When I arrived at Burning Man in 2014 I was given an event book. I quickly scanned through the book and marked what events that initially interested me. One of the events was called Emote-A-Thon.
On the day of the event, I reread the description; Conscious, present men wish to receive the full force of feminine emotion. Women, express the full depths of your rage, sadness, or passion.
I started thinking what would happen if I was only male at the event. I imagined a scenario of women screaming at me and only me, cause me to pause. The kind of fears that create doubt in you and hold you back in life. However, after thinking about, I decided to go because that is one of the reasons why I was at Burning Man to move out of my comfort zone and to participate.
The event was held at Naked Heart camp, inside a large dome tent. There were fourteen women and fourteen men, from ages twenties to their sixties, in all shapes and sizes. There were only four minorities; two Asians, a black person and me in the entire gathering.
The hosts were a woman and man in their sixties. Seating the tent, I notice there were two young women crying, one silently, but full of anguish. As if they were just assaulted entering the tent. I pass along a handkerchief to one of the women, but she declined it.
We were then broken up into groups of women and men.
Guidelines were one woman, at a time, would walk to the center of the dome and request one man from the group to stand before her. The woman would freely express any of her opinion, thoughts, emotion toward that man, as long as she wanted to. The role of the man was to stand witness and silently listen to her until she was finished. It was up to each woman to when she wanted to speak or choose not to participate.
We, men, were escorted out of the tent and followed the male host outside. He gave us some physical and mental exercises to prepare us for the encounter. I am sure the women did similar kind of process. We returned to the tent and formed a semi-circle on one side of the dome, and I was stood at one end of the circle. The women just gather together.
After a few awkward minutes, a young woman emerged. It was interesting that twenties years old came out first. They selected men who were similar in age. The women express was contempt, fear, and anger. As each woman spoke, the progression of anger grew and grew. Then some of the women started getting physical towards men, like kicking and hitting them.
The male host then stopped the proceeding and announced that if the woman wanted to hit a male, they should select him instead of the others. Unfortunately, that message was too late because that train left the station, hours of gone.
This anger reached it pinnacle when one of the two initial upset women spoke. That woman was crying out loud and spoke with pain in her voice. Then she was followed by the one who was silent, but now burning with rage.
She screamed at all of us repeatedly, then began insulting and downgrading men for their action and motives. After a pause, she announces she could no longer express her anger with words, but needed to slap every man in the tent. She then slapped the man in front of her, quickly.
Then she started towards me. My thoughts followed “Is she really going to slap me?” “How hard is she going to slap me?” “Why is she going to slap me?” “Is she going to slap all of us?” “I have been slapped before, for reasons I didn’t quite understand” “but this. I can understand” “Is she going to slap me hard?” Then she slapped me, very hard on the cheek.
She processed to slap remaining twelve men in the face. Afterward, she says she was still anger and began crying out loud and collapse to the ground. A group of people came forward and pick her up and moved her to the women’s side of the tent. The process continued until all the women have spoken. During the event, one man left the tent and never came back.
Their statements fell into main themes within age groups. Women in the twenties did not trust men who spoke to them. Men often betrayed them or abuse them, or would talk to them about their physical appearance, never asking them who they are.
Women in the thirty’s, selected older men and complaint to them how they were never able to meet their father expectation, disappointed their father, or that he really wanted a son instead. Some men were hit or kicked by these women.
Women in their forties talking about how men stop relating to them once they were married and/or when they had kids. Physical and emotional their men ignored them and stop talking to them. Instead, they focus on their careers, their hobbies and in sports or watching TV.
During this period of the event, I became emotion caught up with these women. Their complaints resonate when me. I had an ex-boyfriend who I lived with that sometimes only say five words to me for the whole day. From the time getting out of bed in the morning, until I went to sleep. Some days he never said a word to me. And attempts to start conversation were futile because his responses were few words, and he would end the sentence using downward inflection to his voice, signaling that the dialog was over. I, too wanted to speak to the men.
Women in their fifties talk about how men were destroying the world and Mother Nature. And women in their sixties mentioned that men were killing their children in wars because of politic needs to show their masculine and pollution the earth.
The one universal fear that all women express initially, the fear of being raped and assaulted.
I was emotional and physical tired after all the woman spoke, but I wanted to express my feeling to them. That opportunity came in a more organized fashion. The women formed a circle, facing outward. The men formed an outer circle around the women, facing inward. We rotated around and had a chance to talk each woman. Some spoke talked to me. Some gave me a hug, held my hand, and others said nothing as I spoke to them.
My message was simple; that I heard their message, will remember it, and be aware of my and other men actions. As I moved around the circle, I met the one woman who slapped us. As I stood in front of her and spoke to her quietly. She said nothing, just stare in my eyes. I still could see there was anger in her eyes. The entire event lasted three hours and thirty minutes.
For a month, after Burning Man, I thought of the event every day. I found it remarkable that these women are not the typical women of the real world. These women make sacrifices getting there and greater sacrifices living in an open, harsh desert for a week. These are strong, individual women, who express themselves openly during Burning Man event, yet felt the same violability like other women.
I told this story to women and received responses that I was not expected, and one, in particular, that was disturbing. Some of the response that they were relieved that they are no longer attractive men attention anymore due to their age or their physical appearance. Some have noticed that men now are looking at their teenage girls, instead. They would describe their experiences ranging from men said that they would be more attractive if they smile or change their hair style to men staring at their breasts during a business meeting.
One time I told this story to a heterosexual couple and a single woman. The woman was in her late forties and couple in their late fifties. Soon as I finished the story, the young woman stated she did not believe that event was real but was staged. She felt the themes were too political correct to be true. The conversation continued until she suddenly blurted out that she was raped twice while attending two house parties, by men she knew. One time she was drugged and another time she was drunk and blackout. We said nothing, then she added that rapes had no ill effects on her. Nobody response to her admission and she never said any more about it. The discussion wined down into uncomfortable silence.
In hindsight, I would still go to the event because what I witness and learned was well worth the discomfort I experience. I thought I had a healthy amount of empathy toward women, but I was wrong. Like a Socrates’ slap, I found there was more depth I could imagine what some women feeling toward men.
Some men may be walked away from the event thinking that female hormones or misperception of men actions were over blow. However, the purpose of the event was to witness, not to judge. Each women statement was real to her and only her.
Regardless what bias, prejudice, or hate she had; it was her genuine feelings, at that moment. And I hope it was a cathartic moment for them. I also learned there are some women who will never forgive men and a few women who will discredit the suffrage of women. That I feel will result in fueling men hostile behavior.
At the Burning Man website, I saw that the event is being held again this year.
One thing to do: to know someone you need to listen, not judge.