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Sarah Mei @sarahmei
, 36 tweets, 6 min read Read on Twitter
Men, the best thing you can do today is be quiet and retweet women. Let’s have a day where we wonder where all the men are.
If you want more feminists in the world, this advice actually isn't terrible. Having my first baby (while married & unemployed) was my radicalizing event. It was at that point I realized that my wider society wasn't interested in supporting me. So....🤔 A screenshot of a tweet from @PipesAreCallin, wherein they advise me to stop working, get married, have babies, and stay in the house to be more happy, ending with a clumsy insult about how men wouldn't be interested in marrying me.
Replies like this are fascinating. First there's the naked statement of what they actually want (in this case, to not see any women in their timeline), & then the clumsy & transparent attempt to feign solidarity. They seem to imagine that I think all men are stoopid (sic).🤣 A screenshot of a tweet from @skoolis4suckers, wherein they say that WELL ACTUALLY, we need men to tweet twice as much today (which is what they actually want), and then wrapping up with a clumsy and transparent attempt to claim solidarity with women. Nice try, I guess?
This sort of reply is more typical, though. I got a lot of these when I was talking about the pro-bullying linux contingent - "you're telling us what to do, so YOU'RE THE REAL BULLY" 🙄 Just like this person, they're willfully ignorant of the power dynamics of human interaction. A screenshot of a tweet from @PerignonDom_, wherein they assert that requesting men not tweet themselves, & instead just retweet women is sexist. 🙄
Interpersonal power dynamics are easy to understand (though complicated to apply) and once you've got the basic idea, a lot of stuff in the world suddenly makes waaaaay more sense.
The basic idea is that an action can't be judged positive or negative without knowing what power structures both parties exist in, & where they are relative to each other.
There are both individual and societal power structures, and they all come into play when we're talking about evaluating a given action. Let's take a murder example, since that seems to be where most people start out, then let's look at something more subtle.
The first thing to establish: neither actions nor outcomes are EVER all that matters. Context is important - even outside of power structures.

Here's a really easy example:
Attacking & killing someone who's jogging by your house will probably get you in trouble.

Attacking & killing someone who's attacking YOU as you jog by their house is much less likely to get you in trouble - even though in both cases, someone is killed.
So saying "[action] is bad under [circumstances], because [action] is bad under [different circumstances]" is on its face just absurd. The context, or the circumstances - largely the relationship between the parties - ALWAYS matters.
And often the relationship is driven by societal & personal power differentials. For example, there is a societal power structure for gender, in which men hold more power than women do. All you had to do this week was look at who's elected to the Senate to see it in action.
There is another societal power structure for race, in which light-skinned people hold more power than darker-skinned people do. All you have to do is look at who's elected to the government & who runs the large corporations to see this one in action.
You can see both of these power differentials in wage gaps and other statistical measures as well. These days they're less about overt discrimination, and more about tendencies in the fabric of our lives that lead to better outcomes for some classes of people than for others.
Now, crucially, these structures do not mean that ANY individual in a higher-power group will be better off than EVERY individual from a lower-power group.

For example: some women make more money than men doing the same job. Their existence doesn't negate the overall wage gap.
There are other power structures we deal with as well - for example, within a company there's often a formal organizational power structure (who's at the top of the org chart), along with an invisible informal power structure (who actually gets things done).
There are other even less-obvious and more-complex power hierarchies in play, such as age. Under some circumstances, being older gives you more power; under other circumstances, it gives you less.
Thinking about age leads to the part of interpersonal power dynamics that makes them easy to understand but hard to apply: intersectionality.
In any interaction between two individuals, all of these power dynamics (and more!) are in play. Each individual is the intersection of their location in many different power structures, relative to the other person.
Some power structures overall have more impact on people's lives than others. For those, we have specific words describing actions that reinforce them:
- Sexist: reinforcing the existing gender-based power structure
- Racist: reinforcing the existing race-based power structure
We also have words that describe, in general, coercion (physical or otherwise) from higher-power individuals directed at lower-power individuals. These are words like "abuse" and "bullying."
Let's say we're thinking about an interaction between two individuals - call them A and B. There are some power structures in which A will be higher than B, and other power structures in which B will be higher than A.
So who's the higher-power individual, and who's the lower-power individual? Well, of course, like anything else, IT DEPENDS.
The answer is easy if person A is the only woman on a team full of men (incl person B) in an industry that's also mostly men.

It gets more difficult if person A is two levels of management up, or if they're the same level, but person B is a black man. INTERSECTIONALITY.
So when you're trying to decide whether a particular interaction is abuse or bullying (i.e., is it directed by a higher-power individual towards a lower-power individual), you can't really just add up everyone's "authority points" and look at some numeric differential.
Instead, you look first at the visible, obvious power structures: race, gender, and organization. Are they relevant to the topic of the interaction? Does the interaction reinforce existing power structures, or work against them?
Remember, it's not racist or sexist unless it reinforces the _existing_ power structure - white supremacy, or male supremacy. Absent any of that, it can still be bullying if there's a relevant organizational power difference.
This is capitalism after all...where pleasing folks higher in the organizational power structure is the only way to ensure you can feed your family. ☠️

That's why I include it in the big 3.
After analyzing the big 3, the second thing to look at is: does the interaction attempt to coerce behavior based on relative location in a _different_ power structure? How relevant is that power structure to the topic at hand? How likely is the coercion to succeed?
So when Linus uses abusive language towards Linux contributors, yes, it's abuse, and yes, it's bullying, because he holds organizational power in that community.

Is it racist, or sexist? That's a more complex question.
Bullying directed at people lower in the organizational power structure is harmful, no matter what other characteristics the targets have. However, bullying directed at people who are lower in OTHER power structures AS WELL is extra harmful.
That's because that sort of abuse recapitulates historical lines of coercion that, in the past, the folks in question had no choice but to accept.

Women and black people used to be property who had to put up with coercion (and much worse) with no recourse.
And you can say, "get over it, it's not that way any more!" but if things were really fair now, we wouldn't have a wage gap. We wouldn't have a Congress that's WAY more white and male than the country they govern.
So Linus's bullying, even when not directed specifically against white women or people of color, results in a contributor base that is much more male and white than other projects - because people who are lower in the gender or race power structures CAN opt out. So they DO.
Finally: is it bullying for me to point out that Linus's behavior is abusive bullying?

No. There's no relevant power structure that I'm atop that would make it bullying. That said -
Social media is definitely a power structure, and I have more followers than most linux contributors. In general, I do need to be careful about using my platform to push for change, to make sure that I don't recapitulate historical patterns of coercion.
In this case, though, I'm comfortable that pushing for change amongst a group of badly-behaved nerdy men falls cleanly into activism, and not into bullying.

Maybe things would be different if I were a jock, or an outsider. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
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