Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Tale of Two Communities

I've been watching the commotion this week over the preview release of Convention Groping Excuse Version 2056.2.1 with sadistic glee. It does my soul good to watch a slew of outrage-arrows pierce the carefully constructed armor of delusion that covers the bloated ego of the male chauvinist geek.

It was truly a thing of beauty, an act of community like we rarely see in our little fan niche in the internet. A sheltered livejournalist pokes his head into the sunlight on a quiet spring morning and exposes the inner workings of his minds, and is answered by a thousand nerds screaming at him to for god's sake get back in his hole before anyone thinks that the entire community thinks like that.

I know some people feel he's been piled on and roughed up too badly (and even worse--some people think he had a good idea), and I know I may be headed for such a downfall in the future when my writing sins bubble to the surface of the seething cauldron of drama that is the internet, but I have to be proud of this.

See, our community has a lot of problems. When you point out sexism, you get a bunch of trolls screaming "That CAN'T be sexist! It's awesome and people punch things and I liked it and I'm NOT sexist!". When you point out the inconsistencies in same sex relationships or issues when portrayed transgendered individuals you get a bunch of trolls screaming "They CAN'T show that because of the CHILDREN!" When you point out racism, you get a bunch of crickets chirping.

Still, our community doesn't pretend to be perfect. It rarely pretends to be any closer to perfect than it is. And it is, to an extant, self-policing. When someone like The Ferrett stands in a position to confirm all of the worst thoughts about nerds to the mainstream populace, people rise up to put a stop to that.

And it wasn't outsiders who came down on this idea. It was nerds, plain and simple. Nerds of all genders, races, religions, and ability piped up and said "That... doesn't sound right." And while yes, there was a large contingent of Ferretteers defending his stance on the subject, the horrified nerd majority wasn't buying it, and they picked through his blog and put him back in his place at the bottom of the food chain.

Given geekdom's history of sexism, it was a week that made me very proud to be a part of this community.

It is very possible, though, that I was projecting too much pride on my imperfect nerdly home on the net. See, there was another example of community policing, in a larger community, going on this very month.

Now, I'm not sure if you know this reading this blog, but mainstream feminism has a sketchy past with race relations.

No, that's a bad way of putting it. If Feminism was a well, and racial equality was the only process available to purify water, we'd all be drinking sewage.

Admittedly, no one is perfect, but in general most people are willing to admit their shit does indeed stink. But every time someone at the Feminism Well points out that the water smells funny, the rest of the room shouts them down insisting that only the cleanest, clearest water comes from the Well of Feminism, and the idea that it may be polluted is a dirty lie spread by the Patriarchy in an attempt to prevent us from drinking water and hawk their Super-Concentrated Bottled Man-Juice (TM), now with EXTRA Oppression Power!

I have no fucking clue how to stop them from doing that. I only know change through the power of the Mob, and the Mob in the mainstream feminist blogosphere insists that the water's safe to drink.

This has been going on for decades. What tends to happen is there's a falling out between WOC and a major white feminist, the white feminists write history so the falling out never happened, young women find their way into feminism with no knowledge of this history and the same shit happens all over again.

I'd sworn off all of the major political feminist blogs because of varied instances of idiocy, and even gone so far as to tell people on my livejournal I won't respect anyone who has a certain blogger on their blogroll.

Naturally, someone on my livejournal friendslist sends me a post written by that very blogger that sends me into an incoherent spew of rage when I finally sighed and look at it.[Emphasis mine]
When I first heard about the Open Source Boob Project, I was sort of overwhelmed by the dipshittery and couldn’t really begin to tackle the multi-layered asshole levels required to be a part of this thing. (Summary: A bunch of dudes at some comic con decided that it would be awesome to trade on a handful of women’s serious insecurities and get some fondling. Gack, it’s complicated—just read the link.) Now that it’s been thoroughly dismantled by the rest of the feminist blogosphere, I feel like I can safely make fun of the whole thing without feeling like I’m missing something.
The fuck--? The "Feminist Blogosphere" didn't do shit about this. The "Feminist Blogosphere" was too busy trying to ignore the mass walkout of women of color (many of whom were active in letting the world know what a piece of shit idea this Boobie thing was while you guys patted yourselves on the back for being oh so enlightened and relevant to today's society) to deign to notice the shotstorm on livejournal.

There was a little more profanity and frightening of my cat before I started to realize just how stupid I sounded being upset by this.

And I'll be breaking two rules to explain why: 1) My No Politics on Written World rule and 2) My No-linking-to-these-idiots-and-adding-to-their-legitimacy rule.

Because Rule #2 isn't practical. It's not just someone has to call out someone being an idiot. The entire community needs to do so, to make it clear where the line is.

Here's the rundown, before the Ferrett's Incredibly Patronizing Proposal hit livejournal, there was a shitstorm involving a very famous white feminist blogger who cobbled a column on a mainstream website from the insights of a WOC blogger named Brownfemipower (among others)* without so much as a link back (despite the fact that it was known she read that blogger regularly). This was in no way the first time a white feminist has taken credit for ideas and work done by philosophers and activists of color, so it resulted in Brownfemipower closing her blog, a lot of very understandbly pissed-off people walking away from Feminism, and a number of others contemplating it.

Only one major feminist website addressed this. Two weeks later, a blogger on that very same website promoted an upcoming book (from a publisher with skeevy racial issues) from that white feminist blogger. (That turned out to be problematic.)

Kalinara has the scoop of the racism in the book. Interestingly enough, that is comic-related.

Anyway, so here I am irked at her taking something I was quite proud of my own little geek community for, and attributing it to her community.

Which is patheticly small potatoes compared to massive injury aimed at the WOC community, when this very same blogger took credit for the legwork and thinking done by members of their community and presented it as her own insight. Which has been done by the white feminist community for decades.

Its kind of like watching someone rob a convenience store, shoot the clerk, and then being indignant that she stepped on your foot on the way out.

In short, its very spoiled white girl of me.

But there's a point to this beyond my own navel gazing. Two, actually.

One is that this particular person is not salvageable. She's willing to still be intellectually dishonest in small ways, she's going to do so in large ways. I should not worry about her as a fallen role-model, but instead worry that the world associates her with a label I wear.

Two is the importance of community. Yes, these two incidents turned into discussions about individuals and not the larger issues. The thing is, the individuals behavior can only be taken into account with taking the larger issues into account. Calling out these individuals proves that the community at large is willing to try and stop things from getting worse at the very least, by setting boundaries and examples to newer community members. By making people who think along the same lines as those individuals rethink their positions, or at least their willingness to act on those positions. How we treat individuals when they fuck up is what defines what is socially acceptable.

There's a long history of sexism and racism in the geek and nerd community. We are all aware of this, and we work on this. And if something happens that threatens to cause a mass exodus of women from the nerd community, apparently the men in the community are willing to stand up and show that the idiot does not speak for them. They went on the attack. They pushed the individual and those who agreed with him out into the cold for the sake of maintaining a diverse community. This week, the geek community--a community dedicated to leisure and entertainment--proved that it was willing to police itself.

When a white feminist was called on her bullshit, the mainstream members of the community rallied around her and pushed several demographics out into the cold. When tensions had reached the point that it threatened a mass exodus of people from the feminist community, they let it happen. They made it worse. That community sacrificed a whole group of women in order to preserve one (white) individual's ego. Business as usual. This month, the mainstream feminist community--a community supposedly dedicated to bettering society--proved that it was not willing to police itself.

*ETA 27 Apr 08-- From E. in the comments:
But I do have a nitpick: while BFP didn't want to call out Marcotte for plagiarising/appropriating from her, and there are a variety of arguments that can be made for and against the idea that Marcotte bit off BFP, Marcotte admitted that there was a person she should have credited and didn't: Nina Perales. Also, she has yet to give Perales credit.


  1. "How we treat individuals when they fuck up is what DEFINES what is socially acceptable."

    I think that you've hit the nail on the head with that phrase, Ragnell. While the fondling fetishist may have received his comeuppance, I can only hope that the OTHER group recieves theirs as well. For the good of ALL of us.

  2. This post is absolutely awesome. Like, the best post you've ever written awesome. I can't say much more.

  3. I love this post. I've been reading about the appropriation/racism sh*tstorm (mainly on AngryBlackWoman's blog) over the past couple of weeks, and then Boobgate appeared all over the comics division of my Bloglines ... I was wondering how big a profile each would get on the different carnivals, but I never expected them to intersect here. Go you!

  4. Thank. You.

    What galls me with the white feminist blogger in question is that she's posted several times about how if a man fucks up in the sexism department and apologizes/shapes up, he doesn't deserve a cookie, but now that she's posted a tepid half-apology - for the images in her book only, I might add - the feminist community's tripping over itself congratulating her on her "bravery", "honesty", and "sincerity".

    Gag me.

  5. Hey, ragnell. Very cool post. But I do have a nitpick: while BFP didn't want to call out Marcotte for plagiarising/appropriating from her, and there are a variety of arguments that can be made for and against the idea that Marcotte bit off BFP, Marcotte admitted that there was a person she should have credited and didn't: Nina Perales. Also, she has yet to give Perales credit.

    Also, I see that you're both geek and into equal/rights, justice. It's very short notice, but would you be interested in writing something specifically for the PoC in SF Carnival #9?

  6. E -- I edited the post to quote you in case people don't read the comments.

    I'm flattered by the Carnival request. I have a really vague Green Lantern idea that can fit the theme I was saving for a JPTH. I'll try to sort it out and post it before it gets too late in the day.