Forcing all spaces to be privilege-oriented spaces

A lot of time my Privilege in Action posts are born out of me seeing two unrelated areas of interest facing the same exact privileged arguments. This time, it’s on the subject of women-oriented spaces, but of course it can be applied to spaces geared towards any non-privileged group.

Let me begin my post with a quote from one of the essays linked in the two threads I will be discussing [emphasis mine]:

After a while, we began organizing “chick nights,” gatherings of just the four of us and maybe some other women we knew from outside the group. For reasons that were often kind of bizarre, some of the men in the group took exception to this. They never organized nights at which we were excluded. When we pointed out that by the law of averages, a good half of the various social outings ended up being guy-only, they replied that it was not the same thing.

“Look,” I finally said to one of them, “when we get together Saturday night, we’re going to paint our nails and put goop on our faces and play with each others’ hair and watch movies with really hot guys and talk about how hot the guys are and probably talk about sex and periods and all that fun stuff. Do you really have any interest in that?

No,” he replied, “but we could do other stuff instead.

Those of us who are veterans of anti-oppression work get the point that Gillam was making, even before her explanation of why they had “chick nights” in the first place, but for people such as her male friend, the concept is foreign and seems discriminatory in nature. He is used to, by virtue of his privilege, being included in things as a default, and therefore to him the natural course is not only to be included in the nights, but to be given a voice equal, or greater, to the women in deciding what is done in those nights.

And it is with that thought in mind that I begin this post on Privilege in Action.

Please Note: Since this post is going to be long enough as it is, I would rather not explain the difference between privilege-only spaces and non-privileged spaces. For those of you who wonder what the difference is between the two, please read my post on A Deeper Look at “Minority Spaces” before continuing with this one.

I. This is our garden. We like it.

I would like to first start by discussing a series of posts on the Feminist SF blog regarding the female-dominated slash fandom. The posts, for reference, are as follows: Slash fandom and male privilege/hetero privilege (a great PiA post written by someone who isn’t me!), This is our garden. We like it., and So, why do fanboys hate fanfic, especially slash?. The common thread that I want to talk about (also addressed in So, why do fanboys hate fanfic, especially slash?) can be summed up with this quote: “The fanboy… perceived a roomful of women, talking about men, and was infuriated to find that his opinion was regarded as of no value.”

When non-privileged groups form our own spaces to talk about our issues, whether or not we welcome participation from privileged groups or not, there is always a backlash from someone who feels that their privileged opinion is not being properly respected. In addition to the examples that Yonmei listed in her posts, every single one of them had an angry man coming on to lecture her and the other commenters about his opinion on slash/fanfic in the same exact style that Yonmei was criticizing in her posts.

Yonmei sums up the problem with conflating privileged participation and privileged domination in spaces for non-privileged groups:

If you find it comfortable to play in the slash sandbox, as is, I don’t think you’ll find any female slash fans telling you you can’t. If what you want to read is slash, no one can stop you. If what you want to write is slash, slash fans will want to read it. If you want to join in metadiscussions about slash, this is also possible – so long as you do so as a slash fan, and not as a gay man arguing that you know how gay men experience the world, and this or that in a slash story isn’t it. Because then you are not trying to join in metadiscussions as just another slash fan: you are trying to distort metadiscussions about slash with male privilege.

Going back to the quote I used in the introduction, it is not that there is necessarily a problem with privileged groups wanting to participate in non-privileged spaces, but that it often comes out that they want to dominate and change those spaces so that they appeal to them in the way that all of the other kinds of spaces out there do.

II. Defining how friendly “privilege-friendly” spaces should be

I don’t put much stock in old adages, but one thing that the constant tug-of-war over defining spaces brings to mind is, “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.” I’ve been feeling that way about the woman-oriented gaming network, Iris and its child magazine Cerise that I recently created with Revena. In anti-oppression speak, I would call us a inclusive non-privileged safe space. In real terms, that means that we are a feminist/woman-oriented site that welcomes participation from men as long as they come as allies.

But most guys in the gaming blogsphere, even some who position themselves as allies or openminded, are not content with that. Take, for example, this heated exchange between myself, some other women gamers, and a male commenter on a post on New Game Plus called More reasons for a magazine for gaming women.

The exchange can be summed up as such:

Him: Why care what a guy says? Why react to the negativity? Why create a validation for them?
Me: Women need to see others sticking up for us — both within our community and without… Because It’s. Not. About. Teh. Mens. It’s about networking and safety and creating a non-toxic gaming environment.
Him: But again, why bother?… Why bother trying to convince them otherwise when you could better spend your energy living and creating the world that you want? [Insert a several paragraph diatribe about women wanting to be fetishized, that we shouldn't "force" our view of equality on him, and that there is no problem because he doesn't see it.]
Me: Listen to what has already been said. It’s. Not. About. Teh. Mens… Men like you, who feel the need to talk over us and not listen to us, are exactly why we need a separate space in order to get our voices heard.
Him: I don’t feel the need to talk over anyone. If anything, this is a need to know. But I think I’ve learned enough.
Me:

Well, I wasn’t nearly as nice sounding in the actual exchange. But the deluge of misogyny and privilege in his 17+ paragraph argument about how we women need to just shut up and realize we’ve already achieved equality since our voices are already being heard, all being said while he was simultaneously failing to hear what had been said only one comment above about how the premise to entire argument was false did not put me in the mood to make nicey-nice.

Anyway, the point of it all is that Nic felt affronted at the very idea that there was a space out there where his voice was given less weight, and decided to rectify that fact by dominating the conversation on another woman-oriented space in order to tell us all how much we hate men, freedom of speech, and “equality” that recognizes men’s rights to silence women.

So as not to give the impression that criticism of openly women-oriented spaces is confined to only misogynists like the Kotaku commenters and concern trolls like Nic, though, it is important to point out he is not the first to have criticized the community for not properly catering to male needs. Tony Walsh of Clickable Culture wrote an entire post about how put off he was by our magazine having a tagline saying that it was for women gamers.

Both arguments boil down to: “Your community/magazine doesn’t appeal to men enough, change x, y, or z to make it appeal more.” Both of them miss that, while we welcome privileged participation and want to reach beyond the scope of our group, we are here to give voices to women and women’s issues. Why do we need a gaming magazine “for women”? Precisely because of the assumption that underlies the two arguments being made, that male needs need to be catered anytime and anywhere, those women in the gaming community and the gaming industry (not to mention those who are actually allies who want to try to understand women’s issues rather than assuming they know “what women want”) be damned!

III. Conclusion

None of the privileged people could wrap their minds around the idea that their opinions were not only not worth more than those of the non-privileged group whose space and conversation it was, but actually meant less. These men were coming into a woman-created, woman-oriented sandbox and instead of playing by the rules of the community, they were trying to force it to conform to their ideas of what the community should be!

Privilege is believing that, regardless of the purpose behind a space, any space you enter should conform to your ideas, and that the pre-existing members of that space should give your singular opinion weight equal to that their group as a whole. If someone entered a community devoted to Spiderman/Peter Parker, telling them that they should focus on Mary Jane instead is something that, I think, is universally recognized as rude and presumptuous. Why, then, is it considered acceptable to go into communities devoted to giving women a voice in a certain area (like fandom, gaming, politics, etc) and tell us that we need to change to cater to privileged groups, or listen to a privileged point of view, and otherwise change what we are doing because it is not exactly like every other privilege-oriented, excuse me, every other normal space does?

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22 Responses to Forcing all spaces to be privilege-oriented spaces

  1. Lake Desire says:

    I agree that these are examples of privilege in action, but as far as I saw Nic only posted twice on the NG+ thread, his 17 paragraph post and then his one-liner about being done discussing. Did I miss part of the discussion somewhere else?

    I don’t put much stock in old adages, but one thing that the constant tug-of-war over defining spaces brings to mind is, “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.” I’ve been feeling that way about the woman-oriented gaming network, Iris and its child magazine Cerise that I recently created with Revena.

    I know you and Revena put in immense and appreciated amounts of work for Iris and made a meme on a lot of feminist gamers’ minds happen, but I want to give a shout-out to all of the writers for volunteering their time and their words, and forum members for joining the anti-toxic game environment.

  2. tekanji says:

    I agree that these are examples of privilege in action, but as far as I saw Nic only posted twice on the NG+ thread, his 17 paragraph post and then his one-liner about being done discussing. Did I miss part of the discussion somewhere else?

    Nope, he scored this gig solely on his participation on NG. The “woman-oriented space” I referred to that I felt he was trying to dominate was yours.

  3. Sara says:

    I actually have a friend who frequently does a similar thing — i.e., comes into a roomful of people, attempts to make the conversation All About Her, silences conversation she finds unpalatable (“Eugh, anime, is that all you guys ever talk about? I hate anime. Let’s talk about something else”), and then pouts and whines when the group totally ignores her. It’s very frustrating, and, well, let’s just say I’m very glad she’s moving far, far away.

    I realise that’s a tangent, but I promise I have a point:

    Privilege is believing that, regardless of the purpose behind a space, any space you enter should conform to your ideas, and that the pre-existing members of that space should give your singular opinion weight equal to that their group as a whole.

    To my way of thinking, this is an exact description of her behaviour. What’s it called, though, when it’s not an agent vs target situation?

    And damn, how can I learn to be as well-spoken in situations of tension and anger as you? :p

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  5. tekanji says:

    Sara: It’s called entitlement. Every single PiA post illustrates a certain kind of entitlement that is seeded and encouraged by privilege, but, obviously, since everyone is unique (and has their own unique combinations of privilege/lack of privilege), how their entitlement comes out and what areas they have entitlement in will vary.

  6. Sara says:

    Entitlement of being a non-geek then, I guess? But at least I’ve got the word. Thanks :)

    Oh, and I forwarded this post to my beau — so doubly thanks for a conversation piece :)

  7. Tony Walsh says:

    Thanks for the link. I’m saddened about the suggestion that I’m a misogynist. My post (and I encourage you to read it completely) points out that Cerise’s messaging is inconsistent: Why publish an article aimed at men in a magazine for women? If you really want male game designers to change their behavior, you might consider including them in the conversation.

  8. tekanji says:

    Tony: And I’m saddened that you chose to look at my critique and get out of it, not a chance for self reflection and what it means that you are using an argument that others who are misogynists employ, but rather that I called you misogynist when I clearly did not.

    Please re-read this part:

    So as not to give the impression that criticism of openly women-oriented spaces is confined to only misogynists like the Kotaku commenters and concern trolls like Nic, though, it is important to point out he is not the first to have criticized the community for not properly catering to male needs.

    I said it wasn’t only misogynists and concern trolls who were doing this, which implies that I think that you are neither.

    But I do think you’re privileged, and continually asserting that privilege. You are also falling into the trap of male normativity: why do you assume that the game designers that we primarily want to reach are men? Why do you assume that we want to spend our time reaching game designers who will be turned off by the simple mention of a magazine that is targeted towards women? In fact, why do you carry the impression that we can reach people like that, people who can’t even fucking be bothered to learn the first thing about our magazine because they are scared off by the girl cooties?

    If those men could be reached so easily, then it would have been done already. Online blogs such as Killer Betties would have done our work for us. But, you know, they haven’t. And trying to be less woman-oriented as an attempt to please those kinds of men is self-defeating because, by virtue of the fact that we’re women, we will never be quite good enough to listen to. None of us are interested in beating our heads against the brick wall, but we are interested in networking women and dialoguing with those men who understand what it means to be an ally.

    But, see, being an ally is more than just wanting to be an ally, it’s about understanding that you will be taking second fiddle to those whose cause you are trying to help. It’s not saying, “I’m an ally, now you should do things my way!” And, Tony, just because you aren’t making rape threats and telling us that women bring the discrimination and harassment on ourselves, doesn’t make you actively anti-sexist and it certainly doesn’t make you an ally.

    Your post was full of male privilege, and so is the fact that you’re coming over here and continuing to tell me how we at Cerise need to change to fit your view and target your audience simply because we’ve said that one of the long term goals of Iris/Cerise is to make it to the mainstream, and one, yes just ONE, of our submitted articles was a “how to” for game designers handling female characters.

    How about this, Tony? Instead of telling me what to do, why don’t you actually listen? If you want to be an ally, then shut up and listen to us. Brave the girl cooties and read the next issue of our magazine. And the next. And the next. And see what women talking to women about gaming looks like. See what women talking to men who are allies looks like. And, you know, while you’re at it you just might learn something from it.

  9. Roy says:

    I love this blog.
    “Shut up and listen” was probably the best advice I’ve ever received about how to learn more about what problems other people are facing. I love, love the quote you started with, though. When you point out privilege in action like that, it helps me learn to recognize and check my own.

  10. tekanji says:

    Roy: Thank you for sharing that. I often wonder if my posts aren’t just preaching to the choir, so to hear someone say that it helps them on their journey to being/staying a good ally makes me happy.

  11. Sara says:

    Why publish an article aimed at men in a magazine for women?

    *cough*

    The article was aimed at game designers. Not men. Read it again.

    I think, though, that the fact that you assume that because it was directed toward game designers means it must be directed at men says a great deal about the amount of privilege you carry.

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  13. SunlessNick says:

    If you want to join in metadiscussions about slash, this is also possible – so long as you do so as a slash fan, and not as a gay man arguing that you know how gay men experience the world, and this or that in a slash story isn’t it. Because then you are not trying to join in metadiscussions as just another slash fan: you are trying to distort metadiscussions about slash with male privilege.

    I have a small issue with this part. While a gay man posting like this might be trying to assert male privilege, it might also be a gay person not wanting to see gay sex used for the entertainment of hets (as slash is often, rightly or not, perceived) – not asserting one privilege, but challenging another.

  14. tekanji says:

    I have a small issue with this part.

    I understand your concern, and my quoting of that part should definitely not be taken as a blanket endorsement from me to silence the voices of gay men in slash communities. It’s a fine line because of the dynamics at work, and I can see both ends of it. Personally I think that it should be handled on a case-by-case basis, looking at both kinds of privilege and how they are being used in regards to the specific situation.

  15. Phoenix says:

    Privilege is believing that, regardless of the purpose behind a space, any space you enter should conform to your ideas, and that the pre-existing members of that space should give your singular opinion weight equal to that their group as a whole.

    That’s one of the best short definitions of privilege I’ve ever seen. I’m going to post a link to this article on my blog; I have something on the order of three readers, but it’s still something worth bringing up. Unless, of course, you’d prefer me to link to the home page only and not direct-link the article.

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  17. Mecha says:

    I think that your phrasing of ‘give your singular opinion weight equal to that their group as a whole’ is an interesting way of putting a privilege expectation: nobody should really get away with that. At the same time, I feel that it can be a bit deceptive, and feeds into the ‘feminism as the borg’ type concepts idea: Your opinion is weighted against by ‘the nameless faceless (but not really there, honest) group.’ At least, until a few more people chime in, and/or the space has already defined the topics you’re talking about, at which point that dynamic shifts.

    I think the thing that bothers me the most about that post series by Yonmei, after reading them all, is that the messages sent in it are very clear to my eyes: Men are tolerated, but not accepted, in this subcommunity, whether they are fans or not. I think this is due to my definition of ‘acceptance’ into a community. The number of times that, in those threads, it is made clear that ‘Men are a heavy minority, and as such, have no expectation of rights/voice’ is a bit jarring to the ears when you think that minority != need to be silent. And yet they say that it’s fine if men are around. As long as they don’t speak up. That is sorta fair to do in a minority space, but I feel one should be honest about that, as opposed to dissembling. It also creates a massive division in a fiction not based on the content, but based on the authors, and that’s just flat out weird to me. ‘It’s slash if it’s female authors, but it’s only slash by male authors if they don’t want to speak up about their opinions or experience.’

    I suppose that’s their right, but not everyone comes to slash with the expectation that it is female only. I know I didn’t, back when I actually had time to write fanfiction. It seems to me that finding something you like/love, only to be told ‘sorry, only women do this, your voice/opinion isn’t wanted’… well, it’s not (always) the same power structure as what women are told so often, about so many subjects (gaming, science, military, etc.), but it seems like it should bother people. And not just be a matter of majority privilege. And be recognized by groups that recognize that privilege is a problem, as opposed to dismissed. I’m unsure if I’m missing something.

    In mental contrast, with regards to the second example of your post, the Iris Network and Cerise doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, I think it’s awesome. I signed up as a member so I could watch, and maybe contribute a little. Part of why it _doesn’t_ bother me, I think, is because women and other minorities do often need spaces separate from men, about the same topic, especially when the men dominated that topic, so that their issues can be discussed. But slash is not quite that same dynamic in my mind (it’s not just stories outside the mainstream. It’s a specific _type_ of stories separated from the mainstream, which doesn’t express that topic at all. If you like that type of stories and are male… what then?) I’m still fleshing that thought line out, though. I don’t think that ‘males breaking off from a presently defined as singularly female space’ is a good goal.

    -Mecha

  18. SunlessNick says:

    I understand your concern, and my quoting of that part should definitely not be taken as a blanket endorsement from me to silence the voices of gay men in slash communities. It’s a fine line because of the dynamics at work, and I can see both ends of it. Personally I think that it should be handled on a case-by-case basis, looking at both kinds of privilege and how they are being used in regards to the specific situation.

    That seems fair to me.

  19. SunlessNick says:

    I understand your concern … I think that it should be handled on a case-by-case basis, looking at both kinds of privilege and how they are being used in regards to the specific situation.

    Fair enough; I just got a jolt at first glance.

  20. Mickle says:

    “Men are tolerated, but not accepted, in this subcommunity, whether they are fans or not.”

    Mecha, that description sounds a lot like the women’s college I went to. And let me tell you it was really weird being on the other side for once for me too. It really highlighted how I was a part of a “minority” in the “real world” and definitely changed my perspective on things. In large part because it was 24/7 and not just a few hours a week. Coming home after being away at college is always a bit jarring the first time you do it, but it was especially disorienting to leave my college’s subculture. Not that we didn’t do plenty of things that I now question, especially in terms of not really being feminist, but it was really hard not to see and react to all the sexism around me whenever I went other places.

    It also made it easier for me to deal with other people being offended by stuff that I didn’t actually think was offensive. It wasn’t such a big deal to accept that people would misunderstand the point of my inside joke t-shirt and that there are times when I shouldn’t wear it out of respect for their feelings – because I had a space to go back to where I could and would be understood, so it didn’t mean that I was silenced.

    I think that’s why some communities – such as the fanfiction communities you encountered – that are dominated by minorities end up doing the same things they rail against. The minorities in those communities don’t always have another place to go to where they can wear their inside joke t-shirt, so when they are called on it, they tend to see it more as an assault on their ability to speak their minds, period, than a request for mutual respect.

    The fact that people in privileged groups tend to overreact because they are often blind to their privilege doesn’t really help the situation either.

    I know it didn’t help my brother’s argument that my t-shirt was offensive. I actually ended up wearing it less at home because of something that I said, not because of his arguments. He was arguing that is was offensive no matter what, because he thought it meant something that it didn’t. (It said “where women rule” and had a picture of a mad Susie and a scared Calvin.) My point was that it made sense and wasn’t offensive when taken in context. But in saying that I realized that part of the context was it being from a feminist leaning women’s college. While I still think my brother should have been able to understand that it was making fun of stereotypes of feminists, not men themselves, I also realized that most people would have no idea about the context. And (unlike a lot of other things, such as being able to express my sexuality) I don’t really think that the world needs to change so that I can wear that t-shirt without generating negative comments, I just think I deserve a place where I can wear it without constantly getting nasty looks. It doesn’t even need to be a public space, just a space.

  21. Yonmei says:

    Apologies for bringing this up so late in the day – I was doing some blog housekeeping – but as the author of the original three posts linked to, it still puzzles me that so many people reacted to my pointing out that if men want to join in slash fan discussions, they have to do so as slash fans – they cannot use their male privilege to dominate and direct the discussion – as if that meant men are excluded from slash fandom, or silenced within slash fandom.

    It’s true, I suppose, that many men will indeed perceive loss of their male privilege as exclusion.

    But what surprised me is that so many people seemed to think that if I say a man has to leave his male privilege behind before he can be accepted as a member of the community, that meant I was saying men can’t be part of that community – even though I was actually saying otherwise.

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