We need to be as good at lifting up as we are at calling out

In advocacy/activist space, we’ve gotten really good at noticing and naming oppression. We’ve gotten really good at criticizing the things that people are doing wrong, and demanding change. We’re also good at noticing organizations and people who shouldn’t be supported, and explaining why people shouldn’t support them.

This is important — and it’s not enough. We need to be equally good at noticing and naming things that *are* worth supporting. We need to be equally good at noticing what people are doing well, describing why their approach is good, and finding ways to support it. Calling out isn’t enough. We need to seek out things to lift up.

When we focus exclusively on finding things to call out, we send the implicit message that nothing good anyone is doing is worthy of our attention. But none of the work of building a better world happens by itself. It depends on the people who are putting the effort into doing the work. When we ignore the value of the work people are doing, we both harm those people and the work itself.

The work is hard, exhausting, and vital. It’s also often thankless — because we’re not acknowledging it in the way we need to be. Often, doing activism and advocacy means signing up for a life of being paid less than a living wage (or volunteering your very limited time), having your work ignored, and being noticed by your community only when people are angry at you.

This is particularly common when the work is done by marginalized people. Our culture socializes us to ignore the work that women and other marginalized groups do, except when we find reason to criticize it. This dynamic carries over into activism/advocacy spaces. It’s just as toxic when we do it as when corporations do it.

There’s nothing inevitable about this. We can make it stop. We can pay attention to the work people are doing, and we can show respect to the people doing it. We can describe the worthwhile things people are doing, and talk about why they should be valued. We can seek out ways to support what people are doing, whether that means donating, signal boosting, going out and voting, connecting people to each other, or any number of other things. By getting just as good at support as we are at call outs, we can make the world much better.

Misogyny is not legitimate criticism.

Women are people. Women face misogyny regardless of what they do.

Sometimes people do bad things. Some of the people who do bad things are women.

When women do bad things, that justifies criticism. It does not justify misogyny, or sexualized insults.

For instance: If a female politician votes against health care for poor people, it’s important to talk about how that will get people killed.

That doesn’t make it ok to call her ugly, mock her body, or make comments about how she needs to get laid. None of that has anything to do with health insurance. None of that is valid criticism. None of that serves any constructive purpose. It’s just misogyny.

Directing misogynistic insults at any woman is harmful to all women. It sends the message that there’s no problem with misogyny so long as the woman is a bad person who has it coming somehow. This implies that the only real disagreement about misogyny is about which women deserve it. 

We need to object to misogyny in principle, regardless of who the target is. Misogyny is not criticism. It’s just destructive hatred.

when conferences have bad speakers



Anonymous said to realsocialskills:

I suspect I may be on the autism spectrum, and when I found out that the keynote speaker at an upcoming conference is someone whose books have been extremely helpful to me, I strongly considered registering. I am not a member of the local advocacy and self-advocacy association that is hosting the conference, but I have had some contact with them in the past.

However, there is another conference speaker who is there to promote mindfulness. I looked her up online and she has no degree or similar professional credentials, just “life coach” certification and some “training” from someone from a pseudo-scientific organization.

I looked at her profile on a website and found simplistic new age victim blaming. I would like to contact the conference organizers about this to express my concerns, but I am not sure how (or even if) I should go about this.

realsocialskills said:

I’m not sure either. I’m posting this in part because I hope others have better suggestions.

It’s pretty much par for the course for conferences related to autism, disability, or self-advocacy to have at least some of this type of nonsense. There’s unfortunately a lot of pseudoscientific nonsense. (Including pseudoscientific nonsense like ABA that makes a lot of noise about being “evidence-based”.)

I think that the presence of bad speakers can’t always be dealbreaking. Most organizations who value good things enough to bring them to conferences also make a lot of mistakes and bring in bad things too. It’s hard to get access to the worthwhile stuff without being willing to tolerate some of the bad things to an extent.

There’s also a line. And it can be hard to know where to draw it. For me, one line is torture — I don’t go to conferences at which the JRC is presenting. I don’t know where you should draw lines about that kind of thing. I think it’s ok to decide that for you, speakers who promote victim-blaming ideas of mindfulness are dealbreaking. I think it’s also ok if you don’t. And that either way, commenting may be worthwhile.

If you decide that it’s not dealbreaking and that you’d like to go to the conference anyway, the way to do that might be submitting conference feedback. Most conferences solicit feedback from participants in some way. And most conferences take feedback into account at least a little.

In the immediate term, they’re probably going to keep making this kind of mistake, but I think it might be worth reaching out anyway. They might understand where you’re coming from, and they will definitely understand that a disabled person who wants to be involved is put off by their choice of speakers. It might plant seeds — especially if others also express this.

One way is to email them. There will probably be contact information on their website. (Or on the sponsoring organization’s website).

If they’re on Twitter, Twitter might be the best way to have this conversation. People generally feel more pressure to listen and respond to Twitter conversations than to emails. Also, other people can see what you say on Twitter. Which matters both because what you say might influence other people, and people who agree with you might come out of the woodwork and comment. (Which will make them see it as an concern that people have rather than an issue that one person has).

If you decide to contact them, it’s probably best to be polite and to refrain from insulting them. (Eg: Don’t say “you don’t care about disabled people” or “You’re terrible at picking speakers” or “You probably won’t listen.”) Instead, explain who you are in a way that makes it clear that you’re in their target demographic, and explain what your objections are in a way that a person who listened could understand.

It would probably be best to explain a bit what you mean by victim-blaming, because if they already understood that they probably would have selected another speaker. (Maybe along the lines of: “She implies that we can fix things by positive thinking. That’s a really hurtful thing to say to a roomful of people who experience discrimination. It makes it sound like it’s our fault.”)

Anyone else want to weigh in? What’s the best way to give feedback to conferences that make poor choices about which speakers to invite?

arobotstolemyuterus said:

Do her beliefs contradict the advocacy/self-advocacy group’s platform? 

I would send an email to the organizers of the conference offering evidence (links, screenshots, etc) of what you saw when you were researching the speaker (You can just say “I was curious about her background, so I looked her up”) and explain how, to you, that appears to go against their mission, citing specific examples and how it will likely make other conference attendees feel unsafe. 

Sadly people don’t always vet conference speakers, especially if they aren’t the keynote and she might have been invited because a member of the group saw a single presentation or something like that. They might pull her from the conference (it happens), they might tell you that they can’t do anything to cancel her right now, but they will express their concerns and make sure she sticks to certain topics and be more careful when choosing speakers in the future, or they may do nothing.

 How they respond might give you an indication as to whether you want to go to the conference. If they listen, even if they can’t cancel the speaker, it’s probably okay if you go. If they don’t, you might not want to go.

realsocialskills said:

Has anyone else tried this? How well did it work?

When people with legitimate grievances express them in ableist ways

Content note: This post is about effective ways to contradict ableist statements. It talks about contexts in which doing so might not be a good idea. It also talks about people using social justice language in mean and unjustified ways. Proceed with caution.

Anonymous said to :

Sometimes people mess up and people get mad about it, they yell about it but also gross things- like this guy is a creep, and they say gross stuff, like “he lives in his parents’ basement” or calling them autistic in a bad way.

A lot of the time, if you bring up how that’s wrong, they accuse you of defending them and their bad actions. What do you do when people are being mean about stuff when mad at people who have done awful things and they think youre defending them if you say anything?

realsocialskills said:

That gets complicated.

Sometimes I think it’s a matter of picking the right time. Like, if someone just got hit on by a creep in a threatening way and they’re freaking out, it’s probably not the best time to explain to them that some of the way they’re thinking about creepiness is ableist. When someone is freaking out in the immediate aftermath of an incident. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) validate the ableist aspects of what they’re saying, but it’s probably not a good time to actively contradict it either.  When people are actively freaking out, all they are likely to hear is support or contradiction.

After the point where they’re so afraid that the most important thing is supporting them passes, it’s ok and good to contradict ableism. It’s ok to do this even if they’re mad and ranting or upset. Being upset is not always an emergency.

I think the best way to contradict it is to make it explicit that you agree that the guy is creepy and unacceptable, and that what you’re objecting to is the comparison, for instance:

  • “I’m autistic and I don’t appreciate being compared to creeps like that guy.”
  • “I have a lot of autistic friends, and it really hurts them when everyone compares them to creeps like that.”
  • “Hey, can we not conflate poor and creepy? That just lets rich charismatic creepy dudes off the hook.”
  • “I’m not comfortable with the direction this is taking - it seems like we’re starting to mock guys for being disabled or poor instead of talking about how creepy they’re being. Let’s talk about creepiness?”
  • “Autism really isn’t the issue here; it’s the creepy and awful things that guy does.”

Another factor: People will probably get mad at you. No matter how well you phrase this, no matter how considerate and respectful you are, people you contradict will probably get mad at you at least some of the time. People don’t like to be told that they’re doing things wrong, and they especially don’t like to be told that they’re wronging someone they’re justified in complaining about. If you contradict people who are complaining about real injustice, they’re likely to get mad at you even if what you are saying is entirely correct. That doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong, but it can be emotionally very difficult to handle.

It’s likely that, at least some of the time, people will come down on you really hard in social justice terms.

People will probably tell you that you don’t care about female victims, that you have internalized misogyny, that you’re a gross man who needs to shut up, that you’re an MRA, that you need to go away and learn feminism 101, or other similar things. That might be very hard to bear, especially if you are scrupulous about trying to avoid oppressive speech. It doesn’t mean that you are wrong, though. Sometimes people will yell at you in social justice terms and be wrong. It’s important to learn how to figure out what you think even when people are yelling at you that you’re being oppressive. If you want to do the work of pointing out the ableism in some reactions to creepy dudes, it’s really important to work on having perspective in the face of other people’s anger.

It’s also important to pay attention to what you are and aren’t up for. You don’t have to challenge every piece of ableism you ever see. It’s not ok to validate that kind of ableism; it’s not ok to reblog it uncritically; it’s not ok to agree with or participate in it. But it’s perfectly ok to not always proactively contradict it. You matter, and that kind of work is draining.

Anyone elsewant to weigh in? What have you found effective in this situation? What hasn’t worked?

"You're not willing to accept criticism!"

Accepting criticism is important. Everyone’s wrong about something, and it’s important to be open to the possibility that you’re wrong about things. If you’re never persuaded by something someone says that you need to change your actions in some way, something is going seriously wrong.

But sometimes, when people say that you’re not open to criticism, what they really mean is that they’re angry because you don’t agree with them. Or that you’re refusing to change in a way that you want them to change. And sometimes, you will be entirely correct to disagree with them and to refuse to change.

For example:

  • “You’re a terrible writer and should not ever write anything ever again” is not criticism you should listen to
  • “If you’d just try a gluten free organic diet, you’d be cured” is not worthwhile criticism
  • “No one is ableist, you’re just imagining it because you want to feel special” is not worthwhile criticism

And there’s any number of other examples, many of which are far more complex and subjective. Everyone gets criticized in ways that it’s completely ok to reject.

And sometimes, it’s ok not to want criticism, even if there’s nothing inherently wrong with the criticism, eg:

  • It’s ok to make art without wanting to go through an art school style critique
  • It’s ok to write a story, post it somewhere, and decide not to read the comments about it
  • It’s ok not to want to discuss the problematic aspects of a show you like
  • It’s ok to not want your father’s input on who you should date

It’s possible to be insufficiently open to criticism, but that doesn’t mean everyone who accuses you of that is right. No one is, or should be, open to all forms of criticism from all people.

Sometimes people who criticize you are wrong. Sometimes they’re so wrong that they’re not worth listening to. Particularly when they’re saying the same thing over and over that you’ve long since considered and rejected.

It’s important to be open to criticism some of the time from some people. It’s also important to be selective about who and what you listen to, and when. You do not owe everyone who thinks that you are wrong your unconditional attention.


You don’t owe anyone a platform


Two basic facts about the internet:

  1. Unmoderated comment forums are terrible. They get overrun with trolls, low quality content, and off topic remarks.
  2. If you moderate a comment forum, angry people will argue with you and accuse you of censorship

Moderating isn’t censorship. Moderating is…

shakesvillekoolaid said:

On the flip side, excessive moderating can become suffocating and abusive.

realsocialskills said:

That is absolutely true. It’s possible to be bad at moderating, and to over-moderate in ways that hurt people.

The thing is, if you moderate at all, ever, you will be accused of harmful over-moderating, whether or not it is true.

It’s important to continually think through how you are using your moderating powers, whether they are serving your objectives, and whether they are creating a good platform.

Part of the process of thinking through that has to be understanding that it is literally impossible to please everyone and that you will always be criticized no matter what you do.

Part of moderating means deciding which criticisms to pay attention to and which criticisms to ignore.

Keeping perspective in a world that tries to take it away

When you’re marginalized:

  • No matter how nice you are, people will call you mean
  • No matter how justified your anger is, people will tell you that you’re overreacting and making a big deal out of nothing
  • No matter how polite you are, people will call you rude
  • No matter how well you explain yourself, people will accuse you of speaking without thinking
  • No matter how closely you stick to the facts, people will accuse you of letting your emotions make you irrational

This post is not about that, exactly. It’s about one consequence of living in a world where people treat you this way. You have to grow a fairly thick skin, and learn to disregard a lot of mean-spirited and unwarranted attacks on you.

The need to protect yourself this way comes at a price. The thick skin you have to develop to function at all can make it hard to tell when you actually *are* doing something wrong. And sometimes you will be. Because everyone is mean sometimes, Everyone overreacts some of the time. Everyone is rude sometimes, Everyone sometimes believes things based on what they emotionally desire to be true rather than the facts of the situation. Everyone gets outraged at things that don’t warrant it. Everyone is cruel sometimes.

And when everyone tells you that you’re doing awful things whether or not it’s true, it’s really hard to tell when you actually are doing wrong.

It’s important to cultivate friendships with people you can trust to care whether or not you are doing the right thing. Who share your values and won’t use false accusations of being cruel to shut you up, and won’t try to undermine your struggles against marginalization. Who will genuinely care about both the success of your work, and whether or not you are treating yourself and others well.

And to have friends who can trust you to do the same. It doesn’t mean that you always have to agree, or that you can’t ever do something your friend thinks is wrong. But it does mean that you listen, and take into account what one another thinks.

One of the awful things oppressors do to us is to make examining our actions difficult by flooding us with a lot of mean-spirited false criticism. It’s important that we find a way to counter that.