This is why bullying works. And this is what sets us up for a whole suite of victim-blaming behaviors. The whistleblower is sometimes shown as the hero of the story–but the truth is, people who speak out about how they’ve been harmed, bullied, and abused are mmore often blamed and shamed and bullied even more. Thus, we learn to shut up and not speak up, because speaking up makes it worse.
And yet, if we can understand some of these behaviors, we can begin to look at what the unhealthy dynamics are so that we can build something better. And quite simply–we must.
To understand how to move forward, we have to understand the problem. There’s an axiom in the field of strategic design that the solution is inherent within the problem. But, this first requires a real understanding of the problem.
And that means we have to look at a lot of uncomfortable stuff.
Here’s a place to start. I encourage you to the following blog posts now, or when you have some time to devote to it. And read the comments. Yes, there are a lot of comments. Yes, they may trigger you. Yes, it’s worth it to read them if you want to be part of the solution.
I don’t agree with everything that’s written in these posts, but, it’s a place to begin to understand some of the patterns. And see that there is a consistent pattern of enabling abuse.
He’s Just a Lech
I have seen the abuse/cover-up of abuse be a problem for a long while now…I just didn’t realize how much of a problem it was. Namely–I knew that touchy-feely guys were excused as “Oh, that’s just ____, he’s a lech.” (And–it’s not just men, though statistically, it’s more likely to be.)
I think that people do this in general; I wrote about it in my Sex/Ethics post on Pagan Activist. When there’s a leader or boss–like that editor from Scientific American who was harassing interns and other women he had power over–the folks who like that leader cannot possibly believe that they would do something like that. That’s where “You must be mistaken” comes from. “They’d never do that.” It’s cognitive dissonance.
So we have that baseline behavior–we tend to defend someone because we can’t, or don’t want to, believe that someone we like could do that.
In fact–read this quick blog post. It’s really an apt explanation of how we get used to making excuses for bad behavior. http://pervocracy.blogspot.com/2012/06/missing-stair.html
Ego Annex and Boundaries
Ultimately, I think this is probably yet another issue of ego annex and poor boundaries at work. Our ego’s big job is giving us a sense of our self identity. Ideally a positive one. In fact, ego doesn’t cope well with anything that tells us we might be “bad.” So if I like Person A and trusted them, and someone says that they did a bad thing, then by extension, because I like Person A, if Person A did something bad, then I must be bad because I like that person.
That’s not in every case, but I sure have seen it be a factor in someone digging their heels in to defend Person A, even when Person A has clearly harmed someone. What it usually means is that the person defending Person A has poor boundaries and has mistaken Person A’s actions with their own self identity and sense of self.
Standing Up and Saying No is Hard
Again, poor boundaries. We are taught–over and over by experience–that saying NO has dire consequences. Saying No to someone will be perceived as rejection and hurt. Women especially are culturally prone to this people-pleasing, however, I see it in all genders.
I’m sure there’s science around this, but if you watch people when there’s something uncomfortable going on, they will look away. They will look down. They will shrink into their bodies, visually try to disappear. It’s almost a herd behavior. And it’s passive aggressive. Most people would far rather just ignore the bad thing happening and make it go away, than stand up and be the asshole/bitch/jerk who addresses it. Nobody wants to be that guy. Except–this is what allows for abuse to happen.
What perhaps exacerbates the above tendencies in human nature is the (sometimes extreme) pressure in the Pagan community to be sex positive and accepting of free love and alternative romantic lifestyles. We’re sex positive, right? So we’re not supposed to judge people for being gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender, or for being into BDSM or for being polyamorous. All of that is supposed to be cool, right? And, if an older person hits on a younger person that’s supposed to be ok, it’s empowering, because we’re not bound by the rules of the dominant culture…and it’s ok when someone gropes someone else, right?
Hold up there. We’ve hit the slippery slope. There is a gulf of difference between being at a gathering where I respect someone’s sexual openness and where they can hit on me and I can offer a polite no and that’s respected….and a gathering where people are given a free pass to flirt with people to the point of harassment, or touch them without their permission.
In a so-called sex positive culture, nobody wants to be the asshole who calls out someone for groping them, because they’ll be seen as a prude, right?
There’s a pressure to laugh off creepy lecherous handsy behavior and just be ok with it because we’re sex positive.
Boundaries and Flirting
And thus we come back to boundaries. Wouldn’t all this be easier if everyone had good boundaries? Then Person A can flirt with Person B, and Person B can feel totally comfortable saying, “Thank you, but no thanks,” and Person A isn’t offended by the turn-down, and Person B isn’t offended by being flirted with.
Let’s be clear. Flirting isn’t immoral or unethical (in most cases). Invading someone’s space without permission is not ok. Touching people without their permission is not ok. Flirting with someone until it becomes harassment is not ok.
I think in this area, we can work as individuals to grow healthier boundaries. What are boundaries? Well…I’ve written a few posts on the topic, and there’s a book called “Where you End and I Begin” that I recommend. But basically, it’s knowing that your sovereign right to your body ends at your skin. Meaning, you don’t have a sovereign right to touch me. Nor do your own ideas, thoughts, or desires belong in my sovereign space.
You might want something for someone else, but you aren’t that person, and what you want for them ends at the boundary of your skin. They, in turn, have their own sovereignty over their skin, their thoughts and ideas.
Just because you want to hook up with someone doesn’t mean they want that. And–trust me on this one, I’m way familiar with that one. It’s my romantic super power.
I might have the hots for someone, but it doesn’t mean I get to go pressure them to have sex with me. I might make my interest known, and I have to be ok with hearing No. That’s boundaries.
The Problem of Calling Out Leaders
I know of Pagan community leaders who make some really poor decisions, including verbally and emotionally abusing their group members. And these leaders continue because–as I’ve written about at length on my blog–there’s no real way to “make” a group leader stop leading, because Pagans have no overarching body, no governing people in power who can say, “You shall no longer be a coven leader, you are excommunicated.”
But it turns out that even when we do have people in positions of power who could kick someone out of a group or a festival…and even when the offenses were not in the slippery slope of “I’m not sure this warrants kicking someone out of my event,” even when it’s children coming forward to do what the adults told them to do and saying, “That person touched me in a way that made me uncomfortable,” these victims weren’t listened to.
And there’s a host of reasons. Dozens of them. One is that all the intercommunity witch wars and strife have made every person I know gun shy about taking a stand. “If I speak out against XYZ leader, I’ll just be starting a witch war.” And they aren’t wrong about that. Speaking out against someone is bound to start up a conflict
We Don’t Want to Take Sides
More often I’ve seen the “We don’t have enough evidence” thing, or the “You’re blowing that out of proportion, what they did wasn’t that bad” thing. Or as I’ve been told numerous times about my experiences with my ex, Mark, “That was just domestic abuse.”
There’s a very small Pagan leadership FB group that I’m on where there was a frustrating conversation several weeks ago. We were talking about what to do about local Pagan leaders who were acting in a harmful way. Some folks brought up the idea that the only time you could take a stand against someone is if they had done something illegal that could be prosecuted.
I brought up the issue of how it’s not always about legal evidence, but sometimes it’s about a pattern of behavior. What my ex did to me and to others isn’t really something he can be prosecuted for. Sleeping with students isn’t illegal. It sure as heck isn’t ok to target students and newbies though.
I do sometimes make my decisions about a person on hearsay. It’s the type of hearsay that matters. Who it comes from, how many people, what they have to gain.
I think that people who always say, “We don’t want to take sides,” sometimes are (unintentionally) siding with the perpetrator. Yes, I know…we don’t want to cause a witch war. We don’t want to make the conflict worse.
But what would have happened if any Pagan leader or festival organizer had taken the complaints against Kenny Klein seriously 10 or 20 years ago?
I have seen some people take a stand against their abusers, and ultimately the community conflict that ensued blew up any Pagan community work in that region for years afterword because people were so hurt by the he said/she said conflict.
So–while I’m no longer prepared to say, “Speaking out against your abusers won’t get you what you want, you can’t take a group leader down,” I’m also not prepared to say “Cry havoc and hop to it” because it’s going to end up being a scorched earth thing.
If Person A attempts to bring to light Person B’s abusive behaviors and the conflict ends up literally exploding their local community so that no public events are happening to serve local Pagans, that isn’t really a viable either.
When it’s a group leader, you can’t force them to stop leading a group, other than getting them arrested. All you can really do is leave the group and maybe tell other people. Many people will stay in the group because that’s the only community in their area. But, people who complain about abusive behavior from a Pagan group leader often get victim blamed as “trying to start a witch war.”
Giving Pagans a Bad Name
This one’s been cited a lot in other areas so I won’t go into it much here, but it’s an excuse that’s been used for why Pagans don’t call the authorities for some situations that really warrant the involvement of law enforcement.
How do We Go Forward?
That’s been keeping me up at night for years. The more I teach leadership, the more shitty behavior I hear about and the more despondent I get. I see all forms of abuse by Pagans and Pagan leaders getting swept under the rug. I mean, I seriously could probably write an entire blog post just about different leaders and the crap I’ve heard about them and that I’ve done enough verification on to satisfy myself that it’s the truth, even though there isn’t concrete proof. But, what does that solve?
Another blog post coming soon.