Radical

(Content note: mentions of racism, rape denialism, domestic violence, homophobia. Also some use of mental illness language used as insult in quoted passage.)

I’ve been thinking about the word “radical.”

Lore Sjöberg recently posted this on Facebook (reprinted here with permission, not linked to by his request):

Here’s a thought experiment I’ve been mulling over. Say I was transported back in time to the 1950s. I’m surrounded by a culture that contains all the sexism and racism on display in Mad Men, and more on top of that.

I would be surrounded by repulsive things, ranging from cartoons about buck-toothed “Chinamen,” ads making jokes about smacking the little lady if she gets out of hand, rolled eyes at any implication that a woman could be raped by her husband, and the cultural certainty that gay people are, at best, just plain crazy.

How could I live with this? If I speak up about a tenth of the terrible things I saw, I’ll be seen as a bizarre radical if not an outright loon. Even if I become an activist, I’ll probably be the activist that everyone points at to say “Well, at least I’m not as extreme as HE is!”

(And all of this is not even addressing the question of what it would be like to actually BE a woman, or a person of color, or a gay man in that era.)

All of this is to say that sometimes I feel like I’m already in the Fifties. One of the complaints leveled against feminists, and feminist women in particular, is that they see sexism everywhere and they make a big deal out of things that everyone, even most women, think is just fine.

Well, yeah! There IS sexism everywhere, and a lot of the things that aren’t a big deal today are nonetheless sexist, just like naming a sports team “The Redskins” in 1932 was racist even if it seemed like good fun at the time. I certainly don’t agree with every statement by every progressive activist — that would be impossible anyway, progressives don’t agree on everything — but a lot of times I find myself reading about controversies and thinking “Yep, that’s radical, and it’s extremist, and it’s unreasonable. But it’s also absolutely correct and in another few decades it will be considered common sense.”

I’ve been thinking about this. And I’ve been realizing what an empty, lazy insult it is to call someone, or someone’s ideas, radical.

Rules_for_Radicals coverLore is absolutely right. Many ideas that were once seen as radical, and not that long ago either, have survived vigorous criticism and the test of time, and are now entirely mainstream. It was once considered radical to see black people as fully human, deserving of all the dignity and liberty and rights as any human. It was once considered radical to think that gay people weren’t morally corrupt or mentally ill, and to see same-sex love and sex and relationships as even remotely acceptable. (In fact, I remember seeing an archival TV interview with a gay activist in the late ’60s or early ’70s, who said that of course gay people weren’t advocating for marriage or adoption rights — that was ridiculous.) Until the 1970s, it was legal in the United States for husbands to rape their wives, and it took until 1993 for marital rape to be a crime in all 50 states. I could come up with a long list of many more examples, right off the top of my head. (Suggestions for others are invited in the comments.)

All these ideas were considered radical — until they weren’t.

In other words: An idea can be radical, and still be right.

In other other words: Insulting an idea (or a person) simply because they’re radical is an empty insult, devoid of any actual critical content. [Read more…]

Support the Foundation Beyond Belief! Last Chance for 2014!

So you know how a lot of us keep talking about how organized atheism needs to spend less time and resources talking about 17 more reasons God doesn’t exist, and more time and resources making these finite lives of ours better for everyone? In particular, you know how a lot of us keep talking about how organized atheism needs to get more involved in social justice issues and intersectional issues that disproportionately affect marginalized people?

foundation beyond belief logo

Here are a few of the projects the Foundation Beyond Belief has supported.

Reproductive rights and family planning. Rape prevention aimed at men. Housing and support for homeless LGBT youth in New York City. Legal support for refugee children from Central America attempting to enter the United States. Legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners denied fair and just treatment in the legal system. Support and advocacy for political asylees. Support for LGBT students in religious schools. International women’s human rights. Poverty in Haiti, Honduras, the United States. The Black Skeptics of Los Angeles First in the Family Humanist Scholarship Fund, awarding scholarships to South Los Angeles LAUSD students who are going to be the first in their immediate families to go to college. The Innocence Project.

The Foundation Beyond Belief is walking the walk.

If you’re not familiar with them: The Foundation Beyond Belief is a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation created to focus, encourage and demonstrate humanist generosity and compassion. They make contributions to charitable organizations that support their humanist goals; they sponsor humanist volunteer teams; they’re developing a humanist disaster response program; and they’re launching a Humanist Service Corps, which will open in July 2015 as six humanist volunteers begin a year of service in and around the witch camps of northern Ghana.

They rock.

If you’re looking for a tax-deductible non-profit organization to donate money to before 2014 ends, the Foundation Beyond Belief would be an awesome choice. They currently have a fundraising goal of $75,000 before the end of the year, to ensure that their programming will continue and thrive in 2015. As of this writing, they’re within $3,500 of that goal. It would be mega-awesome if they could start 2015 with that fundraising goal taken care of.

Quick note, for the purposes of full disclosure: I’m now on the Foundation Beyond Belief’s Board of Directors. I just got elected. So I’m not exactly unbiased here. But there’s a reason I decided to run for the Foundation Beyond Belief’s Board of Directors. This organization walks the walk. Again: If you’re looking for a place to donate money to before 2014 ends, the Foundation Beyond Belief would be an excellent choice.

Baby, It’s Consensual Outside

I’ve been seeing discussion recently about the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” It’s unsurprising, what with (a) it being the winter holiday season, and (b) there being a lot of discussion of rape culture. Yes, the song is troubling at best and rapey at worst (more on that after the video). And I don’t care that Lady Gaga and Joseph Gordon-Levitt reversed the gender roles: men deserve to have their sexual boundaries respected just as much as women, ignoring boundaries and treating it like a flirtatious game is fucked-up no matter what the genders are. But the main thing I want to say right now is this:

Have you heard the consensual version?

There’s a really cute, sweet, funny parody version of the song on YouTube by Chase Gregory, titled “Baby It’s Consensual Outside,” in which the guy respects the woman’s boundaries. I thought some of you might enjoy it.

I’ve transcribed the lyrics, for the deaf and hard of hearing (below the jump). [Read more…]

Godless Perverts is Not for Everyone: What Inclusivity Means to Us, and What It Doesn’t Mean

I Love Feminism, by Jay Morrison

This is a joint statement by Greta Christina and Chris Hall, originally posted on the Godless Perverts site.

Godless Perverts is not for everyone.

We mean that in the gentler, more informal sense of the term: Not everyone is going to like it. Not everyone is going to enjoy discussion groups, entertainments, or parties centered on godless views of sexuality. They may not enjoy our frank, explicit explorations of sex, including a wide variety of unconventional sexualities; they may not enjoy the views of religion that come up in our meetups and entertainments — some of which are harshly critical and mocking, others of which are sympathetic. That’s okay. We can’t be all things to all people, and we’re fine with that.

But we’re also not for everyone in the somewhat harsher sense of the term: We are not open to everybody. There are going to be times when we have to tell people they’re not welcome.

This is hard. Almost everyone has had painful experiences with being told, openly or otherwise, that they’re not welcome in a group. Almost all of us have had painful experiences being picked last for a team at school, or being treated like an outcast at a social event. The two of us certainly have. It’s a difficult thing to experience, and it’s not an experience we dole out lightly. (The Geek Social Fallacies can be very seductive, including Geek Social Fallacy #1: Ostracizers Are Evil.) But the unfortunate reality is that if we want to create a welcoming space for people who support and value our mission, we will sometimes have to ask people to leave. [Read more…]

“A ludicrous, badly written law that criminalises sexual minorities”: Pandora Blake on the UK porn restrictions

There’s an excellent commentary on the UK restriction on porn content by English spanking performer, blogger, and producer Pandora Blake. It’s titled Online porn: the canary in the coalmine. (Note: the page includes some sexual imagery, including kinky imagery.) Some of the best quotes:

This is a ludicrous, badly written law that criminalises sexual minorities and small business owners. It predominantly targets the cottage industries of women, couples, queers and fetishists – people who are making enough to cover their costs or perhaps a little more, people who are making their own porn because the mainstream genres don’t cater to our needs.

We are self-employed performers, artists, producers, directors. We buy our camera equipment ourselves and edit our content ourselves. We create safe spaces for fellow kinksters to discover they are not alone. We propagate much-needed information about consensual kink practice, showing examples of safe play, negotiation, and healthy kinky relationships. Our films are homegrown, niche, playful, political and sexy, documenting our authentic sexualities where they are not catered to by the mainstream. We work alone or with our partners and like-minded kinky friends. We dare to be different, and to reach out to others who are like us. For this we are criminalised.

Pandora intends to defy this legislation — because she’s a badass.

I’ve had people sending me this information for the last few weeks, asking what I intend to do, and my answer has been the same every time. If you think that this legislation is going to send me running and hiding, you are mistaken. I have no intention of helping the bigots by self-censoring, and I’m certainly not going to pre-emptively shut up shop.

If you care about this, here’s what Pandora says you can to to help:

So what can you do? Well, you can tell your journalist friends about it and get them to write articles about how stupid and harmful this is. You can talk to your mates about it, post about it on social media, and raise the chances that the next time this comes to trial, the jury will think this legislation is a load of rubbish. You can donate to Backlash UK and join the Open Rights Group (of which I am a member), both of whom are campaigning on this issue. You can write to your MP. And you can support your local independent queer and fetish porn producers by buying their porn while you still can.

It’s been said (on the Obscenity Lawyer blog) that “pornography is the canary in the coalmine of free speech: it is the first freedom to die.” Pornography and other sexual expression is all too easy to censor, since many people aren’t willing to publicly say that they like it and think they should have a right to have it. And this is even more true for pornography catering to unconventional tastes: as hard as it is to write a letter to the editor saying, “Bring back my porn!”, it’s harder still to write one saying, “Bring back my kinky porn!” But we have to be willing to do this. If you can do this without destroying your life, please spread the word — even if you’re not in the UK. Let them know that the eyes of the world are on them — and we bloody well want our spanking porn.

The UK Bans Spanking, Female Ejaculation in Porn

Via Salon:

Porn produced in the United Kingdom quietly incurred some major restrictions on Monday, via an amendment to the 2003 Communications Act that bans a long list of sex acts from appearing in adult films. While the new restrictions do not affect porn produced outside the UK (and do not prevent people from watching such porn), they do require on-demand adult films to meet the same guidelines as adult films available on DVD in sex shops.

Via The Independent:

Seemingly arbitrarily deciding what is nice sex and what is not nice sex, the board has banned the following acts from being depicted by British pornography producers:

Spanking
Caning
Aggressive whipping
Penetration by any object “associated with violence”
Physical or verbal abuse (regardless of if consensual)
Urolagnia (known as “water sports”)
Female ejaculation
Strangulation
Facesitting
Fisting

The final three listed fall under acts the BBFC [British Board of Film Censors] views as potentially “life-endangering”.

So. Some serious commentary, and some snarky commentary. [Read more…]

Notes from a Pornographer on Sexist Sexual Imagery and Behavior – UPDATED

Please note: The comment policy for this post is somewhat different than usual. It’s at the end of this post.

Bending coverSo, I’m a pornographer. I have written pornography, produced it, published it, edited it, sold it, bought it, reviewed it, modeled for it, narrated it, read it publicly, and performed in it. I have written/ produced/ published/ edited/ sold/ bought/ reviewed/ modeled for/ narrated/ read/ performed in pornographic fiction, video, photography, comics, and probably other media I can’t remember now. (I’ve even written about erotic cave paintings. No, really.) I was a sex writer for decades before I was an atheist writer: in fact, my first several pieces of professionally published writing were for On Our Backs, the by-lesbians-for-lesbians sex magazine. I started working in pornography in 1989, and I’ve been doing it in some capacity, more or less constantly, ever since.

So. Please bear that in mind.

I am sick to death of hearing that feminists are sex-hating prudes because we don’t want imagery of women in videogames to be overwhelmingly sexual. I’m sick of hearing that we’re sex-hating prudes because we want conferences to have rules and guidelines about sexual conduct at conferences, so people are not harassed and groped and assaulted against their will. I’m sick of hearing that we’re sex-hating prudes because we think there are times and places where explicit sexual imagery is not appropriate — such as, oh, say, just for example, the public media announcement of a major landmark in scientific discovery.

Repeat for other issues, as appropriate.

The idea that sex-positivity and sexual liberation means everybody expressing every sexual thought and acting on every sexual desire, the minute it pops into our heads — this is bullshit. [Read more…]

Why, Despite the Incredibly Discouraging Crap That’s Been Going On in Recent Weeks and Months and Years, I Still Have Hope for Organized Atheism

Cologne_Germany_Cologne-Gay-Pride-cheerleadersI know. Here comes Greta, the eternal optimist, the relentless Pollyanna cheerleader, always holding out for hope. Stay with me. I really think I’m right about this.

Yes, the recent weeks in organized atheism have been incredibly discouraging, disheartening, disillusioning, demoralizing, dis- and de- just about every good thing that keeps people engaged in activism. Heck, the recent months and years in organized atheism have often been discouraging. Our most visible representatives are saying and doing horrible things: they’re perpetuating horrible sexist and racist ideas, they’re trivializing rape and making excuses for it and blaming the victims of it, they’re apparently committing sexual assault. The online hatred and harassment squad has been in full force. The defenses, denials, rationalizations, trivializations, and victim-blaming about all of this have been in full force. And in the last few weeks, all of this has been in overdrive. I can totally understand why some people, even people who have been in organized atheism for years — strike that, especially people who have been in organized atheism for years — would be losing hope. I’m feeling it, too.

And I’m not going to say for a second that the awful shit isn’t awful. I’m certainly not going to say that we shouldn’t talk about it just because it’s giving people a sad. I’m not going to tell anyone else that they’re bad or wrong for being disheartened — or even that they have any obligation to stay in organized atheism.

What I’m going to say is that I have hope. And I’m going to explain why. [Read more…]

5 Stupid, Unfair and Sexist Things Expected of Men

If you have a scrap of progressive politics in your bones, it’s no surprise to you that sexism hurts women. Like, duh. That’s kind of the definition of the word.

But we don’t talk as much about how sexism hurts men. Understandably. When you look at the grotesque ways women are damaged by sexism—from economic inequality to political disenfranchisement to literal, physical abuse—it makes perfect sense that we’d care more about how sexism, patriarchy and rigid gender roles affect women than we do about how they affect men.

But men undoubtedly get screwed up by this stuff, too. Not screwed up as badly as women, to be sure… but not trivially, either. I care about it. And I think other feminists—and other women and men who may not see themselves as feminists—ought to care about it, too.

I care about this stuff for a lot of reasons. I care because I have men and boys in my life, men and boys who matter to me; I see how they get twisted into knots by gender roles that are not only insanely rigid but impossibly contradictory, and it makes me sick and sad and seriously pissed off. I care because I care about justice: fair is fair, and I don’t want to solve the problem of gender inequality by making things suck worse for men.

And I care for entirely pragmatic, even Machiavellian reasons. I care because I care about feminism… and I think one of the best things we can do to advance feminism is to get more men on board. If we can convince more men that sexism screws up their lives, too—and that life shared with free and equal women is a whole lot more fun—we’re going to get a lot more men on our side. (Like the bumpersticker a friend once had on her truck: “Feminists Fuck Better.”)

So I’ve been looking more carefully at the specific ways sexism hurts men. In particular, I’ve been looking at our society’s expectations of men, our very definitions of maleness. I’ve been looking at how rigid and narrow many of these expectations are, creating a razor-thin window of acceptable manly behavior that you’d have to be a professional tightrope walker to navigate. (Which would be a problem, since “professional tightrope walker” is definitely outside the parameters of acceptable manliness.) I’ve been looking at how so many of these expectations are not only rigid, but totally contradictory, creating a vision of idealized manhood that’s not just ridiculous but literally unattainable. And I’ve been asking the men in my life—friends, colleagues, family members, community members, guys I know on the Internet—what kinds of expectations they get about Being A Man and how those expectations affect them.

Here is a list of five.

*****

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet and Salon, 5 Stupid, Unfair and Sexist Things Expected of Men. This is actually an older piece that they’re reprinting: if I’d known, I probably would have revised it, and I definitely would have cleaned up the broken links. :-p But I’m glad they’re reprinting it: one of the most common MRA tropes is that feminists don’t care about the ways that gender roles and rigid gender expectations hurt men, and that’s just flatly not true. Anyway. To read more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

“Keep up the good work”: Fighting sexism helps

I got this email a few days ago from Shane, which I’m quoting with permission, responding to my post, A Woman’s Room Online: Misogyny, and the Idea That the Internet Isn’t Real.

Ouch and thanks.

I’ve been reading your blog for a long time. You have opened my eyes on a lot of issues, especially LGBT and women’s issues. I have room to grow. The Woman’s Room Online post hit me in the gut and then I realized, that’s what it feels like for a white straight male. Holy shit. For me, it’s terrible. For a woman, it’s got to be terror. How fucking awful we people manage to be. Anyway, thanks.

Keep up the good work.

Keep up the good work.

I get emails and comments like this every week. I used to get emails and comments every week saying, “I am now an atheist, in part, because of you.” I do still get those, although not quite as often, since I’m not spending as much time writing about 13 More Reasons God Doesn’t Exist. Now I get emails and comments every week saying, “I am now a feminist, in part, because of you.” And every feminist writer, speaker, podcaster, organizer, activist of any stripe that I know gets these comments as well.

So keep up the good work. All of us. All of us who are working to change people’s minds about sexism, about racism, about all the awful shit that happens in the world. Keep up the good work. It’s working.