Are Racism, Sexism, Etc. Still a Problem These Days?
One of the challenges that comes up pretty regularly in conversations about diversity and inclusiveness in SF/F is, “Show me where someone has been told they can’t be a part of fandom because of their race/gender/sexuality/etc.”
The underlying assumptions seem to be that:
- There aren’t any such examples, and therefore–
- All of this talk about the need for diversity is a made-up problem blown completely out of proportion by a handful of oversensitive souls looking for something to be offended by and/or campaigning for Hugo awards.
I could point to examples of explicit attempts at exclusion, like “Its bitches like you that are ruining SF. Why cant you leave it to men who know what their doing?” But what would that prove? Usually such examples just result in moving the goal posts. People will acknowledge that sure, there are a few cavemen and trolls out there, but go on to explain that most of SF/F is better than that, so why make such a big deal out of those rare and extreme outliers?
It’s true that I’ve rarely seen people explicitly, deliberately, and publicly saying, “Hey, we don’t want women in our genre” or “SF/F stories should only be about white heroes.” And that’s a good thing. Our society has finally reached the point that there can be serious social consequences for a convention that posted a “Whites only” sign at registration, or a publisher that said in their submission guidelines, “LGBT authors need not submit.”
The problem is that so many people think that’s all racism and sexism and homophobia and discrimination are — “Whites only” signs and lynchings and KKK rallies. As long as we don’t have any of those at a convention, what’s the problem? If an event doesn’t turn into Tailhook, then there’s nothing for women to complain about!
If that’s the foundation for your understanding of discrimination and inequality, then I can see how you’d be confused by ongoing conversations about the need to do better. I suspect this is why some people react to such conversations as if they’ve been personally attacked. When I point out that SF/F has a problem with inclusiveness, a fair number of people seem to hear, “The Genre Police are accusing me of being racist/sexist/homophobic/bigoted/etc, and that’s not true at all! Why, I love Martin Luther King, Junior, and I’ve never attended a KKK march!”
So let’s look at a few aspects of inequality and discrimination. Things that aren’t as blatant, and often aren’t deliberate or conscious at all … which makes them much easier to ignore, if you’re not one of the people being hurt. What follows are just a handful of the studies pointing out the larger, less obvious problems we continue to struggle with.
Blind Auditions and Sexism in Symphony Orchestras – “Traditionally, women have been underrepresented in American and European orchestras. Renowned conductors have asserted that female musicians have ‘smaller techniques,’ are more temperamental and are simply unsuitable for orchestras … Using data from the audition records, researchers found that blind auditions increased the probability that a woman would advance from preliminary rounds by 50 percent. The likelihood of a woman’s ultimate selection is increased several fold.”
In other words, judges were significantly more likely to reject a candidate if they knew she was female, based on nothing but the candidate’s gender. But I’d bet you every one of those judges would insist they were only trying to choose the best musicians, and they would be highly affronted if you dared to suggest they were sexist. I trust folks can see the parallels to all-male “Best of” anthologies or male-dominated awards ballots, not to mention editors who insist “They’re only looking for the best stories!”
Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care – “…a consistent body of research demonstrates significant variation in the rates of medical procedures by race, even when insurance status, income, age, and severity of conditions are comparable. This research indicates that U.S. racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to receive even routine medical procedures and experience a lower quality of health services.”
I’m not aware of any hospitals or doctor’s offices that post “Whites only” signs, and yet we’re consistently giving poorer health care to non-white patients based on their race. But I’m sure most of those doctors and nurses would take great offense at the suggestion that they were acting in a racist way. They’d probably insist that they’re colorblind, treating all patients equally.
Gender and the Perception of Knowledge in Political Discussion – “…both men and women perceive women to be less knowledgeable about politics and men to be more knowledgeable, regardless of the actual level of knowledge each discussion partner holds.” Oh look, it’s the Fake Geek Girl thing all over again. How many of those men and women do you think would believe their perceptions were being filtered through a sexist lens?
Experience and Perception of Racial Discrimination – “When asked how much discrimination still exists against Blacks, only 10% of Whites said ‘a lot,’ while 57% of Blacks said ‘a lot’ … sixty-seven percent of Blacks described encountering discrimination and prejudice when applying for jobs, 50% reported incidents during shopping or dining out, and many stated that it was a common occurrence to hear derogatory racial comments.”
In other words, those of us who aren’t on the receiving end of discrimination have a much easier time minimizing it or pretending it’s no longer a problem.
Perception of Conversational Dominance – “…men (and to a lesser degree, women) perceive women as talking more than men when women talk only 30% of the time. This phenomenon is not limited to Spender’s academic seminar data or to CMC, but rather is a feature of mixed-sex conversation in public settings more generally.”
This phenomenon of distorted perception seems particularly relevant to complaints about non-white/non-male/non-straight/etc. characters and authors “taking over the genre.”
I’m sure someone will point out that none of these studies are directly or specifically about SF/F and fandom, and that’s obviously true. They are, however, about people — about people’s perceptions and actions and biases, many of which are unconscious. Last I checked, SF/F and fandom were made up of people. And we do this stuff too.
Just look at Malinda Lo’s research — she drew on multiple sources to research LGBT representation, and found that, “Less than 1% of YA novels have LGBT characters.” There are accounts of agents and editors asking authors to “straighten” characters. Multiple reports of sexual harassment at conventions and throughout our community. Whitewashed cover art. Racist nastiness toward cosplayers. Gender-specific threats. And so much more that I’m not going to link to, because I could be here all day, and you’re just as capable of using Google as I am.
Twenty years ago, I would have told you I was a nice guy, utterly free of bigotry or prejudice. I would have been wrong. I grew up in this culture. I absorbed a lot of messed-up ideas and assumptions. It took years for me to start to recognize those, and even longer to work on changing them. I’m still doing that work. I probably always will be. I don’t believe that makes me a supervillain. I believe it makes me human.
We’ve got to stop thinking that this is all about mustache-twirling villains in black hats. Look at those studies I linked above. The researchers didn’t collect a sample of wife-beating, gay-bashing Nazis for their studies. These weren’t evil, hateful vindictive supervillains. They were ordinary, random people, most of whom would probably be shocked to learn that they treated others in unequal ways. They were people who had grown up absorbing the discriminatory attitudes and assumptions of their culture.
Very few of these people self-identify as bigots. Very few think of themselves as racist or sexist or homophobic or discriminatory. But they’re part of the problem.
And those people who choose not to see it, because nobody’s burning crosses at conventions or actively campaigning to kick all the women out of SFWA? Who read stories of harassment and discrimination, but dismiss them as people looking for attention? Or make excuses for the perpetrators? Or refuse to believe these things happen without notarized video submitted in triplicate with at least fifty witness signatures? Or who decry the backlash against bigotry as “lynch mobs” and “witch hunts”?
They’re part of the problem too.
Michi Trota (@GeekMelange)
January 6, 2014 @ 10:01 am
Absolutely. And people need to stop reacting as if they’re being called mustache-twirling villains when it’s pointed out how something they said or did reflects racism, sexism, homphobia, etc. Racism, sexism, et al doesn’t require intent to do damage (really, the phrase “Intent isn’t magic” needs to be up in glittering neon everywhere) – intentional or not, the impact still occurs and it still causes harm. And focusing on whether or not one intended to be racist or misogynistic ends up recentering the conversation on the person who misstepped and how “good” they are, rather than on the harm that was caused by the person’s actions. This piece by Jamie Utt on “Intent vs Impact” is great on that subject, as is the Il Doctrine video on how to tell someone what they said/did is racist.
Thinking that you’re not racist/sexist/homophobic/etc isn’t the end point, it’s the start. We’ve been exposed to this stuff since leaving the womb and we all have unexamined biases. Claiming that you’re not sexist, therefore nothing you say/do can be sexist is a way to short-circuit having to do that continual (and often uncomfortable) self-check so that your intentions actually have the impact you want them to.
D. D. Webb
January 6, 2014 @ 10:15 am
Insightful as always, Mr. Hines.
Just yesterday I was re-reading the archives of one of my favorite webcomics and came across a page I bookmarked because it struck me as the most perfect allegory I’d ever seen of this very problem: http://sinfest.net/archive_page.php?comicID=4051
It’s not a pleasant thing, discovering that you’ve been carrying around a load of bigoted trash in your head all your life, but I for one am a much better and healthier person for having had it pointed out and being able to start working on it. It’s a process people resist fiercely, though, and it’s very understandable where they’re coming from. Nobody wants to think of themselves as a villain. Waking up is hard to do.
January 6, 2014 @ 10:24 am
As a lifelong feminist, I was stunned when I became the mother of a boy and realized the sexist attitudes I held subconsciously. In my case, my son scared easily – couldn’t watch movies that were the slightest bit frightening. I had been the exact same way as a child, but I got very impatient with him over it until I realized my impatience was because he was a boy! I just didn’t expect a boy to be skittish “like a girl”. It’s something I had to be conscious of and counteract throughout his childhood.
Victor Raymond PhD
January 6, 2014 @ 10:26 am
One good way of spotting this kind of thing is distinguishing between prejudice and discrimination. Robert Merton used this in his research to reveal “fair-weather liberals” – people who did not believe they were prejudiced, but acted in discriminatory ways. A fair bit of why Americans believe that racism, sexism, etc. are finished is because there are so few Snidely Whiplash types really visible. It is the “fair-weather liberals” that perpetuate this kind of thing, the people who start by saying “well, I think everybody’s equal, but…” and then go on to say something that indicates that they don’t ACT on that belief.
January 6, 2014 @ 10:34 am
It would pay if everyone would have to spend some time as minority ;-). It would eradicate a lot of false assumptions. Even if “white male hetero” is the easy mode settings, there a lot places on earth where this makes you a minority.
I spent some months as exchange student in a third world country. In the first weeks, nearly everyone around me was making racially charged jokes about “blacks”. When i inquired irritated, a friend told me “Martin, you are so white that you are black.” It took me some time to process this and made me aware of the poor social reception, a real colored person would receive (the jokers considered themselves “white”). It was still easy mode setting, but a teaching experience nonetheless.
January 6, 2014 @ 10:37 am
Nice link, archived ;-).
January 6, 2014 @ 10:53 am
“The problem is that so many people think that’s all racism and sexism and homophobia and discrimination are — “Whites only” signs and lynchings and KKK rallies. As long as we don’t have any of those at a convention, what’s the problem? If an event doesn’t turn into Tailhook, then there’s nothing for women to complain about!”
Of course, that’s what people think what racism and sexism is: white people being racist and men being sexist. We couldn’t give a shit about non-whites and non-males discriminating against white and male people, but whenever women and PoC aren’t placed on a pedestal, RACISM!!!111 SEXISM!!11!
D. D. Webb
January 6, 2014 @ 11:00 am
Point missed. Topic derailed.
Problem exemplified, thank you.
Michi Trota (@GeekMelange)
January 6, 2014 @ 11:07 am
Treating people of color and women as people = putting them on a pedestal?
Thanks for playing, but you falsely assume that women and people of color have the same level of social privilege and power as white men.
Jim C. Hines
January 6, 2014 @ 11:18 am
Falafel – I don’t have the time to deal with deliberate ignorance, straw men, and other nonsense right now. If you feel like reading and responding to the conversation here, fine. Further garbage like your comment above will be eaten by goblins.
January 6, 2014 @ 11:30 am
@Jim As this seems to be Standard Policy, i would expect a lot more overweight goblins ;-).
January 6, 2014 @ 1:01 pm
That was one great comic. Thanks for sharing that.
January 6, 2014 @ 4:03 pm
The journalist and black activist Marc Wadsworth taught me a very useful principle back in the mid-80s. We are all prejudiced in some ways. It is inevitable. It is not in itself something to be ashamed of. What matters is what you do when it is pointed out. If you attempt to fix that prejudice you are part of the solution. If you react defensively and attempt to deny you were prejudiced you are part of the problem.
January 6, 2014 @ 4:57 pm
The thing that really brought this home for me was when I moved out of state for college. I’m a white male and I grew up in a fairly diverse/liberal area and moved to a state that was markedly more conservative and less diverse. My first week or so in my new digs I had this weird feeling something was “off”. And then an African-American woman and her son walked past me in a store and I realized that they were the first non-white people I had seen in almost two weeks!! As my time continued in this state, it also became clear that as someone who didn’t buy into the prevalent belief system, I was in a decided minority (the neighborhood where I lived was 98% believers). The ways I was treated were ranged from subtle to forthright but always present. When I moved back to my hometown, my first internship during grad school was with a minority museum. No one EVER treated me poorly or differently, but I was distinctly aware that I was “different” in this work place. Again, this wasn’t due to anyone doing anything. It was simply the fact that I wasn’t the “norm” in this situation. I believe both of these experiences taught me invaluable lessons about discrimination and/or simply being “other” in a situation that I may not have gotten otherwise. I think EVERYONE should have to live a portion of their life (even as little as a year) where they are clearly in a minority and are made to feel different simply by being themselves. It can change your perspective and make you more sensitive to others who may be feeling those things too.
January 6, 2014 @ 5:03 pm
Let me append this to say “I think EVERYONE who comes from a position of privilege (mostly white men, but that can include others in some circumstances) should have to live a portion of their life (even as little as a year) where they are clearly in a minority and are made to feel different simply by being themselves.”
January 6, 2014 @ 5:12 pm
At my high tech company, we recently celebrated the fact that we had women represented in an equal percentage in the workforce and management: 29%. For context, we are global, with tens of thousands of employees.
At a recent company All Hands, it was noted that not a single member of senior management on stage was female (and only one was minority).
This from a company that had the author of “Lean In” come speak to us all to demonstrate their devotion to gender equality.
Women are still paid less for the same work (at least in sciences – I can find references if needed – believe likely true elsewhere).
One more example, then I’ll stop. Arriving at Stanford, having taken AP Calculus, I was told not to take “regular” physics”. Too hard. You need calculus. Take the easier version. The one for the liberal arts majors and jocks?!
If you haven’t lived it, don’t know. It’s pervasive. Women are constantly told, implicitly and explicitly, that we’re not as smart, our work isn’t as valued and we need to sit down and back up and the real thinkers in. If we push back, we’re bitchy, whiny, and still not actually contributing anything.
January 6, 2014 @ 5:22 pm
Didn’t wrap that up. Sorry. 🙂
1). I wanted to provide some additional examples. Got a little caught up.
2). It is worth the conversation and the dialogue. In my life, I’ve gone from Barbie’s are appropriate choice for girls to play with to getting my daughter a rock tumbler a disgusting science kit for Christmas.
It’s not easy but all of this is important and worthwhile.
January 6, 2014 @ 5:55 pm
Aw, Jim, this is why people love you. (That and the fact that you are a Goofball For Charity)
We each have to work on ourselves. You don’t need to understand WHY something you said/did is racist/sexist/homophobic/whateverist (though that’s great), you just need to accept that it was when someone points it out. And say “Sorry, I didn’t mean any harm but won’t do that again.” If we’re lucky, we’ll do as I’ve done more than once and realize halfway through and say “Blah blah blah blah oh WOW that was really racist, wasn’t it?” If we’re very lucky and work really hard, we won’t get the blah blahs out of our mouth.
And despite remarkable progress, we aren’t living in a post-racial, post-sexist, etc. world.
I was debating whether or not to attend an event alone after dark, and a male friend promised that if I did, he would personally escort me back to the train station. He knew why I was leery, yet did not act like he was the Hero saving the Helpless Damsel.
Once when a black friend of mine and I were looking for an address in another town and knew we’d be liable to wander back and forth slowly in an old beater car in a VERY white neighborhood, I said “Y’know, I better drive instead, the cops and busybodies will think I’m harmless.” My friend did not need to ask, but agreed it was probably safer.
And to people who complain “It never was a problem before!” here’s a ProTip:
It ALWAYS was a problem. We were just too intimidated to talk about it till now.
F’rinstance in SF/F — regarding one of the big sexist/harassment scandals, I had been informed at a con by a SMOF woman that the man involved was not to be trusted alone with a woman over TEN (10) years before The Incident. So when it came out, I was unsurprised. And being just a random nobody, I couldn’t pass the word along effectively through informal means. But no more.
January 6, 2014 @ 6:04 pm
Oh gosh, Daryl, your first anecdote is exactly what happened to me when a friend and I were visiting a small town in the Midwest. It was great but it felt off. Finally, it hit me when I pushed the hotel elevator button and stared at the fire exit drawing. I turned to my friend and said, “Look! All the instructions are only in English!” Her jaw dropped and we both realized that was what felt weird: we’d gone for days without seeing anyone who wasn’t white, save for a few black people. And it was just so WEIRD to us not to see Hispanic or Asian people. I mean, even the housekeeping staff was all-white. (One of them turned out to be a thief, as my friend sadly discovered — so much for stereotypes, eh?)
January 6, 2014 @ 6:56 pm
Just the headline made me spit iced tea across the room.
Michi Trota (@GeekMelange)
January 6, 2014 @ 6:58 pm
That’s usually my reaction when someone says that to me and they’re not being sarcastic.
It happens far more often than I’d like.
January 6, 2014 @ 7:16 pm
I followed the link about Racist nastiness to cosplayers and got an error message; fortunately I looked around a bit and found the note explaining that they had been hacked and providing a new functioning link, which was good because there’s some really interesting stuff there.
I suspect that many people would claim that I am paranoid for even considering the possibility that they were hacked by people who wanted to shut them up because the hackers didn’t want to see all the stuff about racism and sexism, and didn’t want anyone else to see it either, but I really don’t think I’m being paranoid.
I think I am being realistic, and that makes me sad, and all the more determined to read the stuff that the hackers don’t want me to read. It also makes me want to kick them in the unmentionables, but I’m doing my best to resist temptation 🙂
January 6, 2014 @ 7:26 pm
Thanks Sally!!! You’re the first person that has said they’ve had a similar “something’s not right, but I’m not sure what it is” until you see it kinda experience!! Glad to know I’m not the only one!!
Jim C. Hines
January 6, 2014 @ 7:29 pm
Thanks, Stevie. I’ve updated the link!
January 6, 2014 @ 8:27 pm
Seriously? Can you maybe not make that kind of remark? It’s simply not the case that “overeating” necessarily leads to being “overweight” — a term which is itself problematic — nor that most people who are “overweight” “overeat”. And it’s just flat unnecessary to make this kind of microaggressive comment on a post that’s about marginalization and oppression.
January 6, 2014 @ 9:37 pm
This is an important point. No one likes it when someone tells them they’re perpetuating, even inadvertently, an unfair system. So why do some people respond with soul searching and others with angry denial and attempts to derail the conversation by accusing the people who call their attitudes out of being “PC” or “too sensitive” or sidetracking things entirely by reminding the speaker how much worse it used to be or how bad women, LGBT people, or cultural minorities still have it in some parts of the world.
Is it a maturity thing? I remember feeling very alone when I was a young woman because I often noticed those subtle and not so subtle sexist (and eventually racist and homophobic things). No one else seemed to care, and if I said anything, people either laughed at me or got angry at me. I try to remember how this felt when someone informs me that something I’ve done or said is insensitive.
January 6, 2014 @ 9:39 pm
It was not intended to poke fun people with a high BMI (where i carry a membership card). I am in a loosing fight with my weight for decades, but (till now) would have never considered the term “overweight” (for myself as well) problematic. At least in my case the amount of input with the lack of exercise is responsible for the condition. I am aware that overeating is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for a high BMI, but there is a strong correlation.
I will always attack things with humor, even with things that distress me a lot (even illness or death). In this case the joke was aimed at the high amount of garbage (as Jim put it) this topic often attracts. I am sorry, if you feel that i contributed to that category. Personally i see humor as one of the sharpest weapon in the arsenal against any discrimination. People with a sense of superiority (which is in my opinion a precondition for discrimination) are very sensitive to be made fun of. This does (from my POV) not qualify for “microaggressive”.
I did not foresee the way it would be taken in this context, but that is what feedback is for. Noted.
I have no problems with my comment being deleted if it is deemed unfitting for the thread, but AFAIK i cannot edit or remove it myself.
January 6, 2014 @ 10:33 pm
You’ve forgotten disability discrimination and class-based (or $ based) discrimination. I discovered ‘fandom’ after I moved to Melbourne 5.5 years ago. Prior to that I couldn’t afford to attend conventions. Since then I’ve attended a few but had to sacrifice having a holiday in order to attend even though I haven’t stayed in a motel.
I’ve been appalled at the self-satisfied complacency in fandom coupled with religious-like complaints about how fandom’s population is greying. When attendance at a convention costs about $200-$350 (food, drink, travel, accommodation extra) you’re only going to get the well-off attending. People with money to burn.
Thus those of us with disabilities and/or low incomes cannot afford to attend.
I’ve called for the community to raise money to allow at least a few people in these demographics to attend. The response? “We have fan funds for that.” NO. Fan funds, with the exception of DetCon, seem to be all about rewarding people for previously attending conventions. I’m talking about enabling people who’ve never had the opportunity to attend before.
Once my website is fully functional again (I’ve had server issues) I’m posting an opportunity for people on Australian healthcare cards to apply for two memberships of Continuum Convention (which is also this year’s National convention). I’ll give them away to increase diversity by enabling two people to attend who’ve never attended before.
Of course this means I won’t be able to afford to go myself but I will have done something towards building a more equitable world.
D. D. Webb
January 6, 2014 @ 11:14 pm
Honestly, I think angry denial is the human norm. Anything that smells of an attack on a person’s self-image is asking for a backlash. Getting people to think in ways contrary to their established patterns is an entire art and science unto itself, used for evil in the case of marketing/propaganda and potentially for good in matters like what’s under discussion here.
I can’t speak for what’s worked for others, but for my part I became interested in these topics due to hearing them discussed in a calm, reasonable, aggression-free manner. This very blog has been an eye-opener for me in the years I’ve been following it. I think the tone is very important; when you’re in territory that’s likely to hint at aggression no matter what you do–which suggesting to someone that they’re wrong necessarily does–doing so without adding any aggression to your mode of address is paramount.
And of course, a lot depends on the listener’s state of mind, which you really can’t predict or account for. All we can do is our best.
January 7, 2014 @ 7:17 am
Thank you Eric. A willingness to learn and a willingness to change once you do can go a long way.
January 7, 2014 @ 7:35 am
Thanks for saying this Sally.
One of the most infuriating things to me as a WoC is having my lived experiences disregarded. Having someone say to me, “Well, I didn’t see it! ” (we’re looking at you Mr. Duck Dynasty) is basically saying to me that not not only what I experienced didn’t happen that way but implies I’m a liar as well and is completely not helpful. It also tells me that your perception of the world takes priority over mine whether or not you were actually present for what happened to me.Think about it. How can a person tell me about an event at which I was present and they weren’t and didn’t even witness?
That kind of s#*@ is seriously annoying (and just plain wrong) and one of the more quiet and insidious versions of any ‘ism.
Jim C. Hines
January 7, 2014 @ 7:41 am
“F’rinstance in SF/F — regarding one of the big sexist/harassment scandals, I had been informed at a con by a SMOF woman that the man involved was not to be trusted alone with a woman over TEN (10) years before The Incident.”
Yep. And when it takes over a decade for someone to face consequences for continuing to harass women, then yes, you’re damn right we have a problem here.
Jim C. Hines
January 7, 2014 @ 7:43 am
Admittedly, I was an English major, not a math major, but I’m pretty sure 29% doesn’t match up to any reasonable concept of gender equality…
January 7, 2014 @ 7:47 am
D.D. : this is skirting way too close to the “tone argument ” which means ” I’m going to disregard what you say to me because I didn’t like the way you said it. ” A defensive tactic that’s used far too frequently against women and PoC. Its an attempt to control and derail the conversation and make it about your feelings instead of what was said.
Just noting, not accusing!
Jim C. Hines
January 7, 2014 @ 7:55 am
I’ve certainly learned from people who were patient enough with me to sit down and calmly explain why something I had never really thought about was actually pretty f***ed up. But that doesn’t mean people are *obligated* to do so, nor that I should condemn people who are angry for not being calm and patient for *my* benefit.
But I’ve also learned from people getting angry — both in general and at me personally. I’ve spoken with others who have said it wasn’t the calm, “reasoned” tone, but the loud anger that finally got through to them.
So while I agree that the kind of thing D.D. is describing can be helpful to those of us trying to learn, it’s also very, very easy to slip into a place where we feel we’re *owed* that time and patience and calmness, that other people should set aside their own valid and justified anger and frustration and weariness in order to focus on *our* needs.
D. D. Webb
January 7, 2014 @ 10:23 am
I understand that concern; it’s actually a source of some angst for me. Sitting on top of the stack of privileges that I do in this society, I don’t have it in me to tell women, minorities or whoever is not allowed a fair piece of the pie to moderate their tone. I mean…the sheer arrogance of that would be mind-boggling. I was speaking strictly in terms of what had gotten through to me, not attempting advice, though as I re-read my post, I can certainly see that implication there, and I apologize for not writing more carefully.
It troubles me because it’s always seemed to me that society will only be equal when the people enjoying the privileges wake up and change their ways, and they aren’t likely to do that after being yelled at…but how can I do anything about this, when it is clearly morally unacceptable for me to be telling the affected people to calm down? Conundrum.
Then again, it may well be that I’m just plain wrong, as Jim mentioned in his example. Maybe in the right cases, outrage is the more effective tool. Obviously my worldview is as incomplete as anyone’s and I try to welcome education when it comes along.
Jim C. Hines
January 7, 2014 @ 11:07 am
“It troubles me because it’s always seemed to me that society will only be equal when the people enjoying the privileges wake up and change their ways, and they aren’t likely to do that after being yelled at…but how can I do anything about this, when it is clearly morally unacceptable for me to be telling the affected people to calm down? Conundrum.”
Ooh, I can comment on this one!
Be one of the voices speaking to privilege. As someone who’s not on the receiving end of a thousand daily microaggressions, it’s a lot easier for me to be “calm” and “reasonable” in my tone. And, unfortunately, there are people who will listen to me that would ignore or blow off the same words coming from a woman, or from someone who wasn’t white, and so on.
In general, I don’t think there’s any one right answer or tool here.
D. D. Webb
January 7, 2014 @ 11:34 am
“In general, I don’t think there’s any one right answer or tool here.”
I think you’re right on that point. And that’s the conclusion to which I’ve come and the way I go about it. I don’t run into a lot of this in my day to day life (don’t get out much) but online spaces are another matter, and I do try to be the calmer voice. It doesn’t always help much; I think people need to be in a place where they’re receptive before anything changes, and we can do little about that but just keep trying.
Michi Trota (@GeekMelange)
January 7, 2014 @ 11:47 am
This is a really great point about how to be a good ally and how people with social privileges can help those who lack the same. When you’re on the receiving end of daily microaggressions and the flat out aggressive “You’re full of it, X isn’t a problem, you’re just looking for special treatment/something to complain about/overreacting” pushback, it can require more time, energy & patience to be the “Negotiator” instead of the “Nuker” than one has (and I definitely wish the fact being angry about different forms of discrimination is a reasonable response to injustice was more widely acknowledged.) It sucks because a lot of the time with, say, harassment & sexism, men end up listening to other men rather than women before they believe something was harassment or sexism is a problem, but there’s no escaping it, so when your voice is more likely to be listened to, using it to speak in support of those who are more likely to be dismissed helps.
When doing so, though, it’s also important to make sure that you’re using you privilege to highlight a problem faced by people who are marginalized & support their voices, rather than making it about how “you’re such a good person for being an ally.” Which again, is something that often happens unintentionally, but being aware of that framing can make an enormous difference.
Example: At Chicago Comic Con last year, I ran a panel talking about how the “fake geek girl” issue was reflective of gate-keeping and sexism in geek culture. We had some great audience participation at the Q&A, and as we were taking our last question, one of the room monitors quietly came up to the moderator and handed her a note, which she showed to me since I was sitting next to her. Apparently Scott Snyder, who writes Batman for DC, was in the audience. Now, even though we were pretty much at time for the end of the panel, had he just raised his hand and said, “Hey, I’m Scott Snyder and I have something to say,” I can pretty much guarantee that he would not have had a problem getting his say, but instead, he unobtrusively asked permission. Further, he made it very, very clear that his speaking up was not about showing what a good guy he was for being against sexism – rather, he wanted to support what we had been talking about on the panel by sharing his observations of sexism in the industry. That courtesy and care to make sure his speaking up was not about him, but about how women get treated in geek spaces, remains one of the best examples of someone with privilege using it to be helpful that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.
January 7, 2014 @ 1:10 pm
Here’s a story describing a study on the gender balance of speakers at scientific conferences. http://www.livescience.com/42362-encouraging-women-science.html?google_editors_picks=true
I think this has some merit for SMOFs, conrunners, what have you, the people who plan and run events in our community. One of the primary researchers in the study comments that the organizers of conferences are certainly not consciously excluding women and minorities from speaker slots, which is also true of the ConComs I’ve encountered. In addition, the implication is made that at least 2 scientific societies studied are planning to change how they choose/recruit speakers based on this information in an effort to make their conferences more inclusive.
I’ve already posted the link to Detcon1’s concom list, where I am a member. Perhaps someone active there could pass it on to the SMOF list and other ConComs.
January 7, 2014 @ 1:53 pm
Part of the problem in tackling discrimination in all it’s forms is that people rarely fit into one compartment.
For example, I am a woman disabled by a severe and progressive lung disease.
On the other hand, I am white and was fortunate enough to have a good education which enabled me to enter a reasonably well paid profession, which in turn paid me a disability pension when I reached the point where I was spending more time in hospital than my office.
I am, therefore, immensely privileged by comparison with the vast majority of disabled people; I share some common ground but I do not have the lived experience.
I am unlikely to attend a con because even if it’s small enough to be walkable, and offers an electrical supply to recharge my oxygen concentrator, I am still at risk of picking up the assorted bugs, aka concrud, which are an inconvenience to most people but which would put me into hospital.
So for me it isn’t a question of having to choose between attending myself or enabling others to do so; I don’t know whether it is better to offer to pay for someone to attend a con or to donate that money to a charity helping disabled people in general. I am immensely privileged by comparison with you, so you are the person who has the experience I lack to inform me about these questions. I’m grateful that you’ve done so…
Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt
January 7, 2014 @ 2:21 pm
In the same category as Stevie: disabled, can’t imagine having enough energy to go to a con, but white, educated, and lucky enough to have worked long enough to have disability income, private as well as SS.
If you start a fund – possibly the only way to get something moving specifically for disabled people – let me know and I’ll make a contribution.
And then we can tackle the other problem: accessibility for those who need it – ironically you need a lot MORE energy than a normal person to get around some of the ‘accessible’ accommodations, from what I hear and read.
I’ve read mountains of SF in my time, a little fantasy, and now write (tiny proportion of current output is SF – one short story on my blog), but the WIP is a mainstream ‘novel of obsession, betrayal, and love.’ When I finish that, then edit the (written) mystery novel, and maybe back to the SF roots.
January 7, 2014 @ 2:59 pm
Some of those studies may be flawed. As a health care professional, I can tell you the health care one is partly flawed. Certain ethnic groups avoid western medicine; whether this is because they’re discriminated against (or have been in the past), or because of culture, is difficult to determine. For example, do Indians get better or worse health care treatment than African Americans or Native Americans?
Back on topic, I think some cons are doing better on encouraging diversity, and I think people should check out the Carl Brandon Society’s Con or Bust program.
January 7, 2014 @ 5:33 pm
I’m interpreting what Dawn wrote as saying “Women are 29% of the company’s workforce, and 29% of the company’s management”, so that the percentage of women in management is equal to the percentage of women in the workforce at this particular company.
Which is sadly uncommon – typically there is a smaller percentage of women in management than in the workforce at a given company; in some cases as much as a 40 point difference. I’ve seen reports from companies where they report having over 50% women in the workforce, but less than 25% of management is women, and it’s very rare to have a higher percentage of women in management than you have in your workforce.
January 8, 2014 @ 11:02 pm
Daryl: I do think it is a valuable lesson and worth it to see people sometimes see a world very different from their assumptions.
And yet … there are some people who then say, “See, I experienced racism/sexism. You can’t tell me I and my demographic are not discriminated against.” and use it to close their minds even more.
I do feel more sorry for them than anything else. As long as they stay well away from making policy or the like….
January 9, 2014 @ 3:43 am
i just had this very conversation today, a straight white man who is very liberal just could not see how entitled he was being when talking about respectful treatment. basically going with labeling the oppressed group as being “angry” and wanting “special treatment” and when i switched the group and just used “those people” to illustrate the similarity in other entitled and dismissive folks who he himself has called out. this fear of being the snidely causes a real defensiveness. that everybody’s equal but–is a big but.
In Doctor Who, All Things Should Be Possible: Thoughts Casting The Doctor | The Geek Melange
January 10, 2014 @ 2:57 pm
Nerds, Star Wars and CHIditarod IX | The Geek Melange
March 15, 2014 @ 10:27 pm
[…] of the geek world fall into discriminatory exclusion, an unwillingness to empathize with others and outright dismissing problems unless it directly affects them. For all the steps forward geeks and nerds have taken to improving […]