Posts Tagged ‘mental illness’

So, I found out recently that someone I used to follow for commentary on politics, a man who aggressively claimed to be a feminist, and a good guy engaged in progressive activism, has in fact been behaving in an emotionally abusive way to women for a long time, including his former employee, who worked for him at a time when I was doing some minor volunteer stuff for his community of activists. (His ex-wife still hosts the podcast they were involved in, Citizen Radio)

His ex-wife has come out publicly and talked about the fact that she’s going to have to cut professional ties with him, and has at least managed to convince him into therapy. I genuinely hope it helps him, and that he can start acting on those principles he claims to have, and make up for some of the harm he’s caused.

Now, obviously it’s not news that sometimes guys who have been terrible to women end up in left-wing circles. There have been abusers of all stripes or degrees in a lot of left-wing activist groups.

I’m glad to say that this person hasn’t been an idol or even someone I’ve really been listening to in years. But I feel extremely bad about this whole situation.

Why? Because I noticed he was behaving in a way that worried me. I felt that he was being overly aggressive in talking about supporting women, something that is a classic covering tactic for abusive behaviour. That he seemed to want validation for being a feminist rather than really care about treating everyone as equals. That things were a little too much about What Reflected Well On Jamie. Men who are genuine about supporting women don’t need to be praised for it, it’s not about them, it’s about doing the right thing and being a decent human being, and feminism is something ordinary that they only get loud about if nobody else is doing it yet and someone needs to step up. If they want a cookie they’ll bake it themselves, because baking is men’s work too. 😉

Jamie is someone who never handled criticism well. Who joked about having an eating disorder but really did need help around an unhealthy relationship with food that he wasn’t handling well, and had a hard time getting help for. Who admitted to manipulative behaviour publicly on smaller issues. It hurt me a lot to realise that I wasn’t even surprised at this news, it all clicked into place immediately and made sense with all of these smaller hints, and immediately horrified me. I can only imagine how Allison feels, having been married to him and having relied on him as her business partner. It was no surprise to me that he has declined to make any public statement or apology, and asked that it not be mentioned on what is now her podcast.

I hope he brings up those issues I mentioned in the therapy, and I really hope he gets the help he needs for everything, because if he doesn’t, then he’s gonna hurt people close to him one way or another, even if the word is out there on the internet now, it won’t get to all his casual acquaintances so easily, and he needs help to get some self-security so that he can avoid this sort of behaviour pattern in the future.

But that’s not an excuse to behave in an unsafe way, and not to listen when someone sets boundaries in place with you. There is no excuse for harassment when someone has told you to stop. I have had my own problems that I’ve needed to go to therapy for, as I allude to from time to time, and those are still no excuse for not reading the signs that you’re behaving unacceptably, especially when they’re made clear to you multiple times by different people.

I have a minor part in this play, and that’s the thing that’s worst about hearing this news. If you really want to know what’s going on, you should go read the personal accounts that some very brave women have put out in public about this, as it’s really their story. But even knowing that unjustified self-recrimination is part of the cycle of this sort of manipulation and harassment, I find myself wondering if I couldn’t have done something to stop this.

The incident that convinced me that I needed time away from that community was when a key volunteer who was a friend of mine had a jokey but slightly inappropriate discussion about what donor money was being spent on, that veered into some pretty invasive speculation about Jamie and Allison’s personal lives. As you may not be surprised to learn, Jamie had an immediate and pretty explosive reaction, didn’t even discuss the matter at all, and completely replaced him with no explanation, and installed me in his place with little to no transparency.

I felt horrible, this volunteer was a good guy who still supported me and also the community even after the incident. I was left trying to pick up a lot of pieces after an over-reaction about a stupid discussion that admittedly was out of line, but could have been handled so much better. It was easily fixable with an open letter to the community setting up some acceptable boundaries. I didn’t trust myself to handle the situation well, I simply got panicky whenever I thought about it, and in true fashion for someone with social anxiety, I simply faded away from the community.

I tried to hold it together for a while first, but I felt really bad about the whole thing no matter what I did, and I wasn’t yet entirely well in dealing with my own social anxieties at the time.

That wasn’t the right thing to do, obviously, but I did correctly recognise I needed to “put my own seatbelt on first,” and look after myself. I should have maybe outlined what went on and simply told everyone why I was bowing out. In hindsight I should have at least passed my concerns on to his then-wife and told her I trusted her to handle the situation if there was anything that needed to be done, so that maybe it would have clued her into things sooner. And I’m really sorry if my lack of action on this enabled this guy, who I thought shared my opinions and outlook, to get away with anything, because if I had had even a sniff of the allegations about abuse when this happened, I wouldn’t have faded away. I would have been with everyone trying to shout about this issue until it had been solved.

And now I’m left wondering: Did I help him get away with this behaviour by never talking about my worries? That’s the most frequent thought I’m hearing expressed by everyone who’s had a story to tell about this guy, that they’ve all been apologizing for not coming forward earlier, not talking enough, not believing in themselves, but they all have the excuse that he was directly manipulating them. I won’t absolve myself, (if anyone wants to tell me I should have said something, that’s probably a fair call, as he never harassed or manipulated me directly, and if anyone wants a personal apology, I will send you a genuine one in private, I promise) but I think all the women who’ve actually survived this behaviour deserve a pass. Please don’t attack anyone for not being able to bear bringing their story into the public. It’s hard enough having to deal with the situation in the first place, I hope everyone can understand why many people stayed anonymous.

This isn’t something that’s easy to come to terms with, and even though nobody is currently talking about physical or sexual abuse, (I really hope it never got that far, but if it did happen to anyone, please be brave and come forward, we’ll support you!) successful harassers have a lot of strategies to make you doubt yourself, and Jamie is actually a charismatic guy despite his issues, and his response made me consider that maybe I was being unreasonable, and that I should give him a chance, and let the hurt feelings cool down. I regret listening to those impulses that seemed reasonable at the time. I wish word of this had gotten to me, I would have happily acted as a go-between to keep people anonymous while still getting their stories out. It’s ridiculous that this makes me feel powerless and angry even though I had only the smallest chance to help. But that’s what situations like this do to everyone, and it’s part of why this whole situation is so wrong and enraging, and people who know me know I’m not quick to anger. (any longer, another lesson learnt in adolescence, fortunately)

So, there are lessons to be learned here:

Firstly, for anyone who doesn’t already, believe women when they make allegations. (I think there is #believewomen on twitter if you want to follow general conversation about this point, assuming you are comfortable reading twitter) This doesn’t mean someone who’s accused is guilty until proven innocent, it just means the allegations are serious and you need to hear out everyone’s story, and support people who make allegations and take them seriously so that this sort of stuff comes out into the open. It takes real leadership to admit to something like this and put it right, so kudos to Allison, who deserves a lot of support for doing the exact right things as soon as she got a story she could substantiate.

Secondly, not every guy who says feminist things is okay. You know that whole “every man is a rapist” quote that MRAs love to harp on about with regards to feminists? What it’s actually talking about is that, as far as any woman can tell, any man could be a rapist. It’s referring to “Schrödinger’s rapist,” if you will: that even the most aggressively feminist of guys can be manipulative, or harrassing, or compensate for their insecurity by being praise-dependent and manipulating women for that praise because they feel threatened by men, and the emotional abuse this guy commited is on the same spectrum as full-blown rape or rapey behaviour. Jamie hasn’t proven MRAs right, he’s proven feminists right: that it’s really difficult to tell who the “bad sorts” are, because those ideas that normalise harassing behaviour sneak into everyone’s psyche at some point, and even guys who are aggressively on the side of women’s rights can still do things that are hugely hurtful to women. Schrödinger’s rapist (or harasser) is real, and he’s often in a superposition of “good guy” and “bad guy,” where he’s making excuses that actually he’s good and didn’t do anything wrong, honest, why won’t you understand? And sadly even for some guys that have been virtue-signalling super hard, when you give them a chance, that waveform collapses and it turns out you’re stuck alone with a guy who will blow up on you if you criticise him, or won’t respect your boundaries, or will outright commit abuse. There is no excuse for that, and it’s a problem for everyone who dates men, and sometimes even for women who don’t have any interest in the idea.

Thirdly, not every guy who supports women is going to have Jamie’s sorts of issues or respond to similar issues the way he did, but it’s okay if you’re not feeling up to trusting any particular guy or even all guys after this sort of incident, in fact, please do whatever you feel you need to to stay safe, whoever you are. Some guys who have a lot of female friends and are emotionally dependent on their good opinion of them aren’t very good at respecting boundaries and need clear communication and possibly someone to threaten them into doing the right thing. Some men don’t fall into that situation. Others, like me, have had issues judging social situations correctly in the past, but will actually respond well to feedback. One of my friends in college deserves a big thankyou for having been really nice about having a boundary discussion with me once and setting me right, because I was getting a little obsessive about our friendship and it made her feel uncomfortable. Thanks for being classy, and you’ll know who you are if you ever read this, because you’re the only person that ever had to do that for me.

It’s okay that people won’t know which kind of guy they’re handling until they’re in a situation like this. Women or anyone else being harassed should trust their guts around this sort of thing, if someone disturbs you it’s okay to set up boundaries or get away in any way you need to. They might be a good guy who’ll react well and respect their friend, or who will be a little taken aback but will get over it and be better in the future, in which case, no harm done. They might be a good guy who’s totally offended, or they might genuinely be a bad guy who’ll flip out, in which case, they didn’t deserve to be your friend in the first place, and it’s good to know you can ditch them, because everyone deserves better than that. If someone won’t respect your boundaries or you don’t feel comfortable having the talk to set them, talk to your friends, people you trust, people in authority, and find people who’ll help you sort it out. It’s okay to need help to get through it, especially if the person harassing you is your boss.

The good thing that has come about because of this is that there’s been a large discussion of this issue that’s almost exclusively positive. The closest I saw to anyone being a troll was one guy asking very aggressively for details of the story so he could “know what’s going on.”

It’s okay to be skeptical, that guy, but please have some sensitivity while you do it. If you’re going to ask questions, be super polite and accept “I don’t want to tell you” or “please follow this/these links” for an answer with grace. You don’t need to weigh in about what that says about someone’s credibility, you can be judgemental in your head rather than on social media if it doesn’t impact you personally. Please don’t imply that it’s not reasonable to default to believing people who bring up these allegations and then be skeptical if things don’t actually check out. Not every woman is going to be okay sharing every detail of their story in public. Some are, and they’re courageous and deserve praise. But not everyone can do that, okay?

Overall, every angle of this story sucks. Now we’re going to have MRA trolls arguing that every feminist guy is some sort of “beta male,” (haha sure, some of the strongest guys I know respect women, you assholes. Ironically I’ve never met someone who I would think of as anything near an “alpha male” who is actually concerned about who is “alpha” and who is “beta,” because they’ve all been way too cool for that insecure bullshit) that all guys are predators of women and that’s natural and okay, and there will be many women who will feel even more like they can’t trust men. (which okay, may be a reasonable starting point in some cases…) All I can say to everyone who disagrees with them, or who has survived this type of harassment, is that you have as much of my support as you’d like, and as much space as you want, too, at your own discretion.

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There has been some discussion recently about the drivers of poverty, and I thought it would be useful to reproduce some important things I’ve said in comments on this blog.

mickysavage said this over at The Standard:

I use the phrase [equity of outcome] as a counter to the Nats’ “equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome” line.  That is a phrase that Nikki Kaye for instance uses all the time.

Their line essentially says that there can be winners and losers.  The concept of “equity of outcome” suggests to me there should be some minimum standards required so everyone has enough.  It does not require complete equality but a reasonable distribution of income and resources.

And he’s right, it’s really not permissible to just leave our economy at the harsh and intolerable level of “well, some people are winners, and others are losers,” because often, “winners” didn’t do anything to merit winning, and “losers” didn’t make the decisions responsible for their poverty. Here’s my reply:

Besides, to some degree inequality of outcome is an indicator of inequality of opportunity- for instance, if people of different demographics really do have functionally equal opportunity, you’d expect the differences in poverty rates between those demographics to be statistically negligible. As that’s not the case, we have a very strong indicator that people who fall into privileged groups in our society really do have more and better opportunities, which isn’t very democratic.

Now, if said inequality actually made everyone better off, I don’t think we’d have a problem with it. But it doesn’t- it just seems to enrich the already wealthy, as seen by our ballooning wealth disparities all around the world.

There is a systemic problem here, and it’s happening in all capitalist economies. Likely it’s our attempts to mix familial policies with capitalist ones (inheritance, treating kids as individual charges not community ones, etc…) that are driving a lot of this problem- that doesn’t mean these are bad things to do, just that they do not mix well with capitalism if you want everyone to get a fair go.

The other post, which was also guest-posted in a shorter form at The Standard, claims that because negative indicators track with poverty, this is a problem of poverty, not of race. That misses the point that poverty is an intersectional issue- that is, it tangles itself up in other social problems, and is better seen not as a cause or symptom but as part of a reinforcing cycle- way back in the day, colonial New Zealanders did some racist things, that set off a self-reinforcing cycle of racism and disproportionate poverty. Even for Maori people who climb out of poverty, there’s the perception that they are exceptional, rather than just very skilled and fortunate, and likely to have been in a much better situation had they been born into a family that suffered less from discrimination. Breaking out of poverty while so many still remain in it only suppresses the poverty part of the cycle, which is still reinforced for other Maori, and still associated mentally with all Maori in so many people’s heads.

Even if we eliminate poverty altogether, there will still be racial discrimination, and it will still carry some of the same symptoms. Just like when we largely ended open discrimination, however, the discrimination would still exist, underground, in our subconscious decisions- both of the victims of discrimination to sometimes see themselves as less than, and in the actions of people who want to reinforce that idea. Here’s the comment I made in reply to this point:

Poverty is a huge part of the problem- racism, sexism, and other types of discrimination are much easier to deal with when they don’t intersect with poverty.

But it’s actually scientifically confirmed (using tests that measure stress) that lifting people out of poverty doesn’t always relieve the stress they feel from discrimination. For example, if you take a white woman and a black woman in the USA, and they both climb out of poverty, the white woman will feel a relief of the stress that she felt from being poor, but the black woman won’t- which is likely to be due to people engaging in what’s called “high-stakes coping”, where they try and power through the problem by just being that much better than everyone else.

I’m not very elegant at explaining why poverty doesn’t explain away racism yet, but you can hear excellent talks on that subject at http://www.timwise.org/ – he’s a great anti-racism advocate.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely support fighting poverty, (and prioritising that fight) but what we’re likely to find even if we largely eliminate poverty is that discrimination still happens, but it might be a bit easier to deal with, and many of the related statistical problems will likely shrink significantly.

Finally, there’s also some discussion as to the drivers of poverty and whether it’s relatively simple or difficult to eliminate. I come down on the difficult side, as evidenced by this comment:

Well if we’re going to reduce things to absurd simplicity, throwing money at poor people solves poverty if you throw enough of it. By definition it cures their poverty (or if you throw too many sacks of coins it kills them – but they won’t die poor).

But then if you don’t want to be simplistic, it still needs money – social workers, benefits, law enforcement, education, infrastructure, civic development, business development units, investors. It all needs money.

and my reply elaborating on that point:

Well, perhaps it cures their poverty. This is going to sound similar to some beneficiary-bashing stuff, but I don’t mean it to demonise the poor, I mean it to say that the problem isn’t quite that simple to solve. In some ways poverty is actually quite similar to coping with mental illness.

You have to remember that part of what causes poverty is that it creates perverse incentives that perpetuate it. (hence the comparison) For instance you can’t afford healthy food, so you buy whatever’s cheapest, which is often junk food from large corporations that leaves you not much better off than before you ate or drank it, which can make it hard to concentrate because your body isn’t getting what it needs, which makes it hard to stay calm or make good decisions, which might mean you miss opportunities to improve your life in all sorts of subtle ways.

Even if we directly redistribute wealth with an aim to reduce poverty, these reinforcing behaviors don’t instantly go away- much like when someone wins the lotto, it depends on their outlook whether they’ll blow the money in a couple of years, or use it carefully and wisely. We’d certainly bump a lot of people directly out of poverty, but some would need a different kind of help, because, to use my earlier example, they’d still think that Coke is what you drink, and junk food is what you eat.

Many of the things you listed couch that investment in a secondary force that helps break poverty-reinforcing behavior- education and infrastructure being the key examples, but sometimes social workers, benefits, and law enforcement can be very helpful, too. I don’t really have much faith in business or investors to do anything about poverty unless they’re getting tax incentives to do it, and even then they’ll try to cut corners.

Fighting poverty is such a crucial piece of improving our society, that it’s a shame that people have so much difficulty understanding the nature of the problem. Having suffered from a different, but nonetheless equally self-reinforcing problem, I very much understand that it’s an incredibly difficult thing to defeat, it requires a lot of support, and even afterwards, these types of problems never fully leave you, you just shrink them to the point that they’re easy enough to cope with.