Kasia's definition of true power and why she doesn't teach women to reach for compromise.
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.
Alexandra: And, her only job is to try to come up with a response?
Kasia: No, her job is to question the questioner.
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 HerRulesRadio.com, 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.