The bad logic of “Good People Can’t Be Sexists”

One of the things that makes me averse to getting into deep conversation lately about morality and about people’s sexist and racist behaviour is that we appear to be hard-wired to think the whole conversation is binary — you did a bad, objectionable thing, therefore you’re Evil. You are criticized for doing a bad, objectionable thing, but are generally good, therefore you’re being hounded by Feminazis and Thought Police. Any nuance in the conversation is smashed out by our resorting to binary thinking again and again.

In mathematical terms, the problem is that good and bad, sexist and not sexist, are absolutes. When we render them into pure two-valued logic, we’re taking shades of gray, and turning them into black and white.

There are people who are profoundly sexist or racist, and that makes them bad people. Just look at the MRAs involved in Gamergate: they’re utterly disgusting human beings, and the thing that makes them so despicably awful is the awfulness of their sexism. Look at a KKKer, and you find a terrible person, and the thing that makes them so terrible is their racism.

But most people aren’t that extreme. We’ve just absorbed a whole lot of racism and sexism from the world we’ve lived our lives in, and that influences us. We’re a little bit racist, and that makes us a little bit bad – we have room for improvement. But we’re still, mostly, good people. The two-valued logic creates an apparent conflict where none really exists.

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(Guest Post) Words of mass destruction: the weaponization of ‘free speech’

A guest post by Robert Fendt. Please address comments appropriately. :)

(Note: this text deals with harassment, sexism, misogyny, racism and transphobia. Readers’ discretion is advised.)

Dear reader: are you male? White? Heterosexual? Cisgender? Healthy? Congratulations: this text is for you. It also means you are among us lucky ones who get to play the game called ‘life’ on the easiest setting there is. Don’t believe it? Read on.

Disclaimer: I’m also a white male cisgender heterosexual person. And for a long time, I would have said about me having it particularly easy in life: don’t be ridiculous. But I do have friends and colleagues who are not male, who are not white, who are not heterosexual, who are not cisgender, some of whom have to deal with disability or illness, and listening to them has changed and reshaped my perspective. It’s time it changed the perspectives of us all.

In the ‘western’ countries, freedom of opinion and speech are fundamental rights, designed to protect minorities from persecution. So how ironic is it that nowadays ‘free speech’ also functions as a smoke screen for the harassment of women and minorities?

Imagine being a woman walking down the street. Now try to guess how common cat calls and whistles are, and how many unsolicited comments about your body and looks you get. Try to guess how common it is that strangers come uncomfortably close or even touch you without your consent. If you guessed “rarely”, then guess again. Being a woman in public means being scrutinised and ogled and commented upon, at the very least. And now do me a favor: honestly try to imagine being in that position. Imagine dealing with stuff like that. For every. Single. Fucking. Day.
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Brief thoughts on Charlie Hebdo and freedom of speech

Satire depends heavily on the cultural context in which it was made. Charlie Hebdo is certainly a leftist rag, and certainly satire, and certainly understood as such within France’s cultural context. However, there are some universals about satire that people, time and again, forget.

The first and most important thing to remember is that satire can damage just as much as the original offense, and sometimes more. Charlie Hebdo’s satire was about taking some aspect of the news cycle — some politician or celebrity who held racist and sexist views — and illustrating the logical end result of those views. In a context where a great deal of damage has been done by outright propaganda by outright racists and sexists, where “Evil Banker Jew” and “Monkey-Like Black Person” are well-worn tropes, depicting them as though you’re resurrecting the trope in order to scandalize the person who still holds those views is fraught and potentially more damaging to the person who’s damaged by the original racism.

The second thing to remember about satire is that it is a powerful weapon, to be wielded carefully so as to avoid splash damage. Attacking a class — or being perceived to be attacking a class — that is already under siege by society, is “punching down”. Even if you’re trying to shame the person who’s holding an antisemitic or anti-black or anti-woman view, you could very well legitimize or normalize attacks on that class of person by increasing the number of instances where it’s perceived to be acceptable. Increasing the frequency of a meme does not NECESSARILY legitimize it, but it CAN.
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“It’s sad I can’t take my kid”

Someone sent me an email with regard to the timeline I had put together of harassment reports in the secular / skeptical / atheist communities, and it came at a very good moment for me. Just when I was feeling the strain of the sisyphean task of combatting harassment in a community that would rather we have a “big tent” that includes the harassers, this email came to bolster my spirits.

I got permission to republish excerpts in hopes that it helps you too.

I wanted to say thank you for the work you’re doing, because no matter what I say, I will never be taken seriously when I talk about sexual harassment in geek space- because I’m a woman. It’s doubly hard for me now, because my daughter is old enough to start being interested in going to various conventions in geek culture.

The second I say anything, no matter how mild, I’m instantly going to be viciously attacked. I’m moderately used to the nastyness, but I’m completely unwilling to subject my 13 year old child to that sort of crap.

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A Dynasty Falls

And good riddance.

Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the Duck Dynasty reality television show, recently did an interview in GQ — yes, Gentlemen’s Quarterly — wherein he described how his evangelical Christian beliefs come into conflict with the idea that some people might be gay in an absolutely offensive display of what many Christians really do believe. His TV show on A&E about his family of conservative rednecks — who became rich after he built an empire on the Duck Commander duck lures — now faces the terrible wrath of public opinion.

When my sister heard the news that he’d given his interview in GQ, and that GLAAD had publicly denounced his words, she posted a link on her Facebook wall. One of her friends — an ex co-worker apparently — swanned in to drop this steaming pile of opinion on her wall about how terrible it was… that anyone was asking A&E to reconsider hosting this douchenozzle’s opinion.
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The line between “acting like an asshole” and “being an asshole”

It turns out Elan Gale was making the whole thing up.

To catch you up: Elan Gale posted on his Twitter account that someone was being rude on an airplane, and proceeded to detail with screenshots how he harassed her (of course it was a her, wearing mom jeans) in retribution for “not being nice” on Thanksgiving. He gained 70-ish thousand followers over the affair, and sparked a firestorm of dudebros defending their inalienable right to tell rude moms to eat a dick, everyplace the story was covered. He’s been hailed as a hero, completely took in Buzzfeed and thus went viral as all hell, and those few of us who decried the assholish behaviour (myself and way more especially, Ophelia) are presently enjoying the lovely booby-prize of having skepticaler-than-thou skeptics tell us that we were insufficiently skeptical of the whole affair.
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5th Doctor, Peter Davison: “The Doctor must never be a woman”

I know a number of people for whom this particular bit of news is a betrayal, because Davison is “their Doctor”. According to Peter Davison, fifth Doctor on the venerable British sci-fi series Doctor Who, the character of The Doctor should never be a woman.

Doctor Who legend Peter Davison risks being exterminated by fuming female fans after declaring: “Doctor Who must always be a man” reports the Sunday People.

Speaking on the eve of the cult show’s 50th anniversary, Peter, 62 – Doc No.5 from 1981 to 1984 – insisted: “If you suddenly make the Doctor a woman you’ve effectively just said, ‘Well let’s give you a sex change’, and I don’t think that works.

“To me it would be a rather odd thing. To have a female Time Lord would be like having a female James Bond.”

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There can be no Khitomer Accord

There has been a stirring as of late in the blogosphere. Lee Moore, the host of a podcast co-hosted by Reap Paden, has taken it upon himself to attempt to broker a peace treaty, a ceasefire, a breaking of bread and a healing of the divide between the two sides of the Great Rift — between the feminists on the one side, and the antifeminists (and those claiming the name “feminist” for their libertarian laissez-faire cargo cult “equity feminism”) on the other. A sort of Khitomer Accord, if you will indulge the Star Trek reference. Of course, this would depend on either “side” being a cohesive unit, with leaders or any ability to encourage conformity among its self-identified members. In a leaderless movement such as ours, a movement where leaders viewed with awe and reverence by some are equally eyed with suspicion by others, such a gambit is doomed to fail.

But what really strikes me as misguided about the whole effort is that, from the outset of this conversation, everyone is using terms differently. And not just terms of art — we’re all working with different definitions on just about everything of substance! We talk of attacks, of slurs, of in-fighting, of trolls and witch-hunts and censorship and co-opting of movements. We talk of inclusiveness and privilege and exclusiveness and tribalism. And every one of these words means something completely different to one another.

But let’s start with the core term at issue here: what exactly constitutes “in-fighting” to both sides in this argument?
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How to get more women in STEM? Stop telling them they don’t belong

Sometimes it takes someone saying something so gobsmackingly obvious that it makes people ashamed they didn’t realize it before, to clue people in that there might actually be a problem, and how to address it. This post, I truly hope, is one of those times.

Sometimes, men talk about the gender disparity in tech communities as if there’s some big mystery. I have to conclude that these guys haven’t talked to women who currently work in computer science academia and the tech industry, or who did and then left. As someone who was perceived as a girl or woman doing computer science for 12 years, my solution to the lack of women in tech is:

Stop telling women that they aren’t welcome and don’t belong.

Sounds pretty obvious, right? Well, you’d think. But read on to see what counts as telling them they don’t belong. A tip — it’s not just making the blatantly sexist comment, like Prof. Doaitse Swierstra’s saying that more women in Haskell’s programming school would make the program “more attractive”.

When I watched the video, what I heard after Prof. Swierstra’s comment about attractiveness was laughter. No one called him out; the discussion moved on. I might be wrong here, but the laughter didn’t sound like the nervous laughter of people who have recognized that they’ve just heard something terrible, but don’t know quite what to do about it, either (though I’m sure that was the reaction of some attendees). It sounded like the laughter of people who were amused by something funny.

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Shame In Your Game

An absolutely pitch perfect rant-slash-analysis from Emily Gordon detailing sexism in the video gaming community. It must be read, especially by those of us who see this shit happening in our community but don’t have any insight into the nearly-identical fight going on in the gaming world.

I’m a female with a podcast about video games, so I am frequently asked tough questions: “How do I get my girlfriend to like video games?” “Are you a ‘real’ nerd?” “How do we fix sexism in the gaming world?”

My answers to those questions are, in order: “Start with two-player platformers,” “What?” and “I wish I knew.”

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