“Lady” problems

On Friday a woman who I respected as a peer, despite our tendency to disagree on matters relating to feminism, wrote a piece for VICE disparaging forms of womanhood that she considers lesser (certainly less subversive) than her own. She goes as far as to suggest that those who don’t line up with her standards of womanhood (in which the Woman’s impulse when she is wronged or in danger is to destroy her oppressor) are not women at all, but “ladies” or even “girls”.

She crudely used me as an “example” of a lady concerned only with “amicable co-existence with men and ‘the status of women,’ so long as it doesn’t upset the status quo.” Her reasoning? Last year I turned to the justice system to prosecute a man who harassed me incessantly for months on Twitter. Well this guy bothered her too, y’know, and getting rid of him was as easy as being “directly and verbally a cunt” until he disappeared. As such she felt it was within her rights to judge the acceptability of my decision to go to the police, and to deem me an inferior woman (not a Woman, but a “lady”) for it.

“Good ladies, for example, complain daily about female bodies and identities being “policed,” then call the literal police, the literal fucking patriarchy, when something threatens that body or that identity. […] Giving the bro-force some nice, educated, single, white female to protect is the lowest of low things a lady can do, and while it was maybe, depending on her immediate threat level, okay to report him, it would have been far righter to fight back, to go Foxfire on the guy.”

Thanks, Sarah. I’m glad to have “maybe” secured your approval for the choice I made in order to protect myself, although it was “the lowest of the low” things I could have done [?????????]. The morally superior choice, the “righter” choice, would have been vigilante justice, “going Foxfire” on the guy. If only all women being relentlessly pursued and harassed by men who come across as hostile toward women and emotionally unhinged (perhaps dangerously so) knew that they could just form a gang and beat the living shit out of the guy.

I’m not entirely sure that such choices would end as poetically IRL as they do in, well, literature and films. I’m also not entirely sure how responsible it is to advise the readers of a publication that this is the “righter” way for women to deal with situations that make them feel unsafe. But then, Women probably don’t concern themselves much with issues of personal responsibility because they’re far too visceral for that.

For most people, I hope it would go without saying that perhaps Sarah’s experience with this guy was not identical to mine, and perhaps she is in no position to determine what the best way to handle it would have been, because we are not the same person nor are we in identical situations.

The police and the justice system are far from perfect, both on the handling-gendered-violence front and the knowing-what-the-internet-is front. I am more than a little insulted at the insinuation that I’m naive to their roles in the patriarchy. But there are officers who are doing what they can to push their institutions in the right direction. I was lucky enough to find such an officer, who spoke in front of a group of his peers last week about online harassment at SMILE (Social Media in Law Enforcement) Conference.

I would never attempt to prescribe the most appropriate or “right” way for a woman to cope with a situation in which she feels unsafe and in which I lack personal knowledge – I’ll leave that sordid task to other Women. The truth is for many women in many situations, the police are not a viable option. But I’m not willing to wholly write them off, and I’m certainly not willing to make determinations about the character of any woman who turns to them in her pursuit of justice and safety.

The more officers like Detective Bangild find opportunities to do good work and set positive examples for their peers, the more viable police may become as an option for women in dangerous situations. And if some Women continue to choose vigilante justice over courtroom justice, well, I wish them the very best in those endeavours and hope they choose their tools and targets wisely. There are many routes to personal safety and peace of mind, and none of these routes make the traveller any less a woman.

I thought I hated improv, but…

YUNoListenAs you know (right???), I recently became a faculty member at Academy of the Impossible, a collaborative adult learning facility. Last week, this new role took me outside my comfort zone when I facilitated an improv-based session on the “performance” of online identity with the inimitable Dan Speerin. It was actually awesome and liberating and inclusive and super-fun. And we’re doing it again!

This Saturday February 2nd, Dan and I are working with Academy co-founder Jesse Hirsh to facilitate an improv-based session on media relations for activists and other muckrakers. Dan and I planned the session via Skype last night and we have a bunch of fun improv exercises in store that will liven up more traditional discussion about how to best present you and your cause to the media (print, broadcast, web, whatev).

If you’re involved with any organization or issue that you’d like to shine some light on by sharing your perspective with journalists, this session is for you. Hope to see you there!

Impossible pedagogies

Are you a Torontonian who hasn’t yet visited the Academy of the Impossible? If so, you must go. It is a magical place where people learn as they teach others, which IMHO is exactly what pedagogy should be.

Unfortunately, too often learning takes place in broadcast format: I teach, you learn. The reality is that there are no “experts” – we can all learn more, even in the fields in which we’re most well-versed. In fact, the people in the best position to teach you about your field of specialization are often people who have no specialization in that area at all (unless you want to preach to the choir forever).

I facilitated two events at the Academy in fall 2012: a city-building workshop with Women in Toronto Politics, and a discussion about online identity and accountability. Thanks to the brilliant and diverse people who shared their thoughts, I learned just as much as attendees at both events. This lines up beautifully with the Academy’s philosophy of fostering the potential for collaborative meaning-making inherent in the Internet and the knowledge economy.

I’m very excited to announce that I am now a faculty member at the Academy, so I’ll be learning a lot more in the months and years to come! I hope it works out to be something like this.

My next events on the Academy docket:

  • January 24: hybrid discussion/improv session co-facilitated by newly-minted faculty member Dan Speerin, where we’ll explore how we “perform” identity on the Internet, and
  • February 2: applying the same format to an interactive training session on effective media relations for activists, politicos, and other agitators.

If you can’t come to either of these, I encourage you to check out their event calendar for other sessions that may be of interest. Courses I highly recommend include Getting Paid in the Knowledge Economy and Impossible Law School. See you there!