THREE HUNDRED AND NINETY EIGHT

James Livingston in Aeon.

So this Great Recession of ours … is a moral crisis as well as an economic catastrophe. You might even say it’s a spiritual impasse, because it makes us ask what social scaffolding other than work will permit the construction of character – or whether character itself is something we must aspire to. But that is why it’s also an intellectual opportunity: it forces us to imagine a world in which the job no longer builds our character, determines our incomes or dominates our daily lives.

In short, it lets us say: enough already. Fuck work.

Certainly this crisis makes us ask: what comes after work? What would you do without your job as the external discipline that organises your waking life – as the social imperative that gets you up and on your way to the factory, the office, the store, the warehouse, the restaurant, wherever you work and, no matter how much you hate it, keeps you coming back? What would you do if you didn’t have to work to receive an income?

And what would society and civilisation be like if we didn’t have to ‘earn’ a living – if leisure was not our choice but our lot?

THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE

This post from Valerie Aurora, Mary Gardiner and Leigh Honeywell is so perfect. In addition to the long list of powerful and important recommendations for doing away with “rock star” culture they’ve put forward, there’s one small thing I’d like to add.

In a world run by rock stars, we need to keep an eye out for the new girl.

Given their disproportionate access to travel opportunities, financial resources and publicity, rock stars are often in the best position to spot new talent. As self-appointed spokespeople for organizations and movements, they are also often the first point of contact for people who are just starting out, or new in town.

This means that rock stars are often unofficial gatekeepers to an entire community or industry. They not only get to decide who’s “in” and who’s “out,” but have privileged access to an endless stream of new victims to choose from. Once “in,” the rock star also has special power to manipulate a newcomer’s experience, role and relationships within the community.

I have rarely seen rock stars promote the work or talent of others, but when they do, it’s often to justify bringing a new potential victim into the fold. In communities that are difficult to access or where newcomers need to be “vouched for,” a rock star’s endorsement often lets a newcomer skip to the front of the line.

Rock stars will leverage their status to take the newcomer places she wouldn’t otherwise have access: intimate meetings, secret channels, private parties.* They will introduce her to other influential, talented and interesting people in the community. Rock stars create an illusion that they alone control entry to this world, and that they are universally loved within it.   

Because rock stars maintain power by managing impressions, the newcomer will rarely be left unattended, and may be kept artificially separate from potential allies. The newcomer is also often the new girl (a younger woman) brought in by a rock star (often a man who has sex with women). She may be rumoured to be, or introduced as, the rock star’s lover——creating additional layers of complexity and vulnerability. (This can also occur in different combinations of genders and sexualities, but this is the most common case.)

“Rock stars love “dating” people they have power over because it makes it easier to abuse or assault them and get away with it.” (from No More Rock Stars)

Even when there’s no illusion of a romantic relationship, that proximity can make it easy to develop a reputation as the rock star’s “new toy” or “sidekick”——words that reinforce sexist stereotypes about women as accessories, as lacking the ability to make meaningful contributions of their own. These labels may mean that newcomers are not taken seriously, or even resented by under-recognized members of a group. Most of all, it can discourage established members who might be critical of the rock star from forging a relationship with the newcomer, further contributing to their isolation.

All of these factors conspire to mean that if the newcomer is subject to manipulation, abuse or violence, there aren’t many options on the table. They may feel indebted to the rock star or incapable of speaking up. They may be convinced that the legitimacy of their membership in the group hinges on loyalty to their abuser, or that they wouldn’t belong without his approval. He may tell them outright that they have no legitimacy in the community because their access is through him. They are faced with a choice: shut up or leave. In either case, it’s an extraordinary loss.

“We have been in this position – of being powerless against rock stars… we have all mourned the spaces that we have left when they have become unliveable because of abuse.” (from No More Rock Stars)

We need to look out for newcomers, and maybe especially for the new girl. Whether through structured peer mentorship, open working groups, or prompt and meaningful integration into affinity groups, newcomers need to be able to forge relationships away from, and with others than the person who brought them in initially. We need to build organizations where volunteer intake and hiring practices are transparent, and where resources are invested to orient newcomers properly. Finally, we need to reject systems that rely on opaque processes, suspicion and star power to determine who belongs——the the kinds of systems that allow rock stars to pick and prey on new victims in the first place.

I’m long past being “the new girl,” but I’m young enough to remember the fear and doubt I felt at seventeen. I’m also devastated to realize that I can’t even count how many (talented, brilliant, incredible) women I’ve seen since that time in precisely the same situation: stuck somewhere between shut up and leave. I no longer want to be a bystander in that process, and can do more to make the communities that I’m part of welcoming and safe. I hope this is some small contribution to that process.

New girl, I’ve got your back.

LG

[warm thanks to both Leigh Honeywell and Valerie Aurora for their feedback and comments on this piece — Valerie in particular has expressed willingness to review other posts if you’d like to share your thoughts too]

 

* (or even phone calls with Julian Assange—see Phoenix’s story here)

TWO HUNDRED AND SIXTY

From the Harvard Business Review:

In my view, the main reason for the uneven management sex ratio is our inability to discern between confidence and competence. That is, because we (people in general) commonly misinterpret displays of confidence as a sign of competence, we are fooled into believing that men are better leaders than women. In other words, when it comes to leadership, the only advantage that men have over women (e.g., from Argentina to Norway and the USA to Japan) is the fact that manifestations of hubris — often masked as charisma or charm — are commonly mistaken for leadership potential, and that these occur much more frequently in men than in women.

This is consistent with the finding that leaderless groups have a natural tendency to elect self-centered, overconfident and narcissistic individuals as leaders, and that these personality characteristics are not equally common in men and women. In line, Freud argued that the psychological process of leadership occurs because a group of people — the followers — have replaced their own narcissistic tendencies with those of the leader, such that their love for the leader is a disguised form of self-love, or a substitute for their inability to love themselves. “Another person’s narcissism”, he said, “has a great attraction for those who have renounced part of their own… as if we envied them for maintaining a blissful state of mind.”

ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY SIX

The CBC is asking how you’ll remember the massacre of fourteen women that happened on this day in 1989 and almost all ofthe responses are from women. So, to the men in my life: please take a moment today to talk about their deaths to your male friends, brothers, and the boys who look up to you. Talk about why men are taught to feel threatened by women’s talent, power, and success. Think about the way men talk about women in “pick up” scenes, online, and when none are in the room. Confront your own internalized resentment towards women who exceed the expectations imposed upon them, who compete, who step into worlds where they are told they don’t belong. Feel inspired by all the women you know who, despite a world steeping in this violence, dare to live their lives in brave and authentic ways just the same.

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Photo via Remi St-Onge.