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?