Recently, a festival I attend banned a man. I can’t say that I’m entirely surprised by this to be honest. The man in question did have a problem with boundaries (as in he didn’t acknowledge them) and had a particular skill for avoiding detection for many years. I, personally, can attest to his ability to be creeptacular and after my first less than pleasant run in with him, have done my best to never be alone with him. I’m very glad that the festival organizers are standing up to this and saying that it is in no way acceptable to behave the way he did.
On the other hand, exposing this man’s behavior and his banishment has brought out a bit of semi-hidden ugliness. People in respected positions of power have vehemently jumped to his defense, causing a slightly public kerfuffle. While this in itself is troubling, that’s not want really what I want to talk about. The festival organizers are in a better place than I am to appropriately respond to public criticisms. I am more concerned with a lower level of negative response.
When it was brought to our attention that this man had been banned, some men had a (to me) very curious response. They became concerned that they might be similarly be put on a list of banished people or that they might get in trouble as well. As our conversation progressed, I gathered two main points that this group of men were upset about. The first was that they might be accused of inappropriate behavior and that second would lead to them being banned.
To me this says three things:
- These men understand that they might have, or actually have, done something inappropriate to a woman at some point.
As much as the motto “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” has its problems, in this case it’s a little bit true. I have not killed someone, therefore I don’t have to be afraid of prison or the death penalty. I have never ignored personal boundaries of another at a festival, therefore I have no reason to be afraid of being banned for that reason (I will however be the first to admit that I have behaved badly in other ways). Festival organizers of the past have made it very clear that ongoing, affirmative, and enthusiastic consent is highly encouraged. They have hosted workshops, posted fliers and signs, and made sure that attendees try to look out for each other. This standard is by no means a new trend. If these men are concerned that they might be punished it says to me that they know they have done something that crosses a boundary.
- These men are afraid that those in a position of power might not believe them or their stories.
Snarky feminist says: Wow, how shocking! You don’t trust the rules, organizers, and leaders to protect you if you are innocent or telling the truth? You don’t say! Tell me all about how difficult this is for you. Admittedly, that was a bit nastier than what I originally wrote, but I really needed to get that out of my system. False accusations of anything involving sex are rare, strike that. Accusations of anything involving sex are rare, period. This is because women are often afraid that for whatever reason they won’t be believed. Often women don’t trust those in charge, for good reason—between anecdata, documented responses of organizers, police, and even judges, and horror stories we’ve been given no good reason to trust people in power with our stories, our terror, or our trauma. In this particular case, these men are afraid of the people in power and I’m finding it very difficult to muster sympathy for them. But I will say this, the festival organizers aren’t on a witch hunt. They are very fair, banishment from the event is an extreme response for only the extreme cases. If you do something inappropriate and it is reported, they’ll talk to you, possibly keep an eye on you for a little while, but you’ll still be able to attend and enjoy yourself.
- These men believe that their right to not monitor their behavior and to act as they wish comes before the right of women to feel safe at a festival.
This. This statement. Everyone wants to have fun at a festival. Everyone wants to be safe at a festival. It is very possible to do both. Being aware of boundaries, listening to your partner in the moment, asking if you aren’t sure. These are things that are easily done and make the festival safe and enjoyable for everyone. There are many ways to communicate consent in a sexy, fun manner. “I want to *insert act here*” “Like that?” “Want more?” These can all be said in a fun, sexy, teasing way, and still make it clear that you are asking for permission; and that guideline isn’t just for the men, it’s for women too. Does this mean that these men will have to change their behavior? Yes. Will it be easy? Probably not. But it’s worth it. If everyone feels safe, everyone can have more fun. More women will come to the drum circle and dance if they feel safe. Women will be freer and more relaxed if they feel safe. Women will be more inclined to participate in the sexy times IF THEY FEEL SAFE. If these men want to have more of the fun sexy times with women at a festival they need to be part of creating an environment that is safe.
Women move through a male dominated space every day. Sometimes it’s not safe. Sometimes it’s terrifying. Paganism is a religion that venerates the Goddess next to the God. This means that women need, not only to be treated equally, but also to feel safe in those spaces. If women feel safe, they will join in more.