eruthros: Wizard of Oz: Dorothy in black and white, text "rainbow" in rainbow colors (Dorothy singing rainbow)
[personal profile] eruthros
Take Back the Night at my undergrad university had a strict policy that only (self-identified) women could march; there was an ally's meeting for men to talk about violence against women. And there were two ways that men dealt with this:

"But I'm an ally! I support you! Don't you want men to support you? You can't fight this battle alone. Is this equality? Don't you want people to stop using gender to divide us?" etc This is the ally as Nice Guy TM, as a self-defined ally -- as an asshole.

"Part of my support involves not intruding on your space -- and hey, the men's meeting sounds really informative! Is there anything else I can do to help? I could make posters -- I have smelly markers!" This is the ally as actual nice guy.


I've been thinking about safe spaces lately, both in offline and online life. I've been thinking about the degree to which some people don't understand what a safe space is, and what it means -- a self-determined space, a space I declare safe, a space under my control. When the above asshole tries to march with me, he's saying: I know what is safe for you. I know that I'm okay and I declare that you are not allowed to be uncomfortable around me, because I'm an ALLY, so therefore you're just being mean. He is saying: your emotional reactions are just ridiculous. He is saying: I will call myself an ally, but never respect your ability to speak, to define yourself and your spaces. He doesn't understand that sometimes a safe space means he's not invited.

Lo these many years ago, my partner and I did a tv night with a bunch of queer and queer-friendly friends. One day, without warning, a friend of ours brought her new bf -- who believed that gay people were going to hell. He sat in the corner all night and scowled; he didn't talk to any of us. Later, she said things like "he's a great guy in every other way" and "he needs to learn" and "well, you're such stable lesbians that you'll demonstrate how not scary you are!" and similar bullshit; when we told her he wasn't welcome, she accused us of prejudice against religious people, of being over-sensitive, of not understanding who our allies were, of not working hard to recruit more allies.

She didn't understand what a safe space was: a safe space is a space in which everyone feels comfortable; a space in which we get to stop fucking teaching if we don't want to teach anymore. And sometimes, that means well-intentioned people aren't invited. Sometimes, some of my best friends aren't invited. It sure as hell means the guy who thinks I'm going to hell isn't invited.

So: When EBear declared that her journal was a safe space for PoC, and then failed to monitor or delete the racist asshole comments -- that's the opposite of a safe space. That's the fake-safe space of an "ally," of a Nice Guy TM; of someone who wants props without the hard work of explaining to her friends that they are, temporarily, not allowed to speak. And it's hard work, because fake-allies won't accept that they have to shut up, that they have to just listen.

Which brings me to: "double-standards" and the banhammer.

If my safe space includes a space where I don't have to defend myself, a space where I don't have to be a teacher and be an example and be a good lesbian -- then yeah, if I don't believe you won't do that, you're not invited. I don't recall where I saw it now, but at some points during Racefail 09 I've seen defensive comments about W!ll and tnh -- people saying, well, you're critiquing tnh for deleting comments and then banning people, but some of the anti-racists are also banning people! So it's a double-standard! And double-standards are always bad don't you want equality! And, of course, W!ll Sh!tt!rly talked a lot about his (self-declared) ally-ness, and argued that therefore he should be permitted to participate in every discussion ever.

How often do we need to say "racism = power + prejudice?" How often do we need to talk about safe spaces, about the difference between a group of white men saying that PoC aren't allowed at their country club, and a group of Latina woman making a Latina-women only open-mike night?

If my journal is my my safe space, and if W!ll Sh!tt!rly has so far showed up to journals only to derail conversation, to make it all about him, to ask rhetorical questions and judge the OP's class status ... why should I let him in to my journal? Why should I invite the guy who thinks I'm going to hell to sit in my living room? If pseudonymous conversation lets people speak more comfortably, why should I make them identify themselves just because somebody wants to define not only my safe space on the internet, but the manner in which I'm permitted to address anyone?

I've also been thinking about the problems of a safe space for everyone. In the situation above, we asked all our friends how they felt -- did going-to-hell-guy make them feel uncomfortable? If so, what would make them feel more comfortable? And I'd like to think that we would have listened to them even if we also hadn't been angry and uncomfortable, because we were dedicated to the idea of a safe space and we wanted our friends to feel safe. I'm going to a set of queer film nights now, too, and the same sort of issue is coming up. There's a woman (Jane) that is best friends with one of the organizers (Bob); the other organizer (Mary) says that Jane makes her feel uncomfortable, and told Bob so. When Mary hosted, Jane wasn't invited; now, Bob is hosting, and he's invited Jane. Here again, see EBear above, and the problems of telling friends that they're not welcome; Bob doesn't seem to realize that he has rendered his movie night an unsafe space in a single move -- that if Mary is uncomfortable, and doesn't want to speak freely, it is no longer a safe space, even if it's still hunky-dory for Bob. And that, now that I know this story, it's no longer a safe space for me even though I've never met Jane, because I know that Mary is uncomfortable. If a safe space means different things to different people, sometimes you can't invite people you like, people you feel comfortable around. Other people may not know them as well -- or may know them better than you do. People keep saying: But W!ll Sh!tt!rly is a nice guy IRL (as though this is not real life) -- "if you only knew him" -- "but I trust him to do the right thing." Okay, fine, you feel like you know him well -- that doesn't automatically mean that you can bring him to somebody's blog and tell the blogger that W!ll's just dandy so it's still a safe space.

I can do my best to make a ten-person party in my house a safe space for everyone, but a con can't be: there are just too many people, and too much going on. Even the best cons have problems. So here are various white sff professionals arguing that they go to tons of cons, and that there are few PoC at cons, and that the percentage of PoC at cons is a completely accurate reflection of the percentage of PoC fans who read and watch sff. There are a lot of problems with this model; there's the assumption that the same people participate in the most expensive way to be an sff fan as in the least expensive; the assumption that all kinds of fans are the same, and all kinds of fans go to cons; and, of course, the safe space problem. If you're a white straight geek guy, a con is a safe space for you -- look, it's a group of people who won't judge you for your fannishness! How wonderful and reassuring! Everyone who is a fan or a geek must want to go, so that they can be surrounded by other fans and feel comfortable, so clearly cons must reflect fandom accurately. Right? Right?

But if you're a girl, if you're a PoC, if you're queer, then it's not a safe space at all. How little empathy must people have that they can't recognize that? That they can't recognize that stories like the outing of transfolk at Wiscon, the Open Source Boob Project, the antipathy and overt racism and sexism and homophobia might influence the desire of PoC and queer folks and women to go to cons at all? [ profile] ciderpress's ven ve voke up, ve had zese wodies describes the pain and hurt that she feels when fandom is not a safe space, when a con is not a safe space. And yet, there are the white sff professionals, arguing that PoC on the internet must be sockpuppets because there just aren't that many PoC fans in sff. They don't understand safe spaces, and safe(r) spaces, and unsafe spaces. They don't understand that different women/PoC/queers don't feel the same degree of safe, and make different decisions about it; if their black friend felt safe at the con, then no black person can feel uncomfortable, then all black people will go to cons proportionate to their participation in fandom. They don't understand that women and PoC and queers have always been making these decisions, have always been sharing information about racism and sexism and homophobia and safe(r) cons, have always been building cons and fanmoots and film nights and tv groups to make safe(r) spaces.
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eruthros: Delenn from Babylon 5 with a startled expression and the text "omg!" (Default)

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