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?