The Gender Knot Podcast

Women need to learn how to direct men, influence men, command men, ask of men, invite men. Women know what women need. A woman knows what she needs and wants in terms of shifting the status quo much better than a man knows, because most of this shit is invisible to men. We know when we shut down and aren’t saying something. We know when we want to break free. They don’t know. That’s part of the problem. So asking them to “figure it out” is just perpetuating the problem.
— Kasia Urbaniak
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Nas: We're going to be speaking to this wicked guest for our first episode. So Kasia Urbaniak, she teaches women how to be powerful and influential. She runs a school called the Academy, and she used to be a dominatrix and a Taoist nun. So we're going to hear from her about how women can ask for what they want. So we're mega excited about that.

Nas: So she teaches women about power and influence. She runs this school in New York called the Academy. So yeah, so she teaches women how to be more powerful and influential. Now fun fact, or interesting fact of it, she used to be a dominatrix, and she used to be a Taoist nun. I'm like-

Dan: Which order?

Nas: You know, I need to ask her. That is not a bad question.

Dan: That's the most important thing I want to know from her.

Nas: Yeah. Which led to the other? So Kasia was in London over the summer, and she and I met up. Basically, we initially started talking about how men can deal with more empowered women, because I think a lot of women in my generation feel that now is the age where women are becoming more empowered, but a lot of our male peers haven't caught up to that. So it leads to quite a frustrating dynamics. But instead, we pretty much ended up talking about how women can ask for what they want.

Nas: Sometimes the problem is the fact that as women, we're not sort of direct or clear enough with what we want. Which leads to all sorts of confusions. So yeah, we had a chat about that, and that was really good. I feel like especially now, with what's been going on in the news over the past year, but especially the past couple of weeks with all this Supreme Court stuff in your country, there is all this female rage and stuff. I kind of wonder if a lot of guys are thinking, okay, well, what do I do on the receiving end of this? So Kasia is great about talking about these kind of messy dynamics.

Dan: You love messy.

Nas: I love messy dynamics. I think that's when important things happen. But anyway, we're going to hear from Kasia. Then Dan and I are going to be back, and we're going to have a bit of a chat about the stuff that comes up.

Kasia: How can men deal with more empowered women? There are so many things in that question that are worth noting, which is that there is this feeling that all of a sudden men have to deal with something, right? Manage something, handle something, that it's burdensome, that it's difficult and complicated. One of the things I noticed in teaching, way before this #MeToo moment happened, was that–this is a huge generalization, but I've seen it often enough that it's worth talking about–which is that for many, many reasons, women hesitate to ask for what they want. There is this implied feeling about it, like they're sparing men from the trouble. Then there is this kind of generalized reputation of women being mysterious, difficult, and hard to read. That it’s somehow doing men, especially when you're talking about heterosexual romantic relationships, that they're doing men a favor. Which is actually not true at all.

Kasia: One of the beautiful things that we do in the school is even though our classes are for women, we have men volunteer to participate in significant portions of the exercises. Time and time and time again what shows up is this incredible cycle of heterosexual men really wanting to make their woman happy. Not knowing how, consistently finding themselves in no-win situations, giving up, and being put in a position of handling and dealing with the silent backlash, or the mysterious poison arrows, the comments. When you love someone, and they're unhappy, and you can't reach them, you feel useless. All of your gifts, all of your abilities to provide, and give love in meaningful ways are immediately paralyzed.

Kasia: So in a climate where inside of this heterosexual romantic relationship, men-women generalization, inside of this, we have men who don't get to show up as strong and loving, or successful. They don't get any wins. Even if they get it right, often times a women will hold back and not say it. Even if she does ask, she'll ask for 95% or 40% of what she wants, she'll negotiate with herself before she speaks, she'll go into the thing that she thinks he's capable of that won't be too much trouble. The problem with that is if a man goes through all of the trouble of doing the request, fulfilling on it, and it's 95% right, and she's like, “thank you, thank you, thank you,” he knows that he didn't light her up. He knows he didn't hit the spot. So on some level, on a bodily felt primal level, he knows he failed, even though there is evidence to the contrary that's spoken. We know these things, we know when we hit the spot, light someone up, move them to tears, change their lives. Even if it's with the smallest gesture, we know it. We fucking know it.

Kasia: Men have already been dealing with the mysterious woman who pretends to be low maintenance, in the context of these romantic relationships, and finds herself having to look other places to fulfill herself, to develop herself, leaving him behind. So the dealing with has been going on already. Now, there's the second part, which is when you say the more empowered woman, right? That's also a general idea. What's happening is on the one level, women who have had complaints, or serious grievances, that have been largely accepted or invisible, that they didn't even know how to put language to, or didn't have the courage to–whether it's a history of sexual assault or it's like a habitual thing that now has language that didn't before, like mansplaining–all of a sudden, they're starting to speak.

Kasia: So we can call that more empowered, but the truth is, if you've been holding something back for most of your life, because you thought it was okay, and then suddenly you have your sisters, and you have the news, and you have all these people reflecting back to you that it's unacceptable, and it connects with your own feeling of “this is unacceptable,” when you start to speak, it does not sound eloquent, elegant, it's not calibrated, it does not take the listening of the man into consideration. It doesn't have to, because when something has been festering in a closet for ages, when we're trying to reinvent our lives, and we're doing something we've never done before, it comes out fucking clumsy and sloppy, and full of extra rage. You talk to one man about something he did, and every single man that's ever done the exact same thing to you in the past, all of that force is behind it. That opening is, it's an opening, but everything comes out. The goal, the gore, all of it. The love, the hate, it's confused. It needs to be, because if we waited for it to be well organized and understood internally, and we started by ourselves in isolation, talking about how do we now bring men up to speed with a new reality that we're trying to create, and propose something that's visionary and beautiful that they can participate in? We'd never get anywhere, because isolation is one of the main problems to begin with.

Nas: Well this is exciting, because you're talking about mess, kind of. This is just my opinion, but I think messy times are... that's when good shit is going to happen, when everything is a mess.

Kasia: Yeah, when things get shaken up, for sure. But this kind of mess is also specific to skill acquisition. When you first learn how to skateboard, or walk, or when you first learn how to speak the truth, and when people are saying, “speak your truth,” they're actually aiming for something really specific. It takes some skill to be able to know oneself and know how to speak. We take that for granted. It's messy because our world is turning upside down. But it's also messy because women, in the phrase like “women becoming more empowered,” they're experimenting. Experiments are, by nature, supposed to be successful, and supposed to fail.

Kasia: So we start, anytime you're feeling out a new landscape, you're feeling things you don't expect. You're learning things you don't know. That's what's exciting. There is a lot of growth. So we have women becoming more empowered, and we have them–us–trying new things. So back to why we can't prepare ourselves in isolation, and get everything internally organized to have the greatest impact. Isolation is how this problem happens. So one of the things that happened in #MeToo is literally women started saying “me too.” In my classes the first, very often, it becomes necessary for me to ask everyone to close their eyes and raise their hands if they've ever been sexually compromised. When I get really specific about the definition of what sexual compromise is, by the time I'm finished explaining it, and I'm mentioning all the things that can lock trauma into the body, every hand is raised. Every fucking hand is raised. Now, why wasn't this an issue earlier? Because everybody thought that it was their own fault, or it was their own problem, or was their own issue. Even in the workplace, a woman who is going for a salary negotiation and knows she's shortchanged herself, she goes, “oh, I didn't speak at the moment I should have, I missed my chance. Why did I let them walk all over me? I don't value myself, I don't have enough self worth.” I, I, I, and she's in an isolated state where she doesn't know that there is a #metoo there happening as well.

Kasia: It's when people step out of isolation and start talking to each other, and make messes because there is no other way, and find the gold, find what's truly in common, that power starts to become available. So it's important for women to talk to each other about their experiences, and it's important for men to talk to women, and women to talk to men. And there will be a mess. Men, speaking to your original question, are still dealing with women, dealing with. But they're going from a place where you can't deal with what you don't know, you just have to manage your own place in that, to an opportunity where instead of dealing with an empowered woman, or dealing with a woman who is learning what power and empowerment is, you can participate in that. So that's night and day. So the opportunity for men to discover a new kind of place for themselves, and power and freedom, the ability to (if it's just in the context of heterosexual romantic relationships) actually make a woman fucking happy. You know? And be made happy in turn. It's only in that space that it's even remotely available.

Nas: You said something early on that also struck me in terms of when we talk about men having to deal with women. Does that sort of shortchange men, or assume that they're not up to it? Also what you were saying at the start, about men wanting to make women happy, but not entirely being sure.

Kasia: If somebody is trying to deal with something, rather than seizing the opportunity with full vigor and enthusiasm, it's usually a mark of low self esteem. We also live in a culture of self attack. So even though it looks like so many entitled, especially white, privileged males feel like they're owed everything, there is on a deeper level human beings suffering from a lot of self doubt and self hatred, and engaging in behavior that they think is going to declare them a winner and give them a rightful place to belong. It takes something to source oneself with enough faith and belief to look at something messy and go “I'm fucking diving in. This is an opening, this is an opportunity.” So I'm going to tell you a very quick story, right? This is something that I noticed, or I had a ...

Kasia: Very, very early on, I had a boyfriend who was a substitute teacher in a primary school. So he would go to the primary school, and he's a very gentle, loving-looking human being. So the moment he stepped into the room, all of the kids would be like, “sweet, we don't have to do anything today. We're going to fuck with this guy.” He knew he was going to get it, every single time. So what he would do when he walked into the room is he would find the Bad Kid, the kid who carries the role of the one who is the trouble maker. He would give him the most important job.

Kasia: He would usually do something like, this misbehaving 11-year-old kid would be assigned the task of taking attendance, writing it down, bringing it by himself to the principal's office, unattended, and what he told me, that every time he did this, that kid transformed, and the entire room shifted. So bringing it back, we don't actually give men anything meaningful to do. So what are they going to do in a climate where they're the bad guys, there is a level one, especially post #metoo, right? This affects romantic relationships, this affects work relationships. Level one is, “holy shit, these guys are acting horribly.”

Nas: The men are thinking this?

Kasia: Yeah.

Nas: The men are thinking that women think we act horribly?

Kasia No. Men are saying Harvey Weinstein is horrible. Right? They're going, number one, they're going, “Have I done anything remotely similar to this?” All in private, all in secret, right? Two, “What are the times I saw something and didn't stop it? Didn't protect my sisters, my women, the women in my life?” That silent inventory is happening, but it's happening in isolation. Right? Women are starting to talk to each other. Most men are having this experience largely in isolation. Then there are the ones where they know they've misbehaved, or done things, or are more in the space of fear of getting caught, wondering why they weren't taught differently, getting angry that things that were allowed suddenly aren't allowed, and getting incriminated for things that were socially approved of before. Then there are the men who are on the other end of the spectrum, and they're just trying to save their asses, doing anything they can.

Kasia: All of this is happening on the other side. It's quite dangerous that all of that energy that has the entire variety of love and desire to protect, to guilt, shame, desire to self harm, to revenge, to upset, all of it. All of it is happening covered. If a woman is breaking herself out of the patriarchal jail, she needs to break herself out. Then it would support her own freedom if she went back in to save the men. One way she could do that is making requests of men that are powerful, whether they are personal, or they're political, it doesn't matter. It's when the bad kid has nothing to do, doesn't have a proper role, that he becomes unstoppably destructive.

Nas: This example of this quote/unquote bad kid is really interesting, because I feel it's as though that bad kid is suddenly being seen for their positive attributes. So is that kind of what you're saying, that by making specific requests, we're kind of empowering men as well?

Kasia: So the important distinction I would make is we're not seeing their positive qualities.

Nas: Men's?

Kasia: Yeah. We're asking them to act in certain ways, and seeing if they will. We're offering them a role that's positive. Whether they do it or not reveals a lot about the general superstitions that women carry about men. This is one thing that I can say with the confidence of my bones, that the level of superstition, and I call it superstition, because it's beyond assumption, about what's going on in the world of men is freakishly high.

Nas: The thing I really want to say here though is that I agree with a lot of what you're saying, and not to make excuses for women, but until recently, the penalties for asking have been high, the penalties for just being a woman who is bold, and speaks out, and demands, you know? Like we talk of women being demanding when they ask something. I know that now this is changing, which is why it's so exciting. But I kind of feel like it's not just women have been suppressing themselves and not doing that ask, I feel like there haven't been that many models or examples of it's okay to ask, and you should ask. Like a woman who asks is nagging, she's demanding, you know? We have such negative connotations around that.

Kasia: So one of the most important things that I teach is if you're going to make a request, or make a statement, a command, that's bold, it has to have the full weight of your authority. That takes a little bit of training, that takes a little bit of ability to see outward, to see the impact that you're making. The ones that might sound needy are often discomfort with receiving.

Nas: From the woman?

Kasia: Yeah. Yeah. It's... You can hear so much of it in the voice. It's like the words communicate one thing, but the body and the tone tells the other person how to feel about it. So even if you make a request, like (in a small, high-pitched, whiny voice) “Could we go on just one vacation together? Please?”

Nas: I already feel guilty.

Kasia: Yep. Because in that, I am carrying the signal of you never do this, if you say yes, you will justify my existence, and if you say no, you'll essentially be murdering me, making my request illegitimate. It doesn't sound like a fun vacation, right?

Nas: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kasia: (Harsh and straightforward voice) “You're finally gonna get your shit together, and you're going to take me on a vacation,” is actually a bit better, because it carries more truth. But still, we're just beginning, you know? This is a deer on baby legs. We're just beginning. We're clumsy, and sloppy, and not really seeing the person we're asking of, or talking to, or connecting in a way that's powerfully influential.

Nas: So I totally get what you're saying. I'm going to be a little bit devil's advocate though.

Kasia: Go for it.

Nas: I feel like, and this is... I don't want to be too vague when I say this. So you made the example of a woman requesting from her partner, you know, to go on vacation, but doing it in a way that induces guilt in him. I'm thinking, especially in this post #metoo era, women are carrying a lot of trauma, they've got a lot of rage that's coming out. 'Cause I've seen this a lot where it's “oh, you could have asked that guy more nicely to do this.” It's like, yeah, but if someone is already hurt, and they're traumatized, maybe they're not in a place-

Kasia: They're having the wrong conversation then. They shouldn't be asking for a vacation. They should be saying “I need you to sit here for 20 minutes while I vent and rage about every single fucking thing I hate. Especially about you and our relationship. And after the 20 minutes are over, I'd like us to go to separate rooms and reconnect in an hour, because I'm going to tell you things that I don't even know are true, I don't even know if they're about you. They feel like they're about you. I need to say them to you, and I want you to be my fucking rock. I want you to sit through it. I want you to see what it's like to be a woman these days, right now, carrying everything I carry. I need you to love me through it, I need you to stay with me through it. Will you do it?” Right? That creates a clean container.

Nas: Where the other side knows what to expect?

Kasia: Well, they can also say no.

Nas: Okay.

Kasia: Right? But they also know what their job is, 'cause that doesn't sound like a request, it is a request. “I would like you to sit through listening to all of the trauma I'm feeling right now. I would like you to fix none of it. I would like you to not speak for a full 20 minutes. I would like you to not even take most of this as truth. I need to say it to hear what it sounds like.” That's a really specific request. That's not something we're trained in. We're trained in the other. We're trained in “I want you to respect me.”

Nas: Which is vague.

Kasia: It doesn't mean anything.

Nas: Right.

Kasia: Because a request that's not vague has a beginning, a middle, and an end and a way to measure whether success happened or not. It has a time, and a place, and usually if you're asking for something big, like respect, a whole series of behavior patterns, it's good to break it up into little steps. Let's see ... You're training people.

Nas: But maybe you don't... Because I understand what you mean by making a vague request like that. Maybe you don't even know what you need, you just know the status quo can't continue.

Kasia: So you start there. So if you wanted to say “This can't continue,” it also would be very empowering for you to know what you would like to have start. This isn't negative and positive. This is called giving people a range of options, right? “This can't continue. I don't want this anymore. I don't even know how to explain it. But I know that this other thing is right now impossible, and this other thing is something I really, really want. I want to be unselfconscious around you. I want to be able to dream a future with you, or father... I want to be able to talk about money with you. I want to be able to talk about your drinking with you. I want us to heal together.”

Kasia: Whatever it is, “I want to polka dot dress and a pony,” it doesn't matter. The point is, if you're putting your attention on the obstacle to what you want, without mentioning what you want, you're not making a request that somebody else can step up to nor wants to fulfill on. Again, not positive and negative. This is about what you can pour your heart into, on both sides. You can pour your heart into a request like that, it gives them space and something they can pour their hearts into.

Nas: I'm going to be devil's advocate again. Probably the one thing I'm hearing a lot from women, especially in this post me too age is they want men to listen. Do you think that's too vague of a request?

Kasia: I think it's bullshit.

Nas: Okay.

Kasia: They don't want men to listen, they want more than that. They want men to listen, they want men to understand, and then they want men to speak, not from the place that they were in before they listened. They want to transform men, they want to change men. They want to be met, and heard, and they want men to act differently. They want so much more. Listening is one of those really safe requests. “I just want you to listen to me. I want to feel seen, and heard,” and it's great. It's a great first step. The moment you open your mouth and you feel unheard, you can say, “I don't feel heard. I want something more than this.” I talk a lot about how I train women to train men, and I get like a little bit of pushback. Like, oh, dominatrix, training women to train men. I fucking love it. But what it doesn't take into account is that we're always training people. We're always training ... again, this isn't victim blaming here, but we're always training people.

Nas: How to treat us.

Kasia: Yes. Which doesn't mean that if somebody slaps you in the face, you trained them to do that and you have to go, “oh, how did I do that?” No. But if you don't answer your phone before noon, you're training people not to call you before noon. So it's just... It's a very basic level thing. Now from my experience, there is a lot of men who are sitting on top of a lot of energy and motivation. The moment they're seen as potential allies, heroes, collaborators, and given something specific to do, they spring up and transform. Their best selves show up. This is not all men. We're all undergoing a huge process. But there is a lot of them.

Nas: The dilemma was how can men deal with more empowered women, are you saying it's more a case of women need to learn how to ask their men to do the work?

Kasia: Women need to learn how to direct men, influence men, command men, ask of men, invite men. Women know what women need. A woman knows what she needs and wants in shifting the status quo much better than what a man knows, because most of this shit is invisible to men. We know when we shut down and aren't saying something. We know when we want to break free. They don't know. That's part of the problem. So asking them to figure it out is just perpetuating the problem. But there are things men can do. How can a man deal with an empowered woman? He can ask a lot of questions. He can ask a lot of questions. Really, he can ask a lot of questions of empowered women, he can ask a lot of questions of the men in his life. “Hey, how are you dealing with this #metoo thing? How are you dealing with empowered women?” So you know, the conversation needs to happen in all places.

Nas: So that was Kasia Urbaniak, it's really weird, because after we did that recording, she and I went off to have some food together, and I was basically... It was quite a transformative evening to be honest. It was earlier this summer, and I had been really angry about several different situations in my life, right?

Dan: All involving men.

Nas: Not all involving men, actually, no. They weren't all involving men. But they were also a people dynamic situations and stuff. But situations where I was just like very annoyed, a few different people about a few different things. You know, all this rage was just going around me. Kasia was great in terms of just like dealing with exactly what is going on, like breaking it down. Let's break down what you actually want to say to person A. Just breaking it down, breaking it down. What do you want to say to person B? Just breaking it down.

Nas: It kind of, it was amazing, because after those conversations, like one by one, I talked to like a bunch of people, and I was quite clear about what I was annoyed about, and what I wanted them to do. That thing of having a clear ask is amazing. It's incredible how people react to that, 'cause you're not just getting, you know when she said people ask for respect, or to listen, and that's so vague? I was saying to people, “I'm annoyed at X. I want Y, or I need you to help me to figure out Z.” You know? It's like not only do you feel better, but you feel kind of like you're being more respectful to the other person, they react better, just the whole thing was so transformative.

Dan: Yeah, I mean, people love tasks. Right?

Nas: Yeah. Yeah. It was clear. It wasn't just like, undirected rage. It was just clear. But even what she said, like with one person, I was like, “I don't really know what I want. But you need to help me figure this out.” It was like, amazing, because they just ... This was a woman. She just stepped up and was like, “okay, cool, well here are some suggestions.” I was like, wow. Like basically overnight, like, Kasia and her method, completely changed things.

Dan: Yeah. I mean, the two big things that I really appreciated from that, and which I've ... I wasn't present for the conversation, but I've listened to it probably three times and taken notes, because she was so amazing.

Nas: So good, so good.

Dan: But really, something that really strikes me is how much she talked about isolation. It sounds like that that's kind of the thing that you had, right? You had all of this stuff going on in your head, and the problem is when I'm the only one that I'm talking to about something, it's really hard to figure out what's true and what's false. It's until I say it out loud to another person that I... Or even sometimes just writing it down. But I have to get it like out of me before I can actually figure out what the truth is. Then the other part is that like there is this core piece of humanity that yearns to be helpful. She talked about that, where when women ask men for what they want, but they only ask for 40%, or 60%, or 95%, and then we do our best to deliver, and it's not enough. People want to be helpful. So if we go to them, and we say, I need you to do X to result in me having Y, they go, “sign me up.” People love a task.

Nas: Or they say no.

Dan: Or they say no.

Nas: Like it's clear, right?

Dan: Yeah. Then you cut that person out of your life because they're dead weight.

Nas: But let's tie this to what's going on right now. So I'm thinking like women really pissed off at a lot of dynamics, you know, you being the representative of all straight, white men.

Dan: Yeah.

Nas: Not a big task or anything.

Dan: Nah, it's fine.

Nas: How does that feel though, for you guys? There is all this ... You know, we talked about mess. There is all this women having to get this stuff out. Yeah. How does it feel for you guys? Do you feel like if there was an ask ... I love the bit where she said, you know, you want to sit down, tell someone, “I'm going to tell you for the next hour all the reasons I'm angry at you, I want you to go away to think about it, let's come back.” I thought that was pretty, wow. That makes sense.

Dan: Yeah. I don't know what I would do if my girlfriend did that. That would be really intense. I mean, I would do my best, I think.

Nas: But what about socially? How do you feel about all of this female rage? Are you guys feeling like we don't really know what to do?

Dan: At times, yeah. But you know, I think I've managed to put myself into enough conversations, which I think is something that goes back to that isolation idea. She said a lot of men in this area isolate, they don't know how to talk about it. It's an uncomfortable thing to be around for, right? Especially like she said, I'm the bad guy, you know? My face is the problem in modern society. Really, honestly, going back to really any society, my face has been the problem. But the only thing that's going to solve anything is perspective. The only way to get perspective is to join a conversation about the problem ... Actually, you can join a conversation about anything, and eventually the problem will come up. But it has to be a diverse conversation. First of all, it can't just be me and other white dudes. Second, it has to just be other people. It can't just be me talking to me, because me talking to me gets me to that place where I want to come out successful, which is what she brought up again.

Nas: You see, this is the thing, in a sense, I feel that as women, it's not bad to be warning men that this is going to be messy for a while.

Dan: Right.

Nas: So expect that we're going to be having some conversations, and we're going to be pissed at men, and we're going to be pissed for a while. I don't know, I feel like that prepares the other side for what's to come.

Dan: Setting reasonable expectations, and frankly, I say, you know, you want to under promise and over deliver, right? So saying like this is going to be messy for a long time, and then if it's not, maybe that... Again, I think we need to be specific, right? Like she said, we can't just say it's going to be messy for a while. It has to be-

Nas: Okay, well, to be specific, I'd say women have a lot of things they're angry about that they want men to listen and to understand, and to in some ways, to feel bad about as well. I think, at least the women I know, we feel like, you know, when, I don't know, we're telling men, “oh, these are the ways in which you silence us.” I don't really want a guy to give me an apology right now. I actually want him to go away and to feel it, to feel how that is, because I think that's the only way you really comprehend the enormity of something.

Nas: Yeah, sometimes I'm just like, “okay, we're going to say all this stuff, we're going to tell you how we feel,” and we want you to go away and to feel scared, and to feel bad, and to feel worried, because that's our experience all the time. Maybe once you experience that for a little bit, you will be more empathetic, and you will be more helpful. Or you can only be more helpful once you have had those experiences. This whole thing of loads of men are scared of how to act. I'm like, yeah, in a way, that's kind of good, because women are constantly having to sort of like walk on eggshells to not be in dangerous situations. I think it's important for men to actually feel how difficult and exhausting that is.

Dan: Yeah.

Nas: So yeah, I kind of want guys to feel that.

Dan: It's like men are scared of how to act, and it's like, well, women are scared to live on a ground floor apartment.

Nas: Right. Exactly. So yeah, I just love the clarity of what she was saying. But I will say one thing, though. It is interesting, because I do think, as women, okay, yeah, we do ask badly, that's true. But I think women, we face such penalties for asking as well, and I wonder if this mirrors the fact that so many men have been like you know, emotionally detached, to play it cool, to act as though they don't need anything from anyone. So someone who clearly says, “hey, I need X” is kind of quite threatening in a way.

Dan: Yeah, like I said, if I was sat down and told “I'm going to tell you everything I'm mad at for 20 minutes, and then I want you to go away for an hour-”

Nas: Would you come back?

Dan: I would be so confused, because that's not-

Nas: Isn't that better than someone just raging at you though? Someone is just like, I'm-

Dan: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I guess. Yeah. If you want to bookend it. That's better than not. But it's so uncommon, do you know what I mean? Just to what you were saying, the way that I was raised, I, obviously, not all men or whatever they say. But the way that I was raised, and I assume most men were raised, people don't talk to me like that.

Nas: Okay.

Dan: Do you know what I mean?

Nas: Right.

Dan: People just don't.

Nas: But if someone is that clear, is it refreshing to you?

Dan: I don't know.

Nas: Yeah, yeah.

Dan: I would like to think so.

Nas: Maybe this needs to be tested out a little bit.

Dan: Because I typically get the thing that she was talking about, which is the “maybe we could do this once in a while?” Which is really frustrating.

Nas: Yeah, yeah, 'cause it's like, oh, guilt inducing, drag.

Dan: It's like, yeah. What I want to say is “if you want something just tell me and I'll fucking do it.”

Nas: Right. Right.

Dan: But then the other part of me is like, “well, don't talk to me like that.” So I don't know what I want. I have a lot to think about right now.

Nas: No, it's funny, because it reminds me of whenever I deal with really passive aggressive guys who don't know how to say yes or no, and their answer to everything is “uh, sure,” or, uh, “yeah, I suppose.” I'm like, is that yes or no?

Dan: Yeah.

Nas: Is it a yes or a no? Let's just be clear of what is going on here.

Dan: Yeah. Coming from a sales world thing that I do, if somebody says maybe to me, my favorite thing to say is “maybe usually means maybe not. What are you trying to say?”

Nas: Oh, yeah, yeah. That's a good one. So my takeaway was to kind of figure out... It's interesting, not just with men, because the exercises I had with her were with men and women. Just kind of like figure out what I'm trying to say to someone, and try and kind of break it down, and ask them to step up. Clearly say, I need you to help me figure this out. I don't know. It's just... it's been so transformative chatting to her.

Dan: I think that people are more the same than they're different, including across gender, sex, what have you. People want to be spoken to the same, you know what I mean? There is going to be slight variance in language, right? Be it actual language or simply types of communication. But people want directness, people want candidness. We're all so afraid of how everyone is going to react to the thing that we say, that we try to sidestep direct contact and make things really safe. What that ends up doing-

Nas: That ends up vague, and then no one knows what they're doing.

Dan: Exactly. Exactly. No one knows what to give you if you don't ask for it.

Nas: Yeah. So ask, and you'll either get it or you won't. That's okay, 'cause then you know what you're doing.

Dan: That's it. That's it. Thanks for listening. Just ask. See you next time.

Dan: You heard from Kasia Urbaniak from this episode of the Gender Knot.

Nas: It was hosted by me, I'm Nastaran Tavakoli-Far], or Nas in short.

Dan: And I'm Daniel Carol, or Dan in short. Our co producers are Sam Baker and Jonathan Blackwell.

Nas: We're going to be back next week with more, speak to you then.

Dan: Bye.

He Said What Podcast

The world that I want to see hasn’t even been imagined yet. I think that one of our students has the potential to imagine that world. Just to repair the harm that’s been done isn’t enough. We want more.
— Academy Co-Founder Ruben Flores
One of the most fun things is having a graduate hear a “no” and go, “Oh yeah, game on!”
— Kasia Urbaniak

On Episode 26 of Melissa Diamond’s “He Said What” podcast, The Academy co-founders Kasia Urbaniak and Ruben Flores discuss the ways that women’s power has the potential to reshape the world as we know it.

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Melissa: If you guys don't know about The Academy, it is an incredible company that teaches women to increase power, agency, and influence in all areas of their life, and so they provide incredible courses that really teach people how to navigate through different situations in life, and you guys can tell us a little bit more about that. First off, how did you get started with The Academy?

Kasia:  I had this whole life trajectory that taught me things many women don't see, don't know, mainly through a very strange combination of working as one of the most successful dominatrices in New York–if not the world–while training to be a Taoist nun.

Melissa: Wow. Those are kind of contradictory.

Kasia: They seem to be, but they ended up meeting in a really interesting place. I saw power dynamics in a very specific light in the dungeon, because every single time I went back to the dungeon to work, I was coming back from weeks or months of intense training with energetics, martial arts, medical, Chinese medicine, being able to see and feel people more deeply, see their intentions, and read bodies, see exchanges between people. When it came to the thing that I was doing just for money for a really long time, a lot of that training started to seep in, and I started understanding that to have powerful influence over another person and to be able to share a space with them where something really transcendent and new, a new kind of way of relating can be created.

Kasia: There was no way for that to not happen. I was this young... I started when I was 19, and I was working with men twice my age who were way more powerful, and I had to play this game of, for money, “I'm going to pretend to be more powerful than you.” How do I make it real? How do I actually erase the status, the money, the fact that I'm being paid, their way of being by default and by training, and my own, to create an experience where they are fully owned and surrendered and submit to me?

Kasia:  This led to a series of realizations, especially through the years as I saw the difference between me and my girlfriends, and how they were dealing with men, and the things that they were experiencing. I'm thinking that I have cracked the fucking code and that I know something really specific about women's power, and then I meet Ruben Flores, my co-founder, and his background-

Melissa: Yeah, very, very different backgrounds.

Ruben: I worked as a humanitarian. I worked with Doctors Without Borders, the Red Cross, other organizations, setting up emergency hospital projects in conflict zones and disasters. For me, the turning point was, working in Chad–and I'll always remember this–there was a big malnutrition crisis, and we're doing a big nutrition assessment to figure out how many malnourished children are in this vast area of essentially desert, and do we need to have an emergency medical intervention here or there? It was the end of a very long deployment. It was incredibly hot. It was a really bad day, and I was going to meet some village elders to figure out, what is this situation? When talking about malnutrition, we're talking about children primarily, so we're going to talk about maternal and child health, and I remember driving into this village, and outside of the village are the fields. The harvest was nonexistent, and you see the women and the children are working in the fields. We get to the town, and there's this big tree, and there's these mats on the floor, and all the men are sitting in the middle drinking tea, and they were filming a documentary at the time, and I was one of the subjects.

Ruben: I saw a photo later of that meeting, and there I am, sitting in the center of all these men, and we're discussing the health of women and children, and the only women you can see are far off in the distance by the well, and I remember my first instinct was, “these people, these men”–my own neocolonialism well at play–and it bothered me, and the more I looked at it, the more it was impossible for me in this picture to not see myself there implied in that, and I said, "I am a part of this, and it doesn't work. Why aren't there women here? Why aren't we asking? Why don't we do a better job?"

Ruben:  I took a sabbatical, and I said, "I'm going to figure this out. I'm going to... I need to do something personally about this. I can't just give it lip service. Are we or aren't we people of our word?” That's how I was raised. If something bothers you, go do something to actually change it. Put your money where your mouth is. In all my studies, and I had done academic courses and taking workshops and everything. And I met somebody who said, "You have to meet your evil twin, this woman, Kasia."

Melissa:  Hi. Nice to meet you.

Ruben: "You two are going to have a lot to talk about," so we did, and here we are-

Kasia:  We sat down and we basically started talking and didn't stop for six months.

Melissa:  Wow.

Kasia:  For me, what was really fascinating was when Ruben described his stories of working in these conflict zones and how many situations he was in where no people shared a common language-

Melissa:  Wow.

Kasia:  And there were really high stake situations, negotiating, hospitals at borders, and people with guns, kids with guns on drugs essentially.

Melissa:  Holy shit.

Kasia:  He has a piece of paper that says, "I'm allowed to do this." Nobody gives a fuck. How does he do this thing called influence in a space where you can't even rely on spoken language? And that was the first thing... that was the first overlap because, as a dominatrix, in a dungeon, most of what I'm saying is not true, and the real communication happens primally. It's beyond the thing that people call body language. It's so much more than that, how power dynamics are established, how they work, and Ruben was an amazing example of somebody who was telling me stories about how he got shit done, being a man, the things that he knew how to do where language was not involved.

Melissa:  That's beyond impressive, truthfully. If you don't have communication, you could achieve those things, that's phenomenal.

Ruben:  But it's the presence and it's the thing that has someone walk into a room and everybody in that room knows to look at her, knows to look at him.

Kasia:  This is exactly what we're talking about when it comes to women's issues because it's even beyond saying the right thing, not being heard, not getting credit, not being taken seriously, not having your authority followed. What's up with that? There's something going on there that's beyond language. That was the jumping off point for a conversation that we were having in his interest to understand gender from a man's perspective, and with what I knew about where women get stopped, blocked, where they go invisible, where they do it to themselves, where they don't do it, when they're shut down, all of those, the mechanics of all of that suddenly started to become really like a visible architecture, where, from there, it was easy for us to start taking... We didn't call them students because, in the beginning, it wasn't a school. We were just curious. We were experimenting, inviting people over, interviewing them, and experimenting with how to move them past where they're stuck, women specifically. We worked with couples, too, but this was really just an experiment.

Melissa:  How'd you find the people?

Kasia:  Well, in the beginning, he was just calling over friends, and at the same time, I was writing a little bit about my findings, posting a little bit online, and it really even want that much material, but it was enough to spark so much interest that within no time, there were 500 people being like, "Workshop, workshop, workshop, workshop."

Melissa: Oh, my God. Wow. So many people can relate to everything you're saying. There are those gaps, and they need improvement, and they need to learn how they can empower themselves and better themselves. That's phenomenal.

Kasia:  The school was started that way, basically.

Melissa:  Wow.

Kasia:  We didn't even really want to do it.

Ruben:  There were just so many-

Kasia:   We were like, "We'll just have them over. We'll do a Q&A. We think we'll find that

Melissa:  Now it's a full-blown thing.

Kasia:  We had an eight-month waiting list from the start. It was out of control. Then when #MeToo happened, when Trump got elected, each time, it was a bigger, bigger explosion, and then there was a media explosion. It's just one thing after another, and the school, right now, we're just like, "Holy fuck." Every week, it's another “holy fuck.”

Melissa:   How many students do you have actively attending the school?

Kasia:   It depends on how you count it because we have about 500 really hardcore students who've taken years of classes, who've taken every class, and then we also have [people who take] online classes who float in and out, but there's a real tendency for people, once they take a live, in-person class, to start embodying the work and wanting to teach it. It's become very activist lately, like they want to share it with their coworkers and their families.

Melissa:  Because everyone can... it's so important. I was doing a little reading up on the courses, and there are so many things that I wish that, in the past, I was able to take those courses and learn so much about not being stuck in these situations as a woman and letting fear of the unknown and fear of what could happen if you open your mouth influence your life. What kind of courses are you the most passionate about? I'm sure all of them, but is their one or two or a few that really stand out?

Kasia:  Absolutely not, because, for me, it's so interesting because people think I teach different courses because I teach a course on money, I teach a course on... We teach Foundations of Unshakeable Power, which is the expensive course. There's Power with Men. There's topical courses. To me, the essence is always the same. Liberate the woman's fucking voice. Show her how power dynamics work, because it doesn't matter if it's a romantic relationship or a work situation. There are women who want to advance their careers who come to the school. There are women who want to date better. There are women who want to reinvent their relationships, their marriages. There are women who just want to reinvent their lives. The pivot point is always the same. It's always the same.

Melissa:  Wow. That's amazing. I think that, especially what's going on in society today, there are so many more people that are probably coming forward. What, if you can share, are there any students that their stories really captivated you to another level? I can see the passion in both of you guys. It's phenomenal. I'm sure your students have some crazy stories that people can't fathom.

Kasia:  Well, one of the best things is how unconventional some of the victories are, married couples engineering these incredibly beautiful, velvet divorces, having really unconventional ideas about how to divide assets and assign people roles. A woman who was doing the job of two people, and through one of the tools around asking, ended up getting her boss not just to... the victory would have been if she got paid double the salary or the second role was replaced, but, instead, an entire new branch of the company was devised for her through a series of asks, essentially, where she could run the show, had a much higher position, made more money than those two salaries combined, and used the demonstration of being able to do those two jobs as evidence. There are women who do everything from find the love of their lives, to have full on harems, to explore one-way polyamory.

Melissa:  Very different spectrums.

Kasia:  Yeah, and the thing is that I think that thing that Ruben and I are most proud of, and please stop me if I'm speaking for you and womanterrupting and you'll explain it-

Ruben:  Don't worry, I'm an expert.

Kasia:  Is that the things that they get are so varied and so unique and unconventional that I know 100% that I'm not telling them what's valuable, what's preferable. “This is a good thing to have, it's good to be rich, famous, and have a TV show.” It's not like that.

Melissa:  No.

Kasia:   Yeah, but they come in like that. They come in with, "I want the love of my life, I want a raise, I want a little more money, I want my family in harmony." They do the work and they see this expansive possibility of play, of power playfully. When that happens, when they feel that confidence and that power, imagination blossoms and suddenly they're living legends. Suddenly their stories are movie worthy, so it's not just like the victory of “I figured out how to get my teenage daughter” or ...“I figured out how my pain in the ass mother to have a better relationship with me.” It's like reinvention from the inside out, like from your most creative, delicious, wanted things. From like the paranoia and the endless, endless string of superstitions that a woman creates for herself and with her friends when she gets an ambiguous text message from a man or from a lover, from a woman or from a man, whatever, depending on your sexual orientation.

Melissa:  It's so true.

Kasia:  But it's that is an energy investment and basically an entirely superstitious untested, untenable waste of energy and time. The desires when they come in are pretty small in reference to what they end up getting, because they just want to get through that part. Once they learn how to sense and test their way through that scenario they're like, "Fuck this, I'm going for the moon."

Ruben:  I agree. I think that is ultimately the thing that I am the proudest of. Enough of the world telling women what they should do, what they should wear, what they should want. We're completely agnostic about [how a woman should be], if a student has a desire to create something in the world that doesn't exist. There's one thing that we're certain of: that they're going to come into contact with conflict, that they're going to get a no from the start, and our job is to give them the tools to deal with that conflict without violence and to be able to live in a world of peace without conformity, without silence. It can be anything from the raise to the annoying conversation with the boyfriend or the husband that happens forever that suddenly she does something totally new and it moves forward or a woman that says, "You know what, my whole teenage life and college life I sleep with a guy and the next day I am just destroyed wondering. Now before I even see him I'm like, "Listen, if we're going to hang out, I need to be texted tomorrow, will you text me tomorrow?" She says, "And I did that and suddenly because of that might, that is a huge victory," and her joy then becomes the reason that it's worth doing this. The world that I think I want to see hasn't even been imagined yet. I think one of our students has the potential and to imagine something that doesn't exist yet that we can all live into. Because none of the things that are being suggested just to repair the harm that's done is not enough, we want more.

Kasia:  I just want to highlight one of the things that Ruben side which is navigating resistance. One of the most fun things is having a graduate here and now and go, "Oh, yeah, game on."

Melissa:  I love that.

Kasia:  And the discovery that when there is resistance on the other side, when you ask someone for something or confess a desire and there's resistance, right behind that resistance there is something they're trying to protect, that they care about. It doesn't matter if it's stupid, it doesn't matter if it's vanity, it doesn't matter if it's pride, but so long as they care about something, they will put up resistance to protect it. Once you teach a student the skills to navigate the resistance, to get at the thing that they really care about, there's a connection and an intimacy that happens that makes what Ruben's alluding to, that third possibility, like to repair the damage is not enough. That's in the macro context, it's in the context of what's going on in the world. “Women have been shamed for their sexuality, let's shame men for their sexuality, game even.” No. There is something even better and what it takes is women who are powerful enough to be able to afford to be playful and imagine something even better. To go from the place where you're fighting against something to the place where you're fighting for something. When you're fighting for something so irresistibly, you could pour your heart into it, you don't care if your heart gets broken, that is something so beautiful. Like just the privilege of having a student body that is so committed to not only dreaming bigger, but having fun doing so, and getting really turned on when somebody goes, "I don't think so." The importance of inoculating women against the shock of hearing no is super, super important because basically what most women care about, the world is a no to.

Melissa: It's true. I work in sales with predominately all men, so everything you're saying resonates with me, it's so true whether it's going to your boss and trying to ask for a raise or hearing men talk about a woman that was promoted internally and they're like, "Oh, she must have slept her way up to the top." That boils my blood, because I see gender as not men are better, they should be paid more, they should have this privilege. Fuck that, it's women's time now. We shouldn't be paralyzed by fear because we're afraid of the what if? The fear of rejection, the fear of the unknown. I can relate to that, I'm sure many, many people can, it's so true and it's not just in a work environment, it's in life really.

Kasia:  Yeah.

Melissa:  That's amazing, I love this. So the message that you guys had was incredible. What would you say to someone who's listening to this who is afraid to really speak out or speak up about something that happened to them that they weren't okay with? And the fear of speaking out about it is just too overwhelming for them?

Kasia:  Well, that depends on the situation, right? It is so specific and unique, if you're talking about something that's sexually inappropriate that was traumatic: the degree of trauma and the amount of time that has passed has an impact on what the woman needs in order to soften, melt, self-express, to create a support system for herself. Also, it depends on whether she's confronting an individual or an organization. If she's just sharing it with her partner or her family in order to be better seen and understood and supported, or whether she's making a move to overthrow a government. Right? It really depends.

Melissa:  Yeah, there's a big spectrum.

Kasia:  In cases if we are talking about something like harassment, assault, or something sexual: there are two people that have an interaction. One that sustains damage, the other that may have intended to do so, may not have intended to do so, that may have known they did it, may have not known they did it. So here we have a problem, because we have the perpetrator who might not know he's a perpetrator, might very well know he's a perpetrator, might be skillful at being a perpetrator, might be a clumsy motherfucking dude. So we have this whole range of possibility on one side. And then through the culture that we have, we have women that are repeatedly traumatized to the point where one trigger can be enough to have them lose their voice and shut down.

Kasia:  So now in this process we have a huge gap. People do not learn well way after the fact in conceptual rules. So if I tell you, "You did something wrong 10 years ago," and then they gave you a whole list of things that you should never do, it's going to be very hard for you to learn it. Especially if you are not consciously aware of doing it in the first place. A lot of this male behavior that we're talking about it's not conscious, especially-

Melissa:  Really?

Kasia:  Yeah, especially, things like manterrupting that are not sexual, right?

Melissa:  Yeah.

Kasia:  We have to allow for a degree of believing in stupidity.

Melissa:  Yeah, that's right.

Kasia:  When women don't even have the tools to express in the bedroom with their lovers when they're not getting off and they're faking orgasms, like men really don't know.

Melissa:  They really don't.

Kasia:  I know that there are many cases where they should know better, but they really don't know. So what we have is an ingrained social dynamic that makes women… that creates pain, and self-censorship or shut down for women making them furious and in pain. And the same social dynamic that's ingrained is making men more and more uninformed or stupid or lost. Right? So how do you do that? The reason that all of the exercises and tools in The Academy are relational, meaning we practice teaching women in real-time to express themselves in a way that gets their message to land. And not just land like, beat them over the fucking head–only if that's necessary–but to be able to deliver a communication, in real time, that affects the entire being of the other. Using things that are beyond language, like we started talking about primal communication, body to body.

Kasia:  Capturing them using the right degree of severity from a light touch to a fucking verbal slap well depending on the situation so that the other person can learn in real time, the impact of their behavior. That is called social learning. Social learning is how we learn more effectively than anything else. We have laws, and some people follow the laws and some people don't, most people know the laws, but whether we follow them or not is not dependent on whether they're written down as laws. What we do and don't do is based on what appears to work. Now if we take this ingrained social dynamic where there is this huge gap between what women experience and what men do, and we bridge that gap, so that in real-time–this is why I'm talking about liberating women's voice, in real-time-

Melissa:  Because otherwise they won't know.

Kasia: They won't know, and when you ask me the first question, the amount of time that has passed between the thing that happened and the communication about it also has an impact. Because now we're at a point where a woman, who's talking about something that happened to her two days ago and 10 years ago, is also feeling the pain of every single damn thing that's happened to her in her entire life. So a guy can look at her sideways for seconds, and without her– and this is innocent. I'm not saying anything negative about– unleashes a shit storm...

Melissa: A fucking beast, yeah.

Kasia: (Yells fiercely.) That is important and cathartic for women, but still not the best way for men to learn. There's a lot required here before the right action gets the right smack or the right communication or the right soft touch. That's why Ruben and I don't do anything but work. Because this is what we teach, this is what I do.

Ruben:  I remember this one... She forwarded the email chain. This woman, she's a training executive at a large company. She had written something, an email. They had canceled the training, so they were going to do a makeup date. She wrote makeup, as in putting on your makeup, in the email. This guy, who's known in the organization to kind of just be a douchebag, was like, "Ha ha ha. Then you're going to teach us to put on mascara?"

Melissa:  Are you kidding?

Ruben:  To this large email to a bunch of people. So she went through her process of–because it's not to deny the impact of statements like this–she said, "I'm going to play with this. I'm going to engage this." She wrote him and she said, "Your comment was like this and it had this effect. I want you to know that." And he immediately called her and was like, "I had no idea. I said that. I'm scared by how unaware I was." He sent an email to everybody on that email chain and said, "My comment was not only completely inappropriate, for those of you who are new to this company, it's the exact role model of what we're trying to not do here. I'm trying to show you how to correct this thing." Called her again, apologized, and since then has completely changed his behavior there.

Ruben: You see this email exchange and you're like, “that's amazing.” If he had said, "Oh, it was a stupid joke. Get with it," she would have known how to play with that too, and take it up and change it. But it's not going to stand uncorrected. That's how we create culture.

Melissa:  Yeah. Not in a work environment setting, but I remember distinctly when I was a child I was bullied a lot, for a million different things, whether it was religion or not fitting in my own skin, whatever it was. There was one specific person that tormented me. It stayed with me for years. It actually really messed me up. I think I was afraid of guys and I was a late bloomer with guys because I didn't feel comfortable because of this one experience. It wasn't just one. It was a number of them. It stuck with me. I never confronted him.

Melissa:  Fast forward. It was probably two years after I graduated college, I ran into him on the street in the city. It was like no time had passed truthfully, and I just felt like that little girl again that was stopped by this fear of speaking out for myself. Except now I'm an aggressive person. I say what the fuck is on my mind. And I stopped him and I confronted him about it. I said, "You were really awful to me. I never did anything about it. I want you to know that you fucked me up." I remember saying that to him, and he looked like he had a deer in headlights. He had no idea that he had done this to me. He said, "Melissa, I had the biggest crush on you when I was younger. I didn't know that I was tormenting ..." He had literally no idea.

Melissa:  I remember thinking to myself, how fucked up is that? That he literally had a crush on me and that's what his behavior was. It's so true. Not talking about it and pushing it down and having it resurface in such a way where I'm walking on the street of the city, I'm not seeking out talking to him or whatever it was. I think it's just important now, everything in my life, if there something that happens that I feel uncomfortable or if something isn't right and I see something, I always talk about it then. Because if you push it down, nothing will happen.

Kasia:  Yeah. Also, you demonstrated something really, really, really incredible. When a woman speaks, she's also testing. There are vile predators out there and there are clumsy men out there who are well meaning, and everything in between. In that moment, you not only got to speak up for yourself, you not only got to teach him the impact of his behavior, but you also got to see that even though he did what he did, he had a crush on you.

Melissa:  Yeah, that was the most confusing part of it.

Kasia:  Yeah, but that's also one of the most beautiful parts. What I'm finding is it's so easy to just want to kill all the men right now.

Melissa:  Right.

Kasia: Right? Without looking at them. Without testing them. Without checking. What you did is you tested him. You put forward a communication and you tested him. He showed up. He showed up as somebody who expressed a crush in a way that was very damaging. Does that make him a horrible person? Does that make him a wonderful person? It doesn't make him anything, but it tells you what you need to know. This process allows women to discern better, but also to love men more and to create allies. If every woman he ever came in contact with was as brave as you, he would probably have an entirely different set of behaviors. Because what he learned from talking to you was what he did wasn't going to get you to be his girlfriend.

Melissa:  So true. In the eighth grade.

Kasia:  Yeah. I bet you that that lack of education, that could have patterned his behavior for years.

Melissa:  It's so true. Who knows how his actions were after we were in middle school, but there was something so empowering about walking away from that situation and being like, “I told him how I felt.” It was baffling that he had a crush on me, but it was a relief to know that all of those years of being pissed off at something that happened as a kid, I was able to express it in a way that was healthy.

Kasia:  Stand up for yourself, yeah.

Melissa:  Yeah. It was amazing.

Kasia:  So good. So many good things in that one move.

Melissa:  Thank you guys. I appreciate that. I want everyone to learn a little bit more about how they can keep up with you guys, where they can go to sign up for courses. I know there's a long wait list, but I'm sure there are plenty of people listening to this that are very excited to learn more and attend these courses. Tell us a little bit about that.

Ruben:  Should I do that?

Kasia:  Yeah.

Ruben:  We run a number of-

Kasia:   Wait. First thing is our website is

Ruben:  Our website... She just womanterrupted.

Kasia:  I just womanterrupted. That's right.

Melissa:  I love that term.

Ruben:  I'm the only man who works in our office.

Melissa:  No way!

Ruben:  The reversal of roles is fascinating.

Kasia:  It's so fun to take what Ruben just said and say it better.

Melissa:  I love that.

Ruben:  It's great. We can have conversations and laugh about it, which is great. Our website is We do lectures throughout the year in New York. Those are...

Kasia:  And around the world now.

Melissa:  Yeah, all around the world.

Ruben:  We try to make those super accessible. If someone can't afford to pay, they can come for free. We teach a monthlong class called Power with Men 101. We do that several times a year. We teach a semester long class...

Kasia:  That's very intensive. It's all the way. We go all the way in that class.

Ruben:  It's like 20 weeks of...

Melissa:  20, wow.

Ruben:  ...for a group of-

Kasia:   That actually usually gets extended.

Ruben:  For a group of like 16 women.

Kasia:  It's 20 sometimes. Yeah, but we go on a journey.

Ruben:  We go on a journey.

Melissa:  That's amazing.

Ruben:  We teach... We're now starting to do-

Kasia:  We're training the next generation of revolutionaries. We need 20 weeks.

Melissa:  You literally are starting the best army of people ever.

Kasia:  That's what they call themselves.

Melissa:  Really?

Kasia:   Yeah.

Ruben:  Yeah, army. We now teach online courses, as well. We're starting to go into that route. We are obsessive about doing everything we can to get our students results, which is why our classes have remained quite small over time. It might make us bad business people, but that's not why we're doing this.

Melissa:  Yeah. It gives people more of the attention than being in a huge classroom of 500 people. You have the personal attention with them.

Ruben:  Yeah.

Melissa:   That's amazing. Any social media they can find you on other the website?

Ruben:  God, we suck at that.

Melissa:  It's okay.

Kasia:  No, it's ridiculous and funny. We've had waiting lists since the beginning, so we haven't had to, but we really should.

Ruben:  I was our first webmaster. I put a password on our website.

Kasia:  Our website was password protected for...

Melissa:  A password?

Ruben:   Yeah.

Kasia:  ...two years.

Ruben:  It's like, well, we have a really long waitlist.

Melissa:  It may be time to hire a social media coordinator.

Ruben:  Yeah, the learning curve has been steep on that end.

Kasia: Also, I'm proud that we don't give a shit about that. I'm proud that we’re mostly word of mouth.

Melissa:  Yeah, people waitlist. It doesn't fucking matter.

Kasia:  Yeah. I'm starting to do bigger and bigger things, like thousand person lectures, but those are just a couple of hours. Give one or two tools that a woman can use.

Melissa:  That's amazing.

Ruben:  It's been wild.

Kasia:  It's been wild.

Kasia:  We're having universities study our work, neuroscientists. It's just-

Melissa:  You guys are going to be writing books for...

Kasia: I'm already writing books. Yeah, no, for school. Yeah, that's already happening, too.

Melissa:  Wow.

Kasia:  And the military and ...

Melissa:  You say one of your students will change the world, but it sounds like you guys are on your way to already to that to be honest.

Kasia:  We need to do it together. There can't be enough of us, you know.

Melissa:  Yeah, everyone has to come together. It's not going to be one person. We have to, like you said, the army. That's amazing. Thank you guys so much for coming on the podcast. Seriously ...

Ruben:  It's been a pleasure.

Kasia:  It's been a pleasure.

Melissa:  I’m blown away by both of you. Very, very incredible people.

The Jill Kargman Show - Sirius XM

When you’re in charge, you’re in charge. You’re in fucking charge, and you’re responsible for the person you’re leading. So you have to be willing to reach out, look at them, instruct them, see how to move them from point A to point B. And women tend to retreat from that. Even when they’re loud. Even when they’re authoritative. It’s really about letting your energy and attention really penetrate the other person.
— Kasia Urbaniak

In this interview, Kasia and Jill dish on the ways their conservative Manhattan girls' school prepared them to become rebel women, the way Daoism applies to life in the dungeon, and what men have in common with canines (psst... it's not what you think). Later, Academy co-founder Ruben joins Kasia to tell the epic origin story of The Academy.



Jill: Dude, okay so we just established that Kasia and I both went to Spence–the same all girls uniform school where we would roll up our uniforms. We were just talking about kids dressing like sluts.

Kasia: Defiantly!

Jill: I'm obsessed with this story. And then I want to hear about The Academy and everything, but I want to hear it in chronological order.

Kasia: Oh, okay. I think there's a difference between lifestyle dominatrices and the BDSM scene and especially the women who went into that work at the time that I did.

Jill: You were kind of ahead of your time. I feel like it's more common now. Cause the internet normalizes everything, whereas you went into the Village Voice.

Kasia: Yeah, but also ... Yeah, I went to the Village Voice.

Jill: So amazing because I used to read those ads. I used to like comb through all the ads.

Kasia: Girls needed, ask no questions. Show up. Yeah.

Jill: I used to read those like for fun. It's fascinating, so you were like, "Yeah, I think I'd be good at..." See, I think I'd be good at being a dominatrix too.

Kasia: You probably would, I can tell by your eye contact.

Jill: Really?

Kasia: Yeah, you have very dominant eye contact. Very penetrating.

Jill: Oh, I thought that they're like on all fours and you're wiping them and stepping on them and stuff.

Kasia: Well that's one side of it, but I learned really quickly that I wasn't going to be able to stay in that line of work for very long if that's all I was going to be doing, 'cause initially it was for money. At that time there was this huge IT boom and there was these nerdy guys who were into fantasy who suddenly had money.

Jill: Ooh.

Kasia: And so the nature of that work was professionally changed 'cause all of a sudden there were all these nerdy girls who were able to like ...

Jill: Keep up intellectually?

Kasia: Yeah.

Jill: So it was less violent?

Kasia: There was a huge clientele that was less violent, more imaginative, and that's sort of where I stepped in. And at the time I was also obsessed with Taoism and Taoist spirituality, and studying to be a Taoist Nun, so I had this dual life for 12 years.

Jill: Shut the fuck up.

Kasia: Serious. I was in monasteries and convents.

Jill: But does that mean you can't bone?

Kasia: No, Taoism is pretty cool that way. You just have to bone in a particular way.

Jill: Oh okay. Like position?

Kasia: Energetic practices, so you have to be really aware of your breath-

Jill: Oh I thought you were going to say breasts. I'm like, “well that's his job too.”

So, I became very, very focused on the submissive man’s experience. And understanding what words, what language, what energy did what, moved what, where. So, it was deeply psychological and deeply energetic, and very early on I was so successful that I was asked to train other dominatrixes.

Kasia: Oh yeah, well that too.

Jill: So you're oscillating between a Taoist Monastery in China?

Kasia: Mm-hmm.

Jill: And then like tying people up and shit.

Kasia: Exactly.

Jill: And do you think that each extreme helped balance the other in a way?

Kasia: Very smart question, because absolutely. They don’t just balance, but inform the other. In my Taoist studies I was studying martial arts: you have to be able to anticipate the intention of somebody energetically when they move, before they move, and fast. And [I studied] medical diagnosis: Chinese medicine, and knowing what's up with somebody's body. So, I became very, very focused on the submissive man's experience. And understanding what words, what language, what energy did what, moved what, where. So, it was deeply psychological and deeply energetic, and very early on I was so successful that I was asked to train other dominatrixes.

Jill: No way.

Kasia: Yeah, I was like a big part of ...

Jill: So you're like a prodigy.

Kasia: Yeah. I was really, really good. And I noticed these patterns, especially these girls who were starting to work and really their need was financial. These patterns that they had that made it hard for them to do what I was doing, and they were all the things that I saw my entire life.

Jill: What kinds of patterns?

Kasia: Difficulty actually penetrating the space of another person, I mean invading their space, looking at them. The difference between a dominatrix standing there and having all of her attention on herself and saying, "You've been really bad."

Jill: Right.

Kasia: And looking at them, really looking at them ...

Jill: Especially with tech nerds who have their face in an iPad all the time.

Kasia: Yeah. One of the biggest breakthroughs I had was when I was reading Cesar Millan's book on dog training. All of that authority is transmitted not through the words you say, but through the energy and how you say it and through the attention. And the self-consciousness that women have, and the energy and the attention staying inward, ended up being a pattern that I saw throughout.

One of the biggest breakthroughs I had was when I was reading Cesar Millan’s book on dog training. All of that authority is transmitted not through the words you say, but through the energy and how you say it and through your attention.

Jill: What do men have in common with dogs? What did you takeaway? What was the overlap?

Kasia: This is becoming less and less true, but they tend to have a greater peace with and understanding of hierarchy.

Jill: Fascinating.

Kasia: Whereas women have a tendency to not want to seem above anyone and not seem below anyone, which compresses them a lot, creates a lot of tension. When you're in charge you're in charge. You're in fucking charge, and you're responsible for the person you're leading, so you have to be willing to reach out, look at them, instruct them, see how to move them from point A to point B in a way that women tend to retreat from. Even when they're loud. Even when they're authoritative. It's really about letting your energy and attention really penetrate the other person.

Jill: Right.

Kasia: And the other thing is that women don't want to be seen as less than.So, following orders becomes difficult because it's compromising, it means something about them. So, a lot of the things we do at The Academy have to do with unpacking that so that they can be really in charge when they want to be in charge, and really effective. And also when they want to surrender and they want to receive and they want to be adored, and loved, and worshiped, they can let that guard down, and know how to elicit the kind of attention they want so that they can feel adored and safe, and worshiped in a way that they like, and have it not mean anything about them. It's so important.

Jill: I feel like you're like a scientist about all this. You know it so well and you're so eloquent about it, but I've never heard it described this way it's so fascinating. So how did you meet Ruben and tell me about The Academy?

Kasia: Oh, well hi Ruben.

Jill: Hi Ruben. Ruben is in the house. Ruben was in Medecins sans Frontieres, is that right?

Kasia: That's right.

Jill: And so, you're dealing with like warlords in third world countries?

Ruben: Yeah working in conflict zones and a lot of times negotiating without a shared common language.

Jill: So you're both dealing with like the physical and the eye contact.

Kasia: Well that's exactly what happened, is like when we met it was pretty much a non-stop six month conversation full of sleep deprivation. Because it was like everything I understood about power, and power dynamics, and being a woman, and learning this on the fringes of sexuality and spirituality came into direct conversation with somebody who had been at war in conflict zones dealing with violence. And both of us understanding that there's a form of primal communication that happens, and trying to break down what that means in terms of gender dynamics. It was like a drug, and out of that drug a school got started.

Ruben: Yeah people literally just started coming to our living room to talk to us, and they were like, "When are you teaching a class?"

Jill: Wait, do you live together?

Ruben: At the time we did.

Everything I understood about power, and power dynamics, and being a woman, and learning this on the fringes of sexuality and spirituality came into direct conversation with somebody who had been at war in conflict zones dealing with violence. And both of us understanding that there’s a form of primal communication that happens, and trying to break down what that means in terms of gender dynamics. It was like a drug, and out of that drug a school got started.

Kasia: At the time we did.

Jill: Okay, so you started teaching this class and it's like word of mouth, sold out, written up in New York all the time, people are obsessed with it. And how did you say, "We're going to take this conversation about these fringes in conflict zones ..." You basically both were in your own version of dungeons. How do you then say, "We're going to create this and spread this kind of alternate gospel."

Kasia: It was responsive, it wasn't active.

Ruben: It wasn't a decision.

Kasia: I'd posted online a little bit about it, and people started asking hundreds of questions, so I started a small advice column. Then they were asking for a workshop we said, "Hell no, we're not teaching. We're never teaching. Let's do a Q&A since that'll be useful information if we ever want to write a book." And it was like ...

Jill: I think you have to write a book.

Kasia: We are.

Jill: Okay, you have to. You're going to come back when you're promoting it 'cause I have a thousand questions.

Ruben: And then it was just one thing after the other, and the biggest thing was when Trump gets elected basically our students go, “okay enough, enough of the small in very exclusive word of mouth, the world needs this.”

Jill: Kick the doors open, empower people.

Kasia: It was especially frustrating since they were using the power dynamics techniques watching the debates to exactly analyze that Hillary was losing, and my school knew that was happening, because of the body language, because of the way the sentences were phrased. They were like, "There's no way this is going to hold up." So they were exceptionally angry and pissed when it happened. And felt really like activated.

Jill: That's good. Well then that's a silver lining then.

Kasia: And then MeToo happened and forget about it because we were in the middle of teaching a verbal self defense workshop. We were in the middle of teaching verbal self defense in the context of sexual harassment when the Harvey story breaks.

Jill: Whoa.

Ruben: Literally that's... it broke on like a Thursday and the class, that section was happening on a Friday night.

Kasia: We were having men come in and...

Ruben: And so, we had the men coming in we were going to role play this, it's how we train our students. It's literally like a dojo and so we just bought a bathrobe and there was the transcript, the literal transcript of what he said.

Jill: No way. So, someone played Harvey?

Ruben: So there's a man playing Harvey.

Kasia: A lot of people played Harvey and we were like use The Five Academy Techniques, how are the five different ways you could have dealt with this particular situation? We even had a potted plant.

Jill: Oh for him to jizz in?

Ruben: It was so much fun.

Jill: Didn't he wack it into the... like jizz into the plant?

Kasia: Oh God I don't know.

Ruben: Disgusting. Monster.

Jill: Oh my God that poor plant has like a MeToo post. So, what are other classes you teach? Do they all have titles or some of them are just like a general you go with the flow, it's more like academic? Well I guess it's called The Academy.

Ruben: We teach a series of like single evening classes.

Jill: Like what are some examples?

Ruben: Verbal Self-Defense, just like a basic introduction of power dynamics.

Kasia: How to have a political conversation, which is the one that we were doing a lot of.

Ruben: How to play with hearing no.

Jill: Oh.

Kasia: Power with Money. Power with Men. Foundations of Unshakeable Power, which is our long course.

Ruben: And then we have month long class called Power with Men 101 and Power with Money 101, so both of those are month long classes, and then we have a semester long course called Foundations of Power.

Kasia: You just mansplained.

Ruben: I did, didn't I?

Kasia: Yes you did.

Jill: Do you guys ever get caught up where you have like power dynamics with each other?

Kasia: We're so good at power dynamics and fighting that we demo our fights to everyone.

Jill: To everyone.

Kasia: And we like outline like what just happened. This is where he diminished me, this is where I emasculated him, this is where I went on top, this where I went on bottom, this is where I got diffused. This is where I use the third part of speech in order to deescalate, it's very structured.

Ruben: We are the living laboratory of what we teach for sure.

Jill: That's cool, 'cause then you're constantly evolving and learning yourselves, right? And you have someone who's listening in the way that you do.

Kasia: Exactly.

Jill: So you're like adaptive and ever growing.

Kasia: Yeah.

Jill: That is very Taoist right?

Kasia: Yeah, it is.

Jill: So, how do you use your background in terms of... and I didn't even know there was an all female Chinese monastery so to me I'm having like Kill Bill.

Kasia: Oh my God.

Jill: Acid trip right now.

Kasia: You're not wrong, on a mountain top doing Qigong, looking down at a sea of clouds.

Jill: Damn.

Kasia: Crouching Tiger all the way.

Jill: I love it. Do you still tap into that experience to inform your work at The Academy?

Kasia: I wish I did, I don't do a lot of the Taoist practices I used to do, nor do I work as a dominatrix anymore because this has become so full-time that the living laboratory of the school is almost every waking moment.

Jill: And so, when does the book come out and what kind of things do you explore that people can read about?

Kasia: Well, this is very early on the stage so I don't know when it's going to come out.

Jill: Okay.

Kasia: But it's going to have a handbook for ruthless bad girls.

Jill: Badass. See, I never had a handbook I want it because I know ...

Kasia: We had the Spence handbook.

Jill: Yeah, the Spence handbook with like your curse finger has to be your hem length, right?

Kasia: Yeah.

Jill: I feel like in a weird way growing up in a conservative all-girls school, that might have pulled the elastic one way for you to snap the opposite direction, or no?

Kasia: Oh, well before I went to Spence I went to a Catholic school, so absolutely.

Jill: Okay. I remember we played Sacred Heart and they would walk in and we would go, "Here come the nuns. Nu, nu, nu, nu." But I feel like you can't really think outside the box unless you know what the box is.

Kasia: Yeah, that's true.

Jill: So it must have informed you.

Kasia: That's true, and I have an incredible appreciation for discipline, and order, and rules, especially when they're created by me.

Jill: Yeah exactly. And so, how can people find you guys or take your classes? Or is it still secret word of mouth?

Ruben: No, they can come to our website: We have an online class available, the Verbal Self-Defense Dojo.

Jill: Cool.

Ruben: Yep, our emails are on there, our phones are on there.

Kasia: Wait, you have to see this course, it has creepy guys saying creepy lines and you have to talk back to it like a video game.

Jill: No way.

Kasia: Yeah.

Ruben: Kasia walks you through it.

Jill: Wait, so this in the online class?

Kasia: Yeah.

Jill: And it's like video creepy molesters?

Kasia: Yeah.

Jill: Oh my God you gotta get like a Harvey... I'm picturing like a Claymation Harvey.

Kasia: We have everything from like a massage therapist being like, "Are you married?" You know something lightweight but super uncomfortable to like some heavier hits that women are very, very used to freezing around because the main thing is the way a women's nervous system shuts down when she's put on the spot is the culprit of so many things that people aren't talking about. When a woman freezes and her amygdala gets hijacked she has no access to language, very little access to agency, and will tend to agree with anything.

Jill: That's fascinating.

Kasia: So training women to get off the spot and to unfreeze is more important...

Jill: Yeah, but what if you're buck naked on a massage table?

Kasia: Still, you turn the attention out. "Is that an appropriate question to ask right now? Are you asking because you're taking a census? Are you asking because you want to know if I'm available? Are you flirting with me right now?" Anything that will...

Jill: Shut them down.

Kasia: Especially penetrating questions about why they asked.

Jill: Yeah, why do you ask? Cause then they have to answer and then it's awkward. And then awkwardness makes them maybe freeze up.

Kasia: It also exactly flips the power dynamic because the submissive is always the one where the attention is. So, if somebody puts you on the spot you're the submissive. If somebody's putting you on the spot you're the dominant. So, if they're putting you on the spot and you put them on the spot you're flipping the power dynamic.

Jill: Okay, there's an online class that I'm going to sign up for now, obsessed. You guys have to stay in touch and come back when this book is out because I want my radical bad girl handbook.

Ruben: We'd love to.

Jill: Everybody go check out The Academy at And we will be back live on Friday, have a wonderful week.

One of the biggest breakthroughs I had was when I was reading Cesar Millan’s book on Dog Training. All of that authority is transmitted not through the words you say, but through the energy and how you say it and through the attention.

#MeToo Dialogues with Tonya Pinkins

One of the most traumatizing experiences is to feel retraumatized by not being able to speak. It makes a woman totally defenseless, has her avoid situations where she could find herself in that spot, limits her range of play, limits her range of experimentation, and further limits her speaking.
— Kasia Urbaniak

This interview was part of The #MeToo Dialogues, an online event featuring host — acclaimed actress, author, rape counselor, and educator Tonya Pinkins™ — talking openly and intimately with more than 30 women and men — including Tarana Burke, Eve Ensler, Alicia Garza, Rosanna Arquette, Marisa Tomei, Michael Beckwith, MJ Rodriguez, and more — who share their powerful stories of healing, brave acts of breaking silence, and what’s next for the #MeToo movement. For more information, please visit This recording is a copyright of The Shift Network. All rights reserved.

Tonya: There's so many things I want to talk to you about. You were the first person who, when I mentioned that I freeze, too, that you understood what that was. How did you know about freeze?

Kasia: When the Harvey Weinstein story broke, we were in the middle of teaching a class specifically on space invasion, when a man invades your space, manterrupting, mansplaining. All of the moments where a woman feels very aggressive or put on the spot. What became really evident in the classes and working with students on a case by case basis, working with their bodies, their modes of expression, the ways they respond, it became really, really clear that there were two very different things happening. One was, a woman in a situation she doesn't want to be in, but she chooses not to speak. She chooses, she makes a choice. "Right now I'm not saying anything." She feels like there's a lot at stake, wants a chance to step away from the situation and assess, doesn't know how to play it out, and that choice is not only her choice. It can be very empowering.

There's another thing that I watched happen over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again, which is she'd know what she wants to say, even if it was just, "No, I don't like this. Stop." Her entire body would start shutting down, she'd lose access to language, and she'd freeze. She wouldn't be able to think. There'd be 1,000 thoughts and sentences in her head, circularly, rapid. Wouldn't be able to catch a single one to phrase it.

The choice not to speak and the choiceless silence, that distinction is so critical, and it's been something that I felt really passionate about speaking to people about. When men ask the question, or people ask the question, "Why didn't she speak up earlier?" Yes, there are consequences, but my question is, "Why didn't she speak up in the moment?" As a human woman in this world, I experienced what I call a freeze 100,000 times in my life.

One of the ways that it usually ends playing out is I freeze and then later I beat myself up for freezing. "Why didn't I say something? Why didn't I say something? Why didn't I say something? Why didn't I say something? Why didn't I say something? Why did I miss the moment? I'm going to say something now. Five, four, three, two... Okay, wait. No. Ah!"

As I watched the students, I saw this experience being so common and universal. We would do role plays in front of the classroom. I'd watch their bodies freeze. We're not playing pretend. We're not playing pretend, this isn't a real man in your life. This isn't a real situation. Even then they could get triggered into totally shutting down, losing access to language, losing agency. We began to very, very, very aggressively fine tune the tools we already had to flip the power dynamic, to make them very specific for those moments where a woman can't speak. Can't. Just can't.

Tonya: Yeah, I'm really curious about that, because for me, it's literally like I'm up in the air watching myself talking, and the person who's with me would clearly think that I am present and engaged with them, and I am not there. It's like a Stepford something has taken over.

Kasia: Yeah, and in that moment, it becomes really complicated, because if that moment isn't addressed, what the other person is seeing might legitimately be interpreted as consent. We have this big consent conversation going on. This big consent conversation doesn't address the moments where people shut down and can't speak. The complexity of it grows when you have an entire culture of men or people in positions of power who have been getting feedback that looks like consent. The thing is that humans are social animals. We are social animals. You give us a list of rules to follow, and behaviors to apply to our lives, it takes a tremendous amount of discipline to catch ourselves in the moment doing something that's a violation, especially if we already have the running habit of being a certain way, having a certain attitude, and doing certain things.

The best way for a human being to learn something is feedback in the moment. If you step on something hot and it burns, ouch, you learn that thing is hot. If you overstep a boundary and somebody else goes, "Ouch," you go, "Oh, that hurt that person. Now if I continue, I'm hurting them." If the feedback isn't there, the education is weak. The social education, the way human beings learn best, is absent.

My current mission is getting women to break out of the freeze and speak in the moment, not just speaking later. Speaking any time, about boundary violations and sexual assault is so, so, so, so important. There's also this entire realm of human behavior that is not necessarily such an aggressive, intentional, evil form of perpetrator behavior. There's a whole spectrum that's traumatizing women anyway, and one of the most traumatizing experiences is to feel retraumatized by not being able to speak. It makes a woman totally defenseless, has her avoid situations where she could find herself in that spot, limits her rage of play, limits her range of experimentation, and further limits her speaking.

This one critical moment where a woman's put on the spot... In the school, the primary focus is studying power dynamics, and when a woman's put on the spot, she's in the submissive position. The name of the game in that moment is to get her into a dominant position where she's controlling the narrative and controlling the conversation, even if only for a moment. When a woman's frozen, you could say her attention is stuck inside herself, her instruction is stuck inside herself, her agency is stuck inside herself. She's talking to herself about what she should do.

To move in a power dynamic from a submissive place to a dominant place requires putting your attention on the other person, your instruction on the other person, with enough pressure so they retreat, and even if for a moment, put attention on themselves. With this lessening of pressure, when a person in that position on the spot can put the other person on the spot, even if it's for a moment, by asking a question about where they're coming from, or their shirt, it doesn't even matter. As long as it switches where the attention is. On an animal level, hierarchies are built on networks of attention. How people lead and what people are paying attention to. We're animals, right?

In that moment, when she's able to switch the power dynamic, even for a moment, her freeze is broken. In really simple terms, there are people who work on helping people break out of this freeze by naming things in the room. This is much more powerful. Your attention goes out, you find language to things outside yourself. In a relational dynamic, where this is happening because another person is triggering you, to call attention to them, even in the most delicate and subtle way, so long as it draws their attention to themselves, even for a moment, you regain your ability to think, speak, and act.

Sometimes saying something like, "Why are you asking me that right now?" Is enough to have a woman gain enough agency to leave the room. If you're frozen, leaving the room is oftentimes not even an option.

Tonya: That's true. For me, my predator is not aggressive. I mean, anytime anyone meets me with aggression, I'm going to meet them with aggression. My predator is very gentle, very caring about me... everything they're doing is about my self interest. They want to help me.

Kasia: Right. All of their attention's on you. All of their attention's on you, and how lovely you are, and your needs. It's still all attention on you. It doesn't matter if it's negative or positive.

Kasia: In the language of the school, dominant attention is neutral. It's not even more powerful to be dominant, or better, or worse. It's not more powerful to be submissive, or better, or worse. They can contain anything, but who's leading and who's following is the deciding factor. "Tonya, I see how much you work, and I see all of the things that you need. You are so lovely and so wonderful. You really need to trust me here as I blank, blank, blank, blank, make you do this. Do this to you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you." It's still a dominant and submissive power dynamic.

Tonya: I want to get this clear for people, because when I was listening to you talk about it, it resonated with me. I know what happens to me sometimes is that I'll find myself blabbering, blabbering, blabbering, blabbering, and the conversation is, why are you talking, why are you talking? You talked about that, that when people put their attention on you, that is a triggering thing and puts you in this submissive place where they can have their way, manipulate you. Can you explain that dynamic more?

Kasia: Well, it goes both ways, right? It's also really beautiful to be in a surrendered and submissive place where you're telling your story, and you're being transparent, and you're exposing yourself, and you're being vulnerable, and you're speaking truth about your experience, your attention's on yourself, and you're feeling yourself moment by moment. It can be an incredibly powerful and beautiful thing. It's when somebody else is leading you in a direction you don't want to go that it becomes necessary to flip the dynamic.

A really simply metaphor here is conversation. You and I are having a conversation. We're looking at each other through a screen, and I'm looking at you, you're looking at me. Generally, in a conversation that works phenomenally, the power dynamic is not only equal, it's fluid. What I mean by that, is when I speak, if I'm good with dominant attention, I am speaking and watching to see if you're following me. I'm watching your body language, I'm seeing if the words are sinking in.

My attention and my instruction are out on you. If you're reciprocating, right? If you're on the other side of the power dynamic, just while I'm speaking, you're surrendered. You're feeling, and listening, and trying to gage inside of you if the words are landing. "Do I understand? What does this mean to me?" Until something interesting gets triggered and you want to say something, so you want to say something, you say something. You ask me a question. You put your attention on me. Now when you're speaking, you're paying attention to me to see if I'm getting it. I'm sitting here as the person in the submissive state of attention. "Do I understand the question? What is this making me think about?" My attention's on myself.

In a beautiful, rich, dynamic, enlightening conversation, someone's always the dom, someone's always the sub, and they're constantly switching in accordance with the need that the conversation presents. In accordance with the dynamic. It's when things get blocked, when a dom stops paying attention to their sub. Somebody speaking, somebody stroking, caressing, somebody proposing something, stops being able to see the signs in the other that the person's uncomfortable, checking out, experiencing resistance. If a dom has their attention on themselves, but their instruction out there, bad dom. The power dynamic starts collapsing.

The other thing is that if you're in a submissive, surrendered state, and you don't like what's going on, but you're not responding, like you don't know what's going on, not giving the information, or not flipping the power dynamic to take the superior position for a moment to lead the situation elsewhere, then we have a collapsed power dynamic. I'm looking at places where power dynamics, at their best, collapse. One place is when the dom doesn't notice what's happening to the sub, and the other place is when the sub can't be legible, can't broadcast the authentic reaction or experience that they're having, nor can they flip the power dynamic so that they're in the lead, and they're taking it where they want to go. One of the culprits is, in women, the freeze.

One of the culprits, in men or let's say, gender neutral, one of the culprits is when somebody in a higher status position, male or female, loses the ability to feel their sub.

Tonya: Empathy, compassion. There's a whole program in Spain called virtual embodiment where they take domestic abusers and allow them to be inside the body of the person, the intimate person in their life, because they say that sometimes these people who are abusive actually just don't see the people that they're abusing to see the fear or terror in them at all. They just don't see it. I mean, that feels incomprehensible to me. How does that even happen? How do you not see that?

Kasia: Yeah, well, you're a live wire, you respond to every movement in a room. It's your nature and your profession, and who you are. It's incomprehensible to you to think of the kind of numbness that has you overstep the moments where other people are literally going, "Ouch." There are lots of people out there like that, and there's even a lot of research about how people who are in positions of power for a while begin to lose their ability to feel others. It begins to deteriorate. They call it the relational circuit and the power circuit. You spend a lot of time in the power circuit, it's a different set of brain chemistry.

The necessity to teach men and people in higher status positions to continue to be able to feel. It's not an act of kindness. It's actually also a move towards more effective leadership. One of the things that's a tragedy is when a leader cannot feel the people that they're responsible for. You call it empathy, but empathy also has a huge opportunity in it. When you can really feel somebody, you understand what resources they have, what inner resources they have that can make their work a much greater contribution. You make somebody do something against their will because you're using your authority. The kind of outcome that happens is very different from when somebody has their heart in it. They're using their imagination fueled by their childhood dreams. It's fueled by their desire to belong and their loyalty.

It's night and day. It's night and day, and we have a world of bad leaders where everybody's protecting their own asses and a really corrupted idea of what power is.

Tonya: Yes. Tell us about your definition of power, and how we, as a society, have corrupted that.

Kasia: In the language of what I've said already, a bad dom looks powerful, but is actually using force. Force is not powerful. Force is never powerful. Why? You look at a dictatorship. Look at a nation that's run by a dictator: in order to get the will of the people to submit and obey, it takes a tremendous police force, it takes tremendous military, it takes tremendous economic pressure to squash the people to obey, and those countries rarely economically flourish. What happens is the application of force and sustained force becomes necessary. The moment there's a little let up of force, there's rebellion.

Power that's not connected is force, and it's incredibly wasteful. When a leader, or a person in charge, or even a person who's taking the dominant position in a dynamic, just for a moment, like in a conversation–whether we're talking really small, minding your conversation, really big, a nation–when the person in charge has their attention and instruction out, when they're following what's happening to the body of the masses or the body of the other, they are able to influence. They are able to move the person in front of them. They are able to see what's there and use it to get from point A to point B.

What happens then is synergy. Synergy creates more energy than the initial investment, right? That is power, literally. You plug into the electric socket, there's power, electrical power. You can't call something power when the setup itself leaks power. It wastes energy. It wastes resources. Our brute force idea of what power is not only gives power a bad name, it gives people who should be in power an internal taboo against wanting power, wanting to assume a position of power.

Tonya: It's interesting you say that, because I feel, as a person, like I have power in the sense that I know my value, I know what I will and won't do, but I certainly don't have the ability to influence other people. That was something you talk about, is how to make alliances.

Kasia: Yeah. The definition of power in the school is you have all of the relationships in your community and your network are powerful relationships, where you give to others what you value and they value receiving it, and other people give to you what they value and you value receiving it. That the exchanges are such that what's being exchanged is valuable. A powerful relationship is not a powerful relationship unless that power dynamic is fluid and switching, and that each person has an opportunity to lead and follow in their own way.

Tonya: How do we get into-

Kasia: Sorry, this is also one of the reasons that I don't call my school female empowerment school. There's something that happens around language when we're talking about power. People want to soften it. People want to say, "Oh, I feel powerful." First of all, it's not true. You are powerful. You influence people, but there's this idea that we can kind of sequester ourselves and work on our ourselves, and become empowered, and own our experience, and full stop, that's it. Now that I feel powerful in my own bedroom, and I go out into the world and feel powerful in the presence of others, that's not enough. It's actually through connection. It's literally like electrical power. If it's not connected, it's dead.

"I'm empowered" is a conversation I'm having with myself about my own self-esteem. It doesn't flow through the community, it doesn't have that same kind of network effect. What we want is power that's connected. In that sense, it doesn't matter at the moment who's in a dominant position, who's in a submissive position, who's receiving, who's giving. That has to be fluid and has to switch, it always done. Even in hierarchies where that boss will always be the boss. That employee will be the employee. There's a way to have those relationships be powerful and connected.

Tonya: Now, you also talked about how women feel like we have to answer questions, and that that's one of the ways that this tension stays on us, because we don't know how to question the questioner. I think that's what you call it.

Kasia: Yeah, so this comes from an older thing. I think that people talk about the objectification of women. There's a long standing habit of calling to attention to how women are versus calling attention to what men do. It's really easy to say something like, "That guy's a jerk, but boy, can he get things done," and to a woman, "Man, she's a bitch, and she's a harpy," or whatever, like full stop. When boys and girls are raised, you can see this, too. "Look how lovely Mary is. Look how pretty her dress is. Look how lovely her demeanor is." Then it's, "Look what Billy did." What this does is it creates a habit where women's default tends to be to put attention on themselves. Something goes wrong, "What did I do wrong?"

Tonya: You say that, we're putting attention on ourselves, and I think of women as being always attention on other people, "What can I do for you?"

Kasia: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. That's the other side of a collapsed power dynamic. What women tend to do is... attention in and attention out always balances itself some way, it just doesn't always balance itself out in a powerful way. Attention in is, "What am I supposed to do? What did I do wrong? How did I lead this guy on?" Attention on self, right? Attention out happens, women seeing an entire group, seeing a family, and logging and tracking where everyone else is at. Holding space. That's attention out. That's not attention and instruction out. That's not the dominant state of attention. It's holding space. It's something in between. It's like, "Here is my life energy. My attention is my life energy. Here is my life energy. I am giving it to all of you," and it's a beautiful thing to do, but it has to be noted that it's a tremendous act of generosity. Tremendous act of generosity just to give your attention, your fundamental consciousness energy, your fundamental, who you are is your attention.

Our entire economy is run on attention. Think about the language we use: interest, appreciation. All of it actually refers back to attention. Here we are, we put attention on everybody's comfort, everybody's mood, and it's such an incredible skill, but without instruction, it's not the dominant state. It's not hunting for the next move that the person needs in order to get from point A to point B, of following that impulse of what needs to happen next. Using your agency, not just a receiving of the information, but using your agency to lead.

Tonya: I used to believe, as I started these interviews a few months ago, that predation was a function of being animals. As I've been talking to people, I now feel like the kind of predation we're experiencing is more a function of capitalism. It's a function of, "I can pay for this," or, "I can make money off of this." That's really what fuels it. It's a power dynamic that's fueling it. It's not about, "I need to eat that to survive, or to feed my family." It's a corruption that, I don't know, does it exist even in other animal species besides the human animal?

Kasia: We are a unique, godlike, animalistic, paradoxical phenomenon on this planet. I don't know any animals that behave the ways we do, and are as disconnected from the life forces we are. One of the main goals of this school is to have people, in real time, follow what's alive. What's the next thing? What's the next most alive thing? What's the next most alive thing? In conversation. I mean, it's the thing that makes the students who start to really play powerfully in their conversations, in their negotiations, in their relationships, start feeling playful. It becomes very moment by moment, feel what's alive, feel what's alive. The immense imagination that comes from that kind of freedom is essentially playful. It's the play of children, even in the most difficult situations.

The capitalistic structure of power dynamics. I mean, the truth is that right now, even talking about women, in my work, I see that this is actually way beyond gender. There are men competing with men. There are men competing with women. There's race involved. There's so many levels. It's almost like any time there's a status differential, fluid switching between dominant and submissive states of attention has the potential to get hampered. In that moment, improvisation, and the life force, and the playfulness, the power dissipates. When there's no connection, there's no power.

Tonya: Now, a lot of me, I've heard from friends who've got to the times that men's meeting, that they're full of fear. They're like, "Oh my god. I don't know what I did when I was 19. I was a real jerk then. I mean, how am I supposed to remember? You know, I'm sure I did something some time in my life." Dave Chappelle says there's going to be a backlash. Right now they're scared, but there's going to be a backlash. What are women supposed to do? I mean, it's not okay just because they didn't know, so what do we do?

Kasia: Well, there's two things I want to say. One is, I know that America wasn't ready for it, but it would've been really great if we had this brilliant idea to do something like truth and consequences, where any man who comes forward, by coming forward, he gets exonerated. If he comes forward on his own, he has a chance at redemption.

Tonya: I like that. I've been working on a theatrical piece called Truth and Reconciliation Between Women, because I think that women can begin to model what that looks like. They're fictional, historical pieces. I think that the Truth and Reconciliation project they did in South Africa. We need something like that. I was at an organization yesterday with people who were interested in information escrows, which are information banks where people can anonymously report the behavior. One of the things they were saying is their higher ups, they were pretty sure, had done some things and would want to kibosh this idea, because it would be a threat to them. I silenced myself in the meeting, but the thought to me was, "Well, wouldn't it be great if they came forward and said, you know, 'This is what I've done, and I'm sorry, and here's the act I'm taking with my organization to help other people, who may have been victimized by me or others who unconsciously did things that I know I did.'"

Kasia: Yeah. I mean, there's a few things here. One is, if you allow the perpetrator that act of agency, then all the energy stored in that can go for good. The thing that's kind of a pity, is we have currently a very aggressive capitalistic culture that... I mean, I heard Tarana Burke speak recently. One of the things she said is this was not about the perpetrators. This is about the victims getting a chance to speak openly and connect with each other, with their stories of sexual assault and violence. What became really obvious to me was how much money gets made of telling a good story about a-

Tonya: Oh, yes.

Kasia: Here's the thing. I'm trained to look at things systemically. Even as a Daoist, there's yin and there's yang, and there's a drop of the white in the black and a drop of the black in the white. You can't have one part of the system move without moving the other. You also can't have one part of the system be wounded. Now, this is a very controversial thing to say, but I believe it with my whole heart: you can't have one part of a system wounded without seeing that the other part of the system is wounded, too.

The perpetrators, they are the first people that should be called sick, wounded, in need of rehabilitation and healing. It's just we don't live in the kind of culture that's willing to say that the perpetrators need healing, and we don't even have an idea of what that would look like. What does it look like to take a Harvey and have a process of rehabilitation happen? What does that look like? We don't have that. It's so meager and spare, and yet they're the ones causing the problems? If you have women undergoing this huge transformation, what's happening to men? The masculine on this planet is not wounded?

I'm not saying we have to pour all our attention into men right now, but acknowledge that if we're having this thing happening to women, it's affecting the men, too. To not look at that is dangerous, because it only moves one part of the system, and how the other part of the system gets affected becomes very unpredictable, which is why I was like, it would've been great if it was an alternate reality, but it would've been great if part of what's happened allowed men to come forward, and their confession be their exoneration, or their confession be at least some way of having them participate.

In the school, everything I teach women, I teach them to use relationally or with another. Any skill or tool she's using, she's using with another person, and in order to influence another person, first you have to connect them to their own experience. In a lot of ways, I'm really proud that this work that I'm doing, and this work that the students are doing, as they practice, they're healing the person that they're talking to. One of the things that they all... I mean, most of the things they do is they relate to men that they feel like they're in stuck power dynamics. Whether it's bosses, or sons, or husbands, or brothers.

In doing so, in using this work to bring reality, compassion, and fierce authority to these relationships, the men are getting educated. They're getting realtime feedback, and they're getting instruction.

Tonya: Is there any sort of exercise, demonstration that we could role play together right now? I guess I'd be the perpetrator, because you've got the skills. Could we do something? I could be Harvey and you could demonstrate verbal self defense?

Kasia: You know how you said that your particular weak spot is not something aggressive?

Tonya: Right.

Kasia: There's two ways that women get put into compromising situations. One is a direct hit, right? It's like, "Shall we continue this meeting in my hotel room?" That's still a little bit ambiguous, but you get the point, right?

Tonya: Well, let me be that person. "Kasia, it is so nice to meet you today. You know, I'm running a little late. I really want to help you get this business of yours going, can you come up to my room for a minute? I've got to just make this quick call."

Kasia: There's two ways I could do it, right? I could do it by hitting right back, or I could do it by locating the situation. It seems like you don't have quite enough time to give me the attention I need, is that true? It seems like your hotel room might not be the best place to speed through a meeting, is that true?

Tonya: "Kasia, no. No, honey. No, Kasia, baby. I'm so sorry. I didn't even mean to use that kind of language. Kasia, I really want to take the time, and this call came up out of the last minute. My time and attention is for you. I mean, if you want to wait in the lobby, I mean, it just doesn't make sense for you to wait in the lobby. I've got this beautiful room with this absolutely-"

Kasia: The first thing I did is location, and it's very safe. The direct hit back would be, "Do you realize that it may make a woman uncomfortable to invite her directly to your hotel room, even if for a minute? Did you think about that? Did you think maybe I would feel a little bit more comfortable waiting for you in the lobby? Let's have a quick conversation on the way out." Did you, could you, that's a direct question, and then the location tool is easy, because when you can't find something penetrating to ask, you can just say, "It seems like you're in a rush. It seems like you want to get me to your hotel room. It seems like we're crossing a boundary between business and private life." Then, asking for verification, "Is that true?"

Tonya, you know how you said that your weak spot is when people are softer with you? That pattern is several ambiguous statements said at the same time to imply a request, but not directly propose one. Actually, the ambiguous communication is what, if you look at the Harvey transcript, is what he did. He implies, "I have lots of friends." That's one statement. "I help my friends. I'm a powerful man in the industry. Come to my hotel room. I won't do anything." That moment, it's better for location than a direct hit. It's like, "It seems like you really want to get me to your hotel room. Is that true? What did all the other women who came to your hotel room do for you? What did you get out of it?"

"It seems like." These things end up being really simple if you have the first entry question sort of habituated.

Tonya: We have to make that entry question up for ourselves before we go into any potential-

Kasia: No. I have an entire online verbal self defense course that has pictures of creepy guys show up with the lines. You get to scream back at the screen and get coached all the way through on how to practice within a power dynamic.

Tonya: Okay, so as we wrap up, when can our listeners, viewers who will be seeing this in July, when can they come and take a training with you, Kasia?

Kasia: Okay, by then, definitely, I think September will be sold out. I have a class right now for September, late September is getting sold out. I honestly would just say you have to go to the website, because we have a really long waiting list.

Tonya: Okay. Well, I'm going to get on that waiting list.

Kasia: Awesome. See you in class.

Tonya: Thank you so much, Kasia, for taking the time, and for sharing these skills. I encourage people to go to Kasia's website, where you can see some videos, and she gives some free tips for how to handle some of these sticky situations. I think that's part of your cornering Harvey Weinstein. Have a beautiful day. Thank you, Kasia.

Kasia: You, too. Thank you.

Money Speaks Podcast: What's it like to study at The Academy?

I moved closer to him... I held my attention and it wasn’t until I actually put my hand on his head, so there was physical contact, then all of a sudden I felt more connected to him. And it wasn’t about me any longer. And in that physical touch, I was able to actually, then, get him to literally... I could feel it in his body. His head relaxed and he actually hadn’t been smiling the entire time and he actually smiled and giggled, almost. And just completely relaxed into my hand. And that was amazing. That was something that I’ve never experienced in quite that way. I mean, I’ve been married for 21 years, but it was a very different kind of exchange of power that was eye-opening.
— Valerie Moore, Power with Men 101 Graduate

Valerie is a leadership and women's empowerment coach, who chatted with Money Speaks host Anna Darian about her recent experience attending a Kasia Urbaniak's Power with Men 101 workshop. Learn what a former professional dominatrix has to teach women about power, attention, and why "you can't go faster than you feel."


Discussion of Power with Men 101 starts at around 18:00.

Money Speaks Transcript:

Anna: So let's go back to when you discovered this woman who I now know, thanks to you. But what did you see and what made you think that this was something that you needed?

Valerie: So her name is Kasia Urbaniak and she has a school called The Academy and the very first time I heard about her I was reading an article. It was last fall sometime, right around the time that the Me Too movement started and she had a course called Cornering Harvey. It was really about verbal self-defense. How to break that freeze I was mentioning earlier when you get stuck. And it just completely... I could relate to it on so many levels.

Valerie: And so I started finding out more about her work and heard that she was having this Power with Men 101, an introductory intensive workshop, a couple of weeks ago at end of June, to really dive into and understand better what the invisible architecture of power dynamics. So that is what piqued my curiosity because, not only for myself, being able to engage... even though I'm working exclusively with women right now, it may not always be that way but it's also a matter of trying to support them because many of them are working in a coed context and certainly in a more masculine paradigm, trying to transform that.

Valerie: So that's why, for me, it really sparked to the idea of how to take more initiative in terms of asking for what I want and feeling that I can do that, being comfortable taking that space and not feeling so guilty about it sometimes.

Anna: Awesome. So it sounds like you were motivated to even take this to help other women but in terms of just your own life, were you more feeling like it hit you in your gut professionally or personally, because, I mean, power with men... It's funny because even if you choose to work with women, you're certainly not somehow leaping out of patriarchy. So what was your biggest motivation, is that fair to ask?

Valerie: It was definitely twofold. I'm actually going to be taking her entire program called Foundations of Power in the fall. So this was the level-set I needed to take, but the real reason why I did it was, not only that I felt like I needed it, personally, for my own internal healing work and to explore those spaces of internalized sexism that I hold onto. And it usually happens when I'm bumping up against resistance, either within myself or with other people in my interactions and dynamics with men.

Valerie: So in my personal life, there's certainly these places within my own marriage, trying to explore not only not always having to be the caretaker and being able to be on the receiving end... That's part of that she talks about is that power dynamics there is the dom and the sub but the dom is about putting your attention outwards and that the sub is about receiving. And I want to be able to be more comfortable in that mode of being able to receive because I think that's part of how I get to the burn out that I feel like I have to do it all and be it all.

Valerie: So that was an important part of it, but then also that I want to be able to use it in my work. But there was an absolutely personal component to it as well.

Anna: Absolutely. \We've got to hear about this workshop. I've got to hear about this workshop. I'm dying.

Anna: But I think ... You mentioned that you went to school in an all girls Catholic school and something that's really alive for me right now is ... We know each other from the entrepreneurship world and so I feel like there's this ... in a post Me Too or maybe even prior to Me Too and all of these sexual harassment things that are coming out about women in the workplace and specifically entrepreneurship and here we are in Silicon Valley, which is a whole other level of bro-y harassment. There's this separation that's happening where it's like if it's not outlined as being a female space, we can assume it's at least a more male, in terms of the culture, it's going to be predominantly men and, at least culturally, it's going to be very male. And then so women, more and more, are not retreating but creating their other spaces.

Anna: All the time I hear about another all women conference, all women networking, all women this. And you and I have met at an all female networking event and that was one of the first issues that I had was sometimes I don't actually feel safe in these spaces because in my life, which we'll get into when we get into my stories around Me Too and stuff, I actually find that being around a lot of women can be challenging. But that's not my question for you. My question for you is do you feel like ... Good God, what is my actual question? Do we think that we're actually "empowering women" when we create these spaces that are these safe bubbles where women totally get to be empowered because everybody's women this and that? Are we really setting them up to then step into an actual world where it is men and women and male led? Do they actually have the tools to really be able to hold their own in these spaces from your experience? Is that a fair question?

Valerie: Yeah, yeah. Totally. And this weekend intensive was all women. So just tying it directly to that, it was a safe space where we were trying on things that were men who were there that we were practicing with in the afternoons. It gave me an opportunity to try things on for size and be more playful when I felt really supported and where the women there just understood and believed what I had to say or my perspective or my experience, because many of them had it as well. And so that camaraderie or that connection that was built through the weekend allowed me to have more courage to try things on for size that I wouldn't probably normally. I would have shied away from or not been as bold in a coed space. And I'm hoping that I'm already feeling like I'm able to take that part. That was the women only space and now I can apply it to my default world where it's mixed, and bring that courage along with me.

Valerie: But also that eventually, we'll be able to have conversations and more work done in circle with with men and women together. But at least for right now, I know, personally, part of my healing journey is I really need to be away from those influences to be able to drop in in a new and different way. So that's been my personal experience. For some women I don't think that's as much of an issue, but I think that building that sense of community connection is super critical.

Anna: One last little segue before we jump over to Valerie's recap and that's actually to hear from Kasia herself. So as I was re listening to our interview, I noticed that we jump into using words like dom and sub and assume that we're all on the same page with this and since this is, effectively, a recap of somebody's work, I think it's important for her to give us the definition of dominance before we just start using it. Because dominance is a word that could be easily seen super sexual or even sexualizing Kasia herself because she is an ex-dominatrix and it's also a word that's part of the BDSM acronym, so what is it? Bondage, Dominance, Sadism and Masochism? I think.

Anna: I'm not part of the community myself, but I understand that definitely, especially after 50 Shades of Grey came out, there was a lot of misinterpretation as to what that means and I think it's easy to see it as ... I don't know. Like a dude just basically being physically abusive toward a woman and be like, "Oh this is a healthy BDSM relationship." So I just figured rather than us try to put words into that, let's just hear from Kasia herself, just a couple of minutes and then we'll get right back to Valerie.

Kasia: There's this really beautiful ideal that I really believe in, that all human beings are created equal and I'm not in this conversation trying to discount that fundamental spiritual truth. I think that in a given context people play roles. And those roles, fundamentally, can be broken down into submissive and dominant. In a context, like I'm teaching. If I'm teaching I take a certain role. As a student you take a certain role. If two people are talking to each other and you observe their bodies and you observe their energy fields, what they're doing with their attention, you'll notice that there's a dom and a sub and that in conversations where it feels totally equal, what's actually happening is that they're switching. They're switching. A person puts attention on something, another one responds, follows their lead. It's the kind of dance, who's leading and who's following, organically switches and moves. And without this polarity and without this dynamic, without somebody being on top and somebody being on bottom and then switching, there's no movement. There's actually ... Nothing new can be discovered.

Kasia: And rather you signal to others that you're an authority figure or you are one to be taken care of, has everything to do with what you do with your attention, how attention and energy move in a dynamic. So really simply, really simply, the dom puts attention on the sub and gives instruction. So I, literally, look at you. Put my attention on you and tell you "Move three inches to the left." Right? The sub pays attention to themselves, receives the attention and instruction. This plays out really naturally in conversation. This really plays out really naturally in exchanges. And what happens is when there's a dynamic that's stuck, or two people aren't actually meeting each other and there's no intimacy, what's happening is this switching is no longer fluid or somebody's not fully inhabiting their dominant or submissive role.

Anna: Okay, I hope that was enlightening. I know it was for me the first time I heard it. So I'll be putting a link to Kasia's website in the show notes, so you can check in on that, but for now, let's get back over to Valerie and hear about her experience.

Anna: You had some homework leading up to it. Was there anything that came out of that or really as the workshop where things really got real?

Valerie: We had a Facebook group that we were participating in and homework and videos and assignments that were sent for the whole month beforehand. And there was a lot that came up in that and we shared our experiences on line remotely. And the biggest thing for me... Kasia talks about how it's hard for women to ask for what they want. In many ways we are conditioned to not ask for what we want. And in many ways we sometimes don't even know what we want because our desires, from a very early age, many of them were told pretty much from our first sexual experience that there's danger. Or not even experience but desires. That when boys first show signs that they're encouraged. "Oh look at how cute. Bobby's starting to like girls." And for girls, and this was definitely my experience where all the messages I got around the fact that I was starting to come into my own sexual self was that that was a bad thing or it was dangerous or to be protective. So that then cascades in many ways.

Valerie: Now, you layer on top of that for me that I also had this history of childhood sexual abuse and for me, in many ways, I do feel like spaces where men are present, there's this possible danger that is not even rational sometimes. But it's an underpinning to a lot of different interactions and communication and that's, for her, where it really lies, is around communication. It doesn't matter if you're in a personal relationship or in a professional environment. Those power dynamics within interpersonal relationships are where it all starts.

Anna: Yeah, I definitely, going back to  the little concepts that I've taken in from her, one of the first homework assignments that she gives you is to just write out what you would ask, I think, specifically of a man, and she just tells you don't even try to be rational with it. Just ask away. What's the craziest thing... And I found myself being, within the realm of what a man might actually do. What could I ask for? This and that. And I indulged it a little bit. And yeah, some of it was just stupid, like, I don't know, give me a foot massage right now. I don't know. Dumb things. But there is this reluctance of I don't want to ask for too much because everybody has a hard life and you don't want to take up too much space or be too needy, or God forbid... so I definitely think the ask, it starts in every aspect of your life.

Anna: Last week with Julia Carpenter we talked about women negotiating their pay and this and that. And then I shared my own experience of some stuff I haven't really gone into but I do think that it does come down with just giving yourself permission first and foremost to just ask for the things you want. And so when people are blasting women, women just don't apply for jobs. Well, we've been told our whole lives that we should just bake cookies and be happy with what we've got. 

Valerie: Yeah and put other people's comfort before our own in many ways, right?

Anna: Totally.

Valerie: That there's this caretaking quality that... we've been conditioned to think about and that that is always part of the calculous. That's always part of the equation that we're thinking about. And for me, the asking practice, which is the first exercise that we did, the first assignment, there was two things that came up for me. The question is I could ask blank, and you put some man that you know. You at least need to know their first name... "I could ask blank for blank." And then you put something that you want. And it could be anything. And you're supposed to do it 50 times, just straight. And it's not like you're ever going to ask them. You're just writing it down on paper. And it was so difficult for me.

Valerie: Number one, I couldn't think of 50 different men, even though that's ridiculous, right? And then also, I couldn't think of anything I wanted, and these are two situations and what she had us do subsequently. So we had to do this asking practice over and over and over again in different iterations, was look at well, you know lots of men. Who made the cut? And for me, in some ways, I could only ask things, even just hypothetically, of men that I trusted. So I discounted a huge swath of men that I've known in my life that I wouldn't ask them for anything. I didn't trust them enough to ask them for anything.

Valerie: And then in terms of my wants, it's like, you have a lot of other wants, why didn't you put those down? And in many cases, I could only ask practical ones or things I know I would get a yes to. I wouldn't ask for anything that I thought I would get a no to or I thought it would get laughed at or dismissed.

Anna: Can you give some examples that you feel comfortable sharing of what was a totally practical ask? Or maybe even what was a crazy ask? Did you hit an upper edge of crazy ask that you remember?

Valerie: Oh well that was the part, the first time we did it, they were mostly things about household duties, or my day in day out responsibilities, so everything from "Will you wash my car?" To "Will you take my kids for the night? Have a sleepover?" To "Come clean my house." And then there were some things, like men that I knew that had positions of power, for example, they're executives or own their own companies, "Would you hire me?"  And those were difficult to even write down sometimes.

Valerie: And these are men that I know and trust. But the really wild and crazy ones, I didn't even explore those until later on and it's everything from asks that are pleasurable, things that just feel good, like you were saying with the foot massage to financial asks like "Will you pay $5,000 so I can go get my photography updated for my website?" New branding photography, right? That's something that I need. Fuck, why not? And then everything to really crazy, outrageous asks and those, in many ways were hard because I could barely even do the basics, right? The upper limits of what I felt like I could ask for, what I felt I could legitimately ask for, and that's what I realized through this practice was that in many ways. I not only wasn't asking, but even when I was asking for things, I didn't believe that it was okay for me to be asking. And that really, that was a place inside myself that my own worthiness or my own... just being able to ask for it, that I just thought that it wasn't appropriate or that it somehow says something about me.

Valerie: Last week, the double bind that she was talking about, that you're either too much or not enough. That women get caught up in, often. And trying to walk that fine line. I mean it feels like a tightrope sometimes. Can we just be and not be constantly attacking ourselves or be doubting ourselves around how to perform in this society, basically?

Anna: Okay, so... I don't know what all happened this weekend so we've got one the asks. And I have to still keep laughing and picking on you because part of our work as you being my leadership coach has been like you, straight up looked me in the face, well, you know, ask that, like "What do you want?" I'm like, "I don't know." It's so funny. You've given me homework now that I've been applying for jobs and this and that, you had me do this essay, listing these things that I want and then I think you wanted me to list the resistance I felt as I was writing it. And I put in caps locks at the top of the sheet, I was just like, "I THINK THIS WHOLE THING IS TOTALLY UNREALISTIC. THERE'S NO WAY I'M GOING TO FIND A COMPANY THAT FITS THIS PROFILE."

Anna: And I had everything from values, what type work I'm doing, my environment, my schedule, all these things, especially around the values I felt like I had the most resistance, but, so yeah, it's so funny to hear you having the same dilemma on the receiving end. It's just been a challenge, too. But okay, so you had the asks. What were some of the ... You already talked about this hinting that you were "practicing on men" so I know my ears picked up. I can't imagine other people didn't, so what is it you were practicing on men? I'm dying to know.

Valerie: So, she had us in the actual workshop when we got there. Number one, we went downstairs. It was in New York City in Manhattan and at a wellness center, but we were down in the basement that had natural light coming in but she had it set up with roses and just this very... candlelit, candelabras and it really had a certain mood about it, even when we walked in and she walks in and she's in full dominatrix mode. She's got thigh high boots on and she's got this amazing, just incredibly seductive outfit on and she's got her crop.

Valerie: Just out the gate I realized "Oh fuck. What have I gotten myself into?" But it was amazing because she was not only modeling, she is really embodying this sense of being able to show up cleanly, if you are playing a dom role and in her terminology, within any conversation, within any relationship her idea of equality is this idea of being able to not get stuck in either position, that you'll effortlessly go back and forth and that there's a natural flow to it. That sometimes you're going to be the one giving attention or giving instruction and that sometimes you're going to be the one receiving. And I definitely am more on the masculine or dom side of my energy.  And in the roles that I play often.

Valerie: But part of it was this idea you have to be able to know how to do both. You have to know how to be able to be able to receive and be on the sub side and surrender into that and what that feels like. And so there are a lot of exercises that we did together, pairing off where we were, for example, just seeing each other. We were just thriving, looking, and giving attention and witnessing the other person in a way where they could really receive that and feel like they were being held. Held in attention but also just held in their humanity. Being really received and accepted for who they were.

Valerie: And so we practiced that with one another and then some people would get up and practice it with Kasia. But then in the afternoon, we were actually doing some of this in terms of doing it with men and really being able to put our attention on them in a way that they felt held. And that was what was really interesting about this. Yes, there was this sexual context that she comes from, her background, but it wasn't sexual at all.

Valerie: She's using her language and her framework but we're applying it in ways that were everyday situations so that was the part that was really interesting to me. Because at times, my past, I wanted to stay away from anything sexual, especially in the workplace. Any sense of femininity or any assumption that you're using that part of your power to get ahead, I always was, "Oh, no, anything but that." But she was talking about just reclaiming our playfulness, being able to reclaim our own sense of pleasure as a way to reclaim our power.

Anna: Okay, I'm going to go a little story coach mode here, because we're friends and I'm allowed. I need you to paint me a picture, with visuals as to what it meant for you. What did you actually do? During the afternoon, you've got men. In my mind, I see you in the clip on thigh highs, they're sitting in chairs with a ball gag in their mouth. I need you to paint me a picture as to ... Are you talking to them? Are you ordering them around? Is there pain involved? How are you holding these men? I feel like a porn director right now.

Valerie: No, I'm glad you're directing me because it totally helps. Because there was so much. It was three days so there's so much there to unpack, but I'll share my experience. There were men that were just everyday guys. They were fully clothed. Just really cool men. In this case, in the exchange I was doing, they weren't necessarily talking back to me. The gentleman that I chose was sitting in a chair across from me. I was dressed in my power dress, but no heels or anything. No dom boots. And I was doing the description practice, so I was holding him in my attention by describing him and what I saw. And how he was receiving my attention. And doing it in a way that then, ultimately, he could relax into it. And for me, the real challenge is doing that and not shying away from it.

Valerie: My heart was beating, absolutely out of my chest. I've got a whole room of women looking at me. I've got one guy in front of me. Two other guys behind him that are watching. Kasia's right next to me and I start with, "You have two eyes." And I just start describing him in a way that all of my attention is on him. And the goal is to get to a place where you can see in their body that they release, that they relax and surrender. And that process of holding your own attention, being aware, but also then putting your attention out on somebody else often you want, when you're uncomfortable, your attention will go inwards and that's sometimes... you and I have talked about this. I am working with a speaking coach because even though I can do workshops, the idea of being on stage and speaking on stage is still a little nerve-racking to me because all eyes are on me. And that, I go internal.

Valerie: So part of this was for me being able to put my attention outside of myself and feel comfortable with that dominant position and do it where I wasn't feeling insecure inside. Really that all my attention was on him and the pleasure around being able to hold somebody and allow them to relax into that. That's something that I know how to do in workshops but it was interesting to do it in this context, which definitely had more of a– it wasn't sexual but it was definitely more sensual–kind of context, but then being able to take that confidence of doing that, sitting with discomfort and moving through it and being able to actually have him respond in a submissive way.

Anna: Yeah, I guess I've got two questions with it. Which is, one, what was it... I'm assuming that there's a moment where you even dropped into feeling comfortable in taking that position, but then also how did you know in this man that he had dropped into a submissive position?

Valerie: So we start about, I don't know, three feet away. And as you continue to hold his attention, proximity, right, like how close you are to somebody has an impact. There's a weight to your attention. But so, in this context, and this is not a context that I could apply literally to anything outside, probably my personal relationships but it still had power that helped me beyond.

Valerie: I moved closer to him and as I moved closer, I got even more nervous, but I held my attention and it wasn't until I actually put my hand on his head, so there was physical contact, where then all of a sudden I felt more connected to him. And it wasn't about me any longer. I really appreciated this idea of him being able to feel my attention and feel that I was holding him or accepting him or really just being very, very present with him. And in that physical touch, I was able to actually, then, get him to literally... I could feel it in his body. His head relaxed and he actually hadn't been smiling the entire time and he actually smiled and giggled almost. And just completely relaxed into my hand. And that was amazing. That was something that I've never experienced in quite that way. I mean, I've been married for 21 years, but it was a very different kind of exchange of power that was eye-opening.

Anna: Well, it sounds like with Kasia, she really, when she's instructing you with the dominant position, this idea of holding your attention on somebody, putting all your presence onto somebody else is a way to assert dominance, which is... If somebody were to just naturally think this idea of dominating somebody else, there is such a violent feel to it and everything you're saying here sounds super gentle and I can't help but wonder whether there is a different way that a woman would dominate or at least, you, specifically because there was such care in this that I'm hearing, which is totally not how I would think.

Anna: And if I can share one thing, I was debating whether I'm going to share but I'm just going to share it anyway. But since, you've introduced me to this woman, I've had a few conversations about this whole dominant thing. One, in particular, with a girlfriend of mine where I was sharing this story ... I'm really going to regret sharing it but I'm going to do it anyway. But a friend of mine, platonic friend, he has an injury of some kind, like an IT band injury so he, in order to get a really strong massage, he'll ask people to actually step on him.

Valerie: Yes.

Anna: So he asked me to do that and I was like, "okay." At first, I was like okay. And so we had one instance of this where I was basically... I hope he never hears this. He knows that this was a moment for me. But anyway, I was basically, at one point, literally hanging on to the baseboard of this bed. He's on the ground. I'm stepping all over him and he's literally, at one point, whimpering in the fetal position and there was a part of me that... I don't know what the right descriptor word is, but I felt... things. I felt things. And it was something specifically in this... I have the power to hurt him or back off. It wasn't necessarily a sexual thing. It was definitely it felt like a power dynamic. He could be in pain, but I have control over whether I actually step off of him.

Anna: I suppose he could knock me off or whatever, but there was definitely... I knew... There was a point at which I was like "This is probably too much." But then I didn't back off until he made it super vocal. So there was definitely this power exchange that was very interesting. And then I'm talking with a girlfriend of mine about this and we were talking about how it seems like with these dom/sub relationships... I'm speaking very much in the sexual context here, it's almost always women in the sub, men in the dom position and I'm like if I have any curiosity, it's actually the inverse which I shared with some BDSM people and they were like, "Oh if you're curious, you can practice on... this guy basically offers up his girlfriend who's a sub."

Anna: And I was like, "No offense, but it's not just the sub situation on a woman. There's something specifically about a man in a sub position." Which the point I'm trying to make here, is I'm talking about this with my girlfriend, I said, "I can't tell whether this is a healthy curiosity or if it's almost like a violent response to patriarchy" of my definition of how a dom thing would be to attack in some way in response to... I don't know, be an angry woman or something.

Anna: So I have no question to you in that. I just wanted to share it because this is what has come up since you started to do this work. So it's your fault. No, I'm just kidding. But I think, I guess I wanted to share it because it was hearing you speak about this, it was such a gentle power that you were taking on. So I guess, if I do have a direct question in the back of my twisted mind here, is what did it feel like, after you know that this person has submitted to you, what did that kind of power feel like for you?

Valerie: So you brought up a couple of things that are probably important to articulate. One of which is what she means by dom is the idea that your attention is on the other person and you're giving instruction or you're somehow connected to them. And the receiving part of it is...  The power exchange is not about domination how I would typically think about it, where it's like I'm trying to get one over on you or I'm just trying to get what I want. It's actually in service.

Valerie: So I am totally connected in this example to him and what he needs. And so I knew it was the right amount of touch, pressure... There was one woman who literally put her head... the guy was kind of a dom in his normal life. He had such dominant energy that she ended up needing to put her foot, just like you were saying, on him and that that's where he could really relax. He wanted to feel and that was what helped him to feel. So it's not about me and my needs, in this context. It's really about the other person.

Valerie: And there was something that really struck me, it's my big takeaway from the weekend is that you have to be connected to yourself first to be able to feel and read what's going on in the relationship and she said, "you can't move faster than you can feel."

Anna: I love that so much. This is the third time I've heard it and it hits me in my gut every time. Can you please repeat that one more time because I want to make sure everybody hears it as many times as I have.

Valerie: Well, this was the context. We were talking about moving too fast and not being able to feel the other person and if there's resistance. And so she said, "Hey, impatience will fuck you every time and if you aren't paying attention to the feelings within you, if you move faster than you can feel, then you may hurt somebody." And so it's about being not only connected with yourself first and foremost so you can read inside your body what's going on energetically between you and this other person, but then being able to also read the other person and what their needs are. Because sometimes we are not actually giving enough pressure or we're not actually, they want more. They want more but we're not reading it correctly because we're anxious ourselves or we're feeling like this isn't appropriate. We're putting a lot of stuff on communication.

Valerie: So when I teach leaders, this is something that comes up a lot is that you have to be many ways. And if you're not really conscious of that and thoughtful about how you put your attention out to the people that are reporting to you, then it can become this dysfunctional relationship where they're just telling you what you want to hear or they're scared about pleasing you as the leader and you're not actually engaging them and getting the most out of that relationship of their capacity and of their potential. So putting your attention out to the other person, really making it about their needs, it's not about your own needs in the dom position. It's about their needs.

Anna: That's so interesting. I did want to touch a little bit on this impatience thing because you've talked about it, this quote, "Impatience will fuck you every time." I mean, I think there's so much to be learned about power and dominance, I guess, in this case from that more female perspective. Because when I think of impatience... I work equal parts with men and women and at times I almost prefer to work with men because there is this speed of getting stuff done.

Anna: I can give a guy homework or vice versa if we're partnering on something. There's this speed to where there's like the space between idea and execution is really short and that's usually seen as a good thing about me because they don't stop and talk about their feelings all day. They just do stuff and hashtag hustle all day. And there's this glory to just getting a lot done and getting a lot done in a short amount of time and yet I think, because we've both identified as being a little bit, at times, being masculine in our work style, and I think of it in relation to my action. I'm an action oriented person and not always a stop and strategize for a million years.

Anna: So again, I just keep thinking how there's a lot to be learned about dominance from a more female perspective because that impatience. Didn't you say something like impatience is a sign of insecurity?

Valerie: Yeah, because it's more about you rushing through and it's usually out of this place of our own anxiety instead of really sitting with the situation and sitting with wherever the other person is. Kasia talks about how this idea of resistance is not a bad thing. You're actually hunting for the cringe or the resistance because that shows you where, where there's something important to people behind it.

Valerie: It's interesting because we often take no, especially for me, and many times in my life, I've taken no as a sign of there's something... I've taken it personally. This says something about me. And what she was trying to explain is like "Hey, no, that's the invitation to ask more questions and to play in that space, to understand why that person is responding that way."

Valerie: She explained that, for men, if they don't know, if they're unsure about something, they'll often say no. Whereas women, if we're unsure about something or if we're a maybe, we'll often say yes. And I've found that a lot. There are times where I've been on the fence but I've still agreed to it, which is ridiculous. That's one of those internalized sexism things that is present in my relationships and communication that I'm trying to really be present with and slow down. So yeah, I'll just talk out of impatience or my speed will be fast because I'm unsure of myself in that dynamic. And so slowing ourselves down and just being able to not only feel what's present for us, but what's present for the other person will help give you the roadmap that you can follow those impulses, you can follow that connection.  You don't have to figure it out with your head.

Anna: Yeah, that's making me think of our public speaking stuff and yeah, I think this rushing definitely has come up for me at times.  If I'm being asked to do something I'm uncomfortable with, and I feel like I'm the one who's making this sexual, but I just thought of it definitely in a sexual thing where you're like, "Ah, what's happening here." Just rush through and act like it didn't actually happen. That was vague and probably just needs to be dropped.

Anna: Okay, so I do want to be mindful that this is technically a podcast about money and we're using power as a proxy for money. Oh gosh, I have a couple big questions. You know what? I'm going to save the money thing. 

Anna: So what would be something, coming out of this weekend, and if there's something big that we're missing in this weekend, please do go back there, but what are some of the take aways that you're thinking about or implementing, really, in this world? I know that your leadership coaching predominantly focuses on women now, but I do believe that we're still within a patriarchal society so even if you're working with women, it's still within a male dominated thing, so there's escaping men as the point of that, but I mean, with this new found understanding around yourself in your dominant power, how are you approaching things differently professionally, personally, but as it relates to money? That would be a question. Or are you?

Valerie: Well, I think there's two different things. You and I have talked before that sometimes money means lots of different things. And sometimes talking about money is actually the easiest part, which it's difficult. But sometimes when we're talking about money, we're hiding from the real conversation and sometimes the power dynamics are a part of that, or our own healing work that we're shying away from.

Valerie: But for me, it's coming in two ways. Being able to feel more legitimate in terms of my own leadership, embodying my power, having a voice in these conversations in a way and being more visible, because that's for me, going to not only be in alignment with the work I want to do, that I've wanted to do since I was in college. But then also, hopefully, be able to attract clients and work that I can feel good about and feel successful, not only monetarily, but also just in terms of the values that I want to be aligned with and in integrity with.

Valerie: So for me, there's that personal level that even though I've made money before, I've not ever really felt as successful because I wasn't talking about or doing the things that I felt like were transformational. So this work will continue to allow me to explore that and work with clients with that for themselves.

Valerie: But I think, also, and we're maybe going to talk about my personal money story later, but it's also helping me in my personal life because both my husband and I are a little conflict avoidant, especially when it comes to money. We're both pleasers in our own ways and being able to just be present for those conversations and not necessarily always be domming it or whatever, but just more being able to be clear about what my wants and needs are, to be able to listen and really receive where he's coming from and not have it be... so many things projected onto it. Because I don't know about you, but I've been married for 21 years now and money conversations can be difficult in relationships. Navigating all of that, we have very different styles and different tolerance for risk and so being able to go into these conversations with more personal confidence about just asking for what I want or that my wants are legitimate.

Valerie: Because in the power dynamics of our relationship that in many ways, I fell into the trap of the independent woman. I normally was helping and being the homemaker in some ways. I also had my business on top of that. So I was taking care of the kids and working. That both of those domains were my responsibility and that sometimes, I wasn't making as much as he was and that led to power dynamics in our relationship. So we're trying to unpack all of that and be present with what is now, where we want to go together and this ongoing work, because this was the first weekend I did with Kasia, but I'm going to be going back in the fall and doing three more intensive weekends in the fall, so I'm hoping to be able to continue to do this work and use it, not only in my personal, but my professional life.

Anna: Awesome. So I do have a question, but yes, we will definitely be having you back to hear your more complete money story and then I've already teased that I want you to be coming back on so you can walk me through sharing my own Me Too stories. That's all about power dynamics and money and ways in which I didn't fully even realize that until recently.

Anna: But do you want to start to wrap up, but I have one question that I did not warn you about beforehand because I don't even know, fully, how I'm going to ask this question. So I'm just going to dive into what's on my mind. So you and I are both striving to be allies, as both feminists, but then also allies to women of color who have been very much excluded from the feminist conversation. So. My question, first of all, with this workshop, you said there's other women that it's on this workshop. Is it fair to say that it was predominantly white women?

Valerie: Absolutely.

Anna: Okay. Do you feel comfortable sharing how much the workshop cost?

Valerie: This workshop, I think was around $1,500.

Anna: For just the weekend.

Valerie: For the intensive, yeah.

Anna: Wow, okay. I better up my rates.

Valerie: That may not be exactly right, but it was right around there.

Anna: I mean, it was a decent chunk of change for a weekend getaway. So I think that there's a stereotype about the white woman being more weak, I would say, and then the woman of color... I would say specifically black but then I would say certain Latinas as well have this strong woman thing. If you see in movies, they're usually the ones that are strong, help their friend, who's giving words of wisdom to the fragile white woman who's floundering and doesn't know what to do with her life or this and that.

Anna: And I think that right now, we're at this time where we're seeing a lot of... Insecure comes to mind. So Issa Rae does Insecure where she wanted to display, basically, a weak black woman because there was such a stereotype around this strong black woman thing. And I think on a surface level, when you think of if somebody were to be portrayed as being strong, then that would be a benefit. They would be in a higher power position, but I find that, instead of that being a benefit to women of color, there's almost a dehumanizing that comes from determining that they're almost above having feelings or troubles. That they're not somebody that you should ever worry about or feel sorry for, if that's a positive thing.

Anna: So I guess that this whole, what you've seen with the power dynamic, the power play and this and that, do you have any thoughts about whether... God, I knew I wasn't going to be able to actually tie this up in a neat little bow. But I guess, one, do you have any thoughts about this? And I guess... This is my direct question. If my hypothesis is correct, which is that it's really not benefiting women of color to be seen as "strong." Is it ultimately actually even benefiting men to be perceived as strong or is it a moot point because of our patriarchal system that does favor a man, particularly white men as the higher and it's a completely different conversation. I know this is totally not fair, because it just came to me this morning and I was like-

Valerie: Well, it's not a matter of being not fair, it's just there's so much in that. So I think... There's two different pieces, if I understood correctly the question. There's the question about women of color and how is it different for them and the different kind of challenges that they face.

Valerie: But then there's also this question that you just ended with around men always having to be strong. And I think for women of color, it's an ongoing question for me around how does this work apply, how is it different? I did try to connect with and speak with a woman of color in the class and talked with her, but I think that this is around what Kasia was teaching us was around interpersonal, right? So a conversation where you're talking one on one with somebody. There will be more work around groups and leading larger teams and all of that later. But for this it was just one on one conversations.

Valerie: And I think that this question of legitimacy and feeling like we can step out and ask for things, and what we're allowed to ask for and all of that and exploring that. There are different experiences for women of color, and I want to acknowledge that up front, that I don't even fully understand all of the dynamics that I'm trying to listen present for and learn. But I think that there is a need for all of us to explore within ourselves where there is internalized repression, no matter what it is. Sexism, racism, but also internalized domination.

Valerie: Where do we take and hold the oppressor? And this is ongoing work that I'm trying to do. It's coming up in this, this idea of being thoughtful of the other person, what are their needs instead of just what are your own. And I think that in our society in a lot of ways, dominance and submission is muddied. It's dysfunctional. It's not actually working effectively and that's the problem that we keep bumping into.

Valerie: So I'm starting with myself and I'm starting in a context that will help me be able to understand those dynamics I my own personal exchanges so that when I'm working as an ally, as I'm collaborating with and co-creating with women of color, I'm mindful of that so that I can make space, so that I can be in the submissive role. That I don't always have to be in the dominant role and that I can receive and learn and follow women of color. Because I think that that's such an important piece to women's solidarity, to any kind of liberation movement is that white women, like myself, can actually step back and not always feel like we're always trying to gun for that dom role or that leadership role, that there's that give and take that can be present in terms of leading and following, being able to do both successfully.

Valerie: I think for men also. Men being able to relax and learn how to follow, learn how to surrender and not have to always be the strong ones. Patriarchy and masculinity, the construct of masculinity ties them up. Gender norms tie them up and set them up for failure in many ways just as much as it sets women up for failure. So trying to explore all of that as a whole ecosystem that there's things that we can all learn and where we can lead and follow and that we need to do this together.

Valerie: Kasia definitely spoke to the fact that, hey, we need to include men. This is not a demonizing of men. If anything, it was a celebration of them in many, many ways. But trying to understand how do we clean up our communication? How do we make it more effective so that we can be seen and we can feel like we have a voice but also so that we can allow men to be able to really receive and give in a way that feels like they have a sense of purpose and that they can contribute in a meaningful way to women.

Valerie: And that's something in the conversations that I've been having with men in my own life, this question mark around Me Too of what now? Just trying to navigate these spaces where gender dynamics and power dynamics are present. And that, I think, we can only figure out together. It's not about just putting women on top and having, in the same old way of being and just having them dominate men. It's learning how to give and take, how to play in these spaces more effortlessly and really be connected again, not only with ourselves but with each other. Because I think for men, they have to disconnect to be in society often.

Valerie: I mean, I think it's an ongoing question in my mind of how this applies and how to make sure that it's not just about white women continuing to dominate. So I think it's an important question to ask. It's one that I want to continue to explore and explore in community. But I do think for, whether it be women of color and white women, whether it be men and women, any kind of dysfunctional sort of power dynamics, it's getting back into that flow of being able to not have it get stuck so there's one class of people that are marginalized, who are in this powerless place and that they feel like they can access the power that they have. Because all of us in different ways, we have probably more power than we think. So it's being able to really explore those spaces instead of shying away from them and just... that's what I would encourage everybody is just to think about where do they have power? Where do they feel powerless? And coming back to just having a voice sometimes, being able to just ask for what you want on a most basic level helps to get those juices flowing in a way where then you start to feel more empowered to affect change or step into leadership capacity or opportunities elsewhere, out in the community, in your professional life. That's the ongoing work I think.

Anna: Cool, cool. As I made my call for women of color who might want to share their story, I would love to hear actually from a male perspective on this dom versus sub, somebody who's actually done their work. So putting it out in the universe, if somebody has already been doing their work around this stuff, I am definitely curious because I think that you and I have both worked with men quite a bit and I'm always surprised with how easily and comfortably men go into a submissive position and you can see ... It makes me step up in a way because I can see I guess the power that I have in this space, but the responsibility is actually a better word. The responsibility because you have somebody that you're holding space for and I think it's definitely become super visible how much men are pushed into disconnecting soulfully from themselves.

Anna: So you mentioned that this is part one of a few series that you're going to be taking with Miss Kasia, and I'm sure I'm botching her name each time, so I'll apologize. But just from this first weekend or this first bit, because I know there was some pre-work that you guys were doing. What would you say were your top, I don't know, two to three aha moments from just thus far? And I know this is all still processing for you but what did you really walk away from the weekend feeling the most impacted by?

Valerie: The top three, definitely that concept around don't move faster than you can feel and being really thoughtful about following and being connected to my impulses. Because that for me, I often, pace wise, I love to go fast and I think I miss a lot when I do that. And it's easy to gloss over things. So just being less impatient and really dropping into it.

Valerie: The second thing is around this idea of just trying to be present and accepting of my own wants and needs and when I'm asking for things. Number one, just exploring this space of why I don't choose to ask sometimes and testing and sensing what the resistance, what's the reservation. And being willing to sit with the discomfort of trying on a bigger ask. Or trying on a different approach to how I ask for things. Not only in my personal life but even in the context of work and professional life. That's something that ... I'm trying to be more legitimate, feel that inner authority around the things that I ask for. So that's definitely another piece to this for me.

Valerie: But the last piece is just around getting more comfortable with being in a sub position and receiving and what that looks like and feels like and this is ... I'm still in the process of all of this stuff and this journey's going to be continuing for me. So I'm looking forward to playing with that and experimenting since I do have more of a dom or masculine energy at times, is just being able to relax and be in that mode of receiving and letting that nourish me. Those are my big top three.

Anna: Thank you. I'm going to add my take away from the take aways that you're taking away. It's very meta-take away. But one of the things–I don't remember at what point you told me this, whether it was from an article or some of the pre-homework you were doing–but it's following up on this idea of freezing. So we introduced, or you introduced talking about this idea of freezing, whether it's a dude just straight up saying something inappropriate and you're like, "I don't know what to say," and you freeze. Or you're just feeling backed into a corner with a question, whether it's "Why should we hire you?" What's a famous line here? "What's your unique value proposition?" That's my favorite one here in the Bay Area, but it's just the idea of just buying yourself some time by asking a question. I think you had mentioned that and I used it myself, I don't know, a few days after I heard it from you, where I was having a conversation, mostly with guys and we were talking about the podcast and these guys were asking me these probing questions like, "So what is money to you?" And da da da da.

Anna: And I started to say, "Well, I guess from doing this podcast I would it's a tool. It's a thing that you can use to do things." And this guy bounced back with, "A tool or a resource?" And I felt like, I'm sure he didn't mean to challenge me, but I felt... I froze a little bit. And it was a dumb question but I was... and then in that moment I just bounced back with, "What's the difference?" And then he froze. And it was like this freeze vortex. I felt like I was doing something so defiant, but I'm the only one that actually realized it.

Valerie: Yeah, and those little moments, that's the powerful thing, taking the attention off yourself, which is putting you more in the sub position and putting it back on them gives you a moment to compose yourself and hopefully get to a place where you can break the freeze. But yeah, no, I'm glad you mentioned that because I forgot to follow up on that.

Valerie: But her work, if you sign up for her newsletter, I think it is, her list, you can get the video and instruction around that breaking the freeze as well as the asking practice.

Anna: Yeah, oh yeah. That's true. Definitely get on her email list because I did that. I haven't paid for any workshops yet but yeah, one of the exercises was just practice asking ridiculous questions and that was super fun. I shouldn't say ridiculous because she doesn't say ridiculous. I called it ridiculous. And then I think the freeze. I just see that being so powerful for me. Just this week I was negotiating pay for a new contract that I have and there was moments where I felt myself panicking, this and that.

Anna: It's such a little break to be able to ask a question. And this was with a woman, so I think this goes beyond even gender dynamics. I know I've had women ask me why should people hire you? What's your ethos? What's your unique thing? What's your shtick? So I think it goes far beyond, but that's all I've got.

Anna: We will definitely, I'll put a link to Kasia Urbaniak's website and if you get on her email list, you'll see some of the homework prompts that I mentioned here. That's the only work that I've done, but she's got some great articles. But Valerie, if people want to connect more with you as your work as a leadership coach, we didn't even get into this at all but she also, here in the Bay Area, runs Anger Release Parties that I definitely could use, probably 15 of them. But where could people connect with you further?

Valerie: Yeah, so probably the best place to go is my website which is and that will give you access to not only my events, be able to contact me, but also my social media.

Anna: Well thank you so much, Valerie, and this is just a see ya later, for now.

Her Rules Radio: How Women Get Power

Kasia's definition of true power and why she doesn't teach women to reach for compromise. 

If you are powerful in your relationships with others, you get what you need, you create what you want, and you get to use and collaborate with the skills, fears, concerns, desires of others in that process. That is power. That is synergy. It creates more than was possible before, and does not waste the other person’s resources, desires, love, concerns through violence, or suppression.
— Kasia

Alexandra: Kasia, thank you so much for being on Her Rules Radio. I know you're a very busy woman as the founder and CEO of The Academy, so let's just dive in. What do you teach women in a nutshell?

Kasia: If what I teach women could fit in a nutshell, I'd have a very interesting business. No, seriously. There are, I believe, a lot of assumptions we call facts, that go untested, and go unchecked. We live by them as though they're real. The first thing that I teach women is how to test the assumptions, see the assumptions, test the assumptions that have them behave the ways they do, in ways that don't get them what they want. In a more formal and simple way, I'd say I teach women to communicate powerfully, to get what they want, and to influence others. Not in a way that involves force, but in a way that involves influence and transformation. So that they not only get what they want, but every single time that they do, they create a new ally.

Alexandra: That's key. That's so beautiful. Asking for what you want in a way where everyone wins.

Kasia: Yeah, and I don't want anybody to misunderstand that to feel like, "Oh, this is the game of negotiation and compromise." Because I don't believe in that. I don't believe in the kind of compromise where I get half of what I want, you get half of what you want. I believe that when somebody wants something, their desire, their inner signal is speaking some kind of truth. And, there's a lot of choice in how that can be articulated. I don't mean in terms of how that can be asked for, but how the need can get satisfied. It's through a real connection with somebody, and the courage to be intimate, even with a stranger. The courage to really see the other person, that can create an option that truly meets the need of both, that's better and higher than either were standing for before they had the exchange.

Alexandra: Now, you didn't go to college for this. You've actually traveled the world on a kind of self-led, self-study adventure. How did you learn to do all this? Because you've had quite a path to get here.

Kasia: Yeah. I spent about 20 years working with a professional dominatrix. But, for most of the time, that was what I did in order to be able to fund my self-led adventure. In that journey I studied with a lot of really, really incredible masters. A lot of it was around the path of Taoism, and energetics, martial arts and healing. Learning how to read another person's body. At some point in what I was interested in learning, and what I was doing in order to be able to continue my studies, it started to merge. The dungeon, where I was a dominatrix, became a laboratory for a lot of the things that I was learning. I got to start testing, and playing with the things I was learning about human beings, the things I was learning about consciousness, and energetics, and influence, and healing, and martial arts. Energetic fighting, conflict resolution, through these sessions in dungeons with men.

Alexandra: That might perk a lot of ears up, women that are listening to this right now. They might immediately be afraid that whatever they're going to learn from you, like, "I don't want to be a dominatrix." Or they're thinking, "Oh, that sounds amazing." But, let's connect the fear with the reality a little bit, because I've been lucky enough to take a few of your workshops in person in New York City. I keep coming back, because they're such incredible experiences. I recognize the fear in myself, and the fear of other women. They are nervous showing up to these courses. There's something bringing them to you in your courses, and the fear... there's so many different fears.

Alexandra: I can speak personally just to one of them is, what am I doing? What am I acknowledging about myself, that I want to have more power with men? Just taking the name of one of your classes. What are some of the fears that you notice, that women are coming to you to try to overcome?

Kasia: I want to say that there are two things that are super, super triggering and misunderstood. First is, our general cultural idea of power. Power itself, power. Not empowerment, 'cause empowerment for me is this slightly softer, less offensive version of what we're actually talking about, that manages to bypass what we misunderstand about power itself. When you say empowerment, you can ... It might conjure up images of a woman, or a person in a room reciting affirmations, feeling great about themselves. I believe that power actually exists in relationship to the other. I use the word "power" intentionally, knowing that our idea of power is actually the abuse of power, or a misunderstanding of what power is. Let's just take the example of a tyrannical dictator. One might say that the tyrannical dictator has power over a nation. In reality, a tyrannical dictator of a nation, has to use so much force and energy to keep the people in submission. It's only a matter of time before there's a revolt. The word power implies energy. How can that understanding of power, when it wastes so much power and energy, be called "powerful?" That's how we relate to power. Let's crush resistance, let's silence people. If you look at it in terms of energy, it's not powerful. It actually wastes power.

Kasia: However, the leader who can use the desire, skills, and talents of his or her people, is creating synergy, which creates more power. The guilt associated with wanting to have power, the fear of wanting power, meaning "I'm a bad person," comes from how we see power play out into this world. I don't want to soften, or lie about what it is that I do. And, I like the opportunity to clean up what power actually is, and reclaim the word power.

Kasia: If you are powerful in your relationships with others, you get what you need, you create what you want, and you get to use and collaborate with the skills, fears, concerns, desires of others in that process. That is power. That is synergy. It creates more than was possible before, and does not waste the other person's resources, desires, love, concerns through violence, or suppression. That's the first thing.

Kasia: Given the historical position of women, also, there's fears about power that go beyond that. "What will this make me, what will this mean about me, what will I have to take responsibility for, will I have to do more work than I already am?"

Kasia:  The second one has to do with sex, because the dominatrix is the archetype of the woman who is powerful. She doesn't have sex, but she uses sex. It's my personal belief that for a human being to be powerful, they need to integrate their sexuality. What I see in the world is women–again, who culturally and historically are not only shamed for their sex, but their sexuality is dangerous–are shutting down parts of their body. That translates into their physical presence, and compromises how powerful they're actually able to be. I believe that power, and being powerful, and having a powerful presence, and communicating powerfully is a whole body affair. If we're shut down from the neck down, and just talking powerfully, it doesn't actually inspire others to follow or trust that the leader has the authority, or can stand in the space of that authority to hold the group through a process, an experience, a new law, an activity.

Kasia: Whether it's a leader in terms of a two person dynamic, or a leader in terms of one woman and a group, it's the same thing. I think that they hear dominatrix, and they get scared of the sex part, and the power part primarily. Also, just frankly speaking, anytime there's anything that could threaten the status quo, we want it and we don't. We want it, and we don't.

Alexandra: It's the devil we know.

Kasia: Yeah, yeah. 'Cause guess what? You don't get to be a victim anymore. Guess what? It's a whole new landscape. Uncertainty can be terrifying, no matter how much we hate what's happening. I see this right now, especially with this #MeToo stuff... it's incredible what's happening with women's voices being unleashed. But also–this is understandably the case–very often when people first stand up against something they hate, they really, really tend to resemble the thing they're trying to fight against. They end up using the same tactics, and tools, and being the same thing. We  don't need a world of collusion when it comes to women becoming perpetrators too.

Alexandra: Yeah, I see that so much in the political landscape. But it's been going on for years, it's just more amplified now. And, this idea of integrating our powerful domme nature, or acknowledging or accepting these different aspects of ourselves to be powerful. That's something that you're kind of speaking towards. I wondered if you had read the Brit Marling piece in The Atlantic, 'cause I really wanted to talk about something she said that so reminded me of you and this topic. Brit Marling is an actor, and she's a screenwriter. She created a great series on Netflix called "The OA," which I just loved. She started out as an actress in Hollywood, but quickly realized that she was getting, showing up for auditions as, "Blonde Number Three," or, "Sexy Nurse." She was totally turned off by it. She started screenwriting.

Alexandra: Years and years later, she gets into the Sundance Institute, she starts becoming the hot young thing. She gets a meeting with Harvey Weinstein, and she like many other women who have shared their stories about interactions with him, was met in the lobby by a young female assistant. The assistant said, "Harvey's too busy, going to take you upstairs to his room for the meeting." She said she knew in that moment that something was wrong. I wanted to read you a quote from her article, because it's so brilliant, and so speaks to what I teach, what you teach in some ways. She said, "I went up to the room, and he started coming on to me. He started offering a massage, or saying, 'Let's take a bath together,' and started pressuring me."

Alexandra: She wrote, "I was able to leave Harvey's hotel room that day because I had entered as an actor, but also as a writer/creator. Of those dual personas in me: actor and writer, it was the writer who stood up and walked out. Because, the writer knew that even if this very powerful man never gave her a job in any of his films. Even if he blacklisted her from all of his other mothers, and from other people's movies, she could make her own work on her own terms. And thus, keep a roof over her head."

Alexandra: It was this embodying a powerful aspect of herself that got her out of that situation. You're teaching a special class called "Cornering Harvey," here in New York City on December 1st. I wanted to talk about how you're using this current situation in Hollywood, and all of this incredible work and teaching you've been doing with women in the past. What is this new class you're teaching?

Kasia: Oh, first I could say so much about what she wrote. I wish I had read the article. I mean, that's just incredible, incredible. Because there are a lot of women who would be in that situation who don't have any interest in screenwriting, right? Who, maybe don't have any interest in being creators on that level, and are purely actresses who wouldn't have had that as something to lean on.

Kasia: The weird timing of things. I was in the middle of teaching a three month program, and just a few days before the weekend where we deal with verbal self defense, sexual harassment, what to do when you're put on the spot, and training in real time. How to bypass that moment of speechlessness, where the entire body shuts down, the head is going crazy, there's a thousand things you think you could say, but none of them are coming out of your mouth. We were heading towards that weekend when the scandal broke.

Kasia: In that weekend, we had as we always do, volunteer men come and play certain roles. For this one we got a hotel bathrobe, a potted plant, and a man to play Harvey. We dissected the transcript, the things that Harvey has said, in terms of dominant states of attention, and submissive states of attention. Which, is what I teach. It was so big and charged, there was so much energy in the room, that we immediately knew that we had to create a bigger event where we could take some of these tools, and just give them away to the world at large.

Kasia: What happened repeatedly, and I'm already feeling like some of your female listeners can relate to this, is this moment of shutdown. We get into a situation, we even do this exercise where women are asked uncomfortable questions in the room, and their job is to question the questioner. You would not believe how hard it is for a woman, even in a fictitious scenario, to hear an uncomfortable, inappropriate question and not answer it. "Why don't you have kids by now?" She wants to answer it. "Do you really think you're qualified for this job?" She wants to answer it. "Do you get enough sex?: She wants to answer it.

Alexandra: So, these are fake questions basically being posed to her.

Kasia: Yes.

Alexandra: And, her only job is to try to come up with a response?

Kasia: No, her job is to question the questioner.

Alexandra: Oh.

Kasia: Answer with a question back. For example, "aren't you nosy?" Even a question like, "how old are you?" She wants to answer. "Do you like making women feel uncomfortable?" "Are you afraid that you're too young for me?" Answering a question with a question, right? Because the moment you ask somebody a question, you make them aware of themselves so they are in a submissive state of attention. Meaning, they're self-conscious, self-aware. This can be a very positive thing. But if you're on the spot and you're being made uncomfortable, this is a terrible thing. The idea is to put attention on them. The idea is to ask them a question about why they're asking, or put the attention on them.

Kasia: This changes your biochemistry. This state of shutdown, this state of not knowing what to say, or answering the question straight. Feeling like you have to play the game on their terms, is something that can be biochemically documented. We live in a culture where, as girls are being raised, and as boys are being raised, the way that they are reward is significantly different. A woman, a girl tends to be rewarded for her being, attention on her. "Look how lovely Mary is. Look how lovely her demeanor is. Look how pretty her dress is." A boy tends to be rewarded for his agency. "Look what Billy did." It translates even into the area of politics, where later on people are like, "She's such a bitch. He's an asshole, but he gets shit done." Right? The attentions on a man's agency, and the attentions on a woman's being-ness.

Kasia: This has a tendency to make it difficult for women to get out of this state, where the attention's on them: if they're accused, if they're dismissed, if they're harassed. Their attention's on themselves, and in that biochemical state it's actually really hard to access language and action. Something as simple as being able to question the questioner, put attention on them, can shift a woman's biochemistry so that she has access to action, and language, and can get herself out of that hotel room.

Kasia: The event that we're having, the verbal self defense training camp known as Cornering Harvey, is focused on the few tools that I can give women to make that switch. Even if they're in an interview, and the potential employer asks an inappropriate question like, "Do you plan on having kids?" Which, is against the law, right? Before she answers she has this skill to ask the question, a questioner, or put attention on him so that she feels like she's taken her power back, and she's not experiencing neuromuscular lock. She's not in that state of physically shut down silence.

Kasia: This one key point is so pivotal and powerful, that once she puts her attention out, she's herself again. She can lead the situation. She can say something like, "I was under the impression this meeting was about business, but I see that you're interested in a romantic interlude. How on earth are we going to resolve our difference of interests here? Are you telling me that if I sleep with you, you'll give me this part? Am I paying for this part with my sex?"

Kasia: Now, there are some situations in which a woman would be unsafe to do that. But, right now most women don't even have a choice, because of how we're acculturated, because of where we are. We don't even have a range of play. The speaking part is so important to me, so important to me. Getting out of that neuromuscular lock, shutdown space where the woman is calculating in her head, and thinking of a million things to say, but can't actually get them out of her system 'cause her attention is still on herself, and she's anticipating danger and threats. If she can put her attention out, then at least we have better options, or we have more options.

Alexandra: This immediately brings to mind past trauma.

Kasia: Mm-hmm, yeah.

Alexandra: I used to joke about this, and now I don't joke about it anymore because I just see it as true. That, if you are a woman raised on the planet, you have some kind of trauma. Either it's happened to you personally, or it's happened to someone you know, or you're just picking up the vibe of what's happening to womankind, and it's coming through you as well. I wonder how you help people with trauma, or address people who are finding them reliving experiences, or maybe there's women who want to come to Cornering Harvey who have actually been through a situation like this in Hollywood. I know so many women in the tech, startup world who have also had to deal with this kind of sexual predator. How do you help them with that?

Kasia: Okay, so first to your point about women being traumatized, in my classes I like to create a really safe space. So far in all of my teaching experiences, I haven't had a room in which I didn't recognize all of the women having impactful experiences. All of them. Even something as simple as having unwanted sex with a loved partner, can create the biological experience of physical trauma. This is very difficult to talk about, not only because of the shame and the difficulties it brings up for women, but what it brings up for men.

Kasia: Men are also raised in this culture in a particular way. A lot of the things that traumatized women are not malicious. They're clumsy, awkward, stupid, they're under educated, they don't understand. When well intentioned, or decent guys have to hear about all of the horrible things they did to destroy women's lives... it's really difficult.

Kasia: I am a stand for women, I'm also a stand for men. There are people who specialize in trauma who understand it far, far, far better than I do. But, I know from what I do, that even if this experience of shutdown that is so common to women is directly related to trauma. That, practicing, even in the smallest, low stake scenarios, of being put on the spot. Even with something as stupid as a question like, "How old are you?" Or, "What do you do for a living?" That you don't want to answer. That you know that if a woman shuts down in that moment and answers it, and feels uncomfortable. Then she'll beat herself up for the next few weeks, for having agreed to something, and gone with something she didn't want to, which just makes the problem worse.

Kasia: I know that if a woman has the opportunity to speak back to that, and feel herself in a low-stakes version of that situation, and manages to change her chemistry, manages to put her attention out, manages to change her role, then, without the trauma being just directly, that alone is enough to have her start moving forward, feeling incredibly powerful. Being able to do things that she wasn't able to do before.

Alexandra: So, having been in a couple of your weekend-long workshops, and I've personally experienced the insights, but also the felt shift in power. It's an opportunity to actually feel the difference in yourself, what it is to be powerful. Which, is very different from saying, "Step into your power, girlfriend." That's just to say, I cannot recommend your classes more than I already do. Believe me, I have sent the link for this class to so many women I know in New York City. I just want to end by reminding everyone to go check it out. We're going to list the link in the show notes here on my site at, so that if there are tickets left, you should definitely go if this peaks your interest at all. Kasia, we're definitely going to have you back on the show, 'cause we have so much more to talk about. Your other programs, The Foundations of Power, and Power With Men 101, which I personally loved so much.

Alexandra: By the way, I took Power With Men 101, and I have an amazing relationship with my husband, and I love my son. It's not just for your current situation. It might be about the past, or the future that you want to step into. Just putting that out there to my listeners. Kasia, as one of our guests I love to ask my experts, what is a rule that you would rewrite that women are currently suffering under? Or, what's a rule you would get rid of, or create. Tell us, oh wise mother.

Kasia: Well, first thing I just want to say to what you just said about the felt sense, this is one of the things that makes me so excited to be on your show. Because, one of the things that we both do in our stand for, is not this blurry, kind of funny idea of intuition, or instincts. But, the felt sense, like what your body is telling you, and that the human organism is so divinely constructed, that those messages are pretty much all you need to make all of the decisions in your entire life. It's all there, it's all in you. No other formula of tips, and tricks. No one specific diet, no one negotiation strategy, no one idea about how to date, or how to have sex, or how to be in the workplace will ever be as finely tuned to the living moment, as what your body tells you.

Kasia: You and I are pioneers on the same front. In that spirit, the rule that I would make, even though I don't really make rules, is I would just say stop believing language so strongly. It's not about what people say, it's about who they're being when they're saying it. There's always something that's more important than the words people choose to communicate. I think that  we get stuck. We really get stuck with what people say, and forget the felt sense, forget how we can feel another, and look at who they're being by what they're saying. What they're actually needing, asking for, screaming out for. Yeah, I'd say never trust words 100%. Trust something deeper than that.

Alexandra: Beautiful. Another call to trust your body's ladies. Thank you Kasia Urbaniak for being here on the show, thank you so much for the work you do. Man, if my knee surgery does not keep me home, I'm going to be there in the front row for this Cornering Harvey Workshop.

Kasia: Thank you so much.

Maria Menounos: The Art of Verbal Self Defense

I went to the monastery to learn about people... and the place where I found I could do my work the best was a dungeon, where my job was to be a hot bitch! It made no sense!
— Kasia

In this interview, Kasia discusses how her background as a professional dominatrix prepared her to teach women about fully embodied power, how women are raised to direct our attention inward, and what couples' ongoing arguments are really about.

Kasia Urbaniak on Maria Menounos

Maria: Welcome back to Conversations with Maria Menounos. Guys, my guest today is the co-founder and CEO of The Academy, a school that teaches women the tools to expand their power and influence. A former dominatrix and healer, today she's teaching us how to navigate life's most difficult conversations with verbal self-defense. Please welcome Kasia Urbaniak.

Kasia: Thank you for having me.

Maria: I love verbal self-defense. I can't wait for all the tools you're gonna teach us today, but first of all, let's kind of go back to where your journey started, and I think obviously it led you into what you're in now. If I'm correct, I think that some of the principles that probably were applicable to both worlds have helped you. Does that sound crazy?

Kasia: No, it's actually totally accurate.

Maria: Okay.

Kasia: And there's a huge distinction between what I teach now and what I used to do. But the understanding of power dynamics came from my past as a dominatrix.

Maria: That's what was screaming at me as I was doing the research. I'm like, "Gosh, it makes so much sense." So how did you get into that world initially, and then how did you get out of it?

Kasia: Honestly, I started working as a dominatrix in order to be able to pay for college, like many women do. And also at the time, I was really fascinated with Taoism, like the Tao Te Ching, and-

Maria: Can you explain Taoism for people who are listening?

Kasia: It's a Eastern religion, but it's less a religion and more a series of practices and philosophy. So, you know the Tao Te Ching, the I Ching. Actually, most Chinese martial arts and Chinese medicine come from Taoism.

Maria: Oh, wow.

Kasia: So as I was working as a dominatrix, I used some of that money to go to college, and some of that money I used to travel around the world and study. And what I learned in Taoist monasteries about Chinese medicine, reading people's bodies, martial arts, being able to diagnose where the stagnant energy in somebody's body is by looking at them, ended up profoundly influencing how I worked as a dominatrix.

Kasia: Though at the time, especially in the beginning, I wasn't really aware of it. I started becoming a really excellent dominatrix, and it really showed. It really showed how when I was in the room with a client, how I used my attention and ability to see people, things I was learning in the monasteries, to really have an impact on the person I was working with and move them through different states of consciousness, and move them through different emotional states.

Kasia: And I became so good at it that the places I was working started asking me to train other dominatrixes. So I became a really successful dominatrix trainer, and once I started doing that I started seeing a lot of common patterns. In the beginning it didn't really become so clear to me until after a while, but really common patterns in where these women learning to do this would hesitate. Or where they would be unwilling to do something that felt like an invasion of space of the client. Even though they were getting paid-

Maria: To invade their space.

Kasia: Yeah, yeah. It was remarkable. I also started seeing this thing where–I started when I was 19 so I spent all of my twenties with my dominatrix friends and non-dominatrix friends–and I'd see how my non-dominatrix friends, where their concerns were, what they were worried about, how they'd freak out over texts, how they wouldn't check, how they were afraid to enter the space of the man, especially.

Maria: In what way?

Kasia: They would have a lot of superstitions and assumptions about what a text would mean, and what a lack of a text would mean.

Maria: Mm-hmm.

Kasia: Or that would have a lot of assumptions that would lead to body shame. A really simple thing is in a dungeon, being young and beautiful wasn't always a guarantee that you would get all the clients. Opposite. Some of the women who were least conventionally beautiful, older or overweight would be killing it. And you'd be like, "What is it that they're doing?"

Maria:  Yeah, what is it? Is it how they carry themselves?

Kasia: No. It's how they put their attention on the client; their willingness to create intimacy through breaking all of the assumptions and the hesitation, and entering that space. And not only that, but watching the impact of what they said and did on the man, and then calibrating and moving them accordingly.

Kasia: So the first, the baby dominatrix would come in and perform power. She would be like, "You've been a bad boy." But all of her attention would be on herself and her performance. She wouldn't even see the places where the men would be showing shame or resistance. And the thing is, the places where the client would have shame or resistance, you could see it in the body. And if you could speak to that, there'd be a chance for them to be released from that shame. And that energy release is so erotic, so exciting and so healing that I became really fascinated with that.

Kasia: And then every time I'd go and take another course or study at a monastery, have another period of time of learning some new tools, I'd go back and I'd see this practice is a practice of power and attention where it's possible to take another human being. It almost feels to me like it's almost inconsequential that it was in this context, but the dungeon became this blank space free of identity, free of truth even, factual truth. I could start playing with power and experimenting with this really primal form of communication which is not related to language.

Kasia: You have to understand, I had a fake name. They had a fake name. The stories that would be made up would be totally made up. The role plays would be made up. And yet, this experience of intimacy, power, understanding, opening and healing in an erotic context was profound.

Maria: It elicited a response, whether it was fake or not, right?

Kasia: Yeah, if you use "fake" in terms of whether it's factually true or not, then yes, fake or not. But what was true was the way that they were impacted by the kind of attention that they were getting, and the kind of confrontation that they were getting with how they were being, and the approval that came with it. And it sounds ironic, a dominatrix approves. But she does by eliciting it, witnessing it, and playing with it, engaging with it.

Kasia: So it was really unexpected, because I went to the monastery to learn about people. And I felt like I went there to learn how to heal and transform people, and the place where I found I could do my work the best was a dungeon. My job was to be a hot bitch. It made no sense. But I started understanding that there's this thing like submissive men are not, I started seeing in the world that people need this. People need this way of women being connected to a feeling and having the courage to really go there, to see somebody, to call it out and to enjoy it and to play with it.

Kasia: To speak to it, and not assume all of these things about what a man is and his fragile ego and what he wants. Just blow those assumptions away, and witness in real time, moment by moment what the impact of a phrase is, and get curious about where they actually are. As opposed to, again, all these assumptions about what we have to be in order to be approved of, how we have to behave.

Kasia: Attention on self, right? And it speaks to a larger thing that I started to notice, where this is a generality but it's powerful enough that it has an impact. Girls are raised to be rewarded with attention on them. What I mean is when a little girl is growing up, there's a tendency to go, "Oh look how pretty Mary is. Look how lovely her manner is. Look how lovely her dress is." Right? So we get that hit of approval when our attention is on ourselves.

Maria: Yeah.

Kasia: A  boy growing up, say Billy, getting older, the tendency isn't to go, "Look how lovely Billy is." The tendency is to go, "Look what Billy did."

Maria: Yes! Oh my god, you're so right. "He's so good at soccer, oh my god! He is such a genius at math!" And we're just pretty.

Kasia: But here's the important part, here's the setup for my explanation of power dynamics. So if you repeatedly reward a boy, at the moment his attention is out on something else. He understands that he gets belonging and approval in society for doing shit.

Maria: Yeah.

Kasia: And for girls, as we're raised, if our signal of approval and belonging is every time our attention's on ourselves, we get the message that our way to succeed is by being something, not doing something. So our attention's on ourselves. So you hear it in elections, right? You remember a recent election where people were saying, "He's an ass but he can get shit done"?

Maria: Yep.

Kasia: And, "She's such a bitch." Full stop. Not that she can get shit done.

Maria: No, no no no, and worse, "Her suit's awful. Her makeup is terrible, her hair, her this, her that."

Kasia: "Listen to her voice."

Maria: Yeah!

Kasia: Okay, so here's the thing. In the animal kingdom and everywhere else, how do you recognize an alpha? In dog training, for example. How do you recognize the leader of the pack?

Maria: They show themselves to be the leader of the pack.

Kasia: Their attention is on the whole pack. So to be in a dominant state of attention, your attention needs to be out. And to be in a submissive state of attention or a surrendered state of attention, your attention's in. You're feeling your feelings, you're going inward, right? So there's a default mechanism where women, especially in high-stakes situations, have a tendency to go inward. And there's a tendency for men in a high-stakes situation to dominate and go outward. And this become super relevant when we start talking about sexual harassment or high-stakes negotiations, or even erotic negotiation. This whole recent explosion and exposure of what women go through.

Maria: Mm-hmm.

Kasia: Being sexually harassed, or just being communicated to badly by awkward men, right?

Maria: Yeah.

Kasia: What happens? What's the first thing that happens? Their attention goes in.

Maria: "What did I do wrong?"

Kasia: Yes! "What do I do now?"

Maria: "What am I not doing right?"

Kasia: "Did I wear something wrong, did I give the wrong message?"

Maria: Or, "I'm not enough at work," or whatever it is, yeah.

Kasia: So a guy puts his attention out, says something maybe inappropriate and confronting. And the woman puts her attention in and gets stuck there. And what happens when she gets stuck there is that she goes into the freeze. Biologically, she freezes. She's stuck in an inward state, she's been taught the default state of inward attention. She's stuck there. The moment she's stuck there, the moment she's in a freeze, she loses access to language and agency.

Maria: Mm-hmm.

Kasia: So have you ever been in a situation where you're frozen, and you're thinking about the thing you want to say but you can't get it out?

Maria: I don't even think I cry. I would just cry when this stuff would happen, and then later I'm like, "Why didn't I say this?"

Co-host: Yeah.

Maria: Or, "Why didn't I do that?"

Co-host: That's exactly it.

Maria: And by the way, it's not me to do or say any of those things, and so then I would be like, "Well that's not me, so," and then I'd just be defeated.

Kasia: Yeah, yeah. And then when the moment passes, the self-attack is incredible. In that moment where you're in the freeze, compliance is the easiest thing to do.

Maria: Yeah.

Kasia: Right? Like, "Why didn't you leave the room? Why didn't you fight back?" Is always the thing that people ask victims of sexual abuse.

Maria: Yes.

Kasia: "Why didn't you stop him?"

Maria: Mm-hmm.

Kasia: Okay. So she's frozen. Her biochemistry has changed. Her amygdala has been totally hijacked. She's been taught her whole life to be rewarded from inward attention, so that's gonna be the default state. So in verbal self-defense, the first thing I teach is how does a woman go from that frozen state into a dominant state of attention, where she can regain access to language and agency, where she can break the freeze. How does she do that? So I experimented tirelessly in classes, and it ended up becoming so simple it's almost dumb.

Maria: No way.

Kasia: The first thing she has to do is put her attention fully out on the man and ask him a question. Why a question? The moment a person's asked a question, even if it's for a moment-

Maria: They're on the defense.

Kasia: They put their attention in.

Maria: Oh, so now you're forcing him to look within. 'Cause he has to look for the answer.

Kasia: So now his chemistry is changing just for a second.

Maria: Wow.

Kasia: So he enters the submissive state of attention, or the attention just retreats enough so that she can feel herself again and change her chemistry, regain access to-

Maria: Yeah.

Kasia: A powerful question would be, "do you realize that a statement like that might make a woman feel uncomfortable?"

Maria: Good Lord.

Kasia: That's a good one, right? But even if you ask a stupid one.

Maria: Where did you get that shirt?

Kasia: Even if you ask a dumb one. It's enough to give you access to language. You're ten times more likely to walk out of the room. You're ten times more likely to stand up for yourself. Because it changes your chemistry. In terms of the primal language of animal hierarchies of power dynamics, brain chemistry, you are now in the driver's seat, even for a second. Even for a moment. It's enough to give you [a chance] to catch up. And so this is one little simple tool, but it shows the architecture of power dynamics.

Maria: Yeah.

Kasia: And the entire thing that I spent not knowing, I was learning in the dungeon. And [it was] facilitated by this intense study of Taoism and Taoist practices that involve knowing how to put your attention really deeply in, so that you can feel your organs, and then put your attention deeply out and be able to see what's happening in the body and the consciousness of another.

Kasia: That is ultimate space invasion, in some way. Violation of privacy, like really seeing somebody. And also, it's the greatest gift you can give a person. 'Cause one of the tragedies right now that I feel, especially with men, is a lot of them are finding out that they've been doing things wrong and hurting women.

Maria: Mm-hmm.

Kasia: That they didn't know what they were doing.

Maria: That's an interesting take.

Kasia: It's not all of them, but there's a lot of men. We're like, "They should know better." Well there's a lot of men who don't have the skills, they don't know. And you know what? They weren't getting real-time feedback.

Maria: Mm-hmm.

Kasia: And you can't blame the woman, you can blame the fucking freeze.

Maria: When the whole Me Too thing happened, I felt a little guilty that I had played into some of this. When you giggle and you let them do things and you don't stand up for yourself, you're almost teaching them that that's okay, right?

Kasia: Yeah, yeah.

Maria: Not that I'm gonna take a lot of guilt on-

Kasia: No.

Maria: But I know there's an element, because I've been saying the same kind of thing too, is we've allowed them and that has been the norm.

Kasia: Yeah, and I really, really, really want to make this clear. That when you take a look at how power dynamics work and how women are raised, and you take a look at what happens biochemically to a woman when she's in that state. This isn't an exoneration, this isn't innocence, this is just an explanation of how things work.

Maria: Yeah. Exactly.

Kasia: You giggle. Your state is internal. You have too much energy, it comes out as a giggle. He's not getting the information he needs, you're not getting what women call your voice and standing in your power.

Kasia: And I get really pissed when people say that. "Find your voice, stand in your power." Give me an instruction manual.

Maria: Yeah. I need a friggin' tool, people.

Kasia: Yeah. Yeah, it's not fair. 'Cause then we're sitting there going like, "I'm so powerless and I sold myself out" and the defeated feeling and self-attack just continues and makes things worse. So I'm really interested in people learning how to consciously enter these dominant and submissive states and see how the argument a couple's been having for 20 years is actually a power dynamics issue. It's about where you put your attention. Or the fear of conflict, or a high-stakes negotiation. What happens when a woman is confronted? One of the greatest joys of my life is, here I was studying all these things that looked really separate from each other, and they came together in this moment in time where I get to do something to give women the voices they always had that they didn't know they had.

Maria: Yeah. That's amazing. And on that note, this is one of my favorite interviews ever. We're gonna take a quick break, and when we come back, we're gonna get more amazing information from Kasia. We'll be right back.

[Short break]

Maria: Guys, we are back with our guest, co-founder and CEO of The Academy, teaching women the foundations of power and influence. Kasia Urbaniak, you have a partner that's a male, that's part of this business with you.

Kasia: Yeah.

Maria: Which is kind of ironic.

Kasia: Yeah.

Maria: Tell me a little bit about that.

Kasia: I met Ruben Flores who worked for Doctors Without Borders. He spent years in Africa in really high-conflict zones, and some really dangerous situations. And he was talking about how difficult it was sometimes to navigate a border checkpoint where nobody speaks the same language and there's basically kids with guns on drugs.

Kasia: And he's like, "We have to build a hospital here. You guys want to kill you guys." You know? And the moment we started talking, we started realizing that he couldn't rely on language either, or authority. There's just a piece of paper saying, "I have permission." Nobody gave a damn.

Kasia: And when we started talking, I realized that his understanding of power dynamics and mine were remarkably similar, especially when we're talking about power dynamics and primal communication. And here he was on the fringes of war and death and that kind of horror, and there I was on the fringes of sexuality. And that we came away with the same kind of information.

Kasia: The moment we started talking, we basically couldn't stop, and we talked for six months. And by the end of the end of that six-month conversation, we had a really well- articulated understanding of what we wanted to experiment with. And he started inviting people to our apartment so that we could experiment with them. We could experiment with conversations and how these things worked.

Kasia: And the people who were invited ended up wanting to come back, which is how some of the first workshops started.

Maria: Yeah.

Kasia: We didn't intend to start a school, it happened by itself. And the first time we announced an actual class, we had an eight-month waiting list.

Maria: Wow. So let's talk a little bit, before the break, you said-

Maria: And by the way, for anyone who's wondering, there's so many things I want to talk about with Kasia but we just don't have enough time. Dominatrixes do not have sex with their clients, just in case, 'cause that was a burning question that I asked during the break.

Kasia: But you know what, I just want to add to that. In a lot of ways, filling up an hour and creating an erotic scenario and not being able to have sexual contact with the client, not being able to have sex with them, is incredibly difficult.

Maria: Yeah.

Kasia: If you're in the weeds and you get stuck and you don't know what to say, and you feel self-conscious and your attention's on yourself and you're not in the flow and you're not seeing them, a minute can last a lifetime.

Maria: Yeah.

Kasia: It really demands a lot.

Maria: Wow.

Kasia: And I think that challenge was something that really spurred on my imagination. And this is funny to admit, but I'm sort of an inherent people-pleaser. So I really wanted to do a good job. It was important to me to do a good job. How do I do a good job if the only tools I really have are how I'm being with this person, what I'm saying to them? It was the best. It was the best challenge.

Maria: So before the break, you were talking about the arguments between couples are really just a power dynamic. Can you go into that a little more for anybody listening who's got an issue at home where they're arguing with their husband?

Kasia: There's a couple parts to this. So first, I mentioned that there's a tendency for women to use the submissive state of attention, and there's a tendency, especially where there's pressure, for men to use a dominant state of attention.

Kasia: So women get together, and their tendency–please forgive the stereotypes, generalizations can be helpful, they can be harmful–but two women get together to talk. She talks about her experience. Submissive state of attention. She talks about her experience. Then the other one talks about her experience. Two men getting together using the dominant state of attention will get into a fight. So he can't talk about him, he can't talk about him or they'll get into conflict, so what do they talk about?

Maria: Yeah.

Kasia: Something else. Sports. They never talk about their feelings with their guys, generally.

Maria: They don't talk about their own experience that way, right?

Kasia: Yeah. So in terms of dominant and submissive, what happens with couples very often is if two couples are both tending towards a submissive state of attention, she'll talk about what's wrong for her. He'll talk about what's wrong for him. She'll talk about how she's suffering, he'll talk about how he can't handle it. Right?

Kasia: Neither of them are seeing each other, because both of them are in sub-states. If both of them take dominant states of attention, she's saying, "You always do this." He's saying, "You always do this." In order for some of these impossible conversations, these repeated arguments to get fixed, one of the easiest things to do is to take turns. So she'll talk about her experience while he puts her attention on her.

Maria: In what way?

Kasia: The easiest indicator, and this isn't a law, it's just a general tendency, is you watch when you use "I" statements and "you" statements.

Kasia: Maria, you have beautiful hair. You are looking at me intently. You are nodding right now. You are probably wondering what I'm going to say next. You are the host of a fantastic show.

Kasia: If I continue to do this, you'll feel seen, I'll be dominating you.

Maria: Yeah.

Kasia: Because the next thing I can say is, "Wouldn't you love right now to hear what I'm gonna say next?" I can lead you through states. You feel seen and you are exposed.

Kasia: Your tendency in response to that will be to tell about your experience. "I love having this show. Thank you for saying something nice."

Maria: Yeah. No one ever says anything nice to me, and now I'm in this state where you're like a god, and I'm kind of like, "Oh."

Co-host: I always say nice things to you!

Kasia: Yeah, but you guys have a status differential, so it doesn't work the same way.

Maria: Yeah.

Kasia: You can't really top her successfully.

Co-host: No, no. Definitely not.

Kasia: Not to mention, just from the kind of eye contact you have, it's obvious that you are dominant in a lot of your interactions, that you put your attention out. You might have a tendency to over-give, and you might have trouble asking for what you actually need from a vulnerable place.

Kasia: And that's from the way that you're looking at me, it may just be because you're at work right now. But I see how strong and penetrating your eye contact is. You have no trouble invading my space at all. And it feels good, 'cause then I want to talk about myself. It's perfect.

Maria: Yeah. So interesting.

Kasia: So here's the switch. When a woman can do that with a man, when she can put her attention on him. "You seem upset. Are you scared that you'll fail me? Does it upset you?"

Maria: Mm-hmm.

Kasia: Because that's a reversal of the normal tendency, the first thing that's gonna come up is resistance from the man. "What are you doing?"

Maria: Because you're putting him in a vulnerable situation where he has to admit that he is scared or feeling inadequate.

Kasia: But if she can put her attention fully on him, not make it about her, put her attention fully on him and lead him through that process. And then, this is the second most important thing I teach in school, how to play with "no." How to play with resistance. How to deal when somebody is either exploding or shutting down. Get curious about what's behind that.

Maria: Mm-hmm.

Kasia: Really hold them. And not just holding space as in listen and let them run their mouths, but stay on top.

Maria: Even if you don't like them.

Kasia: Well, it depends, right? We're talking about in a-

Maria: In a couples relationship.

Kasia: Yeah.

Maria: But you said at work, that's why I was like, "Okay, let's switch to work." I didn't know if we were going into that.

Kasia: Well at work, too, if you need to lead somebody, if you need to get your message to land, if you need your voice to get heard, it doesn't matter if you like them or not, you have to approve of them enough to be able to control them or to influence them.

Kasia: You can't reject somebody while having influence over them. It doesn't work. Why would their body and being trust you enough to even let anything in if you're not just basically approving of their existence? It doesn't work. We all have self-protective mechanisms that are older than even the human species, and it's brilliant. And approval is a key element.

Maria: So switching it from you to them in the couples dynamic is the key.

Kasia: Yeah. There are other elements too, but once you've had a fight for that long repeat itself, there's a lot of hidden anger and a lot of things that are not said. So for my students, I have them do exercises where they get to vent their rage and enjoy it. And they get to write down all the things that they're not saying, whether they're gonna say them or not. And then write a long list of things they're not asking for.

Maria: Yeah.

Kasia: 'Cause a lot of the time we go without, we withhold what we need and what we want.

Maria: Oh, for sure. It's the death of love. I talked about it with an author last week, I'm like, "I muted myself so much just to be able to survive, because I was too big for wherever I was." And so you also hit the over-giving thing, and I know there are a lot of women who are susceptible to that out there. Talk a little bit about that.

Kasia: There's different kinds of over-giving. In a dominant state of attention, when you have your attention out on somebody, you are providing something for them, right? You're giving their attention energy. You're also giving them instruction, so you're leading.

Kasia: There's a couple of things. One of the first things we do in the intro class that I teach about being powerful with men is teaching women how to ask. One of the first things that happens when I give them the first exercise is intense resistance. There's the segment of the room that's going, "I don't need anything." Totally independent woman, victorious, does not need a man, does not need anything from anyone.

Kasia: And in terms of how times have changed, this is a really beautiful victory to have. We've spent so many years with women being systemically dependent on men, on families, not being able to have jobs, money, property, right? So this is a huge victory. However, it's bullshit.

Maria: It's also made us much more masculine, and we've kind of abandoned our feminine to become more masculine so that we can, you know, survive in this man's world.

Kasia: What ends up happening is this independent woman ends up doing a lot of work that a man in her position wouldn't have to do. She's doing everything, she's killing it, and the moment that she needs something, nobody can see it. Nobody can see her.

Kasia: The system's sort of set up so that when a man is doing his work, everything's arranged so he has all these invisible support systems. She takes great pride in not asking for anything, but if she does ask, she's creating a new support system for herself, which makes her actually more equal to a man in that sense.

Maria: Mm-hmm.

Kasia: The hesitation to appear needy or desperate, the fear of that, can be so strong that women end up working themselves to death.

Maria: Yeah.

Kasia: And being lonely and pretending that they don't need what they actually need, what every human being needs, connection, intimacy, belonging.

Maria: Yeah.

Kasia: One particular relationship pattern I see is women who are sort of in this independent state when they find a partner. We're talking about heterosexual relationships, generally, in this context. She will provide, give, nurture, do what you call masculine giving and feminine giving, to a man who ends up not having an opportunity to express his love through action.

Maria: Mm-hmm.

Kasia: He ends up becoming smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller. And it's not that she's too big and too great, it's that he doesn't have the opportunity to also give. And it ends up becoming a vicious cycle. 'Cause the more she gives, she more she provides in the masculine or feminine, the smaller he gets, the less capable he feels.

Maria: It pushes him into the feminine. Like, Tony Robbins talks about the depolarization of relationships. So if we go super masculine, they end up going feminine, and there's an imbalance.

Kasia: Yeah. I have some issues with dividing it into masculine and feminine, which is why I also find this dominant and submissive polarity much more convenient. Because it gives women the opportunity to lead and still be women and feel like women.

Maria: Yeah.

Kasia: In whatever way they want, right? Whether they want to be what you call masculine in that sense or feminine in that sense, they can express power and influence.

Maria: Yeah.

Kasia: And sort of dividing it from whether they're wearing a frilly dress or a suit.

Maria: Totally, yeah. It's a very important distinction.

Kasia: I think just how people say everyone has masculine and feminine sides, the nice thing about talking about dominant and submissive in this way is that it's just about the present moment and how you've using your attention. It takes how you want to express your gender, wherever you are on the spectrum, out of the occasion.

Kasia: And when men want to quote-unquote "explore their feminine," what I see actually happening is they want to experience a surrendered, submissive state. And so when you take the word feminine out of it, they don't have to become New-Agey yoga dudes.

Maria: Right.

Kasia: They can just go inward, and get in touch with their feelings.

Maria: Smart.

Kasia: And their experience, even in a masculine way. The surrendered, submissive state can be incredibly strong and powerful. It's how you know thyself, right? You go inward and you're like, "I know myself to be. I feel, I desire, I want this. This is where my needs aren't met, this is where they are. I have integrity."

Kasia: That's all a surrendered, submissive state of attention. It can be incredibly masculine-looking, or feminine-looking.

Maria: Yeah.

Kasia: It's about getting in touch with what's inside, and-

Maria: I like that distinction.

Kasia: Another thing that we forget, this whole shift in gender is just five minutes long when it comes to human history. For thousands of years, we've been asking men to stuff down their feelings, put their attention out, and go kill and die for us. That's not gonna disappear overnight.

Kasia: So the intense sense of betrayal, fear that men are betraying their role, their society, the moment they go inward, is a real thing. They're not supposed to be in touch with their inner state like this. It's not a fair ask to make.

Kasia: So when a woman can use her dominant state of attention to lead a man inward, she's giving him a gift that repairs millennia of asking men to die for us.

Maria: Kasia, we are out of time. How do people take your class?

Kasia: You go to the website, And we're also doing a really fun thing this summer for any good girls that want to break out of their good girl conditioning.

Maria: Yeah, me!

Kasia: So it's like the Olympics, it's the Bad Girl Summer Games, and when you go to the site you can sign up for that.


Kasia: That's right.

Maria: All right, so if you guys want to find out more about her teachings, go to, you can find her on Instagram, @RealKasiaUrbaniak. Man. Being a Greek, I should be able to get this a little better. Twitter, it's @WeTeachPower. Kasia, thank you so much.

Tuff Love Radio: What about Men?

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In this interview with communication and relationship expert and coach Robert Kandell, Kasia discusses the righteous rage behind the #MeToo movement, and shares why she's determined to focus on the party at the end of the Patriarchy.

I would like to give [men] an instruction, an order, a command immediately. Ask questions. Ask the women in your life questions about their experiences. Ask the men in your life questions about their experiences. Right now is a time where a lot of the problems we have are still unnamed and largely invisible. Let’s get our attention and awareness on those places to make the invisible visible. Let’s reveal how this structure actually works so we can take it the fuck down for the benefit of men, for the benefit of women, and for the benefit of anybody with a beating heart and a brain in their heads. Ask questions. Not listen, not speak. Ask questions. We need to all go on a massive investigative mission that’s personal to discover what’s actually happening and to find our part in it.
— Kasia Urbaniak

Robert: My guest is a very special good friend, client and all-around amazing person, Kasia, who will be talking about many things, talking about one of the best, strongest cures, procedures, methods to equate situations where there’s an imbalance of power between men and women. I’ve had the absolute honor to be a witness to the last part of these last couple of months of her journey and just recently some significant attention from the media in places like New York Times, the New York Magazine and Psychology Today. I’m here to welcome Kasia to the show. How are you?

Kasia: I’m so happy to be here. I’m really good.

Robert: First off, congratulations on what’s happening. How does it feel to be thrust into the limelight in terms of this conversation about the imbalance of power between men and women?

Kasia: I feel two ways about it. It depends on when you catch me.

Robert: How about right now?

Kasia: I feel unaffected by it. There is a lot of work to do. The other times, I get very, very, very excited that there are women whose faces I’ll never see who will be able to read something, get something, try something, practice something, see things slightly differently. That really, really, really excites me.

Robert: There was a lot of mention in both articles about this concept of you being a secret underground school, this concept that you were below the radar, and all of a sudden you’re rising up and you’ve been thrust into the limelight. I thought that was interesting in both articles. Was that your intention to have an underground school?

Kasia: The way that we teach in the school, it has everything to do with embodied truth and embodied communication. Working with students, it’s really, really important when working on that level to work in small groups, to have a safe container, to have women be able to reveal everything and feel safe to play way beyond where they would play if they didn’t have such safety and such privacy. Over the life of the school, in working with them, there are more and more exercises and tools developed that could be used outside of those really intense private, embodied group scenarios. The world started to change. The first thing that happened was when Trump got elected, our student body freaked out. They watched the debates and they watched Hillary do some of the things that we were talking about in class. They were basically telling us that we need to reach more people. That was the first moment where we decided to take the password protection off the website and started doing bigger events and using some of the tools that could apply outside of a small group intensive format to as many people as we could. Then the #MeToo thing, even the police brutality, Black Lives Matter became a thing. Race comes up as an issue in our classes even though it’s classes for women because it deals with power dynamics. We may be teaching women but they’re essentially genderless. Power is power. How people abuse power, how people get stuck at the effect of power applies to everybody, regardless of their sexual orientation, their gender, their race, what color of hat they wear.

Robert: I’ve been reading your articles and working with you. You’ve got a subtle thing that you believe in that I didn’t quite get. Actually, it was a post you just did recently where you said, “The party at the end of the patriarchy.” My impression, and please correct me if I’m wrong, is you don’t want to fight the patriarchy per se. You want to just end the patriarchy. What is the difference between the two?

Kasia: Fighting and ending, the difference is huge. This is a perfect, perfect metaphor. On the level of two human beings, the dyad, in which it’s really easy to see a power dynamic at play, if one person is asking for something that they want of the other but all of the world of their communication, their bodily feeling, their focus, their attention, is on what they don’t want, the other person gets blasted with information about what’s not wanted, not what’s wanted. If I asked you to change the angle of the camera and I asked you with all of the complaint in my body, what happens to you? “Rob, will you please change the angle of your camera?”

Robert: Then I feel like I’m doing something wrong immediately. That’s what I’m thinking about.

Kasia: You can’t win. If you agree, you’re a loser. If you disagree, you’re a loser. There’s a no-win situation for you at the other side of that communication. In terms of macro forces, in terms of big political struggles, it’s the same thing. When we’re fighting against something, there’s a passion in us for something we want. If we get focused on the obstacle to such a degree that we forget what we’re fighting for, the passion, the love and the commitment has nowhere to go except into destruction. The difference between ending the patriarchy and fighting the patriarchy is huge. If you’re celebrating the party at the end of the patriarchy and you’re looking at what kind of world you want, you’re already in the space of coming up with solutions, with your imagination expanded based on what your heart truly wants. It’s so much easier for two parties to find a common ground and generate solutions that would have been beyond the scope of what would have been possible if they were just talking about what we’re fighting against. We’re making the wrong enemies.

Robert: I’ve had a lot of debates with people around these Women’s Marches. I personally celebrate them. I think they’re a powerful thing because women and men are getting together to celebrate. I also feel the negativity, the fight, the push against it. It’s a complicated thing for me to feel into my thoughts around Women’s Marches that have happened. Do you have any thoughts about the vibe or the feeling of the Women’s March in terms of this conversation?

Kasia: I think that we, as a human civilization, lack an understanding of emotional alchemy. We really do not like negative emotions. They’re very socially unacceptable unless they are in an action movie against a villain. There are some containers where there are certain parameters where certain people get to express certain things. Where I would love for human civilization to go is to understand emotions better and know how to use them better. The rage is important, the negativity, the fury, the hurt, the sadness because it’s energy, it’s fuel. If you don’t remember what you’re using it for, it doesn’t have a chance to alchemize into something greater. There are a lot of different things about marches themselves that are great, that have different elements. In terms of the negativity, if we remember what we’re fighting for and who we’re fighting against, then the beautiful treasure hidden inside anger and rage is passion. You don’t get angry when you’re not passionate. You don’t even get defensive in places where there isn’t something to protect. There’s love inside defensiveness and there’s passion inside anger. What I care about is that human beings begin learning how to embrace anger or defensiveness or sadness and find the treasure inside it, which is the thing they truly want. Nobody wants to march forever and be angry forever. It’s so easy in that volatility and in that explosive quality to obscure that the reason it’s coming up is because we have love inside us. We have something we want inside us. We have passion inside us.

Kasia: If what we’re fighting against is a wall, what we’re fighting for is the reason to get through the wall. Even the post about the party at the end of the patriarchy is just a small suggestion. Have people start imagining the world they want to create, that this anger, that this fury, that this disappointment can turn into energy towards building. I think that’s the key to everything. One of the mottos of our school which we tell our students is, “Use everything.” A vice in its proper place becomes a virtue. There’s a place where laziness becomes efficiency. There’s a place where greed becomes self-protection, saving for the winter. There are all these things that are not so black and white that are so much more elegantly addressed when they’re seen in their totality.

Robert: That really fits in with my practice, my lineage, my concept. You have these human emotions that we deny or not confront, and they go into your shadow. They’re actually running the show. That laziness is running the show. I don’t want to look at my laziness and at the same time, confront that so it can alchemize into empowerment. #MeToo is such a huge thing. I’ve been doing a lot of research and reading and thinking about it. I actually got invited to a men only Facebook group recently and I posted about this interview. The response that I’m seeing inside men’s response to #MeToo, is very negative, scared, defensive and passive-aggressive. There has been a very strong response of men to #MeToo. Just a little snippet from this group was men’s anger about not having the relationship they want, men saying the fact that they’re abused as much as women, that the media think that women own victimhood, a video about the war on men. My point is #MeToo is arising for men and they’re feeling a lot of feelings. I know you work also with women and men. What’s your response to men who are having a fear-based response to #MeToo?

Kasia: ne of the beauties of this time is that all of these things in their actual form are pretty complex and rich and nuanced. To have a real conversation about any of these issues actually requires becoming much more aware and nuanced than most people are used to. One of the questions I get really often is about a potential backlash against #MeToo. One of the things I keep saying is we need to make allies out of men fast. Grab all the men you can, give them something to do. Give them a way to participate. They don’t have to lead the show, but they cannot be excluded. If they’re excluded, they’re sitting on the sidelines with feelings and reactions and nowhere to put it, that’s super dangerous. Right now, one of the focuses of what I’m teaching, and this is just a small snippet of the curriculum but it’s a very important one, is about helping women deal with the moment they freeze. There are moments where women choose to stay silent because they have systemic issues. They might lose a job, money, legal things. They might choose to stay silent. There are also these moments of choiceless silence where a woman totally shuts down and freezes. It becomes incredibly difficult for her to speak even if she wants to. It’s like her nervous system is hijacked.

Kasia: ne of the reasons I’m focusing on teaching women how to break the freeze right now is because I feel like a lot of the things that especially really well-intentioned men might be experiencing is suddenly being at fault for things in the past they had no idea were happening. We say things like, “Men should know better.” That statement is useless because they don’t. A lot of times, they’re not getting the feedback they need. We’re social beings. We learn in a particular way. We get feedback. They’re not getting the feedback that they need. I’m not blaming women and I’m not blaming men. I’m saying this is just one of the things that happens that’s contributing to the difficulty in having a real conversation about what would it take to have that party at the end of the patriarchy. I think there are not just a lot of different ways to address this, we need all kinds of tools. We need all kinds of ideas. The one that I’m focusing on right now is supporting women when they freeze to be able to speak so that the men that they’re in front of, the men that they’re dealing with can have feedback and the chance to clarify their communications. Sometimes just really awkward, clumsy communications for men that are innocent are enough to trigger a woman to a place where she feels violated, victimized and cannot speak for herself.

Robert:  What’s happening is that there’s just a lack of communication and I totally agree with you. An associate of mine, a peer of mine, a big name in the sex and relationship community, a teacher, basically was brought to the mat for something he did in 2010. It was an experience where he basically harassed a woman into a sexual activity. I don’t want to mention his name just because I don’t know the full details of it. An interviewer caught up with him recently and said, “Why did this happen? What happened?” He was really flippant about it. He was very crass about his memory of it seven and a half years ago. In the moment, he had no idea that there was something wrong. It really struck me about this chasm between something that hits person A so negatively and person B has no idea that anything even happened. It happens all the time between men and women because men and women see the world very differently with different levels of sensitivity. The ability to communicate when this happened, person A, “When you did this, this is what I felt,” is so important for the improved relations between all people.

Kasia: here are people who do know better. There are abuses of power. The thing that keeps coming back is, especially for a woman, how can she clarify? How can she cut through the ambiguity? Find out if he knows or not. Is this malicious or is this well-intentioned and super clumsy? All that goes into that. It’s super, super important. It’s what we’re all talking about these days.

Robert: Let’s go into your practice. The thing people are writing about is the art of verbal self-defense. Maybe first if you could just define that, explain what it is, and then we can go into some really cool examples I found in this literature written about you. Would you first define what verbal self-defense is?

Kasia: t’s something we’ve already been talking about which is it can be great to lead, be on top. It can be great to follow, be on bottom and receive and learn. Teacher-student, we see these dynamics everywhere. What happens when you’re put on the spot and you don’t like what you’re getting and you freeze? Verbal self-defense, the focus of that part of the curriculum, is specifically giving a woman tools for when her system shuts down. She has a thousand thoughts racing in her head but can’t get them out. All her attention is inward. How do you give her access to language back? How do you give her voice back? How do you get her attention out to see the other and being able to speak? The Verbal Self-Defense Online Course, the live events, they’re all about training the body over and over and over again to recognize the moment she’s frozen. Use a few simple tools in order to get unfrozen and actually be in that conversation with agency and, even better, play, powerful playfulness.

Robert: I love this example in the New York Magazine. She’s talking about a guy going to a dominatrix. Dominatrix have very strict guidelines about what happens in a session. “A dude walked in and said, “This is nice and all, but when are we going to fuck?” a line Urbaniak and certainly, many a young Hollywood actresses has heard. Kasia’s students are taught to respond with a playful domination. “Is that what turns you on, making demands?” When I read that, I laughed out loud. I’m not a big laugher out louder in general, but I really liked that. It really just struck home of the disruption and the change. I thought that was an amazing example of how you can use words to disrupt a man’s forward, concentrated, narrow-minded focus, “I want to fuck,” and all of a sudden it’s like, “Let’s play.”

Kasia: hat tool is called turning the spotlight. The essence of it is actually asking a question about the question. It’s the quickest way to flip the power dynamic. You’re on the spot, you’re on the bottom, he’s on the top. You feel the pressure to answer. It even applies to receiving uncomfortable questions like, “Why don’t you have kids yet? Aren’t you too young to have this kind of job?” A simple way to flip the power dynamic and turn the spotlight is to ask a question about the question, “Do you like making women uncomfortable? Isn’t that a personal question for you to be asking right now?” The dungeon question came for me to training dominatrixes. Not only was turning the spotlight away to handle the situation, it was a segue into a whole session. It was a segue into a whole stream of speech, “You like breaking the rules, do you? You like provoking women. You acted like you were here to be a submissive, but really you want to provoke me. Are you asking for punishment so early on in the session? Is that how you like to play? You think that you can provoke me and get me to give you punishment right away before I deemed it ready, before I deemed it time? Or are you just so clueless that you need to come to a woman wearing leather to tell her exactly how to be, exactly what to do, how to behave? Is that so? Are you looking for a governess or a police officer?” It would end up being the thing that could run the whole hour. The fact that he came in and said, “This is nice and all, but when are we going to fuck?”

Robert: I’m thinking personally, the verbal play of it is such a turn on. It’s like, “I’m with a woman who we can joust and debate.” I’m sure there’s a segment of men who would just be like, “Huh?” and then get angry to be challenged. At the same time, I think the play of it is actually really the exciting part, probably even more sometimes exciting than the sex.

Kasia: here’s a second tool for when they get riled up called location where you just fill in the blank of this sentence, “It seems like blank. Is that true? It seems like this has gotten you angry. Is that true?” It’s the same thing. This flipping of the dynamic can even work in something as simple as a catcall. A man yells, “Nice tits.” Even saying something innocuous back like, “Where did you get those shoes?” has a woman break out of their freeze and experience herself having agency. She doesn’t have to come up with something as clever as, “Do you talk like that to your mama?”

Robert: Let’s just stay on that. Catcalling is a strong interest of mine. I don’t understand catcalling. It just seems like the most inefficient communication style ever, “Hey, baby,” as she’s walking past and expect to get some nookie out of that. It doesn’t make any sense to me. Let me ask you a question. Why do you think men catcall? Why do you think they employ this technique to get women’s attention?

Kasia: can only make some guesses based on my own experiences with catcalls. I find that they are of a whole range. Sometimes a guy is with a bunch of guys and he catcalls me, and I almost have a feeling that that catcall wasn’t actually for me. It was for his boys. There’s that one. There are the ones where I actually feel a lot of appreciation, admiration and love for women. I think there are a lot of men who love women and don’t have any way to really express it. I know that a lot of women find, “Show me a smile,” really offensive. I personally love to flash a smile when I’m asked to. If someone tells me I’m beautiful on the street, I thank them. It’s easy for me to thank them because I know that if they come back at me or start following me and start saying things that make me uncomfortable, I’ll know what to do. I and my students can afford to be loving, can afford compassion, can afford play because we feel safe. At least in those areas where our physical safety is not a question at all, it’s socially safe to playback. It becomes really interesting. You can actually have some really interesting conversations that initially began with a pretty retarded, stupid ass catcall.

Robert: I really love that sense of it because I know there are a lot written about vigilance center and safety for women is important and without safety there’s no play. What I just heard in your last statement is that you feel inside of you and you teach your students to feel safe in most situations. I know a lot of women walk around angry, frustrated and scared, which does not allow them to play.

Kasia: afety is not built through rules and laws. Safety is built through experience. What we do in the classes is we train women so they actually have things come at them that are really uncomfortable. We get in men to be menterrupters, mensplainers. We get men to come in and invade a woman’s physical space. She gets to experience herself with guidance, playing back, until she feels that in the moment, if this were to happen to her in her own life, she would know exactly what to do. Some of them get so excited about these tools that they hope it happens. They hope they get resistance. They hope they get some bad behavior because then they’ll get to play. It’s just night and day. There is so much joy and pleasure and fun to be had in having power, in having a voice, in mainly knowing what to do when you freeze so that you can be yourself again. Then you don’t need the whole world to cushion the landscape with safety. We can’t wait for the whole world to change for women to be able to speak their truth. We can’t wait for all of the systems and policies and rules and laws to be put into place to make a woman feel safe. I’m not waiting that long. I don’t want to wait until the world changes for a woman to feel like it’s okay for them to be themselves and speak where they are and even better, be sassy.

Robert: The articles show about your history and how it started and your relationship with Ruben. I want to acknowledge Ruben Flores, your creative partner, an amazing man who’s in your cohort along with it. Every business has its why, like the why, the generation, the core reason you work uphill, you do the interviews, you get your ass out of bed and do the filming, you keep going, and you deal with the complaints and the possible haters. What’s your why? Why do you think you’re driven for The Academy? What keeps motivating you to continue when times get hard?

Kasia: hank you for mentioning Ruben Flores. His why matters here too, but his why can’t be exactly the same as mine because my why literally comes from my body. Even from the time I was a little girl, I had this very, very real feeling of wanting to speak, not being heard, not being able to express myself. First it was entirely personal. I wanted to express myself. I wanted to break free. I wanted to bust out. I wanted to be radically, boldly self-expressed. It wasn’t easy for me. I didn’t speak English very well when I was six. I was born here but I didn’t live here until I was six. First it was just a language barrier. Then it was being in Catholic school. Then it was being a girl with boys and seeing all these differences. Then it was watching my mother, as I grew up watching my friends, watching all the places where I knew how fucking great they were and the places where that would suddenly be gone. It would vanish from a conversation. They would shut down, turn in on themselves. The why for me is so bodily ingrained that I can’t not do this. If I’m not teaching professionally, I’m talking to people and telling them the same thing. If I’m not talking to people and telling them the same thing, I’m by myself exploring what it means to know what the truth is for me, speaking it and getting out there. The world would look very, very different if people knew how to feel totally legitimate in the truth that they feel and are speaking it regularly. A lot of the problems we see on the planet would be solved. It comes from the most microcosmic, my personal voice, to the biggest planetary issue. That’s my why. My why is me. I’m here for this. There’s nothing else I can do. I don’t have a choice.

Robert: The last two questions are going to be similar. If you could make a communication to men in this trying, challenging, evolutionary time, what would be your communication to men? What would you like to tell them?

Kasia: I would like to give them an instruction, an order, a command immediately. Ask questions. Ask the women in your life questions about their experiences. Ask the men in your life questions about their experiences. Right now is a time where a lot of the problems we have are still unnamed and largely invisible. Let’s get our attention and awareness on those places to make the invisible visible. Let’s reveal how this structure actually works so we can take it the fuck down for the benefit of men, for the benefit of women, and for the benefit of anybody with a beating heart and a brain in their heads. Ask questions. Not listen, not speak. Ask questions. We need to all go on a massive investigative mission that’s personal to discover what’s actually happening and to find our part in it.

Robert: If you wanted to make a communication to women, one specific communication, would it be the same? Would it be different? What would you broadcast to women of the world today?

Kasia: Test your assumptions: "I just know that this text message meant this." "I just know that my father has it in for me." "I just know that if I ask, I’ll get a no." Just test your assumptions. Have them, test them. The world is a lot friendlier than people realize. There’s a lot more love available out there than people realize. Oftentimes, it just takes a tiny point of contact for that love to be released and feed all parties present.

Robert: The future is bright for you. How do people work with you? What’s available? How do people find out more about you and the work you and Ruben are doing?

Kasia: A good starting point is to go to the website that’s being updated constantly with resources and some free materials that anybody can use. The website is Feel free to email us also with questions. We love to communicate with people, even people who aren’t our students, and continue taking the temperature and discovering what’s happening out there.

Robert: Do you have an upcoming lectures?

Kasia: Cornering Harvey Version Two, Verbal Self-Defense Training Camp. If you are in New York and you want to spend an evening on February 9th training with us and applying some of these techniques and tools, join us. That information is also on the website.

Robert: Thank you so much. It’s an absolute honor to have you on the show. It’s an honor to work with you on doing such important work. I thank you for your why. I thank you for your message and what you’re doing, the impact you’re causing.