As research towards a tour series I’d like to do, I went and sat in a park with a sign, a notebook and lots of sliced apples to ask people in those spaces how they felt about them and whether they felt there could be work done or if we could work together to make better spaces for us to come together. On the way over a friend helped me carry a table, and I discussed with her our mutual hesitations to do performativity interventionist work as women, and how this hesitation extended even to trying to befriend or be cordial with strangers. It’s a protection thing, learning how to negotiate spaces that make you feel unsafe by way of gendered oppression. It’s hard being female-bodied in public. One of the women I spoke to while at my table told me, “I don’t want to interact with anyone, I don’t feel safe to. I don’t think that’s something you can fix though, it’s a societal problem- one that won’t stop until these men learn they can’t have anyone they want and they can’t chat us all up because it makes us feel profoundly unsafe.” I didn’t feel too unsafe today, in broad daylight with a guise of survey to protect me from having strangers think I was actually just chatting them up, but those feelings of being unsafe were still present, in the back of my mind.
I polled people on their interactions, the overwhelming conclusions being that dog walkers have it made in terms of having their interactions facilitated. They’re the main strangers talking, followed by people giving each other compliments. The things that people here wanted were shows in the parks for their kids, clean parks, outdoor markets, and the skating rink from a few winters before to come back, and an overwhelming need for safety.
Negotiating this safety for persons of marginalized gender identities is so difficult, without labeling unsafe elements or feeling like parks would be safer without certain people or allowing the bourgeoise nature of the history of parks to win out and following the logic of gentrification as solution. Many women were keen to talk to me about safety, sitting down beside me with cigarettes and recounting people asking them on dates, or following them home or about knowing to avoid the men drinking out of brown paper bags. I don’t want a safety that is exclusionary, but one that might be able to make everyone feel safe through mutual respect. I’m not sure how this happens. Maybe this is where I should focus, and keep asking about- how to have these conversations about safety, and get men in on them.
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The Mail Project takes place through letter writing workshops, a drop off mailbox and a clothesline to serve as a central point for the distributing of letters, free for the public to take. Little Letters to Strangers: The Mail Art Project aims to explore methods of creating radical anonymous ephemeral communities of exchange and resistance through communication, The goal of this project is to create micro moments of utopia and of recognition of alternate modes of connection to serve as models for larger social structures of societal self-care.
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A 15 minute play-performance outside Concordia’s VA building