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Instigated from the Me Too Movement, BCIT alum Nicolle Hodges conceived Men Who Take Baths, a project that consists of interviews with 15 men about masculinity in a changing world and what that means for feminism.
For Men Who Takes Baths, Hodges interviews and has in-depth conversations with men while they are taking a bubble bath. For the most recent Vancouver edition of this project, Hodges interviewed activists and artists within the LGBTQ community, as well as former Vancouver Whitecaps captain Jay Demerit and Letter Kenny producer Theo Kim. These interviews were then turned into an intimate art show that included a panel discussion and a live bubble bath interview with one audience member.
Hodges, who formerly worked as an editor at Herb and reporter at VancityBuzz (now known as the Daily Hive), has shifted her career focus by devoting her time to running Men Who Takes Baths, along with the sexuality themed digital publication Girls Who Say F**K. She’s also writing a Dr. Seuss-style book about the power of orgasms titled, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go Oh Oh.”
We chatted with Hodges hours before the start of her Vancouver Men Who Take Baths art show to learn more about her ambitious project.
When did you first think of the Men Who Take Baths idea?
It was 2017, right after #MeToo. There were a lot of women in my life that started asking, “where are the good men?” I knew a lot of the good men—they didn’t know what to say or how to participate in the conversation on making change—I think it was just a feeling of being overwhelmed on where to even begin. I wanted to make sure that we never forget how to speak to one another. I was in a plane looking out over the city and thinking about all the intricate lives down below—something just clicked in my mind and I turned to a friend of mine and said, “we’re going to put 15 men in bubble baths and interview them about masculinity and what that means to feminism, so when a woman asks where are all the good men we can say that they are in the bath.”
How did you come up with the bubble bath part?
I think that the bubble baths was an idea playing with what masculinity is from a visual standpoint. Just having a lot of men in my life that I can speak open and honest with, a lot of which would tell me that they love having baths and would never admit to having one—which I always found kind of funny.
How has this project evolved over the years?
Well I would say that there are certain aspects that I keep the same. I want to create the consistency within the parameters so that everything that happens within that can change and becomes more obvious when it does. For instance, it’s always men in baths, they always get asked the same sequence of questions and sometimes I jump around in terms of order but every man gets asked the same questions and gives a different answer. The point of that is to show that we can present someone with the same idea and the way that they interpret and reflect it back is going to be completely different, which demonstrates the power of words and our subjective experiences.
How do you choose whom you’re going to interview? Is there a selection process?
Well the first time it was just men that were in my immediate circle. Since then, I try to go one degree of separation outside of my circle every time I do it. I’ll usually ask one of the men who participated if they can recommend somebody and that usually has a really interesting snowball effect. This time [in Vancouver] we decided to put out a survey and see if we can get some people through that and we got quite a few responses back. We ended up picking two of the men who have been nominated by friends.
Do you conduct these interviews one person at a time? Or is it in groups?
Could you imagine if I put 15 men in a bubble bath? That’s called a jacuzzi. (Laughs).
I was imagining a room of 15 men in bubble baths. (Laughs).
No, it’s all quite civilized—I do it one at a time. We try to factor in about an hour and half to two hours for each person.
This isn’t just an interview, it’s a conversation, so a lot of the time I’m sharing things as I’m also asking the questions. I find that afterwards when the men get out of the baths they want to hang out some more—they’ve shared intimate moments from their lives and it feels like we’re bonded in a special way after that.
How does the art show element come into play?
So we design the art show like a living room or we do it in a house—the place that we’re doing it tonight is in someone’s apartment and it also doubles as a photography studio. The reason for that is when I used to go to art shows, [I realized that] you’d have something in common with all these people and yet you don’t get an opportunity to talk to them.
We wanted to create an atmosphere that was congruent with the ability to interact and to have a conversation, so we said, “you have your most intimate discussions with your friends at home, so what about every time we did an art show it was in a house and we encouraged everyone to stick around and talk to one another.”
It’s an art show because there are photos of the men around and people can look at that, but it’s also an opportunity to forge a connection with someone. We also do a panel discussion, which is more of like a group chat. I’m fully supportive of anyone asking a questions, we’re trying to all be there to learn. At the very end I pull someone from the audience and I interview them live in front of everyone.
This interview is in a bathtub?
In the bath—that’s partly why we have to do it in a house. I bring someone into the bath and interview them live in front of everyone because I think [there is] a certain magic that happens when someone is in a bath. When you mix a childlike activity with adult-like intent, it brings you back to a time before you were inundated with who you thought you should be or what was right or wrong. When a man gets into a bath, a lot of the times he hasn’t a bath since he was a kid. There’s something about it where these layers are being shed and they’re back to a childlike state and just so honest and open—you can’t portray that through words and photography.
Are they actually taking a bath with shampoo? What are the logistics of this bath? (Laughs)
They are in a bubbly kingdom. We use a Lush bath bomb. Lush actually sponsored the last one by providing 25 bath bombs. We go hard in the bath, we’ve got the bubble making down to an art. Our arms are so strong man, we whisk like crazy. They look like kings when they are sitting there.
How many of these art shows have you done?
Three. The first one was at the very end of 2017 in Vancouver, and then I took a little break. Then we have done one in Toronto in June of this year and then this one in Vancouver. We are going to look to get funding and take this to the States—we want to take it to New York and LA and then come to Canada.
Are there any interviews that stand out?
I respect each interview, as it’s own unique experience. I can’t even compare because I’m not going into it with a mindset of comparison. Each person astounds me, surprises me and challenges me in there own way.
Something that surprised me in general, especially with the first one that I did in Vancouver, was that when I was transcribing all the interviews I didn’t realize until afterward that each man in that series actually grew up without a father. That got me thinking, because one of the questions I asked is how do we raise boys into men who view women as equal and it was so heartbreaking to think, “wow, do we have to remove the father?” But what is it about that particular brand of father not being there that has caused these men to be good men, because they were raised by strong independent women—we don’t want that to be the formula for good men.
Have there been any other common themes that have become apparent after conducting all of these interviews? Considering that you are asking everyone the same questions.
One of my favourite questions to ask is how can women include men into the feminism movement because I can never predict how someone is going to answer that and sometimes I get answers like “it’s not a women’s responsibility, it’s our responsibilty to figure out how we can help.” A bunch of other men will answer in a way like, “please guide us and tell us what you want from us because we don’t want to take the charge in this… it’s your turn now.” Some people will also just say, “we reached a critical mass of awareness, and unless we start backing up the things that we’re saying by transformative action we’re not going to get anywhere.” Everyone wants to have the conversation—some people are done talking and want to start doing, and other people want to be told what to do.
At these art show panels, is there usually silence while a few people talk? What is the vibe of the room during this part of the show?
Everyone talks—it’s more of a big group discussion. The talk about gender is interesting right now in general. You get a bunch of people in a room and people get riled up but there is still this air of respect no matter what and that’s what’s cool with what this project instigates—people want to be having these conversations so they respect each other’s point of views.
Last time [in Toronto] two people in the room stood up and talked about their experiences being Trans and how they lived the first half of their lives as women and the second half as men, and the things that they noticed from having the perspective of experiencing the world as both genders. They had everybody in tears; everyone was silent as they shared their stories. Those are the kind of perspectives that are so important and those are things that you can’t plan. You create an atmosphere where people feel comfortable to speak up and that’s when you get the best stories, that’s the beauty of having these types of rooms that we create.
Who are some people that you hope to interview one day for this project? Who’s on your bucket list?
There’s not a bucket list. I’ve never sat down and said, “these are the types of people that I want to interview.” I don’t think there’s a certain person, maybe a certain archetype. I definitely want to interview some bikers because they have a different perspective. I don’t think politicians would be interesting to interview because I think that they are too muzzled and calculated.
(Pauses) Will Smith, Jason Momoa, Seth Rogen…those are some names that we have talked about. Willow Smith, Will Smith’s daughter, actually ended up reposting on Instagram a podcast that I was a part of, so now we’re super adamant on getting her dad.
Correct me if this is wrong, but is this project being turned into a podcast?
Yeah, that’s the hope. Our big dream is to be able to turn this into a podcast, take this across Canada and host live interviews in front of even bigger audiences, maybe even with a bathtub on stage—make it as interactive as possible. We integrated videos this time [in Vancouver]. The first time we did it, it was just photos and transcribed interviews, the second time we did some behind the scenes videos, and this time we actually have the video interviews recorded with two different cameras set up. We keep adding new layers of content, with the goal being that we will actually be able to turn this into something that we can get funding for and take it further…[because] right now it’s all self-funded.