Actress Suvi Blick: to move past a culture of harassment, we should practice empathy

Force of Habit reveals the hidden way in which power is exercised on women. In private life and in society. The feature film is a collage of six short fictional films, directed by different female directors who draw from own experience and real life. The films achieve to depict the absurdity in moments that we have learnt to see as normal.

The film is part of a bigger project: Yksittäistapaus, which came to life in 2016 – even before the rise of the #MeToo-movement. Created collectively by fifteen filmmakers, artists, researchers and social influencers it is comprised of eleven short films, the feature length film Force of Habit, free discussion material and a campaign. Just before Force of Habit screened at Tartuff, we sat down for a talk with one of the six main actresses, Suvi Blick.

The myth of the singular case

Blick plays Emmi in the short film Boudoir, which is directed and written by Reetta Aalto. After a house party, Emmi goes to bed. Just as she is about to sleep, her old classmate Jani (Joonas Snellman) comes in and asks to stay the night. Emmi lets him sleep on her floor, but Jani doesn’t really plan on sleeping.

Yksittäistapaus. How does this word translate to English? Blick doesn’t have an immediate answer. We exchange some suggestions back and forth: exception, singular case…all descriptions that are given to try to diminish the experience of victims of harassment. The translation that Google Translate comes up with is the most striking: isolated case. Since it doesn’t only reflect on the meaning of the word, but also the feeling of isolation that comes with experiencing harassment.

"You think it’s normal, yet you feel ashamed"

The stories in Force of Habit are depictions of small moments happening all around us, but not seen. At least; not always seen for their harmfulness. Or maybe it’s the moments that don’t want to be seen. For you can easily imagine some of the perpetrators in the film would not act in the same way, would there be a bigger audience to their actions.

Blick: "As the title says, the existence of these instances is made possible by our force of habit. It’s much more a problem of the society as a whole, than of singular perpetrators. I also used to think that being catcalled in the streets was just a part of life as a woman. You think it’s normal. But you feel ashamed. And this creates an isolated state, because you don’t feel empowered to articulate your feelings of discomfort.

Since making this film, I have become much more aware. Now I think: hell no, it’s not acceptable to receive remarks on your body from other people on the streets."

"Shame, discomfort and harm are in many more subtleties, than just the obvious"

By showing the unseen in all its closeness and absurdity, as Force of Habit does so well, we get closer to recognizing harm. "I was shocked by how many viewers admitted to having experienced something similar as Emmi," says Blick. What makes the subject difficult to talk about, according to Blick, is that it’s not all black and white. Every situation is different.

Blick: "You cannot say, as the male character Jani says in Boudoir: But, I didn’t rape you. The shame, discomfort and harm are in many more subtleties than the obvious. Also, they are much more something that is felt, rather than described by certain parameters."

"The element of absurdity is needed to reach people, instead of attacking them"

Blick hopes that people who watch the film will start to dig into their own life experiences and ask themselves; when was I in a situation that did not feel quite right and how can I act differently next time? "This, of course, goes for men and women," says Blick. "Neither the film nor the #MeToo-movement should be about pointing fingers and blaming."

In the film, the element of absurdity helps to create enough distance to be able to review our own actions, rather than to feel victimized or attacked. Blick thinks that the solution lies in empathy: "Instead of prosecuting cases or people, we should collectively work on being more empathetic and open to each other’s experiences and feelings. Empathy should be taught in schools."