Tales from Urban Dilettantia

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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.

Resistance Is Useful: An Essay

Hello internet. We have something to talk about, and it’s been cooking for some time.

We’re going to talk about geek culture, about misogyny, about rape culture and rape apologism, about safe-spaces and fear, harassment and assault, about growing-up-geek, about social responsibility, reckoning and resistance.[1]

We’re going to talk about my experience of this in a small Australian city, and about making a declaration of intransigence. For the bemused and curious some context and links can be found at the bottom of this post. I’d suggest taking a look before reading further.  Now, on with the show.

For many, many years, I have lived as a nerdy young woman in this city. I grew up and grew older (and perhaps wiser) lurking on IRC, posting on the Usenet, reading and watching science fiction, blogging, data modelling, attending cons, gaming, geeking-it-up and generally being me. And during that time, within the culture that by all rights might be expected to be a place of belonging for a nerdy being such as myself, I have witnessed a parade of abhorrent behaviours and events. We shall not argue here about whether geek culture is broadly misogynistic, predatory and hostile. We shall talk about the fact that in this place, in my small city, I have observed geek culture embracing all of those things, that I have been on the receiving end of them, that I have been an observer of them, again and again and again. Stalking, rape, the enabling of rape, rape apologism, sexual assault of various kinds, opportunistic harassment, predation, collusion to trivialise boundaries and consent issues, violation of consent, coercion, marginalisation and broadly, a deep, vile and insidious culture of loathing and sexual violence. This is not theory; this is what has happened and what continues to happen. It happens your cons, in your city, in your gaming groups, on your streets, on your internet, at your parties, in your forums, on your blogs and in your workplaces. And this is my big Fuck You to all of it.

We are shaped, in part, by our solitary journeys through unsafe spaces, and by our experience of predators. We grow up, experience sexual violence and harassment, flee the unsafe places and retreat into enclaves of safety. And as we do so, a new generation of younger (and younger, ever younger) women are left to meander into the meat market we have abandoned, and to learn the same hard lessons, the same hard way. For many of us, there are few other routes to learning these things, groomed as we are by society to please, to succumb to coercion, to be polite and compliant. To keep the dirty secrets of others, to shelter them from the judgment and disapproval of our community. To to trivialise, to accept blame, to dismiss. Each subtle line of that code is still written somewhere deep in my brain.

Like many, I did not begin this journey with the code that told me how to fight back, how to be joyfully and relentlessly non-compliant, nor how to feel good about making a scene when I damned well thought it justified.  I had no concept of calling out another person on their bad behaviour and feeling anything other than guilty for having done so. And, thanks to the prevalence of the first Geek Social Fallacy[2], I also picked up a few more lines about it being so very wrong to exclude others, no matter what.

And so, once I had learned to slip past the hands, to see trouble coming, to largely stay alert and sober and evasive, I retreated into a communal bubble where consent ruled supreme, and where respect flourished. Which was all very well and good. However, it also meant that I stopped going to the cons, started declining the invitations to parties and other social events, started feeling uncomfortable about having even a single drink when in the company of whole tranches of the Perth geek community. Essentially, I excised the spaces and people grinding down my will to engage, and left them to those women who would choose to brave the jungle. My friends have done likewise, and all too often, this has meant that the most predatory and intolerable of spaces – less characterised by well-intentioned failure than by the unambiguous intent to prey – are abandoned to newer, younger and more vulnerable women, more inclined to awkwardly tolerate assault than to oppose it.

And to all of this, I wish to say: Fuck You. This is unacceptable. This is war.

I believe in the need for a collective resistance, and in the need for an aggressive take-down of the predators in our geek communities. I believe in colonising those previously abandoned, unsafe spaces and sub-communities, and inoculating them. I believe in our collective social responsibility to police our culture, to change social norms, and to shelter our vulnerable. (For at times, we are all vulnerable.) I believe in declaring that no, it’s not just you to whom this has happened.  Not just you who has been stalked or fondled, harassed, pressured, abused or raped.   That this is all so very wrong and it’s honourable to resist and criticize, to not only say ‘no’ but to call people publically on their bad behavior, to out repeat offenders and generally, to make one hell of a scene where one hell of a scene is required.

And I have an idea. Alone, I am prey. But when I gather a handful of safe, trusted friends and we explicitly commit to fight this, I always have someone to fall back upon when I don’t know what to do. I have someone I can call, or bring along, who will make space for me to be heard and will speak for me when I’m unable to find the words. I have a handful of people of various genders and backgrounds to whom I can turn for context, illumination and consultation.  As does each of those people in that handful of safe, trusted friends.  And if one of those people gathers their own handful of people to do the same, the first cell spawns another, and another and the resistance spreads. The permission to speak out, to inoculate new groups, to normalize a culture of respect and safety, to make amends when we have caused harm, to talk about our experiences, to discuss the behaviour of ourselves and others, and to make a big damn fuss without shame or fear – it expands.

When I feel threatened or unsafe, I will have someone who has made a explicit commitment to stand with me. Whenever another woman is threatened, I will have made a public commitment to stand with her – not just for her individual well-being, but as an advocate for and protector of my community. When I accidentally trample someone’s boundaries (as even the most careful of us will do upon occasion), I have people to help me work our where I went wrong, and how best to make it right. This is not new; it’s not even particularly exciting – we know how to back each other up, and largely we do it competently.

What interests me more is this: acknowledging the grey, fuzzy, difficult nature of consent, the fundamentally inadequate nature of a ‘no means no’ approach, and the benefits of both women and men helping their male friends in dealing better with these issues, and helping men call out other men on sexual violence. I have spoken to so many who have expressed a concern that intervening in a situation will be insidiously trivialised and dismissed as ‘jealously’ or ‘just trying to impress her’ (or more typically, ‘just trying to get in her pants’). And it will, because that is how it works. I have spoken to many who have watched small consent violations escalate, and angsted over exactly when and how they ought to say something, without overriding an adult woman’s right to speak for herself. So many fundamentally decent people who feel they have handled a situation poorly or violated a boundary, or may be about to, and who are unsure who to ask for compassionate yet honest feedback and practical advice. To innoculate our spaces, women backing up women – while essential – is insufficient on its own. The men who loathe this violence also need access to the support of others whom they can ask to speak with them, or in their stead; allies who will back them up when they call a predator on their behaviour, who will help them negotiate difficult, grey and ambiguous situations, where ‘no means no’ is insufficient to deal optimally with a complex reality.

The problem is not that we require more like-minded people to fight this. We have like-minded people. What we require is interconnectedness between those people, and an explicit commitment to support, to defend, to assist, to go public and reach out to break the back of this sickness that pervades our culture.
If you’re in my small city, welcome to the Perth Geek Underground. If you’re elsewhere, pass it on.

[1] And we’re going to talk here about men and women, but not fail to bear in mind that the principles that are more broadly applicable to all genders, orientations and indeed people.
[2] Geek Social Fallacies

Further Reading Around & Under & Beneath & In-Between
Geek Culture
On the criticism of ‘exclusionary spaces’
Women in Geek Culture
More Women in Geek Culture
Men and Women and Misogyny and Blogging
Privilege
Harassment
Predator Theory and Rape Culture
More about Rape Culture
Rape Humour
Victim Blaming – the process informing rape apologism
Growing-Up-Geek
Thoughts on Safe Spaces

Dream(team)ing of Standard Deviation

In the spirit of giving you fair warning, if you’re not into Australian Rules Football or into data analysis, move along before you taint your eyes with the horrible mash-up of the two that follows.

Now, fair warning given, anyone who has had the pleasure of me herding them into an inescapable corner and ranting at them about standard deviation will know that I enjoy playing AFL Dream Team during the football season.    There’s nothing quite like hanging over the barrier at a game to yell ‘Oi, ya lazy #^%#!  Kick it, don’t handball it!” at one’s star recruit.  (Particularly if you’re also yelling ‘TACKLE HIM!!1!’ at your other star recruit who is on the opposing team.)  But most of all, I enjoy it because it’s fundamentally a game of statistics, and there are few things I enjoy so much as that.

And so, I have a bit of a summer project going on this year.  The thing with Dream Team is that there are a bunch of players that everyone will have because they’re obviously going to (a) rise in value or (b) be consistent.  These players can be picked out quite readily by skimming the media or the plethora of Dream Team blogs and other resources that have come into being over the past few years.  The two things that differentiate a great Dream Team player from a middle of the road one are trading strategy and picking up relatively cheap players who unexpectedly come good.

The trading strategy is something I messed up a little this season just gone and will be working on, but my off-season project is all about the latter – trying to determine whether there are any early indicators of players who are about to have a good season.  As a first step, I’ve gone through a bunch of data I’ve managed to scrape from the web and hacked together a bit of an Excel model to help me pick out a pool of players to study.  (It turns out – not unexpectedly – that there are a lot of players who have a respectable second season after a low-averaging start as a rookie, but very few players who exhibit a dramatic jump in form from middle-of-the-road to Dream Team gun in years two to five.  In fact, far less than one would believe, given all the blog and forum chatter around the elusive ‘breakout year’).

Having identified these players, I’m going to look in more detail at their averages, games played, consistency and so forth in the year immediately preceding their ‘breakout year’ to see whether they share any common characteristics not observable in non-breakout players.  As a sideline, I’m also going to look at the second-year players who have demonstrated a significant improvement from their rookie form, although I think the reasons for this (and the likely players) tend to be a bit more obvious to begin with.  Here’s a screencap of the work-in-process with a bit more detail around the proposed  methodology:

Key Objectives - Fresh meat
Yes, this is truly what I do for fun on my lunch-break.  I reckon it beats shopping for shoes by a factor of about eleventy million.

Pseudonymous

I’ve been thinking this week about reducing the amount of content I send to Facebook, and this thinking has meandered down two separate paths, being the theoretical and the technological.

The theoretical:
Facebook bothers me for more reasons that I’m going to articulate here (don’t even start me on intellectual property fail and privacy issues, let alone junk economies based on social obligation) but at the moment the central one is that it pushes ‘real names everywhere’ as an internet norm.

Let me tell you something about ‘real names everywhere’: it’s the manifestation of great privilege. Of being so safely mainstream that one can be oneself without fear of a public mauling. Of being so vanilla, so straight, so monogamous, so apolitical, so moderate or so non-marginalised (or non-furious at or oblivious to marginalisation) that being absolutely authentic amongst one’s family, one’s various social circles, on one’s workplace, church or community is a given, not a risk.

On a very slight tangent, there are a couple of excellent posts doing the rounds at the moment on the topic of identity and pseudonymity which are worth a read, in response to the outing of an Australian public servant as the political blogger Grog’s Gamut:
If you can’t defend yourself, you shouldn’t be allowed to speak
Spartacus no more

The technological:
I’ve used Facebook fairly heavily to share content because it does a number of things well and and makes those things very simple. One-click link sharing via a bookmarklet. Photo sharing. Crowdsourcing. I particularly enjoy the way in which all the content I’ve posted is shown in a timeline on my wall, and how I can go back to something I posted a week or two ago and point it out to someone on my phone.

The question, then, has been how one might replicate this ease in a more pseudonymous domain. While Twitter is the obvious hub, its content management is largely non-existent, with users relying on third-party offerings such as TwitPic. (Which is perfectly reasonable – simplicity has long been Twitter’s strength.)

Yesterday, however, I stumbled across my long-unused Posterous account and discovered that the service has seen a large amount of development over the past twelve months. It can now push content to numerous sources, including Twitter, Friendfeed, Tumblr, Flickr and WordPress, and pull content from a similarly impressive array. Like my ‘Share on FB’ bookmarklet, the ‘Share on Posterous’ bookmarklet offers one-click image, link and video sharing, with the Posterous micro-blog serving as a repository and host for the shared content. And, unlike Facebook’s ‘Include image: 1, 2, 3, or 4’, it offers flexibility in the content clipped and displayed.

This may not ultimately be the alternative I’m looking for, but it’s certainly looking interesting enough to be worth a try. The idea that all the content I would otherwise have shared on Facebook (and so reluctantly cloistered within the service’s walled garden) will be associated with my flyingblogspot identity, rather than being cloistered a single site associated with the name Facebook would have you believe to be my only ‘real’ one.

Flickr

  • LEGO Shinkansen
  • Collaborative LEGO snake
  • LEGO redback spider
  • Collaborative LEGO snake
  • Collaborative LEGO snake
  • Collaborative LEGO snake
  • Collaborative LEGO snake
  • Collaborative LEGO snake

Instagram

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I like animals with too many or too few legs.