New required reading: What a Victim-Blaming World Looks Like to a Victim

There is a spirited conversation going on in the comment threads of a recent post, wherein someone has decided to contribute the oh-so-underrepresented point that victims of assault should have taken better care to avoid the assault. It’s far from a novel point, it’s far from an accurate point, it’s far from a useful point; sadly, it’s not a far from popular point. It is therefore quite serendipitous that my lunch-time reading (which should have been lunchtime blogging) included this excellent piece by Erika Nicole Kendall (Trigger warning for descriptions of abuse and sexual assault):

People far more eloquent than myself have commented on the foolishness of telling victims (and potential victims) that they have some culpability in their ability to be victimized. I’d be a fool to re-mow that neatly manicured lawn.

However, I think we need to fully understand what the world looks like in a space where it is acceptable to tell people that they can protect themselves from being raped. It’s easy to talk about the immediate consequences of a society that thinks that women invite attack by “dressing like sluts” or by “drinking too much” (and yes, I am saying “women” on purpose, despite the story above) and how wrong-headed that thinking is, but what does the world look like when you are told to live in constant fear of being victimized?

You know what it looks like? It looks like young girls, suffering from the advances of grown men who should know and be encouraged to do better, who carry their books across their chest because their breasts attract too much attention. It looks like Mothers of young girls, buying their pre-teen and teenaged daughters giant sweaters to wear to try to hide their breasts, because they “know the boys will stare.” And, right now, as someone says, “Of course they will stare!” I have to wonder – do we even bother to tell our boys (and, hell, grown men, too) how wrong that is? That no, it is not simply “hormones” and “natural urges” to gawk at and objectify a young girl because she’s got a large rack?

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Schadenfreude: Sun News edition

Those of you who have either been reading this blog for several years or who regularly follow my Twitter feed and have caught one of my unhinged rants on the subject, I am decidedly not a fan of Canada’s Sun News Network. While (full disclosure) I would not be a fan of any ‘right wing’ news outlet, there are gradations of obnoxiousness and professionalism that allows me a wide level of tolerance for ideas that do not necessarily reflect my own (Margaret Wente, columnist for The Globe and Mail sits just on the periphery of what I can stand before I begin cursing at my computer monitor). I recognize (and laud) that a commitment to freedom of speech specifically licenses views that I disagree with, and I recognize the importance of heterodoxy in a modern democratic state.

The need for divergent views, however, must be balanced with a respect for truth and a commitment to scrupulous standards of fairness. There is no value in claiming validity for positions that are based in distortions of fact or outright lies. In news circles, this ethos is known as “journalistic integrity” – the idea that news outlets have a duty to provide readers with analysis that as closely approximates objective truth as possible. Now I am nowhere near so naive that I fail to recognize that different outlets have editorial biases – that’s media criticism 101. However, there are standards of good reporting that require all editors to suppress their own personal beliefs in service of giving their audience proper information. [Read more...]

Abuse of power; power of abuse

One of the weird facets of having male, able-bodied, and a great deal of middle-class privilege (that really does border on white privilege at times, my skin colour notwithstanding) is that there are a number of evidently-common phenomena that I have simply never witnessed. I have never known someone to be raped*, I have never seen harassment more obnoxious than cat-calls or a honked horn, and as near as I can tell I have never been on the receiving end of serious discrimination either at the hands of an employer or the police. Left with only my own personal experience as a yardstick for reality, it would be trivially easy for me to fall into the seductive trap of assuming that the world is a fair place and the concerns of anti-abuse groups are very occasional and dramatic exceptions to a general trend of figurative rainbows and puppies.

But because I have made the decision to not only listen to those who have experienced those things, but to engage with their ideas and compare them to the few occasions where I have had to deal with being subjected to discrimination, I have learned to let the weight of my skepticism rest more heavily on those who say there’s no problem than those who say there is one. One recent example of a major transition I have made is my attitude toward police. I have seen too many stories of egregious and unpunished crimes committed by police all over the world to believe that these are isolated incidents that are not reflective of a larger and more disturbing trend. Despite my universally positive personal interactions with Vancouver Police (I have repeatedly noted the positive way they handled both the Occupy Vancouver presence and the post-hockey riots), in the absence of robust and meaningful civilian oversight I am obligated to view all officers with suspicion. [Read more...]

Philosophers: Please Take a Stand

Brian

This is an open letter to the Philosophers out there who consider themselves to be involved in Skepticism (even if only in a tertiary fashion). The ones that I specifically have in mind as I write this are Dr. Massimo Pigliucci, Dr. Daniel Fincke, and Dr. Daniel Dennett*.

Let’s begin with my credentials: I am nobody of import. I am just a guy, whose friend has invited him to occasionally contribute a blog post. I have a Bachelor’s in Philosophy, which means that I have little more than a cursory grasp of the issues within Philosophy. I am not attached or affiliated in any way with any organisation. I’m just a guy with an opinion, who does his best to flesh that opinion out.

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Black History Month: Sero v. Gault

This year for Black History Month I will be examining Colour-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada, 1900-1950 by Constance Backhouse. Please read the preamble post if you haven’t already. Part 1 of this series is here. Part 2 is here, and a follow-up can be found here.

Part of the main thrust of this year’s Black History Month is that while the history of black people is not defined by racism, it is almost impossible to understand the contemporary black experience without carefully examining the way racism has shaped it. As such, there is some valuable information to be gleaned from comparing how white supremacist entities treated other (i.e., non-black minorities) groups and people. Put another way, I believe it is both possible and valuable to examine, for example, the discrimination and ultimate dispossession of the black population of Halifax’s Africville by understanding other groups whose property rights (and indeed, human rights) have been simply ignored by an uncaring and paternalistic political system.

One such example (which is roughly contemporaneous with some of the more egregious aspects of the Africville saga) comes to us in the form of the case of Sero v Gault. Eliza Sero was a Tyendinaga Mohawk woman who shared custody of a fishing net with another woman, through which she gained her livelihood. A provincial government fisheries inspector named Thomas Gault seized Sero’s net on the grounds that she did not have a provincial license. This was no small matter for Sero – her way of supporting herself was caught up in that net (a net she didn’t own outright to begin with), and so she sued. [Read more...]

New required reading: Confessions of a former misogynist

There are times when I read things that people have written on the internet, and I say “that’s wrong”. There are other, slightly rarer times when I read something and say “that’s right, but I could have said it better”. There are still other occasions where I read something and my reaction is “that’s exactly how I would have said it”.

But then there are those rare and happy occasions where I read something and say “fuck, I wish I had written that”. This piece is one of those:

I remember when I first heard the word misogynist. I was talking to a friend about a girl who’d dumped me, and my feelings about feminists creating a society where nice men couldn’t get girlfriends, and he described me as “quite a misogynist”. I asked him what he meant, and he said “it’s simply hatred of women.” I instantly loved the term. I didn’t consider myself a sexist – I thought of Benny Hill as sexist – sexism was just silly but this was serious.

I very seriously thought women were irrational, mad, over-emotional and pseudo-intellectual creatures who would do anything, via new feminism, to crush weak men who suffered from depression, and I hated them. These days, I see a lot of people saying “I’m not a misogynist, but…”, because they don’t want to be called a misogynist, but not me. It was the term I’d been looking for, and I was proud to call myself a misogynist.

This was before the age of social media, but I know what I’d be doing if it was available at the time. I’d be following feminists and strong women on Twitter, combing their tweets for any kind of slip-up that I could use to ‘expose’ them. If I saw a blog or comment by a feminist that challenged my world view, my anger button would be pressed and, rather than responding rationally, I’d lash out with gendered insults, all while completely failing to empathise with them.

The post, which is a lengthy but incredibly worthwhile read, is the story of a man who made a journey very similar to my own (except he had the added bonus of having to contend with clinical depression) from unthinking misogyny and entitlement toward a more egalitarian and healthy relationship with not only women, but with his own anger. [Read more...]

Dos & Don’ts: Responding To Domestic/Sexual Violence Involving A Complete Stranger

A post by Jamie

In Canada this past week, two Earth-shattering events of domestic and sexual violence against women were aired in the news. Trigger warning: if you are a survivor of domestic and/or sexual violence, as I am, and you are already having a bad day, this is not going to be a post you’ll want to read today.

One of those events revolves around Senator Patrick Brazeau — the Algonquin (First Nation) man appointed by Stephen Harper to be the alleged “sober second thought” of the Conservative Party of Canada until 2049; who has since been arrested, charged, thrown out of the Conservative Party, and placed on a mandatory leave of absence from his duties as Senator (while other politicians demand the Senate be abolished once and for all). [Read more...]

B.C.’s premier speaks about her faith

And into the charged atmosphere that is Canada’s current grappling with the theocratic urges of its federal government comes this statement by British Columbia’s premier, Christy Clark:

During her informal 50-minute talk before the ethnically mixed audience, Clark discussed what it means to be a lifelong Anglican, her support for “faith-based” social services, her views on same-sex marriage, her commitment to “kindness” and her approach to the Bible.

“For me it’s been kind of an interesting experience to realize, for the first time in my life, that perhaps being a Christian is something that I should not talk about. But I reject that,” the premier said. Saying B.C. has more “declared atheists” than any province in Canada, Clark nevertheless said for her “the most important thing is to go to church every week and be reminded, by someone whom I respect, to be kind … to be compassionate.”

Now, it should be noted that Premier Clark went out of her way to acknowledge that atheists are not less charitable by disposition, and that she raises them only to contrast secular urges to give with the fact that her giving is inspired directly from her Christian beliefs. In so doing, Clark is walking the well-trodden road of the religious moderate – ‘well it works for me, and religion is all about kindness and compassion and puppies and rainbows’. While it provokes naught but eye-rolling from anti-theists like myself, it is likely to resonate with the people of British Columbia who are a rather mushy lot.

This, however, should be a giant red flag: [Read more...]

Crommunist on the Reality Check podcast

I am a big stupid-head for not posting this promptly. While I was in Ottawa for Eschaton2012, I was interviewed for the Reality Check podcast. The episode with my interview is up, so you can hear my melodious voice (without my malodourous breath – a lot of drankin’ happened in Ottawa).

Check out the podcast here!

Then again, they didn’t put a link to this site on their page, so I don’t feel as bad for not putting this up until now :P

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Canadian government funds anti-gay group to work in Uganda

If you don’t watch the Rachel Maddow Show, you really should. She is unparalleled in her journalistic excellence, and her self-deprecating wit is matched only by her insightfulness. If you’ve watched The Newsroom and longed for a hard-hitting newsman like Will McAvoy, the good news is that Rachel Maddow has been doing exactly what Sorkin fantasizes about, and has been doing so for years.

One of the most heart-wrenching episodes of her show I’ve ever seen takes the form of an interview with Uganda’s David Bahati. Having painstakingly detailed the extent to which Uganda’s anti-gay legislative fervor finds its ideological home in the American conservative movement, Maddow interviews Bahati as one of the chief architects and facilitators of a Uganda bill that would make homosexuality a capital crime. The palpable subtext of the interview is that Maddow is herself gay, and somehow manages to keep her rage in check long enough to expertly interview a clearly-outmatched Bahati.

Canada has decided to insert itself into the anti-gay quagmire that is Uganda’s political infrastructure by sending in exactly who you would want as ambassadors of Canadian values: [Read more...]