We’ve started telling people how they are expected to act. That’s a phenomenal start. We’ve started making it clear that there are paths to justice, in the case that those expectations are not met. Also great. But I don’t feel like it’s enough. Often, issues are forced into a boolean framing, with only a boolean response. Either something is dismissible, or scorched earth. And so many things go unaddressed, and the few things that aren’t are either viewed as “how did we wait so long?!” or “that seems like overkill.” The former continues to vilify the perpetrator, and the later vilifies the person(s) on the receiving end.
If we simply kick out anyone who messes up, we end up with empty communities, and that’s not a new future.
If we don’t hold people accountable for being abusive, we end up with rooms filled only with those who love their pre-existing power, and that’s not a new future.
League of Legends is the best example I know of how to deal with this properly, or at least better than usual. If you are an asshole to someone, you go to Tribunal. They do this because there are rarely “problem players,” but most incidents are “players having a bad day.” And if you got rid of all those players, you wouldn’t have anyone left. If you put a bad mark on “problem players” or some other permanent thing, people simply recreate accounts, and are pissed off while they play in the beginner brackets, and then you have a toxic environment for the newcomers, only the toxic stick around, and then the whole place sucks.
Let’s bring this to issues of gender and sexual advances specific to our geek communities. It cannot be fun for most of the people who are causing these problems. Just think – you try to make a pass, it either isn’t well received or seems to be but then later it turns out wasn’t, and no one is telling you what is actually expected. Except sometimes that you’ve done something wrong. Of course yes to consent! Yes to enthusiastic consent! But women especially are also socialized to give what is seemed to be desired. For safety. For society. Etc. And so consent is the first essential step along a path, but is not the end-all-be-all.
What I’m proposing is this: if someone violates a safe space agreement, or continually makes people in the community feel squicked, or whatever else… we need to have a path laid for them to get better. And if they’re not willing to take that path, we know they’re doing it because they’re an asshole, and not because they’re socially awkward. Awkwardness can be because of a commitment to consent, and is no excuse for many of these issues. Just ask someone I’ve dated. I am not smooth.
So what are those paths? Restorative justice seems to be a useful alternative for urban communities with generations disappearing into the legal system, but which has been co-opted by the privileged to avoid accountability. I’ve asked around about programs for people who are abusive to “get better,” with little luck. Are there paths already out there? Do we need to create them? Please do comment here, let’s have a discussion.
I have thought it would make sense to have some of these paths, and I’ve seen some interventions work, for example, the ponytail touching guy at Noisebridge had some non-neurotypicality issues and he was able to stop doing it when multiple people sat down with him to explain standards of behavior (which you’d think a grown man would have learned already, but no.) As in, do not touch other people’s hair without consent. Do not immediately ask other dudes if you can touch their ponytails when you meet them. It kind of worked; I don’t think he needed to be thrown out. More often, though, complaining about behavior when it’s women doing the complaining results in the women being the ones under scrutiny and criticism. I think that accepting reports of bad behavior, and asking the harassers/line crossers for non violent or non extreme situations to do some external training, may be fruitful. But, it would be important to take care that what you’re doing isn’t just requiring the person offended against to magically become chill and accept an abuser’s presence. Another complication is that, if a person admits to wrongdoing, they may feel that they are opening themselves or an institution to legal claims. So their interest is usually best served by blustering it out and not admitting to even a minor transgression since the penalty is extreme. On the other hand, I’m sure you are aware of the penalty for those of us who speak up: we usually end up leaving a community where the needs and basic existence of the people harming us is a priority over ours.
So glad you wrote this. The boolean framing of abuser vs. non-abuser is such a problem. One reason people get away with abusive behavior is because they’re seen as “good people” and claims to the contrary are dismissed. This dichotomy also directly enables abusive behavior because anyone who sees themselves as a victim feels free from the need to examine their own behaviors. When in reality being a victim of abuse puts someone *more* at risk of becoming abusive (a great book about this is: Breaking the Cycle of Abuse: How to Move Beyond Your Past to Create an Abuse-Free Future. I may need to write a reaction post to this later tonight.
I’m reminded of a principle I picked up at Firefly this year: people aren’t problems, problems are problems.
The entire frame is broken, and it cannot be fixed. The frame creates the problem.
The only thing addressed is the behavioral frame: “Are you following the rules or not?” This is the most dry, brittle, bottom-most way of approaching the situation and the challenges involved. It’s comparable to reserving medical attention until ethics absolutely requires that we intervene, but only at the last possible moment.
No vision, no listening, no understanding, until that point is reached.
The only solutions I am aware of have come from Zegg, Tamera, and New Culture Northwest. The solutions are expensive and holistic. Forum is required, at a minimum: Men and women deeply seeing one another is essential.
Anything else is a band-aid, and begging for more.