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I was walking down the platform at the train station when I caught eyes with a police officer. Instinctively, I smiled and he smiled back. When I got closer, he said “Excuse me, do you mind if I swipe down your bag?” He gestured to a machine he was holding. “Just a random check.”

The slight tension I’d felt since I first saw him grabbed hold of my spine, shoulders, and jaw. I stood up a little straighter and clenched my teeth down.

“Sure, I guess,” I said uncertainly.

He could hear something in my voice, or read something in my change of posture. “You have to consent in order for me to be allowed to do it.”

Consent. I’d just been writing about consent that morning, before going to catch the train down to New York for Thanksgiving. It set me on edge and made more real what was happening: someone wanted to move into my personal space. There was now a legal interaction happening. “I don’t want to be difficult, but I’d rather you didn’t if you don’t have to.”

“It’s just a random check,” he said. “You don’t have to consent.”

“What happens if I say no?”

“You can’t get on the train,” he gestured to the track with his machine.

“So, my options are to let you search my bag or not go see my family for Thanksgiving?”

“You could take a bus,” he offered.

I thought about how I wanted to say this. Words are powerful and important.

“I consent to this in as much as I must without having any other reasonable option presented to me.”

He looked unconvinced, but swiped down my bag anyway, declared it safe, and sent me off.

Did I really have the right to withhold consent in this situation? Technically, yes. I could have told him no, but I had no other reasonable option.

At the heart of user freedom is the idea that we must be able to consent to the technology we’re directly and indirectly using. It is also important to note that we should not suffer unduly by denying consent.

If I don’t want to interact with a facial recognition system at an airport, I should be able to say no, but I should not be required to give up my seat or risk missing my flight spending exceptional effort as a consequence of refusing to consent. Consenting to something that you don’t want to do should not be incentivized, especially by making you take on extra risk or make extra sacrifices.

In many situations, especially with technology, we are presented with the option to opt out, but that doesn’t just mean opting out of playing a particular game: it can mean choosing whether or not to get a life saving medical implant; not filing your taxes because of government mandated tax software; or being unable to count yourself in a census.

When the choice is “agree or suffer the consequences” we do not have an option to actually consent.

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96 days ago
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96 days ago
Overland Park, KS
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How White People Handle Diversity Training in the Workplace


As a former professor and current facilitator and consultant, I am in a position to give white people feedback on how their unintentional racism is manifesting itself. In this position, I have observed countless enactments of white fragility. One of the most common is outrage: “How dare you suggest that I could have said or done something racist!” Although these are unpleasant moments for me, they are also rather amusing. The reason I’m there in the first place is because I have been hired specifically to do just that; I have been asked to help the members of the organization understand why their workplace continues to remain white, why they are having so much trouble recruiting people of color, and/or why the people of color they hire don’t stay. They want to know what they are doing that is unsupportive to people of color.

At this point in my career, I rarely encounter the kind of open hostility that I was met with in my early days as a facilitator. I attribute this change to the years of experience behind my pedagogy. Of course, I am also white, which makes other white people much more receptive to the message. I am often amazed at what I can say to groups of primarily white people. I can describe our culture as white supremacist and say things like, “All white people are invested in and collude with the system of racism,” without my fellow white people running from the room or reeling from trauma. Naturally, I don’t walk in and lead with those statements; I strategically guide people to a shared understanding of what I mean by those claims. Still, white people tend to be more receptive to my presentation as long as it remains abstract. The moment I name some racially problematic dynamic or action happening in the room in the moment — for example, “Sharon, may I give you some feedback? While I understand it wasn’t intentional, your response to Jason’s story invalidates his experience as a black man” — white fragility erupts. Sharon defensively explains that she was misunderstood and then angrily withdraws, while others run in to defend her by reexplaining “what she really meant.” The point of the feedback is now lost, and hours must be spent repairing this perceived breach. And, of course, no one appears concerned about Jason. Shaking my head, I think to myself, “You asked me here to help you see your racism, but by god, I’d better not actually help you see your racism.”

The goal of my work is to make visible the inevitable racist assumptions held, and patterns displayed, by white people conditioned from living in a white supremacist culture. When these patterns are named or questioned, we have predictable responses. The responses begin with a set of unexamined assumptions, which, when questioned, trigger various emotions, which activate some expected behaviors. These behaviors are then justified by numerous claims. These responses, emotions, behaviors, and claims are illustrated in the following example of a recent eruption of white fragility.

I was co-leading a community workshop. Because an employer had not sponsored it, the participants had all voluntarily signed up and paid a fee to attend. For this reason, we could assume that they were open and interested in the content. I was working with a small group of white participants when a woman I will refer to as Eva stated that because she grew up in Germany, where she said there were no black people, she had learned nothing about race and held no racism. I pushed back on this claim by asking her to reflect on the messages she had received from her childhood about people who lived in Africa. Surely she was aware of Africa and had some impressions of the people there? Had she ever watched American films? If so, what impression did she get about African Americans? I also asked her to reflect on what she had absorbed from living in the U.S. for the last 23 years, whether she had any relationships with African Americans here, and if not, then why not.

We moved on, and I forgot about the interaction until Eva approached me after the workshop ended. She was furious and said that she had been deeply offended by our exchange and did not “feel seen.” “You made assumptions about me!” she said. I apologized and told her that I would never want her to feel unseen or invalidated. However, I also held to my challenge that growing up in Germany would not preclude her from absorbing problematic racial messages about black people. She countered by telling me that she had never even seen a black person “before the American soldiers came.” And when they did come, “all the German women thought them so beautiful that they wanted to connect with them.” This was her evidence that she held no racism. With an internal sigh of defeat, I gave up at that point and repeated my apology. We parted ways, but her anger was unabated.

A few months later, one of my co-facilitators contacted Eva to tell her about an upcoming workshop. Eva was apparently still angry. She replied that she would never again attend a workshop led by me. Notice that I did not tell Eva that she was racist or that her story was racist. But what I did do was challenge her self-image as someone exempt from racism. Paradoxically, Eva’s anger that I did not take her claims at face value surfaced within the context of a volunteer workshop on racism, which she ostensibly attended to deepen her understanding of racism.

White fragility functions as a form of bullying: “I am going to make it so miserable for you to confront me that you will simply back off.”

Another example: I am coaching a small group of white employees on how racism manifests in their workplace. One member of the group, Karen, is upset about a request from Joan, her only colleague of color, to stop talking over her. Karen doesn’t understand what talking over Joan has to do with race; she is an extrovert and tends to talk over everyone. I try to explain how the impact is different when we interrupt across race because we bring our histories with us. While Karen sees herself as a unique individual, Joan sees Karen as a white individual. Being interrupted and talked over by white people is not a unique experience for Joan, nor is it separate from the larger cultural context. Karen exclaims, “Forget it! I can’t say anything right, so I am going to stop talking!”

The episode highlights Karen’s white fragility. She is unable to see herself in racial terms. When she is pressed to do so, she refuses to engage further, positioning herself as the one being treated unfairly. In the post–civil rights era, we have been taught that racists are mean people who intentionally dislike others because of their race; a racist is consciously prejudiced and intends to be hurtful. Because this definition requires conscious intent, it exempts virtually all white people and functions beautifully to obscure and protect racism as a system in which we are all implicated. This definition also ensures that any suggestion of racially problematic behavior will trigger moral outrage and defense.

The large body of research on children and race demonstrates that children start to construct their ideas about race very early. Remarkably, a sense of white superiority and knowledge of racial power codes appear to develop as early as preschool. Professor of communications Judith Martin describes white children’s upbringing:

As in other Western nations, white children born in the United States inherit the moral predicament of living in a white supremacist society. Raised to experience their racially based advantages as fair and normal, white children receive little if any instruction regarding the predicament they face, let alone any guidance in how to resolve it. Therefore, they experience or learn about racial tension without understanding euro-Americans’ historical responsibility for it and knowing virtually nothing about their contemporary roles in perpetuating it.

Despite its ubiquity, white superiority is also unnamed and denied by most whites. If we become adults who explicitly oppose racism, as do many, we often organize our identity around a denial of our racially based privileges that reinforce racist disadvantage for others. What is particularly problematic about this contradiction is that white people’s moral objection to racism increases their resistance to acknowledging complicity with it. In a white supremacist context, white identity largely rests on a foundation of (superficial) racial tolerance and acceptance. We whites who position ourselves as liberal often opt to protect what we perceive as our moral reputations, rather than recognize or change our participation in systems of inequity and domination.

One way that whites protect their positions when challenged on race is to invoke the discourse of self-defense. Through this discourse, whites characterize themselves as victimized, slammed, blamed, and attacked. Whites who describe the interactions this way are responding to the articulation of counternarratives alone; no physical violence has ever occurred in any interracial discussion or training that I am aware of. These self-defense claims work on multiple levels. They identify the speakers as morally superior while obscuring the true power of their social positions. The claims blame others with less social power for their discomfort and falsely describe that discomfort as dangerous. The self-defense approach also reinscribes racist imagery. By positioning themselves as the victim of anti-racist efforts, they cannot be the beneficiaries of whiteness. Claiming that it is they who have been unfairly treated — through a challenge to their position or an expectation that they listen to the perspectives and experiences of people of color — they can demand that more social resources (such as time and attention) be channeled in their direction to help them cope with this mistreatment.

When I consult with organizations that want me to help them recruit and retain a more diverse workforce, I am consistently warned that past efforts to address the lack of diversity have resulted in trauma for white employees. This is literally the term used to describe the impact of a brief and isolated workshop: trauma. This trauma has required years of avoiding the topic altogether, and although the business leaders feel they are ready to begin again, I am cautioned to proceed slowly and be careful. Of course, this white racial trauma in response to equity efforts has also ensured that the organization has remained overwhelmingly white.

The language of violence that many whites use to describe anti-racist endeavors is not without significance, as it is another example of how white fragility distorts reality. By employing terms that connote physical abuse, whites tap into the classic story that people of color (particularly African Americans) are dangerous and violent. In so doing, whites distort the real direction of danger between whites and others. This history becomes profoundly minimized when whites claim they don’t feel safe or are under attack when they find themselves in the rare situation of merely talking about race with people of color. The use of this language of violence illustrates how fragile and ill-equipped most white people are to confront racial tensions and their subsequent projection of this tension onto people of color.

A cogent example of white fragility occurred during a workplace anti-racism training I co-facilitated with an interracial team. One of the white participants left the session and went back to her desk, upset at receiving (what appeared to the training team as) sensitive and diplomatic feedback on how some of her statements had impacted several of the people of color in the room. At break, several other white participants approached me and my fellow trainers and reported that they had talked to the woman at her desk and that she was very upset that her statements had been challenged. (Of course, “challenged” was not how she phrased her concern. It was framed as her being “falsely accused” of having a racist impact.) Her friends wanted to alert us to the fact that she was in poor health and “might be having a heart attack.”

Upon questioning from us, they clarified that they meant this literally. These co-workers were sincere in their fear that the young woman might actually die as a result of the feedback. Of course, when news of the women’s potentially fatal condition reached the rest of the participant group, all attention was immediately focused back onto her and away from engagement with the impact she had on the people of color. As professor of social work Rich Vodde states, “If privilege is defined as a legitimization of one’s entitlement to resources, it can also be defined as permission to escape or avoid any challenges to this entitlement.”

Let me be clear: While the capacity for white people to sustain challenges to our racial positions is limited — and, in this way, fragile — the effects of our responses are not fragile at all; they are quite powerful, because they take advantage of historical and institutional power and control. We wield this power and control in whatever way is most useful in the moment to protect our positions. If we need to cry so that all the resources rush back to us and attention is diverted away from a discussion of our racism, then we will cry (a strategy most commonly employed by white middle-class women). If we need to take umbrage and respond with righteous outrage, then we will take umbrage. If we need to argue, minimize, explain, play devil’s advocate, pout, tune out, or withdraw to stop the challenge, then we will.

White fragility functions as a form of bullying: “I am going to make it so miserable for you to confront me — no matter how diplomatically you try to do so — that you will simply back off, give up, and never raise the issue again.” White fragility keeps people of color in line and “in their place.” In this way, it is a powerful form of white racial control. Social power is not fixed; it is constantly challenged and needs to be maintained.

In my workshops, I often ask people of color, “How often have you given white people feedback on our unaware yet inevitable racism? How often has that gone well for you?” Eye rolling, head shaking, and outright laughter follow, along with the consensus of rarely, if ever. I then ask, I ask my fellow whites to consider the profundity of that response. It would be revolutionary if we could receive, reflect, and work to change the behavior. On the one hand, the man’s response points to how difficult and fragile we are. But on the other hand, it indicates how simple it can be to take responsibility for our racism. But we aren’t likely to get there if we are operating from the dominant worldview that only intentionally mean people can participate in racism.

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136 days ago
Seattle, WA
136 days ago
Overland Park, KS
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#1496; Requiescat in Peonies

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You know it's a good system because it involves coming up with elaborate new ideas to manage your elaborate old ideas.

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187 days ago
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187 days ago
I can relate to this waaaayy too much. It would be a really healthy thing to practice.
Portland, Oregon, USA, Earth

How to speak Silicon Valley: 53 essential tech-bro terms explained

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What is Silicon Valley?

For Californians of a certain tenure, Silicon Valley is a location – an actual, geological valley nestled between two mountain ranges and the marshy southern dregs of the San Francisco bay. The titans of technology – Adobe, Alphabet, Apple, eBay, Facebook, HP, Intel and Oracle – are all headquartered in the valley itself.

But as the tech industry’s dominance has expanded, so, too, have Silicon Valley’s boundaries. The phrase has come to represent something that is both more and less than the tech industry as a whole.

If the name represents anything at all, it is a way of thinking and talking, a mindset expressed through a shared vocabulary: the vocabulary of bullshit. Where Wall Street is capitalism unvarnished, Silicon Valley is capitalism euphemized.

Here is a lexicon of Silicon Valley: a map for travelers to find their way through the wilds of billion-dollar lies.

Airbnb (n) – A hotel company that figured out how to avoid the expense of owning hotels or employing hotel workers. See unicorn. (v) – To illegally convert an apartment into a vacation rental in a city with an affordable housing crisis.

Amazon (n) – A website that went from selling books to selling virtually all items on Earth; it’s also a movie studio, book publisher, major grocery chain owner, hardware manufacturer, and host for most of the internet, to name just a few endeavors. Competitors in nearly every industry fear its might. Formerly known as “the everything store”; soon to be known as “the only store”.

angel investor (phrase) – A wealthy individual who invests a small amount of startup capital at the earliest stages of a company or idea. Often, the angel is part of the entrepreneur’s extended network, whether because they went to the same college, worked together at a previous company, or are family friends. Frequently a vocal opponent of affirmative action. See also meritocracy.

apology (n) – A public relations exercise designed to change headlines. In practice, a promise to keep doing the same thing but conceal it better. “People need to be able to explicitly choose what they share,” said Mark Zuckerberg in a 2007 apology, before promising better privacy controls in a 2010 mea culpa, vowing more transparency in 2011, and acknowledging “mistakes” in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. See Facebook, privacy.

Apple (n) – America’s first trillion-dollar company, which achieved inordinate success through groundbreaking products such as the Macintosh, iPod and iPhone. After it ran out of ideas for new products, Apple maintained its dominance by coming up with new ways to force its customers to purchase expensive accessories. See dongle.

artificial intelligence (ph) – Computers so smart that their behavior is indistinguishable from that of humans. Often achieved by secretly paying real humans to pretend they’re robots.

Autopilot (n) – The name Tesla gives to its advanced driver assistance system, ie souped-up cruise control. Named after the advanced technology that allows pilots to take their hands off the controls of a plane, but very much not an invitation for Tesla drivers to take their hands off the wheel, right, Elon?

bad actors (ph) – People who use a social media platform in a way that results in bad press. Bad actors usually take advantage of features of the platform that were clearly vulnerable for abuse but necessary to achieve scale. “The Russian intelligence operatives who used Facebook’s self-serve advertising system to target US voters with divisive and false messages were ‘bad actors’.”

biohacking (n) – Applying the DIY hacker ethos to one’s own body to achieve higher performance. Often involves bizarre eating habits, fasting, inserting microchips into one’s body, and taking nootropics (AKA expensive nutritional supplements). When done by women, dieting. In extreme forms, an eating disorder.

bootstrap (v) – To start a company without venture capital. The only option for the vast majority of people who start companies, but a point of pride for the tiny subset of entrepreneurs who have access to venture capital and eschew it. “My dad is friends with Tim Draper but I wanted to do something on my own so I’m bootstrapping” – a tech bro.

cloud, the (n) – Servers. A way to keep more of your data off your computer and in the hands of big tech, where it can be monetized in ways you don’t understand but may have agreed to when you clicked on the Terms of Service. Usually located in a city or town whose elected officials exchanged tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks for seven full-time security guard jobs.

data (n) – A record of everything you do involving the internet – which is increasingly synonymous with everything you do, period. Corporations use the digital trails you and millions of others leave to sell you things – in other words, your actions, relationships, and desires have become currency. See privacy.

deprecated (adj) – A description for a software feature that is no longer being updated and will probably be phased out soon.

disrupt (v) – To create a new market, either by inventing something completely new (ie the personal computer, the smartphone) or by ignoring the rules of an old market. If the latter, often illegal, but rarely prosecuted. Uber disrupted the taxi industry by flooding the market with illegal cabs, while Airbnb disrupted the hotel market by flooding the market with illegal sublets. See sharing economy.

diversity and inclusion (ph) – Initiatives designed to sugarcoat Silicon Valley’s systematic failure to hire, promote and retain African American and Latinx employees. The phrase is usually invoked when a company is expounding on its “values” in response to incontrovertible evidence of widespread racial or gender discrimination.

dongle (n) A small, expensive and easily misplaced piece of computer gear. Usually required when a company revolutionizes its products by getting rid of all the ports that are compatible with the accessories you already own. See Apple.

Don’t Be Evil (ph) Google’s original corporate motto. Deprecated.

employee (n) People who work for a tech company and are eligible for health insurance and retirement benefits. Importantly, this does not necessarily include the vast majority of people who perform work for the company and create its value, such as the people who drive for transportation companies, the people who deliver for delivery companies, and the cooks, cleaners, security guards and parking attendants on tech campuses. Less than 50% of Google’s global workforce. See Uber, sharing economy, disruption, scale.

evangelist (n) A job title for salespeople who are slightly creepy in their cultish devotion to the product they are selling. “I used to work in sales but now I evangelize Microsoft’s products.”

FAANG (ph) An acronym for Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google. Originally coined to refer to the company’s high-performing tech stocks, but also used to denote a certain amount of status. “His boyfriend is a software engineer, but not at a FAANG so he’s not really marriage material.”

Facebook (n) Your mom’s favorite social media platform.

5G (n) – The next generation of mobile internet, which promises to enable digital surveillance at blindingly fast speeds.

free speech (ph) A constitutionally protected right in the US that is primarily invoked by tech bros and internet trolls when they are asked to stop being assholes. Syn: hate speech. See ideological diversity.

GDPR (ph) A comprehensive data protection law that applies to companies operating in Europe, including American ones. Though the safeguards don’t apply directly to people outside Europe, the measure may push companies to step up their privacy efforts everywhere – handy for Americans, whose own government has done a pretty poor job of protecting them.

gentrifier (n) – A relatively affluent newcomer to a historically poor or working-class neighborhood whose arrival portends increased policing, pricier restaurants and the eviction or displacement of longtime residents. Often used by gentrifiers as a general epithet for anyone who arrived in their neighborhood after they did.

Google (n) – The privacy-devouring tech company that does everything that Facebook does, but manages to get away with it, largely because its products are useful instead of just depressing. (v) – To make the bare minimum effort to inform oneself about something. What a tech bro did before he insisted on explaining your area of expertise to you.

ideological diversity (ph) – The rallying cry for opponents of diversity and inclusion programs. Advocates for ideological diversity argue that corporate efforts to increase the representation of historically marginalized groups – women, African Americans and Latinos, among others – should also be required to increase the representation of people who believe that women, African Americans and Latinos are inherently unsuited to work in tech.

incubator (n) A parent company that takes baby companies under its wing until they can fly on their own; a playgroup for tech bros. See meritocracy.

IPO (n) Initial public offering – when a company begins allowing regular people to buy shares. A way for everyone, not just venture capital firms, to lose money, as in Uber’s recent disappointing IPO.

meritocracy (n) A system that rewards those who most deserve it, as long as they went to the right school. The tech industry is a meritocracy in much the same way that America is a meritocracy. See diversity and inclusion.

microdosing (n) – Taking small amounts of illegal drugs while white. It may be possible to microdose without writing a book or personal essay about it, but the evidence suggests otherwise.

mission (n) – What separates a tech bro and a finance bro: the tech bro works for a company that has a “mission”. Usually something grandiose, utopian, and entirely inconsistent with the company’s business model. Facebook’s mission is to make the world more open and connected; Facebook’s business model is to sell ads by dividing people into incredibly narrow marketing profiles.

monetize (v) – To charge money for a product, or, to figure out how to extract money from people without their understanding or explicit consent. Though having a plan to monetize is usually the first step for a small business or startup (“You mean I shouldn’t just give the lemonade away for free?”), angel investors and venture capitalists have created an environment in which companies can attempt to scale first and monetize later. “My app is free because I’m monetizing my users’ data.”

Move fast and break things (ph) – Facebook’s original corporate motto. In hindsight, a red flag. Deprecated, allegedly.

off-site (n) – A work event at a non-work location. Often includes alcohol and socializing. Primarily used when describing a sexual harassment complaint.

pivot (v) – What tech startups do when they realize scaling is not a business model without a monetization strategy.

platform (n) – A website that hosts user-generated content. Platforms are distinct from publishers, which more directly commission and control the content they publish. In the US, platforms enjoy special legal status protecting them from liability for the content they host and allowing them to exercise broad discretion over which content they want to ban or delete. Facebook, YouTube, Reddit and Craigslist are examples of platforms. The reason Facebook says it does not “have a policy that stipulates that the information you post on Facebook must be true”.

privacy (n) – Archaic. The concept of maintaining control over one’s personal information.

revolutionize (v) – To change something that does not need to be changed in order to charge money for its replacement. “Apple revolutionized the experience of using headphones when it killed the headphone jack on iPhones.”

runway (n) – The amount of venture capital a startup has left before it has to either monetize its product, pivot or start selling the office furniture. “I can’t believe Topher spent half our runway on a Tesla Roadster.”

scale (v) – The holy grail. To create a business that can accommodate exponential increases in users with minimal increases in costs. Also applicable if the costs can be externalized to taxpayers or countries in the global south. In the negative, a surprisingly effective excuse not to do something that any non-tech company would do. “We would prefer not to foment genocide in Myanmar, but content moderation simply does not scale.”

shadowban (v) – The conspiracy theory that no one is responding to a social media post because the platform is secretly preventing the user’s content from being seen and/or going viral. “Brandon was convinced that Twitter had shadowbanned him when no one responded to his demand that an SJW feminazi debate him.”

sharing economy (ph) A system in which working does not mean being employed. See employees.

smart (adj) – A product that is capable of being hooked up to the internet – thus rendering it capable of being hacked or abusing your data.

Snapchat (n) – Facebook’s research and development department.

tech bro (n) – A US-born, college-educated, Patagonia-clad male whose entry level salary at one of the FAANG companies was at least $125,000 and who frequently insists that his female co-workers give him high-fives. Typically works in product management or marketing. Had he been born 10 years earlier, he would have been a finance bro instead.

the FTC (n) The US Federal Trade Commission. Capable of levying enormous fines against companies like Facebook, potentially whittling down its revenues to just a handful of billions of dollars. Not really in that much of a hurry to do anything, however.

thought leader (n) – An unemployed rich person.

Twitter (n) – A mid-sized business with outsized importance due to its three primary users: Donald Trump, Elon Musk and journalists. A useful tool for journalists to gauge public opinion by talking to other journalists, and for Elon Musk to provoke lawsuits and federal investigations into security fraud.

Uber (n) – A unicorn startup that disrupted the taxi industry by revolutionizing the sharing economy at incredible scale thanks to unprecedented amounts of venture capital. In the first earnings report after a lackluster IPO, revealed that it lost $1bn in three months.

unicorn (n) – A startup valued at at least $1bn. At one point, rare. Increasingly, not even that exciting.

UX designer (n) The person responsible for a website or app user’s experience (UX). They make the buttons they want you to click on – Share! Buy! Sign Up! – large and noticeable, and the buttons that turn off location tracking very small.

venture capital (ph) A system by which wealthy individuals can invest in startups before they go public. A legal and surprisingly respectable form of gambling. An alternate retirement plan for fortysomething multimillionaires who never developed hobbies.

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270 days ago
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270 days ago
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271 days ago
“We would prefer not to foment genocide in Myanmar, but content moderation simply does not scale.”
Washington, DC
275 days ago
This is spectacular.
Louisville, KY


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303 days ago
oh YES
Earth, Sol system, Western spiral arm
303 days ago
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5 Common Behaviors Cis Men May Not Realize Are Abusive (and How to Stop Them)


This article was originally published on EverydayFeminsim.com and is republished with permission.

I recently attended a presentation by Tony Porter, founder of A Call to Men.

After watching his TED Talk, I was incredibly excited to see him speak because of how he demands of men that we consider the ways that all of us can act in abusive and violent ways.

Seeing him in person, though, was disappointing.

Early in the presentation, he held out his arms, asking us to imagine that his arms represented all men. He then gestured to the distance from his fingertips to his elbow on one arm and said, “These guys right here are the bad guys, the ones who are abusive and who commit sexual assault. Violence against women and girls can’t end until the rest of us, the good guys, call these men out and demand that they change!”

When he said this, my heart sank. After all, setting aside the heterosexist implications of his statement, framing abuse in this way lets most men, including me, off the hook.

If we, as men, can think of ourselves as “the good guys” and construct a boogey man abuser in our head, then we never have to turn the lens inward. We never have to consider the ways we’ve been socialized to be abusive.

Not long before attending Porter’s presentation, my partner and I got into a heated argument. We were both quite frustrated with a communication pattern in our relationship that hurt each of us in different ways.

After we’d rehashed the same point for what felt to me like the millionth time, I slammed my hands on our dining table as I emphasized my anger, hurt, and frustration.

After doing so, it took me a minute to realize that my partner’s entire demeanor had shifted. She had retreated physically and was speaking in a softer tone. We sat quietly for a second, and then she said something I hope I never forget.

“Jamie, you scared me. That was really scary.”

My initial reaction was callous. “You must be kidding me! I can only express my emotions in ways that are easy for you to hear?”

Before long, though, her words got through, and I could see that I had done something completely out of alignment with the type of man I want to be.

More Radical Reads: Clenched Fist: HeteroPatriarchal Masculinity Always Equals Violence

As the realization sunk in, my partner asked me to consider what the impact on our relationship might be if that’s how I chose to communicate whenever we argue. “Jamie, that was violent. I want you to be able to express your hurt or anger, but I need you not to physically explode like that.”

My partner was right. To slam my hands on the table was physically intimidating, and in the context of a society where every single one of us knows someone who’s been abused by a man, my actions aren’t simply mine.

My actions exist in the context of how I was taught to be a man. My actions exist in the context of patriarchy. And patriarchy is violent. Full stop.

Simply put, patriarchy is a system of domination and control that privileges cisgender men at the expense of everyone else (though notably to varying degrees and in different ways, since the benefits of patriarchy exist at intersections of other forms of domination and oppression).

Patriarchy, as is the case with other related systems of oppression like White supremacy, relies on violence (both literal and symbolic) deployed against cisgender women, transgender people, and gender non-conforming people in order to maintain supremacy.

Considering that cisgender men like myself are socialized in the context of the violence of patriarchy, we need to own the fact that cis-masculinity is fundamentally oppressive and violent.

But this is not to say that all cisgender men are the same or that all cis men are necessarily violent. Our masculinity is crafted in the context of other aspects of our identity (our religious or spiritual upbringing, our racial identity and community, our ability/disability, and our sexual identity, for instance).

With this in mind, it’s important that I situate myself within my positionality. As a White cisgender man, the following is based not only on my perspective as a person with many privileges, and as such, my comments are limited to ways that cisgender men are taught to be abusive. Inevitably, then, this article is limited and is meant as a call for reflection and action from cisgender men.

And here’s what cisgender men such as myself need to consider: if patriarchy is fundamentally violent and oppressive, then we have a responsibility to consider the ways that we might be complicit in that violence – simply by living out the patterns of how we were taught to be men.

When men and women in my life first called on me to consider how my actions might be abusive or violent, I was incredulous: “I have never laid my hands on anyone, let alone a woman!”

But we do ourselves a disservice to think of violence only as actions that cause physical harm, as violence can take myriad forms.

For the purposes of this article, then, abuse constitutes behaviors that assert power and control over those with whom we are in intimate relationship – like partners, family members, and friends. Abusive behaviors exist on a spectrum from more subtle and controlling ormanipulative to more overt in their violence.

To be clear, this spectrum doesn’t imply that abuse on one end of the spectrum is somehow “worse” or “more severe” than other abuse – it’s all terrible, but abuse looks quite different depending on where it falls on the spectrum.

All of these behaviors, though, are harmful – and when they’re committed by men in the context of patriarchy, they need to be understood as connected to how we, as cisgender men, are socialized within patriarchy to be abusive.

The following, then, are common abusive behaviors that I’ve seen in myself, behaviors that are all too common among cisgender men.

By highlighting them here and offering some alternatives, my hope is that more of us as men can take up the work of cultivating different, less abusive ways of being men.

1. Emotional Manipulation

When I was in 9th grade, a senior on my soccer team took me under his wing in the world of dating and girls. Among many fucked up lessons taught me, he explained that with girls, I always need the upper hand.

“Never be too nice to her – if she knows you’re wrapped around her finger, she will take advantage of it. Keep her guessing. Maybe break up with her and get back together.”

As men, we receive all sorts of messages that tell us to manipulate others in order to get what we want, but this is particularly pronounced in intimate relationships.

One of the more pronounced ways that this shows up is in gaslighting, defined as “an extremely effective form of emotional abuse that causes a [survivor] to question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity, which gives the abusive partner a lot of power (and we know that abuse is about power and control).”

I’ve seen this in myself and in the relationships of men in my life in many ways.

Sometimes it shows up in using name calling (often using oppressive language like b*tch or f*ggot) in ways that degrade self-esteem over time. Other times, we might use a person’s love for us (“If you loved me, you would _____”) in order to manipulate partners or other loved ones. Other times, we lie perpetually in order to justify our hurtful behavior, claiming, “It’s not what you think!”

Whatever it looks like, emotional manipulation, like other abuse, exists on a spectrum – and we have to be vigilant about how it’s entering our relationships.

2. Being Dominant, Aggressive, or Intimidating

Compared to some of the men in my life, I think I have a fairly healthy relationship with anger. But this wasn’t always this way. I used to blow up at people I loved and act in ways that, if not actually violent, seemed to imply violence.

And when I think back to why that was, it had a lot to do with the models of masculinity I had around me. From the media icons I had as a kid – action heroes and athletes – to some of the men in my life, I had models that showed that “being tough” was the same thing as “being a man.”

And that toughness translated to aggressiveness and dominance.

As I realized when my partner called on me to consider the impact of my anger on our relationship, even those of us who strive for a more inclusive and less violent masculinity fall into abusive patterns when angry or frustrated.

Considering that many of the messages we receive as boys about conflict teach us to respond with aggression or violence, is it any wonder that abusive anger is common in so many of our intimate relationships?

For some cis men, this aggression shows up in physical violence, but for others of us, we teach partners or children that they need to manage our anger (rather than that our anger is something we can control and manage).

3. Refusing to Listen

I grew up in a family of ticklers, and I think tickling is tremendous fun. My partner isn’t so much a fan. She humors me sometimes, and we laugh together with playful tickling, but I honestly have a hard time respecting the boundary when she asks me to stop.

While this might seem like a trivial example, it’s reflective of a problematic pattern – I was socialized to see something as positive that my partner doesn’t much like, and I’m not always great at listening.

Taken to its destructive ends, this can look like a million different violations of consent.

There are millions of ways that boys are taught not to listen. All of the following are phrases I’ve had men say to me at different times in my life:

“If she says ‘no,’ that simply means ‘convince me.’”

“If she’s mean to you, that means she likes you. Keep trying.”

“You don’t know what you want. You’re too young to know. So you’re going to do as we say. Because we say so.”

So whether we’re pretending that we know what our partners want or refusing to listen to our children when they express their needs and desires, the fact that cis men are socialized to value our own intuition and voice above that of others can play out in abusive ways.

So we have to be careful – and we have to cultivate an ethic of listening.

4. Being Controlling

I learned early on that I could control people around me to get my way. With friends, I would simply dictate to them which “dress up” game we would play – action heroes or soldiers or cowboys. With my sisters, I knew that I could use my status as the youngest – the baby – to make them do the things I wanted.

And I got this message because many of the adults in my life rewarded me for being assertive and controlling. They called it “leadership,” yet so often it’s called “bossiness” in girls.

One of the more insidious messages that we get as boys and young men is that we need to always be in control, whether we’re talking emotionally, financially, sexually, or even in simple social situations – all of which can lead to other forms of abuse, like physical violence.

In myself, I’ve found that I so very often manage to get my way, even when I claim that I’m trying to be accommodating to my loved ones. In listening to women, I realize that this is a common trend in straight relationships, one that I seriously need to work on.

So whether we’re falling into more traditional abusive patterns or are simply finding that we magically are always in control or getting our way, we have to be careful of the ways that our socialization as men can quickly bleed into abusive behaviors.

5. Acting on Jealousy

If there is any message I received from media – the music I listened to and the movies I watched – it was that jealousy was how we were supposed to show partners that they are wanted, that they are loved.

I got this message in such a messed up way that I remember seeing the movie Fear about a violent stalker in middle school, and I couldn’t help but think about how cool the murderous Mark Wahlberg character was.

Looking back, that terrifies me. His jealousy escalated to murder, and I thought he seemed cool.

And the thing that’s hard to address about jealous is that we all seem to feel it at one time or another. It’s totally natural in many ways.

However, while it may be natural to feel jealous, for many of us as men, jealousy quickly translates into harmful behaviors.

From violating privacy of a partner (say, by going through their phone) or pressuring them not to go out and spend time with friends or telling them that they can’t have friends of a particular gender or sexual orientation, there are myriad ways that jealousy can show up in abusive and controlling ways.

And while everyone may feel jealous at one time or another, the entitlement to the bodies and attentions of others that is inherent in misogynistic patriarchy makes jealousy particularly toxic when it comes from us as cisgender men.

Cultivating a Healthier Self In and Out of Relationships

As cisgender men, we need to realize that even though our identities are bound up in patriarchy, we are not patriarchy. As such, we have a relationship to patriarchy’s violence, which means we have agency to choose what that relationship looks like.

Part of unlearning the violence and abuse of patriarchy that is so deeply engrained into mainstream masculinities in the US means cultivating different ways of being, supplanting the unhealthy and destructive patterns with masculinities that can more closely align with feminist and non-violent values.

So now that we’ve looked at some of the unhealthy patterns, here are just a few ways that men can commit ourselves to cultivating healthier selves. Like the list above, by no means is this list exhaustive. Rather, it’s meant to provide a place to start as we work to build different masculinities.

1. Eliminate Violent and Oppressive Language

No – this isn’t about being “PC” – it’s about empathizing with those who are telling us that our language is hurtful and abusive. More than just a simple act of changing the words we use, eliminating words like the “b word,” “c word,” and “f word” demonstrates a willingness to work on ourselves.

It means that we recognize that we’re willing to attempt to change patterns that have told us throughout our lives that we can do and say whatever we want without consequence.

And it means that we are willing to consider that words have tremendous power and that inclusive language matters.

2. Take Time to Reflect On Our Emotions and How We Can Express Them in Healthier Ways

One of the ways that patriarchy truly wounds us as men is that it demands we divorce ourselves from that which makes us human – from our emotions and capacity for empathy and accountable love.

Thus, though it may seem cheesy, one of the most powerful things we can do to challenge our patriarchal socialization is to carve out time in our lives to reflect upon our emotions and to consider what it would mean for us to express them in ways that are healthier and more accountable to those we love.

3. Learn to Listen Openly and with Empathy

The thing about privilege is that those of us who have it can go through our lives never really listening to those who don’t share our identity – we don’t have to.

But those who try to listen across difference know it isn’t something everyone knows how to do well; it’s a learned skill. For those of us with many privileges, it’s even harder to listen because we’ve been given subtle and overt messages about the value of our voice.

Thus, we need to work actively on cultivating an ethic of empathetic listening, and we need to pay particular and careful attention to how this listening is vital to healthy relationships.

Perhaps most importantly, we need to learn to listen when we’re called out and called in about the ways our behavior is abusive. We need to practice pushing through the defensiveness to truly hear those who are calling on us to be better men.

4. Cultivate Relationships with Other Men that Challenge Normative Masculinity

One of the things I love most about my friend Timo’s work to challenge patriarchal violence is how he binds that work up in building loving and transformative relationships with other men. Frankly, the ways he cultivates what he calls “bruv love” with men in his life is an inspiration to me.

Unfortunately, though, so often “brotherhood” (as expressed in media, in narratives from fraternity or sports culture, in “bro code”) is far from transgressive. It reifies patriarchy.

But what would it look like for all men to cultivate relationships with other men that are built on care, love, affection, accountability, and feminist values? Think of how liberating that would be – not only for us as men, but for people of all genders in our lives!

More Radical Reads: Is Healthy Masculinity a Lost Cause?: A Non-binary Person’s Thoughts on New Masculinity


As cisgender men who know that we need to be different, who realize that our liberation is bound up in the liberation of all people, we need to remember that living into our values doesn’t necessitate paternalistic “protection” of women, Trans men, or non-binary folks.

Living into our values means transforming ourselves and the culture of masculinity around us so that our behavior and our very identities challenge the violence of patriarchy.

And for each of us that might look different, as each of our masculinities exist at intersections with other parts of who we are.

But when more of us as men commit to this self work, think of how much less violence and abuse there will be in our lives and in the lives of those we love.

[Feature Image: close-up photo of a white man with blue eyes and short cropped hair. He is looking at himself through the glass of a broken mirror with a serious expression on his face, his reflection partially distorted.]

Jamie Utt is the Founder and Director of Education at CivilSchools, a comprehensive bullying prevention program, a diversity and inclusion consultant, and sexual violence prevention educator based in Tucson, AZ. He is currently working toward his PhD in Teaching, Learning, and Sociocultural Studies at the University of Arizona with research interests in the role that White teacher’s racial identity plays in their teaching practice. Learn more about his work at his website here and follow him on Twitter @utt_jamie. Read his articles here and book him for speaking engagements.

Editor’s Note: While people of many genders – including cis men, trans men, genderqueer people, etc – can perpetuate toxic masculinity, this article specifically addresses cisgender men from the perspective of a cis man. At Everyday Feminism, we encourage writers to address their own communities and speak from lived experience whenever possible. You can find some of our articles on masculinity and trans and queer communities here. We hope to facilitate more of these kinds of conversations soon.


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