“But what could I have said/done?”

[Trigger warning for use of rape as an analogy for display of dominance]

This is a discussion I just saw in a project/support channel on an IRC server I frequent. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for me to stumble on similar in my travels.

I’m the “elky” in the excerpt, all other identifying factors have been excluded for the purposes of focusing on the event.

* joiner (~joiner@XXXX) has joined #projectchannel
<_douchecanoe> show your professionalism and just proof them wrong
* pingout has quit (Ping timeout: 276 seconds)
<_douchecanoe> write an article that rapes their article
* latecomer (~latecomer@XXXX) has joined #projectchannel
<_douchecanoe> bystander
<joiner> here I am joining #projectchannel and the first thing that strikes me is rape
<_douchecanoe> http://<insert a link to an article here>
<talkingtodouche> why on earth would I want to write an article for them?
<bystander> does it output an .xml file?
<elky> joiner, :(
<_douchecanoe> joiner at least you know that you’re in the right place
<_douchecanoe> talkingtodouche not for them
<bystander> for epeen
<elky> … for being…? worst thing to say.

What happened after this? Business as usual for most of the channel occupants. No apologies. Nothing. Infuriating.

Now, I don’t know “joiner”*. For all I know ze is not a survivor. For all I know joiner is an ally and this is how ze is responding. But for all I know zir comment is a genuine display of anguish and ze needs acknowledgement. Personally I prefer to not risk that the last is true.

What did I do? In the channel, I asked “joiner” if they had come in to address a need before being rudely sidelined, and when they replied happily they were compiling, I joked by exclaiming “swordfight!” and let them know I was making sure they were OK hence letting them know I am approachable.

What would you have done?

(* Not real nick. None of the nicks in the log are the real nick involved, except for my own.)

Comment note: I’m not looking for cookies, they are off-topic for this thread. Please focus discussion on how you may have approached the situation, or, if you are a marginalised person, how you personally would appreciate someone responding in a similar situation.

12 thoughts on ““But what could I have said/done?”

  1. Jenny

    What you did’s pretty much what I’d do, I think – depending perhaps a bit on my temper at the time.

    Recently on an IRC channel I frequent a regular poster who’s got a habit of being a thoughtless pillock said to someone whose nick he didn’t recognise (and it’s a channel for a RL society, so we mostly know each other) “ooh, that’s a girl’s name, are you a hot engineering fresher?” This resulted in a blazing row of the most mammoth form, instigated initially by assorted young men on the channel who regarded it as inappropriate behaviour, and had the right xkcd cartoon to point out the OP’s unsuitable behaviour right at their fingertips. Later I arrived and joined in the castigation – because the OP had not apologised or said anything to suggest he realised even that he’d been in the wrong, let alone that he understood why.

    This story is not entirely relevant … I guess I’m saying there are many right ways of responding to this sort of behaviour, and I definitely think yours was one. It’s to be hoped “Joiner” felt welcome and “_douchecanoe”‘s influence was suitably foiled.

    For my part, while I was appalled at the OP on “my” IRC channel’s initial ghastly behaviour, (and even more so by the person who, not exactly defending him, got really angry with us for jumping on the behaviour, because we were “feeding the troll”) I was very much heartened by the willingness of people to argue with him, correct him, and generally treat the behaviour as completely inappropriate.

  2. H. A. Cautrell

    I come across the use of the word rape while playing world of warcraft often. What surprises me is that it’s not just men who do it, but some women as well. Usually I ask, politely, that they not use the word in a joking manner because it is no joke. The responses I’ve gotten are usually apologetic or dismissive, but rarely hostile.

    I suppose I can’t judge what you said to “Joiner.” While making them feel as if you were an ally was good, you didn’t seem to call out the bad behavior. Unless I’m mis-reading what’s going on? I’ve never done IRC personally, but it looks much like the chat channels I see in WoW.

    Not that I expect you to go up against someone who would use that word in a context that had nothing to do with the real word. In a way I suppose it is better to address it only when it becomes a problem? I”m not really sure to be honest.

    1. Melissa Post author

      “you didn’t seem to call out the bad behavior.”

      Err, yes I did. Unless phrases like “worst thing to say” don’t point out that something said is wrong? I’m rather baffled if not.

      1. H. A. Cautrell

        It didn’t read like that to me. Honestly I couldn’t figure out what you were saying with that comment. My apologies. Not being present in such conversations nor being use to how people respond in such channels makes brief replies like that difficult to interpret for me.

      2. Amphigorey

        FWIW, I also found it hard to parse although I knew you were responding to douchecanoe. It made me wonder if douchecanoe understood what you were saying.

  3. Katherine

    re: World of Warcraft:

    I’ve given up on calling out random people that say stuff like that, as their response is invariably dismissive and usually hostile (if not from the person that said it, from the bystanders). I only bother calling it out if it’s a guildie, and that at least is met with apologies or serious consideration that they did something wrong. The randoms get ignored (or reported for spam if I’m unlikely to encounter them again as it acts like a temporary ignore). I’ve also got someone in another guild that I sometimes raid with permanently muted in ventrilo.

    1. H. A. Cautrell


      I actually quit a guild because when I called someone out on making a sexist comment, the guild leader told me to stop talking about it. Thanks, but no thanks. I rarely join Trade, General or any other number of chat channels in WoW because of things like that. I call things out when I see them in guilds or when I’m in a channel that’s maintained by a community of roleplayers that I know would respect and listen to such comments. The rest of the stupidity is thrown on my ignore list.

      It’s difficult to know where to draw the line. Most people do it because they see others do it and don’t see anything wrong with doing it. I point it out, usually politely, unless they are violent about their usage of the word, because I know I’ve been guilty of doing the same thing with other words. Like gypped. I had no idea it was a slur when I was younger. And now I know better.

  4. HadesKitten

    I’m a survivor (of multiple rapes, all from people within the geek community), so the way I see it, they’ve already ruined my day and would have a hard time making it worse, so I’m going to return the favour. And then I pitch a bitchfit of epic proportions.

    This is a very good, polite essay on Why Rape Jokes Are a Bad Thing. If the person seems reasonable, I’ll argue from this perspective. If they’re being a confrontational jackass, I’ll say something like, “Are you saying you think my rape is funny?” at which point the person has the option of apologising or tipping the scale into everyone thinking he’s a douche. Obviously change for context, but I find making things graphic and uncomfortable is a good way to kill the joking mood and point out what a complete and utter jackass the person is being. If you’re on Vent (as with MMOs), it works best if you can deliver it in a conversational deadpan.

    = TW Example =

    “I don’t remember my rape involving code, but there was a lot of blood and vomit.”

    = End TW =

    Most guys back down pretty well after a “What the fuck did you just say?!”. They’re not used to being called on their privilege, and when you get down to it, MOST guys don’t want to hurt someone, and will stop when they realise they’re hurting you.

    The converse of this is that if you try it in real life, you may lose friends. I find that my life is considerably less stressful with the rape apologists removed, although YMMV.

  5. LesleyB

    I wasn’t clear what you meant by your last statement in #projectchannel either elky.

    I tend to the “do not feed the Trolls” approach with some people and some statements that are made online which probably means I may not have actually said anything. Unless I was actually prepared to deal with the possible flack I’d get from a sarcastic comment addressed to joiner but aimed at the _douchecanoe : – something along the lines of ‘ I think _douchecanoe meant ‘write an incisive article that clearly and successfully debunks the stance of their article.’ It’s just that he has a hugely limited vocabulary in a small neanderthal brain.’

    That might lead onto _dc complaining in room or being equally sarcastic back – I’d ignore pms on this topic and keep it in room. I hope I’d point out that obviously for him the word rape isn’t a problem but it is a hugely sensitive area for other people, particularly people affected by the very real crime of rape, be they male or female. And it would be good if he apologised for that insensitivity.

    But it is potentially baiting a Troll with all that entails.

    I think it also depends on who _dc is – a project member investing in the project, end user or just passing through?

    Finally, what are the project guidelines on sexist or offensive behaviour? If there aren’t any then perhaps that needs to be addressed.



  6. Azz

    (Background: I am one of about 10-15 people who have the ability to take up ops in a specific channel; the channel as a whole has a pretty good history of keeping various ick out of it. I am not one of the policy-setters, and the whole team does not always agree on everything, but I think I can describe some of our general strategies faithfully.)

    In addition to what you did, I think making the criticism more specific and impossible to mistake the addressing of, like “poor verb choice, dude” to _douchecanoe, might have been both appropriate and effective. I also didn’t realize until you said in comments that it was specifically to _douchecanoe’s address, and I am accustomed to IRC. Though it probably was more apparent in real-time, since I know timing is a large component of live chat.

    Trivializing rape is serious and icky, but massive fights about whether it’s okay to trivialize rape or not are also icky; it’s really the call of the person on the spot whether this is the time and place for one of them.

    Backup from an op or other person with channel power, immediate backup affirming what you said or similarly chilling _douchecanoe’s use of the word “rape”, would have been good.

    The long-term strategy that my channel has been using is that everyone in the channel should abide by the organizational diversity statement, rather than having a specific set of rules that are subject to legalistic evasion. The channel has the advantage that there is a crowd of critical mass that models proper behavior, and ops are supportive of efforts to stop general bad behavior, rather than ignoring it or undermining it. Apologies are not demanded or even really expected from people who have behaved badly, but a long-term pattern of bad behavior would lead to getting kicked out. (For really egregious behavior pointed at another person, rather than bad general behavior, I expect that one of the channel founders would give the person a choice between an apology and future good behavior, or leaving.)

    Under the incremental, below-threshold method of changing the behavior of someone that one has to work with long-term, the reprimand would ideally be mild enough to not make _douchecanoe feel that he had to defend himself, just that it was inappropriate and he should not do it here again. (Cynically, I would not expect an apology at this stage in _douchecanoe’s social evolution. I would only expect one well after he’s stopped throwing around the word “rape” as a synonym for “harsh corrective action” and started to realize how much of a problem it actually is.) While the organization cares about people not raping each other, it is also not the organization’s job to make sure that _douchecanoe does not go out and rape someone on his own time, nor is it their job to make sure that he does not encourage rapists on his own time. It is their job to ensure that while he is in a space we control (our channel, and at our events) he does not rape anyone, or encourage rapists, or create an unwelcoming atmosphere for people who have been raped (or are otherwise sensitized to rape culture).

    What happens next would probably depend on both the time and attention of the ops, and on his reaction.

    If he didn’t react, an op might contact him privately and give some of the rationale behind why that comment was not appropriate. Or might not. If he did try to defend himself, an op (one) would publicly take charge of the situation (for example “I’ve got this one”) to avoid dogpiling the guy, and explain calmly and professionally why this is a bad idea and against our channel’s code of conduct. (All people eligible to take up ops also have a back-channel for coordination.) It will be made clear to him that no matter what he thinks of the concept in the rest of the world, this sort of joke is not appropriate in our space, and he is to refrain from such jokes in the future while he is in our space. If the channel gets rowdy, even with people chiming in to support the op, this may be a good time to mute the channel and take it to PM.

    1. Azz

      Another thing you could possibly have done was talk to one of the ops (or talk to one of the *other* ops, if _douchecanoe was one of their number) privately about what went down, even well after the fact. It won’t change that everyone else let that incident pass, but if they are responsive, it could make a difference the next time. And sadly there will likely be a next time.

  7. Tiferet

    I had trouble parsing it too, FWIW. But I don’t IRC much except in the channel Azz mods…mostly because of douchecanoes.

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