But Where Have the Women Gone?

As I might have mentioned, I’m on an 18th and 19th century freethinker spree. I’m taking great pleasure in reading the words of atheists and not-atheists-but-at-least-in-the-same-zip-code heretics. It’s refreshing, knowing we’re walking a trail blazed by super-sharp thinkers of the past, and seeing how they dealt with the same old tired arguments we hear ad nauseum today. Of course, there’s the corollary: they dealt with this shit, why do we have to keep dealing with it? But religion is like kudzu, and it takes the effort of more than a handful of heretics to weed it out.

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The Truth About Guys and Gals

Last night was completely fucked up in all the best ways. Well, most of them. And it’s led to semi-deep thoughts.

Mind you, I hadn’t had enough sleep. I’d had a shitty day at work, following the shittiest four-day weekend I’ve had in forever, and just that afternoon our call center director had asked me how things were, which led to me saying “not good” and then doing too much sniveling on the way home from lunch to feel capable of stopping by the gas station for a lighter. So this is the context.

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A ‘Nym is Not an Unknown

I like Google+, I do, but I’m not liking their recent purge of pseudonymous folk at all.  It’s not right that people like Bug Girl and DrugMonkey face the choice between revealing their real names or getting banned.  And we’re not talking just having their profiles deactivated, no, it’s worse than that: they were exiled completely from Google+, not allowed to even follow along in silence, all for the terrible crime of not writing under their “real” name.  Fortunately, it seems they’re now allowed to view, but nothing else.

Google+ is going to have to deal with a few facts or shrink dramatically.

A ‘nym is not an unknown.  Names are easy to fake.  Reputations are not.  Over the months and years, pseudonymous folk build up a reputation, and that reputation follows the ‘nym.  So let’s not pretend that a pseudonym is the same as anonymous.  Some people still get confused about that – apparently, Google+ is, too, and it’s pathetic at this late stage in the game.  Allowing people to use their pseudonyms will not throw open the gates to barbarians and trolls.  Disallowing ‘nyms won’t prevent people from being assclowns.  What Google is doing is about as sensible as banning all Muslims from airports because the vast majority of people who hijack planes are Muslim.  You harm a lot of very good people for very little gain.  There are better ways of guarding against undesired behaviors.  Such as, banning the people who actually engage in those behaviors, regardless of whether they use their real names or not.

Google seems to have this idea that people only use a ‘nym because they’re up to no good.  That’s ridiculous.  There are plenty of excellent reasons why someone wouldn’t want to go by their real name.  I chose a pseudonym a long time ago (ye gods, nearly twenty years, how time flies), not because I wanted to hide my real self but because my legal name isn’t one I want on the cover of my books.  Grow up with a last name associated with a very kitschy retailer, deal with the endless no-longer-funny jokes, and on top of that have a character filch your first name, and before long, you’re having nightmares about doing very Not Nice things to fans who unwitting tell you the Not Funny Joke for the billionth-and-eleventy-first time.  In the interests of public relations, I have to be a ‘nym.

But there are deeper reasons.  Much, much deeper.

I do not want my identity stolen.  I do not want to be stalked.  I do not want current or future employers deciding my liberal tendencies or my atheism or whatever else makes me suddenly unemployable, despite an exemplary track record.  I do not want my rapist able to locate me simply by searching my name. Those, it seems, are reasons enough not to operate online under my legal name.  Besides, my legal name weirds me out, now.  I hear it and it sounds wrong.  I’m Dana Hunter, online and off (except at the office).  That’s me.  Not this stranger on my driver’s license.

There are ‘nyms out there who have even better reasons.  ‘Nyms who risk death by being who they are, and would potentially be tracked down and killed if they went by their real names – Muslims who deconvert, for instance, or women escaping abusive former spouses.  There are ‘nyms who would be ostracized were certain things about them known: that they’re LGBTQ, or atheists.  There are ‘nyms who would lose their jobs for saying what they do: whistleblowers, or simply people who have a lot to share but whose companies don’t want them to discuss anything even tangentially related to their employment in public.  All of these ‘nyms have something of interest to say, something of value to contribute, and the intertoobz would be a far poorer place were they silenced.  Google+ certainly will be a sanitized wasteland if they’re all exiled from it.

And how does it possibly make sense to force ‘nyms to use their real names, even if they’re able?  We don’t know who the fuck John B. Smith is.  We don’t care.  We know a ‘nym, and a ‘nym is who we’re looking for when we go to add that beloved person to our circles.  And how do you, Google, know that John B. Smith is the name behind the ‘nym?  Because it’s a “real” name, not something even the most drug-addled hippie parent would have named a child?  How do you know that real-sounding name wasn’t just cobbled together from a few random entries in a phone book?  We don’t present proof of identity when we sign up.  Google doesn’t have Dana Hunter’s driver’s license or birth certificate on file.  (Should they ever ask, though, I can point them to a rather large number of people in both my online and offline worlds who’d know who Dana Hunter is and could easily pick me out of a crowd.  Even my parents know me by my ‘nym.) 

The solution to whatever it is Google’s hoping to prevent by banning ‘nyms – whether it’s sock puppetry or trolling or general asshattery – isn’t the nuclear option of banning everybody with an implausible name (including Chinese ones).  Just witness the security procedures that put innocent kiddies on no-fly lists only to let a terrorist named Richard Reid on board, no questions asked despite the bomb in his shoe, to see how effective such tactics are.  Targeted tools that enforce consequences for actual bad behavior make better sense, don’t ensnare the innocent quite so often, and ensure actual results.  That’s much more useful to a community. 

Google+ is new, and there are bound to be growing pains.  The real test is to see how they respond to their mistakes.  If they’re smart, they’ll fix their policy and let the poor exiled ‘nyms back in with a swift apology.

If not, my profile may not be long for Google+, whether they cotton to the fact I’m a ‘nym or not.  I don’t think I’d want to be part of an environment that’s unremittingly hostile to my Bug Girl and DrugMonkey friends.

You can help them do the right thing by adding your name (or ‘nym) here.

Dear Richard Dawkins: You Do Not Know What It’s Like to Live in Fear

Oh, dear.  Richard Dawkins is having difficulty understanding why being invited to coffee in a hotel room at 4 in the morning by a strange man can be traumatic for a woman. And, upon realizing he’d begun digging himself a hole, proceeded to rent a backhoe.

A great many people, women who live with the reality that women are the overwhelming majority of the ones who suffer sexual assault and the men who understand that reality, have taken Richard to task.  Most have done a finer job of it, but I can’t help but add my voice.  You wanted it explained to you without the use of the word “fuck” every other sentence, and you said you would apologize if we did so.  Let’s see if you’re a man of your word, then, Dear Richard, who I still do love and respect despite this egregious error in judgment, not to mention human understanding.

By virtue of having been born with vaginas, women are under constant threat.  That is true for women in societies where patriarchy reigns, and it is just as true in America, where we’ve slowly and painfully won some degree of equality.  Richard, you seem to believe that an invitation to coffee is not on the same order as having one’s genitals mutilated, and that is true.  What you fail to understand is that this simple invitation could lead to something similar enough, or worse.

When a man approaches a woman, we have no idea of his motives.  It doesn’t matter how nice he is, or how innocent his motives, or how innocuous the question.  Ted Bundy was a very nice man.  His motives seemed completely innocent: he just wanted help with carrying his books, or loading his boat onto a trailer, or whatever other ruse he’d come up with.  And women who fell for it ended up dead.

Richard, this is what you don’t understand: women live under constant threat of rape and murder, and it’s the nice men just as much as the obvious creeps we have to be wary of.  Let me explain to you what goes through my mind when a man I don’t know asks me to join him in some isolated place: I wonder why he wants to get me, a perfect stranger, in a place where he controls my escape routes and there are no witnesses.  And you think I can use words to fend him off.

You may believe women in these situations are overreacting.  The gentleman only invited the lady to coffee, alone, in his hotel room, at four a.m.  In the world you inhabit, if someone asked you to join them for a drink and conversation, that is all it is.  For a woman, there’s every possibility that the man is not interested in coffee and conversation at all, and simply declining the offer puts us at mortal risk.

Here is what can happen with that: I can use words to tell him no, not interested, and he very possibly could go from Mr. Nice Guy to Mr. No-Bitch-Turns-Me-Down.  He could do that in an instant.  The chances of him being one of those men is small, but it’s not non-zero.  It’s not a chance I can ignore.  So while I’m telling him no, not interested, I’m having to think of the worst case scenario, and what I’ll do.  What environmental weapons do I have on me?  What are my chances against his greater strength?  Should I run now, or will facing him down without fear get me out of this situation?  What will I do if the worst happens?  How am I going to survive this encounter?

You think a man can solicit a woman for sex (and asking her to coffee alone in his room in the wee hours is nothing short of that), in an elevator, and all she has to do is say no.  You think she has an escape: press a button to get out.  Here’s a way for you to test whether this theory is plausible: ask one of your body builder friends to get you on an elevator, alone, and attempt to escape him by pressing a button and exiting down a deserted corridor.  See how easily you can break free if he grabs you; see if you can remain conscious if he punches you out.  See if anyone will bother to respond to your screams as you’re dragged down the corridor.  See if anyone bothers to call the police.  Then explain to me just how easily I can escape a potential assailant, and how “zero bad” being solicited for sex in an elevator is.

Maybe you’ll listen to a man who understands:

“Whether or not men can relate to it or believe it or accept it, that is the way it is.  Women, particularly in big cities, live with a constant wariness.  Their lives are literally on the line in ways men just don’t experience.  Ask some man you know, ‘When is the last time you were concerned or afraid that another person would harm you?’  Many men cannot recall an incident within years.  Ask a woman the same question and most will give you a recent example or say, ‘Last night,’ ‘Today,’ or even ‘Every day…..’

“It is understandable that the perspectives of men and women on safety are so different – men and women live in different worlds.  I don’t remember where I first heard this simple description of one dramatic contrast between the genders, but it is strikingly accurate: At core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, and at core, women are afraid men will kill them.”

Gavin de Becker spoke for me when he wrote those words.  I read them a few years after I was raped, as I was still trying to find a way in the world between abject terror and dangerous overconfidence.  If you’ve never been victimized in that way, nor at any real risk of ever being sexually harmed, it’s extremely hard to understand the constant fear.  Do you want to know what my first thought is, upon meeting a male stranger?  It’s always, “What are the chances he’ll end up stalking, raping or killing me?”  And that question is asked at every stage of the relationship.  I have many close male friends who would be shocked to know I constantly reassess them for risk.  I can’t trust anymore, Richard, because it was a friend who decided that if I wouldn’t date him, he would break into the house and take what he wanted by force.  It was a friend who refused to hear the word no.  And if I could be victimized by one friend, whatever on earth would lead me to believe any other friend could be trusted to hear my words, much less a stranger?

I won’t even go in to the other bullshit women deal with in our society.  Just read a few headlines.  You’ll notice that we are constantly dealing with men who want to control our reproductive choices, who consider our health and well-being less important than theirs, who seem to believe we are more property than people.  And if we let any of that slide, even the simple things like believing it’s fine for a man to impose himself on a woman in a hotel corridor at four in the morning, then we’ll lose what precious progress we’ve made.

Men need to understand the world women live in.  They need to know what it’s like to go from coasting along without worries to instant fight-or-flight fear with a few seemingly-innocent words from a stranger.  Because until they understand that simple fact of our existence, they won’t understand all of the other subtle ways society conspires to keep women from gaining equal footing with men.

We live in constant fear.  And what right do you have, Richard, to denigrate us for our response to that simply because the situation didn’t lead to harm this time?

Because this is the truth of it: you could so easily not have been talking about Rebecca Watson because she used the example of this man’s 4 a.m. approach as an example of the kinds of things it’s inappropriate for men to do to woman.  You could so easily have been talking about her rape or murder instead.  And then all of these men, such as yourself, who are complaining that she blew a completely harmless situation out of control would be asking how she could have allowed herself to be in such a dangerous situation as being alone with a stranger.

Think about that the next time you’re tempted to explain to women just how silly their fears for their safety are.

You’re a smart man, and an empathetic man, so I think you can understand.  So listen to us.  Read the following posts, and try to comprehend why what you said was so very, egregiously inappropriate.

Blag Hag: Richard Dawkins, your privilege is showing.

Butterflies and Wheels: A priest and a rabbi go into an elevator and… and Getting and not getting.

ICBS Everywhere: On Sexism, Objectification, and Power.

Greg Laden’s Blog: Rebecca Watson, Barbara Drescher and the Elevator Guy and Women in Elevators: A Man To Man Talk For The Menz.

Almost Diamonds: Rebecca Watson Sucks at Reading Minds and A Letter to Professor Dawkins from Victims of Sexual Assault.

Bad Astronomy: Richard Dawkins and male privilege.

Pandagon: Because of The Implication.

Skepchick: The Privilege Delusion.

Bug Girl’s Blog: A letter to Richard Dawkins from Victims of Sexual Assault.  This one shows rather nicely how well words work to prevent sexual assault, i.e., they usually don’t.

This post on Shapely Prose from 2009 captures a woman’s reality perfectly, and I wish I had written it: Guest Blogger Starling: Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced. Via this excellent post, via Jen.

For those who think it’s enough to say no, and that no means no, and that men will understand a good, firm no, see Yes Means Yes: Mythcommunication: It’s Not That They Don’t Understand, They Just Don’t Like The Answer.

And I know you’ve read these posts at Pharyngula, because you stuffed your foot into your mouth there, but I place them here for curious readers and men who need the example of a guy who gets it: Always name names!, The Decent Human Beings’ Guide to Getting Laid at Atheist Conferences, and Oh, no, not again…once more unto the breach

If I’ve missed anything (and I’m certain I have), my readers can catch us up in the links.

A note to mansplainers and men who refuse to get it (and the few women who are either hopelessly naive or willfully blind): I may or may not moderate this thread, and I have absolutely no problem publicly shaming.  Do not insult the victims of sexual assault by telling us how most men aren’t rapists, and how we don’t have to fear these little situations.  Because of you, I’m turning anonymous commenting off for an undetermined period of time, so that you won’t be free to spout your nonsense without attaching your name to it.  This means assault survivors who don’t want their status broadcast won’t be able to add their voices, and I’m sorry for that.  They should be able to speak safely.  But I refuse to let cowards spew abuse without fear of repercussion on this of all threads.

On Terry Pratchett and Escape Routes

This news brought tears to my eyes, because I adore Terry Pratchett and I never ever want the world to be without him:

Three and a half years ago, Terry Pratchett, the beloved author of the Discworld series, announced that he has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Now he’s made an even more startling announcement.

Pratchett, who has campaigned in his native United Kingdom for the right of assisted suicide, has begun the formal process of assisted suicide in Switzerland, one of the few countries in the world to legalize euthanasia. Specifically, this would take place at Dignitas, a clinic that provides qualified doctors and nurses to assist with the patients’ suicides. 

Those of us who read Eric MacDonald’s beautiful blog know Dignitas.  It’s an amazing place, and I’m glad it’s there.  Because people need escape routes.

Which one of us wants to live on beyond hope?  Mind gone, life destroyed beyond recovery, each day one more endless slog of suffering and humiliation?  Very few of us, I’d bet.

And because of Switzerland’s compassionate laws and clinics like Dignitas, Terry Pratchett doesn’t have to.

Does the news he’s planning on ending his life shock and sadden me?  Of course it does.  I’ll miss him terribly.  He’s changed my life in so many ways, given me so many precious memories curled up with a Discworld book.  It hurts to lose him, hurts to know that the series will end far too soon, and that I won’t have a chance to ever shake his hand and say a heartfelt “Thank you.”  But, people, he has Alzheimer’s.  It’s already mauled his ability to write, and it will progress to the point where he can’t write at all.  It will steal his mind away, leaving a shell, and perhaps just enough awareness to know what’s happening.

I am a writer.  I have a damned good imagination, but I can’t imagine many things worse.

And how much worse is it when there’s no way out, no way to choose the moment, no way to cut out those awful bits at the end and go out on a high note?  To live in fear that one day, you’ll wake up and have nearly nothing of you left and know that it will only get worse and yet be forced to live through that nightmare for an unknown length of time?  I can’t speak for Terry, but I can speak for myself: that fear would consume me.  It would poison all the good moments left.  Much better to know there’s an escape route.  Much easier to live those last good days fully and happily when there’s an exit available.  Even if I can’t bring myself to walk through that door – and really, until I’ve got my hand on the handle, how can I know if I’ll have the emotional strength to turn it? – knowing it’s there would be an enormous comfort.

I’ve often said we treat our pets better than people.  We don’t let them linger on in horrible pain, not if we’re good and strong people who can do right by them.  I’ve made more than one trip to the vet with a beloved pet when there was no hope of any more good days, or too few to justify all the bad ones.  I’ve held them as they died.  And it’s hard.  It’s so hard.  But it’s the right thing to do.

Why shouldn’t I be able to do that for my mother, who lives in dread of suffering and dying like her own mother did, mind gone and only a confused, agonized shell lingering on?  Why shouldn’t I be able to choose people to do the same for me?

People have this knee-jerk horror at the idea of someone taking their own life.  They seem to believe no one should have that choice, and they give reasons.  Some, I even agree with.  This isn’t a decision that should ever be made lightly: it needs to be understood that it’s irreversible, and that some things are worth living through for a bit to see if they get better, because they so often do.  This isn’t a decision that should ever be forced on a person.  But there are so many ways to ensure those things are suitably addressed, and they shouldn’t stop us from allowing people who want it an escape route.

As for the other reasons, such as it’s God’s choice and not ours – well, those arguments are invalid.  So are the slippery slope arguments used as camouflage for the religious ones.  We’re not going to see grandmas and grandpas bundled off wholesale just because assisted suicide is legal.  There may be isolated incidents.  You know what?  There already are, and always will be, and demanding a perfect system with no errors is just another way of ensuring the escape route stays blocked off for everyone forever.  So fuck that.

I hope, once those papers are signed, Terry Pratchett can breathe a sigh of relief and get on with living a lot more life before the time comes.  I hope we don’t lose him so soon.  But at least he’s got the escape route open.  No matter when he chooses to go, at least it’s his choice, not the disease and not society.  He won’t be trapped with no way out.

It’s time other people got to have that same choice.

(Eric MacDonald on Pratchett and the Choosing to Die program is well worth reading.)

Things to Bring Up In Arguments With Cons

A few posts on Crooks and Liars you should absolutely not miss, especially if you get bogged down in discussions with Cons:

When they babble there’s no problem with racism and class divisions in this country, point them here. Be prepared to explain to them why, after generations of piss-poor treatment and rampant discrimination, black people may not have the warm fuzzies for white people, because you just know they’ll fall back on the “But they do it too!” defense.

When they brag about Faux News ratings in the mistaken belief those mean something, direct them here. Good luck trying to get them to understand that the majority of Americans aren’t obsessive fucktards who hang on Glenn Beck’s every spew.

And when they whine for the 1,989,346th time about how that report on right-wing extremism dishonors the troops, bring this to their attention. You may find it difficult getting through their skulls that neo-Nazis infiltrating the military dishonors the troops far more than reports advising that various extremist groups might target service members, but in the end, perhaps a fact or two might penetrate.

I know, who am I kidding, right? But let’s not give up hope just because the majority of them are hopeless fools.

Things That Piss Me Off: Shallow Culture Edition

Back when Tarja quit Nightwish, I remember reading the band’s criteria for a new lead singer. They nattered a bit about great voice, etc., but above all, they said, the singer must be physically beautiful. With extra emphasis on the beautiful. And you know what? They ended up with someone gorgeous – who’s not a fucking patch on Tarja. She doesn’t have the voice for symphonic metal. That’s why our relationship ended when Tarja went solo.

What brought this to mind? George at Decrepit Old Fool found a gem:


I’ve heard that the music industry is driven by how photogenic performers are, as much as by how the music sounds. But see if this performance by unknown Susan Boyle on a British talent show, doesn’t make you want to stand up and cheer. And be amazed by the emotional impact of unexpected difference between expectations and reality.

Only for a dear friend like George will I subject myself to idiotic British spinoffs of American Idol. And I’m glad I did. Susan Boyle has a double chin, a pug nose, a body that figures in few teen male fantasies – and a voice that belongs on Broadway. Fuck her lack of fashion sense. To hell with cultural ideals of feminine beauty. It enrages me that a voice like hers got confined to her shower and a circle of friends just because she’s not a physical knockout. Besides, don’t these shallow little money-grubbing record execs realize that two hours with Stacy and Clinton would turn her into a supermodel? If physical appearance is that damned important, fucking hire somebody to solve the problem with some clever clothes and makeup tricks. Or maybe, y’know, stop being so fucking superficial.

Listen to this and tell me this woman doesn’t deserve a CD just because she’s not a pin-up:

Great music transcends physical appearance. You only need a great body if you have no fucking talent. And I think the response to this woman proves that in spades.

I’ll tell you what delighted me about this, aside from the fact that Susan Boyle is one of the only people who’s ever sung Fantine right and the fact no one expected her to because they were too busy laughing at her frumpy appearance: the expression on Simon Cowell’s face. Mind you, I’ve always liked Simon. I’ve a soft spot for absolute bastards with British accents. But usually the poor man looks tortured. He genuinely loves music, which probably goes a long way towards explaining why he’s always so acerbic. Wouldn’t you be were you in his shoes? And while the other two judges were reacting with shock, awe and tears, he just sat back with a blissful smile that said he’d been transported. This was what he’d been waiting for. Yes, I melted. I likes to see Simon happy.

Simply outstanding, all round.

Feasts for the eyes are nice, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that physical beauty doesn’t have its place in the list of Things That Make Life Worth Living. But it’s not so essential that it trumps all other glorious talents. Susan Boyle could’ve had running sores and an ear growing out of her nose. It would’ve ceased to matter the second she opened her mouth and sounded that first ethereal note. There’s beauty, and then there’s beauty, and I don’t want some jackass denying us such auditory euphoria simply because he thinks only sexy bodies sell.

There’s a fan club, by the way. C’mon over and join the rest of us who love a lovely voice.

Huzzah! We’re Not So Special

Pretty soon, the only thing that’ll mark humans as unique among animals is the fact that we can build skyscrapers and have to argue constantly with creationists. We sure as shit can’t claim culture:

Now, Andrew Whiten from the University of St Andrews has published the first evidence that groups of chimpanzees can pick up new traditions from each other. In an experimental game of Chinese whispers, he seeded new behaviours in one group and saw that they readily spread to others.

Whiten ran an experiment in which he taught some chimps, but not others, how to extract food from trick boxes. He then put those chimps in a position to be observed by other chimps who couldn’t interact directly with them. And this is what he discovered:

Whiten found that the techniques were accurately and quickly transmitted between the different chimpanzee groups. His experiment clearly shows that chimps have an immense capacity for learning new behaviours from their peers. They do this accurately and different groups can acquire and maintain several varied cultural traditions.

In light of this evidence, the regional behaviour patterns seen in chimp groups across Africa are, without a doubt, the result of cultural transmission. In the wild, rival groups are often hostile towards each other and it is unlikely that chimps sit down in jungle conferences to share new ideas. But females do move between groups and Whiten believes that they carry new cultural traditions with them.

Deary, deary me. That sounds an awful lot like what happens in traditional human societies, don’t it just? That’s going to get the creationists’ knickers in quite a twist.

I know some people get really steamed over the idea that we’re not on some high pinnacle above the mere beasts, but I find things like this comforting. I feel like humanity is less alone in the universe. Not to mention, no needing to worry about how, if humans are supposed to be teh awesome, we’re often so bloody, bloody ridiculous. We’re just natural, no better and no worse than the rest of our cousins, but with the responsibility to at least try to use the brains evolution gave us to become better creatures.