i dream of being possible

RTFM: The Double Standards of Internet Discourse Variation no.1

So someone tweeted a mention to this older post I have On the (double) standards of internet discourse where I largely discuss the how certain commonly expected believes/attitudes about how to engage in discourse within the tech community is punished in when the exact same things are expected within social justice discourse (ie, doing a good faith effort to answer your question by googling/searching the forum/etc before posting).

As I read through the post1, I had another notion solidified by a series of tweets from Ashe Dryden reminding people that educating themselves about oppression is their own responsibility. My reading of the other post set a little bug in my brain concerning another post about being eternally at the starting line.

In any case… While these ideas have largely been articulated before, the point of this post is to point out yet another double standard concerning tech discourse vs. anti-oppression.

Given that I’ve been self-learning how to do certain things on my own (yesterday I wrestled with a ruby script that failed but also with a bash script to do the same thing). During my research and googling to see if a certain thing was possible using bash, I came accross the inevitable stackexchange thread where someone was asking a question very similar to mine and the response was essentially: “Read the fucking man page”2. This was the only response before the thread was closed for being redundant.


The question before is this: why is it when marginalized people are discussing our experiences of oppression (usually amongst each other), if a person who isn’t marginalized in the same way asks a very basic, intro, 101 level question, and they get a response that is “Read the fucking manual (RTFM)”, the respnose is usually a hyperbolic “zomg! y u just kick my puppy?”?

I’ll give you three guesses.

As I pointed out in the starting line post (which was directed towards librarians), literally all the resources are and have been available. Of varying levels, in different media, found in many different places, and literally accessible to anyone who bothers to look.

Of course, where this analogy falls apart is the fact that anti-oppression doesn’t have a single manual. It isn’t as ‘rationally’ comprehensible as a computer program…

But this is also exactly why it is more critically important to RTFM when it comes to oppression. Because the stakes are higher and the cost is higher, especially for the marginalized people who actually involve themselves in educational endeavours. Very rarely does anyone make a decent living from this sort of work (and our chances of making a living only increase the more kinds of oppression you experience)3.

And yet…

We have this double standard. Techbros are allowed to be as abrasive and rude whenever someone asks a question easily answered in the manual and it is pretty much okay. Everyone understands this as simply a discursive rule for how to engage. But. Get one woman saying that she doesn’t feel like pulling out a bibliography of references to books, articles, statistics, data sets, etc. and suddenly its all, “you’d get more support if you were more patient and willing to educate.”

And life goes on… Certian people can engage in certain kinds of behaviour and it’ll either be so normalized no one will notice or entire academic fields will be created to explain it4. If anyone else engages in the exact same human behaviour? Tone policing, entire articles posted about why ‘those’ people are responsible for ‘their’ own oppression (ie victim blaming), and so on and so forth.

  1. I really only usually read my own posts if someone references it in a way I find interesting. I don’t even read them for editing… :P 

  2. Bash is a linux/unix shell. Man page = manual. 

  3. Speaking of… I’m totally on gittip and I definitely don’t get paid for any of my writing… 

  4. Okay, I’m exageratting a wee bit with this one. But. Really. How many different articles have I read in the past year (since I maybe started paying attention to anti-oppression in tech circles) analyzing and talking about ‘geek’ behaviour and the cultural norms and explaining why it is that they need to behave this way (or talking as if this behaviour is unique to geek/tech communities when, in reality, everyone feels and acts this way. I mean, few people actually like answering the same basic question over and over and over again posed by hostile people?).