Rose DiManno, rape culture ambassador

I had an MRA show up in the comments yesterday. In between the bluster and the self-aggrandizing and the laughable talking points, he did manage to slip in the kernel of an actual point (I know – nobody was more shocked than I was). He reminded me of the claim that I made a couple of weeks ago about the role that male feminists ought to play:

The task falls to male feminists to learn to identify and advocate these ideas, pulling from our own experiences as the above authors have. Like religion, the entire philosophical edifice of gender needs to be critiqued and pulled apart in order to rob it of the power to hurt us in the many ways it does. Not in exclusion to discussions of how patriarchy hurts women, but in addition to it.

Male feminists have a duty to support our female and gender-queer allies, and to use our male privilege as a method to amplify their voices. Beyond that, however, we also have an opportunity to vocalize, perhaps better than anyone else (and certainly better than MRAs), the ways in which our understandings of gender not only hurt women, but hurt men too. There are a variety of experiences and emotions and ways of living that rigid gender roles make socially unacceptable for men, and a number of unacceptable situations that men are forced into for the simple fact of their (our) gender. There is no valid reason for such prohibition, and therefore no justification for its associated harms.

The specific form of the reminder from the commenter was regarding this story (TW for sexual abuse): [Read more...]

Glimmers of secular hope

There has been a great fracas recently within atheist/secularist circles as ‘Horseman’ Sam Harris has been subjected to repeated critique* as the avatar of a disturbing trend within atheist circles: using “reason” to mask anti-Muslim sentiment in politically pallatable language. I have noted this tendency previously:

I don’t think anyone could confuse me with someone who is pro-Islam. As much as I find all religions repugnant, the face of Islam we see today is one of repressive fanaticism that stifles human progress. To be sure, there are plenty of examples of fanaticism in Christianity as well, to say nothing of Hindu and Buddhist repression happening in India and other parts of Asia. Whether it is due to anti-Muslim bias and the collision of Islam and secularism in Europe, or a reflection of the true excess of Islamic regimes, the news consistently carries stories of Muslim-dominated countries carrying out horrible acts with the excuses of Qur’anic license on their lips. I will not relent or shrink from criticizing this inhuman (or perhaps all-too-human) display of authoritarianism with claimed divine mandate.

That being said, there is a backlash against Muslims that is not based on their beliefs per se, but about our attitude about the danger that Muslims (and Islam) pose to the world. This attitude is not informed by evidence, but fueled by paranoia and misinformation. It qualifies, by every comparative standard that I can think of, as just as worthy of criticism as racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, take your pick.

My concern is that atheists find it far too tempting to single out Islam for particular opprobium because the stories we hear about Islamist-dominated countries are so dramatic. We conclude from the drama that Islam per se is a particularly twisted ideology, above and beyond the ideology of, say, Christianity. My counter-claim to this assertion is that Christianity contains essentially all of the same commandments and prohibitions and exhortations that Islam does, but time and the rise of secular society have rendered it, in the aggregate, less overtly oppressive than the current incarnation of Islam (again, in the aggregate). [Read more...]

Asking for a friend…

When I was a little kid, people (including family and teachers) made a big deal about my intelligence. In strong contrast to what I understand to be the experience of many black children in white-dominated environments, I was always complimented for my intellect and encouraged to push further. It was a rare occasion, however, that my physical appearance or size was made an issue (except in the sense of “you’re bigger than the other kids, so be more careful”).

There was a recent dust-up when the President attempted to crack a joke while fundraising for an attorney general in California:

President Barack Obama has apologised to the California attorney general for remarking on her appearance at a fundraising event on Thursday. Mr Obama described Kamala Harris, a long-time friend, as “the best-looking attorney general in the country”. Ms Harris’s spokesman said she strongly supported Mr Obama but would not say whether she had accepted his apology. Critics have cited the remark as an example of the ongoing hurdles women face in the workplace.

Speaking after Ms Harris at the fundraising event in California on Thursday, Mr Obama said she was “brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you’d want in anybody who is administering the law and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake”. Then he added: “She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country… It’s true. Come on. And she is a great friend and has just been a great supporter for many, many years.”

On its own, divorced from context, this is exactly the kind of compliment you would like to receive from a friend – that you are hard-working and capable, and attractive to boot. However, eyebrows were of course raised because this isn’t just one buddy saying a nice thing about another – this is the President of the United States making the physical appearance of the Attorney General of California an issue. It is somewhat inconceivable that he would give a man the same kind of compliment in that situation. And in an environment where women’s appearance is used to dismiss or denigrate their competence - regardless of their station - the comment takes on a disturbing element.

Black feminists, however, have noted that there is an unexplored phenomenon in this story: Ms. Harris is a black woman. The well-worn stereotype about black femininity does not often include the possibilty of being competent and attractive. In the realm of black femininity, they say, the compliment tacks sharply against both the stereotype of black women as not competent and as not attractive. Far from being troubling, some black feminists have found the comment a welcome one, and have criticized white feminists for failing to take the racial element into account when parsing the president’s words.

In the spirit of honouring that type of intersectionality, friend of the blog Slignot has reached out and made the following request:

I was writing about the importance of complimenting children on things they do rather than things they are when I realized I had a deeply limited experience as a white woman who grew up in an overwhelmingly white place (Utah). As I made a generalized background point about boys more commonly being complimented for being smart & girls for being pretty, I realized I have no idea whether this is remotely true when you’re not assuming white experiences being the default or norm.

As soon as I recognized my mistake, I tried to see if anyone had done any sort of discussion of this when talking about the pretty/smart gender divide but either it’s not readily available or my google-fu just was lousy today. So I decided to ask Crommunist on Twitter if he’d be willing to tell me about his experiences with compliments growing up. However, this ran into the problem of his experiences not being necessarily representative outside of the particular circumstances of his upbringing in Canada. I was able to get a few other answers from people through Twitter that lead me to believe that there’s probably a whole lot more going on here with other stereotype threats that need recognition when we talk about inequitable treatment of kids based on gender.

So if you’re willing to share your experiences, I very much want to know what sort of compliments you received growing up, who gave them to you and honestly how much of the time they doubled as microaggressions. (As someone pointed out to me, people told him he was smart, but in tones that conveyed this was surprising to them.) Does the smart/pretty gender divide apply?

Because my audience is a bit larger and more diverse than hers (I think), I’m boosting the signal for this request to see if others can bring their personal experiences to bear and help to flesh out her piece. Please leave a comment here, or contact her on Twitter.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

UPDATE: Kevin Drum posts an analysis of this worthwhile empirical exploration of the effect that introducing appearance has in these kinds of discussion.

Skepchickileaks

In the past I have mocked a lot of the hyperbolic rage-whining that comes at near-incessant frequency from the band of devoted camp followers that have made it their life’s mission to destroy FreethoughtBlogs, Skepchick, Atheism+, feminism, the concept of equality, the colour orange, and basically anything else they consider a personal affront. I have not held back in voicing my scorn for a group of people who seem to have endless amount of time, energy, hatred, and immaturity – I seriously do not know where these people find the wherewithal to work themselves into this level of froth over the fact that a blog network exists.

One of the oft-parroted claims made by this shrieking horde is that FTBchickminism+ is “ruining the movement”: that atheism was doing just stupendously well for everyone before the “FTBullies”* showed up and ruined it by… I honestly have never been clear on what the mechanism of “ruining” has been. This, of course, is contrasted against the other claim – that FTBchickminism+ is so ludicrously marginal and derogated by all right-thinking atheists that it is an abject failure and can’t possibly amount to anything. It is sometimes the same people making these contradictory claims. The mind boggles.

Up until now, my position on this kind of over-wrought conspiracy mongering has been fairly consistent: FTB is not the boogey-man; it’s a network of blogs that (mostly) existed before there was a network to begin with. Atheism+ isn’t ruining atheism; it’s a reaction to the fact that it was already ruined for a lot of people. Skepchick is not rounding up all male atheists to throw them into a witch’s cauldron of menses and liquid misandry. Go get hobbies that don’t involve Twitter, Reddit, or Photoshop.

That was until a recent event that, as far as I know, I am the first person to bring to the public sphere. [Read more...]

Mere speech

There is a long predigree in liberal public discourse about the dangers of punishing hate speech. The oft-quoted aphorism goes something like “the antidote to hate speech is more speech”*. The basic idea is that in a marketplace of ideas, bad ideas will be forced out by good ones, and thus the solution to hate speech is to marginalize hateful voices by speaking up vigorously in the defense of those who need it. This has been, proponents of this view claim, the way our society has moved overt and hateful racism from the mainstream to the margins: good people decided it was time to push racist voices out of the mainstream, and nobody had to pass a law making it a crime to be racist.

The truth, of course, is far more complicated than that. This account moves the agency of black people to the back of the bus (yeah, I went there) and makes the provisional successes of civil rights groups in eradicating racism the work of the goodwill of the majority rather than the work of organized people who fought against the system. It also ignores the fact that, even to this day, racist language might be gone, but the racism it described has just found more palatable words to convey the same message it always has. Finally, it ignores the role that craven politics and opportunism played in whatever cultural shift has genuinely happened.

That being said, the point remains: it is not necessary to criminalize hate speech to reduce it. The argument then (often) follows that we should therefore not criminalize it, because of some non-specific harm that may come to some white person down the road who will be mistakenly blamed for saying something that hurts a brown person’s feelings. Or something. I have, in recent years, moved away from the “absolute free speech” position I held for many years, and it’s partially because of stories like this: [Read more...]

Credit where it’s due

It’s an unfortunate reality for minority groups that they are often pressured to embody exemplary behaviour. Because of a tide of suspicion and hostility often flows against minority groups (some more than others), these groups must often model a standard of morality, fastidiousness, and earnestness that is not required of members of the majority group, simply as a matter of survival. Failure to perform in this way usually means that the entire group is punished for the (ordinary and expected) transgressions of a select few. Black folks know this as the “twice as good” phenomenon.

And so it is with some self-loathing that I congratulate the leaders of the London Muslim Mosque for releasing a statement condemning extremist violence:

Muslim leaders in London, Ont., say they “unequivocally condemn violent extremism of any kind” following the identification of two young Canadians from the city as participants in a deadly attack in Algeria earlier this year. Chair of the London Muslim Mosque, Rob Osman, said at a news conference Tuesday that “the Association of London Muslims has and will continue to unequivocally condemn violent extremism of any kind, as this is the opposite to the core teachings of Islam.”

CBC News has learned that two al-Qaeda-linked militants, Xristos Katsiroubas, 22, and Ali Medlej, 24, came from a comfortable middle-class neighbourhood in London and were former high school friends, who may have attended the mosque. The attack on an Algerian gas plant left more than three dozen refinery workers dead, the final 10 of whom were reportedly tied to gas plant piping and killed in a massive bomb blast.

Munir El-Kassem, imam of the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario, also spoke at the news conference, and said that “we as Muslims are as concerned as everybody else.” El-Kassem said the families of the two suspects were not known to him or his colleagues.

[Read more...]

Who occupies “the middle ground”? A story of an open letter

Yesterday, I admonished you to read a Colorlines piece that details, in a step-by-step fashion, the way that majority spaces react when minority members speak up about discrimination. I put a particular emphasis on step three:

Step 3: Play the ‘Middle’ Between Rational and Frothing Racist

You know how mainstream news shows discuss global warming by pairing an actual scientist who points to decades of consistent research with an oil-company shill who says global warming can’t be real because Al Gore said something dumb once? And you know how the news anchor moderating the discussion gets to occupy the “rational” “middle” ground by saying “more research is probably needed”? You’re that guy now. Crackpots don’t get people fired, people who validate crackpots do, so get to work.

Let me get you started on your “common-sense” blog post, article or mainstream interview: “We can all agree that the behavior of these Internet trolls is unconscionable. However, let’s not discount their concerns because of a few bad apples…”

You’ve got some primo poli-sci Overton Window triangulation going on now! By assigning the Internet trolls one end of the alignment spectrum, you’ve successfully shifted the terms of the debate from, “What can be done about rampant unjust outcomes for women and people of color?” to “How many racial epithets is it OK to fit in a tweet?” Also, don’t moderate the comments on your blog post, even if they overtly threaten women and people of color. That would be, like, censorship.

The reason I highlighted this point, apart from my personal exasperation at the “tone” argument as a whole, is because I want to talk about something else I read yesterday.

Those of you who are familiar with the online atheist community are all-too-aware of the fact that atheist spaces are currently grappling with their own failures to attract women and people of colour. The problem mirrors one that the American Republican Party is having, and the people arguing against structural changes make many of the same arguments – that what is needed is merely a ‘pinkwash’ or a ‘brownwash’, rather than a concerted effort to change the culture. I have summarized my view of how we got to this position in a previous post, but the even summarier summary is that people began asking why women weren’t participating, but only some of those people accepted the answers they were given.

In response to what is (sincerely by some, ironically by others) being called the “deep rifts” within atheist communities, an Open Letter was drafted, and several high-profile secular groups signed it. It calls for, among other things, a détente between people on “both sides” of the “deep rift”, and a pledge to model more “constructive” standards of communication. I quote from that letter selectively: [Read more...]

New required reading: How to Get a Black Woman Fired

I haven’t commented on the Adria Richards thing at all, which some people might find surprising since it lives right at the intersection of sexism and racism where I do some of my best work. There are a few reasons for this: circumstances have robbed me of quite a bit of my writing mojo, the story was covered from every conceivable angle and I didn’t have anything new to contribute, and I don’t really know enough about the world of tech to really comment much on the climate. All that being said, I have been following and reading and listening.

This piece in particular, I think, has broad resonance:

Last week Jamilah King assembled a list of survival tips for techies who are not men and not white. Now, let’s look at the other side and examine how trolls, mansplainers, amateur Internet career counselors — plus some self-identified feminists and well-meaning types — willfully or unwittingly contribute to a pattern that just so happens to rescue large groups of professional white men from the unchecked tyranny of individuals who aren’t professional white men.

In this handy guide guide brought to you by me, Colorlines.com’s self-appointed white male correspondent, I’ll walk y’all through the steps that lead up to almost every incidence of HR-by-mob. While the details of every case aren’t identical, let’s recall that we’ve seen this happen to black women all walks of life, ranging fromformer Department of Agriculture state director Shirley Sherrod to meteorologist Rhonda Lee to women of color targeted by DADT in the military. It’s also how cultural commentators such as Zerlina MaxwellAnita SarkeesianRebecca Watson and Courtney Stanton became the targets of months-long smear campaigns, obscene Wikipedia edits, and threats of sexual assault and other violence, solely because they called out racism and sexism where they saw it. The pattern is real and not new at all, and we can’t interrupt it until we understand it.

As is the case with all posts in the “New Required Reading” series, the whole thing should be read in its entirety, and I’m not going to quote the whole post, but there are a few things I want to do. First, and easiest, is to list the steps: [Read more...]

(un)Fairly Labeled

There is a great deal of consternation that gets kicked up over the terms “racist” and “misogynist” (I would also put “homophobic” in this category, but it is a special case). People who engage in racist or misogynistic behaviour, or who espouse racist or misogynistic attitudes, will furiously clutch their pearls and fan themselves feverishly whenever the dreaded “r word” or “m word” are applied to their behaviour. “But I’m not a racist!” they will cry “how dare you call me such a thing!”

Those who are thus rebuked have developed a fun new pattern of congregating to lick their collective wounds and lash out at those who have applies such ugly and hurtful labels to them. To them! Of all people! To be called such a hurtful thing! It’s beyond the pale!

 It slaps pejorative labels—racist and sexist—on great segments of the population on the grounds of the skin colour and genitals they happened to be born with, and aims to radicalize other segments into a state of perpetual victimhood.

The above is sliced from a piece quoted by fellow FTBorg Avicenna. The original piece seeks to deny the existence of privilege by pointing out just how awful it is to be racialized as white, or gendered as male. It’s not an original argument, nor is it particularly well-argued – I will say that the writing is pretty good. Even so, I don’t recommend reading the whole piece (the original – not Avicenna’s; I assume you read everything he publishes) unless you have a lot of time to kill and some extra eyes to roll, but it’s the exerpted piece I want to expound upon a bit today. [Read more...]