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Wreath Lectures

Double Dare Ya: On Rapey Men, Missing Voices & The Glorious Unknown Future
Anna Wood , December 18th, 2017 12:53

New year’s resolution for cocky shitty white men: sit down and be quiet. New year’s resolution for everyone else: do what you like.

A Dance To The Music Of Time (Nicolas Poussin, c1635)

In her brilliant essay about how to live a good life, philosopher Amia Srinivasan wrote: “The world is messy, and everyone who wants to make it better must do what strikes them as best, without any final sense of what that might be or any guarantee that they're getting it right.”

That's what you're doing if you go public with accusations about someone who has abused or harassed you. You're doing what strikes you as best, without any guarantee that you're getting it right, and without any guarantee that it will go in your favour. You're taking a leap and having faith, despite the many reasons not to have faith, despite the fact that you'll get a load of shit for it or, at best, you'll feel guilty, confused, anxious, vulnerable.

And you are expecting more of society than others might deem reasonable. Maybe you'll be sued, publicly attacked, blamed for a suicide, a ruined career, a heartbroken family. But you are refusing to believe that society will naturally carry on as it is - as if history has just been one note, playing for centuries, as if things aren't constantly shifting. You are holding one man responsible, and you are also holding the whole of society to account - hoping we might listen, believe, back you up.

This is a society that worries about protecting abusive musicians, as if the musical landscape would be barren if we'd had to sacrifice Rolf Harris and Gary Glitter (I say this as a woman who loves 'Rock And Roll Part 2'); as if we're not allowed to listen to Swans or R Kelly anymore; and as if music is not compatible with common decency. We don't need predatory men in our culture and arts. Woody Allen and Roman Polanski are not crucial to cinema, however great you think Chinatown is. Stand-up comedy will be fine without Louis CK. I mean, are we really concerned, even for a minute?

But we are, apparently. We worry about losing their voices, their 'genius', as if there aren't untold artists who've been sidelined, damaged, silenced by these wankers. We mourn the loss of a load of awful blokes, but our imagination fails us when we try to comprehend the stories that are missing. As Rebecca Solnit puts it: “We should not mourn the end of the creative lives of the men being outed as predators; we should contemplate the creative contributions we never had, will never know, because their creators were crushed or shut out.”

All those missing stories, all those missing people. And so many overconfident, wildly unpleasant men who have taken their place, never allowing our world to be as rich as it should. Diversity is never mediocre, proper representation is never boring. More fun, more imagination, more freedom - these things are always good. Integrity and cooperation? Always excellent.

Why don't we all do something about it? If you're a man, maybe you're worried that you'll lose your job if you cause trouble (really?), or you're worried because you've harassed someone at work (more likely), or that you've somehow accidentally harassed someone at work without realising it (this is utter bullshit, by the way. You don't accidentally harass someone). Maybe you're just comfortable as you are. And if you're a woman, perhaps the same applies - maybe you're fine. Maybe you haven't been harassed or abused. Or you're worried that you'll lose your job, or be shoved out one way or another. Perhaps you're concerned that you'll be attacked, ridiculed (I can understand that - you may well be right). You might just be tired and want get on with your life, have some fun, not have to keep processing all of this. I get that too. I need a nap, all the time. Remember though, that you might feel all of the above, and also feel great. Remember that it's okay to feel relief, and not just relief but pleasure and satisfaction, when a man's gropey-bastard chickens come home to roost. (To quote Lindy West: “Yes, this is a witch hunt. I'm a witch, and I'm hunting you.”)

Sometimes however it is easier to nod when you hear someone say what a nice guy they are, most of the time. If you're a man, especially, you might point out that of course you don't think that woman is lying but you've never, personally, witnessed this bloke being a raging sexist bastard. If you're a woman, and you're tired, you might think: I'm okay. I haven't been wanked at in public for almost a decade, I've only been patronised or viciously insulted a few times this year and I can't be sure that was always down to my gender. Yet in 2017, and especially since the Weinstein story broke in October, we have been raising the bar. We are nodding along less often. There is a domino effect, a rising tide of stories and voices, and while it is heartbreaking and disturbing and rage-inducing, it is also pretty wonderful.

Raising the bar involves using our imagination, trusting that unknown futures can be better than this. It involves recognising that we don't know the consequences of every good thing we try to do, but we do know that what we have at the moment isn't good enough (even if it's good enough for you). Because what are we really worried about? Some of us have more to worry about than others - those who have most to benefit from change are often, of course, the ones who are being silenced one way or another. But if you're able to make a noise about it, about how the world is letting us all down, then MAKE A NOISE. And if there's someone else who has more to lose if they kick off, then listen to their concerns, make sure there is space for them - and maybe kick off a bit more on their behalf.

So, my new year's resolution: get over yourself and get into how rich, juicy and unpredictable the world could be. Trust that people are wonderful, and take a leap of faith into the goodness of the world and its unknown possibilities. What would happen if, oh, I don't know, we didn't let cocky white blokes run everything? I mean, we know that'd be good, don't we? But let's find out how good, let's experience the details.

There are many reasons to give women half of everything, and to reconfigure - redefine - power to better include every one of us. There are prosaic reasons - we'd get better childcare, for example, and better reproductive healthcare with more women in parliament; and we'd increase our collective talent pool, the human-power available to us, if we didn't exclude so many people. But women aren't here just to fight for childcare or increase the sum of our knowledge, great as those things are. We deserve it because we are here. We don't have to earn it or be exceptional. We are here and the world is ours, or at least half of it.

So how do we get there? The current dominant worldview asks that we put a 'smart' goal on almost everything we do, that our aims should be specific, measurable, 'attainable'. Which of course doesn't work when you're aiming for a feminist socialist utopia, and works even less when you're aiming for something you don't know yet, something that relies on the goodness of people and our collective desire for unity and fairness and FUN. This dominant worldview can make you feel a bit silly even, because apparently you should be able to work out costs, give us a spreadsheet and a timescale, for this different world. But an idea that is not fixed, a burning desire that has no pre-imagined, predetermined outcome, is not a wishy-washy idea. Maybe it's a very exciting idea, a beautiful idea. And what's the worst that can happen? We end up with better childcare and equal pay?

If the conclusions you come to always involve things staying as they are, if you're not having to do any uncomfortable thinking, it may be that you are not concluding hard enough. If you are, just for example, a middle-class cis white woman, you might think more about what your supposed femaleness is, and who defines it, and who needs it. If you haven't already, you might think about your supposed whiteness, and what it does for you, and why you care about it. (Yes, I've been reading James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates again this year, and if you haven't then I recommend you do.) It's wonderful to wonder about this stuff; you're wonderful, too. Dig in, I remind myself, dig in and don't be scared.

And all the while, as we are thinking, and talking and listening, we are here. Women are here, and who says we can't have our fair share, who says we have to align ourselves with this bullshit idea of power to get anywhere, and who says we can't be as messy and overconfident as the next man? Double dare ya, girlfriend - double triple fucking dare ya.