bcholmes: I poison you! (Circe Invidiosa)

Sunday, I had my traditional breakfast with Alan, where we got caught up on each other's lives. Then I went off to see "The Personal Is Political Revisited":

"The Personal is Political" Revisited

The title of Carol Hanisch's 1969 essay "The personal is political" became one of the best-known slogans of the feminist movement. Women were challenged to see their life circumstances not as individual situations of choice, but within a broader context of gendered oppression and societal structural inequalities. The panelists will look at the intersections between the personal and political in their activist work, and will examine the meaning and relevance of the slogan today.

Susan Marie Groppi, Susan Simensky Bietila, Alan Bostick, Karen Ireland-Phillips, Pamala K. Taylor

The panel had a lot of different things to say, although the relationship back to the original essay was often tenuous. Pamela had a lot of interesting things to say about her relationship to her headscarf -- that she'd recently started removing the hijab as she entered menopause and was frequently felt odd not to have this element that had been a big part of her identity. She commented about how, because her name isn't obviously middle-eastern, without the headscarf, she's just "American", whereas with the headscarf, she's Muslim.

She also had a lot of interesting things to say about work that she's done to oppose gender segregation in mosques, and create alternative spaces where women can lead services. She also talked about how imposter syndrome factored in there for her: when she was asked to lead a service in Toronto (?), she was deathly afraid, and doubted that she was really the right one to do so. Then she thought: she has a degree in theology, and has been on the forefront of the issue. If she wasn't qualified, then no one was.

Both Karen and Susan talked about being a part of feminist organizing in the 60s and 70s. Susan, in particular, talked about meeting Hanisch and knowing about being exposed to the essay very early. There were things that were interesting to hear them talk about: Susan talked about working in the schools and being confronted with young women who she described as aggressively anti-feminist. And also how that's internalized by the young women in question as "that's just what I like."

Karen talked about identifying as a "political lesbian" and her transition as someone who wore the official uniform of lesbianism -- plaid shirts and corduroy -- into someone who wears dresses. I also enjoyed hearing Karen talk about consciousness-raising groups -- there was some discussion about the extent to which one dimension of big Internet discussions (such as Racefail) use many of the same practices of consciousness raising. We didn't get too deep into that, but I enjoyed it. One thing that was said, though, was that consciousness-raising needs to happen in the context of a larger movement, and I idea that I enjoyed.

My favourite part of the discussion was a bit relating to burn out. One audience member -- Valerie Aurora -- talked about working in FOSS, and about how most of the FOSS women she knows have burned out and are backing away from the environment. How do you combat burnout? Some members of the panel suggested that the idea of burnout was a myth, an idea that I don't agree with.

Some of the interesting parts of this conversation related to being supported by the community around you. Ian offered, from the audience, that sometimes having a really good ally was better than having another person who was experiencing the same persecution. (Someone mentioned that "networking" is not a tool reserved for yuppie scum... we should all build up our own personal networks). Pamela talked about the times when she was close to burn out only to recall the people who came to her to say that some thing that she'd done had really changed someone's life. Moments like that fed her reserves, and helped her keep going.

But, in the end, as someone commented, "you put on your own oxygen mask, first."

There was a long conversation about housework... much longer than I thought it needed to be. Essentially, the question is "how do I get my partner to see that they're not doing their fair share of the housework?" The longer the conversation went, the more it was awash in gender essentialism, which, oh joy. Various options were offered: fill out timesheets, hire a (fellow member of the working class) housekeeper, or just mutally agree to do less housework. I'm always a bit surprised that nobody suggests "don't live together" or "buy a duplex." Book suggestions: Wifework and The Politics of Housework.

Afterward, I chatted a bit with Valerie Aurora -- I wasn't familiar with her or her work, and I was interested in hearing what she did in the FOSS world. Moments after I started talking to her, a guy from the audience came over, interrupted me, and went on and on about how awesome it was to run into Valerie Aurora. It was the kind of "oh, cool, I just rubbed elbows with a celebrity" kind of one-sided conversation. And, I confess, I was pretty annoyed, given that he interrupted a conversation already in progress, and didn't give any indication of even noticing that he'd done so. And what a statement that made. It's almost as if the personal is political. Or something.

bcholmes: I poison you! (Circe Invidiosa)

I'm totally mistaken. It turns out that I didn't miss a panel just after lunch on Saturday: looking over my notes, it turns out I went to Vigorous Debate or Harassment:

Vigorous Debate, or Verbal Harassment?

One of the strengths of the SF community is that it's almost always open for discussion and debate. Unfortunately, when discussions get intense, the line between "vigorous debate" and "verbal harassment" can go from blurry to invisible. How can we tell when a discussion has crossed the line? What do we do if we're the one who's crossed it? How can we step in to call back a friend who's crossed it? Let's discuss how to recognize verbal harassment and brainstorm strategies for addressing it within a community where everyone is a friend of a friend.

Jess Adams, Andy Best, Michelle Kendall, Kate Nepveau, Maevele Straw

I enjoyed this panel, although I don't think it quite stuck to its panel description. A lot of people debated responding to fail.

Kate recommended "A themed summary of Racefail" as a good resource for understanding one of fandom's most famous fails. She also cautioned about two key phrases that might be warning signs that you're about to comment fail. One is "I don't mean to sound like a [racist|sexist|homophobe|transphobe|whatever] but..." I *think* the second phrase was "This may offend some people but..." I didn't write the phrases down, so my memory may be failing me.

Jess made a comment about using "active listening" techniques -- "It sounds to me like you're saying <this horrible thing> -- is that really what you mean?" She argued that it gave people the opportunity to weasel out of the implications of their words, which sometimes helped diffuse the situation. (She also commented that most people recognized weaselling for what it was).

One woman in the audience ran with that comment, saying that, in the workplace, negative feedback is always given to someone in private which allows people to save face. Me, I'm deeply suspicious of people's need to save face. I think that the whole "let me save face" reaction leads to tremendously fucked up behaviours.

Maevele bemoaned the fact that it's impossible to make the "OMIGOD I can't believe you just said that" face on the Internet.

There was also a bit of a conversation about what it means to "take it to email." It seems that sometimes people feel like public conversations should stay in public spaces, and that suddenly continuing the conversation in email can be seen as a hostile act. Some people seem to feel (especially with private mailing lists) that once something is off-topic, it should go to email. And an audience member talked about the difference in attitudes between, for example, Dreamwidth, where comments are threaded and, say, Disqus, where the comments are all in line. Interesting stuff.

Some points that came out of audience participation: one woman mentioned Charles Rules of Argument. The original site that these were on is having some problems right now, but I ganked this from Google cache:

Seeing as arguing is largely pointless, one of the best things to do is to severely limit what you end up arguing about:

  • Never seek out things to disagree with. There are too many of them out there, and correcting the ills of the world just isn't your job.
  • If you come across something you disagree with while randomly browsing, let it pass without comment (see rule 1). If it's truly frustrating, write a reply, then delete it without sharing it with anyone else.
  • Even in the limited scope remaining, it is not your job to correct everything you find that you disagree with. Try to limit yourself to things where the subject is at least something that makes some practical difference to your life.
  • Do not argue about politics, religion, or matters of personal taste or comparative morality.
  • DO NOT argue with Lisp programmers, believers in the Semantic Web, or furries.
  • Saying something controversial in your own space (i.e. your weblog) is only arguing if you directly reference somebody you are disagreeing with (or it is clearly understood in subtext who you are disagreing with), and that person is likely to give a shit about what you said.
  • If someone disagrees with something you've said, you're already in an argument. See below.

Once you find yourself in an argument, your job is now to make your point clearly, and then leave. You are allowed two passes:

  1. State your case
  2. Clarify any misunderstandings

Having read that, I can't say that I fully agree with it.

Another recommendation for making argument go a bit more smoothly was to make your case much more concrete.

I asked a question about looking for strategies when discussing oppression with other minority groups. I specifically commented that some of the worst, ugliest conversations about racism I've had have been with white trans women. And, y'know, that is sadly true. The panelists started to talk about the dynamic of "more oppressed than thou," but that wasn't actually the dynamic I saw. It was more, "I know what oppression is that that's not it." I probably have to add this: many of the white trans women I know are perfectly lovely and I can't imagine them ever being the kind of doofus that I'm describing here. A number of white trans women I know (especially on the internet) have been actively involved in promoting anti-racism. And yet, I know a lot of white trans women, and they are diverse in their attitudes.

(I did not complicate the question by raising the other point that frustrates these kinds of discussions: the way that "privilege" discussions are often used to try to exclude trans women from women-only spaces resulting in, I believe, a knee-jerk reaction to conversations about privilege.)

Later, one woman in the audience made a comment that I took to mean "we really need to inculcate an Internet-wide notion of etiquette" which, I confess, made me anxious. The history of etiquette, I believe, is that it has long been a weapon to browbeat people who are not like you. I think Kate made the comment that etiquette can be enabling as well as restrictive, and I agree with that.

The last part of the panel talked about, basically, when it's okay to warn people that certain folk are creepy debaters. One particular name was attached to this conversation -- for the sake of anonymity, I'll call that person Phil Betterly. At what point is Phil enough of an asshat that it's okay and meaningful to post preemptive cautions about how creepy, vile and/or intellectually dishonest his debates are? Is it bad to agitate for his shunning? I think that this part of the conversation really touched on the whole, "when does it become verbal harassment?" question. Or maybe it's just trying to overcome the Geek Social Fallacy that ostracizers are evil? No clear answer came to this question -- people acknowledged that Phil has kinda-sorta taken his ball and gone away for the time being, so it's not a pressing concern. But it's the sort of question that probably needs to be pondered.

Edit: One of the audience contributions, here, that I should have mentioned was the discussion of predator theory -- the theory that some really icky people (such as, for example, rapists) constantly test pushing other people's boundaries. Also: book recommendation for The Gift of Fear.

It was a good panel. Also: Jess was a really good moderator.

bcholmes: I poison you! (Circe Invidiosa)

My first big debate with myself about which panel I was going to see was Saturday morning. I couldn't decide between an Intersectionality and Feminism panel, and a Class panel. Both had good lists of panelists. I ended up going to see the class panel:

Class Issues in Science Fiction and Fantasy

It's not been easy for the SF community to come to terms with class. In a society where the working poor and the unemployed are growing in number, and the middle class is being destroyed, it's vital that we discuss class. Let's build on our discussions of class at Wiscon 34, which included a powerful Class Basics panel, to discuss class and class warfare in SF as well as the real world.

Eleanor A. Arnason, Jess Adams, Beth Plutchak, Fred Schepartz, Alexis Lothian

This panel was the first panel in which I started to develop an opinion about a dynamic going on at this year's con. I feel like we have an interesting influx of people who've become politicized by the protests in February/March. And I don't want to sound as if I'm saying, "oh noes we're totally being invaded by people who are not us", but I do feel like the content of their contributions has been much more "worker power rah rah rah" and not quite in the geeky analytic way that I'm accustomed to.

I mention this because I feel like the panel was very divided in the way it wanted to explore the panel topic. One part of the panel very much seemed to want to voice this idea that something profoundly important was happening in Wisconsin at the moment, whereas the other part of the panel wanted to analyze the nooks and crannies of class hierarchies, looking to expose how the operate. These two halves of the panel, in my opinion, often didn't seem to be talking to each other.

Eleanor opened the panel with two different ways of "defining" class. The first was a traditional Marxist categorization: worker, capitalist, and petite bourgeoisie. The second seemed to be a more modern Western categorization. You're poor if you fall below the government's definition of poor. There is no government definition of rich, but we all know that the rich are up there. And everyone in-between is middle-class. Eleanor clearly did not want to get too mired in definitions and wanted to move quickly away from that part of the panel, but I think that it deserved some thought.

Alexis did a good job of trying to broaden the definition. She talked about a few things: the expectation that, in the US, education was often perceived to be a way to move up the class ladder, whereas in the UK, people retained their identification with their class background even if they went on to higher education. Some groundwork was laid for viewing class as multidimensional.

(Note to self: think about the relationship between the multidimensionality of gender and the multidimensionality of class. There are many axes of gender: presentation, socialization, bodies, etc. Why am I not better versed in language to talk about class similarly?)

I particularly like where Alexis was going with this. I think there is something to the US/Canadian (I think they're more alike than dissimilar) view of class that is bound up in valuing "skill" rather than "work". Most criticism of unions seem (in my opinion) to have, at their root, a belief that there are people who do certain types of jobs don't deserve to make a decent wage because they're the jobs that people with choices don't choose. Education/skill gives you choices ("I had to spend 4 years in university getting drunk and partying a lot so I deserve a white collar job!") whereas people who pick up the garbage... well, that can be done by anyone.

One exchange that was in equal parts hard to watch and hilarious was observing [livejournal.com profile] orangemike trying to educate Alexis on how, in the US of A, simple things like one's accent can be a very strong class marker. Because Alexis, coming from the UK, must clearly have no frame of reference for this. Alexis responded kinda sharply, and understandably so in my opinion.

Then the panel moved on to writing about class, and I can't say that I loved any of this analysis. Except, maybe, for the way that Jess really pushed for more concreteness. It's one thing to say, "I address a bunch of class issues in my latest book," and quite another to elaborate on what "address" looks like. I don't feel like we got a good example of "address", but I really liked the way that Jess tried to push the question.

There was a very brief discussion about agitprop. I wish we could have pursued that more. It occurred to me that if one is looking for somewhat bolshy SF, one kinda has to find some good recommendations from people. There are certain subgenres that lend themselves to a particular political viewpoint: if you pick up any military SF, you probably have a good idea about what political viewpoint it'll echo. Is there any subgenre that is more obviously aligned with any leftist political position? ("China Mieville" is not a subgenre) Jess made a funny comment about how she reads fantasy, liking to identify with characters that seem a bit more like her crowd of people, except that occasionally the main characters are secretly the king.

Pretty much by this point, we were open to questions, and a lot of the questions were grounded in the recent protests. There wasn't much more geeky analysis in the panel. Which kinda saddened me. I'm reminded of a panel, oh, four years ago, I think, at which Eleanor said: "A rally is an action that is lacking in analysis." That comment went through my head a lot during the panel in a way that was probably not particularly useful.

A few times, I considered asking a question, but was half-hearted about it. I'd put up my hand for a while, and then drop it, and then put it up for a bit again later. Unsurprisingly, I didn't get called. I was waffling between asking the question about bolshy subgenres and asking about how one looks at the way average people react around things like "unions" and not conclude that people have been persuaded to act against their own class interests. I hadn't fully figured out the wording -- I didn't want the question to essentially argue that people are dumb. Like I said: half-hearted.

It wasn't quite the class panel that I wanted, but I appreciated it for some moments.

bcholmes: I poison you! (Circe Invidiosa)

Things I've forgotten to mention. I went to a bit of the Gathering this year. There's something about the Gathering that often brings out the worst of my social anxiety; I can't explain it. But I went to the Tea and Zines table and chatted with [personal profile] wrdnrd, [personal profile] raanve and [personal profile] littlebutfierce. I got to hear some interesting talk about zines (which, I confess, I've never really had much exposure to). Plus, [personal profile] raanve caused interpretive jazz to happen. Um. On the subject of mortality. So, that was interesting.

On Friday night, I had a fun dinner with [personal profile] erik at the little Nepali place that I like so much. Then I came back and attended a panel:

Where are Your Gods?

Where are your gods? On or off the page? Do you choose to publicize your beliefs or do you keep them private? Do you choose to risk alienating more traditional readers by an alternative spiritual path or do you stand up as an example? Do you feel ostracized for holding more traditional or conservative beliefs? Does your spirituality inform your writing? Can you be a monotheist but build a world of many gods? How important is it that your audience knows where you are coming from? Join us for a discussion of the role of personal religious belief in your writing.

P.C. Hodgell, Ada Milenkovic Brown, Suzy Charnas, Moondancer Drake, Valya Dudycz Lupescu, Pamela K. Taylor

They covered a lot of ground in the panel. I especially enjoyed Pamela Taylor's and Moondancer's contributions. There was some discussion about cultural appropriation, and a lot of talk about fictional pantheons. There were some angles that I would have been interested in hearing about. Like, for some reason, I really enjoy films about the Catholic priesthood. Priest (1994) and The Order and The Rite and films like that. Some of these films are supernatural films that accept that Catholic doctrine seems to be the truth. I've never been Catholic, but I nonetheless enjoy the films, and am willing to just take the theology at face value. So I wonder: how comfortable can a writer be writing about an existing religion as if it's real. (I've only read one of the Archangel books by Lyda Morehouse, but I suspect that's a similar example).

She was never posed this question, but Moondancer's responses seemed to suggest that her sense of authenticity seemed to come from keeping the stuff that's true in her life true in her books. Others described saying what they wanted to say about religion in one book, and then never really going back to that for fear of seeming like they had a particular bugaboo.

Eventually, though, the panel mostly devolved into a bunch of book recommendations.

Immediately after that panel, I went to do a quick volunteer job, and then hung out on the party floor for a while before heading to bed relatively early. I've been fighting a cold for a few days, and thought that an early night would be a good thing.

bcholmes: I poison you! (Circe Invidiosa)

I made it to two panels on the first day. The first was:

Immigration, Fictional and Non-Fictional

People have moved around this planet since there's been people and since there's been a plant. However, since this newfangled "nation-state" invention, it's gotten a little more complicated. Come talk about both fictional and nonfictional examples of people emigrating from one nation-state to another nation-state, remembering that immigrants aren't an abstract construct, but real people.

Mary Anne Mohanraj, Ay-leen the Peacemaker, Suzanne Alles Blom, Amal El-Mohar

There were snippets of really good stuff in this panel, but I kept imagining all the things that the panel could be, and getting a bit wistful about that. [personal profile] badgerbag has posted a bit about this panel -- mostly, she was annoyed about the metric ton of manslaining that was taking place. And, yeah, there was that. I'm especially annoyed at the (immigrant) guy who maintained that immigrants did have a debt to the great country of America that let them in, and opposed the bad guys in their homelands and is making the world a better place for all humanity.

The stuff I did like about the panel involved discussion about the nature of nation states (Mary Anne recommended Imaginary Communities). I also enjoyed hearing Mary Anne's introductory story about how she finally got her American citizenship because if she were ever convicted of a crime, new laws in the PATRIOT Act would see her immediately deported.

I was also glad to hear some non-American framing -- Amal was Canadian, and talked about interesting topics such as official languages and how unwilling Canadians are to learn "the other" language. Amal also talked about a series of ads currently running in Canada (I haven't seen them: no TV) promoting the idea of recognizing foreign training for, e.g., doctors, etc. The cause is reasonable, but frames the conversation in terms of the immigrant's usefulness to us.

I appreciated one comment from the audience about how the term assimilation seems to come with built-in blame. And a binary choice: you assimilate or don't. If other members of the community made a different choice, they're somehow wrong. She says that this stuff breaks up families, etc.

We briefly -- briefly -- touched on the language issue of "illegal" immigrants versus "undocumented" immigrants. But what I wished could have been discussed were the more radical questions: must we have immigration? Why can't we let people move to wherever they want? Why does that idea challenge so many people?

Fictional immigrants got short shrift in the conversation. Amal suggested two stories from Strange Horizons: "The Red Bride" and "Household Spirits".

Mary Anne also recommended the non-fictional Leaving India.

bcholmes: I poison you! (Circe Invidiosa)

Already, I'm having fun Wiscon moments. [personal profile] erik was telling me about his Lark's Vomit Ice Cream. I attacked [livejournal.com profile] lcohen with chemicals. [personal profile] pokershaman and I discussed how "poker" is called "furniture" in Dubai. [personal profile] badgerbag showed off her electric sparkle. Mary Anne Mohanraj cut her hair, and I barely recognize her. And I waved across a relatively empty restaurant at [personal profile] bookzombie.

Apparently, the message board is opt-in this year.


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BC Holmes

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