Tales from Urban Dilettantia

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In Which I Learn Things About Safe Spaces

Due to an unusual intersection of the Easter break and Anzac Day, Australia enjoyed a glorious five day weekend, some of which I spent at the Swancon/Natcon science fiction and fantasy conference. (Until I ran out of human interaction capacity, upon which I returned home to hibernate. By which I mean, play Portal 2.)

Good times were had, and this year I had the honour of being invited to sit on the Safe Spaces panel, in which we talk about communication, situation management, consent and boundaries. Sometimes, Safe Spaces can be quite contentious (the irony!) as it’s a topic on which people have very diverse and strongly-held views.  By the time it was about to begin I’d catastrophised myself into thinking it was going to be a bloodbath of some sort and that everyone would yell at me. I can be a bit of a dork like that.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the case at all and we were able to cover a range of views and practical techniques to address various social situations. I brought some of my recent militancy to the mix, in addition to the discussions of more gentle and effective communication, and no-one appeared to glare at me nor tell me I was a horrid person who was Doing It Wrong.  (I worry somewhat excessively about being yelled at and told I’m a horrid person who’s Doing It Wrong, even if I don’t believe it.)  In the process, I learned a couple of things from the audience and from the other panellists that I think are worth sharing here.

Firstly, I had a moment where I realised that I’ve been coming at this from a place where I’ve always been something of a doormat and people-pleaser.  I’ve been working on standing up for myself and others, and on being assertive and outspoken. This has been immensely helpful, since I was raised to be a good girl who avoided causing offence at all costs, and it has certainly helped me realise that I don’t have to please everyone and that it isn’t necessary for everyone to like me. However, a certain comment led me to the realisation that it’s not a black and white issue and that there’s no need to beat myself up if I choose to be polite, tell a convenient white lie or not fight a particular battle. We use the tools we have, and it’s as valid to be kind, distant or evasive as it is to be blunt, honest and assertive – neither is reprehensible or inappropriate, and both approaches can be useful and practical.

Secondly, I was reminded that those things that are obvious to me are not obvious to everyone. Listening to one of my co-panellists talk about the value of learning to ask her loved ones to respect her boundaries and preferences – in her case, a strong aversion to physical contact in many circumstances – initially had me thinking ‘Well, of course I tell my friends clearly what I need, and they work with it. That’s what people who care about you do.’ However, I then remembered being an extremely sheltered eighteen year old who was so worried about fitting in that she would never have asked a friend to stop (or start) doing something to make herself comfortable. It’s good to circle back to such points in a mixed group; as obvious as they may seem to a thirty-something woman who’s been talking about this for years, they’re can also be the catalyst for someone else to realise it really, truly is okay to ask openly for a specific kind of consideration.

I, for one, had almost forgotten the experience sucking up anxiety and distress, and hiding my discomfort for fear of being thought strange and difficult.

In short, no-one shouted at me, I said my bit and learned stuff. Good times.

Further Dispatches from the Perth Geek Underground

(Heads up – This one is pretty triggery, particularly regarding rape. Consider yourself warned.)

Thank You; Yes You!

The response to my Resistance Is Useful essay, from both men and women, has been fabulous. I’ve had many enthusiastic discussions on Twitter, seen it reposted on LiveJournal and Tumbler and personal blogs, and had some great and challenging private conversations as a result. It seems that managing situations where an otherwise decent person accidentally or obliviously crosses boundaries is something that is of particular interest to many of you, and given the lack of tools our society gives us to deal with such situations, it’s understandable.

I truly believe that boldly talking about these issues – both of intentional and non-intentional transgression – instead of hiding them in dark corners is for the best, and it’s really lovely to see so many Perthites taking part in this. You are good people, you are responsible for the positive change that has already occurred, and you will be the catalyst for the positive change to come.

I Get Comments

I’m not keen to censor well-considered and constructive criticism, as I’m well aware that certain internet media propagate a disproportionate number of ‘I do agree’ responses. On the other hand, I’m not into approving comments from trolls. (A Very Special Hello to MikeUSA who posted a particularly vile comment and appears to post similarly abusive content all over the web. Thank you for severely testing my abilities to refrain from setting you on fire, Mike. Good times.)

However, I was unsure how to deal with one particular comment from the charming (for certain values of ‘charming’) Mark, a fellow Perthite. A friend suggested adopting an MST3K / Pharyngula ‘I Get Mail’ approach of sharing it and marking it up with my comments, rather than approving it. I appreciate that a number of you know this guy (that’s Perth for you) and it may be a little socially awkward for me to lay into him. But then, sucking up the social awkwardness and speaking out in spite of it is exactly what I’ve been talking about.

Welcome to the world. [Well hello there.] It is not a safe place and only children think it is. [It’s nice that you had that experience as a child. I didn’t.] You are now sufficiently paranoid that you can no longer be considered a child, congratulations. [Do I get Moët and a present for graduating? I hope so.] I, personally, am rather tired [Sorry to bore you.] of hearing about children of adult ages [From the context of the post upon which you are commenting, I can only guess this is an interesting and creative way of saying ‘women’.] who have not developed sufficient paranoia to avoid getting drunk at (or even entering) [I left the house. What was I thinking?] parties full of strangers without many friends. [It seems you exist in a glorious parallel universe where women are largely assaulted by strangers, rather than friends, family, colleagues and/or people they’ve known for a long time. Please tell me how I can travel there.] No, I am not being facetious or mocking [I know, you’re just unable to read for meaning.] I truly think that there is only one person who can be held responsible for my safety, and that’s me. [I appreciate you bringing your privilege to the table. It’s shiny. I feel so pleased for you to hear that your safety is a personal problem rather than a structural and cultural one; that must be feel good.] I apply the same policy to other people, trust no-one. [Thanks for all your hard work to make the world a better place and/or your unwavering dedication to quoting the X-Files.]

In short, thanks Mark, for posting rape apologism in response to a post about rape apologism. It’s sweet of you to play to my love for recursion and irony.

I’d like to mention here, for what it’s worth, that not a single friend of mine has informed me of being raped by a stranger, nor of having taken a sexual assault case to the police. But quite a number of my friends have been raped and assaulted nonetheless, and every one by someone they knew.  And this, this is why I wanted to share Mark’s comment rather than hiding it away – because we all know people who put forward this argument as if it were rational, but it’s full of embedded assumptions about how women are harmed by strangers, largely because of their own foolishness.  To make this argument is not only a failure to acknowledge reality, but also an irresponsible distraction from – and argument against – doing anything that may help mitigate the problem.  We are harmed by trusted fathers, brothers, lovers and friends.  We are harmed by the devil we know.

This blog will return to your regular menu of ‘Today I Ate Soup’ posts, local history (I have a great post about my cottage’s former residents in the works!) and banality shortly, but for a few more days, enjoy the love and rage.

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I like animals with too many or too few legs.