On TRUCEConf

This is a guest post by Jacob Kaplan-Moss. Jacob is the co-BDFL of Django and Director of Security at Heroku. Jacob helped create Django while working at the Lawrence Journal-World, a family owned newspaper in Lawrence, KS. He lives outside of Lawrence and spends his weekends playing at being a farmer.

This post originally appeared on Jacob’s blog.

Friday brought news of TRUCEConf.

It’s a terrible, dangerous and insulting idea. The organizers should reconsider, either canceling the event or changing its scope and mission radically. I have no doubts that the organizers have good intentions, but good intention don’t always yield positive results. As is, TRUCEConf’s very existence runs counter to the vision of equality in tech.

Tone arguments and trivialization

It’s hard to read the verbiage on TRUCEConf‘s home page as anything other than an extended tone argument. The page continually talks “anger”: citing the need for “discussions without… anger”, or the danger of continuing “on the path of anger”.

It’s hard to read this as anything other than buying into the myth of the “angry feminist”, criticizing people working for equality who have the temerity to occasionally get angry. This is a classic tone argument at its best: distracting from the actual issue at hand by focusing on the tone.

Here’s the thing, though: as Melissa McEwan points out, “to a subjugated person… anger is perfectly rational.” Indeed, “how can you look at a cultural landscape of institutionalized inequality and not be angry… because you know that the opposite of anger, for a progressive, is complacence.”

TRUCEConf, on the very face of it, trivializes and dismisses the work that’s already been done, implying that the reason it failed is because it was somehow done wrong. That’s incredibly insulting to everyone who’s been working on this problem.

What exactly are “both sides”?

TRUCEConf continually mentions “both sides”. What exactly are these two sides? (Spoiler alert: they don’t exist.)

Men and women?

Maybe they mean “men” and “women”? If so:

  • It ignores the fact that some men are as uncomfortable with the status quo, as well as the sad truth that some women have a deep investment in keeping the system in place.
  • This buys into the myth of the gender binary, sweeping trans*, gender questioning, and gender nonconforming people under the rug.
  • Indeed, it implies that the only problems facing tech is sexism, when in fact our community is also racist, ableist, ageist, etc. etc. etc.

All of this comes down to a lack of understanding of intersectionalism – the way different forms of oppression interlock and interrelate. There’s not “two sides”; there’s a deep and complex interlocking set of oppressions. Put succinctly:

When you enter a feminist space and you are only concerned with sexism, you are missing the full story. It’s like listening to music but only hearing the melody…without the harmony, percussion, and bass line, you aren’t actually hearing the song.

(From Intersectionalism 101. Read the rest of it, please!)

Sexists” and “non-sexists”?

OK, maybe they don’t mean “men” and “women”; maybe they mean “sexists” and “non-sexists”?

If so, that’s even worse. We’re not talking about two equal groups here; one “side” is comprised of harassers, abusers, and rapists. Take a moment to peruse the history of sexist incidents in tech. Is TRUCEConf seriously suggesting that we invite people from “both sides” of those events?

Do they really believe that the solution is to invite abusers and their victims to “work together in an open environment to solve our problems collaboratively”?

Both sides” implies false equivalence

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what these supposed “two sides” are. The very
discussion of these “two sides” sets up a damaging an untrue false equivalence
between bullies, abusers and rapists on one “side” and people speaking out
against harassment on the other.

This implies that speaking out about abuse is somehow equivalent to abuse itself.

It’s hard even to articulate how insulting and damaging this sort of false equivalence is.

This is an appropriation of the language of oppression by the oppressing class. Having your privilege challenged isn’t bullying. Saying that is the worst kind of privilege. If the worst thing that’s happened to you is having someone on Twitter call you sexist, well, you’ve lived a pretty incredibly lucky life so far, don’t you think?

This isn’t a war

Fundamentally, TRUCEConf fails because this isn’t a “war.” A “war” implies some sort of struggle, with equivalent atrocities on both sides. When it comes to our tech industry, nothing could be further from the truth.

This isn’t a “war” between equals; it’s the systematic oppression of women, people of color, LGBT folk, and other minorities. The people with privilege are not going to just sit down, talk it out, and suddenly agree to give up that privilege; there’s a massive culture deeply invested in maintaining the status quo.

Refusing to acknowledge this systemic imbalance implicitly endorses it. The concept of a “truce” is laughable; the only solution is to dismantle the system that’s so stacked against equality.

One thought on “On TRUCEConf

  1. sparrow

    You can feel free to make this a guest-post if you like. I’m also likely to cross-post it.

    Reading the recently-updated version of the TruceConf website, Elizabeth says:

    I used the analogy for “war” because that’s what it feels like to me. We are hateful, nasty creatures to each other. We mock and we belittle and we berate. We insult and harm and assault. We are abusers and we are hostile. I feel embattled, and I’m not the only one.

    Elizabeth, you are doing the opposite of helping, and I really don’t think all hostility is equally unacceptable.

    This kind of thinking had a lot to do with my departure from STEM. To a considerable extent, I feel that I can deal with a few bad apples, and I do think the people engaging in harassment, abuse, etc. are a small minority. But I don’t think I can deal with the overwhelming apathy, silencing, discomfort with my dealing with it, and “both sides are just as bad, stop being so unkind” whining from a majority that values conflict-avoidance over the safety of marginalized people.

    Why the majority of geeks are that way – why so many of them find people demanding that something be done about a stalker to be every bit as disturbing as the stalking – is a complicated question for another time. I do suspect it’s got something to do with the ways marginalization is normalized (especially things like rape culture) and anger about marginalization is read as bizarre and extra-scary.

    I think I have been at war, and Elizabeth and friends have been the isolationists who argue it’s better not to fight than to engage in confrontation, in demanding, in anything you could call aggression or fighting, no matter what is done to you.

    To hell with that. I do not recognize myself as having an obligation to be kind and open-hearted to people who are hurting people I care about, people like me, and/or me. I’m going to carry on with mocking and berating people who engage in abuse, harassment, and stalking. I’m going to be overtly hostile to people who try to create safe, comfortable spaces for abusers, harassers, and stalkers. I’m fond of satire, actually, and 1000% in favor of mocking people who have institutional/structural power and are using it badly. I’m going to insult people like Elizabeth, describing them as “Dickwolf apologist type cowards” and “worse than useless.”

    I’m not gonna stop expressing my displeasure about these things because you’ve asked nicely. I will stop expressing disapproval of this kind of toxicity in STEM when I no longer experience that disapproval.

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