Pet Peeve

Unintentional sexism/homophobia/racism is still sexism/homophobia/racism.

Well-meaning sexism/homophobia/racism is still sexism/homophobia/racism.

Misguided sexism/homophobia/racism is still sexism/homophobia/racism.

Ignorant sexism/homophobia/racism is still sexism/homophobia/racism


Just because something is unintentional, well-meaning, misguided, or stemming from ignorance doesn’t mean that it’s okay.


  1. This reminds me of a post on writer John Scalzi’s blog last year after there was a case of harassment/stalking at a ReaderCon; and it was a huge blow-up with some people (including originally the panel that runs ReaderCon) trying to defend the guy who did or explain it way, and others trying to point out the ingrained sexism and harassment within the community. Anyway, a poster Hershele Ostropoler said:

    “If you step on my foot, you need to get off my foot.
    If you step on my foot without meaning to, you need to get off my foot.
    If you step on my foot without realizing it, you need to get off my foot.
    If everyone in your culture steps on feet, your culture is horrible, and you need to get off my foot.
    If you have foot-stepping disease, and it makes you unaware you’re stepping on feet, you need to get off my foot. If an event has rules designed to keep people from stepping on feet, you need to follow them. If you think that even with the rules, you won’t be able to avoid stepping on people’s feet, absent yourself from the event until you work something out.
    If you’re a serial foot-stepper, and you feel you’re entitled to step on people’s feet because you’re just that awesome and they’re not really people anyway, you’re a bad person and you don’t get to use any of those excuses, limited as they are. And moreover, you need to get off my foot.
    See, that’s why I don’t get the focus on classifying harassers and figuring out their motives. The victims are just as harassed either way.”

  2. I agree with what was said above. However, I am honestly not sure how to make sure that I don’t fall into those categories. I try to be courteous and respectful toward others. I have been chided from both sides for censoring what I say. I don’t let the fear of offending others incapacitate me (though I do make efforts to not be offensive) and therefore I often spend time analyzing how others may have been offended by my word and actions. When I know I have offended someone because of my unintentional, well-meaning, misguided, or ignorant words or actions, I apologize and try to understand, as soon as I can, without causing a more uncomfortable scene. How does one, such as me, become better?

  3. Thanks for the post, Apame, and I agree with all who gave props to de Pizan – that’s a fantastic quote.

    Jacob – I think you raise a really important point. Overt sexism/racism/homophobia is much easier for most of us to recognize in ourselves and others than the unintentional/well-meaning/misguided/ignorant varieties. It reminds me of another quote that Apame brought to my attention:

    “Ironically, the people who were most convinced of their own objectivity discriminated the most. Although self-reported endorsement of sexist attitudes didn’t predict bias, self-reported objectivity in decision making did.” – Fine, Cordelia. Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference. (W.W. Norton & Company, New York: 2010.)

    It seems that blind spots are common. The only solution I can think of is to be emotionally generous toward others and gracious and thoughtful in considering whether reproof from others toward us has validity. It sounds like that’s exactly what you’re doing.

  4. I think Galdralag is exactly right here.

    And I also think that the main peevity of this particular peeve is when people try to argue that because someone was well-meaning, then the problem itself is therefore completely irrelevant–not attempting in any way to address the problem inherent in the person’s actual prejudiced blind spot. Rather, explicitly giving it a “pass.”

    It doesn’t sound like you are guilty of that particular problem in any way. And I think that what Galdralag has to say about personal vigilance and acceptance of reproof is what you’re doing, and I hope I can do too.

  5. Thanks for your thoughts.

    I think the scariest part is finding one’s blind spots. Because, the only way that I know to find them is going out amongst the masses, stepping on feet, and slowly adjusting my blind spots away. All the while knowing that I am probably thought of as one who has a “foot-stepping disease” and maybe even a “serial foot-stepper.” I accept this and try to be better. I don’t really like the idea of just not dealing with certain groups of people, just because I haven’t been able to adjust my blind spots well enough to consistently stay off of feet. Is there a better way to adjust for blind spots? Or is the best way vigilant exposure? (both exposing myself to the reproof and exposing others to my prejudiced blind spots) Is there a way to find blind spots without stepping on feet?

  6. I’m a little late to the game with this discussion, but I wanted to throw my 2 cents in.

    No, stepping on other people’s feet, no matter what the reason, is never a good idea. The thing is, I have control over only one set of feet. While I can perhaps influence you to get off my feet by educating you about the pain I’m in, or the reasons why foot-stepping isn’t a good idea, in the end the only thing I really have control over is whether I pick my own feet up forcefully enough to get free or otherwise knock you, the foot-stepper, off balance.

    And then I have 2 ways to spend the rest of my day: I can ruminate about the pain I’m in, spend my time fuming, complain to everyone about the jerk who stepped on my feet or I can tend to my wounds and choose not to hand my serenity over to you. While I won’t speak for anyone else, I have found that my life works better for me when I choose the latter. Trying to understand the reasons why someone would step on my feet helps me develop compassion (“oh, yeah, I’ve done some pretty stupid things, too, and I appreciate when people are forgiving with me”) and that compassion helps me move through the pain of feeling stepped on–helps me find my sense of balance. Sure, in a couple of days, I might choose a response like talking to people about how painful it can be when feet are stepped on, I might respond by speaking to others when I see incidents of foot-stepping, I might even fund a public service education campaign (in which case, knowing most-likely reasons why people step on feet is may be extremely helpful). But still, I’d rather not hand over any of my own pain over to you, the foot-stepper, than I already have.

    (Have I run the metaphor out to its exhaustion point yet?)


Comments are closed.