A Tale of Three Communities

I live a pretty sheltered life. The geoblogosphere has been welcoming for women, at least that I’ve seen: I never worry about my competence being questioned because I’ve got lady bits, I don’t see women pushed to the margins, I don’t have to worry about running up against unexpected sexism. Even when talk strays from rocks to other things, I haven’t seen bad behavior. It probably exists somewhere – any diverse gathering of people collected around a common theme is bound to include a few not-so-desirables. But the part of the geoblogosphere I hang out in has been a very safe space, a fantastic community, and people have been just as outstanding in meatspace as they are online.

Then I moved to FreethoughtBlogs, and I was a bit worried: I knew most of the bloggers, and knew they were good people, but I thought we might attract some mega-assholes. And we do. The thing is, between the vast majority of the bloggers and the regulars, we stamp that shit out pretty quickly. Not in our backyard. You want to treat women and other minorities like utter shit, you’d best go elsewhere. Stick around here, and you will be a hurting unit. I’ve watched the goings-on at Almost Diamonds, Butterflies & Wheels, Greta Christina’s Blog, Lousy Canuck, and Pharyngula, in particular. I’ve seen what happens to people who try to use certain slurs. Gendered slurs, abelist language, digs at someone’s sexual orientation, racism – not tolerated.

Those are the spaces I spend my time in. They’re safe spaces. They’re spaces where being a woman and a rape survivor is no problem, where I don’t have to wonder what sort of jackasses I’m associating with, because jackasses are told to conform their behavior to civilized standards or get the fuck out. I like that in a place.

Then there are other places, where admins think it’s clever to post rape threats thinly disguised as jokes, and where the commentariat gleefully jumps in, trying to top each other in the rape “humor” category, where those protesting get screamed down.

So let me sum up that story, for those who don’t want to wade through 1,300+ comments: a dudebro named “Pappa” wanted to know if it was moral to rape Skepchicks for being annoying. PZ called him out. Pharyngulites explained in great detail, with a number of survivor’s stories (this, in particular, is one you should read, and its encore), why “joking” about the morality of corrective rape is inexcusable. One of Pappa’s valiant defenders jumped in to assure us what a wonderful nice guy Pappa was, even though he’d squigged out his own wife. A few folks did some tallies, and found the comments at Rationalia overwhelmingly in favor of contributing to rape culture with such “jokes.” And Pappa doubled down, then added a little anal rape for spice. Then he dropped by to mansplain that he totes isn’t a misogynist because, look, he posted a “stop rape” thingy on Facebook! (Mind you, he’d already told us internet activism don’t count.) But his rape threat was just free speech, and also a joke, and if we can’t joke about rape, we can’t joke about any other critical joke material like dead babies. He has apparently never learned a) the basics of humor and b) that misogyny is as misogyny does. It wasn’t until several of the women at Rationalia, Gallstones in particular, got viciously attacked for daring to disagree that rape is teh funneh, that Pappa sorta-kinda apologized, although it took him a lot longer to come up with something approaching a genuine apology. The survivor’s stories (and, perhaps, realizing he was a teenager’s very first rape threat) had finally gotten through.

It’s one of the better apologies to arise from such debacles, and I do commend Pappa for making it. It’s hard to dig out of an entrenched position. It’s hard to admit, in the heat of battle, that you were a complete fuckhead and in the wrong. He managed it. That gives me some hope for his humanity.

But he’s got a long way to go.

He hasn’t, to my knowledge, begun to do anything to change the tenor of the community he’s an admin for. Mind you, they hid that thread the instant they realized just what a public spectacle they were making of themselves (rape jokes are ever so much more fun when decent people can’t see you beating up on rape survivors, eh?). I can’t see current goings on. But as of the last report, it seems that community is still full of people engaging in gleeful glorification of rape culture.

And, Pappa? It’s time for you to step up. Take this opportunity to examine your privilege. You now know why (most) rape jokes aren’t funny, and are actually veiled threats. You understand the limits of free speech, and have learned (I hope it’s a lasting lesson) that free speech comes with responsibility. You’ve learned that there are real people behind those faceless “skepchicks” you’ve threatened to rape, and real people looking on, and that those people can take real damage from words. You’ve been introduced to the reality of rape culture, and given resources to understand why your “jokes” help enable it.

You need to clean up your community now. You need to make it a safe space for those survivors who got attacked for explaining that rape threats thinly disguised as jokes should not be things decent human beings engage in. You need to stop allowing that merry band of fuckheads free rein to carry on rape culture. You have a responsibility for stopping it.

Each and every one of us who claims to be against sexual assault, who believes they are against discrimination, needs to engage in that cleanup operation. Even those of us who inhabit the safe spaces need to step up. Society, my friends, is not a safe space. Pretty fucking far from it. And we are, at times, part of the problem.

It’s sometimes going to mean confronting dark things about ourselves. It might mean sacrificing a few jokes in our repertoires. It might mean having to consciously consider our actions, and practice doing things differently until it becomes second nature. It means having to swallow our pride, really listen to the people affected by our bad behavior, and apologize sincerely, sometimes.

It means educating ourselves.

It means educating our friends.

It means nothing less than changing society. There’s a fuck of a lot of change needs to happen. It starts with us.

Two of the communities I’ve talked about have already done that hard work. It’s an ongoing project, and one of them takes immense amounts of shit for doing the work at all, but I can tell you as a rape survivor and a woman that it’s damned necessary to do it despite the outraged cries of the privileged. Rape culture isn’t funny. Neither is a society in which women, LGBTQ folk, people of color, and other disadvantaged are constantly dismissed, threatened, disrespected, and treated to threats thinly disguised as jokes.

About damned time we stopped fucking tolerating it.


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A Tale of Three Communities

4 thoughts on “A Tale of Three Communities

  1. 2

    @Ace of Sevens

    I think that Dana was referring to one of the teen Skepchicks who felt targeted by the remark, and said that it was the first one that she felt was aimed at her.


    Wonderful post. One of the big things contributing to this entire “debate” is that the more privileged people fail to grok the meaning of “safe space.”

  2. 3

    Thanks for collecting all the links into one place. I knew a bit about what was going on, but it was disjointed. Now I can see the narrative.

  3. 4

    There’s really nothing I can say that would add to that, but I felt it deserved some applause…and a promise to do my best to help make any space I’m in a little safer.

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