30 March 2010

Fat hate and slut-shaming all in one day! (Part 2)

So, on Thursday, freshly pissed off from reading OMG PUNISH THE FATTIES, THEY'RE KILLING AMERICA, I skimmed through the Maroon Weekly articles on my reader. Now, I hate the "Love Connection" section at MW; it is trite and, far too often, ridiculously sexist. The author clearly buys into stupid and just plain not true sexist stereotypes, and thus his advice is infuriating more often than not. It is also aggressively and irritatingly heteronormative.

He actually used a metaphor comparing women to "kitty cats" in this column, and suggests in the same one that women use their girlfriends as substitute boyfriends, and that's why they will ditch their women friends as soon as they snag a guy, because they fulfill the same function (and who wants a lady friend when they have MAN, which is really all any women want ever). BUT we have established that I am a masochist, and like to read things that irritate me, so. My excuse is that I can't be ignorant about the culture I'm in, right? But we all know I just like bitching, so let's get to it. Here was the column in question:
Dear LC,

I’ve been dating my boyfriend for almost two years and about three weeks ago he wanted to sit down to “have a talk” about something. He came over to my dorm, sat down, got red in the face and then admitted that he had cheated on me with not one but TWO girls in the past year. The worst part was finding out that one of the girls he hooked up with was one of my best friends. I couldn’t believe it. He told me that she knew he was going to tell me that night and that she didn’t expect to talk to me for a while (yeah, she got that right). I felt betrayed by the two closest people in my life. My head was spinning and I didn’t know which way was up. So I stood up and pointed to the door. I didn’t know what to say and I couldn’t form words even if I’d tried. He got up slowly he walked out.

The real sad part is that I still love him, or at least I think I do. And he keeps trying to apologize. He was even crying in a voicemail he left one night; and he’s never cried before, so I know he must feel horrible. I really wish I could be with him, but I just can’t bring myself to forgive him. It’s really strange. After what he did to me, my impulse is to go and make HIM feel better. What should I do? Is it possible to go back?

Upside-Down Girl
And the self-proclaimed love doctor's response:
Dear U-D Girl,

This guy not only ruined his relationship with you but also destroyed a relationship with your friend (although it’s ultimately your friend’s fault for lifting her skirt). [emphasis mine]
Holy shit did he just say that? Now, this best friend presumably knew that the boyfriend and her friend were in a monogamous relationship, so I can understand that she betrayed her relationship with her friend. Here's the thing: LC is ostensibly talking about their friendship here (not the failed relationship between UDG and her boyfriend), and fails to realize that the breach of trust was more important than the actual sex act. We have to remember, of course, that LC also thinks women only become friends because they need a substitute for the penis, so I shouldn't be surprised. What really pisses me off about this part, however, is that there is no other part placing responsibility the boyfriend. It's just this sentence, which clarifies that he's to blame, sort of, but that hussy. She really deserves shaming. And it's the emphasis on her, rather than the boyfriend, that bothers the shit out of me. The language LC uses ("lifting her skirt") makes clear the slut-shaming, sexist tradition that he's working within; in his mind, men can't help be horny all the time and it's women's jobs to be the moral gatekeepers when it comes to sex. So affairs are the result of women "lifting their skirts" rather than the result of two actors mutually engaging in sexual activity. The poor menz can't help it that they want sex all! the! time!, but women never want sex, so it's their job to keep sex within its proper places. This is not only fucking stupid (If women never wanted to have sex, no one would have heterosexual sex, because it's an activity that requires two willing participants.), but fucking sexist. Men are perfectly capable of being moral agents, and to suggest otherwise is not only an unfair burden on women, but really insulting to men. And even if LC is giving some of the blame to the boyfriend (I think he is), he is also focusing the majority of his disgust and blame on the best friend (only one of the women the boyfriend had sex with, I'd like to point out), because he blames women much more for having extra-marital or extra-relationship sex than men.

Anyway, back to the train wreck:
At this moment, I imagine you have trust issues, and let me tell you: you’re going to have them with your next boyfriend, too. Yes, I said your next boyfriend, because this guy is Texas toast.
Don't you love his folksy aphorism? They're how you know he's genuinely home-grown.
It’s amazing that people will take an apology–something that, under normal circumstances, only works when there is trust–after the bond of trust is already broken. It’s like trying to build a sandcastle in the water.

But here’s the real problem, and this is why you can never go back. Resentment never leaves once it’s triggered in your soul. There are some things you can forgive and forget. But resentment is on a different plane. It’s more permanent than a tattoo. You’ll always look at him and see him having really good sex with your best friend, even years down the road. It just doesn’t go away, no matter how hard you try. Even if you were to have a relapse of deep love for him and tried to have a relationship, the residue of trust and love would eventually diminish and the resentment would bubble up again. So I hope you locked that door when he walked out with his head hanging low. Bad doggie.

Remember, “the one” is the one that would never sleep with your best friend.
This is terrible advice, and I'll tell you why: LC thinks he knows best. Better than UDG, who is clearly considering re-starting this relationship, and he knows this because of all his 22-year-old wisdom. It's not the age that I'm trying to make fun of, but the supreme confidence that LC knows exactly how everyone deals with betrayal and resentment. He wouldn't know this even if he was 70, and that makes his confidence even more ridiculous. Guess what, LC, sometimes people (this includes women) are capable of making their own damn decisions! Even advice columnists can understand this, because more often than not, people writing in to advice columns are looking for a sounding board, not a bossy asshole shaking their finger at them for wanting to patch up a relationship. And this more likely true of this particular woman, since she just lost two important sounding boards: her boyfriend and her best friend. One of my favorite advice columns is Feministing's Ask Professor Foxy (warning: explicit), because when people ask her "What should I do?" her answer is to try and give them resources on how to make that decision on their own. It is almost NEVER a direct answer, because Foxy trusts people (again, including women!) to make the decisions that are right for them. What UDG needs to know is that if she does get back together with her boyfriend, she needs to be aware of what may happen. If she thinks she won't be able to handle the heartbreak of breaking up again, she should consider that. But, ultimately, it's her decision, and it should be based not on LC's stupid universal claims about whether people can and should forgive, but her own capacity for forgiveness, her own desires, and whether she trusts the repentance of the boyfriend. And she needs to worry as well about her support system; were that boyfriend and best friend really all she had? Because she's going to need a safe space to talk about her relationship with said boyfriend if she decides to get back together with him, a space that isn't the best friend (if she forgives her) or the boyfriend. She needs some lady-friends, frankly, and not so she can "date" them, but so they can offer her support and love in whatever decisions she makes, women who will trust her to make the best decisions for herself and who will be there for her if they don't turn out to be the best decisions.

25 March 2010

Fat hate and slut-shaming all in one day! (Part 1)

On Thursday, my respect for the Maroon Weekly and the Battalion took a nosedive. Not that these are particularly professional, tolerant, and journalistic publications. But they do occasionally get it right. And Maroon Weekly does employ my sarcastic partner, whose articles are consistently right on and hysterical. Oh man, that was a narcissistic link-fest. Feel free to ignore it.

Anyway, Thursday. I pick up both newspapers and read the Battalion first. And the FAT SHAMING COMMENCES.
Health care reform has been an issue at the forefront of many Americans’ minds for several months. With the recent passage of the health care reform bill, it seems now every American wants to join in on the conversation of what is best for the future of our health care system.

But the answer to our larger health problems cannot be fixed by a new system. America is land of the free and home of the all-you-can-eat buffet. Obesity, defined as a Body Mass Index above 30, is held responsible as a catalyst for a multitude of health problems ranging from cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, arthritis and Type 2 diabetes. In America, we are too fat for our own good.
I think it's really hilarious how articles like this one PRETEND that they want to talk about health care and the horrifying reality of our country, in which millions of Americans are too poor to afford health care, are being denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions (which now include being raped, being abused, and even just having been pregnant), or are becoming bankrupt over medical expenses, when what they REALLY want to talk about is OMG FATTIES. (Note, too, how the title of the article, "Swallowing the bill," and the picture included (above) dovetails neatly into the conservative rhetoric about this bill being shoved down their collective throats, making eating into a weird and disturbing rape metaphor.) What this author doesn't seem to understand is that the health care bill IS NOT JUST ABOUT FATTIES. No, really. It's not.
Still, public health is personal responsibility gone awry.

Instead of taking care of ourselves through nutritious diets and exercise like medical experts have recommended since the beginning of time, Americans are increasingly relying on the miracles of medicine to prolong our lifespan, Apparently that is a costly back-up plan.

Illnesses do happen to healthy people who eat correctly and exercise, and I’m positive enough goodwill exists in the world that many Americans would be willing to ensure these people have accessible health care. However, those who neglect to take care of themselves are becoming a burden on the rest of society, and many people are upset by this. Don’t blame the president or Congress, blame sedentary individuals who thrive on a McDonald’s diet.
WHAT. Did he just suggest that fat people don't deserve healthcare? You know when I said Toni Listi failed at humanity? Stephen Humeniuk also fails, friends. Let's do a little fat feminism 101:

1. BMI is literally the dumbest, most fucked-up way to measure health that has ever existed. And I'm considering phrenology and the humours when I say that. And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Not only does it not measure shit except your appearance, but it changes, and that change has literally created the so-called Obesity Crisis TM. From Feministe:
First, obesity is defined by an arbitrary measure. It changes. One reason for obesity’s increase is those changes: sometime in 1998, almost 30 million U.S. residents went to sleep chubby and woke up obese. Second, obesity itself is considered a medical condition, so it’s no surprise that fat people, whose physical being is seen as cause for treatment, incur more medical costs. But that’s not a problem with weight so much as a problem with logic.
2. Obesity is not an individual problem, it's a systemic one, but the rhetoric surrounding it is almost entirely focused on "personal responsibility." People like Hemeniuk don't want to talk about why so many Americans lead sedentary lifestyles* or eat processed crap food,** because fixing those things (making cities more walkable, reducing food advertisements to children, encouraging work places to allow their employees access to and time to use gym facilities, changing agricultural policies and helping get rid of "food deserts," etc.) is so much harder than just blaming lazy fatties.

3. The connection between mortality, disease, and obesity is tenuous at best. The lowest mortality rate is actually for folks in the "overweight" BMI range (Hey, that's mine!). Studies linking the health risks Humeniuk outlines, like heart disease and diabetes, with weight have been questioned by the most recent medical research. So the claim that fat people are a medical burden on society is bullshit.

Then Hemeniuk reaches a dangerous conclusion:
Drinking is legally deemed detrimental to the rest of society through laws penalizing drunk driving and public intoxication, so bars reserve the right not to serve those who have had too much to drink. If the same standard is applied, and unhealthy people are considered similarly detrimental to society, fast food restaurants would be cutting people off after they’ve had one cheeseburger too many. If health care is at the forefront of the American conversation, it is now an individual responsibility for each of us to take care of ourselves.
NO. This train of thought has nothing to do with "personal responsibility" or burdens on society, but with punishing fat people for the moral crime of being fat. And punishment doesn't work. From Amanda:
The notion that people are fat because we aren’t hard enough on them doesn’t gel with reality. In the real world, fat people are subject to so much social disapproval and punishment that it’s traumatizing for some. The high levels of punishment for fatness now haven’t done a damn thing to reverse the trend of growing waistlines for Americans.
Shaking your finger at people doesn't work, partly because losing weight isn't easy and simple (like Humeniuk suggests at the end of this article) and partly because shaking your finger at people has never really worked in changing their behavior, as Amanda points out:
I know I sound like a broken record on this, but the morality/disgust approach to public health issues has, so far, never worked, and so introducing it to discussions about diet, weight, and related health issues is likely to follow the pattern of history and fail miserably. Most thinking people finally figured this out with sex. Shaking a finger at people, calling their sexual desires disgusting, and telling them “just say no” hasn’t worked at all. People do much better when their desires are validated and brought out of the closet, where we can then have a non-shaming discussion about how to have both what you want sexually and be safe. It turns out that if you present it in this way, people are much more likely to feel positively about individual responsibility. We also needed to address systemic inequalities that make being safe harder to do. People who live in poverty, who have poor access to contraception and education---they subsequently have poorer health outcomes. Only be addressing the pressures on them will we get better results. This model strikes me as the only appropriate one to take when it comes to the issues of food, exercise, and related health issues.
Instead of just laying the blame uncomplicatedly on the door of fat people and demanding that they STOP BEING FAT (in a similar fashion to the "just say no" approach to sex), initiatives that actually expect to increase the health of American citizens need to address the complicated and systemic causes of obesity. Further, we need to address the fact that wanting to eat a hamburger does not make you disgusting. Eating is a morally neutral act. The sooner we become okay with that fact, the less toxic the entire conversation about health and obesity will become.

Humeniuk again:
Don’t get fit just because you want to look good in a swimsuit now. Do it so you can see your grandkids at Christmas 50 years down the road. Do it for me, do it for your neighbor and most importantly do it for America.
Again, WHAT. Does Humeniuk honestly think he has some sort of point with his high-flown rhetoric, and does he literally see no problem with arguing that dieting is a patriotic duty? For fuck's sake, it's none of your business what I do and don't eat, Stephen Humeniuk. It's also none of my neighbor's business. Or my government's. My body is not public property, and neither is anyone else's.

I was going to write about the bullshit slut-shaming I read in the Maroon Weekly on Thursday too, but this post is already long enough. I'm going to be slow about posting for the next few weeks, because I'm dangerously behind on research, but don't worry! I have all sorts of posts lined up, including slut-shaming, sexism and geekdom, and why I swear like a sailor.

*Most jobs held by Americans are necessarily sedentary, most American cities are not walkable, and thus people drive to their sedentary jobs. And after working all day, they're supposed to exercise, too? It's not impossible, of course, but we really shouldn't be blaming people who work all day for not wanting to come home and work more.

**In a discussion about Jamie Oliver's new fat-shaming show, Food Revolution, Melissa at Shakesville has this to say:
The premiere episode has absolutely zero structural critique, not even a passing comment about the reason that millions of mothers feed their kids processed foods is because it's cheap and fast, which is a pretty good solution for people who are short on money and time.

Oliver places the responsibility for unhealthful eating exclusively at the feet of the individual, seemingly without concern for the cultural dynamics that inform individual choices. The extent of the explanation provided for why someone might choose to stock their freezer with frozen pizzas is that they're lazy and/or don't know any better.
Remember those jobs I was talking about? Not only do we expect folks to go to work all day and then also go exercise, but cook real food, too. Because apparently not being fat is more important than ever fucking relaxing or having a fucking life.

UPDATE: Read part 2 here.

12 March 2010

Science fiction, geek culture, and sexism (Part One)

Note: Many of the links I'm using for this post (and for part two) are a bit old. So don't go over to them and, you know, comment, without checking the date.

I've been meaning to write this post ever since I had to leave the Doctor Who forum Gallifrey. But it's not just that, it's how uncomfortable and unwelcomed I feel in almost all areas of geek culture. When I joined the Doctor Who forum, all I did was argue that we shouldn't make jokes that belittle the experiences of oppressed and minority populations. Also, those jokes aren't edgy, they're mainstream, because they invalidate people whose voices are already censored and silenced. And I was quickly labeled too-emotional-crazy-female, and the purpose of that label was to censor and silence me. Not that the forum didn't have women on it, it certainly did. But they were the type of women who, when faced with a post suggesting that women "don't get" science fiction, rather readily agreed, and simply argued that they weren't like those women (silly women who care about fashion and shopping and frivolous lady things), but different, better women. Women who get sci fi. So, sci fi seems to accept women in its culture, as long as those women are perfectly ready to concede to patriarchy and put down fellow ladies (and lady-related things) when required.

And I've learned my lesson: science fiction forums, unless they're particularly feminist-friendly (thank goodness, these spaces do exist), are going to be full of misogyny and homophobia (I find the homophobia on a DW forum puzzling beyond belief. And I'm not the only one.). But sci fi isn't the only piece of geek culture that systematically shuts (non-compliant) women out. One of the reasons I don't read graphic novels is because I can't become a fan girl without a tougher skin than I have. I'm also a gamer, but I refuse to get on forums like Ryan does, and I honestly don't like playing MMOs as a woman, because of the harassment. There are facets of geek culture that are academic/professional and shut out women (math, computer/techy professions) and some geek cultures that are better than others about cutting out the sexism (fantasy, anime), but as a whole, geek culture really only wants one type of woman. And that woman doesn't disturb the sexist status quo.

Why would geeks be misogynistic? The average geek is not just male, but white, heterosexual, abled, and middle- to upper-class. With all that privilege, it's a bit unsurprising that geeks are reluctant to challenge the status quo. As feminism is most broadly understood as attempting to end all domination, not just sexual domination, threatening the patriarchy threatens not just male privilege and power, but class power, race privilege, etc. of your average geek. Obviously, its more complicated than that (for one, power doesn't only exist in hierarchies), especially given the culture of anti-intellectualism in the U.S. Because of anti-intellectualism, geek culture is counter-cultural, which means that geeks like to think that they are progressive as all get-out. I was not the only one on Gallifrey, for instance, who was openly appalled by the homophobic stuff said by other posters. When I suggested that you should curb your jokes about rape or race or disability, the tone of some posters was, "How dare you question my sensitivity! You're just too radical. We're only normal-level progressive here. But we're not sexists! Or racists!" And over half the regular posters clearly thought of themselves as politically progressive, and Doctor Who as a politically progressive show. But my posts about being sensitive when you tell jokes, and taking responsibility for the violence and damage that your words do, labelled me as too liberal, too radical.

Jason over at Geek Culture argues that male geeks may be sexist because they're sexually frustrated and trying to shore up their masculinity:
Basically I think this comes down to feeling rejected and threatened by women—either personally/romantically/sexually or in terms of professional and cultural identity—and trying to cut women down to feel better about themselves. Some geeks have indeed turned to coding or gaming or whatever to prove their worth as men, according greater worth to geeky knowledge than to traditional indexes of masculinity; contemplating women excelling in these fields raises questions about how masculine they really are.
There's two problems with this line of reasoning. The first is that it seems to ignore that sexism is a bigger cultural problem than just men despairing of their lack of pussy. Sexual frustration does not account for centuries (centuries!) of the systemic oppression of women. And to act like misogyny in geek culture has nothing to do with misogyny in mainstream culture is stubbornly dense. The second problem is that this starts to sound a whole lot like saying that pick-up-artists turn violent because women don't fufill their proper roles as compliant, sexual objects. Even though Jason is not saying that geek men are justified in being sexist by their inability to have sexual relationships with women, the implication of this claim is that if women were to give up and turn into freely-available sexual objects, misogynistic violence would just go away. And any idiot can see that that is not a likely possibility, because if you give misogynists the world they desire (where women are completely stripped of their basic rights), they're not going to become sweet pussycats. They'll still hate women. So I don't buy that geek men are sexist because of their sense of sexual entitlement or their masculinity anxiety; those are the results of sexist culture, not the cause.

Jason again:
Based on my own experiences, I don’t see “geek culture,” broadly speaking, as misogynistic. Actually, I see it kind of torn between two mindsets: one, a sexist mindset built on isolation from women and the freedom of anonymity, and the other, an open-minded and welcoming mindset built on a rejection of “mainstream” norms and self-conscious (even self-congratulatory) embrace of the intellect and social progress.
Again, I think Jason has a problem distinguishing between cause and effect. Isn't it more likely that "isolation from women" is the result of sexism and not the cause? And I think that the counter-cultural tendency of geek culture does not necessarily come from "an open-minded and welcoming mindset" and embracing social progress. As I pointed out earlier, the counter-cultural tendency of science fiction is very often just a rejection of anti-intellectualism. And often intellectualism manifests as socially progressive (more academics are liberal, for example, than not), but not always. And science is not a field unblemished by misogyny (See: Fausto-Sterling and evo psych). So the endorsement of science and intellectualism and the endorsement of patriarchy and sexism are not mutually exclusive. You can be a scientist, an academic, or even a liberal(!) and still be protective of your privilege, to the point of sexism, racism, homophobia, ableism, classism, etc. To illustrate, let me tell you in more detail what happened at Gallifrey.*

The subject of the thread was the Family Guy episode about the mentally retarded, the one that was clearly a response to and mocking of Sarah Palin and her (justified) anger with Rahm Emanuel for using the word "retard" in a derogatory sense. (What isn't justified is how she later argued that it's okay when Rush Limbaugh did the same thing, because he was being satirical. Or something. Palin is a moron, but mocking the mentally disabled in casual speech is still not okay.) We bandied back and forth about whether the episode was offensive or not, and I argued eventually that Family Guy is just a show that makes money by thinking that rape is funny and marginalizing the experiences of already marginalized populations. I even used that link. That started a shitstorm; I kept repeating that marginalizing jokes (sexist, racist, etc.) aren't funny, and I was criticized for using a link to Feministing (which is one of the most popular feminist blogs on the internet, but this guy was acting like it was the secret enclave of man-hating crazy feminazis), for trying to "censor" people and make non-PC jokes illegal, and for being too sensitive. All the commenters at this point were men (there may have been one comment by one female poster, but I can't remember), and I would like to posit: not a coincidence. The censoring criticism came from my suggestion that these types of jokes should be considered so far from mainstream that they are censored by individuals, using the example of racism. If a politician says something racist, he has to publicly apologize. If a person wants to tell a racist joke, his options of safe spaces to do so are limited (very limited in certain geographical areas). Even people who are still racist (but don't really know it) don't tend to put up with racist jokes around them. They're inappropriate, and as a result, racism is not really allowed in polite company anymore (at least, overt and verbal racism). I argued that this was obviously not enough, but at least progress, and that homophobia was quickly being driven underground too. The censoring I was suggesting was censoring in the same way that many people boycotted companies that funded Prop 8 in California. What I was saying was that I hoped one day that rape jokes, sexist jokes, ableist jokes, classist jokes, racist jokes (racism that isn't polite company talk in the U.S. is mainly about blacks; you can still joke about Mexicans, Arabs, etc. without too much worry), etc. would all be censored in a similar manner. That individuals would feel uncomfortable telling those jokes to all audiences. I never once said that these jokes should be illegal. Remember, my example was racism in the U.S., and I don't know if you guys know this, but: Racism is totally legal in the U.S. Despite that assurance, I was told multiple times that my position was an infringement on free speech rights. The commenters were willfully misunderstanding me, so I promise, I explained it even more fully than I just did to you. And then I really wanted them to understand that I didn't think they should be censored out of spite or because I'm just woefully devoid of a sense of humor, but because they perpetuate violence.

Then I linked to this amazing post** by Kate Harding, quoting the relevant parts, which I'll do for you here:
But here’s where all this victimy girl shit concerns you:
every time you don’t tell your buddies it’s not okay to talk shit about women, even if it’s kinda funny;
every time you roll your eyes and think “PMS!” instead of listening to why a woman’s upset;
every time you call Ann Coulter a tranny cunt instead of a halfwit demagogue;
every time you say any woman–Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Phyllis Schlafly, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, any of us–”deserves whatever she gets” for being so detestable, instead of acknowledging there are things that no human being deserves and only women get;
every time you joke about how you’ll never let your daughter out of the house or anywhere near a man, ’cause ha ha, that’ll solve everything;
every time you say, “I don’t understand why thousands of women are insisting this is some kind of woman thing”;
every time you tell a woman you love she’s being crazy/hysterical/irrational, when you know deep down you haven’t heard a word she’s said in the past 15 minutes, and all you’re really thinking about is how seeing her yell and/or cry is incredibly unsettling to you, and you just want that shit to stop;
every time you dismiss a woman as “playing the victim,” even if you’re right about that particular woman…
You are missing an opportunity to help stop the bad guys.

You’re missing an opportunity to stop the real misogynists, the fucking sickos, the ones who really, truly hate women just for being women. The ones whose ranks you do not belong to and never would. The ones who might hurt women you love in the future, or might have already.

‘Cause the thing is, you and the guys you hang out with may not really mean anything by it when you talk about crazy bitches and dumb sluts and heh-heh-I’d-hit-that and you just can’t reason with them and you can’t live with ‘em can’t shoot ‘em and she’s obviously only dressed like that because she wants to get laid and if they can’t stand the heat they should get out of the kitchen and if they can’t play by the rules they don’t belong here and if they can’t take a little teasing they should quit and heh heh they’re only good for fucking and cleaning and they’re not fit to be leaders and they’re too emotional to run a business and they just want to get their hands on our money and if they’d just stop overreacting and telling themselves they’re victims they’d realize they actually have all the power in this society and white men aren’t even allowed to do anything anymore and and and…

I get that you don’t really mean that shit. I get that you’re just talking out your ass.

But please listen, and please trust me on this one: you have probably, at some point in your life, engaged in that kind of talk with a man who really, truly hates women–to the extent of having beaten and/or raped at least one. And you probably didn’t know which one he was.
And that guy? Thought you were on his side.

As long as we live in a culture where the good guys sometimes sound just like the misogynists, the misogynists are never going to get the message that they are not normal and that most people–strong, successful men included–do not hate women.
When you trivialize what even the women you love are saying to you, when you let sexist remarks slide, when you insist that women view things from your perspective (rational! calm! reasonable!) because you don’t feel like trying to see theirs (emotional! hysterical! nuts!), when you sit around laughing with other men about how crazy chicks are before you go home to the wife and daughters you love more than life and always treat with respect, when you say the fact that online harassment disproportionately affects women somehow doesn‘t mean we should be considering it through the lens of women’s experiences in particular, you’re not fucking helping. You’re being willfully obtuse. You’re enjoying the luxury of not having to take what we’re telling you seriously–and that’s why we get so goddamned frustrated and angry and hysterical. Because we don’t have the option of not caring about this shit, and you just keep telling us not to.

And because the really bad guys don’t pop out of thin air as fully formed misogynists. They need encouragement and reinforcement in order to completely miss the fact that there’s something deeply fucking wrong with them. Subtle sexism gives them that. Keeping your mouth shut about overt sexism gives them that. Not really listening to the women you love, let alone women you don’t even know–thereby being one more guy sending a message to women that we’re only worth listening to on men’s terms–gives them that. Telling yourself and anyone who will listen that that’s just the way it is, and people need to quit whining gives them that. How can they clue into the fact that there’s something deeply fucking wrong with them when so many guys are acting just like they do in public, or at least never calling them out?
Here's the thing: jokes (and not just sexist ones, but all the other kinds I've been talking about) help perpetuate violence and oppression. And I asked: Is it worth it to do that, for a laugh? Is it worth triggering a female acquaintance (1 in 6 American women will experience sexual assault in her lifetime) for the laugh you and your buddies get out of telling a rape joke? No one really answered this question, they just got angry with the premise. Two of them told me that a)they did not know any real misogynists, and that "mature people" can tell the difference between a joke and a real hatred for women and b)I shouldn't blame them and other men who make sexist jokes for the violence of other, misogynistic men, who are clearly just crazy assholes. There was some deep denial going on there, and I doubt even one of the commenters on that thread would have agreed that yes, there is a rape culture, and yes, it exists in both the U.S. and the U.K. I didn't even bring up the victim-blaming study that came out of Britain recently, but I would have if I thought it would help and I had stayed longer. But at this point, it was already ugly. I was trying very hard to be calm and reasonable about the whole thing (I was emotional in the same way that Kate is in that post, not angry emotional but this-touches-my-life-every-day-stop-invalidating-my-experiences emotional), but I was getting back quite a bit of mocking anger and dismissive assholery from multiple posters. There was one anti-feminist commenter who told me that I really just wanted to dominate men and make them socially inferior to women, that I hated men, etc. Standard "you're a feminazi!" fare, and something I did not expect to encounter on Gallifrey. So, in a last-ditch effort to squeeze any amount of sympathy from these men, I told a story from my own life that illustrates how sexist rhetoric (jokes, etc.) creates a safe space for misogynists and allows them to justify their own fucked up hatred of women. My own dad was a misogynist, and he was verbally abusive to my whole family, but his abuse of my mother was ridiculously sexist. And he had friends (they weren't lovely people, but I don't think most of them actually knew how violent and hateful he was about and to women) who made sexist jokes and comments (like those outlined by Kate) all the time. And he absolutely thought he was justified, that they agreed with him. I also mentioned that horrifying Superbowl Dodge commercial, and told them that it was slightly triggering for me, because it reminds me of all the times he used to blame her for ruining his life with her lady-vagina ways, by being such a fun-killing shrew (because she, you know, wanted him to stop cheating and keep a job every once in a while). And my point was that he didn't know that hating women was not normal. And why should he? Our culture tells men constantly that women emasculate you, that they're gross and icky, that they ruin everything, that they deserve violence and punishment, that they ruin your life once you're married, that they deserve to be hated. And you and your buddies joking about how women are only good for sex and cooking are not fucking helping.

You can probably guess the reaction: You obviously need therapy, and Gallifrey isn't the place. Seriously. They pathologized my experience so that they could dismiss it. It was so classically sexist I almost laughed. But I didn't, because being silenced like that is so...horrible. I felt powerless. I surround myself by supportive and non-asshole people, so I'd almost forgotten what being silenced because I'm a woman felt like. I'd almost forgotten what it's like to talk to people who will, as soon as it's convenient, completely invalidate my speech and my experiences. And my attempts to elicit sympathy were read as crazy-talk, hysteria, not-important. So I left. I wrote a response telling them they were pathologizing me to censor me, and that that was a sexist reaction to my story. They didn't even have to think about whether rape culture helped foster my father's misogyny, and that was why they were pathologizing me. And I was angry and upset not because of what happened to me as a kid, but because they were being rude and dismissive. I was angry because they were denying what women experience on a day-to-day basis, ignoring how their own behaviors and words help perpetuate violence against women. Of course that makes me emotional. And I didn't go back to see their responses, because, well, I'm only so much a masochist.

Okay, the point of that whole long story is that, except for the one clearly anti-feminist asshole, I'm sure most of these people are lovely in person. Many of them were clearly liberal and fairly progressive. But when I threatened their privilege (to make jokes, of all things, without having to think about how those jokes perpetuate violence and relate to real people's lives), they instantly got defensive and douchey. I've experienced a similar thing in another (atheist) forum before; when I was talking about how awesome Anne Fausto-Sterling is (she argues that gender precedes sex, and that we write sex on the body, as opposed to reading what's already there), I was pushed into a corner. Not one man was even willing to consider the argument, and very few women were, and they were significantly more progressive than Gallifrey members. So, you really don't have to be conservative to perpetuate a sexist culture. Jason's argument, that geek culture suffers from a clash between progressive, open-minded people and asshole, sexist people is an oversimplication. There are strands of progressive beliefs and attitudes in geek culture, but those aren't necessarily at odds or in different people than the sexism that pervades that culture.

That's all for now. I'll be posting a second part to this post, looking at and analyzing examples of sexism in geek culture.

*I'm not going to quote anyone, including myself, because I can't go back over there without getting really upset again. Also, I have zero desire to see how those assholes responded to my farewell post. I have no doubt it got ugly. Which means I'm interpreting this entire exchange, and I do realize that. I will do my best not to hyperbolize and to be honest about what happened. I have no desire to paint these guys in dishonestly bad light.

**I often worry that I'll one day get the same sort of abuse that Kate Harding did. The traffic at my blog increases every month, which is great(!), but it scares me a little. I've yet to get any horrifying comments or emails, although a few comments on old posts are clearly written by one or two assholes, and I've yet to actually moderate. But my identity is not a secret, even though I haven't posted my last name here (mostly because I don't want people Googling my name to find my blog, because I have people in my life who would be horrified by it, including family members). I've put my first name, though, what school I attend and even what department. It's not exactly rocket science. But this blog is about me and my life, not an adopted persona or something, and that's why I've done that. And I should be able to have an identity on the internet without the threat of violence. It's a tricky line to walk, as Kate's post makes clear.

UPDATE: I wish I had found this guy's blog before I got into that DW forum argument! Althought it probably wouldn't have helped.

10 March 2010

Sometimes I am bitter about religion

I actually told a (religious) friend of mine the other day that religion doesn't make me bitter. And some days I do feel that way, mostly when religion isn't touching my day to day life, and I feel like the anger and resentment are rather wasted on something I don't even see that often. But when I read Michelle's explanation of why she's done with religion at the Gaytheists yesterday, I remembered that, yes, religion has absolutely made me bitter.
I long ago made the decision that I was done with religion. It didn’t offer me anything I couldn’t get elsewhere, and just seemed to have a lot of rules that I had reasoned away with secular ethics. I sort of thought religion and I could co-exist where we met only occasionally. I have since discovered this is not possible.
I feel similarly. It's actually very hard for me to have religious friends without pointing out that they're part of an enormous institution that has a whole lot of blood on its hands. But I try not to do that, because it's not going to change their minds or anything, it just makes me look like an asshole. But the argument for "coexisting" rings rather hollow for me. From Michelle:
When you speak of the joy and wonderful and fulfillment that you receive from religion, this is what I see. I see women unable to protect themselves from unfaithful husbands through the use of a condom because the Catholic church has campaigned against their use and distribution. I see families torn apart by unjust marriage laws that the churches prop up. I see abuse and terrorism within families, and women told to go back to husbands because divorce is not an option.

I see gay teens who commit suicide because they’re told they are abominations. I see the millions more who suffer in silence, shamed by their sexuality, their bodies, their desires. I see well-intentioned people give religious bigotry and hatred a pass because, well… it’s religious so it must be good. I see children beaten within an inch of their life with plumbing supply line, because obedience is godly. I see children raped and molested and abused by religious leaders. I see the families of those children having to choose between protecting their salvation and protecting their children, and not always making the right choice.
Michelle specifies her disdain with religious institutions to the Catholic Church in particular. And, indeed, the Catholic Church is fucking evil. And I have debated with Christians before who are Protestant, and thus want to foist off the historical evils of Christianity--the persecution of scientists like Galileo, the Crusades, witch hunts, etc.--onto the Catholic Church. Catholics are not True Christians (TM), and thus True Christians (i.e. whatever sect the particular Christian individual belongs to) don't have that blood on their hands. That is a fundamentally unhistorical and ridiculous argument; the Catholic Church is the root of all Christian sects, not some deviant fringe branch of the faith. And even if it were, Protestant churches practice evil all the time. Witness: Christian Domestic Discipline (trigger warning: domestic discipline is extremely upsetting), gay "conversion," Christian books advising parents to beat their children, and this asshole.

And my (indirect) experience of religious evil is through my mother. She grew up in a deeply religious family, via an Assembly of God church, and when she went to college, she got pregnant. And you know what her family did? They disowned her; not one parent or sibling was allowed to go to her wedding, her family ceased communication, and (perhaps most heinous) they pulled her from their health insurance coverage. You read that right, they withheld health insurance from a pregnant 19-year-old, one without any financial resources. When she went and talked to a religious advisor at her church, they basically told her that she had to give the baby up for adoption, which she didn't want to do, or she wouldn't be right with God. They advised her parents to disown her the way they did. She was forced to drop out of college and marry my father. She stayed married to him for a series of reasons, including the religious aversions to divorce and single parenting, aversions she inherited from her parents and church. Sixteen years after a miserable marriage, she finally divorced him and started her life over. Now, thankfully, she's happy with her life, and married to someone who doesn't treat her like shit. But that doesn't make up for the fact that her church officials (people who knew her well, since she was active in church all her life) and religious parents took away sixteen years of her life. So, when you speak of the joy and wonderful and fulfillment that you receive from religion, this is what I see. My mother, her opportunities stolen and her life spent wracked with religious guilt.

How does one argue for coexistence with religion? By arguing against coexistence, I don't mean making Christianity legal or genocide or anything crazy like that. I mean to contradict the attitude that all religious sects, including the nonreligious, should hold hands and live in harmony, a harmony that celebrates religious plurality instead of focusing on the domination and destruction of "other" sects. Which sounds like a nice idea, except that some religious sects have blood on their hands. And as Michelle points out, even the most apathetic participant in religion is complicit in the violence and evil perpetrated by churches and religious individuals in the name of God. Tolerance is wonderful unless preaching tolerance is used to deny or gloss over oppression and violence, which is exactly what the "coexistence" movement does.

UPDATE: A friend of mine wrote on my facebook about this post:
This reminds me of a Malea quote: "I believe that the academy does not see the foundation of blood and bodies upon which it constitutes itself...some of us, after all, can't help but see the bodies, the blood, as we stand in that room...listening...hearing."
Which reminded me again of Michelle's original post, when she says that she knows she is already oppressing others all the time without knowing it, and that's why she can't co-exist with religion. Except that I do know I'm mired in institutions, like the academy, that are steeped in blood. Even my department of study, English literature, is founded in, and continues to perpetuate, violence. Every time I give money to this university, I am complicit. So I didn't intend this post to be judgmental and placing blame, but raising a consciousness of the blood that is the foundation of religion/Christianity. And explaining why I can't coexist with it, can't be friendly or neutral or non-bitter.

07 March 2010

Tons of people you know are clueless about birth control

UPDATE: Amanda has a good write-up of this study over at Slate's XX.

Seriously, thank you abstinence-only sex education. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy recently conducted a study attempting to find out why so many (about half) of pregnancies in the U.S. are reported as unplanned. Their major findings about the "range of factors that put unmarried young adults at risk of unplanned pregnancy:"
Even though most unmarried young adults say that it is important for them to avoid pregnancy right now, only about half of those who are sexually active use contraception every time. Some take a pass on birth control altogether, at least part of the time, and while others are more conscientious, they are often not careful or consistent enough. In addition, a significant portion expects to have unprotected sex in the near future.
As an unmarried adult who is scared shitless of getting pregnant, I find this odd. But then, I found that study that found that 50% of men in couples who claimed that not getting pregnant was important to them would be pleased if their girlfriend accidentally got pregnant just fucking bizarre. I am literally unable to comprehend how one can be so ambiguous about parenthood. The commenters at The Sexist were suggesting that perhaps men are just pleased that their sperm works; I am a little unwilling to think that men are so clueless about how much work and money a baby is to be more pleased about their functioning man parts than dismayed that they are now in charge of a tiny screaming bundle of joy for the rest of their lives. Amanda's theory makes more sense to me; it's true that misogynistic culture tells men that wanting marriage and babies is a feminine trait, and real men have to get roped into those things by their overwhelming desire for the pussy. It's a narrative that makes the man a hero, the-bestest-man-in-the-world, for marrying a pregnant woman, since that's such an unpleasant thing for him to do but oh so responsible. So he can get what he really wants through unplanned pregnancy--marriage and babies--without having to admit to himself or the world that that was what he wanted. I still find that ambiguity puzzling, but that's probably a signal of how terrifying I find pregnancy, rather than my perspicacious insight into human psychology. From the study again:
Many say they have little knowledge of even common contraceptive methods such as condoms and the pill, and most have not even heard of less common methods such as the implant.
Unsurprising, honestly. We still live in a country where people believe anti-choicers when they say birth control causes abortions. They do not teach about the pill or condoms in most sex ed programs in the U.S., except maybe to spread misinformation, like telling young people that condoms can't stop the spread of STDs, that condoms have a failure rate of 15% even when used correctly, and claiming that there is no such thing as safe sex.
To the extent they have heard of various methods, many express little confidence in their effectiveness and strong concerns about side effects. Many even claim, "it doesn't matter whether you use birth control or not; when it is your time to get pregnant it will happen."
Wow. Again, the effectiveness misunderstanding is understanding. Abstinence-only sex education programs tell young adults that birth control methods are ineffective all the time. And they're also not above suggesting that women who use the pill or other forms of hormonal contraception (which, by the way, is almost all American women between the ages of 15 and 44) have serious risk of dangerous side effects. There certainly are serious side effects to hormonal birth control, including blood clots and heart attacks, but the risk of getting these side effects is minimal. If abstinence-only programs teach about side effects of birth control, they are likely to exaggerate them (just like they exaggerate birth control failure rates). From a pamphlet opposing the Healthy Youth Act in Wisconsin: "Yet hormonal contraceptives have been proven dangerous to women's health." This is not an abnormal attitude toward female-controlled birth control options in the pro-life, pro-abstinence community.

However, the people who said that it doesn't matter if you're on birth control--I would not like to meet them in person. That sort of attitude is grossly irresponsible and fatalistic. And it's an attitude that can only be the result of superstitious or ignorant thinking; if you know the actual failure rates and risk of birth control options (which, this study showed, the majority of unmarried young adults simply don't), it's nearly impossible to think that it doesn't matter whether you're on birth control.

The study shows that most unmarried young adults feel strongly that pregnancies should be planned (94% of men and 86% of women) and most of them also find it important that they avoid pregnancy right now (86% of men and 88% of women). But half of them are not practicing birth control methods consistently or at all. The intentions are not matching their behavior. About 50% of young unmarried adults are "well protected against unplanned pregnancy." The study proposes that the explanation for this gap is that the majority of young unmarried adults are clueless about birth control methods and their efficacy and side effects. Some scary statistics:
Among those reporting they had relied on the rhythm method or natural family planning, 40% do not know when a typical woman's most fertile time of the month is.

Despite current clinical evidence suggesting otherwise:
27% of unmarried young women believe that it is extremely or quite likely that using birth control pills or other hormonal methods of contraception for a long period of time will lead to a serious health problem like cancer.
30% say it is extremely or quite likely that using an IUD will cause an infection.
36% say it is likely that the pill will cause them to gain weight and 40% say it will likely cause severe mood swings and that these concerns reduce the likelihood of their using the pill.

42% of men and 40% of women believe that the chance of getting pregnant within a year while using the birth control pill is 50% or greater [!].
Of young adults who have relied on the pill, 14% believe that the pill is effective even if a woman misses taking them 2 or 3 days in a row. 14% believe that after a woman stops taking birth control pills, she is unable to get pregnant for at least 2 months.

Of those who have used condoms, 24% believe that wearing 2 condoms provides extra protection. 11% don't believe it is important to leave a space at the tip of a condom when putting it on.

Despite all this, 90% believe they have all the knowledge they need to avoid an unplanned pregnancy.
I wouldn't place the blame for this problem solely on the steps of abstinence-only sex education programs, but those programs are clearly failing young adults. And pro-abstinence, pro-life, religious organizations also foster a social environment where young adults believe that birth control and abortion are ineffective, dangerous, and/or racist. That environment is clearly affecting young people's opinions about birth control, but their doctors, parents, peers, and larger social system are not doing enough to combat that environment.

I think part of the problem, too, is that most men figure that women should know more about birth control methods than they do, and thus place a lot of the responsibility for birth control on the shoulders of their female partners. But women don't get some sort of extra sex ed, people. I had no sex education in school, in fact. And when I did go on the pill, my doctor told me practically nothing about it. She didn't counsel me on my other options, of which I had many, and told me very little about the side effects (or lack thereof) of taking the pill. And I was young and embarassed, so I didn't ask a lot of questions. And my mother was irritated with me about having sex in the first place, so she sure wasn't available for questioning. There was a string of people who failed me: my school, my parents, my doctor. It's not just abstinence-only programs that are failing young people, but the entire system surrounding sexual health. And it's ridiculous.

03 March 2010

Feminist home cooking and various sundries

Slate's XX has issues, but I'm subscribed to their RSS for this sole reason: Amanda Marcotte writes for them occasionally. After reading her defense of taking time to cook from scratch, I was linked to a post of hers in which she take Pollan to task for trying to shame women into the kitchen to save the health of the nation.

As a feminist foodie, I am ambiguously uncomfortable with foodie culture, which was the topic of the XX debate. Some women were writing that foodie culture is overbearing, elitist, and has a standard most actual women who shop in real grocery stores simply cannot achieve. Which is a little true, but cooking from scratch is not actually that hard. I'm a very lazy chef, and I have very little free time on my hands. I still think, like Amanda, that cooking is a good use of my time; it's one of the few activities I can do where I get to chill out, destress, and also produce something worthwhile. I also pick up and drop craft hobbies, like crosstitching, jewelry making, and scrapbooking, but none of those produce anything as delicious and useful as wine-flavored cream sauce. I disagree with the sanctimonious tone of some foodie culture, the dismissal of young folks who like to make bread from scratch as time-wasters is no less judgmental.

And I agree with Amanda that cooking from scratch can be a feminist act. I often get odd looks from friends and acquaintances when I tell them that I like to cook and bake from scratch. As though I hurt my feminist cred by cleaning my bathroom or making boeuf bourguignon. Which I find a little puzzling; since when is eating frozen pizza and canned soup feminist? Certainly, as Amanda says, the domesticity trend has an antifeminist side, but baking break when I like baking bread is not a betrayal of my feminist principles. I don't cook or bake from my partner (who hardly even notices the difference between canned and homemade spaghetti sauce), any children, or my friends. I cook for me, because I love food and I like making it.

Various sundries:

Some douchebags in Bristol, VA are passing around a pamphlet shaming women for dressing too slutty. A memorable quote:
Scripture tells us that when a man looks on a woman to lust for her he has already committed adultery in his heart. If you are dressed in a way that tempts a men to do this secret (or not so secret) sin, you are a participant in the sin. By the way, some rape victims would not have been raped if they had dressed properly. So can we really say they were innocent victims?

Latoya Peterson claims that fat-shaming is "the new Millennium bloodsport". Truer words, my friends. The commenter I like the most:
I'm convinced the pillar of American culture is just stone cold judgment. Puritans FTW!
That is my new pet theory about why people are such assholes.

A survey asked couples trying to avoid pregnancy whether how they would feel if they accidentally got pregnant. The really fucking odd results:
Forty-three percent of young men responded that they would be “a little pleased” or “very pleased” by the news; only 20 percent of women answered the same. Men also proved more comfortable with an unplanned pregnancy at an earlier age: Thirty-four percent of men 18-19 said they would be pleased. By the time they reach age 20-24, 42 percent of men said they would be pleased. And over 50 percent of men aged 25-29 would be pleased by the news. Remember: this is only among men who deemed it “important” that a pregnancy not occur at this junction.

Meanwhile, the percentage of women who would be “pleased” by an unplanned pregnancy stays steady at a low 16 percent all the way from age 18 to 24. By the time women reach the 25-29 age range, the percentage of “pleased” women soars to 29 percent. Despite the jump, women in their late 20s still lag behind their male counterparts by 22 percentage points.
Amanda speculates as to why.

Finally, the Center for Public Integrity did a study about rape on college campuses, concluding that not only do the vast majority of rapes go unreported (95%), rape victims who do report the crimes often get no justice. Rapists are often given a slap on the wrist, and hardly ever face suspension or expulsion. Huffington post reports on a case study here at Texas A&M.