Friday, 27 November 2009

The pleasures of patriarchy: version 1.0’s THIS KIND OF RUCKUS

This is a piece that I started a couple of months ago in response to some thoughts expressed in our artist talk for THIS KIND OF RUCKUS. Like much of my current writing, it's been languishing as I grapple with the endless paperwork that running a so-called 'Key Organisation' entails. Given the current swirling discontent around gender equity in writing and directing theatre in Sydney (not formal issues which directly apply to version 1.0 given the nature of our group devising practice), I thought that it was probably time to throw this out there, unfinished and inelegant as it is.


In our exploration of depressingly ordinary, run-of-the-mill sexual violence – violence in the form of struggles for power and control that occur within all intimate relationships – we were forced to recognise and confront the reality of male power. Not only did we reflect at length on the banally obvious fact of physical difference – “He feels tall. Towering tall”, as Kym notes in our couples mediation session midway through the show. There’s a physical capacity for violence built into the male body and, like it or not, this remains close to the surface. Not that this is intended in any way to excuse the behaviours of violent men. On the contrary, such men far too easily get such behaviours excused on the basis that these were an aberration, a one-off, pushed over the edge, under the influence, under pressure, under attack, and will never ever happen again. Until the next time, which will also undoubtedly make claim to being another once-off. No, the point is more that all male bodies are capable of such violence, and as such must remain self-aware to keep such capacity in check.


Now, I like to think that I’m a sensitive, caring, considerate kind of guy, a so-called SNAG (presuming that the reader will permit me the excision of some of the more hippy connotations of ‘new-age’). I like to think that I have a healthy belief in both gender equity and personal excellence, and as such, that I oppose discrimination without reducing solutions to such discrimination to mere quotas. I like to think that ‘reverse discrimination’ initiatives should remain temporary measures. Most of my bosses in a wide range of jobs have been women, and its fair to say that almost all of my significant mentors have been female artists and artsworkers. I like to think that I’ve absorbed many of the primary lessons of feminism – biology is not destiny, the personal is political, etc, etc.


I begin with this awkwardly affirmative-action paragraph in order to indicate the scale of my self-deception. As we were making THIS KIND OF RUCKUS, the closer attention we paid to gender politics and power struggles within relationships, the more I realised that despite my belief to the contrary, I benefit from patriarchy. Not only that, but I use these benefits for my own advancement. Subtly, of course. And most importantly, I like it. I enjoy these benefits. This pleasure in (relative) power is unavoidable, even though it becomes, upon reflection, somewhat abhorrent to me. When I think too closely about it, I begin to despise the sight of myself in the mirror. Despite this reflective abhorrence, the simple fact remains that my power as a man is largely invisible to me. And by invisible, I mean that I am not required to think about it very much at all. I can walk through the world and think very little about my power – my power to inflict physical and psychological harm, my power to remain safe from various forms of assault whilst walking on the street, my power to only be required to be afraid of particular kinds of physical harm NONE OF WHICH attack my status as a subject. I have within my power the ability to effortlessly retain the status of a subject, and am never forced to risk reduction to an object. I benefit from patriarchy* and I like it. How could it be otherwise?


If this project was to succeed in anything, it should be to have made visible, however fleetingly, those powers that men wield that remain, in everyday life, invisible to us.


*Of course, it doesn’t hurt that in addition to being male, I’m white, physical unimpaired, and middle-class (in upbringing if not in income – I do work in the arts after all!)


Image: Kym Vercoe and David Williams in version 1.0's THIS KIND OF RUCKUS. Photography by Heidrun Lohr.