Some resources for people who want to be allies

This is a 101 post and all of the links here are fairly well known to ‘net feminists, but Noirin being assaulted has caused newcomers to wonder what they can do to help create a safer environment for women and others at risk of assault.

Newcomers: we welcome your help! Here’s some things you could look at.

The Con Anti-Harassment Project: is a grass-roots campaign designed to help make conventions safer for everyone. Our aims are to encourage fandom, geek community and other non-business conventions to establish, articulate and act upon anti-harassment policies, especially sexual harassment policies, and to encourage mutual respect among con-goers, guests and staff. They have a lot of material, see particularly their tips for conferences/conventions who want to create a policy and their FAQ. If you aren’t an organiser, you could make a point of requesting an enforced policy from conferences you attend, and thanking those that have them.

Check out the The Open Source Women Back Each Other Up Project & Gentlemen’s Auxiliary which is more informal: you can share stories of harassment, assault and successful backing each other up, organise meetups at cons you attend, and purchase gear.

Make it not okay, really not okay around you to say the kinds of things people said to and about Noirin. You, presumably, believe* that women can attend conferences and go to bars and have fun and have male friends and consensually touch people and have a romantic/sexual history and have photos of themselves online and be a feminist and have the absolute right to refuse consent to intimate social situations, to touching and to sexual activity. You, presumably, also believe people you personally despise, or aren’t your idea of fun, or who hold opinions you disagree with, or who have hurt you in some fashion, have the absolute right to refuse consent in the same way. You presumably believe that sexualised approaches to people, and sexualised interactions with them are harassment unless they are welcome. If you believe those, and you are around people who don’t, don’t let them believe that they are with allies, if and when you have the power for that to be safe.

Valerie Aurora points out also that if you attend events where harassment and assaults are happening and the event organisers and atmosphere are ignoring or contributing to the problem, stop going if you can. Support spaces that are doing better.

Finally, because I couldn’t find this written up in one place in a bite-sized way, don’t tell people what they have to or should do about abuse or assault or harassment. Abuse, assault and harassment are about withholding power from someone, about denying them self-determination. They need, and have a right to, the power to decide how to respond. It may be appropriate, if you are a witness or a good friend or an event organiser or the person on the spot or otherwise one of the people most likely to be able to help them, to offer them help in getting home, finding a shelter, getting some money, finding a crisis counsellor, going to the police, getting ongoing counselling, speaking out, overcoming fear of the next event, getting the hell out, now or in the future, as seems appropriate at that moment. And then let them decide whether they want to do that or anything else, and whether they want your help. (A reference in forming this thinking was Karen Healey’s Snakes in the grass. tigtog also pointed me at unusualmusic’s linkspam: Why didn’t you call the police? Part One.)

* If you do not believe the things in that paragraph we don’t really need to know why not.

22 thoughts on “Some resources for people who want to be allies

  1. vaurora

    Sometimes, no replies means you’ve written a boring post. However, if you’re Mary, it most likely means you’ve summed everything up so well that there’s no need for anyone to reply.

    1. Mary Post author

      If I don’t get replies, I just assume that it’s night time in the US. Despite any and all evidence to the contrary!

      And thanks!

  2. Andrew

    Note from Mary: any further replies to Andrew from this time on, that is, any replies that aren’t from me or tigtog, will be deleted, as this thread is derailing.

    This certainly is a useful post. But, there is one, very minor issue I would like to raise.

    If you do not believe the things in that paragraph we don’t really need to know why not.

    You are right that we probably will probably not get a useful answer from those who are attempting to justify or rationalize their own bad behavior. But, I still think that ‘why’ is a useful question. Why do people act in this manner, even if they consciously accept that their actions are wrong? Why do people who accept what you say in the abstract, but proceed to defend the these very same wrongdoings in a specific case? Answering these questions would improve humanity’s understanding of our culture and our physiology, which may very well make thing better.

    1. Mary Post author

      Well, perhaps, but a few things:
      (a) many of us (certainly me) have done fairly extensive reading of Noirin’s critics and critical commentary related to any number of previous incidents; there might be something new under the sun there but we’d have to go through a lot of same old to get it
      (b) this isn’t The One Post To Rule Them All and I’m not interested in hosting and moderating the significant derail that that discussion would entail
      (c) our site-wide comments policy states that we are a feminist space and specifically forbids comments that are “anti-feminist, abusive, creepy, derogatory.”

      If you or someone else wants to embark on the project you outline (it would of course be worth looking over the existing work on sexual assault first, I can assure you it is substantial), do it in discussion space you own or have free access to.

      1. Andrew

        I think you misunderstand my intent. I never suggested that this thread was the right place to answer those questions, only that state those questions are worth asking. I have no education in physiology, so I’ll leave answering these questions to someone more qualified in a better time and place.

        1. Mary Post author

          Well my footnote was intended to refer to this thread (and really, this site as a whole).

          No further discussion on whether those questions are of interest generally, or where one might have such a discussion, will be entered into in this thread. If anyone does genuinely want links to rape culture analysis, or to studies of attackers/abusers, please ask in an open thread.

    2. tigtog

      You are right that we probably will probably not get a useful answer from those who are attempting to justify or rationalize their own bad behavior.

      Since the whole history of the world tells us that there is always a persistent and substantial bloc of those who view social rules and laws as simply game boundaries, where they can both despise those who get caught breaking the rules and cast themselves as special snowflakes to whom the rules do not apply, I fail to see the utility of what you propose.

      The cultural aspects of these cognitively-dissonant hypocrisies has been well studied for a long time, and seem tied to status/elitism/dominance patterns – people who believe that they can get away with breaking the rules are likely to be dissonant/hypocritical about the rules – what a surprise.

      Of course, whenever such rule-discounters see one of their own facing consequences, the howling begins about how it really shouldn’t count because either sie’s one of the good eggs who didn’t mean any harm or sie’s a bad egg giving all the others a bad name. The old cartels were utterly outraged when anti-trust laws were brought in, for example, I doubt that many NYC landlords were ever fans of the rent-control provisions and dirty industries howled when anti-pollution standards were legislated, because they were the good guys being unfairly curtailed and judged by people who just didn’t understand.

      Are dissonant/hypocritical reactions to specific accusations of sexual assault really very different in any important way to this rather common social pattern of behaviour of resenting consequences appearing when one thought one was immune?

  3. Improbable Joe

    As a man with a man’s perspective, I think that ultimately the answer to this is going to have to come from a change in the way men interact with each other when it comes to abusive attitudes towards women. I keep running across these stories about women being victimized by men, and I’m proud to say that I’ve never been one of those men and I’ve gone out of my way to prevent other men from being in a position to attack women.

    What I’ve come to realize from the negative comments about women who speak out is that I haven’t done anything like nearly enough in my life, and have even participated in what I think is part of the foundation of the issue. I’ve been a part of conversations where women have been talked about in a dehumanizing manner, laughed at and told the sort of joke that you know I’m talking about. I’ve watched movies with friends and made comments about the actresses. I didn’t mean anything by it, and I wasn’t out to victimize anyone, and there’s nothing wrong with most jokes, and yet…

    …I get the distinct and uncomfortable feeling that I was part of creating a certain atmosphere. An atmosphere where people who think that abusing women is acceptable found some sort of implied agreement and approval of their attitudes. Since I played along and participated in the less obviously harmful behavior, I likely gave some people the impression that I would participate in more openly aggressive behavior as well. And since we all know that people tend to “follow the leader” and “give in to peer pressure”, and knowing the numbers and odds, I am faced with the near-certainty that one of those guys I was sharing an atmosphere of ugliness with has gone on to assault or harass women.

    Is there a support group for that? Not for the bad feeling I have, I deserve it and should hold onto it to remind me not to participate in the future. I mean, is there a resource out there to catch young men early, and teach them to show respect for women, and let them know that those locker-room jokes might lead to someone getting hurt? Because I was “raised right”, I’ve never wanted to hurt people, I’ve gone out of my way to help people, and I STILL screwed up big time. Shit.

  4. Lukas

    Valerie Aurora points out also that if you attend events where harassment and assaults are happening and the event organisers and atmosphere are ignoring or contributing to the problem, stop going if you can. Support spaces that are doing better.

    Valerie specifically talks of incidents at Ottawa Linux Symposium and several others, and names positive examples like the Linux Plumbers Conference. That’s good to know. That should be documented at a central place.

    Suggestion: Add a page to the Geek Feminism Wiki which lists conferences with an open/inclusive atmosphere and/or whose organizers adhere to a sensible policy for handling incidents of sexual harassment, and likewise lists those which don’t. (Define what a sensible incident response policy should look like to get a neutral measure for winnowing the “good” from the “bad” conferences.)

      1. Lukas

        Agreed. As of yet the CAHP’s database seems to include mostly conferences about sci-fi, larp, comics etc., but not conferences for IT/FLOSS professionals. Hence the suggestion.

Comments are closed.