Your safe space… who is it ACTUALLY safe for?
Note, safe spaces are not actually safe. They may be SAFER. That's generally understood that these spaces are not actually safe. We do our best, we can always do better, we make mistakes, learn, and grow. But let's focus on the "FOR WHO?" part.
Many people who have been bullied, marginalized, and more growing up deeply care about fairness. But this fairness can be distorted by high levels of insecurity and cognitive dissonance… mutating into what many famously refer to as the Geek Social Fallacies: http://www.plausiblydeniable.com/opinion/gsf.html
The challenge with social fallacies is that if you blur your eyes just right… they may seem… reasonable. Let's dig further keeping in mind the context of safe/safer space.Geek Social Fallacy #1: Ostracizers Are Evil
People who were ostracized unjustifiably and cruelly growing up might find the notion of excluding others as adults to be evil. The concept of evil is an already questionable one… when we know someone's story… we can empathize with almost anyone… but many problems are people problems and despite the ability to empathize that does not mean we can't take action… BUT we also don't have to label things as evil simply to make our own positions more palpable. As a result, groups who are anti-ostracizers may claim to offer inclusive spaces (or safer spaces) but……including 1 person can often be the same as excluding another.
I've frequently seen people knowingly invite BOTH abuser and abused to the same social function in the spirit of inclusiveness. That isn't inclusive. This is turning a blind eye.
And this escalates… as new people see how social abusers are allowed to do whatever they want… it hinders new people from joining a social group or event.
I run pre-convention workshops for organizers to empower them to exclude those who cause problems (of course problems are relative, it depends on your goals). Say we are at a gaming event, organizers often worry… "I can't kick someone out… they paid money to be here."
And I empathically and enthusiastically tell them… "YES YOU CAN… bit first… if you want… talk to them, explain, model behavior, give chances, try to be fair, apologize if you misjudged, don't be mean BUT if someone is causing a problem with no solution in sight… then you have the power to exclude them… and if you don't want to… grab me and I will exclude them for you because remember… the other people at your event ALSO paid to be there and by overly worrying about a single person causing a problem because they paid to be there… YOU ARE BY INACTION EXCLUDING THE MANY OTHER PEOPLE who also paid to be there!"
Now, sometimes problems are not problems… or not willful intentional problems.
Often problems are miscommunication or misunderstanding.
A person came for a certain type of event, many others came for another type… but you didn't want to overly specify what the event was and wasn't so you could be inclusive… end result… problems galore (and in this case the problem may have started with you).
When you avoid the work and hope problems just goes away, often more problems arise and to fix it will cost more work than having dealt with it immediately. Be clear what something is AND is not, be potentially exclusive if being inclusive means being less clear and potentially deceiving… and give people enough information so it's their choice… they can knowledgably opt in or out.
But some people are not self-aware.
Telling them what's up isn't being rude… many WILL THANK YOU!
And of course popular does not equal right and I'm often hesitant to side with majorities over minorities given my own political leanings and beliefs that status quod doesn't make something right… so I will go out of my way and if an event is NOT for someone… I will offer to help them find something that is for them. Geek Social Fallacy #2: Friends Accept Me As I Am
We can both be fans of a certain type of thing or know the same people or have history BUT if you are sexist.. I DO NOT HAVE TO ACCEPT THAT. And when I create spaces… I try to think of who they are safer for and who they are NOT safe for. I don't care if we both like D&D, the spaces I try to create are NOT safe for you to be sexist. They are NOT SAFE SPACES for you!
Safe Spaces ARE NOT safe for everyone. It feels good to say Safe Space. But you might be helping to hurt others by being inclusive. Geek Social Fallacy #3: Friendship Before All
I've had the unfortunate experience of seeing people defend their friends no matter what. And to some degree I can understand this and in a romantic way it's endearing. But I don't care if your best friend is the "best person ever" and could never actually be racist… if they say racist things… I DO NOT CARE WHO THEY ARE… or who they are to you… I don't even care if they are racist… on some level we are all racist because we living within a racist system… BUT I DO CARE ABOUT THEIR ACTIONS… not their identity politics. See: How To Tell Someone They Sound Racist
As someone who deals with the law, I don't take defamation lightly. And less practically, when I have named names, the people screaming for me to do so didn't have the backs of the people affected and it turned into a victim blaming show. I don't care about what makes you feel good or entertaining you. I care about real people in real situations.
Before people scream NAME NAMES… read this short 3 panel comic: http://www.sff.net/people/jchines/Pics/Harassment.jpg
As an event organizer, I've run events for 1,000s of people over 10 years and I've seen all this to ridiculous degrees. People make excuse after excuse for their friends sexually assaulting someone else and on and on and on, again and again. Hell, I've seen people forgive or turn blinds eye to AWFUL behavior because actions DO NOT MATTER to them… just who they like and don't like… who is part of their identity… who is not. But that is not my concern and if it mean making an event safer for the people the event is for… and if making it safer means excluding your friends… then I will do exactly that.
It’s the same with anti-harassment policies. I've written several of them for conventions. But I don't care what you policy says… I don't care about words… I care about actions and I care about how you enforce your policies. Safer spaces are not about being inclusive for everyone. To truly be safe for some, we have to do the hard work of excluding others.
It's really easy to be political when it's words… not actions… and comes at no cost.When you say your space is safe…
…who is your space safe for?
…who is your space unsafe for?
…what are you willing to do to actually make this happen?
…and are you willing to do it… to stick by your morals… even when it isn't easy?Credits:
- Dudebro photo taken by Jamie Lee Curtis Taete
- Safe Space logo by http://fortytonone.org/