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Bigots, Bullies, and Enablers

Synopsis of the April Fool's Mess: One of Locus' April Fool's Day columns this year announced that all Wiscon attendees would now be forced to wear burqas. "...starting with this year’s Wiscon, we’ve made burqas mandatory for all attendees. Allah Akbar!" There were also cracks about making sure burqas were available in sizes "to 5XL," and working to "eliminate rampant lookism."

Part of how this piece showed up on the site, as I understand it, is because of the separation between the Locus website and the magazine. The website editor apparently saw nothing wrong with the post, but as soon as the rest of the staff realized what had happened, they yanked the article site and apologized. They're also taking steps to make sure this sort of thing doesn't go up again.

Look, I don't think it comes as a surprise to anyone that there are people out there who think "Islam" and can't get beyond burqas and "Allah Akbar!" Likewise, it's no shock to see people actively reenforcing stereotypes of feminists as fat, ugly, shrill harpies with no sense of humor. None of this is remotely new or original.

I've been working on an autobiographical essay, and writing a section of that piece today helped me clarify what was pissing me off as much as the incident itself. We know there will always be nasty, small-minded bigots. But once Locus pulled the article, a mass of people--mostly white men, for reasons I'm sure are entirely coincidental--rushed in to defend the article, and to decry Locus for censoring free speech.

It's a familiar pattern, but the dynamic didn't click until I was writing about my own experiences being bullied as a teenager.

I was a skinny, overly bright, socially inept, fashion challenged kid with glasses and a speech defect. My teenage years were utter hell. Looking back at any of those incidents of name-calling, having my books knocked out of my hands, being shoved in the hallway, tripped on the steps outside the school, having my belongings destroyed, and so on, very few of them in isolation were such a big deal. Real physical injury was relatively rare. But when those small jabs continue day after day, they add up. They whittle away at your strength and your hope, and it never, ever lets up, never stops, until you're sitting alone in the bathroom with a syringe full of your father's insulin, searching for a single good reason not to jab the plunger down and hopefully put an end to it all.

The backlash against the Locus article isn't about someone taking cheap shots at Muslims and women. It's about yet another person taking those shots, lining up to bully those who are already a popular target for abuse. And it's about everyone else who stands around, encouraging and enabling that bullying.

25 years ago, I was told I should just ignore the bullies.

I was told I shouldn't let it get to me. ("Why are you choosing to be offended? You're just looking for reasons to be upset.")

I was told they didn't mean anything by it. ("It wasn't intended to be racist or sexist!")

They were just joking around. ("You people have no sense of humor!")

That's just how they are, and you need to learn to live with it. ("You need to be more tolerant of the people who are intolerant of you, and who are hurting you.")

Stop making such a big deal about it. ("I don't understand why you're upset! ...Ergo, you have no legitimate reason to be upset.")

People complained about the Locus piece because it was hurtful. This wasn't an example of the court jester speaking truth to power. While the author claims he was trying to write satire, what he actually wrote was another in a long line of jabs toward people who are already disproportionately targeted for a broad range of abuse in this culture.

It was bullying.

That's what people are defending. They're attacking Locus for not giving this person a platform with which to bully those he doesn't like, based on an incident that happened several years ago. They're telling the targets of ongoing bigotry that the best solution is to just ignore it.

That doesn't work for the target of bullying. It only works for the bystanders who don't want to deal with it. It's a cowardly, ineffective, and downright shitty "solution."

Yeah, I got through my teenaged years, and I survived despite the lack of support from those around me. But you know what would have helped a lot more? You know what might have saved the life of a classmate who, as far as we've been able to determine, killed himself as a result of bullying? If the bystanders had spoken up and told the bullies to knock that shit off.

Thank you, Locus, for taking that step.


( 51 comments — Leave a comment )
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Apr. 3rd, 2013 11:48 pm (UTC)

ETA: Accidentally, this is exactly how I feel about today's Bulletin controversy, though there seems to be no apology so far.

Edited at 2013-04-04 02:21 am (UTC)
Apr. 4th, 2013 02:46 am (UTC)
Aw, hell. I haven't read the latest Bulletin, and I missed the controversy. What happened?
(no subject) - rose_lemberg - Apr. 4th, 2013 02:55 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Apr. 4th, 2013 11:40 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 4th, 2013 12:07 am (UTC)
I had seen references to what was posted on Locus but thank you for sharing the actual words themselves, and for your very important reaction.
Apr. 4th, 2013 12:08 am (UTC)
The full post is screencapped and reposted all over the place, but I wouldn't really advise looking for it. And of course, if you do, you probably don't want to read the comments...
(no subject) - paragraphs - Apr. 4th, 2013 12:26 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 4th, 2013 12:46 am (UTC)
I saw part -- enough -- of it.

People who don't understand why feminism exists do tend to resort to the "you're all ugly" taunt. What they don't realize is that as feminists our response is "you're just proving our point, that the society devalues women by emphasizing looks."
Apr. 4th, 2013 01:30 am (UTC)
Fat and ugly, or at least the statement that fat = ugly. Which, yes. We reject your assumption that looks are relevant to the discussion (but quit being a jerkass and trying to insult us anyway*).

* A bit like being a kid and having another kid say something like 'You have a blue shirt' in the tone of voice reserved for deadly playground insults. The words might not matter, except the retort was 'So?' instead of 'Am not!', but I still disliked the kid for being a snot.

ETA: And let's fix my HTML.

Edited at 2013-04-04 01:30 am (UTC)
Apr. 4th, 2013 01:11 am (UTC)
Thank you, Jim. I think you're spot on. And I'm so, so sorry you had to endure bullying like that.

All this makes me think of:

The Microaggressions Project

An article explaining microaggressions

Lighten Up
Apr. 4th, 2013 02:18 am (UTC)
I didn't know there was a word for that! Thank you.
(no subject) - slhuang - Apr. 4th, 2013 03:20 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 4th, 2013 01:56 am (UTC)
What is it about some kid reading that brings out the bully in other kids? I remember the kids on the bus pulling out my hair (one strand at a time) to try to distract me from reading. Ah, childhood. What a carefree, happy time.

But yeah...right there with you.
Apr. 4th, 2013 02:33 am (UTC)
I think that it comes down to a way of thinking that runs something like this:

1) Reading is for school. No one really likes reading.

2) That kid over there is reading, and we aren't in school.

3) Since no one really likes reading, the kid's doing this to show off.

4) The kid thinks that if he/she reads, he's/she's showing that he's/she's better than I am.

4a) If the kid is a boy, he's being a sissy because REAL guys are tough and not interested in that stupid egghead stuff.

4b) If the kid is a girl, she's trying to show that she's smarter than the guys, and girls aren't allowed to do that.

Either way, the "punishment" for being bright and not interested in what the bully thinks the kid should be interested in is pain--physical and/or emotional--and humiliation.

What no one recognizes is that this anti-intelligence attitude lingers into adulthood. I can't tell you how often I've been waiting for a ride and started reading or writing--and instantly people start interrupting. "You couldn't REALLY want to read," I've been told over and over again. "That's no fun." Or "You should talk to people more. Then you wouldn't HAVE to read. Ever."

And don't even get me started on the "writing in public" thing. Every book on writing advises writing wherever you are when you get an idea. Bull. Shit. I've tried that repeatedly, and invariably I get glares and fishy eyeballs. I didn't know what was going on until one woman walked up to me and demanded to know what--not if, but WHAT--I was writing about her.
(no subject) - sleightly - Apr. 4th, 2013 12:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - gehayi - Apr. 4th, 2013 06:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sleightly - Apr. 7th, 2013 11:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pandoradeloeste - Apr. 4th, 2013 05:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - gehayi - Apr. 4th, 2013 06:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rose_griffes - Apr. 7th, 2013 05:08 am (UTC) - Expand
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Apr. 4th, 2013 02:11 am (UTC)
In this case the response to cries of censorship is, "And I have the right not to loan you my platform." There is nothing stopping the author of that piece from posting it elsewhere, and in fact it looks like he went to his own blog to rally the troops to his defense.

The right to free speech does not equal the right to be heard.
(no subject) - sylvanstargazer - Apr. 4th, 2013 03:14 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 4th, 2013 02:13 am (UTC)
This could not be stated more eloquently or succinctly. Thank you!
Apr. 4th, 2013 02:21 am (UTC)
Also, that type of article and the "comments" make this essay more timely than ever:
Apr. 4th, 2013 02:28 am (UTC)
Bravo. Thank you for speaking out.
Apr. 4th, 2013 03:11 am (UTC)
I love you so very much. And I really, really needed to read this today. Thank you.
Apr. 4th, 2013 03:17 am (UTC)
Me too. Today it was standing up to racism getting me called a terrible person who ruins all that is fun in this world.
Apr. 4th, 2013 03:15 am (UTC)
As John Rogers says, "Always punch up." And that April Fool's joke was absolutely punching down.
Apr. 4th, 2013 03:36 am (UTC)
..."People complained about the Locus piece because it was hurtful. This wasn't an example of the court jester speaking truth to power. While the author claims he was trying to write satire, what he actually wrote was another in a long line of jabs toward people who are already disproportionately targeted for a broad range of abuse in this culture.

It was bullying..."

This! I'll never understand why people feel the need to do that to other people... :(
Also, this is a bit triggering.

As someone who has been bullied (mobbed?) since fourth grade (up to and including sexual assault) until graduation, I know where you come from. I didn't have any support either. All I ever got from the teachers was "It's just a phase" and "Just ignore it". And my parents wanted to know what I was doing wrong - because there had to be something wrong with me, right?! (That was when I stopped talking to -never mind trusting- anyone.)

While I did manage to somehow get my Abitur, to this day I still fight severe anxiety disorders and clinical depression.

I feel like Don Quixote...
Apr. 4th, 2013 03:51 am (UTC)
Re: ...tmi
The only "help" I ever got was to be told "laugh with them" by my parents and to be sent to an emotionally abusive shrink to fix whatever was broken so that I would not be over sensitive. This did not help. It only hurt more.
Re: ...tmi - marlowe1 - Apr. 4th, 2013 04:40 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 4th, 2013 04:46 am (UTC)
I believe the part about an incident taken in isolation versus a symptom of a bigger attitude/ picture is an important one.

And even the people discriminated against sometimes fail to see this - I have often heard statements like: "This would never happen to a white person!" or "This would never happen to a man!" and so on when, actually, "this", whatever it is at that time, DOES happen and not that rarely. Just that when this happens to a person not discriminated against routinely, it is an isolated incident and so, often, can be shrugged of or ignored (and then make it harder to understand the other side: "But same thing happened to me! And I shrugged it off and , in my case, it did not mean I am discriminated against! I cannot understand why this other person is so hurt and insisting this is sign of discrimination!")

In your journal I would compare it with blood sugar getting low - as this DOES sometimes happen to people who do not have diabetes and those people really are not in danger of death when this (low, but not yet dangerous to life sugar level on one occasion) happens to them - yet, if those people would try to make YOU believe that you could just ignore such a symptom as a small and irrelevant thing...
Apr. 4th, 2013 05:19 am (UTC)
Bigots, Bullies, and Enablers
Even the best-intentioned people can forget that "freedom of speech" only protects us from government censorship. Private entities are allowed to decide if something is outside their boundaries of taste.

So how would the devotees of certain Cons and gamers' gatherings feel about a "satirical" article which proclaimed that attendees would be issued only XXL t-shirts so that no one would have to look at their beer guts?
Apr. 4th, 2013 07:44 am (UTC)
Re: Bigots, Bullies, and Enablers
Make it "only XXL or larger" and you've nailed it. My partner and I sell T-shirts at cons, and we sell rather a lot of 2X and up.

(In fact, the most popular sizes are L and XL. But that's exactly the point you're making.)

(And there are cons which pointedly include bars of soap in their attendees' goodie bags.)
Re: Bigots, Bullies, and Enablers - jimhines - Apr. 4th, 2013 11:42 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Bigots, Bullies, and Enablers - barb27 - Apr. 5th, 2013 12:43 am (UTC) - Expand
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Jim C. Hines


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