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Works in Progress Blog: Ben Swenson-Klatt

Each Works In Progress Resident will contribute several blog posts over the course of their residency. This first post addresses the central question of the project each is building during the residency, and discusses aspects of their creative process.

Ben’s project explores the intersection of gender and gun violence.

Details about the presentations on April 20th-21st: HERE.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those solely those of the artist.

– CFPA Mpls

As an artist growing up in world over-flooded with fear, violence, and pain, I feel challenged to create art that is humanizing. So much of our everyday experiences are crammed full of social media blasts; my work is to present myself as a living, breathing body, and to have a personal conversation with the audience. Rather than engaging with different points of view, my fellow millennials cut themselves off from The Other, in order to maintain our beliefs and  to protect our ideals. I confess I have done the same. Yes, I believe art – in particular performance (dance, theater, music, spoken word) – must be willing to reach out to all communities, to create real dialogue in the face of dehumanizing social media commentary binges.

So: what does it mean for me (a white, cis-gendered male) to interrogate White Male Masculinity in relationship to violence?

This question is buried deep in the soil of American history; the more that we (I’m speaking to white men, here) continue to ignore it, the more dirt we pile on top of the question.  We all know there is a problem. We see these problems daily with the most recent mass shooting, the #MeToo movement, and with our very own government. We could not allow a competent, capable woman to lead, because a male would need to step down and relinquish power. Why won’t men move themselves to change masculinity? The New York Times recently shared an opinion piece by Michael Ian Black titled “The Boys Are Not All Right”:

“The past 50 years have redefined what it means to be female in America. Girls today are told that they can do anything, be anyone. They’ve absorbed the message: They’re outperforming boys in school at every level. But it isn’t just about performance. To be a girl today is to be the beneficiary of decades of conversation about the complexities of womanhood, its many forms and expressions. Boys, though, have been left behind. No commensurate movement has emerged to help them navigate toward a full expression of their gender. It’s no longer enough to ‘be a man’ — we no longer even know what that means.”

As men, we are lost. I am lost. We are so lost that we attack anyone who so much as questions whether we are lost. When men are called out for sexually harassing women, we strike back. When men are called out for taking up all the space, or constantly speaking over others, we strike back. When men are called out for implementing structures that benefit the white race – while marginalizing all other races – we strike back. Violence becomes our tool to maintain control. The gun has become our weapon of choice. We are the shooters, the rapists, the domestic violence perpetrators. We are the school bully, the abusive boyfriend, the police force, the military, the president.

Why are we afraid, as men, to interrogate our own masculinity? It would mean stepping out of positions of power for the first time in our lives. We must embrace the discomfort of how we benefit from systems of power. We must challenge our true selves, and challenge the cultural structure of “being a man.”  As a male, I challenge what it means to be masculine because I want to live in a world that is better for all of us, where I won’t ever see my son harm another human simply by playing his gendered role. I am tired of being a part of the problem. So I ask all men (and most importantly, those of us who are white) to imagine a different reality: a reality where you are not defined by “masculinity.”

Resources I’m digging into:

Tough Guise 2 by Jackson Katz

The Mask You Live In, documentary by Jennifer Siebel Newsome

Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School by C. J. Pascoe

29 Effeminate Gestures by Joe Goode

-“One Undeniable Factor in Gun Violence: Men” by Jill Filipovic (Time Magazine, Oct 4, 2017.)