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What Is "Poke a Bigot in the Eye" ...? - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
What Is "Poke a Bigot in the Eye" ...?

I want to talk about an activism technique that I call "Poke a Bigot in the Eye."  Recently there has been a flurry of obnoxious, failtastic incidents including:
* "straightening" gay characters in young adult fiction
* sexism in comic books
* homophobia in Orson Scott Card's rewrite of Hamlet
I also got to talking with xjenavivex about an article she's developing on Internet trolls, a topic closely related to bigotry and oppression.  It seems like a good idea to describe the technique for general reference.

People have a bad habit of trying to malign, silence, attack, and generally harass other people whom they have chosen to hate.  Attempting to have a rational conversation with such oppressors is like punching a tar baby.  They don't want to discuss the topic rationally and will do everything they can to derail and prevent it.  You are just going to get your brain all sticky if you try.  Fortunately there are other options.

Poke a Bigot in the Eye does several things.  1) It avoids the flamewars that generally result from a round of CauseFAIL, thus sidestepping the attack.  2) It counters by supporting the targeted group or cause in current materials and encouraging the creation of new materials, thus countering by directly undermining the oppressor's goal of obliterating the group or cause.  3) It also encourages people to respond to violence in rational, constructive ways rather than feeding the flamewars.  These are crucial features of physical and verbal self-defense: maintain your center, deflect attacks, and counter with a discouragement of further conflict.  How snarky or gracious you wish to be with your counter is up to you.  If you want to minimize the total amount of hostility, be genteel.  If you're fuming and you want to express your disapproval, you can be snide.  Consider your mood, goals, and audience when choosing tone.

Some of my early inspiration for this idea came from ozarque, who suggested responding to flames and trolling by posting a recipe.  It doesn't ignore the situation, it doesn't add to the fracas, it just changes the subject.  I liked that concept, but I wanted something more topical and more proactive.  So I started experimenting with other options.  One early effort involved posting recommendations of material written by the targeted group, a handy tool since queer/black/female/poor/etc. authors are often targeted by various bigots.  Later on, I posted link clouds of positive resources for the topic under attack.

From this grew Poke a Bigot in the Eye, a more complex and flexible response.  A good Poke features a link to the original offending item, links to any major responses desired, links to other background materials if needed, some personal comments on why this particular example of bigotry is an embarrassment to the human race, and some recommendations of positive things that people can do to thwart the attempted oppression.  Imagine how annoying it must be for bigots when their attempts to quash a despised branch of humanity result in even more celebration of it.

Here is a general collection of things that can be included in a list of constructive suggestions:
* Browse some cultural material by or about the targeted group, such as books, movies, music, art, etc.
* Spend money on cultural material by or about the targeted group or cause, if you can afford to do so.
* Post a list of your favorite authors, artists, musicians, etc. and/or their works coming from the targeted group .  End with an invitation for your audience to reply with their  favorites too, or links to their own work if it is relevant.
* Donate to reliable charities that take care of the targeted group, cause, etc. or that promote tolerance and/or create a link list of relevant charities.
* If the original offense occurred in a book, music album, painting, or other piece of cultural material then give it a negative review, preferably citing examples of its almighty FAIL from the material itself.  Amazon.comBarnes & Noble, GoodReads, and MetaCritic host reader reviews and ratings.
* If the original offense occurred in a magazine, television station, or other media venue then contact that venue and request positive coverage of the vilified group or cause, and features about tolerance in general.  Offending public institutions such as schools, churches, police departments, etc. may be politely directed to resources about tolerance and facts about the vilified group or cause.  Teaching Tolerance is a good general resource.
* If the original offense involved a product or service for sale, note the price and spend that much on the targeted group or cause, or on tolerance in general.  Optionally, inform the offending company why you sent your folding vote to a competitor.
* Sit down and create some new material that portrays the targeted group or cause in a constructive way, and/or something that shows the pitfalls of bigotry.  Optionally, share it online or in another public venue.
* Watch for prompt calls in crowdfunding, or other opportunities where you can request a positive portrayal of the targeted group or cause.  Read about what crowdfunding can do for activists.
* Make the targeted group/cause/topic, or tolerance in general, the theme of a crowdfunding session or other activity that you host.
* Network, boost signal, linkswap, etc. with other people playing Poke a Bigot in the Eye so that the total mass of constructive activity grows.
* Whatever you do, earmark your action with something like, "This celebration of tolerance is brought to you by (example of CauseFAIL), in support of making the world a safer and happier place for (targeted group) everywhere."

Let's look at some examples.  "Poke a Bigot in the Eye" is about two years old by now. The earliest reference I can think of in my work dealt with someone disparaging the amount and quality of hard science fiction written by women. I responded by putting hard SF into the next open slot in my Poetry Fishbowl project, and I used the phrase "poke a sexist in the eye."  The original sexist article was "The War on Science Fiction and Marvin Minsky."  My snarky response was "Sexism in Science Fiction."  This led to my January 5, 2010 "Poetry Fishbowl Open!" post.  Then came the followup report with linked poems from that fishbowl.

More recently, there's been a cluster of incidents and discussions about oppression.  After an editorial request to de-gay a story, I wrote this post, "Let Characters Be Themselves."  After reading about sexism in comics repelling female readers, I wrote this post, "The Comics Women Don't Buy."  Then came the homophobia in Card's Hamlet, and that's where I used the phrase "Poke a Bigot in the Eye" in the post "Make Bigotry Not Pay."  It's also where I included a sizable list of suggested responses.

I've decided that the most effective response to someone trying to stamp out an identity, cultural content, etc. is to support what there is of it and better yet to make more of it.  Deal with bigotry by stabbing it with pencils and beating it with merry bundles of cash.  I recommend Poke a Bigot in the Eye as a general technique for use in fighting oppression.  Feel free to pass it around if this seems useful to you, or experiment with different iterations of your own design.

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Current Mood: determined determined

12 comments or Leave a comment
ankewehner From: ankewehner Date: September 23rd, 2011 08:19 am (UTC) (Link)
On the topic of sexism in comics, there was a link in my twitter stream this morning. The Big Sexy Problem with Superheroines and Their 'Liberated Sexuality'

I think it was posted by Faith Erin Hicks, who's behind http://superherogirladventures.blogspot.com/
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 23rd, 2011 07:13 pm (UTC) (Link)


I read that one too, but I didn't find it as effective as the one about why women don't buy comics that I linked earlier. Too much like the squeaky feminist stuff I read in college. It's not wrong, just ... not the kind of thing that invites people to stick around and think more about it. It just points to the suckage and whines. I'd rather have some version of, "Here are examples of sexism in comics: X, Y, Z. Women rarely like this stuff, so they rarely buy mainstream comics. What do they like? They like these indie comics and webcomics with features A, B, C. So more of that would be helpful and profitable."
fabricdragon From: fabricdragon Date: September 23rd, 2011 12:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
i always find it interesting that the comic book writers,(and some other YA writers) portray sex, and sexism, and those costumes... as without any consequences OTHER than rape. they do indeed consider rape and murder to be appropriate "consequences" for , say, being female.. and sexually active (for SHAME)
like the infamous girl in a fridge...

but you never hear about the super MALE having to get shots for VD, or hanging up his tights to get a job to support the kids.. or any of that.

IF there are any consequences, they always fall on the women, and i notice that they are almost always of the immediate variety, not the "hey.. i have a super metabolism that burns out drugs.. maybe BC pills dont work?"

i know its fantasy/comics.... but i find it interesting that one of the few places we saw PREGNANCY as a consequence of sex was in Gaimans Sandman...
ankewehner From: ankewehner Date: September 23rd, 2011 12:46 pm (UTC) (Link)

I may be rambling

like the infamous girl in a fridge...

I thought the thing there was that she was a superhero's girlfriend, and treated as a plot device for how it affected said guy, rather than a character in her own right? (I haven't read that comic, so I may be missing information.)
fabricdragon From: fabricdragon Date: September 23rd, 2011 08:11 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: I may be rambling

to a degree... but its always the "rape/violence as plot device" issue.

perhaps not the best example
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 23rd, 2011 07:09 pm (UTC) (Link)


>>i know its fantasy/comics.... but i find it interesting that one of the few places we saw PREGNANCY as a consequence of sex was in Gaimans Sandman...<<

I really liked that about Watchmen too. First we see of the Comedian is that he's been chucked out a window. Later we find out that had raped a colleague of his, and had gotten a woman pregnant during the war and murdered her when she called him to account for the baby. I think it's appropriate that we saw his death first, and his obnoxious actions later. It's kind of the equivalent of showing a woman's boobs before her face.

Conversely, for rendition of actual sexual liberation in comics, you can't do better than XXXenophile. Women, men, aliens, demons, and others all get nekkid and have a jolly good time, with varying degrees and flavors of story tension.
fabricdragon From: fabricdragon Date: September 23rd, 2011 08:09 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

i always liked XXXenophile....
but i ALSO never held it to standards of "realism" (although oddly enough i think Orgasm lass is the one comic book heroine whose costume being that revealing makes SENSE.....)

anyway.... indeed, watchmen portrayed men and women a bit better, as in, the realistic consequences of "why do i dress like this? i am trying to get model/acting jobs, duh!" and the comment about capes getting stuck in doors....

hmmm....books of magic was pretty good that way. the major female characters usually dressed fairly normally....
akaihyo From: akaihyo Date: September 23rd, 2011 04:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
The best defense against foolish words, is more and better words. I highly approve.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 23rd, 2011 06:18 pm (UTC) (Link)


Thanks for the vote of confidence.
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: September 24th, 2011 12:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
Sounds like a plan. :)
natf From: natf Date: September 25th, 2011 11:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
(added to memories)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 26th, 2011 08:34 am (UTC) (Link)

*bow, flourish*

Happy to be of service.
12 comments or Leave a comment