Allies

I should have posted sooner, but sometimes writing only makes the outrage beyond bearable, and I have been fatigued with it. Sometimes I am silent not because I don’t have thoughts on the matter — I always have thoughts on the matter — it’s because I have too many. Too many for a cohesive post, anyway. I think this one is nearly coherent.

In the past weeks there has been much discussion among the SFF community of sexism, how it manifests and what should be done about it. People have spoken eloquently and brought up a number of good points, so I’m not going re-hash them all.

There’s this one notion that strikes me, though, that I keep seeing, that there’s this network of women who help each other out at conventions, or that people only feel comfortable attending with a pre-arranged support group of friends and family.

Because sometimes the supporters don’t quite get it. Just because someone identifies themselves as an ally does not make it true.

These are the “supporters” who respond to your story saying that they understand, but that they are also removed from the immediacy. That say, “Of course I support you, but I can also be objective; I can be rational about what you’re too emotional to see clearly.” (As if emotions can only cloud judgment, rather than clarify it.)

These are the people who say, “Of course I don’t think like this, but you have to see where they’re coming from.” (Which in no way makes it acceptable.)

These are the people who make sexist jokes, and then say, “But it’s fine, because you know I don’t think like that / mean it that way. It’s just for fun.” (No. No, no it is not fun, and if you think sexist jokes are fun, that should give you pause.)

These people say, “Well of course I would believe you if you said you were harassed, but not everyone is like you.” (The harasser is not the victim.)

These are the people who are loudly offended by the suggestion that they might not be great allies. (Because allies will take that suggestion and try to find ways to be better.)

There are men to whom I don’t have to explain why any of these sentences are problems, and women to whom I do. There are total strangers who understand this immediately, and friends and family members who’ve known me for most of my life who don’t. It can be hard to know who your allies really are until something goes horribly wrong. Because these are the people who are supposed to be there for you at those times, and if this is the sort of thing they tell you, sometimes you’re too distraught to parse quite how problematic any of these statements is.

And in case I have been too subtle? Not a single one of these is an acceptable response. Ever.

That’s why I think this idea is so cool. I hope it takes off. Because sometimes our allies are not who we expected.

My personal experience with sexual harassment and rape culture has mostly not been of the physical variety, nor of the something gone horribly wrong variety. It’s littler things, insidious things that tell me someone is not my ally.

It’s the friend who sees me reading a book on feminism and bursts out laughing, because after all, there’s no need for feminism; the glass ceiling shattered ages ago, and why am I dwelling on it? The only thing limiting me is myself, after all. I should stop making excuses. (These are the people who say, “Oh, but you’re not a radical feminist, a crazy feminist; that’s different.)

It’s the people who tell me I’m overreacting. That if I want anyone to take me seriously, I can’t argue from my emotions, because those are a weakness; that somehow personal passion and anger invalidate points in an argument in a way that complete lack of empathy doesn’t.

It’s all the people in my life who have told me I can’t be as good at something because I’m female, to whom I actually have to prove I’m better at that behavior in order to be taken seriously. And then I’m an outlier for my gender: I’m not like normal girls; I’m one of the guys, a tomboy in disguise. I deserve to be treated as an equal, but not because I’m some kind an outlier.

It’s the people who’ve told me certain offensive behaviors just have to be accepted because I’m female, because there’s no way I can change the world, that I can’t expect others to hold themselves to higher standards of behavior, so I will just have to change myself to deal. And I do deal. But I shouldn’t have to.

I especially shouldn’t have to at conventions, and nor should anyone else. I can’t think of a single reason why every convention should not be a safe space. I have been lucky to attend SFF conventions where the idea of harassment is patently absurd, laughable (here’s looking at you, Sirens), and I want that to be all conventions. I want it to be my whole world.

There is a line in the TV show Angel that has stuck with me for a long time: “We live as though the world were as it should be, to show it what it can be. You’re not a part of that yet. I hope you will be.”

I hope so, too.

And those people who live as though sexual harassment of absolutely any kind, under any circumstance, is completely unacceptable?

Those are your allies.

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