The intelligence hierarchy

Never Let Me Go is a book about a bunch of unusual kids, who grow up without really understanding how unusual they are. They go to a special school, and the school is particularly intent on having the kids show creativity, and produce artwork. The reason the school wants artwork is… oh, I shouldn’t spoil it. The kids don’t really understand why. All they understand is that to have an artwork chosen by the school officials is an honor.

And therefore it is a basis for social hierarchy.

To the kids, art isn’t an outlet for creativity, it isn’t a matter of amusement, but a matter of achievement. There’s one kid who drew a silly picture one of an elephant one time, and as a result the kids perceive him as lagging behind. For years, he gets teased, pranked, and throws huge tantrums. He finds peace when a teacher takes him aside and tells him it’s okay to be less creative. The other kids are scandalized by the very idea.

I’ve been thinking about this story, and how it resembles our own situation. The truth is, we grew up into a system that we didn’t really understand, but where we understood that being smart was an achievement. We’ve had personal experience building social hierarchies around perceived intelligence, before even understanding what a social hierarchy is, or why intelligence is important. We’ve pinned the labels “smart” or “stupid” on other people, and had them pinned to ourselves, often on flimsy evidence, and these labels have governed the early years of our lives.

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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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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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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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Why are there so few asexual men?

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2015.  I made a few minor updates, but all the speculation still applies today.

In my analysis of the 2014 AVEN Survey of online asexual communities, I showed that only 12% of aces (aces = people on the asexual spectrum) are men.    According to my numbers, the fraction of asexuals who are men is similar.  [Update: The 2015 Asexual Census finds the same result.]  Someone asked me why that is, and I thought I’d make my answer public.

Extant data

In a community survey of AVEN in 2008, 28% of asexuals were men.  Another community survey in 2011 reported 13% of aces were men.  A Spanish-language community survey in 2013 reports that 36% of asexuals were assigned male at birth.

These are all community surveys conducted online, and they only tell us about people in the various online communities.  They do not tell us about asexuals or asexual-spectrum people in general.

However, there was also an academic study conducted in 2004, based on a national probability sample in the UK in 1994.  In that study 35% of asexuals were men.  In theory, this should tell us about asexuals in general, although there are many reasons to worry about systematic biases.

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