On Nail Polish and Looming Trivialities

This didn’t go in yesterday’s post because I only saw it the once, but while we’re on the topic of the terrible arguments that happen when cis feminists insist on using trans people as their springboard for gender theorizing, let’s talk about this:

Bruce Jenner told Ms. Sawyer that what he looked forward to most in his transition was the chance to wear nail polish, not for a furtive, fugitive instant, but until it chips off. I want that for Bruce, now Caitlyn, too. But I also want her to remember: Nail polish does not a woman make.

That’s from that horrible New York Times article that I don’t feel like linking again. Instead, have a link to a piece by a trans man who does a good job of bringing many of the assumptions buried in that article to light.

Why is this argument bad? [Read more…]

Let’s Stop Exercising Our Gender Anxieties on the Backs of Trans People

Note: Before thinking I’m talking about any specific person in this post, understand that I made a deliberate choice to read almost entirely commentary by trans or genderqueer people on Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out, both before and after the Vanity Fair cover. The exceptions would be this piece by Alex on affirming people’s looks, which I quite enjoyed and tend to agree with, and this mess from this morning that several people were shaking their heads about on Twitter, plus a couple of points I’ve argued on Facebook. While I’m not linking specific examples here, any behavior or argument I talk about I’ve seen from at least two sources. No one is uniquely bad at this.

This is a “we” observation, where “we” are cis feminists, mostly female for reasons that are probably obvious, mostly white for reasons I could only offer unhelpful speculation on. We’re people who see a trans person in the spotlight, usually a trans woman, and discover that we have things we must say right now about gender.

I understand the impulse. We already have a good bit of data and theory on gender. It’s a huge part of our lives. It’s a hobby horse for many of us. Trans people talking about being trans makes gender very salient. A trans person can feel like an amazing data point: how they’re treated, how they express gender, or even how they conceptualize their gender in opposition to all the messages they receive from society.

I get it. I’ve been there. Really, when I say this is a “we” observation, I very much mean myself. Still, as I reread that old post, the most important words it contains are “Then I told myself to shut up.” I’d like to encourage others to join me on that. Here are three big reasons why. [Read more…]

Religion as an Introduction to Privilege

This is another of the sessions from FtBCon3. Lyz Liddell of the Secular Student Alliance gives a great primer here on privilege, and she does it in a context that movement atheists should generally be able to understand. The talk is titled, “Identifying and Addressing Christian Privilege in Intersectional Spaces”.

I think it’s not a coincidence that just a couple months later, the SSA announced it was working to address privilege more generally. If you’d like more information on where their focus will be and how they mean to get there, I interviewed August Brunsman on Atheists Talk on that topic a few weeks ago.

In Praise of Yoga Pants

It’s the new “Leggings aren’t pants.*”

I’m not talking about the moral panic that sees girl wearing yoga pants sent home from school for “distracting boys” or lawmakers proposing to imprison women who wear them in public or people who insist you have to be a certain–small–size to wear them. Those are all appalling, of course, and activists are on those problems. Objectification and fat-shaming are things we understand pretty well.

I’m talking about this weird idea we seem to have collectively adopted that wearing stretch knits on our legs and asses somehow means that we’ve “lost control” of our wardrobes, and by proxy, our lives. [Read more…]

Writing Women Activists Into History

Yesterday, I published a post talking about how women get pushed out of spaces as those spaces become more valued. I wrote the post more than a month ago, planning to look for a paying home for it. I posted it because I didn’t want it to languish while I waited to find the time and energy to pitch it. This is a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately.

Nor am I the only one. Talking to someone from Secular Woman about where I wanted to turn my attention now that the code of conduct battle is largely won*, I discovered that they already had a project in the works to make sure the history of freethinking women gets written down rather than lost. [Read more…]

We Have Always Been Here

It was 1981. I sat in a corner of my pre-teen bedroom, hiding. The book was Andre Norton’s Lore of the Witch World, full of dark bargains, sacrifice, and betrayal. It was still preferable to the world outside its covers. It was the book with which I graduated from the myth and fairy tales that children read without any idea of genre alliance to “grown up” F&SF. It was the book with which I became a fan.

I went on to read the classics and eagerly wait for new releases. I discovered cons, attended, cosplayed before the term was common in U.S. fandom, was an extra in an attempt at a fan-made film before the days of digital movies or YouTube, sat on panels, moderated panels, hosted room parties, wrote original fiction, worked it through with a writers group, read it live, was published in a professional SF venue.

It was 1982. [Read more…]

Ron Lindsay and the Myth of the Feminists Who “Cry ‘Sexist'” (Updated)

Update: Ron Lindsay has acknowledged that he was wrong and said that he would have corrected the record at the time if he’d understood that it was important. Please also see a correction near the end of this post.

You’ve seen the complaint before. “These feminists didn’t address my argument. They just called me names”, where “calling names” means identifying someone’s behavior as sexism, misogyny, rape apologia, etc. As far as I can tell, it’s meant to signal either that we are less rational than those whose behavior we label or that we don’t have a counterargument.

There are good reasons to sometimes skip the argument. Sometimes we’re talking to audiences we’re confident can recognize the problems in the original argument. Sometimes these are ongoing arguments where one party has already done all the productive arguing they can do. Sometimes the timing or the medium is terrible for productive argument, but we don’t think the behavior should go completely unremarked. Sometimes we don’t think the person whose behavior we’re talking about would be receptive to argument or argue in good faith.

Sometimes, however, the statement itself is simply false. [Read more…]

What Vox Day Can’t Do

Theodore Beale likes to claim that any outcome of the Rabid Puppies sham is a win for him. Of course he does. Why? Because the only way to make himself a winner is to declare it by fiat.

In reality, aside from making threatening noises and encouraging others to do the same, Beale is weak and ineffective. He’s potent only as a bad example and an impetus to cringe. After that, he’s most notable for being able to achieve none of the things he’d like to. A short list:

Face it, aside from threats, Beale’s got nothing going for him. And while those threats are an ugly thing to be on the end of, they’re not getting him any closer to his goals. If anything, he is his own worst argument for his positions.

On Friends and Allies

Greg Epstein has written a post on the topic of men’s unmet needs for intimate friendships and emotional support. The parts of the post that are about the topic are good. The phenomenon has been observed for a while, but he presents research that systematically confirms the observations.

However, Epstein’s post takes a dive off the rails when he tries to use this research to explain a lack of gender parity at the Harvard Humanist Hub and, by extension, in atheist spaces in general. [Read more…]

Power and “Political Correctness”

I’ve been watching the articles about “callout culture” and “political correctness” come rolling out for a while now in frustrated fascination. I suppose it’s fitting that it takes a week in which both Jonathan Chait’s piece deploring “political correctness” and Jeet Heer’s accounting of The New Republic’s record on race were published to move me to write about it.

This isn’t because “Someone is finally speaking about this.” We’ve never stopped. As long as traditionally disenfranchised people have advocated for more power, the ways in which they exercise that power have been fodder for discussion and condemnation.

No, the reason I need to write about this topic this week is that the irony is killing me. Watching Chait argue that people like him are silenced by (in part) the speech of others—particularly women of color—is annoying. Contrasting that argument with the acknowledgement of how thoroughly the institution that protected and promoted Chait’s voice excluded the voices and interests of black people is painful. Seeing the impetus for that acknowledgement reduced to “intense arguments, mostly carried out online” instead of crediting the—often black—intellectuals and activists who made this accounting necessary…well. [Read more…]