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Sandboxing Cycle

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All I want is a secure system where it's easy to do anything I want. Is that so much to ask?
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11 days ago
Seattle, WA
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7 public comments
10 days ago
12 days ago
Oh, this is perfect. Must pay some royalties for this for the next microsegmentation conversation. So spot on.
Atlanta, GA
12 days ago
XKCD's sandboxing circle not only applies to tech.
12 days ago
12 days ago
You don't have to sanitize your inputs if your application runs in a sandbox that prevents inputs.
Moses Lake, WA
12 days ago
All I want is a secure system where it's easy to do anything I want. Is that so much to ask?
12 days ago
All I want is a secure system where it's easy to do anything I want. Is that so much to ask?

Sephora’s “Starter Witch Kit” and Spiritual Theft



I start most mornings by smudging [for non-Natives: info here]*. I love how the smell lingers on me and in my home and I love that the smell reminds me of Native spaces. It makes me feel safe. The medicines I use were all gifted to me by friends or colleagues, or I have a few special ones that I gathered myself–a sweetgrass braid I made with my students while we were with Oneida tribal members on their lands, a bundle of sage gathered at Sacred Stone Camp with my friend from Standing Rock while we were participating in the movement in 2016. When I burn them, I remember where they came from or who gifted them to me, and that’s important to me and my practice as well. I also smudge when things are hard, or when something has happened and I need to cleanse or re-center. Smudging is grounding to me. It’s centering. It’s personal.

So when I see things like Sephora selling a $42 “Starter Witch Kit” from the brand Pinrose that includes a bundle of white sage, I have…thoughts.

To understand this kit you need to understand that this, like all instances I write about here, is not new. From the earliest contact with Columbus, Christianity and suppressing Native religions was a tool with which colonizers enacted their violent genocide. There are thousands of examples. In the 1500’s, Spanish colonizers operated under “the Requirement,” which forced Natives to convert to Christianity or else, “We shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their Highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do all the harm and damage that we can.” The California Mission system has a similar history. Mandatory Government boarding schools and mission schools had the explicit mission of christianization and suppression of traditional Native spirituality. The Ghost Dance and Wounded Knee. On and on and on.

In addition to the violent and bloody suppression of Native spirituality through these tactics, our ceremonies were explicitly made illegal, with punishments ranging from fines, to prison sentences, to being sent to asylums for “insane Indians”.  This wasn’t just a threat. It was written into law. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs wrote these “Rules for Indian Courts” in 1892:

“Dances-Any Indian who shall engage in the sun dance, scalp dance, or war dance, or any similar feast, so called, shall be guilty of an offense, and upon conviction thereof shall be punished for the first offense by with holding of his rations for not exceeding ten days or by imprisonment for not exceeding ten days; for any subsequent offense under this clause he shall be punished by withholding his rations for not less than ten days nor more than thirty days, or by imprisonment for not less than ten days nor more than thirty days.

Medicine men–Any Indian who shall engage in the practices of so-called medicine men, or who shall resort to any artifice or device to keep the Indians of the reservation from adopting and following civilized habits and pursuits, or shall use any arts of conjurer to prevent Indians from abandoning their barbarous rites and customs, shall be deemed guilty of an offense, and upon conviction thereof, for the first offense shall be imprisoned for not less than ten days and not more than thirty days: Provided That, for subsequent conviction for such offense the maximum term or imprisonment shall not exceed six months.”

Read that closely–Native peoples would have their rations withheld or would be imprisoned for up to thirty days for simply practicing their ceremonies or being a medicine person.

It wasn’t until 1978–a mere 40 years ago–that Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. The Act declares that “henceforth it shall be the policy of the United States to protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religions of the American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut, and Native Hawaiians, including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites.” (For a good summary of the history of Native religious suppression and resistance, I found this piece by Lee Irwin very helpful)

The fact that our ceremonies even still exist and are actively practiced today is testament to the resistance and resilience of our communities. Our not-so-distant ancestors had to go underground with our spiritual practices, hide them from authorities, or mask them with a veneer of Christianity (see Pueblo communities or Oklahoma Indian Churches for great examples of that). Once, my Auntie mentioned that her Grandpa (my great-great grandpa) was a “nighthawk”–she didn’t know what that meant other than he supposedly snuck off at night a lot. After asking and reading around, I learned that the Nighthawks were the Cherokees in Indian Territory (what is now Oklahoma) who were committed to revitalizing traditional ceremony post-Trail of Tears. They held stomp dances and ceremonies deep in the forests of Oklahoma, and were committed to a return to traditional “old ways” in the same period of time where the Dawes Commission was dividing up communally held lands to encourage assimilation. These were not casual gatherings. They were dangerous and had dire consequences if discovered. This is the legacy I carry on when I practice my own spirituality.

Smudging and other Native spiritual practices are still not openly supported in spaces we occupy. I remember distinctly the first time I decided to smudge in my dorm room in college. I sat on the floor and nervously struck a match. I quickly smudged, concentrated not on my thoughts but on my smoke alarm–which decided that even my small amount of smoke was too much. The alarm began to blare as I waved my hands and a file folder frantically trying to disperse the lingering smoke. Then, with horror, I began to hear doors slamming progressively down the hall–BAM–BAM–BAM–BAM–and realized my hallmates doors were automatically slamming shut to contain the “fire” in my room. I ran out into the hall and shouted, “It’s ok! There’s no fire!” as folks came to investigate. My neighbors accused me jokingly of smoking too much pot. I had to nervously explain to everyone what I was doing, showing my shell and medicine. Everyone shrugged and went back inside. Once the smoke alarm stopped blaring the doors were able to be propped open again, and my pot smoking neighbors delivered a gift–a shower cap to place over the smoke alarm the next time I wanted to burn anything.

I was lucky. My dorm staff didn’t care, I didn’t have to go explain myself to the administration, and I wasn’t shamed for my spiritual practices. But it was still traumatic, and I didn’t smudge for a long time. There are Native students on college campuses across the country who are not as lucky. They are kicked out of housing for smudging, have roommates that “report” them to dorm staff, or are explicitly prohibited from practicing their spirituality in their homes on campus. Administrators tell them to “go outside” (where you’re subject to the stares and ridicule of passers-by) or force them to deliver “proof” from their tribe that this is something “cultural.” When Native campus communities want to bless spaces or smudge before events, they have to go through layers of bureaucratic BS to get permission from those in power. (I asked on Twitter for experiences from Native students, you can read some of the heartbreaking and heartening responses here. I think this might have to be a whole separate post.)

I am going so in depth here to show you–that smudge stick is not benign. It’s not about “ownership.” That smudge stick represents the deep pain, sacrifice, resistance, and refusal of Native peoples. It represents a continuing legacy of marginalizing and punishing Native spirituality. So when our religious practices are mocked through these products, or folks are commodifying and making money off our ceremonies it’s not about who has the “right” to buy or sell. It’s about power.

This problem isn’t limited to Pinrose or Sephora. Selling smudge “kits” is a thing. I tweeted about Urban Outfitters selling a smudge kit in 2015, which they pulled, but the company that made the kit still sells white sage on their site with the disclaimer, “Burning sage is a sacred practice, please be respectful when using sage.” Riiiight.

“When you search “smudge” on Etsy, the search immediately autofills with several options, none of them good.

Screen Shot 2018-09-03 at 1.33.18 PM

Search “smudge kit” and the results return over 2000 options.

Screen Shot 2018-09-03 at 1.34.25 PM


The sale of Native spirituality is easily a million dollar industry–not even including all the culture vultures and white shamans who sell fake ceremony. Who is benefitting from the sale of these products? Not Native peoples.

Finally, we need to unpack the “witch” part of this particular Pinrose kit in question. Remember back when I was writing all about JK Rowling’s “Magic in North America”? Here’s what I said about having Indigenous “magic” in the Harry Potter world of Witches and Wizards, and tied in the selling of these “kits” too:

The problem, Jo (can I call you Jo? I hope so), is that we as Indigenous peoples are constantly situated as fantasy creatures. Think about Peter Pan, where Neverland has mermaids, pirates…and Indians. Or on Halloween, children dress up as monsters, zombies, princesses, disney characters…and Indians. Beyond the positioning as “not real,” there is also a pervasive and problematic narrative wherein Native peoples are always “mystical” and “magical” and “spiritual”–able to talk to animals, conjure spirits, perform magic, heal with “medicine” and destroy with “curses.” Think about Grandmother Willow in Pocahontas, or Tonto talking to his bird and horse in The Lone Ranger, or the wolfpack in Twilight…or any other number of examples.

But we’re not magical creatures, we’re contemporary peoples who are still here, and still practice our spiritual traditions, traditions that are not akin to a completely imaginary wizarding world (as badass as that wizarding world is). In a fact I quote often on this blog, it wasn’t until 1978 that we as Native peoples were even legally allowed to practice our religious beliefs or possess sacred objects like eagle feathers. Up until that point, there was a coordinated effort through assimilation policies, missionary systems, and cultural genocide to stamp out these traditions, and with them, our existence as Indigenous peoples. We’ve fought and worked incredibly hard to maintain these practices and pass them on.

So I get worried thinking about the message it sends to have “Indigenous magic” suddenly be associated with the Harry Potter brand and world. Because the other piece I deal with on this blog is the constant commodification of our spiritual practices too. There is an entire industry of plastic shamans selling ceremonies, or places like Urban Outfitters selling “smudge kits” and fake eagle feathers. As someone who owns a genuine time-turner, I know that marketing around Harry Potter is a billion dollar enterprise, and so I get nervous thinking about the marketing piece. American fans are going to be super stoked at the existence of a wizarding school on this side of the pond, and I’m sure will want to snatch up anything related to it–which I really hope doesn’t include Native-inspired anything.

Positioning Native spirituality as “witchcraft” was also part of the tactics of oppression I listed early in the post. So along with placing Native peoples as fantasy creatures, it also draws upon that painful history and collapses diverse Native spiritualities onto the same level as magic crystals.

I’m not going to get into Wicca or Neo-Paganism and marginalization of these spiritual practices. I have some feelings about the ways appropriation runs deep for many individuals in those movements which will have to be another essay. But if self proclaimed “witches” want to get on board with helping stop Native spiritual oppression, cool. Just remember your own Wiccan Rede: “If it harm none, do what you will.” Clearly this harms.

Here’s the thing. “Smudging” is a practice that is from Native North American spiritual traditions. Yes, burning herbs, resins, roots, specific woods, incense, etc as cleansing or for prayer is something shared across many spiritual traditions. Across Native communities, we use different medicines for smudging depending on where we’re from. Not all communities use or used white sage or even smudge. They may call it other things as well. In Cherokee we also “go to water” for cleansing, and I didn’t learn to smudge until later in life.

Despite this diversity, the idea of “smudging” is distinctly indigenous to the Americas. White sage, the plant in question, grows in California. The plant itself is not endangered in the US-stamped-on-a-list kind of way, though many online are saying that, but what is endangered is Native peoples’ ability to access and use wild white sage in the ways that they and their ancestors have done for thousands of years. The habitats of white sage in California are threatened by development and increasing wild fires, and now wannabe “witches” and others who don’t know the proper protocols to sustainably harvest and protect the plants could do irreparable harm to an already threatened medicine.

All of this is to say: find out what your own ancestors may have burned for cleansing, and use that. Unless you’re Native, it probably wasn’t white sage. Sorry. I know you’re not used to hearing you can’t have something. But you can’t have this. Before you storm off in an entitled huff, I honestly don’t care what you do in the privacy of your own home. If you’re gifted medicines by Native folks and are taught how to properly use them, more power to you. Just don’t turn around and sell them or sell ceremonies.

What I care about is the removal of context from conversations on cultural appropriation, the erasing of the painful and violent history around suppression of Native spirituality, the ongoing struggles Native students and peoples have in practicing their beliefs, and the non-Native companies and non-Native individuals that are making money off of these histories and traditions without understanding the harm they’re enacting.

So yeah, won’t be shopping at Sephora anytime soon.



For a similar context-filled post about the misuse of warbonnets: Dear Christina Fallin

(Wanted to give a shout out to @xodanix3 who has been tweeting out some great threads about this in the last few days. Give her a follow or support her on Patreon.)


(Also, Hi. I’m back. I missed you all.)


*I wrote about the mechanics of how I smudge here but took it out after thinking about it. I don’t need to provide folks a “how to” guide for cultural theft.


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14 days ago
Seattle, WA
15 days ago
Overland Park, KS
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The problem of moderation in an unfederated social network and a federated one is the exact same problem, send post


Online abuse and harassment is not a thing that will ever go away. As long as the web is built to have parties interacting with one another there will be these problems. Many, frustrated with Twitter's refusal to remove Nazi's from their platform, have moved to federated networks like Mastodon.

While that move is driven by unstandable anger about Twitter's platform it won't fix the issue of abuse and harassment that people see when interacting on social media. Nor was it really intended to. Mastodon wasn't created to be a safe space, nor is it really the technology's job to solve the problem of moderation.

Why? Mastodon gives users and instance admins the power to choose what to ban what content to allow and what other instances to federate with or not. What this essentially means is that yet again the onus is put on the moderators and admins to ensure the safety of their users and Mastodon is doing their best by giving the tools to do so.

Folks fleeing to services like Mastodon may be under the false illusion that abuse won't exist on that platform, but that misunderstands the core of the issue on social media. Moderation.

Moderation is not a technical problem. It should not be solved by technical means. It is a human problem that needs humans on the other side of things ultimately to be the real deciding factor.

Speaking with other platform safety teams in tech is a focus of the community & safety team (aka CampS) at GitHub. There remains a common thread of how each company works on harassment and abuse and that is at the end of the day a human generally ends up interacting with the content.

You can use ML classifiers to categorize spam with a fairly high accuracy, but while there's a pattern in spam of trying to get users to see it and click on it that pattern doesn't really exist for abuse. So, you can build a classifier that looks at user input content and says if it's likely abuse or not, but it generally is able to be gamed, manipulated, or generally just confused.

You can try this for yourself, but Perspective API is a tool that claims to be able to tell if a comment is toxic or not. However if you try two common phrases used to demean trans folks:

Did you just assume my gender?


I identify as an attack helicopter.

Both get a score of 0.11 unlikely to be precieved as toxic (meanwhile "Fuck TERFs" gets a 0.99 likely to be precieved as toxic score). Why? The classifier has no cultural context for memes that are generally used to harass trans folks, but also these phrases are also sometimes used innoculously to mock transphobic tropes and even if it was trained to recognize these things it wouldn't be able to understand the context.

Cultural context matters and is highly variable in different spaces and regions. Even a trained human without the cultural context of how the trans community is treated likely would not be able to recognize what's happening here, but that gets to the core of the understanding proper moderation needs.

A good moderation team has to be a very diverse group of folks who understand patterns of abuse and whatever internet hate mob happens to be active at any given time (which *gate are we at right now?). However, more importantly the moderators need to know when its appropriate to reach out for information about the cultural context and have the resources and the knowledge to understand how marginalized groups are targeted online.

What can the tech side do? Focus on giving moderators the tools do to their jobs. Allow moderators to easily view reported content in the context in whcih it was initially created. What was it a reply to? Who is the person? How does their identity play into the situation?

Enable users to control their own content. Allow users to block people they don't want to interact with. Give them privacy controls over what content they create and allow responding to that content to be halted at any time.

Increase transparency when not a threat to user privacy. Have editing? Allow there to be an audit log of edits. Who edited the content? When did they edit it? What did they edit (with a chance to expunge this record, but logged somewhere for abuse reports)?

Social problems cannot be solved with technical means, but we can provide the tools to help make everyone's lives easier.

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19 days ago
Overland Park, KS
19 days ago
Seattle, WA
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Why Did You Sink the Red October?


I think this story about Finland starts in Sweden.

It was 2005, and I was twenty-two.

At ten or eleven at night my bus crossed the bridge from Copenhagen to Malmo. The border police got on, singled me out, and pulled me off the bus. I was sort of used to that by then. You could play “one of these things is not like the other” in pretty much any non-squatted space in Europe and I would have been the odd one out. I had long hair and patched-up black clothes, sometimes both a beard and a skirt, and you can sort of imagine a haze of flies around me at any given point.

“Where are you headed?” a guard asked once I was in the freezing night air outside the bus.

“Helsinki,” I said.

“Where are you staying in Helsinki?”

I wanted to say “you’re Sweden, not Finland, so it’s none of your fucking business.” Or I could have been honest: “I’m staying with the girl I loved through all of high school, who I haven’t seen in five years.”

“With a friend.”

They searched my bags pretty carefully, but zine masters of anarchist literature aren’t drugs so they didn’t arrest me or nothing and I continued on my way.

I had about twenty euro to my name, which I was planning on spending on the ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki. The only problem was, I hadn’t had enough money to take the bus all the way to Stockholm. Malmo was as far as I could get. I was going to hitch.
The bus driver took pity on me and took me an hour further, to a truck stop he said would be a decent spot to get a ride from. I got there in the middle of the night. There was frost on the ground. I walked out into a field behind the place, laid out my sleeping bag, and tried and failed to sleep.

It’s strange to say I used to live for that kind of adventure. But already at twenty-two it was getting old. It’s just that I wanted to get to Finland. My fate, whatever it might be, was waiting for me in Finland.

* * *

When I was probably thirteen, maybe fourteen, I fell on top of a girl while crowdsurfing in DC. Her name was A—. Her father was a diplomat from Finland. We fell in love.

At the end of that summer, she moved back to Finland; we stayed together. Mostly she visited me, but I went to Helsinki once while I was sixteen. We broke up my senior year because… well, because I was afraid of compromise, of changing the course of my life to be with someone. That wasn’t the kind of thing I did back then, for better or worse.

So yeah, five years later, I tried to hitchhike across Sweden to see her again.

* * *

I spent a miserable morning with my thumb out outside that truck stop. For hours, no one gave me the time of day. I started getting desperate. I had a maladaptive coping mechanism with which to respond to stress back in those days. Whenever something was awful, like when I was trapped with no money in the middle of nowhere in a country where I didn’t speak the language, by myself, no phone, I promised myself to never put myself into that situation again. “No hitchhiking broke in foreign countries,” I said to myself. “You make it through this, and I’ll never do this to you again. I promise.”

It’s maladaptive because five years later, I was broke in Germany and needed to get to Berlin, so I hitchhiked. Your body punishes you for breaking your promises. It’s better not to make them in the first place.

Eight or ten hours later, as I laughed at the Swedish reputation for friendliness, a trucker finally picked me up. “It’s not your lucky day,” he told me. “Most of the time I drive to Stockholm. Today I’m only going as far as Helsingborg.”

By late afternoon, I was in a park in a city I’d never bothered to have heard of. I found an overnight bus and blew the last of my money on a ticket. I had eight hours to kill, so I went to take a nap in the park in Helsingborg. It was beautiful there, at least. Whatever else was terrible about my situation, at least everything was beautiful.

A group of young women shouted for my attention.

“I don’t speak Swedish, I’m sorry,” I said.

“Come wrestle me,” one of the women said, in English.


“I’m getting married, and in order to raise money for the wedding, I’m wrestling men in the park.”

“I don’t have any money,” I said.

They turned their attention back to each other, and I went back to my nap. To this day I don’t know if this is a normal Swedish custom. Sometimes I meet people who, not having met many people from the States, assume my behavior is typical of other Americans. I feel sort of terrible for those people. I don’t want to assume one way or the other that wrestling men in the park is the traditional way for Swedish brides to fund their wedding.

Later, a group of young men plied me with beer to tell them stories of my adventuring. They were on their way to some festival, and laughed at what a crazy and awesome life I led.

After it got dark, I went to wait in the bus station. An old homeless man slept on the bench next to me. A cop woke him up by name.

“Don’t end up like me,” the man said to me, once he was awake and the cop had fucked off.

He couldn’t have said it at a better, or maybe worse, time in my life. I was young, so people saw me as an adventurer and plied me with beer for stories of my travels. Add another decade or two, with the same life, and I was just gonna be a bum.

“Don’t end up like me,” the man said again. “You find yourself someone to love, and you just love them, whatever it takes. Don’t end up like me.”

I wondered if he knew how perfectly he was fitting the role of cryptic stranger in the movie of my life. I wondered about the decisions that had gotten him to where he was.

Sure, I thought about A—, waiting to see me in Finland. But I didn’t want to believe the man, either. Life wasn’t about finding someone and clinging onto them, come what may. There was more to it than that. There had to be.

We talked for awhile. He told me about his life in small town northern Sweden. He didn’t tell me about whom he’d loved, about whom he’d walked away from.

“And you Americans,” he said, starting to cry, “why did you sink the Red October?”

I was pretty sure the Red October was fiction, but I didn’t know for certain. I mean, I’m sure now, but I didn’t have Wikipedia in my pocket in 2005.


“Why did you sink the Red October? It was our last hope for socialism.”

The conversation never really recovered from that turn into the surreal, and my bus came, and I forgot to bring water with me. At least it was an overnight bus, and I wasn’t sleeping out in the cold. That man from the bus station probably slept out in the cold, since cops didn’t let him sleep inside.

Statistically, I assume he’s dead by now.

Neoliberalism has been creeping into those Scandinavian bastions of social democracy for a long time, and the social nets are failing.

If only we hadn’t sunk the Red October.

* * *

When I got to Stockholm, having spent the last of my money on the overnight bus, I had two different plans for how I would get on the ferry. First, I had a concertina. I could busk and raise what I needed. I was (am) a shitty concertina player. It would have likely taken me all day or into the night, and I would been stuck wandering the streets all night for lack of anywhere to sleep. I went with option two, one of the two times in my life I’d made use of option two. I called my mom collect.

I needed thirty dollars. It was the middle of the night in the US, and the internet wasn’t what it is now. It took her a long time and several calls before she figured out how to wire it to me.

“Call me back in ten minutes for the confirmation number,” she said.

I waited, then called.

“I’m sorry, the number you have dialed does not accept collect calls,” an automated voice told me.

I tried again. Same response. I called the operator, and she told me the same thing the computer had. There was only one number in the world I knew by heart, and it was my parents’ landline. I knew it accepted collect calls; I’d just done made use of that feature ten minutes prior. Privileging out wasn’t going as well as I’d hoped.

All I needed was the fucking confirmation number.

I put the last of my kroner — given to me by a woman on the bus, unprompted — into the payphone. “You have one minute,” the computer informed me.

My mom gave me the confirmation number, and maybe I remembered to tell her that I loved her, and the phone cut out.

I went to Western Union, got my thirty dollars, bought a chocolate bar, barely made it to the terminal on time, and took a ferry to Finland.

I don’t think I appreciated at the time how much I relied on two different social nets for my adventuring. I depended first and foremost on the kindness of anarchists. When I flew to Amsterdam on a one-way ticket, not knowing a soul, I did so assuming correctly that I’d meet anarchists who would take me in. That social net is woven of interdependence: my ability to stay at their squats and eat their food was based on my participation in militant demonstrations, helping open other squats, and foraging for food to share. The other social net I relied on was a middle-class upbringing and parents who, while our relationship was strained by my far-from-typical life, loved me. I didn’t ask them for help often, but just knowing I could was part of my decisionmaking more or less always.

* * *

A— was waiting for me as I got off the ferry, and my heart was near to bursting.

The plan we’d come up with over the phone was simple: she was going to finish up her seasonal job selling fish in the market, then we were going to leave to hitchhike around Europe. Her father caught wind of this plan and offered to buy us both unlimited rail passes instead. Obviously, neither of us complained.

I spent my days reading books in the park and my nights curled up with A— on her smaller-than-twin bed. It wasn’t magic between her and I. It wasn’t awkward either. It just was what it was. I think it’s fair to say we were in love. Neither of us knew how to handle that any better as new adults than we had as teenagers.

One day, one of A—’s roommate’s father died. An older friend, with more money, took everyone out drinking to mourn. I have a lower alcohol tolerance than almost every European I’ve ever met, and I blacked out after the second or third bar. To add to my air of prestige, I’ll admit that I passed out in the gutter.

A couple came out of the bar, one Finnish man and one American man. “Cute boy passed out in the gutter,” they said, “why are you passed out in the gutter?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Why are you in Finland?” they asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Love, probably. And also I don’t have enough money to leave.”

The American gave me twenty bucks.

As my memory — weak at the best of times — has it, the exact same thing happened again. A Finn and an American came out from the bar, took pity on the cute crust punk in the gutter, and gave me another twenty American dollars.

A—’s apartment was too far to walk in the middle of the night, so we decided to head to her parents’ apartment, closer to the center of the city. The sun was probably near to rising, and we sat on a swing set in the just outside of a church. I’d sat on those same swings, at sixteen, with her. I’d been lost and anxious then. I was lost and anxious now.

We talked about love. I think we talked about what little we knew of it.

We talked about what it would mean to be together. It wouldn’t be easy. She was in school. I had dropped out to join the revolution, and I wasn’t an EU citizen.

I knew I couldn’t live in her tiny bed in her apartment, not forever, not for longer than a few weeks. Probably not even long enough for her to finish work and us to travel together. I could live in Amsterdam, land of legal squatting, and we could be together on her breaks. Just like before.

Like we were teenagers again.

We crept up to her parents’ apartment and fell asleep together in her childhood bedroom while birds started their song outside.

* * *

We had a few more adventures after that. The G-8, a neoliberal bastion, was meeting in Scotland that year, and anticapitalists from around Europe were converging to try to shut it down. A— and I and some others organized a solidarity demonstration in Helsinki. I’d already been arrested and sent to foreign detention once on that trip, in Rotterdam, so I wasn’t eager to risk arrest again anytime soon. I figured I’d stick to the sidelines on this one. We made giant paper mache heads of the eight leaders of the countries in the G-8. No one told me until the day of the march that I was going to be George Bush. I led the other seven around the city on leashes on an unpermitted march of a few hundred people, and no one tried to throw me in prison for it — that was a good day.

The day after, I was back on the ferry, with plans to meet A— in Amsterdam in a few weeks to begin our unlimited rail pass summer.

A crew of young Finnish men were rather excited about my adventurous life, and they paid for my drinks all night. They wanted to know why I’d been in Finland, and I showed them a picture of A—, and as is the habit of men, they congratulated me on dating someone so beautiful. At the end of the night, they went off to their bunks and I slept on the floor on the main deck.

I woke up to a man screaming at his wife. For longer than I’d like to admit, I did nothing. There was a whole crowd of people who understood what he was saying. They should have done something. They didn’t. He got a look in his eyes, a hateful look, and myself and another person stepped in to stop him. It broke the spell and he calmed down and I wish I’d done more and sooner. I think about that morning all the time, when I need to make myself try harder, act sooner.

I don’t remember much of anything of the bus back to Amsterdam, but I made it back to my squat. Some weeks later, A— came, and it turned out that since I wasn’t an EU citizen I couldn’t have that unlimited rail pass after all, not for the discounted rate. I couldn’t afford the balance, so A— left without me.

* * *

It didn’t work out. I don’t say that glibly. I don’t even mean that one or the other of us fucked up or had a fear of commitment or gave up too easily. It didn’t work out because we weren’t right for one another, not at the end of things. We lingered on as long as we did because…

Because romantic love as a matter of fate, the idea that there is one person you are obliged to be with, is as much a work of fiction as the Red October.

I believe in socialism — well, more specifically, I believe in anarchist socialism, but I will admit that democratic socialism is a lot better than neoliberalism or conservatism — but that doesn’t mean I need to believe in a fairy tale version. That fairy tale version, in which socialism is inevitable and is the pinnacle of human progress, is what gets us all in so much trouble.

I suppose I believe in love, too. I’ve felt it, I’ve seen it. It’s the fairy tale version that ruins people’s lives, I think.

I’m sorry, probably-dead man in Helsingborg. I’m sorry that the world was cruel to you. I’m sorry that cop only bothered to know your name because he didn’t want you to sleep somewhere warm. I hope you’re remembered by more people than me.

* * *

I went back to Helsinki, another five years later, and saw A— again. No illusions, this time. No plans on being together romantically or sexually at all. Hanging out with her was like going on a blind date with a stranger you’ve been in love with half your life. We spent a week happy in one another’s company, proud of what the other was doing with their lives.

I didn’t want to leave Europe, but my visa was running out fast, so I said my goodbyes to everyone and A— drove me to the airport. She cooked me a bag lunch to eat while I was waiting for the plane. It was the first time that I really understood the way that simple, domestic acts can signify love. I’m glad that I learned to appreciate that from a friend, and not from a partner. Because it’s not a fairy tale. It’s just love.

A version of this story was first published in zine form for my Patreon supporters. If you appreciate my writing and want to help me do more of it, please consider supporting me via Patreon.

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bethylated-spirits: donteatglitter: kramergate: laflenkenway: kramergate: creepsandcrawlers: k...









i randomly wandered into an art gallery with live music and a full cheese spread and im going ape

if u eat it the fey own u tho

that’s the fey’s problem

If you are saying that, you’ve clearly got more bravado than sense.

i don’t have either actually i just have an empty stomach and the ability to make my presence everyone’s problem

“That’s the fey’s problem” is on the same level of response as “bold of you to assume I have blood” and I love it thank you

pretty sure OP is Toby Daye @seananmcguire

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#1120: The Creepy Guy In The Friend Group, Revisited: Four More Geek Social Fallacies

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Content note: After the jump I mention Rape Threats Dudes Have Sent Me for saying what I think about creepy dudes.

Dear Captain,

Over the past several years I’ve drifted to the periphery of a friend group where one member is a sexist creep. I immediately found him slimy and pushy and off-putting upon meeting him, but gave him the benefit of the doubt because he’s my friend’s brother — and then learned that he’s heavily into PUA bullshit and was pretty much being awful on purpose. It was a few years into my friendship his sister that he started hanging out with everyone, and as he’s spent more time with the group, I’ve spent much less. (Not just because of him, but he’s definitely one reason.) There’s only one friend I’ve explicitly discussed this with, and he’s sympathetic when we talk privately, but I don’t get the sense Mr. Plumed Fedora experiences much pushback at all from anyone in the group — including me, which is also something I’m really struggling with — when he casually complains about “feminazis,” creeps on every woman he encounters, etc.

Recently an opportunity came up to maybe spend more time with the group and I was kind of excited about it but… I truly loathe this guy and resent the amount of time I’ve already spent with him. Is there a good way to say “Your brother/friend is a misogynist and I don’t want to be around him, no offense”? Should I suck it up? Continue fading out? Finally learn to stop avoiding conflict?

M’lady Nay


Did you know that this post about what to do about the creepy cude in the friend group is the most-read, most-linked, most-discussed post here, ever, even six years later?

Did you know that men still email me about it sometimes to tell me I’m a horrible person who probably deserves to be raped, six years later? Like “if you think that’s what rapists act like or think everyone is probably a rapist you should probably get raped” x 1000, and it’s like, “Hey Rapey Robert/Death Threat Dave/Threatening Thomas/”Ethics In Gaming Journalism” Greg, nice Pepe the Frog avatar you’ve got there, thanks for the feedback. I definitely don’t think every man is a rapist, but is there any part of your email that isn’t proving my point about what potential rapists act like?” 

(I don’t actually write back) (I used to get really scared by these emails but I don’t anymore)(I usually assume it’s happening because some woman in their friend group finally got fed up and finally told them “read this, because you are being this dude”  and now the dude’s gotta find someone new to take it all out on because he can’t act like a butthole at Trivia Night anymore, so they choose me, in which case, KEEP ROCKING, AWESOME PEOPLE! If these assholes are feeling consequences for what they are like, you are doing something right.)

You’re doing just fine with “your brother/friend is a misogynist and I don’t want to be around him, no offense” script! I also laughed at your email subject line: “this is probably like three different Geek Social Fallacies” I think it hits all five, personally, and you’ve inspired me to define some more, so, well done, good work, thank you.

When the people in your social group inevitably say “He’s not that bad” or “But faaaaaamily!” or otherwise try to defend hanging out with him you can say “Maybe he’s not that bad…to you. If you still want to hang out with him, that’s okay, I’m not your boss, but I know I’ll be happier staying away from places he’s going to be. Let me know if you want to do something one-on-one, though, ’cause I really like you.” 

One thing that can be empowering in You versus The Group (+ This Fucking Guy) situations is to take more initiative in spending time with the people you want to see. Be more of a planner, and invite people to hang out one-on-one, or in smaller groups. Mix a few of the cooler people with friends you know from other social circles. If you’re proactive and you’re controlling the invite list, you can have more fun at your events, and you can also push back on people who try to insist on including Creepy McGee. “When it’s your event you can invite anyone you want. X and I don’t get along/You know I find him creepy/I wanted a misogyny-free evening, so, nope!” 

Sometimes you have to make it clear that it’s a smaller/more selective invite list, especially if the group has the “we all do everything together/all are welcome” vibe for their usual hangouts, so, be specific when you make the invitations. “I’d love to have a few people over for a dinner party, I’ve only got the 5 chairs so please RSVP, and sorry, no +1s this time.” Do the inviting off of Facebook or other social media, too, vs. creating events that anyone can see or add people to.

Ok, let’s talk about group situations where someone says something gross and nobody pushes back on it. Maybe there’s a really awkward silence for a second, but your friend is probably used to smoothing things over for her brother, and it doesn’t really register with the offensive person at all.

Creeps and misogynists (and racists, and other people you don’t want at your parties) don’t respond to hints. They operate under the assumption that everyone secretly agrees with them and is just “too triggered” or “too politically correct” or “too sensitive” (or whatever the code word that we are too much of is today) to “say what they’re really thinking.” Silence, hints, a strategically raised eyebrow, people quietly flashing side-eye around the circle, etc. just gives them a pool of plausible deniability to keep right on pooping into. And if the people around them are pretty conflict-averse, or (understandably) afraid of becoming a target or provoking them further, or (understandably) afraid that no one will stand up for them or (understandably) afraid that other people secretly agree with what the asshole is saying, or (understandably) are worried that everyone really likes the asshole and will side with them (cough…Chris Hardwick…cough) it just perpetuates the thing where The Asshole can say horrible things and not really get called on it, so he keeps saying asshole things to try to provoke a reaction and then sort of revel in his power when nobody stops him.

This is the wrong social feedback loop and sometimes you just gotta be the one who fixes it.

Even if it doesn’t convince the asshole. (It probably won’t).

Even if other people don’t stand up with you. (They might not).

Even if it’s scary and the night is “ruined” once you say something. (It was already ruined, for you.)

Even if you lose your temper or it comes out garbled or you shake or your voice shakes or you cry. (It might.)

Even if the people you like in the group are mad at you for not enabling the creep…and them…in putting up with misogyny. (It’s possible.)

I truly think in my heart of hearts that it will be good FOR YOU to have spoken up.

And I think there are some additional Geek Social Fallacies at play in the world, and we urgently need to find some ways to deal with them.

Edited to Add: If you’ve never heard of the Five Geek Social Fallacies before, read that link! It’s one of several extremely useful posts out there in the world about “Hey, why do people who we know behave badly still get to hang out in all our spaces and ruin all our parties and social groups?” Another great one one is The Missing Stair. [/edit]

GSF #6 “Calling out bad behavior makes you just as bad as the person who was doing the bad behavior.” 

It takes many forms:

“I know Dave keeps grabbing your ass when you walk by, but you didn’t really need to yell at him like that! How is he supposed to learn if you can’t even be polite?” 

“Punching Nazis might turn totally normal people who definitely didn’t have any problematic beliefs before this moment into Nazis!” 

“I know Uncle Carl said some racist things at dinner, but how do you expect him to learn if you can’t sit silently while he does that? Don’t you want to be civil?” 

“When you call creepy men creepy it hurts their feelings and makes them more likely to be creepy.” 

There are so many versions and offshoots, like “People who believe and do evil shit aren’t evil deep down, and if you just patiently explained it to them for long enough they would stop being so evil!” or one that is starring in my inbox right now “Jennifer, when you use swear words don’t you know that you discredit your entire argument? I won’t be reading your blog any more (but I will send you a 1000-word email about your blog…the one that I don’t read and definitely won’t be reading anymore… at least once a week…for the rest of time…btw you should probably get raped)” 

The people who indulge these GSF want you to fight bad behavior by….being quiet about it and letting it continue? What? That can’t be right.

In the most generous interpretation, people who indulge in this fallacy don’t know what to do about the awful (racist, misogynist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic, possibly violent, etc. etc.) sentiments and behavior, so they freeze. Maybe they feel bad and guilty for not saying something themselves. Less-generously-but-depressingly-possible, maybe they agree with the horrible things that were said and feel embarrassed about that, like, shhhhhhhhhh, don’t turn our dogwhistle into a regular whistle, it’s embarrassing!

Whatever their reasons, what GSF #6 Fallacy Holders do is to immediately silence what you are saying (“That was sexist, stop it”) and ignore what the other person was doing ([insert repulsive words and/or behaviors here]) in order to make “but you said it wrong!” the territory of the argument. They want the discomfort that the awful person introduced into the situation to stop, but they incorrectly locate the source of their discomfort in the person who resisted it, and then they try to pressure that person into being silent so everyone can go back to being comfortable.

Everyone except the person who was hurt by the asshole’s words or behavior, that is. They are fine with your discomfort (as long as you are quiet about it).

GSF #7: “I can tell if someone is A Good Person or not based on whether they’ve been nice…to me.”

From the serial killer who was “always a polite, quiet neighbor” to the abuser who can keep their temper just fine around friends, bosses, & strangers but “totally loses control!” only when it comes to their victims and only when it won’t have legal consequences or make them look bad to others, to the person who is probably a pillar of his church community, but won’t let a pregnant woman use the bathroom if she’s the wrong race, everyone needs to understand this and understand it quick:

People can selectively be nice to the people whose opinions they care about and who they don’t want to harm. And predators consciously groom and choose people around them to be their defenders and spokespeople, the exact same way they groom their victims.

A lot of what you personally experience as “kindness” or “he’s a great guy!” from a misogynist is really about power and what they can get away with. 

For example, at my first post-college job, the creepy senior employee who ogled me all day, made up reasons to force me to have to come to his office, offered me rides home every day and (when I refused) followed me home in his car, driving slowly next to me while I walked, begging me to get in the whole time, and then parked across the street from my house for hours at a time, etc. was VERY friendly and gregarious in the office. He was a churchgoer with many framed Bible quotes in his office, he wore sweater-vests, he talked like Ned Flanders from the Simpsons. He often bought lunch for the whole office and brought baked goods from home. Nobody believed me about his weird behavior, they believed him when he said he was just concerned about my safety walking alone (in broad daylight, in Georgetown which if you don’t know is an extremely wealthy college neighborhood that is policed within an inch of its life), and they laughed at me for having “a crush” on him. Long after I quit, they finally believed he was not so nice when he embezzled a whole bunch of money, tried to frame a young Somali refugee who worked there for what he did, and disappeared without a trace with tons of their money, though! An expensive lesson, for everyone.

I think geeks/nerds are especially susceptible to GSF #7 because so many of us have been ostracized or bullied as kids. We hunger for kindness, so when One Of The Cool Kids shows us that kindness it’s even more precious and harder to let go of. If someone tells you someone who has always been nice to you is not actually that nice, consider for a second that you don’t know everything about them. What if we could learn expensive and uncomfortable lessons much earlier, by saying “I believe you, let me see what I can do” to the victim of the bad behavior and “Hey, I like you a lot, can you knock off doing that gross thing so I can keep liking you” to the perpetrator? If someone you like is behaving badly, you probably couldn’t have prevented it, but could you at least not become their flying monkey after the fact?

Could we reverse the current of social pressure that teaches victims not to speak up so that awkwardness flows toward perpetrators?



GSF #8: “If you show emotion about a topic, your argument is invalid.”

We could also state this one as “If you are personally affected by the thing that is up for debate, you are biased, and that is Somehow Bad.” Others have written about it in the context of South Park, where being a secret Nazi is hilarious but caring sincerely about something is the real problem, and deserving of ridicule.

What a crock of shit.

Fortunately, Melissa McEwan wrote about this double-bind so beautifully in her piece, The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck:

“There are the occasions that men—intellectual men, clever men, engaged men—insist on playing devil’s advocate, desirous of a debate on some aspect of feminist theory or reproductive rights or some other subject generally filed under the heading: Women’s Issues. These intellectual, clever, engaged men want to endlessly probe my argument for weaknesses, want to wrestle over details, want to argue just for fun—and they wonder, these intellectual, clever, engaged men, why my voice keeps raising and why my face is flushed and why, after an hour of fighting my corner, hot tears burn the corners of my eyes. Why do you have to take this stuff so personally? ask the intellectual, clever, and engaged men, who have never considered that the content of the abstract exercise that’s so much fun for them is the stuff of my life.

There is the perplexity at my fury that my life experience is not considered more relevant than the opinionated pronouncements of men who make a pastime of informal observation, like womanhood is an exotic locale which provides magnificent fodder for the amateur ethnographer. And there is the haughty dismissal of my assertion that being on the outside looking in doesn’t make one more objective; it merely provides a different perspective.”

I think about this “lady emotions are dumb, man logic is superior!” fallacy all the time as I watch thousands of young men who would describe themselves as Extremely Logical People become viscerally enraged at a Star Wars movie they didn’t like. It’s kinda funny, but when those same men harass female performers off social media because they didn’t like the movie, it’s suddenly not funny at all. Like, let’s sit with the absurdity of what they are doing for a second. As the primo target audience for Ocean’s 8, I personally think it should 100% have been directed by a woman and that the James Corden insurance investigator part should 100% have been played by Rene Russo in a reprise of her Thomas Crown Affair role (and also that character should be “Lou”/Cate Blanchett’s ex-lover) but I’m not suggesting”let’s all go tell Gary Ross & James Corden they should get raped every day until we have JUSTICE Lololo1!!!” (Like, I know I am joking about a terrible terrible thing so in all seriousness, please, please do not ever do that, it’s just a fucking movie. Go write some hot fan fiction where Cate and Renee do crime and borrow each other’s wardrobes and then email me the link to that fan fiction).

Feelings are just one kind of information. Experiences are extremely informed sources of information. They are not the only information, but they aren’t not-information, either? They have a part to play.

What if we acted like the the people most affected by something/who have the most at stake/who have the most to lose/who have been the most fucked over by the status quo are the center of where our caring should go and the primary experts on what would fix things, but on like, a national or even global level? And what if caring for them was way more important than our “objective” debates about what they need and deserve?

In the meantime, the idea that “your emotions and your experiences with a thing make you uninformed and unqualified to talk about it, but my emotions (that I have renamed ‘logic’) and my lack of experience with a thing make me more informed and qualified than you” is a brand of bullshit that I will be fighting until my dying day, one really really long blog post at a time.

Will you join me?

GSF #9: “The most important thing to think about when speaking up about injustice is what will *convince* the other person to be on your side.” 

As in, when someone mistreats you or others, convincing them not to and converting them to thinking as you do and educating them endlessly, in real time, on demand, on their schedule (whether or not they even want to be convinced), with complete and selfless empathy for why they feel as they do and why they said what they said is your sole, immediate responsibility, more important than your own feelings, safety, ethics, the safety or comfort of anyone nearby or anyone in the world who may be affected by what they did, regardless of how much energy or will you have to do it or how likely they are to be convinced.

For GSF #9 holders, it’s not enough for you to say “Hey, knock it off there buddy,” or “If you’re going to say stuff like that, I need to be elsewhere, byeeee,” NO! You must convince them…OR NOTHING. (i.e. be silent). You must convince them, gently, kindly, with perfect grammar and spelling and no icky emotions like anger at what they did or fear for what they might do, you must make them feel GREAT and WELCOME in your space or else you are letting your whole side down and it will be YOUR FAULT when they do and say awful things.

I think there is enormous value in trying to change hearts and minds and that is the long game, the work that will never stop.

But it’s not the only thing I value. Sometimes what I value is making the bad thing stop and stop right fucking now. Sometimes what I value is making consequences for people who do or say the bad things – there are people who persuasion will never reach, but who might understand power or social disapproval or the risk of being disinvited if they behave badly. Sometimes what I value is protecting myself and other people from the harm that they do, and the hearts and minds of assholes can be their own fucking business.

Sometimes I’m just a human being whose supply of fucks to give runs low and I lose my temper. Oops?

When a gross dude in a literal or metaphorical fedora is like “Hey Sweet Tits want to come over and see my Ayn Rand tattoos? I can explain them all to you, at length and in detail” or “Your hysteria over the coming erosion of reproductive rights is just wasting everyone’s time with dumb ‘identity politics’, why don’t you calm down pay attention to the Really Important Stuff (i.e. stuff that I care about)” and you are like NO and also GROSS and also I WILL NOT CALM DOWN, SIR, I DO BITE MY THUMB AT THEE, PERFORCE, YOU ARE LUCKY I DO NOT MAKE YOU MEET ME WITH PISTOLS AT DAWN…

…and people are like “Calm down why are you being so mean/emotional/hysterical, you’re going to lose the argument unless you maintain perfect detachment at all times

…those people are also sort of saying “I…I mean some people… are looking for an excuse to agree with your tormentor, please don’t give me…I mean them… one by having embarrassing tears or acting angry about what they are doing! If they aren’t convinced, and if I…I mean some people…end up joining their side, it will be all your fault when I/they do!


…I don’t know…

…this may sound weird…

But maybe they were never really gonna be on your side, and what they think isn’t the most important thing in the world?

…And maybe it’s important that you say something back even if it isn’t going to be the one true magical thing that convinces someone not to be a misogynist anymore? That perfect thing that, don’t forget, you must somehow express with perfect politeness and grace?

Maybe it isn’t your job to convince that person, especially not right then in that moment. Maybe you are not their Basic Humanity Tutor. Maybe today isn’t your turn to be the Asshole Whisperer. Maybe speaking up is about something else entirely. Maybe it’s sufficient just to name their actions for what they are so that other people can recognize them, and it’s not your job to fix every asshole that you meet.

Maybe you’re doing it for YOU and as a way to remove plausible deniability that everyone agrees with them and to reassert POWER in the social spaces you occupy regardless of whether these people are ever convinced or even can be convinced. (Like maybe holidays don’t belong to your most racist and loudmouthed relative and you do not have to quietly retreat from having a family because he can’t shut the fuck up for one day (but you are expected to “behave yourself, Young Lady”).

Maybe it would be ok if you “made a scene” or whatever they’re using today as “the worst thing you could possibly do” in order to police your feelings and reactions down to a size that can let them stay comfortable with the unfairness of the world.

Maybe it’s just the right thing to do even if it isn’t easy or comfortable and even if it won’t convince one single soul.  And, in the good words of my beloved ride-or-die Goat Lady, as pertains to some current political discussions:

“Yknow I get that some people are really uncomfortable with confrontation but ima need those folks to just go back inside and keep their heads down instead of pretending they have some kind of precious moral high ground because they don’t want offend fascists.”

If you can’t speak up, if you’re afraid to speak up, if you are uncomfortable speaking up, if you’ve never spoken up before and you don’t know how to start, okay? It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to be still learning. Do what you have to do to survive from one moment to the next. But do not act like silence is something to strive for and like breaking it is the real faux pas when people’s survival is on the line. I see you.

So again, maybe someone’s horrendous and abusive views and whatever straw-man-dressed-in-red-flags strategy the people who wish you would just shut up already erroneously think will ultimately convince people to stop having those views is not even remotely the standard for measuring what you should do when they hurt people.

My lovely Letter Writer M’Lady Nay, how this translates practically to you and your specific letter (vs. me venting literally every internet argument I am currently having feelings about), is this:

It’s okay to not want to go to things where you know a misogynist creep will be coddled and apologized for. “I love playing Betrayal At House On The Hill, I hate being hit on by some creepo I’ve already told to leave me alone 17,000 times, gotta skip it” is a totally reasonable worldview.

And if you do end up at one of those things where this dude will be, and he says or does one of his awful things, it’s okay to say “Gross” or “Try that again with a little less misogyny this time” or “Nobody here wants to fuck you, just stop it and hang out like a person, or the best imitation of one you can pull off, ok?” or “DO NOT TOUCH ME” or “Well, that was a rape-y thing to say, time for one of us to leave. I vote that it’s you.” or “What the fuck, dude?” or “We put up with you because we like your sister. Behave yourself for her sake, or go the fuck home (for her sake), but DO NOT say that creepy shit to me again” or “Oh gee, look at the time, it’s creep-o’clock and I will turn into a pumpkin if I don’t get out of here.” Or “I don’t like what you said just now.” Or “Wow” or “That makes me really uncomfortable” or “Please desist at once, kind sir” or or or or or or or or or or or or.

And when someone says “Come on he was only joking” you say “But it wasn’t funny” and when someone says “Geez, you’re way too sensitive” you say “Yes, I’m very sensitive and I also hate rape jokes, thanks for noticing” and when someone says “God, grow a sense of humor already!” you say “Yes, I will grow a sense of humor and I will fertilize it with the ashes of unfunny men. TO THE BARRICADES, SISTERS! FOR THEMYSCIRA!”

Or you know, whatever comes to mind. My scripts are always gonna work better in your own words.

And when they come for his sister, or his sister feels pressure to defend him because she’s (understandably) afraid they’ll come for her, you say “You are lovely! But your brother is acting like a sexist jerk. If he’s uncomfortable when people don’t like that, maybe he should knock it off. You are not responsible for him and you do not have to defend him. By which I mean, stop defending him, it’s not your job when you didn’t do anything wrong.”

Your voice might shake. Your awesome comeback might come out garbled. You might get talked over by people who are afraid to do what you did. You might stand there alone, while all these people you want so bad to like and believe you let you down.

Maybe…say something anyway?

Say something especially if you have privilege relative to the people who are being targeted. Creepy men who automatically discount what women say listen more when their male friends say “Not cool, bro.” White people who say racist stuff desperately want the social approval and compliance of fellow white people, and when you refuse to give them your compliance and good opinion, it fucking shatters them. Good. Keep doing it.

Here is the secret, the cheat code, the truth: The people you know who are good at speaking up in tense situations probably didn’t start out that way. It is a habit and a skill that you can develop with time and practice. The more you do it, the more you feel like you can do it. And the more you do it, the people who can’t be trusted not to carry water for creeps and assholes will show themselves, making them easier to avoid in the future.

I’m not gonna lie, that can hurt real bad, it can cut you to the bone.

And there may be times you cannot safely speak up, without the threat of violence. In those cases, you are going to be the best judge of what you can safely do. Think of it as “living so you can fight another day” and don’t let it slow you down too much.

But also, the more you speak up, the more the other people in the room who don’t agree with the asshole will seek you out and back you up and start to find their own voices. Someone in that room has been waiting for someone to say “‘Feminazi?’ Really? Are you a time traveling Rush Limbaugh intern here to teach us about hackeysack and jam bands? Get the fuck out of here with that shit, man.”

Maybe they’ve been waiting for you the way you’ve been waiting for them, wondering “Is it just me?” And maybe today is the day you get together and start to fix it.

This hope is why I do what I do.


Captain Awkward






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76 days ago
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79 days ago
"I will grow a sense of humor and I will fertilize it with the ashes of unfunny men" new bio
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