This is not a blog. This is extracts from a collection of emails in response to an article. I (Jules) am publishing them with the permission of the people who wrote them not because I think I or they have a solution to the problem being discussed, but because I am interested in the question, the conversation and the change that could follow. As a (fairly) straight, cis-gender, university educated white man, the only privilege box I don’t tick is family money and that makes me very aware that the best thing for me to do is listen. So I will make no comment except to say that this is a long-ish read, but important.
Although this is not the whole email exchange, I have tried to be as fair and accurate in my editing as I can and am publishing with the permission of all those quoted. I am publishing in the hope that this conversation can become more diverse and more representative.
WARNING: Wall of text and possible triggers
The following people are quoted by name below. There is one quote that has been made anonymous at the request of the writer.
This article I read this morning has hit me hard.
My first thought was “Thank god the UK community isn’t like this”. But then I thought “Wait, the whole point of this article is that I wouldn’t automatically know if this sort of thing WAS going on.”
And that chilled me to the bone.
So, I guess I wanted to share that thought with some people I admire and trust and ask if there’s anything additional that we can do in our classes and coaching sessions to ensure that this sort of thing will not stand and doesn’t have a chance to take hold?
I know enough to know I don’t know anything.
Yep, sounds pretty familiar to me.
Like that time at the Miller where I was chatting at the top of the stairs with Chris, Jon and Paul Foxcroft, and some guy walked past and leered so terrifyingly at me that my gentlemen friends formed a protective circle around me for when he walked back again.
Or the creepy improviser/teacher who drunkenly talked to my breasts and encroached on my personal space in Edinburgh, but when I talk about that to people, friends in the improv community, I get “men can’t help looking at breasts” or “well, he’s not been like that with me”. So I guess he’s fine then.
Having said that, it was an improviser colleague who spotted his inappropriate behaviour to me on a joint teaching trip (lewd remarks, sexual innuendo, hand gestures) and talked to me afterwards to see how I felt about it. Thank you. Thank you for noticing, talking to me, and listening.
In any case, I still feel nervous around him.
So it’s not just about our classes and workshops. It’s about each other. It’s about ACTUALLY listening when someone talks about something like this.
I really like what the writer said about protection – who are you protecting when you don’t listen? Jeez, who am I protecting right now, when I’m not using the man’s name for fear that I might rock boats and affect other people’s working relationships with him? For fear that *I* will be labelled a gossip, a shit-stirrer, that I won’t be believed because he’s a ‘good guy’?
How many people does it take for the UK community to ‘be like this’? Do I count? Am I enough? I should be. One person feeling like this should be enough.
But it doesn’t feel that way.
So I think what we can ‘do about it’ is quite simply to listen. Listen when someone speaks up. Listen with your eyes, look out for this sort of behaviour, and not just in your classes. And believe the person when they speak up, so others feel that they can speak up too.
This is a very powerful and scary thread. I think talking about this shit is important. Jinni, can I publish your email (with a few edits for anonymity maybe, or not) as a response post to the blog Chris shared?
This led to a conversation about anonymity and whether names should be used in this published version.
Hum. I don’t know. Obviously, I wasn’t writing with publication in mind, I was writing as part of a conversation here.
I’m fascinated by my own thought process – I’m worried about this being published, saying that there is an improviser/teacher who has acted in this way, and then that affecting people signing up to classes, or how comfortable they would feel in classes. It’s that protection issue again – am I now putting the community ahead of myself?!
So I’ll have a think about it. I would also be very interested to hear thoughts from others.
In response to whether you should say names, perhaps this bit of the article is clear:
“I’m not going to tolerate it anymore. I will pull every string and use every connection at my disposal to end this. I’m done. Get on our side or f–k off.”
I dunno. But I’ll support you whatever you do.
I think you have to choose your battles wisely sometimes. Not every issue is a gender issue. But this very much is. And so women should be supported in every decision they make to combat it. As leading men in this community, we absolutely have to side with the leading women. To believe them. To assist them and cultivate the environments for them to feel safe.
And I think some of us will have to suck it up, walk through fear, and be involved in interventions if someone oversteps the mark, or that become necessary for whatever reason. If we don’t, we are blaming the victim and leaving it to them to deal with.
Our workshops always have an aim to be a safe place for creativity and unwinding after a boring 9-5, it should also be a safe place to be a woman, gay, straight, fat, black, socially awkward and weird. And when somethings infringes on that, we kill it there and then. This is for our fellow teachers, our students, our friends, and friends we haven’t met yet.
Thanks for answering so honestly, Jinni.
I had a (horrible) feeling this would be the case.
I’d also prefer not to be named because I think it makes me look too good. I’ve not done enough yet, I heard you talk about this before and totally decided that because I would never do it myself that I’m not the problem. But because I don’t want anyone to dislike me, I don’t challenge this behaviour when I see or hear about it anywhere near as much as I should. Up until now I’ve thought that modelling good behaviour was enough, and it demonstrably isn’t. I also don’t want to go too far the other way – we have amazingly kickass female improvisers in the UK (just look at the Playground line-up this Friday) but we all need to support each other and, as Jinni says, if one person is feeling like this in the community, that’s one too many.
So, yeah, I think we should talk about this stuff and yes, I think you should tell your story if you’re up for it (anonymously or not). And I’m drawing a line in the sand for myself to not tolerate that behaviour when I see it – both in class or out in the world.
At this point there was some conversation about a code of conduct, possibly one that was London-wide, agreed by many of the companies who teach and run shows. It should be noted that several people already have their own already and look after this very well.
I can’t decide about the anonymity thing.
I think in some ways we have to encourage good deeds and reward them. And point out the people that do them, so as to cultivate a society where good things are celebrated.
This also comes with a belief that treating people as equals shouldn’t deserve a medal, and feeling like you deserve a medal is the same sense of entitlement that puts us where we are.
I also think you shouldn’t get to decide if someone wants to publicly thank you for something you did.
So again, I guess, all I can do is stand by whatever Jinni decides. As I would any one of you.
Peace, guys. Peace.
I think the articles coming out of America should be taken very seriously and are a warning to the London improv scene, and as we get bigger we need to sort this out now. It looks like over there it has been swept under the carpet for some years so we need to take action right now.
It’s tricky because those people don’t/won’t necessarily disappear from the community after being named and shamed. In a perfect world, we’d want to educate them and stop them from doing those things.
I know I’m not supposed to take the light off the female issue (but I’m a terrible Feminist) but we had male Maydays that needed to speak to a woman who was stepping over the line in classes and scenes with inappropriate touching of the dudes.
That’s what confuses me about Feminism versus Equality; surely we should all be treating one another with respect regardless of our gender and everything else.
I also understand the ponderings regarding the feminism vs equality debate – in my belief, feminism IS equality. And equality means safety.
In this particular regard, responding to the initial article, I feel we are talking about female safety. I fully applaud and welcome plans for a code of conduct, to be made public, and yes, let’s get that done within in a week. Why wait?
With regards to my initial response, I have thought about it, and Jules, please publish it as it is.
I know I said that it was up to Chris, Jon and Paul whether they were named or not, but actually, screw that.
I’m not giving you a medal.
I’m not saying you’ve nailed it and that you don’t need to try any more. I’m not saying that you’re on top of this and that nothing more needs to be done.
I’m saying that these were gestures and words that to you may have seemed tiny, inconsequential and obvious – but for me, they were huge.
I’m not holding you up as beacons of feminism. I’m saying that tiny gestures of support, that just listening to someone and believing them, are the things that matter.
These are just the thoughts and experiences of a small group of people, and it’s a subject of great complexity. Please tell us your experiences, below, on the Facebook post or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.