This is a letter to my creativity coach Sara
Before our call I always give her a headsup.
“Abramović placed on a table 72 objects that people were allowed to use in any way that they chose; a sign informed them that they held no responsibility for any of their actions.
This tested how vulnerable and aggressive human subjects could be when actions have no social consequences.”
Wikipedia on “Rhythm 0”, 1974, by Marina Abramovic
This letter was originally meant to be privately by email, just like my previous one. Something I don’t think I ve done since our first emails in 2018, when I wasn’t turning my letters to you, into a blog post.
But desperate times call for desperate measures, and keeping my last letter to you off the grid, was one of them.
Although I do think only a fellow blogger will understand how it feels to not use what could very well be one of your best blogposts. The rawness and realness give it an aura of urgency that isn’t present when things are just eloquently rising and falling, within the most civil of boundaries.
The works of art you don’t want to make public, and the ideas that you don’t want to execute, are without exception the ones that you definitely should be sharing with the world. I learned that from Marina Abramović.
Which reminds me of a performance of her, Rhythm 0 (1974), that is very relevant to this post. Where she stands next to a table, with objects that can inflict pleasure or pain, and allows the audience to use them.
Revealing of course the monstrosity of Man.
After 6 hours the performance ended and no one dared to look her in the eye. They had been able to rationalize their behavior by objectifying her, and couldn’t handle her becoming “human” again.
Marina returned to her hotel alone, and with her first string of grey hair.
She has been dyeing it ever since.
Since our last, off-the-grid call, my fear of being objectified on the job, in therefor in danger, has hit me hard. And really for the first time ever.
I can see how much it has influenced my inability to grow as a yoga business and ultimately made me give up.
I had been well aware there had been something about having real life yoga classes that was just so absolutely impossible to move forward, at least by me.
I was aware of the heaviness of it. The obligations, the demands, the investments.
But until this week I thought they were all administrative, or financial. That with the right knowledge of how to run a business, knowledge I have since developed, I would have been to do it.
That it had been the government-regulated nature of having a/any real life business, combined with a market that in ten years time had acquired many new yoga teachers with a four month diploma or even 4 week ones, instead of a 4 year one;
That it had been those things, combined with hysterical real estate prices and energy markets that had made successfully exploiting a commercial property, heated to a comfortable 22 degrees Celcius, an impossible task.
And I m not saying I was wrong.
Just that I had overlooked one major issue, that I have not thought of for absolutely years and years…
Which is: How to do business as a woman without getting killed.
I knew the hesitance I had as a local yoga teacher to really start playing big and become visible in the media, didn’t have anything to do with feeling I wasn’t good enough, or because I believed yoga teachers were supposed to be modest and not blow their own horn.
And now I know it was something far more primal;
The reason I stopped having a healthy yoga studio because the classes stopped growing and eventually declined, was not because I didn’t know how to get it back up.
But because I was afraid it would get me killed.
As a woman and as a girl, I have always felt that men fell in love with me and that for a considerable portion of them, it was intolerable that I would not feel the same way.
That the feelings I had stirred up by talking to them, by writing with them, by working in a place they could see me (I will get back to why this doesn’t say “working with them”) and ultimately the emotions they felt because I was a yoga teacher, had to be answered by me, or bypassed in a way that still made them feel good about themselves.
Either way, somehow, I had to take responsibility for the mental strain my female presence caused them, and make it all alright.
There is so much to “unpack here”, as you would say it!
But as far as memories of the past go, I will stick to two things:
How I dealt with it in my business, at the time.
And how this fear of men has influenced my dating life.
So looking back at my career in yoga, I can say that I was never really able to deal with it, in a structured fashion.
Ideally, I longed for a protocol in place. Some guidelines that I would be able to follow, that would prevent men who I considered a liability, from coming to my classes.
But I never got my head around that one, so it stayed messy and ad hoc.
I managed, and I do think that understanding that they could not be in my classes made it easier for me, than if I would not have had that so clear.
But it was uncomfortable for all parties, regardless of how neutral, private, and early I communicated it.
I absolutely never said: “You re in love with me, and need to go.”
Not just because it would have been extremely hurtful, but also because I think that was beside the point.
The problem was never that someone was in love with me.
But that they were unable to handle some, any, all feelings I was stirring up. And yes I think that is usually interpreted as being in love but it could be so much broader and wider than that.
I m the first to admit that if you have any issues with anything from your past, I ll probably trigger them!
So the problem was that whatever it was, they were desperate to, and I use that word in the most empathic way possible because I did feel their pain, but they really longed for a connection to ease their pain.
And that’s why I couldn’t teach them.
And messy or not, at the ideal moment or too late; Ultimately, I never taught them.
By the time I ended my business my groups were stable and my students were an absolute great bunch of people!
And fifty/fifty, many of them were men.
So yeah, it was sad that I didn’t know how to make that business grow. But it was because I knew that if I would grow my normal, weekly classes yoga business, I would have to go through the whole ordeal of men who start feeling all kinds of things in my presence.
And I still didn’t have a protocol.
And I still didn’t know how to select.
And ultimately, I also think I was growing impatient that I had to put so much energy in it, and worry about this when no male yoga teacher would ever feel he had the same problem.
Male yoga teachers attract enough attention, but their position is an entirely different one.
And now I know why.
Because contrary to women, they do not associate the opposite sex falling in love with them with danger.
With being just a few steps away from becoming a victim of stalking, threats, abuse and ultimately death.
And women do.
Not just me; We all do.
All women have an understanding they cannot just say No to a man, without risking him turning on her.
Which is why they avoid his hints and non-verbal signs, and only say No when he asks specifically.
This is of course the root of men killing the girls and women that broke up with them, and it relates to the Me Too movement about abuse of power, but the problem lies much deeper;
Women cannot work as a professional, without constantly having to deal with men inappropriately projecting their sexual feelings onto them.
Instead of concentrating on the work, we lose focus delicately coaching our male clients through their emotions.
Maybe that is why I am such a big fan of the escort Avery Moore who charged $1000 an hour (in 2014!) and of coaches who ask similarly high end prices.
Because I believe we women are victim of having to do all that emotional labor for free, and at the risk of being bullied and stalked if we don’t do that work.
But I feel I digress.
Let me get back to how I feel these things go, I was talking about female professionals having to say No, or just in general women having to say No to a man;
It really is a situation we’d all rather avoid!
But we never can, can we?
Avoid it, I mean.
Because these men seem convinced our non-responsiveness is just one great misunderstanding. That as soon as we know how much he is into us, we will succumb.
It is only then, we will say No.
It took me a very long time to understand, what lay at the root of me understanding certain men had to go. And others, regardless of their feelings for me (feelings which are none of my business anyway!), could stay.
And it is so simple, yet a 100% rate of what is okay and what isn’t.
And it is the perfect bridge to my love life as well.
This simple rule is:
Am I free to say No?
When I had students that I felt were not giving me space, not giving me a choice, I felt cornered.
I know they were probably in denial about their own worth, and their own strength, but it translated to robbing us from an equal relationship based on our humanity.
Based on connection.
And instead, and for the fee of one class, I felt all their problems being dumped on my table of professional responsibility, and on top of that came their personal affection for me.
To make it bearable of course.
I get it.
How else would it be okay to do yoga with me, if the interest and therefor the vulnerability is not reciprocal?
But by the Gods, how on earth could any female professional build a business in the service industry, having to encounter those top heavy sociological complex situations?
You re basically dealing with decades of psychological and sexual neglect, that you are supposed to save them from…
And this is how it leads into my love life.
That the love life I ultimately settled on, which is being a long-term mistress but also still; as a single! With no one holding a claim over me, and freedom to go out or have sex with other men, if I would want that;
Is not just because I like the game, and steady relationships are not exciting enough.
It is because being single, being alone, and not having anyone in my personal space, not in my finances, nor in my agenda at fixed times;
Not having anyone who holds me accountable for his emotions;
It is because all of those things, make me feel safe.
Way more than a wildly successful yoga business or a marriage, ever would.
So the past week, what surfaced is a variation of my deep distrust of other people. I know it surfaced in Covid, when I considered the weird, unclear dynamic between people and the inability to articulate exactly what your Covid boundaries were, and instead it was more that a general interest in the other person was required, and a willingness to coach them through their fears and worries, was an impossible dynamic to work with.
It has surfaced and ruined my yoga career where the same unspoken dynamic caused me to not see how I could successfully run a business, without feeling the emotional demand of those who were touched, moved or triggered by my presence.
And now it is surfacing when setting up my online career, where I am suddenly reminded of how you are treated as a public persona.
That people feel free to project on you all their needs and wishes, and that you (I!) have to find a way to deal with that.
And that for now, the closest thing I have come to understand it, is that if you are a public figure, if you choose to work in the public, the online realm, instead of doing your work in the seclusion of a local brick and mortar business;
Then you (I!) need a whole different set of boundaries.
Now that I am laying the groundwork for my very public, online work;
I am beginning to understand that there is no answer for this.
That what women are dealing with, is a society where the objectification of women is so normalized, that even I have failed to see how it has been holding us back!
And that to a degree, the answer to how to run a business as a woman without getting killed is;
That our entrepreneurial risk, begins with the risk of wanting to give our life for this, and our privacy. And probably even dragging all those threats into the lives of our families and loved ones as well.
Our businesses start under siege, because our autonomy, independence and right to focus on our own lives, is constantly under siege.
The first law of womenhood is that you have to somehow work around the egos of rejected men. And unless you’re Avery Moore, you’re going to do it for free. And unlike a work of art, it will not be limited to 6 hours either.
If I setup my online presence in the wrong way, I am going to end up in an online 24/7 Rhythm 0, where just staying passive, just ignoring it, is probably not going to prevent much.
As the art performance Rhythm 0 already effectively illustrated.
Being passive, only makes it worse.
So this brings me to the only thing I have been able to excavate from this whole fucked up situation, about what it means to be a woman and how I have effectively neutralized the dangers of sexualization and objectification.
Because I have analyzed why I have felt so unsafe being a yoga teacher, and unsafe being visible (with yoga videos) online as well;
Yet I have at the same time, felt absolutely completely safe making videos for a specific “mutual interest” community, that has also been my target audience for years.
And I have also studied with men, I have been in male circles of friends both in high school as well as university;
I have worked WITH men (do you remember? How I excluded that from describing the situation earlier?) in the past and I still work in a team that is dominated by men, and of course I feel completely safe there.
I also have many male friends, I have more male friends than female friends.
So, I knew there was more to the story than just some version of men are impossible, or something.
I ve always known I am not inherently, scared of men.
That it is situation dependent.
But it took me a while to figure out what exactly, that situation was.
Why had I felt safe online speaking to the mutual interest community, but not making yoga videos?
And then I knew!
I saw it!
It is because in order to be objectified, you need to be separate. The reason female professionals are so easily sexualized and objectified, is they are not part of the same group as the man or men.
The whole old boys network thing, glass ceiling thing, is not just holding us back from better pay, it is also keeping us in a position where we can be objectified and no one needs to take responsibility for sexualizing us.
And if we present ourselves as independent professionals, in particular in female dominated service industries such as yoga, but this runs rampant in graphic design, photography, all professions where a client gets the privilege of being in the same room as you, either for you to do your work or to make arrangements and setup the project.
This professional space, that the female independent holds, much like the passivity from Marina, it becomes a space where the man can get feelings for her.
And if you go the other way, and be active, take the lead and be very clear on your arrangement, charge a high fee, and so on, which is definitely the better and the safest of the two, then men falling in love with you will get even worse.
In my experience, the stronger you are meeting new men, and you are NOT part of the same group – the stronger you are, the more they will become obsessed with you.
So even if you’re 100% the professional in charge, you’re still doing double the work of what a man would have to do.
And at the risk of getting stalked, not paid or badly reviewed on Google, if you fail to settle the manner in the most beautifully pleasant way.
So, they key is, and I ve dropped it a few times already;
To be safe as a female professional, you need to be part of the group.
Not stand above it.
The “communities” marketing had us creating, starting 5 or 10 years ago, and some of them were total hoaxes because how would someone feel part of a supermarket community or something-
but those communities, actually serve a bigger purpose, when you start using them in the right ways.
Which is: By offering your services to already existing communities.
Where women who present themselves as group leaders, have to juggle trying to galvanize and straighten out all kinds of dynamics, that are a direct result of individuals not naturally having chosen for each other AND the added threat of men falling in love with them;
Existing communities, have none of that.
My group of male friends in high school (6 boys, 2 girls) was the best group of friends I ve had in my life.
At university, it was not as close and our group was less strictly defined, but I was in a group with 5 male friends, and they “energetically protected me”, when other male students would join for dinner or something.
At my current workplace too; I am one of them. It is absolutely 100% safe.
So that’s how I uncovered how to do business as a woman without getting killed. It is great news on one hand; Because it IS possible.
Either by doing fucking heavy lifting of being a professional in charge, and taking the lead. And if I was opting for a brick and mortar business, that would be my approach now.
Or the second option is that you work for existing groups, or work within groups you already belong to, or become part of a group and share more than just the work you were hired to do.
Or the third option is that you go full objectification and take the celebrity route, and not interact with anyone. That you give up all sense of humanity in your work, and say: “Want to objectify me? Fine! But then you will not have anything from me that matters. I will withhold it from you.”
And as tempting as that one is, I do not believe that is truly my best work.
I don’t desire that kind of distance.
So the bad news is, that really, for myself, I have not figured the entire thing out yet. I will definitely work with the niche thing, the group thing, and picking the types of work where I know people will feel loyalty towards each other and avoid the anonymity and objectification and otherness, that makes online bullying so common.
But neither of all of those things are miracle cures.
There is absolutely no way a woman can make building her business a priority in the same outcome driven way, a man can.
Or at least, I couldn’t think of one.
And coming from a place of understanding how important my purpose work is, and how absolutely unsatisfied I am going to be if I die with my life still inside of me;
Coming from that place of utter understanding how important this all is, there is one thing I am not sure of;
If an art work is not 6 hours but a life time;
Is it worth dying for?
An unexamined life is not worth living
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