Wednesday, August 14, 2013

On Not Being the Jerk Whisperer

About 7 months ago, I wrote this post, about the general theme of forgiveness.

In that post and the conversations that ensued, I noted that while it may be easy to utter simple platitudes about the power and benefits of forgiveness, in practice forgiving those who un-apologetically and un-remorsefully abuse us can, in some instances, only embolden people to continue acting abusively.

I think about that in the context of blogging and Internet civility, especially as a feminist blogger. You may or may not have noticed, you see, that I got a bit Fed Up with mansplainers the other day in the comments.

When men consistently show up and declare things to be not sexist just because they've thought about sexism against women for 2 seconds and they say so!, when commenters gaslight my (and other women's) lived experiences and hand-waive them away, when they refuse to listen, when they refuse to fairly and accurately summarize feminist arguments, when they condescend and assume they have lots to teach the feminists here about stuff, and do all of these things time and time again.... I see less and less value in granting automatic forgiveness to strangers on Internet Just Because It's The Right Thing To Do.

I'd go as far as saying that I see less and less value in Promoting Civil Dialogue and Trying To Build Bridges at all with some anti-feminists and anti-LGBT folks when doing so has so often meant being on the receiving end of varying levels of hostility, ranging from microaggressions to full-on rape-threat aggressions, as a condition for the dialogue to even take place.

For instance, setting boundaries is often interpreted as bitchiness or, conversely, over-sensitivity.  Setting boundaries is not an acceptable act for women to engage in, according to some people, who "politely" refuse to, say, discontinue commenting in forums from which they've been banned due to their continued hostility.

Having conversations with people who believe that men and women are fundamentally, essentially "opposites" necessitates being confronted with that same person's veiled and explicit sexist assumptions about my (in)capabilities as a woman compared to men, just waiting for the right context for these views to come out.

Having private email correspondences with anti-gay bigots has, oftentimes, entailed them trying to bait me into assuring them over and over and over again that I think they're sufficiently nice and Not At All Bigoted for opposing my full equality in society.

Participating in conversations as a resident lesbian, in blogs I've been specifically invited to participate in as a resident lesbian, has sometimes meant me being resented by the invitee when, spoiler alert, I ask not to be on the receiving end of certain types of hostility for being a resident lesbian.

When MRAs have shown up here, it's often been a take take take conversation where men have gone to great lengths to catch feminists in various "gotchas" and Sins of Hypocrisy, even as they let other MRAs and anti-feminists entirely off the hook for similar, worse, and far more aggressive behavior.

And, while men who promote civility in blogging and public discourse are often widely praised, complimented, and lauded for doing so, promoting civility while being a feminist woman has often been interpreted as me "scolding" people, trying to "feminize" public discourse, taking on a "listen to mother tone," and being overly self-righteous and too politically correct.

So, I guess my point here is that these conversations, especially when they happen over again, have a cost and take their toll.  I know some people might be thinking oh woe is me blah blah blah, but burnout is a real thing that many people cite as a reason to stop blogging altogether.

I'm not at that point. (So the bigots and anti-feminists reading this can just cork that champagne right back up!)

Earlier this week, I read the presentation that Melissa McEwan gave at the Forging Justice conference. What she said, below, stuck with me, as a blogger, and probably isn't a big surprise to those of you who read my blog regularly. She says:
I was speaking to Flavia Dzodan the other day about the personal cost of doing this kind of work, and burn-out, and having to fight the same fights over and over, and I said to her that I started blogging with the belief that maybe I could help change the world, and now, nine years later, I blog with the thought that I'm giving people a place and the tools to process living in a world that is hostile and doesn't feel very changeable a lot of the time. And that feels like an okay goal.
Yes, right now I'm at a place of mindfulness in which I recognize that I used to be a bit idealistic, or maybe hopeful, that if I was just nice enough, just civil enough, that if I moderated myself enough, and that if I really walked the walk or gave a sincere effort to do so, that something cool and important could happen in terms of dialogue and understanding, especially in more mixed-company forums and at blogs run by those with widely different opinions than myself.

The more civil I've tried to be, though, the more of a doormat I've often felt.

Because no matter how civil I've been or tried to be, some people are and always will be hell-bent on assigning bad faith motives to others, being jerks, or just itching for a fight or way to unleash aggression.

It turns out that when we build bridges to jerks, guess where those bridges take us? Spoiler alert: to jerks!  When we "cultivate a community" with jerks, guess who's in that community? Jerks! Acting jerky!

I'm not advocating for wanton incivility here or a mass participation in reciprocal jerkiness, and I actually am interested in Internet projects that take civility seriously. I'm just noting that I'm at a place where I see a great value in, for me, setting jerk boundaries.  Boundaries are gooooooood.  Boundaries, many times, trump bridge-building. Boundaries can create safer spaces.  We don't all have to go skipping along together amongst the daffodils, and that's okay!

In related and more positive news, it looks like the single-issue, anti-equality, anti-LGBT group blog Opine Editorials is now defunct, with the entire blog, all posts, and all comments having been deleted. It is an interesting move to just up and delete an entire blog, especially since it's existed at least as long as my own blog (more than 6 years).

To me, that move suggests shame or perhaps a wish to erase the historical record now that marriage equality is more of a winning proposition these days, despite the bloggers' absurd and regular declarations of victory over various debate opponents.

Regardless, the defunct nature of the blog is a win. Any day those jerks aren't contributing to the public discourse about LGBT people is a good day, in my opinion!

On the downside, will we never get a finale to Tales From Definintely-Not-Bigotland? *wipes away tear*

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