food for thought: boundaries and setting them

Two pieces this week, tackling the vexed question of boundaries and setting them.

The always-articulate s.e. smith offers up some thoughts over at this ain’t livin on how hard it is to set boundaries with people you expect to violate them:

One of the things I found most fascinating about the panel, which was populated entirely by people who had been socialised as women, was the difference between our experience and that of some of the people in the audience. At one point, we started talking about deescalating: How, as a person who may be smaller, who may have a higher voice, and who, critically, may have a body that is read as public property and an object, you get out of a situation that is potentially dangerous.

When I have an interaction with someone who is aggressive and larger than me — usually a man — who is trying to exert power over me, it is stressful. It’s stressful not just because I’m upset that someone is trying to control me, is trying to act like he owns me, is trying to push me around, but because I find it threatening and scary. I never know if a verbal confrontation is going to turn physical, and men often don’t respect this — it doesn’t occur to them that while they may think they’re being playful or ‘arguing for argument’s sake’ that what they are doing is actually frightening and intimidating.

So I, like many other people with bodies like mine, have learned a variety of tactics for coping with perceived threats, and for getting out of such conversations. Which often means swallowing shit, because the alternative is confronting it and then finding ourselves in danger. It means that when someone says something we find upsetting, or gets pushy with us, that we back down, because we aren’t prepared to deal with conflict that might turn dangerous.

And in light of the events which precipitated this group — questions about boundaries regarding acceptable community behavior and speech — this piece by Kate Harding at Dame Magazine against anti-moderation “free speech” rhetoric strikes me as topical:

To many of us who write online for a living, the Jezebel staff post felt like a watershed moment: the constant harassment of female writers finally being treated as the workplace safety issue it is. For too long, employers have held fast to the myth that unmoderated or lightly moderated comment sections encourage free and open dialogue that creates a sense of community. Maybe that works on low-traffic sites with no controversial content—I doubt it—but it has exactly the opposite effect on popular websites featuring work by opinionated women. Trolls and haters drive away people who care about the site and sincerely want to respond to the work there, or to other reasonable commenters.

It’s not always rape gifs, but there is a constant stream of sexist nastiness directed at women writers, whose bosses too often respond with some version of “Grow a thicker skin.” I was told almost exactly that by a previous boss (a woman, no less) who kept pushing writers to “engage” with these commenters, in hopes that our charm would mellow them out. Based on no evidence—and contra to everything we reported about the reality of venturing into comments—we were told time and again that making ourselves more visible in these shitstorms would probably solve the problem, and if not, so what? They were just words.

Imagine this going on in a bricks-and-mortar workspace: a couple dozen (on a good day) men running through the office, stopping to shout obscenities at female employees. A crowd of them forming around a single woman, calling her a dumb bitch who’s terrible at her job, every time she turns in a new project. Strangers who do not work for the company hovering over all of the women in the office, waiting to react with anger every time those women speak.

(via Geek Feminism’s linkspam (which in my opinion is some of the best linkspam around!))

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