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Earlier today I tweeted:
to unnamed people: bullying takes many forms. if it makes someone uncomfortable don't do it. this isn't overly pc, its being decent personNow this is something that I've been pondering on for quite some time (and I'll talk about why), but I finally said something.
— Andrew Shuping (@ashuping) December 30, 2013
I was prompted to say something today, because many librarian friends on twitter were upset about a recent discussion on ALA's Statement of Appropriate Conduct at Conferences. And my friends were rightly upset. I don't want to link to the original blog post because frankly it doesn't need traffic, but it boils down to people saying "well I've never been harassed/bullied/sexually assaulted/etc at conferences and my friends haven't said anything to me about it therefore it doesn't exist! and all of these people that say it does, well I think they're just misunderstanding what was said" which frankly is some of the most disgusting bullshit I've ever encountered in my life. You've never had this stuff happen to you? Excellent! You're in a minority to be honest. You don't want others to have a policy that says what is appropriate conduct at a conference? Go take a long walk off a short pier. Just because you haven't been harassed doesn't mean others haven't. As to why others haven't talked to you about it, when you say crap like a policy doesn't need to exist, why would anyone want to confide in you? You can see some excellent conversations about why these codes exists for ALA here from Librarian Kate and Matthew Ciszik, both of whom you should follow. You can also find a wider range discussion on Lisa Rabey's site (including conversations on why ALA needed a code) and Andromeda Yelton's site.
ALA is not the only organization to recently define or redefine appropriate conduct at conferences. It's had to happen for some of the larger comic conventions, NYC for example, in the publishing community, god knows how many times its happened in the comic industry, and way to many times to mention for people in everyday life. Is it sad that we live in the 21st century and we're still having to tell people how to be behave? Hell yes! But if having a code or a policy is what has to be done to get people to start talking about it, to get it stop, to get things to change then by all means lets do it. This is not, as some people have said, a chance to be the thought police, or to have moles or spies, or be the fracking NSA. This is giving people something to stand on and what to do when it happens to them. Because it does happen, whether you see it or not, it happens. And for those of you that think a policy is a bad thing, then I hope you'll never experience harassment, bullying, being sexually assaulted, or something else that makes you feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.
Now I said I'd talk about why I've been pondering bullying and here's why: I'm involved in a situation where I feel bullied. I walk away from these interactions feeling worthless and helpless and that no one anywhere likes me. Now is some of this the depression talking? Yes. But it is also the people involved? Yes it is. Have I confronted these people yet? No...but I'm working on it. I'm not sure they would ever conceive of what they're doing as bullying, but the way they phrase things, the way look at me, the tone they talk to me with...for me it's bullying. Sexual harassment, assault, those are often easy to define, but bullying? Bullying takes many different shapes and sizes. It's can be outright and overt, or it can be subtle and silent. It can be physical, it can be words, it can be purely mental. It doesn't matter...it's bullying. Can it be taken to extremes? Sure, but so can anything. But if people feel uncomfortable when you do something, isn't that perhaps a sign you should stop?
My one last comment (and this could be it's own separate post): if someone is doing something that makes you feel uncomfortable (and isn't outright harassment) say something to them. Let them know that they're saying things that make others uncomfortable. Give them a chance to apologize. Honestly, they may not realize that its something that makes people feel uncomfortable. You'll be able to tell pretty quickly if they honestly weren't trying to make people uncomfortable and they'll be grateful that someone let them know. And I say this from experience, because I don't always know that I'm saying something that makes someone feel uncomfortable due to how my brain works.