Dear subconscious mind, don’t talk to me about dragons at 3am. Actually, that should probably be extended to nearly everyone at most times.
(Woe to the guy at a recent festival who was intent on telling me which kind of dragon “controlled” my body as I danced, and if I spent some more time with him, he could tell me all about it. Because clearly I was a pretty young thing and could not leave my mother…)
Not that I have anything against dragons. They were definitely in my top 3 of favorite things to draw in my youth (the others being equines and mermaids). And I have a lot of friends for whom dragon imagery and energy plays into their beliefs and practices. I still occasionally draw them too.
But in the course of the last day or so, several completely unrelated threads/posts/podcasts/mentions of dragons all filtered through and coagulated into my brain. They mixed with a variety of issues I had been processing in very different communities I am involved in. So when the decongestant wore off around 3am, there were dragons waiting for me.
No, not actual dragons. Rather the puzzling phenomenon of people who seem to manage to get away with some really bad behavior, over quite a long period of time – and those who get instantly blasted to bits for a small misstep. And unfortunately the majority of examples I could think of split the former into largely male, and the latter into largely female.
First, my brain worked on the pword community – considering some key founding folks of the 20th century with notoriously bad behavior. Their stories and supposed research is generally celebrated and poor behavior excused, while their female contemporaries are often the butt of jokes about their theories, scholarship, and missteps. Do we really need to be harder on Margaret Murray, Helena Blavatsky, and Sybil Leek than we are on Aleister Crowley, Alex Sanders, or Robert Cochrane? Are we really passing around memes stamped with the name of the guy infamous for flame wars, threats and making shit up while claiming it was ancient, in 90’s witchcraft chatrooms? How long did it take to out a child molester?
But it’s not just this subculture. In bellydance, we have the “the power of the penis” – where because the dance is so largely female, *any* male dancer instantly gets loads of attention, regardless of their skill or talent. It wasn’t unusual at a certain festival for the audience to turn into a bunch of howling, cat-calling monkeys when a man graced the stage – meanwhile we would never tolerate the inverse. I recently saw a conversation about the popularity of male teachers where someone actually said, “well, the men just work harder, since it’s a female-dominated field.” (Imagine parts of my brain exploding here). I’ll bet you $20 that if you asked that same person about a woman rising to a position of power in a male-dominated industry, there would be the insinuation that she had slept her way there.
Now I know there are some incredible male dancers out there, but I also know of many more who were unfairly escalated because of their rarity vs. their actual talent. Unfair for everyone – their fellow students, the audience, and those who would learn from dancers not ready to teach, and even for them. I will also bet you that some of those now-incredible male dancers will also admit they got pushed along faster than they should have – and the damage that caused them in the process. So why are they often more popular than their female counterparts? Because it’s been ingrained in our society that women should seek the approval of men regardless, all the while being twice as hard on other women. Yay misogyny!
I can also cite examples in Goth and Steampunk communities – club owners, musicians, DJs, event organizers, and so forth. (Really, my brain worked on this for about 2 hours.) It goes on and on, all the way to the recent US election.
So dragons. Big, fierce, intimidating, dangerous. My ex-husband considered himself a dragon. He was infamous for picking fights, spouting off venom and vitriol, and being loud and imposing. Yet he was also charming when he wanted to be, which he always showed to the right people. I can’t tell you the amount of times that *I* got in trouble for his bad behavior – as if it was my job to control him. (Because on top of working a full-time corporate job, teaching and performing dance, freelancing art, designing and making things to sell, I should add monitoring a giant man-baby.) What most people didn’t see was an extremely insecure and unhealthy person who saw these exchanges as a means to seem powerful to the world. To create the illusion that he had control, when really he had very little, except for whomever he could manipulate and con. He sought attention any way he could. Sure, he also did some nice things, and most people overlooked the crap because he had a sound system that could be used for events and music-editing skills. Then he would bemoan the fact that people “used” him for that.
Yeah, so there’s my very open personal association with dragons for you. Vitriol and threats used as a means to claim power while masking fragile insecurity. And we’re so accommodating to tolerate it, especially in the male perceived gatekeepers in our communities. Why? Because they wrote a book, are a known performer, founded a tradition, or run an event or a group? They’re not the only one capable of doing it. Newsflash: it’s really not that hard to run an event, or write a book, or make shit up that sounds good. (Hell, for what it’s worth – I’m all for making shit up by the way, as long as you are up front about it.) Also, if they’re visibly mistreating someone else, I guarantee it’s only a matter of time before that dragon turns its head towards you. Yet so many people prefer to play Russian roulette.
Nor am I excusing shitty behavior by women – they do exist. But we are a LOT quicker to harpoon the perceived harpies because it’s been ingrained in us that misogyny is OK and to be expected. Because that makes perfect sense for a community that supposedly embraces/worships/respects the divine feminine*. (*hint: sarcasm)
Instead, we should be examining our own responses, and addressing bad behavior across the spectrum. Also, as I said here, we need to be more balanced in evaluating others. Nobody is perfect, and everyone DOES make mistakes. People can learn and correct their behavior. However, sometimes a cookie’s not only broken, it’s stale and moldy. Nobody should have to eat that shit.
Why do we tolerate it? Is it because we fear we may be denied knowledge or access to places we want to be? Or that we have succumbed to believing abuse is healthy? We don’t need gatekeepers who manipulate and restrict on the whims of their egos. We need leaders who encourage growth, share and support resources, and empower the community.
Here’s another thing I have learned – the people who are honestly, truly powerful beings, never make a show of it. They don’t need to draw attention to it, or seem threatening. One of my mentors is such a being. You could mistake him for Santa Claus with his rosy cheeks, thick white hair, and round belly. His voice is always calm and even, eyes twinkling. Yet all it took was a single short phone call from him to one of the most notorious asshole deans at my college to do a 180 on his position. Moments later, the dean left me a stumbling and stammering message apologizing for his mistake. You don’t need to call attention to it if you are the real deal – and that works in all spectrum and paths. (With great power comes great responsibility…)
So how do you slay a dragon? By refusing to give it power, not being afraid to go around it, and choosing to ignore its threats. By refusing to do a dance with it, hoping you won’t get burned. By building a better community that communicates openly and invests its energy wisely. By considering what it means to be respected and respectful – and practice that path.