Why I will not answer all your questions

A useful resource Erin hooked me up with on the facey tody: Feminists are not responsible for educating men by Cecilia Winterfox.

I’m quite regularly asked by random dudebros to help them understand feminism or whatevs it is we grownups are talking about. The questions usually start out quite reasonable (I discuss one in this post), but gradually escalate until I realise dudebro is snowing me under with bullshit questions that turn into mansplains and manrants. I tend to give them one or two questions, and then I shut shit down. That means I delete their comments and often block them on fb. Because, mates, I just cannot be fucked. And I don’t want some niggling bastard following me around fb being a pain in the arse.

But the important part of being an ally (ie a bloke who digs feminism) is that you go out and get your learn on. This isn’t a bullshit lindy hop class where the teacher just ‘gives’ you a bunch of moves, counts you in all the time, answers all your questions in detail (instead of having you test the theory yourself), and generally babies you. This is feminism, where you are responsible for your own learns. And as a bloke, you’re in a better position to do that learning.

Your annoying questions are getting in the way of grown ups kicking the patriarchy.

Teaching and caring is labour, emotional and intellectual labour. And part of feminism is uncoupling ides of the feminine from the notion of ‘carer’. It’s giving women permission not to take on the role of ‘mother’ if they don’t want to. Or don’t have time to.

Why we should talk about sexual assault in dance.

I was just thinking about why women telling their stories about being assaulted or attacked or harassed in the lindy hop and other jazz dance scenes is so important.
It’s about consciousness raising.

In an old school feminist consciousness raising group, women would speak about their experiences. They would just tell each other about the things that had happened to them.
The assumption was that their experiences were important, and unique. Worth listening to and sharing.

Kathie Sarachild … noted that the pioneering feminists had initially thought to use consciousness-raising as a way to figure out what their next action would be. They had not anticipated that the group discussions themselves would end up being seen as a radical action to be feared and criticized. (link)

I’m always surprised by the aggression in people’s responses to suggestions that we might actually talk about, let alone do something about, male sexual violence. But I shouldn’t be: it is a profoundly powerful act.
Women should be quiet. We should do as we’re told. Because we are overly emotional and can’t be trusted to be strong and capable. So many things in our day to day lives tell us to shoosh and sit down.

You’re too fat! Too uncool! Your hair is weird! Your skin is bad! Don’t draw attention to all that!
Don’t draw attention to yourself on the train (you’ll get hassled)!
Don’t wear a short skirt (you’ll get catcalled)!
Don’t ask too many questions (you’ll be seen as needy)!

Stop! Don’t! Think twice! Question your choices! Question yourself!

We’re encouraged to doubt ourselves, and that doubt keeps us in our seats. It makes us want to be invisible.

We’re also encouraged to believe that sexual assault is something that strange men do to women on the street who aren’t careful.
But it doesn’t. It usually happens in our homes, and is perpetrated by people we know.

But because women’s voices are drowned out by film, television, popular music, books – patriarchal discourse – women assume their own experiences are an aberration. Unusual. Probably their own fault. If those things even happened at all. ‘Gaslighting‘ is a particularly horrible way of making women shut up. People tell these women that what they’re talking about isn’t true, and didn’t happen. And women believe them.

So when women do speak up – just as Sarah and those other women did – it’s consciousness raising.
It tells other women that their experiences aren’t (sadly) unique.
It tells other women that they are not alone.
It tells men that they can’t get away with their actions in secret; women won’t keep those secrets for them.
It tells men that their friends, family, and partners – not strangers – are hurting women.

Because it’s the secretiveness that enables male crimes of violence.

Carol Hanisch said that consciousness-raising worked because it destroyed the isolation that men used to maintain their authority and supremacy (link).

This is why it’s not only important to speak up, it’s important to speak up in public, and to speak to other women.

But.
Once these women have spoken up, it’s our job to take the baton. We can’t ask them to do everything: this one thing that they have done has taken monumental strength and bravery. We owe them a response that is as brave and coherent as action.

A half-arsed report on our sexual harassment responses

[note]This was a post on the facey, which I’ve started writing up here.[/]

Remind me to write up a report on how our new reporting and preventing sexual harassment and accidents process went at LBW.

Short version: it worked.

Mid-length version: we put together a door handbook, reporting forms, and a process for reporting incidents. We ‘trained’ managers in the process, and we let volunteers know about the process via the handbook, email, and in person talk.

Long version: how online discussions, reports of assaults made by very brave women and girls, and getting angry and upset led to the development of policies, of material codes and rules, and then practical processes and documents. A success story.

Things we needed:

  • An online version of our code of conduct, easily accessible from one click on event website, and well publicised on facebook.
  • A brief paper version of the code printed on the back of the event program which was packed into registrants’ envelopes.
  • A full version of the code printed and put into the event handbook.
  • Paper incident report forms in the event handbook.
  • A process for making reports (including a quiet place to do the, who should do them, and how, etc etc).

Most importantly, we needed good will from all the volunteers, staff, and managers. And that was the easy bit. Everyone was really keen to make this work, and really just saw this as an extension of our Swing Dance Sydney rules:

  1. Look after your partner
  2. Look after the music
  3. Look after yourself

What a lovely group of people.
This is by no means a finished project, but it’s actually turned out to be a very interesting and productive one.

13344581_10153611377823483_2930802524378605505_n

Packing the code of conduct (on the back of the program) into registrants’ envelopes.

 

 

 

13315547_10153611381933483_5111295868712487877_n

A first version of our event handbook, which contains lots of things, including: event program in plain text, door count sheets, cash count sheets, incident report forms, code of conduct, guide to identifying wrist bands, various paper signs, etc etc. All in one central folder.
There were two copies of this handbook, and each has a plastic slip on the front for adding notes or action items when handing over shifts or responsibilities.

13315680_10153611382133483_8751312588924837771_n A first draft of our incident report form, which drew on examples provided by lots of useful people who work in places that have decent reporting processes for accidents, etc.
These forms are in our event handbook.

 

13339482_10153611382288483_6080499492564714442_nThe longer version of our code of conduct, in paper form. It explains what counts as sexual harassment, and s.h. is just part of the ’emergency’ and ‘incident’ part of the handbook, after what to do if there’s a fire.

 

13319936_10153611382293483_5897772960599469148_n The paper version of our code of conduct on the back of an event program. Which is available at the door at events, in registrants’ rego packs, and as a promotional item distributed to venues in the week or two before the event.

Having it so readily available is an attempt to normalise this sort of talk and material. So ordinary that everyone has read it.

 

[Note] That was the original post. Then there were some comments. Here are some of them.[/]

Tal Engel: Can you elaborate on the phrase “it worked”? Are there any incidents you’re comfortable discussing where the system came into play?

We had no reports (thankfully, but also – maybe we had incidents but no reports?), so I can’t talk about that issue.

But I think ‘it worked’ relates mostly to the ‘consciousness raising’ part of the exercise, to quote old school activism. So by having lots of people involved in the process, from stuffing envelopes to handling a handbook, we gave people access to the code, and to the process. We demystified our process, but we also demystified sexual assault and harassment a bit. I hope.

I also wanted to make it clear that these things are _all_ of our responsibilities, and something that happens in our public places between friends, not in dark car parks by strangers.

It also ‘worked’ as a practical skills development process for me, and for the rest of the group. So actually putting together a handbook took some practice and real thinking – far more than I had expected. And it took several drafts to create something more accessible. Still needs work I reckon.

It also worked as a way of engaging all the staff in thinking about events as community spaces, where problems (whether they’re someone needing a bandaid, or someone needing a quiet place to sit and talk) are solveable.

…I think one of the most effective parts of this whole process was the online discussion of this process on our facebook event page.

I just matter of factly laid out the deal. But this also dovetailed with the way I engage with people on the event fb page: prompt replies to queries, but professional in tone. I also use my real name and face on event pages (rather than the event’s home page ID), so that our events have a ‘face’ and a name behind them. This makes it easier for people to see who they’re ‘talking to’, but also says ‘hey, I respond to your concerns’, which hopefully sets up an example of how I might respond to reports of assaults.
More importantly, this public talk in a public forum also addresses the lurkers, who are the vast majority of readers. They might never post on the page, but they read how I engage, and see what I do.
I’d really, really hope that this also normalises modes of discourse for this topic. ie just as having other women leads in your scene encourage other women to lead, having someone addressing these issues clearly, personally, and professionally might also encourage similiar responses.

What I really hope is that people will do as I do when I go to an event: see the best stuff other people do and then copy shamelessly in an attempt to be as good at it as they are. So hopefully people will see what I did, steal the good bits, and improve on it all, fixing the bits I’m not good at.

13087454_10153541191933483_297896331261212459_n Related to this ‘putting a face and name to an event’ stuff, is having badges for volunteers. It’s something for volunteers and staff to know when they’re on duty (you take it off when you’re off duty), but it’s also a clear way of identifying staff (and you need to tell punters about this). If I had more money, I’d have done Tshirts :D

I’d add that this wasn’t a particularly difficult process. It just took a while. And we had to approach it as an iterative process: where you don’t just do it and then, boom, it’s finished. You see each version as one step in an ongoing process.

I think that it was very important to be very angry and determined to do this. If I hadn’t be so angry, and if I hadn’t wanted so much to look out for my peeps, I probably would have given up ages ago.

I think this process makes it very clear that a simple code of conduct squirrelled away on a website is pretty much useless on it’s own.

Some of the most important parts of this process were:

  • Having a lateral power structure (rather than a top-down power pyramid dynamic thingy), where everyone had a role to play, and power to do things and make decisions – from volunteers and people making reports to musicians and managers. To me, this is THE most important part of this process. If it’s just a boss ‘saving’ women, then we’re not changing anything; we’re reinforcing the status quo.
  • Getting people involved by asking for help, by posting about my sticking points on fb (eg posting that I needed a reporting form but had no clue where to start gave me a bunch of useful comments and messages, plus actual examples of other people’s forms).
  • Letting go and letting other people do stuff.

[note]After some other discussion, I got to this point…[/]
What I’d really like to do is get together with other organisers and peeps at some weekend event to talk through what we do and what they do. There’s already a very healthy network of people sharing ideas, but I want MORE!

[note]This is the bit I want to emphasise. I’ve learnt most from seeing what other people are doing. And I want MORE of it.[/]

As an example, I learnt a lot from talking to Ben Beccari about handbooks and practical emergency response stuff. He’s doing a Phd in disaster response, so he’s kind of mad skilled. I also talked to people like Liam Hogan about how the SES does stuff here. And I had examples from friends of reporting strategies (I’d better not name them in case it’s meant to be confidential :D ). I also followed up ideas with my femmo stroppo mates (like Kerryn, Zoe, Kate, Penni, Tammi, Liah, Naomi, Daniel, and MANY more) for their suggestions and ideas, which came from their big brains, and also their experience as activists at community and local levels.

…I keep adding names, but there are too many. So many people had excellent ideas.

[note]end[/]

So, that’s what I have from that post.
I’ve written about what we’ve been doing in a few other posts already:

*1. I think a code of conduct is important because it sets out your goals and ideals in plain language. I go into why codes are important in this post.
2. ‘Cultural change‘ is about changing the way we do things. The way we think about teaching and teach, the way we think about learning and learn, the way we think about social dancing and social dance, the way we think about partners and treat our partners, the way we think about ourselves and treat ourselves. All of this stuff changes what we do and think about what we do. I like to mix feminism with historical example: I have clear political goals, but I want to use and stay true to the creative and practical examples of the swing and jazz era.
3. Developing strategies for practical change means confronting men about their behaviour, training staff, and banning offenders. But in a thoughtful, organised way, not a random, ad-hoc way. Our practical actions (what we actually do) must be guided by solid thinking and a sense of consequence. We need to be safe, we need to confident, we need to be organised.

**In this one I wrote this paragraph, which really sums up my whole purpose:

There have been some scary moments, but, for the most part, it’s actually been a very exciting and positive experience. Sitting down and thinking about what we want to do, and talking about the good things we want to see has been very exciting. It makes us feel good. This is what activism is about: you start by getting angry. You do some learning, and then you start doing things which make you powerful.

***One of the most important parts of dealing with sexual harassment, is women having the confidence to speak up. To speak in public. Male perpetrators rely on women and girls being too frightened to speak up and challenge them. To tell people about the things that men are doing. They threaten women and girls into staying silent, and they rely on broader social forces which discourage women to keep them quiet.
When those women first wrote about Mitchell’s violent criminal acts on this blog, one of the responses was that they should have made private complaints, spoken to the police, been more polite. More careful.

Their speaking up was very important. Very, very important. And this is one of the reasons I’m not entirely for male feminists. I think that the very act of speaking up is a political act, and one of the key parts of being a feminist. We are told sit down and shut up. And when we stand up and say no, we are doing a radical thing.

And this is where I’ll end this post.
We have to speak up. A private email or private discussion between a woman and her attacker or an organiser is an extension of the conditions that made that assault possible in the first place. We are supposed to push issues of sex and interpersonal violence between men and women into the private sphere. It’s not supposed to be appropriate for public discussion.

In simpler terms, I know that if I send a private email to a man who is a sexual offender or one of their offenders, he’s much more likely to try to bully me, frighten me, attack me. I do my talk in public now, because it’s safer. I want witnesses. Just as I don’t ban or warn offenders in person unless I’m in a public place with plenty of witnesses.

And I know this, because it happens. So I say: speak up. Be sure you have buddies to get your back, but speak up. And by buddies, I’m saying ‘sisterhood is powerful’. This is what that expression means: when we work together, women and girls are far more powerful than most men would like to think. We can protect each other and ourselves.

And after all, that’s what all this is about: women protecting themselves and each other.

Using femmo stroppo tactics. Or, Bitches Get Shit Done. Or, disagreeable feminists will discomfort you.

I think it’s worth copying this discussion from fb to here. Not too long ago I got into a ‘discussion’ on fb about why codes of conduct are important. One of the things that struck me was how aggressively one woman rejected the idea of structural change to reduce attacks on women (ie codes of conduct), and also tried to get me to moderate my tone. A bit of ‘tone policing‘.

I often have people (especially men) say they won’t read what I write, or don’t think what I’m saying is important because I swear too much, or because I’m ‘too aggressive’. In the case of this woman, somehow a discussion about whether codes of conduct are important became a bit of a ‘pity party’ for her. It was interesting, because I see this sort of tactic from women quite often. They’re disagreed with, so they respond by playing the martyr so people will ‘stop being mean’ (read: stop disagreeing with them). This is interesting in this case, because she’d said earlier in that thread that she didn’t think we needed codes of conduct because she feels confident enough to speak up for herself.

The tone policing is important, because the very point of the discussion was to change conditions so that women had more room to speak up for themselves, to accuse an attacker, to prevent harassment of other women, to agitate for social change, to be disagreeable.
I find that whenever I’m particularly confident or fierce in my language (even without swearing! :D ), I’m described as being ‘aggressive’ or ‘bullying’. When I reread what I’ve written, I’m really not being aggressive or bullying. I’m being confident. What I suspect is that the cliche of people seeing a woman who speaks at all in public as ‘aggressive’ applies here. And, more importantly, this idea of an ‘aggressive’ woman is deeply unsettling. For men, and for women who identify with a conventional gender identity.

There’s a lot going on in this exchange, but the bits that caught my interest were:

  • this woman used her personal experience to justify resisting a policy which would protect people who had other experiences;
  • the combination of ‘I’m strong enough to speak up for myself’ and the ‘stop being mean!’ in her language. It was conflicting logic which unsettled the discussion, and established her as a little ‘unstable’ and conventionally feminine (hence justifying the idea that we should be kind to her);
  • I was actually rather moderate in my responses to her – I didn’t swear at her (I rarely do that; I swear near people all the time, but very, very rarely swear at people – that’s not cool), but I very clearly engaged with her points individually. This was the point at which she switched tactics from ‘oh, but I don’t think we need that’ to ‘don’t be mean!’ She positioned herself as being ‘attacked’, rather than being engaged in discussion;
  • somehow we ended up a long way from a discussion of actual, physical attacks on women, instead having one woman positioning herself as ‘under attack’ when she was really just being disagreed with.

This is something that women often do. They manage a conversation that isn’t going their way through a combination of performing a defenceless victim role, and quite selfish arguments against working to safeguard other women. To me, this is the most disturbing part of patriarchy. It recruits women in their own disempowerment.
One of the consequences it had for me, was to doubt my own thinking. Was I ‘being mean’? I went through and reread the discussion. No, I wasn’t. I didn’t add any personal attacks (where I attacked her, rather than her argument), I didn’t get nasty with her. I just engaged each of her points, outlining how they were inaccurate. I think this was the issue: she saw a sustained disagreement as an ‘attack’.
I know there comes a point where we should abandon arguments online, or face to face. For all sorts of reasons. And usually I do, because GOD TIRED. But at that point I decided I’d see this through and untangle each of the points she presented.

What I was left thinking, was that when a woman does engage in public disagreements, using consistent, persistent logic or resistance, she’s perceived as ‘aggressive’. This is so in conflict with my training as a Phd and MA candidate, that I can’t quite accept it. I am trained to think through a point to it’s logical conclusion. I’m trained to hang onto an idea, working it over and over, to see where it leads.
I know that women are trained to avoid conflict, to use other methods for disagreeing or disapproving. But I think that it is important to be persistent in discussions sometimes, particularly as a woman. I deliberately chose not to adopt that preferred feminine mode of response where I would have apologised or reframed my points to make her feel comfortable. I wanted to discomfort her logic. Just that one time.

Because I get so tired of being sensible and calm and gentle. I’m tired of hearing the ‘you catch more flies with honey’ line. Being angry is important. And in this instance, where we are talking about sexual assault, physical attacks on women, I think it essential that we get angry. We need to persist. Being angry and loud and disagreeable is powerful. It’s feminist. It should unsettle and disturb. Those men who harass women rely on their not speaking up. They rely on women keeping quiet to avoid drama, violence, or being accused of being ‘aggressive’. So we should practice speaking up.

Anyhoo, moving on. This exchange was an example of how one woman argued that her personal experience was justification for not adopting systemic change.
I’ve also heard this argument against adopting codes of conduct: ‘we deal with these issues on a case by case basis’. This argument is a way of insisting that individualism is more important than collectivism. Or, more clearly, it makes it impossible to see the forrest for the trees. If we respond to each assault as a ‘single case’, we are so busy dealing with ‘cases’, we don’t see patterns. I think that the case by case approach is an explicit tool for resisting change, and enabling sexual assault. Because it responds to sexual assault, rather than preventing it. Assaults will still happen; women will still be attacked. The power of the authority ‘dealing’ with incidences is maintained; women are kept powerless. They’re not given tools to prevent assault. Men aren’t taught that assaulting women is not ok. I discussed this in my previous post, ‘yes all men, and all women. all of us.’.

Societies and cultures and communities are groups of individuals. But we are also people with shared experiences, and there are patterns of behaviour and experience. Collectivism is an important concept if we are to prevent sexual assault, not just respond to it.

Anyways, this brings me to my next point. That post ‘yes all men, and all women. all of us.’ was a post on fb. And one of the comments was quite interesting. A man asked:

What’s an example of a systemic barrier in organisations? I’m not being difficult, it’s just sometimes easier to see things once they’re pointed out that’s all

This was the perfect question. If we aren’t dealing with sexual assault on a case-by-case basis, if there are ‘systemic barriers’ (or broader cultural patterns of disempowerment), how do we identify them? This is a tricky one. And such a good question.

I replied:
In a lindy hop context, not paying women teachers as much as male teachers, or only offering dances classes at the times babbies need the most care (ie 6.30pm). Both are examples of how an organisation or system makes it harder for women to continue teaching or learning, and favour men or people who don’t have child-caring responsibilities.
Still a systemic barrier, but more about discursive barriers: always referring to follows as ‘she’ or ‘ladies’.

Learning to see barriers is harder if you tend to benefit from barriers that affect others inversely. I keep my radar out, and the things that usually ping that radar are, for example, structural things that are divided by gender, or only affect women. So, for example, ‘wearing high heels in lindy hop’. If only women wear heels, or are encouraged to wear heels, I’m immediately suspicious. Similarly, if beginner dance classes divide students into leads and follows, but use gendered language to do so (eg ‘ladies over here, men over here’).
Context is important, of course. So because we live in the context of patriarchy, I tend to be suspicious of things that are related to gender. But you might also be looking for things like ethnicity: are all the teachers in a school white/anglo? Are all the performers in a troupe white/anglo? Are all the students in a class white/anglo? If that’s the case, then the next step is to ask ‘why?’ If you see broader patterns, then it’s probably structural or systemic barriers at work, preventing or discouraging certain people from entering the group.
The next step is then to start investigating. You can ask people of colour (POC) why they aren’t taking dance classes, but it’s more useful to start by observing things like language, social settings, clothing and other cultural stuff, etc etc.

Luckily, we have a few generations of feminists and other activists and thinkers to give us an idea of what to look for, and how to look for it.

Probably the most important tool for you, as hooman, is critical thinking. If you see something (eg no women on a DJing team), ask ‘why’, rather than just accepting it, or accepting an excuse like ‘there just aren’t any women DJs’. Similarly, if we see it’s only women, or mostly women being sexually harassed in a dance scene, ask ‘why?’ Because there are patterns (ie it’s women, not women and men being harassed in large numbers), then there are probably broader factors at play, beyond individual people – eg systemic, structural, discursive, cultural factors.

Once you’ve observed those systemic barriers, you can set about dismantling them. If you are in a position of relative privilege, then you are in a great place to do this sort of work.

I feel, as someone who benefits from systemic barriers (because I am a white, middle class women living in a big city in a developed country), I feel I have a responsibility to ask questions, and to be curious or suspicious. The nice thing about jazz dance, is that as a vernacular dance (ie a street dance, or ordinary social dance), it really works well as a tool for changing things, or asking questions, or being curious and creative.

I think, then, to summarise, addressing systemic change is about empathy. Thinking beyond your own personal experience. And I think that this is where my real problem with that woman at the beginning of this post lies. I believe in using empathy, imagining what it’s like to be someone else, to address patriarchy. That woman made an explicit call for empathy: ‘don’t be mean’. But I persisted, even though it caused her discomfort. Was this unfeminist? If sisterhood is at the heart of feminism (for me), then should I have stopped ‘being mean’?
It’s a tricky one. When I write on fb or here on this blog, I always remember that there are far, far more people reading along than commenting. So when I continued in that discussion, not heeding her ‘don’t be mean’ response, I risked alienating readers. Particularly female readers.
But I know that demonstrating how different ways of being a woman is important. Just as the best way to get more women leading in lindy hop is to have more women leading in lindy hop, having women speaking up and being disagreeable – and coming out of it unscathed – is a way to model speaking up for yourself when you’re sexually harassed.

The irony, of course, is that many conservative peeps find it difficult to empathise with women who aren’t conventionally feminine, who aren’t quiet and meek victims. Who are confident and vocal and disagreeable.

But as we all know, bitches get shit done.

In that setting, I figure I can be that outlier – the bitch at the far end of the spectrum. And hopefully someone else can fly under the radar, being sneakily subversive, rather than loud and stroppy. Me, I don’t have the patience. I’m femmo stroppo because my friends are being assaulted – attacked, raped, hurt – by men. And there’s no time to waste.

Yes, all men. And all women. All of us.

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The third panel in this is actually the most important. And this is where I like to put most of my effort when it comes to addressing sexual harassment. Because sexual harassment is about injustice, and about sexism, and dealing with it on a ‘case by case basis’ is total bullshit.
This is the point of feminism: we do actually have shared experiences, as women. And these are the product of social structures, as much as (or more than) the actions of individual men.
If we deal with sexual harassment on a case by case basis, we say ‘These individual men are the problem’. When we address broader institutional and cultural factors, we say ‘The way we organise our schools and events and parties and businesses and organisations is the problem. If we fix those, we _prevent_ sexual harassment, instead of just _responding_ to it.’

Just start with believing her

The Perception Gap: Women Half As Likely to Believe Women and Men Have Equal Opportunities in the Workplace

Perceptions of gender inequity. With special mention of Lake Wobegone, aka town of Prairie Home Companion.
Unsurprisingly, the people who benefit from inequity are less aware of it than those who are disadvantaged by the status quo. I see clear links with the way men are less aware of sexual harassment in lindy hop than women, and so more resistant to changes to the status quo to prevent it.
aka the ‘it doesn’t happen to me, so it must not be true’ factor. aka the ‘I do not possess empathy’ factor. aka the ‘ffs factor’.

(props to Gina Helfrich for the link).

…I’m also thinking that one of the key issues in responding to sexual harassment, in this context, is that men simply have to believe women when they report sexual harassment. I know men who say ‘I want to hear his side of the story first’. As though it doesn’t really happen unless a man observes and reports it. As though these men need a man (ie someone exactly like them) to report and explain it. Because it is so far beyond their own lived experience.

But I’m struck by how unwilling men are to just believe a woman when she says that X assaulted her, or that she was harassed by Y. They ‘want the other side of the story’, as though this side isn’t enough.

And I always think in response, “Yeah, because that guy who tells his story is totally going to substantiate her report. ‘Yep, totally raped her, she’s 100% correct’.” I can tell you what the other side of the story will be: he will deny it, he will accuse her of lying or exaggerating or being too sensitive or attention-seeking, and you will believe him. Because you simply can’t imagine this being true, and you have no personal experience with sexual harassment, and you don’t ‘see’ it in your everyday.

When you say ‘I need to hear his side of the story’ or ‘he has a right of reply’, you are actually saying, “I don’t believe that what you are saying could be true. I don’t believe you. I think you are lying.” And you look for that ‘other side’ of the story to substantiate and echo your own experience and ‘common sense.’ Because this woman sounds ‘too emotional’ or ‘kind of nuts’ or ‘over the top’ or ‘alarmist’. So you can’t quite believe her.

Just believe her. Start there. Perhaps your own experience of the world is not universal after all?

Why we need codes of conduct and sexual assault response strategies

I believe that our dance community is generally well behaved, and I am not sure we need a codified response. Just be respectful to everyone, respect their space, dont abuse your position, much the same as in everyday life. Dancing gives no extra rights to misbehave. But we are all adults, right?

I get people like the thought of a code of conduct because it makes people feel better but all i see is another paper in a system that should be a far more simple system of either make that person leave, call the police that’s against the law common sense.

I feel that as a bunch of adults we as a community should not need a code of conduct to dictate that we obey the law.

These are a few quotes from recent online discussions about sexual harassment policies. They are taken out of context. My aim here is to show the language that’s used to defend these positions. These are actual examples of quite common phrases used in these discussions.

The number of people publicly saying ‘we don’t need codes of conduct’ or sexual harassment policies in lindy hop are increasing, the further we get in time from the stories about Stephen Mitchell. I’m not entirely sure what their motivations are. But we can read these statements as suggesting ‘I don’t think rape and attacks are important enough to change the status quo.’ I wonder if their opinions would be the same if people were being knifed or bashed or kicked. I don’t think they realise that rape involves physical pain and violence, as well as intimidation and threats. That sexual harassment or grooming of girls and women by predators involves the systematic intimidation, threatening, isolation, and manipulation over a long period of time.

That’s actually not true. There have been a number of high profile rape and assault cases lately in the international lindy hop scene over the years, and sexual harassment is an ongoing issue. The consequences (besides horrible stuff happening to our friends) include drops in class numbers and event attendees (ie financial consequences), a loss of community knowledge (ie social sustainability declines as people with experience leave). All this despite (or because?) offenders knowing that their actions are illegal, immoral, and disrespectful. All this because these offenders know that no one will call them on their behaviour and inflict real-world consequences.
Because the men in our dance community don’t seem to grasp the fact that raping women and girls is not ok, we need to be more proactive in preventing and responding to this issue.
At this stage, my main focus is on the way men don’t call other men on their behaviour. Calling out offenders is left to organisers, and to women. As the comments above suggest, there is an assumption that sexual harassment is a problem for organisers and targets and no one else. Me, I think it’s a problem we should all be looking at. Most particularly men, because it is men who commit most of these offences. Interestingly (enragingly?) it is when I call out men for not stepping up that people get angriest with me. Because, I think, this is the matter that most destablises the status quo. Or as we femmostroppos like to say, this is the point at which we address patriarchy in the most explicit way.

Why are codes of conduct important?
You may choose to have a ‘statement of intent’ or a ‘manifesto’ or a set of ‘rules’. This document or blob of words is not implied or hinted at or common sense. It is a clear and explicit statement of your values, and your limits.

Codes of conduct are important because they:
a) Are a public symbol telling people that your organisation is not ok with sexual assault and will act on reports;
b) Make explicit implicit or implied ‘common sense’ standards and rules. So that we can actually be sure we all have ‘common’ (or shared) values and ‘rules’.
c) This then gives teachers/employees/contractors within the organisation a set of clear guidelines: what are our ‘goals’? What is our position on this? This then guides future policies and actions;
d) It gives students and punters a clear outline of what the organisation’s policy is;
e) Give you an ideological guide for developing policy;
f) Give you a clear list of ‘rules’ to set in your agreements with contractors like musicians, DJs, and teachers. Basically, I say “by working for me, you agree to read and abide by this code. If you can’t agree with it, then you do not work with me or attend my event.”

b is especially important, because the vague or implied ‘common sense’ rules (instead of explicit rules) are used by offenders as an excuse – eg “I didn’t know it wasn’t ok.” It’s also increasingly clear that some men and women simply don’t know what constitutes sexual harassment. So women don’t know that they can trust their instincts, and men don’t know that what they’re doing is both sexual harassment.

My code of conducts make it very clear: if you can’t agree to not rape people, you are not welcome at my dance or in my community.

Since our organisation Swing Dance Sydney instituted a code of conduct and clear oh&s policies, dancers who identify as queer or trans, young women, decent men, have said that they feel welcome at our events, or at the least the idea of our events makes them feel welcome. Basically, we are making our events openly hostile and uncomfortable for male sexual offenders, and much friendlier and more welcoming for everyone else.
Our events are also much better as a result of all this work. We’ve just put on better events because we’ve had to think through how we look after people, how we develop and design guidelines and practices, and then we implement and communicate them to workers. This means that there are fewer fuck ups in the program, fewer technical errors, and less general bullshit. Because we’ve gone over these bloody things so many times we’ve caught most of the common problems and fixed most of the crap.

I don’t think codes are enough on their own, but they are important. I have adopted them for all my events, in both paper and digital forms.

But I have also developed:
1) Practical strategies for responding to complaints (eg banning offenders, then training staff to respond when those banned offenders turn up at events).
2) In-class teaching strategies to effect cultural change (ie making it clear that sexual harassment is not ok; skilling and powering up women to give them confidence; teaching men how to touch women with respect).
3) In-person strategies for talking about our code (eg I do speeches at our events that are both funny and important).
4) Skills for dealing with offenders myself.
5) Policies and training that skill up our volunteers and staff so they can step up.

I have already has SERIOUS and marked responses to these policies. I have banned serial offenders. I have responded to women’s complaints/requests for help. I have skilled myself up in confronting frightening, aggressive men. I have dealt with musicians, DJs, and dancers who sexually harass.
Our classes are much better, and we’ve seen students developing good lindy hop, the confidence to improvise (and not micromanage their partners), and we see great social dancing.
I have learnt how to address and teach follows in ways that actually articulate what following is. None of this ‘just follow’ crap for me. This has helped me and my students see how follows (and implicitly, women) are not just objects to be moved about by leads.
Our door staff are more confident and capable. Our musicians are more engaged with us as people (not just punters). And the parties are heaps more fun.

Our events are better. I think that this is the most important part: by taking greater care with one particular issue, and for one particular group, all our punters are better taken care of. Our events and projects are simply better, because we have had to think through these issues and implement strategies. It’s pushed us to become better at what we do; we don’t just continue to do things as they’ve always been done. I actually think this last point is the marker of working with an ambitious, motivated group of people. And they put this sort of energy and focus into their dancing too, which makes the dancing so much better as well.

Relatedly, the ‘common sense’, or ‘we’re all just decent people’ discourses that inform labour relationships (DJing, teaching, volunteering) within the lindy hop world often facilitate exploitation. The implicit hierarchies of power enable exploitation (and sexual harassment), but do not necessitate the reciprocal duty of care and responsibility that goes with formal declarations in other hierarchical social systems.

Basically, the ‘we’re all decent people’ and ‘common sense’ approaches haven’t stopped sexual assault and harassment in lindy hop. They’ve enabled it. So either we change it to help people, or we let things stay the same and accept that we are enabling rape.

Fucking harden up, blokes, and get your shit together.

A very nice male friend posted this on facebook tonight:

It occurs to me that I have never ever had to consider the fact that at some point in my life I may be raped. It’s just so improbable that it would ever happen to me that it’s not worth considering.
The fact that around half the planet are confronted with that very real possibility blows my fucking mind.

I commented there (though I should have just gone straight here to my blog):

I sometimes think the only possible response is deep, dark depression, crippling anxiety, or manslaughter. I remember reading in Adam Gussow’s book ‘Seems like murder here’ a story about the song Crazy Blues. In the south, lynching and violence were so common, black lives so curtailed and repressed, that ‘going crazy’ was sometimes the only response – a young man or women would ‘go crazy’ and talk back, hit back to a white assailant, triggering a horrific violence for themselves and family. Because they just couldn’t stand it any more.

When I think about the awful shit that that men do to women and children every single day, I get so angry. I get so angry I can’t even move. Because if I didn’t get that angry, I’d fall into a pit of depression and never get out.

I think that this is the truly unbelievable thing: that women deal with the constant threat of violence, the constant sexual harassment and bullying, the absolute curtailment of our careers, our physical liberty, our creative lives, and we just continue on. When you think of this, eating disorders and self-harm seem the only real way to gain control of your own body and life. The other amazing thing is that women don’t end up hating men. But of course we don’t, we’re trained to blame ourselves and hate ourselves instead. So maybe it’s even more amazing that feminists don’t just hate all men.

This is why men don’t need more male role models to improve their behaviour. They need to look at the women who do get up every day and go to work or become leaders or raise families, and think “I want to be like her, because she did all this despite the daily threat of rape and violence.” They need to look at women in our lindy hop scene, and think, ‘Holy fuck. She’s standing up there on stage DJing, singing, judging, teaching, organising, drawing attention and making herself visible, and she knows there are men out there in the crowd who are thinking about raping her, and she does it anyway, because fuck. A life lived in fear is a fucking waste and fuck that shit.’

Me, especially now I’m older, I’m both burning with rage, and also deeply patient and prepared to do most anything to fix shit. This is why I don’t give second chances to sexual harassers in my lindy hop scene, this is why I call out fuckwit men who make sexist jokes, this is why I am prepared to stand up and call BULLSHIT on event organisers who don’t have sexual harassment policies and don’t hire women DJs, this is why I have no fucking patience for whingey arse men who sook about not getting their own way in the lindy hop world. Compared to the way I worry about my own safety every day in my own home, some arsehole man giving me shit on the internet is nothing. NOTHING. I’m here to make things harder for them, and easier for women. Straight up: I am a pain in the patriarchy’s arse. Because I am so fucking done with this shit.

What I don’t understand is how a man can like a woman (any woman!) just even a little bit, and not step up and do whatever he can to make her life better for her. Why don’t men tell men around them to quit groping women, to stop the stupid sexist jokes? If I can do this, with that fear of violence, how fucking slack are the men in our world, that they can’t overcome the inertia of their own privilege to speak up for me and for other women and girls? What the actual fuck are they doing with their time?
I’m still really angry and disappointed in my male friends that I have to confront a man to tell him to stop groping women. I have to risk him threatening me in public. I have to risk him coming after me when I’m alone. I have to choose to look over my shoulder at dance events forever. When the men who would be risking so much less won’t even come and stand next to me when I confront him because they are ‘too scared’!

One of the things I’ve learnt about stepping up is that I’m actually fucking brave and fucking fierce. Sure, I’m more visible, and I may be increasing my risks. I sure as fuck risk my professional reputation, because stepping up actually loses me teaching and DJing gigs. But FUCK it. I’m really tired of being careful. I’ve decided to be a pain in the arse. Because yolo. I’m a middle class white woman, and I have a degree of power. It’s my responsibility to use it. And it makes me fucking strong, and fucking fierce. I have to remember that the next time a scary guy tries to touch me on the train. I can fuck his shit up if I need to.

It’s at moments like this that I get far, far angrier at the men I know who don’t assault women, but are also NOT taking half the risks women take every day, to stand up, and get fucking useful. Wearing a stupid white ribbon on your shirt doesn’t make a man a useful ally against violence. Standing up and getting in the way makes a man a useful ally. Speaking up and interrupting yet another sexist joke makes a man an ally. Learning to follow makes a man an ally. Shutting up and letting a woman speak makes a man an ally.

Jesus christ. It’s not that hard. Fucking harden up, blokes, and get your shit together.

Women MCs

Is it different for women? – Lucinda Holdforth (2/23/2016)

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I’ve been thinking about the role of MCs in the dance world, lately, and why so few of the best known (and paid) MCs are women. Basically, the reason is SEXISM on the part of organisers. If you haven’t hired a woman MC, you’re buying into patriarchy. That’s just the deal. Excuses like ‘He’s just so funny’ or ‘People know him’ or ‘I just can’t find any women MCs’ will NOT fly. Teaching at an international level requires good speaking skills, so if you’re hiring a woman teacher, you’ve got the beginnings of good women MCs.
This is my favourite bit of this article (of course):

Know that the rules are there, and that they are stupid. And chuck them. Overcome them. Overturn them. If we all stopped playing by the rules, then the rules would quickly crumble. Make your jokes, admit your weaknesses, boast about your accomplishments, wear whatever-the-hell you like, don’t give a damn about a few extra kilos, take up a lot of space, and generally act like you own the joint.

What are we actually doing about sexual harassment?

We at Swing Dance Sydney have developed a several-prong approach to this issue over the past few years. Everyone we know has been asked for advice or suggestions, and it’s definitely a collaborative project. It takes time, thought, and research. I looked up other organisations’ codes of conduct, and govt bodies’ s.h. prevention strategies. including the human rights commission’s definitions of s.h.

Each step has kind of developed from the one before. And we keep going back and revising and improving things.

For example:

  • We developed a code of conduct, referring to lots of other examples.
  • Then we needed definitions of sexual harassment for that code, so we all knew what we were talking about.
  • Then we had to give students FAQs for making complaints, knowing their boundaries, etc.
  • Then we had to be available for students to talk to us, and we had to follow up on our hunches and ask students about things we’d seen. Which meant we needed casual social spaces and opportunities for talking with our students – like non-dancing parties.
  • Then we had to just get rid of horrible harassers.
  • Then we had to have consequences for banned people.
  • Then we had to have processes for enforcing bans.
  • Then we had to tell our door people what to do if banned people turned up.
  • Then I told other organisers in our city that we’d banned X, and I keep them updated each time I get another complaint about anyone.
  • Then we had to find out what our legal rights were.
  • Then we had to practice doing this ourselves.
  • Now I’m asking myself ‘how long is a ban? if it’s forever, how do we maintain it if the personnel and staff change?’

And of course, this has to be an interactive design process: you have to keep getting feedback on the process, and changing and improving things. Soz, but it’s never done.
My current project: a report log, and way of keeping track of issues.

batwoman-wonderwoman
This is my experience:
As a woman, it is scary as fuck to tell a big, imposing bully of a man he is banned from your event. Or to warn one. So I had to develop the bravery to do it, and contingency plans to make sure I was safe (eg I told my male friends – don’t leave me on my own for the next hour or two; I don’t want to seem vulnerable if he gets nasty). I also practiced giving warnings and bans – I wrote little scripts and then practiced them with my buddies. And I told my buddies when I was going to do it, and what their job was.

So you need to skill yourself up, look after yourself, work with other women, and develop strategies, and PRACTICE. It’s hard to overcome a lifetime of training which tells women to avoid conflict because they’re vulnerable. You have to teach yourself that you are tough. It’s helpful to think of people like Norma Miller, who was a black woman running a dance troupe in the 50s. You have to truly believe that you are the best person for this job, and that you are RIGHT.

I’m glad I do this, as I’ve had men get nasty with me in public at events (I particularly enjoyed that one time a man I’d warned earlier about non-consensual aerials trying to shout at me while I was DJing. NOT).

Documents (ie rules):
1. We have a code of conduct on our site. But I’m pretty sure no one reads it.
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So I made an abridged, paper version which is now available at the door to events on the back of a paper program (and everyone picks up a paper program, and gets one in their rego packs), which I talk about when I’m MCing at every party and workshop day at an event. I actually say it explicitly: “Have a read of this code. There’s info here about what to do if you get injured, if you feel unsafe, or if someone’s hassling you.” And I’ve actually turned to one of the (big blokey male) band members and said, “X and I were talking about this earlier, and now X knows what to do if he feels unsafe.” And we all loled, but it was very effective – no awkward shyness or silliness. I just added it to the talk about where the first aid kit is and how to get a drink of water.
The online version has actual descriptions of what counts as sexual harassment. That part is THE most important.

2. We have a parties FAQ which explains what to do if you get harassed.

3. You have to tell people you have docs – don’t hide them away on your website. And just be very casual and matter of fact about it – of course we have a code of conduct, don’t you?

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Processes:
1. I warn people who break the rules if they seem to be a bit clueless (eg air steps on the social floor, boob swiping, etc.) I encourage other people to warn other people (especially men! Men are 90% of the problem, so they should be 90% of the solution – it’s not a ‘women’s issue’!)

2. I ban people who are serial offenders, and tell them so to their face, making it clear that they cannot attend any of my events (I name them all), and if they turn up I’ll call the police. I don’t engage in discussions or conversations – I just tell them straight up. And I do it at public events in public places because my own safety is important. And I put on my invisible ‘I am an arse kicking fierce superhero’ cloak. I literally pretend that I am as tall and strong and immovable and implacable as Wonder Woman.

3. Once they’re banned, I put their name and description (and photo if I have it) on the door at our events, and circulate it to volunteers who’ll be working at events.

4. I explain the process to volunteers should these banned people turn up: Say “hello, Sam would like to speak with you, please wait a minute while I find her.” then find me and i’ll deal with it. They all work the door in pairs, so one is left at the door waiting. They’re to do some ‘important paper work’ while they wait, and not engage the bloke. Then I come and call the police immediately. No arguments or engagement.

-> I tell everyone about all these documents and processes. Since I started telling people I ban offenders, and since our volunteers started learning the process, I’ve had a scary number of people make complaints about the people I’ve banned/warned: knowing you’ll deal with this shit gives people the guts to speak up. I keep all complaints anonymous and confidential. None of this ‘right of reply’ bullshit.

Cultural change:
Of course we use gender-neutral language, stamp on homophobia, etc etc. Because we are adults, and this shit is necessary. And we don’t tolerate any of that stuff in our classes or at our parties. You simply CANNOT address these issues if you, for example, always refer to leads as ‘he’ or ‘gentlemen’. It’s a shitty barrier to fixing things up.

1. How we teach beginners. We talk about how to ‘make connection’ with a partner (eg in closed) not in terms of ‘your hand always go here’ but in terms of ‘you want to find the middle of their back, so ask them ‘is this right?’ Then we get them to practice this little conversation. Boom. Winners – it teaches them that each partner is a different size and shape, and you need to adapt to that. As opposed to having rules for ‘correct’ connection, we make it clear that ‘connection’ is about working with another human. There’s lots of this sort of thing – from talk about making confident mistakes to saying ‘start when you feel ready’ instead of counting them in.

2. We only have women teachers atm, so we start classes with “I’m Sam, and I’m leading tonight,” and “I’m X and I’m following tonight” and then we demonstrate what that means. Then we say “Choose whether you want to lead or follow. You could change next week, but please stick with one role for this class.” Then we let them choose whether they’re leading or following, then we send them to find a partner.

3. When we ask them to partner up, we say “Introduce yourself first; don’t touch anyone if you don’t know their name” and we act out asking someone to dance, shaking hands, and introducing ourselves. BOOM. They just do this themselves all the rest of the class.
-> etc etc etc

4. We give the follows specific information about what they’re doing in class, and we phrase it in a way which is about agency, self-determination, and power. eg I say to follows “You are the BOSS of your own body. Don’t compromise your posture or timing or rhythm for the lead’s. This is a class, so you should be both talking to each other, resolving these issues verbally.” I often to say to follows and leads “Both of you have a responsibility to keep time and maintain a rhythm. So if you’re stressing, listen to your partner’s body and let them help you find the beat again.” And then we explain how connection is a two-way line of communication, talking about how follows send info to leads and vice versa. Using very simple things like “Check in with yourself – is your hand a tight claw of fear? What does this say to your partner?” etc etc etc.

5. Women DJs, Women teachers, women MCs, women solo dancing, women leads, women follows, male follows, male leads, male DJs. We have them. We just do this shit ourselves – you have to be the change you want to see. And we just treat it as normal. None of this bullshit “Traditionally, men did X in lindy hop” talk because that’s untrue, made up bullshit. We just DO this stuff.

6. Actively supporting new DJs, dancers, organisers, etc. In all sorts of ways. Whether they are men or women – we just step up and be useful, even if that means coming along and being a punter. A culture of creative support and curiosity is good for a community, and it undoes patriarchal cultures which are particularly obstructive for women.

7. Be ambitious and motivated. Aim to be really fucking good at all this. If you’re a woman lead, aim to be really GOOD at it. If you’re running an event, run the BEST event. And just see undoing patriarchy (which is what fighting sexual harassment is) as part of being really fucking good at what you do. So be good at it.

I have to repeat: you can’t do this on your own. Everyone has to play a part in looking after everyone else. Me, other teachers, the students in class, your dance partners, other event organisers, volunteers at events, DJs, band members, sound engineers. If you talk to each of these people individually, involving them in the process somehow, making their role clear (eg the volunteers working on the door), then they will be invested and will do their bit. Or you get to leverage the guilt – because only a cockface would argue that this stuff isn’t important :D