[Activist Modus Operandi] Accountability Regulation

20Jan10

There’s a saying out there. “Don’t toss the baby out with the bathwater.” There’s another saying out there. “Carpets get walked on.”

Now you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about babies, bathwater and carpets. Well I’m not pregnant (hi, no uterus here), I tend to take showers (although a long soak is glorious) and I don’t plan on changing the carpet (I don’t think my lease would even let me). No this is about activist modus operandi. Namely, how do you handle it when your allies/supporters/helpers/minions (and your own folk) fuck up? And moreso than fucking up, how do you handle them when they fail at accountability for the fuck up?

Accountability is fairly simple actually. It’s just admitting a mistake was made, that you’re sorry for it and what you’re doing to fix it (if a fix is possible). As a potent example of both accountability and not having it, there was recently a bit of a fuck up with Briarpatch detailed here and here. Basically, an article written by a cis woman was published, a very prescriptive and very cisplaining article regarding trans activism and how apparently it is very lacking. While the writer failed abundantly to display accountability in the comments, the publisher of Briarpatch, on the other hand, did a beautiful job of showing accountability for both the article and apologized for his complicity in its presence on his site. (Unfortunately he also linked to a particularly asinine post in the further reading section, so as you can see, this kind of shit is always an ongoing work in progress). So now that you know how accountability is done wrong and how accountability is done right, what do we do when it’s done wrong (obviously, when it’s done right, we go back to business as usual), specifically, when accountability is dodged?

We already know how a given set of archetypes will handle the call outs for an accountability screw up themselves. Nukers will go in fast and hard, Appeasers will try to buddy up and convince, Logic Bombers will break their excuses and dissect their fauxpologies and Emoters will play their heartstrings. But what happens when they still don’t take on accountability? What happens if all the archetypes working together isn’t enough to get them to make their amends? Or even, what do you do while the various archetypes are working on the problem, before anything has been resolved?

I’m well known for my shit list, a list of blogs and resources that have failed to show accountability for their mistakes, have engaged in fauxpologies and derailing or have refused to see how they’ve failed the communities they’ve hurt at all. This list also includes blogs that have failed to address their failings in the “I hope this just disappears into the mists” way. This list (at the time of this post) includes (but is not limited to) The Bilerico Project, Pam’s House Blend (although Autumn herself is certainly no longer shit listed), Shakesville (a site that will probably always be shitlisted with how freaky cult-like they are), Feministing, Queer Unity and a few others. There’s one or two blogs that are half on the list and half off. For whatever reason, they’ve attempted to have accountability but didn’t do a very good job of it. FWD/Forward is one such site, where a genuine apology and recantation was given, but not in a very accessible place (i.e. only in the closed comments, not on the post itself). Not all of the blogs are on my shit list for trans issues. Some have fucked up on ableism, classism, religious oppression, racism and other zones as well.

Of course, a shit list doesn’t really illuminate what is done with the sites on that list. It’s merely a way of labeling a given set of sites as lacking in proper accountability for their actions. And that’s where we get to the actual topic of this latest AMO post. How do we regulate sites that show themselves to lack accountability?

Some sites are completely unsalvageable. Like Shakesville, with Melissa’s whiny bullshit about how she was so dreadfully hurt by the privilege call out and that we’re all dreadfully mean for daring to call her out, even the people who were sweet as gumdrops to her, and she really “just wants to write about women”. Cuz yanno, queer women, trans women, women of color and women with disabilities don’t count apparently. Or the multitude of RadFem sites that, while not blatantly hateful to trans women like many of their colleagues, still consider us the red headed step child of feminism and act accordingly. Those sites are just cut down entirely. But that doesn’t really tell us what to do with the ones who are in doubt or are salvageable. Places like Bilerico and FWD may be on a bad list (or halfway on it, like FWD), but they certainly aren’t festering shit pools of evil that can never grow fruit bearing trees.

So what do marginalized communities do? Drop the sites completely? Or go along with business as usual after the call out has been made? Or maybe something in between? Let’s explore the options.

Business As Usual: “Carpets get walked on”

When a site fucks up, losing it is still hard. Allies are limited in number and the groups that actually report on these things or blog are also not exactly prevalent. At the very least, the major ones have large audiences that are still useful to have access for. So when accountability is fucked up on (and is continuing to not be fixed), but the site isn’t a completely unsalvageable shitehole of doom, should we just stick with that site, business as usual, everyone still friends again after the call out?

No.

People are, well, selfish. They think of themselves first, other people second. This tends to apply in most cases that doesn’t have potent cultural forces to train them into thinking about others first (with some exceptions). When an “ally” (and at the point that an ally defends their reputation in such a way that denies accountability for their actions, they cease being an ally for that time) has fucked up and then proceeds to worsen that fuck up by either not accepting it as valid or real, fauxpologizing (and basically trying to make themselves look good instead of actually saying, hey I screwed up) or trying to hide the mistake, they often feel they didn’t do anything wrong and feel they are being wrongfully put upon by the marginalized community they have upset. At the very least, they may realize they did something wrong but aren’t willing to admit it or don’t want to deal with it. So when you go back to business as usual (call out made, okay we’re done, now we’re all buddies again, yay! Group hug!) they have little to no reason to apologize later. After all, they know it’ll just blow over if they wait it out long enough. And if someone resists admitting mistakes when pressure is on them, do you really think they’ll do it when no one is looking anymore and everyone is friends again? Hardly.

Carpets do indeed get walked on, and always coming back and cuddling up to these abusive individuals and groups will only continue a cycle of abuse directed towards the community in question. Even if they aren’t abusive, even if they’re just more concerned with their reputation, buddying up to them when they fuck up accountability as though nothing happened is enabling them to do it more.

The Fuck It Walk: “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”

So then, should we just drop sites that fuck up on accountability? Say “fuck it” and walk? Should I just say, screw Bilerico and never read them ever again? After all, business as usual will just enable them, so should we just not waste our time since they didn’t listen?

No.

Dyssonance goes into this in more depth than me, but the basic jist of is that these sites are major traffic holders. They also have the immense potential for benefit. Losing them is not a good thing, especially because of what Dyss pointed out:

These websites, they are like babies. All of them. And, like babies, they are growing. Some of them, the biggest, may have been around for 1o years. Most haven’t even gotten past the 6 year mark. Here’s a scary yardstick for you: I’m just going to run rampant and say that one year is about one month in terms of babies for websites.

So those oldest blogs are about the age of a 10 month old baby in this measure.

And the yardstick is trans awareness.

Now, I’m not saying that’s right. I’m saying that’s what it is. [...]

[...]And they have a lot of learning to do. Lots and Lots of learning. And they are not trans, so they don’t already have years of learning behind them, and sometimes the poor things literally cannot understand what it is like being trans.

Now, what happens when a parent gets mad at a child and leaves that child?

All kinds of things, right? Often, we tend to think of bad things, right?

This is simple truth. These sites? They have no damn clue. We are, literally, their babysitters. This is true of any ally. Most allies don’t comprehend trans issues (some do, but not many) and will fuck up often. And sometimes those allies will be immature and fuck up accountability too. If we walk when an ally is salvageable, that ally will not get salvaged. They will not adopt accountability and they will continue to go on hurting us. Because you see, the universe isn’t a contained world that only exists because we can see it, surrounded by a void of vacuum and nothingness. While you’re not reading that blog, or not hanging out with that friend or refusing to deal with that feminist who just keeps on quoting Mary Daly, Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem (and I stick by that last assessment until I see an honest to god PUBLIC recantation of her transphobic bullshit in the past. So don’t bother whining about that unless you’ve got the proof. Looking at you, Steinem apologists) they are out in the world, the world that exists outside of your perceptions, continuing to enforce transphobia and cissexism (or other -isms depending on the case) and causing harm (even if indirectly) to your folk. Our folk. Including you.

Now, this isn’t to say that one should stick around with an unsalvageable shit hole of a site like a certain Femihaterade Stand that is busy serving up Haterade™ filled with Internet RadFem™ CisWank™ or like a certain cult of personality, worshiping a whiny, accountability dodging queen bee, like back in high school. On the contrary, when the benefits (an ally fixed and adopting accountability and not doing more harm to trans people) is outweighed by the detriments (being treated like shit or like half a person) or when there’s simply no way in hell you’re going to get those benefits, it’s time to throw in the towel and walk.

That being said, those are rare cases of complete unsalvageability, where either the people involved are so fucking horrible and self absorbed (dare I even say narcissistic) that there’s no way in hell they’ll ever show accountability or where the people honest to fuck hate trans people (not just the background social noise of cissupremacy but honest to fuck hatred) or some other majorly unfixable situation. The majority of the sites on my shit list? Salvageable.

So the fuck it walk is simply not workable for every instance of allyfail where accountability failure is the one they’re guilty of.

So What Do We Do? “Balance is Key”

The fact is, neither extreme on the spectrum works. It will bite us in the ass to just walk from every ally and every ally site that fucks us over. On the opposite side of the coin, enabling these people is the worst thing you can do.

So how do you strike that balance where you aren’t enabling these people but also not throwing them back into the world, outside of your domain to affect? For the most part, the reason why shit listing, going after accountability and writing scathing fiskings of posts and such works is because it puts pressure on the target. While sticking around, stating that yes you think they can fix it and being willing to welcome them back into the fold after they’ve made amends (even if they fucked up bad before) means that that pressure won’t just chase them off a cliff and into other places where they’ll continue their fuckery. Much in the same way a Nuker puts pressure on folk that they can’t ignore or hide from and the Appeaser offers the hand the person needs to finally come over to the good side, Accountability Regulation requires pressure and a hand to come to. Just offering your hand makes people think, “oh we’re cool” when we are decidedly not cool (and for nastier folk, it makes them think “oh good, I got away with it”). Just putting on the pressure (or leaving) makes folk run and continue their fuckery elsewhere.

So, for salvageable allies (and especially our own) it’s important that the community sticks around not just to keep the heat on but to show willingness to let them off the bad list if/when they fix their mistakes. And it’s important that the heat does stay on, so that we don’t enable more bad behavior. This combination of methods isn’t new. Nuker/Appeaser and Emoter/Logic Bomber tag teams have been in play in all zones of activism. This is merely the same idea being applied in a more general sense, less orientated to communication and more to actions.

That’s it for the latest installment of Activist Modus Operandi and meta activism. Accountability is beyond important for allies, but allies are also important for us. Handling their accountability errors the right and balanced way is paramount, as either extreme will only hurt us more.



8 Responses to “[Activist Modus Operandi] Accountability Regulation”

  1. 1 alexmac

    I think the tolerance for dealing with ally fail is different for each person. Some are more able to deal and continue to engage people who seem reachable, some aren’t. I put myself in the later camp, but I support the efforts of others.

  2. Of course, in the end, individual actions need to work the best for individuals. But as a community, we have to make sure we don’t do either of these extremes overall.

  3. You always write beautifully and passionately, but I felt compelled to actually post my thoughts here because you granted utterance to something that’s been on my mind a lot recently as I headdesked at the various instances of transfail I’ve encountered- both from the sites you’ve talked about and elsewhere- and wondered how to respond to them.

    It is, of course, just another disadvantage we have, isn’t it? That we even have to think about this *at all* and make these calculations, walk that tightrope of balance, and know that we can’t always afford to just toss unpleasantness away and forget about it. Straddling that line between feeling like a sell out and feeling like you’re isolating yourself is a difficult process and I’m still learning to navigate it, myself, in terms of how I look at the blogosphere and organisations I’m bound to encounter as I go back to school.

    Thank you for providing a wonderful intellectual framework to help me in that process. Each and every day I marvel at the amount of energy that has to go into living life as a trans woman, but blogs like yours help me find it.

  4. Hmmmm…..

    RP, you know I don’t see eye to eye with you on your thoughts about quotations, although I will admit that Daly was quite an ass, so I won’t touch on that point.

    I will say, however, that I appreciate your willingness to accept that changes can be made and that it is not realistic or responsible to write someone off the first time they fuck up. I, personally, fucked up on my blog a few days ago, but I removed the post, because I learned that it just was not worth it to keep it up there to be interpreted in ways other than I had intended(I was pissed at the time so my thinking was askew).

    I just hope that this shitstorm between radfems and trans activists will end, becuase it is ridiculous for the oppressed to fight amongst themselves whil the oppressers live well and happy.

  5. Would it be okay for me to mention my (fairly new) blog? I’ve not written many posts yet, mainly through fear of messing up, but it’s about anti-transphobic feminism, written by a cis woman (me). I started it to prove that it could be done, because I was getting frustrated of reading my trans* friends’ LJ accounts and hearing about yet more transphobic feminism fail. I wanted to light a candle in the blogosphere, I know it’s only small but it’s something I can do. If this is inappropriate then I apologise.

  6. Sure, you can mention it, but with your lofty goals and the fact that you mentioned it here, you’ll probably end up being under a LOT of scrutiny. If you’re ready for that kind of scrutiny (and some of it can be very harsh when you screw up, and you will screw up, it happens to everyone) then by all means comment a link.

  7. Thank you. http://alanaskye.wordpress.com/ . There’s only a few posts there already but I have ideas for a few more brewing away.


  1. 1 On so-called “safe spaces” « A Genderqueer Menace

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