Taking Boys Out of the Box

I didn’t like being a girl. It was harder to duck behind a tree when nature called when we were out playing in the woods. I sometimes had to do cruel things to the boys to prove I was tough as them. One of my friends wouldn’t let me play with his army men because I was a girl, and girls don’t play soldiers (I quickly disabused him of that notion, much to his astonishment).

But a lot of the time, I didn’t notice I was a girl. I was wearing pants and jumping my bike and getting in the mud and building stuff and commanding the pack, just like one of the boys.Hell, I was even more hardcore than some of them. When I crashed my bike on a road chip-sealed with cinders and road-rashed myself from toe to waist, I told ‘em I’d be right back, and hobbled home for some quick patching up. Alas, my mom decided someone with that many bleeding wounds needed to stay inside, but my friends respected the fact I hadn’t shed a tear. One of our buddies would head sobbing for home the instant he stubbed a toe. None of us wanted to be like that.

So yeah, I was usually one of the guys, which was fortunate, because there were a grand total of five girls in the entire neighborhood, none of them my age. No one had any problem with a tomboy, of course. And, outside of a few incidents like the Army Men War, no one bothered to tell me I couldn’t do something because female. Even when I went home and played with dolls, even when I prettied up my playhouse, no one thought it was odd for a girl to be a girl in boy’s clothes, mostly doing boy’s things.

The guys didn’t do girl stuff as much, but there were times when they’d come over to play dress-up, or do a nice afternoon tea with us, and my yellow Easybake Oven was one of the boys’ favorite things ever. I remember once when my one close girl friend and I were getting our nails painted by her mom, her brother wanted in on it, too. So his mom gave him a few red nails, until he got bored with manicures and wandered off.

But that was a line rarely crossed, that dividing line between girls and boys. We girls could wear anything, any time, but the boys never put on a dress outside of playing dress-up in the house. And as we all got older, they stopped doing even that. They had to hate girls, and run from our cooties, and be all tough and in to boy things like trucks. Girls were sort-of encouraged to be pretty and feminine, but we could run around in ripped jeans and ratty sneakers one day, and a dress the next. We could cross the boy-girl divide at will.

I didn’t think that was very fair, when I thought about it. Why shouldn’t the boys do the pretty clothes and makeup if they wanted? Why couldn’t they play the girlie games without getting tormented by peers and parents alike? Why couldn’t they be openly interested in girl stuff? I might have hated being a girl at times (especially after Aunty Flow made her first appearance), but I was grateful for the chameleon opportunities it gave me. People back then were great with girls doing boyish things, so I could do absolutely anything I wanted, while my boy friends were stuck on the boy side of the divide.

I think of that often, now, as the world gets ever more pinkified. I mean, for fuck’s sake, they’ve even gendered the dogs.


Gendered doggie toys and clothes at one of the local mega-petstores. This whole pink-and-blue obsession has gone way the fuck too far.

Gendered doggie toys and clothes at one of the local mega-petstores. This whole pink-and-blue obsession has gone way the fuck too far.

And while we’re fighting to get girls out of that box they’re being energetically stuffed in to lately, the one that says they love pink and princesses and ponies but heaven forfend they like boy colors and boys toys, we need to remember that boys are in a box, too. Libby Anne has both a son and a daughter, and she sees people trying to stuff them both in their respective boxes all the time.

“Look at him!” [Uncle Dale] said. “He’s obsessed with that train. He’s such a boy!” I frowned. I hate it when this happens. I took a deep breath.

“Actually,” I said, “When Sally was Bobby’s age, she was completely obsessed with large construction vehicles.”

Uncle Dale laughed. “How odd,” he said. His voice was dismissive.

“I don’t think it’s odd at all,” I replied. “I find that if you let kids just be kids rather than pushing them into gendered boxes their interests are generally eclectic.”


Neither Sally nor Bobby fit in conventional gender boxes, but someone who spotted Sally playing at princesses might very well respond with “She’s such a girl!” in the same way that Uncle Dale noticed Bobby fascinated by trains and responded with “He’s such a boy.”

What’s going on here exactly? Confirmation bias.

And that hurts girls, but boys have it bad, too. They’re not encouraged to play with dolls, put on makeup, stomp in high heels (unless their mom is as awesome as Libby Anne). If a girl crosses the divide, she often gets forced back into the girl box, but there are plenty of people cheering her on, encouraging her to break out again. Boys who try to cross, though – society loves to belittle them, be horrified by them, call them gay, tell them to man up. We need to fight to get them out of the box, too. We need to have a response ready when society tells them they’d better toe the masculine line.

We need so much more of that. Kids don’t need this gendered crap. Neither do adults. Let people be people. Erase the lines. Let the girls put on the firefighter’s outfit. Let the boys wear ballgowns. Let’s strive for a world where no one’s trapped in a gendered box.

And the next time you see a child crossing the divide, tell them they’re wonderful.

An Offensive Strategy for Dealing With Creationist Attacks on Science

I’ve been doing quite a lot of reading about the failures of creationist geology. Many people have come before me, tearing this nonsense down bit-by-bit. It’s an extraordinary amount of work, and leaves Flood geology scrambling for ever more bizarre ways to overcome the laws of science.

But maybe we don’t do quite enough. We defend science, we present the reality, we knock down bits of their structure, but there may be an easier way to deal with the creationists and Intelligent Design proponents attempting to force their nonsense into science class, and hanging round the fringes of our professional meetings hoping some credibility will rub off on them. I quite like Donald Wise’s proposals:

If such activities are to be opposed effectively, a first step is to learn the ideas, history, and underlying assumptions of their proponents. A second step is to devise an effective counter strategy. To date, the scientific community has been woefully inadequate in the Creationist battle on both counts. This paper is an attempt to focus our opposition, (1) by providing some readily accessible information on the Creationists, (2) by making a proposal for an offensive rather than defensive strategy, and (3) by giving some background facts to implement the strategy. In public forums, the Creationists should be challenged to defend their total model of earth history, difficulties and all, and to give their supporting “evidence” on an item-by-item basis. Again and again, we should force the point that extraordinary claims require extraordinary levels of proof. Such public confrontations with Creationists may have only the scientific depth of disputes between three-year olds, but at least the proposed strategy will force those fights to occur with their toys in their sandbox rather than ours. [emphasis added]


And this strategy is gorgeous for two reasons:

1. It shows up creation science for the incoherent farce that it is,
2. If by some miracle the buggers turn out to be right, it forces them to do the hard work of good science and provide the kind of overwhelming proof it would take to revolutionize science.

So keep after them, when you get chances to confront them in public, or even just casually. Demand the mountains of rock-solid data. Demand the models that explain and predict more elegantly than our current ones. Demand they confront and solve the major problems with their models. Demand the peer-reviewed papers that specifically back up their claims, and if they haven’t got them, demand they write up and submit their work to the reputable professional journals. Settle for nothing less than valid science of such quality that it can win majority support amongst the professionals. If they can’t provide that, too bad for them. They’ll have to come back when they can.

Image is a cat with narrowed eyes. Caption says, "Skeptic Cat demands proof."

This doesn’t mean we don’t stop crushing their arguments. It’s fun and valuable work, and like we saw in the Kitzmiller trial, not to mention the Nye-Ham debate, shooting this stuff down can be a fantastic opportunity to teach real science to the public. But we need to make sure we’re putting the creationists on the defensive at the same time.

They want their version of science accepted? They’ll have to do the hard work, and provide the kind of undeniable evidence it takes to change well-supported scientific paradigms. Until then, they have no place in our scientific spaces.

Crowdsourcing Books By and/or About Women and People of Color in the Geosciences

You know those moments where you suddenly notice the ism in the background? Had one recently meself. I spent a few weeks going through every single geology book available for Kindle on Amazon. I downloaded a ton of samples. And then I started sifting through them.

I noticed a few disturbing trends.

First, the samples are overwhelmingly by men. Not that this surprises me, but I’d hoped for a larger ratio of women. There were practically none. Hullo, background sexism!

A white peacock's gaudy display overshadows a peahen. Image courtesy Darkros via Wikimedia Commons.

A white peacock’s gaudy display overshadows a peahen. Image courtesy Darkros via Wikimedia Commons.

Second, the samples are overwhelmingly white. Again: disappointed but not surprised. Hullo, background racism!

A black swan lost in a crowd of white swans. Image courtesy Colin Smith via Geograph. Click photo for details.

A black swan lost in a crowd of white swans. Image courtesy Colin Smith via Geograph. Click photo for details.

Third, most of the books by women are either for children, or they’re fiction. That one really got to me. And it got me to thinking of cultural assumptions.

I have to wonder how many books on the earth sciences by women are overlooked by editors unless they’re in the traditionally female-dominated realms of education, or a good lady-like pursuit such as literature?

So I’m sure, although I know of no study that specifically proves, there’s an unconscious bias that editors have that goes some way toward explaining why the kids books and geology-themed fiction are much more likely to be by female authors, and why there are even fewer earth science books by women than I’d expect even with a lower ratio of women in STEM careers.

Even worse, I have to wonder if my unconscious bias has skewed that ratio even more in my samples. I’ll have to go back and look. One of the things I’ve learned palling around with social justice people is that we have to be aware of what our culture has wrought – and mine has so effectively taught me to overlook women that I do it without thinking, even though I am a woman.

Time that stopped. Takes effort, and a conscious commitment to noticing what culture wants us to ignore, aside from a few tokens so it can feel great about itself.

So here’s your mission, should you choose to accept it: if you know of earth science books by women and/or people of color, tell me all about them. Let’s get a list going.

And let’s see about making editors aware of their blind spot. It’s not that they’re being deliberate arseholes (in some cases), I’m sure, but our culture has spent generations telling us that it’s white dudes, usually older white ones, who do the science, so the women and people of color become practically invisible.

We need to be aware of that blind spot, and compensate by actively forcing ourselves to see. Otherwise, things won’t ever change. And people who cold have expanded our vista beyond our imaginings will remain overlooked.

We can do better. We have to do better.

FtBCon2’s Religion and Homeschooling Panel Shows Why Secular Folk Need to Pay Attention

We all know neglecting to feed your kids is wrong, right? Neglecting to give them shelter, or medical attention (unless you’re religious in some states – a blind spot in the law we need to fix), or any other basic necessity of life is illegal. You might even get popped for emotional neglect. But in some states, you’re legally allowed to steal a child’s future. Extremist homeschool parents and their allies call it a right. They decide what their children get to learn, or if they get to learn at all. Educational neglect, to them, is their right. A child’s right to the future an education can give them is beneath their consideration.

If you get a chance, and you care about educating children, you should spare an hour for this video. It will horrify you.

Kim Rippere and Elsa Roberts from Secular Woman, Vyckie Garrison from No Longer Quivering, and M.A. (Marian) Melby from Sinmantyx discussed the reality and effects of religious homeschooling. Note that the problem isn’t with homeschooling per se – Marian talks about the fact that most of the homeschool kids she sees in her university classes are well-educated and do well. But she points out that the subset of homeschoolers being discussed are not ones likely to end up at a state university.

Vyckie, having been the homeschool mom at one point, provides insight into homeschooling for fundamentalist religious reasons. She pointed out that the enormous emphasis on gender roles meant that girls often weren’t educated at the same rate or quality as boys. They were being prepared to become homemakers, mothers, helpmeets – why prepare girls for a career? Even if parents are well-intentioned at first, the size of the families in the sects that emphasize a “quiver full” of children means older girls end up becoming stand-in moms to the younger kids. The chores involved with feeding, cleaning, and clothing so many kids means that education is often sacrificed. Elsa experienced this firsthand: raised in a relatively small family of four kids, she was in charge of all the meals by the age of 11. For a while, her family lived in a house with no electricity. The kids had to haul water up from the creek, do laundry by hand – those tasks took a long time, with little left for education. So girls’ educations could slide. They would learn what they needed as they went along; they could learn fractions when they cooked.

Parents rationalize the educational neglect of their children by telling themselves it’s far more important to inculcate character and Biblical/Godly principles than reading, writing and arithmetic.

There’s also the fact that children are being taught by parents who aren’t qualified to teach. Elsa’s parents were creationists who taught her creationism instead of science, and that only for a scattershot few months. Because she loved science, she ended up teaching herself all she could from a thrift store biology textbook and a few popular science magazines. Her father told her she couldn’t become a doctor – it would place her in authority over men, and that wasn’t allowed. By the time she reached college, she had wide gaps in her education. She didn’t know what a beaker was. She couldn’t follow lab procedure. It was hard to overcome the deficiencies in her knowledge, and some gaps she will never be able to fill. You can tell she’s angry about it: it rings out loud and harshly clear in her voice. And she’s not alone in that. Many kids who have suffered educational neglect are angry, and using the activism their parents taught them to press for reform to educational laws and regulations, much to the horror of the parents who thought they were turning them in to soldiers for God.

And the isolation these kids experience leads to abuse. They think what they’re experiencing is normal. Marian, who grew up in a family that was liberal for the area they lived in, and went to a public school that wasn’t shy about blurring the lines between church and state, was so under-exposed to other types of families that she found the idea of atheist families strange. We all have those sorts of blind spots.

Now imagine being raised in a subculture like Elsa’s. She was surrounded by the fundamentalist idea that women must have a submissive spirit, which left them ripe for abuse. You could end up believing abuse was love. When her parents beat her, that was what she thought. She and Vyckie went over the rituals of punishment in those cultures thoroughly. It begins with disrespect – and disrespect can be something like not having a cheerful enough expression. Before disciplining you, your parents would make you pray, asking them and God for forgiveness. You were then spanked (Elsa used the word beaten) until your will was broken, after which you were expected to engage in reconciliation with the people who had just beaten you. If you didn’t reconcile to their satisfaction, you would be beaten again.

And this is considered Godly.

There’s far more. All of it will be familiar to people who follow Love, Joy, Feminism and No Longer Quivering. Most of it is horrifying. You can find plenty of information and links at Secular Woman’s Religion and Homeschooling page. I encourage you to arm yourself with some knowledge, and when bills come up in your state requiring better education standards and regulations, support them. There are kids who are being robbed of a future, because freedom of religion means freedom from education for some parents.

We need to do better for those kids.

Sad child by Axel via Flickr. Image is of a small, dark-haired child sitting on grass with his head in his arms, looking very forlorn.

Sad child by Axel via Flickr.




No. I Won’t Give Churchgoers Cookies For Doing the Minimally Decent Thing.

A friend pointed me toward this story by telling me a Methodist church got a new pastor, who promptly ran the gay choir director out, and guess how many in the congregation left the church over it? I knew what she was fishing for. She wanted me to feel the warm fuzzies that a bunch of religious folk had protested the treatment of one of their own.


“Eighty percent!” she said, as if the number would change my mind.

Nope. Not impressed.

The conversation stalled shortly after as I refused to debate further whether or not one should encourage such basic human decency by praising it, lest the people involved give up trying to be good due to lack of kudos. I don’t like to have these conversations over chat to begin with, and when it’s chat at my job and I’m trying to work, I like it even less. It takes more time than I have to hammer the point home that I’m not going to give them cookies for doing the minimally decent thing.

Image is an irritated dark gray cat, with the caption "No cookie for you."

Kitty courtesy Isabel Bloedwater via Flickr.

So let me unsling my Smack-o-Matic™ now:

I’m not going to give them unstinting praise for doing what tens of thousands of other Christians have done when they had a quibble with their church, and splitting, thus leading to the wide variety of Christian denominations who plague our world today. I’ve seen 80% of a church schism over whether or not they should go doorknocking after church on Sunday afternoons. I’m supposed to be impressed when 80% walk over basic human rights? Puh-leeze.

Plenty of other people will be happy to give them bakeries full of cookies. It’s my job as a nasty Gnu Atheist™ to point out that this is sheer and utter bullshit. Not say, “Oh, congratulations! You’re finally beginning to realize your religion is full of horrid shit that treats good people like pariahs for no defensible reason. I’m so proud of you, pookie!” Fuck that noise.

No, here’s my response to them:

You lot did the minimally decent thing. You stood by a man who was wronged, and that is good. But what I want to know is this: why did you leave your church in the hands of the bigot who forced him out? Eighty percent of you could have ensured that asshole didn’t have a job. You could have found a more enlightened minister, and then rehired your choir director, and taught the bigots a lasting lesson. That would have been praiseworthy. Think of that the next time you encounter this situation – which you will, because nothing’s changed.

Please note this tidbit from the above referenced article:

United Methodist Church law allows LGBT people to attend church services but says “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve.”

And what did you do? You didn’t protest that law. You didn’t demand it be changed. No, you quibbled over the spirit and letter of it. Of course it’s fine to discriminate against gays when it comes to the ministry – God forbid we should have one of those homosexuals behind the pulpit – but we can totes have one as choir director! you said by your actions. I’m supposed to be happy you rage-quit over your choir director being forced out for being gay, and one of the people trying to defend him (by getting all legalistic about the language forbidding homosexuals from serving) being relieved of duty, but I’m supposed to overlook the fact you left discrimination perfectly intact in church law?


You don’t get a bloody cookie. I will give you a pat on the head and send you back to work figuring out what it means to be a just, decent, moral human being who cares about equality and works to ensure equality happens. I’m very sorry your religion makes it so difficult to see why discrimination is wrong, period, full stop. I’m sorry your church is stuck in the past and hasn’t gotten hip to the fact we shouldn’t fuck people over for fucking people with similar genitals. I’m glad you’ve achieved the awareness necessary to understand that a gay choir director is a-okay in the church. But you can do better.

And I don’t think you’re a bunch of tiny toddlers who need plenty of positive reinforcement lest they give up. You’re all adults who are supposedly mature enough to understand that even if you don’t get a cookie, you should still strive to treat your fellow human beings better. And children understand why they’re not getting an A+ for C- work. They know they’re not going to get an A for Effort when they’ve put forth the minimum effort necessary. I think you’re mature enough to get it. And I think you’re decent enough to keep trying to do the decent thing even without people handing you cookies for every tiny increment of progress towards equality you make.

I think I actually think more of you than my pantheist friend. I certainly expect more, and expect, based on your behavior to date, that you’re eminently capable of meeting my expectations.

So get to it. Take the church back from that 20% of bigoted assholes. Run the pastor out on a rail and install one who not only appreciates gay choir directors, but who wouldn’t mind seeing someone who’s LGBTQ (not to mention W) step up to the pulpit when he retires. Get your church’s laws changed. Make a real and lasting difference.

Then I’ll give you a cookie.

And I’ll have an even tastier one waiting for the day you realize all this god stuff’s a bunch of b.s.

As Expected

My rather ridiculous medical crisis punted The Talk with my supervisor, but it we finally had it on Sunday. It went as expected.

Image shows a kitten with its paw up, with the caption "High 5!!!"

Actually, we only had half The Talk, because he’d spent (part of) the weekend thinking of how the projector time could be made fair, and came up with a plan that allows everyone to take a turn, whilst allowing the top performers on our team extra turns based on stats. Everybody wins: he’s got an extra way to incentivize us, and we’ve now got a system where everybody gets a chance to subject the team to their entertainment tastes. We’re better off than we were before, when it was random and led to conflict and didn’t give our supervisor new ways to ensure we stay in the lead. That’s something I wish more people would understand when these issues come up: when you face them head-on, when you think them through, you can so often find ways to not only make things fair, but improve them for everyone. Everybody wins.

And this, my friends, is why my supervisor has been in the #1 slot in call center stats for nearly a year straight. He’s not afraid to look at a situation that needs to be fixed, fix it, but also add some additional bells and whistles.

So The Talk began with me thanking him for doing that. Then we had the Transphobia Talk, which went something like this:

Me: I know you weren’t intending it to, but your funny story came across somewhat transphobic. Don’t want you to run into problems. We’ve got folks who’re either transsexual or know someone who is, and transsexual people, especially male-to-female, suffer a lot of violence.

Him: Oops. Didn’t mean it to come across that way. I’ll be more careful in the future. Have I ever told you about the time I lived on Capitol Hill*?

The Talk abruptly segued into how to focus the story on the funny elements, then the weirdness that is Capitol Hill, and then points beyond. Somewhere, we came up with a faboo reality teevee show idea starring Charles Manson being faced with the fact that the race war he preached ain’t never gonna happen**, and then we discussed what we were going to do for the Morale Captain cape I’m making for the team, and that was that. He understands me, I understand him, we have improved things that need improving, and if we can sell our teevee idea to TLC or similar, we can abandon the call center life forever.

I always try to prepare for the worst-case scenario when it comes to this sort of thing, but it’s usually not that bad. At least here in Seattle, the majority of people are more than willing to hear you out and make necessary changes. And if it comes to a fight, I’ve got plenty of people in my corner, cheering me on (not to mention you lot – you’re one of the best cheering sections in the Known Universe). It’s a city full of people who’ve spent time on the wrong side of at least one privilege, and who haven’t forgotten what empathy is. I can always count on enough progressives with the willingness to endure a bit of temporary pain in pursuit of improvement that I’m rarely alone, albeit usually the most vocal, when it comes to these sorts of challenges.

That’s why I bloody love this city. It could be so very, very much worse.

As for B and I… well, we exchange pleasantries at work. I don’t know that we’ll ever get beyond that. That hurts to a ridiculous degree, that we should lose each other over something like this, but his reaction to my plan of action was that pointy bit of ice above the waterline. More to it than the visible bit. More damage than expected from what was on the surface. So it goes. That’s something that happens, in these situations, where a minor event is a catalyst. It’s not the thing and the whole of the thing, could’ve been shrugged off if the bit floating on top was all there was to it, but it wasn’t, and so you end up with a suddenly-sunken ship and a lot of people wondering what-the-fuck. It’s a risk you take, and honestly, if an event like this sends a friendship to the bottom of the sea, it was headed there long before the final collision.

Was it worth the risk? Of course. I prefer honesty to superficially comfortable fiction. Fuck, if I wanted to live a happy lie, I’d still believe in gods, now, wouldn’t I?

Thank you all for the cyberhugs and encouragement and enthusiastic cheering. Thank you for inspiring me, and being there, and being the bit of solid ground a person needs to stand on when applying a lever to a world that’s so often a pain in the arse to move.

Thank you for being you.

And thank you for being courageous enough to put a hand to the lever and push with me. We can do this. Together.



*Put it like this: if you’ve got any sort of phobia when it comes to sex and gender, you’re probably not going to survive living in the Capitol Hill neighborhood for more than fifteen minutes or so.

**Copyright 2013 me and my supervisor. All rights reserved.


When a Projector is a Projection of Our Fucked-Up Culture

So the thing about having your consciousness raised is that you can’t really lower it again. When your attention’s repeatedly drawn to something important, when people chip through your resistance and decades of cultural conditioning and open your eyes to things you should have seen long ago, you can’t close them again without seeing after images.

Image show a gray kitty with yellow eyes peering over a table with an expression of concern and horror. Caption says, "What has been seen cannot be unseen."Take the fucking projector that has caused a good part of angst in my personal life just lately. Years ago, I’d not have noticed the endless parade of dude stuff. Dude stuff was just fine with me. Who wanted that icky chick stuff, anyway? Who cared if the ladiez didn’t get a look-in – they’d probably choose some awful chick flick thing. Eww.

And then I started spending my time around people who, like fish investigating the invisible medium they swam through, had discovered such things as everyday sexism and microagressions and the billion and one ways we tell women and other minorities they’re second class. I’ve learned about chilly climate and niceness as a tool of oppression. I’ve learned I had a bad case of internalized sexism, and that it’s more common than the common cold, which means any woman I meet could be suffering it, too. I’ve learned that intent is no excuse for problematic behavior. I’ve learned that this same patriarchy hurting me and mine is hurting every gender, including men. And I’ve learned that the incidental shit we surround ourselves with – the jokes, the entertainment, the places we go and the people we choose to see – can have an outsize impact. For instance, that harmless sexist joke told by the non-sexist among us? It could be encouraging the closet sexist in our midst to feel good about himself and fuck women over with a clear conscience, free of social consequences.

Along the way, I’ve had to learn uncomfortable truths about my own sexism and racism and privilege. I’ve had to learn that a person can be the furthest thing from a sexist or racist or other ist, and yet do ist things. I’ve watched people completely fail to understand that, and snivel when they should be solving. Sometimes, I’ve been the sniveler. But I’m trying. Now that my eyes are open, I’m trying to do better.

So the projector, it rankles. It wouldn’t have done before. I’d have been with B: it’s no big deal. Don’t make a fuss. But I cannot in good conscience do that any longer. And every time this shit comes up, when I know I’m going to have to gear up for Yet Another Battle With a Good Person™, I get grouchy and sad and tired. I think of just letting this one slide. And then I think of Jean Valjean:

If I speak, I am condemned.

If I stay silent, I am damned.

So I bloody well speak.

Damn the consequences.

Because this shit matters.

It doesn’t matter to the dudes who live comfortably on top, who refuse to have their masculinity threatened by The Notebook (heaven forfend they should like it). They’ve given the ladies a shot at it! They graciously let us watch So I Married an Axe Murderer that one day didn’t they? Of course the dudes complained and grumbled because ew, ick, wedding dress, but they let us get away with it. And they’re fine with us picking stuff out – as long as it’s kung fu movies, or police procedurals, or shoot-‘em-ups, or Duck Dynasty. See – when you ladies are one of the guys, it’s no problem! Fairness and equality for all. As long as you don’t mind seeing your gender represented as nothing but a sex object every time you look up, if there are women on the screen at all. As long as you don’t mind a constant barrage of testosterone. And as long as you understand that your viewing choices can and will be superseded by what anyone with a penis decides he wants to watch at any point during your flick. Move along, no sexism to see here.

They don’t even realize that’s what they’re doing, because no one’s ever shown them. They’ve spent their lives this way, with the women most often letting them have their way, going along to get along. Because lord knows, if you piss off the dude with the projector, he may take his projector and go home, and then everybody suffers. Don’t be that girl.

And it doesn’t matter anyway. Nobody really watches this stuff. We’re busy taking calls! It’s not a democracy! But everybody’s gotten to choose something! You can’t get everybody to agree on everything. You’re making a big deal out of nothing. These are all excuses I’ve had thrown in my face since suggesting that maybe, just possibly, it’s not cool to shut out the women on the team, and I for one will not be putting up with it.

I’ve very likely lost an important friendship with something this bloody stupid as a catalyst. One thing’s for sure: even for women who, like me, don’t usually get a lot of crap for being a social justice warrior, there are sometimes severe consequences to giving the boat even a slight, careful nudge. And you can never tell when the explosion will happen or who will set it off.

My life would be easier and happier if I could close my eyes and soothe my consciousness to sleep again, if I could tell my conscience to shut the fuck up. But that’s what’s brought us here: too many good people unwilling to do the right thing because other good people get nasty, and it makes everyone unhappy for a while, and the consequences are too much for many of us to bear. So, I have a Jean Valjean moment:

If I speak, I am condemned.

If I stay silent, I am damned.

And I decide that being condemned by the people around me, however uncomfortable, is not a patch upon the damnation that will be visited upon me by my outraged moral compass, and that changing this world just a little bit for the better is worth any amount of personal pain and professional discomfort. I do not, to my everlasting shame, always decide to do this. Despite what people who think I’m a loudmouthed crusader think, I don’t always speak. But I should.

And I will. As often as I can, as loudly as I can manage.

And as long as the person I am speaking to, who has the power to fix this, is the personI think he is, the conversation won’t go too badly. He’ll see that these microaggressions are bad things, and that soaking in endless masculinity isn’t much good for the dudes, either. He’ll still say this isn’t a democracy, but it won’t hurt to introduce a few democratic principles into the totalitarian government of our team. He’s already agreed not to stop shows partway through. We will work out further equitable solutions, and considering all three women on this team do actually love kung fu more than princesses, the masculine suffering should be minimal. We’ll have some stuff on with kick-ass female characters, and gays, and lesbians, and transsexuals, and POCs, and even some heart-string tugging things that will get the super-macho among us sniffling about dust in their eyes, and everyone will come out of this a bit better and broader than they came in.


Because this isn’t just about giving the women equal time. It’s also about setting men free from strangling gender roles. It’s about creating a better environment, wherein people don’t have to keep themselves closeted over the things they love for fear of social censure. And it’s about giving people a chance to discover that there are things out there they’ve never suspected they could like, but do, and don’t have to be ashamed about admitting it.

These constant battles are fucking exhausting, and they cost. Oh, they cost. But the price, ultimately, is worth it.*

I do not want to live in a world where, forty years from now, we wonder why we’re still held back by the same old shit.

I do not want to have to look back and say, “Well, because it was because I didn’t do anything to change it.”

Instead, I want to be painting my friend’s grandson’s toenails pink while debating the virtues of the latest Porche vs. Ferrari with an honorary grandniece while she orders something fashionable for her transsexual friend. I want to take them outside to play in a park afterward where kids aren’t busy shaming other kids over their fashion and bodies and lifestyle choices, and sure as shit aren’t concerned about their color or religion. I want a world where people can be people in all their endless variety without being shit upon. I want a world where everyone gets a chance to visit the buffet groaning under the eternal variety of things that make us human, and can pick whatever they want, without shame or fear. Except, you know, for those sexist, racist, and other ist dishes. I hope we’ll have consigned those to the garbage forever by then.

We may never have that world. But it’s a world worth trying for. And even a less-than-perfect version will be wonderful.

 Image of hands of many colors clasped in star-pattern, with a quote by Maya Angelou superimposed:

For a crash-course in social justice, clear your calendar, lay in a supply of coffee and alcohol, and visit these link roundups:

Pharyngula Wiki: Social justice link roundup and Sexism Education 101 Link Dump

Brute Reason:  Social Justice Resources

A+: Education on Social Justice Issues

Geek Feminism Wiki: Feminism 101 

*For me. At this time, in this place, with my privilege, I can bear this cost. Others may not be able to, and it is no shame if they can’t fight the fight openly. Everyone has to do their own math, and decide what they can take, and when for their own good they’ve got to disengage.

The Right Thing Isn’t the Easy Thing

“Just go along to get along.”

“It’s not a big deal.”

“You’re blowing this out of proportion.”

Yeah. That’s what they always say.

So there’s these little things, at work, going on. We’re in an industry dominated by women, but by a twist of fate, nearly everyone on my current team is male. Male supervisor, only three women, and neither of the other two women is what you’d call a feminist. One’s too timid to stand athwart the tide, the other one doesn’t care. That leaves me as the Lone Social Justice Ranger.

And it sucks.

B’s on the same team. It suits him. He likes the easy camaraderie and the fact that our manager doesn’t toe the business conduct line. Honestly, most of the time, I’m just as glad.

But there’s this projector we play stuff on, and guess what? The dudes dominate. They make the overwhelming majority of decisions as to what we get to watch. Sports. Shoot-em-ups. Gritty comedies. Heaven forfend we should watch anything girly. It might threaten their masculinity. So every time I look up, it’s something dudely playing. And if the ladiez choose, well, doodz get to interrupt partway through and choose something else.

This rankles.

I’m sorry, but we ladies have spent lifetimes subservient to dood wishes. We’re taught from a young age that what the doodz want, they get. If you want to be a cool lady, you don’t ask for, oh, say, The Notebook. You ask for a kung fu movie. And even then, if there’s a game on, the doodz get to overrule you.

Every time I look up, with trifling exceptions, it’s all doodz all the time. And while my tastes run overwhelmingly dood (to the point where I scream if they try to turn off the Nascar races on Sunday), it still gets old.

That’s Point #1.

Point #2 is that our manager decided to relate a funny story from his teen years, when he went to Canada where the drinking age was 18, and proceeded to get so drunk he invited a prostitute back to his room – until he realized the prostitute was a man. Transphobia ensued. It wasn’t over-the-top, just the typical red-blooded American male brand where there’s no way in hell he’s gonna end up in bed with a man, no matter how good his or her makeup is.

And those two things were breaking points for me. I’ll let a lot of things slide offline that I wouldn’t give a pass to online, in the interest of diplomacy and just being too fucking tired to fight the good fight again. But when you’re talking about being on the verge of killing a prostitute for being a man, no matter how jokingly you put it and no matter how unserious we know you are? When the choice of entertainment conflicts could be solved with a mild, “Hey, not cool that you’re not giving the three women on this team equal time”? Yeah. Gonna speak up. And my manager’s the kind of dood who may not like it, but will negotiate beautifully, with a happy ending for all.

I didn’t expect this to blow up like it does online, but you know that when you’re standing up for what’s right, something’s always gotta come along and rip your heart out for that crime. So B started in on this, “You’re overreacting!” bullshit, and it culminated in a confrontation tonight that has left me with no doubt that my intention to stand on principle makes him uncomfortable, and deep down, he wishes I’d stop, because it threatens his equilibrium.

B is the most important person in the world to me, and this rips my heart out to say, but: he’s not as important as this.

I won’t stop for his comfort. I won’t stop for mine.

I can’t see the world the way he does. Mostly, because I’m not a cis white male.

And it might cost me a friendship that means more to me than nearly anything else in the world, one that I’ve already sacrificed a lot for; it might cost the team’s peace and contentment, but fuck this shit. Fuck if I’ll stay silent. Fuck if I’ll let things slide and slide and slide. I may end up alone with nothing but a 19 year-old cat and you lot, and I might scream with the pain of losing yet another cherished friend to this, but fuck if I’m not going to stand for what’s right.

So I’m alone right now, rather than happily watching Doctor Who whilst eating seafood, because some things matter more than friendship. Things like ensuring women don’t have to sacrifice everything in the interest of keeping peace with the doodz. Things like making people understand that their funny little stories aren’t so funny to those who have heard the stories of those who were harmed or killed by transphobic violence. Things like taking a stand for little equalities, because if you don’t stand up no one else will, and no one will ever realize there’s anything wrong with running roughshod over the sentiments of the less-privileged.

I don’t want to lose B. I didn’t want to lose Garrett, my best friend of over twenty years, either, but it’s been a year since we’ve parted company over his stance on abortion (not to mention misogyny). I didn’t want to lose so many in the atheist movement over simple questions of how to treat women in elevators, or sacrificing stupid bloody transphobic or sexist jokes, or any of the other dumbfuck fucking battles we’ve fought that have split this movement apart. I’ve not wanted to be the person standing up in the boat and rocking it side-to-side until all the bad stuff goes overboard. I’ve not wanted to make the sacrifices I have in order to stand up for what’s right.

And I don’t want to lose B, who is, hands-down, the one person I care most about in this world right now.

But fuck what I lose. Fuck who I make so uncomfortable that they distance themselves from me. There are things more important than my happiness, and some of those things happen to be correcting the minor problems that are a reflection of far larger ones. I may cry until my heart breaks, drink far more tequila than a sick person should, sob myself into state that decongestants can’t remedy, but I won’t stop standing right here upon this rock. This rock that says that someone has to speak up, stand up, do the unpopular thing in order to change this fucked-up culture of ours. I could lose everything, and you know what? It wouldn’t be a fraction of what people less privileged than me lose, every single damned day.

The right thing is far from the easy thing, and it costs almost more than I can bear. But I will do it.

And you know what? It won’t be that bad. Despite what the don’t-rock-the-boaters like B and so many damned others think, it isn’t the end of all the fun and spontaneity and sexy fun times. It’s not the end of anything except things that should have ended long ago.

Someday, that will be well understood.

Until then, I’ve got you, and I’ve got my kitty, and a bottle of tequila, and it will eventually be enough.

My Carpet: A Fable

Your carpet is old and disgusting. It’s worn and torn, stained and strained. It’s filled with the remains of hairball-hurfing episodes, and smells distressingly of elderly cat urine. Babies break out in a dermatologist-defying rash whenever they crawl over it. The miasma arising from it may be causing a new sort of breathing disorder. Its indeterminate orangey-gray hue with the super-villain-creating toxic-sludge colored spots drains your happiness right out, and is probably contributing to your family’s assorted mood disorders.

“Aftermath” by A National Acrobat on Flickr

But you shouldn’t replace it. Nossir. Yes, you are suffering; yes, you could buy a new carpet and a college education with the money you are spending on doctor’s bills and air fresheners. But a person must have principles. It’s very silly and selfish of you to want a new carpet when there are people in other countries who endure the agony of living on dirt floors. No new carpet for you until everyone in the world has a carpet!

How dare you complain about what the dog did to the carpet while you were away when some people don’t even have a dog, much less a carpet?!

You are a terrible, selfish person, and every decent person should shun you. You are diluting the meaning of carpet-deprivation. You should be ashamed.

Please excuse me now – there’s a sale on carpet at Home Depot, and I’ve got to go. Well, of course, I won’t tolerate the occasional stain on my own carpet, and that color is so last year. What, why are you calling me a hypocrite? I don’t complain to the world about how awful my carpet is!


(Inspired by this bit o’ nonsense, which stands in for all of the “Dear Muslima” and “But there are starving children in Africa!” nonsense.)

Abuse Is Not an Olympic Sport

Ah. I see Richard Dawkins has “apologized” for his asinine comments about pedophilia. The best I can say about it is, at least this time, he attempted to apologize for being a gigantic ass. For an anatomy of this “apology,” I encourage you to visit the incisive comments from Jafafa Hots here and here. Off you go. Especially you, Richard. Yes, you. Now. Look, I’ll even publish those comments at the end of this piece for those lazy buggers who can’t be arsed to click links.

Are you back? Perhaps you can see why I’m disappointed, but in case not, read on.

Dissapointed cat

I’m not going to write a long manifesto exploring all the ways Richard Dawkins has, once again, gotten it wrong, because that’s rather been taken care of by survivors in this thread. I’m just going to say this:

Abuse is not an Olympic Sport.

No medals are awarded for Worst Abuse Survived. No points are detracted for Not Surviving Abuse Quite Right, or Making A Fuss Over “Minor” Sexual Assault. There is no Abuse Olympics Committee drawing up the parameters as to what constitutes Really Real Serious Abuse and what is Less Serious But Still Impressive and Too Petty to Be Included as a Sport.

The fact that you insist on their being such degrees, that you feel you must slot survivors into these categories, wherein only the Repeated Groping by an Adult in Authority qualifies for consideration – Richard, that tells me you’ve suffered more damage than you think. Because not being very traumatized by an assault is one thing (I’ve got some in my past that have hardly been a blip on my radar, too, so I get that.) But this insistence on minimizing this type of assault, statements like this:

Now, given the terrible, persistent and recurrent traumas suffered by other people when abused as children, week after week, year after year, what should I have said about my own thirty seconds of nastiness back in the 1950s? Should I have lied and said it was the worst thing that ever happened to me? Should I have mendaciously sought the sympathy due to a victim who had truly been damaged for the rest of his life? Should I have named the offending teacher and called down posthumous disgrace upon his head?

No, no and no. To have done so would have been to belittle and insult those many people whose lives really were blighted and cursed, perhaps by year-upon-year of abuse by a father or other person who was deeply important in their life. To have done so would have invited the justifiably indignant response: “How dare you make a fuss about the mere half minute of gagging unpleasantness that happened to you only once, and where the perpetrator was not your own father but a teacher who meant nothing special to you in your life. Stop playing the victim. Stop trying to upstage those who really were tragic victims in their own situations. Don’t cry wolf about your own bad experience, because it undermines those whose experience was – and remains – so much worse.”

That is why I made light of my own bad experience.

That’s a whole other kettle of fish. It screams of someone trying to convince themselves that things really weren’t bad at all, who so needs to be convinced of this that anyone who survived the same but admits that it traumatized them must be belittled and shouted down, even in an apology. Because otherwise, you’d have to admit that what you experienced was more than just a silly little nothing you don’t have to fuss over. If those survivors clamor about it, that means you were a victim, too. And you just can’t face that.

If that’s not what has led you to sneer at people whose abuse was less than spectacular oh, so many times, I apologize. But I do hope you think about it. And I do hope you realize that, even if you’re not motivated by trying to minimize your own trauma to protect yourself, you sure as shit look like it, and furthermore are doing quite a lot of harm to your fellow survivors, and should stop now.

Take the example of those of us who have survived our own abuse, some of it which even you would admit qualifies as really real serious stuff, and don’t minimize what happened to others just because they didn’t react the same way as you. They’re people with different thoughts and experiences and expectations than you. They’re people who experience life differently from you. The fact they stumbled over what you took in stride doesn’t make them lesser people. It doesn’t make them fake victims crying wolf. It simply means that they are not you.

And I guarantee you that somewhere along the way, they’ve hopped lightly over something that brought you crashing down on your face, because that’s just a fact of being human.

Put the scorecard away.

[warning]A special note to the Dawkins fans who might feel compelled to defend their Brave Hero by shitting on everyone else: I’ve got a spam folder empty and waiting. Don’t even bloody bother. You are, of course, welcome to spew that nonsense elsewhere, so do make sure you save your comment so that you can repost it in full where other Dawkins fanatics can admire your mad apologetics skillz.[/warning]


Here are Jafafa Hots’s comments in their entirety:


It is not an apology.
It’s a rephrasing of his argument for those of us too stupid to get it.

Right off the bat he says that the disagreement is the result of a misunderstanding, the implication being that we did the misunderstanding. Perhaps also that he needed to elaborate, but not to change his stance – to reassert it.

Today we read, almost daily, of adults whose childhood was blighted by an uncle perhaps, or even a parent, who would day after day, week after week, year after year, sexually abuse a vulnerable child. The child would often have no escape,

That “year after year” sentiment crops up again and again.

Now, given the terrible, persistent and recurrent traumas suffered by other people when abused as children, week after week, year after year, what should I have said about my own thirty seconds of nastiness back in the 1950s?

More “year after year” which is what apparently is needed for you to feel bad about being sexually assaulted.

That is why I made light of my own bad experience. To excuse pedophiliac assaults in general, or to make light of the horrific experiences of others, was a thousand miles from my intention. I should have hoped that much was obvious. But I was perhaps presumptuous in the last sentence of the paragraph quoted above.

It should have been obvious, but he presumed too much of us, so he’s forced to explain it like we’re children.

As far as the complaint that he was projecting his experiences onto OTHERS, including his classmates?
First, he talks about how they talked among themselves – as if that somehow eliminates the fact that kids will “buck up” in front of friends, or not recognize the damage until later.
The concession he gives about his painting his experience onto others is this:

“I cannot know for certain that my companions’ experiences with the same teacher were are brief as mine, and theirs may have been recurrent,/b> where mine was not.

if, perhaps it happened many times and amounted to more than the single disagreeable but brief fondling that I endured, I apologize.

All this “apology” is is a doubling down of his
mild” versus “real and damaging” pedophilia stance.

And what if he (and by implication others) HAD claimed he was harmed by a single instance of being molested?

To have done so would have been to belittle and insult those many people whose lives really were blighted and cursed, perhaps by year-upon-year of abuse by a father or other person who was deeply important in their life. To have done so would have invited the justifiably indignant response: “How dare you make a fuss about the mere half minute of gagging unpleasantness that happened to you only once, and where the perpetrator was not your own father but a teacher who meant nothing special to you in your life. Stop playing the victim. Stop trying to upstage those who really were tragic victims in their own situations. Don’t cry wolf about your own bad experience, because it undermines those whose experience was – and remains – so much worse.”

Because if he had claimed his teacher putting his hands down his pants was harmful, apparently we all would have jumped on him for claiming that was harmful, and properly so, because that’s his opinion also.

There is no apology here.
There is an explanation and reiteration of his “real and damaging versus mild and harmless pedophilia” stance, that he has to rephrase because he apologetically understands that we were too thick to understand him.

The whole thing is a cowardly BS restatement of his original stance.

I not only reject it fully, I’m embarrassed that the cult of personality, the “need for leaders” problem we seem to have is helping him make the same offensive statements as an “apology” for his earlier expression of the same damned opinion.


And in case I didn’t stress that part enough, his concession that his friends might have been harmed hinges on the possibility that they, unknown to him, suffered it repeatedly, “many times.”

Because again, to be harmful sexual abuse, it needs to be REPEATED. Not like the harmless “mild pedophilia” he suffered. His mistake was in presuming that they also may have only suffered the one-off “harmless” sexual molestation.

THAT is doubling down.
He has not changed his attitude one bit, and all he has done is to explain to us mere nitwits the true standards our abuse has to meet to be considered harmful, and not “crying wolf.”

Doubling down because people are too damned stupid to understand you is NOT an apology by any stretch of the imagination.

I am sickened by the fact that hero worship is so entrenched that he can successfully pull this off and get people to thank him for it.