Kate (kate_nepveu) wrote,

WisCon: Discussion Methods & Modes Set (3/4): FAIL!

This panel report is the third of a set; the first panel report was Vigorous Debate, or Verbal Harassment?, and the second was The Body Language of Online Interaction. There is also a fourth post for my general thoughts and for comments spanning more than one panel.

This is a panel I was on, which as usual means that I have notes for what I was planning to say and a couple of scrawled notes from during the panel on things I wanted to return to. This report is therefore a reconstruction—and, sadly, a very incomplete one, because when I first started working on it a week later, I could think of almost nothing specific. Please, please add your own recollections, correct mine, or request clarification.

The not-very-helpful description:

Racefail, Open Source Boob Project… so many ways to fail. How do we keep stepping in it? What is it we're stepping in? How can we avoid stepping in it?
E. Cabell Hankinson Gathman. Molly Aplet, Florian, Rachael Lininger, Kate Nepveu

Early we generally agreed that the panel topic was better thought of as, recognizing that no-one is perfect, how can we keep failing from turning into FAILing?

To make sure everyone was on the same page, we gave thumbnail descriptions of several prominent fails: RaceFail (themed summary by Ann Somerville); the Open Source Boob Project (FeministSF Wiki); SurveyFail (Fanlore); and the Supernatural RPF fic set in Haiti right after the recent earthquake (unfunnybusiness).

Important note: We had meant to do MoonFail, but never did (very short description at FeministSF Wiki; good contextual post with links from K. Tempest Bradford). I think what happened is that Florian mentioned the SPN RPF fic, which wasn't on our initial list, and then Cabell had follow-up questions on that and some other things in the thumbnail descriptions? On the other hand, while the thumbnail description wasn't assigned to me, it didn't occur to me to point out that we'd skipped it, either. Someone eventually asked about it at the very end and I think we all said "oh, yeah, we meant to talk about that!" For me, everything was flowing well on a different focus, so it didn't jump to mind. In any event, we had planned to talk about it, I had wanted to talk about institutional reactions, and at least for me, it was not an intentional omission.

I again referenced my steps from How to Discuss Race and Racism Without Acting Like a Complete Jerk, which I excerpted in the first post of this set so you've seen it already. I also added for this panel, "Don't keep digging." You can go offline, you can reconsider, you can just shut your mouth and disagree with everyone: but STOP.

We talked about bad apologies, which was already covered in the online body language panel, and about Mary Doria Russell and describing nonwhite characters, which had happened the day before (see panel report).

Rachael objected to my using the "step on foot" metaphor when talking about apologies and the irrelevance of intentions, because often the offensive statement isn't accidental as much as negligent; prefers dropping bowling ball metaphor. I said, "that's a really interesting point, I'm going to think about that."

(I have since edited the "How to" post to add this note:

Note: I should also consider whether I was being irresponsibly careless in the way I was walking, or, to be less metaphorical, shooting my mouth off about things I didn't know enough about. But the bare minimum to avoid complete jerkitude is to recognize that if you hurt someone, then that hurt exists whether or not you meant to cause hurt.

I kept the metaphor because I think it makes the last sentence of that very clear, but Rachael is right that it's really important to recognize that "unintentional" still includes many things that are culpable, and I will try to remember to include that in future discussions. Feedback is always welcome.)

Florian brought up appropriating people's identities and experiences, which the panel consensus seemed to be was the area most likely to involve FAIL.

. . . and here is there is a huge gap in my recollection of what we talked about. Many things! The panel seemed to be just the right length! And yet I have no clue what we spent the time on.

Someone asked about MoonFail and organizational responses at the end. People thought it was important for organizations to have statements of principles and policies in place ahead of time, and also to communicate quickly—not necessarily to make decisions quickly, but to say "yes, we hear you, we are seriously considering what you've said."

It was suggested that the slowness of the WisCon concomm's communication after the initial highly-criticized statement [*] may have been partly on legal advice. I can't remember if I said this to the audience member or just before when talking to the panelists about our plans, but: if WisCon's lawyer really did say "you cannot say anything, even that I told you not to say anything," and the concomm followed that advice, then I'm inclined to think that's a bad understanding of the purpose of a lawyer-client relationship, on both sides. WisCon needed to be aware that it had to communicate something to the effect that it had heard people's criticisms and were considering further action, and it needed to tell its lawyer that "this is our need, how can we achieve it?" But then, I admit that I find it hard to imagine what strictly legal principle the lawyer might have been working on, which affects my reaction. (Of course, one of the common failure modes for lawyers is an inability to advise any concrete step unless absolutely forced into it.)

[*] Reconstructing the timeline now, it was 10 days from Moon's initial post to the "we are not rescinding her invitation as GoH" statement, and then a full month to the disinvitation, with no official communication between those times from the concomm that I see on the blogs of WisCon or the parent organization. (There was a resolution passed by the parent organization halfway through that month that Moon's GoH invitation should be rescinded, which was not announced for almost two weeks.)

My notes include a reference to an article someone in the audience recommended, "Why Hawks Win," which was originally posted here but is behind a subscriber wall; a more extensive discussion by the same authors is in this PDF. I, uh, kind of have no idea now why this came up, even after glancing at the introduction.

Sorry, everyone. You can tell I started working on the harassment/debate panel in the Madison airport, but didn't touch this one until a week later.

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Tags: cons, cons: wiscon, cons: wiscon: 2011

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