Step Up, Step Up

September 8, 2008

Or: How Step up/Step back is (trans) misogynistic, racist, and otherwise oppressive.

In a conversation with a facilitator, frequently one of the ground rules is “step up/step back”–if you normally speak a lot, speak less; if you normally don’t talk, speak more.

1)Way to value erase listening. Listening is more than not-talking, and it’s an important thing to challenge everyone to do. More than anything, what really makes oppressed voices heard is a commitment to listening.

2)It’s my job, as the facilitator, to make sure everyone’s voice gets heard–not your job to shut yourself up and make yourself as small as possible. Keep your comments short and to-the-point, be aware of the people around you, and I’ll make sure everyone’s voice gets heard. If I’m a decent facilitator, I know how to take slanting stacks.

Everyone’s voice is valuable, and telling some people “you take up too much space–you know who you are” only furthers misogynistic, in particular trans misogynistic, oppression, and likely most other oppressions too.

This breaks down slightly in conversations small enough where no stack or facilitation is necessary, but it’s still the case that the focus needs to be on valuing everyone’s voices, not on devaluing *certain* people’s voices… if everyone tries to put hirself in the role of facilitator and making sure everyone gets heard, that’s what will get people’s voice heard.

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3 Responses to “Step Up, Step Up”

  1. shiva said

    Thank you so much for saying this.

    This is a thing that i have always had a violently negative (albeit usually kept to myself) emotional reaction to when reading it in guidelines on how to be less oppressive as a member of a privileged group, “safer spaces” policies, etc. I have always felt that it’s wrong to ask *anyone* to hold back what they have to say, and that asking people to do that on the basis of their status as members of a privileged group can only create resentment among those people.

    I’m really happy to find someone else who holds that position, because now it feels less like my reaction to it is just me being unreasonable or wilfully contrarian…

    (There’s stuff i want to say in this context about non-verbal communication impairments as well, but i’m having trouble putting it into words right now, and in any case it’s something i want to spin into a post of my own at some point in the future…)

  2. Cedar said

    I guess I should clarify; it’s the act of saying “don’t speak” that I find unconscionable, rather than selecting voices specifically such that oppressed folks and/or folks who don’t speak much get first dibs.

    I agree that it breeds resentment among privileged folks, and I think that’s a problem. One part of the problem that I could articulate more clearly is that said resentment is antithetical to listening, which defeats the purpose. But I think that the folks who are *most* told they take up too much space aren’t the privileged ones: folks who are trans, women, and/or of-color, and particularly those who are two or three of those—and those people are the most likely to internalize it, and thus the “best” at policing their speech, whereas white cis d00ds frequently don’t notice if they take up a lot of space, and frequently don’t make it for others. In the end, I think SUSB is vastly counterproductive. …I think folks who have a hard time speaking up or being heard need all the encouragement they can get, and telling a group that includes them ‘claiming to have an idea oppresses others’…well, won’t help them speak up. In addition to, no it doesn’t. It’s not listening that oppresses people.

    So much of this post though, is it’s the facilitator’s job, rather than “there’s no problem here”…

  3. shiva said

    See, i am white, male and… not exactly cisgendered, but certainly not trans by most people’s definitions, and generally get read as cis/straight by default (which i don’t generally have too much problem with). But i’m also invisibly disabled, and invisibly disabled in such a way that i often actually can’t, for non-compensateable impairment-related reasons, tell whether other people have finished speaking, whether it’s an “appropriate” time to speak, whether i am going on for longer than is appropriate, and similar things. This often gets read as male (probably moreso than white or cis/straight) privilege or entitlement – but the fact is, i *need* a facilitator to tell me if i am speaking for too long or over other people.

    (Really explicit procedural rules in meetings, such as hand signals that everyone knows, time limits of how long each person can speak for, etc, also help massively.)

    I generally try to encourage those people who are most personally affected by the topic of any particular discussion to speak about it, and treat them as having the most authority on it. I have been in really frustrating meetings where the *only* person directly affected by the topic being discussed has been the *only* person not speaking, but haven’t really known what to do about that situation (since i really strongly feel that no one should ever feel pressured to speak if they don’t want to).

    But, yeah, i pretty much totally agree with you… :)

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