What About Teh Menz? – Answered!

The next time some sniveling asshat starts the “But what about teh menz?!” whine, don’t sweat it. Yeah, it’s annoying as shit, and we’ve answered that “patriarchy hurts men too” about five quadrillion-zillion times, and we’re tired of it, but it’s all good. The question has been answered by someone with a masculine voice and a penis who identifies as a menz. All we have to do is aim the sniveling asshat at this video. Seriously. Watch it. Just use caution if you have any medical conditions that make punching a fist into the air and screaming “Fuck yeah!” at the top of your lungs painful. (And remember to say thank you to Mary at Skepchick for finding it.)

I can’t find a transcript. I want a transcript, but I haven’t got time to do one. If someone wants to do one, I’ll be happy to send you a nice sniny chunk o’ something from ye olde rock collection. This was fabulous. It’s not much different from what women have been saying for ages, but it’s from a penis-haver to other penis-havers who identify as penis-havers, and it’s phrased in ways I think will be hard for certain subsets of the penis-haver population to avoid if they don’t want to come off looking like complete social losers. And I love the way Jackson Katz has turned this right away from the victims back onto the perpetrators. It even works for when the perpetrators aren’t men. It’s setting the conversation down firmly where it should begin and end: not how victims should avoid being victimized, but how perpetrators should avoid perpetrating, and what we as a society can do to reinforce the idea that certain shit is completely fucking unacceptable. Yes. That’s what we’ve been saying. That’s what needs to be bellowed from the rooftops until even the thickest of skulls have been penetrated.

(Oh, and Ron Lindsay? I’d like you to pay especial attention to the bits where he talks about leadership. Take notes, please. Which principles can you apply to your own life and work? Write 500 words, due by next Monday.)

I found Jackson Katz’s website after listening to his talk whilst repeatedly saluting him with my cleaning products, and there’s this wonderful list, which he encourages us to share. So I shall (en español).

Ten Things Men Can Do to Prevent Gender Violence


  1. Approach gender violence as a MEN’S issue involving men of all ages and socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds. View men not only as perpetrators or possible offenders, but as empowered bystanders who can confront abusive peers
  2. If  a brother, friend, classmate, or teammate is abusing his female partner — or is disrespectful or abusive to girls and women in general — don’t look the other way. If you feel comfortable doing so, try to talk to him about it. Urge him to seek help. Or if you don’t know what to do, consult a friend, a parent, a professor, or a counselor. DON’T REMAIN SILENT.
  3. Have the courage to look inward. Question your own attitudes. Don’t be defensive when something you do or say ends up hurting someone else. Try hard to understand how your own attitudes and actions might inadvertently perpetuate sexism and violence, and work toward changing them.
  4. If you suspect that a woman close to you is being abused or has been sexually assaulted, gently ask if you can help.
  5. If you are emotionally, psychologically, physically, or sexually abusive to women, or have been in the past, seek professional help NOW.
  6. Be an ally to women who are working to end all forms of gender violence. Support the work of campus-based women’s centers. Attend “Take Back the Night” rallies and other public events. Raise money for community-based rape crisis centers and battered women’s shelters. If you belong to a team or fraternity, or another student group, organize a fundraiser.
  7. Recognize and speak out against homophobia and gay-bashing. Discrimination and violence against lesbians and gays are wrong in and of themselves. This abuse also has direct links to sexism (eg. the sexual orientation of men who speak out against sexism is often questioned, a conscious or unconscious strategy intended to silence them. This is a key reason few men do so).
  8. Attend programs, take courses, watch films, and read articles and books about multicultural masculinities, gender inequality, and the root causes of gender violence.  Educate yourself and others about how larger social forces affect the conflicts between individual men and women.
  9. Don’t fund sexism. Refuse to purchase any magazine, rent any video, subscribe to any Web site, or buy any music that portrays girls or women in a sexually degrading or abusive manner. Protest sexism in the media.
  10. Mentor and teach young boys about how to be men in ways that don’t involve degrading or abusing girls and women. Volunteer to work with gender violence prevention programs, including anti-sexist men’s programs. Lead by example

Copyright 1999, Jackson Katz. www.jacksonkatz.com
Reprint freely with credit.

So there ye go. Point the “what about teh menz?” cadre at these items, and if they’re still sniveling about teh menz afterward, you know they’re not coming at this in good faith. They’re part of the problem, not good and useful critics, and should be treated accordingly.

And to those men who have already answered that question by stepping up and taking responsibility for making the world a better place for women and men? Thank you.

Carry on. We can win this thing, together.

slam dunk

Why Gun Control Laws Need to Change

A powerful message:

Amanda Knief shared this on Facebook. It really drives the point home: the Second Amendment was written in a time when one person couldn’t so easily unleash catastrophic destruction. We need to have serious conversations about this, not this kabuki theater where politicians posture and ultimately can’t even pass the slightest control measures because they’re pants-pissing scared of the NRA.

Consider this (h/t):

If only Americans reacted the same way to the actual threats that exist in their country. There’s something quite fitting and ironic about the fact that the Boston freak-out happened in the same week the Senate blocked consideration of a gun control bill that would have strengthened background checks for potential buyers. Even though this reform is supported by more than 90% of Americans, and even though 56 out of 100 senators voted in favour of it, the Republican minority prevented even a vote from being held on the bill because it would have allegedly violated the second amendment rights of “law-abiding Americans”.

So for those of you keeping score at home – locking down an American city: a proper reaction to the threat from one terrorist. A background check to prevent criminals or those with mental illness from purchasing guns: a dastardly attack on civil liberties. All of this would be almost darkly comic if not for the fact that more Americans will die needlessly as a result. Already, more than 30,000 Americans die in gun violence every year (compared to the 17 who died last year in terrorist attacks).


The same day of the marathon bombing in Boston, 11 Americans were murdered by guns. The pregnant Breshauna Jackson was killed in Dallas, allegedly by her boyfriend. In Richmond, California, James Tucker III was shot and killed while riding his bicycle – assailants unknown. Nigel Hardy, a 13-year-old boy in Palmdale, California, who was being bullied in school, took his own life. He used the gun that his father kept at home. And in Brooklyn, New York, an off-duty police officer used her department-issued Glock 9mm handgun to kill herself, her boyfriend and her one-year old child.

At the same time that investigators were in the midst of a high-profile manhunt for the marathon bombers that ended on Friday evening, 38 more Americans – with little fanfare – died from gun violence. One was a 22-year old resident of Boston. They are a tiny percentage of the 3,531 Americans killed by guns in the past four months – a total that surpasses the number of Americans who died on 9/11 and is one fewer than the number of US soldiers who lost their lives in combat operations in Iraq. Yet, none of this daily violence was considered urgent enough to motivate Congress to impose a mild, commonsense restriction on gun purchasers.

We need to think more clearly, people. Priorities. Straighten them.

And for fuck’s sake, give a nineteen year-old American kid his civil rights. We’re better than this. We should be far better than those two dumbfucks. Yet here we are, wanting to strip a kid who was probably brainwashed by his brother and is now more than likely shit-scared of his constitutional rights. We’ll give those rights to white Christian terrorists, no problem. But white Muslim American immigrant bombers? Nope. Because too many of us are so easily talked out of our principles. Because too many of us completely lose our shit when it comes to Muslims committing crimes. And our President is far too willing to go along.

The assholes who bombed the Boston marathon were despicable cowards. The worst thing is, in many respects, we’re not that much better. Those of us who have courage need to be holding our politicians’ feet to the fire.

And we need to expect better of them (h/t).

We need to demand better of us.

And we need to reassess our relationship with guns. Now.

Think about this, folks. Image courtesy Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com.

Think about this, folks. Image courtesy Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com.

Men and Work-Life Balance in STEM Careers

A recent article at Double X Science expressed a fundamental fed-upness with the way the media profiles women in science. The problem is the inordinate focus on things typically considered a woman’s work – “however do they balance all that lady stuff and a career?!” Gosh. Oh, and here’s a little bit about the science.

The author suggests a moratorium on mentioning the scientist’s sex, and just focusing on the science. Which is a good idea, as far as it goes – but we’re still living in a world where science is seen as a man’s profession. It’s important that young women who are considering entering STEM fields see that it’s possible to have a career, a spouse, children, and/or hobbies as well as a career, that they won’t have to become single, sexless workaholics to make it in STEM. So, perhaps, a para or so explaining this isn’t the 19th century anymore? A mention might be nice, but nothing excessive, and please talk about the science for the majority of the article.

And give male scientists the same treatment.

Man on bicycle balancing propane tank and watermelon on head = odd.

Seriously. Look at the comments at that post. A huge number of people want to hear from men on how they balance their family obligations and personal time with their careers. Women aren’t the sole caregivers now (right, guys? Right?), and men are starting to try the same juggling act. They need help, support, and encouragement, too. They need to see other men balancing on the tightwire while juggling their obligations.

This gives me the inspiration for a new series, one in which we highlight science men with families and/or complicated personal lives they’re trying to balance. Is that you? Fantastic! Let me know about you.* What are the challenges you face? What works? What doesn’t? What do you wish you could change? How can your STEM career be made more life-and-family-friendly?

The ultimate goal is to achieve actual equality for both women and men. No matter your sex or gender, no matter your situation, you should be able to have your family and career, too. There’s no reason why a STEM career should mean giving up the rest of your life.


*dhunterauthor at gmail, for those not already in the know. Or you can just leave a comment using an email address at which I can reach you. Either way works.

“Rape is not a recreational activity.” Steubenville Rape Verdict Roundup

A near-miracle has happened: two rapists have been convicted of sexual assault. Excuse me, found “delinquent” in a juvenile court. At their ages, had they stolen something more than an intoxicated girl’s bodily integrity, they would have likely been charged as adults – but hey, it’s just rape. Not like they stole a car or murdered somebody, amirite? And, hey, if they learn the appropriate sorry-won’t-do-it-again words, they may not even have to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives. Pretty sweet, huh? That’s actually amazing, considering how few rapists ever get convicted at all.

United States rape statistics. Those numbers should horrify every decent human being. Image courtesy RAINN.

United States rape statistics. Those numbers should horrify every decent human being. Image courtesy RAINN.

And you know what America’s future rapists are learning from this rare semi-functioning of the justice system? Don’t rape? Don’t make me laugh. No, what they’re learning is simple: don’t do your raping in front of dozens of witnesses, and don’t upload pictures and video of your raping to social media. That’s what the judge warned them about:

Judge Lipps described much of the evidence as “profane and ugly.” In sentencing the boys, he said rape was among the gravest of crimes and noted that they could have been tried as adults with far harsher punishments. He also said the case was a cautionary lesson in how teenagers conduct themselves when alcohol is present and in “how you record things on social media that are so prevalent today.”

Folks, this is rape culture. The message isn’t, “Don’t rape. Full stop.” No, it’s more of, “Try not to, and if you can’t help yourself, don’t make it so inescapably obvious. Because rape is just awful (wink, wink), but being forced to punish popular people is ever so much worse.”

And calling out rape culture and its apologists? Horrible.

And victims reporting their rapes and seeking a conviction? Obviously the worst thing of all, worthy of death threats and additional threats of rape, because how dare victims think they deserve justice?

One of the reasons I’m proud to blog at Freethought Blogs is because the bloggers and readers here don’t tolerate this shit. And maybe, just maybe, if we fight back against rape culture over and over and over and over again, we can begin to change it. If we refuse to be silenced, maybe, just maybe, this rape culture will no longer be studiously ignored. If we speak out forcefully, loudly, repeatedly, maybe there won’t be another person who doesn’t know what rape is:

One of the three, when asked why he did not try to stop what was happening, testified that he did not realize it was rape. “It wasn’t violent,” he said. “I didn’t know exactly what rape was.”

Following is a selection of links and comments from around FtB, with some from our allies. We’re not fighting this fight alone.

Butterflies and Wheels:

Steubenville: Richmond and Mays found guilty.

They didn’t realize?

If you don’t want to be treated like one…


Steubenville rapists found guilty.

Do you deny that rape culture exists?

I’m not usually a fan of dog-piling…

Brute Reason:

More About Justice and Less About Revenge: On Reading the Steubenville Coverage Too Early in the Goddamn Day. (If you only have time for one, make it this one. I mean it.)


Talking About Rape


Steubenville Trial: Two Found Guilty.

An Observation.

The Raw Story:

CNN grieves that guilty verdict ruined ‘promising’ lives of Steubenville rapists.

The top 5 rape apologist reactions to the Steubenville rape verdict.


Some comments from our community:

tigtog on ignoring “trolls”:

One doesn’t have to be consciously/deliberately pro-rape to be an actively harmful participant in rape culture. Most rape culture involves trivialising and minimising the experience of rape, not promoting the practice of it.

Many people feel that the rigorous calling out of toxic victim-blaming and rape apologetics is a hugely important process contributiong towards the goal of dismantling rape culture. When you tell them to stop doing it just because you think that this one particular person’s statements are less important than Some V.V. Important Thing Which Is Gained By Ignoring Him, then you trivialising and minimising the experience of rape, by framing the naming and shaming of rape apologia as less important than the satisfaction you gain by ignoring this guy.

I absolutely believe that you are not personally/deliberately pro-rape. Telling others to ignore somebody who clearly is pro-rape doesn’t help you look like an effective anti-rape ally though.


If it wasn’t for folks on the internet highlighting their vileness relentlessly for years and years, there probably wouldn’t be a cadre of volunteers to act as a buffer zone between the mourners at funerals and the WBC pickets, and the WBC would be spouting their vileness without opposing voices.

Clear strong opposing voices are much more comforting to the targeted than a dignified silence which opposes nothing.


The Mellow Monkey on silence in the face of rape apologia:

You know, I’ve been surrounded by people who go uncomfortably silent or just try to ignore nasty rape apologia for years. That silence has been every bit as damaging and hurtful as anything nasty someone could say, because either they are silently supporting the bad stuff or they just don’t care to provide support and defense to victims.

So when you say “Don’t Feed the Trolls”, you’re not just suggesting that you should deny a troll attention (and people seem to think anybody who disagrees with them is a “troll” only seeking attention instead of a genuinely hateful asshat, of which there are millions on this planet). You’re also suggesting that you should deny all of the survivors support. You’re suggesting that you should ignore the pain people are being caused. You’re suggesting that because you are lucky enough to not be hurt by those words, it’s the fault of a rape survivor for being upset by them.

Fuck that. I will continue calling it out every chance I get. Will it change the mind of the one spouting it? Probably not. But it might change the minds of all those assholes who sit around quietly refusing to take a stance. And–most important of all–it will make other survivors feel a little less alone and marginalized.

And that last one is a fucking hell lot more important than “oh no, some troll got attention.” That last one saves lives.


Pteryxx on rape culture:


No rape culture, eh?


*warning for victim-blaming within the trial, specifically re testifying, and photos – Og, brace yourself*

The alleged victim is not expected to testify when the trial begins in Jefferson County juvenile court — before outside judge Tom Lipps took over for a recused judge with ties to the famed Steubenville High football teach, a West Virginia judge blocked a subpoena of the girl and two other witnesses called by the defense. But that hasn’t stopped Richmond’s attorney from using Jane Doe’s so-called “silence” against her: “The person who is the accuser here is silent just as she was that night, and that’s because there was consent,” Madison said.

There it is. Directly claiming the silence of an unconscious victim equals consent. And using that claim to shame her for not testifying up to that point.


More coverage of her testimony:


“Honestly, I was praying that everything I heard wasn’t true,” she testified. She didn’t want to be the center of drama, especially in a small town, everybody-knows-everybody atmosphere. “I thought everybody would blame me.”

And she was right.

On Aug. 14, after taking the teen to a medical center in her hometown of Weirton, her parents decided to go to police. She testified that she sat in the car.

“You never wanted to go to court on charges did you,” asked Marianne Hemmeter, a special prosecutor with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

“No,” the girl said, who has the 28th witness to testify during the trial, which began Wednesday.

And while CNN and almost all the coverage focuses on the poor promising rapists:

In the most outwardly emotional moment of the testimony, Hemmeter showed the 16-year-old a photo of herself that she had not seen. In the photo, she is lying on the tan carpet of a basement floor, naked and on her stomach. Her arms are underneath her body.

The girl began to cry, as did some of her family members, many of whom were wearing teal ribbons and the color teal, which is identified with supporting survivors of sexual assault.

“Do you remember that photo?” Hemmeter asked.

“No,” the teen replied.

“How’s that make you feel?” Hemmeter said softly.

“Not good,” she answered.

Even more here:


She also testified that she did not want to go to police. She said it was her parents’ idea. She sent a text to one defendant, 17, saying, “We know you didn’t rape me.”

Prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter asked her that when she sent the text, did she know that digital penetration was also rape. The girl said she didn’t know that. She also said she didn’t know she had been digitally penetrated.

Like most victims, like most people, she didn’t know what counted as rape. But she did know coming forward would make her a target, and would make her friends turn on her; because they already had, that very night.

Hemmeter read from three of the texts: “Reno (football coach Reno Saccoccia) just called my house and said I raped you,” one said.

Another said, “You know what happened, there’s no video, so nothing happened.”

The third said, “This is the most pointless thing I’m going to get in trouble for. I should be thanked for taking care of you.”

The girl testified that she was interested in him and left a party with him because she trusted him.

She trusted him, and he said “there’s no video, so nothing happened.” She trusted him, and her friends (now former friends) yelled at her and blamed her the next morning, before she even knew what had been done to her and before she even knew the word “rape” applied to it. Though judging by the video, her attackers knew perfectly well that’s what it was.

And that’s the story, her story, and basically all of our stories in one form or another, that’s being erased when all the sympathy’s given to her rapists. That’s rape culture in action.

There’s far more from excellent people. If you have time, read the threads on the FtB and allies posts linked above. Speak out. Change the culture. And let’s never forget what Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said as he promised to take this case further: “Rape is not a recreational activity.”

Being Visible

Agents of change make status quo folks rather squirmy. Folks who were previously absent or invisible either join up or speak up, and next thing you know, colored people want to drink out of lily-white fountains, and red people want their land back and treaties honored, and homosexuals want to get married, and women want to be treated as more than sex objects…. It’s hard. It’s very hard for those who’d been used to the Way Things Were. There the world was, ticking over nicely in their estimation, and suddenly a horde of uppity upstarts are there harshing their mellow.

Jackie Robinson, who did a hell of a lot more than play good baseball. He broke color barriers all over the place: in various sports, in television, and in business. Image courtesy Maurice Terrell, LOOK magazine, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jackie Robinson, who did a hell of a lot more than play good baseball. He broke color barriers all over the place: in various sports, in television, and in business. Image courtesy Maurice Terrell, LOOK magazine, via Wikimedia Commons.

And what they’d dearly love is for us to shut up and go away.

I do understand. I’ve been Status Quo, you see. I grew up in a conservative household, and the conservative sentiment is “America – love it or leave it!” and there were many times when I wished those noisy liberals would just shut up and move to Canada if they hated this country so much. Learning the liberals were right was a long, at times painful, process. And there were issues with white privilege, and cis privilege, and middle-class privilege, that had me howling “shut up and go away!” until the people who refused to shut up and go away got through the fingers I had stuffed deeply in my ears. Now I’m glad they didn’t do what I wanted.

And that’s not a patch on the discomfort caused by feminists, who had a job o’ work convincing me to reexamine certain of my assumptions and admit that yes, even in America, feminism is desperately needed.

Florence Bascom, the first woman to receive a PhD from Johns Hopkins University, where she had to sit behind a screen so as not to discomfit the delicate menfolks. She went on to become the first female geologist in the USGS and the first woman elected to the GSA. She mentored three other women who became part of the USGS. So it would seem, in some situations, that being visible behind a screen can get the change ball rolling. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Florence Bascom, the first woman to receive a PhD from Johns Hopkins University, where she had to sit behind a screen so as not to discomfit the delicate menfolks. She went on to become the first female geologist in the USGS and the first woman elected to the GSA. She mentored three other women who became part of the USGS. So it would seem, in some situations, that being visible behind a screen can get the change ball rolling. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Did you notice? None of those folks went quietly away.

They remained visible and vocal. Sometimes, they were out there very vocally explaining the injustices they’d suffered, demanding commitments be honored and rights be extended. Sometimes, they were giving me a glimpse into what it meant to live as a minority among the majority, or disadvantaged among the advantaged. Sometimes they were just there, being visible doing things “conventional wisdom” said they weren’t supposed to do, thus proving conventional wisdom full of shit.

So there it is, this thing you can do if you’re not a firebrand or an activist, if you’re not able to devote yourself to constant activity in campaigns for equality. Not all of us have to be leaders or marchers. Those activists need you, too, being visible. Being in a non-traditional career, or a non-traditional relationship, or a non-traditional body. Being an atheist, matter-of-factly. Adding some color to a sea of white. Because the more visible the formerly-invisible people become, the harder it is to ignore and dismiss and other them, and the more other formerly-invisible people are encouraged to become visible. And momentum is gained. You know how inertia and momentum work. You know it gets easier to keep the ball rolling in the direction you want it to once you’ve got it up to a good speed.

Mathieu Chantelois and Marcelo Gomez getting married in Toronto, July 2003. They were among the first to tie the knot when same-sex marriage became legal in Ontario. The rest of Canada followed suit within a couple of years. Someday, I will be trying to explain why couples like Chantelois and Gomez were pioneers simply for loving each other and insisting on getting married, and those kids won't understand, because the pioneers will have made it all perfectly normal, just as it should be. Image courtesy Mm.Toronto via Wikimedia Commons.

Mathieu Chantelois and Marcelo Gomez getting married in Toronto, July 2003. They were among the first to tie the knot when same-sex marriage became legal in Ontario. The rest of Canada followed suit within a couple of years. Someday, I will be trying to explain why couples like Chantelois and Gomez were pioneers simply for loving each other and insisting on getting married, and those kids won’t understand, because the pioneers will have made it all perfectly normal, just as it should be. Image courtesy Mm.Toronto via Wikimedia Commons.

How can you impart a little extra momentum, even if you’re not in a position to give it a good shove? Do the little things. Sign petitions. Phone, write or email politicians and organizations and companies to let them know what you’d like them to start, stop or keep doing. When you can, correct mistaken assumptions and let the people around you know when something they’re doing or saying is a problem. You don’t have to make a huge fuss, just let them know there’s an alternative to what they just did or said that won’t hurt you. Support the people around you who are doing that work. People sometimes won’t understand they’re doing or saying bothersome things until multiple people have advised them it’s a problem.

You can think of more, I’m sure. And it won’t seem like much. It won’t ever seem like enough. Friction will sometimes steal some of the momentum, and it’s discouraging and horrible when that happens. You’ll sometimes feel like giving up in despair, because how can you’re little bit change anything?

But the point is to keep being visible. As much as you can. Because it’s very, very hard to ignore the people in plain sight, even if all they’re doing is quietly going about living a life prejudice said shouldn’t be possible.

Do your thing, and you will help revolutionize the world.

Aya Kamikawa, the first transgender person in Japan to hold an elected office (and won re-election rather handily). The government told her she'd be considered male; she told them she'd work as a woman. Image courtesy Kenji-Baptiste OIKAWA via Wikimedia Commons.

Aya Kamikawa, the first transgender person in Japan to hold an elected office (and won re-election rather handily). The government told her she’d be considered a man; she told them she’d work as a woman. Image courtesy Kenji-Baptiste OIKAWA via Wikimedia Commons.


(None of this is new. We already know it. But it sometimes bears repeating.)

A Refresher for Allies

Recently, I watched a conversation among allies go sadly awry. This was a private venue and I won’t repeat the specifics. They’re not necessary, really: gather together a mixed collection of people whose goals are similar but backgrounds are not, and you can watch the same thing happen. The folks in the group that are members of whatever minority or underprivileged group will eventually end up in the unenviable position of explaining to members of the the majority or privileged group that the tactic they think is so clever is problematic. Rather than admitting this is so and dropping the subject, members of the privileged group tend to dig in. It looks something like this:

Privileged Person A: Making fun of racists by using racist stereotypes to show them how stupid those stereotypes are – brilliant!

Minority Member A: Um, no, because it risks reinforcing stereotypes. Also, splash damage.

PPA: I don’t see it that way because reasons.

MMA, with B, C and D chiming in: It’s a problem.

PPA: Okay, it’s a problem for you. I totally get that. But it’s brilliant! Because reasons.

MMA, B, C and D: Collective headdesk.

As a person who’s a member of some privileged groups, and also a member of some non-privileged groups, I’ve experienced both sides. When I’m wearing my Privileged Person hat, I’ve had to learn something important: when non-privileged people are speaking, it’s time for me to shut up, listen, and then go away for a good think before defending my position.

It’s hard. I admit that. It’s bloody hard to have non-privileged people tell me that something I love, or something I think is a brilliant tactic for confronting injustice, is problematic. I want to get defensive. I want to find reasons they’re wrong. I want to go on loving my problematic something, or using the brilliant but problematic technique. I want to wave away the problems. The non-privileged person just doesn’t understand, or can’t see it for what it is, or is wrong. Right?

Possibly. But I’ve learned they’re right the overwhelming majority of the time, and especially when the lines break cleanly between privileged and non-privileged, it’s up to me to shut the fuck up, listen carefully, reconsider my assumptions, and try to see things through their eyes. Even when they haven’t been nice about it. Even when emotions are running high. Even when I think it’s a fun argument to have. Even if I think I’m right.

After watching that conversation go horribly awry because the privileged weren’t listening to the non-privileged members of the group, I headed off to spelunk the intertoobz for a few refresher posts. In addition to important work by our own bloggers – Greta Christina, Stephanie Zvan, Ophelia Benson, Jason Thibeault, Jen McCreight, Crommunist, Natalie Reed, Zinnia Jones, Ashley F. Miller, Avicenna, Paul Fidalgo, Miri, and PZ Meyers – there’s quite a lot out there helping allies become better allies. This is but a tiny sampling.

Hershele Ostropoler’s foot-stepping analogy is always critical to remember. It covers allies and non-allies alike.

If you step on my foot, you need to get off my foot.

If you step on my foot without meaning to, you need to get off my foot.

If you step on my foot without realizing it, you need to get off my foot.

If everyone in your culture steps on feet, your culture is horrible, and you need to get off my foot.

If you have foot-stepping disease, and it makes you unaware you’re stepping on feet, you need to get off my foot. If an event has rules designed to keep people from stepping on feet, you need to follow them. If you think that even with the rules, you won’t be able to avoid stepping on people’s feet, absent yourself from the event until you work something out.

If you’re a serial foot-stepper, and you feel you’re entitled to step on people’s feet because you’re just that awesome and they’re not really people anyway, you’re a bad person and you don’t get to use any of those excuses, limited as they are. And moreover, you need to get off my foot.

Sometimes, a refresher on what privilege is and why it can lead to inadvertent foot-stomping is a necessary thing.

The fact that people are stupid isn’t news, however. And actually that’s kind of why the concept of privilege is important – because privilege isn’t about being stupid. It’s not a bad thing, or a good thing, or something with a moral or value judgement of any kind attached to it. Having privilege isn’t something you can usually change, but that’s okay, because it’s not something you should be ashamed of, or feel bad about. Being told you have privilege, or that you’re privileged, isn’t an insult. It’s a reminder! The key to privilege isn’t worrying about having it, or trying to deny it, or apologize for it, or get rid of it. It’s just paying attention to it, and knowing what it means for you and the people around you. Having privilege is like having big feet. No one hates you for having big feet! They just want you to remember to be careful where you walk.

This reminder of what allies are was written for allies of autistic people, but applies to allies of any people.

But here’s the thing: if you are trying to be an ally, you need to recognize that it’s not about you. If you are talking over Autistics or otherwise bringing the discussion back to center on ‘allies’, you are not a real ally. Real allies tell these people “don’t do that shit. This isn’t about you.”

If you are really an ally, you are not going to make it about your feelings. Declaring yourself an ally isn’t something you get to do. If you are really fighting with us and for us, it should be because it’s right, not because you want an “Ally!” sticker for your Good Person collection.

A conditional ally, by the way, is not an ally at all. Anyone who says they’d be for your cause if you weren’t so mean/if you personally educated them on every issue/if you were more appreciative is not an ally. Again, it’s not about the privileged group’s feelings here-it’s about equal rights and about our very existence. My exasperation with nearly everything does not reduce my personhood or the fact that I should have equal rights.

The following article address that distress we privileged folk feel when being called out, and why we really need to get the fuck over ourselves. This snippet begins with a quote from a person talking about the Chik-fil-A explosion, and ends with a reminder that while the Distress of the Privileged is real, it’s not as painful as the Distress of the Non-Privileged, and we need to face that fact.

“This isn’t about mutual tolerance because there’s nothing mutual about it. If we agree to disagree on this issue, you walk away a full member of this society and I don’t. There is no “live and let live” on this issue because Dan Cathy is spending millions to very specifically NOT let me live. I’m not trying to do that to him.”


Confronting this distress is tricky, because neither acceptance nor rejection is quite right. The distress is usually very real, so rejecting it outright just marks you as closed-minded and unsympathetic. It never works to ask others for empathy without offering it back to them.

At the same time, my straight-white-male sunburn can’t be allowed to compete on equal terms with your heart attack. To me, it may seem fair to flip a coin for the first available ambulance, but it really isn’t. Don’t try to tell me my burn doesn’t hurt, but don’t consent to the coin-flip.

We also need to remember the very real difference between offense and harm.

Mocking the powerful and privileged for those characteristics society arbitrarily uses as a basis for according that power and privilege reverses, rather than participating in and reinforcing, the cultural narrative that justifies their privilege (and that in so doing necessarily justifies the marginalization and oppression of the powerless and unprivileged).  Mocking the powerless and unprivileged for those characteristics society arbitrarily uses as a basis for their marginalization does participate in and reinforce the narratives that justify that marginalization.

These things build up.  Over a lifetime, they build up a great deal: these usually-unspoken cultural narratives are precisely the stuff of implicit bias, and we’re soaking in them.  It’s a mistake to object to them as merely “offensive” — tacitly accepting that the inherently subjective idea of offense is of primary importance, which enables the privileged in claiming, confident it can’t be disproved or even argued against, that they’re “offended” by challenges to their privilege: or as Fred Clark has it, empowers the cult of offendedness — instead of pointing out that they do real harm.  They offend too, to be sure; and it’s unkind to offend on  purpose, or to fail to apologize for giving offense.  But the much greater harm lies in strengthening, even though it’s only a little bit at a time, the negative stories about marginalized groups that are woven into our society, both in the minds of the privileged, and of the marginalized people themselves.

This piece on privilege, politeness, and teaching was written about racism, but you can substitute sexism, ageism, ableism, or a variety of other -isms. Allies need to absorb this bit, because it will save butts from being hurt when tempers flare.

So if you say something racist I may write a detailed reply pointing it out and teaching a bit. I may also go off. Or I may just ignore it. It all depends. Depends on if I just spent the whole day dealing with racism, if I know you, if I think you can learn, if it’s something that’s been repeated over and over and I’m tired of dealing with it and think that you as an (assumed) intelligent person should know better. But you know what they say “If if was a fifth we’d all be drunk.” The point is I should not be expected to respond to racism with a happy-go-lucky smile and a will to teach. I’m not saying it’s okay to say ‘You stupid shit how dare you write this!’ There is a difference between being angry when addressing racism (or sarcastic or “rude”) and insulting people.

See this post has been brewing a long time which is maybe why I seem so “angry” or “rude”. I’ve noticed that when discussions of racism happen online the posts that go up in the aftermath, even some of the ones that address and acknowledge the issues of racism in the incident still say “They didn’t have to be rude about it. There was no call for it.” or “If they had just been more polite the person would have listened.” or some other variation (they of course referring to POC). What these people fail to understand is that if you’ve said something racist and fucked up you’ve already been rude to me. You’ve already offended me and ignorance is no excuse because you are a grown person, you can read, you can research, you can figure out how to treat people with respect and equality.

Here is a missive reminding us that molehills, while perhaps not as lofty or noticeable as the Alps, are still damned important in the aggregate:

And, in a very real way, ignoring “the little things” in favor of “the big stuff” makes the big stuff that much harder to eradicate, because it is the pervasive, ubiquitous, inescapable little things that create the foundation of a sexist culture on which the big stuff is dependent for its survival. It’s the little things, the constant drumbeat of inequality and objectification, that inure us to increasingly horrible acts and attitudes toward women.

In conclusion, I’d like to point up two recent posts by my own Freethought bloggers. Stephanie Zvan on argument:

It’s different when the argument you’re being asked to engage in “for fun” is essentially the same argument you have to have over and over in order to be allowed to fully participate in society. Or, say, to avoid being beaten to death, depending on where you are and what the argument is.

I shouldn’t have to say it, but there’s no way that can be fun. It’s just more work, with very high stakes, that you can neither afford to skip nor allow yourself to lose.

And Paul Fidalgo on shutting up and listening:

Take this opportunity to see if you can understand how you were wrong, how what you said could hurt. Instead of a war of words to prove your equality-cred in the moment, decide to take in the criticism as a tool for next time. Use what you’ve learned to get better at expressing your ideas. Use what you’ve learned to better understand where people who have lived very different lives are coming from.

You’ll have so many chances in your life to be right. You’re a skepto-atheist, after all. But in times like this, it’s okay to be wrong. It’s okay, as long as when you have been called out, you take the opportunity to improve yourself through acceptance of the criticism.

Use what you’ve learned to become wiser.

All of us will find ourselves in a position of privilege amongst the non-privileged at some point in our lives. We’re much less likely to trod on already-trodden-upon feet if we pause, inhale, and remember the above. And when we’re wearing our non-privileged hats in mixed company, hopefully more of our allies will have taken the time to do the same.


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Beauties, Beasts, and a Lesson Most of Us Don’t Want To Learn

This is a good read, an important read, and I’d like you to read it all. Gyzym is gentle but firm in explaining why movies like Beauty and the Beast can be jarring for those who didn’t realize that the fairy tale is actually a classic domestic violence scenario.

That’s important to face. And for those who would rather not face it:

We can argue for media that doesn’t push the horrible shit we need to unlearn as a society to get to a healthier place, or we can point out the flaws in our preexisting media, or we can do both. But “Just shut up,” isn’t an option. “Just shut up,” can’t be an option, because we can’t keep playing the “Nobody told me because nobody told them,” card. Nothing will ever get better that way. Nothing will ever improve if we keep not telling people this shit.

People not shutting up and speaking hard truths to hear may have caused me some discomfort and made a few favorite films, songs and books impossible to enjoy without acknowledging their deep flaws, but those folks who said “No, I won’t shut up” and continued to speak the hard truths made me a better human being. When I get back to fiction, they’ll have made me a better writer telling better stories. And they’ve made me unwilling to shut up my own self, which may not be the popular thing, but is a necessary thing, so fuck if I’ll stop. Even if I end up with kids (not necessarily my own, mind you). Even if they groan and grump and implore me to STFU during their show. Like George Wiman said when he posted this link, this is “Why it’s important to do MST3K with your kids when you watch movies.” Because while there’s such a thing as willing suspension of disbelief, we need to be trained that suspending disbelief should be a conscious act, and revocable upon return to the real world.

Fiction is useless except as a panacea if we can’t use it to compare and contrast with our real-world lives, if we can’t use it to throw our conditions and relationships and societies into starker contrast, if it can’t help us think. Escapism is lovely, and I love engaging in it. We all do. But we need to be conscious what we’re escaping from, and escaping in to, and watch out that we don’t allow our lovely bit of escapism to subtly normalize very problematic things*. Performing the occasional MST3K exercise on movies we enjoy is good practice for recognizing problem patterns in life. It’s necessary for separating fiction from fact.
And for those who want to cry, “But it’s art! You don’t need to take it so seriously!!” I have just one thing to say: art was never advanced by people passively enjoying the status quo. “Just shut up” isn’t an option for life, but it isn’t an option for art, either. If you truly love art, you will give it no quarter.**

We can do better.

The Beast with a rose. Image courtesy Nieve44/Luz on Flickr.

The Beast with a rose. Art with a problematic message can still be loved and appreciated as art. It can help us navigate the complexities of our world. But only if we’re willing to engage it. Image courtesy Nieve44/Luz on Flickr.

*Read this link. I mean it. Miriam hadn’t even written it when I wrote this piece, but it’s like she’d read my mind and knew I had this post sitting in drafts, and wrote it for the line I inserted it in to, and it says much of what I intended to say, and more.

**Nothing in the above should be construed as advocating for the position that art must always faithfully reflect reality. Fuck that noise. When artists hold mirrors up to life, I like the glass to be at least a bit wibbly.

A Child Armed Himself

So there’s this, and it broke my heart. Good job, America. You’ve convinced eleven year-olds that they need to be armed and dangerous. And what happens when we arm children? They don’t know how to use a gun responsibly, so they wave it at people, and we have one more data point in the set that says guns don’t make you safer. At least it was unloaded.

Elsewhere in that article, after the tragedy of a child thinking he needed a firearm to be safe because we can’t get our violence under control, and we have gun nuts telling us the solution is more guns (conveniently forgetting Fort Hood, and all of the highly-trained people armed with guns there), we have an Attorney General-elect declaring fortifying schools is one possibility.

Ah, smell that Second Amendment freedom! We are free to live as if we are living in a war zone, because we’re not responsible enough to take the high-capacity clips and assault weapons away while we begin the long work of addressing the myriad factors that go into making this a culture where people with guns kill lots and lots of people.

“Well Regulated.” Image courtesy Rick Cooper (RickC) on Flickr.

I am disgusted beyond words with my country right now.

The NRA released a rehash of the same statement they make every time some dude with an anger management problem and too many guns shoots up a public space: “Sorry and all that, but now’s not the time for policy and politics. Oh, and by the time we may pretend to concede that it is, there’ll be another mass shooting so we can repeat these words and kick the discussion down the road.” I paraphrase, of course, but I believe this to be an accurate representation of their words.

I am tired of people telling us we should postpone this conversation. I’m tired of people screaming “Freedom! Security! If I don’t have guns, tyranny!!eleventy!!1!”

What Mythbri said is better than my immediate response of “fuck you, dumbshit” and gets the same point across: “What is the minimum amount of children required to die in a single shooting before everyone can agree to at least talk about gun control? Because I have already surpassed my limit.”

I will ask the same thing of the Obama administration, and I will not limit myself to just a bunch of American kids. If we’re going to cry over our own children, we need to stop killing other countries’ children. The government can’t go on killing kids in distant places and claiming a moral high ground here. We can’t ask our own citizens to be more human and humane and justify murdering wedding parties by calling it “mowing the lawn.” When we dehumanize others, when we use that language of other human beings, when we are that dispassionate about killing, what are we telling the young folk we’re supposedly so concerned about? We’re telling them it’s okay to kill if you come up with a reason why your opponent is not human. I do not deny that this is a world in which human beings sometimes need to be killed in order to protect other human beings. But we must remember, as we are killing them, that we are killing human beings. Not blades of grass. Not bugs. People.

When I was studying forensic psychology for the book I was writing many years ago, something stood out to me: victims of serial killers who survived did so because they’d persuaded their potential murderers to see them as human beings. Even serial killers have a hard time killing people they’ve come to recognize as human beings. Think about that.

We have a lot of work to do. Part of that work begins with ourselves. We need to stop dehumanizing people we don’t like or are uncomfortable with the idea of killing. This includes the people we attack in other countries. This includes the people we kill because we thought they might be suspicious but turned out to be wrong. This includes the people inside our borders who kill other people. And this includes the people we don’t like. We need to be careful, while calling a douchebag a douchebag, to recognize that there is a human being behind that label, and their life also has a value.

This is why I changed my mind on the death penalty. It may act as a specific deterrent, as John Douglas said, but it doesn’t act as a general deterrent, and it puts vengeance ahead of justice. This is in addition to its many other problematic aspects. We may have a complex and nuanced discussion about this later, but for now, I just want to point out that societies that are more humane and more lock their murderers up instead of engaging in a morbid quid-pro-quo. And I think that tells a country’s citizens to pause and consider the value of a life, even an abhorrent life, one we’re not tempted to see as human. We may not want to see murderers as human, but they are. We need to face that. And we can do so without excusing what they have done in the least.

In the meantime, since it will take a long time to bend that arc toward justice, since it will take a long and sustained effort with few immediate payoffs to fix the things that need fixing to ensure that fewer people kill other people, let’s cut back on the easy access to the means of destruction.

Does gun control work? Ask Australia, for one. Yes, it does. It is one means a society can use to protect its citizens. It is one means a society can use to make it less likely that eleven year-olds will feel it necessary to arm themselves.

And I love this idea from Amanda Marcotte: go after the ads. I’d had the same thought the other day, looking at the ads Mother Jones collected. We don’t let cigarette manufacturers advertise. Why not the same restriction on gun ads? There’s a thought. Again, not the solution, but a piece of it. It’s something to add to our list.

Many of you started a good conversation here. Let’s keep that discussion going. Ideas, people. Let’s have them.

Let’s ensure Sandy Hook is the watershed moment.

Let’s ensure children don’t have to go armed into fortified compounds for their education.

A Few Important Items

Before we get back to our a semblance of our normal routine, I want to share a few things with you.

First, for those who want to help the Sandy Hook families with funeral expenses and paying for counseling, Atheists Giving Aid has set up a fund. You can donate here.

Roses at Avery Park, Corvallis, OR

Roses at Avery Park, Corvallis, OR: A reminder there are still beautiful things in the world.

I will have some more substantial things to say at a later time. I do know one thing: things here will change. We’ll still have our fun and our geology and so forth, but you’ll see more of a focus on social justice issues than before. This latest mass shooting crystallized the entirety of A+ for me. The reason why we need movements like A+ is because we have so damned much to fix. As I’ve said repeatedly over the past few days, there’s no single way to prevent these shootings. Getting an assault weapons ban passed is just taking the keys out of the drunk person’s hand – it will probably reduce the incidence, but it won’t eradicate the causes. We will never completely solve these problems. That’s no reason not to begin somewhere.

And on that subject, I literally cannot speak to people who refuse to hear word one about a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity clips. One of my friends, whom I love and know to be a good, caring person, argued with me on the way to work that even if we restrict those sorts of things to the gun range, people wanting to shoot up a school full of kids will just go fetch their guns. And I was so angry I was spluttering. It’s like hearing someone say, “Well, rapists are just going to break in anyway, so don’t even bother locking your doors.” “Well, people are just going to die in car crashes anyway, so you might as well give keys to anyone who wants them.” “Well, children are just going to find a way to get into the cabinet anyway, so we might as well not put drugs and cleaning products on the high shelf behind a lock, and to hell with child-safety caps.”

Add your analogy of choice here.

You know something, people who don’t think it’s even worth trying? I can’t even buy fucking pseudoephedrine. It’s locked up behind the counter, and I have to present ID and all kinds of bullshit, and by the time I need a cold medicine, it’s usually at a time when the pharmacists have gone home for the night, and I’m too fucking sick to chase down a 24-hour pharmacy. If I do manage to drag my sick arse to the pharmacy when the pharmacist is on duty, I have to present ID and put my name on a register where it will stay for two years saying, “ZOMG she bought a packet of Sudafed, she’s probably cooking meth!!!” I can’t buy as much as I want. I can’t stockpile the shit because I can’t buy enough of it in a month to even begin. I can hoard freeze-dried food and assault weapons and ammunition that is designed to kill humans (not shoot at targets or hunt deer, let’s don’t get stupid and pretend it’s anything but murder-inna-casing), but I can’t stock up on fucking cold medicine for the coming apocalypse.

And that’s not right, but only because guns and ammo aren’t subject to stringent restrictions. We’re willing to make it extremely difficult for sick people to get some decongestant because criminals use it to cook meth. They still cook meth, have been ever since the restrictions were put in place, but are we shrugging and saying, “Meh, they’re doing it anyway, might as well make it easier for them to get their hands on pseudoephedrine so I don’t have to suffer an extra five minutes’ worth of sniffles”?


And so when you say to me, “But killers will just find a way to get guns anyway,” what you are saying is that you don’t care about making it harder for them to get their hands on serious fucking weaponry. You don’t want to give them that extra bit of time to think things through as they drive to the gun range and get their guns out of their locker. You don’t want to give other people a chance to notice something’s up as Johnny Mass Killer goes bopping out the door of a busy range with enough weaponry to supply both sides in a small civil war. You don’t want to consider things like, oh, I don’t know, making it illegal to remove your very dangerous shoots-umpteen-rounds-a-second-people-killer-and-its-zillion-round-drum from the gun range and also putting tags on it that will set off an alarm if you try to waltz off with it? So that maybe, just maybe, one of those NRA nuts who thinks we should live like it’s the 1870s, only with less gun control, can have his chance to play hero as the cops are called? This is too much to ask to prevent horrific violence on our streets, in our schools, our malls, our theatres, our restaurants?

To my friends who say they’ll just find a way to get guns anyway: fuck you. On this issue, I think you are an appalling excuse for a human being.

Also, read this. Seriously, anyone who is against gun control, or who thinks they’re for it but then starts coming up with excuses as to why we shouldn’t do anything more than cosmetic bs, read this. Do it now. These are the things I would say to you if you hadn’t just reduced me to sputtering, incoherent rage.

Then read this. Read it all the way through to the ends, where it says, “I didn’t think, ‘Damn, I wish I had a gun, too.’ I thought ‘Damn, I wish he didn’t have a gun.'”

You know what? That’s exactly what I think every time I hear of some fuckwad shooting people. I thought it with Zimmerman, and Dunn, and all of the endless stories of some assclown getting quick with the trigger and taking some kid’s life because they were too loud, or too black, or both. I thought it when a mother came into my bookstore looking for books on how to grieve because a man had shot her teenage son for cutting across one small corner of his yard. I thought it when foreign exchange student Yoshihiro Hattori stopped by the wrong house on his way to a Halloween party, and ended up shot by a man who’d rather have his wife fetch a gun so he could shoot down a kid in a silly costume rather than go inside and lock the door if he was so frightened of the young Japanese dude. I’ve thought it every time I’ve heard of someone getting shot because they were careless, or foolish, or doing all the right things but still getting shot because guns are dangerous. I’ve thought it every time I’ve heard of a child getting killed because the parents couldn’t be bothered to properly secure their deadly weaponry. And I’ve thought it after every mass shooting.

There was a time when I thought a gun would make me safer. Right after I was raped at knifepoint in my home, I thought a gun might be a pretty good idea. Then I thought of the kids in the neighborhood, and my friends who sometimes like to pull pranks, and family members barging in unexpectedly, and pets making strange noises, and non-dangerous strangers making me nervous without realizing, and the fact that a gun would not have helped anyone but my rapist that morning, and I said, “Naw.” Not worth it. There were so many times I might have ended up taking someone’s life by mistake, and no time when a gun would have done me any good.

Now I just think, “I’m glad my rapist didn’t have a gun. I wish other assailants, I wish incautious people, I wish kids, hadn’t had one, either.”

And one last thing. Listen up, because a lot of people I otherwise love and respect have been making a bloody stupid mistake and I want it to stop:

Stop blaming mental illness for what Lanza did.

Seriously. Stop it.

We don’t know much about him yet and may never, but at this stage it’s not sounding like he was so terribly different from many of us. If these early reports are to be trusted (you know how that goes), he didn’t even play first-person shoot-‘em-up games. There goes another famous scapegoat. Oops.

There are no broad, bright and shining lines between us and them. Stop trying to paint one, because all you’re doing is tarring the vast majority of the mentally ill for being something they’re not. It doesn’t help us prevent these killings, it doesn’t help folks with mental illnesses, and it certainly doesn’t help your humanity.

That is all for today. Go do something good.

Sunday Sorrow: What We Can Do

No songs today. Something broke this time.

These mass killings have gone on since before I was born, and somehow I accepted them. Outrageous, horrible, tragic: can’t do anything about them in our gun-obsessed, health care-deprived, bullying, class-ridden society. Moving on, then.

Not this time.

These mass killings have gone on since before I was born. I want them to stop before I die.

And I will need your help. We are going to have to start pushing hard together for a great many things.

We will need evidence-based solutions. Good studies of mass killers will need to be done; those studies will have to be conceived of, and funded, and read, and digested, and disseminated, and acted upon.

We know, already, that these mass killers have a tendency to use the kind of weapons you don’t keep around the house for shooting deer. We may not yet know how to keep them from hatching fantasies of killing, but we do know one way to mitigate their damage: get the guns out of their hands. We do indeed have the right to bear arms in this country. That right does not need to include assault rifles, semi-automatic handguns, and extra-large clips with armor piercing and/or hollowpoint ammunition. You want to shoot that shit off, you can do it at a gun club where your weapons are kept under lock and key and not allowed to leave the premises.

These fantasies about more guns being the answer need to stop. Watch this video:

You are a howling idiot if you believe you could do any better. The answer is not more guns. Period, full stop.

But controlling guns alone won’t fix the problem.

We need to combat bullying in schools. Kids need to learn to accept differences, learn it early, and have it reinforced often. So many people who have gone on to kill were outcast, bullied, denigrated, driven to despair – and even if it turns out that stopping bullying doesn’t stop the kind of social dislocation that causes people to murder one another, it will sure as fuck prevent a few suicides, and that is reason enough to do it.

We must push for better health care. If health care of all sorts were as cheap and easy to obtain as bullets, and had just as little stigma attached, more people would be able to get the help and support they need, physically, mentally and emotionally. They might walk in to the doctor’s office for help with that pit they’re edging up to, before they’ve gone down in it and think they can only shoot their way out of.

And as I say this, we need to absolutely ensure that we are not falling into the trap of blaming what these people do on being mentally ill, developmentally disabled, learning disabled, or any other bullshit reason people reach for in order to draw a nice thick line between regular ol’ us and homicidal, horrible them. Yes, absolutely, they are disturbed. You do not shoot up crowds of people if you are not disturbed. But the vast majority of us have one or more of those illnesses or disabilities that people try to pin the blame on. If any one of us found ourselves angry and suicidal enough to follow the blaze-of-glory script, people could whip a quirk out of our quirk bag and wave it around shrieking, “That’s it!” They were depressed, or schizo, or bipolar, or ADD, or autistic, or dyslexic, or had a small lesion, or hit their head as a kid, or… the list goes on, it is endless, and it means bugger-all. Stop fucking stigmatizing every mentally ill person in the country by saying only people with a mental illness can kill. This is not true and it doesn’t help anyone.

Here’s a helpful reminder:

“Predicting the Risk of Future Dangerousness”

Phillipps, Robert T.M. Virtual Mentor. June 2012, Volume 14, Number 6: 472-476.

Abstract: “A consequence if not a driving force of the pendulum swing away from benevolence and toward the protection of others has been increased attention to an individual’s dangerousness, with the operative presumption that dangerousness is often the result of a mental illness. But dangerousness is not always the result of mental illness. Individuals who commit violent or aggressive acts often do so for reasons unrelated to mental illness…. Research, in fact, confirms the error in associating dangerousness with mental illness, showing that “the vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illnesses [8]. The absolute risk of violence among the mentally ill as a group is still very small and…only a small proportion of the violence in our society can be attributed to persons who are mentally ill” [4]. Violence is not a diagnosis nor is it a disease [9]. Potential to do harm is not a symptom or a sign of mental illness, rather it must be the central consideration when assessing future dangerousness.” [emphasis added]

Does mental illness need to be destigmatized, diagnosed, and treated? Absolutely. Are some killers mentally ill? Sure. But just like we know a few assault weapons bans won’t resolve the problem, we know – or should know – that we can’t blame mental illness for every asshole who walks into a crowded place and opens fire.

We must identify factors that can trigger violence, and put in place safety nets to keep people from falling too far. There are things we can do for those who have lost jobs, loved ones, suffered other triggering events that, combined with other factors, could help put them in a situation where violence seems like the best and only answer for them.

But we must also stop glorifying killers. We must stop treating them like rock stars. No matter the horror we express about what they’ve done, we allow them fame because they killed, and we must find a way to educate ourselves about them and their actions without giving them that fame.

We will have to work to change a culture where little boys are taught to glorify violence and turn their aggression outward while holding their pain in until they burst, while little girls are taught to harm themselves first of all. We need better definitions of action and heroism. We need to change certain aspects of our culture that are doing more harm than good.

We must address poverty, and economic disparity, and work to reduce the differences between the haves and have-nots. We need to make this country that much more just.

Those who still believe must realize that bringing prayer into schools will solve nothing. What use is a God who will let 20 kindergartners and first graders die because people didn’t praise it enough? God will always have an excuse to do nothing: wrong kind of prayer, not enough worship, whatever excuse believers can come up with to excuse its absence.

And we all must be relentless. Call and write your Congresspeople. Contact your governor; rattle the cages of your state representatives.

Sign petitions. You may think they’re useless, but they are voices, and enough voices raised to a shout might get heard.

Here is one on Whitehouse.gov: Immediately address the issue of gun control through the introduction of legislation in Congress. And, for good measure: Today IS the day: Sponsor strict gun control laws in the wake of the CT school massacre. Also, since you’re already there and because so much violence starts in the home: Change Domestic Violence Awareness month form October to May so that it can rise from the shadows of Breast Cancer.

Avaaz would like us to Tell the NRA: ENOUGH! I couldn’t agree more.

SignOn has this excellent petition: Newtown, today we tell our leaders “No more!”

Done signing petitions and writing to politicians? Want to do more than howl? Donate to Newtown Youth and Family Services. They have set up a fund for the Sandy Hook victims, and are providing desperately needed mental health services in the wake of this travesty.

Donate to the Red Cross, which responds in disasters like these, too.

And remember.


And use your anger and pain for building a better world.