Tag Archives: childhood

Harassment and bullying

Warning: discussion of harassment and bullying. There is mention of self-harm and links to real-life bullying accounts at the end.

The substantive part of Corey’s comment which was not published on my “Why don’t you just hit him?” post was the following:

It’s like if you’re a parent of a bullying victim, and you find yourself repeating ignore it
So I’m supposed to treat women like they’re my children. Isn’t that extremely sexist and patronizing?

I didn’t reply to it initially because I think it’s a misreading: here’s the full paragraph of mine that Corey excerpted (emphasis as per the original post):

This is the kind of advice given by people who don’t actually want to help. Or perhaps don’t know how they can. It’s like if you’re a parent of a bullying victim, and you find yourself repeating “ignore it”, “fight back with fists” or whatever fairly useless advice you yourself were once on the receiving end of. It’s expressing at best helplessness, and at worst victim-blaming. It’s personalising a cultural problem.

I am, of course, saying that if one advises that women should or must hit back at harassers/attackers, then it resembles giving a bullying victim the same advice. Since the entire post is discussing why that advice is often bad advice, I’m fairly clearly not making the argument there that people should treat women as if those women are their children; I’m making the argument that they do, and they shouldn’t.

So much for that.

Except… that’s not quite right is it? Of course you should not treat unrelated adult women who complain of harassment at geek conferences like they are your children, because Corey and I would both tell you that’s sexist and patronising.

But the way we treat harassment victims and the way we treat child bullying victims have many parallels:

  • we tell harassment victims it’s the price of admission to the awesome community; we tell bullying victims that it’s character building, the price of admission to adulthood
  • we tell harassment victims they asked for it by wearing certain clothes or being a certain gender or not being a certain gender enough among many other things; we tell bullying victims that they’re so satisfying to tease, because of the way they react, that they are different from their bullies in some way and hiding that difference is the way to go
  • we tell harassment victims that he’s basically a nice guy and he’s just a bit inexperienced with women, or with alcohol, or with both, and that his social skills need gentle nurturing; we tell bullying victims that their bullies are actually fine kids with good qualities that we don’t want to crush by labelling and punishing them as bullies
  • we tell harassment victims that it’s a private matter that they could solve by ignoring it, or fighting back; we tell bullying victims that it’s… a private matter that they could solve by ignoring it, or fighting back

When they do report it, we also often leave them both with such failures that bullying victims and harassment victims both come to internalise the lesson that their persecution is a private matter, or at least that better keep it a private matter than tell anyone with power about it, because people with power will just back each other up.

(Should be obvious: I don’t support required reporting, or shaming people into reporting. I do support solving the problem when they do report.)

So harassment and bullying are the same class of problem, in fact they blur into each other very strongly: bullying of children and adults often includes harassment and assault (among the other forms of bullying, like sudden unexplained ostracism and you’re-our-friend-today-no-you’re-not yoyos and so on), an individual incident of harassment or assault might be the beginning of or part of a bullying relationship.

And neither can or should be solved by the victim, whether by ignoring, or by fighting back, or by changing themself into someone or something that the bully or harasser will approve of.

While, yes, adult harassment victims are not the same as child bullying victims, and they shouldn’t be treated exactly the same, here’s what I would argue: we should be treating them both a lot better. If you think that it would be extremely patronising if your chosen approaches to dealing with bullying in a child community resemble approaches to dealing with harassment in an adult community, then perhaps your understanding of the rights of children who are bullied isn’t bloody good enough.

It also really puzzles me, frankly, that geeks, who I think are a population that has disproportionate experience of being bullied at some point in their life, are so unwilling to recognise the dynamic and similar ones when it occurs in their culture.
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Mark Pilgrim’s post Tinkerer’s Sunset laments the increasing tendency of Apple devices to be locked for development unless you have a Mac, XCode, an iPhone simulator, and $99 for an auto-expiring developer certificate. He goes on to write about his introduction to programming as a child:

But you don’t become a hacker by programming; you become a hacker by tinkering. It’s the tinkering that provides that sense of wonder. You have to jump out of the system, tear down the safety gates, peel away the layers of abstraction that the computer provides for the vast majority of people who don’t want to know how it all works. It’s about using the Copy ][+ sector editor to learn how the disk operating system boots, then modifying it so the computer makes a sound every time it reads a sector from the disk. Or displaying a graphical splash screen on startup before it lists the disk catalog and takes you to that BASIC prompt. Or copying a myriad of wondrous commands from the Beagle Bros. Peeks & Pokes Chart and trying to figure out what the fuck I had just done. Just for the hell of it. Because it was fun. Because it scared my parents. Because I absolutely had to know how it all worked.

I was something of a tinkerer as a tween and teen too, although at a more superficial level. I liked to change the colours of the desktop, I set up a different boot sequence because our 486 didn’t have the memory to run both Windows 3.1 and Doom II, and so on. But Pilgrim’s throwaway line about “scared my parents” struck me, because this did scare my parents.

My parents weren’t scared of a loss of control over me in the way that, I think, Pilgrim is implying. They were specifically scared: scared I’d make our family’s shared computer, which they’d barely been able to afford, unusable for everyone (and I did on a few occasions). And they certainly didn’t know, and neither did I, that tinkering with it was any kind of investment in getting jobs in the future. That’s what university is for, and the computer was an investment in me having the computer literacy I’d need to pass university. (The web was in the public eye by then, this was the 1990s, but at the time “computer literacy” meant word processing skills.)

That kind of tinkering isn’t accessible unless you can do it to a device you own, whether because it has no other user, you don’t especially care about those other users, or because you’ve been specifically told that you’re more important than those other users. I didn’t have any gadgets that met those criteria. It requires money, leisure time, and people who recognise the value of you having such a relationship with your toys. I don’t have brothers, so I can’t say whether or not a brother would have been implicitly granted the ability to break our shared gadgets for his own education in the way I wasn’t: some women do report this.

One of the early things I did when I started earning money above my basic living needs (in 2000 some university students could get computing jobs that met this criteria) was buy my very own computer, and it was worth it many times over for all the Linux installs, Windows installs, SMTP config and similar I did to it.

What about you? Did you have a tinkerable toy (in the broad sense of ‘toy’) as a child that you were granted licence to tinker with? How about as an adult? How about now? Or alternatively, have you been put in second place while your useful tool was given to someone else to take apart and put together at their own leisure? And how has this influenced your geek journey?

Update: If you want to discuss the general issue that Pilgrim raised in a way that isn’t either (a) your personal tinkering experiences or (b) a feminist discussion of tinkering, can you put it on your own blogs or in Pilgrim’s comments please? It will derail this thread otherwise.

The definitive linkspam of this decade (1st January, 2010)

  • Scientific American claims, “Gal Gamers Geekier Than Guys.” In particular, the study found that the people who were playing the most everquest were older women, not the stereotypical teenaged boy. They claim that “when it comes to dominating the virtual world, women are actually more hardcore than men.”
  • Johanna Rothman discusses problematic terminology for referring to the human beings who make up project teams in A Rant on People, Resources, Men and Women
  • Technical and building toys and child gender came up a few times late December on Sociological Images:
  • GirlTalk Radio: “GirlTalk Radio is [a program] of the Girls, Math & Science Partnership… GirlTalk Radio consists of a series of interviews with women scientists, conducted by girls ages 11 — 16, making their debuts as Pittsburgh radio hosts!” (also on Boing Boing, about which one of our submitters notes “Dammit, BoingBoing, you took a good thing and painted it sexist as hell. Stop that. I know you know better.”)
  • Making Video Games for Little Girls: “In this video, Brenda Laurel discusses her successful computer game for girls. Detailing extensive research on what girls want, Laurel then shows us a some interviews with girls and a bit of the resulting video game, Rocket…”
  • Men are from Earth. Women are from Earth. And so is Power.: on questioning rather than accepting power imbalance in gendered interactions.

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

Were you a LEGO girl?

This Youtube video made it worth my while to get out of bed this morning despite the cramps that are starting to sneak up on me, damn them.

1500 hours of moving LEGO around and filming it. It’s a stunning job, and it hits all my fond memories of childhood geekiness. I used to have LEGOs spread all over my floor… when my Dad wanted me to learn to use chopsticks me had me use them to clean up LEGO… we went to the travelling LEGO show where they had enormous dinosaurs and spaceships taller than I was, taller than grown-ups, all made out of LEGO. But the music video also hits my C64 memories too, as Liz posted about the other week. PRESS PLAY ON TAPE indeed. *sighs wistfully*

How about the rest of you geeky women? Did you have LEGO, or some other kind of construction toy? Did you have to share it?