I’ve been meaning to feature Hershele Ostropoler’s foot-stepping analogy as part of this series for a while, but I’d lost the link. Dana Hunter found it for me, quoting it in one of her posts at En Tequila Es Verdad:
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.
Dana links to a bunch of other resources in this A Refresher for Allies post. Read it all.
Categories: culture wars, ethics & philosophy, social justice
But I didn’t *intend* to stand on your foot so therefore through the magic of not my intention to step on your foot your foot doesn’t hurt. Yeah. So there. /sarcasm
Crommunist has a good post on intent this week, too.
Ugh, I really don’t like this paragraph:
I think it’s a pretty solid example of taking the metaphor too far and making a ham-handed hash of it. About the only “foot-stepping disease” that comes to mind right now is blindness, and yeah, if you could reasonably perceive that I’m blind, it’s probably a good idea for you to make some sort of attempt to keep your feet out from under mine, and not to tell me that I shouldn’t be allowed out into polite society until I’ve started being able to magically see and avoid feet. It just resonates far too much with the mocking and exclusion of people with disabilities, to me, making snide remarks about “foot-stepping disease”.
I would change the fourth point to:
I still think I made some good points in my rant about intent.
@lauredhel: I read that one as being a response to http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Autism_is_to_blame and similar arguments. Which are almost universally advanced by non-spectrum people
Ninjaed by hypatia’s succinct summation! Yes, exactly.
Lauredhel, in the context of the original thread at Whatever (which on further reading appears to be the first place this analogy was ever posted), the discussion was about harassment and how harassment causes harm. So “foot-stepping” = causing harm. “Foot-stepping disease” is a reference to the common harassment-apologist argument that anti-harassment policies discriminate against non-neurotypical men (apparently non-neurotypical women don’t exist, of course). These arguments are rarely offered by people who actually identify as being non-neurotypical, they tend to be a “what-if” silencing tactic from people whose primary agenda appears to be plausible deniability.
For a whole bunch of reasons, most long-officially-diagnosed neurodiverse people I’ve read online don’t actually accept that non-neurotypical folks should get a free pass on behaviours that others find to be harassing. Neuro-diverse people do not want to inadvertently alarm or cause harm to other people, they do want to be given guidelines to follow on avoiding alarming other people, and they resent being co-opted by harassment-apologists as if neuro-diverse people have zero capacity for self-examination and self-improvement.
I also think that harrassment apologist arguments are also a form of trivialising sexual harrasment. Because we do restrain people’s liberty when they are a danger to themselves or others, regardless of what motivated or caused their behaviour (so for example people with extreme forms of schizophrenia who are violent to themselves or others are forced to medicate or be locked away, despite the fact that we recognise that their behaviour is due to their condition and not conscious wrongdoing). When we say that women should accept harrassment from men because they are/ might be non-neurotypical, we are really saying that women’s experience of harrassment is insignificant or of lesser significance, and that they are not experiencing real harm.
Oh yes, I know exactly what it intends to address. I just think it fails, badly. It doesn’t say “if you’re a nondisabled person handwaving about ‘foot-stepping disease’”; it says “if you have foot-stepping disease”.
I’m coming straight out of reading torrents and torrents of exclusionary hate about people like me, who think I should get gone from “their” spaces until I learn to walk around without wheels. This entire vibe of directly addressing PWD (however metaphorical) with a lecture about how they need to avoid shared spaces until they learn to not have their disability anymore is just really bloody hurtful. I’m arguing for failed metaphor, not for “women should suck up harassment”.
Just a quick note that I’ve been AFK all day and have not been deliberately ignoring your comment, Lauredhel.
I can see why you’re reading it the way you are and why it very much strikes you as wrong. I don’t see it the same way, but that doesn’t mean that I think my interpretation is necessarily better than yours, just different. I want to take some time to think my position through carefully/thoroughly before responding further.
I think there is a big difference between ‘stepping on someone’s foot’ because you are an arsehole or negligent and being unable to prevent it happening due to illness/disability and I don’t think this was adequately examined in the example. Of course you are still going to get off that person’s foot, but I would expect a corresponding understanding that it is genuinely something that you are unable to control as well as being accidental and that you have just as much right to exist in space as the person whose foot has been stepped on.
The stepping on foot metaphor worked for me, but it’s obviously not working for enough people that the whole point is getting lost. So, other metaphors for saying or doing something X-ist that might be more helpful, cause less distress? Back during RaceFail 2009 on LiveJournal, there was a post I liked about not wearing pants, I’ll see if I can find it. I’m not saying it’s necessarily better, just rather different, and I’d be interested to hear from others.
I’m not sure this is it, but it was definitely on these lines:
Mindy – isn’t this just another way of saying that intent does matter? Not that there isn’t harm, but how you should address the problem and the ill feeling that results towards the person who caused the harm is different?
If someone is new to using a wheelchair or simply isn’t very good at controlling it and tends to roll over people’s feet accidentally but it is the only way for them to get around independently perhaps others should help by giving them more space rather than expecting them to ban themself from the dance floor?
Aqua – from your post:
When treating the injuries the medical staff wouldn’t care, but I think how the victim, medical staff or friends/family of the victim would care about the cause of the accident when thinking about the driver. Eg whether they were speeding or drunk compared to say had a heart attack or the car had a mechanical fault.
@Chris – intent does matter, but it is not an excuse for not apologising or refusing to accept that you have caused offence. How upset the person offended gets about something is, I believe, affected by the intent of the person who has done the offending. But the offender doesn’t get to determine the level of upset jsut because it wasn’t their intention to offend.
But having re-read the analogy this bit really stands out now:
I think I can see where you are coming from now Lauredhel, this does read to me as ‘if you can’t help it stay home until you can’ which for some people will be never and that isn’t acceptable.
Thanks, Mindy – that’s helped crystallise my thinking too. The initial sentence of that paragraph – “if you have foot-stepping disease, you need to get off my foot” I find perfectly valid, not least because in my experience people who do have disorders that sometimes mean they inadvertently step on feet are generally extremely willing to get off those feet once they realise that they have indeed stepped on a foot. This won’t necessarily mean they are able to prevent themselves stepping on a foot again, but the willingness to get off the foot when they realise is the key part, and no, I don’t think it’s acceptable to demand that people with such a disorder absent themselves from social interaction entirely. TAB people who are around people with foot-stepping disease need to step up with their own half of the foot-protection strategies with a good grace in terms of being aware of patterns of movement that get their feet in the way due to their own impatience/inattention etc, and particularly in removing any physical obstacles which force anybody with foot-stepping disease to take routes which increase the probabilty of foot-stepping.
Moving away from just the foot-stepping analogy, I thought-experimented on whether I would be willing to exclude, on anti-harassment grounds, a Tourette’s sufferer who could not prevent themselves uttering *ist slurs as part of their communications. Difficult as it would be to hear the slurs, I would not want that person excluded on those grounds alone. However, and this is a very important caveat, if a self-proclaimed Tourette’s sufferer only used particular slurs when speaking to particular classes of people, and was able to avoid using those slurs around other classes of people, I would be skeptically examining the validity of their purported Tourette’s.
People who have genuinely uncontrollable disorders do not only display those disorders to some people rather than to all people.
Thanks for hashing that out – I was off collecting my thoughts, and it turns out you’ve said everything I was coming back to say! I was thinking about the Tourette’s example too tigtog, to try to get back to the point of the metaphor. I believe there are people with Tourette’s who may, for example, shout words like “Bitch!” inadvertently. There is even a further step; some people with Tourette’s will say exactly the worst thing they could say in that moment, so they can in fact say a gendered slur more commonly around women. And yes, an apology would be in order; at the same time, if I know a person has that, I’m not going to blame them and label them a harasser or insist that they stay home.
There may very well be conflicting accommodation needs from time to time, for example if someone were to be repeatedly shouting truly triggering words about sexual violence around people in a support group for survivors – but that’s all getting a tad hypothetical, and well into the “extreme cases make bad law” department. Individual situations like that call for individual solutions based on mutual understanding, no different from how individual solutions can be needed for shared spaces which include someone with a service dog and someone with a catastrophically severe dog allergy.
And yeah. There are people in shared spaces I inhabit who fear me because they think I’m going to run over their feet, who want me excluded just because of that fear, not based in any reality. Or they want to exclude all wheelies because their hairdresser’s cousin’s son said they saw a wheelie run someone over once. And fuck, the number of times ignorant, self-obsessed bipeds have caused me difficulty…I know how it would go down if I proposed that all bipeds stay home till they have passed a licence test showing that they can share space considerately with wheelies.
Sorry, one further thing. I thought for a moment about bringing my issues/concerns to the attention of the original author. But long experience has shown that even people with nuanced, deep understandings of gender and harassment issues often don’t have the first bit of interest in examining ableism in the same way, just in using it as part of a “laundry list” of oppressions.
And maybe that’s a bit too cynical of me, but it’s the way things stand. I brought it up here because it’s one of the very few spaces I feel it will be generally received with open minds.