I have confused feelings and thoughts about these things, and am somewhat more supportive of cultural appropriation, especially regarding bindis, than the internet tells me I should be (that said, my family is Bengali and Muslim, and so bindis/tips are largely a fashion choice to begin with, which is probably why I don’t have a strong reaction). Nevertheless, this paragraph hits it home.
If you step on my foot, you need to get off my foot.
If you step on my foot without meaning to, you need to get off my foot.
If you step on my foot without realizing it, you need to get off my foot.
If everyone in your culture steps on feet, your culture is horrible, and you need to get off my foot.
If you have foot-stepping disease, and it makes you unaware you’re stepping on feet, you need to get off my foot. If an event has rules designed to keep people from stepping on feet, you need to follow them. If you think that even with the rules, you won’t be able to avoid stepping on people’s feet, absent yourself from the event until you work something out.
If you’re a serial foot-stepper, and you feel you’re entitled to step on people’s feet because you’re just that awesome and they’re not really people anyway, you’re a bad person and you don’t get to use any of those excuses, limited as they are. And moreover, you need to get off my foot.
See, that’s why I don’t get the focus on classifying harassers and figuring out their motives. The victims are just as harassed either way.
The comment is in reference to sexual harassment that occurred at the Readercon convention and the subsequent defense of the situation by some members of fandom and the Readercon Board.
It’s also applicable to other situations where someone claims their intentions were pure and they didn’t mean to do something sexist/racist/heterosexist/abelist, etc. Even if you did not mean to step on someone’s foot—you did.
Notably, because power operates along multiple different vectors simultaneously, people are sometimes both stepping on each others’ feet at the same time. In which case, trying to figure out who stepped on whose foot first is generally less useful than slowing the fuck down and figuring out how to get everyone OFF everyone elses’ feet without anyone toppling over*.
This is the actual, meaningful reason for trying to avoid Oppression Olympics and “Highest Total Oppression Score” calculus. Not because the Arcane Rules of Pop-Social Justice Etiquette require it but because, often, we’re in situations where people have power over us in some ways and we have power over them in others. Those experiences of privilege and oppression interact in complex ways, but they don’t cancel each other out.
If you step on my foot, it is always appropriate for me to respond by saying, “OW. YOU’RE ON MY FOOT.” Especially if my foot has been getting stepped on all day! It’s appropriate for me to expect you to get off my foot and even to apologize. It’s not okay for me to respond by stomping on YOUR foot to make my point. In other words, if you do something misogynistic to me, it’s not cool for me to respond by doing something racist or ableist back.
I know it can be really tempting because, when someone does something that disempowers us, our first impulse as humans is to grab for the places we do have power. But, generally speaking, that means places where we have institutional power over the person who’s hurting us.
“The funny thing about our privilege is that we all have a blind spot around our privilege, shaped exactly like us. Most of us will identify privileges that we know we could live without. So when it comes time to talk about our privileges, we’ll throw shit down like it’s an ace. And that shit is a three! I understand that. You grow up and you live a life where you feel like you haven’t had shit, the last thing you want to give up is the one thing, the couple of things that you’ve really held on to.
- Junot Díaz, Facing Race 2012
That being said, “Even if you did not mean to step on someone’s foot—you did.”
Yes. Fucking. That.
* P.S. Bystanders, solving this tricky problem is your job — not the job of the people who are in the middle of going “OW! MY FOOT!” And when I say “bystanders” I mean people like “event organizers,” “party hosts,” “allies,” “educators,” etc. If you want to create safer spaces for people who’ve been disempowered, then you need to be thinking about the fact that some of the ways marginalized people are coping with or resisting oppression will trigger or harm other marginalized people and vice versa.
It’s never as simple as saying, “This particular set of marginalized folks is under protection and anyone who makes them uncomfortable for any reason needs to GTFO.” But it’s not okay to tell that set of folks just to cope with being uncomfortable, either. Be more creative than that.
(FWIW, I don’t know anything about the specific con in question. But this shit is a theme.)
Reblogged for unquietpirate’s awesome commentary that complicates this important point often reduced to utter uselessness.