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Practical Vocabulary for Speaking Up

Silence – withholding of important input when one has that information to share. It is caused by shame, minimisation, fear of retaliation, feelings of helplessness, image, career risks and a climate of silence.  A consequence of silence is that performance, and employee morale suffers.  

Climate of silence – a widespread reluctance to speak up about critical issues of concern, making some topics taboo. 

Upward Voice – Is described as informal communications by an employee of concerns, ideas, suggestions, opinions or information about work-related issues to someone higher in the institutional hierarchy who is in a position to take appropriate action to bring about change.  It can be prohibitive, remedial or problem-focused in tone.  Although constructive in intent, Upward Voice seeks to challenge and alter the status quo. 

Abuse of power – a misuse of power by someone in a position of authority who can use the leverage they have to oppress persons in an inferior position. Something as widespread as a dance teacher with a “no pain, no gain” approach is an example of abuse of power.  In the arts, there is an intimacy involved with creativity, which, combined with hierarchy and economic instability, can lead to abuse of power. Abuse of power is often romanticised in the arts, but it is an offence. 

Aversive prejudice – regarding oneself as non-prejudiced yet harbouring negative feelings or beliefs about certain minority groups.  A type of aversive prejudice is thinking or saying someone speaking up for themselves is too loud/aggressive. 

Enabling – means that your actions allow another person to continue or increase a harmful behaviour. Encouraging racism, for example, by looking the other way, often plays out on a structural level when there is no code of conduct around transgressive behaviour, and staff refuse to face the problem. 

Objectification of someone in a professional context is harmful; in the performing arts, it is normalised. When that body is thought of as owned, manipulated and controlled by the director/choreographer for their own artistic use, it is problematic – especially when backed up with a culture of silence that again makes that person’s subjective experience mute.  Objectification also causes dancers to self-shame and self-objectify (where they overly monitor themselves and their bodies, leading to disordered eating and appearance anxiety).  Another related issue is the diminishment of the dancers’ needs, where the audience experience comes first, rather than the performer’s subjective experience (e.g., dealing with pain, grief, and periods while on stage).   

Infantilisation – when an adult is treated like a child, even though nothing about their mental, physical, social, or intellectual state requires such treatment. Studies have shown that an individual, when infantilized, is overwhelmingly likely to feel disrespected. Such individuals may report a sense of transgression akin to dehumanisation. Infantilization may be experienced by not allowing you to make decisions that are best for you (e.g. making company warm-up class compulsory)

Bystander effect– the bystander effect, or bystander apathy, is a social psychological phenomenon in which individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim when other people are present. The greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help. 

An ecosystem of abuse – abuse is not just crossing the line; there is a whole ecosystem that allows it to happen.  Generally, if there is transgressive behaviour, other toxic work conditions present, for example, low pay, overwork and other barriers to well-being. 

Gaslighting – is a form of psychological abuse in which a person or group makes someone question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories. It is prevalent in intimate relationships and social interactions where there is an imbalance of power. Calling someone over sensitive or dramatic, shifting the blame, or being extremely defensive when a boundary is set about inappropriate conduct. They may be extremely strict with their employees but not follow the same rules or be unpredictable in behaviour. 

Discrimination – there is a high level of discrimination on higher levels of the hierarchy in the arts. Institutions may say they have diversity because of tokenism or some resemblance of diversity at the lower levels of the hierarchy. Yet, those who make decisions are, more often than not, white non-disabled people. Since discrimination is in-built, preventing discrimination in the arts means re-imagining the entire structure of arts institutions and funding.

Rudeness – when people speak up, they may do so with some anger or other strong emotion. This emotion is often called rude, “uncalled for”, violent or impolite as a way of deflecting the message behind it. Of course, having the skills to keep conversations tolerant and calm are useful, but It’s not worth keeping abusive culture for the sake of civility. After all, rudeness is subjective, whereas transgressive behaviour is objective.

Lack of autonomy as an employee – Autonomy is a key prerequisite of being motivated at work. Lack of motivation and disengagement is a problem in most workplaces and just as common in dance.  When the director is seen as “god-like”, a master, or the sole creator of their shows, the dancer’s role is seen as replaceable, and therefore are asked to work in a one size fits all manner. If dancers were given credit for their artistic contribution and autonomy to do their work in the way that suits them, they would find a natural sense of intrinsic motivation.  

Lack of structure for complaints procedure – Every workplace should have a structural complaints procedure that is not within the hierarchy of the workplace.  When someone lower on the hierarchy is expected to talk to someone in a position of power to make a complaint, it is an abuse of power.  They must have someone who is objective, can keep the complaint confidential, and advise on formal and informal procedures.  

Grooming – when someone builds a relationship, trust and emotional connection with a young person so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them. Grooming is always carried out in the following manner:

  • Identifying target – taking advantage of precarity; broken homes etc
  • Favouritism: Validating that person – The offender treats them differently and makes them feel like a unique friend.
  • Gaining trust– Careful to be ‘seen’ as a close, caring and reliable relative or friend of the family. With older university-age young people – it’s gaining that person’s trust, being a shoulder to cry on, and fulfilling a need. 
  • Isolation (from family, friends): /drawing wedges between people/undermining relationships with peers. To ensure secrecy and lessen the chances of disclosure or belief.
  • Intimidation and secrecy: The offender may use coercion, e.g. threatening looks and body language, glares, stalking and rules of confidentiality. 
  • ‘Testing the waters’ or boundary violation: ‘Innocent’ touching, gradually developing into ‘accidental’ sexual contact.
  • Shaping perceptions: The victim is often confused about what is acceptable and can take on self-blame for the situation, as his/her viewpoint can become distorted through gaslighting and causing pain while also being the provider of relief. 

Sexual harassment – there are many resources for sexual harassment at the website