Monthly Archives: December 2013

Flawed systems and forgetting keys

Generic photo of keys. You've seen one bunch, you've seen 'em all. Every time I return to the house, I place my keys in a designated zone. Every time I leave the house, I pick up my keys and check that I’m carrying my wallet, keys and phone using the ‘three pocket pat down’.  I’ve been doing this for many years, in many houses. But this year, my system has repeatedly failed me and I’ve locked myself out on several occasions. It’s a new trend and it’s very annoying.

But I’m convinced it’s a flaw in my system that can be iterated out.

First iteration

Incident: I discover during my pat down that I am lacking keys AND phone. Sadly, I have already shut the door behind me.

Problem: Right system, wrong place. Pat down occurs too close to door. Normal motion carries me out the door before I have confirmed I am carrying keys.

Reason previously avoided: In previous accommodation, key zone was located in bedroom, not hallway. Pat down occurred on way to front door, not during exit.

Solution: Move key zone further away from door.

Second Iteration

Incident:  I grabbed my thumb drive from the key zone – and left my keys behind.

Problem: Right place, wrong item. Too many items can be stored in the key zone.

Reason previously avoided: Key zone was a table too small to store other items. New key zone is on a low boy, which has other items on it.

Solution: Redefine key zone boundary – a bowl on the low boy, rather than an area.

Third Iteration

Incident: During my pat down, I mistook my car key for my house keys, and believing myself to be carrying my house key, I left. 

Problem: Car key and house keys have a similar weight/tactile feel through clothing layers.

Reason previously avoided: car keys and house keys were on same key ring.

Solution: add distinctive item to car key ring.

So there you have it folks. For me, keys need to be stored in a small, distinctive location not too close to the door and have distinctive key rings. Fingers crossed I’ve designed out getting locked out!

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Some most excellent links on being an ally.

Keep calm and be an Ally

Tips for allies

101 Everyday Ways for Men to Be Allies to Women by Michael Urbina. I don’t agree with all of Urbina’s points, but there’s enough there to chew over.  The comments are worth a quick skim, and give you an idea of how complicated and contested some ideas can be.

How to be an ally if you are a person with privilege by Frances Kendell.

Tools for White Guys who are Working for Social Change (and other people socialized in a society based on domination)

How to be a (male) feminist ally by Elizabeth Pickett of Feminist Current.

What is a feminist ally? by A Lynn of Nerdy Feminist.

Feminist Allies..?
Resources for Allies over on Geek Feminism Wiki

Don’t be That Guy: by Synecdochic over on LJ.

Critiques of Allie-dom

Straight Allies, White Anti-Racists, Male Feminists (and Other Labels That Mean Nothing to Me) by Spectra Speaks

No more “Allies” by Mia McKenzie of Black Girl Dangerous

And a good response to it by Jamie Utt: So You Call Yourself an Ally: 10 Things All ‘Allies’ Need to Know at Everyday Feminism.

and The Trouble with Male Allies by Meghan Murphy over on Feminist Current.

The problems with white allies and white privilege written by Tanya Golash-Boza.

For Whites Who Consider Being Allies But Find it Much too Tuff from the ever excellent Crunk Feminist Collective

For white privilege, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh is a classic in the genre, but even better is this critique of it by Jessie-Lane Metz over at the Toast: Ally-phobia: On the Trayvon Martin Ruling, White Feminism, and the Worst of Best Intentions. I especially recommend following ALL the links in that piece – your mind will thank you.

And inspired by McIntosh’s article, this one compiled by Barry Deutsch on male privilege.

And here’s another one on why we’re not “genderblind” yet.

On being a good ally.

Hanging out on the feminist-y bit of the twitterverse as I do, there are opportunities every so often to shut up, listen and learn. Lately, I’ve been learning more about some of the critiques of white mainstream feminism, particularly from women of colour. Among many of the fantastic resources and posts, I found some tips for white and feminist allies to be very helpful, both in making concrete suggestions and crystallizing some of the issues. I’ve put together some general points here. I’ve also pulled together a bumper crop of amazing links on another post, many of which are much better than this offering, although often targeted at a different audience.

To make sense of this post, it’s useful to understand the term ‘privilege’. ‘Privilege’ is the term given to characteristics that usually confer benefits on those who hold them. White, male, heterosexual, cis-gendered [having your biological sex matching personal gender identity; opposite of transgendered], middle class, and able-bodied are common categories of privilege. That means that the world is set up in a way that those with those attributes will broadly do better than those without, often without those who benefit realising. Privilege is dynamic: in some situations, your privilege in one category can override disadvantage in another. For those who cross multiple categories of disadvantage, the term ‘intersectional’ is sometimes used to discuss the unique problems faced. For a range of historical and cultural reasons, intersectional experiences are often distinctly different to other experiences.

Simple Rules to Follow to be a Good Ally

1. Be an asset. Listen.

Your job as a good ally is to improve the experience of the target group. That’s it. That is your sole role. In an online or social space, that very, very often means listening. Listening without interrupting, without disagreeing, without interjecting, without defending. Arguing with someone you “support” is a giant waste of everyone’s time. If you are struggling with what you hear, ask yourself why. If someone tells you ‘yes, this happens’ and you want to say ‘yes, but…’ or explain why they are wrong or misunderstood something, think about why you feel entitled to override their experience. [Hint: if your impulse is to interrupt or correct someone, there’s a really good chance you’re coming from a place of privilege. In feminist spaces, this is practice is called ‘mansplaining‘ and it’s really annoying as well as being incredibly rude and patronising.]

2. Just listen. Really.

Avoid false equivalences motivated by empathy. You’re human. You want to connect. Resist the urge to interrupt and say “That’s just like…”. That one time a gay guy hit on you? Not the same as being a woman. The substitute teacher mistook you for a boy and you pretended all day? Doesn’t give you unique insight into the trans* experience. Going to Bali and being the only white person on the bus? Not even remotely similar to being a person of colour in Australia.  If you have some bizarre medical condition that makes it impossible for you to listen with a still tongue, at least have the sense to acknowledge the impossibility of truly sharing that experience: “Wow, our experiences have been really different. I’m going to go away and quietly reflect”.

3. Acknowledge your own privilege

Accept that you are probably blind to some or even most of the consequences of your own privilege. I’m a white woman. A few years ago, I was late for the bus and had to chase it to the next stop(s) in order to catch it. I was pretty proud of my athleticism and told the story to a friend, Yousef. Who pointed out that I was lucky I was white, because when brown men wearing backpacks bolt out of a store and run like crazy people assume they are a thief or terrorist and they get stopped. Yep, sometimes privilege means being allowed to run for the bus. Or able to safely hold your partner’s hand in public. Or only being asked where you’re “from” once (funny YouTube on that here) . Or counting on being able to get the ingredients for your favorite childhood dish at the supermarket. Or not being talked over in a meeting.

Sometimes you might feel tired, like maybe you don’t want to point out to your co-worker that their joke was sexist? That’s a privilege. You’re choosing whether or not to put on your ally hat. If only less privileged people could choose to remove their skin colour/sexuality/disability/gender…

4. Privilege is slippery

Most people judge themselves on their intentions and others on their behaviour. Calling out behaviour and not labelling the person can be one way give people a way to save face and move forward [ie “That sounded racist.” vs “You’re racist”.] BUT you need to be aware of whose feelings you’re *really* protecting with this tactic: the perpetrators. Yep, that sneaky ol’ privilege rears its head again. In trying to address an issue, you’ve potentially made more work, because we’re now trying to minimise hurt feelings and discomfort and educate. There’s no easy out for this. Remember: good allies improve the situation for the target group, and create less work for that group. Bad allies make it all about them. Accept that you might have to hurt some privileged feelings, including your own. Especially watch out for derailing tactics.

5. Ally is verb, not a noun

It’s not anyone else’s responsibility to educate you. It’s YOUR responsibility to get educated. Google the stuff you’re interested in. Trace links on wikipedia. Read key theorists (the first two steps will help with this). Read commentaries. Read critiques. Read blogs and counter-blogs. Watch YouTube videos. Read the comments on YouTube videos. Talk to your friends.

Accept that you’re going to f*ck up. You’re going to hurt feelings. You’re going to wade on in with the best of intentions and find out sometimes you’re neither wanted or needed. People are fully capable of fighting on their own behalf, thank you very much. Don’t be an ally for the warm fuzzy feels. Don’t do it because you think it makes you ‘nicer’. Do it because living in a racist, sexist, homophobic, able-ist society is actually kinda crappy for everyone and we all deserve better.

6. Work on your peers

Don’t wander into a new theoretical and experiential space and assume that you can ‘fix it’, or point out something they “haven’t thought of” or explain how ” the real world works”. Chances are, they haven’t misunderstood anything. Your job is not to lead the fight. Your job is to help others like you. You can use your privilege for good here: it’s a sad fact that people are more likely to listen and hear criticism from those who share aspects of their privilege than those who do not. This is especially powerful when you don’t personally gain from it.

You can point out to your boss that there’s room for some more ethnic diversity in the next pile of CVs. You can notice when someone uses their privilege to interrupt and point out that you’d like to hear the rest of what the interrupted person had to say. You can point out that your firm’s parental leave could be improved, even though at 65 you won’t be using it. You can stop someone telling a racist joke. It might feel uncomfortable to interrupt Joe from accounting, but you get to choose your battles. Hello, my old friend privilege!

7. …And sometimes step away from the ‘action’.

Yep, sometimes you’re going to run up against a situation when your eager ally ass is going to be rejected. And you’re going to put on your grown up pants and say “Yeah, I’ll bet it’s going to be amazing to spend a whole night with your community! Have a blast and call me for brunch next week.” Because, once again, this is not about you.