Thursday, May 5, 2011

Naming, shaming, and victim blaming.

[Because this issue has already been addressed elsewhere, all names in the following story have been replaced with names from Saturday morning cartoons. DO NOT discuss details of the original issue in comments on this post. DO NOT name the group or event or use the legal names, scene names, or usernames of anyone involved.]

There's been a problem recently in a BDSM group I belong to, the Thundercats, with a particular member, Captain Planet, inappropriately touching or creepily hitting on people at Thundercats meetings and events. This had been ongoing for more than a year, had scared me and other people away from attending certain Thundercats meetings, and several people had talked to Captain Planet with the only result being that after several talking-tos he would switch targets. The Thundercats has had a couple other creeper incidents, but he was one of the most persistent, although relatively less severe--he was more inclined to creepily stroke women's hair or backs than to go for the "swimsuit area."

Then a couple days ago I heard that he had been creeping on my friend April O'Neil to the point of triggering PTSD symptoms, and I just snapped. We'd talked before in the Thundercats about having trouble with "some people" violating "some boundaries" and it always just ended in the conclusion that tsk, tsk, that was very naughty of "some people." I was fucking sick of this culture of silence, of sheltering someone just for being "one of ours" and of throwing women to the wolves of "personal responsibility" if they were too intimidated to confront him or too new to know who to watch out for.

In short, I was sick of worrying myself too damn much about his feelings.

So I posted basically what I wrote above to the Thundercats website, only with his (scene) name and a lot more details on specific incidents. It was a rehash of a lot of the "some people" posts, but I went ahead and said "no, not 'some people.' THIS DUDE."

A lot of people, Thundercats and bystanders, were very supportive of this. Three other women came forward to say they had also had problems with Captain Planet. And Captain Planet himself came on, took it with relatively good grace considering that I was pointedly not gentle in my writing, fessed up and promised to change his behavior. I have to say I'm impressed by that, hope he stands by it, and it makes me feel that I might have actually accomplished something.

But then something weird happened. Even though the person accused had already confessed and apologized, third parties took it on themselves to explain why I, and the other women complaining, were in the wrong. I got a mountain of hostile comments and emails. These fell into three broad categories:

1. "Are we supposed to take the word of a woman?"
There wasn't a ton of this, but I got a few. Funny thing was, Captain Planet had already confessed. (God only knows where things would have gone if he'd denied it.) But I still got people speculating that I was making things up, that I was blowing innocent casual touch out of proportion, and that perhaps people should watch out for me since clearly I'm the sort of person who's dangerously prone to going around accusing men of... um, things they did and admit to doing.

2. "Whatever happend to personal responsibility? For you, I mean. Not him."
Quite a bit of this. People noted that he'd picked on women who didn't seem "strong-willed," which is not entirely true anyway--I'm a noted marshmallow rollover, but some of the other women complaining were pretty tough. Or they said that we were just responsible for setting our own boundaries and dealing with our own problems. But the problem here is threefold:

a. If I'm having to exert a strong will, there's already a problem. Not having to defend myself is vastly preferable to getting good at self-defense.
b. Some women are, because of past events or simply by nature, "weak-willed." They still don't deserve to be creeped on.
c. By making this all about the women, Captain Planet and his actions kind of... disappear. He becomes this weird force of nature, like a pressured fluid naturally rupturing weak spots, instead of a person making choices. That isn't the case. He's much more able to control himself than anyone else is able to control him.

3. "Okay, that's bad, but how dare you talk about it."
This was a really, REALLY depressingly common opinion. I was accused a bizillion times on the thread and in private emails of acting "childish," because apparently an adult shuts up and takes it. I was also told that because the accusations weren't "that bad," weren't sexual assault or anything, I shouldn't be making them.

Note that I and other people had talked to Captain Planet in private previously, and it hadn't worked. Here are some other justifications for naming names:

a. Not everyone can be assumed to be "in the loop." New people or people not in the rumor mill deserve to know who to watch out for.
b. People who thought it was just their own problem with Captain Planet are helped by knowing it's not just them.
c. If you don't have the right to violate people's boundaries, you sure as hell don't have the right to violate them in private. We avoid "outing" because being outed as kinky could hurt you even though it isn't a bad thing. Being outed as creepy doesn't meet the "isn't a bad thing" criterion.
d. All I did was say what had happened and what I thought of it. If people want to do this with my actions ("She sat in a chair and talked to some people. I was pretty okay with this."), they're welcome to.
e. As consequences for bad behavior go, simply having people know about it is a pretty mild and natural one.
f. People who are tempted to violate boundaries should have something to be afraid of. Being politely talked to in private isn't very scary. Hopefully, being publicly shamed is.

So for everyone saying that victim-blaming doesn't happen, that it isn't that bad, or that the victims deserved to be blamed (whoa), there's my little story about what happens when a woman speaks out about a relatively minor and non-criminal issue.


  1. You 100% did the right thing. Well done for taking a stand, a lot of people around you will be relieved that you spoke first.

    Sarah xx

  2. I'm actually a little curious why this would be so divisive. Speaking strictly as an outsider, I get the impression that safety and discretion are sort of paramount priority in those sorts of settings, right? I mean if people don't feel comfortable, the group is going to evaporate.


  3. Zero - I think a lot of the problem is that people think "discretion" in BDSM amounts to a culture of silence in all things, rather than merely a culture of not outing people as kinky.

    And I think a lot of the biases from the outside world, the same ones facing a vanilla woman (or person? it's impossible to separate gender from this, but impossible to know how much it matters) complaining of harassment, get dragged right in too.

  4. I just wanted to say I'm really glad you spoke up. The community in which I'm going to graduate school right now is very conservative and I am basically the only woman willing to stand up and say, "How dare you?" to boundary-crossing, so it's nice to be reminded that this is normal, decent behavior.

    Also, I'm really glad you had the effect you did. :)

  5. Wow, that's pretty astonishingly fucked up. Of them, I mean, not you.

  6. You are beyond awesome for speaking up. I know how hard that is to do, and I'm so sorry you had so much backlash.

  7. People just love a "he said, she said" debate! I have a friend who was seriously fucked over by her boyfriend of over a decade -- cheating, lawsuits, trying to get her kicked out of their house, after she'd supported him financially for years. He's a second-tier music celebrity, & the saga was reported on some music blogs. Always, there were commenters insisting how WRONG it would be to take her at her word without knowing his side of the story. Maybe she'd cheated on him first, maybe she was making this or that up, etc. This despite the fact that the court documents were public, & if he'd had a "side of the story," he could have made it known at any time.

    No one had any dirt on her, they just wanted to believe there were "two sides to the story" so they'd be free to decide it was all completely subjective, & they didn't have to think bad stuff about a guy they liked. Sounds like something similar was operating here.

  8. Emily H. - The extra-weird part of this incident was that he did give his side of the story--which was "yeah, that happened. my bad."

    So "he said, she said" is kind of a moot point, and it just became "she said--how dare she."

  9. Thank you for speaking up, Holly. I think you will find the majority opinion for what you did is positive, even if not many got involved... and the blame the victim members are being viewed with disgust.

  10. Yeah, exactly. "She said that, but there MUST be a somehow more authoritative male version, & that's what I believe." Sheds an interesting light on the whole phenomenon of believing "his side" when one ~is~ offered. It doesn't have to be particularly substantial or plausible to be given equal weight -- which often amounts to ignoring everything the woman says.

  11. I loled at "a BDSM group I belong to, the Thundercats..." and then realized I probably could find thundercats BDSM stories on the internet somewhere.

    I'm impressed that you stood up to him, and I'm also kind of heart-warmed that Captain America took it well. Is that a sign of a terribly low heart-warming threshold? I hope he stops being problematically touchy.

  12. I think some people feel worried that they may end up on the wrong end of a post like that without any good reason. In your case it all worked out though, so all those people were really... being strange.

  13. It sounds like it's time for Ol' Deputy Dog to put some of these varmints in the hooskow. Maybe Yogi and BooBoo need to start their own group in Jellystone and set up some better rules to get rid of Captain planet so thee will be more happy campers.
    Life is too short for excess bullshit, when it gets too thick just move on to greener pastures.

  14. I find this very, very offensive, Holly.

    Captain Planet isn't a part of the Thundercats, and while they might offer him honorary membership, to call him "part of the team" is grossly out of character. And how did April O'Neil get to Thundarra from Earth, anyway? What the hell?!

    But all the heresy aside, I remember the post you made on Fet, I'm surprised people got worked up over some tame "don't do that" kind of shit. I mean, that's basically what the post was. "Hey, Cap, don't do that, that's wrong."

    Anyone notice how many adults feel adulthood means getting to act childish and get away with it? And another thing, what's the deal with airplane peanuts?! I'm on a roll!

  15. Fuckyeahholly!

    I see discussions about this pop up on FL every now and then. About the culture of silence around sexual harassment in the scene, how people get away with all kinds of shit because they are 'one of us', or the good old 'they're a dom'/'they are submissive'. Every time these discussions pop up, someone will inevitably go "no ur wrong!".
    Often, there is the argument that BDSM circles would never stoop to that because they are so much more enlightened about consent and safety. But that is exactly what makes rape culture a 'culture', isn't it. That it is so pervasive that it exists everywhere, any time, no matter how progressive and mature and special a place (supposedly) is. (Nevermind that last time I checked, we kinksters are just people too.)

    I'm glad you spoke out. And sorry (but not surprised) that you had to deal with ugly remarks for it. And surprised that Captain Planet actually admitted to it. But mostly grateful you stood up.

  16. The scene (*) is special, and needs to be protected.

    Well done.

    (*) Your scene, my scene, doesn't matter.

  17. Part of the reaction is people being defensive over the space they feel safe in. And if they don't notice it, it doesn't happen, right?

    And a lot of it is "Oh god drama." Because, as you saw, drama ensues; even though the principles involved were all reasonable and calm, people around them get worked up (or a troll works them up). And even when drama would not have to ensue, if it seems like drama could ensue, everyone wants to shut it down (thus causing drama).

    Because drama is the worst thing that could happen! Drama is actually a pretty bad thing in the scene; it can fracture groups and lead to the closing of valued spaces. So we gloss over things to try to prevent schisms... and the shit will go away, right?

    It does when people stop coming to events after their problems are glossed over....

    But from now on, whenever anyone in any scenario starts saying "but what if you accuse someone who's just clueless?!?! his reputation will be destroyed forever!!!" we can point to Captain Planet and his response. He demonstrates how someone who is Not A Bad Guy can nonetheless Do Bad Things, and that these Things are still Bad. And then, what a Not Bad Guy does when called out. (assuming, of course, that he makes actual efforts to knock it off.)

  18. "greener pastures" anon - There aren't a lot of options for BDSM in my area. And the Thundercats aren't bad (in fact they're pretty awesome), they just have some bad members. And the whole "greener pastures" thing is pretty much handing assholes control of my life by telling them "don't worry! I'm very easy to get rid of, so if I give you any problems, don't bother addressing them!"

    Miette - I think drama aversion is a lot of it. And people who think "conflict resolution" means "conflict avoidance."

    I'm not out to destroy reputations for funsies, but really, I don't mind if someone who's touched people inappropriately... has a reputation for touching people inappropriately. That's what reputations are for.

  19. Hershele OstropolerMay 6, 2011 at 10:19 AM

    I read the original calling-ou, and ... that's fucking weird. That only after Captain Planet admitted it did anyone come to his defense. That more than anything else makes me baffled as to their motivations.

    (If I had to guess, I think that when Captain Planet stepped forward to defend himself, his fans became aware of the post, and when he confessed, it could no longer be dismissed as the product of delusion or oversensitivity.)

    I'm actually a little curious why this would be so divisive. Speaking strictly as an outsider, I get the impression that safety and discretion are sort of paramount priority in those sorts of settings, right?

    My hypothesis, on top of the reasons Holly gave, is similar to miette's: by speaking up, Holly challenged the Thundercats' collective self-image. The great vanilla world says "these are terrible people who violate boundaries," so the Thundercats et al. react by saying "we don't have boundary violations here!" In such an environment there will always be people who think repeating it is enough to make it true, or that saying it loudly and often is more important and even more useful than actual work to try to ensure it's the case -- if you admit that it ever happens, even long enough to stop it, this doesn't mean the community is self-policing, it means all the nasty things the wider community says are true. And ironically, if anything makes the community not self-policing and validates the haters, it's that attitude.

  20. So I read the callout and all the comments (up until you said No More Comments), and ... well. I haven't made it to a Thundercats event, being as I am stunningly introverted and don't like to leave the house, but the fact that you were willing and able to not only make the callout but Captain Planet acknowledged that he'd fucked up makes it marginally more likely that I might, someday.

  21. Hershele- I agree, with a caveat: It's a matter of personal discipline more than anything else. Social biases are everywhere and have their place, but you have to learn how to be objective if you want to coexist.

    It seems so painfully obvious when you spell it out. I don't know if it's because of the internet that people are forgetting, or because of the internet that we're simply becoming more aware of a much older problem.

    It basically depends on the priorities of everyone in the group and whether they're willing to learn that discipline rather than stir up shit.

    So it doesn't have to always be that way. The right people just have to teach them. Holly and her peers are at least in a position to do that.

    I'm just disappointed those priorities weren't straight to begin with.

  22. Wow, Holly! That's kind of scary. It's good that Captain Planet admitted he shouldn't do that, though, and I hope the Thundercats realize they're doing something wrong too...


  23. First off, three cheers for Holly!

    I've been there, no in the context of a BDSM scene, but in the context of a group of friends that I bowed out of because "he's just that way" and "we wouldn't want to hurt his feelings", but I shouldn't have to watch my every move and the position of everyone in the room, etc., to make sure this guy doesn't grab my ass. He should just not grab my ass. Easier on both of us, really.

    Ugh, I thought I was way past that whole thing (it was like 15 years ago), but I guess not. Not a criticism of Holly. It's actually nice to hear this from someone else. I feel justified now.

  24. Oh, wow, it's not nice to hear that Holly was molested or upset or in a fight. It's nice to hear that those excuses are just that- excuses and that I'm not the only one who's had to hear them.

    Sorry for the complete lack of clarity on my part.

  25. Hershele OstropolerMay 7, 2011 at 1:24 AM

    On top of which, the Thundercats are located in a part of the country with a strong cultural value "not airing dirty laundry."

  26. Not exactly related to the kink community, but the same sort of "yes, he's terrible, but we can't -call- him on it because that is drama" attitude exists in one of my online communities as well. I've talked to scores of girls who come away with the same disgusting, heart-breaking stories about being stalked, harassed, and otherwise coerced into sexual online things by a few particular scumbags, yet they never get reported for their actions.

    The reasons for this are often very similar, too:
    1) The girl thought she was alone in this, and "didn't want to make a scene for being too sensitive."
    2) The girl was new, while the creepy bastards had been around for much longer in the community.
    3) "It wasn't -that- bad..I mean, I really didn't want to do it, and was completely uncomfortable with it, but cybering isn't like -real- rape, I guess, so I wasn't -technically- being assulted, right..?"
    4) "It's partially my fault too. I should have been firmer in saying no/I could have stopped him/I responded instead of ignoring him altogether/etc."
    5) The sleazeballs paid for her membership into the community afterwards.

    Here is the kicker, though: Sometimes it -wasn't- too late to report them yet. Or maybe the girl had kept records that could be used against the guys. Sometimes, she found out that this had happened to SO MANY OTHER PEOPLE, and if she reported them, she could prevent them from simply hopping to their next victim and starting all over again. Yet -still-, she was hesitant to do it.

    Because "I don't want to make a big deal of it. I just want him to stop."

    Maybe there -is- a culture of not shaming the perpetrator, but in many cases, kink or otherwise, it only ensures the continuation of the cycle, while more people suffer for it.

  27. After some thought, I think I realized why my reaction about publicly outing Captain Planet was sort of hesitant. It absolutely needed to be done, for the reasons you've already stated. I really believe all people deserve a chance at redemption - to make things right and make a change (including owning up to the consequences of previous actions). The called out person can take or leave that opportunity, but it's there for them. With the way things on the internet can get out of hand, I wasn't sure CP would be afforded the opportunity for redemption.

    There are certainly folks who never admit to their wrongdoing, and never make a change, and those people do deserve to be ostracized out of the Thundercats. My biggest concern with these folks is some of them get vengeful against the person who called them out or the group - I'm not sure how to prevent or deal with that, but avoiding this issue certainly isn't it.

    As it's played out so far, Captain Planet seems to be choosing redemption, the discussion didn't get out of hand, and I'm really hoping this can serve as a model for dealing with situations in the future.

  28. member of thundercatsMay 8, 2011 at 5:50 PM

    But my question is: what happens to the people who have done far worse than Captain Planet at CSG, continue to do it, and are not repentant? What then?

  29. I'm sorry, but I really don't believe in giving creepers second chances. If you have to talk to someone once or twice, then it's possible that they simply didn't understand that they were being creepy. If someone makes a habit of creepy behavior, and this behavior persists after it's been pointed out... then they need to be banned from all future events. They need to be turned away at the door and escorted out of social situations. Communities, including kink communities, need to be fun and safe places for everyone. This can't happen if known creepers are tolerated.

  30. Exactly the same shit happens in vanilla social groups, of course, but we don't exactly have discussion forums to get the call-outs done and over with. That certainly seems to have streamlined the process in this case.