Wednesday, July 03, 2013

on apologies and learning

You may remember a while back, when George Takei posted an ill-advised picture and quip about a stripper on Facebook and got called on that shaming and sexism-reinforcing behavior.  He stopped, listened, and issued an apology that.... well, while I'm not entirely sure he genuinely gets what was wrong beyond the surfacey 'people getting offended,' he did apologize reasonably eloquently.  More here.

JR Auditore chimed in on that post by linking to another stellar apology about stumbling over one's privilege and getting called on it.  

"It is not that we can’t laugh at and with each other. It is not a question of oversensitivity. The problem is that today, as I write this, young men and women whose behaviors, choices or attitudes are not deemed “man enough” or “normal” are being subjected to all kinds of abuse from verbal to physical to societal. They are being demeaned and threatened because they don’t fit the group’s idea of what a “real man” or a “real woman” are supposed to look like, act like and feel like."

Similarly, this is the fantastic testimonial of a comedian who got around to noticing (with help) that a lot of his material had a disturbingly misogynistic perspective.

"The defence so often used is that they're only jokes. They're not to be taken at face value, we obviously don't mean it. But you'll rarely hear a contemporary act try to justify racism that way. We know that in a culture of racism every racist joke contributes to that culture and that none of them are acceptable. This is no different. In our culture of misogyny, of violence against women, every misogynistic joke contributes."

It's a beautiful process to watch someone really get, really grok why this stuff matters.  Those of use who spend significant amounts of energy thinking and working about social justice issues may sometimes have to play the role of Most Humorless Feminist in all of Nofunnington, but that is not about lacking a sense of humor, or wanting to 'censor' anyone.  What's being objected to is 'humor' that is genuinely not funny because it's about topics that are all too serious for many people.  Joking about sex workers being less than human is not funny in a world where sex workers have virtually no rights and can be murdered with essentially no penalties.  Joking about gay men being effeminate and not 'real men' is not funny in a world where people endure very real dangers and persecution and abuse because of a failure to live up to gender performance expectations.  Jokes that feed into gender essentialism and erase people who don't fit into a gender binary is not funny in a world where those people are abused and excluded and have to fight tooth and nail for any rights whatsoever.  This is not in the past, and no, we can't magically 'get over it.'  This shit is going on right now, and you're saying it's okay.  You're saying it's funny.

We don't lack language comprehension.  We get the joke.

The problem is that it's hurtful, serves to remind people that they don't matter, and is not in the least bit funny.


We're all learning.  I still have problems with ableist behaviors in myself, and am working on purging hurtful ableist words from my vocabulary.  I'm not always as actively trans-inclusive as I could be.  I work in an extremely white field, and have never said anything about that or called it into question.  I'm sure there are a million other fronts on which I could be doing better, and I'll get to fight those battles when I get there in my journey to become a better human being.  Allyship takes a lot of work, and there ain't no high horse here.

It's just really cool to see someone, especially someone with a lot of intersecting privileges, see when they messed up, even if it's a small thing.  To see them acknowledge the oops and move on without deflecting or getting defensive.  It's... such a relief, I suppose.  To not feel the need to gear up for yet another fight about what someone said as though it's about blaming someone, when they could just say hey, maybe I don't know everything.

Jim Hines, an author whose novels I have not yet read but a man whom I respect deeply for his insightful blogging on various matters, posted an apology regarding a thoughtless moment of erasure of non-gender-binary folks.  It's a beautiful read, and yes, it's about a pretty subtle topic.

"Defensive Brain immediately jumps in to say, “Okay fine, maybe you’re right, but it’s not like I’m committing hate crimes here or intentionally trying to hurt anyone!” 
Defensive Brain needs to shut the &%^$ up. Because what I am doing is suggesting that a subset of people don’t exist. As they struggle for rights and recognition and legal protection, I’m making them invisible. Sure, it may not seem like a big deal to me … any more than “lady editors” was to a pair of SF authors from a recent sexism flap. But it’s one more unthinking erasure. One of a thousand daily slights, indignities, and assaults."

I personally probably wouldn't have blinked at his joke, and would have thought it was funny in a wry kind of way.  But I'm not having to push back every day against an entire culture that is opposed to my very right to exist due to my gender identity or expression.  I don't have to notice.

I should notice.  It's not always easy, and it's something everybody gets to struggle with.  But there's really no excuse.  I should remember how to care.

So thank you, Jim, for the reminder.

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