So yesterday I tweeted this beautiful piece by Cara Ellison on being a woman and fighting the role of being a muse.
Shortly after posting it I received a very excited email from a male friend of mine. We talk a lot about creativity and creative stuff. It was quite cool to know that he’d read the article and found something that resonated with him.
Only as I read his reply something felt a bit off. It was all about his creative experience and his anxiety to be a maker, and where that part of the article had taken him. It seemed that he had missed the core part of the article, the part about how it is harder for women to be accepted in creative spaces, that our ‘in’ is through the beds of the creative men, that our voices are often taken and twisted to be men’s voices.
And though his action he’d become a part of this pattern. A friend, who I assumed would know better, came to me and essentially wanted me to be his muse for him. He gave me his raw thoughts about his creativity and expected me to help him to analyse and repackage them to build something stronger for him. He took this article and made it all about his creative needs, leaving no space for me. I felt uncomfortable about being given this raw brainmeat, especially while I was in the middle of processing what this article meant to me. I immediately felt squished out of a conversation that was supposed to be about women in creative spaces, about my own place there.
I am a naturally caring person. I love to help and to share the things I have been through in order to give strength to others. It’s my natural urge to respond with positives, to help my friend process and tap into his creativity the way that he wants and needs to. And this is a role I’ve played before and still want to play in the future, for this friend and for others as well. For creativity, for mental health and general wellbeing. But this time, this article, this moment, it just wasn’t the right time.
So now I was in a tough situation. Do I be a good feminist, or a good friend? Do I look after myself here, or do I look after my friend? Especially when if I look after myself I deny the caring part of me, and if I look after my friend I deny the core of the article that resonated so much with me. I ignore the women who are silenced, and I essentially become the muse mentioned in the article. I ended up choosing to do both at once, because the idea that I have to choose between being a good feminist and a good friend is complete crap.
I’m a feminist. This is something that is a growing journey for me, as I learn about the world, how women are treated in it, and the thousands of ways, big and small, that women are conditioned, shaped, chided, silenced and pushed out. When I view the larger patterns, when I read the articles of other women who have had more experience in these fights, I feel their strength and I can see the patterns. My opinions and my voice grow stronger, I am able to identify the larger patterns and how the smaller ebbs build in to big waves.
It is easy to see and identify misogyny and patriarchy when they are large behemoths of violence, destroying and silencing women. It is easy to find strength in the words and actions of strong women, turning air into concrete that I can stand on. I am so grateful to every woman who shares her story, because I know it is never an easy thing to speak about. It’s a thousand times harder when the expression of invisible privilege happens in your own space. It is hard to even identify that your voice is being silenced, that you are allowed to not be okay with this. It happens so naturally and so subtly, and we have been trained since birth to do this dance. It is hard to build up the courage to stand up and make your voice heard, when you know the natural response to your voice is to treat it as a threat.
It’s difficult to stand up to the men in your own life, the same men who likely have listened and agreed and likely joined in the fight against the Misogyny Behemoth that lumbers through society. They listen often, they take things in, they learn and they grow. But they still get things wrong sometimes, because privilege is invisible.
It’s scary to confront them, to know that if they don’t understand that this might be the loss of a friend, or a damaging blow to the relationship with a family member. That the most likely thing that will happen will be the dismissal of your opinion using any one of the many tactics that have been used a thousand thousand times.
I am lucky to have understanding friends, and that in this instance I have had a positive experience. My friend took my concerns on board, apologised for taking up space that wasn’t his to take, and promised to be more aware in the future. This seems lucky, and I’m glad for it. It helps me to know I can trust this person, that their expression of invisible privilege is something they will allow me to call them on. If men are wondering what they can do for women? This is it. this is the thing. Listen, take on board, and look to identify where you are taking up space that isn’t yours. Sit down.
The next time this happens with someone else it might not be so easy for me to identify, and it might not be so easy to confront. It will happen again, it’s absolutely undeniable. The next time it happens I might even be the perpetrator, I definitely have my own fair share of invisible privilege.
I work hard to be aware of my privilege and learn to look for the times where I benefit purely because of who I am. While I am not playing life on the absolute lowest difficulty setting, I’m definitely still somewhere towards the easy end. This is an important part of being a human in the world, especially one who wants change.