i dream of being possible

i desire to be more sensitive

Yesterday, I made it through about almost 1/4 of the software carpentry workshop focused on librarians. I left because after a few off-colour jokes, I was triggered by a joke about ‘how we all have abusive relationships with software’. This was the third cringe-inducing thing that was said (actually maybe 4th? idk.).

I left even though I’m about 90% sure that there are more than a few people who think I was/am ‘too sensitive’ regarding jokes like the above. I wish there was a way for me to convey how much I don’t care. There is a reason why I decided to title this post “I desire to be more sensitive”. I also really wish there was a way to convey the years of struggle I’ve had with getting to the point where I don’t minimize my own experiences with abuse. After all that work, I’m sure as shit not back tracking now. I also wish there was a way to convey how much time and effort it has taken me to get to the point where I could actually walk out of that room so that I could go home and do some self-care. By the endof last night, I was feeling pretty okay again.1

But I did want to talk a little bit about some of the stuff that happened and why it was bad.

1) Unpaid labour and ‘volunteering’

So the first remark that I called out was:

And then followed up by a comment ‘we’d love to exploit you!’ (re: volunteer)… >.> source

There was this strange moment when Greg pointed out that everyone except him who was leading/facillitating/helping at the workshop was a volunteer. Talking about how great it was that Software Carpentry [SWC] was a volunteer-led initiative. And while I do understand the point he was trying to make…

This boast + the fact that most volunteers were men = a small revalation about the lack of gender diversity. And why this lack of diversity is likely to be static for quite some time. Add on a joke about how SWC would like to ‘exploit you’ to an audience of mostly women….

First, we could talk about the ethics of unpaid labour. We could also talk about how women tend to already engage in a lot of unpaid labour (in the form of housekeeping, childcare, care giving, etc.). We could talk about how facillitating one of these workshops necessarily means taking two days off of work. Two days where you most likely will not be getting paid. This also becomes a class issue (which is still gendered because women, on the whole, are poorer than men).

Unfortunately, all of this ties into why I also made the decision not to return after needing to leave. Yes, the motivation for each decision (the decision to leave and the decision to stay away) were not the same. I’m not there today because of this:

@satifice Thanks for the call-out - chat at the lunch break about how we could do better? source

After a rocky start to the morning, I can tell you the absolute last thing I had any desire to do during my one hour lunch break was to engage in the emotional and intellectual labour of teaching SWC how to do things better. What I wanted to do during lunch was meet some awesome people in meat space for the first time (see @ahitchens, @marvellings, @collingsruth). Instead… I felt like I was ‘volunteered’ into doing work over lunch. In a word… being tapped for ‘exploitation’ simply because I spoke up (almost like a punishment…).

2) Ableism

So this was said:

“Everyone must get up and move around during breaks…” – This is an accessibility problem. source

I get that he was coming off this explanation why cognitively getting up and moving around during breaks can improve your concentration…

The thing that makes me shake my head about this, is that just a slight change of language and we’d be okay and inclusive.

“Try to move around a little during breaks, if you can”

Or something similar. And, periodically, we were told to stand (I can’t remember why, because I was focusing on something else). Again. “Stand if you want and/or can”. Shifting towards inclusivity in your language doesn’t take that much work and doesn’t require learning a new vocabulary.

This was also said:

“Normal, sane people” >.> source

I believe the context was something about coding and whatever. I can’t remember. It doesn’t really make a difference. I’m only halfway through this post and already feeling exhausted with the effort to not simply give a harpy screech of frustration. Neuro-diversity is a thing. Please don’t say things like this.2

3) Abuse culture

Abuse culture says things like this:

“As with any abusive relationship…” There is almost no limit to my disdain for ‘jokes’ that trivialize abuse. source

Context for this: talking about how some computer stuff starts counting from 0 instead of 1. And how pretty much every technical explanation for this is post-event rationalization (because it is apparently something to do with IBM executives who liked yachts or whatever). But instead of using a nice, handy term from cognitive science like…. ‘post-event rationalization’ … a joke is made about gaslighting. And then expanded into a more general joke about how we have abusive relationships with software.

Abuse culture makes people think that jokes like this 1) are appropriate and 2) funny. It is actually 2) that got me out the door. Because it isn’t just about the person who made the joke… but the handful or two of people who laughed at the joke. So this fault isn’t just with one unfortunate thing said by one person… but about a cultural attitude that staunchly refuses to take abuse seriously (and actively works to trivialize it).3

And, again, I hope to become more sensitive to things like this, not less.

  1. And since this is a ~professional~ blog, everyone can breathe a sigh of relief that I won’t actually be getting super personal about my experiences. 

  2. Sidenote… this is also a gendered thing. Why? Because women, on the whole, tend to get diagnosed with things like bipolar or borderline personality disorder far, far more frequently than men. Also a racialized reality since Black men tend to get diagnosed with schizophrenia at higher rates than anyone else. All of the above are ways of being neuro-diverse that are frequently constructed as ‘crazy’ in negative, harmful ways that significantly contributes to their marginalization. 

  3. People labelled ‘crazy’ are especially vulnerable to gaslighting because they are constantly told not to trust their perceptions, intuitions, and feelings about the world (and themselves in relation to the world). I point this out to highlight how interconnected all of this stuff is.