Depression, and the “Throw Everything Against the Wall” Method of Care

Please note: I am not a doctor. I am not a therapist. I am not a mental health care professional, or indeed a health care professional of any kind. I’m just talking about myself here, and my own experiences. Also, please note that while the self-care techniques I’m talking about here can be an effective part of a treatment plan for depression, none of them is treatment all by itself, and none of them is a substitute for therapy, medication, or other medical care.

I wish I had something to say about Robin Williams’ apparent suicide. I don’t — nothing other than “Fuck, that’s awful, that’s so sad,” nothing that hasn’t been said by many other people better than I could say it. But a lot of people have been talking about depression in the last couple of days, and I have some stuff I’ve been wanting to write about that, so that’s where I’ll go.

partly open windowI’ve written before about one of the smartest pieces of advice I ever got about depression, one that’s become a cornerstone of my depression self-care — both when I’m in a depressive episode, and when I’m not and am working to stabilize and improve my mental health. I was talking with a friend about the horrible self-perpetuating nature of depression, and how the depression itself saps my motivation to do the things I need to do to take care of my depression, and what a fucked-up vicious circle this was. The advice I got was this: If I ever have a window in which I feel any motivation at all to do any form of self-care, I should do it. When I’m in the middle of a bad episode, those windows don’t open very often, so I should walk through them when they do. And even when I’m not having a bad episode, I don’t always feel motivated to do mental health self-care — but doing it whenever I do have the motivation makes my mental health more robust, and makes a relapse less likely.

Now, if you asked me which form of mental health care was most important, and which I would do first if one of those windows opened up, I could probably give you a roughly prioritized list. But a more accurate and honest answer to “which form of mental health care is most important?” would probably be: All of them. What works best for me is to do every form of effective mental health care I know of, as much as I have time and energy and money for. What works best for me is to throw everything I have against the wall, and hope that some of it sticks.

There’s a couple of reasons this works for me. For one thing, when a motivation window opens up, it’s often very specific. I don’t always get a general jolt of motivation to do anything at all that will alleviate my depression. Instead, I get a specific glimmer of motivation to meditate; to masturbate; to get dressed and go to the cafe; to take a long walk outside. So even though exercise is one of the highest priorities on my mental health care checklist, if I have a sudden glimmer of motivation to meditate, then I meditate. (I was actually at the gym the other day, feeling irritable and unfocused and spending as much time staring out the window as I was working out — so I quit my workout, and found a quiet-ish corner, and meditated instead. Totally the right decision. My brain needed the self-care that day more than my muscles did.)

paint splatter 2Throwing everything at the wall also gives me more options when I have more than one window of motivation. If I’m doing better, and I have a fair amount of motivation to do a fair amount of mental health care… well, I’m not going to meditate three times a day, or go to the gym three times a day. But I might meditate, and go to the gym, and go out to the cafe. And doing all three gets more care into my system.

And maybe most importantly: Throwing everything at the wall just makes my mental health recovery more robust, and more resilient. It gives it a broader, more solid foundation. I don’t always know what’s going to make me feel better, either immediately or in the longer term. But if I’m doing all of it, or as much of it as I can do, I’m playing the odds. I’m increasing my chances that one or more of the things will have an effect. If I throw everything I have at the wall, there’s a better chance that at least something will stick.

So here’s what I’m throwing against the wall.

Meds. I never blow this off. I take my meds every day.

Talk therapy. I never blow this off unless I’m sick. I sometimes have to schedule my therapy around my travel schedule, but if I have a therapy appointment in my calendar, I go unless I’m so sick I can’t think or talk.

(Note: According to what I’ve read, research shows that therapy plus meds is more effective on depression than either therapy alone or meds alone. Can anyone with more familiarity with the current research confirm or deny that?)

dumb-bellExercise. I try to take at least a 20 minute walk every day. I don’t always succeed, but I wind up doing this about 4-5 days a week. I also try to make my exercise more vigorous — going to the gym, dancing, taking a longer walk, something — 2-3 days a week. I don’t always succeed, but when I aim for this, I get more exercise than when I don’t.

Socializing. When I’m in the middle of a bad episode, or am teetering on the brink of one or pulling out of one, one thing I do if I can is make specific plans to see people. If I don’t have anything in my calendar, it’s all too easy to just stay home and stew in my own juices — but if I have a lunch date in my calendar, I almost never blow it off. And I know that seeing other people is one of the most important and powerful anti-depressants in my repertoire.

Leaving the house. When I’m in the middle of a bad episode, or am teetering on the brink of one or pulling out of one, I make it a priority to leave the house at least once every day. As a writer, it’s easy to just stay home in my bathrobe all day, and when I’m not having trouble with depression, that’s fine. But when I am having trouble, I make getting out of the house a priority. If for no other reason, it kills two birds with one stone: it gets me into the sunlight, and it gets me interacting with other people, even if it’s just a five-minute conversation with the barrista at the cafe. And working in a cafe, even if I’m just sitting alone at a table and not talking with anyone except to order more coffee, still feels less isolating than working at home alone.

Time outdoors, especially in the daytime. See above, re: leaving the house.

Meditating in urban environmentMeditating. My goal is to meditate every day. The reality is that I meditate about 5-6 days a week. It helps enormously.

Getting the right amount of sleep: not too much, not too little.

Sensual pleasures. Sex, masturbating, eating delicious healthy food, taking a long bath with bath scrubs, getting a manicure, getting a massage, taking the time to put together an outfit I enjoy… you get the drill. I try to do at least one of these every day. That’s a larger and somewhat complicated topic — there’s something weird about treating pleasure as medicine — but it helps, so I do it.

Writing. This is weirdly tricky: when my depression is bad, lots of extended time on the computer isn’t good for me. And when my depression is bad, it’s easy for writing time to turn into “dicking around for hours reading just one more thing on Facebook” time. But writing is activity, and writing gives my life purpose and meaning and forward direction, and writing gives my experience shape and cohesion, and writing makes me feel connected, and writing makes my brain feel better in ways and for reasons I can’t explain and don’t entirely understand.

That’s my mental health care toolkit. That’s what I’m throwing at the wall. What about you? If you experience depression, or have in the past — what’s in your mental health care toolkit? Do you have priorities among your tools, or do you prioritize whatever it is you have the motivation to do?



Coming Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina’s books, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why and Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, are available in print, ebook, and audiobook. Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More is available in ebook and audiobook.

Anger, Tone Policing, and Some Thoughts on Good Cop, Bad Cop

So what works better to change people’s minds? Calm, respectful, patient empathetic engagement that offers solutions and is open to compromise — or snarky, uncompromising anger?

I’m going to offer up a data point of one here — that data point being myself.

Back in 2010, I wrote a piece about body policing in popular culture, examining how celebrity gossip magazines give contradictory and impossible-to-follow messages about dieting and bodies, and how they applaud celebrities for staying rail-thin while at the same time gasping in horror about disordered eating. I titled the piece “Don’t Feed the Stars!: Celebrity Bodies and Gossip’s New Schizophrenia.”

I immediately got pushback on that title from more than one person, who complained that using the word “schizophrenia” as a pejorative was insulting to mentally ill people and contributed to their marginalization. One person in the conversation, Kit Whitfield, was very patient with me: they politely asked me to reconsider using the word; calmly explained why it was a problem; made it clear that they basically liked and respected me and just wanted to point out this one problem; stuck with me throughout several rounds of back-and-forth; and stuck with me even when I was getting snippy and defensive.

Sara K., on the other hand, just got angry — not only at my original post, but at my conversation with Kit. In a very snarky tone, she called me out on my privilege, and on how screwed-up it was for me to be telling a marginalized person how to talk about their marginalization with a privileged person. She made it clear that she basically liked and respected me, but she made it every bit as clear that she had lost some of that respect.

At the time, my reaction was to think, “Sara’s being a mean jerk! Kit is so awesome! It’s hard to hear people tell you you’re wrong, but it’s so much easier when they’re being nice and patient! Why can’t everyone be more like Kit?” (I know, I know. You don’t have to tell me. What can I say: I wasn’t as good at the social justice stuff back then.)

But in retrospect, it’s clear that both of these people were important in changing my mind.

I definitely valued Kit’s patience, their sympathy, their willingness to stay focused on the content and to overlook when I was getting impatient and snippy. But it was Sara who made me realize that this was important. It was Sara who made me realize that people were really being hurt by this — hurt enough to get angry, hurt about to get unpleasant with someone they basically liked and respected.

In the moment that this conversation was happening, I was getting that hot, defensive flush that you get when you’re doing something wrong and don’t want to admit it. You know — the Cognitive Dissonance Contortion Tango. So in the moment, of course I was happier with the person who was being all reassuring about how I wasn’t a bad person. But in order to take this seriously, I also needed the person who wasn’t reassuring me; who was forcing that cognitive dissonance on me; who was making me realize that I was not in fact being a good person, and that if I wanted to be a good person, I needed to change.

It took me a little while, but I am now being much more careful about using language that marginalizes the mentally ill. I am being much more careful about using words like “crazy” or “nuts” in a pejorative way, and about using words like “schizophrenic” to mean anything other than “having been diagnosed with the illness of schizophrenia.” And in fact, this conversation, and others like it, helped me accept the reality of my own mental illness. In realizing that my language was “other”-ing, and in working to not do that, I found it easier to not see mentally ill people as “other” — which made it easier to accept myself as one of them.

My point: “Good cop, bad cop” works.

Yes, in that hot, flushed moment when we’re doing the Cognitive Dissonance Tango, we respond more positively to the good cop. But that doesn’t mean the bad cop isn’t having an effect.

So when people are telling us things we don’t want to hear, the best reaction probably isn’t, “Why can’t you be nicer about it?” It’s an admission that we’ve lost the argument anyway: if all we can say is “You’d be more convincing if you were nicer,” and we’re not actually addressing their content, we might as well throw in the towel and not dig ourselves in deeper. (With our towel. Okay, I think I need to abandon that mixed metaphor.) But it’s also just not true. The good cops show us that we can be better people, and help show us how to do it. The bad cops show us that we’re screwing up at this “being a good person” thing, and they help show us exactly how. As uncomfortable as it is, we need both.

So belated thanks, to both Kit Whitfield and Sara K. I’m a better person now, thanks to you both.



Coming Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina’s books, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why and Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, are available in print, ebook, and audiobook. Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More is available in ebook and audiobook.

So You Think You Can Dance Nudity Parity Watch, Season 11, Episode 11

sytycd logoAs regular readers know, I’m watching the current season of So You Think You Can Dance, the mixed-style dance competition show, and am documenting whether the women are generally expected to show more skin than the men. (I give a more detailed explanation of this project, and why I’m doing it, in my first post in the series.)

So the main thing I want to point out about this episode: This is the first episode, of the entire competition this season, in which a man was more naked than the woman in any performance.

There have been six episodes in this competition so far (not counting auditions, for reasons explained in the first post). In the significant majority of the performances, the women have been more naked than the men; there have been a handful of performances in which there has been rough nudity parity, and the women and men showed about the same amount of skin. But this is the first episode in which the man was more naked than the woman, in any performance.

The first one. All season.

I’m just sayin’, is all.

So here’s how it broke down this week. (Note for people who are following this nudity parity watch but are not watching the show itself: The reason you’re suddenly seeing new names and faces among the dancers is that the competitors are now dancing with All-Stars, performers from previous seasons, instead of with one another.)

sytycd s11e11 opening group numberOpening group routine, hip-hop
Women are more naked than men (women have bare arms, bare midriffs, V-neck necklines, three of five have bare thighs with opaque stockings, men have short sleeves).

sytycd s11e11 bridget brandonBridget and Brandon, Bollywood disco (yes, really)
Man is slightly more naked than woman, FOR THE ONLY TIME SO FAR IN ANY PERFORMANCE THIS SEASON (woman has bare midriff, one bare arm, bare back, long flowy skirt showing shins and sometimes spinning up to show more of legs, man is shirtless).

sytycd s11e11 tanisha ryanTanisha and Ryan, Argentine tango
Woman is more naked than man (woman has bare arms, bare back, mostly bare legs, very deep V-neck neckline, man is completely covered).

sytycd s11e11 emilio jasmineEmilio and Jasmine, hip-hop
Woman is more naked than man (woman has bare arms, bare back, bare midriff, bare sternum, bare sides down over hips — in fact, her entire torso is pretty much exposed except for her breasts and some straps to hold things in place here and there; man has short sleeves).

sytycd s11e11 valerie adeValerie and Ade, jazz
Woman is more naked than man (woman has bare arms, bare legs, I think a bare back although it might be illusion netting, man has short sleeves). Also, her front torso is largely clad in flesh tone fabric that gives the impression of nudity, including her breasts.

sytycd s11e11 rudy jennaRudy and Jenna, cha-cha
Woman is more naked than man (woman has bare arms, bare legs, bare back, bare midriff, bare sternum, man has bare arms, vest open to bare chest and midriff).

sytycd s11e11 jacque chehonJacque & Chehon, contemporary
Rough nudity parity (woman has bare arms, bare legs, man is shirtless). However, she has illusion netting giving the impression of nudity on much of her torso and back.

sytycd s11e11 ricky laurenRicky & Lauren, jazz
Woman is more naked than man (woman has bare arms, bare legs, deep neckline, slight keyhole under breasts, man has short sleeves).

sytycd s11e11 casey kathrynCasey & Kathryn, Broadway
Woman is more naked than man (woman has bare arms, bare back, deep scoop neckline, long skirt with slit that swirls up to show bare legs, man is completely covered).

sytycd s11e11 jessica twitchJessica & Twitch, hip-hop
Woman is more naked than man (woman has bare legs, bare midriff, bare sternum, bare forearms, man has bare forearms).

sytycd s11e11 zack amyZack & Amy, contemporary
Woman is slightly more naked than man (woman has bare arms, long flowy sheer skirt that shows bare legs, bare sternum, largely bare midriff, man is shirtless).

sytycd s11e11 christina perry kathryn chehonKathryn & Chehon, backing Christina Perry song
Woman is more naked than man (woman has bare arms, bare back, long flowy sheer skirt that shows bare legs, deep V-neck neckline, he has bare arms, deep scoop neckline).



Coming Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina’s books, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why and Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, are available in print, ebook, and audiobook. Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More is available in ebook and audiobook.

So You Think You Can Dance Nudity Parity Watch, Season 11, Episode 10

sytycd logoAs regular readers know, I’m watching the current season of So You Think You Can Dance, the mixed-style dance competition show, and am documenting whether the women are generally expected to show more skin than the men. (I give a more detailed explanation of this project, and why I’m doing it, in my first post in the series.)

Sorry this post is so late, btw (this post documents the SYTYCD episode that aired on July 30 — the last couple of weeks have been a little, let’s say, challenging). I don’t have any particular analysis of this episode, except to note that the pattern that’s been consistent throughout this season has been an overwhelming lack of nudity parity between the male and female dancers, and this episode is no exception.

sytycd s11e10 opening group numberOpening group routine, contemporary
Women are more naked than men (women have bare arms, bare backs, long skirts with deep slits that mostly show bare legs, men have bare arms or short sleeves).

sytycd s11e10 bridget & emilioBridget & Emilio, jazz
Woman is more naked than man (she has bare arms, bare midriff, low scoop neckline, largely bare back, he is comoletely covered). Also, her outfit is largely skin-tight, his outfit is a regular-fitting suit.

sytycd s11e10 tanisha rudyTanisha & Rudy, contemporary
Woman is more naked than man (she has bare arms, bare back, deep V-neck, flowy skirt with a diagonal cut to hip that shows mostly bare legs, he has shirt unbuttoned to show chest and belly).

sytycd s11e10 jacque zackJacque & Zack, paso doble
Woman is more naked than man (she has lace stockings largely showing legs, bare shoulders, largely bare back, lacy sleeves partly showing arms, keyhole neckline, he is completely covered).

sytycd s11e10 emily teddyEmily & Teddy, Broadway
Woman is more naked than man (she has bare legs, bare back, bare upper arms, somewhat deep V-neck, he has bare forearms, shirt unbuttons to deep V-neck).

sytycd s11e10 jessica caseyJessica & Casey, contemporary
Woman is more naked than man (she has bare arms, flowy slit skirt that mostly shows bare legs, bare upper back, largely bare sternum, he has short sleeves, slightly scooped neckline).

sytycd s11e10 carly sergeCarly & Serge, quick-step
Woman is more naked than man (she has bare arms, bare back, bare sides, partly bare midriff, deep V-neck, he is completely covered).

sytycd s11e10 valerie rickyValerie & Ricky, hip-hop
Rough nudity parity (both dancers are pretty much completely covered, she has a slight scoop neckline). However, her legs are covered with skin-tight tights, her arms are covered with skin-tight flesh-toned sleeves, he’s wearing regular-fitting trousers and shirt.

Note: The mini-group routines, solo routines, and guest routine can’t be used in a strict gender parity comparison. The mini-group routines weren’t like the couples routines where one man and one woman are put into the same performance by the same choreographer and presumably costumed by the same costume designer; I assume that the guest performers picked their own costumes; and as far as I know, the dancers pick their own costumes for the solo routines. But for the sake of completism, I’m documenting them anyway.

MINI-GROUP ROUTINES

sytycd s11e10 mini group womenMini-group routine 1, all women, contemporary
Bare backs, bare arms, long flowy slit skirt mostly showing bare legs, mostly deep V-necks or deep scoop necklines (all have some bareness of sternum/chest), some bare midriffs.

sytycd s11e10 mini group menMini-group routine 2, all men, contemporary
Bare chests and backs
Note: There was some interesting gender non-normativity in this routine, both in the dance style and in the costumes, which featured flowy skirt-like things, similar to skirts often worn by women in the contemporary routines. However, rather than having their legs bare underneath, their legs are covered.

GUEST ROUTINE: ACADEMY OF VILLAINS

sytycd s11e10 guest routine academy of villainsAcademy of Villains, hip-hop, mixed-gender
All dancers literally entirely covered, including masks.

SOLOS
(Sorry, I couldn’t find still images of the solo performances, but the video links should work)

Serge solo, Latin ballroom
Bare forearms

Carly solo, contemporary
Bare legs, bare arms, bare back, largely bare midriff, deep scoop neckline

Casey solo, contemporary
Bare arms, very deep scoop neckline

Emily, contemporary
Bare legs, lacy back and sleeves that are partly see-through

Teddy, hip-hop
Completely covered

Jessica, contemporary
Bare arms, mostly bare legs, bare upper back, bare sternum



Coming Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina’s books, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why and Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, are available in print, ebook, and audiobook. Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More is available in ebook and audiobook.

Friday Cat Blogging: Talisker Has All The Stripes

Ingrid and I have some important information for you.

Talisker 1

Talisker 2

Talisker 3

As a natural consequence of the fact that Talisker is our stripey baby, we have determined that Talisker has all the stripes. And the logical conclusion of this is that she has all the stripes. Stripes on tigers, zebras, ring-tailed lemurs, other tabby cats — all of them belong to Talisker. As a matter of fact, if any of you have stripes on your clothing, furniture, wallpaper, household fixtures, or any other personal possessions, they belong to Talisker as well.

We realize this may be an adjustment for some of you. Let us reassure you: Talisker is more than happy to continue letting you make use of her stripes. She has no current intention to repossess them. She simply wants the matter of ownership to be understood.

Talisker 4

ALL THE STRIPES!



Coming Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina’s books, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why and Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, are available in print, ebook, and audiobook. Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More is available in ebook and audiobook.

#mencallmethings: “infantile, stupid, and lame,” “scum,” “Someone should tattoo a giant cock across your face”

Content note: rape trivialization, not-so-veiled threats

Jerk on my blog, in response to my recent post on The Amazing Atheist:

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 3.46.37 PM

I would not expect a grown ass woman to be so infatile, stupid, and lame. REALLY? Someone should tattoo a giant cock across your face, because you apparently can’t take a fucking joke. Could you be more anal? Do you lose some poop in your pants every time your feminists sense tingles? This A+ pond of scum, is an echo chamber of socially retarded Asperger’s people who have gone undiagnosed an entire life.

You know you are little small Ellliot Rodger clones. He could not take a joke. He was anal. You can’t take a joke. You are anal. So when are you gonna organize a mass shooting of all these Rape Joke people?

Q: Is a Rape Joke ok, if it involves the Holy Virgin Mother Mary? Because thats the only kind of Rape joke that I like. I mean, this woman is basically famous for not having sex before giving birth. Rape is certainly profoundly fun in this scenario… Is it not? Oh, and Remember, if you answer no to my Question, you are all Antisemites. Because you know how Jews like to make Rape jokes about Mary. You don’t want me to send the ADL after your small fish asses. I mean FTB is like a small ADL. Imagine what the big ass full grown ADL could do to your little hairy armpit bloggette?

I challenge you Motherfuckers.

#mencallmethings

I see. So in an effort to persuade people that The Amazing Atheist isn’t really sexist or misogynist and we should give him a chance to explain himself, this person goes onto a woman’s blog and tells her that she’s infantile, stupid, lame, scum, with hairy armpits, and socially retarded; that she has Asperger’s; and that someone should tattoo a giant cock across her face

Also, he thinks it’s an insult to say that someone has Asperger’s. (And, for that matter, that they are lame, retarded, and have hairy armpits.) Also, he really does think rape jokes are okay.

I’m reminded once again of Lewis’s Law: “Comments on any article about feminism justify feminism.”

Note: The #mencallmethings hashtag does not say #allmencallmethings, or #mostmencallmethings. If you want to learn more about the history of this hashtag and why people started using it, please read But How Do You Know It’s Sexist? The #MenCallMeThings Round-Up and Why Are You In Such A Bad Mood? #MenCallMeThings Responds! on Tiger Beatdown, where the hashtag originated. And please do not start a “but not all men are like that, so the #mencallmethings hashtag is reverse sexism!” argument. That has been addressed, at length, in the comments in the #mencallmethings: “FUCKIN HOE,” “FUCKIN FEMINAZI SLUT” post, as well as elsewhere. Please read Why “Yes, But” Is the Wrong Response to Misogyny if you’re wondering why I will not take kindly that that particular line of conversation.

Richard Dawkins Apologizes for “Dear Muslima”

Content note: mentions of childhood sexual abuse, trivialization of childhood sexual abuse.

There should be no rivalry in victimhood, and I’m sorry I once said something similar to American women complaining of harassment, inviting them to contemplate the suffering of Muslim women by comparison.
-Richard Dawkins

Richard DawkinsRichard Dawkins has apologized for “Dear Muslima” — his infamous comment belittling American women in general and Rebecca Watson in particular for speaking out about sexist behavior, on the grounds that sexism and misogyny in Islamist theocracies is so much worse.

The apology is easy to miss. I missed it myself the first time. It’s buried in the final paragraph of an otherwise obnoxious piece that once again snidely straw-mans his critics. (No, Professor Dawkins, nobody said that you had to experience your molestation as the worst thing that ever happened to you. Everyone I’ve read who’s criticized your comments on this subject has great compassion for you as a target of childhood sexual abuse; and yes, you absolutely get to assess for yourself how harmful that experience was. We criticized you for belittling OTHER PEOPLE’S sexual abuse. We criticized you for insisting that when it comes to sexual abuse, you personally know what the objective gradation of badness is for OTHER PEOPLE. We criticized you for commenting on this supposed objective gradation of OTHER PEOPLE’S abuse based purely on your own experience and opinions — with no apparent knowledge of the extensive research showing that the factors contributing to the degree of harm caused by sexual abuse are numerous, complicated, and often highly subjective. We criticized you for condemning physical and sexual abuse in religious cultures, while inconsistently rationalizing the physical and sexual abuse of OTHER PEOPLE as well as yourself, saying it was just the culture of the time and place. We criticized you for belittling OTHER PEOPLE’S sexual abuse. OTHER PEOPLE. Citation; citation; citation; citation. Sheesh.)

So. All that being said:

Richard Dawkins has apologized for “Dear Muslima.”

Finally. It took three years, but Richard Dawkins has openly acknowledged that it is reasonable for American feminists to complain about harassment, even though women in many other countries experience sexism and misogyny in far worse forms. He has openly acknowledged that it was wrong for him to say otherwise. It’s sad that this should be news, but it is. And although I’m not thrilled with the fact that he buried this apology at the end of a pile of muck — that’s rather insensitive, given the years of toxic shit feminist women have dealt with since he poured that tanker of gasoline onto a forest fire — I, for one, am nevertheless going to accept the apology. Apologies are hard to make, and people often make them awkwardly, and I don’t like to refuse to accept them just because they’re less than ideal. Y’all, of course, can follow your own consciences on that. (For the record, although the apology was not personally made to Rebecca Watson — the original target of “Dear Muslima” — and did not mention her by name, she has accepted the apology. Her exact words: “Richard Dawkins just did the blog-equivalent of coughing into his hand while mumbling “sorry” to me. Eh I’ll take it”)

I’m not holding my breath for Dawkins to suddenly become super-awesome on the subject of feminism or social justice generally. His recent behavior is not filling me with optimism. But given how much furor was sparked by “Dear Muslima,” and how often the sexist jerks in atheism cite it and the fallacious ideas behind it, I’m happy that Dawkins has finally retracted it. The absurd notions that the only forms of sexism worth fighting are the most extreme forms, that the only valid feminism is the fight against misogyny in Islamist theocracies, that sexism and misogyny in the Western world are trivial or non-existent and anyone speaking out about them is just whining — these are way too commonly held, especially among the sexist douchebros in the atheist community. I’m hoping that Dawkins’ apology, and his acknowledgment that it’s valid for American feminists to talk about American sexism, will trickle down. I’ll echo Rebecca Watson here: I’ll take it.

Why Secular Hedonism Needs Social Justice

silhouette dancing for joyI’m going to go out on a limb here. If we want to create and maintain a secular society that values pleasure? If we want to create and maintain a society that recognizes that this life is the only one we have, so we should experience it and enjoy it as richly as we can? If we want to create and maintain a society that understands that our bodies are all we have, and that values those bodies? If we want to create and maintain a society that that recognizes pleasure, not as the only part of life worth working towards, but as one part of that life, and an important one?

We need to fight for social justice.

Hear me out. At the Godless Perverts Social Club last night, we were talking about the mysterious appeal of religious asceticism, and why anyone would think the deliberate denial of pleasure was an awesome way to live. And several people pointed out that asceticism often rises as a reaction, not necessarily to a hedonistic and pleasure-based society, but to a society in which sensual pleasure is primarily available to a few rich and powerful people at the top.

One person pointed out that in a society with both (a) liberated sexual values AND (b) a great deal of social stratification, with a few wealthy and powerful people at the top and a whole passel of poor and powerless people at the bottom, it creates a recipe for sexual exploitation — which, obviously, isn’t going to make people very happy with those supposedly liberated sexual values. Someone else pointed out that if a society’s rich and powerful leaders are openly hedonistic, it creates a situation where more ascetic leaders will become very appealing: the hedonistic leaders will be seen as entirely in it for themselves and their own pleasures, while the ascetic leaders will be seen as more authentic, high-minded and self-sacrificing, seeking leadership purely for the greater good. (This perception will often be dead wrong, of course — there are plenty of selfish but non-hedonistic goodies to be gained from power and authority, and of course many supposedly ascetic leaders have gotten plenty of hedonistic goodies on the sly — but it’s still a very seductive image, and people will be fooled by it again and again and again.)

And of course, in a culture where most people are sick, miserable, exhausted with over-work, with no time or energy to pursue pleasure, with no resources to pursue pleasure, just generally ground down by life, and with little or no hope for anything better, a religion that promises bliss in the next life as a reward for sacrifice in this one will have tremendous appeal.

So it occurred to me: If we want to create and maintain a secular society that values pleasure, we need to fight for social justice. We need to fight for a world in which sensual pleasure is not just a privilege available to the 1% at the top who can afford the pleasures and aren’t working themselves to exhaustion merely to survive. We need to fight for a world in which sensual pleasure — good food, comfortable homes, sex education, reproductive control, art and entertainment, pleasant and beautiful public spaces, time to enjoy our bodies, physical health care so our bodies can be enjoyed, mental health care so enjoyment is possible — is available to everyone.

society without god coverWe should do this anyway, just because it’s right — because bodies are something we all have, and basic enjoyment of those bodies should not be a special privilege accorded to the lucky few. But we should also do it because it will be a whole lot more sustainable. A culture that values pleasure — not as the only value of course, but as an important one and one worth pursuing — and that makes pleasure available to pretty much everyone… that’s a culture with a good chance of lasting. (I’m thinking, as I so often do, of Phil Zuckerman’s research in Society without God, showing that societies with high rates of atheism tend be ones with high rates of stability, egalitarianism, access to basic social services, and general happiness.)

A culture that values pleasure, but only lets a few people have it, is not going to stick around.

Related piece:
Atheism and Sensuality

Please Welcome Aoife O’Riordan to Freethought Blogs!

And please welcome yet another new blogger to the Freethought Blogs network — Aoife O’Riordan, of Consider the Tea Cosy!

Aoife O’Riordan

Aoife is located in a small town in Ireland, and she won’t let you forget it. She gets paid to teach, but will default to roller derby and social theory if given half a chance. She’s quite likely (but not guaranteed) to be writing about: feminism, queerness, wheelyshoes, Ireland, what she cooked last week, or any combination of the above.

She will tell you how to pronounce her name, but only if you ask very nicely.

We’re so excited to be adding this wonderful blogger to our network!

Please Welcome Hiba Krisht and Heina Dadabhoy to Freethought Blogs!

We have two new bloggers in the Freethought Blogs network! Please welcome Hiba Krisht, of A Veil and a Dark Place: Missives of an Ex-Muslim Woman:

Hiba Kirsht before-after

Hiba Krisht is a writer and professional translator from Beirut. An apostate from Islam, she grew up between an international expatriate community in Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah guerrilla warfare culture in Lebanon. Her literary work appears in or is forthcoming from The Kenyon Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, 580 Split, Mizna, and the Evergreen Review among others. She is a recipient of the 2012 Jane Foulkes Malone Fellowship from Indiana Univeristy and the 2013 JoAnn Athanas Memorial Award in literature from the National Society of Arts and Letters. She received her BA in English literature and her MA in philosophy from the American University of Beirut. In her blog, she explores womanhood and politics post-Islam, with a recurring focus on the residual effects of 15 years of wearing the Muslim veil. She is working on a memoir expansion of her blog in book form.

And please welcome Heina Dadabhoy, of Heinous Dealings:

Heina Dadabhoy

Heina Dadabhoy spent her childhood as a practicing Muslim who never in her right mind would have believed that she would grow up to be an atheist feminist secular humanist. She has been an active participant in atheist organizations and events in and around Orange County, CA since 2007, and on the national stage since 2011. She is currently writing A Skeptic’s Guide to Islam. You can follow her on Twitter at @heinousdealings, Tumblr, or Facebook.

We’re so excited to be adding these wonderful bloggers to our network!