discomfort” is insufficient. I felt awkward, confused, irritated, and angry. I resisted taking off my rose-tinted glasses for so long because, after all, this is my industry. This is supposed to be where I feel the most comfortable. This is not only my job but my life’s work so far. At that point, it felt like an awfully unjustified vocation.
I entertained the idea as I walked away from the conference that there was more than just the gender status quo playing out in front of me. This problem is not merely a grouping of men who are socially-stunted in an industry which accepts and encourages their behaviour but also willful ignorance in the face of talent. Our industry (but perhaps not just our own) fetishizes output so much that the thought of saying, “No” to what is clearly wrong is too absurd an idea to entertain.
I worry that speaking up causes side effects such as over-censorship or an over-reliance on “nanny culture.” I also worry that occasionally efforts to make things equal are overreaching and do so at the expense of the other group. What worries me most though, is that the ones who have the biggest potential to move the needle on this issue are the very ones who sat in the audience and laughed. What is left is a group of individuals who are expected to be politely angry lest they wish to be unfairly criticized or dismissed as prudes for saying, “No.”
These are musings without a purpose as I am sure there is not a simple solution to all of this. I do know, however, this question has developed in my mind over the past couple of days about my place in all of this, “What is the cost of being politely angry?”
This post was sparked by a talk I watched at Reasons to be Creative in Brighton. It is a three-day conference/event held yearly targeted towards creative professionals. The last speaker of the conference spoke for just over an hour about his work and I wrote this roughly two weeks later.