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Posts Tagged ‘harassment’

What I’ve learned in the last three hours of wrestling with this blog post and ultimately producing nothing I could use is that making a point effectively and concisely while maintaining and projecting empathy can be incredibly difficult.

Maybe this is part of the problem.

The troubles with internet culture are not new. From what I understand, Youtube has historically been a cesspit of bile and awfulness, which is why I never read any Youtube comments except when I’ve been unexpectedly hit by a train of stupid by my own brain. I’ve been aware of the death and rape threats routinely made via the internet for many years. And my corners of the internet have been quite troubled for the past several months, by Gamergate, by some controversy in the YA world that I speak about obliquely here and less obliquely here, by the Requires Hate reveal, and most recently by the Hugo award nomination fracas.

In short, the internet can be an ugly place to hang out. There is a cost associated with being here. There is a cost associated with being a thought leader and expressing your opinion here. It is a cost I have been aware of since I began this blog nearly five years ago.

A few friends of mine reached out to me after I published my piece on rocking the boat about #KeepYAKind. I listened to them carefully, and I’ve been thinking about what they said for the last few weeks. My main takeaway is, people are scared. People are scared to speak up. People are scared to share their opinions. People are afraid of the internet being dropped on their heads. People are afraid of the cost involved. They are afraid of the threats, the personal attacks, the harassment, the name-calling. And understandably so.

One of my friends told me, “Someday you’ll see this from the other side.” And it’s true, I know it can happen to me. Of course I’ve thought about it. Of course I’ve thought about what it will be like getting rape threats on the internet, because I’m a woman who sometimes talks about feminist issues, and no matter how careful I am, no matter how many times I read over each blog post and how thoroughly I consider my word choices, I will offend someone. And someday that someone might be a shitty person who thinks an appropriate way to respond is with a rape or death threat. And at some other point, I am bound to say something stupid. I’m sure I already have, and I’ll do it again. And the internet might fall on my head. It might be right about me, it might be wrong, but in that period of time, the rightness and wrongness will probably not be foremost in my mind.

I still disagree with the #KeepYAKind campaign. It showed an ignorance of the type of rhetoric and cultural training that have been used for decades to keep women quiet and “in their place” that I find quite troubling, especially given what it was in response to. And tactically, it was much more likely to silence the moderate and less privileged voices; the trolls weren’t going to be affected by it to anywhere near the same extent, if at all.

But I do agree that internet culture, and the harassment, bullying, and scare tactics that go along with it, are a huge problem, both for writers (my own tiny habitat in the pond) and for society in general. We can theorize about why internet culture is the way it is (the power of anonymity, the dehumanization and depersonalization of others that is perhaps an effect heightened by interaction over the internet, the attention economy, humanity’s history of only having to deal in relatively small social units, etc.). But all our theories will not change the reality.

Then we have Kameron Hurley’s recent inspirational piece about how the internet harassment she is subjected to is nothing compared to the difficulties faced by her grandmother in Nazi-occupied France. I will admit this gave me a severe case of mixed feelings. On the one hand, perspective is valuable, as is having the moxy to live loud on the internet and encourage others to do the same.

On the other hand, we’re looking at some problem comparing here. Of course internet harassment is not the same as living in Nazi-occupied France. But that doesn’t make the fear less real. That doesn’t mean anyone who is afraid or upset or angered by internet harassment should feel ashamed of those emotions. And shame is the danger that inevitably comes with problem comparing, even when such a comparison makes for a great rhetorical device.

Photo Credit: Roadside Guitars via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Roadside Guitars via Compfight cc

Well, I am not ashamed. I’m a recovering people pleaser, for goodness sake. Of course I was afraid when I started this blog. If I hadn’t been afraid, I wouldn’t have needed any Backbone Project. I recognized the need for me to claim my voice in spite of the fear, and I’ve been working on that ever since. And I’m still afraid, sometimes. I still worry. It’s gotten a lot easier, but when I get the internet dropped on my head, I’m sure I’ll have a miserable time of it.

As a writer, I have to keep asking myself: Am I willing to pay the price for lifting my voice? Even when the price is stupidly high? Even if I’m terrified or creatively blocked or otherwise emotionally compromised by the experience? And if the answer becomes no, then so be it. There is no shame in that. Ultimately my own welfare and safety trumps everything else.

But so far, the answer is still yes. And I hope it will continue to be yes for a long time to come.

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I’ve been seeing a fair amount of talk about GISHWHES in my social feeds. But not random and silly requests for help or funny stories, unfortunately. Instead people are talking about GISHWHES and harassment. And harassment of my SF&F writer community, no less. Here are the details.

This makes me sad. Being harassed sucks and is a big deal. Being inundated with requests sucks too. Some people have trouble saying no, and that can make this kind of thing particularly exhausting. I suspect that if one achieves a certain level of fame (or at least recognition), it becomes imperative to learn how to say no just in order to maintain basic emotional stability. But even so, not everyone will be great at learning this, and people will be at different stages of the learning curve too.

And when they do say no and the askers are rude and harassing about it? Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh.

This makes me think about the problems of scale. Because coming up with items for a local scavenger hunt that involves relatively few people who are probably all connected in some way (they work for the same company, for example, or they belong to the same community organization) is very different from coming up with items for thousands of people world-wide. (Wikipedia tells me GISHWHES had 14,580 participants in 2012, and I’d guess that number has grown.)

Additionally, when organizing such an event for a smaller organization, all the people are known to one another, and therefore they hold each other accountable to a certain standard of behavior. But when the numbers increase and there isn’t the same social pressure present, the likelihood of having at least a few people who think it’s okay to behave like jerks increases drastically. Add to this the sheer number of people making requests to the most famous authors, and problems aren’t difficult to imagine.

So while some of us are busy creating a stream of tweets rhapsodizing about dandelions (which it sounds like are not in season right now anyway), there are others who are being rude and unkind, during an event that is supposed to be fostering kindness. Which is really unfortunate.

All of the asking required by participating in GISHWHES also has me pondering the nature of asking. I was raised firmly in Guess Culture and have been gradually shifting closer to Ask Culture in order to achieve more balance. Quick summary: Ask Culture people ask for what they want/need and are totally fine being told no. Guess Culture people usually only ask when they’re pretty sure the answer is going to be yes, and Guess Culture involves a lot of reading social cues. Keep in mind this isn’t a black and white contrast, but a spectrum of behavior and culture. (Want to know more about Ask Vs. Guess Culture? Have some links!) So I’ve thought about asking quite a lot over the past couple of years.

 

Here are my own guidelines for asking:

1. Phrase your request as clearly as possible. Include relevant details, and communicate which aspects are flexible.

2. Do not assume the person will say yes. Do not phrase your request in such a way that it appears you are assuming the person will say yes.

3. Be gracious and polite if the person says no. If you aren’t sure if you will be okay with a no, that probably means you shouldn’t be asking (barring emergencies, of course).

4. If you suspect you might be dealing with a person from guess culture (or if you have no idea), consider explicitly including some kind of easy out for them in the request. Guess culture people will often get stressed out from having to say no, so be kind and make it easier. Variants include: “It’s totally fine if you can’t help out” or “I know you’re really busy right now” or “If you can’t help, I completely understand.” These sorts of softening phrases can sometimes make a huge difference in how a request is received. Whether they are appropriate varies depending on context, though.

5. Do what you can to make your request as convenient and considerate as possible for the other person. This could include being flexible about timing, for example, or laying out all the details up front so they don’t have to ask many questions just to figure out what’s going on. It could also mean making sure you’re on time, having the correct materials on hand, or giving plenty of advance warning.

6. Consider the ramifications of your request. This might fall into the being considerate item above. For example, before a Gisher asks Neil Gaiman to write them a story, they might stop and consider the fact that he’s probably already been swamped with requests and therefore decide to ask someone else instead.

7. Show gratitude if the person says yes, both when they first reply and when they are helping you. Let them know how much you appreciate them.

I can tell I’m still more on the Guess culture side of things, though, because as I contemplate this list, my natural inclination is to clarify and add more and talk about variables. And I know many people for whom this list is already way more complicated than it has to be. After all, it could be boiled down to:

1. Ask.

2. Accept no.

3. Be kind.

If nothing else, the simpler list is easier to remember. And it still leaves space for all kinds of nuance as required.

Are you more Ask or Guess culture? What are your guidelines for asking?

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