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Smile, you look prettier

research by Syntia

When you see a person as an object, all morals go out the window. When a person is seen as a human, it’s fearful for some. “They knew what they did was wrong. But when she was an object there was no wrongdoings. This showed me the importance of boundaries.”

Marina Abramović was one of the first performance artists to become formally accepted by the institutions of museums with major solo shows taking place throughout Europe and the United States. She created some of the most important early works in this practice, including Rhythm 0 (1974), in which she offered herself as an object of experimentation for the audience.

The body has always been both her subject and medium. Through the risk to her own personal limits in this work, and her acceptance of taking that risk as an artist, Abramovic has explored collective action and responsibility.

Today Abramović has become one of the most influential performance artists in history for her use of her own body as both the subject and the medium in performances which test her physical and mental endurance, while also emphasizing audience interaction.

Despite the online criticism directed at her by the media and press, it often expresses the fear of the art which is not limited to paintings, but art made of trust, vulnerability and connection. “There’s so many people who think that what I’m doing is not art at all. If I read this, I will never even leave home.”

Marina Abramović’s shocking Rhythm 0 performance shows why we still cannot trust people in power.

In 1974, Marina Abramović dared an audience to use objects including chains, rose, lipstick and knives on her body - and their willingness to abuse her revealed frightening truths about misogyny.

“The Rhythm 0” performance lasted six hours. At first, her audience was passive. But, as time went on, they became violent. The photographs of the day show predominantly men, using the objects to cut into her skin, rip her clothes, stick a knife between her legs, and attach a piece of paper to her body that read “VILE”.

While the photographs made me feel discomfort and anguish, seeing the vast table hit even harder. It’s a monument not just to Abramović’s fearlessness and resilience, the way she tested her mental and physical pain thresholds to extremes, but also to her trust in the audience. A number of her other performance pieces have been recreated with younger artists, but Rhythm 0 has not. I doubt it would be allowed, which leads to the question – can we still not trust people when they are placed in a position of power?

One of the comments on the retrospective says: “I’ve been studying about gaslighting and psychological abuse, and I find that this piece describes exactly what is the risk of not learning to say “no”, when you are too empathic or sensitive.”

And what about the psychological abuse, bullying, and gaslighting in the workplace? How often women and men are willing to show the truth about the physical aggression, sexual harassment and psychological abuse?

One of the most common forms of violence at work is sexual harassment and what is worrying is that between 74% and 75% of women with vocational training or those who occupy senior leadership positions have experienced it at some time in their lives according to a study carried out in 2014 by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA).

It adds that work environments and exposure to situations where there is a high risk of aggression are among the reasons for this, as well as the lack of awareness among professional women of what is considered sexual harassment.


An example of forms of sexual harassment is caused by hostile work environments, where the treatment of the victim can be intimidating and humiliating. The World Health Organization (WHO), for its part, defines violence and harassment at work as “those incidents in which the person is subjected to abuse, threats or attacks in circumstances related to their work with the implication that their safety, well-being or health is explicitly or implicitly threatened.

Mobbing is often characterized by systematic harassment by damaging the reputation of the victim, isolating and objectifying people, making them unproductive with work that isn’t related to responsibilities or imposing impossible deadlines.

Therefore, provokation, threats, insulting, shouting, degrading or obscene comments, defamations, professional discrediting, not letting the victim speak, imitating the way they walk or talk, causing damage to their belongings, minimizing their efforts and the excessive control of their working hours are only a handful of examples of a huge amount of actions that constitute harassment and workplace violence.

A certain kind of violence can be found inside the workplace, one that is characterized by being non perceived: “micromachismos”. For the Argentine psychologist Luis Bonino – who coined this term at the beginning of the 90s – they are “attitudes of mild domination or very low intensity. They are, specifically, clever forms of control, subtle or insidious, repetitive and almost invisible behaviors that men are always perpetrating”. Clear examples are the phrases, “Smile, you look prettier”, or “Women should stay at home”. When a company opts for male candidates for a particular position or when in a meeting the woman’s proposal is ignored in favor of her male peer who suggests the same thing, these are all common examples of the prevailing “micromachismos” in the workplace. It is a form of discrimination against women.

However, the consequences of these abuses often leave indelible scars on the victims and cause strong deterioration in mental and physical health, requiring therapy and rehabilitation specialists. Anxiety, depression, panic attacks, sleep disorders, headaches, cognitive disorders related to attention and memory, feelings of vulnerability and difficulties in establishing relationships, among others, impact negatively on work performance.

It is necessary that companies carry out initiatives to raise awareness among employees about the reality of violence and harassment against women and men in the workplace, so that they know how to recognise it, prevent it, act in case it is necessary, and encourage their peers to report assaults.

In this year organizations as World Health Organization (WHO), UN Women, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched the online platform raising awareness in policies and programmes to prevent and respond to violence against women with a public health, gender equality and human rights priority. Their policies for call of an action for policy makes are implemented by factors: Know the facts Assess risk and protective factors Implement strategies to prevent violence against women Assess evidence for interventions Develop a theory of change Apply the guiding principles for prevention Strengthen enabling environment for prevention Adapt and scale-up what works Monitor, evaluate and measure progress Commit to action

If you are experiencing harassment at your workplace, the question you need to consider is, “where do I need to be in my professional development when it will no longer be tolerated this way?”

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