Posts tagged #feminism

How To Ally With Survivors, Avengers Edition

Hey, Captain Rogers. We need to talk.

I know you're probably still behind on your reading, so you may not know what 'rape culture' is. You probably haven't seen the studies showing that rape jokes convince rapists that their behavior is acceptable.

But you do know that rape jokes aren't funny.

You know this because you're a decent human being. You want to see all people treated fairly. You know there is nothing even remotely funny about rape. If you could do something to reduce the prevalence of rape in the world, or even just affirm the humanity of those who've survived it, you'd do it in a heartbeat. You're a hero, after all.

But Cap, when your buddy Tony Stark cracked a rape joke, you dropped the ball.

I get it. You froze. You didn't want to make things weird, or blow one vulgar joke out of proportion. I mean, what do you even say to something like that? 

I'm glad you asked. Here's what you say:

  • "Gross."
  • "Dude, not cool."
  • "Rape jokes aren't funny."
  • "Really?"

Go ahead and try those out a few times. I'm serious. It might sound goofy, but standing up to your buddies is hard. If you practice, you'll be a lot more prepared to respond in the moment.

I'll tell you what, though. As hard as it is to stand up to your buddies, when you do it, you won't do it alone. When you make it clear that you're not okay with rape jokes, you make room for others to say the same.

I can't be certain, but I'm pretty sure that this is how the story would go if you'd told Stark he was out of line:


"I will be re-instituting prima nocta," Tony said, reaching for the hammer.

Steve lowered his drink, looking at Tony as if he'd just ripped a noxious fart in the middle of the party. "Really, Tony?"

"Wait," Tony said. "You get jokes now? When did that happen?" 

Thor frowned. "Are not jokes supposed to be funny?"

"He's got you there," said Bruce.

Tony yanked on the hammer. It didn't budge. "Fine. Cap, let's see you lift it."

Steve rose and walked to the hammer, rolling his shoulders to loosen his muscles before grabbing the handle.

The hammer was lighter than Steve expected. It was half an inch off the table before he even realized he'd lifted it.

He dropped it immediately, and spent the next ten seconds pretending to pull.

Tony already felt like a jackass. There was no need to rub it in.


That's how it would have gone.

And you want to know the best part?

You don't need to be a super-soldier for these lines to work. Normal guys can use them, too.

Posted on May 6, 2015 .

All comments are subject to my Comment Policy.

The Trouble With Heroes

[Content warning: violent misogyny, organized hate campaigns, abuse, harassment, stalking]

Folks who are familiar with the tech and gaming communities probably already know that there's an ongoing campaign of terror being used to stalk, harass, threaten, assault, and abuse women out of the tech and gaming communities. It's actually a loosely-interwoven set of campaigns of terror stretching back years, but it's getting more central and more organized, and it's picked up steam in the wake of conservative actor Adam Baldwin endorsing it and giving it a ridiculous name.

The latest target is Shanley Kane, tech culture critic and co-founder of Model View Media. She [Content warning] posted a statement about the abuse she's endured and how it's affecting her. Her account is harrowing. What she's going through is awful.

Yesterday, Kane's former business partner Amelia Greenhall wrote about why their partnership dissolved [TW: emotional and verbal abuse, erasure]:

I now feel that people should know that my business partnership with Shanley herself was emotionally and verbally abusive, and be able to take that into their mental model of how things work. I felt abused to the point where I left a company that I loved and had been my dream. Then she erased me from Model View Culture’s history, another classic abuser tactic. These were things that I experienced.
— Amelia Greenhall, "What It Was Like to Found Model View Culture With Shanley Kane."

I believe Greenhall.

Some folks are going to use Greenhall's account of abuse and erasure as a justification for the campaign of terror being leveled against Kane. Greenhall has plainly stated she does not want this. When you see people doing it anyway, be clear that they're using her and her story in a manner explicitly contrary to her wishes. They are not allies, and they have absolutely no interest in protecting women from harassment and abuse. They are perpetuating both.

Stated plainly: none of this justifies the campaign of terror aimed at Kane. Nothing makes it okay to publish her family's addresses, to threaten her with rape and death, to violate her privacy, to butt into her sex life, or to otherwise participate in the organized campaign of abuse being leveled against her.

None of it.

If you only support abuse victims if they meet your standard of 'deserving,' then you don't support abuse victims at all. You're using abuse and your ability to withhold support as a means of manipulating and controlling vulnerable populations.That's an abuser tactic, and if you're going to try it, kindly do so very far away from me. 92,960,000 miles should be far enough. Preferably in the direction of our friendly neighborhood gravity well.

I also want to be clear, however, that the people who are going to twist Greenhall's words are people who would use any convenient weapon to attack Kane. This campaign of misogynist terror is not a force of nature. It's a group of people making conscious choices, and they, not Greenhall, are responsible for their behavior. Appeals to 'unity' and 'supporting the cause' are common tactics to silence abuse victims, especially when the abusers are popular and respected figures within a community. It isn't right to ask Greenhall to be silent while people uncritically support someone who has perpetuated the same pattern of credit-taking and erasure that women face throughout the tech community.

Now. Speaking of uncritical support.

Yesterday, before I'd heard Greenhall's story, I tweeted about Kane's work:

The point I was trying to make in those tweets still stands. Trying to separate the 'good,' 'nice,' 'worthy' activists you're willing to listen to from the 'mean,' 'bitchy,' 'rude' ones you can dehumanize and ignore is a means of control. It's saying "I'll recognize your humanity if you behave in the way I dictate." It's saying "Your anger is valid only so long as it is palatable to me." It also ignores the very concrete ways in which refusing to court the approval of those in power creates space for other women to speak.

But in the course of making that point, I uncritically supported someone who has erased another activist from her work. Even if you don't believe Greenhall about the verbal and emotional abuse (and again, I do), the trail of evidence regarding Kane erasing her from the history of Model View Culture speaks for itself. That evidence lives on the public internet, and I completely failed to notice.

For that, I apologize to Greenhall. I'm sorry she went through what she did. I'm sorry I didn't pay attention, and I'm sorry I perpetuated a reductive view of this whole situation as a binary question of either wholeheartedly supporting Kane or co-signing the campaign of misogynist terror that is being leveled against her.

Kane's work, and the work of other women who are willing to publicly, loudly refuse to cater to the egos of powerful white men in tech, directly benefits me. It widens the Overton window and creates space where I can speak more safely, because I'm behind the front lines. It's a tactic I have used myself to help make space for others, so I know firsthand that it takes a toll.

Supporting her also benefitted me--as of this writing, I've picked up something like seventy followers off those tweets.

But this system of lifting up individual people as heroes doesn't benefit any of us. Even in the very best cases, it's a lot of pressure to put on a person. We expect these 'heroes' to fulfill our narrative that The Hero Always Wins; to bear up under abuse and terror and triumph in spite of everything. We send them forth to the front lines of the struggle, but leave them without an adequate support structure to fall back on when the worst parts of the internet come gunning for them.

When we're not at the very best case, it can lead to situations like this one, where a leader in our community behaves badly, and we're left with the choice of either continuing to accrue the benefits of their work without regard for the people they've hurt, or else withdrawing support, which leaves a gap in the shield wall that violent misogynists will use to hurt them.

In her post, Greenwall calls for a third option with regard to Kane:

I think there should be room for a third option: You support diversity in tech and the work Model View Culture has done, but you are allowed to have doubts about Shanley’s sincerity or track record of abusive behavior.
— Amelia Greenhall

This option lays aside the hero narrative. It requires seeing other activists as human beings who can do important work but who can nonetheless be flawed and problematic, rather than reducing them to symbols whose flaws and weaknesses must be ignored in the name of the greater good.

When we acknowledge people for doing good work rather than for being a hero, it eliminates some of the cognitive dissonance that will lead us to ignore or silence evidence that they may not be everything we want them to be. It can serve as a safeguard against perpetuating the common pattern of ignoring victims and closing ranks around abusers. And, at the end of the day, I hope it can also take the pressure off people who are in the 'hero' role, so that they don't have to shoulder the burden of being invulnerable, bulletproof ideas.

Posted on January 21, 2015 .

All comments are subject to my Comment Policy.

Disclaimer O'Clock

I started a new job recently. I'm working with great people on really exciting stuff.

So this is as good a time as any to establish some disclaimers regarding my personal writings and social media accounts.

I think it's perfectly reasonable for employers to hold employees accountable for bad behavior they engage in on their own time. If I'm publicly engaging in behavior that might give the appearance of impropriety, or give coworkers a reasonable impression that I'll discriminate against them, it is right and proper for my employer to have a problem with that. Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences.

But there's a particular brand of troll that works to silence women by trying to get us fired for having opinions on the internet. I've seen it happen to friends of mine and to women I barely know at all, and it can get really ugly.

So just to be clear:

When I write or post things online, I am speaking as a private citizen, and all views I express are my own. I'm not acting as an employee or speaking for my employer. My employer does not have editorial control over my blog, my social media accounts, or anything else I write online (except for some of my code, which gets published on my github account).

If I write something for my employer, it will be clearly marked as such. Code-wise, that means it'll appear in a repository my employer owns, or else a fork of a repository they own. My job doesn't involve writing things for public consumption other than code at the moment, but if it ever does, that content will appear on my employer's site, or a social media account they own, or will otherwise be prominently and clearly marked as having been written in my capacity as an employee.

I will never, under any circumstances, be using this blog or my private social media accounts to host content I wrote for work.

I take responsibility for the way that I comport myself, both on the job and off. So if you have complaints about me that are my employer's business, I'm not going to tell you what to do with those. But if you're just some sexist troll who's annoyed by how I'm responding (or not) to your harassment, you should be aware that I'm a federal employee, and that my employer is therefore constitutionally barred from retaliating against me for any statements that I make that are not pursuant to my official duties.

Since I never, ever post anything pursuant to my official duties on this blog or my private social media accounts, you're pretty much out of luck on that front. Maybe you should instead spend that time examining why you're so invested in getting women to shut up.

Posted on August 3, 2014 .

All comments are subject to my Comment Policy.

'My Quakerism' Responses, Take II

My Quakerism Will Be Feminist and Anti-Racist or It Will Be Bullshit got shared around on Facebook again after I wrote what I thought was the wrap-up. It's now sitting at more than 700 unique views, which is, um. A lot more traffic than my blog posts usually get.

The overwhelming majority of the second round of comments got approved. I really appreciate the support, folks. It means a lot.

The comments that got moderated mostly fit into one of these two categories:

1. The commenter wanted to debate the existence of 'reverse racism.'

Those were not approved because, per the comment policy on the original post, I didn't want the conversation derailed.

Having to stop and explain basic concepts (like the definition of racism) to every new person who walks in the door is a huge obstacle to those trying to discuss racism beyond the 101 'this is a real thing in the real world' level. If you can see this post, then you have the technology to educate yourself about these issues, using either the links in the original post or your favorite search engine. If you need a basic introduction to racism, I strongly suggest you seek one out.

Why am I spending an entire paragraph telling you to google it instead of just explaining why reverse racism doesn't exist? Quite simply, because the expectation that I will answer the question is born of white privilege.

As white people, we live in a world that privileges our opinions about race and racism, while downplaying as 'biased' and 'anecdotal' the lived experiences of those who experience racism firsthand. If someone shows up at our Quaker Meetings and says 'you guys are racist' and we don't want to hear that, all we have to do is ignore them. They can't do anything to change us or our communities without our participation, so if we don't want to leave our comfort zone and listen to them, we don't have to.

People of color do not have the privilege to walk away. Racism affects them every day, in ways both great and small. It's not something they can ignore when it's inconvenient or stressful (which it is for them more often, and to a greater degree, than it ever is for us).

When you have the privilege to walk away from a conversation and the other party doesn't, you control that conversation. You get to decide whether the other person is 'too emotional,' or whether or not you like their 'tone.' You even get to set the standard of evidence you'll accept before acknowledging the facts they live with every day of their life.

One of the ways that privilege manifests itself is white people entering conversations about racism and taking it as a matter of course that we can change the subject. If we still need the basics explained to us, we ask, fully expecting that everyone else will stop the conversation they're trying to have and educate us. If we decide we want to 'play devil's advocate,' we can just start doing it, without even considering whether or not the other party wants to be our partner in an academic debate about the truth of their lived experience. If something that comes up in the conversation upsets us, we can refuse to discuss the matter further until the other party apologizes--which often leads to the absurd circumstance of white folks demanding people of color apologize for saying that racism exists, and that white people perpetuate it. If our conditions are not met, we can just walk away, insisting that the other party is being 'reverse-racist' for not considering our feelings.

If you actually care about racism--if you want to be an ally to people of color, and create spaces that are welcoming to them--then step one is not exercising your privilege to walk away. If someone's calling you out, listen. Think about what they're saying. Participate in the conversation on their terms. If that takes you out of your comfort zone, then step on out, and accept that discomfort as the gift that it is. Always assume that what someone is telling you about their lived experience is their truth. If listening to that truth makes you realize your actions haven't matched your intentions, acknowledge it. Apologize. Do better. Do it enough, and your comfort zone will grow. Take another step.

If you listen and you still can't reconcile their truth with your own, keep listening. Remember that you--and everyone else--has been conditioned to privilege your experience of a situation over the experiences of people of color. Resist the urge to do that. Assume that you're missing something before you assume that the other person's truth is invalid.

Early Quakers didn't speak of the inner light as a warm, fluffy ball of love. They saw it as a hard light--one that shines on us and illuminates our flaws so that we can see and work on them. They acknowledged that spiritual nakedness as a gift from God--and it is. It's the unwavering belief that every one of us is capable of doing better. Embrace that. Listen. Educate yourself. Don't hide your light under a bushel on the assumption that you can't.

Everything I just said also applies to men and sexism (and straight folks and heterosexism, able-bodied folks and ablism, cis folks and cissexism, etc). Which brings us, in a round-about way, to the second category of comment that didn't get approved:

2. The commenter suggested that I'd be much happier if I'd just [forgive everyone/stop letting assholes rent space in my brain].

The idea that people can't make us feel inferior without our consent is meant to be empowering, I know. What it actually does is place the responsibility for both hurt and healing squarely--and exclusively--on the injured party's shoulders.

Recent anti-bullying campaigns have finally started wising people up to the idea that 'just ignore them and they'll go away' is not a winning strategy. It is, as I explained in point 1, a strategy that only works for those with social power, not those who are hurting for lack of it.

Forgiveness is part of the healing process. It's pretty hard to heal when the wound is constantly being re-opened. My community is hurting me, and I'm not a failure for asking them to stop.

If I sound angry, it's because I am. But I'm not speaking up because I'm angry. I've been angry--and silent--for years. I'm speaking up because my silence on these issues does not serve God. I'm speaking up now because I've finally found enough grace and trust to believe that doing so will make a difference. I'm no longer willing to pay my faith community the insult of assuming that I have to rise above our failings because we can't face them.

F(f)riends should be honest with each other.

I honestly believe that Friends can do better.

Posted on November 5, 2012 .

All comments are subject to my Comment Policy.

'My Quakerism' Post Responses, Thus Far

My last post got a bit more traffic than I was expecting.

It saw just over 200 unique visitors in the first twenty-four hours, and it's now up to 300. That's, um. More traffic than I normally get.

First of all, I just want to say that I'm a little floored by the response. It's really gratifying to hear from others who feel the same way about these issues.

I also put myself out there in a pretty major way by telling my own story, and spent most of the weekend physically sick with dread that someone was going to be a jerk about that. So far, no one has been. My defenses on that front are still jacked up to 11 and are likely to stay that way for a good long while, but I'm starting to have hope that they won't have to be forever. Which is...'nice' isn't the word. There's probably a German portmanteau for "this s--- sandwich tastes much better than it could have."

A big thank-you for all the supportive comments, hugs, re-tweets, and hell-yeahs. They mean a lot. I do want to go back and respond to comments, but it might be a little while before there's room in my brain to do so.

One common thread I've seen in a lot of the response is a desire for next steps--how do we build a more feminist, anti-racist Quakerism?

I have Things To Say about that, but I think it's important to recognize that the conversation is already happening. So before I kick off a post on that topic, I want to finish assembling a list of references and links to ongoing efforts to improve Quaker spaces.

In the meantime, if anybody wants to have a conversation with me about feminism and anti-racism in Quakerism, let's do it. Shoot me an email. I'm also a big fan of Google Hangouts. If you're in the DC area, let's grab coffee. I'm on Twitter as @leeflower, which is probably the best way to get in touch with me if you don't already have my contact information.

Posted on October 29, 2012 .

All comments are subject to my Comment Policy.

The Foulest Words I Know

I've been working lately on cleaning up my language.

Not for F-bombs or impolite references to excrement; those I still employ with unladylike abandon. But there are other words--fouler words--that I'm trying to quit saying, even if most folks wouldn't think of them as obscene.

Lame, Bitch, Crazy, and Sucks are my worst offenders. They insult by implying similarity or relation to groups of marginalized people. The mobility-impaired. Women. People with mental health issues. People who have sex with men. They're a way of saying "this thing is bad because it's like these people who are bad." That's ugly, and I don't want to do it anymore.

Sometimes I'll hear another phrase and look it up only to discover--yup. Super-racist. Or sexist. Or otherwise offensive. "Indian Summer" is the most recent. In the same vein as "Indian burn" and "Indian giver," it's using '(American) Indian' as shorthand for untrustworthy, unreliable, and/or fake.

Some people seem to think I try to be intentional about my words because I'm 'politically correct' and 'scared of offending anyone,' but that's not actually true. There are plenty of people I don't mind offending. But I do mind marginalizing people. I mind picking on people who don't have the societal power to make me answer for it. I mind bullying.

So choosing words I actually mean isn't about trying to look virtuous. It's about trying to be decent.

Posted on October 24, 2012 .

All comments are subject to my Comment Policy.