I Am Lena Dunham

You all know the story: Lena Dunham told Amy Schumer a story about how football player Odell Beckham Jr. allegedly ignored her because, according to her, he didn’t think she was “not the shape of a woman by his standards.”  Several people called her entitlement and mind reading on Twitter. Dunham at first chalked it all up to the “outrage machine,” but a few days later she publicly apologized on Instagram. I haven’t been following the story too closely because, quite frankly, I don’t care about Dunham. I’ve never watched “Girls” because it looks like your typical Quirky White People Having Awkward Sex in New York show. However, I did read Zeba Blay’s Huffington Post article about Dunham today, and it really got me thinking. Blay writes:

Lena Dunham is probably not a bad person. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging the reality of white entitlement, even if it complicates a carefully cultivated narrative of oppression which revolves largely around being an average-bodied white woman. This reality doesn’t mean Dunham hasn’t dealt with misogyny, and it doesn’t negate her insecurities and fears. But by her own admission, her lack of self-awareness, coupled with her privilege and platform, can lead to the sort of tone-deaf characterizations of black men that are ultimately more harmful than they may seem.

Part of being a public figure means accepting that your learning is going to take place on a public stage. Dunham and other celebrities who make (even unintentionally) harmful comments should be held responsible for their words ― especially when those words perpetuate damaging ideas about real human beings. Dunham is entitled to her own perspective and story, but not to the minds and thoughts of the black men around her. [Emphasis mine]

I hate to admit it, but in a way I’m Lena Dunham. I’ve said problematic things and then got incredibly defensive when I was called out. I’ve refused to acknowledge my blind spots. In fact, I still do from time to time.

I don’t say all this to make people pat me on the head and say, “There there, Trav, you’re an awesome person!” Neither am I saying we should let Dunham off the proverbial hook. She has a history of saying problematic things. I’m just saying I can’t stand on my high horse and act like my hands are clean.

As I recently told a friend, there comes a time in every activists life where you think you’re being an excellent activist until someone says, “You think you’re helping us, but you’re not. You’re just giving us table scraps. You’re too busy making yourself look good. We’re literally dying, and you’re not doing a damn thing about it.” At first you just write off your critics as the Rage Police, and maybe even yell at them, but then you realize you’re wrong. Talk about getting egg on your face!

Fortunately, we’re all works in progress. We’re all trying to figure this shit out. The key is whether or not you learn from your mistakes. Hopefully someday Dunham will. And hopefully someday I will, too.

Street Epistemology with an Anti-Feminist

CN: Rape, Suicide

A few weeks ago when I interviewed Anthony Magnabosco, he told me that you can use Street Epistemology for any belief, not just religion. I recently tested this when an anti-feminist started spewing anti-feminist bullshit on a friend’s Facebook wall, and here’s our exchange:

Anti-Feminist: Feminists live in a delusional world which is highly resistant to facts and logic which would shatter their fantasy narrative.

Me: Y’know, there is a podcast called Promoting Secular Feminism that actually uses facts.

Anti-Feminist: Very peculiar! Why don’t feminists use those facts in debates?

Me: Depends. Which feminists have you debated with?

Anti-Feminist: Which types? Hard to tell. Pretty sure most types ranging from first wave to gender feminists.
I don’t bother debating with equity feminists since I tend to agree with them on most points. They’re just humanitarians who can’t deal with the fact that the word feminism is sexually biased.

Me: How so?

Anti-Feminist: “Fem”

Me: Well it seems to me the point of feminism is to address issues affecting women, so why not use “fem?”

Anti-Feminist: Because it makes it biased to that group and that groups interest and often limits it to that idea. not to mention women are equal in the western world a fighting a imaginary dragon at this point.

Me: What makes you think women have gained full equality in the West?

Anti-Feminist: Name an area where they don’t. Also, there are issue affecting humanity, so why not address the issues affect humanity as an egalitarian?

Me: Well, there are several areas where it’s hard for women to get abortions. Also, women are part of humanity, so why not address women’s issues?

Anti-Feminist: Men are a part of humanity. Why not address men’s issues?

Me: What would be men’s issues?

Anti-Feminist: You’re missing my point, but some of the issues that are having an effect on men are the high suicide rates 80% of the suicides are committed by men, issues with custody battles women win out 84% of the time regardless of character, men are 76% of homicide victims and not to mention the savage way they are treated in prison and raped. But the point of that was to say that there issues affecting humanity as a whole, so why not be an egalitarian/humanist?

Me: Most feminists that I know address these issues as well

Anti-Feminist: I actually had a feminist promoting male genital mutilation on my wall last week.  I would argue that most forms of feminism inherently damage humanity as a whole.

Me: Do you have any statistics?

Anti-Feminist: For what?

Me: Statistics for why feminism is the worst thing in the world since religion. One particular radical advocating male genital mutilation doesn’t count.

Anti-Feminist: Before I potentially waste my time talking with you, do you believe in cultural relativism? Do you think it is ethical to eat animals if you don’t need to?

Okay, so here’s where I think I messed up. I went from focusing on his beliefs to my own.

Me: I think I know where you’re going with your first question, so let me be frank: No, I don’t believe it’s okay for Muslim men to assault women! I’m against purity culture in all forms, whether it’s Christian or Muslim. I’m also against using the death penalty for adultery because 1). what is adultery anyway? And 2). what consenting adults do in the bedroom is no one’s business. As far as your second question . . . I’m not really sure where you’re going with that one. Nevertheless, if lab grown meat ever becomes a thing, I’d be all for it!

Anti-Feminist: You didn’t answer either of the questions.

Me: I thought I did, but maybe I automatically assumed what you meant by cultural relativism and eating animals without needing to. When people say cultural relativism, they are usually referring to regressive leftists who refuse to acknowledge Islam has problems like Christianity. So if that’s what you mean by cultural relativism, then my answer is no.

Anti-Feminist: But even the way you worded that isn’t acceptable. Islam doesn’t have problems like Christianity. Christianity is a little bit shitty. Islam is the shittiest of the shit. Islam is way worse. It’s not even close. If you can’t acknowledge that Islam is far worse than Christianity, we’re done here.

Me: Well in that case, TTFN–ta ta for now!

TL;DR It was just YouTube talking points, and not a constructive conversation. Oh well, at least I tried.

Bi Any Means Podcast #61: Reproductive Justice and Atheist Assholes with Niki Massey

nikimassey

My guest for today is Niki Massey, who writes about race, feminism, disability, and geek culture on her blog Seriously?!?, which can be found on the Orbit. She is also a clinic escort and a self-described asexual writer of erotica. So today we’re going to talk about her life, her blog, and her activism.

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Bi Any Means Podcast #60: Black Humanist Alliance with Ashton P. Woods

bha

My guest for today is Ashton P. Woods, co-chair of the Black Humanist Alliance. He is an activist who, according to his bio, “openly identifies as gay, atheist, HIV positive, and unapologetically black” According to the Black Humanist Alliance’s mission statement, “While we concern ourselves with confronting expressions of religious hegemony in public policy, the BHA is also devoted to confronting social, economic, and political deprivations that disproportionately impact Black America due to centuries of culturally ingrained prejudices. Using humanism as a life praxis, the BHA seeks to realize the need for a more intersectional and more politicized scope of activism through encouraging social justice competency within secular spaces as well as by engaging in racial, gender, and restorative justice activism.” So today Ashton and I are going to talk about the Black Humanist Alliance and all that they do.

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Bi Any Means Podcast #59: Feminist Humanist Alliance with Jessica Xiao

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The Bi Any Means podcast is back! And returning to the show today is Jessica Xiao, project assistant of the American Humanist Association and co-chair of the Feminist Humanist Alliance. According to their website, the Feminist Humanist Alliance is “a national network of women, genderqueer and trans people committed to the principles of humanism and inclusive feminism. We strive for social progress through promoting critical consciousness and direct action.” So today Jessica and I are going to talk about the Feminist Humanist Alliance and all the great stuff they’re doing.

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An Apology

[CN: Anxiety, Misogyny]

It started back in April. The North Carolina bathroom bill triggered me so badly that I went to two atheist feminist groups on Facebook and asked what to do when you just want to give up activism. Some of the posts were helpful, but others called me out for making everyone in the group use up their spoons to coddle me. In a fit of anger, I left both groups and wrote an angry blog post calling out toxic feminists. Some MRA-types commented on it, but I didn’t pay attention because I felt I was in the right.

Until yesterday when someone called me out on that post on a friend’s Facebook wall. I wrote a blog post apologizing for it, but I got called out again for not taking full responsibility. That’s when I had one of the most intense anxiety attacks I had ever experienced in my life. I was in total fight or flight mode, and I chose flight instead of rationally taking everyone’s comments into consideration. I deleted both the apology post and the toxic feminists post, and I blocked the people calling me out.

After talking to a friend about it this morning, though, I realized what I did was wrong. I let my emotions take over and acted childish, and for that I am sorry.

So here I am coming clean.

I apologize for making others spend extra energy coddling me instead of doing social justice work.

I apologize for not taking full responsibility for my actions, and instead projecting my crap onto others.

I apologize for letting MRAs dominate the comment section and spread their sexist ideology. And I apologize for interacting with them and encouraging them.

I apologize for my original half-assed apology where I only pretended to be sorry.

I apologize for blocking people on Facebook who were trying to explain to me that I wasn’t taking full responsibility for my actions.

I apologize for playing the victim and throwing a pity party on Facebook.

***

For now, I’m going to temporarily step back from doing online activism for a month. Don’t worry; I’m not quitting. I just need some serious introspection while I unpack all my internalized misogyny. I’m not even going to upload a new episode of my podcast until next month.

Being a good activist means sometimes you have to step away and take a good long hard look at yourself. We like to brag about how “woke” we are, but the truth is we’re all still waking. The events of this past weekend definitely proved that to me.

When I come back, I hope to be a better activist, a better ally, and a better human being.

A Brief Introduction to Rape Culture

[Picture source: http://theodysseyonline.com/vanderbilt/what-do-rape-culture-and-terrorism-have-in-common/297409]

[Picture source: http://theodysseyonline.com/vanderbilt/what-do-rape-culture-and-terrorism-have-in-common/297409]

[CN: Sexual assault, Rape apology]

“Rape culture” is one of those phrases that make anti-feminists like Peter Boghossian, Christina Hoff Sommers, and Godless Mom shit their pants in anger. A few years ago, for example, Caroline Kichens wrote an op-ed for Time magazine saying it’s time to “end rape culture hysteria.” She wrote:

Rape is a horrific crime, and rapists are despised. We have strict laws that Americans want to see enforced. Though rape is certainly a serious problem, there’s no evidence that it’s considered a cultural norm. Twenty-first century America does not have a rape culture; what we have is an out-of-control lobby leading the public and our educational and political leaders down the wrong path. Rape-culture theory is doing little to help victims, but its power to poison the minds of young women and lead to hostile environments for innocent males is immense.

To which Zerlina Maxwell responded in Time magazine a few days later:

Is 1 in 5 American women surviving rape or attempted rape considered a cultural norm? Is 1 in 6 men being abused before the age of 18 a cultural norm? These statistics are not just shocking, they represent real people. Yet, these millions of survivors and allies don’t raise their collective voices to educate America about our culture of rape because of fear. Rape culture is a real and serious, and we need to talk about it. Simply put, feminists want equality for everyone and that begins with physical safety.

Perhaps criticisms of the concept of rape culture are hung up on the “culture” part. Like Kitchens, they think of rape is an individual action rather than an idea that’s embedded into our collection consciousness. Maybe I’ve giving critics too much benefit of the doubt, but hopefully this brief introduction can clear some things up.

First, Marshal University’s Women’s Center defines rape culture as “an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.” Examples include blaming the victim, making excuses for rape, claiming that “real men” don’t get raped, and tolerating rape jokes. In a nutshell, rape culture is what happens when you say “Rape is bad” on the surface, but then either don’t take rape accusations seriously or say women dressing a certain way are “asking for it.”

For example, in 2011 attorney Tamara Holder and Christian singer (and abstinence only advocate) Rebecca St. James appeared on Sean Hannity’s show to talk about Slut Walks. Hannity began the discussion by clarifying that no one deserves to be raped, to which both women agreed. However, half way through the discussion, St. James said:

I think there has to be responsibility though for what a woman is wearing. When a woman is dressing in an immodest way, in a proactive way, she’s got to think about what is she saying by her dress? They’re asking for sex. They’re asking for sex if they’re dressed immodestly.

In other words, “I’m not saying she deserved it, but she deserved it.”

Another more recent example is Bingham County, Idaho, Sherrif Craig Rowland saying back in March that his state had no need for rape kits because “the majority of our rapes that are called in, are actually consensual sex.” I don’t know about Rowland’s district, but according to Violence Against Women (VAW)2% – 10% of reported sexual assault accusations are proven false. And by “proven false,” VAW means there has been “physical evidence and/or statements from credible witnesses that contradict key aspects of a victim’s account.” The study also includes FBI guidelines on factors that do not count as a false accusation, which include:

• A case in which the victim decides not to cooperate with investigators. Victims make such decisions for many reasons (Jordan, 2004; Lea et al., 2003 ).

• A case in which investigators decide that there is insufficient evidence to proceed toward a prosecution. Rape cases, particularly nonstranger cases, are very difficult to investigate and prosecute, and many investigations are aborted because of these difficulties and because of the perception that successful prosecution is unlikely (Clark & Lewis, 1977; Frazier & Haney, 1996; Frohmann, 1991; Spohn, Beichner, & Davis-Frenzel, 2001).

• A case in which the victim appears to make inconsistent statements, or even lies about certain aspects of the incident. Traumatized individuals tend to recall events in a fragmented fashion, which makes apparent inconsistencies likely (Halligan, Michael, Clark, & Ehlers, 2003); victims may well try to hide certain facts, for example, use of an illegal drug or a particularly humiliating act they suffered—out of fear that they will be treated with suspicion or simply because of the intense shame they experience (Jordan, 2004).

• A case in which a victim makes a delayed report of the incident or in which a victim was extremely intoxicated. Delayed reporting is extremely common in rape cases (National Victim Center and the Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center, 1992), and there is evidence that intoxicated individuals are at increased risk of being targeted by sexual predators (Abbey, Zawackia, Buck, Clinton, & McAuslan, 2004; Macy, Nurius, & Norris, 2007; Ullman, 2003).

It’s this last factor that brings up the sexual assault allegations against Michael Shermer in 2014. Now I want to state for the record that I don’t know either Shermer or the alleged victims, so I’m not saying he did it. All I know is what I read online. However, I do think it’s worth pointing out how Richard Dawkins dismissed one of the accusers’ story because she was drunk during the alleged assault. I’m not a law student, so I don’t know if saying you were intoxicated during an alleged assault holds any water in court, but even if she was drunk, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. In fact, to automatically dismiss someone’s story because they were drunk at the time is part of rape culture.

So what can we do to stop this? Here are some tips from the Women’s Center of Marshall University:

  • Avoid using language that objectifies or degrades women

  • Speak out if you hear someone else making an offensive joke or trivializing rape

  • If a friend says she has been raped, take her seriously and be supportive

  • Think critically about the media’s messages about women, men, relationships, and violence

  • Be respectful of others’ physical space even in casual situations

  • Always communicate with sexual partners and do not assume consent

  • Define your own manhood or womanhood.  Do not let stereotypes shape your actions.

  • Get involved! Join a student or community group working to end violence against women.

As I said earlier, this is just a brief introduction to rape culture. There are a lot of statistics and data that I didn’t go over, so if you have any more data, feel free to leave it in the comment section below. But hopefully this blog post helps clear some stuff up.

Why “I’m Not a Feminist, I’m a Humanist” Doesn’t Make Sense

[Image: a white man with his arms across his chest. Text reads, "Feminism is too divisive. I'm a humanist."]

[Image: a white man with his arms across his chest. Text reads, “Feminism is too divisive. I’m a humanist.”]

Here’s another blog post I originally wrote on my old blog. Enjoy!

I don’t watch a lot of Jaclyn Glenn’s videos, but yesterday I was on her channel to see what’s new with her. It seems she’s doing more comedy skits than rant videos these days, which is great because I don’t want to be preached at all the time. One such skit involved her and a few other vloggers sitting around a kitchen table talking about how closed-minded religious people and anti-vaxxers are, but soon turns into an argument how anyone who doesn’t agree with everything they say is a close-minded fool. Overall, it’s a good video about how anyone call fall into the dogmatic “I’m right, you’re wrong, get used to it” trap.

Half-way through the video, though, Glenn says she doesn’t feel comfortable identifying as a feminist because so many radical feminists have ruined the term. She’s made several other videos about she doesn’t like the term “feminist,” even though she definitely supports gender equality. In one video, for example, she said she uses the word “humanist” as a way of saying she’s supports human rights in general.

Glenn can identify however she wants to, so I’m not going to crucify her for not using the label feminist. Neither am I going to stand on my soapbox and rant and rave about how she’s another fedora-wearing Dawkins-wannabe anti-feminist atheist. I’m done with all that name-calling crap, to be honest. It’s emotionally draining, and it makes me look like an asshole.

I do, however, want to bring up this phenomenon of people saying, “I’m not a feminist, I’m a humanist,” and why it doesn’t make any sense.

For starters, “humanist” is more than just an all-inclusive way of saying “feminist/racial justice activist/LGBT rights activist/etc.” In his book Creating Change Through Humanism, Roy Speckhardt defines humanism as “the not so radical idea that you can be good without a belief in a god.” It’s a way of life that looks not towards the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost for truth, meaning, and ethics, but on Facts, Reason, and Compassion. Humanism includes human rights activism, but humanism is more of a worldview than a form of activism.

Second, feminism does not mean hating men. Feminists don’t hate men any more than #BlackLivesMatter activists hate white people. Of course, there are a few radical feminists that hate men. For example, there are trans-exclusive radical feminists (TERFs) who believe transgender women are really men trying to invade women’s spaces in order to hurt women. I don’t want to say they’re “not real feminists” because that’s pulling the No True Scotsman card. Rather, these radical feminists are just shitty feminists who are so blinded by their own dogmatism that they become dangerous extremists. Take it from me; stay the fuck away from them!

But for the most part, feminism is about giving women personal autonomy over their bodies, minds, and lives. It’s about seeing women as complex human beings, not two-dimensional objects. It’s about uprooting sexist ideas embedded in our society—and, thus, changing the system—through education and activism. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

That’s why I don’t understand why some atheists say an atheist cannot be a feminist. Saying feminism is incompatible with atheism is like saying racial justice is incompatible with atheism. Unlike religion, feminism isn’t based on a false claim. Sure, we can argue about certain feminist claims like the wage gap (it’s rather complicated, so I suggest watching Peter Thurston’s videos about it), but sexism still exists in society. Whether it’s women being harassed on the street here in America or women being stoned to death in Saudi Arabia, the idea that women are second-class citizens is deeply embedded into our world, and we need to do something about it.

Plus, saying that feminism isn’t inclusive enough because it focuses on women’s rights is like walking into St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and saying, “Why don’t you treat adults with cancer, too?” The reason why we have St. Jude is because there is a need in America for children with cancer to receive all the medical care they need without parents worrying about payment. It doesn’t mean everyone else with cancer doesn’t matter; it only addresses a need that’s not being met anywhere else. The same goes for feminism, #BlackLivesMatter, queer liberation, and disability justice.

While I still believe people have the right to identify however they want, the phrase “I’m not a feminist, I’m a humanist” doesn’t hold any water. True, there are certain branches of feminism that are not compatible with humanism (see the TERFs I mentioned above). However, fighting sexism and misogyny is not only compatible with humanism, but also essential. As skeptics, we openly criticize bad ideas present in our society—from religious dogma to pseudoscience—so why not openly criticize sexist ideas in our society as well? It only makes sense to me.