Tuesday, February 26, 2013

We Have a Right to Safe Spaces

Like I alluded to yesterday, I received a comment on my blog recently that went a little something like...
So you you normally not approve any comments you don't agree with? I wasn't offensive or derogatory to feminism in any way. If you don't want to have a real debate with two sides, get out of activism. You are destroying the reputation of the movement you claim to represent by attempting to secure a one-sided debate. 
This came after he had commented on a post of mine and disagreed with my ideas. While I do think that original comment lacked any substantive merit, it was presented respectfully and I had every intention of publishing it and responding to his claims. However, about an hour later when his original comment didn't appear, he added this second accusatory message which made me want to smash things.

To his credit, he did apologize when I explained that I'm just one person who's not sitting at my computer on Friday night waiting for someone to comment so I can approve it and engage in a debate. But it still made me think about an attitude of entitlement that I see from SO MANY privileged people on the internet. Their working thesis seems to be that we OWE them a chance to share their thoughts ...and as you can see here, if we threaten their ability to speak in OUR spaces, then we aren't real activists.

Did you catch that? Cue head explosion.

I've written in detail before about how I think one can enter a feminist space at the 101 level productively and how sometimes if you can't say anything nice, you should see yourself to the door, but I think it bears mentioning that even if you come into an activist space playing nice, no one owes you the opportunity to state your opinions. In the US we have an idea about "freedom of speech" that goes well beyond what anyone ever intended. Freedom of speech doesn't give you the right to bulldoze into a space created by and for certain people and scream your opinion. Freedom of speech doesn't give you the right to a platform whenever/where ever you want it.

Furthermore, what the privileged just can't seem to get is that we don't need a lesson on their views because society already told us all that. I grew up in a patriarchy so I know all the rules it posits. Our culture is constantly espousing misogyny, so no, I don't need to listen to your views about the "biological differences of men and women" or the things you think are "just how it is." It's the same reason that we don't need "white history month" or a "straight pride parade." Life is already full of those things. 

So while I state that I will publish comments that disagree with me respectfully, let me make this perfectly clear: That's just me being a nice person. I have absolutely no obligation to publish anything here. I am allowed to create a safe space for myself and other intersectional feminists that does not cater to the whims of anyone else. A person who has the ability to post a comment here has the ability to create their own blog where they can make the rules and rally against me all they'd like. But there's no reason whatsoever that I should give those people their platform.

On that note, here's a great graphic I saw shared on Tumblr recently:
[Image text: I SUPPORT SAFE SPACES Because America is already a safe space for white, middle class, hetero-sexual, cisgender males, and I don't fit under all of those categories. Because we may have a Black president, but we are not post-racism. Because you may have a Gay Best Friend, but we are not post-homophobia. Because everyone may be created equal, but that doesn't mean everyone is treated equally. BECAUSE PRIVILEGE EXISTS. Ignoring that fact makes you part of the problem, not part of the solution. LOVE, The Committee on Thinking Like a Respectful Human Being]

This blog has strict comment moderation intended to preserve a safe space. Moderation is managed solely by the blog author. As such, even comments made in good faith will be on a short delay, so please do not attempt to resubmit your comment if it does not immediately appear. Discussion and thoughtful participation are encouraged, but abusive comments of any type will never be published. The blog author reserves the right to publish/delete any comments for any reason, at her sole discretion. 


  1. For any readers of this post, I am the poster this article is about and you can see the post referenced and my comments here:


    I agree that my second comment was impulsive and in somewhat poor taste. I commented as such and did apologize. The second comment was posted out of an assumption that I had made based on a confusion about a technological issue: namely that the disappearance of the notice "Your comment will be posted pending approval" without the subsequent appearance of my comment indicated that my first comment had been rejected for publication. This was unwarranted, and again I do apologize for that.

    As the author notes in the article above, this criticism is based on an assumption that my comment should be published if it is respectful and has sufficient merit. The author seems to disagree, based on the argument that 1) People are entitled to "safe spaces" which should be protected from unwanted scrutiny, and 2) this blog is such a "safe space".

    By all means, if both of those things are true then my original comment is misplaced. I was unknowingly posting my opinion in an inappropriate context, a bit like impinging someone's character at their own funeral. Moreover, I agree that people are entitled to "safe spaces" where they can share their own opinions without scrutiny from the world at large.

    My confusion was founded on a belief that this open-readership blog was not intended to be such a "safe space". If the only point of this blog is to share personal beliefs to like-minded individuals, then I should "see myself to the door", as the author suggested. Maybe this blog is supposed to be a kind of pep-rally for women and designed to encourage women be brave or to fight against misogyny or something like that.

    If, on the other hand, the author wants to have an unbiased discussion on the substance of issues like this, then I think my original comment wasn't poorly placed at all. All people have a right to their own opinion but having an opinion doesn't make it a true opinion.

    Near as I can tell the best way to develop true opinions is to hear both sides out, examine evidence and arguments for both cases, and then justify whatever opinion results.

    I happen to think that the idea that American culture is needlessly misogynistic and prejudiced in certain ways against "non-privileged" groups is a true opinion supported by evidence and withstanding challenges to the contrary.

    Figuring out which parts of the culture are prejudiced, how the culture got that way, and how to fix it are more complicated matters. In my opinion, which I would defend if necessary, examining these more complex issues is essential for activism.

    Otherwise, activists may challenge cultural trends which aren't actually prejudiced, or fail to challenge cultural trends which are prejudiced, or misidentify the cause of such a practice, or fail to provide a useful solution to the problem at hand. Even worse, every time any of those mistakes is made, the actual opponents of the cause, people who disagree with or hate feminism in this case, gain ammunition to discredit the whole movement.

    In my opinion, such a dismissal of feminism already frequently occurs because of such mistakes and is potentially catastrophic both for the feminist movement and for American culture as a whole.

    My response was directly related to this idea of activism and this conception of the role of this blog. Clear me up on what the actual purpose of the blog is, and I'll know what to do.

    1. Here's the thing...I don't have to decide that the purpose of this blog is one thing or another. It could be any of the things you listed, none of them, or something different all together. What difference does it make? It's mine, and I can do what I want with it, no matter how arbitrary that might be.

      While my general aim with comment moderation is to protect myself and my readers from abusive language, if there's a comment that is respectful but I still just don't feel like dealing with, then I have no obligation to approve it. And that doesn't make this just a "pep rally" for feminism...it simply means I didn't want to approve that comment. Simple as that. Besides, providing a safe space and a place to discuss the issues are not mutually exclusive things. They can coexist.

      I agree that having discussions with people who do not share your opinions are important, but I'm saying that there's no reason that my blog HAS to be the place for that to occur. Just because something is "open readership" (as opposed to in my personal diary?) doesn't mean that I MUST listen to every person who has a thought about a particular topic I wrote about and that I MUST share that thought with my readership.

      You know, I genuinely hope that people who disagree with me come here, perhaps learn something, ask questions, and politely challenge me. All of that would be great and my intention really isn't to just preach to the choir. But thus far no one who has come in here slinging "empirical facts" from "medical literature" to try to explain away SOCIALIZED phenomena and cultural experiences has ever had good intentions. So maybe I'm jaded. People like this (and yes, I feel you are this way) want to try to deny my lived experience because I don't have "data" to back up something (like the "friend zone") which could never be statistically explained.

      And furthermore, you claim to want an unbiased discussion, but I don't think such a thing exists. There is a litany of "empirical evidence" you can sling around to try to justify any view. The truth is that everyone comes into moments like these with an agenda. The difference between you and I is that I lay mine right out there.

      Here are some things that I think you could really benefit from reading, by the way:







  2. There's a difference between having control over a space and using that control in the best way. Of course the author can define a blog however they want, and of course the author will have complete power of moderation over that space. The author can discuss or address a substantive issue one day or on one post, and decide they don't want to publish or respond to a substantive challenge in a different context.

    Whether one should treat a blog in such a way depends on the goals. If the goal is just to self-express, then this kind of inconsistency is clearly no problem. If the goal of the blog is to provide a place for stringent debate, such inconsistency would be highly questionable, even self-defeating. It seems from your previous posts that this particular blog is somewhere in between these two extremes. That's not inherently undermining, but it is a bit confusing. If you don't want me to post, just say so. You obviously don't have to give a reason, or even respond in the first place; you have all the power over this space.

    I'm a bit confused as to what you mean by "slinging 'empirical facts' from 'medical literature'". If empirical facts and are really facts then that's the end of the discussion. Likewise, if medical literature is doing it's job correctly, that is to say to report empirical facts and draw conclusions from them, then it is a good grounds for a discussion of any topic concerning medicine. Any one study, or even a whole slew of studies, can be wrong about the empirical fact but that just means the studies don't accurately represent the empirical fact.

    One could say that the issue at hand isn't well-described by empirical facts. All I take this to mean is that the empirical facts don't suggest a strong enough justification to settle the issue. "He said he was in the 'friend-zone'" is an empirical claim; true only if 'he' did in fact say 'he was in the 'friend-zone'. 'He is a chauvinist' is also an empirical claim. 'The friend-zone is a socialized phenomenon' is also an empirical claim. The question is how to prove or suggest that these empirical claims are true, as well as to provide a rationale for how the given claims came to be true or false.

    I want to bring up some issues that I found confusing, and to clarify my own intentions.

    I have no intention of dismissing your lived experience, nor the lived experience of others. I think such experience is key to even figuring out what discrimination is. It depends on the strength of the claim. A person experiencing a misogynistic episode of 'friend-zoning' is definite evidence that such things happen. Many people experiencing misogynistic 'friend-zoning' is evidence that it's an important kind of prejudiced social structure. But personal experience isn't evidence that all episodes of 'friend-zoning' are misogynistic, nor does it offer any criteria for figuring out which episodes are misogynistic and which aren't.

    I'm not sure what is meant by saying the "friend zone" could never be statistically explained. I'm not trying to be dismissive, I'm just really not sure what that means, it seems a little ambiguous. (Do you mean that the "friend zone" as a total set of phenomena is beyond the descriptive power of statistics? or Do you mean that each individual experience of "friend-zoning" is too different to be usefully statistically described? Or something else?).

    When it comes to bias and empirical evidence:

    It might be true that nobody comes into a debate about social structure without a bias. If that is true, then it seems the best way to avoid bias on either side is to ground the discussion in something other than anecdotal evidence. One could produce mountains of anecdotal evidence to support such biases easily.

  3. It might also be that empirical evidence can be presented to justify any view. If this is the case, it's a huge misapplication of science in some area. I probably agree that social science can produce studies to justify any bias; there are huge methodological problems in social science in general (http://tinyurl.com/y59lawy). If medical literature can be used to justify any view, then that is a pretty strong challenge to methodology in one of our most important research areas. But when it comes to social issues, that might still be true, or might fall under the category of flawed social science. If both medical literature and social science can be used to justify any opinion about feminism, then the whole movement seems to lack an empirical grounding principle to maintain clarity and avoid bias. That doesn't mean that any given position about feminist issues isn't true, it just means it's hard to back them up.

    To me, it seems like biological differences between men and women have some influence on socialized behavior. How much influence is a different story, and is a tricky business. How much influence biological differences should have on social behaviors is also a tricky thing.

    I read the articles you suggested. I'm not sure if I'm taken to fit into all of those categories, or just some of them.

    I have strong convictions about rigor and clarity of premises in argumentation. This conviction isn't unique to gender issues, but it does tend to annoy people from time to time. I don't think that rigor is "mansplaining", and I feel I have the same tendency to annoy men in such behavior as by women. I could be deceived by bias about that, but that's true of any self-reported description of oneself.

    The "funnyfeminist" article is I think either addressed above, or refers to my impulsive comment, for which I again apologize.

    The three articles from your wiki were helpful in understanding how my comments were perceived.

    The lawonsry article addressed various issues, many referencing social behavior beyond the scope of internet interaction. "Mansplaining", "Equal time for men" and possibly "interrupting" might be issues considered relevant here. I already addressed "mansplaining", though I would be willing to talk it out further. "Interrupting" might refer to my earlier impulsive comment, but I think that's probably better explained by impulsiveness and irritability than by prejudice. "Equal time for men" would be a pretty rational interpretation of my comment. I can't claim to be totally immune to that critique, but I want to emphasize that my insistence is about clarity in feminism, going after misogyny with a clear narrative of what is is, where it's found, and how to distinguish it from issues not directly stemming from gender politics. The content of feminism itself doesn't need to explicitly reference male issues, but to ignore the effects of patriarchy on men when deciding on methodology is, in my view, to give an incomplete description of the problem.

    1. Ugh, this is exhausting. These will be my last comments on this whole issue. I'm just going to reply to things you've directly mentioned:

      -RE: Goals of my blog:

      It's so weird that I feel I have to share this...but if you must know, I'd say the original goal was to have a space to process and vent about the vast amounts of misogyny in our culture. Then it became to share information and my personal feminist take on things (like pop culture.)

      I do a majority of my more interactive feminism on Twitter, Tumblr, and the various other big name blogs I read/follow/comment on. So while I'm flattered that people often participate here, that's not WHY I blog. I blog because my mind works by categorizing and marking patterns and trends, and when I see these things, and they infuriate me, I process them in the written word. And I hope beyond all else that just one person somewhere reads that thing and say, "I thought I was the only person who felt that way!" or "I never thought about it like that before!"

      If, along the way, I get into debates, then so be it, but that is NOT the purpose of this space. Given this, my behavior regarding commentary here is not inconsistent. Truthfully, I prefer my debating to be done in person with people I know and trust who have differing opinions from me (and there are plenty) and where I can read nonverbal cues and communicate more effectively.

    2. -RE: "I'm a bit confused as to what you mean by "slinging 'empirical facts' from 'medical literature'." ...and later... "I'm not sure what is meant by saying the "friend zone" could never be statistically explained. "

      On the friend zone piece you said, "Men and women have different sex drives. This is a chemical difference well accounted for by the medical literature. Even if you feel that the medical literature is misleading or wrong about this fact, it remains an empirical question. Your opinion, nor mine, will not influence the truth. If the male sex drive is as it has been described by medicine-- more powerful, more linear, and peaking earlier in life, then the prevalence of this behavior in men is not a result of mere sexism."

      The thing is, you've entirely missed my point of why I wrote that whole piece. It was never about if there was or wasn't a biological basis for why the term "friend zone" has come to evolve...that is irrelevant to me. (Although the idea that it's just biology is overly simplistic and ignores thousands upon thousands of years of socialization. Furthermore, I don't buy the notion that humans are slaves to our biology. Once higher thinking and civil society evolved, that was no longer a good enough excuse. Yes, ciswomen have breasts and give birth--it's still sexist to think they must be the primary childcare providers because of that fact.)

      Anyway, my writing that piece was about the fact that there is now a collective term that has misogynist connotations stemming from the entitlement to women's bodies and disparagement of platonic female friendship. There is no possible way that I could use literature or data to back that up (and, really, there's no way to use literature/date to refute it either. Saying men have higher sex drives doesn't prove that people don't use the "friend zone" misogynistically...it just proves that men have higher sex drives. They could still be applying those drives in a sexist manner, due to their investment our patriarchal social structures. )

      I feel that asking me to provide empirical evidence on this particular issue is a derail. Because really, am I going to produce a peer reviewed, scholarly article on something that 1) the academy isn’t aware of yet 2) can’t really be proven with data and 3) no one would ever fund to study? Sure, I guess that someone could do a sociological study that shows men who use this term also display higher misogynistic attitudes from some kind of self-reported survey, but who's doing that research? How can I get my hands on it?

      So again, asking me to provide evidence of this, to me, feels like a "ha ha! Gotcha!" where you can find yourself to be the "winner" of this apparent debate, when the truth is that I was being asked to provide nonexistent data.

      The truth, whether you choose to believe it or not, is that I know women/girls who have been through this "friend zoning" that was all about ignoring their personal agency and pressuring to engage in sexual activity with someone they were not attracted to. And then, these men would say a slew of gendered slurs about said woman behind her back and often to her face. ("She's such a fucking slut" because she sleeps with someone who's not him. OR "Bitch friend zoned me.") How is that not an entitled attitude about a woman's body? How is that not misogyny?

      And how in the FUCK, given all this, do I make my case without anecdotal evidence? Basically, you're trying to set out rules for a debate which completely disarm me from the get go.

    3. -RE: "I have strong convictions about rigor and clarity of premises in argumentation. This conviction isn't unique to gender issues, but it does tend to annoy people from time to time. I don't think that rigor is "mansplaining", and I feel I have the same tendency to annoy men in such behavior as by women."

      I'm so sorry if I don't meet your high standards for argumentation.

      And I think you've missed the point about how you've been mansplaining... it doesn't matter if you've annoyed other dudes in the past. It's about this situation. Here's how I see this whole thing: I, as a woman, who is living as a woman and has access to discussions with other women that men are not traditionally privy to is telling you that this thing is happening to women (misogynistic complaints of friend zoning) and you, as the man in this discussion, have tried to reframe things using your own values, imposed rules, and a strict context ...all in order to invalidate my perspective. You have tried to posit several times how I *should* present my viewpoints in order for feminism to be effective and you've even gone as far to question my effectiveness as an activist. Sure feels like a lot of mansplaining to me.

      Look, I'm tired. I've been in many an internet discussion like this before and I don't see this moving toward some kind of positive conclusion. It's all feeling like a massive waste of time, so I'd prefer to just leave it here.

  4. For what it's worth, I support you and your effort to make your blog and the comments a safe space. It's a tough job for anyone and I appreciate all those who do it.

  5. @A.Lynn: Your last comment reminds me of a term I heard recently: feminist fatigue. It refers the exhaustion feminists feel when rehashing the same old arguments and feeling as though we're fighting a losing battle. Thank you for trying anyway.

    1. YEP! I've written about that and activist burnout before (http://www.nerdyfeminist.com/2012/03/managing-activist-burnout.html) and I'm definitely in that place right now. I decided to follow my own advice and give myself a break and I'm not blogging anymore this week. I'll be back at it soon with much more feisty feminist thoughts :)

  6. So Christopher Byrd thinks you should define your blog in terms he can understand so that he can tell you how you're doing it wrong?

    1. On a post about safe spaces no less.

      Thank you for so succinctly stating what was bugging me most about all that.


This blog has strict comment moderation intended to preserve a safe space. Moderation is managed solely by the blog author. As such, even comments made in good faith will be on a short delay, so please do not attempt to resubmit your comment if it does not immediately appear. Discussion and thoughtful participation are encouraged, but abusive comments of any type will never be published. The blog author reserves the right to publish/delete any comments for any reason, at her sole discretion.

TL;DR Troll comments are never published, so don't waste your time.