#MeToo

#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 https://themetoodialogues.com. 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.

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 weteachpower.com. 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.