lydy: (Default)
[personal profile] lydy
At Fourth Street Fantasy Convention, this year, Steven Brust, from the dias, delivered a speech about safety and free speech that made me so angry I had to leave the room. Since then, various people have talked about the issues of safety, harassment, and free speech, often as a response to that situation, but sometimes as a continuation of other conversations. I have some very specific issues with the things Steven said, but I don't want to write about them at this moment. Instead, I want to address something that comes up over and over in these conversations, and always from men. "What are the rules?" "How can I know how to behave if you won't clarify what you want?"

Dear men, please do not ask me to provide to you something that I have never had. I cannot provide you the rules. I do not know what they are, and I never have.

I have spent my entire life, my personal, professional, educational, social, and romantic life, navigating the complexities of human interaction without rules. There has never been a point at which my exact decibel level was approved, the exact number of square inches of skin I can expose has been acceptable, a precise hairstyle I could wear that would clearly communicate who and what I was. I have spent my entire life being judged by a set of shifting rules. I have spent my entire life being lied to about what those rules were. If I talk too softly, no one listens, but if I speak more loudly, I am bitchy and dismissed. If I am clear and logical, I am mocked for inadequately mimicking maleness, but if I am emotional, I am mocked for being too feminine and not worth paying attention to. There is no level of dress that does not open me up to either being a prude or a slut.

The penalties for transgressing these ever-shifting "rules" vary. Sometimes, it's just being unpersoned. Sometimes it is getting a bad job-performance review. Sometimes, it's unwanted and uncomfortable conversations. Always, at the back of my mind, has been the knowledge that if I girl wrong at the wrong guy, I might be physically assaulted. And if that were to happen, my entire girl-ness would then be on trial. What was I wearing? What did I say? How did I say it? Was it my fault? Oh, yes, some percentage of the population will assert, it was totally my fault. Because I didn't follow a rule that, you know, doesn't actually apply all the time, isn't written down, is entirely contextual, and nobody every told me in the first place.

Rules are a luxury that I have never had. The only way rules have ever applied to me is as a stick to beat me with. They are a shifting landscape of horror. I don't know if all-male spaces have clear, comfortable rules that everybody knows and the penalties are clear. I rather doubt it, but I don't know. What I do know is that to be a woman in this culture is to be constantly moving through a space where expectations are variable, and are rigidly enforced on a whim, and can dramatically affect my life.

When we talk about harassment, safety, and safe spaces, stop asking me for rules. You never gave me any, and so I have none to give you. All I can offer you is this shifting, difficult, dangerous, ambiguous space that I live in. If you want to be an ally, if, indeed, you want to be my friend, you must learn to inhabit this uncomfortable space with me. You must accept that there aren't clear rules where you can know that you are right.

You get upset that I am enraged over how you say something rather than engaging with what you "actually" said. You are ignoring the fact that I have spent my entire fucking life trying to divine what is really meant by so-called innocent words. I have never been able to take at face value a compliment, an invite to drinks after work, a comment about my clothing, an inquiry into my health. I have spent my entire life carefully navigating the unspoken, because the penalty for getting it wrong was my reputation, or worse. Again, always, I worry about violence. Because that is life, for me, as a woman. And you? You reveal much more than you know with your word choice, and your demand to be taken literally is a cowardly retreat from what we both know you said.

If you truly want challenging conversations where people tell you things that you have never heard, before, the very first thing you must do is shut the fuck up. You cannot hear me when you are talking. And if you truly want to have your mind blown by concepts and ideas that are new to you, you must at least make sure that the conversational space is comfortable enough for other people to tell you the truth. If the only reason you are talking is so that you can argue, you aren't listening. If you aren't listening, why should I talk? There is an issue of volume. If you and people like you are shouting the same thing over and over, then people like me, with a smaller platform and a softer voice, are drowned out. If you care about free speech, then you should care about the voices you are overwhelming. If all you care about is talking, you can do that without me.

I invite you to be with me in my discomfort, my uncertainty, my highly contingent and contextual life. I invite you to talk with me, and help me navigate these shifting sands of changing expectations. But I also suggest that you pay attention, because I have lived here my entire life, and near as I can tell, this is a landscape entirely new to you.

Date: 2017-06-21 10:38 am (UTC)
mrissa: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mrissa
I think "I want to not have to worry that someone will assault me at a convention AGAIN" ought to be an obvious starting point to persons of all genders, but then they brush it away with "of course," like this is something I have ever had before IN MY ENTIRE LIFE AT ANY CONVENTION EVER, like this is something already achieved that they can trivialize. When in fact "safe space" is working toward a tiny fraction of me not having to worry about being harassed and assaulted (AGAIN) when I'm trying to talk about ideas.

I have spent years now, YEARS, telling the sorts of stories that any friend of mine who is paying attention would have any reason to hear as "I HAVE NEVER BEEN SAFE." I have told stories of how I am not safe walking my damn dog. Not safe when I was getting my education. Not safe at conventions. How that not-safety has not been a funny feeling, it has been specific, concrete experiences--and I have only touched the tip of the iceberg. Telling the stories has apparently made a great deal of impact on some people. On others? They weep bitter tears and demand to be comforted for my experiences instead of comforting me for them. And then they go on and create and contribute to situations like this one.

So yes. Pay attention. Fucking PAY ATTENTION. This is 2017, and we have been trying to tell you for awhile now.

And: You reveal much more than you know with your word choice, and your demand to be taken literally is a cowardly retreat from what we both know you said. This, this, a thousand times this.

"Intellectual debate is a wild forest" is a metaphor. "Intellectual debate is a stormy sea" is a metaphor. This? Was not that. And everyone knew it, and I will not be bullied into pretending that Steve Brust is a shitty writer who just couldn't think of any other words.

Possibly this is my 5:30 a.m. lack of "do not engage" filter again, and I will duck back out when it is full daytime and I am working on my damn book. But: YES.

Date: 2017-06-21 07:05 pm (UTC)
beth_meacham: (Default)
From: [personal profile] beth_meacham
Yes yes yes, both Mriss and Lydy.

Date: 2017-06-26 01:32 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
"Intellectual debate is a wild forest" is a metaphor. "Intellectual debate is a stormy sea" is a metaphor. This? Was not that. And everyone knew it, and I will not be bullied into pretending that Steve Brust is a shitty writer who just couldn't think of any other words.

Yyyyyyyyyyeah no. "This con is not a safe space" is not metaphorical.

Date: 2017-06-21 12:58 pm (UTC)
calimac: (Default)
From: [personal profile] calimac
I have no idea what Steve Brust said, as I haven't come across that conversation. This is not the first occasion, however, that I've been told he was remarkably irritating, not least at Fourth Street. He irritated me so much on my one visit to Fourth Street that I've never been back, though the cause of the irritation was his habit of smoking in the non-smoking sections. When I complained to the committee about this, I was told that the rules don't apply to Steve Brust, because he's Steve Brust.

But about rules in general. If rules are too uncertain, contingent, and shifting to be codified, then it would help if there were less coming down like a ton of bricks on inadvertent violations of them.

This is not just a male/female thing. I had that problem with my parents on inadvertent violations - I never deliberately misbehaved - of the rules of being a child. Suddenly I'd be punished vehemently for something I'd no idea was wrong, or even that I'd done before with no criticism. My parents' explanation was that they couldn't be expected to be completely consistent in enforcement. That would be acceptable if the punishment when it did come was less furious.

That, I think, would be the best approach to respond to the complaints, because you're right that the rules can't be precisely codified. The one venue I've seen where they are attempted to be codified, workplace harassment classes, are hopeless. They tell you not to do the obvious crass things, but say nothing about the things a well-meaning person is actually likely to get in trouble for.

Another good way of teaching is by example. A man may ask, "You tell us in detail what a bad man is like. What do you think a good man would be like?" Well, the positive male characters in Ursula Le Guin's later novels seem to me to be models of what she thinks a good man is like. Would you agree? I have learned much from these, and recommend them to other men. (Especially The Other Wind and the Gifts trilogy.)

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Date: 2017-06-21 07:49 pm (UTC)
brithistorian: (Default)
From: [personal profile] brithistorian
When I complained to the committee about this, I was told that the rules don't apply to Steve Brust, because he's Steve Brust.

Not a good sign. I've seen this sort of thing happen so many times, and I've never seen anything good come out of it.

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Date: 2017-06-25 05:04 pm (UTC)
thewayne: (Default)
From: [personal profile] thewayne
Wow. I would bitch up such a storm that they would probably throw me out if I caught him smoking in a non-smoking area. I had pneumonia five times in seven months in '09 which aged my lungs about an additional 20 years. Add occasional hyperosmia to it. I have no problem telling a jerk that he's a jerk to his face, I got to tell my U.S. Representative that to his face a few years ago.

Date: 2017-06-21 01:23 pm (UTC)
kaffyr: She's at a typewriter; is she legal? (Are Girls Legal?)
From: [personal profile] kaffyr
Would you mind if I linked to this? I kept looking for pieces to excerpt in my response to you, and realized that the whole thing is so on-point that it deserves to be read and talked about in its entirety. I won't link if that makes you uncomfortable, however.

I'm of an age where I have never consciously registered the aggressions and micro-aggressions to which I've been subjected my entire life. It's only when I look back with newly opened eyes ("newly" being a matter of decades), or when I make the conscious effort to look for them, that I see them.

And there they are.

(As a sort of aside: The most heart-breaking ones are the ones I absorbed earliest, and for which there must surely be another description; the ones that my mother and grandmother, the people who truly loved me and encouraged me in so many ways (i.e., never expecting that I would get married, always expecting me to support myself, never stifling my creativity) nonetheless tried - with all the love in their hearts - to employ to tone me down, to soften me, out of fear that I would be hurt if I wasn't trained to be soft-spoken. "Kathy, you're a wonderful girl, but you have such a sharp tongue that I'm afraid people won't want to be your friend." "Just remember, whistling girls and crowing hens, often come to some bad end.")

So, anyhow, yes, if it's alright, I'd love to link to this. If not, I will simply applaud you.
Edited Date: 2017-06-21 01:25 pm (UTC)

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Date: 2017-06-21 06:42 pm (UTC)
elisem: (Default)
From: [personal profile] elisem
**sustained applause**

(I'd quote my favorite bits, but I'd just be copy-pasting the whole thing.)

Date: 2017-06-21 06:58 pm (UTC)
matociquala: (Default)
From: [personal profile] matociquala
Co-signed.

You said everything I have been thinking, and explained very well why I am furious.

Date: 2017-06-21 07:44 pm (UTC)
brithistorian: (Default)
From: [personal profile] brithistorian
Some useful links I've gathered in the process of educating myself for this discussion:

Steven Brust's speech - Note I have seen some commenters stating that this is the speech he wrote and planned to give, not necessarily the speech he actually gave.

Scott Lynch's speech at closing ceremonies, which was at least partly a response to Steven Brust.

Will Shetterly's defense of Steven Brust - by which I mean his initial post defending Brust; I've also seen him running around defending Brust in comment sections.

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Date: 2017-06-22 01:42 am (UTC)
lcohen: (confetti)
From: [personal profile] lcohen
so true and so very well said, lydy.

Date: 2017-06-22 05:04 am (UTC)
laramie: (Default)
From: [personal profile] laramie
I'm having very mixed reactions to this.

There's 'Yes; exactly,' and AT THE SAME TIME, there's 'If they won't say what the rules are, I'll do as I choose.'

The latter works out a lot better for me since learning to care a lot less about being acceptable to people who are quick to judge, non-communicative about their standards and unforgiving.

Before this I've been very frustrated by the ambiguity of having no way to be that can't be judged negatively. (The old slut/prude, dichotomy, etc.) There is no objective 'one right way' to be; we have to choose who to please and one's self should certainly be in that class.

As social beings we do care about getting along in social situations, and I'd certainly like to have guidelines as clear as the rules of the road that keep drivers (mostly) from crashing into each other. That's what manners are about.

Manners help maintain civility in groups of mixed personalities, but they don't necessarily foster the kind of discourse that helps us break new ground in creative thinking and writing.

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Date: 2017-06-22 11:06 am (UTC)
catsittingstill: (Default)
From: [personal profile] catsittingstill
Very well said. Thank you.

Date: 2017-06-22 11:54 am (UTC)
supergee: (actual)
From: [personal profile] supergee
Excellent. I have linked this on my dw/lj.

Date: 2017-06-22 01:05 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] whiteskye
I really appreciate this conversation and am learning a lot from it. The idea of emotional labor is new to me and wildly useful. Wildly.

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Date: 2017-06-23 12:15 am (UTC)
kerravonsen: What is essential is invisible to the eye (essential-invisible)
From: [personal profile] kerravonsen
(here from kaffyr's post)

Brava! Brava! (standing ovation)

You have articulated something which has niggled at me for quite a while. It's usually come up in the context of the boundaries of consent: guys complaining that they aren't being given a formula for figuring out whether a girl is consenting to being f**ked or not. And I was thinking "If you actually cared about the other person rather than your own self-gratification, then you wouldn't need a formula, because you would be paying attention to how they feel, not just yourself."
Besides which, a formula pre-supposes that all women are interchangeable cogs that react exactly the same as each other, rather than individual human beings. (sigh)

re: consent

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Date: 2017-06-23 04:25 am (UTC)
muccamukk: Jan flying. Text: "Watch out where you swing that hammer, Golden Boy! There's a lady present!" (Marvel: Feminism)
From: [personal profile] muccamukk
I think this is very well put. I'm going to link to it.

Date: 2017-06-23 08:06 pm (UTC)
ctein: A very chatty parrot (Default)
From: [personal profile] ctein
Dear Lydy,

I'm posting this as a response to your top- essay so as not to feed any more oxygen into a certain "but what about MY needs" sub-thread that should never have happened… But it specifically applies there as well as more generally. Here goes:

If you (and here I mean some arbitrary male "you") request/demand clear-cut, hard-and-fast rules for social interactions, you are making a nonsensical, unrealistic request on the very face of it. Regardless of whether some particular individual needs such rules or not to function effectively, that's just not the way human social interactions work, because… well… Monkeys! If you're talking about human socio-sexual interactions, even less so! There is no way to fix that to anyone's complete satisfaction, and if you are demanding there is then you are demanding a fundamentally different species than the one you live in.

In other words: Get real. You have no choice but to live with complex uncertainty and indeterminacy in your life if you are going to deal with other human beings. Really, none.

But… If you really need tips/pointers/guide/advice on how to do this better, then ASK A MALE FRIEND! Specifically, one who you have observed seems to have caring and respectful relationships with women, significant numbers of women friends who are comfortable with his company, who appears to have learned how to avoid significant trouble navigating the socio-sexual minefield. ASK HIM! If you are really so bad at this that you are desperate for rules, he will certainly have basic useful advice for you. Even if he can't give you rules.

So, yeah, there is a really simple way out of demanding that women instruct you how to do this — Ask it of a man in your life.

You also might want to think really really hard about why this never occurred to you before. Then reread Lydy's essay.


- Pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
======================================
-- Ctein's Online Gallery. http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations. http://photo-repair.com 
======================================

Date: 2017-06-23 09:06 pm (UTC)
evilrooster: (Default)
From: [personal profile] evilrooster
I'm of two minds about whether this is, as it stands, good advice.

One the one hand, yeah, it would be nice not to have to do all the social and emotional work to keep the scene running. And there is certainly a population of men who are just not very good at listening to or believing women. Even when a woman states clearly that there are no rules, they'll just go on insisting that there are and demanding to be told them. These are people who might listen more easily to a male voice.

But there are also rather a lot of men who claim to/seem to have All The Insights into how women work, but whose advice turns out to be "women basically lie all the time", "treat 'em mean to keep 'em keen" or "no is just a stop on the way to yes". Or worse.

Could I suggest a middle way? Ask women which men they would trust to give advice, then go to those men? It would certainly take fewer spoons on my part to say, "You know who really seems to get it?" than to try to parse all the rules out for someone who needs them. But it would be less anxiety-making than watching another clueless n00b get sucked into the Manosphere.

(If you agree with this, you should probably repeat it for the benefit of the fellas who don't listen to women.)

(I'm only half-kidding.)

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Date: 2017-06-24 03:13 pm (UTC)
evilrooster: (Default)
From: [personal profile] evilrooster
So I was thinking - and maybe this is better as a post somewhere in my own space than a buried comment here, but.

It seems to me that both the originating incident - the carelessness with fragile concepts and the vulnerable people who rely on them - and the phenomenon of demanding rules from women who don't get to live in rule-based worlds themselves are examples of the human-relations equivalents of the business practice of privatizing profits and socializing losses.

The profits, whether they be attention when a risky ploy goes well or those times when if there were rules you would have broken them, accrue to the doer. But when you fuck up, then it's other people doing the work of cushioning the hurt, cleaning up the damage, telling you what you did wrong, teaching you how to do better.

And people who loathe banks for corporate welfare are perfectly OK with doing exactly the same thing with social energy.

Date: 2017-06-26 01:30 am (UTC)
kore: (Jessica Jones - makes us stranger)
From: [personal profile] kore
This is really amazing. Thank you.
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