Saturday, 6 January 2018

Victim Blaming in the New Age Community

I struggled about writing on this topic, but after talking to a some people about this issue, I was encouraged to write about it. I had one person say this issue really bothered them, but because it’s so pervasive, they thought maybe they were alone in it. The issue is about victim blaming as a form of spiritual abuse in the new age community.

If your not familiar with some of the new age philosophies, there’s some that believe that everything in life is preplanned by you before your born and that if something happens to you good or ill, it’s because you set it up that way and have agreements about the roles you play in each other’s lives.
This seems harmless enough on the surface. But as you can see by the example below, there’s some problems with it. 

Recently I went to an event where a respected new age teacher was speaking. During the discussion a woman brought up how her daughter had been raped and the spiritual teacher responded by saying it must of been part of her life path, that she chose it and that she must have a Sacred contract with her attacker! I couldn’t believe that someone would say this to a person. In fact I almost got up and left at that point, and in hind sight I wonder if I maybe should of. The more I thought about it, the more it bothered me. It was a huge deal breaker for me. I never 100% believe anything a teacher says, I take what works and leave the rest.  This though, broke my trust with this person. 

 I’d like to think I have developed a pretty well honed spiritual bullshit meter over the years, and this had all the lights flashing. It made me think of some Christians who respond to trauma by telling the victims it’s all part of “God’s plan”. At least with that idea you can blame it on a cruel and capricious god. There are also some sects of Christians that believe that if misfortune befalls you, wether it’s poverty, illness, or your house catches on fire, it’s because you are a sinner or you didn’t believe enough in God. If you had more faith that never would of happened to you. It’s somewhat close to the above New Age philosophy in that it makes you responsible for all the ills in your life. I think the New Age philosophy has some flaws though that make it particularly cruel.

1. It blames the victim
By saying they set it up before hand, it’s saying they caused it. They set it up, so it’s on them, they’re responsible. In fact there are some who even go on to say that they don’t believe there are any victims. That starving children in third world countries, victims of bombings and mass shootings, domestic abuse survivors etc are all in that situation because they chose it. I do not think that anybody chooses this. This is a thinly disguised victim blaming dressed up as spirituality. It makes people feel safe because they can tell themselves, it’s not going to happen to me. They chose that trauma, I didn’t so I’m okay. 

2. It makes it sound like the perpetrator did them a favour
By saying that the victim had a Sacred contract with her assailant it takes responsibility off of perpetrator. It even makes it sound like the person did them a favour. I heard one story about a woman who had survived an abusive relationship, and she was told by others in the new age community that her abusive husband was her teacher and she should be grateful for the lessons he taught her. When it comes to abuse, the responsibility is 100% on the person that    did it. People have free will and sometimes they choose to do shitty things. That’s their choice and the responsibility falls on them. They did not do their victims any favours. 

3. It minimizes suffering.
Saying that the person caused it, doesn’t just blame the victim, it also minimizes the trauma. New Ager’s often talk about the lessons that need to be learned, or insist (as some Christians do) that the person needs to forgive their attacker. No one owes anyone else forgiveness. Telling someone they need to learn the lesson when they are recovering from loss and trauma, and just trying to put their life back together, is not helpful. Just when people need love and compassion most, they don’t need to be told that it’s their fault, or that they need to forgive and learn the lesson they supposedly set for themselves. It’s not helpful, and it’s not kind. 

4. It encourages complacency.
If people chose to be in abusive situations, or starving, or living in a war zone, then I guess the rest of us are off the hook. They chose it, it’s their lesson, so there’s nothing we need to do about it. Everything is going as it should. This philosophy encourages people not to fight against injustice or work to rectify wrongs in the world. If others are suffering, it’s their lesson, and we don’t need to worry about it. We can go about our lives without worrying about others suffering. People who subscribe to this are often coming from a place of privilege where a philosophy like this makes them comfortable and encourages them to not put themselves in another persons shoes. 

5. It assumes a moral superiority.
Have you ever notice that people who say this are not the ones going through the trauma themselves? It’s always someone else’s misfortune they’re talking about. They are often speaking from a place of never having experienced it,  or if they did they insist they’ve learned all the lessons they need to learn and forgiven everyone. They often make a display about how spiritual they are and how if you were as spiritual as them you would just accept your misfortune as your creation. And if you were as spiritually advanced as they are, no misfortune would have happened to you in the first place. 

I think this attitude is dangerous on a lot of levels. It encourages victim blaming and discourages people from talking about trauma in a way that is honest and real. Victim
Blaming especially in cases of sexual assault is a huge problem in our society, and we need spiritual communities of every stripe to be supportive of people that have been through this, not just add another layer of blame and guilt on them.

So if you sincerely believe that everything in life that happens to people, including traumatic things, is because of some pre arranged spiritual contract, I ask you to keep that to yourself when dealing with those who have experienced abuse. It’s not helpful. What people need is compassion, not more blame and shaming. 

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Healing my Inner Teenager and a 30 Year Old Poster

A couple of weeks ago I had a dream that I was in a record store. In the store they had one of those displays for posters, and I was looking through and found a poster that was my favourite when I was a teenager. I thought to myself “I have to buy this.” I woke up right after that and thought “I do have to get that poster.” After all I live in the magical age of the internet so I thought I could probably find it.  So off to EBay I went.

So what’s the big deal about the poster? It’s not super rare, or remarkable, so what’s the big deal? I got the poster for my 14th birthday from my bestie, of my favourite band, GnR. I had tons of posters of various metal bands, (it was the late 80s after all) and it wasn’t my only Guns one, but for some reason it was my fave. 

Being the 80s, it was also the age of the “satanic panic” unfortuantly. My parents being very religious and my father decided that heavy metal/hard rock was the devil. I came home one day, when I was 16, and all my posters, music mags and cassettes etc had been tossed out. And I had lots of stuff.  It was what I spent my hard earned babysitting money on. Between Catholic school and being the oldest girl in a large conservative family (which made me second mom basically) I felt trapped and frustrated. As a creative person with entirely different values than the traditional family and school around me, music was my outlet and saving grace. It was the lighthouse that told me I could escape the conservative religious environment I was in. So of course, when I came home one day to find it all gone, I was devestated. 

The poster framed and up on the wall!

When I had that dream I decided that almost 30 years later I would buy it back for myself. I did it for my inner teenager, to let her know I didn’t forget what happened, or how depressed she was after that. It doesn’t matter that it’s almost 30 later, it made me happy to get it back again. 

If there was something you loved as a kid, or a teenager, that you lost, or was it taken from you, or that maybe you weren’t allowed to have it in the first place, then I encourage you to go get it. It doesn’t matter how old you are now, you’ll be happy you did. 

You can watch the Unboxing below. 

Sunday, 22 October 2017

I Dont Care If "Me Too" Makes You Uncomfortable

This past week if you were anywhere on social media, you probably saw the "me too" posts in your news feed and may have even participated. If you don't know what the Me Too campaign is about, its to highlight the number of girls and women who have been sexually assaulted and harassed. So the idea is if you are a female who has been a victim of sexual assault or harassment you post "me too" to show other women they are not alone, and to show the scope of the problem.

As I scrolled through my Facebook in particular, I saw dozens and dozens of female friends post this phrase. Seeing the amount of it was heartbreaking. I posted it too, and like the other ladies I received words of encouragement and support from my female friends. It was great to see women supporting each other and realizing they are not alone. One thing did bother me though - the lack of male voices in this. I saw only two men reference it and received no words of encouragement initially from any male friends or family (except the BF who is not on Facebook). I thought what is going on here? Why are they silent on this? Seeing this was very discouraging and disheartening. I couldn't help think. I thought men were better than this, or at least the men I knew. I have to say I did receive a really nice message later from someone of the male persuasion, so at least a couple of guys I know are decent after all.

I asked a trusted male why this was, and his response was "it makes some people uncomfortable." My response - "good. Because it should." If you can scroll past dozens of women you know all saying they have been assaulted or harassed at some point, and you are comfortable with that, then I don't even know what to say to you. If you are comfortable with that amount of suffering around you, then you need to do some serious self examination. It shouldn't make you comfortable.It should disturb you.

And if hearing these stories makes you uncomfortable, that's too bad, because living it is infinetly more uncomfortable. Let me tell you from personal experience that being assaulted  is uncomfortable. Having people bully and blame you is uncomfortable. And as uncomfortable as that is, the silence of others is just as bad. People are uncomfortable so they don't want you to talk about it, and they don't want to address it, they want to pretend it never happened. The silence of others ignoring it is uncomfortable. The only feeling I can compare it to, is if someone died, and then no one around you acknowledged the death or your grieving. And it is because of that silence that this issue continues on. When we are silent we let the perpetrators get away with it. We let the sickness continue.

As women we have been taught for too long that our job is to make others, and particularly men comfortable. We are taught not to make waves, to be pleasant and nice, and that lesson does not serve us in this situation. We as a society have made predatory men too comfortable for too long. Its time that we all get uncomfortable, and face the proverbial elephant in the room. Actually I compare it to a rotten cake that we have put a doilie over to try to make nice about it. But we all know its there, and the longer its there, the more it stinks.

If your a guy and you don't know what to do, you want things to be better, but are feeling uncomfortable about all this, I have a couple of suggestions for you. If you don't know what to say, a simple "I'm sorry that happened." or "that really sucks." is better then saying nothing at all. Or you can listen and hold space for those telling their story, without blaming them, even if it makes you uncomfortable. You can commit to speaking up if you hear someone making a rape joke or about violence towards women, or bragging about taking advantage of someone. Because when you say nothing you make predators think its okay. And most importantly examine your own behavior to make sure you are practicing informed consent.

In short, its time we put the responsibility back on those that are perpetuating the cycle of violence. It's time we made them very uncomfortable.