Sunday, September 9, 2018

Privilege and Power

 We were recently inspired to embark on a journey with a beautiful tribe of women who are connected with this little mountain and the fire that came surreally close.  My wife took the lead, a FB event was created, and a small list of strong souls were invited.  The initial response was that the photographer needed to be a woman, which made me cringe because I have always wanted to do projects like this, but finding real, strong women to be involved is near impossible, so this would be yet another beautiful mountain tribe moment that I would be excluded from because of how I was born.  When I was presented as the photographer, the response was overwhelmingly positive, though I'm sure it did deter some from being involved, primarily those who don't know me, or haven't taken the time to really read my posts.  That support felt amazing, but by the end of the night, one of those invited demanded to hear a feminist's argument for the project, and argued that being naked in front of a "man's" camera did not support strong, independent women, but perpetuated the patriarchy and women's suffering.  Normally I would roll my eyes and refuse to engage, but my wife asked me to defend myself, which I've been doing my entire life, so my response was one that has gotten more and more angry and frustrated over the decades.  That, of course, fueled her argument, so she just kept bashing me and bringing up obscure things like English photographers exploiting African women, and it quickly became apparent that she wasn't even reading what I was writing, she just had a lifetime's list of predetermined arguments why this talking penis was wrong, so I stopped to breathe.  A number of women interested in the project jumped in to defend me, which felt amazing, and a number of souls who refused to engage in the argument later validated what I had to say.  By morning, my heart was heavy, wondering about what horrific things happened to this woman that would cause her to insert me into the role of MAN, having no idea who I was, and obviously having no knowledge of my work or point of view.

  I posted an apology, and a brief history of what I've dealt with as a "man" growing up in a system that I did not agree with, and what I have had to overcome to accomplish what I love.  She responded by giving me a list of feminist authors to read, and to learn about power and privilege.  *eye roll*. I have no power or privilege.  I live in poverty and servitude.  If anything, I have had less opportunity in my life because I'm a white male.  I have been surrounded by individuals who are handed opportunities because they're women or minorities, because it's "man's" job to take care of them or certain groups' job to look out for their own, while this patriarchal system has conditioned most to think that I'll be fine.  I'm not.  I have always needed help and support, and have had to make the most of having very little, and the help and support I did get was not because I was a white male, but because I am who I am, while I suffer constant attacks for being a white male, and false accusations based on others perception.  Such a privilege.

So I bought one of the authors she recommended, Bell Hooks' The Will To Change, because I will never pass up the opportunity to learn something.  To be perfectly honest, I have read nothing about feminism or patriarchy.  In the world I grew up in feminists were angry man-haters, and I hated men too, so I didn't think I really needed that redundancy in my life.  The closest I ever got to feminism was reading up on the beautiful and independent Imogen Cunningham, who blatantly refused to be a part of the feminist movement, but accidentally became a symbol of it because she just flipped everyone off and did what she wanted to do, despite the patriarchy and men.  She didn't stand on a soapbox and whine about how much men sucked.  Bell's approach took me by complete surprise.  The title of the preface, About Men, was an immediate turn-off, because she goes on about the rage and violence she was subjected to as a child, and lo and behold she found herself in similar relationships as an adult.  Hearing things like that hurt me deeply, and I did not want to read a book about the horrible things women have to suffer.  I am fully aware of those things.  On a personal level, I don't understand it, because, aside from observing the society at large that I grew to hate at a very early age, I never had to experience it.  The only aspect of patriarchy that I grew up with was my father being the provider, but he didn't treat us like his property.  He provided for us and and expected nothing in return.  I never saw rage or violence from my father, but I did see enough frustration and anger to respect him.  When I did something stupid, he would briefly explain why it was stupid, what the result would be, call me a bone-head, and tell me to stop it.  The only thing I was afraid of growing up was disappointing my father, which was expressed by a simple glance.  My mother made the decisions in the house, and he followed her.

I learned the pride of providing, and have always done whatever I can to support my family, because I love them and I want to, not because it's my job as a man.  The first chapter started with the statement that women just wanted to be loved by men, *cringe*, and ended with men needing to be loved and freed from the patriarchy, and there were some unexpected tears in between.  For the first time in my life, how I felt about the system was completely validated.  Bells' approach to patriarchy immediately pointed out that men are emotional time bombs, suffering constant emotional repression from the role that is demanded of them, which I have experienced first hand.  When I started blogging in 2009, the one constant note I got was that I talked too much about how I felt, and that most of my emotional rambling was unprofessional,  while female models' and photographers' blogs, riddled with emotion, were celebrated and coddled, mostly by men, who were simply playing out their patriarchal protective and dominant role.  The only real readers and followers I got over my almost decade of unnoticed and demeaned emotional rambling were women, because it is socially acceptable for women to feel and support emotion.  I could easily argue that the only reason I haven't "succeeded" as a creative is because I respond to the patriarchal roles with two middle fingers.

My blogging exploration into emotion and self discovery was also on the coat-tails of my second marriage unravelling by the firm gripping hand of patriarchy, and my struggling to be a part of it.  I spent my teens and twenties trying desperately to play a character that contradicted my nature, and that came to a head when I became an abusive "man", fueled by gin, whiskey, and self hatred, flailing miserably to figure things out.  Just shy of 30, my wife, who at this point had been driven to wander off to other men and bars, refused to come home one night, her excuse was that she was afraid I was going to kill her.  That seemed so absurd to me at the time, but I immediately stopped drinking and recognized that I was the problem.  A month later I accidentally killed someone, and every single thing in my life became a catalyst to change, obviously too late to save my marriage, and I honestly had a lot of work to do on myself, and still do.  God fucking bless my second wife for letting me experience that first hand, not that she "let" me do it, but she could have easily called the cops at any point in the entire year leading up to that, and she didn't.  I needed to see the fear and hurt I caused, in someone that I loved too much, but I didn't even understand love at 30, because the system never allowed me to.  Testament to the kind of woman she is, she hunted me down three years later, saw my blog, and sent me a message saying that she forgave me, veiled beautifully behind "I don't hate you anymore," and I regularly apologize to her now, veiled cleverly behind me making fun of the stupid shit I did.
So clearly this book brought up a lot of things, and I have already been blessed with so much more understanding, but I'm not sure if it's in the way that was intended, by someone who doesn't know me.  This shoot went beautifully.  I did not take many photographs, as there was a lot of getting comfortable time allotted.  By the time everyone seemed to settle in, two had to leave, but hopefully this opens a door for more shoots like this, and I am overwhelmingly grateful to everyone who showed up and helped this happen, because I can tell you from first hand experience, if I would have reached out to people and tried to make this work, it would not have, and that's not me being negative; that has been learned from a lifetime of trying, being forced to do it the wrong way out of necessity, suffering trying to do it the right way, then finally just giving up and settling for "professionals."...and if I don't get reads, shares, or attention because my feelings don't fit into the patriarchal system, I believe all of you are familiar with what my middle fingers look like. =)

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