I never wanted to write this post.
I am from the West Coast and from Madison, Wisconsin. I am from liberal places that pride themselves on being liberal and forward-thinking. I went to high school in the city that hosts the world’s leading feminist science fiction convention, WisCon.
I also abhor ad misericordiam (I am sad so I am right) arguments or anything that sounds like them at all. Logical fallacies and fuzzy thinking are more objectionable to me than a great deal of sexism.
I’m just going to copy and paste part of a conversation here, because all of this is part of a broad conversation about society and what we think of it and how we are working on the parts we don’t like.
- Mason: You interested in two articles on Sexual harassment in hacker and literary conventions?
- Me: yes, definitely
- Mason: http://yro.slashdot.org/story/12/08/12/220224/is-sexual-harassment-part-of-hacker-culture
- Me: unless it’s about readercon
- Mason: Lolz
- Mason: Then ignore the readercon link
- Mason: And go with the Defcon one
- Me: lolk
- Mason: It’ll pop into a few articles about various hacker cons
- Me: yeah
- Me: it’s interesting
- Me: I am glad I am tall
- Me: I get very little physical harassment
I shared a story about work, which made him say ‘bleh.’
- Me: and it’s better here than it was in the midwest
- Mason: Really?
- Me: it’s been over a month since anyone called me ‘sweetie,’ and no one has called me ‘doll’ here even once
- Me: I get maybe a customer a day who drifts to talk to a male coworker at some point
- Me: I get an average of a customer a week who will ask me and a male coworker the same questions and only believe his answers
- Me: this is -better- than Madison
- Mason: I was just going to ask if sweetie was that bad, but I can’t imagine it being said in any capacity that doesn’t convey condescension
He ended up linking me to the Red/Yellow Card Project, which is really neat, especially in that it does not require me to continue to be verbal. That’s important, as I tend to shut down when people are behaving inappropriately. If someone is making inappropriate comments or staring at my chest, no matter how much I object to it in principle and wish the behaviour would stop, I can rarely find the words, or am not brave enough to say them because it’ll make the whole group awkward, and so I smile vacantly and don’t associate with the group again if I can at all help it. This is not good. I am letting myself be cut off from social interactions, and they are not being told that what they are doing is not okay.
Those awkward moments that come from someone being called on behaviour are important. One of my coworkers didn’t learn until his late 30s that ‘gypped’ referred to being cheated, as by gypsies, and has now wiped it completely from his vocabulary. If someone had pointed it out earlier, even if it had caused some momentary awkwardness and tension, if would have stopped him saying such things in front of people who might have been hurt by it.
White Knighting is a related but opposed concept. If you are in a group, and someone is saying something sexist to a woman present, and you are a man, before you step in to call the person on it (which is going to be your first automatic reaction, because you are a decent human being), consider: how is the woman reacting?
- Does she look like she’s gearing up to tell him off?
- If so, cutting her off is part of denying her agency, and is also a problem.
- Does she look really uncomfortable and unsure how to respond?
- Then your calling the other person out is probably appropriate. Refer to Seebs’ guide on calling people out for generally good principles and ideas on how to communicate that you want him to stop the behaviour without inducing defensive behaviour.
- Is she ripping him a new one?
- Reactionary vitriol is not constructive: shout at everyone.
- Don’t do this.
I never wanted to write this post, but I realized I had to when Mason asked my about my experience of sexism and misogyny and I responded that it wasn’t that bad. I should not be minimizing and making excuses. I want to be the kind of person who can call people on their nonsense no matter the context. Part of that is admitting that the problem exists, and it is a problem.
It’s the kind of problem that escalates into the ReaderCon fiasco, the kind of problem that means that I hadn’t heard of WisCon until after I moved away, the kind of problem that means that pay disparity still exists. Just because it’s not much of a problem for me personally doesn’t mean I’m allowed to ignore it, which is why I had to write this post.