Ping (zestyping) wrote,
Ping
zestyping

Suggestions for the LJ feminist community.

For the past week, feminist has been shut down in order to revamp rules, add more FAQs, organize, and brainstorm about ways to improve. The old posts are still there but the comments are all invisible, and new posts are not permitted.

I've had a few pleasant and unpleasant experiences participating in feminist. I hesitated to presume to suggest (as a male) what i think is best for a feminist discussion space, but the moderators have explicitly solicited feedback from all members and they had to approve me as a member before i could join. I also feel that observations and arguments should be able to stand on their own merits regardless of the gender speaking them. So i went ahead and wrote in.

Hi,

This is Ping ("zestyping" on LJ).  I'm grateful that you are soliciting
suggestions from community members.  I was initially reluctant to
write because I imagine that some of my opinions are in the minority in
the community, but the last reminder motivated me to send this in.

Please understand that these -- obviously subjective -- opinions and
observations are submitted in the hope that they will help you
improve the community.  I am trying to be direct and honest here,
and I am trying to contribute, not to offend.  You are of course
welcome to consider or ignore my suggestions as you like.

1.  Safe space.

    The rules (http://community.livejournal.com/feminist/2144667.html)
    of the community are good; they promote a safe space by protecting
    the ability to participate in the community without fear of being
    personally insulted or attacked.

    However, feminist is, in practice, not as much of a safe
    space as it could be.  There is a real fear of starting unintended
    flamewars, and of being attacked for speaking here, even with
    entirely positive intentions.  I've seen people write that they've
    apologized more often in this community than anywhere else.  I've
    asked others about feminist (including friends in the
    Female Sexuality program here at UC Berkeley -- the most feminist
    community I've had the honour of getting to know in real life) and
    the reactions I get from them in person are mostly negative.  Some
    folks encourage me to stop reading it; one even called the community
    a "train wreck."  These are some harsh words!

    I relay this to you here *not* to bash the community but to show
    you an indicator that there are some real fears out there about
    participating in feminist.  It would be good to change
    that perception.  I would love to see feminist become a
    place where members feel comfortable expressing a diversity of
    viewpoints, learning from each other, and acknowledging the real
    diversity that exists within feminism.

    One way to move in that direction, if you agree with these goals,
    would be to explicitly acknowledge as moderators that feminism is
    many things to many people and to discourage members from trying
    to impose overly specific definitions of feminism upon others.
    Talking about why particular viewpoints are, in one's opinion,
    feminist or not feminist is perfectly reasonable, of course.  But
    in some cases, the word "feminist" is brandished as an assertion of
    *personal* superiority over another member (or conversely, members
    name-call others "not feminist" as a form of personal attack);
    these tactics aggressively shut down discussion and seem worthy of
    being discouraged by "mod notes."

    It can be hurtful to be attacked for being Asian; it can also be
    hurtful to be attacked for being anti-feminist.


2.  Conflicts.

    feminist often discusses controversial issues, and I
    think that's good.  I appreciate seeing a variety of viewpoints
    expressed; it sometimes means I hear new arguments or learn about
    personal experiences that help me understand the issue better.
    feminist should not be afraid of debate!

    However, sometimes conflicts get personal and counterproductive.
    In my experience, the most severe and frequent problem that turns
    up in this community is a failure to listen.  I often see members
    arguing past one another, speaking for their opponents, and worst
    of all *presuming bad faith* upon their opponents.  It is fine
    (and a good thing) for disagreements and differences of opinion
    to be expressed.  What I find unfortunate is the bitterness that
    pervades some of these disagreements.  Presumption of insincerity
    instantly poisons a conversation.

    I've experienced this personally, but it definitely goes on between
    other members all the time.  I wish more members were more inclined
    to try to understand each others' points of view rather than
    typecasting them.  I realize it is tough to fix this as a moderator;
    but it would be a good start just to endorse respectfulness by
    periodically reminding members to be respectful to each other and
    to seek to understand others instead of speaking for them.


3.  Derailing.

    As an example of ways to deal with conflict, the issue of derailing
    comes to mind.  Keeping discussions on topic is worthwhile.  Suppose
    someone posts something that's irrelevant to the community or the
    discussion at hand.  It would be perfectly reasonable to say "This
    discussion is not about that; please bring up that issue elsewhere."
    Instead such comments are typically met with derision, sarcasm,
    accusations of intentional malice, and so on.  This both unnecessarily
    attacks the misguided member and fills the community with lots of
    conflict rather than meaningful discussion about the issue at hand.

    To avoid these fights, moderators could lead by example -- for
    instance, posting a calm "mod note" declaring a comment off-topic
    when appropriate, before a dispute gets out of hand.  You might
    not even have to do this all the time; after seeing you do this a
    few times, other members might come to understand this as the
    conventional and accepted way to handle derailing.


I have had a few negative experiences on feminist.  There
were a couple of difficult conversations in which the other party
seemed more interested in inventing my opinions rather than reading
what I actually wrote.  And most recently, one member seemed to be on
a personal mission to eject me from the community by intimidation.
I don't believe it is all right for members to tell other members that
they are not welcome in this community.  I wrote to the moderators but
haven't yet heard anything about this last episode, and I'd really
like to know whether the moderators think this other member's behaviour
was appropriate or inappropriate and whether I was out of line.

I have also had some very positive experiences on feminist.
Most recently, for example, there was a wonderful discussion in
response to my post on sexism in non-English languages.  I learned all
sorts of things about other languages and cultures.  This is a case
where LJ really showed its strength -- many people had something
to contribute because of the diversity of cultural knowledge, everybody
learned something, a contentious question like "Can some languages be
more sexist than others?" was debated respectfully and thoughtfully.
I don't recall a single personal attack or sarcastic remark.

I hope for more of these positive experiences.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter, and I look forward
to learning your reactions to this and your other feedback.


-- ?!ng

I don't know how it will be received. What do you think?

Have you read feminist? If you have, how do you feel about the issues raised in this letter?

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