The Producer submitted some changes to one of my scenes that had left me in a bit of a head spin. Most were a matter of personal taste, communication and frame of reference/experience—which we worked out by asking questions of one another’s intentions. The conversation was smooth, and we both got what we wanted with just a little clarification as to our own points of view for the others’ comfort. Oh, how I wish all collaborations could work that way.
What I didn’t bring up, because it wasn’t an important bone to pick at the moment was this scene where two changes were made because he clearly had no idea what I was talking about.
The original scene wherein someone clucks my female character’s chin, not once but twice. The Producer thought I had typoed and changed both instances to “Plucks”—with a P. (he was probably like, wtf is this Athena?)
I laughed when I read it because WHO IN GOD’S NAME REACHES OVER AND PLUCKS A CHIN? Like, was it hairy? Was there a stray whisker to be plucked?
Then I realized, the Producer is a man. He’s tall and confident, and strong—he has likely never been in a situation where other men/people condescendingly or even affectionately reach over and cluck your chin. He has no frame of reference for what it is to be a forty-year-old woman and have strange men, and sometimes well-meaning dudes of familiarity just help themselves to your face because you are a woman and socially groomed to be touchable. (yes, this is changing)
I changed all the “p/clucks” to “lift” because it was more understandable for a male to read it, but then I sat for a long time staring at my screen. What would it be like to not know, not even have a frame of reference for that level of lost autonomy on a social/societal level?
My whole life I have only ever known that as a woman, men would randomly cluck my chin, touch my cheek, pat my shoulder, touch my lower back, attempt to guide me by my shoulder through a doorway, and groom me in a dozen different physical ways because it is a constant state of gender role placement. Subtle dominance affirmations by way of micro actions—not bold enough to cause alarm, but just enough to assert hierarchy. What would it even be like to not have had to spend a decade avoiding physical touch because that social pattern was never a thing?
Some of these behaviors mask themselves behind chivalry, or a physical touch love language, which is a whole other conversation, and why some people can’t tell the difference between chivalry and socially dominant grooming and react to both with the same level of venom. No need to comment, here, we’ll circle back at some point. Chivalry is awesome and totally has a place in the world—but not when hiding or supporting toxic dominant placements or grooming. It’s a murky area, and many people don’t know how to differentiate the intentions in the moment. This problem is further compounded by people with physical touch or deeds as a love language. So we can chat about the multiple variances, and gray areas of interpretation some other time.
A chin cluck can be endearing (which is how I wrote it in the scene) or condescending. It can be dominant or encapsulating. It can be so many things—but evidently, not something a tall, strong, dude such as the Producer would ever need to anticipate, quantify, or work around. No dude would ever reach out and cluck another man’s chin, unless it was his son or younger male subordinate. So, of course, the Producer would not even know what the hell I was talking about in that scene.
The equally beautiful thing was that the Producer didn’t recognize it as an actionable word because it clearly also would never occur to him to perform a chin cluck. So, pluck was the obvious choice? A stray whisker pluck, perhaps? I adore him for the fact that the random face cluck is not part of his experience either as a giver or a receiver. His neutrality on the topic, and his nearest association of the action gave me giant warm feels. Pluck away, my friend. Pluck away. (Seriously, if I have a fucking chin hair, GET IT.)
And because the rabbit hole beckoned, I had to close my laptop and step away from it for a minute, with a sick feeling of loss in the pit of my stomach for the forty years spent being tuned to the reality that my experience has been so opposite from his.
God, how I wish it had just been a typo. What a world that would be. Just one little letter separated my world experience from his.
THIS is why we have art. THIS is why we tell stories.
We will never know the other side of the experience if we don’t tell stories, and listen to others’ stories—especially when it’s unsettling. Our own frame of reference cannot and should not be the only forms of acceptable truth. It’s uncomfortable—but knowing the other sides, finding empathy for those perspectives, is exactly how we heal and move forward… together.
Athena lives and writes in the Siuslaw Forest, Oregon.