Wow, danah boyd took me to school (without naming any names, which was kind of her) and I’m learning a difficult lesson.
Over at misbehaving.net, she writes in sexist jokes and Orkut invites about a note I sent to the group of people there marked as my “friends.”
What happened was that I saw as people’s numbers climbed that danah was moving down the list of faces that show on my home page there, and when she dropped off completely, I realized that the remaining visible faces were all male.
I sent my joke comment
ok, you guys have now knocked .danah off my top-nine friends view on my dashboard (why can’t we order and sort other wys?), so now it’s nine guys. i may have to drop one of you guys, no hard feelings, just to improve the scenery on my orkut home page.
without thinking too hard about how it might come across. In my mind, I was cracking on the phenomenon of me being linked to so many other men. I wasn’t sure if this had something to do with the population of Orkut or with my own subnetwork there.
However, by using language that divided up men and women in terms of visual appeal or attractiveness, I totally slipped over the line. What might be taken as irreverant and ironic by my “real” friends, who are probably somewhat likely to give me the benefit of the doubt and have other inputs to use in order to judge my character or values, in this context managed to hurt danah’s feelings: the last thing I would have wanted to do.
What I crossed over into was that “unwelcome gaze” issue, not unlike in one of danah’s earliest posts to misbehaving in which she wrote about being invited to a coed hot-tub party by a professional colleague and finding that uncomfortable as well.
Orkut’s mixing of business-networking, friendship, and dating context also heightens the risk of this kind of “incorrectness” or offensive behavior.
Anyway, though danah was kind enough not to single me out by name over at misbehaving, I do want to own up to my own transgressions given that the context was semipublic. She was open enough to express her hurt feelings:
The joke hurt because it made me feel like an object, like the baseball card that Orkut encourages you to collect. If a person has more friends than all but 8 other people on someone’s list, they end up on their front page. Apparently, to this guy, the aesthetic of my fuzzy hat and False Profit T-shirt is more important for his front page than his actual friends. He barely knows me; he wants me there so that i can improve the scenery of his home page. That makes me feel genuinely gross and sad.
and for that I owe her an apology, which I’m extending here.
I can learn from my errors, but I have to ask for forgiveness if I’ve – even inadvertantly – given offense or exposed something ugly in my own thought processes.
danah, I’m sorry for joking around in that hurtful way.
It was thoughtless of me, and I especially feel bad because we don’t know each other that well and I’ve probably harmed our ability to actually become more friendly in the real world.