Calling someone out and being heard

As I read Shweta Narayan’s postI would not like John Ottinger III to shut up I thought of a small incident from a few weeks ago.

I was at Ephemerisle after a weekend of being with a lot of nerdy and political people building cheap floating platforms, sort of a tiny Burning Man on a river. These three dudes were on the dock with me standing around talking about Burning Man itself. And one of them, Josh, went, “Well, the problem is, they bring in these girls from the East Coast, and they don’t realize it’s specially dangerous for them, and then these girls get raped.” And I sort of perked up like a hunting dog, flared my nostrils, and said with remarkable coherence (for me),

Wait. In several dimensions you have just denied the agency of the adult women who go to Burning Man. You said they were girls. You said that they were “brought” there, not that they decided on their own whether or not to attend. You said it’s specially dangerous for them. Actually, they are grown women. It also plays into the culture of fear for women that you want to warn them how not to be raped. How about this, we talk about how dangerous it is for men, and warn men – Look out! You’re in danger! You might rape someone at Burning Man!”

Josh stared at me for a second. The other two men looked squirmily uncomfortable. Then Josh said something like, “Huh! You’re right! I did! That makes sense. Oops.”

That’s almost never happened before in my experience and I appreciated the moment. I felt like he totally got what I was saying and realized it was offensive to frame the problem as “young girls being naive”.

We went on to talk in a super friendly analytical way about how people come into a party or festival halfway through, not really having acculturated or built up two way trust, and then there are all kinds of culture clashes.

He did not freak out or get defensive or start attacking my character or explain that he has daughters and therefore can’t “be sexist”. We didn’t end up derailing off into Hell itself. Neither of us even got mad. Instead, he just thought about it, acknowledged it, and we moved on and deepened the conversation a few notches. We got more analytical and communicated better. It is what I expect from fellow geeks. They should just go “Fascinating. Sexism is highly illogical. Therefore I will not engage in it” and move on to talk about interstellar amoeba.

It was a nice moment. I felt like a human being! Has that ever happened to you, either on the net or in person, when pointing out sexism, racism, ableism, and so on?

Or, from the other side, have you ever apologized effectively in a similar situation, and had a conversation continue?

13 thoughts on “Calling someone out and being heard

  1. Skud

    On IRC the other day, in private /msg, someone used the word “lame” in a conversation. I said “hey whut?” and they said “gah, I never even thought of that before! I need to stop using that word.” Then they apologised like three times, and I had to say “ok, ok, move on!” Which we did, eventually.

    Elsewhere online, I really like vito_excalibur‘s responses on the couple of times she’s had problematic behaviour/language/assumptions pointed out (once wrt “trannies”, once wrt pirates, are the ones I’ve noticed). I aspire to respond as well as she does.

  2. Yatima

    I would say that my eventual response to Racefail was an embarrassingly belated, much-less-coolheaded-than-Josh’s version of this. I started out just clueless and wrong and it is only thanks to the patient work of heroes like Rydra and Karnythia that I am slightly more enclued.

  3. belledame222

    Once I & others were arguing with this HRC type gay guy wrt trans-inclusive ENDA (i.e. he was one of the “just wait your turn types”). He was annoying and so I didn’t hold back with the snark. He stuck around, even seemed more engaged after I smacked him and he laughed (this seems to happen not infrequently with me), and by the end of the argument he said: “You’re right. I changed my mind.”

    should’ve bronzed it and framed it over the desk.

  4. lsblakk

    I’ve had the pleasure of watching my male co-workers call themselves out without me even having to say anything at all. In particular, a pet peeve of mine (as a genderqueer person) is when people ask what gender a soon-to-be-born baby will be. In our Mozilla office, I enjoyed listening to this question be posed and then answered quickly by several of the geeky men “Actually, we only know its sex, the gender is still up in the air” and other such sentiments. Love it.

    1. PharaohKatt

      “Actually, we only know its sex, the gender is still up in the air”

      By the gods, that’s brilliant! I have to use that one day. I do so love it when men call each other out, and save me from doing it and getting stressed and upset.

  5. PharaohKatt

    There was an incident that happened last week on Wednesday. I was at our usual Wednesday after work gathering (we play laser tag then go out for dinner).
    I was lying on the floor because I had been at the childcare centre on very little sleep and was exhausted. One of the men there suggested he get out his swag, which I politely declined.

    Then, one of the other men made this joke: “Go ahead, fall asleep. If you hear someone breathing heavily above you, don’t worry. It’s just me”.

    I replied, “Don’t ever make jokes to me like that again.”
    He answered, “Yes, you’re right, that was completely inappropriate, I’m so sorry!”

    He has also said that my presence in the group has made him less of a misogynist (as in, I’m slowly changing his view of the world)

  6. Carmen

    One of the reasons that I love my boyfriend so much is that we can have these conversations, and call each other out on the other’s bullshit and privilege when applicable, and neither of us gets upset about it. We just learn. And there’s no defensiveness or yelling or derailing or whatever. It’s so awesome.

  7. Liz Henry Post author

    I love the stories!

    Check out this 9th century apology form letter from China,

    http://www.lettersofnote.com/2009/10/i-was-ready-to-sink-into-earth-with.html

    “Yesterday, having drunk too much, I was intoxicated as to pass all bounds; but none of the rude and coarse language I used was uttered in a conscious state. The next morning, after hearing others speak on the subject, I realised what had happened, whereupon I was overwhelmed with confusion and ready to sink into the earth with shame.”

    Heh.

  8. LC

    Liz. This is entirely a derail, but I am actually curious about the Burning Man story now. (I have often had it told to me that no rapes or sexual assaults/harassment ever happens at Burning Man, which always struck me as an incredible statement.)

    1. Liz Henry Post author

      I don’t know, but that certainly seems unlikely in any group of 40K people. I took a look and found Burning Woman sexual assault education suggestions for every camp. Notably their education includes “Don’t rape anyone” . Good job, Burning Women!

      And this document from the Emergency Services team of Burning Man with advice on what to do if you’ve been sexually assaulted.

      It is shocking to realize that rape and sexual assault happens in our treasured Black Rock City, just at it
      does in any city in America. B.E.D. is actively working to increase awareness and prevention of sexual
      assault crimes at Burning Man. But what if this happens to you, or your friend — What do you do? Where
      do you go for help? How do you come to terms with what has happened?

      Also,
      * http://current.com/1qdnm4c
      “Perhaps most disturbing was the fact that deputies were inundated with calls reporting sexual assaults, the sheriff said. Deputies are investigating 11 alleged sexual assaults but have made no arrests, largely because of the difficulty of investigating crimes at Burning Man, Skinner said.”

      And last but not least, a somewhat amusing cranky blogger:

      “Though not officially a sex party, Venus rules Uranus at Burning Man. The young get laid because they are young and older horny guys can get laid using drugs and booze as a lure. Sometimes their prey will stumble into camp pre-drugged, always a bonus. For many creepy middle-aged guys, Burning Man is a week long frat party where they get their last real shot at nailing women half their age. Lone women are easy prey. The darkness, disguises, anonymous playa nicknames and extreme intoxication that occurs at Burning Man makes it a date rapist’s Disneyland. Of course, if sober and fully consensual sex is your thing, there are several approved swinger and sex-themed camps at Burning Man too.”

      If I were there, which I never have been and don’t plan to be, I’m sure I’d be prancing around naked, high as a kite, and I’d be very appreciative of the thought that the Burning Man organizers had put effort into anti-rape education and also support services. Even in very sex positive progressive communities, really iffy non consensual incidents right on up to rape do happen.

  9. LC

    Thanks, Liz. I will check some of those links out.

    Even in very sex positive progressive communities, really iffy non consensual incidents right on up to rape do happen.

    Yeah, often accompanied by denial that somehow seems even MORE off-putting, because you kind of want to expect better of them.

    And again, apologies for the derail. I’ve been having the exact opposite of calling people out and getting heard of late and am a little cranky over it.

    I love hearing these stories though – they make me happy. I also now return you all to promoting times things were awesome.

    I’m glad Leigh pointed me here.

  10. FoolishOwl

    One of the things I miss about the radical group I used to be a part of, was that we regularly called each other out on sexist and other oppressive comments. While people would often react defensively at first, it usually worked out, because:
    We each understood that we all shared a commitment to opposing all forms of oppression, which limited the defensiveness — we understood that we were each products of a sexist society, who were trying to overcome sexism, and therefore it was the sexist thought being rejected, not the person who expressed it.
    The person criticizing the sexist comment could count on the support of the others in the group.
    The person whose comment was criticized could expect forgiveness, once the mistake was acknowledged.
    The outright sexists would, before long, realize they were unsupported and isolated, and would withdraw.
    Having the backing of the group made an enormous difference. That outright sexists would withdraw was, unfortunately, all too rare a circumstance, since to an outright sexist man, being the only person left standing in the ruins constitutes total victory.

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