There are cultural structures in place today that are designed to keep those who are wealthy in place. Whether they are celebrities, rich, poor, black, white, male, or female. There’s always this idea of status in a community. And that needs to change or at least be restructured.
Join Whitney Lauritsen as she talks to Sarah Dixon about human hierarchy and culture. Sarah is an artist and the Owner of Sarah Dixon Studio. She offers digital training and coaching so that you can grow your creative genius. She is also the Co-Founder of The Women’s Art Activation System, which focuses primarily on activating women’s art.
Join in the conversation as Whitney and Sarah discuss mental illness and how people with ADHD perceive the idea of status. Find out how meritocracy affects a community. Discover why people do violent acts. Also, learn why people yearn for that celebrity status. There is so much to learn in today’s episode, so make sure to tune in!
Listen to the podcast here
Rethinking Cultural Structures With Sarah Dixon
There are two things I have been thinking a lot about. One of them is longer than the other but the first is neurodivergence. I was not very familiar with this term. As I have spoken about in some previous episodes, I have been on a journey to look into my neurodivergence and recognize the characteristics of ADHD, as well as autism. That has been fascinating, at times, a little vulnerable. I am feeling a bit unsure about it all but other times, feeling like I understand myself better.
I saw my sister for the first time since I dug into all of this. She also identifies as having ADHD. Neither one of us has been fully evaluated. Through understanding how it manifests and doing some research, as well as some self-tests, it seems clear that we, as well as other family members of ours, since it tends to be genetic, likely have ADHD, if not other forms of neurodivergence.
That was one thing that made me very interested in speaking with the guest, Sarah Dixon. Sarah, another thing that compelled me about your passions is advocating for differences, navigating differences within one another, not just mentally but also physically and how things like our skin color and heritage can contribute to us feeling outcasts, treated differently and oppressed even. I love, Sarah, that you are passionate about advocating for others. You and I are both White women and using our position and privileges to support marginalized people.
I love that you are doing that work, Sarah. I am looking forward to discussing that with you and hearing what inspired you to start this type of work. That is a great way to begin here. Going back to your history, you brought up as a young child things like a chronic illness. Is that something that started in your childhood or is this something that developed as your life went on? At what age did you realize you had ADHD?
You have touched on so many interesting areas that I would love to dive into a bit more. I developed a chronic illness, rheumatoid arthritis and discovered I had ADHD. I started to learn about it in the last number of years. As a child, I had a lot of experiences in different cultures. We traveled and moved around to different countries.
In my family, there is a tendency to want to seek out new experiences and a lot of extra stimulation. That is part of the background of why that type of culture that I was born into. The emergence of the concept of ADHD helped me understand myself in the world and made so much sense of my experiences as a child, adolescent and as an adult.
It is a contributing factor to developing a chronic illness, which is a complicated thing. Part of the ADHD typical burnout cycles can create chronic stress and that can be layered with traumas and genetic predisposition to trigger an autoimmune disease such as I am living with. It was my early childhood experiences of being different that created my passion for inclusion, equity and understanding what difference means. Even though I did not name it and did not know it, it was always felt that I was being brought up as someone very privileged and very central in the culture that surrounds us. I still have this strong sense of difference. There are other reasons as well but we could go into that a bit more.
I felt emotion come up in me as you were sharing that, Sarah, because I have been so passionate about inclusion for as long as I can remember as well. I do not even know if I recognize feeling different. Maybe I did but as kids, if you do not have anyone else identifying and pointing it out to you, for me, at least, I was internalizing it, taking it on as a bit of a burden and spending so much of my life trying to change and fit in. Looking back, I think, “Perhaps all this desire to change and fit in was because I felt different and I did not want to.” I felt like there was something wrong with being different.What does it mean to love nature? Who gets to love it, and who is not supposed to? Click To Tweet
Also, from my research on neurodivergence, one of the strengths that neurodivergent people have is that they tend to notice a lot of details, especially in other people. I am not sure if this manifests that way for you, Sarah but I felt very in touch with nature and also tuned into how other people were feeling. I have so much sensitivity that I seem to notice everything. I remember so much of my life pointing out things that I noticed. Other people would think it was weird that I noticed it.
Classic signs of having neurodivergence can be like being sensitive to sound, light and textures. I picked up on all of that stuff and assumed other people would as well. When I would point out when things were bothering me, a lot of people would say, “You are too sensitive. Do not let it bother you.” It was not until the last number of years that I started to realize, “I do not know if I can change this about myself.”
That sensitivity though, to tie it back to some of the things that you were saying, Sarah, helped me notice when it seemed like other people were uncomfortable or not being treated well and that desire to make sure that everybody felt as happy and included as possible. Were those some of the things that you felt too as a child or throughout your life?
I do recognize a lot of what you are saying, particularly sensitivity, connection to nature and that awareness of what is going on under the surface. For me, that is how I experienced it. I am aware of these unconscious things as if they are quite alive and present in a way that a lot of people do not. I have figured out that they do not see that and they get quite upset if you point out things that they do not want to be aware of.
There are a lot of hidden agendas that I can see happening. It is a gift. I bring it to my art and coaching practice to be able to see the unconscious or the subliminal things that are happening. It can also upset people. Especially when you are young, you may not know why or understand that those things are things that people want to hide. That is one aspect.
I also think of the sensitivity to nature. I was very much raised by my mother, who is Irish. I have learned a bit about how she got this from her father, real deep love and connection for nature but also an anxiety about the harm that humans do to it. It very much caught up together. I studied biology and found an amazing experience because the diversity is off the charts. The creatures that exist are so far beyond anything anyone has imagined as an alien. From the age of about four, I wanted to live in the rainforest. Eventually, this path led me to that becoming a reality. I lived in the Ecuadorian Amazon for a time. I also worked in cloud forests and dry forests.
I think of being neurodivergent as something that is highly adapted to that ecologically diverse environment. The people who pick up on the most subtle cues and others most sensitive to the textures and the sounds are the ones who are going to detect threats in the environment sooner than other people. We were staying in a place where you had to take a light aircraft to take you into the forest. You book it to pick you up but they have to wait for a day where there is clear weather and there are no rainstorms between you and the airfield and where they are coming from.
We had to wait without knowing. This was pre-internet. We had early-stage mobile phones but rainforests did not have mobile phone coverage. We had to wait for a few days for this plane to show up with our bags packed, knowing that it could land at any moment. It was day 3 or day 4 when some small children came running and said, “We can hear the airplane.” I was listening like, “I cannot hear it.” It took 40 minutes more before we could hear the plane that the children could hear. After we could hear it, it still took a while before it arrived. If I feel I am sensitive, there is a whole new level.
That is to do with living in ecologically rich environments, where there is not a lot of noise, artificial light and all these kinds of things that we have come to create around ourselves and somehow try to adapt to. Maybe people who are less sensitive to these kinds of things find that a lot easier. Some people seem to seek out this intense stimulation. I relate to what you say that I would tend to find things like fireworks difficult and noisy, crowded situations. Those are not places I like to be. In a forest, I can hear all the subtle things and that is where I come to life. I love being in that place.
It is also such a great point too that it seems like human beings crave more stimulation. A lot of that stimulation has revolved around technology. I have always been into technology. I am very intrigued by it. I understand and feel excited about it but I also, simultaneously to your point, Sarah, thrive in nature and seek it out.
I came back from a trip, visiting some national parks. I feel like a different person when I am there versus when I am sitting here at home in the city, in front of a computer. It almost feels like a split side of me. It is fascinating. I feel like a lot of people do not get that balance until they seek it out or maybe it is even a privilege.
Travel itself is something I have always had the privilege of. My parents like to travel. We had the money to travel. We would go on family trips and I was encouraged to do that. One thing I have been trying not to express or assume when I am talking to other people is that they have the privilege or even the encouragement to travel. It is common for somebody to say like, “If you want to, you will. If you want to travel, go do it. Save up money.” It is all these “just” things.
I wonder how much of my interest and ease when it comes to travel is being privileged both financially and racially but also that I am drawn to it where some people are not drawn to travel or seek out nature or a different situation and also do not have the privilege of time, flexibility of financial resources, as well as even a comfort something that I was ignorant to until I realized how scary it is for people, especially of color, to travel because they feel vulnerable. I am curious if this has come up for you, Sarah, not in your experiences but in your awareness of others.
I live in a small town in the countryside in England. There is something about policing the landscape. It could be even a person of color wishing to travel from London to the countryside or to live in the countryside. It is a dream for a lot of people but it is seen as a very White dream. You do not often see a Black farmer in the ads for bread. The countryside is very policed and there is a myth built up around how beautiful it is and that it somehow belongs to the elites, the gentry, the aristocracy and the wealthy people. That is not just a myth but very much enforced in practice. I see that in this town.
I did grow up traveling a great deal and not thinking a great deal of it because, as a child, you accept whatever you are in as normal. As you get older, you realize that is not necessarily normal at all in all kinds of different ways. I have been reflecting a lot on that, the privilege of travel and the idea that flying, in particular, is damaging to the environment that I say that I love so much. What does it mean to love nature? Who gets to love it? Who is not supposed to? The idea is that blackness is somehow associated with urban settings. There are Black folks here in our town and they find it hard sometimes.
There is one woman in particular, who is campaigning around cross-country running, which she was good at. It is a real issue, access to go to walk in the countryside in the commons or the nature reserves. It is very subtle sometimes but it has all sorts of layers of cultural signaling plus the privilege aspect. I was raised in a very financially privileged family but I am now in very different circumstances. I have also started to understand the idea that traveling has a great cost, not just in money but you have to be able to afford the time to go away, the risk of you getting ill and the privilege of your skin color being safe to travel in different places.We are living in a culture that feeds violence. Click To Tweet
Traveling alone as a woman, which I did sometimes do, felt unsafe at times. I had a very entitled mentality which was, “I am going to go where I want,” gradually, over the years, I came into more awareness around that and unpacking that further. I always sought to travel with respect and work where I went rather than be a tourist. It was not very deeply thought through. Certainly, I was not in a culture that would encourage that thinking. It has always been very much like, “Achieve your dreams, take what you want and get from the world, whatever you like.” I am coming to see things a bit differently and say, “Who else is going to be involved in this experience? How is it going to be for them? Do they want to be part of it?”
Also, to add more, growing up, we lived in Cyprus and the Middle East. We often had people serving us and living in the house at times, keeping the house clean and cooking. That is very complicated, difficult to navigate and problematic but as a child, that creates a sense of entitlement but also, for me was an awareness of people, particularly when they might be living in our house, seeing that difference and then wondering, “What is that about?”
I have read here and there that in ADHD, people are not being quite so attached to the idea of status and possibly with autism as well. You see things a bit differently. Do not take for granted those positions quite as much. I do not want to be too generalized about that but I do see that as a bit of a pattern. That is a lot of different traveling experiences.
I have evolved from wanting to travel a lot to a point where I want to learn what it means to be rooted in a place and question that idea of traveling without saying that it is also enriching and good for helping people understand the difference. It allows us to experience a difference in a very immersive way, in a way that makes it impossible for us to impose ourselves on the environment sometimes if we are immersed in a different culture. That can throw up questions about our culture in a positive way.
It is interesting because some things that I have tried to become more aware of when I travel is what the cultures are like in different places. I live in Los Angeles, where it feels diverse. It depends on the part of town you are in because it can also feel extremely privileged here and extremely White. The benefit I see of a big city like this is that you can drive around and feel different cultures within different parts of town if you are aware of it and seeking it out.
That is coming from a White perspective, so I am not fully sure what it is like for someone who is not White to live in a city like this because there is certainly a big issue with homelessness, for example. Even that creates a big divide amongst wealth inequality. It is something I would like to learn more about because I do not want to get caught up and see people as different because they are in a different living situation than me and have different financial structures. How can we not try to divide ourselves?
This is something that I have tried to notice when I am traveling. On this trip, a big thing came up that I have not spent enough time understanding, which is indigenous people. I was in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, traveling through a lot of reservations. I felt a few emotions, one thinking about how ignorant I was. I tried to listen to some audio guides. There is a nice one that I came across called HearHere. When you are traveling by car, you can listen to little stories about what the areas you are in were like and how they were developed.
Many of the areas I was passing through have a history of indigenous people in that part of the country or if not, a huge part of the United States. I grew up in Massachusetts, which also has a huge cultural significance for this country but so much of what I was taught was by other White people. I grew up in a privileged town. I wondered how much of what I was taught was through the lens of other White people? How can I go seek out the history of this country from a different perspective? “Where was the bias in my education,” is something I am starting to wonder about.
The other thing that came up as I was traveling was that there had been points where I have been in areas. I am in the minority because I am one of the few white people there. I stand out as a tourist. When they see me, they know I am not from there, whether it is from the car that I drive, my skin color or how I interact with them. I find that incredibly humbling. To me, that inspires me to travel and at least get to know this country by car to pass through areas where there might not even be airports for a distance. You could only experience them if you are driving.
Also, notice what it feels like to be an outsider. That is incredibly enlightening too, because I already feel that vulnerability as a woman when I travel by myself, which is another interesting thing to reflect on. It is the insecurity that comes up when you feel like you are weaker. It is odd, the gender differences we have, what that means and how we have internalized things.
I often wonder, “Is it true that I am weaker or vulnerable? Is it just something that is being implanted in my mind?” Starting from there, as a woman, is fascinating because I imagine that this applies to people who are not White. Are these ideas that we have created about one another and being different? Do these things that you cannot help about yourself make you weaker, vulnerable and a target?
In mid-May 2022, there was a horrific story. I am not sure if that reached you in England, Sarah. In Buffalo, New York, a young White man drove up to a grocery store and shot at many people of color and seemed to have been specifically targeting them. Not only did he do that but he chose to record it live on video, which added another level of horror to the situation because he wanted to broadcast his hate crime and racism. Some people are watching this unfold live. It felt so disturbing that you could see this footage. Some people were almost with him in this act. He wrote a manifesto of why he was doing this.
From what I recall of his words, they were all rooted in deep hate and difference. The fact that somebody is going to the grocery store unsafe chilled me to the core that even if they felt confident in who they are, felt safe and secure in the area that they are in, other people do not believe them to be equal. They feel that they have the privilege and the right to eliminate these people. It felt so unsettling and sad.
When I went to the grocery store 1 day or 2 later, I wondered about my vulnerability but then I thought, “What does that say about me that I felt vulnerable? Do I even have the privilege of feeling vulnerable in this situation? Am I so privileged that the sense of vulnerability I felt could not even compare to somebody of a different race?” That inkling that I feel of feeling unsafe somewhere cannot even measure up to what some people feel daily. When incidents like that happen, they create even more fear and insecurity for others. It makes me so sad because it reinforces these made-up ideas that we have about inequality.
I had not heard that news. I am not a massive news junkie. I am very sorry to hear that. It is a sad and horrible thing to happen. When those attacks happen, we all feel vulnerable. If we have any level of empathy, we relate as human beings to being attacked. We know it is horrific because we can empathize. We all have the possibility of killing other people if we want to. We all have that power but very few people choose to exercise it. There is always a question for me and I do struggle with this idea. Why do some people, it seems to usually be male-bodied persons, feel that expressing their violence externally is possible?
There is something about the way I see the world that I could hardly imagine that it is not a possibility. I suppose personality comes into it but there is also a cultural phenomenon. I believe we live in a very violent culture and some people in this culture will pick up that violence is okay. They have access to that if they want to use it. It also brings me to the mind of the rest of the men that come to work and others who write about ancestral trauma and how it gets passed down. Over the pandemic years, I have been part of a women’s circle in the UK. We have one in the United States as well.Evolution only cares about reproduction. Click To Tweet
We were looking at the times in Europe of the persecution of people as witches or witchcraft. That has led me to look at our European history and see how unbelievably violent and traumatic it was. The way it is framed by others is that trauma then got brought to the United States and dumped on the people they found there and also got caught up with the enslavement of people from the coasts of Africa. This difficult question of, “What is it in humans that do this? How do humans come through that?” Coming back to biology, humans have a complex system. If violence is enacted upon it, it will cause unpredictable consequences.
There is something of this idea of the unpredictability of this bursting of violent acts out of the society and group but the culture creates the possibility for those explosions to happen. We cannot always predict exactly which person will do what and when but we know that we are in a culture that feeds this violent and othering dimension. That is a guy with issues who does not know how to handle it and thinks that it is acceptable for him to dump his crap on other people in a horrific way. All it does is spread more of that. We have more of that to deal with. We are not healing from that. It is adding to the problems. It happens.
There has been a rape in the cemetery near my house. It is a very beautiful old cemetery with incredible views. Lots of people go there with their children or on their own to be in solitude and enjoy it. It has got rare wildlife growing there. There was this violent sexual assault. It has troubled the community. It is the same question, “Where does this come from?” People are saying, “We should install street lighting.” I was like, “Street lighting is not going to stop this violence. It might discourage it from that particular spot but it will move to another spot. The violence is still coming through.” We can all feel vulnerable to that.
I spoke with my husband. He said that as a young man, he was scared of violence and being attacked by other men in this area. We are all frightened of it but to different levels. We experience the attacks at different levels, depending on how we show up in the world, almost as symbols to each other. Being female does not mean you are weaker but it means you symbolize something that can then become somebody else’s symbol of where they want to direct their anger, frustration, misery and pain. Similarly, skin color can become a sort of symbol of availability to abuse. That is how I am thinking about it at the moment with this ongoing question that I have grappled with throughout my life.
I am not sure if you are your brain goes there but there is part of it, for me, that wants to understand it at the base, which sounds like you do as well like, “Why does this happen?” I am a big why person, which I have learned is also a characteristic of neurodivergence and something that has always made me feel different. I have felt fascinated about why other people are not why people. It is like, “Are you not as curious as I am about why things happen and why things are?”
My interest in psychology seems to have come out of that but there is that first route of why. I get very frustrated when somebody says, “There is no way to know why.” I feel like there must be an explanation for why people behave this way. Your point about the ancestral trauma, it’s understanding the ripple effects. First, I feel the ripple effect of sadness.
You were sharing the story of what has happened in your area and me sharing the experience of what happened in this country brings up so much sadness. That, in itself, is such a disappointing experience because it feels like there is so much sadness in this world that has been a bit heightened. I do not know, statistically, if we are any sadder than we usually are but it feels like we are. It feels like we are in a sad time.
Maybe that sadness is what provokes this. These instances cause sadness and it is like this whole domino effect. People are sad, feel hopeless and out of control. Is that why they go and do things like this? Are they trying to feel a sense of control? There also seems to be this ongoing human desire to feel safe, which I feel is one of our core drives of being alive. It is how we can protect ourselves. The threat of people being different from us is so big for some people. I do not know if I feel that. I notice it when other people seem different than me but I also feel myself leaning into it and getting excited to meet different people.
I am drawn to differences. I want to understand others. That curiosity draws me closer to them versus wanting to reject them. It is so fascinating. It also makes me wonder how threatened White men might feel. This trauma of wanting to dominate feels like so much of our history around the world. Hopefully, that is not an ignorant statement because I imagine way back in time, White people might have been in the minority. Historically speaking, at least in Europe, my understanding is a lot of the rulers, wars and those things seem to have been White men in charge of it. Does that get passed on? Do we live in this time where White men feel threatened?
Suddenly, it seems like countries like the US are pushing for diversity. Do White men feel threatened by that? Are they threatened that they are not going to be as powerful because people of color, people of different genders or even people that do not identify as a gender are blooming? Does that impact people that have felt like they are losing their sense of control and thus losing their sense of safety? Maybe the only way to regain that sense of control is to harm emotionally and/or physically people that are different than that?
Like you, I do always want to understand. From a young age, I want my life to be about understanding everything about humans and these huge systems of thinking that goes on with this brain. It is complicated. The idea of difference based on skin color is made up. The color of this White skin, the pale skin, is a genetic aberration of humans being dark brown and then moving out of Africa. There was a very small number of people moving North through a little land bridge into the Middle East and then across into Asia and Europe. It happened that moving North, melanin was not quite so needed, so if you had pale skin, you would not die young of skin cancer quite as much.
Evolution only cares about reproduction and nothing else. It does not have any morality. It is just chance. It is a genetic change. Empires have happened in all sorts of places and sometimes they are quite violent and other times, not quite as violent. Violence is inherent in life. The question, for me, is, “What cultures do we have? Can we create where we manage the violence? How do we handle the violence? Who gets to be violent? How do you do that?” To finish that point about White skin and if that is different, I will give an example of being in Ecuador. I stood out as a foreigner, very tall and pale, clearly not Ecuadorian.
I found myself very similar to my fellow Ecuadorian biologists in terms of understanding of the world, educational level and access to resources. People in universities in Ecuador and me were much more similar than they were to the people living in the rainforest in their country. The skin color could be very similar but it is the class that makes the difference. Whiteness as a way of bonding people tribally was invented and constructed to prevent a slave uprising. This is my understanding. They were taking White slaves, Black slaves and poor people. Anyone they can grab, they would choose them, put them on a ship, take them to America and put them to work.
A few people were getting very wealthy from this. Everybody else was being forced into servitude. Gradually, people started rising against it. There were rebellions, protests and resistance to this system. They started privileging the White slaves and people in servitude to create a false allegiance with the wealthy and based on skin color like, “Your skin is the same color as me, so you are like me.” We have that system very deeply rooted in Britain whereby we have a Queen. The idea of the Queen and the Royal family is that we can all identify with this rich family and think how brilliant I am because of the Queen.
If I am identified with this Queen and the empire, then I get a big confidence boost like, “I am so great because I am part of this thing but it is powerful and magnificent and has loads of gold carriages.” I will put up with a lot of rubbish like living in a tiny house, working my whole life to the knuckles and having loads of babies, not being looked after to do that. It is okay because I am part of this thing.
I get to project my identity into this super-wealthy family somehow. They parade their wealth without sharing it. It is all designed to oppress the people. What you get is people who are White, who are oppressed, angry and upset, not necessarily getting good access to education and feel tribally aligned with wealthy White people, even though they are being oppressed by them.It's soothing to know your place. Click To Tweet
They cannot see that reality. They do not know where their frustration, upset and trauma is coming from. It is easy to pick someone in a weaker social position because they know there are wealthy people who will protect them on the basis that they are White and they will be allowed or gender as well. Men are allowed. Men can do much more violent things with fewer consequences than women can.
There are these structures and patterns put in place. All of it is designed so that those wealthy positions are maintained. That is all it boils down to. It is like, “We do not want to share our wealth so let’s create these weird situations where people are horrible to each other but as long as they think that we care about them, we can get away with it.”
That is the system that I see in place, feeding this thing. People are trying to address it. People are pushing back this whole thing of that gender is so fluid. That is true but from a biological perspective, gender is open for grabs. Evolution and nature have not categorized themselves into binaries at all. It is constantly experimenting with thousands of different possibilities. When people are raising that, it is disruptive because it forces us to rethink our cultural structures.
We may have come up to rely on them because my life is not very good but at least I get to celebrate the Queen once every couple of years. We are going to have a jubilee. The Queen has been around for a long time. We can all be proud of ourselves, even though things have not been that great. It is a way of culturally maintaining the Queen system. That is where I am at with how I see these patterns. They are kept in place because it suits the powers to keep it that way. It may not even be conscious. If you are born into the Royal family, you believe that you are entitled and it is fine. Naturally, it should be like that. You would not necessarily question it.
As an American, I feel fairly ignorant about how all that works. I have been drawn to Meghan and Harry. I saw that Oprah interview and felt myself feeling excited about their decision. I do not know how that impacts someone who lives in England and experiences that given her skin color but also this desire that was perhaps embedded in Diana and what I know about her.
Almost this rebelliousness, going against the grain and doing things differently feel like there is an inkling of hope that things could change. They come to California. In a way though, they are still part of that system because, in the US, we do not have that relationship with our leaders quite so much. It feels like we have a president who some people respect and half the country dislikes. There are all the feelings about the government but we have this intense relationship with celebrities. I do not know if it is quite as strong in England as it is here.
One thing that I was fascinated by hearing a perspective on was we have this event called the Met Gala. It is the closest that we have to see all of these wealthy, powerful celebrities go and dress up in extravagant outfits and get all this media coverage. People that are interested in that are watching this and seeing how it is invite-only and it is exclusive and what they are wearing. We have that, the Oscars and all these similar events that are showcasing these powerful, wealthy celebrities and public figures and how that is similar.
Historically, people were pointing out how it is like the Gilded Age, which I also feel a bit ignorant about. I heard comparisons to that and how we have this family in the US called the Kardashians. They have TV shows. It is this whole family of successful daughters and a few men in the family too. They have established the fashion for the entire country.
I imagine other countries as well are influenced by that but also their body shapes and lips. They are known for their behinds, hair, the way that they do their makeup and the clothing that they wear. It has created this extreme ripple effect to the point where when they change their appearance, everything falls out of fashion immediately. It feels like everyone is trying to catch up.
It reminds me of what you were saying, Sarah, of how women in the US and some other countries that observe this type of behavior feel like, “If I can look like these powerful women, then I feel like them. Maybe I too can achieve that level of power.” There is this myth of the self-made person that is so big in the United States of anybody can be anything. People at the top perpetuate it like, “Follow my advice and you can do this too.” They are telling the story of someone who did not have anything. “If I did not have anything and I can rise to be this powerful, attractive and wealthy, anybody can.”
In the United States, there is this ethos of being self-made and we are all equal but more and more have been coming out, people saying, “We are not all equal.” There is a huge wealth gap here in this country. There is a lot of manipulation going on in the media to convince us of these things. That keeps us down because if we keep believing and having hope that we too can achieve all of those things, it is the hope that keeps us going but we are not getting anywhere.
A lot of the advice that is being shared cannot be applied to the average person and it disregards any of the inequality that it takes. The Kardashians, for example. One of them was crowned a self-made billionaire and people were outraged by this. They are like, “How can you call this woman self-made? She comes from an incredibly privileged family who is connected.”
You cannot disregard all of the things that she had that led to her achieving this huge thing, whereas the average person could never get there because they do not have those resources and privileges. That is part of the myth that we have in this country. It sounds like that happens for you as well. I am curious how much of the American influence comes across to England. Given that the Royal family does not impact us much here in the states, aside from Meghan and Harry, do some of the things that I am talking about reach your country as well or are they kept separate in your culture?
We know about the Kardashians. Lots of people talk about them and follow them. It is slightly buffered. It is not quite as intense. Partly because we have these established class structures that although there is the idea of meritocracy and the government talks about something called leveling up, which is the idea is that we do want to be a country where people can rise through their efforts.
We also have a slightly less intense idea of, “You have to fight your way and you are going to make it.” X-Factor is much bigger in the States. It was big here but it has not got the same level of intensity. Maybe because there is a long history of people being born into a class and you are going to stay in that class. There is no question of moving class.
You are either born a Royal, the gentry, the middle class or the peasant class. The middle class is more mobile and that is where it dominates the country. There is more of a sense of that but there is still this underlying sense of permanence in your life that you do not necessarily move however you want to because you’re like, “I know my place.” That is soothing for people. People feel that it is safe. They’re like, “I am going to be poor all my life and that is useful to know because I do not have to worry about it and try to change it. I can accept it, trust in those clever, rich people to look after us and everything will be okay.”Everyone has a basic need for attention and appreciation. Click To Tweet
We have that underlying narrative more so. When we have celebrity culture coming in, it does impact and affects particularly younger people but I do not think it is quite as full-on, impactful or intense. That is very much a myth that you can make yourself. I would question, we do not want a country full of Kardashians. Why cannot we be all sorts of different strange people? Why is that not okay? All that matters to me is that people have a reasonably dignified life. Like we’re saying about feeling safe, I am not going to be shot down in the street because of what I look like.
Let’s all do our thing. I do not know that we need to all conform to this idea of success. To me, that is hunger. I remember reading this in biology or evolutionary anthropology, which is about why humans are the way they are through an evolutionary lens. In the small culture, in an evolutionary sense, we would be living in small, closely-related groups. To be a celebrity in that culture means that you have reached the age of 35 or 40, achieved a few things, whether it was in a battle or you built a house or you are a good storyteller and the kids know who you are.
I get that in the town. People recognize you as you walk around town because it is a small town. The children know the adults a lot. There is this little sense of celebrity on that scale, which is, “I am recognized in my community for what I bring. I am celebrated for it now and then. People know who I am.” In our culture, in big cities or places where people are constantly moving, you do not get that satisfaction.
You then start projecting it into, “I better be a Kardashian because then people will see who I am, recognize and celebrate who I am and pay attention to me.” We all have a basic need for attention and to be appreciated. If we are not able to build a culture around ourselves that does that, we then start projecting and creating these weird giant system things, which then get exploited.
Some people can make lots of money, a very small number of people can either make it or in the case of the Royal families, it inserts themselves into a position that then is immutable. The systems in the States are not that different. It is that they are seen differently and there are different myths behind them. The basic structure looks similar.
Someone like Trump is offering those impoverished, oppressed, White people the idea that they can somehow be part of something good. It is like a shortcut like, “I have got a magic thing that can make you feel better.” It is not going to address the real underlying issues, which are we are traumatized, fragmented and not functioning that well. We are not caring for each other.
I am fascinated because this is exactly why it is so important to talk to people who are different than you. Sarah, even with the difference in our cultures and countries, it almost does not make sense to me to be okay with where you are and what you are born into. That feels almost oppressive to me as an American because I have been raised with this idea that you can be anything you want to be and you are not stuck. I do not know if that is an American thing or a White person thing. I am not sure but for me, I was raised with so much hope. I moved from a small town in Massachusetts to Los Angeles.
For my entire childhood, I was like, “I wanted to go to a big city.” I was fascinated by New York for a while. I lived in San Francisco. I have always, since college, lived in big cities and been very drawn to them because they felt like the land of opportunity. Living in that small town, as comforting as it was, everybody knew everybody in that town but that felt too small for me.
I come out to Los Angeles. I worked in the entertainment industry and then pivoted into the content creation world. For so long, being in this influencer marketing world, I feel exactly with what you are saying. It was very invigorating to feel like I was getting attention from people all around the globe, connected with people and feeling like I was moving my way up.
At the same time, it felt incredibly hollow. Over time, I started to feel like, “I do not want to live my whole life trying to rise above, be at the top and be better than other people.” I found myself wanting to “come down” and feel that equality and inclusion. There is this idea that it is lonely at the top but for me, it was not about loneliness. It was about feeling like I did not want to exclude others. That idea of privilege and getting things other people could not get started to feel unappealing.
I was buying into that mentality. I was finding myself saying things to people like, “If I can do it, you can do it.” The truth is it is not that easy. Especially in the United States and this celebrity influencer culture, there is this idea that anybody can become famous. It appeals to people that want that. They want to feel special, included and privileged. The concept is that there can only be a few people at the top, which automatically means that there is a lack of equality. We are getting to this point of deep saturation, Sarah, which is fascinating to see in this influencer world where it is becoming so concentrated.
Celebrity is going to mean something very different. Everybody is getting their fifteen minutes of fame because of the way that all of these pieces of technology have been created. Anybody can become a star overnight. The shortcuts are very appealing but that means that something else is going to shift and create a lack of equality. With your knowledge and research, Sarah, is it ever possible for us to be equal or will human beings always try to exclude, be special, be powerful and have control over one another? Looking back over time, has there ever been a point in which human beings have not tried to dominate one another?
It comes back to values and culture. You always have people who want to dominate. That is a natural urge as it is a natural urge sometimes to want to be violent. If I am angry, I might want to hit somebody. It is natural to love, collaborate and want to come into a community and share things. All of these things are possible. Everything is up for grabs.
We can be thoughtful about our culture and look at the difference. You get inspiration if you are open to difference. You get new ideas and new possibilities for being human. The bigger we can expand the sense of who is part of we and when I think of myself and my community, “Who is my community,” the more interesting and complicated we can make that, the bigger my sense of myself and the possibilities there are for me to be in the world. It is very enriching to be inclusive. It makes us all wealthier in a different way than just the bank account.
Particularly being Royal is very oppressive. Your life is mapped out and you have to conform to it. Meghan and Harry stepped outside of it and they were well and truly unwanted. Prince Andrew, who is being charged with pedophile crimes, is being supported by his mother because he has not sinned, challenging the underlying values of the system. We protect him because he is maintaining the system, no matter what crimes he committed. It is not about crimes. The crime is to challenge the values, not to abuse people. That is okay. That is part of the system.
We make choices about what culture we want. People who come into a violent, abusive culture are likely to become violent, abusive people to survive. That is all they know. That is the culture they are in. How do we change those cultures? There are inclusive cultures. There is a group in London called the Radical Anthropology Group. From them, I have been learning about a place in Africa.The bigger you can expand your sense of community, the bigger your sense of self. Click To Tweet
It is in the Congo and it is a place of matriarchy. Matriarchy does not mean patriarchy that is run by women. The language is problematic but what that describes is a culture that is inclusive and much less hierarchical and flatter. There is a bit of hierarchy but there are processes put in place to prevent dominance from becoming out of control.
There is another definition, which is great. It is a society in which women have control of their bodies. That is what a matriarchy is. We do not live in that. We live in a society where we do not have control of our bodies. There is an example given of how that works. The women decide where they want to live. If the men want to follow them, they can. They always do but they do not get to decide what is happening. There are mechanisms to keep that in place. There is this white English guy researcher who has been there working for a few months and he experienced this. It was uncomfortable for him but he had seen it happen previously with other people.
There is an older woman in the village and she starts mocking him and imitating him. He did something that was a bit off that ruffled feathers or something dumb. Everyone starts laughing and she carries on. People are coming out of their houses, looking, joining in and laughing at him. He is there in front of everyone. She is teasing him and he feels mortified. He is embarrassed like, “What is this? There is a whole village of people laughing at me. It is awful.” It carries on and carries on. Eventually, he suddenly cracks and starts laughing. He relaxes and lets it go. His pride is like, “Let go.”
At that moment, everybody stops laughing, carries on with their business and goes back to the house. The whole thing is over. It is a mechanism for preventing dominance because he starts to do something off and then they mock him until he laughs. He has let that go. He is not going to try and assert himself in that way anymore. I thought that was interesting. That is an example of a living culture where dominance does not take over. It cannot because of practices like that.
The elder women are the leaders but not in a way like, “I do not like what you did. You are going to be punished.” It is just, “What is this idiot doing?” There is a way to handle it. There are a lot of rich possibilities out there. Looking at American indigenous culture, there is a lot of amazing understanding of practices of keeping in circles, inclusive approaches to each other but also to nature and understanding of how to be in a good relationship with the environment. In rainforests as well, the people there ask permission from the rainforest to live in a place. They seek permission. They often go to the Shaman, who has the greatest sensitivity or is the most ADHD type, neurodiverse person.
They have superpowers of understanding and communicating with nature spirits. That way, they negotiate continually with each other and with the forest to live in. Nobody can get control in any significant way. It is something about ongoing negotiation and the constant movement of the hierarchies. How do we create that process that brings the culture back into equity over and over again? It is always going to be trying not to be. We need cultures that allow it to keep cycling back around. That is my perspective and how I see it.
I would love to end by hearing more about the work that you are doing. For those that are interested in learning more about that and keeping in touch with you, tell us what is it that you are passionate about? Where do you spend the most time online connecting with other people?
I am on Instagram. The handle is @Arachnez. I am making 100 goddess paintings. The idea with that is to chuck some goddess culture out into the world and say, “There is this diversity, 100 different faces of the goddess.” It’s to create a possibility for a sense of feminine power. The domination does not have to be a male thing. Women can be embodied in these different power modes. There are 100 of those being made. I have also got a website being built. Hopefully, by the time this goes out, it is up. Sarah Dixon Studio. That is where I have got my art and my coaching practice. You can see the goddesses.It's enriching to be inclusive. It makes everyone wealthier. Click To Tweet
I also am offering ancestral healing through heirloom coaching. This is working with objects you have inherited to transform the culture. You can use an object and enter into a dialogue with something that has come from your family or your culture. This can apply to public statues. It is the objects that have been handed down. How do we address them? Do we want to change them or melt them? Do we want to honor them more greatly and put them on a pedestal? What do we want to do? Repaint them?
We can take objects and use them as a way to enter into this dialogue of what legacy do we want to create? What change do we want to make from what we have inherited to what is next? Those are the things I am up to. I would love to chat with anyone, especially if you want to talk about ancestral healing with objects because that is my big focus.
That is brilliant. I admired that painting behind you. I am so glad that you told the story behind it. The objects are fascinating. I imagine that going into antique stores must be stimulating for you, Sarah, to go in and see all these old objects and wonder about their history. Are you able to feel or sense something from these objects or is it through the stories that people share when they are in a session with you, Sarah? How does that work unfold?
It’s a bit of both. The person is important because that is the powerful living being that is in the room that is going to change something. The object cannot change on its own but I do listen to the object and speak to it. I worked on my piece. That was with silver heirlooms and the idea I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. This was linked to the work I was doing with the witch hunts and looking at ancestry and healing and how we deal with these legacies. I listened to that silver trophy and also a milk jug. The trophy is from my father’s side and the milk jug from my mother’s. It is an intuitive dreaming process and the objects will speak to you if you listen. They want to talk to you.
I have cut them and melted them. It is creating a set of heirlooms for my daughter that allows her to enact rituals, which would be inclusive, nature-connected and healing rituals. Symbolic objects, a needle, a medicine spoon and a singing bowl so that we can listen to the sound. I am turning them into something new. I did not destroy them but I did ask permission and we did a ritual to allow them to finish the phase that they had been in and let the silver become something else. That is a little insight into how I work with objects and with other people. What comes through is family stories and their position in the family. The object becomes a place of transformation for the person, as well as the object itself.
I do not think I have ever heard of that before, Sarah. It got me thinking about various things that I own. Even the unfolding of finding information because so many of us think at the surface level, we take things at face value but oftentimes dig into the details. One thing I thought of was this necklace I have from my grandmother.
It was after she and my grandfather had passed away. I found this necklace in her drawer. My family said I could have it. I often wish that I could have asked her, “What is the story behind this necklace?” Was it something that had meaning to her? Was it a cheap piece of jewelry that she had? Did she get it for $1 somewhere? I do not know the story behind it.
I am sure though, that could unfold in a conversation with you or even inspire me to talk to other people and go down this path of why I feel drawn to this piece of jewelry and what meaning it has for me versus the meaning that had from my grandmother. Was it new when she got it? It is fascinating to go into all of that. I am also very drawn to objects as well.
I always have been. For those that like to collect things that mean something to you, looking at them visually, I can feel that energy. My new object is this stone I got on my trip. It is a piece of blue calcite. I remember I walked around the shop and found myself wanting to see what item I felt connected to. I said, “I am not going to buy anything unless I feel connected to something.”
That, in itself, can be such an amazing practice. When you feel connected to it, the whole other layer is the history and the meaning behind it for other people that had it before you. Sarah, that is so fantastic. I love that you do that work and it ties into so much of your passion for human beings, healing, working through all these traumas that we have unfortunately passed down to each other and examining how we can step outside of the way that we are operating to work on ourselves, so maybe we can contribute to reducing trauma in our lifetimes. Thank you for everything that you have shared. I learned so much and feel so impressed with your history as a human being. Thank you for telling that story and sharing the wisdom that you have acquired along the way.
It is an absolute pleasure, Whitney. I enjoyed the conversation. I love these kinds of chats. It is nice to meet you. Thank you for making this space.
About Sarah Dixon
Sarah Dixon, born in London and raised in Cyprus and the UAE, is an artist and a coach creating cultural shifts. Her art practice is socially engaged and collaborative, playful and provocative.
A polymath, she draws on a wide experience: with a degree in Biology from University College London, she has worked in the Ecuadorian Amazon and the Hindu Kush, and has studied art forms from Orthodox icon painting to Corporate Design. As a white woman with chronic illness, ADHD, and a young child, she is engaged in an enquiry into her social position – privileges and marginalisations, which are unique for each of us.
Sarah is a co-founder of The Women’s Art Activation System (WAAS), making performance art and interventions with collaborator Sharon Bennett. Sarah is based in Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK, where she lives with her husband and 8 yo daughter. She is currently creating 100 Goddess Paintings in egg tempera, and as a coach offers a process to work with your heirlooms to heal the past and make new legacies.
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