Blame

There was a thing on twitter about a video featuring a geeklist t-shirt. Deets are up on Storify. I’m not going to talk about this at all. Even though I want to. Especially the “you represent your employer, but someone we give approval to use out image is not someone who represents us” dichotomy. Instead, I am going to look at the apology letter Geeklist put out.

I’m going to do this in a random, haphazard way. Some of what I say will be based on my understanding of feminist rhetoric, but most of it will be based on my opinions about apologies.
At the heart of it, an apology is about acknowledging that something you did had a negative impact on one or more other persons. The trick about apologizing is that when you do it, you don’t actually have to understand why they’re upset (people don’t always have to be rational–i.e. their being upset doesn’t have to be based in rationality.) By apologizing, you are showing that you respect how someone feels.

A proper apology has three parts:

  1. The apology
  2. Taking responsibility for your actions
  3. Acknowledging that your actions caused trouble (emotional, practical, etc) for someone else.

There is an optional part four, that is not always actually necessary or accurate. In part four of an apology, much like in Confession, you say (and mean) that you will try not to do it again.

Examples of apologies:

I’m sorry I was late. I hope it didn’t cause too much trouble.

That one doesn’t include part four. This one does.

I’m sorry I killed your vampire boyfriend by driving a stake through his chest. I realize you must have cared about him a lot, and turning him into dust caused you pain. I’m going try really hard to not kill any of your boyfriends in the future.

The most important thing in the second apology is that the speaker isn’t trying to put the blame on anyone else. They don’t try to justify their actions. They don’t mention that the vampire boyfriend in question is a parasite who will bring only pain and suffering and death to the world around them. They didn’t say he attacked first. They say that they killed him. They say they recognize it hurt the person. They say they’ll try not to kill any more boyfriends (regardless of whether they are monsters who may or may not deserve non-existence.)

So now let’s look at the Geeklist apology.

Hi everyone. We never meant to offend any person and are very sorry as we clearly have.

This sentence is a pretty good start. I don’t think the word “clearly” is necessary, but nbd.

Geeklist is all about inclusion of every geek. Male and Female alike.

I recently had a conversation with someone about the use of the language “male and female” exclusively. I guess that’s because, incidentally, nearly every trans-person I know I know through geeky things. It would be nice if people (myself included) used inclusive language more frequently, but I’m not ready to talk about that now. I am more bothered by the capitalization of female.

We hope you’ll forgive the company and founders and use this as an opportunity to hire more women, support women in tech and their great achievements and promote a healthy work environment for all.

I’ll uhh assume this was just a poorly constructed sentence. I’ll happily use this as an opportunity to hire more women, support women in tech and their great achievements and promote a healthy work environment for all. Will you?

I like how this starts though. “We hope you’ll forgive [us].” It’s a great semantic way to push the power into the hands of the offended parties. It acknowledges, in a respectful way, that their feelings are of value.

We did not create the video at question.

Okay. Now the real problems start. In Apologyland (and in Offensiveland) this actually doesn’t matter. In general, in the conversation, blame is not placed on Geeklist for making it. Blame is placed on Geeklist for endorsing it (and non-comment is an endorsement of sorts), and for not visibly trying to remove it.

What makes this a particularly tricky is that the first thing Geeklist says acknowledges that the video isn’t ideal, and that they should do something about it. This is them saying that whatever they did was because of something someone else did. The seed of this whole argument (the video) is the fault of someone else.
Either Geeklist’s brand is under an free\/open (free or open) license, or the person who used it a) violated their IP or b) did so with their endorsement. I do my own stuff and then label it CC-BY-SA. At work, I do stuff and label it CC-BY-NC-SA. I recognize someone could take these materials and, you know, use them in ways I don’t find acceptable. Like to make fun of me, for example. But, unless they were violating the license, I couldn’t actually do anything (short of changing said license.) However, I am entirely capable of saying that I don’t approve of this reuse/remix. And I would do so. Alternatively, Geeklist could issue a cease and desist, sue, or just allow them to be arrested for a reported copyright (or trademark?) violation. Or, they endorsed the use of their brand. And, well, that’s what they’re apologizing for, right

Their website has an “All rights reserved” copyright note at the bottom. Let’s hear what Geeklist has to say about these copyright violators. (Or people they endorsed. Either way.)

It was created out of love for Geeklist by a great Woman entrepreneur at Design Like Woah for us.

Why is “Woman” capitalized? Anyway. This is the classic “X (who is part of the offended group) did it, so it’s okay. Or at least, you know, it’s not our fault.”

I get it. I really do get it. When an individual within a group makes a statement about that group, it’s easy to assume that it is okay. But, once you learn it’s not (and hopefully the objectification of women in geek culture is known by someone who is such self-professed geek), it stops being acceptable.
Regardless of that, this is a bad thing to do when apologizing. Don’t blame someone else. Srsly.

She makes shirts and made awesome ones for us. She also goes way out of her way to help us ship to our men and women alike globally who love our brand.

btws, you guys, men and women all over the world love our brand! On a real note, I don’t know why this is here. He blames her, now he says she’s great.

She is fighting to grow in a male dominant sector and marketing to her client. Please support her and buy her shirts. http://www.designlikewhoa.com/

Oh! I see. She’s just trying to be a woman in a man’s world. It’s not her fault either. You are all victims of circumstance. She’s doing what she has to do to survive in a man’s world. She didn’t mean for the video (that she, and not you, is responsible for) to be offensive, it was just, you know, what she had to do. And, if we buy her shirts, then she won’t have to do that anymore. Good to know.

[ Correction: Just spoke to Gemma, her videographer owns it and she is trying to contact him (thanks so much Gemma)]

“btws, you guys, not her fault either.”

As for our handling of the twittersphere. We could have handled it better.

This is one of those great opportunities to apologize that people often drop. Part of this is the language “we could have” carries an implication that there was an opportunity for something to be different (in this case better), but it was not. There is, again, no accepting blame. No one says “we should have done better.”

I know Shanley personally, have skyped and emailed her many times and interviewed her for a job at Geeklist. She is an awesome candidate that as a startup I was very sad the timing was not right to work together.

“Even though we said a bunch of awful stuff to her, we still think she’s good. I hope the internet doesn’t hold it against us forever that we threatened her job. In spite of the fact we think a person can’t have a private life and opinions outside of their employer, and that she was awful to her employer, we should have hired her and you can too.”

Of our 5 person team 2 are women and I am certain they can speak on our behalf as respectful gentlemen in the workplace who create a welcome environment for all. In my wildest dreams we would never wish to offend any woman [or anyone].

“The women I am in charge of at work, who I have the power of employment over (and I have already said that a company should get rid of people who publicly damage the company’s name), would agree that I, and my other co-founders, are respectful gentlemen in the workplace.”

Something we talked about at the FSF was that Amazon has done both good and bad things for the Free Software movement, and both of these should be recognized. In context, Geeklist might not be made of bad guys, but but they did a bad thing and we should treat that as it is. I think the fact he has a section on this idea is really deflecting from the point that something wrong was done. He doesn’t want to be responsible for his actions.

I also own a business with my wife where we have over 350+ women employees. I’ve built my career over 15 years working to make this world a better place for women, mothers, and children.

I’m skipping this as it’s more of the same. Also, I do wonder how he’s working to “make this world a better place for women, mothers, and children,” but that’s not relevant to his actual apologizing.

The initial request made sense and we were discussing finding Gemma to take it down, when we got taken off guard a bit by her continued comments. We handled those poorly. We apologize as well if our handling of the tweets offended anyone.

There are two points here worth looking at: response and blame. As Storify pointed out, which is a very valid comment, response time is SO important in PR issues. An immediate response, as I learned from The West Wing, is vitally important. This response can be as simple as “Hey, saw your comment, we’re looking into it now.” Instead, the language used at the time was an immediate response of “it was old and made by a friend, we need to update it with a less skintastic version.” When the takedown was requested (admittedly using the word “fucking”), the response from Geeklist was both immediate and reactionary, failing to address the issue.

If they were, in fact, “discussing finding Gemma to take it down” after the initial comments (within what I assume was a short span), then their response at that time should have said so. (Sorry, I know this is talking about the actual event, and not the letter, but I’m getting to that.) By mentioning their response, they are saying, again, that they’re not to blame for what happened. “We got taken off guard, we were just trying to be the good guys!”

After that, they again push the blame onto the “Twittersphere,” by saying that the people interpreting (reading) their comments are the ones who did it wrong by being offended. “If our handling” is a strong part of that. It’s like saying “If you happened to get in the way of my fist punching, I’m sorry you got hurt.”

In exchange, please direct this media attention to Gemma’s company and support her company by buying her shirts. A women entrepreneur in the valley who used our logo and the fact we wanted shirts to help promote her business to her clients too. Tech geeks.

As far as I can tell, this is them saying that they don’t like the bad press, so please pay attention to Gemma, who was involved in making the video or the shirts or something but doesn’t own the IP rights to any of these things. I actually just think this part is silly.

We are sorry.

The best thing said all letter.

The thing that gets me about this most of all (and sorry you had to read through two thousand words to get here) is that they never actually say what they’re sorry for in any way that doesn’t blame women. A woman made this, a woman used our logo, a woman was offended. They never really acknowledge that their actions hurt people in a way they were responsible for. “It’s your fault for interpreting this thing we didn’t do as offensive.”

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Listen

At work we had a meeting where we were discussing how to get people to know about our big project. One of the bosses said:

We were thinking about doing something like ‘Can you survive the freshman year at MIT?’

I remembered a lot of conversations where my friends talked about advertising and what appeals to people of various genders. (One binary stereotype is that most women are more inclined to underestimate their abilities. A study about GSoC advertisements and applications, comparing gender to advertisement types, noticed the positive correlation between the number of applications from women and language focusing on things like “mentorship” and “learning.” There was a negative correlation between applications from women and language like “rockstar” and “world’s best.” I think this was Hanna Wallach, but I might be wrong.)

In the meeting I mentioned this. The majority of the women in the conversation agreed–some citing their personal experiences.

Today one of the bosses (the one who proposed the advertising in the first place) took me aside and showed me how our internal best practices and mission had been changed to state that while most users are men, we strive to reach out to all people (regardless of gender), and have our practices reflect that.

Sometimes I think it’s really cool to work here.

Neeson

This isn’t just a story of Paris, this is a story of dedication, perseverance, morals, and, of course, love.

R and I went to Paris. We walked around and took some pictures in front of things people take pictures in front of.

We ate macarons.

We had fun.

But then we were stopped at night and they took him away.

In the morning I got a phone call. It was the people who took R. They told me that I could have him back if I denounced the freedom I’d worked so hard for and publicly supported ACTA, SOPA, and the Belgian Copyright Society’s attack on library volunteers. I would have to give up on Open Education, and let all my occupational dreams and plans die if R was to live. I knew he wouldn’t accept that.

The river, which had led so many people so many places, led me to the only choice I knew I had.

The people who took him didn’t know about how my father trained me.

Or my kung fu. (I apologize to actual practitioners of kung fu. I know it is serious and has a rich tradition. My dad did, for realsies, kung fu.)

I went after them.

I triangulated R’s cell phone signal and it led me deep into the sewers of Paris.

Getting in was hard.

And dangerous.

Down there, I found R! (He was happy to see me.)

We set off a trap.

We emerged from the sewers, but there was no moment of respite. We were attacked by the enemies. I defeated them easily.

Finally we could breathe.

It turned out that the kidnappers were actually pretty nice people. We talked about it and I learned that they too were being blackmailed. They were pawns in the game.

I had a lot to think about. I could have just let it end there, but they could not get away with this. They could not be allowed to go after anyone again.

Nothing could stop me.

I met the leader of the Malicious Enforcement of All Noticeable IP Exercise Society. Even though we were in public, he attacked.

With his defeat, we could really celebrate.

Which we did it with macarons.

A special thanks to Dafydd Harries, Guy Lunardi, Rob McQueen, and Rob Ochshorn.

Oversharing

I think it was 2006 when I met this guy named Ferrett. Ferrett writes about himself on the internet with what appears to be a total lack of concern of judgement or repercussions. He once even wrote about why he writes this way.

I came of age on the internet during the height of the livejournal years. As culture loves to hate culture, there was a lot of livejournal bashing for the people who posted there, in detail, about their personal lives. Like I was on vigil, I poured over everything people I knew wrote–no matter how sad, pointless, heartbreaking, repetitive, sophomoric, or worrying I thought it was.

I don’t really know why.

I was not an internet sharer. I had some vague designs of one day goining one of those DoD branches that requires a security clearance. I thought I might run for office. Beyond that, I feared the judgement of my peers. The same peers who posted so candidly about themselves.

I tried anonymous sharing, getting into the habit of obfuscating details, using fake names for myself and others. Over time it all somehow blended together into real life around the same time I gave up on hopes of being Dana Scully or a senator. But, habits stuck with me. Fake names, initials, too many pronouns.

Now I overshare. Sometime I decided there was value in talking about myself in too much detail on the internet. I’m not sure what it is, but I am sure it exists.

Milestone

One of my friends is pregnant and I am so excited.

Other friends of mine, my age, older, and younger, have children. However, these children have been created (and generally exist) in places I have minimal access to and interaction with. I read tweets and blog posts about pregnancy. Facebook statuses and photos as announcements. Second hand words about things that happened. Instant messages informing me about the existance and deveopment of these children.

However, here, where I live, one of my friends is pregnant. I get to see her grow. I understand the “glow” people talk about. I’ve been witness to one session of pregnancy nausea, and have been told about hormonal lows. Over dinner she tells us about things the doctor said, or how someone demonstrated how to make the baby kick. I’ve witnessed the name debate, taken part in the friend arguements about what is an acceptable name to subject a tiny person to.

This really is a community event–a community exerience–and I loove being able to be a part of it.

Around my age, people start getting married. My Boston community is mostly past the getting married stage. They are coupled. They have had their weddings and signed their paperwork. My non-local friends have also managed to move into this stage–this stage of being married rather than getting married–in the same way non-local friends moved into having children: it happened without me being around.

Among the people I am close to (as opposed to the people I wish I was close to), I have missed the lead up to the milestone–while being aware of, or even bearing witness to, the event itself. The events–having the child, having the wedding–are not things limited to the small in-group. They are publically announced and witnessed by a larger in-group. A mixed community including friends of varying points away from the center, co-workers, family, and those people with whom you have to share out of whatever obligation you construct for it.

I have never been to a dress fitting, a bachlorette party, or a session of sitting around making some minute decision, like what font to use as placecards. I have never been in a wedding, and quite honestly, never expect to at this point. These are things that society, that culture, tells me are necessary milestones for someone coming of age in America.

I have always been desperate to be part of the in-group, the community. This is something society tells me I should be. Even the outcasts in Glee have a tight group with whom they are inseperable and hopelessly dedicated. Among themselves, they share things that they do not share with the out-group. These are deeply personal and important thoughts and experiences. The best friend, the group of close friends, the sense of place and belonging is something I have longed for so strongly, I have literally traveled the world in search of it and more than once left people behind.

When I was in middle school, my friends all ended up at the same high school. I did not go there. I had such a radically different schedule, that I stopped seeing them regularly during the week. Without me, they developed their own experiences and culture. I turned away from them after feeling rejected, even though I wasn’t really. Something similar happened during university, when I moved out of the campus owned apartment I’d lived in with my best friends. I had to move out, due to school policy. They didn’t. Being as caught up in myself as I was (and still am), I viewed their lack of conversation with me about what was happening, and their excitement about the person I viewed as my replacement, as pure snubbing and spent the next two years all but purposefully ignoring them. I steeped myself in others–people who I did care about, and still do care about–more out of a selfish desire to belong than to value those people for who they are.

University, in general, was a time for me to struggle with this desire to be part of something. My highschool days were isolating and devoid of the cultural experiences of class, extra-cirricular activities, and sports. In Pgh, I tried to do too much too quickly, cramming in all those missed experiences from highschool into not enough time. I missed too much of the important early bonding. I fell hopelessly in love with a boy I pushed away, and when we broke up I found mysef lacking other meaningful relationships. In the wake of this, I struggled to form new ones and ended up with the abovementioned friends I used to live with. This general trend, of trying to force myself into communities and turning my back on them when I felt rejected, carries across as a trend in my life: volunteering at the museum, working at the library, the groups I was involved in at school, the reading groups I was in, the honors community, my department, the school I used to teach at, the community of ex-pats, and even the multiple groups of friends I have in the Boston area and other outside areas.

As I muse over these things, I still find joy in my friend’s pregnancy, in and of itself and, selfishly, as I fit into it. It is, for me, a sign of being accepted. Getting to share this milestone is something I spent so much time looking for, I missed it again and again. Now that it’s here, I hope I don’t get lost in my own narrative.