Fall Schedule / SSA Reminder

speakingBelow you will find my schedule for the fall.  If you are a reader or group organizer and want to meet me or host an event, maybe this information is useful to you.

A reminder to my friends who are in SSA groups, I am available to speak to you about many interesting topics.  I am currently mostly located in and around the DC area, but I’m happy to travel with sufficient notice.  And if you happen to be a group who wants me to speak while I’m in the area for other reasons, let me know.  I’m happy to speak about anything (spending the night at the Supreme Court!), but there is a list at the bottom of this e-mail with topics I’m fond of.

 

September 27-29th — New Orleans at the AJHA Conference, presenting a paper about the Rural Purge.  Aside from Saturday at 3:20, I am free.

October ~1st-2nd — Boston for work.  I’m pretty busy and it’s a quick turn around, but might be in the night before.

October ~24th-27th — Miami for work.  Not sure exactly when I’m arriving and leaving, but I could have much free time if I want.

November 7th — Charlottesville, VA (more information soon).

November 15-17th — Springfield, MO for Skepticon, where I will be hosting a critically reading media workshop 4pm on Friday.

The end of November and much of December I will probably be in Columbia, SC a great deal and briefly probably in Kentucky, but almost certainly too late in the semester to be of interest to anyone.

And at some point in there I’m going to write a dissertation.  No big deal.

 

Ashley would love to speak on the following topics:

  • Atheism and diversity
  • Introduction to feminism
  • Media literacy and how to work with the media
  • Religion versus women, minorities, and LGBT
  • Using Social Media effectively
  • Film, Television, Young Adult Literature
  • Blogging, Podcasting, Vlogging
  • History of Christianity
  • Coping with burn out

FtBCon – Ashley’s schedule

Life is always easier when you’ve got a schedule to follow.  So here’s mine for the weekend.  I am in on 5 sessions, talking about a variety of subjects from YA lit to video games, but all to do with media and culture.  Which is good because I have a degree that makes people think I’m qualified in that.

TImes here are in EST, but if you go to the site they’ll be in CST.

FtBConscience

As of right now this is a solo talk, but I have feelers out for anyone who might want to join.  If you’re an expert on YA lit, let me know.

Although much of the bestselling YA literature in the last few years has featured female main characters, ofttimes the portrayal of these characters is problematic in terms of gender stereotypes and lack of minority characters. This is a discussion of the ways YA literature succeeds and fails and why it needs to change.

I feel like so underqualified to be on this panel.  I play ukulele cover songs on YouTube and love to sing karaoke.  And I’m on a panel with an actual musician with records and such.  Yep.  Imposter syndrome big time.

Join us to hear a few songs and have a casual chat with ukulelist and FtB blogger Ashley Miller, and Australian singer-songwriter Shelley Segal. In 2011 Shelley published An Atheist Album, and she has played at the Reason Rally, the American Atheist Convention, Women In Secularism and other events. Panel facilitated by Brianne Bilyeu

Jason Thibeault, Russell Glasser, Brianne Bilyeu, Ashley F. Miller, Avicenna, Tauriq Moosa.  Religion and morality systems in video games are often grossly oversimplified, to the point where choices are entirely binary and you’re often forced, as a gamer, to do things that you might otherwise find appalling, like working in service of a god or gods. How are these heady topics handled in the slowly-maturing video game industry? Who’s already doing this stuff right? How can these topics’ treatment be improved?

Jason Thibeault, Avicenna, Brianne Bilyeu, Ashley F. Miller, Rebecca Watson, Lynnea Glasser. Women make up 45% of the gamer population, a number that’s constantly climbing. And yet, female protagonists in games are few and far between — and when games are exclusively fronted by female characters, they get far less marketing budget than their equivalent male-led titles. Why?

JT Eberhard, Rebecca Watson, Heina Dadabhoy, Ashley F. Miller, Hemant Mehta, Xavier Trapp.  TV, Movies, Comic books… our popular culture is soaked in depictions of religious people, but what about atheists? How are atheists portrayed in the public sphere? How can we do better? A panel of atheists gets at the real issues.

 

 

The not even a non-apology apology

Most of my criticism of Ron Lindsay and, by extension, the CFI, has been about terrible communication in response to an initial mis-step.  Ron Lindsay had the good sense to apologize for writing a nasty blog post about Rebecca Watson, though he continued to be quite adversarial in tone, even in the apology.

In the world of public figure and corporate responses, you have a lot of options: Ignore, deny, obfuscate, non-apology apology, tactical apology, and a full apology.  All of these play out differently depending on whether the organization thinks they’ve done anything wrong, what the level of public backlash is, and whether there are legal issues involved.

For a lesson in contrasts, we can look at how American Atheists responded to the lawsuit being filed by AJ Johnson and how CFI has responded to the complaints about Ron Lindsay.

AA released a long, detailed refutation of claims of racism, providing evidence and a rebuttal to all major points made.  This despite the fact that they are dealing with a legal matter, which often makes organizations become very tight-lipped.  It should be noted that this doesn’t mean that AA is innocent from any and all accusations, I am not privy to any special knowledge here, but it does mean that they are willing to publicly engage openly and clearly with those who are criticizing them.

CFI on the other hand released a statement that functionally just acknowledged that people were unhappy with them and that that was sad.  No acknowledgment of the claims or who was involved, certainly no detailed response to any of the criticisms, and no indication that they cared at all about the feedback that they had been getting — either to be indignant or apologetic about it.  Greta has a much more thorough parsing of just how bad this statement was.

What would a good statement have looked like?

Pretty much anything that wasn’t this: The CFI Board wishes to express its unhappiness with the controversy surrounding the recent Women in Secularism Conference 2.

OK wow passive language.  Here’s the problem the CFI is expressing, that is what is happening in this whole statement, so they should just express it.  They are also so incredibly vague here.  They should have just not said anything if this is what they were going to say.  If I stood where they apparently stand on the issue, I would have replaced that sentence with this:

“The CFI Board has read dozens of letters about Ron Lindsay’s remarks at the recent Women in Secularism 2 conference.  While we find nothing offensive ourselves in Ron Lindsay’s opening speech, we are making an ongoing effort to understand the perspective of the people our event was meant to support and are happy to receive further feedback.  Our goal is to be supportive of women, and if women feel we are not fulfilling that goal, we are eager to continue to receive feedback.  We were disappointed in the tone Ron Lindsay took in responding to criticism and have told him in no uncertain terms our feelings about this.  He apologized soon after these remarks, and we feel that that was the correct course of action and support him.”

While this would not have made people happy, it would have at least indicated that the board:

1. Understood the issue

2. Knew the details of the complaints

3. Cared about the responses that they were getting

4. Had an opinion about what happened, even if it was the wrong one

5. Acknowledged the need for the apology already given

6. Were not closing the door to further feedback

7. Had some sort of discussion with Ron Lindsay about his behavior

Moderating Comments, Normalization & Anonymity

I was on this panel at SkepTech! You can read my prepared thoughts here.

Notes:

-I improperly conflated psuedonymity with anonymity in the last third of the talk. Those are different things. I think pseudonymity (like Gravatar, Disqus, etc. offer) is one of the nice middle ground ways we can keep an eye on commenters across mediums.

-I stick with my remarks about wanting assorted -ist comments to be off my posts in the first place. Normalizing bad behavior perpetuates the problem. Removing awful comments in my little corner of the internet is one way I try to prevent normalization.

-I was a bit more wordy than I wanted–I’m lucky to have avoided the nerf gun.

What do you think? What did we leave out? 

SkepTech

…was spectacular.

-There were many more panels than I’d seen at previous cons. I don’t usually love panels, but I’m very supportive of this system if it means introducing new voices. (Olivia James, one of the first-timers, got spontaneous applause on multiple occasions throughout the Real World Activism panel. Damn.) We talk a lot about this being a young movement, a movement that anyone can join and become a part of. That’s only true so long as we work to find new speakers and leaders–otherwise you have an old guard and where’s the fun in that?

Safe Space

-Safe space hangout zone! I took advantage of this often. After three hours of class and a six hour drive to Minnesota, the conference looked like Introversion: Advanced Mode. The zone (lots of open area with clusters of seats and windows, located behind the tabling space) was perfect. Either by coincidence or design, it was out of the flow of con traffic, meaning no forced interactions, and quiet. Conversations were relaxed and participation wasn’t required–I spent a good deal of time listening to brilliant people arguing.

-And did I mention the panels? I love when panelists disagree–and the organizers tried to make it happen. Panels are exciting when there’s a debate, when sides are chosen and audiences divided. And there were! (Our moderator threatened us with a nerf gun. Never a dull moment.)

-The Wall O’ Tweets! It wouldn’t be a con without live-tweeting, and SkepTech had a simple way of letting audiences see what and who were tweeting. The setup was simple: TweetDeck, one projector, and judicious use of filters to collect relevant tweets. Very occasionally this was distracting–some speakers were sidetracked or interrupted by laughter at tweets they couldn’t see. Other speakers and panels incorporated tweets and tweeted questions into their presentation.

BHRvKw1CIAATcC-

Olivia won the contest–and got a plush sperm cell.

-(Plush) microbes! There’s nothing like “Thanks for that talk. As a gift, we’d like to give you gonorrhea!” Each moderator and speaker got a different one–as did the winner of the Twitter contest.

A wonderful weekend–and here’s to hoping for a SkepTech 2.

Photo credit: Geeks Without God

SkepTech: Anonymity on the Internet

Like Miri, I’m going to be at SkepTech…[checks calendar]…holy crap, tomorrow!

And lucky me, I’m going to be on a panel about anonymity on the internet, moderated by the lovely Chana.

This panel will explore the conflict between online anonymity and harassment. In a world where absolute freedom is practically possible, what shall be permitted? Anonymity is a double-sided coin; it can be a great generator of content, activism, and community, but also provides a safe space for blatant racism, sexism, homophobia, hate speech, and death threats. Is moderating any more “self-policing” than the violent comments policing who creates content? How far should self-policing go—should we go troll hunting into meatspace, causing commenters to face serious, “real life” repercussions? How far is too far, or not far enough?

I have a couple of thoughts–but mostly I want to hear yours. This isn’t a subject I’ve given much direct thought. I obviously spend a lot of time on the internet, but I rarely comment on blogs. Mainly, I interact with commenters by either…
1) Pruning the terrible ones.
2) Reading the really insightful ones and passing out shiny internets.
And the occasional 3) Reminding people that I’m Kate, and not Ashley*.

So, in no particular order:

I don’t think anonymity is quite so much the question as whether or not the moderation policy fits the goal of the site. When it fits, you have a useful site–though everyone can hate your goals and disagree and critique them and boycott them and all that.  Aligning goals and policy, but on opposite ends of the spectrum are Reddit and Shakesville.

Reddit: Though within-subreddit moderation can be pretty high, across-subreddit moderation is low. And by low, I mean nearly non-existent. However, reddit mainly wants to have a Wild West Internet setup. (“Subreddits are a free market. Anyone can create a subreddit and decide how it’s run”[link]), and their policy reflects it. I have feelings about this, which is to say that I don’t like it.

Shakesville: Shakesville is the opposite of reddit. Explicitly a safe space, they have a highly structured comment policy, use content notes, and wield a fierce banhammer. They want a space without explaining at the 101 level, and they want to exist as a haven on the internet. For one reason or another, I’ve never become part of the regular commenters, but I appreciate the idea.  The commenting policy–which is followed very closely–creates the space Shakesville is looking for. Readers are devoted, and the comments fit in with their goals: violating the rules of the safe space will get you banned. Of course, I don’t think this is how the entire internet should run–101 spaces matter, and fucking up and misunderstanding and asking really awful questions and learning because someone took the time to explain why, exactly, affirmative action isn’t racist against white people? That matters too. But safe spaces can be useful, and Shakesville is one of them.

And when comment policies don’t match up with the goals?

Basically, you get every mainstream news site. Seriously, have your read the comments? Don’t read the comments. No real conversation happens, because everyone is busy yelling about how Obama is a Muslim, the earth is flat, and The Next Great Conspiracy Theory. And when the occasional debate does start, some ALL CAPS WARRIOR leaps in. It’s an exercise in futility, and most people hate it…so they don’t participate, and then even fewer people are left to patiently explain that no, it’s not true that atheists eat babies.

As for troll-hunting in real life?
I don’t like call out culture–the naming and public shaming (particularly shaming on the internet, where stupid is forever) rubs me completely the wrong way. Yes, people have really awful damaging attitudes, and sometimes I do think it can be done carefully, well, and surgically*, but mostly, allies should spend less time calling out and more time making change. And change doesn’t happen by alienation. (Caveat: this doesn’t mean you have find r/MensRights and make a go of explaining feminism. But when you think you can have conversations, do that.)
Relevant reading: I Remember Saying Stupid Shit

What do you think?

*Note: This post was written by Kate, and not Ashley.

**Goal: define “carefully, well, and surgically” by the time I’m on the panel on Saturday.

You can follow SkepTech at @skep_tech

On Running Out of Feelings, and What to Do Next

Hello, internet.
This is where I come to spill my secrets, right?

Sometime between last week and this one, I went numb–ran out of feelings. I think it was somewhere after the third friend in forty-eight hours contacted me with questions about leaving abusive relationships, between finals and Steubenville and painful anniversaries and suddenly having a living situation that went from Absolutely Planned to Horrifyingly Tenuous. Oh, and it’s my last day of therapy this week.*

And that’s the simple stuff.

Add in friends who need a Social Kate who smiles and has opinions and wit and does not resemble a posed block of wood. Sprinkle in academics, and taking a quarter off to work at a small agency that expects a lot from me.  Roll it all in the stress of attending a competitive university where everyone Accomplishes Things that can be itemized on a resume–things that don’t contain scary words like atheist…and feeling anything outside Ron Weasley’s teaspoon involved too much work.

So I just started feeling numb.

It’s awful. I hate it and I go round and round between being irritated at not feeling anything, and getting angry about it…and then giving up because even anger feels muted and exhausting. It’s not terribly unusual–when you run out of emotional energy, that’s how it goes. It sucks, and I know I’m not the only one who gets this. So here’s how I minimize suckage. (The technical term, ya know.)

Lists

An idea stolen from someone–either the indomitable Captain Awkward or Keely. Each day gets two lists. List One: everything I have to accomplish that day in order to prevent the week from crashing and burning, and nothing more. Anything else you accomplish goes on List Two.

List Two starts out empty, and you have no obligation to fill it. It can be empty at the end of the day, and you will still have survived and accomplished important things and can sleep easily. If there is anything on List Two, you get to feel proud of it. You have gone above and beyond. Congratulations! Well done, you.

Excuses ahead of time are your friend.

Because the socially appropriate answer to a concerned “How are you feeling?” is almost never “My brain is being awful and I can’t feel anything and also everything fell apart last week.”, stock phrases are your friend. Among my favorites:

I haven’t been sleeping quite right, thanks for asking!
Because this is true even if it means you’ve been sleeping constantly and your brain feels like fuzz.

Oh, you know, long week. [Tired smile.]
Where a “long week” is defined as any set of days where life was hard and not worth explaining.

I’m a little out of it right now. It’s probably [related thing that may or may not explain your actual problems.]
Poor finals. I’m constantly blaming them–this is my most used phrase. I actually rarely find exams overwhelming, but they’re a fabulous explanation for why I’ve developed the habits of your average hermit crab.

Sorry, I have a touch of a stomachache.
People with stomachaches tend to get all silent and huddle in the corner of any given gathering, trying to force their gastric juices to cooperate. I don’t particularly advocate lying, but if this gets you out of an nosy stranger’s headlights, I approve.

This terrible clip art is not the Feelings Police

This terrible clip art is not the Feelings Police

Numb is okay.
There are no Feelings Police. They will not come find you and lecture you into submission for not possessing the correct emotional range. Feeling numb is weird and uncomfortable and unpleasant, but it goes away and you can survive it. Give yourself permission to feel as bad as  you do, to nap as long as you need to, and to feel a little hollow.

Be greedy.

And along with that, be greedy. Will taking day off to paint your nails and consume only popcorn make you feel better? Do it. Will skipping that party to play videogames in your room feel better than pretending to feel social? You suddenly have new plans for the evening. Within the limits of your wallet and abilities, do whatever seems as though it could improve your day.

Hide in groups.
The thing about large groups of people is that you can get lost in them. Everyone else will jump about and make noise and try to figure out how to split the check when Susan ate half of the onion rings that Johnny ordered, David and Sarah split an entree, and Jacob only brought large bills.  And you can just sit there. Let everyone else have wild, sweeping feelings. There’s less pressure to say interesting things when everyone else is being exciting. You can tune out, drop in for the occasional murmur of agreement, and still be holding up your little corner of being social.

Update: Puzzles
Stephanie explains.

—-

So there it is. Ideally, these will work this time around, and I’ll kick the fuzzy-brain feels sometime before the end of my spring break.  What do you do?

* NU requires that I take the coming quarter off from classes to work Monday-Thursday, from 9-5. Therapy is only available Monday-Thursday, from 9-5. I’m sure there’s a witty name for the choice between skipping my lunch hour to get therapy and not having therapy for an eating disorder, but right now I can’t manage to find it.

The AP Stylebook on Mental Health

The AP Stylebook hasn’t been my favorite in the news. Recently, a memo was leaked showing some bigoted plans for same-sex spouses. (After the inevitable doubling-down, the AP did retract it.) But this has put me in a slightly better mood–the AP Stylebook now has an entry in mental illness. I strongly suggest reading the whole thing, but here are some of my favorite parts.

Avoid using mental health terms to describe non-health issues. Don’t say that an awards show, for example, was schizophrenic.

Avoid unsubstantiated statements by witnesses or first responders attributing violence to mental illness. A first responder often is quoted as saying, without direct knowledge, that a crime was committed by a person with a “history of mental illness.”

Do not assume that mental illness is a factor in a violent crime, and verify statements to that effect. A past history of mental illness is not necessarily a reliable indicator. Studies have shown that the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, and experts say most people who are violent do not suffer from mental illness.

Wherever possible, rely on people with mental illness to talk about their own diagnoses.

Do not describe an individual as mentally ill unless it is clearly pertinent to a story and the diagnosis is properly sourced.

I used to copy edit for our campus paper–spending a few evenings a week cross-referencing with the Stylebook. This will do real good. Plus, now we can point out journalists who disregard the rules by pointing to specific things they’ve ignored.

h/t Ozy Frantz

Psych Nerdery: Cool Facts Edition

Random stuff about mental health I’m hoping you haven’t heard before! Relevant citations and further reading are located in the links on each number.  

1. You can’t be diagnosed with a personality disorder until you are 18 years of age. [use drop-down menu at link]

2. Capgras delusion: believing that a family member or friend has been replaced with an imposter. The delusion provides a fascinating inside view into ways in which our memory functions.

3. Children who will go on to develop schizophrenia are found to have specific cognitive deficits by ages 6-7. (In developmental psychopathology classes, I was told that children who developed schizophrenia were shown to have slower affect–expression of emotion, in non-psych lingo–when observers looked at home movies of said children, even at ages as young as four. However, I can’t find a citation on this, and no longer have the textbook, so add a grain of salt.)

4. Hallucinations don’t just come as things you see–there’s also auditory hallucinations, tactile hallucinations (commonly manifests as feeling things crawling on you) and olfactory hallucinations (which can be pleasant or nasty smells).

5. Because the psych profession just likes confusing you, there’s both Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder. They’re not very similar at all.

6. People with one personality disorder often meet criteria for diagnosis with another personality disorder. This is one of many problems with the PD diagnoses–how can one have multiple personality disorders (Obvious multiple personality jokes are obvious). It may be that some of the problem is that people aren’t exactly likely to come in for treatment of a PD–how often to people describe their own personality as flawed?

7. And speaking of multiple personalities, even though Dissociative Identity Disorder (which used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder) remains in the DSM, there’s lots and lots of evidence that it’s mainly a cultural phenomenon, and not an actual disorder. [The attached link is easy to read and in depth--I recommend it]

8. In fact, Sybil, the case that spawned media interest in DID/MPD…was maybe a fraud created by an unethical psychiatrist and her poor client?

9. Marsha Linehan created Dialectal Behavioral Therapy (DBT) originally for work on those with Borderline Personality Disorder–though it’s now been shown to be effective for substance abuse, mood disorders, sexual trauma, and self-harm. It’s was groundbreaking treatment for clients who are often considered untreatable. In 2011, during a speech, Linehan told the world that she had suffered from BPD for her entire life, and developed the treatment around her own quest to survive. So basically, she’s my hero.

10.  Asking someone if they are feeling suicidal will not put the idea in their head–really, don’t be afraid to ask.

Have more? Add them in the comments!

Forward Thinking: What Would You Tell Teens About Sex?

Libby Anne and Dan Fincke have been running a project called Forward Thinking. Prompts are proposed, and bloggers can respond. Every two weeks a roundup of links is published.

The most recent topic is what we should be telling teenagers about sex. Being as I was a teenager a very short six months ago, I have Thoughts and Feelings about this. Lots of them. My own sex education (in Texas) wasn’t all so hot. Like, seriously, I would have thought abstinence-only education would be all about asexuality–”Some people don’t really think sex is the most interesting! See! It’s not worth trying!”–but nooooo. So, this is what I’d tell teenagers about sex and relationships. 

You don’t have to know who or what you like right now. But if you do, you get to feel exactly that way and anybody who frowns or corrects you or says its stupid or gross or weird should be frowned at the way you frown at your feet when you step in dog poo. Because that’s actually gross, and loving people isn’t.

Speaking of which, you don’t actually have to love everybody you do sexy things with. I’d like them to be people you trust and people who know what consent is and like communication, but you don’t have to love them. Kissing is fun and bodies are nice and hooking up with people who have especially nice bodies or brains or who are just friends with exactly enough time and singlehood on their hands is fun.

Condoms break. Getting Plan B is scary. Sometimes the pharmacy is out or closed or the person at the counter looks like the math teacher who was always cranky. Just buy some ahead of time, so the two of you can just fish it out of whomever’s nightstand and take a deep breath.

Just like some people prefer pistachio ice cream, you can have sexual preferences. You can like fat bodies, thin bodies, muscly bodies, femme men, femme women, women who like to be tied up, and people who only have sex in missionary. But it’s worth considering if the only reason you like pistachio ice cream is because that’s all the shops have been telling you is worth buying. Because that doesn’t mean some genius somewhere isn’t making brilliant raspberry sorbet that you could realize is five times better, if only you examine your pistachio conditioning.

Anyone who describes any part of your body as gross doesn’t deserve to see you naked. They don’t get to negotiate this.

The baseball metaphor sucks. Not only does everyone disagree on what each base actually stands for (your euphemism is a failure when you have to argue about what every part means), but it ranks things. Some people can take or leave P-I-V–or, you know, their partnerships don’t include one penis and one vagina–and some think oral sex is the best thing ever. And some people would actually rather be playing baseball.

Shaming people is stupid and uncreative. This applies equally to shaming people for all the sex they are having, and shaming people for all the sex they’re not having.

Monogamy is not required, but honesty and communication are.

Mostly, I want teens to know that adults aren’t always right–and one of the ways we’re very good at being wrong is in talking to adolescents about sex. This is also perhaps the first time that your beliefs and actions can be something your family considers morally wrong, repugnant, or unnatural…and that’s really scary. Luckily, if everybody is consenting and legal, you’re probably in the right.

Which leads me to the last thing–consent. This is actually the most important thing, and I’m okay with you rolling your eyes and ignoring my too-old-to-understand advice if you listen to this.

More of my female friends and acquaintances have been assaulted, coerced, or raped than not. I’m not estimating–that’s the reality that this college student sees. One of my friends rapists still lives in this town. I run into him frequently. He hasn’t, and probably won’t, suffer any consequences for his actions.

You must get consent for everything, every time. I don’t care if it’s painfully awkward to ask if they’re into it, if they want to go further. If a little bit of blushing is scary enough to move you from Consensual Sex-Haver to rapist, you shouldn’t be doing anything with anyone.

 –

Also, despite everything I ever heard…you can also write about sex on the internet without the Earth exploding.

What would you tell teens?