Have you ever felt so frustrated by something that you have breached etiquette and societal norms to voice your opinion? It happened the other night. Not by me. By another woman. Myself, a few hundred women and three men were lucky enough to get tickets to hear Elizabeth Gilbert speak last Thursday. We expected her to talk about Big Magic, about creativity, about the mysterious spark of ideas and I suppose we all wanted to go away a little inspired.
Mia Freedman hosted the event and she asked Liz (as fans call her) about all of those things. She also asked about a Facebook post Liz wrote calling out women judging other women for cosmetic surgery under the guise of being “sad” about it. You can read Liz’s perspective here.
The conversation came to what seemed a natural end but Mia continued with her questioning. I know that female body image and acceptance is something Mia is passionate about. In her time at women’s magazines she championed diversity in model sizes. It’s something that she talks about a lot through her social media channels. I could see that Liz’s point of view was something that Mia found confronting and genuinely wanted clarification on. Should we really accept that women psychically altering their appearance to fit into a societal norm is their own choice and just let it go. Is it really their own choice? Should we respect a woman’s choice no matter what part of the body she might be choosing to assert control over? Mia wanted to explore issues of patriarchy and unrealistic beauty ideals.
All interesting things, no doubt. It just wasn’t what the audience was there to hear. And this wasn’t meant to be a personal discussion between Mia and Liz. People paid for tickets to glean a little Big Magic. Someone called her out. From the front row someone stood up and said “We didn’t come to hear about female body image and hostility. We came to hear about creativity.”
That was abrupt. Perhaps it was rude. Perhaps it was a heckle or a jibe. But it was also a reflection of what many people in that room thought at the time. We came for inspiration and light. Not female politics. Mia reeled and Liz took it in good grace. The conversation came back to where it started and we learned more about Liz’s perspectives on fear and creativity, on just doing the work and on turning dreams into reality — even when it means smashing the original dream to get there. The stuff people who read Big Magic and were inspired by it came to hear.
The whole incident made me think. Would someone have been so brazen in times past? To call out in the middle of what is essentially a performance? What made that woman comfortable enough to do that? On Mia’s side, what made her continue a line of questioning that clearly fell outside the ambit of what the evening was touted as? What made her comfortable enough to do that? Are we all just getting a little bit too comfortable? Are walls coming down that perhaps should be staying up?
From a purely selfish perspective, I was glad that women spoke up, even while my own propriety would never allow me to. While I found the body talk interesting, it didn’t seem to be going anywhere new and we only had 90 minutes of Liz’s precious time. I wanted to hear more about her approach to creativity, which is what we were promised.
In the closing minutes we were gifted with a beautiful analogy about dreamy tourmaline butterfly ideas — perfect and gorgeous — floating through the ether and tied to us only in imagination. But to make the thing, we need to take that beautiful butterfly and smash it. The butterfly we eventually make might be hackneyed and misshapen, it may bear no resemblance to the lofty ideal. But it will be real. It will be made. And isn’t that the thing?
If that woman hadn’t been brave or rude or frustrated enough to interrupt, we may never have received that story. The evening may have continued along an important tangent, but a tangent nonetheless.
What do you think? Was that an okay thing to do?
Have you ever experienced something similar?