tw: abuse, apathy, gas lighting
Missing stairs and leaders
You all know someone who is a ‘missing stair’. It’s the person who gets handsy after a few drinks or the one who gets mean and abusive but doesn’t mean it. It’s the one that you know to avoid when they get like that and you warn other people about it but no one actually does anything about the problem person. The insidious part of it is that anyone who complains about that person gets victim-blamed that you should know known better (whether or not you actually knew it was happening). It counts on everyone in the group being an insider.
My run in with the guy at con (X) is a classic example of a missing stair. Whenever something like that comes out its inevitable that you hear from a bunch of folks that they’d heard or known about it too.
Here’s the part that people tend not to talk about with missing stairs tho: credibility and gas lighting and leaders. You wonder when someone like X has been in the community for years why isn’t anything done about it. Why aren’t they in jail? One: Rape culture, people don’t believe you. Two: They themselves will tell you and anyone who listens that they aren’t doing anything wrong and you misunderstood. They are very good at manipulating the situation to get to folks first. Often times people like X are charming or their actions are seen as confident (good at being confident in social situations). Three: They’ll claim fragility or fall back on ‘not knowing the rules’. Essentially carving a space for a personal out. Four: He’s not a bad guy, really. Five: Everyone is worried about hurting X’s feelings or making it weird for X.
And the really bad one: Everyone is worried about how everyone else will feel if they are called out for enabling the behavior. That folks will side against you (very common) or that you’ll be blamed for causing drama (extremely common in the world of social media).
So you’ve set up a situation where as part of rape culture we’re enabling and condoning the behavior and then we’re surprised when it happens? Yeah, no. This is where the leaders need to step up and to borrow the mainstream phrase, lean in to the discomfort. Own it in that moment that you don’t get to be popular all the time with your choices. That you have to do the hard stuff as much as the easy stuff that you like. That you are going to have a whole bunch of people second guess you, forever, about that choice. There is a responsibility that goes along with the position at the front of the room that you are setting the standard of behavior that will be tolerated at your festival/event/group. So set it.
And when you don’t step up and stop the abusers you are literally creating a space for people like A, like X, to continue to control the situation and cause harm to the people who look to you. You are prioritizing your own comfort over those who are under your protection and that to me is unconscionable. If you are unwilling to make the hard choice, step down and let someone who is take over.
I will happily answer to my decisions about my choices as a leader. I don’t owe anyone a defense of that choice but I will answer to the consequence for it. If that means there are people who are now comfortable coming to an event because I have some part in setting the tone? Good. I have done my job. If there are abusive folks who feel like it’s not a good for them, deep down in their souls without quite knowing why, to attend that event? Good. I have still done my job.
I can control no actions but my own. By telling people ‘no, that is not welcome here’ I am being clear about what I can and will tolerate. Do the same. Do the same even when you are not in a position of authority (sometimes it is not safe, I get that, ask me about partner rape sometime) but in a position of safety for yourself. Make it safer one no at at time for those that come after you.