"All In" Means ALL of Us

Posted By: Arkades, Deeky, elle, Erica C. Barnett, Misty, Mustang Bobby, Paul the Spud, Petulant, Portly Dyke, Quixote, Scott Madin, Shark-fu, SKM, & Space Cowboy

We, as contributors and moderators who have been graciously invited to join Melissa McEwan at Shakesville, want to address what we see as an ongoing and extremely problematic pattern within our community -- a pattern which we believe brings harm to the most pivotal member of that community, and to the community as a whole.

This community was founded, and has been consistently fed, by the work of Melissa McEwan. We have had the privilege and pleasure of being her compatriots in that community, but we all acknowledge that it is overwhelmingly her vision, voice, energy, work, and determination that has set the tone and maintained the community we enjoy -- a place on the internet which commenters say, again and again, they treasure as a safe space. We all agree that without Melissa, Shakesville would not exist. Full stop.

We want to make clear that we are not speaking for Melissa -- she has spoken quite clearly for herself -- in carefully crafted comment policies, posts about what it means to create safe space, countless direct requests to the community and individuals in comment threads, and post after post after post. Her dedication to speaking up for herself and others is represented by countless hours of thought, writing, communication, and interaction with the community. The guidelines and policies that she has worked to create represent her very clearly-defined expectations.

Shakesville is a feminist blog, and a feminist's blog. It is a progressive blog. It is a safe space. It is a community. It is a blog whose contributors are resolved to endeavor always to be aware of our privilege, and, in moments of failure, remain open to criticisms and suggestions, think twice before responding defensively, and apologize when we fuck up. We expect the same of those who want membership in the community. No one is expected to be perfect; everyone is expected to be willing to self-examine and learn. Forward movement, progress, on cultural, political, and individual levels is woven into the fabric of Shakesville.

Shakesville's key objectives are equality, momentum, growth, community, empathy, and laughter.

We blog about domestic politics, foreign policy, high culture, pop culture, books, film, telly, food, the patriarchy, oppression, repression, religion, philosophy, parenting, not parenting, marriage, cats, why women's trousers have so many buttons, and anything else that we feel like discussing. With photos. Many of them doctored for maximum hilarity.

All are invited. Whether you are welcome is up to you.

We are speaking for ourselves, as contributors and moderators, because we believe that we must do so in order to serve our own ethics and intentions about the kind of community we want to create and participate in. We also speak in solidarity with Melissa, both because we care for her personally, and in solidarity with the ideal of progressive leadership and vision Melissa has embodied, because we believe that real-life models of this ideal are vitally important to the progressive movement.

We perceive that, over and over again, the choices of some community members in comment threads have created an environment in which Melissa, the founder and creator of safe space at Shakesville, clearly states that she feels unsafe, unheard, and unacknowledged. In recent weeks, this pattern flared up again, and Melissa chose to take a break from the blog.

This is not, by any means, the first time this has played out, but a summation (with links to specific examples) of the most recent cycle of this pattern can be found here.

In a nutshell, our collective perception of the ongoing pattern is:

Step 1: Melissa consistently champions safe space for others. She spends vast amounts of time and attention moderating discussions and responding to the concerns of community members who encounter triggering, excluding, or minimizing language in threads. She fosters discussion of the issues at hand, makes or asks for honest apology where necessary, and works hard to change things in the future (witness the change in the Shakesville community culture around the use of the word "lame").

Step 2: Melissa raises, in multiple threads, her own concerns about language that triggers, excludes, or minimizes her, and is nearly always met with argument, threats/ultimatums, flounces, or silence from all but a handful of community-members. Rather than meeting with the same care and concern that she consistently demonstrates to community-members at the blog, she is treated as if she is the butler or maid-servant, whose job it is to clean up after or protect others, but who has no right to ask that her safety be attended to. After a period in which her expressed concerns are met overwhelmingly with indifference, she understandably concludes that her voice will be neither heard, supported, nor defended.

Step 3: Melissa steps away from the blog. In order to assure her own health and well-being, Melissa removes herself from an environment where her dignity, authority, and safety are not being respected.

Step 4: Community-members flood her email and comment-threads with communications about how important Shakesville is to them, and how much they respect and cherish her work -- often these communications are accompanied with pleas for her to keep blogging, questions about where the pub went, or demands and ultimatums that she blog about this or that.

Step 5: Melissa returns, usually doing the work to reshape a comment-policy, restate her needs, or change something that has fed her distress. She takes the time to carefully craft a thoughtful post explaining her absence and restating her concerns -- to the very people whose choice to disrespect her guidelines and requests created the environment that necessitated her stepping away. Things improve -- for a time.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

We share Melissa's anger -- a response that we see as completely reasonable in light of the situation, and its history of recurrence. We have profound respect for the fact that she has transcended and transformed that anger over and over, in the face of a community which seems always to expect and demand more and more of her. We believe that her fortitude and determination in this is as remarkable as the expectation that she should have to do so is unreasonable.

As important as it is to us to support Melissa as a human being who we love and honor, we also hold that the work of dismantling and ending of this pattern is a feminist act with implications that extend beyond the situation of a single individual, or even this particular blog community. We believe that this pattern is rooted in variety of sexist/misogynist memes and socio-cultural entrainments which are anti-thetical to the purpose and intent of a Feminist blog, including:
  • The devaluation of the voices and work of women, and the minimization or dismissal of their concerns.
  • The expectation of women to be "of service" without expecting much/anything in return -- not even the most rudimentary forms of respect or consideration.
  • The tendency of those raised in a misogynist culture to project "mommy" issues onto a woman who assumes a role of leadership and power, expecting her to coddle/nurture them to the exclusion of her own welfare while simultaneously ignoring, rebelling against, or resenting her when she exercises her duly-earned power and authority.
  • The dissociation culture of internet communication where it is easy to vent in virtual anonymity and believe that it has no effect on real people.
  • The "someone else will do it" attitude that so hinders the evolution of sustainable communities, and which we believe often stems from unearned and unexamined privilege.

We understand that people often act and react from these entrainments, without having a direct intent to harm or hurt. We understand that this can feed into a dynamic where non-contributor commenters expect more of the contributors or founder than they do of themselves in terms of sensitivity and accountability. However, we are equally clear that Shakesville is a place where we want to confront and transform these dysfunctional behaviors.

We believe that, in order to create the changes we want to see in the wider world, we must be willing to behave within our community of choice in ways that demonstrate those changes. Participating in a community where everyone is safe except the person whose vision, energy, and direction created that community is simply unacceptable to us.

We made a collective decision on Friday, June 5th (independently of Melissa) to stop posting the daily features and regular posts at Shakesville during Melissa's absence, because we agreed that continuing with "business as usual" sends the signal to the community at large that it is somehow acceptable to engage in actions which disrespect, offend, and distress our blog-mistress to the point where she must actually step away from her own blog, and then to continue along as if everything is just fine and dandy. We chose this because we do not want to participate in the pattern (unequal treatment/expectations followed up by lack of acknowledgment/action) which we have described above.

Hugs and statements of appreciation for the blog are nice to receive (especially before there is a problem), but we believe that they must be accompanied by fundamental changes in attitude and behavior.

We are now calling on every person who identifies as a member of this community to step up and take direct responsibility to help us change this pattern -- to take an equal share of the responsibility to maintain safe space for everyone in this community.

We call on you to do this in the following ways:
  1. Think before you speak.
  2. Police your own comments in terms of adherance to the Shakesville comment policy, the concept of Shakesville as a safe space, and behaving in accordance with what Shakesville is All About.
  3. Don't expect Melissa, or the other contributors/moderators, to constantly educate and re-educate you on the guidelines of the blog -- respect the time and energy that Melissa has put into creating these guidelines by taking the time and energy to educate yourself.
  4. Be All In. Bring your vocal, visible support to Melissa (and other contributors) when you see others disrespecting them, or when they have expressed that they are triggered or distressed by something happening at the blog. The persistent absence of vocal, visible support from the broad community serves as tacit acceptance of behaviors that we believe are incompatible with progressive feminism. Speaking up ONLY when it directly involves you is completely counter to the notion of being "All In" -- a primary thrust of Shakesville culture -- and as Liss says: "This shit doesn't happen in a void".
  5. Respond immediately and un-defensively to Melissa's (or other contributor/moderator) requests that you cease participating in behavior that violates safe space -- and actually take a moment to consider what you have been confronted on in regards to how your words may affect others at the blog.
  6. Treat Melissa, in all interactions, with the respect that she deserves as the founder, acknowledged leader, professional journalist/writer, and executive director of this blog.
  7. Open your ears to truly hear, and join your voice in support of Melissa, when she does make these requests -- to you or someone else -- just as you would with any other Shaker.
  8. Become an active agent in creating and maintaining safe space for every Shaker -- including, and especially, Melissa McEwan.
These are the expectations of all Shakers -- contributors, moderators, and commenters. We acknowledge that we, as contributors and moderators, have sometimes failed to meet these expectations. We re-commit, and invite you to re-commit, to living up to these expectations.


Liss, with her hard work, spirit, and dedication, created this blog, constructed this safe space, and founded this community within it.
If we are a community, then everyone is responsible for maintaining this constructed space and making it safe for all. That doesn't mean just the contributors and moderators are responsible.

This means you.

Yes, you.
Yes, me.
Yes, each and every one of us.

We are all responsible for our words in this space.

We are all responsible for contributing to the safety of this space for everyone -- or else the community does not work.

It does not work for Melissa, or anyone else, to write a post in such a way as to make sure it upholds the ideals of this blog, and then have readers disregard those ideals in writing their comments and responses.

A "safe space"
means safe for everyone and that includes Melissa (and the other contributors). Why people don't grasp this concept is incomprehensible and completely unacceptable to us.

This blog
will not survive if people are unwilling themselves to uphold the ideals that they demand of Melissa.

That is not a threat, it is simply a logical outcome.

Erica C. Barnett
Mustang Bobby
Paul the Spud
Portly Dyke
Scott Madin
Space Cowboy

(Note: Some contributors are on holiday or hiatus at the moment and haven't had the opportunity to review or sign this document, though their names can/will be added. It has been published with Melissa's permission)

Since this thread may become large, we are including this link to the community page, so that opening it from Comments in Blogger does not crash your browser. Link: Disqus Community Page for All In Means ALL of Us

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

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