Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Problem with "Respect"

Noodling around on Facebook today, I ran across some commentary that bothered me. Granted, the author of said commentary seemed genuinely well-intentioned. Granted, he also seemed willing to concede, at least in a vague sense, that people on his side of the fence are behaving like bullies and need to stop. The fact remains, however, that his call for fans to "respect" each other and make fandom a "safe space" still strikes me as deeply problematic.

What is respect exactly? I would be the first to come to the defense of a gay fan who was the target of hateful name-calling -- and I certainly don't think a woman's sexy costume entitles anyone to a free grope. Speaking up in the face of genuine maltreatment is, to me, what respect entails. But when I look around the fandom - and the culture at large - I see a lot of people confusing respect with an uncritical obeisance to their point of view. When, say, a religiously orthodox writer happens to voice doubts about the project to redefine the sacrament of marriage, the fandom telephone game invariably twists his or her words into something completely different -- and before too long, said author's mere presence at a con is enough for some to declare that they feel "unsafe." When an otherwise liberal author questions the shibboleths of multiculturalism, a similar ridiculous drama unfolds.

A simple contrary opinion does not automatically rise to the level of "disrespect", but all too many people in the fandom have demonstrated a willingness to throw rational discernment out the window. Malicious intent is always assumed even when there is none. I'm a woman and, as noted above, no fan of sexual harassment, but when I imagine the current powers that be crafting anti-harassment policies for conventions, I shudder. I've been sexually assaulted (not at a con, but on a street in Williamsburg); I've also been the target of awkward flirting. To me, the difference is stark and categorical. But I've seen the misandry certain fans spout when they think they're among like-minded friends. To them, real sexual misconduct and a clumsy pass are one and the same.

In order for me to embrace this whole "respect" crusade, I must see full, open acknowledgement that the fandom's social justice warriors can be - and often are - unreasonable in their demands. It is unreasonable, for example, to dress in something revealing and then insist that no one notice and appreciate your breasts. It is unreasonable to demand that all debate regarding gender roles, sexuality, racism, or multiculturalism be squelched. You are entitled to be treated civilly; you are not entitled to a life without discomfort or cognitive dissonance. And by the way, this "respect" you crave must be a two-way street; the same consideration afforded to certain favored minority groups must also be afforded to fans who happen to be conservative, Christian, and/or male.                  

1 comment:

  1. I came across an nuanced explication of this issue yesterday in Tolerance: Between Forbearance and Acceptance by Hans Oberdiek. I blogged about it here A couple of pertinent lines from Oberdiek: "Advocates for toleration, in short, simply wish to impose their own tastes and values on everyone else under the guise of tolerance." another "This disingenuousness, not to say hypocrisy, is easily shown, for those who proudly call themselves tolerant do not take kindly to admonitions that they show the same tolerance to what others accept but that they strongly believe to be unjustifiable."