Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Safe Spaces

I managed to extract myself with something approaching grace from a discussion of racism on facebook. One of the other people said I was being 'directive' -- pushing the discussion in a direction I wanted. It reminded me that more than 40 years ago, a woman in my feminist consciousness raising group accused me of dominating the group intellectually.

I think I understand what was going on in both cases. I stayed in the consciousness raising group till it finally broke up. But in general I should stay away from situations like this. Many women and members of minorities feel they are silenced by men or white people or other majority groups. The consciousness raising group was a safe space, where women could finally talk -- except I and one other woman like me were in the group, and we were used to talking and argument. We were silencing the other women.

I need to remind myself that these conversations, even if they are in public, are really taking place in a safe space -- an environment for people who feel their opinions have been silenced and ignored and who need a place to express feelings and work out ideas, without bull-in-the-china-shop interruptions. This is important. This was the reason for consciousness raising groups. The problem, as I wrote above, is when safe spaces are not clearly marked. Right now, Wiscon is a blurry mixture of unmarked safe spaces and areas where contentious discussion is okay. I think the con needs to set up separate tracks. The same problem happens on the Internet. There are discussion threads that are meant to be a safe space, but are in public, and someone like me can blunder in.

Wiscon (or any con) could have discussion groups, possibly closed, with clear rules of behavior: they would be collaborative, respectful listening would be required, challenging other members would not be acceptable... And so on. The open panels would allow more dispute. Con members would know where they needed to go for safe discussions...