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Thursday, 16 February 2012

Taking up space

The following is cross-posted from the Damsel in de Tech blog. Click here to see the original.

One issue that I've seen crop up quite often, is who feels justified in taking up space.


Representation of the patriarchy? You be the judge.

Persons who have grown up facing various kinds and levels of oppression are often taught to diminish themselves, to shrink away, to not gather attention lest they incur the wrath of more outspoken privileged folk. Naturally, there are many exceptions to this, just as there are folks who have grown up with the benefit of every privilege out there who are quite shy and try their best to stay out of the spotlight.

This phenomenon often becomes apparent in popular traditional media, online social media, and in-person conversations. Really anywhere there are two or more people having a conversation, there's the opportunity for this dynamic to pop up of one person dominating the conversation for no better reason than they're louder and feel more entitled to having their opinion heard.

Part of my process with working on dealing with oppression against me and understanding how my privileges may contribute towards the oppressive status quo, has been to be more mindful of how often I speak up and when.

I'm boisterous at heart and can put my thoughts together quite eloquently, and so it's not infrequent that I will put myself and my ideas out there. I especially try to ensure that I stand up and am heard when there are other privileged folks dominating the conversation and spreading myths, stereotypes, and other fallacies that are harmful and oppressive. I do not want theirs to be the only voices heard, because I recognize that a lot more read/ overhear these conversations than contribute to them and because I want to lessen the potentially triggering effects of unchecked victim-blaming, etc.

That's one of the frustrating things about challenging people who have not checked their privilege. If you have no emotional investment in the issue, of course it's easier to speak up and keep blathering on with the same erroneous points even when given evidence to the contrary. If you're a physically-fit, cisgendered male, then of course it's easy for you to espouse how all women need to take self-defense classes to avoid rape, regardless of how problematic and victim-blaming your tone and approach is. If you've grown up with everything being given to you and never had to worry about where your next meal is coming from, of course it's easy to think of sex workers as being foolish to work on the street instead of indoors, or lazy for not finding other work, or deserving of being a target of assault for the situation "they've put themselves in".

As a slight aside, when one is commenting from the outside looking it, it's so easy to say with confidence that if they were in a particular situation, they'd know exactly what to do.


Protip: If you're about to tell someone you'd avoid being raped by turning into Rambo, you're not being as helpful as you may think. 

On the other side of the coin, I try to make sure that I'm not the one who is speaking over people whose voices need to be heard on an issue. As good as my intentions may be, if I see that there are other commentators who are addressing an issue, I try to step back and allow room for them.

Now, that's not to say that if someone identifies as a survivor of sexual violence that I'll give them a free pass to slut-shame or perpetuate rape myths or victim-blame. One can be a survivor and an abuser, or at least perpetuate problematic attitudes, all at once and I do think that needs to be addressed when it comes up. Allowing someone to spread toxic attitudes because of their past experiences neither helps them nor will change the culture that has facilitated the abuse against them.

Either way, whether I'm trying to put my voice out there to keep arrogant and wrong dudebros from taking over the space, or trying to ensure I'm not the one taking over to the detriment of the oppressed groups being discussed, or a combination thereof, it's a continual work in progress.

Despite my confidence in myself and my opinions and my education around anti-oppression work, it's not easy to keep putting myself out there in the face of all those people who feel no shame in their victim-blaming, rape apology, in gas lighting survivors, and derailing important conversations. It's taxing, it's tiring, it's frustrating, and some days I feel like I'm crawling uphill against an avalanche.

But, that's kind of proof that it's all the more necessary to keep taking back that space when it gets encroached upon by patriarchal caca doodie heads. Because, if I'm not lending my voice, then their ignorance and hatred will echo, and that's exactly what feminism and humanist activism aims to correct. It aims to change the prevailing tone from one of misogyny and rape culture into one of equality and consent culture.

When in doubt, bring in the lolcats.

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