Occasional Link Roundup

Greetings from the Amtrak! I’m on my way to Washington, DC for Women in Secularism 3. Both of my panels are tomorrow, so I’m getting there a day early and spending the evening running around the city by myself with my camera. I’m almost as excited for this as I am for the conference itself.

I haven’t done a link roundup in a while, so this will be torturously long. Sorry. :P

1. Speaking of DC, Thomas has an in-depth analysis of the ways in which the police often stonewall rape investigations, using an example that took place here. Please do read this piece before you implore rape survivors to go to the police.

The simple way to think about a problem like this is to say, “figure out who they are and lock them up.” I’d love that outcome. But it won’t happen in a vacuum. In the real world, today, there are a number of reasons that we can’t count on the criminal justice system to rid us of rapists. Some of those reasons are the same cultural stuff that operates on everyone. The same things that make civillians leap to the defense of their local repeat rapist, that make school administrators see them as deserving of a second chance instead of punishment, cause some police to fail to get them behind bars.

Saying, “go to the police” won’t change that. Instead, if we want survivors to be able to uniformly go to the police, we need to work to make the police an institution that survivors can count on; to do their jobs and not to retraumatize the survivor.

2. Cate on the erasure of people of color from dystopian fiction:

When you get to create a world completely from scratch, where you could rewrite the laws of gravity or the science behind genetics should you so choose, but your vision of all the people is still lily white? I really do find that worrisome. It bugs me that people are more easily able to imagine the existence of non-human intelligent beings, or interactions with a completely alien race, than that a protagonist might be anything other than white. It tells me that in the real world, we have a problem imagining the humanity of people of color. It tells me that as a culture we still see people of color as nothing more than bit players in the lives of white characters, if we even see them at all. Why is it that so many people find nothing problematic about the willful erasure of people of color from their visions of the future? Because there’s a real and almost tangible problem with race if audiences can suspend their disbelief enough to accept that a fictional character can burst in to flames, repeatedly, at will, and not die, but not enough to accept that the same character could be black.

3. Mitchell has a great take on the idea that you can’t trust anything online:

I don’t automatically trust bloggers because a group of people I’ve never met decided to give them a badge that says “reporter” on it. I don’t turn off my critical thinking because they’ve gotten to be some sort of “professional”. I have to judge them on the merits of their writing and history of thoughtfulness or thoughtlessness alone. Because they could be a dog, and I wouldn’t know.

4. Suey Park and Eunsong Kim at Model View Culture write about the much-maligned “hashtag activism”:

There is a common belief that activist trends magically and spontaneously happen in cyberspace and remain stuck in that medium. Although lacking a geographic home, Twitter communities are intentionally constructed through the labor of specific groups. We use Twitter to defy the limitations of time and space. We use Twitter to remember we are not alone — or crazy — but instead part of a collective struggle. The idea of ongoing decolonizing campaigns is antithetical to corporate logics and branding campaigns. Yet our stories get replaced and sold as marketable commodities for corporate consumption. They are sold as 15 minutes of entertainment rather than connected and ongoing efforts.

5. Libby Anne discusses teaching consent to small children:

What I find really fascinating about these two anecdotes is that they both deal with the consent of children not yet old enough to communicate verbally. In both stories, the older child must read the consent of the younger child through nonverbal cues. And even then, consent is not this ambiguous thing that is difficult to understand.

6. John McCarroll at Sherights analyzes the language of feminist messages targeted at men:

Common to all these messages is that men CAN rape, hurt, buy women, catcall or what-have-you, but they SHOULDN’T. Men, we are told, shouldn’t hurt women, not because of any intrinsic rights women may have, but because other men might do it to THEIR women, and that would be awful.

Male privilege is re-defined, but not negated, in a way that leaves masculinity unchallenged and still dominant. The wonderful, complex, and multi-faceted language of generations of queer, trans, intersectionalist and sex-positive feminism and human-rights dialogues is thrown aside completely in favor of a request that straight, cis-gendered men join the rest of the world at the big-kids table.

7. Ferrett takes down the myth that “nobody can make you feel bad without your permission”:

But when you say, “Well, nobody can make you feel bad without your permission!”, that sets up a world where you have no responsibility for your speech. Were you digging for weak spots, mocking to make a point? Oh, hey, well, you were trying your damndest to make them feel bad, but if it worked it’s their fault for not having sufficient defenses. It’s not 100% correlation, but when I see “Nobody can make you feel bad!” I usually find a taunting dillweed nearby, taking potshots from the brush and then claiming no responsibility.

8. At the Everyday Sociology Blog, Karen discusses the dark side of “positive thinking”:

What’s missing from these and many other self-help books? Social structure. The fact that we live in a broader society that has specific economic policies working for or against our getting rich, or a labor market that might help or inhibit having an awesome career never seems to encroach on the dream-like state that many of these books create for readers. While some spiritually oriented books encourage readers to critically examine our material desires, others regard consumption as a reward—one that maybe should be delayed but shouldn’t be denied.

9. Britni writes about refusing to call rape what it is:

When we don’t name rape as rape, we take power away from the act by watering down the words we use to describe it. “Rape” is an uncomfortable word that we don’t like to use and we don’t like to hear. But avoiding it takes power away from the actions we’re describing and makes it easier to minimize the impact of those actions. When someone calls rape “a very bad night,” it makes it easier to tell the victim to shake it off or that it wasn’t such a big deal. It makes it easier to let the perpetrator off the hook as maybe being “too aggressive.” It makes it easier to refer to what happened as the result of “a miscommunication” instead of calling it that ugly word– rape.

10. Melissa at Shakesville writes about the bootstraps myth and how it plays out in the lives of people who actually have to get through life without any help:

The people who claim to never have had any help from anyone are the same people who tend to criticize “government hand-outs” and talk about the social safety net like it’s a giant waste of taxpayer money—a “wealth redistribution program” to steal rich folks’ money and give it to the poor.

[…]But people need help. Everyone needs help. And not everyone is fortunate enough to have the kind of help that is so reliable it’s possible to dismiss it out of hand as not even having been help at all.

This is what really having no help looks like. We don’t actually reward not having help in this country; we criminalize it.

11. Maddie at Autostraddle criticizes the suggestions RAINN (Rape, Assault, and Incest National Network) made for ending sexual assault on college campuses:

By dismissing rape culture and then, as RAINN’s recommendations do, evoking the criminal justice system as the only and most important solution to ending rape, RAINN both obscures the fact that sexual violence is pervasive throughout the criminal justice system, and cuts off the potential for alternatives, like transformative justice solutions. Devoting resources to developing transformative justice solutions is important, because they don’t require the engagement with the criminal justice system, which at the moment, is often the only option survivors have to make the immediate violence stop. The criminal justice system is unsafe for everybody within it, and is also much less likely to be useful or safe for people who are members of communities of color, queer and trans* communities, or any survivor who does not want to see their assailant behind bars, which is a reality for many people for a variety of reasons. Immediately deferring issues of sexual violence to law enforcement solutions does not end sexual violence; it limits options for survivors and can deter survivors from seeking support, in which cases the violence is more likely to continue.

12. Kat Hache´ talks about names and her experience as a trans woman:

There will always be the negators of the world out there to remind us that our past indeed happened, as if we could ever forget. Their reminders should not be given the weight of invalidation, however. If our society accepted the multitudes within us as trans individuals (to paraphrase Walt Whitman) in the same way that the complexity of cisgender individuals’ identities were accepted, it would cease to be an issue. For this reason I have come to accept my dead name as one of my multitudes. My past is one chapter of my beautiful story, but it is not the entirety of it.

I am a woman named Katharine who was once called a boy named Kevin. If you find that contradictory, very well.

I contain multitudes, and there are multitudes within my name.

13. s.e. smith writes about the practice of wearing fat suits to “simulate” being fat and find out what it’s like:

Nor does wearing a fat suit offer insight into what it’s like to live in a society where you are loathed and hated because of your body. People seeing someone in a fat suit can tell it’s a fat suit, it’s not like these garments are subtle. You might attract comments or laughs, but it’s nothing compared to actually living in a fat body. If you walk down the street in a fat suit eating a doughnut, what people see is a person walking down the street in a fat suit eating a doughnut. Nothing more, nothing less.

14. Cate takes down the tiresome “yeah well Twitter is public deal with it” canard:

By defaulting to “twitter is public I don’t need permission” when dealing with sensitive topics like this, you’re effectively saying “Don’t speak out! Don’t share your stories! Don’t share your pain! Because if you do I will be within my rights to exploit you, make money for myself and leave you to deal with the backlash.” It puts us in a situation where we are pressured into speaking out against rape culture and punished by threats and abuse if we do. There is no way to win.

The “twitter is public” excuse is reductive and lazy. As I said, “in the commons” is not the same as “public.” You wouldn’t eavesdrop on a “private” conversation on the train, and then use the information for your next scoop, while identifying the person involved. Sure you “heard” it, but that person wasn’t talking to you. And the women involved here were not talking to Buzzfeed. The lines between public and private online may be blurred but they’re not invisible. Private conversations can and do happen in public spaces. Twitter is one such space.

15. This is old news now, but Chris Hallquist wrote a great piece about people flipping out that Brendan Eich resigned from Mozilla due to his homophobia:

I also wonder why the people urging tolerance for Eich can’t be more tolerant of the decisions made by other people at Mozilla and OKCupid. Where’s the tolerance for people who don’t want to work for, or use the products of, a company with a homophobic CEO? Can it really be our solemn duty as members of a democratic society to never complain, or decide to take our business elsewhere, when we find out that someone supported an effort to take away important rights from ourselves or our friends?

16. Mitchell has a set of responses when people ask him (in relation to polyamory), “But don’t you get jealous?”

Yes, but it also means I get to unlearn one of the worst root causes of jealousy for me. For me, poly provides an opportunity to unlearn this culturally ingrained habit of thinking oppositionally. When I was monogamous, and someone I was interested in decided they wanted to go out with someone else, it was easy to feel like that was because I wasn’t good enough — that I wasn’t as attractive or interesting as that other person. Being poly, though, means that when someone decides they don’t want to date me, it isn’t because some other person is “better”. If they’re poly, it means that they could date me anyway, which means that I don’t have to think about my rejections in the frame of “I’m just not as good as that other person is.”. I get to practice thinking about them in the frame of “Something just didn’t work between this person and me.”.

17. Benjamin wrote this post that I can’t really encapsulate in a few words except that it’s about effective communication when you want to talk but don’t know how or what about. Anyway, I found it useful for dealing with my spirals of “I’m depressed and I have nothing of value to say to anyone so I will never talk to anyone ever again.”

18. Sparrow Rose Jones writes about identity labels, why they’re useful, and why remarks like “you don’t need labels!” are dismissive:

Labels help us to understand ourselves better. Yes, they are a sort of heuristic — a short-hand and reductionist way to identify things that doesn’t encapsulate the entirety of who and what a person is — but they are so useful. A woman who notices her stomach getting bigger and bigger is comforted by remembering that she is pregnant. Pregnant is a label. When I get frustrated that I have to slowly reason out people’s words and actions and cannot interpret them immediately and on-the-fly, it comforts me to remember that I am Autistic. Autistic is a label.

19. This Medium piece by Rachel Edidin is about Asperger’s Syndrome. So I’m not sure why I related to it so immensely. But I did.

People interest me. I care about some ferociously and passionately. I care about most in at least an abstract humanitarian sense.

But people also baffle and exhaust me, and I don’t trust most of them. They generalize and assume based on very limited data sets. They touch me. From behind. In crowds. They ignore the words I have so carefully arranged to say exactly what I want them to say and project their own insecurities and needs and prejudices. They treat me like an extension of them; they subsume who I am and what I say into whatever role they want or need me to fill and then punish me when I fail to follow a script I can’t see.

I wish I were better at being what people want me to be. I wish they’d tell me what that was.

I wish I knew what the rules were.

I wish there were rules.

Have you read or written anything interesting lately?

(If you’re attending WiS3, see ya at the con!)

Comments

  1. scenario says

    One question about having no persons of color in dystopian fiction. In any visual medium, it is obvious what everyone looks like. It does look weird that not only is everyone white but they actually seen to have to pass some persons version of a beauty test. It can be really jarring.

    But how do you do it in books? In a lot of the books I’ve read, what the characters look like is usually only mentioned when they first introduce the character. They may have an occasional reference to some outstanding feature like bright red hair or someone being exceptionally tall, or short, but a lot of time nationality or race is seldom mentioned. More than once when I reread a book, I’ve said to myself, “I forgot this character is black.” But if the author just keeps saying, the captain, a black woman, all the time it can come off as insulting. Good authors can slip in a reference once in a while to remind the reader, but that doesn’t stop anyone from imagining the character anyway they want to.

    Good books should have a lot of characters from a lot of different backgrounds, but if you have to rely on cliche the solution could be worse.

    • smrnda says

      One way might be names – I recall a book I once read where characters had names from different cultural groups put together, suggesting someone might be both Chinese and Hispanic, for example. Not sure that’s a perfect solution, but it can work.

  2. Francisco Bacopa says

    Thanks for linking to Libby Anne’s piece in #5. It’s not so much a matter of teaching consent as it is a matter of reminding kids to be aware of their natural understanding of consent. I think a lack of respect for consent requires requires conditioning to overcome an almost innate ability.

  3. Brad says

    I think the twitter thing depends on bad analogizing. Twitter is much less like a private conversation in a public space than it is like people shouting at one another across a busy street. Even comments like these, or forums that don’t require a login to view posts are more like shouting than speaking quietly.

    That doesn’t rescue the buzzfeed asshole or any others from being assholes, but trying to claim shouting in public isn’t shouting in public is wrong.

    If the immediate risk of assholery is a concern for the conversations you wish to have, get phpBB (it’s free as in beer) and set a sub-forum to private, and then you have something properly analogous to a quite conversation in a public space, plus you can ban people and block the IP ranges of shitty “news” sites with histories of insensitivity and bad practices. You can get the word out about your semi-private club without shouting the entirety of every meeting into the aether.

    Private conversations can and do happen in public spaces. Twitter is one such space…. but the speaking volume on twitter is megaphone

  4. queequack says

    It bugs me that people are more easily able to imagine the existence of non-human intelligent beings, or interactions with a completely alien race, than that a protagonist might be anything other than white.

    While there should be more diversity in SF, I think the author is missing a very salient point, this being that non-white people are, you know, real.

    JRR Tolkien once said that he would never write a scene with women conversing amongst themselves, which means his work very consciously does not pass the Bechdel test. He justified this by noting that (as a man) he had never been present to witness women sans men, and so he didn’t feel confident in his ability to portray that dynamic accurately. I’ve seen various people snark about the fact that he wrote copious dialogue between elves and orcs and talking trees, but what they’re overlooking is the fact that those creatures are not real. Tolkien made them up. That means that he can’t actually write them poorly, because they act however he says they act. Their culture is whatever he says it is.

    Women, on the other hand, are real. They actually live and converse independently of JRR Tolkien, and so he could, objectively, write them inauthentically. And since Tolkien the person operated almost exclusively in masculine spheres (he was a soldier and a professor in the early-mid 20th century), the lives of women would have been almost completely unknown to him.

    I think there is a similar dynamic at play in white-dominated SF. White authors- especially if they have limited personal experience with non-white people- are (consciously or not) reluctant to include black protagonists, non-white-dominated casts, and such, simply because they could do it poorly.

    Which isn’t to say that there isn’t an issue with diversity in SF, or that white authors should use all the above as an excuse to stick with all-white casts. There is and they shouldn’t. But I don’t find it “worrisome”, and I don’t think it means that white authors relate more easily to fictional aliens or anything like that. It’s a reflection of the fact that it is more difficult (or at least more intimidating) to write out of your demographic than it is to write the Ferengi. The Ferengi, after all, are not going to note that you fucked up.

    • thetalkingstove says

      JRR Tolkien once said that he would never write a scene with women conversing amongst themselves, which means his work very consciously does not pass the Bechdel test. He justified this by noting that (as a man) he had never been present to witness women sans men, and so he didn’t feel confident in his ability to portray that dynamic accurately.

      Well, ok. But at what point can we say that the reason a writer doesn’t understand a dynamic is because they’ve made no effort to? If Tolkein really want to have women talking to each other in his books, it wouldn’t have been so hard to discuss the matter with women and get their opinion on his work. Just giviing up because women are so (apparently) uttlerly Other does not seem defendible.

      Similarly I don’t think anyone is demanding that a white person should be able to 100% portray the experience of being non-white. But to simply not even have any non-white characters? Just write a non-white character the same way you would a white character, if you need to.

      I guess in summary I’m saying that ignorance isn’t an excuse.

      • queequack says

        I agree, and I think you could criticize Tolkien on those grounds- I would. But all I’m saying is that it’s not necessarily contradictory or hypocritical for him to have hobbits conversing amongst each other, but not women. Which doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have tried, just that I would find it sort of sensationalist to say that Tolkien “relates” more to mythical creatures than to women.

        The article still makes a valid point, of course. I’m just saying.

  5. says

    This Medium piece by Rachel Edidin is about Asperger’s Syndrome. So I’m not sure why I related to it so immensely. But I did.
    One reason might be a phenomena that I have noticed about a lot of cognitive disorders, an observation that I have also seen with my own Tourette’s Syndrome and ADHD. These conditions are a lot like being “stuck” on an extreme in a particular range of human behavior. Most folks have the ability to be somewhere in 1-10 on these ranges and depending on where you are there are associated common benefits and drawbacks relative to other people in the range.

    When you have something like TS, ADHD, OCD, or are somewhere on the autism spectrum you end up in the 1-2 or 9-10 end of the scale, if you even have or can have the particular cognitive feature which might be a feature that can be present or absent in others due to different life experiences and social education. As a result our experiences seem familiar to most people but in our case are different in intensity, direction, or other depending on the nature of the cognitive difference. If these “features” could be appropriately categorized I believe it would go towards helping to flesh out what sorts of forms human cognition can take.

    One example would be how many people talk about “having an OCD” where they are irritated by something, but they don’t actually have OCD with it’s intense anxiety that accompanies failure to attend to the OCD. When I try to talk about the internal realities of TS and ADHD I hear people go on about how they “have the same problem”. It can be a thing that leads to empathy depending on how the people I talk to use the comparison. Not every example involves unintended distraction from the things I try to get across.

  6. says

    Interestingly this also gets into the labels piece by Sparrow Rose Jones.

    Labels are important and those of us with cognitive disorders need them so that we can have a social and linguistic tool to point out very important differences between us and others that are important for us to talk about in social, employment, and other encounters. I don’t mind “regular folks” having words to refer to cognitive issues that fall into the same category as those defined in extreme form by medically defined conditions (so one a level this very annoying phenomena is part of the linguistic and observational brilliance of people in general). But there needs to be a social/linguistic way to distinguish average manifestations of these problems from the ones that people like me have.

    • says

      That does start down the road to psych denialism. Once we use “OCD” to mean “having a strong (but not pathological) preference for things to be a certain way,” it becomes easier to conclude that OCD isn’t a real disorder and people who claim to be impaired by it are just making an excuse.

  7. queequack says

    Common to all these messages is that men CAN rape, hurt, buy women, catcall or what-have-you, but they SHOULDN’T. Men, we are told, shouldn’t hurt women, not because of any intrinsic rights women may have, but because other men might do it to THEIR women, and that would be awful.

    Uh, what? Of course men can commit rape, pretty much whenever they want. It’s really not that hard. A lot of people do it! I’m not really seeing the point of a framework that denies this reality.

    The second sentence in that paragraph doesn’t follow from the first, and is a strawman.

    The wonderful, complex, and multi-faceted language of generations of queer, trans, intersectionalist and sex-positive feminism and human-rights dialogues is thrown aside completely in favor of a request that straight, cis-gendered men join the rest of the world at the big-kids table.

    Well, but if you’re talking to straight, cisgendered men, I don’t see the issue with that. Also, I find the pointless condescending bullshit annoying.

    Not a good start. I don’t think I’ll be following the link.

  8. says

    You can’t see a framework when you don’t follow the link to see the whole piece. Of course you can’t see the point to it when you don’t actually look at what the rest says in relation to the bit presented/

    A strawman is when someone misrepresents an argument by offering a fake version. Would you mind explaining what you mean? In this context it makes no sense.

    The issue, whether you agree or not, will not be seen without reading the piece so like the framework of course you won’t see it without looking at the authors case. These are not rational reasons for not reading and it seems you were determined not to read it anyway.

    • queequack says

      No, that’s not the case. I read most of the other linked articles, but it seems to me that when the quoted sample is completely unappealing (to me), it’s probably unlikely that I would find the article worth the time it would take to read it, and my time is valuable.

      This

      Men, we are told, shouldn’t hurt women, not because of any intrinsic rights women may have, but because other men might do it to THEIR women, and that would be awful.

      is a strawman, because the only people who push this sort of framework are those who are invested in a very weird and particular strain of conservative pseudofeminism, the cousin of Palin’s “mama grizzly” shit.