Currently as part of a project to approach other audiences in other spaces me and a group of my colleagues have started making different street actions and experiments.
My personal project in this has been (well a picture tells 1000 words),
The sign reads “You can slap me in the face for 5 euro.”
Open hand only
Left hand only”
While this may primarily cause alarm or a belief in my insanity or that I’m desperate for money none of these happen to be the case.
The reason I started this particular project is because I wanted to look at power relations, the way money seems to buy entitlement (and to what?), human empathy (I still believe we have it hidden somewhere), to observe the social moral pressure and to draw attention to the huge blanket myth that “it is not ok to hit women” (and while I agree with the statement I am finding that it seems that it is not ok in public spaces where it can be perceived by a larger community while statistically it is going on all the time). Here are some figures for those who like figures. http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/facts-and-figures
Or another article from the emergency room saying that approximately 37% of women seeking injury-related treatment in hospital emergency rooms were there because of injuries inflicted by a current or former spouse/partner. Approximately 40-50% of female victims are physically injured when assaulted by their intimate partner, according to The DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
So far I have been out on the street for two different days with this sign and only one person has agreed to pay and slap me. The first day I went out I was very nervous. I brought a bunch of my friends with me to hang about in the square both to film and in case things got out of hand. It was crazy that even making the sign and holding it, words facing me, while we walked down the street already had such a huge effect my body and my sense of safety.
The guy who agreed to slap me chatted with his friends (some of them female), came up to me gave me the money, said “I’m going to slap you.” I nodded, I braced myself and he gave my cheek something way closer to a caress than a slap (it did not hurt at all). I was surprised. I realized if he had really hit me then he and I and everyone in the crowded square would have had to in some way deal with the reality of being hurt, being human and witnessing in the flesh and in public, a violent act against a woman.
At one point in the day I went to talk to some other people in the street and my big male friend stood behind the sign (I was gone for all of eight minutes) and in that time some guys came up to him, one of them paid him, he swung his arm back and slapped my friend as hard as he could across his cheek. The man who slapped him then just left. That was it. And my friend was left shaking and with a big red hand print on his cheek for most of the day. I couldn’t barely believe it. And the people standing around didn’t seem to care either. We are so accustomed to male against male violence, what is our narrative there? “He can take it.” That is ridiculous and by that margin the same (though opposing social logic that gets everyone hurt).
Interesting also, besides getting hit in the face or not, is the expression of each person as they pass the sign and me standing behind it. Some people are embarrassed and they cannot look at me, others are in disbelief, some laugh, some are worried and ask me if I need help, others seem to be angry and most are curious. I have had beautiful conversations with many people about how they feel about violence, people have told me stories of their own experiences with violence but everyone seems to open up in an amazing and intimate way just by me putting this sign and making myself vulnerable. It has been refreshing to see that even if it is only publicly people seem to want to open dialogue about things that we mostly never say.
I’m going to continue the project for another few weeks and see how it goes.