SlutWalk: the missing racial perspective

In my earlier post about SlutWalk, I made reference to a blog post that called the white blindness prevalent in SlutWalk – the complete failure to recognize that slut is not only gendered but racialized as well. There’s a lot of really good stuff in there:

Had SlutWalk organizers considered New Orleans – or perhaps any city in the Northern Hemisphere where undocumented women possess a very real fear that a call to the police for any reason will result in her own deportation – they might have thought twice about sinking so much time and energy into their event. They might have had to listen to women of color, and actually involve them in visioning for what an equitable future would look like. Instead, they decided to celebrate a term not everyone is comfortable even saying.

There is no indication that SlutWalk will even strip the word “slut” from its hateful meaning. The n-word, for example, is still used to dehumanize black folks, regardless of how many black folks use it among themselves. Just moments before BART officer James Mehserle shot Oscar Grant to death in Oakland in 2009, video footage captured officers calling Grant a “bitch ass nigger.” It didn’t matter how many people claimed the n-word as theirs – it still marked the last hateful words Grant heard before a white officer violently killed him.

Whether white supremacist hegemony was SlutWalk’s intent or not is beyond my concern – because it has certainly been so in effect. This event will not stop the criminalization of black women in New Orleans, nor will it stop one woman from being potentially deported after she calls the police subsequent to being raped. SlutWalk completely ignores the way institutional violence is leveled against women of color. The event highlights its origins from a privileged position of relative power, replete with an entitlement of assumed safety that women of color would never even dream of. We do not come from communities in which it feels at all harmless to call ourselves “sluts.” Aside from that, our skin color, not our style of dress, often signifies slut-hood to the white gaze.

A common problem in discussions of minority groups is that it becomes too temptingly easy to focus on your own oppression and ignore the fact that some of your compatriots feel things quite a bit differently. It certainly doesn’t help when you are then accused of “hating” the majority group because you level reasonable criticisms at them (poke through the comments at the bottom of the link for examples of what I mean):

If you want to open space for a new dialogue, you need to take down the “white supremacist” nonsense from your article. This is such BS – you are being an enemy to ANYONE who wants to speak out against rape, regardless of what their color is. Oh, but that’s right, you don’t give a **** if white women get raped. They deserve it, right? Who the he** cares if THEY get raped – is that what you are trying to say?

That’s a direct quote from a race-baiting sock puppet that haunts the comments section.

Over at PoCO, much the same argument is being made:

I thought to myself, after hearing of SlutWalk, about how much language and empowerment is racialized. How would the Mexican-American mothers I know feel about their daughters calling themselves whores? Or the Black mothers of friends react to their daughters calling themselves sluts? Probably not well. Many communities of color have had growing movements against anti-woman language for good reason. For communities of color, even those who aren’t expressly political, there’s a visceral reaction to name-calling aimed at women of color, who are seemingly always the targets of names whose historical, cultural, social and political edge white women will never confront.

From ‘welfare queens‘ to ‘unwed mothers,’ images are almost always racial. As a Latino male, people who look like me (and Black men as well) are often the ones visualized when people think gender oppression. But white supremacy means Caucasians do not, for the most part, need to think about messaging regarding normalcy and deviance, or that people of color, especially women of color, have been subject to these issues all our lives. Historically, the masses of white women have not fought with women of color, but instead sided with white men in exchange for their own freedoms.

These are legitimate criticisms, not dismissals of the event as a whole. The point of such criticism is not to tear down the cause, but to expose some of the hypocrisy and unexplored biases and cognitive hiccups that might (and usually are) otherwise be ignored. Read the criticisms, learn from them, do better next time.

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Special Feature: I participate in SlutWalk Vancouver

This past Sunday, I participated in the local (to Vancouver) SlutWalk event. I have spoken previously about the issues that preceded this event, so if you haven’t heard of it you should probably read that post. I will attempt to summarize: a police officer in Toronto suggested that women who don’t want to get raped probably shouldn’t “dress like a slut”. Giving Constable Sanguinetti the benefit of the doubt for a moment, I’m sure what he was trying to say is that rapists are more likely to target women who are wearing clothes that expose skin than someone dressed in, say, business casual (more on this later). What followed was a backlash against the idea that rape victims are “asking for it” through their dress, as though a woman’s job is to not provoke the ravenous male hordes through improper dress.

Obviously, when put into context, this idea is not only wrong but very dangerous. Women are often blamed for being raped, disbelieved by even their own families and the judicial system. This kind of slut-shaming double standard inherently disadvantages women – “slut” is always a gendered term even when used (subversively) to describe men. Inherent in the word slut is the idea that a woman enjoying her sexuality is dirty and immoral. It is leveled against women irrespective of their level of sexual activity – a girl who sleeps with her boyfriend for the first time (or indeed, who has never done anything sexual) is just as likely to be called a slut by those around her as is a professional sex worker. Neither of them deserves the appellation – the word should never be used.

In this post, I will give some of my reactions to the event.

The Good

1. Attendance

I wasn’t sure how many people would bother to come to an event like this. Keep in mind that it was pouring rain at various points that day (this is Vancouver, after all), but there was a crowd of around 1,000 people (my estimate would have been higher, but that’s what the paper said) there. Some were dressed in a variety of costumes: three men in operatic drag, a woman in a Saran Wrap dress, a young woman in a really uncomfortable-looking corset, a guy wearing a tiny t-shirt and silver bicycle shorts (not a flattering look… they kept slipping down), and my personal favourite: bandana man – so named because that’s all that covered his junk. My response to my friend (who I will call “Julie” just for simplicity’s sake) was “wow, who knew people actually cared about women’s rights?”

2. Who Attended

One would expect that an event like this would be almost entirely women. I was pleasantly surprised at the gender mix: still majority women but with a lot of friends, spouses, boyfriends, and people like me who simply care about the issue there. It is a sad fact of the sexual double-standard that these kinds of issues only seem to gain real traction when men start speaking about them, but at least the Y chromosome camp was well-represented. It certainly surprised a couple of knuckle-draggers who showed up expecting a parade of sluts, and were instead confronted by a group of passionate feminist allies.

3. Support

This was not a fringe event where only a few whackos showed up (although there were a few of those, to be sure). In addition to various legal and social support organizations, the deputy mayor of Vancouver Ellen Woodworth showed up and spoke at the kickoff to the march (“As a lesbian, a queer, a dyke… I know the power that words have”). Media were present, and sponsors had donated materials and time to the event. The Vancouver Police were also on hand to block traffic, which was important because there were a lot of people on the streets.

4. The Reaction

Nothing was more rewarding than seeing people’s faces as the parade moved past. People were shocked to see not only the attire, but the word “SLUT” paraded defiantly and openly through the streets. I said to Julie “that is the face of consciousnesses being raised.”

The Bad

1. Messaging

One of the stated purposes of SlutWalk was to reclaim the word ‘slut’, in order to rob it of its power. Ultimately, I disagreed with this part of the campaign. Like with the word “nigger”, I don’t think that re-appropriating words is a useful endeavour. I am of the opinion that people should be forced to deal with the full history and implication of a word like ‘slut’, and to understand that it is a word that cannot be separated from inherent hatred of women. Once people understand not only where it comes from, but how it is used to silence, shame and victimize women, they won’t want to use it. I have never been the target of the word ‘slut’, and so it is not my place to say that women shouldn’t re-appropriate it; my criticism is of the idea of re-appropriating words in general.

2. Failing to understand the point

I spotted a number of signs saying things like “real men don’t rape” and “don’t tell me how to dress; tell men how not to rape” and “rapists cause rape, not women”. Even one of the organizers went up and said “women don’t need to be reminded not to dress slutty; men need to be reminded that they will go to jail!” While I understand the spirit behind the statement, I think it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of rape and slut-shaming. Men that rape women do not do so because they want to get laid*. They certainly don’t do it because they “are rapists” any more than people commit crimes because they “are criminals”. Failing to understand this is committing a fundamental attribution error.

Rape is an issue of control and respect. Rape is the result of someone believing that their own wishes supercede the rights of another person, and that the victim deserves her/his treatment for whatever reason. Rape, like all violence against women, is the product of the idea that women do not have the right to sexual self-determination. The word ‘slut’ is a manifestation of that idea. It is the idea that needs to be fought, rather than focussing on “rapists” – as though that was a group in and of itself that must be identified and punished. A man who doesn’t rape because it’s illegal will rape as soon as he thinks he can get away with it. Better to make fewer men that think rape is acceptable.

3. Failing to address the fallacy

There was a particularly powerful moment during the introductory speeches, where one of the organizers said “I am a woman, a colleague, a friend, a girlfriend, and a person deserving of respect.” She then removed her pants, revealing a short sequined skirt, followed by the words “I am still a woman, a colleague, a friend, a girlfriend, and I am still a person deserving of respect.” It was a perfect demonstration of the fact that regardless of a person’s apparel, she/he should be treated as a self-determining individual whose body is her/his own. However, as great as the demonstration was, it skipped over an important point.

While it is difficult to get exact numbers on this (since many sexual assaults go unreported, particularly in places where they are not taken seriously), I hope those of you who are skeptically-minded will allow me to get away with the following assertion: places that have strict dress codes for women do not have lower rates of sexual assault. While it is my suspicion that these places have higher rates of assault, at least we can conclusively state that covering women head to toe does not eliminate the risk of sexual victimization. The fallacy committed by Constable Sanguinetti was not that he was impolitic in his wording, it’s that the original statement is nonsense. The way that women dress is not related to their risk of being raped, at least at a population level.

I am reminded of the old joke about the two hikers that run afoul of a bear. While the first hiker starts running, the second quickly starts putting on his running shoes. “You fool!” calls the first hiker “Those shoes aren’t enough to outrun a bear!” The second hiker says “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I only have to outrun you.” There is no standard definition or quantitative parameters for what “dressing like a slut” means. It is entirely subjective – the things that are worn by the women I work with would be considered pornographic in many Middle-Eastern countries. The problem is not the clothes; it’s our attitudes towards women and sexuality.

This point was not adequately addressed by the speakers, and I think it was a real missed opportunity.

The Ugly

1. The Racial Double-Standard

Vancouver is a city with a large East- and South-Asian population. Black women and aboriginal women are disproportionately more likely to be victims of sexual assault (including rape) than are white women. Neither of these facts would have been apparent while looking at the crowd. Like most feminist and social activist causes in North America, SlutWalk Vancouver was attended by white people, organized by white people, and focused on issues that do not include race. One of the speakers was Angela, a woman who works front-line for a victim support service in Vancouver’s downtown East Side (DTES). She began talking about the work that she and her colleagues did while dealing with assault victims, and whenever she talked about defending women from rapists, her every sentence was greeted with enthusiastic applause and cheering.

When Angela pivoted to point out that there is a racial component of the word “slut” that is largely ignored, that women of colour don’t particularly want to take back the word “slut”, that this wasn’t an issue of wearing a little black dress but of not being beaten and subsequently ignored by the legal system, the reaction was far more muted. I think I might have been the only person who cheered.

There is a common theme in the intersection between race and feminism. Feminism is well-tended by white women, and many women of colour recognize that there is a need for shared mutual struggle. However, when issues of race and racism – particularly the fact that PoC are disproportionately affected by sexism – come up, there is significant hesitation to face those head-on. Aura Blogando calls this ‘white supremacy’ – I think that characterization is perhaps a bit strong. I think of it more in terms of “white blindness”, or more familiarily, privilege. White women are very enthusiastic to address those issues that are germane to themselves, but more reluctant (it seems) to bring issues affecting PoCs to the fore except in very tokenistic ways (for example, the organizers of SWV noted correctly that Vancouver is built on unceded Saalish territory, but didn’t say word one about the fact that Aboriginal women are more often the victims of assault).

By completely dismissing, or at least not making a point of raising, the issues associated with race, SlutWalk Vancouver allowed white people to feel good about themselves for standing up to one injustice, without having to deal with the related injustice in which their own (unexplored) attitudes play a role. This criticism should not be interpreted as an indemnification of white people, merely an observation that these issues tend not to become publicly-relevant until they affect the majority (in much the same way as sexism issues don’t get treated seriously until men complain about it too).

So in all of it, the good bad and ugly, I think SlutWalk Vancouver was a success. People from many different walks of life were present to raise consciousness about an issue that I think is very important, and hopefully a conversation will be sparked about not only the word “slut”, but how we think of women in our society in general. I was proud to participate, and look forward to more opportunities to do the same.

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* I will no doubt be criticized for making the generalization that it is only men that rape women, or that only women are raped. I fully recognize that men rape men, and less frequently women rape men or other women. Rapists are not exclusively male, and victims are not exclusively female. I also recognize that transpersons are caught in a tricky gender classification limbo, and are disproportionately more likely to be victims of sexual assault and rape than are cispersons. It is not my intention to diminish these cases, and I hope I do not come across as dismissive of this very real issue.

In defense of the “weaker sex”

Note: This article first appeared on Monday, February 28th on Canadian Atheist. While it is CA policy not to cross-post, I felt that this case needed to be made on as many outlets as I could.

A good friend of mine posted a story on my Facebook wall last week about a police officer who fell victim to the arch-stupidity of the “she was asking for it” argument:

A police officer who suggested women can avoid sexual assault by not dressing like “sluts” has apologized, saying he is “embarrassed” by the remark and that assaulted women are “not victims by choice.”

“I made a comment which was poorly thought out and did not reflect the commitment of the Toronto Police Service to the victims of sexual assaults,” Const. Michael Sanguinetti wrote on Thursday to Osgoode Hall Law School where he made the comment. “Violent crimes such as sexual assaults can have a traumatizing effect on their victims. . . . My comment was hurtful in this respect.”

It’s a tired trope that is almost guaranteed to come up in any discussion of women and sexuality – if women didn’t make themselves so open to sexual predators then they’d be safer. It is due to the privilege of being male that this argument offends me only intellectually, since I will never be the target of a sexual assault. I will never appreciate the visceral part of the feminist response to this argument, try as I might. The reason this particular friend posted the link on my wall is that she and I have gone 9 rounds on it in the past, with me articulating the “personal responsibility” position. Don’t worry – I got better.

However, a second friend of mine saw this and posted what he thought was an entirely reasonable response. His response (I’ll call him “Billy” just so we can avoid pronoun confusion) was that the story failed to take the police officer’s side into account. It is a fact, said Billy, that women will be less inviting targets for assault if they are dressed more conservatively and hide their sexuality. Billy didn’t understand why this was such a controversial statement, and was taken aback with Sheila’s (again, for the same of pronoun confusion) full-throated and confrontational response. Billy messaged me afterward to apologize for starting a fight on my wall, and confessing that he couldn’t really understand what he had said that was so inflammatory.

The problem with this “she was asking for it” argument, aside from the fact that it isn’t true (sexual assault is just as common in Muslim countries where women have to stay covered and none of them dress sexy for fear of being arrested, beaten, or scalded with acid), is that it completely misses the point, and tries to derive an “ought” from an “is”. The mere fact that a woman is more likely to be assaulted if she wears certain types of clothing does not make it right. The solution to the problem is not for women to “dress less slutty” (a phrase which is provocative enough on its own), but for men to realize that a woman’s choice of dress is not an open invitation to sexual assault.

It seems as though this seemingly-obvious (once explained) argument still has yet to suffuse through common consciousness:

A University of Manitoba law professor has concerns about a judge’s comments at a sexual assault sentencing. Karen Busby said the remarks by Justice Robert Dewar are a legal throwback to the time when how a woman dressed or acted could be treated as implied consent to sex. Dewar said “sex was in the air” when he spared a man jail time by handing him a two-year conditional sentence instead and allowing him to remain free in the community.

During the sentencing, Dewar also commented on the way the woman was dressed and her actions the night she was forced to have sex in the woods along a dark highway outside Thompson in 2006. The man and a friend met the 26-year-old woman and her girlfriend earlier that night outside a bar under what the judge called “inviting circumstances.” He pointed out the victim and her friend were dressed in tube tops, no bras, and high heels and noted they were wearing plenty of makeup. Dewar called the man a “clumsy Don Juan” who may have misunderstood what the victim wanted.

On a Facebook wall, the kind of statement that Billy made (although, to be sure, he didn’t intend to suggest that it is a rape victim’s fault for being assaulted and he went out of his way to say so) is merely annoying. When it comes from a judge’s mouth, it carries behind it the force of law. I do not wish to derogate Justice Dewar’s abilities as a jurist – perhaps he would have handed down an identical sentence if the victim’s clothing had not been a factor. One cannot guarantee that this would have been the case for all judges, although it certainly should be.

And certainly, this kind of cavalier attitude toward sexual assault does appear in other places:

Reports that women are being sexually assaulted at a Downtown Eastside shelter are being ignored, a coalition of women and women’s groups is charging. But the agency that oversees the First United Church co-ed shelter at Gore and Hastings says it has had meetings with both police and women’s groups on the matter and is actively working to address it. “The safety and security of people using provincially funded shelters are our top priority,” said a statement from BC Housing, which funds and has an operation agreement with the shelter. “We will continue working together to make sure the shelter is a safe place to stay.” But Harsha Walia, a coordinator at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Shelter, said women have reported sexual abuse to front-line workers, police and staff at the shelter, and nothing has been done about it.

When it is a woman’s fault for being assaulted, when her mere presence is provocation enough to justify some kind of violence against her, we know something has gone terribly wrong. When we turn a blind eye to women being assaulted, we cannot call ourselves a society where women enjoy equal or sufficient rights under the law. And because language like “she was asking for it” or “don’t dress like a slut” only serves to reinforce the casual tolerance of violence against women that leads to assault, it is the job of every feminist to speak out against it whenever it comes up. It will forever be a source of chagrin for me that I didn’t always speak this way, but I bloody well will from now on.

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I missed Valentine’s Day!

Well… maybe “missed” isn’t the right word. I’m mostly indifferent to the passage of Valentine’s Day, mostly because I’ve successfully managed to avoid being in a relationship for many years, and while I am happy for my friends who have coupled up, the prospect doesn’t really appeal much to me. As with all things though, just because I don’t like something, it doesn’t mean I have cause to stop other people from doing it (unless it directly harms me or someone else).

This, among many other reasons, is why I will never be elected to office in Malaysia:

Islamic morality police in Malaysia have arrested more than 80 Muslims in an operation to stop them celebrating Valentine’s Day. Officers raided budget hotels in the central state of Selangor and capital, Kuala Lumpur, detaining unmarried Muslim couples who were sharing rooms. The religious authorities in Malaysia say Valentine’s Day is synonymous with immoral activities. Those arrested could be jailed for up to two years if convicted.

While I like the idea of punishing people for religious hypocrisy (can you imagine what our society would look like if you were legally obligated to practice what you preach?), I am less in favour of doing so in a country where you can be declared Muslim by legislative fiat. I am even less in favour of laws being passed for reasons of morality, particularly when the religious are the ones deciding what is moral and what isn’t.

I’m sure that the lawmakers in this case think that they are acting to maintain a sense of good, chaste morality for the benefit of all society. While I would challenge them to demonstrate such a benefit, I would also point out that the religious sex fetish does little to prevent “immoral” sexuality, and seems to go a long way toward compelling the kinds of behaviours that they claim are so anathema, whilst simultaneously making people less likely to engage in the kinds of risk-reduction that prevent real harms from occurring.

Here’s the kicker line:

Human rights groups say actions such as the Valentine’s Day ban harm Malaysia’s image as a moderate and progressive Muslim-majority state.

This is what passes for “moderate” and “progressive” when we talk about Muslim theocracy. How sad. Again, as I said back in August, it’s a state that is making small inroads, but it’s still a crime to be gay there. If this is what is considered “moderate” and “progressive”, we’re clearly grading on the mother of all bell curves.

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B.C. Ferries cracks down on… wait, what?

Sometimes things happen that are so stupid that I’m not quite sure what to say:

Ferry riders using BC Ferries free WiFi service are out of luck if they want to buy condoms online or research where to get an abortion. That’s because BC Ferries online web filters are designed to block any websites about “sex education and abortion”, along with those for sites like pornography, hate speech and piracy.

Although I’m puzzled as to the circumstances under which you’d need information about abortion or condoms on a 2-hour ferry ride, I’m even more baffled by why anybody would bother to block such sites. Were there complaints lodged against frequent abortion searchers? Did someone abandon their laptop and have some poor Amish kid who’d never heard of condoms before wander over and accidentally see a picture of something that suggested sex?

From a consequentialist point of view, this is really a non-issue. Information about abortions and condoms is easily available just about anywhere in the major cities, and given that most kids have ready access to the internet at home and at school, and get semi-decent sex ed in their high school classes, banning access to these kinds of sites really won’t have a negative impact on anyone. The part that’s disturbing is the company these sites supposedly keep:

The list of blocked content categories includes typical filtered items like “child porn”, “hate speech”, “illegal activities” and “non-sexual nudity” along with bandwidth-hogging content like “streaming media” and “file transfer services”. But the list also includes any sites about abortion, a legal medical service in B.C., and sex education, which is part of the B.C. curriculum.

BC Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall said the ferry corporation decided to block such material because it feared websites about abortion or sex education might contain inappropriate photos.

Is Craigslist filtered? Is Reddit? Is 4chan? If you want to find inappropriate images, those are pretty decent one-stop shops. Not only that, but depending on your definition of “inappropriate”, Google image search will yield some… well you be the judge.

It seems like a bizarrely arbitrary line to draw, and this particular grab-bag of issues smacks of political gamesmanship.

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Why I’m not content to “leave it be”

Go on any Youtube video that has anything to do with religion. Go ahead – I’ll wait.

Found one yet? Good. Now scroll down the comments section. I’m willing to bet money that somewhere in the first 3 pages (unless the pages are dominated by a conversation between a troll and someone patiently attempting to explain evolution or Pascal’s Wager or cosmology to said troll) there is a comment from someone saying something like the following:

“man we shood all chill wit this religion arguin shit let ppl believe wut they believe……i believe in god…..if u dont theres no judgin…..it doesnt affect me so therefore idc and dont judge me sayin that im livin a lie bcuz thats not wut i believe and wut i believe matters to me…..not opinions from u guys tryin to prove your theory…..there is no way to prove god…….but let ppl believe wut they do and chill da fuck out!!”

I’ve talked before about this kind of response and why it’s a futile one. In religious circles it’s “let people believe what they want!”; in racial circles it’s “black people need to get over it”; and in LGBT circles it’s “gay people need to stop complaining”. These kinds of comments are reminiscent of nothing more than a child whining that they’re quitting a game because the big kids are meanies. It’s the rhetorical equivalent to standing up and proudly refusing to take part in a conversation because you’re too lazy. Issues are important, and the truth is even more so. If you don’t want to be part of the conversation, that’s your business; only don’t insert yourself into it only so long as it takes to chastise everyone else for having the courage to take a stand.

Here’s the problem with everyone just “chilling da fuck out” – it assumes that the only reason people are arguing is to hear themselves talk. While I don’t doubt this happens in some circles, most of the time there is a solid reason why people are getting amped up about human rights:

Police are searching for a suspect after a homosexual U.S. man was beaten unconscious and left nearly naked in the snow after telling another man about his sexual orientation at a central B.C. hot springs. Police said the Dec. 29, 2010, incident near Nakusp, about 240 kilometres northeast of Kelowna, started when two gay men were sitting in a hot tub and were joined by a third man.

Things like this don’t happen in a vacuum. People don’t beat the bejeezus out of each other for no reason. They certainly don’t assault a man and leave him for dead (in the absence of any kind of preceding conflict) at random – this world would be a very different and far more dangerous place if that was the case. Hatred for a group of people doesn’t spring forth from the mind spontaneously – it comes from a variety of sources: upbringing, education, and the prevailing social climate.

“The beating lasted for a little bit of time, where it ended up about 50 feet away from the hot springs. The victim obviously attempted to get away, but was continually kicked and punched and pushed to the ground as he attempted to flee. “He was essentially left unconscious in the snow, in his shorts and in a wilderness environment.”

There is a large contingent of folks who, at times like these, trot out the old chestnut “all crimes are fueled by hate” or some other such nonsense. The premise of their argument is that any assault is fueled by hatred toward the other person – if you didn’t hate them why would you assault them? Of course this is fallacious reasoning that ignores the larger picture: that hate is being propagated against specific groups more than others. If we pretend otherwise, we’re simply trying to sweep the details under the rug, which allows the status quo to continue unabated. Gay and lesbian people (particularly gay men) are being physically assaulted simply because they’re gay; the only way to conclude otherwise is to stick fingers in your ears and refuse to see a pattern where one exists.

I’ve said before that I’m not an advocate of punishing hate crimes as being separate from regular crime. My reason for saying so is that the lines drawn around what kinds of groups are considered targets of “hate” seem pretty arbitrary, and laws with arbitrary definitions are notoriously easy to abuse. I have to amend my position, however. Crimes like this one don’t start and stop with the perpetrator and victim – every gay man who hears about this story is made a victim of hatred:

He said the main obstacle for the victim and his 39-year-old partner, who is from B.C.’s Lower Mainland, is the emotional turmoil they will have to overcome. “Physically, he’s fine,” Hill said of the victim. “All his wounds will heal . . . but the biggest scar he’s going to have is emotional, for both of them. You can only imagine the fear that one would have to go through to be beaten in the wilderness and left in the snow . . . disoriented and not even knowing where the hot springs were.”

Similarly, failing to recognize the abhorrent nature of the assailant’s attitude toward gay men sends a message to every homophobe out there that hatred of gay men isn’t really a problem.

Hate crime legislation isn’t enough though. It does not accomplish the goal of changing people’s minds – only punishing those whose minds are fucked up. The only way to change minds is for people to stand up and refuse to “leave it be”. In the meantime though, we can do our best to protect each other from the kind of hatred and bigotry that erodes the foundation of our civilization and propagates these kinds of attacks, and if hate crime legislation helps accomplish that goal then I can be brought around to supporting it.

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This is horrible

I am in favour of a woman’s right to make her own sexual choices. This encapsulates her right to choose her sexual partner, her right to use contraception, and her right to choose whether or not she has a child. I am unmoved by the “logic” of the anti-choicers, which conflates the life of a developing embryo with the life of a fully-grown human person. I am similarly unmoved by their constant appeals to emotion, thrusting pictures of aborted fetuses in the faces of people who already have a difficult decision to make.

I am not, however, unmoved by this:

West Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell routinely delivered live babies in the third trimester of pregnancy, then murdered them by “sticking scissors into the back of the baby’s neck and cutting the spinal cord,” according to the Philadelphia district attorney. One newborn who weighed almost 6 pounds was so big “the doctor joked . . . this baby ‘could walk me to the bus stop.’”

Those are among the jaw-dropping details — complete with photographs — in a 260-page grand jury report released Wednesday that charges Gosnell, 69, with the murder of a patient and seven infants.

The article goes on to detail some of the abject depravity with which this “doctor” treated his victims patients. He hired unqualified people to perform medical procedures, gave inadequate care, and operated under nightmarish conditions:

What they found, according to the report, was “filthy, deplorable, and disgusting”: blood on the floor; the stench of urine; cat feces on the stairs; semiconscious women moaning in the waiting or recovery rooms, covered with bloodstained blankets; broken equipment; blocked or locked exits.

Whatever your feelings on abortion, you can’t help but be disgusted by not only the way in which this man conducted himself, but at the utter lack of humanity at his core. People pursuing medical care are at a fundamental disadvantage – they’re in severe need and are afraid for their safety. This is precisely the reason why all health care practitioners must undergo extensive medical ethics training (I myself have been the recipient of such training at least 7 times over the course of my short career). When someone provides medical care to another, they enter a position of both authority and trust. Those types of relationships are far too easy to abuse – one person is willing to sacrifice a great deal of their autonomy for the chance at relief from suffering. When you’re the person to whom autonomy is being given, you have a moral obligation to work for the best interests of that person, since that person would (under different circumstances) be operating for their own best interest.

Once again I find myself flummoxed by my inability to express sufficiently my utter horror and disgust at anyone who would systematically abuse this kind of trust. Most health care professionals I have had the pleasure of working with take the oaths and ethics of the caregiver-patient dynamic extremely seriously. I know that I do, even though I rarely have any contact with patients in my day-to-day work. To imagine that someone would not only dismiss that ethical responsibility, but outright contravene it in such an egregious and deleterious way for years shocks me. That this happened under the noses of the people who had a responsibility to regulate and inspect it depresses me beyond all belief.

PZ Myers says that this isn’t an argument about the morality of the practice of abortion, and for the most part I agree with him. He hits it squarely on the head when he says this:

Gosnell is precisely the kind of butcher the pro-choice movement opposes. No one endorses bad medicine and unrestricted, unregulated, cowboy surgery like Gosnell practiced — what he represents is the kind of back-alley deadly hackery that the anti-choice movement would have as the only possible recourse, if they had their way. If anything, the Gosnell case is an argument for legal abortion.

Outlawing abortion, as we have seen from international cases like Romania, and even within the United States, does not stop it from happening. All it does is reduce access to safe abortions, allowing monsters like Gosnell to maim more women who have no other options. Criminalizing abortion disproportionately affects the poor, particularly people of colour and immigrants who do not have the same access to resources and illicit medical services that their wealthier counterparts do.

I am deeply aggrieved and horrified that a remorseless killer like Kermit Gosnell exists and was allowed to continue hurting women for so long. I don’t know what the answer to this problem is, but I am confident that putting more women in the tender merciful hands of amoral ghouls like Kermit Gosnell is a step in the wrong direction.

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Two faces of India

You’ll undoubtedly have noticed by this time that the majority of these posts are taken from the news. I assume that you can read the newspaper yourself, I just try to pick out the juiciest nuggets and comment on them. Most of the pieces I write revolve around a single news item, which I use to demonstrate some underlying point.  However, I am aware that presenting a single story might give you a mistaken impression, particularly when I comment of goings-on in other countries.

So I thought today I’d contrast two stories coming out of India. First, the bad:

Hindu hardline opposition parties have often raised questions about Italian-born Sonia Gandhi’s faith. They have questioned Mrs Gandhi’s right to rule a country where a vast majority of the population is Hindu.

We are somewhat spoiled here in Canada, living in a country where public discussion of religion is considered rude. Our politicians don’t (by and large) trumpet their religion, and while the word “God” is in our national anthem, we don’t really spend much time or energy on trying to keep religion out of the public square.

India is quite another story, where tribalism and religious differences are intractably linked, and deep suspicions and hatred between groups go back generations. Religion is, to the person on the street, very important. Regular readers may remember the story of the Indian and Pakistani tennis players whose partnership flies in the face of religious schism. It is the same within India.

Luckily, the court has struck down this request for religious identification, so this story isn’t all bad. The fact that it made it that far gives cause for pause, because the only reason it isn’t happening here is because nobody cares… yet.

The next story, though, is all good:

About 2,000 people have joined a gay pride parade in the Indian capital, Delhi, the first such event since homosexuality was legalised last year. Organisers said gay people were demonstrating that they have a place in society, and that the parade was a celebration of being different.

I am so weary of hearing straight people get all hot and bothered over Pride events. “Why do you need to go out and flaunt it? We don’t have straight pride parades!” Mmm, just bask in the privilege denial. The whole point of a Pride parade is to counteract the stigma of shame that has been attached to homosexuality for generations – a stigma that found its way into laws and is still tearing the United States apart.

Here in Canada where gay people have (nearly) equal rights (anyone who feels the need to make the tired and brainless assertion that they have more rights because you’re not allowed to discriminate against them, you’re really overestimating my willingness to listen to stupid arguments), Pride parades might seem redundant. However, we don’t live in a bubble, and our society’s public willingness to allow gay people the freedom to celebrate their identity sends a message to the rest of the world, including India.

The message that is sent by India to the rest of the world is that maybe, just maybe, they’re starting to shake off the crushing yoke of religion and becoming a modern, secular democracy.

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God Damn It (wording intentional)

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.

U.S. Senate Republicans have blocked legislation that would have repealed the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and allowed gay troops to be open about their sexual orientation. Democrats failed Thursday to cinch a procedural deal with Republicans in the waning days of the lame-duck session. The 57-40 test vote fell three votes short of the 60 needed to advance. The vote ends months of political wrangling about the bill and makes congressional action on the repeal provision unlikely any time soon. The 1993 law bans gay troops from publicly acknowledging their sexual orientation. A repeal provision was included in a broader defence policy bill and passed last spring in the House.

In what kind of fucking mathematical fucking system is forty larger than fifty-fucking-seven?

Fuck you, United States. Fuck you Senate. Fuck you Republican party. You deserve the shithole your country is becoming.

I will return to my usual level of language tomorrow.

Whoops, spoke too soon

Sometimes I overextend myself and make statements preemptively before I have all the facts. It can happen to any of us, and from time to time I have to walk back something I’ve said in a post here.

This is one of those times.

Yesterday, I made a statement in a post that could be interpreted as me saying that the Pope wasn’t evil:

Apparently the world is quite willing to hand an abundance of cookies over to the Pope for finally saying something that pretty much everyone else had figured out already.

But hey, at least he figured it out, right?

I’m sad to say that I have to walk back even this grudging attempt to paint the Pope in anything other than a completely negative light:

Pope Benedict XVI praised efforts of the Filipino bishops in blocking any attempts to promote contraception in the Philippines. The pontiff said the Philippine Catholic leadership has reaffirmed its commitment to confronting any attack on the sanctity of life.

“I commend the Church in the Philippines for seeking to play its part in support of human life from conception until natural death, and in defense of the integrity of marriage and the family,” said Benedict XVI.

Hmm, perhaps I should translate:

Pope Benedict XVI praised the corrupting influence in the Filipino bishops in ensuring that poor people are doomed to sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy in the Philippines. The ancient decrepit virgin said that the religiotic busybodies in the Philippines have reaffirmed their commitment to preventing any attempt to improve the quality of life.

“I commend the assholes in the Philippines for seeking to dictate its beliefs to other people in defiance of human rights from conception until natural death, and in defense of bigoted and outdated definitions of marriage and the family,” said Benedict XVI.

So it is to my great chagrin that I must apologize for misleading you fine readers. The Pope is completely evil and has no redeeming qualities. He is happy to whine and cry about the “oppression” of religion in rich countries, and then cackle with Palpatine-like glee as his Church dooms entire countries to a cycle of abuse and unwanted pregnancy in the poor countries.

Tim Minchin, play us out…

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