TL; DR: live streaming panel on consent and safety in social dancing tonight. Be there. And by there I mean the Internet, where I know you will probably be anyway.
What readers of this blog don’t know yet is that I have a paralyzing fear of confrontation, especially for trivial issues over the internet. I will bring up an issue with a close friend/lover/family member if it affects our relationship. But I will almost never step into a fight with someone if I don’t care about maintaining their friendship. However, lately this has felt like it’s holding me back. The perfect opportunity to practice my arguing skills came up recently, so, inspired by Rosie’s post, I went for it.
The argument was about making social dance venues unsafe spaces for predatory behavior and harassment. The comment thread on one message board had coalesced around “kick out people who break the posted rules of the space,” and I cross posted another group who had crowdsourced a list of rules that I liked and an infrastructure for supporting the organizers with actually following through with action against the problem person. AND SOMEONE DISAGREED WITH ME. I’m actually incredulous that he did so. His response was troll-ish and libertarian, comparing people who like “rules” and “safety” with people who knowingly perpetuate institutionalized racism. I will be the first to admit that the dance scene isn’t perfect on race, but it was a poorly connected argument to the topic at hand.
I had also met this guy in person, meaning I knew him enough to know that if he thought this way, I did not care one bit about blowing up the friendship. At one dance weekend, he had exhibited what I now know to be poor dance etiquette several times, and I went with it because I wasn’t getting many dances and he was one of the only people asking me. I didn’t want to wait around passively for the next 6 months on the chance that we would be at another event together, and he would ask me, and I would say no, and he would wait around for long enough for me to explain that his libertarian asshattery 6 months ago informed my decision, and then the event would be ruined for both of us. That’s the beauty of the internet, we can skip all that. I also wanted to let the rest of the thread know that his post had been responded to. So, my opening move of the argument was formed: “Wow, if your attitude is that my desire for safety and bodily autonomy makes me a racist, I certainly don’t want to dance with you.”
Then I went to bed, and there was a response waiting for me in the morning. That’s how the flow of flame wars always goes, right? You reply late at night because otherwise you won’t be able to sleep, but the trolls are always up later than you. My goal was now to win the argument without compromising my productivity at work too much. I was apprehensive about opening the response. It could have been one of 3 things:
- A sincere apology along the lines of “I re-read what you linked to and realized that I had completely misunderstood it. I’m sorry for my knee jerk reaction.” THIS HAPPENS ON THE INTERNET YOU GUYS I HAVE SEEN IT.
- A brilliant, cutting argument that showed me that I was wrong.
- Doubling down on the batshittery and not really answering my questions.
I chose my troll well, because it was #3. That’s the one I was most worried about, but as I picked apart his argument, I realized that I still didn’t care what he thought of me, and he had dug himself even deeper into his hole of crazy. Apparently choosing to participate in social activities that don’t involve being attacked by drunken rapists is racist! Apparently having rules is an abuse of power! Apparently saying I don’t want to dance with him because I’m allergic to libertarianism is trying to silence him and take away his First Amendment rights!
Ok, what about the fact that I was feeding the trolls here for the sake of personal growth? I think we’ve discussed before here on DDP about how our culture can label victims who speak out as “drama-makers” – because a little social conflict is totally worse than traumatic sexual assault, you guys. I was trying to see if I could have at least a one-sided respectful conversation with someone who was wrong on the internet. Calling all disagreement “drama” plays into the very tropes of “women are crazy bitches” that we are fighting against. I’m going to continue picking my battles, but I feel that this is a really important skill for feminists to have.
You, too, can argue with the Rapey McLibertarian on your interwebs or in your life. Check out Derailing for Dummies for more on the tactics they use to make you feel bad for arguing with them. Here’s a gorgeous infographic with more than you’d ever want to know about the psychology of trolling. Also, Amanda Marcotte explains why “don’t feed the trolls” is counterproductive.
And if you’re interested in the topic we were arguing about, consent and safe spaces in dance, there will be a live panel TONIGHT at 10:30 ET via the Internet. Details will be available via the Facebook event, and I’ll try to update this post and tweet them as I hear them.