Inside the Crab Bucket

Dissecting Liberation Spaces

“Crab bucket mentality” is a metaphor that refers to “if I can’t have it, neither can you” attitude: once an individual tries to transcend their circumstances and strive for success, they get shunned and ostracised by their peers. While this expression usually describes aggressive and confrontational situations (like your average school nerd being bullied), I can, surprisingly, see it in fluffy and sweet depths of “safe spaces” and “self-care groups”.

Such communities usually centre around different social media groups and individual blogs, so it would be unwise to treat them as a hivemind and paint them with the same brush. Therefore, my experiences relate to distinct interaction with such spaces related to two “axes of oppression” — womanhood and mental illness — which I can (proudly or not) use as my labels. I don’t intend to develop an overarching theory of these communities, but only make an attempt to sketch my impressions of their main trends.

One can say (and I eagerly agree) that these platforms have many important functions: they produce relatable and occasionally helpful content, make us less constrained and more open in our judgments, and, as a result, can empower those who don’t feel accepted and understood in mainstream contexts. I have observed friendships being made, initiatives started, and struggles overcame. Dismissing this would be one-sided and dishonest.

But, as much as these groups are inspirational, it also means they are influential and able to develop a distinct set of values, jargon, and, finally, mentality shared by their members. This, like any power, can be used for good and for bad. Regrettably, the narratives of strength, resilience, and ambition are often overshadowed by what we describe as “victimhood”.

It is not to say that whenever struggles or weaknesses arise, we should ignore them or beat themselves up for them ad infinitum (I’ve tried both things and it didn’t go well). But it is one thing accepting them and constructively working through them, and another — adopting the other extreme and resorting to defeatist, self-congratulatory behavior.

It expresses itself in many ways and spheres of life — from relationships (when people are excuses from having basic respect for their friends or partner) to studies. An overseen Tweet (aimed to offer advice to incoming Oxford freeshers from non-privileged backrounds) stated that “if you are missing every deadline, you are doing well”. While academic achievement is not something to be obsessed with (because nothing is) and one doesn’t lose intelligence by occasionally having a break, framing the exact opposite of doing well as something to be proud of is, at very best, delusional, and at very worst, malicious.

While for many people this ends with completely ignoring the objective difference between “good” and “bad” (which is bad enough), it sometimes transforms into a more outward form of “crab bucket mentality”. Those who are self-made and reject absolute acceptance for themselves (looking for a way to perfect themselves instead) are viewed with contempt and suspicion. Everything — doing well academically, developing an independent set of political beliefs, questioning your personal need for a safe space, and simply living your life as it is despite all struggles — is regarded as a sign of privilege. Being resilient despite having a hard life is mistakenly viewed as having an easy life.

Shunning an impressionable young mind into defeatist submission is the potential that makes current environment in liberation spaces as dangerous as it is soft. Therefore, I urge everyone to take this view into account and, while continuing to rightly enjoy the benefits of safe spaces, being more critical of the attitudes and mentality they cultivate.

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