Forward to next post: One of the best pieces of historical writing I have ever read on a blog
It’s been a heck of a week for feminism in our neck of the internet, it really has.
First there was Joe Peacock’s rather unfortunate rant about women who don’t meet his standard of geekitude. Mercifully, I only ran across it via Scalzi’s rebuttal and general manifesto on what it is to be a geek*. But it was still an unpleasant read, as much for the careful explanations of how his screed was not sexist as for the actual complaints he articulated.
So I was a little a-twitch when I saw Jim Hines’ tweet† about a Reddit thread where rapists are telling their stories. There’s a good deal of discussion going on about whether that conversation is a good idea or not. Jezebel thinks it is. Hines disagrees, and has withdrawn from a Reddit Q&A as a result. I know, and I see that he knows, that the separate sections of Reddit are not accountable to one another for their respective content. But I get the feeling he’s just too put off to want to deal with any aspect of the community. I can’t say I blame him.
And then there was this morning’s LJ reading. I was aware of Genevieve Valentine’s unpleasant experiences at Readercon this year, which led her to report someone to the concom for harassment. Because she’d helped a friend with a similar report in 2008, and seen that miscreant expelled and banned for life, she trusted that her harasser would be as well. Unfortunately, she has now heard that he’s only banned for two years, as long as the concom don’t hear any bad stories about him in that time.
Reaction has been universally negative, both about the penalty (particularly since it violates the con’s own written policy, eroding trust in whatever rules they write next) and about the reasons behind it (“he realized what he had done and was sincerely regretful of his actions…[i]f, as a community, we wish to educate others about harassment, we must also allow for the possibility of reform.”). A growing list of people are questioning whether they want to keep Readercon on their list of regular conventions.
It can be hard, reading this sort of thing, not to lose heart about our community (even while rejoicing that it contains people like Scalzi, Hines and Valentine). It can be hard, as well, to be fair to people who don’t seem bothered by these issues.
My own coping strategy, when I despair, borrows a lot from How to be a fan of problematic things, but turned around the other way.**
Explain the bad points. We’re pretty good, in the fannish community, at articulating when there’s a problem (vide supra, frex). I find those articles interesting even when I’m not involved in the original problem. I tend to link to interesting ones here and on Twitter, both because I like reading them and because I know others find them useful references.
Acknowledge that the other person cares about the thing in question. Some people like problematic things for deep social reasons that I didn’t see, or that don’t work for me. And sometimes they care simply because it makes their synapses fire in a pleasurable fashion. There is not yet a great enough oversupply of joy in the world to render “it makes my day brighter” a negligible, disposable value.
Assist in productive conversation about the issue. We all know the drill. Listen generously. Speak carefully. Preserve nuance. Value attention and thoughtful interaction. Discourage demands to be spoonfed or attempts to derail. Acknowledge others as genuine, valuable human beings. Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate.
Find a way to go on that adds to our strengths and reduces our weaknesses. I choose for myself what I will and will not support. I try to respect (and defend) others who make different decisions, particularly if I know they’ve based those decisions on careful thought and on principles that I respect. I try not to make too many assumptions about others based on their associates and their fandoms, and hope that they will return the favor. Instead, I try to use what they say and do as the basis for my judgments. It’s the equivalent of reading the original texts rather than the translations.
Of course, this is all hard work. It can require significant emotional control (or frequent dandelion breaks). It can make it difficult to form movements and create effective boycotts. But there’s a lot of value in resisting the temptation to turn all of our issues into black-and-white, good-and-evil conflicts. After all, real life is complicated. More than one contradictory thing may be true at the same time. The same book may help one person out of grave trauma and gravely traumatize another.
The other thing I do is to go reread something our nerdycellist said in a previous thread:
In dog training there is a thing called the Extinction Burst. Let’s say you’re training the dog to not bark when someone comes to the door. You’ll be chugging along, working your operant conditioning like a boss, and you’ll notice your dog is finally starting to catch on. “Oh, you mean if the doorbell rings and I woof my servant monkey turns her back to me and ignores me, but if I don’t make a noise I get a treat? Awesome!” But just when you think the dog has it all down and it possibly the smartest dog in the universe, your friend will ring the doorbell and the dog will go bugshit crazy, barking, woofing, yelping, whatever, and you’ll just want to sit down with a pitcher of margaritas and give up. Don’t do that. Keep going, because what you’ve just experienced is the Extinction Burst. A few more tries and your dog will be so silent it’s like she’s bored whenever the doorbell rings - like she never even reacted in the first place.
Whatever divergent strategies we each take to dealing with sexism, discrimination and rape culture, I think—I hope—we as a larger community are getting somewhere. I suspect that much of what I’ve been reading about these past days is part of an extinction burst for some of the bad stuff.
(If not, I guess we just have to keep working at it.)
* I did have my own problem with part of his argument, which he did address when I brought it up. I still have a deeper, wider issue which I may write up sometime, but the margins here are dedicated to something else.
† He has since deleted that tweet, for which I’m grateful. I clicked on the link, and wished I hadn’t. The top story didn’t trigger me, but I know a number of people whom it would have knocked down for hours. Or longer.
** Of course, this is really just an instantiation of the abstract “disagreeing with people you love” model. Fandom is, after all, a community.