Naming names

Watching stuff unfold on Twitter and the net over the past couple of weeks has me thinking about boundaries, and how often they are crossed. And how objecting publicly to having your boundaries crossed is seen by so many as crossing a boundary in itself—and a much worse one.

A young writer wrote an article detailing sexual abuse from an editor (she used a pseudonym for him, but a friend responding to her original post named names). Two librarians named a library “rockstar” as a known harasser that women warned each other to be careful of at conventions (now he’s suing for defamation). And a woman named and criticized the person she blames for turning her hotel room at a convention into a party room without her knowledge or permission.

In each of these cases, someone has called out someone else for behaving badly. The type of bad behaviour is wildly variable, and reactions to it (of people not directly involved) also vary, from seeing the behaviour as potentially criminal to seeing it as relatively innocuous (if tacky). But they also have two things in common: the original actions of the person being called out cross someone’s boundaries and a significant negative reaction has followed the calling out.

Negative responses vary in their approach and details, but many share a common thread: it’s unfair and unjust to name the accused. The reasons given for this position vary, but that’s the bottom line.

There are many other important issues at play here, but that’s one thing that struck me about all this: the commonality of this belief. It’s universal. Even when there seems to be no real issue of protecting the accused against having their life ruined by (for example) losing their job and becoming a complete social pariah (which is certainly possible for some kinds of issues), there seems to be this belief that people accused of bad behaviour should never be publicly named.

Why is naming names regarded by so many people as a worse offence than the behaviour of the person being named? Why is crossing someone’s boundaries seen as a lesser offence than calling out a boundary-crosser, no matter whether the offence is criminal or social? Why is this true for such a wide range of behaviours?

Why is this reaction so goddamned reflexive?

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7 thoughts on “Naming names

  1. It has been wild and wooly, hasn’t it?

    My first response is that this is most common in women’s spaces. I could be wrong, but it’s certainly where I see and hear it most. Women are supposed to sit down and shut up and not make waves. We think we’ve moved beyond that in the post-Second Wave of Feminism world but honestly, I don’t see that anything has changed much.

    Maybe I see it in women’s spaces mostly because that’s where I exist for the most part. When men and women interact, even in a non-intimate way, there’s still a different sensibility than when we interact with each other and, I’m supposing, when men interact with each other.

    All that said, I just realized I did run across this recently with a man. A young man I know, who comes to me to talk when he needs a mom and his isn’t available (or it would be too uncomfortable) confessed to me that he’d been assaulted, but he didn’t want to name his assailant because he didn’t want to make waves. (Much more complex than that, and yes, the ball is in motion to deal with this in all the ways it needs to be dealt with – and yes, he’s safe.)

    But back to my first paragraph. It is said that “well-behaved women don’t make history”. Speaking up and speaking out are the first steps toward achieving anything…and women are still discouraged from doing that, despite the progress we’ve made.

    1. I think you are correct in that the attitude that women are supposed to sit down and shut up is culturally installed in both men and women, and can have a strong influence on the responses critiquing women who do speak up—certainly all of these examples are women. (And yeah, I agree that not much has changed—so much feels to me like deja vu all over again.)

      I do think it goes further than that, though—the kneejerk “don’t name names” reaction may be applied most harshly to women who transgress, but I think it’s also applied to men, and the story of your friend seems to corroborate that—it is both internally and externally applied. (I’m very glad to hear he’s safe and it’s being dealt with.) On Twitter UrsulaV suggested that it may have something to do with teaching kids not to be tattletales, and I think there’s something in that, and also that it ties into codes of honor. Going to do more thinking about this.

      And “yes!” to your last paragraph.

      1. Yes, being unable to distinguish between tattling and calling out bad actors is a problem for too many. People who live and die by rules without applying critical thought have a serious problem with that.

        I can actually relate to the honor code aspect, at least to the point of “I will deal with it myself”. The problem comes in when it is beyond the scope of personal handling. As in the case of EC vs DA. This is already beyond being handled by individuals. Not only the court case, but it was likely never able to be handled by individuals since it required cooperation to determine an actual pattern of bad behavior existed. The problem must be aired in public for people to finally see it and understand the scope.

        As with domestic violence cases – is it a one shot “we both got overwrought and took swings at each other” or does he (or, rarely she) have a history of it. That history makes all the difference. If Sarah Allen never comes forward to tell anyone that John Smith beat the shit out of her for five years before she got up the courage/wherewithal to leave, then no one can add in Amy Brown’s experience with him, and Mary Jones’s and Carmen Rios’s. It goes from a “oh, no, that’s rough, I hope you two can get past that” situation to “What the fuck? Call the cops NOW!” situation.

        (Please note, I’m not comparing potential corporate greed with domestic violence – just looking for familiar issues where patterns of behavior must be exposed for the situation to be fully recognized.)

      2. Yes, critical thought is essential. Too bad so few people engage in it.

        I agree with your EC and domestic violence point—taking something on individually won’t expose patterns that are more widespread. Which is one of the problems with not naming people.

        (Side thought: it says something about how widespread online flareups are at the moment that when I read “EC” for a second I wasn’t sure whether you meant Ellora’s Cave or Ed Champion…. sigh.)

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