On feeling less safe

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

Over at Hoyden About Town, Wildly Parenthetical considers Tackling Misogyny: Procedures or Social Sanctions?:

But more interesting has been the discussion about formal and informal mechanisms for dealing with sexual harassment. There are lots of reasons that formal mechanisms don’t work for lots of people… So we have the suggestion of informal “shunning’. Some have, with more and less hyperbole, suggested that without the formality of systems of justice and the “certainty’ they’re meant to bring, individuals could wind up excluded on heresay; this is the “OMG WITCHHUNT!’ objection. And others have pointed out that social sanctions are applied to all kinds of behaviours that are disapproved of in our society, and why should this particular behaviour be any different? I am pretty much with the latter group, although I understand those who think that we should be putting our energies towards fixing the formal systems rather than developing shun-lists…

I left a comment that I want to re-post here, since it captures neatly a lot of my more negative feelings about discussions around anti-harassment policies and such, which a lot of people in the geek community consider informal since geeks themselves will enforce them.

My response (very slightly edited here) was as follows:

I am a fan of social sanctions in an ideal world. There tend to be two problems with introducing it in practice:

  1. Some people at either the level of instinct or the level of rational analysis find it almost impossible to distinguish from bullying (see the Geek Social Fallacies, especially #1) and refuse to participate or actively attempt to defend the person sanctioned or decide to sanction the sanctioners, causing a lot of internal community conflict.
  2. It often turns out (at least in communities that I’m a part of) that not as many people are opposed to sexual harassment as one might hope. So a substantial fraction of participants oppose social sanctions or vow to not enforce them because it turns out they like sexual harassment just fine.

Option 2 is always a really distressing conversation to have in a community you felt safe in; you seldom feel safe after it turns out that a loud minority feel that sexual harassment is the effective/normal/desirable (at least, but not exclusively) heterosexual mating strategy.

How is everyone else feeling about the geek community after whatever their latest local round of feminist discussion was? I’m far from entirely negative, but there are definitely whole new places I don’t feel safe from harassment and indeed assault now.