Men Who Take Baths

Robert Chaplin

Canada, 2019
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Lots of famous guys died in the bathtub.

I know you have some theories about Genghis Khan?

Still today, we reward the most aggressive man, the man with the most money and power. That’s a dodgy proposition. I don’t know what we do to fix it.

You’ve seen some things and lived through it... 

But I wasn’t alive when Genghis Khan was. Everybody loved Genghis. I don’t think he exercised toxic masculinity. I think he took power and held it. His son, Kubla, had the power handed to him and exercised toxic masculinity.

What does it mean to be a man, today?

It means having the choice every morning between growing your beard and shaving your face. The rest of it is that I’m male and I’m an adult. What does it mean to be an adult? It means I have to keep promises I made to myself as a child.

And what are those promises?

That I would make the time to do the things I wanted, like art, drawing pictures, making carvings, and just creating. I keep that promise.

You’ve had the freedom to do that?

I’ve taken that power.

Because it’s been rewarded to you as your birthright?

No, you take it. Nobody is going to give that to you. You have to force that will onto the world.

You’ve been allowed to take it?

You kind of have to put your middle finger up and say hi to anybody that says you are going to be theirs or do their thing.

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Is taking power toxic?

I think toxic masculinity speaks to abusing power. I think women are equal to that. I think women can abuse power just as well as any man.

In what way?

I don’t know if I can describe in what way but I’m pretty sure girls bully each other. There is no difference there. I think it’s part of the human condition. Inappropriate use of power is the thing that’s wrong.

Talking about gender equality, we’re putting a lot of weight on men to—and these are things I’ve heard throughout this project—sacrifice power in order to give women the space to acquire it.

I’m not going to say that. I’ll be the person who won’t say that.

What will you say?

That Genghis Khan took power. I don’t know what Margaret Thatcher did. She took power too. She was one of the most despotic but greatest rulers in the modern era. She won. She had her thing. It’s up to people as individuals to take the power they need to do the thing they want to do. You can’t wait around for someone to hand it to you. You know that. You have to do that work. You’re taking that power.

What are you doing?

I just made a bunch of crows, which I pre-sold, so I could have the time to make more things.

Why did you say yes to doing this?

Sitting in the bathtub with a whiskey is fun. It’s a safe place. Lots of famous guys died in the bathtub.

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What’s the difference between Genghis Khan and Harvey Weinstein?

Genghis Khan had the guts to go out there and take the power. Harvey Weinstein abused the power he had. Maybe he had the guts to take it but once he had it he didn’t exercise it in an appropriate way. We’re not going to look three generations or 100 years from now and see a whole bunch of Weinstein’s running around.

What does power look like today?

Any individual who wants to do something different than what they’re told to do, anyone who imagines their life differently and has the energy and fortitude to actually work it in that direction to make their dream happen.

Are you able to say that as a white man of privilege?

I’m not saying that as a white man of privilege, I’m saying that it’s the right of every individual that they exercise their imagination and go outside of what they’re told. Everyone has the right to their mind.

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People are more relaxed, they might slip up or say something profound.

How do we raise boys into men who view women as equal?

By not abusing power and by acknowledging that men and women bring different energies to the dance.

Can you elaborate?

I think that we’re different but those differences don’t make us unequal, they make us human.

The idea of gender equality is such a loaded term because it makes it seem like women need to do the same as men.

They can do whatever the fuck they can imagine. Anyone can do anything they want to do. Unless you’re four feet tall and don’t have enough vertical to play in the NBA. I’m talking about exercising your creativity and personal genius. You can do what you want to do.

What is Men Who Take Baths advocating for?

Individual rights and freedoms. And the right for people to be respected as individuals regardless of gender identity. Respected based on nothing besides the fact that you’re human.

People have had epiphanies in bathtubs. And maybe you’re washing the dudes up too. They come in dirty and you wash them up clean! That’s an interpretation. You’re asking powerful questions. People are more relaxed, they might slip up or say something profound. 

I feel like everything you say has a double meaning to it.

Everything everyone says does. All the time. We’re living in a whole world like that.

What’s the truth?

The truth is that I’m sitting in a bathtub.

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I’m interested in your thoughts on collective consciousness versus individualism.

I think individuals’ rights and responsibilities are where it stops. If you can’t do the right thing individually then how can you expect anyone else to? If you advocate for a society where people have the right and freedom to do what they want to do, you’re advocating for the best that people can do without forcing their head into a box.

Why are we tripping over semantics?

Because everybody is spoiling for a fight. Do you notice that?

Why are we getting caught up if it’s slowing us down?

Divide and conquer has always been an issue. Hugh Hefner put naked ladies in Playboy magazine and made every 14-year-old boy think that it was normal and that they could have everything they want. Gloria Steinham told young ladies that they could take the pill and have a career and everything they want. Both of them were advertising the same cause and the same thing and I’m sure Gloria and Hugh had a fabulous time together at the American Magazine Trade Convention every year. Divide and conquer means more money for everyone. If you can keep people fighting, you can sell a lot more stuff. That’s one angle. 

Or, if they’re going after each other, they’re not going after you. If you advocate personal rights and responsibility, you take that shit out of the equation. If we operate with respect for one another, we can make a better world. If you keep people divided with ‘isms’ then you have conflict. If you’re not this then you must be that. It’s group mentality that puts people at odds.

I started this project right after #MeToo when the world felt like too much to handle.

See, you started washing the boys up! Fair enough.

It was also about celebration. I wanted to create a roster of allies but more than that, it’s about never forgetting how to talk to one another.

Right, because that’s where you find good people. If you can talk to people, you can find out who is good. Like you’ve said, getting angry is the easy part. It’s a complicated world. Anybody with power has the opportunity to abuse it. That’s wrong. Life is short. We only have about 115 years on this planet if we’re lucky.

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