Provide Abortion: A Giving Tuesday Ask

hey2This is going to be a donation ask, but in my defense, I don’t talk about where I work that often, so let curiosity lead you to read on — Provide is the real deal. It’s really rare to be able to say that about a place, to see the sausage being made and still be able to say, no really, this place is legit. Provide works in Southern, conservative states to make abortion more accessible, specifically because they are challenging and because the culture is hard to move. We train health care and social service providers on how to refer to abortion care, often giving them some of the first accurate information on abortion they’ve ever encountered. This is a huge gap in their education — abortion is a basic healthcare need for women, nearly 1/3rd of women will have need of one in their life, but it is not treated that way for political reasons. A third of women need a service and that service is hidden behind closed doors and misinformation, even from people in health care roles.

What Provide does is really different from what other abortion organizations do. The reason that I am so proud to work there is because it is situated so well at the intersection of so many concerns — class, race, gender, health, and geography — without making it about us versus them. We train people who are pro-life because our training isn’t about politics, and we have them acknowledge a professional obligation of care to their patients that is different from their own personal beliefs. There is a place for abortion politics and there are a lot of great organizations that do that work, but we’re about on the ground culture change. And we’re actually making that happen.

I am immensely proud to work for an organization that so successfully integrates intersectional feminism and harm reduction philosophy into its worldview, and I am immensely proud to work for an organization that cares about and invests resources in people who are from the South. Our trainers are people who were already local activists in the states where we work. My creative communications work means that I’ve gotten to put money into the local creative economy for video and acting and graphic design. We’ve got a UU church lady and an LGBT Youth Advocate; they didn’t hesitate to hire me despite my atheist activism and have never asked me to stop blogging and seeking attention on that front; we’re translating all our resources into Spanish and holding Spanish-language trainings. It’s really an amazing place. And it does it on a smaller budget than almost any other national abortion organization that you’ve ever heard of.

This is the link to where we’re trying to raise $5000 today for‪ #‎GivingTuesday‬. This is the cost of one of our Abortion Referrals Trainings — a day long intensive training that teaches up to 40 health care or social service workers, at no cost to them, how to do non-judgmental, accurate referrals, why they should be doing them, and allows them to ask an actual abortion provider questions about what happens when they refer someone to an abortion.

Here is a video featuring our field team from across our states that I spent about four months producing over the summer and I’m quite proud of it. If you have a minute (three minutes), check it out. And if you can donate, even a little bit, I know it’s not as aggressive a cause as atheism or politics, but it is a thing that is really making a difference in the world. And if you can’t, but think that what we do is worthwhile, maybe share what we’re doing, because a lot of people haven’t heard of us, and I think they should.

Ferguson: 5 Points We Need to Understand

Mike Brown

Mike Brown

We often hear about the cultural bubbles that we build for ourselves online, but, for better or for worse, I’ve never managed to insulate myself from the opinions of those I disagree very strongly with.  Ferguson has been no exception.  I thought it might be worth the effort to lay out, in detail, my own opinions and observations here on my blog.  This is a bit difficult because, for the most part, I would much rather promote the voices of others on this issue, particularly those voices coming out of Ferguson, but I also think that there are people that I can reach by writing about it myself.  It’s worth noting at the top, then, that I am a white, upper middle class woman who has never had any trouble with the police and never thought twice about calling the police when I was in trouble myself.  But that’s who I’d like to talk to right now, white people who aren’t afraid of the police, because I think we’re the ones who aren’t getting why people are burning buildings and cars in their own city in frustration.

I have some quibbles and questions about who exactly is burning things down, but let us assume for the sake of this discussion it is in fact residents of Ferguson behaving destructively and looting and so on and not, as rumored, militant anti-protester groups, out-of-towners, anarchists, or the KKK.

Forget, for a moment, what you know about Ferguson.  I want to talk about anger and despair.  When is the last time you got angry?  Really, really angry?  That you felt unjustly treated, that someone got something that should have been yours?  You were robbed, you were violated, you were cheated, you were mistreated, powerless to control the world around you.  Have you ever been so mad that you screamed? Threw something? Punched a wall? Got in a fight?  The last time I got angry, really properly angry like that, it was because someone had lied to me.  I was so angry I wanted to hurt something, wanted something else to hurt so I didn’t have to.  I had no power to change what had happened.  Despair and anger and powerlessness together are destructive — usually self-destructive. [Read more…]

Skepticon: Friday 4pm Classism: From Honey Boo Boo to Anderson Cooper

Are you going to Skepticon 7?  Capital!

I am hosting a workshop about class and classism on Friday — about recognizing it and how we can address it.  A class on class, if you will.  You should come.  It’s gonna be fun.

Here’s a preview of some things I may talk about:

rachel-vs-dropoutsdawkins_malala

 

 

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A Letter from Morehouse SafeSpace President Marcus Lee UPDATED

by Marcus Lee

Thank you for writing this poignant blog about your experience. I’m the President of Morehouse SafeSpace—Morehouse’s Alliance for Gender and Sexual Diversities—and these issues are ones we grapple with frequently.

Our situation is a complex and peculiar one. I’m proud to say that many of us (students & alum) have committed to loving ourselves/each other regardless of—and in some instances because of—our differences. Moreover, there are many faculty and staff members—including the President of the college, the Office of Student Life, several professors, etc.—that embrace us. However, Morehouse’s curricula, institutional policies and procedures do not reflect this embrace. There are no Black queer studies courses, gender and sexual orientation are absent from our employment nondiscrimination policy, we have a dress code that outlaws wearing ‘female attire,’ we have an inactive diversity committee, and the list continues. So, I don’t think the football team’s reactions are inherent to them specifically. Instead, they are a product of a grooming process—that begins in the world, and is buttressed or goes uninterrupted at Morehouse—that’s checkered with heteronormativity and silence; inclusive spaces are forged here in spite of, not because of, the culture of the college.

To be sure, Morehouse will respond to this issue—many of us (students and alum) have reached out to the President and the VP of Student Affairs and they’ve responded with disappointment and noted that the football team will be engaging in dialogue about this soon. And, when asked about an institutional commitment to diversity, the VP noted that it’s also coming soon.

I hope this is true. Issues like these cannot and should not be dealt with discreetly. This is a systemic issue that permeates campus no matter how friendly and encouraging a few administrative folks are toward us. In short, I implore anyone who is concerned to ask, not what will happen with the football team particularly, but what will be installed to permanently mitigate homophobia on campus. That’s the key.

Thanks again,

Marcus Lee

EDITED TO ADD:

So many folks have reached out about the “Dear White People” blog and I’m so thankful for your support. I haven’t been able to offer detailed responses to folks asking about our needs because I’m still a student with A LOT of work to do, applications to complete, etc. But, I wanted to write a short post advising folks on what support for us looks like in this moment.

Things that don’t help:

- [Erroneously] saying that Morehouse is a school full of girls (which is somehow supposed to elucidate the irony of the situation; but, in reality only implies that there is something wrong with being a “girl” [gay] and reinforces homophobia.)

- Opportunistically reaching out to us to be flown down for a panel, a meeting, etc. without actually having any real concern about or knowledge of Morehouse’s history with diversity–i.e. our setbacks and triumphs.

- Castigating the actions of the football team without asking questions about what Morehouse is or is not doing institutionally to interrupt homophobia [thereby, allowing for the possibility that the football team may be used as a scapegoat to avoid dealing with institutional issues].

- Suggesting that homophobia among those men–some of whom are my friends–was inevitable [thereby, perpetuating the myth of Black “super-homophobia” (as opposed to white “gentle-homophobia”?)]

Things that do help:

- Reaching out to the Dean of Social Sciences and Humanities and asking her how many of the several open positions in the social science departments will be filled by scholars who study sexuality and gender–more specifically, scholars who label their work “Black/Queer/Feminist” [be sure that the word “Black” is included somewhere in that label.]

- Reach out to the President of the college and the VP of Student Affairs to ask which campus-wide programs are happening in order to mitigate homophobia.

- Ask the VP who is on the Diversity Committee, how often they meet, and what they have done for the campus

- Reach out to the Provost of the college to ask which part of the general education curriculum includes a necessary, thoroughgoing engagement with Black/Queer/Feminist work. Then, ask which texts are being read.

- Ask when the LGBT diversity competence training happens on campus and how many faculty and staff members show up.

- Reach out to General Counsel and ask how long it will take for gender identity and sexual orientation to be added to the employment non discrimination policy and the student non-discrimination policy.

- Reach out to the President and ask that the “Appropriate Attire Policy” be abolished.

- And the list continues.

I hope this helps!

How the Morehouse Football Team ruined Dear White People and proved its point

dear white people

Response from Morehouse SafeSpace president here.

As a filmmaker, intersectional scholar, and a huge fan and supporter of the original trailer and campaign for “Dear White People,” I was ecstatic to be able to go see the film here in Columbia, SC.  The film itself didn’t disappoint.  Clearly influenced by Wes Anderson in cinematography, but wholly unique in tone, it was a brilliantly funny, biting, and moving film.  The acting, the directing, the cinematography were all superb, even before you take into account the origin story and budget of the film.  The experience of seeing the film, however, was incredibly unpleasant.  Spoilers ahead.

Just as the trailers were ending and the movie starting, a hundred people started pouring into the theater.  This was the Morehouse College Football Team, here in Columbia to play Benedict College tomorrow.  Morehouse is an all-male historically black college in Atlanta not too far from my own undergraduate institution of Emory.  It is the alma mater of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  As the movie started, I was excited that this many people were in the theater to see the movie.  It was a short-lived excitement.

There are three main plots in “Dear White People,” and one of them focuses on a black gay kid named Lionel, played by “Everybody Hates Chris” star Tyler James Williams, who doesn’t fit in with any group — not with gay kids, not with white kids, and not with black kids, who have historically treated him with homophobia and cruelty.  His story is about the toxic effect of homophobia in the black community.  In addition to the heterosexual romances involving all the other characters, there is also a budding romance between Lionel and another man.  The initial hints at this romance did not win the Morehouse College Football Team’s approval.  They started saying homophobic things every time Lionel was onscreen.  When Lionel had a same-sex kiss, the team went into a frenzy — everyone turned on their phones and said they weren’t looking, they started yelling, “What kind of movie is this?”  Several of them walked out, others started yelling at anyone on their team for looking at the screen when the kiss happened, “Man, you looked at that, I saw you!”  “What is this gay shit?”  “Some of y’all didn’t turn your heads away!”

It was nauseating.  But it got worse.

Lionel has a major heroic moment toward the end of the film in which he breaks up a racist party being held by an entitled white jerk, who is, more or less, the antagonist of the film, and who verbally and sexually harassed Lionel over his sexuality throughout the film.  The racist white guy tackles Lionel and pins him down.  In retaliation, Lionel kisses him (this freaked out the audience again), but the racist white guy responds by punching Lionel repeatedly in the face.

They cheered.  This room full of black men who attend Dr. King’s alma mater.  They cheered for the racist white guy because the black man he was being allowed to beat without repercussion was a faggot.

When the beating stopped, the Morehouse player behind me said that the white guy should have kept hitting him because that’s what he got for being gay.

I want you to imagine yourself in a dark room with a hundred physically fit men rooting for a hate crime to be perpetrated against a gay man.  It was terrifying.  It was horrifying.  It was depressing.  Can you imagine what a kid on that team who was gay would have felt?

When the film was over, it was all the men of Morehouse could talk about.  Who hadn’t closed their eyes and looked away when there was gay kissing?  One player said of Tyler James Williams, “Man, I must’ve watched every episode of ‘Everybody Hates Chris’ back in the day.  Can’t believe he’d go out like that.  Shit kills me.”

I don’t know if Morehouse College offers LGBT sensitivity training, but it should have someone come speak to the football team.  Even if you don’t approve of homosexuality, to come to a city as a football team, representing your college and your hometown, and to spit hate and vitriol in a room that includes other people, including LGBT people — it is not OK.  What kind of school sends out ambassadors of hate?  Can it be the same one that sent out Dr. King?  Hewing to the stereotype of black homophobia makes Morehouse and the black community weaker, and there are real victims.  Lionel may be fictional, but his treatment was not.  It’s a shame that “Dear White People”‘s message of acceptance didn’t reach everyone in the room.

EDITED TO ADD: Raynard Ware, a member of the Morehouse Football Team who was there last night offered this comment below, and I thought I should highlight it:

As a student and football player for the Maroon Tigers, I was disturb by the reaction of my teammates during certain scenes of the movie. The remarks and outbursts were upright embarrassing and prejudice. I am big on reputation and presentation. However, this is not a true reputation of our institution. We are sincerely apologetic that the loud embarrassing remarks were heard and not the intellectual discussion, which we also engaged in after the movie. Sorry to give off such a poor perception to the public eye, we ARE apologetic.

Thank you for bringing this to our attention, some of my teammates needed to know the perception they give to people.

Michael Shermer’s Harassment

A piece has just been published about misogyny in skepticism and atheism, and particularly about Michael Shermer, that includes me as a named source who has experienced inappropriate behavior from Mr. Shermer.  It’s worth pointing out that my story is merely a supporting story to the larger overall story of Mr. Shermer’s behavior, and not nearly as awful as some others.  I have never told it in public, though many people have heard it in private, because of a fear of litigious reprisals and hate mail; it never seemed worth it until I was asked to comment on this story.  To the extent that it’s useful and people would like to have full details on what happened, this is my full story.

In 2010, I went to the Orange County Freethought Association Conference after reading about it on PZ’s blog.  You could pay $50 to eat dinner with PZ, which struck me as a good deal.  I was in LA and didn’t have a lot of friends and I was a big fan of PZ’s blog.  I was, at the time, an atheist but not really aware of the larger skeptic and atheist communities.  Which was a shame.  As I later learned, if you were part of the movement before you went to events, you’d get warnings on who to avoid.  The number one person I was told to avoid was Shermer, but I didn’t hear that until months after I met him.

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The ripple effect of suicide

Drawing of Camp Counselor

[TW: Description of Suicide Attempt]

The summer I was 15, I was at a camp where we lived in sailboats for a few weeks, learning to sail. Midway through camp, all the adults and counselors were at a meeting elsewhere, on a different boat, some 10 minutes away, leaving the teenagers alone on their own boats. Most of us on my boat were on deck enjoying the sun, but my roommate was not — worried at her absence, I went to check on her.

She had cut her wrists direct across, there were pills bottles and pills everywhere, and she wasn’t moving.  She looked like me — she was pale with blonde hair.  My brain felt pinned down by the sight of her.  She didn’t move until I touched her and she started crying, saying she was so sorry over and over again, and something like it shouldn’t have been me that found her. I talked to her, tried to see how deep her cuts were and how many pills she’d taken. I cleaned it up, I turned her wrists over.

I stayed with her for a moment and then called and asked for help, shielding her from view. I felt absolutely dazed. I knew she shouldn’t be alone and I knew we needed someone who could get her help and I was pretty sure she wasn’t going to die immediately, but I didn’t know how to execute that. Which is approximately what I said to everyone. The eldest guy said, “Well we need to get on the radio, what are you fucking stupid!” And I said, “I don’t know where to radio to.” He pushed past me and messed with the radio until it reached adults.

The push is the thing that broke my daze and I cried for two or three hours. Cried quietly while staying with her until help arrived, cried explaining how I’d found her, and cried loudly and uncontrollably when she was gone. I couldn’t eliminate the image of the blood on her arms from my head, on this apparent corpse that looked eerily like me somehow more in death than in life. And then I stopped crying, I couldn’t cry anymore. The images were still there and wouldn’t go away, but my ability to feel had gone.

She went to the hospital, had her stomach pumped and her wounds bandaged, and was taken home by her parents.

The entire camp watched Dead Poet’s Society, which has Robin Williams and is partially about suicide, that night, and I didn’t want to because I knew the subject matter and that it made me cry and I couldn’t imagine what it would do to me in that state. They made me though, suggesting it would distract me.  It didn’t make me cry, though, it didn’t make me feel anything. Nothing felt real. I just did what I was told. I didn’t even get bored.

My camp counselor suggested that I was probably in shock, that he definitely was, and that it would pass and that they couldn’t really do anything for me but talk if I wanted to. Others told me it wasn’t a big deal and she hadn’t died, so I shouldn’t be worried about it. Anyway, she’d been threatening to hurt herself so she could go home, so how was it a surprise. It was just a cry for attention.  There was no comfort, no one there who could comfort me, no one I knew.

I recovered from the acute stress reaction in about a week, and it was awful.  Not feeling anything had been so superior with dealing with my anger and shame and fear, for being so “fucking stupid” and being rattled by something that “didn’t matter.” It was the first of what would be many difficult mental health experiences in my life.  It is also where my mind would dwell when I started cutting myself when I was in college, it’s where my mind would dwell when I became suicidal myself a few years after seeing it — on walking into a room and seeing what I thought was a bloody corpse, there by self-inflicted injuries, bright red on white skin.

This is part of what people mean when they call suicide selfish.  It doesn’t go away for other people either.

On the insidiousness of Depression, Suicide, and Robin Williams

yowoto-aladdin-hugging-genieIt’s hard to see something like this happen to someone like Robin Williams, much like Stephen Fry’s revelation of attempted suicide last year. It reminds me that if I make it to 63 I will still be someone who struggles with depression and who could fail in that struggle at any time. It reminds me that it will never go away. And it reminds me that it doesn’t matter how much I accomplish, accomplishments will never be bulwark enough against the thing.

Living with chronic conditions, including depression and I imagine addiction, is remarkably difficult, even when those conditions are “under control,” because you’re just a bad day or a single wrong step away from them being massively out of control. And the daily grind of dealing with them, all the energy and money poured into treatment and counsel and behavior and environment can build up without warning and pull you down.

I am lucky that all my conditions are treatable to some extent. I’ve been on medication non-stop for 22 years and I will have to take medicine every day until I die. It is remarkable, really, that I’m alive, and I am grateful for it and the science that’s made it possible. But some days are a punch to the gut. And some days I am physically unwell. And some days I am sad. And some days they all happen at the same time. And some weeks are just collections of those kind of days. And some months are collections of those weeks.

I’m having that sort of a month, but I am OK. Because there are a lot of people in the world who love me and who I love and I know that, and many of you are here on Facbeook. Depression lies, but I don’t think it could ever convince me I didn’t love you all. And that is enough for today. And tomorrow I’ll figure out tomorrow.

Richard Dawkins on Date Rape vs Stranger Rape

Richard-Dawkins-slider-14Sometimes it’s hard to remember who you’re supposed to be allies with.  Richard Dawkins and Ophelia Benson released this lovely joint statement about harassment and, in a moment of severe not surprise, Dawkins proceeded to blow up Twitter by saying something he didn’t realize was quite as wrong-headed as it was.

It started with this tweet:

OK, that is perfectly logical.  Fair. Then it moved on to this example.

OK, well, this is an odd example, but considering Dawkin’s history of abuse and the probable difference he’s referring to, groping vs penetration, I can see what he’s saying here.  It’s probably a bit more subjective than that, but I see what he’s getting at: pedophilia plus violence is worse than pedophilia without violence. And then he went off the rails and Twitter exploded.

So the only way this analogy would work is if he removed date vs stranger and said rape without a knife is bad, rape with a knife is worse.  Except it’s clear that the knife thing is just a weird addendum and what he’s saying is that stranger rape is worse than date rape.

1. Responses to abuse are pretty subjective.  Different people respond differently to being harmed in different ways.  Maybe Dawkins is saying that he’d prefer to be date raped than being raped by a stranger.  But that, of course, is not what he’s saying.  He’s saying stranger rape is objectively worse.

This would be like me saying “Being stabbed in your left arm is bad.  Being stabbed in your right arm is worse.”  I will have said this for personal reasons — I am right-handed.  There are, however, a lot of people who are left-handed or ambidextrous to whom this statement would seem absurd.  Further, it’s making the assumption that the amount of damage inflicted in either case is the same.  But Dawkins is talking psychologically, not physically.

 

2. The main reason that this blew up in his face is that the majority of rapes are acquaintance rapes, so the majority of rape victims seeing this post see it as delegitimizing.  This is happening in a society that already says that date rapes don’t count the same way that stranger rapes do.  As it turns out, acquaintance rape is just a pre-meditated and intentional as acts of stranger rape.  Even if his assertion was true, it would be perpetuating the stigma that surrounds date rape survivors and paints them, inaccurately, as overreactors or people who changed their mind about sex.

 

3. What he is saying is FACTUALLY INCORRECT.  I cannot state this more clearly.  Dawkins is absolutely wrong on the fact in this case, assuming the psychological impact of the rape is what we care about.

Victims of acquaintance rape are as traumatized as victims of stranger rape. Specifically, they report equal (and high) levels of depression, anxiety, hostility, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms…” (http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1997-08362-004) and victims of acquaintance rape are more likely to be unable to reconcile what happened with their beliefs in the world and to blame themselves. (Researching Sexual Violence Against Women edited by Martin D. Schwartz).

So, to be clear here, he’s claiming subjective feelings as fact, contributing to the deligitimization of the majority of rape victims, and not even operating with correct facts.  And doing so just because he did a bad job trying to explain what a syllogism is.  He could so easily fix this if he would just do a little research and listen to criticism and acknowledge he said something hurtful.  I have no reason to think he will do this, as he never has before.  It’s a shame, too, there’s just no reason for a man of his intellect and commitment to science to be so unwilling to examine facts and accept criticism of bad ideas.

Find me at CONvergence and SSA East

Ashley

Picture courtesy Amy Davis Roth

Hello all

I will be speaking at both CONvergence and SSA East, and I’m getting an awful lot of stage time! This is a preview for anyone interested.

CONvergence

You can start looking out for me at about 1pm Friday at CONvergence.

FRIDAY, July 4th

5pm Paranormal Romance vs Urban Fantasy

With the popularity of paranormal romance, has romance become a fixture in most urban fantasy to a degree? What about the combo of romance, action, and magic keeps drawing readers? What’s out there for readers who want less kissing and more butt-kicking? Panelists: Ashley F. Miller, Cetius d’Raven (mod), Emma Bull, Melissa Olson, Rory Ni Coileain

7pm Coming Out Atheist

Join us to discuss what it’s like to come out as an atheist in various parts of the country, with different religious backgrounds, and the intersection for many of us with coming out in other ways, such as in sexual orientation and gender identity. Panelists: Ashley F. Miller, Heina Dadabhoy, PZ Myers, Debbie Goddard, Brianne Bilyeu

SATURDAY, July 5th

11am Evolution of Disney Princesses

They started out helpless (Snow White), and now they’re shooting arrows. What changed, and why? Panelists: Ashley F. Miller, Kathryn Sullivan, Michelle Farley, Windy Bowlsby, Madeleine Rowe, Greg Guler

SUNDAY, July 6th

9:30am Skepchick and FreethoughtBlog Readings

In room 2201

11am Protofeminists in Shakespeare

Shakespeare portrayed several intelligent, independent, and self-aware women–Juliet, Lady Macbeth, Katharine, Beatrice, Viola, Rosalind. We’ll discuss the problematic and the remarkably (for the era) fleshed-out aspects of their representation. Panelists: Elizabeth Bear, Ashley F. Miller, Greg Weisman, Joseph Erickson, Alexandra Howes

12:30pm Loving Problematic Media

Social justice doesn’t have to ruin your fun! We’ll discuss ways to be a literate fan of problematic media, from reality TV to video games, recognizing (rather than rationalizing) its problems, and still finding ways to enjoy it without getting defensive. Panelists: Rebecca Watson, Ashley F. Miller, Emily Finke, Courtney Caldwell, Amanda Marcotte

I will be leaving for the airport as soon as there are no more people with questions for me after this panel.

 

 

SSAEast

I will be at SSAEast for the entire program, I’m speaking in one of the 45 minute slots in union.

SUNDAY, July 13th

10:30am Feminism, Atheism, and Welcoming Women to Your Group