Emotions govern judgement, which is why there a need for us to understand and use them as fuel for our passion. But the passion of a man is different from a woman. In a patriarchal society, women don’t have a voice and their passion burn out to the point that they just freeze. Kasia Urbaniak teaches women the Art of Verbal Self-Defense, a tool to use to get back their voices when their systems freeze . This is also a way to flip the power dynamic by asking questions about the question. Learn how safety can be built through experience and play back with society in a sassy and classy way.
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The Art of Verbal Self-Defense with Kasia Urbaniak
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?
I’m so happy to be here. I’m really good.
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?
I feel two ways about it. It depends on when you catch me.
How about right now?
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.
The unknown woman, the woman who you’ve never touched personally, reading, getting inspired by what you do, that’s what turns you on?
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?
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.
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?
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?”
Then I feel like I’m doing something wrong immediately. That’s what I’m thinking about.
You can’t win. If you agree, you’re a fucking 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
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?
I think one of the things that we, as a human civilization, lack is 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.
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.
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?
One 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.
One 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.
That fits in with my lenience that men are dumb and women are angry. 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.
There 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.
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?
It’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.
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.”
That 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?”
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.
There’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?”
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?
I 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.
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.
Safety 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.
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?
Thank 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.
I try to be a normal person when I left OneTaste, I really did. I tried to be a civilian but then a day or two out of it, I’m getting bored and I’m like, “I’ve still got something to say in the importance of that.” 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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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 KasiaUrbaniak.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.
Do you have an upcoming lecture?
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.
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.
Thank you so much, Rob.
For more shows, please visit TuffLove.live, also available on iTunes, Stitcher and all your favorite podcast apps on your phone. It’s an exciting time and expansion, 2018, for all of us. I really liked what Kasia said, the two things. I think it really applies for all genders and all people. One is to ask questions, which is akin to test your assumptions. We do make a lot of assumptions out of self-protection. Your ability to break through this can change your entire life. In my personal life, I have the good fortune of having a partner, my wife Morgan, where we constantly chat about every single thought in our head. From that, there’s so much expansion and possibilities. I do recommend it as a practice.
Thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you, Kasia and Ruben, for the work you do. Thank you to my friend, Michelle, for announcing it on the Sister Goddess network. I appreciate that. Thank you all of you for living and growing and expanding. It’s a special world out there. Let’s make it as optimal as possible. Go forth. Get some nookie. Enjoy. I love you. I’ll talk to you soon.
- Kasia Urbaniak
- New York Magazine
- Psychology Today
- Women’s Marches
- Cornering Harvey Version Two, Verbal Self-Defense Training Camp
- Sister Goddess
- Kasia’s email
- Verbal Self-Defense Online Course