So let’s talk about This Shit Right Here (that’s an archive.today link), in which technology consultant Jeff Reifman accuses Geek feminism blogger Leigh Honeywell and advice columnist Captain Awkward of harassment.
Last November, Reifman wrote a lengthy post about his relationship with an ex who eventually asked him to stop contacting her, then threatened to get a court order when he did not. He used her as an example to decry what he called ‘cutoff culture,’ and to suggest that women who want to cut exes out of their lives have an obligation to find some kind of ‘compromise’ to make sure their ex’s emotional needs are met.
Leigh and the Captain, both feminist activists, called him out. The Captain did so in this excellent post breaking down the entitlement and abuser-logic in his arguments. Leigh called him out on twitter. He wrote something in public; they challenged it in public.
Reifman then sent Leigh an email that prompted her to publicly and privately tell him never to contact her again.
So he wrote a blog post in which Leigh is very easy to identify to trash talk her for ‘harassing’ him, implying that it’s a a violation of Double Union’s Anti-Harassment Policy for her to call out his enormously-creepy behavior towards an ex who’d asked him to leave her alone (including publicly hashing out his relationship with said ex with roughly as much care for hiding her identity as he showed for hiding Leigh’s).
The Geek Feminism Code Of Conduct contains a section on things we specifically don’t consider harassment:
The Geek Feminism community prioritizes marginalized people’s safety over privileged people’s comfort. The Geek Feminism Anti-Abuse Team will not act on complaints regarding:
- ‘Reverse’ -isms, including ‘reverse racism,’ ‘reverse sexism,’ and ‘cisphobia’ (because these things don’t exist)
- Reasonable communication of boundaries, such as “leave me alone,” “go away,” or “I’m not discussing this with you.”
- Refusal to explain or debate social justice concepts
- Communicating in a ‘tone’ you don’t find congenial
- Criticizing racist, sexist, cissexist, or otherwise oppressive behavior or assumptions
I wrote that section because people on an axis of privilege have a nasty tendency to appropriate social justice terminology (like privilege and harassment) and twist it around to serve their own point of view. They treat these words like magic incantations, as if it’s the words, rather than the argument, that convinces people.
Words are not magic incantations. They have meanings. Using a word without understanding its meaning just because you’ve seen other people successfully use it to convey a point is magical thinking.
Sometimes, the people who employ these words as magic incantations mistake other people’s refusal to engage for a victory–they must have successfully turned social justice sorcerers’ magic words against us, because we won’t argue with them anymore. Reifman himself engages in a version of this fallacy when he armchair-diagnoses his critics as ‘triggered’ rather than recognizing that their anger is a natural reaction to his demands for free emotional labor. The truth is more mundane: most of us are not interested in teaching reading comprehension to people whose comprehension is willfully limited to concepts that support their privilege.
This is the email that led Leigh to publicly tell Reifman to leave her alone:
From: Jeff Reifman
Date: Mon, May 12, 2014 at 11:03 PM
Subject: Responding to your tweets
To: Leigh Honeywell
Cc: [redacted mutual friend]
Hi Leigh, I don’t know if you remember meeting me – but I think we met
at Elysian, I’m actually close friends with [redacted mutual friend]. I saw your
tweets and your medium note and thought I would reach out.
I noticed that the comment policy on your blog asks that commenters be “
non-discriminatory, friendly, funny, or perspicacious” … I’m super
open to a discussion about this as long as comments are civil and
constructive. I would hope you would tweet as you wish others to
publicly comment on your blog.
Using the word shitbag … and repeated mentions of “fuck” both on
twitter and on medium doesn’t represent civil discussion very well.
the feedback I’ve received from the cutoff essay has been overall very
positive – but sometimes it triggers people … and I’ve now, only
twice, received attacks like this – you’re the second.
I’m open to talking about it – especially if you want to highlight
specifics … but I ask that you be civil and constructive …[sic]
Translation: Tone argument, demand for free emotional labor and education, tone argument, tone argument, lurkers support me in email, tone argument.
You’ll notice that he CC’d a mutual friend of theirs. Then he went and wrote this follow-up post, using barely-pixelated avatars and so many direct quotes that Leigh and the Captain are laughably easy to identify. So for all his thinky thoughts about ‘shaming,’ he clearly has no problem with trying to shame people who call out his extremely inappropriate behavior.
Too bad he’s trying to do so with magic incantations.