Sexuality, Power, Victimhood

This place I know, with nice trees and pretty ribbons and creepy-ass witchcraft things in the trees.

I’ve got a couple posts brewing.  One of them talks about using victimhood as a means to coerce people to do what you want.  Another is a practical guide for Pagan men, on how to behave at Pagan gatherings in a way that’s not creepy.

I’m holding off publishing these for a while.

It’s not that I don’t believe these things are incredibly important.  (They are.)

Rather, for the first one (which I’m tentatively calling “weaponized victimhood,”) I do not in any way wish to detract from actual victims of sexual abuse who are coming forward with their stories.  Y’all have the floor right now.  Get your stories out there, kick some ass, and let’s hold abusers accountable for their actions.  Hit me up if you need a hand finding resources in your area.

For the second one, tips for Pagan men, I feel like now is the time for women to have the spotlight.  I read an interesting article the other day, and it mentioned how one of the most important things men can do right now is honor women’s need to have space to blow up about this.  To rant, to grieve, to get pissed off, to vent, to get a lawyer, to file a police report, whatever they need – and to simply cede that space for them to do so.

So, here ya go.  The mic is yours.  Let me know if there’s anything I can help with.

Maybe I’ll go write a post about Earth element, or a ritual to break the chains of the Mormon religion.

Got a question?  Drop me a line.  Have an ethically questionable situation you want me to look at?  Let’s talk.

About the Author

I live in the sagebrush desert of southern Idaho, in a little town perched above a deep, rocky canyon. I've been pagan for a little over two decades. I've dipped my toes in Wicca, Rosicrucianism, Yoga, Reiki, and Qabala, only to settle into an Earth-based Neopagan Buddhist path. My credentials (if you care about such things), include an MA in English, an apprenticeship with Jason Miller, and a few publications here and there. I run a small Pagan group with my lovely wife, where we encourage people to show up, do pagan stuff, and live empowered and ethical lives.

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  1. First things first as a Pagan woman, why do other pagan/wiccan women feel the need to shame men and other women? Why do we ignore toxic women and how women should conduct themselves? Because news flash, as a woman, I have been abused by other women and I’ve even been made to feel uncomfortable by women in sexual ways. As a woman and using this space to vent, I wanted to ask this.

    1. First of all, thanks for bringing this up! As a man, it’s really nice to hear someone else recognize that not all suffering women experience is at the hands of “The Patriarchy.” 🙂

      But also, as a man, I don’t feel completely qualified to answer why women can be toxic and abusive. Some of my thoughts on this – and these could apply to either gender – include:

      – Gaining social prestige, like cutting people down to be on top of the “pecking order,” like the “Real Housewives” shows;
      – Unprocessed trauma, in that we tend to inflict the traumas we’ve experienced onto those around us;
      – Paganism and Wicca attract people on the “fringe” of society, and often that “fringe” group includes people with poor social skills, poor dating skills, poor boundaries, emotional or mental dysfunctions, etc.;
      – Bad behavior is how someone learned to get what they want; and no one has called them out, or no one has forced them to learn healthy ways to get what they want, or they simply haven’t reached a point where the cost is high enough that they want to change;
      – Some people just don’t have empathy for others, or they dehumanize others, or they aren’t capable of considering others’ feelings; to them, their own selfish desires justify whatever tactics they decide to use. The Spartan Life Coach talks about this;
      – Some people don’t have ethical standards that keep them from exploiting power, coercion, or manipulation to get sex. To them, if a tactic works once, the reward of getting sex simply encourages them to keep using that tactic over and over until it works again (and regardless of the hard feelings it causes to their victims).

      Shame especially is a powerful social tool for getting someone else to behave the way we want. We want people like Harvey Weinstein to feel shame for how they have exploited women, and we get frustrated that people like Pres. Trump seem to feel no shame for their misdeeds. Japanese culture uses social shame quite a bit to enforce appropriate social behavior. But shame is incredibly toxic; I’m dealing with a whole childhood of shame and its aftereffects. Had my parents known – and had I as a parent realized – the effects of shaming, I would have advocated a much different approach to parenting. (Shaming is more and more being seen as abuse, and I agree.) One of the keys to dealing with shame, is to simply own your shit – no one is trying to be perfect, and responding to a shaming attempt by saying “Yeah, I’m xx (straight, monogamous, prudish, etc.), so what?” is often very effective.

      Lastly, it’s simply not popular right now to suggest that women (or people in general) might actually be responsible for their own shit. It’s a lot more convenient (and popular) to blame “The Patriarchy,” “Christianity,” “The Universe,” etc. rather than own up to our own shortcomings and bad decisions. That lets us keep playing the role of victim, and we don’t actually have to face the discomfort of changing our behaviors and choices. Some folks will go to great lengths to protect their fragile sense of self, even if that means throwing other people under the bus.

      What are your thoughts? Anything you’d like to add or respond to?

      1. I think you’re onto something powerful with the idea of victimhood claims as a mode of manipulation. Unfortunately, I think you may be feeding that dynamic in some measure by your decision to hold fire on writing the posts you mention. It’s great that we have started evolving to a place where we take victims of various sorts seriously. On the flip side, we have developed a peculiar orthodoxy, particularly within progressive thought, which holds that ONLY victims have the “right” to speak about any issue at the core of their experience. Everyone else, it’s said, is “privileged” and needs to sit down and shut the hell up unless they uncritically affirm the party line of whoever purports to speak for that victim class. That’s the whole power source for the people who use/abuse victim claims to manipulate. If we’ve conditioned ourselves to believe that “it’s not our place” to speak about entire topics, of course people are going to manipulate that to selfish ends. They’d be fools not to. We’ve given them an “Easy Button” which is guaranteed to shut us up, disengage critical thinking, and bow to any fool who claims to be more or differently oppressed than ourselves.

        Your instinct to let women have their say on this issue is an excellent one, but it’s problematic. When will it be a good time to delve into the issues you mentioned? What is a “decent interval”, if I may use a historically loaded phrase? These abuse revelations are not really episodic. There are going to be more of them every day for the foreseeable future, and all along that way, victims have the need and right to be heard in their own way and time. But this is a big, big issue, and we’re going to get nowhere with it if we can’t engage more than one aspect of it at a time. So long as you’re not discounting victim’s experiences or trying to speak for them, your voice need not detract from theirs in any way.

        In particular, I think there are aspects of this problem which absolutely need to be addressed by men speaking with and to other men and boys. That includes your ideas about festival conduct. We need to develop cultures of healthy, vibrant and positive consent cultures around sex and to do so in ways integral to our Pagan religions and philosophies. A big part of what is needed to build and reinforce those cultures is the modeling and feedback of male peers and elders to other males. We need to develop some solid values around healthy sexuality, get some wide buy-in among men and boys, pass those values on, and call each other out a bit when we fail. We can’t begin to do that until we give ourselves permission to talk about it.

        1. First of all, excellent comment, and I completely agree with you on all points.

          One of the reasons I chose to hold off, was to see which direction public opinion went on taking the victims seriously. I hate seeing a good argument rendered ineffective by new information! Predictably, conservatives tended to disbelieve/deny, and liberals tended to believe and take responsibility. Overall, I feel like the trend has shifted towards giving victims a voice, which I think is especially important, and something I wanted to contribute to.

          A second reason I wanted to hold off, was to let some of the furor and emotion die down around the issue, so as to reduce the chances of trolls yelling “mansplaining” or “privilege.” Reading one of the FB threads on one of the articles I cite, emotions started to run hot, and I felt like my post would be better received by folks with cooler heads. So, after a little “cooling off” period, and I’ll revisit and tweak it for publication. (How long specifically, you asked? Probably a week or two.)

          Interestingly, Minxogynist Media’s comment calls out an unpopular perspective – that it’s not just men at Pagan events who are being creepy. While I specifically want to speak to men (and boys) about ways to not be creepy (and, as you say, to start building healthy models and role models for male sexuality), taking a breath before posting gives me a chance to consider the “creepy woman” angle. Also, I’ve been talking to several Pagans lately, and it seems like there’s a distinct subculture in Paganism in which people are just there for the sex, which is a topic I hadn’t considered, but which I think is important to the discussion.

          So – yes, in some sense I’m feeding the “weaponized victim” mentality by waiting, but I’m calculating that my rational argument will be more persuasive after people process most of their emotions on this issue. And yes, all times are appropriate for talking about abuse, but I’m choosing to wait on ringing that bell for a moment, as a ritual/magical act of honoring victims’ agency. I’ve been on that side, and sometimes just a respite from the onslaught of abuse is incredibly helpful.

          1. Fair enough. To your one point, there are absolutely creepy and predatory women out there. At some level this is a universal human thing about people who just don’t respect boundaries or other’s wills. The dynamic and societal consequences are different for male vs female victims. As a general matter, we men don’t have to equate uninvited or even unwanted female attention with real fears for our physical safety. We also don’t have to worry about whether our entire livelihoods will be contingent on navigating sexually aggressive bosses in the workplace. It happens sometimes that a female boss will harass a male subordinate in that way, but it’s not all pervasive.

            On the other hand, women can more than hold their own against any guy when it comes to stalking. At another level, our society doesn’t really give men a lot of permission to protest unwanted sexual advances by women. There’s no such thing as unwanted attention if you’re a red-blooded guy, right? Far more often than not, that’s true for many of us, and certainly for me. But there have been times where that line is crossed. I’ve had times when some woman I wasn’t all that into wouldn’t take “no” or even “maybe later” for an answer and would grab things with an iron grip that really ought not be handled that way, if you take my meaning. The offender was usually highly intoxicated and on the edge of being combative, and it’s not at all a comfortable situation. You don’t want to make a scene or seem like an unappreciative ass, and you have to be damn careful about how you resist. If a woman give her aggressor two black eyes, the reaction is “good for you, girl”. If you’re a guy and an argument erupts over you not obliging her and she comes up with any marks at all, you’re going to jail, even if those bruises were from her drunk ass tripping over the curb.

            Are there people just into Pagan scenes for the sex or cruising or primarily so? Without a doubt. We’re pretty open about these things and we’re a subculture known not to play by all of traditional society rules. Some folks misunderstand that to mean that we have no standards of conduct or decency at all. When I had a coven, I did used to get some male seekers whose primary concern was how soon they would get to be in a skyclad working (which we rarely did). I think people frequently over estimate how libertine the average Pagan really is, but in any event, I don’t see free or even raucous sexuality as the problem.

            In addition to being Pagan, I have a summer place at a nudist resort and…there’s no way to fig leaf this – I’ve been a swinger and severely polyamorous for better than 20 years. As you might imagine, consent culture is critical in such environments, and we have it, and it works. At the camp and in the little biweekly orgy palace, women are safer than they would be in downtown Riyadh in a burka. We have as our core value respect and positive consent. Mild infractions by newcomers earn become a teaching moment. Severe or persistent ones get you forever banned from paradise, so to speak.

            Safety should never be contingent on what someone is wearing or not wearing or what they do. You might be in a bed full of naked people with the woman of your dreams who is willing to do 99% of anything you can conceive at the moment. But you don’t get to presume the 1% and you can’t presume she wants to do any of it with you until you ask.

            The other thing which we need to hammer home to people, particularly men, is that consent culture is not just some call to altruism or ascetic self-sacrifice. When you embrace consent culture and shed that awful sense of entitlement that fuels the abuse problem, you will find that you will get a LOT more action than you ever would as a creeper.

  2. Have you ever seen any of Teal Swan’s videos? She has many videos on the subject of why people manipulate when they feel they have no other way of getting their needs met, including using suffering to make themselves feel like they deserve what they want.

    1. That is very interesting – no, I’ve not heard of Teal Swan, but I’ll check it out.

      I know there are a range of reasons that people manipulate, from narcissism, to poor social skills, to untreated mental/emotional illness and trauma, to simple trolling. Lately, I’ve noticed a tendency for people to claim a victim status as a means of coercing others. Locally, in our pagan groups, this often presents as someone not doing the work for witch school, then blaming everyone else and acting offended in order to dodge responsibility. I have a few thoughts on how to identify if someone might be doing that (including myself, if I might be doing that without realizing), and strategies to deal with people who do so in Pagan groups.

      I’ll check out those videos, and see if they shed some more light on my thoughts. Thanks!

      1. At the most basic level, people manipulate because it’s the basis of every human interaction which has ever taken place. A large part of what sets us apart from other animals lies not only in our linguistic abilities, but in our ability to conceive of the self and infer what others are thinking and how to steer their behavior to our advantage.

        From the time we’re born, everything sort of social and life skill has to do with manipulation – what to do and say to make others believe we’re trustworthy, competent, desirable, dangerous to cross etc. It’s so second nature to us that we don’t even see it as manipulation. We define that concept entirely in the pejorative sense of when we think the manipulation has crossed some ethical line when it is done in total disregard for others or to their positive harm etc.

        So why do people engage in this negative sort of manipulation? I think it really all boils down to lack of empathy. Sometimes that’s inborn. Most of the time, it’s more the case that the un-empathetic people had very little experience or modeling of empathy themselves. To there extent there is any distinct Pagan dimension to this, it may be rooted in the reality that many people who find their way to our paths come with a lot of traumas from their family and/or religion of origin. I don’t know if there is any real statistical significance, but in pretty much every coven and festival and network I’ve known seems to have an awful lot of people who have survived horrific physical, mental or sexual abuse, are alienated from their families etc. We also live in a society which strongly embraces social Darwinism and teaches in word and deed that rules and decency are for suckers and losers. In this context, it’s not hard to see why many people conclude that unbounded manipulation is the only way to survive, let alone get ahead.

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