I Am Not Your Sword and Shield

A long-ago conversation has been haunting me somewhat of late. One of my friends had gotten into a rather heated argument with a woman who, although never having been through it, thought being raped was the absolute worst thing that could ever happen to a woman.

“No, it’s not!” I said, incredulous. “It’s horrible, yeah, but I can think of worse things. Being murdered, death of a child…”

And, since I’m a rape survivor, my friend thought I’d be a good counter-authority if she ever broached the topic again.

But here’s the thing I didn’t quite grasp in those days: I am one data point, not the World’s Authority. Yes, it’s true: while I think rape is one of the worst, but not the worst, crimes that can be committed against a woman (or any human of any sex or gender, not to mention any sentient creature), I’m just one survivor. I don’t speak for us all. Just because I can think of things that, to me, would be worse than rape doesn’t mean rape isn’t the absolute worst thing that might happen to someone else. It doesn’t mean those who think it is the worst are wrong or irrational for thinking so.

You cannot use me as a shield against their points. You can’t use me as your sword to strike them down.

I refuse to be used. Image courtesy Very Demotivational.

I refuse to be used. Image courtesy Very Demotivational.

Take it further. [Read more…]

Sexist is Something You Do, Not Necessarily Who You Are

Chances are, you’re going to do something sexist. We’re living in cultures drowning in sexism. We’ve been raised with it; we’re swimming in it; like air, we’re so immersed in it we’re often barely aware of it. Makes it rather inevitable we’ll do or say something more or less sexist.

Yes, I said “we.” I’m not exempt. I say or think or do something sexist at least once a day, and that’s just the stuff I’m aware of. Constant battle, this, overcoming sexism.

Does this make me a sexist? Not especially.

And that’s the thing, isn’t it, that you must remember when you’re being called out on something you’ve said or done, some act or omission on your part. We’re imperfect human beings swimming in a sea of sexism, and we’re going to fuck up. Inevitably.

But fucking up doesn’t make someone a sexist. Just makes you a person who did a sexist thing. What makes you something else is what happens next. [Read more…]

Think You Care About Women? Stop a Moment and Read This

Kylie found this incredible piece of writing that should be widely shared. It’s called “Sleepwalking into Sexism,” and it’s by Harriet Page. I’ve included a long excerpt here; the piece itself is much longer, and every single sentence is worth reading. I’d like it if everyone reads this. I’ll settle for a few sleepwalking sexists, male and female, who need to be jolted awake before they do damage to self and others.

No matter what you have to do to get there, read it. Now.

There’s a rule that you shouldn’t wake sleepwalkers – the sudden transition into consciousness can be terrifying. My little sister can testify to the fact that on the one occasion that she woke me mid-somnambulance, I was so surprised I slapped her face. It’s startling to suddenly find that you’re not where you thought you were and, moreover, that you have no idea how you got there.

And, in a way, this is exactly what happens when nice, reasonable men who call themselves feminists are called out on their unconsciously sexist behaviour and attitudes. These men have sleepwalked contentedly through the minefield of gender relations without ever having cause to question what they’re doing and then BAM. Some crazy feminist with no regard for how scary and disorienting it’s going to be comes along and wakes them up with the rude news that, actually, they have unintentionally been engaging in some pretty sexist behaviour.

The result is, metaphorically speaking, the slap to the face that I gave my sister. She was the one who woke me from my comfortable reverie, and my instinctive response was to defend myself with a rapid attack. In her case, it was an ill-deserved slap. In the case of sleepwalking sexists, the responses are more varied. It might be immediate, unhinged abuse – ‘Crazy bitch, you must be on your period or something’. It might be icy politeness and contempt – ‘I’d thank you not to be so aggressive, it’s completely unnecessary’. It might be fake concern – ‘You maybe don’t realise it, but when you attack men like me who are only trying to help, it hurts the whole cause of feminism’. Whatever the method used, the result is the same; instead of reflecting on their own behaviour and attitudes, these men will retreat into an impenetrable defensive fortress.

[snip]

This is the hard truth that must be learned; if you are one of those men who looks for these slip-ups, then you are NOT a feminist. If you are one of those men who believes in equality in some vague and idealistic way, but then turns on a woman the second she says something that remotely implicates you or the people you share a common chromosome with in something you don’t like, you are NOT a feminist. If you believe that a woman has to reward your attempts at feminism with niceness, like a dog getting a treat for a trick, you are NOT a feminist.

Being a feminist means believing ALL the time, regardless of whether women are nice to you, that the struggle for gender equality is on-going and real and essential. It means condemning all those ‘harmless’ little jokes about nagging women, female drivers and periods because you recognise that from the fertile soil of casual, unconscious sexism sprout the seeds of justification for serious assault. It means making the connection between a joke about a woman who bares her breasts on screen in the portrayal of a rape, and the man who thinks it’s funny to grope a woman in a club because she has cleavage showing and Hollywood tells us that boobs exist purely for sexual entertainment. Being a feminist is not about wanting equality for women because they’re nice to you. It’s about fighting for women every single day because you believe that they are human and that humanity is worth defending regardless of how nice, kind, clever, rude, attractive, funny, accommodating or mean the woman in question is.

Read the whole piece. I wish it had been there in the days when I needed the not-exactly-short, but definitely sharp, shock.

(Reminder to any new visitors: read the comment policy.)

Damn Sensible Advice

My stepmother posted this in her timeline, and it seems quite apropos.

Sage advice. Image courtesy Shut the Front Door.

Sage advice. Image courtesy Shut the Front Door.

Damn skippy I’m not. Never have been – I don’t have this diplomatic tendency to run about trying to make everyone all harmonize together. I don’t mind patiently talking to someone whose point of view differs from mine, as long as they aren’t actively malevolent or pushing my rage buttons. It’s nice to sometimes persuade people to change their minds, or to change my own when the situation warrants it. Even if we have to agree to leave a subject alone because we’re too many worlds apart, that’s okay – as long as they’re not calling someone else’s humanity or bodily autonomy into question.

But the haters? Yeah, fuck ‘em. There are some people swimming in the deep end of the cesspool, and I’m sorry, but I haven’t got the stomach to try fishing them out. Getting splashed with their sewage feels disgusting and the smell’s hard to wash out. The only time I want to talk to a hater is just when they’re considering that they might, just possibly, have been engaging in reprehensible behavior, and would like to ask my advice on how to clean up. (My advice, if anyone in the audience has just climbed out of a cesspit: hose the worst of it off yourself, apologize sincerely to those you’ve splashed filth all over, and then continue scrubbing. All will be well, though it might take more time and effort than you expected.)

This from now on will be my response to those who want me to make nice with the champion assbags: “I’m not the Jerk Whisperer.” Go elsewhere if you’re wanting someone to crawl up and lick the hands of haters. I’m too busy for lost causes.

Ensuring Women Remain Part of the Secular Movement

Having your consciousness raised is interesting. It’s a strange sensation, seeing the scenes that previously wouldn’t have caused a single eyelash to step up to the plate, spit on its hands, and prepare to bat. Then it’s pointed out to you that something’s wrong with the picture, and your eyelashes resemble the batter’s cage at a baseball stadium during spring training. I don’t think you ever really get used to it. And good thing, too, because we have a lot of scenes that should cause some consternation.

What is seen... cannot be unseen

[Read more…]

A Refresher for Allies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can do better.

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

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

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

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

Warning: Fencesitters and Bystanders May Be Affected

At the risk of inviting a miasma of socks, I am going to talk about Womanspace once again. It’s important, and I’ve got a point to make.

There are a couple of open letters that are worth reading. Dr. O’s An open letter to Dr. Rybicki makes a very important point:

Maybe your short story isn’t the biggest issue out there concerning sexism, but it’s the little issues that are frequently the most dangerous. Little slights, which appear innocent enough on the surface, permeate our thoughts and actions without our conscious permission and ultimately DO have consequences, whether we intend for them to or not.

And when your small act of sexism, intentional or otherwise, ends up published in a venue the size of Nature, it has an outsize effect. This is why women and men spoke out. Silence would imply the issue is unimportant. It’s most certainly not. As any scientist who also happens to be a woman whether a culture of sexism harms, and chances are excellent she will tell you it does.

Of course, this wasn’t the worst act of sexism ever perpetrated in the entire history of civilization. And it would have probably died quite quietly if the author had possessed the humility and courage to utter just two words.

I’d have liked it if he had. But he chose to pour gasoline rather than balm, and we all know what happens when someone starts a fire on the internet. I’m not sorry it happened. Many excellent posts came out of it. Nature got put on notice, and so did anyone else who might have thought that a little light sexism was quite all right. Dust-ups like this raise awareness. And I want to talk about why that’s important.

[Read more…]

In This Case, Gonna Have to Say “Down With the Revolution!”

I’d really never thought of Google’s “real names” policy like this – but the Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal calls it “revolutionary”:

Imagine you’re walking down the street and you say out loud, “Down with the government!” For all non-megastars, the vast majority of people within earshot will have no idea who you are. They won’t have access to your employment history or your social network or any of the other things that a Google search allows one to find. The only information they really have about you is your physical characteristics and mode of dress, which are data-rich but which cannot be directly or easily connected to your actual identity. In my case, bystanders would know that a 5’9″, 165 pound probably Caucasian male with half a beard said, “Down with the government!” Neither my speech or the context in which it occurred is preserved. And as soon as I leave the immediate vicinity, no one can definitively prove that I said, “Down with the government!”

In your head, adjust the settings for this thought experiment (you say it at work or your hometown or on television) or what you say (something racist, something intensely valuable, something criminal) or who you are (child, celebrity, politician) or who is listening (reporters, no one, coworkers, family). What I think you’ll find is that we have different expectations for the publicness and persistence of a statement depending on a variety of factors. There is a continuum of publicness and persistence and anonymity. But in real life, we expect very few statements to be public, persistent, and attached to your real identity. Basically, only people talking on television or to the media can expect such treatment. And even then, the vast majority of their statements don’t become part of the searchable Internet.

Online, Google and Facebook require an inversion of this assumed norm. Every statement you make on Google Plus or Facebook is persistent and strongly attached to your real identity through your name. Both services allow you to change settings to make your statements more or less public, which solves some problems. However, participating in public life on the services requires attaching your name to your statements. On the boulevards and town squares of Facebook, you can’t just say, “Down with the government,” with the knowledge that only a small percentage of the people who hear you could connect your statement to you. But the information is still being recorded, presumably in perpetuity. That means that if a government or human resources researcher or plain old enemy wants to get a hold of it, it is possible. [emphasis in original]

And you know something, that’s true. I mean, we already knew about the whole people-could-search-you-out stuff; that’s one of the main reasons why we ‘nym advocates advocate ‘nyms in the first place. But this really brings home the point, better than anything else, that what Google and Facebook want us to do is something we don’t do even in real life.

We don’t walk down the street or in to private businesses wearing signs with our real names plastered all over them in enormous letters anyone can see. But that’s basically what Google and Facebook are asking us to do. They’re requiring something even the police don’t have the right to ask for without reasonable suspicion.

This is one revolution I’m not gonna be cheering for.

Tip o’ the shot glass to A.S.

An Open Letter to Those Who Think Real Names Solve the Civility Problem

Dear People Who Think Real Names Make People Behave Better:

I understand the desire for a more civil discourse. Most of us would like that (except for the trolls, one supposes), but a “real name” policy isn’t the magic cure that will make everyone nice. Allow me to direct your attention to what people feel perfectly comfortable doing under their real names:



Ah, yes. Very civil. A shining example of the kind of respectful discourse one can expect when everybody knows everybody’s real name, isn’t it?

We’ve seen your arguments as to why real names are necessary, and Facebook has disproved very nearly all of them. Those Facebook hasn’t managed to provide demonstrations against are taken care of at the previous link. And I’m sorry, but your civility argument was so full of holes it could be used to drain spaghetti to begin with, and since then several people have hit it repeatedly with birdshot. I think there are some scraps left there somewhere, but they can’t be scraped together into anything usable now. Real names do nothing to rescue teh intertoobz from civility problems. People are too adept at being rat bastards for anything like a real name policy to stop them.

Ah, you say, but there will be consequences! Because, y’know, bosses and stuff will know who’s saying what, and they’ll get caught, and everything will be happiness and rainbows.

That may be true in a subset of cases. A few people may have to pay a real price for bad behavior. Lovely. Meanwhile, the bad behavior continues apace, because the chance of suffering consequences is so damned remote. And folks like, oh, lessee, Bob “Shoot to Kill” O’Connell and Joe “12 Gauge” Martinez are free to continue spewing their hate and death threats on real name forums like Facebook and Google+ while people like Bug Girl and GrrlScientist are shut out.

You don’t solve the civility problem with real names. Real names won’t stop a soul from frothing at the mouth. Even if everybody signing up for Google+ had to provide a photo I.D., therefore guaranteeing they have to use their really-real names, the civility problem would continue apace. Look at Congress.

I hate to tell you this, but the civility problem will never be solved. There will always be a subset of rotten jerks in any given population. The band-aid of a real names policy does nothing but give you the illusion things will be hunky-dory.

You mitigate it by having tools in place for folks to flag bad behavior. You mitigate it by having policies in place that deal with that bad behavior no matter what name it’s coming from. That’s what Google can do: provide some community guidelines (while keeping in mind that free speech shouldn’t always be nicey-nice speech), and provide tools for people to report bad behavior.

You yourself are going to have to take some responsibility beyond “real names!” to solve the civility problem. You’ll have to flag people who are being wildly inappropriate (and not just because you don’t agree with them, or don’t like their way of putting things, but truly bad, outrageous, nasty behavior). You’ll have to block those folks who make you feel icky inside, whose actions haven’t reached the level of a flag but are still not something you’ll allow in your online parlor. Speak out against behavior you find reprehensible. And step in and ask folks to behave better when comment threads on your stream get heated.

Whose fault is it if a place is full of assholes? That’s right. Uncomfortable but true.

So please, stop bleating about how real names are required to make the web a better place, and go about doing things that will actually make it a better place. Plenty of ‘nyms will be happy to join you in those efforts.

Sincerely,
Dana Hunter