The peak body protecting and promoting the Australian visual arts sector

Public Letter

On International Women’s Day 2018, NAVA released “Dear Person I’ve Been Reluctant To Keep Engaging With But Have Had To For Professional Reasons.”

Dear Person I’ve Been Reluctant To Keep Engaging With But Have Had To For Professional Reasons,

I know this letter is going to come as a surprise to you, but I have to tell you something – and it’s going to make you feel deeply uncomfortable about who you are and how you come across.

You’re a perpetrator of gendered harassment. 

Habitually, routinely, and thoughtlessly, you make people feel uncomfortable because you sexualise the way that you touch them, talk to them, or talk about them.

And I am one of those people. 

I’ve tried all the various ways I could think of to stop you from behaving that way towards me, but none of them have worked. You’ve brushed it off as a joke or just your way or just what it’s like working in a creative environment. You’ve never stopped to think about how that affects someone, day-to-day, to be intimidated or humiliated or offended or distressed or hurt. You’ve never stopped to think about how it affects our entire culture when there’s countless people like you who just go on behaving that way, oblivious to their effect.

There have been times when your behaviour has gone beyond gendered harassment. There are times when you’ve sexually assaulted me. You didn’t notice, because you didn’t realise that that was sexual assault. You didn’t realise that you touched me that way because, in your position of power, you’ve long felt entitled to behave however was most comfortable for you, without considering the other. You didn’t realise that touching me the way you did, in public, while I was in the middle of doing my job, or just at an opening, or even at my own opening, was not only horrible but against the law.

You’re probably wondering why I’ve never mentioned this before, in terms as strong and as clear as this. I don’t think you have any idea how hard it is to say all this. To realise that, despite all the work I’ve made and shown, I have been diminished into the object of someone else’s momentary sexual gratification – just an object and nothing more… that is an abhorrent feeling. It disconnects you from yourself and everything you’ve achieved. And all the times when you’ve just laughed it off, I’ve felt even more humiliated. On top of all that, I’ve been worried about how it would hurt my career. How you might retaliate. I’ve heard the way you speak about other people. I know how rumour can ruin reputations. And I’m disgusted that, despite the fact that everyone seems to know all of this about you, people keep giving you great jobs and putting you on committees and giving you even more power over the careers of people like me.

The only alternative to sending you this letter was not sending it – and then that would mean that I would continue to feel uncomfortable and undermined and unsafe. And who knows how many others would be feeling the same way. I’ve seen you with other people. I’ve seen their body stiffen and their facial expression freeze. I’ve wondered how on earth it could be possible that you haven’t noticed it too.

So instead of contributing to the bottomless mire of material designed to agitate the victims of gendered harassment into changing their behaviour, I’m offering ways that you can change yours.

There have to be dozens and dozens of times when you’ve been talking to someone, and suddenly their demeanour has changed or they’ve moved away from you abruptly. Ask yourself why. I mean Really. Ask. Yourself. Why. What were you saying? What were you doing? How could you have done any of that differently?

I know you’ve recognised this behaviour in others. Why haven’t you said anything? Maybe now, reading this letter – and I know you’re going to reread and reread it, because it’s a really unsettling thing to receive – maybe now you’ll find some way to say something. Maybe you’ll find some way to stop yourself when you’ve moved into a colleague’s personal space, or made a joke that had nothing to do with the work you were discussing, or decided that the artist you were speaking to was someone that you wanted to see smile or blush or squirm. You’re going to start reflecting on all the ways you come across. This is the moment when you start to change.

Can you imagine what Australia’s galleries and studios and public spaces and our entire contemporary arts scene would look like if nobody had to fear someone like you?  

That’s what’s going to happen now. Because all around the world, people are coming together to stop gendered harassment and sexual assault from remaining a normal part of our working lives. And what this means for you is not going to be pleasant.

People are going to call you out on it, right there and then, to your face. At work, in public, at an opening. You’re going to be intimidated or humiliated or offended or distressed or hurt.

Or you could just stop behaving like this.

It’s up to you.


Sincerely,

The Concerned Colleague Who Started To Have This Conversation With You Yesterday But You Wouldn’t Take Me Seriously So I Wrote This Letter.

If you recognise yourself in this letter, we encourage you to please seek advice from professionals. We’ve provided a set of resources as a starting point.

Video credits

Esther Anatolitis
Bibi Barba
Penelope Benton
Anney Bounpraseth
Koco Carey
Eugene Choi
Nadeena Dixon
Rye Dixon 
Wasana Dixon 
Sabella D'Souza
Leila El Rayes
Julie Ewington
Alexie Glass-Kantor
Roslyn Helper
Samuel Hodge
Deborah Kelly
Willurai Kirkbright
Radha La Bia - Shahmen Suku
Claudia Nicholson
Laura Pike
Claudia Roosen
Justin Shoulder


Production by Kate Blackmore

© National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) 2018