Authorial intent is magic!

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2015, although I changed the title.

The author is magic

Death of the Author” is a famous 1967 essay by Roland Barthes regarding the interpretation of literature.  He argues that the intentions and context of the author are irrelevant when interpreting the author’s work.  At most, the author provides a single interpretation, which must compete with all other interpretations.

Intent! It’s fucking magic!” is an influential 2010 essay by Kinsey Hope regarding the moral judgment actions.  There’s a common circumstance wherein a person tries to justify their mistakes by emphasizing their good intentions.  The essay snarkily observes that good intentions have the strange and magical power to erase all harms.  “Intention isn’t magic” has become a common saying among activists.

Though the two essays live in completely different contexts (literary criticism vs moral discourse), I would argue that the sentiments behind each are substantially similar.  Indeed, in the modern age, when we increasingly look at popular works of fiction through moral lenses, and when “actions” often consist of tweets or other comments, it is questionable whether they even live in different contexts.

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#MeToo and centering perpetrators

Last October, #MeToo had become a popular tag on Facebook, with many friends posting personal stories of harassment or assault. At the time, I wrote a post asking “Who is #metoo for?” I was questioning the assumption that #MeToo was entirely for the benefit of survivors. While sharing a personal story of trauma can be cathartic, it is often a burden. Survivors may be adopting this burden not for their own benefit, but in hopes of educating the public.

So, funny thing, #MeToo continues to be a big deal even now. And it didn’t go in the direction I expected.

At some point, I stopped seeing friends post personal stories. As far as friends’ personal stories go, #MeToo is over. Most people with stories have already decided either to share them or withhold them. Instead, #MeToo has become about celebrity accusations. Somewhere someone writes a #MeToo post talking about their horrible experiences with some unnamed dude, then the truth comes out that the unnamed dude was actually Famous Celebrity. Then the media gets a hold of it and it makes huge headlines. #MeToo strikes again!

This has been happening over and over again for months. And not just in the mainstream realm–if you paid attention to any subcultures or small communities, you might have heard accusations against small-time celebrities and leaders. Scandal after scandal, fractally repeating.

It’s good to see people in power finally punished for their misdeeds. But you see, back when #MeToo was mostly about survivors posting personal stories on Facebook, I was already complaining about how the campaign wasn’t very survivor-oriented. And that’s nothing compared to what #MeToo is now. #MeToo, in its current incarnation, fundamentally centers perpetrators rather than survivors.

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Video game censorship and feminist criticism

Last week, the white house held a meeting to talk about violence in video games, and their potential connection to gun violence. This has many gamers worried that the government will do something to censor video games, or pressure the games industry to self-regulate.  My opinions on the matter: 1) this is an obvious ploy to “address” gun violence without addressing gun violence, 2) I defer to the research that says video games do not cause gun violence, and 3) the second amendment shouldn’t exist. If you disagree with any of these propositions, you are welcome to yell at me in the comments, as one does.

But I’m not really here to talk about gun violence, I’m here to talk about feminism. See, I did a forbidden thing, I read some internet comments. And I found that some people think that Trump’s talk of censoring video games is similar or analogous to feminists/SJWs talking about problematic or sexist aspects of video games. As a feminist/SJW myself, my reaction is, “uh no.”

But it also raises the interesting question, what do I want?

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Random notes on male victims of sexual violence

[cn: sexual violence, including rape]

So last month, I talked a bit about sexual violence. And when most people think about this topic, they imagine male perpetrators and female victims. But since my personal experience is in gay male contexts, I tend to think of male victims first. And male victims, well isn’t that a thing? You have all the usual myths about sexual violence, and problems with how we treat victims after the fact; but on top of that, you have even more issues that are specific to male victims.

In this post, I’ll discuss three disparate topics related to male victims. First, I’ll talk about some male-specific misconceptions. Second, I’ll talk about prevalence statistics, and complain about how people have collected these statistics. Third, I’ll talk about feminism.

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Drowning

This is a brief statement of my opinion on the Aziz Ansari case.  Content note: rape.


There’s a direct analogy between rape and drowning.  Drowning looks very different in real life vs the movies.  But nobody demands that people behave more stereotypically while drowning.  When people fail to behave stereotypically, still nobody denies that it was really drowning.  And nobody derails the conversation by insisting that nearby swimmers can’t be treated as criminals just because they don’t recognize drowning.

I understand that among SJ-oriented people, there is some controversy about the Aziz Ansari case.  A lot of people saying that it was wrong, but not sexual assault.  My stance is that it was a fairly typical story of rape, making it a troubling demonstration of people’s inability to recognize rape.  Yes, “rape” instead of “sexual assault”, because it was penetrative–that should be straightforward.  But the part that gives people trouble, is that Grace didn’t behave as they expected a non-consenting person should, and they think the typical person would have great difficulty recognizing the signs.  To this I say, okay, but please update your expectations.  This is what drowning looks like.

The felt sense model of consent

[cn: non-explicit discussion of rape and sexual consent]

I recently wrote a guide to terms relating to sexual violence, and I included brief descriptions of a few common models of consent. While I do not reject these models of consent, I do advocate a lesser-known model of consent. It’s known as “consent as a felt sense”.

This model was first described by maymay and unquietpirate, although I have serious disagreements with their framing, as I will discuss below. I would instead recommend coyote’s take, which was what first made the model click for me. If you want even more reading, Ozy has a critique of the model.

The communication vs the message

The standard narrative of consent is someone saying “yes” or “no” to a sexual proposition. This narrative isn’t entirely accurate. Studies show that saying “no” is a disfavored way to express refusal, and people commonly couch or soften their refusals, both inside and outside sexual contexts. It’s also well-known that consent can be expressed non-verbally. Once we get past the myths and legends, we see that consent isn’t about saying one particular word or another. It’s about communication, by whatever means are effective.

But the thing about communication, is that there is a message that we are trying to communicate. Perhaps the intended message is “I consent”, but this quickly devolves into recursive circle. “I wish to communicate to you that I wish to communicate to you that I consent.” Upon reflection, we come to the conclusion that “I consent” means “I am okay with this”.

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A guide to sexual violence terminology

[cn: sexual violence, including explicit references]

When I started out writing about sexual violence, I was confused about many of the terms surrounding it. I didn’t even know, until someone told me, that “sexual violence” was an all-encompassing term. So I’m writing a guide to terminology, of the kind I wish I had years ago. My aim is to go beyond a glossary, not just providing definitions but also commenting on connotations and practical usage.

Categories of sexual violence

Sexual violence – Sexual violence is a super-category that includes any sexual (or sexually charged) act that violates someone’s consent. That includes sexual assault, sexual coercion, sexual harassment, and child sexual abuse (all of which are to be defined later). Note that sexual violence is a term used by public health advocates and activists, not by the legal system; not all sexual violence is illegal.

In my experience, definitions of sexual violence can be confusing. For example, the NSVRC says sexual violence is when “someone forces or manipulates someone else into unwanted sexual activity without their consent,” and then proceeds to list examples which do not obviously fall under its own definition, such as spying on sexual acts. If you’re not sure whether to go with the explicit definition, or the list of examples, always go with the list, which has more consensus than the literal definition.

Sexual assault – Sexual assault is non-consensual sexual touching. Common examples include unwanted kissing, groping certain body parts, and rape. Sexual assault is also a legal term, although at least in the US, there is a distinction between assault (the threat of violence) and battery (the violence itself). Outside of legal contexts, “sexual assault” usually refers to what is legally called “sexual battery”.

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