Why Everyday Sexism Matters: A Personal Tale

Culture taught me to ignore women.

I wouldn’t have put it that way, back in the day. I’d have told you that the reason I didn’t read many female authors or didn’t know about many female scientists or like many female artists or musicians was because they just weren’t as good. I’d point defensively to the few women on my shelves or in my CD collection and say, look! I’m not prejudiced or anything, I’ve got women there, it’s just that there aren’t that many doing stuff I like.

Sound familiar? It’s the cry of every dudebro and unique-chick™ out there.

I didn’t realize I was blind to the thousands of women out there who were writing stuff I loved, creating art and music that kicked the shit out of the majority of bands I listened to, who were doing incredible science. I didn’t know society was conspiring to keep them hidden from me. I just didn’t think they existed. I didn’t think to look. And even when I saw them, I almost always had a knee-jerk response to the female name: this probably won’t be any good.

I’m remembering what it was like before the feminists came along and pried my eyes open. I’m going back through my blog archives right now, and I’m horrified by what I’m seeing. Five years ago, if I made a list of really influential scientists, chances are there wouldn’t be a woman among them. If I made a list of popular science books, it would probably include just male authors. Sci-fi and fantasy lists: overwhelmingly men, with a few women sprinkled sparingly in. By that time, I’d gotten over the women-can’t-do-metal attitude, and most of the bands I listened to included female vocalists, sometimes even women playing instruments, and I’d learned I was wrong to knee-jerk dismiss bands simply because they had females in them. Small consolation to the women in everything else I ignored because women automatically suck at x, so why bother?

Image shows a woman from the cartoon series Pokemon, with a building that has a sign saying "PMS" in the background. Caption says, "The one episode of Pokemon that has to do with women, Jessie and Misty shop a ton, fight like there's no tomorrow, and it clearly says "PMS" on that building."

Another fine example of unthinking sexism.

Yet I believed that women should be treated equally. I just didn’t think they measured up. The ones who did would of course succeed, because we’d done away with all the legal barriers and people all knew women could do stuff, right?

That’s what so insidious about this cultural messaging around us. On the one hand, we’re allowed to believe the problem is solved the instant there are laws against discrimination. Hey, look, we’ve got the vote, and people aren’t allowed to refuse to hire us cuz we might get preggers! Woo-hoo, equality! If you fail now, it’s your own fault!

On the other hand, we have a culture that tells us, from birth to death, what women are for. And it tells female people with ladybrainz that they’re not for science and math. They’re not for serious literature or groundbreaking SF. They’re not for leadership. Sure, there are women who can do all those things, no one denies it: they’re just unique-chicks™ who have dudely brains. They’re special.

That was a toxic, yet heady, brewski. Here I was, bathed in legal equality, and additionally, I was one of the unique-chicks™ who could, with effort, break into the dudebro spaces, because I wasn’t one of Those Girls. I wasn’t one of those terrible women who are womanly and boring, useful only for womanly things, which don’t get me wrong are totally important! Just not as awesome as the dudely things. I mean, how much effort does it really take to endure nine months of various medical problems plus someone’s feet in your bladder, then force an entire person out through a small opening, then raise that squalling, screaming, shitting bundle of supposed joy while also cleaning, cooking, running errands, and doing a cake job, like teaching dozens of selfish young fiends how to be good citizens and also read, write, and do maths? Totally easy compared to writing the Great American Novel or designing an MP3 player. Get back to me when you’re doing something important.

The casual contempt of women wasn’t intentional. It was just what we absorbed, along with the notion that women who didn’t like sex were prudes, women who did like sex were sluts, and rape victims should’ve been wearing longer skirts. And gawd, women sucked, right? They couldn’t throw a ball. They were so obsessed with hair-clothes-boys you couldn’t have a real conversation with them. When they wrote stuff, it was soft and domestic and full of icky feelings. When they did science, it was probably going to be squishy stuff, like sociology or something. She’s not pretty enough/she’s too ugly to listen to. On and on and on…

These things are held forth as truths: women are more emotional than men. They’re more into relationships. They’re softer, sweeter, less intellectual. They’re physically weaker. They’re more interested in babies. They’re all sorts of things, obviously, it’s biology, maaan. And those messages are a self-fulfilling prophecy. We’re told to see women that way all our lives, so we do. I couldn’t see women any other way. And that meant I didn’t see a lot of women.

Not until I fell in by accident with a few feminists, both women and men, who told me to actually look. Look for the women who are already there, the ones you dismissed without honestly assessing their work, the ones you couldn’t even see because this culture ensured the men were given top billing. Look beyond the assumptions as to why there are fewer women. Look beyond that easy it’s-just-the-way-things-are narrative and find out if maybe, just possibly, there are other reasons why so many women are rare or absent in certain areas.

I found women doing extraordinary work, everywhere. Women who had been completely overlooked because people like me automatically dismissed them, didn’t even think to see if they were there and, if so, doing anything interesting.

I saw the things making them invisible.

I saw that the work they did, that I held in such contempt, was difficult and important and mattered.

I found out I’m not a unique-chick™. I was just being an oblivious asshole, like nearly everyone else.

This is why things like casual sexism matter. No one would give a rat’s ass about a shirt full of half-nekkid women or describing a piece of equipment as a woman you’re trying to bed if women were fully equal and represented. In another culture, that would just be quirky stuff. But not in this climate. In our culture, it’s another brick, more mortar, in the wall that keeps women out of certain fields. It’s part of the smokescreen that keeps women out of the public view as professionals worth taking seriously. It doesn’t matter that the people doing or defending it don’t realize that’s the impact they’re having, and don’t intend for it to be that way.

I didn’t intend to ignore women’s contributions to science, but I did. And part of the reason I did that was because ten thousand tiny messages told me that women were more objects than people, not worth considering unless they were really-really extraordinary. Messages often delivered by people who wouldn’t dream of telling women they were less-than people. But all of those messages, combined, say that women are, indeed, less-than. They have the result of turning women’s accomplishments invisible unless they fall within a narrow spectrum of “things women do.” They depreciate the worth of those “things women do” because, hey, if women can do them…

Image is a page from the Barbie book "I Can Be a Computer Engineer." Barbie is in a computer lab with two guys. She's holding up a disc. Text bubble says, "'It will go faster if Brian and I help,' offers Steven. 'Great!' says Barbie. 'Steven, can you hook Skipper's hard drive up to the library's computer?' 'Sure!' says Steven. 'The library computer has excellent security software to protect it.'"

Another unlovely example of subconscious sexism at work. The author says “it’s possible stuff slipped out.” Ya think?! Image from Pamela Ribon’s excellent smackdown. Click the image for her post.

We’ve got to be more careful of the messages we’re sending. We’ve got to be more aware of our bias, even when we believe we aren’t biased. We have to question those lazy assumptions handed down as unquestioned fact.

We have to do better.

 

The same image as the previous one. The text bubble has been reformatted to say, "This is the last time I'm giving you boys this anti-virus install. Next time you bork your machine by browsing porn sites with IE as an admin, you're on your own."

This is what could have been – and an idea of how it should be. Image from I Can Haz Cheeseburger.

Dear Richard Dawkins & Co.: Please Look In This Mirror

Kengi’s holding it up for you. Have a good, long look:

Dear Atheist Political Prisoner

Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you were expelled from your homeland, and . . . yawn . . . don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to write a blog post without the police arresting you, and you can’t leave the house without being killed by angry theist mobs, and your family is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you set up a website. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor British brothers have to put up with.

Only this week I heard of one, he calls himself a “Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse”, and do you know what happened to him? Some people openly criticized something he said. I am not exaggerating. They really did. They were critical of his comments. Of course he was able to get his rebuttal published in major news sources, and of course he didn’t lose his job or speaking engagements or anything, but even so . . . He feels “muzzled!”

And you, Political Prisoner, think you have speech freedoms to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.

Stings a little to have your own attitude reflected back on you, dunnit?

Image shows a cat with its butt against a mirror. Caption says, "Halp! Mai evil twin has got me by tha butt!"

I just want you to remember this moment the next time you expect some sympathy from me for one of your Very Important Problems. I shall have to direct your attention to Those In Other Countries Who Have It So Very Much Worse So Shut Up About the Things That Harm You. You should be happy – after all, one leads by example, and that’s the example you’ve set. I, lowly woman who has too much of an Estrogen Vibe™ to be a Thought Leader™, can only follow your shining example.

Some #Gamergate Links Hand-Selected for the Curious

A lucky few folks have heard the word GamerGate, but have no idea what it is. If they’re anything like B, they’re getting curious, and would like some links about it. They may even have a feminist friend who’s made their eyebrows rise to their hairline with stories about the shit GamerGaters get up to, like driving women from their homes with death and rape threats.

But, y’know, they may also have heard rumors that it’s actually about ethics in video game journalism.

Image shows Dr. Evil doing air quotes. Caption says "#Gamergate is about 'Ethics in journalism'"

I collected several select links at B’s request. Then I figured B probably wasn’t the only person in the universe who wants said select links. So I offer them to the internets at large, plus some explanatory verbiage, knowing I risk having a bunch of angry GamerGaters appear in my social media. They can howl their lungs out, if they like: that only gives me ammunition.

Right. So, let me let other folks introduce you to the raging bunch of misogynist shitstains who hide behind ethics figleafs in order to viciously attack women.

It’s utterly clear that GamerGate started as a harassment campaign against women in gaming, and all the bullshit about “ethics in video game journalism” is just a smokescreen. Their own fucking IRC logs prove it. Observe:

Do you still think that #GamerGate is a spontaneous movement against game industry corruption? Zoe Quinn has some screenshots to show you.

Zoe Quinn’s screenshots of 4chan’s dirty tricks were just the appetizer. Here’s the first course of the dinner, directly from the IRC log.

Spamming, Doxxing and Sockpuppeting: 4Channers’ dirty tricks, straight from their IRC log.

Let us pause and sum up the story so far with a meme.

Image is a screen shot from Jaws with the shark getting ready to rip a dude's legs off. Caption says, "Actually it's about ethics in videogames journalism. Great white sharks oppose eating boats. I already reported that other shark to the Coast Guard. You probably bit yourself in half."
That’s GamerGate in a nutshell, for those who don’t want to wade through all the linkage.

So, at this point, you’re probably wondering who Zoe Quinn is. She’s the independent game developer whose ex-boyfriend decided to destroy for the crime of sleeping with other men. She might have cheated on him, but I’m not really willing to grant that, considering he complained about her sleeping with other people when they were broken up. I don’t think he understands relationships or boundaries or that it’s okay for women who once dated him to sleep with other people after they’ve discovered he’s a fetid shitcanoe of a boyfriend. Anyway, his manifesto unleashed a howling mob of various assholes who can’t stand the idea that women play video games, and would like some video games to reflect interests outside of the narrow confines of the shoot-kill-fuck-everything storylines beloved of said assholes. They attacked Zoe with vigor, because she had the audacity to create a game called Depression Quest. Because she once slept with a video games reviewer, they decided they could pretend this was all about ethics in games journalism, even though said reviewer never reviewed her game. The whole saga is unfolded in many posts at We Hunted the Mammoth. There are a lot, so you’ll want to be sure to click “Older Posts” down there at the bottom.

It was not enough for GamerGaters to merely attack one woman. Oh, no. They have gone after game developer Brianna Wu, driving her from her home with vicious death and rape threats, for… stuff, I have no idea what. And no, she hasn’t slept with any game reviewers, so no, this isn’t, in fact, about ethics in video games journalism. It’s pretty much about the fact that she retweeted a meme that made fun of them:

Image is a composite of several memes, all with a child in a red shirt grabbing its head and shouting. Captions read: 1. "Gamergate is not about oppressing women." 2. This is about corruption (tweets 500 things attacking women)." 3. "Says 'Go start your own game studio' to woman who owns a game studio." 4. "Lectures women on how to respond to the problems he causes." 5. "Fighting an apocalyptic future where women are 8% of programmers and not 3%." 6. "Bases entire identity in games. Feels like a badass."

The horror. The cruelty. So forth. Yes, I’m sure that threatening a woman and her family with grisly sexual assault and death is a completely reasonable response to such a terrible attack. I mean, the fragile male ego must be defended at all costs. It is so precious. /snark.

Anyway. Brianna is a badass and won’t back down. Definitely read her piece.

Let us now observe the disparate treatment dished out to men who criticize GamerGaters and women who say something quite tentative, mild, and sad.

Chris Kluwe, who is a former Vikings player and one of my favorite people in the universe even though I have no interest in football, ripped GamerGaters a new one. I mean, it is an epic rant, and I bow to a superior ranting power and hope that, after reading his book, I can unlock that achievement. GamerGaters might have mumbled a few things, but they barely responded.

On the other hand, Felicia Day, who is one of the shining stars in the nerd entertainment firmament (Buffy and The Guild, people, nuff said), posted a heartstring-tugging piece talking about how GamerGate has made her afraid of the gamers she used to eagerly approach and schmooze with. She also mentioned that she’s been afraid to say anything for fear of getting doxxed by these assholes. Their response? She was doxxed within an hour. Deliberately. After she’d mentioned she has stalkers who might kill her if they could find her. Some ethics in video games journalism activism, eh?

Chris had a few choice things to say about that. More men like him, please. Fewer GamerGate shitstains.

Anitia Sarkeesian, who has been relentlessly harassed ever since she started her Tropes Versus Women in Video Games series, has had the harassment reach a crescendo with GamerGate assholes. She ended up having to cancel a talk at the University of Utah due to a very specific threat to massacre her and the students. She’s the kind of badass who wouldn’t cancel a talk even for that, but Utah is a bright-red state that loves its guns sooooo much it will allow people to run around with them concealed on campus, and even a very specific, credible threat to shoot up lots of people won’t make them disarm people going to a talk. Oh, but you can’t carry a backpack in, because that will help. GamerGaters love to claim this threat didn’t come from one of them. Sorry, dudes, but it came from one of your dudebros, a fellow hater, and you don’t get to disown him just because he didn’t use the right hashtag in his email. When you unleash torrents of harassment, you give murderous fuckwads cover to unleash their inner Elliot Roger. You own him.

Arthur Chu has particular insight into the minds of these assclowns, having been a reclusive gamer type himself once, and having met Felicia Day in the days before GamerGaters came along to make her leery of weird fans. I hope that many GamerGaters read his words, and that they eventually sink in, and make them realize they’re being horrible human beings and stop. They should be more like Arthur Chu, who is a gamer and a decent person, too.

Finally, our own Tauriq Moosa has written several excellent pieces on GamerGate. I recommend them all.

On Gamergate: Loose thoughts.

Gamergate: Two faced bullies, suicide and general hatred.

An actual journalist gives gamergate a parental talking to.

#Gamergate is giving a voice to voiceless? Your voice is better elsewhere.

But she’s wrong though…

And, finally, the definitive takedown of the idea these ignorant gits even know what ethics are, much less are all about ethics:

#Gamergate and the failure of ethics.

That’s not all the excellent stuff I’ve read about GamerGate, but it’s a start. For those who may have become addicted to reading about this inanity in the course of following these links, search GamerGate and Ophelia Benson, Amanda Marcotte, and PZ Myers, for a start.

And remember, it’s all about ethics in video game journalism or something. Even when they’re launching propaganda campaigns on Tumblr, in which they are advised to hide their misogyny and homophobia and avoid using sexist slurs because people are starting to catch on that people comfortable using that language and attacking women for basically being unapologetically female in their vicinity aren’t, actually, about ethics at all.

Image shows an adorable white kitten tumbled on its back on a red velvet background. Caption says, "I are cute kitten and I support #gamergate. I totally r not part of a cynical 8chan plot 2 take over tumblr with cute cat pics."

Thank you, Dave Futrelle.

Yeah, Not So Nice and Complimentary, Is It? #DudesGreetingDudes Hashtag Unmasks Catcalls

This is one of the most hilarious consciousness-raising exercises I’ve seen in a while. One of the reasons I love Twitter is because it’s the perfect medium for this sort of thing. Sometimes, like with the #iftheygunnedmedown hashtag, it’s heartbreaking and intense. Other times, like with  #DudesGreetingDudes, it’s pointed and satirical.

Screen shot of a tweet from Elon James White. Tweet says, "You see a dude looking all hard & shit. Roll up on him like "Aye yo, smile, son. Damn." BRING SUNSHINE TO HIS DAY. #dudesgreetingdudes."Elon James White started the hashtag after getting into a Twitter discussion about street harassment. “I’m surprised women don’t just tweet “go fuck yourself” every hour on the hour. It would be a really reasonable response to this bullshit,” he tweeted. Shannon Miller suggested, “Since there’s such a wealth of these ‘nice men’ who just want conversation, why can’t they just strike up one with each other?” Elon took her suggestion and ran with it, birthing the #DudesGreetingDudes hashtag.

Screenshot of a tweet from Elon James White. Text reads, "Dudes. If you feel society has lost it's decency, let's bring it back. Let's start the #DudesGreetingDudes movement! Say hi to each other!" There’s absolutely no better way to prove that catcalling and street harassment aren’t about merely saying hello or complimenting people like telling dudes to do it to other dudes.

Image shows profile of a cat looking at something off-camera. Caption says, "Excuse me, but... WTF?"

Like Amanda Marcotte said, if it was all intended just to be “nice,” men would stop once they realized the majority of women don’t think what they’re doing is nice at all.

The point was made extremely clear: Men aren’t “just” saying hi. They are being extremely selective at who they say hi to and it’s based primarily on who they think owes them attention. If, in fact, we actually lived in a culture where everyone was chattering at strangers all day, it would be miserable, especially in pedestrian-heavy cities like New York. Only women have to put up with this bullshit. That is why it is sexist, even if you take the weird sexual bullshit out of the equation.

And again, if you were just saying hi, the fact that your targets don’t like it would cause you to reconsider your behavior. If you’re trying to be nice to people, the first rule is to do things they like instead of constantly badger them with behaviors they have indicated they don’t like.

You can see that these so-called compliments aren’t complimentary at all by the fact that straight white dudes, seeing them aimed at their own precious selves, suddenly feel like it’s all homophobic. Nope. Alyson Miers explains:

Screenshot of a tweet by Alyson Miers. Text reads, "If #DudesGreetingDudes elicits homophobic anxiety, then cat-calling behavior is clearly not JUST friendly."Another tweet by Alyson reads, "If cat-calling were strictly non-sexual, pro-social behavior, then homophobia wouldn't even be a factor in discussion. #DudesGreetingDudes"And in case that wasn’t exquisitely clear, Elizabeth Plank explains further,

To be clear, this is not about men hitting on men, a subject with deeply-ingrained stigmas of its own. The #DudesGreetingDudes hashtag was designed to highlight why exactly its disingenuous for apologists to argue that a catcall is somehow a normal form of discourse between two strangers, and not a specific form of harassment designed to bolster a gendered power hierarchy.

And dude, that discomfort you’re feeling? Not a patch on what women feel every day as they try to navigate public spaces. So think about it. If you’re this uncomfortable thinking of some random dude coming up to you and complimenting you on how those jeans really show off your ass and thighs, hey, do you work out, bro? – don’t you think, maybe-possibly, a lot of women may be feeling just as uncomfortable? Think maybe that means you shouldn’t invade their space, demand their attention, even if all you want to do is tell them they look nice?

Feeling squirmy because some random stranger dude joked about demanding you have a burger with him because you look American? Think of how a woman of color feels when you approach her on the street and suggest you go out for Chinese because lol she’s Chinese.

That’s the point of this hashtag, straight white men. Maybe you really do think those are nice jeans, maybe you really would just like to talk to an interesting-looking person about their culture or your shared interests or whatever, but if you wouldn’t want some guy on the street to ask you to compliment your clothing or ask you to do stuff with them, now you know how the vast majority of women feel. Congratulations! Put your new insight to good use.

And if you’re wondering why, if there’s nothing sexual about it, you may still feel uncomfortable being a dude talking to a dude, check out what Miri Mogilevsky has to say about it. A lot of it’s to do with how different genders are socialized in this culture. But there’s some other, fundamental stuff going on:

Men who approach women in this way may or may not be consciously aware of that gendered difference. It may be simple social learning—throughout the course of their lives, women have tended to pay attention to them in this way and other men haven’t, so they’ve learned to approach women and not men. A more cynical (but still probably accurate) explanation is that men know quite well that women are taught to indulge them, and so they choose women as the targets of their attempts to make conversation with strangers.

There’s also the rarely-spoken fact that many men are almost as afraid, if not as afraid, of other men as women are. If a man pesters a woman on the street, she is very unlikely to respond with physical violence. Other men are more likely to.

So here’s another golden opportunity to put yourself in women’s headspaces. Think back to a time when you said something offhand to some big dude, and he gave you a look that made you suddenly worry you were about to get the snot beaten out of you. Remember that fear? Remember that uncertainty? Yep. Women feel that around men all the time.

Does this mean you’ll never ever be able to strike up a conversation with a female stranger? Nope! There are social settings where doing so is totally appropriate. Say we’re standing in line together waiting to see a show or meet an author, and I look your way and smile. You can say something like, “This is exciting, huh?” And if I say, “Yeah, it is!” we might even get to talking enthusiastically about our shared interest. Wow, right? (If I give you a death-glare, though, go talk to someone else and assess what about you may have set off the ZOMG CREEP alarm.)

Maybe you can ponder other appropriate settings. But start with three simple rules:

  • When in doubt, STFU
  • Don’t bother women who are walking or taking public transit, especially not when they’re studiously ignoring you.
  • If a woman tells you to fuck off, then off you should fuck. Graciously. (Hell, if you’re All That Plus The Potato Chips, fucking off when told to do so might just change her opinion of you, dude.)

And I think the #DudesGreetingDudes hashtag has taught us the Golden Rule of Male/Female Stranger Interaction: if you wouldn’t do it to a strange dude, definitely don’t do it to a strange woman.

Image shows a perplexed dude in the middle of a group of partiers. Caption says, "It's called a cat call because it's as effective as trying to call a cat and get its attention."

“Paths Out of a Childhood Misogyny”

Ludicrous asked an excellent set of questions on a post here a bit ago, and I thought I’d take it out of comment-section obscurity and upgrade it to a post of its own:

How is it that some boys growing up in a culture that turns females into ‘the other’ are able to overcome the estrangement and others not? How did the these guys and especially the mra’s get boxed in?

I think there are many men, talented writers, who could describe their paths out of a childhood misogyny. There are many inspiring stories of folks escaping religion. What are the experiences that help men get over whatever blocks their ability to apprehend the experience of women. Women describe over and over and over what misogyny is and does and yet to these men it is somehow not real, a minor inconvenience at worst.

Several commenters answered in that thread, which tells me this is striking a chord, and more stories are out there. I’m throwing this open to everyone who found a path out of childhood misogyny, keeping in mind that any gender growing up surrounded by misogyny and sexism in their cultures can internalize this crap, even if it harms them directly. I know I did. I know I still do, and have to fight that internalized misogyny on a daily basis. So tell me your stories, and don’t worry if you’re still a work in progress: if you’ve managed to make your way to this side of the Deep Rifts™, you’ve made a good start on that journey.

I’ll include the responses from the previous thread to get the conversation started:

Patrick G:

Can’t speak for others, but for me it took repeated (figurative) smacks to the head. Eventually I realized that ‘wait, maybe there’s something I’m missing’.

After that, I was perfect, of course. *cough*

raymoscow:

My path away from the misogyny I grew up with was mostly about listening to women, trying to understand some of their concerns, and exercising some basic empathy. It’s not rocket surgery.

I won’t say that I’ve completely escaped it yet, because some of the worst stuff lingers unconsciously, but I’m working on it.

(Same for racism and other forms of bigotry)

John Horstman:

In my own case, while I identified as a strong feminist in high school, looking back I can see a lot of sexist attitudes that I held (and I’m sure there are others I haven’t yet recognized nor begun to dismantle). Some of the things I see e.g. MRAs say have come out of my mouth. Despite being reasonably smart and definitely feminist-oriented, my own experience in a society that treated me in a particular way because people read me as White and male and heterosexual led me to a certain set of conclusions about how people interact, how social systems work, what “fair” is, etc. And while I had any number of friends who are not White and plenty who are female, that alone isn’t enough to give one a good knowledge base of the experiences of people unlike oneself – friends don’t often relate the totalities of their experiences to each other, one’s personal group of friends is still going to be a small sample, and one’s group of friends is also going to be biased to particular kinds of experiences, as one is unlikely to wind up with friends who travel in very different social environments (becasue if you’re traveling in entirely different circles, you’re unlikely to ever meet or have enough in common to be friends in the first place). Hence non-White friends or female friends not actually being any sort of defense against charges of sexism or racism (and actually attempting to use them as such is a rather insidious appropriation of their identities).

So, to given an answer to your question, those guys who get boxed in are those who never have anyone or any event push them to expand their perspectives. They stay locked in their narrow worldviews and never see any reason to look for information outside their own experiences. That’s one of the things that social privilege allows one to do, because one’s perspective is treated as the normative default, so one is unlikely to encounter any push-back about the validity (or, at least, generalizability) of one’s own perspective and experiences (as one does when one’s experiences or perspectives are contra-normative). This also explains the intense defensive reactions to challenges to privilege (it may be the first time the person has ever had that perspective or interpretation of experiences challenged), and it’s one of the ways privilege self-perpetuates, by being invisible to the people who benefit most. Even with e.g. many women loudly and publicly sharing their experiences of street harassment and denouncing it, it is shockingly easy to remain unaware of phenomena like that unless one is actively seeking out perspectives and experiences of dissimilar people. Scientists ought to know better, but even they (like most people) are prone to universalizing/projecting our own perspectives and experiences – this is, of course, why the scientific method requires repeated testing by different researchers (and ideally researchers in very different cultural contexts) to verify results. While the preceding may not accurately describe everyone in the group we’re discussing, I have noted it as a common pattern. The default state is tribalist ignorance, and it takes active effort to start to overcome that, so even in cases where pushing past that is the normative (or simply preferred) course, people will wind up in the default state by default.

I could add that perhaps a willingness to question oneself and one’s experiences (or interpretations of them) is a necessary precursor to a broader worldview. In my case, my history of mental illness led me to recognize that my perceptions were not necessarily the only possible ones or even those most reflective of reality. A depressed brain lies to itself, so successfully coping with a depressed brain can mean learning methods of self-questioning and external validation of one’s interpretations of events, which are valuable skills for questioning normative assumptions.

Uncle Ebeneezer:

On the topic of escaping misogyny: I’m a white. male, upper-middle class and I played sports and music, so I was privilaged to the Nth degree and spent most of my life in environments where casual misogyny was the norm. Until only a few years ago I was pretty damn misogynistic in my attitude and approach to dating. And I would have probably gotten defensive if I was ever really called out on it or was confronted by one of those Feminazis I had heard tales about. Nowadays I find myself spending more time reading feminist articles and nodding along as new light bulbs continue to flash on. My turn-about has been so marked that a FB friend (who moved away about 7 years ago) saw one of my posts recently about Anita Sarkesian, I believe, and remarked that she almost didn’t recognize me from the wanna-be-womanizer who loved to defend the C-word, that she used to know. She asked what prompted the change and I told her that witnessing the fights in the atheist movement, listening to/reading/absorbing the concepts of actual feminism (rather than the stereotypes) and just questioning my own assumptions was all it took to see how clueless and wrong I was. Maturing, getting married and losing my Mom probably also played a role, but it was mainly just shutting up and listening. Anyways, I’m not looking for a cookie here, just wanted to illustrate that as others have noted above it really comes down to a simple flick of the switch and willingness to examine oneself that can get the ball rolling. And a little effort going forward to try and be better. IE- it doesn’t really take much. And for people like me who had all the privilege to comfortably keep our heads in the misogynist sand, just witnessing the Freethoughtblogs Wars of 2009-? can be all that is needed to wake us up.

Image shows a chipmunk with a walnut shell on its head, looking out a window. Caption says, "I start my journey today and I walnut fail."

A Rant Against the Dual Nature of Marketing Towards Men and Women

In which our own RQ riffs off my Fifty Shades of Fucking Abuse post. (say something about the gender binary) The floor is hers:

I got to thinking about your post during the day, and on what it means regarding who is reading what, and what kind of reading is marketed to whom. Especially romance and/or sex-related stuff, or, hell, just books that might have sex in them somewhere.

Because all those tired housewives? What’s marketed to them? Insipid romance where the man saves the day (or is horribly abusively ‘romantic,’ right, because what woman doesn’t love a good stalker?), magazines on housewifery and how-to-keep-your-man-interested… What else? Not much – I read a pretty decent science magazine (GEO, not to be confused with NatGeo) that explicitly states in its subscription description that it is geared towards middle-income, successful men. And what is in this magazine? Well, it’s not women in any state of undress – it’s very interesting science and geography articles, with nary a nod towards ‘typical’ male interests (except in advertising, and even that – alcohol, watches, suits…). Why can this kind of stuff not be geared towards women, too? Those bored housewives who are so uninteresting to their husbands – wouldn’t this kind of thing be perfect for them? Educate themselves while gaining a broader perspective on the world (they’ve had some neat articles on transgender children and non-traditional relationships, plus a very feminist one on the role of fathers from a scientific perspective), while acquiring information useful in ordinary, daily conversation with their far more worldly husbands. Sounds great to me, so why not market it as such?

Then there are the women’s magazines, which are… well, cooking, interior design, and, on occasion, nicely dressed and fully clothed men (there was that one comparison of Hugh Jackman on the cover of men’s and women’s magazines a while back). And that’s all fine, until it’s the only thing ‘appropriate’ for married women with children, and the thought of showing a bare-chested man in a housewife magazine (YUMM) is considered racy and borderline non-permissible… Where’s the women’s equivalent to FHM and Playboy? And I don’t mean just erotic shots, I mean the intelligent interviews with the interviewee posing in his underwear as eye-candy. I can think of a few local candidate athletes who would be perfect for this.

But no.

Women, especially women in long-term, childed relationships, don’t have sexuality. Not one worth talking about, at least, except as a ‘haha I bet you never have sex’ joke. This is something that needs to die a very, very painful and quick death (I’d say slow, but I’ve had enough of slow).

And that leaves me to wonder, from whence do women get their ideas about their own sexuality, in a fairly puritanical society that deems them worthy only of having children and being satisfied only under the wing of a man?

And that is what leaves them wide open for books like 50 Shades – because, unfortunately, with all the abusive aspects of it, and the childish language (they can’t even talk dirty enough because it will hurt the sensitivities of women? what?), it does speak plainly and openly about sexual love within the bounds of a relationship. I mean, I read a lot when I was young, and my first awakenings into sexuality came through SF/Fantasy novels (Hel-lo, Lions of Al-Rassan). And then for a while I made sure that all the books I read had at least one sex scene in them, because that shit was awesome! Masturbation material! (Sorry if it’s TMI.) And it was in all kinds of books!

Which leaves me to wonder, are people really so limited in their reading choices (and more specifically, are housewives really so limited in their reading material) that they have to resort to such ridiculous trash as 50 Shades to re-awaken those feelings? To allow them to feel like sexual beings again, to let them know that it’s perfectly normal to want sex and love your body and have someone do wonderful, touchy-feely, hot things to it? Is it just the marketing this time around? Is it a lack of resources to know that, hey, having kids doesn’t automatically turn the pleasure-centres in your vagina and environs off? Because there’s so much literature out there that can get people hot and bothered – if they bothered to look at it that way. But I think I’m slowly discovering that, indeed, there’s a very narrow lane you have to walk when you’re set in a certain role, a very narrow set of interests you’re supposed to cultivate in order to be the right kind of wife/mother/girlfriend. Because the gods forbid you start having fantasies about imaginary characters or unattainable athletes or actors on-screen… Because Hugh Jackman would set a bad precedent by taking his shirt off in a women’s magazine, while being all bare-chested and manily aggressive is perfectly fine for the men to see (because that’s how they should be, too!), but there’s no reciprocating audience to accept him as such, from a sexual point of view (I feel like there’s some underlying homophobia here, too, because sexy pictures of men might be looked at by gay men, and ew, right???).

I suppose this is a rant against the dual nature of marketing towards men and women (and never mind those who aren’t straight and cis, because… well, because, right?), how men are allowed to be sexual, women are too nurturing to understand, and women who want sex for the sake of sex and pleasure are sluts and shouldn’t be treated with respect… Yes, that’s rape culture. But is it really so ingrained that it subtly limits everyone’s reading choices? That it denies such self-examination and acceptance of all of one’s self?

I’m sad to think that the answer is yes – that the only way to awaken women’s ‘lost’ sexuality is through aggressive marketing piggy-backing on the coattails of an already-terrible romance. That there’s so much beautiful, sexy stuff written out there, that would appeal to both men and women without resorting to silly cliches and harmful stereotypes of romance that doesn’t get a single note of attention because… because it doesn’t fall neatly into a box. Because it doesn’t fall under the definition of ‘housewife’ or ‘husband’ or ‘sex after marriage’ (I’m pretty sure there isn’t even a box for that last one). And this is only in the context of plain, vanilla relationships (which can be pretty hot too).

The Lions of Al-Rassan isn’t marketed or ever described as a romance novel – even though, in essence, that’s what it is. No? And it’s not the only book that avoids the ‘romance’ label even though it is chock-full of romance.

Anyway. I’m not sure how to end this in a good way, because it’s saddening and slightly angering that this is what women have to resort to – that this is what is pushed at men as a model – because society is too afraid to acknowledge sex and sexuality as a real, living aspect of all adults, whether single, married, with or without kids, of any orientation or sexual proclivity. Sex is too awesome to be demeaned and swept under the rug like that – why does it happen?

(And yes, I have some idea… I just wish there was a better way to stand against it and make a change.)

*sigh*

Sigh indeed.

This “Anti-Rape” App Horrifies Me

Amanda Marcotte brought this horrific bit of fuckery to my attention: an app called Good2Go, which ostensibly is there to ensure both parties are enthusiastically consenting to sex, but really isn’t doing that job. Observe:

Worse, I feel this app could be seized upon by rapists as a way to rape women and get away with it.

In fact, Good2Go could contribute a dangerous new element to those he-said she-said rape cases. What Good2Go doesn’t tell users is that it keeps a private record of every “I’m Good2Go” agreement logged in its system, tied to both users’ personal phone numbers and Good2Go accounts. (Records of interactions where users say “No” or just want to talk are not logged in this way.) Allman says that regular users aren’t permitted access to those records, but a government official with a subpoena could. “It wouldn’t be released except under legal circumstances,” Allman told me. “But it does create a data point that there was an occasion where one party asked the other for affirmative consent, that could be useful in the future … there are cases, of course, as we know, where the accused is an innocent party, so in that case, it could be beneficial to him.”

So, in other words, if you’re a rapist, all you need to do is convince your victim that you’re having a legitimate hook-up. Get her to log in her “consent” on this app. Once the record of her saying she wants sex is created, you then rape her, by say, forcing her to do a bunch of stuff she didn’t want to do. If she says no, who cares? You created a record of her saying yes. It’s basically a way for rapists to give themselves blanket permission to rape someone by creating a point in time she said “yes”, and then saying everything that happened after that was covered by it. Sure, the app says that you can withdraw consent at any time, but if you’re going to court with this and she says, “Well, yes, I said yes to sex on the app, but I didn’t think he meant he would hold me down and anally rape me,” odds are that little disclaimer will not offer much protection to the victim. It’s already hard enough for victims of rape who were tricked into thinking they were on a real date only to have rape sprung on them to convince juries they weren’t consenting. This would make it a nightmare.

I have bolded the bits that screamed, “We don’t give a shit about consent, we just want to shelter rapists!” to me.

I’ll tell you right now, anybody trying to get me to use this app with them is getting nothing. I will not touch the app or them. They will be required to exit my presence immediately.

And if I end up on a jury, and some dumbshit wants to claim xe didn’t rape this person because look! the app recorded they consented! – well, let’s just say that fucker’s going down hard, because I will end them. I’ll know they’re playing silly buggers. I’ll know all they cared about was covering their ass, not making sure their partner was having safe, consensual fun with them.

Image is a drawing of a young woman talking to a young man. Both are holding books and look as if they're students. The caption reads, "Your box of condoms says you're in to safe sex. Your Tap-Out shirt says you don't care if it's consensual."

If you’re having trouble seeing the problem, imagine an app called Good2Tattoo, which your tattoo artist made you use, and which only recorded you saying yes to getting a tattoo – but didn’t record if you said “no” or “yes, but not that Boy Bands Rule! tattoo you’re offering.” Imagine the tattoo artist stamped you permanently with the boy bands ink anyway, over your objections, and used your initial yes, recorded by the app, to argue in court that you agreed to the whole thing – and increased their chances of getting away with violating you because of it. That’s basically what this app is doing. And rapists will see it as a spiffy new tool in their getting-away-with-rape arsenal, whether they admit what they’re doing is rape or not.

As for those who genuinely think this app is a great idea and they should use it to protect themselves from false accusations of rape: I think you should probably not have sex with other people. Sex toys have gotten very good over the years. Please avail yourself of them instead, at least until you are educated enough to have consensual, safe sex with an enthusiastically consenting partner, sans awful app.

“There Is the Great Disappointment”

You know, I never thought I’d see the day when PZ Myers, the fire-breathing atheist whose passion for science and reason launched me full-tilt at science blogging, would despair of the atheist movement. But here that day is:

There is the great disappointment. The movement, whose whole premise demands a sweeping change of the culture, has discovered that it is far easier to defend the status quo than to change it. We’re willing to ask other people to think long and hard about their beliefs, to question and change, but all that other stuff that our culture planted in our heads, like beliefs about the sexes and races, like the rigid gender binary, like the suitability of women to thinking critically, like the automatic conferral of status by wealth, like the dehumanization of people who look like they might have had different great-grandparents than us, like the utility of simply killing people who disagree with us…oh, no, don’t ask us to change. We’re just here to promote atheism! One thing at a time! Once we’ve cleared away the deadwood of religion, then maybe we can think about encouraging a rational world that will have those nice things you’re talking about. Atheism is only about separation of church and state issues, or only about science and naturalism, or only about scholarly discussion of the accuracy of ancient texts, or only about fighting the barbarous customs of non-Western peoples…it’s only about the non-existence of gods, we can’t possibly consider side issues, like the harassment of women or the oppression of black communities or the diminishing educational opportunities of the poor, to be part of our brief!

Well, I’ve got news for the atheist movement: it all matters.

[snip]

I will make a prediction, right here and now. The number of people identifying as “nones” will grow in this country in coming years, because we’re on the right side of history, and because organized religion is happily in the process of destroying itself with regressive social attitudes, scandals, and their bizarre focus on other-worldly issues that don’t help people. The number of people identifying as atheists will stagnate or even shrink, because organized atheism is happily in the process of destroying itself with regressive social attitudes, scandals, and their bizarre focus on irrelevant metaphysical differences that don’t help people.

I can’t say that’s a bad thing. The name of atheism has been burdened with unfair and inaccurate stigma for a great many years, and we’re now drifting into an era in which atheism will be burdened with a totally fair and accurate stigma.

Unless we change.

I don’t know that we can.

Image is a grayscale photo of a cat with its head in its paws. Caption says, "I has a sad."

And it’s not just PZ, or the people he mentions within his post, who are disillusioned. I’ve seen comments from a goodly number of people who are either walking away or walked a long time ago. These are people who could be contributing to the movement: volunteers, donors, activists that we’ve lost because the leaders of our orgs can’t extract their heads from their asses. (Perhaps they would understand what right shits they’ve been if they read this excellent poem by our own Digital Cuttlefish. I value my continued existence too much to hold my breath, thought.)

I think the current incarnation of movement atheism is going to perish. It’s too self-satisfied, too unrepentantly sexist, too hostile to people of color, too ignorant of the poor, too opposed to social justice, to survive to the next generation. The churches are losing people who are needlessly cruel to others, dogmatically refuse to change, and then wonder where all the young people went. The atheist orgs will find themselves facing the same problem. They’ll be wondering where the women, the people of color, the majority of the LGBTQ folk have gone. They’ll sneer and say “Good riddance!” when they realize we’ve ended up over here, on the opposite side of the rift. They’ll retreat to their own enclaves, and they will think they’re important, but they won’t be the ones making a difference.

We will.

Because, despite disillusionment, we know that what we’re doing is necessary. It’s important. It matters.

Listen to RQ, answering PZ’s despairing “I don’t know that we can” with a firm yes, we can:

I can’t afford to believe that we can’t. None of us can (in my opinion). That being said, it’s awfully difficult sometimes. But I refuse to give up all hope, even if I have to force myself to do so with a conscious, bull-headed effort. I can’t afford to.

Maybe I’m not old or tired or worn out enough yet, but the day I give up all hope will be a day I die a death far more meaningful than the physical one. And I don’t think I will like myself after that day.

We won’t give up. We’ll just take our activism and our dollars and our passion elsewhere.

Listen to George Wiman, who lays out some options:

I’m sure not going to start believing in gods because a bunch of atheists are sexist yobs. I’m stuck as an atheist whatever the “movement” does. So I could disavow atheism and embrace “humanism” (which is too kind to religion for my taste)

Keep my head down and still my voice.

Identify as a humanist atheist or an A+ or something else which says “Keep your gods and your oppressive culture too.”

There’s the third option. We’ll be over here, taking our atheism and building something of value. We’ll be working on a better moral foundation. We’ll be applying our critical thinking skills to our society and culture. We’ll be going beyond realizing there’s no gods, and asking what comes next.

Listen to consciousness razor, who knows that atheism is a beginning, not a finish line:

We should* all realize, as atheists, that we have to take it upon ourselves to make the world a better place. No benevolent magic being is going to do it for us, and there also aren’t demons or some such which we can blame the bad stuff on. And there are no other (not god-like) mysterious, purposeful forces at work, which guides things toward a certain end. And we don’t get second chances, because death is a real thing that happens, not only a transition to some other kind of reality. So there really is no other good option. That’s our job as good rational human beings, because we cannot consistently come up with a good excuse for not doing it. If you’re not buying into that, yet call yourself an “atheist” anyway, what legitimate reason do you actually have to justify any of it?

*But obviously, we don’t all in fact do what we should. That’s not surprising in the least, or any reason to be “disillusioned.”

I’m disappointed, but not disillusioned. I expected better of our leaders, but I’m not surprised they didn’t deliver. And there will definitely be disappointments going forward, but they won’t stop me. It’s like Jon Scalzi says:

I think internalizing the fact that no opinion/belief/enthusiasm inoculates either you or anyone else from the baser aspects of the human condition, or the larger social milieu in which we all exist, is probably a very smart thing to do. It helps manage the disappointment when the cool new group you find yourself with is eventually revealed to be full of flawed and fallible human beings, and it helps to free you from the initial desire to rationalize shitty behavior within a group merely for the sake of identity politics. And on the rare occasions when everyone in the group is actually good and decent, it allows you to appreciate just how nice that really is.

All this bullshit? It’s been a booster shot. If the people who are supposedly leading movement atheism are terrible failures, so be it. There have been terrible people in every social movement. We can brush them aside and continue the necessary work. They don’t define us, and they won’t end our good work.

PZ’s the one who inspired me all those years ago. He lit the fire. He turned me into an unapologetic atheist. He rekindled my passion for science and gave me the conviction and the courage to blog it. He showed me that we could forge a better world without gods. He gave me hope. And I’ll be damned if I let a few assholes in the movement take that away. I don’t care if we have to tear the entire movement down and rebuild it from the foundation up. I don’t care how much that makes smug assholes like Dawkins and Harris howl, I don’t care how much it makes reported serial sexual harassers like Shermer shriek. I don’t care how many fuckwads scream and whine and try to flood our channels with death and rape threats. This isn’t their movement. They don’t get to define it.

Over the next several weeks, I won’t let up on the supposed leaders who are failing so spectacularly. But I’m not here to only tear down, but to build up. I’ll be bringing people and organizations to your attention who are doing excellent work. I’ll be finding work that deserves our support. In the coming months, I’ll be tracking down books and podcasts to replace those the ones we found invaluable before their creators turned out to be such spectacular failures as human beings. I’ll be giving you some humor boosts, and hopefully helpful memes with which to illustrate your own posts about the Deep Rifts™.

We don’t need the leaders who have failed us. We have each other. And we have it within us to change the world.

Let’s do this thing.

Image is a grayscale cat with round dark steampunk sunglasses. Caption says, "Let's do this!"

The World As It Should Be

Here are two stories showing that the world we are asking for is not impossible. Two stories of young women getting falling-down intoxicated, in the presence of men.

Image shows a black cat hugging a bottle of Captain Morgan's rum. It's tongue is hanging out. Caption says, "Got a lil 2 much cap'n in meh."

This is how it should be when this happens.

 Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-:

I was a stupid teen once, like most people, and I did a lot of stupid things teens will do because they think their parents are ignorant idiots when they try to tell them that this is stupid.

So I got really drunk one night.

And then smoked weed.

Together with older guys (by older I mean just no longer teens).

To cut a long story short, at some point I threw up, and I really wanted to take a shower, because that was gross, and because I couldn’t walk anymore those guys helped me to the shower, undressed me, helped me shower, and at some point in that shower my memory stops and only returns when I wake up the next morning. In a clean T and undies. In my bedroll. Completely unraped.

I shouldn’t have to consider myself lucky for that.

No. This shouldn’t be luck. This should be the expected outcome. And it can be.

RQ:

You and me both. I’ve had guys help me puke my guts out and never try a thing; I’ve chugged whiskey from the bottle just like one of the guys and subsequently passed out, to no negative result; I’ve been walked home, lent beds, lent clothing, with never a worry for my safety, even in a houseful of guys and the only woman staying overnight, with a party on the first floor (I had Saturday classes, so Friday nights were spent with this houseful of guys) and never a spot of trouble.

I know a factor in some of these stories is a lack of so-called sexual morals: it was a very sexually open sort of society, with a musical-chairs of partners and a no-hard-feelings attitude for anyone refusing to partner up with anyone else. And, I might add, a lack of mean-spirited gossip (in the sense that no one was ever put down or ridiculed or bullied for their sexual exploits). Heck, a friend of mine was on the point of penis-insertion with one of these guys, and she freaked out, said no, and you know what he did? He backed off, put his penis away, and made sure she was okay, and has never (to my knowledge) pressured or teased her about it in any way. And nobody got blamed for anything.

The factor in the second kind of these stories (university roomies) is, again, a sexual openness – it wasn’t the same level of sexual freedom, but several of the guys were volunteers with the Sexual Education Centre, and took a lot of pride in being knowledgeable about women and sex and generally not being assholes. I suppose they were as arrogant about it as any university students would be, but at least they got most things right. Playing strip foosball? No problem. It’s strip foosball, not foreplay. :P

Funny how neither one of those factors rests on denying women the opportunity to have fun as people…

Do you see the common factors? Do you see how certain cultural expectations within these groups were set? Funny what happens when we expect better of men, when we educate people that intoxication is not consent, that they should get consent before proceeding with sex, and if consent isn’t crystal-clear, don’t have sex.

Many naysayers have wanted to pretend we can’t have a world in which women are able to drink themselves under the table with the guys, and expect nothing worse than a hangover the next day. They’re wrong. We can educate kids and teens, and reinforce our expectations. Yes, we can’t stop every single human being from being a predator. But we can make it impossible for them to operate in a group. We can make it impossible for them to find cover for their boys-will-be-boys, hey-we-were-drunk-she-just-regrets-it excuses. In some spaces, that world is already here.

It’s not impossible. Just very hard work, and a will to do it. If you haven’t got that will, I suggest you stand aside and let us get to work.

Image shows an orange tabby kitten leaping off a couch, looking as if it's flying. Caption says, "I must go. My planet needs me."

Some Useful Links on Sexual Predation

A while ago, I was looking up some facts and stats on rape, and collected a handful of links that might prove useful when arguing with people who refuse to see that there is a substantial subset of men who are, indeed, the majority of the problem. It also speaks to why we shouldn’t tell daughters not to get raped as much as tell sons (and, indeed, daughters) not to rape. As even Narendra Modi says, “After all, the rapist is also someone’s son.” (Or daughter. Let’s not pretend women can never rape, and men can never suffer rape, because that’s hardly true. It’s just that men are overwhelmingly likely to be the perpetrators rather than the victims. And those men who want to argue that, answer this honestly: when you plan a first date with someone, are you afraid she may not sleep with you, or that she’ll be weird or boring, or you’ll make such a fool of yourself she’ll never want to see you again – or that she will violate and then possibly kill you?)

Right. Here are the links. Feel free to add your own links to good resources in the comments.

How Many Men are Rapists?

Meet the Predators

Predator, Redux

50 Actual Facts About Rape

Pharyngula Wiki Link Roundup: Rape and Rape Culture

Image shows a sheep draped over a barely-visible wolf.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing. Image courtesy Pierre Tourigny via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)