Azure Jane Lunatic (azurelunatic) wrote,
Azure Jane Lunatic

Place of Power

Now this whole LJ-wide conversation0 that started as idealism in the microcosm smacked right up against the face of the broader realities of society but turned into a thoughtful and (in many cases) restrained conversation on the realities of oppression, discrimination, marginalization, the responsibilities of an empowered minority member1, the things a member of a group with power can do to avoid exercising that power unfairly, and finally, the one that lodged in my brain and wouldn't come out until I said something about it -- the wish of the disempowered that someone in power, who has the ability to start change, would not just attempt to sum up the situation on their own and start change based on their beliefs of what change the disempowered need, but listen to the disempowered, attempt to understand the disempowered, and only after listening and understanding, then attempt to enact change in a way that won't screw the situation over far worse.

I hope I've been listening.

I realized somewhere in the comment thread about the male fear of false accusation of rape and the female fear of actual real rape, that I am not one of the people who needs to be speaking out about what needs to happen about female disempowerment and the fight for equality. By some mixture of chance of birth, innate skill, gene pool gambling, training and inclination, and gods know what else, I am sufficiently physically intimidating2 to occasionally walk where men wouldn't want to tread (my old neighborhood at midnight), and also appropriately respected in a traditionally male field. I can talk about female disempowerment, but my current reality is hardly disempowered. I am a natural at the game of technical posturing that geeks play to find their place in the hierarchy, so I can't talk with any validity about a struggle to get where I am.

Likewise, I can't talk overmuch about social disempowerment. I started out with the advantages Well-To-Do and White. I managed to work my way from being a bullied outsider in a great many circumstances3, to actively seeking situations in which I was either an empowered insider or on my way to becoming one, or at least a respected member of the fringe. I suspect I'll never be fabulously popular, but I think I prefer not having that kind of nonstop attention.

So there I was driving along coming back from Writers Group, and suddenly what my supervisor at my night job was saying clicked with what's going on behind the scenes in volunteer-land right now.

At work, my supervisor is attempting to impress on us all that we are the experts, and the customers who email us are very likely not experts, as they wouldn't be emailing in for help if they were (for most of it) or if they knew what needed to be done (because they'd do it). And that clicked. Technical knowledge at this level is a place of power4. Granted, it's an odd place of power that does a lot of selection on merit, but it's still a very valid place of power.

This means that I, in my place of power, am responsible for not abusing that power. I think I'm doing a good job of that. I hope I'm doing a good job of that. It means I should be more vigilant, now that I am more aware. More than just hoping to not fuck up and stomp on people, I should be a little more active in my support of those who aren't empowered in the field that I am. I think I am doing well at work. I am good at user education, and I am good at making technology a little less scary for those who are frightened of it. There are strong constraints that bind my actions at work, so even if I were tempted to go out of line, I would be caught and reprimanded quickly. If I went out of line not realizing it, I would still be caught and reprimanded.

I do not have the same kind of oversight in the primary function of my volunteer position. I am essentially my only police. This means that I only get called on the things that I call myself on, or things that my technical peers call me on. That's not a good place to become complacent in. I should go back to some of those things that I was saying knee-jerk no to, and examine my reasons for saying so. Most importantly, I must try to not win an argument between someone who wants something to happen, and someone who doesn't want something to happen, by shouting harder, and (in my role as moderator as well as maintainer) tell my peers to quit it as well. I have the authority to say so, and I should use it more often, and with subtlety and beforehand5 rather than blunt force after the fact.

It's not up to me to decide what gets implemented or not, it's up to me to attempt to pull the core ideas out of people's desires and see if I can't make impossible implementations into possible solutions that could be worked into viable implementations by an engineer who knows the codebase.

Then I was thinking about my plans to go back through the older suggestions and see what I can gather that people have spoken in the past about liking.

At this point, that concept that I should not be so quick to shout something down went click in my head with the plan of going back through suggestions and raiding it for ideas based on what I see happening behind the scenes right now. See, I am all of a sudden hooked on the idea that finally, at last, we have someone with both the power to make things happen ... and the willingness to listen. And I've been working off my knowledge of what I know the userbase as a whole likes from what I've been seeing around. But. The place for this discussion isn't in my head with me, myself, and I. This discussion should be happening between me, who has the power to speak, and other users, who know what they want even if they don't know how it would work in LJ or quite how to say it ... and me, who has the power to listen.


0)0.5 The Open Source Boob Project, natch.

0.5) I'm so geeky I start my footnotes with 0. That, and I'm going back through and adding more on an edit.

1) I'm thinking about that one discussion about "I am geek woman, what do I have to do around geek man to fairly represent my gender so as not to screw over the non-geek women following me?" in this case.

2) The capacity for berserker rage, and the knowledge that one's reactions in a fight-or-flight sort of scenario tend toward berserker rage, with enough muscle to back that up convincingly, is a great deterrent of the raff. And where a male with the capability of violence might be accosted by more of the same, the social imbalance works in the favor of a woman with the capacity to kick ass when angered.

3) My grade school years were not an utter disaster. Quite. The teachers were attentive and physical bullying didn't really happen. A very smart bookish kid raised without television is going to be an alien to the little hellions around her.

4) Which explains why a lot of geeks are so very hostile to more socially powerful people who behave in very technically uninformed ways: it's displaced revenge for longstanding powerlessness and some of the hassling that happens when people with a nasty streak realize that powerlessness means that they can't fight back. Newfound power means testing the limits of that power. Testing the limits of that power can mean turning that hassling right back around, sometimes with justice, and sometimes just continuing the cycle.

5) Like making a first-comment "I know this is likely to be an unpopular suggestion, so please be focused on the implementation of the suggestion as much as possible when disagreeing with it, and respect the person who made this suggestion." That way people who might lay into things without thinking will have a moment to think about it.

6) LJ-cut deleted because it was interfering with the footnote-linking action.

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