Naked in Print

There is something deeply personal in writing about sex, even in an academic sense. You can’t do it with your clothes on, not your metaphorical clothes anyway.

You don’t necessarily have to reveal your own desires, but you do reveal your prejudices. They are right there in what you chooe to write about sex. What do you take for granted? What is unusual enough to need an explanation? What is weird enough that a cause must be discovered and shared?

Sex and the 405 has a lovely essay up about Alain de Botton’s new book, How to Think More About Sex that tells us more about how de Botton thinks about sex than I ever wanted to know. I had heard the book wasn’t very good, mainly in that it assumed sex all happened from a male perspective, but the problems appear to run far deeper. The essay is appropriately titled “Alain de Botton Tries Hand at Sex, Fails“. [Read more…]

More Policies in Place

Regardless of the ongoing pushback against anti-harassment policies, they continue to be put into place. I mentioned that the Minnesota Atheists would be adopting a policy for their meetings and social events. They’ve completed it.

The policy does contain a restriction on sexual images. I know there’s been talk about this before, with regard to its appropriateness for presentations on sexuality. All I have to say is that there will be plenty of time to change the policy if and when the Minnesota Atheists overcome their institutional conservatism enough to host presentations that would require such a change.

Then, yesterday, I got more good news. Tanya Smith of Atheist Alliance International sent me an email to let me know that they have adopted a policy for conventions. Their situation is a little unusual, though that’s true of every group that has adopted a policy. AAI doesn’t directly host conferences. Instead it works with local groups, who are the actual conference hosts. It intends to work with these groups to have policies in place for all its conferences as well.

This means that the AAI policy is public in all its details. You can read the definition given for harassment. You can look at the examples. You can see how they intend to administer the policy and how they intend for violators to be treated.

Once again, I’m generally happy with these policies. I’m very happy that progress continues to be made on this issue.

Mock the Movie Presents Ninja Terminator

Mock the Movie has lapsed far too long, so it’s time to announce three new dates with three very bad movies.

Ninja Terminator is not the first movie we’ve done at MockTM with ninjas in it. It’s the first in which they didn’t just show up out of the blue in someone’s garden, however. The best description we have for the film comes from IMDb, where it simply says:

Three martial-arts students search for the Golden Ninja Warrior, a statue reputed to have magic powers.

The trailer doesn’t tell us much more.

The important part to know, though, is that the movie is available for free on YouTube. We’ll be watching it this Thursday at 9 p.m. EDT and making fun of all the bits that don’t make sense. From what I can tell, that may be all of it.

[Read more…]

Saturday Storytime: Peas, Plots, and Peril

Sometimes, you think you know exactly where a story is going. Then it turns left.

Melissa Mead is the author of several short stories and one novel.

The hardest part was spreading that silly rumor in the first place. I didn’t use magic. A dairymaid’s pay doesn’t cover hiring sorcerers. No, I spent months discretely complimenting the ladies who came to the dairy on the delicacy of their complexions, working my way up to the nonsense about, “A true princess can feel a dried pea through a dozen mattresses.” Soon the dressmakers doubled their orders for fine silk and satin, because any lady with pretensions to quality claimed that ordinary calico chafed her delicate skin.

People are foolish and vain, and our former Royal Family doubly so. Word spread to the Palace. The Prince broke off his engagement, claiming that his planned bride was “too coarse,” and commandeered enough geese to make a dozen feather mattresses.

He was an idiot. But a good-looking idiot, with wealth and power enough to make up for his lack of wits. Besides, this only proved that he’d make a biddable husband.

I laughed when I heard the news. The dairy mistress beat me for my impertinence and sent me packing, which suited my plans just fine.

The dress I stole from the lady of the manor both looked elegant and hid the bruises. It was raining, too. Perfect. I arrived at the palace bedraggled and dripping. Their Majesties exclaimed over my state, and over my smooth, ladylike dairymaid’s hands.

Keep reading.

A Skeptic’s Guide to Islam

When it comes to religion, there are plenty of people trying to tell us what to think. That isn’t a huge problem, say, here in the U.S. with regards to Catholicism or mainstream Protestant Christianity. Those religions are everywhere, ready to be observed by people with a skeptical eye.

It becomes more of a problem when circumstances separate us somewhat from the practitioners (and former practitioners) of a religion. Didn’t grow up near a Mormon or Jewish population center? Then you’re somewhat dependent on cultural depictions or advocacy organizations, people with an agenda, whether it’s to make a religion look bad or good. [Read more…]

“Scientific” Racism Among Atheists (Updated)

Greta has started a conversation about racial inclusivity in the atheist and skeptical movements.

We talked about how, as difficult and painful as our community’s conversations about gender and sexism have been, at least we’ve been having them — in a way that we haven’t been, nearly as much, about race. The community has done a lot more work on gender diversity than we have on racial diversity, and we’re a lot further along in making practical progress. We talked at this lunch about some of the reasons this might be. (Some ideas floated: Our society is often racially segregated, and white people can ignore race in a way that men can’t ignore gender. Also, liberals and progressives often see race as a minefield, and are often scared to even talk about it for fear of starting a fight, opening old wounds, or saying something stupid.)

We talked about some of the obstacles to increasing racial diversity and making people of color feel more welcomed in the atheist movement. And we talked about what specific, practical action items people could take — individuals, local groups, national organizations, thought leaders, etc. — to improve this situation. I wanted to share that list, and talk about it, and solicit other ideas.

The reaction to that conversation should not surprise anyone who’s been following the gender inclusivity discussions. Greta specifically made that comment thread off limits to those who want to question the existence of a problem, but that hasn’t stopped people from doing so elsewhere.

[Read more…]

In a Violent Context

When the incomprehensible happens, we are much happier if we can reduce the event to a single cause, put it in its little pigeon hole where it can’t disturb us as much. Attributing mass violence like the shooting in Aurora, CO to mental illness fits this bias of ours very comfortably. Of course, that doesn’t mean that mental illness really is the answer–or the only answer.

Daniel Lende of Neuroanthropology started a discussion on this topic when Jared Loughner shot Gabby Giffords and several others. With this new act of mass violence that we are attempting to explain away instead of understanding in all its dimensions, he’s focused his thoughts more. The questions he prompts are fascinating, particularly for those familiar with how much cultural context–what we collectively accept and reject as civilized behavior–determines diagnoses of mental illness.

[Read more…]

Would It Be Immoral to Rape My Friends?

Have you ever gotten a chance to sit down and talk with Rebecca Watson in one of those rare times when she isn’t overcommitted and rushing off to the next thing? I have. If you haven’t, you might not understand that she’s a rarity among people who do a lot of public speaking. She’s a good listener. Yeah, she’s funny as hell and will crack you up at almost any opportunity, but at the same time, she’s quieter than you’d expect. Sadly, she’s quieter than she was a little over a year ago.

Have you ever talked to Surly Amy? Wow, does that woman have passion. Enough for three people. Enough that it can be a little uncomfortable if you’re not agreeing with her, but oh, well. Much of that passion is compassion, and it drives her to accomplish an amazing amount, much of which benefits anyone but her.

Speaking of accomplishments, have you met Elyse? If you’re on Twitter and you don’t follow her, you’re missing the person who may have pioneered tweeting about poo and actually making it interesting. That’s not her big accomplishment, though. That would be Women Thinking Inc., which runs the Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated campaign and which has just completed research on vaccination behavior that will be coming out shortly. She did that while raising two kids (and giving birth to the second) who require more than an average share of care. Oh, and losing her stomach to cancer. She’s kinda badass.

Then there’s Kammy. [Read more…]

Stereotype Threat: “A Problem That Does Not Exist”?

A couple of weeks ago, Ophelia highlighted a proposed (since cancelled) Skeptics in the Pub talk by someone who is “skeptical” that any inequalities still exist that disadvantage women. From the description of the talk:

Leeds psychologist Dr Gijsbert Stoet finds no evidence that women under-perform through internalising false stereotypes, a recent major review reveals no sex-discrimination in academia, and ground-breaking field research shows that it is actually in favour of women in recruitment; so why is it women tend not to ‘get to the top’?

The Stoet paper on stereotype threat is available by request from his university, so I read it for myself. Who would like to guess whether it shows “no evidence” of stereotype threat? Who would like to guess whether the existence of stereotype threat is even the research question the paper addresses?

[Read more…]