Day 317 with Michele Clarke, 100%

The selfie
This is Michele Clarke and I in a selfie at the end of our day together. Michele is a photographer who is interested in vulnerability and the seams of emotional discomfort. I met her through 52 Pick Up, a video-a-week project that I created and manage where she is currently in week 34. I finally met Michele in person about a month ago at the Edgy Women Festival and later at a mutual friend’s super fun birthday party where the birthday celebrator got into an over-guests/furniture wrestling match with an MMA fighter with feet headlocks and everything as a kind of birthday present.

It was pretty awesome.

At the party, Michele and I got to talking about vulnerability in relationship to this project and my daily wearing of animal print. She had noticed that there was no documentation of people around me or me in public settings on this site representing the project aside from selfies, portraits, and performing proximity images. I talked about my definite interest in getting these types of images, but what I saw as difficulty in taking them as I did not want to draw more attention to myself with a visible photographer. I mentioned that I had considered a Sophie Calle approach of hiring a detective to follow me around, but with my penchant for paranoia, decided that this was not the best idea. Michele offered great insights into my relationship with performing in public spaces and vulnerability which I am grateful for, pointing me to Haley Morris Cafiero’s work, and offered to come back to Montreal and follow me around with a telephoto lens in the hopes of capturing public interactions.

Below is one of the images she took from a two-hour walk today around the Plateau which is fairly representative of the looks and stares I got during this time and through which, Michele was fairly invisible. She was usually across the street and people were not noticeably aware of her, but were of me. As you may or may not be aware, this outfit is pretty reflective of what I have been wearing daily since June 1st, 2012.

I encountered a family in which a girl who was about 7 wore a leopard print coat and stroked it as she stared at me when I passed. I said hello to the family and I think she wanted to say something, but she just kept rubbing her coat. Another girl with her mother exclaimed “C’est beau, c’est beau, c’est beau!” over and over again to me which frankly, was awesome. I said “bonjour.”

I was called “la Gazelle” as I passed a couple (not sure what that is about- this is just the wrong animal, but I’ll take it for my research), and there were a handful of snorts by passersby (usually women). One woman who was by herself said “Calis” under her breath as she passed. The rest of the commentators that I heard were in couples or groups. I got growled at by a middle-aged man in the park who was with his female friends- it was playful and not aggressive, and 2 separate women laughed with their group as I walked by on St. Laurent Blvd.

Obviously, I’m going to have to start wearing a wire.

The old man

Day 138: Cougar Diary, 95%

Today a woman in my class (did I mention I am doing my PhD?) said I should “tone it down” if I wanted people to “get” the cougar reference in my year long, daily wearing of animal print. (She was talking about my eccentric colour choices, and thought I should stick to the browns and recognizable leopard prints associated with the cougar.) She asked if I was “performing” cougar. I said I was trying to live it as best I could. (I meant the daily wearing of the animal print, not the predatory cougar lifestyle that the stereotype implies, which I should really articulate more clearly.) Someone else wanted to know if I was more aggressive (I know- more aggressive than what?!), and again, they meant in reference to the cougar stereotype, and I said that I wasn’t jumping 19-year-olds for the project, but I had been surpassing my self-imposed rule of wearing 60% visible animal print to 95-100%, and had started to stand next to animal print wearing women on the metro. Women over 40, if they notice, move away from me however subtly, and younger women have pointedly laughed, stared or not noticed. I also mentioned that I had successfully and confidently walked down Crescent Street (at 3 in the afternoon) a few weeks ago, and stopped myself from executing a plan to return in different outfits and walk the same route at various times to log deprecating, cougar-calling comments as data for my research. I decided against this awesome plan because although I am sure that it would generate data similar in depth and scope as the reddit conversation did about an image posted on this site, this isn’t a project in humiliation, although depending on the day and the outfit, it can be (awwww). This brings up a whole other conversation about predetermined outcomes in research and “asking for it,” which I will need to address, especially in light of rape “culture where women’s bodies are public property.”

So. I am still not the cougar you are looking for.
Not even in an academic setting.

And that’s cool because although the cougar stereotype is the root of this project, I think I have established early on that sporting a house-high hair-do with full make-up in a tight leopard print dress in stilettos with attitude to match is simply not sustainable for me everyday of the year. Nor is it comfortable. Nor is that the point. But it’s great to have these conversations, because I am interested in her and what people have to say about her- this cougar we all seem to know and have (strong) opinions about whether we embrace, mock, sexualize, or vilify her.

I also mentioned to my classmates that with my 2-inch roots, need of a mustache wax, and extra pounds, obviously, I’m a pretty shitty cougar. And that’s kind of the point too.