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How it usually goes.

I've made my own contributions to the #IAskedPolitely discussion, which probably got lost in the shuffle. But those are my unusual stories. Here are twothree real-life stories of what conflict resolution, in those kinds of scenarios, usually looks like for me.

I'm among a small group of hacker friends, and the subject of underrepresentation of women as conference speakers comes up. Someone suggests we list names. Len mentions a transwoman we know.

"Does $NAME really count?" someone asks.

"Yes, she counts," I say.

"Okay, she counts," the person agrees.

It's about 4am at a bar. I've been deep in conversation with a male friend for several hours, and we're both very intoxicated. We're leaned in close to hear each other over the music. "I'd really like to kiss you," he says.

"Actually I think that would be a terrible idea," I blurt out.

"Okay," my friend says, and we go back to whatever it was we were talking about.

Some months later we run into each other in the same bar. I try to apologise for being so abrupt that night. "Don't you see?" he says. "All I wanted from you was honesty, and you gave that to me. I couldn't be happier."

Edit: This one requires a little background. Let me introduce you to my "friend" SID. We've been living together for years, and it's why you'll never see me in a car with the window rolled down: the physical sensation of wind drives me to distraction.

So it's a windy morning in Hamburg, and the line to pick up wristbands for 29c3 wraps around the conference center. thequux and I are bundled up tightly, and he tries to provide a windbreak as best he can, but I have six inches on him and there's only so much he can do. After half an hour in line, we enter the vestibule and the immediate stimulus as gone, but my nerves are still ringing like a five-alarm fire. "You drive," I tell him, and he handles all the complicated interacting-with-humans issues involved in getting our wristbands. The Angels have no problem with this.

A few minutes later, we are in the conference and running into friends we haven't seen in months. "No hugs right now!" I say over and over. People are surprised, but understanding. "Would a beer help?" suggests someone with my friend Jayson. "Depressants, great idea," I say, and we go to the bar. One beer and half an hour later there is still some residual jangliness, but physical contact is no longer startling or painful.

This is the kind of interaction I'm used to in the hacker scene. It's why I feel comfortable there.

What is it that's so different for me?


( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 26th, 2013 02:09 am (UTC)
What do you mean by "What is it that's so different for me?"

Re: Scenario #1... Grrrrr

Re: Scenario #2... Love the way you roll. I may have to keep that one on tap.

I totally feel your friend on the honesty. I'd much rather have something that's given than taken.
Mar. 26th, 2013 04:40 am (UTC)
On scenario #1, I don't blame the person. I don't know how many transfolk they'd interacted with at that point or whether they were even aware how contentious the question they were asking was. So I figured the thing to do was to make it clear that I, at least, didn't consider it up for debate. I was firm, but otherwise unemotional about it (if "firm" even counts as an emotion) ... and the person changed their opinion immediately.

This is just the usual course of events for me. When something isn't okay, I try to make clear upfront what isn't okay and why ... and by and large, people tend to respond in the direction of helping me make it okay. I don't know why I get this sort of reaction so consistently, but it's a good reaction, a useful reaction, and maybe if I can figure out why it happens, other people can try to elicit that sort of reaction too and see how well that works. (And if not, figure out why.)

Edit: Gonna add another story in a slightly different problem domain, to illustrate.

Edited at 2013-03-26 04:41 am (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 26th, 2013 05:26 am (UTC)
Yeah, the bystander effect is another one of those problems I've been thinking about lately. I'm not immune to it, either -- a social-engineer friend demonstrated that handily to me at a con in Berlin a while back, calling me out to break up a disorganized group of people that were clogging the entrance to a room. ("Hey Meredith, there's plenty of room in there, go on in." *everyone follows*) I think I weirded him out a bit later when I ran into him and said "hey, nice job breaking the bystander effect." Spergs aren't supposed to notice that kind of thing.
Mar. 26th, 2013 03:21 am (UTC)
How do you get a bunch of Canadians out of a swimming pool?
Jul. 8th, 2013 05:56 pm (UTC)
Mar. 26th, 2013 03:35 am (UTC)
I suspect that the great deal of social power you have in that community has a lot to do with it, Meredith. The person in interaction #1 might not have been so agreeable had the declaration that your friend "counts" as a woman come from someone with less social power. You are well-known and respected, which gives you some privilege that you may be overlooking.

Interaction #2: I've been on both sides of interactions like that, and sometimes they go well, and sometimes they don't. It isn't a given that they will go well in any community, including the hacker community.
Mar. 26th, 2013 05:07 am (UTC)
Your interpretation makes sense, though let me add a little additional background and see what you think. Interaction #1 took place in 2010. I'd given a couple of talks, but wasn't well known (we met Sergey in May of that year, langsec hadn't really taken off yet). The person in interaction #1 was at the time, and still is, far more widely known; we're (now) about equally respected but for vastly different things. This was also the second time I'd met that person; about all we knew of each other at the time were one another's names.

So, there was certainly a power disparity, but it was definitely in the other direction. Perhaps at that point I had more social power than I thought I did (it wouldn't be the first time), and the person decided that challenging my assertion would be too much of a risk. Or, like I said to anaisdjuna above, maybe I actually changed their mind. I've become much closer friends with this person since then, and haven't heard them say a single even remotely transphobic thing since. Obviously I don't know what happens when I'm not around ... but given other things I have seen this person do and say since then, I think it was a learning moment.

Certainly this makes me think about the whole "with great power comes great responsibility" thing, since if I have power, then I'd like to use it to do good in the world and at the same time not do harm. But, also like I said to anaisdjuna, I'm trying to figure out what it is that I'm doing in situations where I'm not on the high end of the power differential and still getting generally positive outcomes.
Mar. 26th, 2013 06:07 am (UTC)
I don't think that a disparity has to exist for someone to respect you, or for the respect you have socially to have an effect, you know? Even someone who you perceive as having more social power than you have, is aware of the social power you have and in addition to that might respect you on a personal level.

I also think that you generally do underestimate how charismatic you are :) You have a very commanding personal presence, and when you speak definitely about something, your attitude kind of compels agreement.
Mar. 27th, 2013 11:01 pm (UTC)
when you speak definitely about something, your attitude kind of compels agreement

-->This is a concept I was trying to work into my reply below, but it was getting really long...

Most people, regardless of gender, respond favorably to someone speaking with confidence and authority. We really are just all hairless apes, here.

I suspect that your (Meredith's) failure to learn to be a "good little girl" got you off to an early start at being someone who speaks plainly and confidently. I'm certain that's a privilege I enjoy.
Mar. 26th, 2013 04:24 am (UTC)
People tend to find what they're looking for, and you're not looking to get offended.
Mar. 26th, 2013 05:14 am (UTC)
Well, I mean, it's like -- in situation #1 above, I was offended. $NAME identifies as a woman, I think of her that way, why split hairs about it? It's the irritation of "we've already been over this," even though "we" really just means "I".

I guess maybe part of it is, yeah the person said something offensive, but the issue at hand is that, not my feelings about it. I objected to the assertion, the assertion was withdrawn, there's nothing to feel upset about anymore other than a lingering dissatisfaction with the fact that I'll probably have to have that conversation a few more times before I'm dead.
Mar. 26th, 2013 01:17 pm (UTC)
Exactly. If you're not looking to get offended, you can still be offended, but that's a situation to be resolved. Maybe that's not as good as not being offended in the first place, but you do your best to correct it and move on.

If you are looking to be offended, then when someone is offensive you treat it like an opportunity to exploit, not a problem to be remedied. You'll tend to hold on to it, rather than try to fix it and let it go.
Mar. 26th, 2013 06:11 am (UTC)
This is a very glib way to dismiss any responsibility for being offensive.
Mar. 26th, 2013 01:40 pm (UTC)
Is it? Ever since I was a wee lad, I was taught that other people's opinions about what I wear, what I do, who I am, are of minimal importance. I was taught that, when someone does something mean or wrong or offensive, it reflects on their character, not mine. These weren't lessons easily or completely learned, but they've been valuable. So when someone says something offensive to me, intentionally or thoughtlessly, I very rarely get upset anymore. Being less upset is a good thing.

But on the flip side, these rules also mean that the things I say and do reflect on my character. If I judge that person's character by their actions, I need to judge my character by my actions. If them demeaning me lowers them in my eyes, me demeaning others lowers me in my eyes. I'm not an exception that gets to break the rule.

So I think both are part of personal responsibility. I have a responsibility to not be offensive, especially intentionally, but I also have a responsibility to not be offended, especially when it is not intentional. I have a responsibility to seek peace and common ground with others.
Mar. 26th, 2013 05:00 pm (UTC)
The implication, that people are offended because they are looking for a reason to be offended, is privileged and dismissive. Are those who are oppressed, looking for a reason to be oppressed?

I don't think anyone has a responsibility to not be offended. The thing about bigotry is that it does not only affect one person; it perpetuates social injustice. As Meredith pointed out, one can be offended *and* express that and in so doing, seek peace and common ground with others.
Mar. 26th, 2013 07:44 pm (UTC)
Don't infer the converse of my statement. I'm proposing that people who are looking to be offended will find offense. I'm not saying people find offense because they are looking to be offended. Even with all I just wrote about doing my best to not take offense, I still get offended. It's not a flawless defense.

"As Meredith pointed out, one can be offended *and* express that and in so doing, seek peace and common ground with others. "

I mean, yeah, that's the point. She asked "What is it that's so different for me?" and I proposed that it is because she looks for solutions, not problems. In any of her scenario's she _could_ have taken on the mantle of Offended Party, and while she may very well have been justified I don't think the scenarios would have ended as well.
Jun. 16th, 2013 10:24 pm (UTC)
It's been pointed out to me before that I'm (perhaps excessively) solution-oriented, that's a good point.
Mar. 26th, 2013 11:43 am (UTC)
One common thread in these is that they are all interactions with people you knew before the interaction happened. Maybe you have good instincts for picking friends?
Mar. 27th, 2013 12:44 am (UTC)
What is it that's so different for me?

You're one of the smartest people I know. I'd suggest that simply because you have more to process with, any processing is amped up. I don't know enough personal history to know what in your background might be getting tweaked and amped up. I'm very glad that you have the hacker community as emotional space; that's got to be ridiculously useful.
Jul. 8th, 2013 06:00 pm (UTC)
Probably the most useful thing about it is that they get that I am hacking my own social machinery in order to better understand (and hopefully improve) it, and facilitate it.
Mar. 27th, 2013 10:51 pm (UTC)
What is it that's so different for me?

-->Perhaps because you have not been socialized in the same way that other women have been socialized. I'm fairly certain this is the secret of my general success, too.

Most women are socialized to be accommodating. They are taught that saying "No" is unacceptable. They learn softer, indirect phrases. Those phrases generally work with other women, but frequently don't work with men (who are generally socialized to be direct and to interpret indirectness as weakness, or to completely miss that anything was said at all).

Even knowing about the problem doesn't help, since even if a woman eventually learns to be direct, her body language may still betray discomfort at being direct, and she won't be taken seriously by someone who has been taught that an indirect reply can be ignored.

When they are young, the price women (or girls, really) pay for not being accommodating may include:

1. More strife with parents, who interpret directness as "attitude"
2. Ditto with teachers and other authority figures
3. Peer group who mocks and excludes the "weird" girl
4. General difficulty in actually getting things done, because people don't know how to respond to someone who isn't following the "correct" social script

I rarely had to deal with #1, at least not in any obvious gender-based way.

Both #1 and #2 were countered in my life by comparison with my sister, who was generally accommodating and the "good" one. I didn't have to be accommodating, because being Not My Sister was for me more of a feature than a bug, and I willingly paid the price of any strife it brought me. Also, when I had teachers who couldn't cope with the smart girl, my parents actually backed me up.

I also have the story of the exact moment when, at age 12, I realized that I had been assuming things about myself as compared to others, simply because of my gender, and that it was all utterly wrong. It was an epiphany moment, and I swore then that I would keep an eye open for such bullshit and never again succumb to it. So I've been actively resisting female socialization since I was an adolescent. My epiphany moment is not necessarily something any other girl would have.

#3 is something every geek has experience with, and most of us manage to be pleased with ourselves about it. I suspect this is why, despite rampant sexism in geek circles, there is also rampant "But you are an exception" inclusion of some women. Outside geek circles, even that often doesn't exist. Ask me some time about the stories my sister tells me about being a high-powered female lawyer.

#4: I have run into this one, and usually find a reasonable work-around. But I have also learned to take advantage of my gender (and being blond) when a situation is most easily solved by playing the girl card. Do I hate it? You bet. I would feel less like a whore if I actually had sex in exchange for money. But the road to hell is lined with least resistance far more than good intentions. I assuage my distress with the thought that my actions are conscious, and that I have other behavioral options I use 99% of the time. (Also, that I only use these tactics to take advantage of sexist assholes. If they weren't sexist, I wouldn't have to be blonde at them, etc.)

So my theory is that you didn't have to suffer bad consequences (or didn't notice any such consequences, which amounts to the same thing) for being insufficiently female-socialized, but rather learned other techniques.

Edited at 2013-03-27 10:52 pm (UTC)
Mar. 28th, 2013 05:34 am (UTC)
Jul. 8th, 2013 06:02 pm (UTC)
I am leaning toward "didn't notice," which is part of why I think of my autism as a superpower.
Mar. 28th, 2013 05:33 am (UTC)
You don't come across as particularly femme. We haven't met in person many times, but I have not seen you dressed femme, and I suspect it is not a frequent occurrence. This is a big big part of it - even when specific guys in question find you personally attractive, you still don't get a lot of the same generalized "I'm a guy and you're a girl" stuff because you're read as more gender neutral.

We have jokingly theorized that "geek" is a gender.

I know that I have personally always been one of the few female-bodied people in groups of males, and it has made me feel comfortable and safe. Part of this is that I'm not femme (except sometimes in clothing, but even then, it's sorta half ironic). I don't tend to get treated as "a girl" very often. I grew up online, and learned stereotypically masculine communication patterns. I am naturally inclined to be forthright and direct. Also, I like porn, am queer and like to appreciate sexually attractive women, and find sexual humor amusing when well done and not in a professional context. I am not very easy to offend outside of attitudes that are genuinely sexist.

I have seen the same guys who treat me like one of them treat girlier females very differently. I think there's a cultural myth that the male hero of the game is supposed to get the princess at the end as a prize. If you don't look and act like the princess, no one thinks you're going to be the prize. If you do look and act like the princess, then it suddenly becomes a whole new bullshit interaction.
Mar. 29th, 2013 02:50 am (UTC)
these kinds of things happen because you are a straight-forward, honest & rational person. talking to you for 5 minutes validates this. you're also no bullshit which also shows through. you are also pretty good at maintaining a level voice. i'm pretty sure that if you were outraged by something, you'd still approach the situation the same calm, methodical way you approach everything else. also, 5 minutes with you talking about even about the most mundane things makes my brain hurt from the sheer weight of your intelligence. even without your professional credentials, you are an impressive person, mer. :)

people don't normally listen to me because i'm erratic most of the time and pretty prone to aggression & i use lots of profanity. however, when i do talk to someone with my "dead" voice, which is the deeper, calmer default voice that i rarely use, people listen to me. usually because i never use that voice & my voice devoid of emotion seems to signal that i am in trouble. it usually just means that i'm too tired at that moment to pretend that i'm human. :)

also, i missed you. :)
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )

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