Men in power

There’s been lots written lately about sexual abuse by men in positions of power. My Facebook feed is packed with women saying ‘me too’. It’s a start, breaking silence and raising hands, seeing the numbers. But it isn’t enough – I want more stories too, of shock and complacency, choked-down rage and whispered warnings. I don’t only want to know about the women who have left situations as they turned nasty, but also those who stayed and the terrible bargains they were asked to strike. I want to hear from women who watched and said nothing.

Because, me too.

For the past decade I’ve been in a majority-women field. It thinks of itself as progressive or radical, dedicated to subverting systems of oppression and with a whole vocabulary around reading cues and responding appropriately. But the stories of sexual abuse and coercion coming out of other industries are not aberrations but expressions of a deep misogyny that pervades all corners of our lives.

Including the playwork profession.

There are those at the thin end of the wedge, the men who talk to your chest during meetings and look surprised when you force them into eye contact instead. There was the man who pulled me out of a circle in the pub to tell me, in excruciating detail, of several sexual experiences and then leaned back to grin at my horror.

It can be hard, to meet your heroes.

There were the ones who told me to smile more, who said I “shouldn’t have any trouble” getting speaking gigs because of being “cute enough”. I’ve been interrupted, just before speaking with the conference keynote, to have my own haircut described to me. Even writing this, I keep typing out reasons why my experiences aren’t as bad as other people’s. I keep making excuses. That’s partly because I have seen worse done to other women and stood by silent, angry and ashamed.

Look, this is a small field. People date and flirt within it, and that needs to be navigated carefully. That’s not the same as the evasive dance that women are tasked with, the laughing and dodging that says “no, I don’t want this, but I might need your good opinion in order pay my rent one day”. When a self-professed radical sniffed that “it must be nice to have a rich husband” when he heard I was going to IPA (I didn’t, but had saved up for months), when young men get their hands shaken and young women get lingering wandering hugs, when men listed in my bibliography wander events grinning like sharks, I know this field is not separate from the world.

Playwork has meant so much to me, and I’m incredibly grateful for the friends I have made through its exploration and practice.  That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, and some men have always showed up to remind me and other women that we are ever-open to interruption, that our value is based on looks and likability, that we are expected to stay “cool” with things, and to keep smiling.

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Playworkers on tour

If you want more stories from our Canada tour, look here.

If you want more personal reflections from the road, I sometimes do this newsletter thing.

At tour locations, the three of us get up on stage together, unpack and repack cardboard boxes together, eat dinner with hosts and walk cities in search of dessert.  But in the car, I tend to nestle in the backseat and write blog posts or edit courses in the Pop-Ups pipeline.  Whatever we’re doing, it’s all about helping to grow the play movement, signpost great ideas and resources, and support individual organizers however we can.  It’s all different, all the same, and all important.

Sometimes it’s answering the same questions over and over.  How did you three meet?  Our answer offers one example of building community around an idea.

Sometimes it’s providing language that people need.  Play cue, return, frame.  Adulteration.  This last one raises eyebrows sometimes, provokes a familiar and uncomfortable chuckle.  Ohh, we can hear them think.  I DEFINITELY do that.

We repeat what people need to hear, the things that are easy to say and hard to live up to.  Play is important and special.  Children’s play is neither for us nor about us; it belongs to them.  People need specific ways to support play without directing it.  They need reflective prompts for those in-the-moment alarms.  They need stories of people who have done things differently, and what happened next.

I love this work, and feel honored to be part of a Playwork Welcome Wagon.  We go all over and meet people who are new to this field, give them a pile of new ideas and junk, and say “yes, come on in, let’s do something marvelous together”.  At pop-ups too, it’s so much fun simply saying ‘yes’ to children.  Yes, you can tape that saxophone to that cable reel.  Yes, I see you on that tower of milk crates and no, I won’t be shouting at you to get down.  Yes to whole rolls of duct tape, to smashing boxes.  Yes to taking that jetpack you made home.

Yes, yes to all of it.

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Home Run

We’re at roughly the halfway point across Canada, and in spite of myself thoughts start turning towards home.  The Little Yellow Car has been valiant on this journey, and you can follow its (and our) adventures here.

My drive back will start with a week in Glacier National Park, which I visited a decade ago and has haunted me ever since.  Then, rather excitingly, a little tour is coming together to carry me home (and possibly Andy for a spell, keep your fingers crossed at immigration).  Here are some rough dates and stops:

Denver, CO: 29 Sept – 3 Oct

Evanston, IL: 6 Oct – 10 Oct

New Albany, IN: 11 Oct – 12 Oct

Ithaca, NY: 15 Oct – 17 Oct

Do you work with a school, library or community group in Wyoming, Columbus OH, Pittsburgh PA or Albany NY?  Would you be interested in a workshop on play support, adventure playgrounds or loose parts play for children or adults?

Maybe I can add you and your setting to the list!