A Few More Thoughts on Adria Richards

There are a couple of common criticisms I'm seeing to which I want to provide a response:

1. To send a picture was cowardly. Nope. I don't know Adria Richards, but I feel reasonably confident that she knew damn well that she risked this exact kind of backlash, in nature if not in scope, by taking the approach that she did. She was not a coward. She was brave.

2. She should have politely asked the guys making sexist jokes to knock it off. Nope. It is a privilege to be able to imagine that politely asking would have stopped their behavior. And it doesn't matter if in this one specific case it would have, which we cannot know. The context of this situation is that women have been politely (and impolitely) asking men to stop behaving in sexually inappropriate ways for centuries, and asking DOESN'T WORK. In most cases, confronting men who are behaving in sexually inappropriate ways only escalates unsafety, rather than minimizing it. This argument also elides racial power disparities while simultaneously scolding a black woman for her "uppity" behavior.

3. She should have gone and personally spoken to the conference organizers. Nope. See aforementioned disparities. Also: It was not incumbent on Adria Richards to get up and leave a professional conference and miss part of something she wanted to experience in order to contact the conference organizers. Her approach centered her right to be there.

4. She has a history of responding inappropriately. Nope. I am not going to audit the way Adria Richards has responded to anything else, ever. What I am going to do is observe that how and where someone responds to something marginalizing is extremely dependent on how one perceives the likelihood that they will be listened to and taken seriously.

I am also going to share my own personal experience, for some perspective: My concerns about anything are routinely dismissed on the basis of my being a fat woman. It doesn't matter what the issue is: Even talking about Adria on Twitter this morning, comments about how fat I am were immediate. Women who have intersecting axes of marginalization learn by experience that even people who are our ostensible allies by other pieces of shared identification may be disinclined to listen to us.

That has created, for me, an urge to report concerns and criticisms in my own space or via my own alternative methods, in places and ways that feel safe to me. It has also meant, straight-up, that I'm more likely to be heard than following traditional channels and routes.

I don't know if this was part of Adria's calculation. I can't say that it has been a conscious strategy of mine, but I identify my own instincts to "go rogue" within her story. I certainly know other women of color—and fat women, and queer women, and disabled women, et. al.—who have adopted, consciously or not, the same strategy.

If you've got a problem with that strategy, take it up with the people who necessitate it, not those of us who use it.

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