Pope does something marginally decent

…and everyone loses their shit.

Of course this news is a bit dated now, and many of you have probably already heard this story:

Using a condom is a lesser evil than transmitting HIV to a sexual partner — male or female —even if that means averting a possible pregnancy, the Vatican said Tuesday, signalling a seismic shift in papal teaching as it further explained Pope Benedict XVI’s comments.

So the Pope has finally hit on the idea that it might be less evil to protect yourself and your sexual partner than it is to have sex without trying to make a baby. A few questions come to mind:

  1. What about papal infallibility? Were you wrong before, or are you wrong now?
  2. How is it that the moral “leadership” provided by the Catholic Church is about 100 years behind everyone else?
  3. How did it take you this long to figure that out?

Life is not a dichotomous state – there is no such thing as ensoulment or some kind of spontaneous creation of “life”. Ever since Friedrich Wöhler first synthesized crystals of urea, a feat that was supposed to be impossible (organic matter from inorganic components), the philosophy of vitalism has been rapidly dismantled. All of the evidence suggests that “life” is a continuum that reaches back millions of years to the first self-replicating molecule, which was itself made up of “non-living” materials.

In this way, wearing a condom is not “preventing life” anymore than masturbation is mass murder. You’re simply inhibiting a specific chemical reaction that will result in a fertilization. To even consider the suffering of a living, feeling human person equivalent to the prevention of a chemical reaction – to even put those things in the same moral ballpark – takes a particularly craven mind.

And so people began bending over backwards to congratulate the Pope on not being entirely boneheadedly evil:

Catholic reformers and groups working to combat HIV have welcomed remarks by Pope Benedict that the use of condoms might not always be wrong.

I’m reminded of a Chris Rock sketch, where he derides some black men for their perceived tendency to brag about things that aren’t accomplishments, like raising their kids and paying their bills. To this completely unwarranted bragging, Rock retorts: “what do you want, a cookie?” Apparently the world is quite willing to hand an abundance of cookies over to the Pope for finally saying something that pretty much everyone else had figured out already.

But hey, at least he figured it out, right?

Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said the Pope was speaking about “an exceptional situation” in one of the interviews in the book Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times, which is being published on Tuesday.

“The Pope considered an exceptional situation in which the exercise of sexuality is a real danger to the life of another,” said Fr Lombardi. Benedict used the specific example of a male prostitute using a condom to illustrate his apparent shift in position.

Come the fuck on, Ratzinger! Condoms are only appropriate in exceptional situations? Apparently in the Pope’s world view, it is better for a woman to become pregnant with a child she does not want and cannot afford to raise than it is for her to protect herself during sex. It’s better for a man to become inextricably yoked to another person for the rest of his life than it is for him to use a piece of latex.

And why is it a male prostitute?

Not all sex results in pregnancy (and I thank my lucky stars for that fact), but there’s always a chance. Many people want to have a child, for whatever reason, and are in a position to provide for it. Using condoms, unlike implants or hormone therapies or other intrusive forms of birth control, do not prevent people who want to have children from doing so. It is a simple technology that harms nobody (unless you count sperm, which I don’t).

Whatever claim to some kind of moral insight or authority that the Catholic Church pretends to have is repeatedly undermined by the ethical stupidity that is repeatedly on display from the Vatican.

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This is NOT free speech

Some people are big fans of invoking ‘the line’ – “free speech is all well and good, but you have to do something when it crosses the line.” So where’s the line? Some of my friends think that the line is here, where free speech can be used to promote racism. Some think it’s here, when it’s used to promote hate. I have consistently said that those are not the line, for reasons that many people don’t agree with. We define racism and hate very poorly, and until someone can show me that criminalizing certain kinds of speech actually decreases hate (instead of just making people feel better), I’m not at all comfortable doing anything more than labeling it and speaking out against it.

There absolutely is a line, however. There is a line when it stops being speech, and starts being violence. There is a difference between criticizing ideas and attacking individuals based on group membership. There is a difference between speaking out against the actions of an individual who is harming someone and encouraging people to harm that individual. Once you are using speech to enact punishment on someone who is different from you, you’ve stepped outside the realm of free speech an into the realm of inciting violence.

Uganda provides us with an excellent illustration of this:

Several people have been attacked in Uganda after a local newspaper published their names and photos, saying they were homosexual, an activist has told the BBC. Frank Mugisha said one woman was almost killed after her neighbours started throwing stones at her house. He said most of those whose names appeared in Uganda’s Rolling Stone paper had been harassed.

Rolling Stone is not criticizing these people for decisions they’ve made. They are not making a political point, or exposing some kind of hypocrisy in elected leaders. They are dangling fresh meat in front of a rabid mob, made ravenous for the blood of gay people by a culture of hatred and persecution.

The excuses that the editor used to attempt to justify the publication are so flimsy as to be offensive:

Giles Muhame, editor of the two-month-old Rolling Stone paper, denied that he had been inciting violence by publishing the names next to a headline which read “Hang them”. He said he was urging the authorities to investigate and prosecute people “recruiting children to homosexuality”, before executing anyone found guilty. He also said he was acting in the public interest, saying Ugandans did not know to what extent homsexuality was “ravaging the moral fabric of our nation”, and he vowed to continue to publish the names and photographs of gay Ugandans.

This is one of the outcomes of the lie that gay people choose to be gay. If the abundance of psychological literature, the narrative of gay people, and simple logic (when did you choose to be straight?) wasn’t enough to put that ridiculous claim to the lie, Uganda is proof that people don’t choose. Why on Earth would anyone choose to be gay in a country where being gay is justification for assault, public exposure, and state-sponsored execution? Anti-gay bigots love to trumpet the “recruitment” canard, trying to make themselves out to be the victims of unjust ideological encroachment (can you say privilege? I knew you could…). Once again, this is confusing the attempt to reduce active hatred and systematic oppression with some kind of “homosexualist agenda” that will make kids gay. This is quite literally a life or death issue for gay people, particularly in Uganda. Nobody is going to be killed or targeted for violence because they don’t like gay people – and I swear right here and right now that if that happens I will be among the first to protest that. The vice, however, is not versa.

I can’t think of anything else to write. This newspaper disgusts me. That whole country disgusts me right now.

Here’s a picture of an otter:

She looks a bit disgusted too.

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Move Friday: Joel Burns says it gets better

Last week’s edition of Movie Friday was a sort of tongue-in-cheek joke about the ridiculousness anti-gay propaganda. In my zeal to mock those who would promote such a ludicrously false message, I glossed over the fact that those kinds of things are serious. There are actually people who honestly believe that gay people are abominations in the eyes of YahwAlladdha, or even divorced from religion that they deserve to be mocked, bullied, tormented, tortured, and even killed. The milder form of this idiocy comes in the form of invoking “natural law” as some kind of justification for labeling homosexuality as a “sin” – or saying that gays and lesbians are “going against nature”.

If you’re reading this on a computer, you’re going against nature. If you’re clothed while doing it, you’re going against nature twice. If you’re indoors, you’re going against nature. Basically every activity you’ve done today aside from eating and pooping is a violation of “natural law”. The three examples listed above are things that no species in nature does, save homo sapiens. Interestingly, homosexual sexual activity is not unique to our species, but again the use of facts is of limited use when confronting ideologically-based bigotry.

There has been a great deal of recent attention paid to the rash of suicides committed by gay kids as the result of bullying. Of course, this phenomenon is not new, it’s just a statistical cluster that is grabbing people’s interest. Religious groups of various affiliations have been falling all over themselves to try and claim that they had nothing to do with it. Because, you see, Jesus is about loving the sinner, but hating the sin. Here’s the problem with that assertion: defining someone’s existence as a sin is hate. Plain and simple – you call being gay a sin, that’s a statement of hate. The predictable response to that argument is that being gay isn’t a sin, only engaging in gay actions. Basically, the solution is to just stop being so damn gay. An absolutely ridiculous position that forces people to deny who they are, and suppress what actually does come naturally to them.

I could go on like this for a long time, but this is Movie Friday, and you came here to see a video, so here it is:

Dan Savage, a popular queer columnist created this video and the associated campaign to tell gay kids that while life might be unbelievably tough, things get better. As you get older, you will be able to leave behind the small minds and idiocy of your family, or your school, or your church, or your community and find some solace and acceptance.

Predictably, this campaign has caught on like wildfire and people have recorded their own videos in solidarity. I found this one particularly moving, from city councilman Joel Burns from Fort Worth, TX:

What’s interesting about both of these stories is that although complaints were made to the appropriate places, nothing was done to stop the bullying. Basically, if you act gay, then you’re the legitimate target of violence. That’s how hate works. People may not actively seek out and beat up gay kids, but they contribute to a culture that tolerates those who do. These religious groups who said that it wasn’t their fault are missing the whole point – you grant implicit license to those who commit atrocities by preaching the nonsense that fuels the hate.

Anyway, this will have to be the subject of a subsequent post (or many), as it is already toooooo loooooong. Enjoy the videos.

Phillipine sexy-time for Catholic Church

There is a fundamental issue I have discovered (in my many many years of life :P) when it comes to resolving an argument. There are often ideological positions on both sides. Some of them are logically flawed from the start, and such flaws can be pointed out easily. Other times they boil down to differences in value judgments – for example, I place a higher value on the utility and efficiency of social programs than I do on the slight amount that my privacy is compromised by the census. Others clearly do not. These kinds of arguments are intractable, since they boil down to what a person thinks is important, and the best you can hope for is to find some common ground.

However, more often than not, disagreements boil down to conflicts that can be resolved by simply looking at data. Will raising taxes on cigarettes reduce use? Does capital punishment work as a crime deterrent? Do people become happier with more money in their pocket? Those are questions that are about observable, measurable phenomena, and we can (and have) evaluate them.

Same goes for “does sex education lead to promiscuity?” The evidence is very clear: again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again the literature is explicit that sex education programs are effective at imparting useful and valuable knowledge about sex and reproduction, without turning kids into bang-happy sluts (any more than they were when they started, at least). Comprehensive programs on safe sex actually seem to, paradoxically, reduce the rate at which kids have sex – at the very worst they are no more likely to have sex when armed with information.

(Click for full-sized image)

It seems painfully obvious in this case that a simple, cursory glance at the mountains of evidence would be enough to settle the debate. We may not like our kids having sex, but teaching them about it doesn’t make them more likely to do it, it just means they’re more likely to do it safely if and when they do.

But of course, if you want to strip reason, logic and evidence right out the argument, all you have to do is talk to the Catholic Church:

In the Philippines, a conservative, predominantly Catholic country, even older students learn little about how to make babies, or – of more urgency according to many officials and health workers – how to prevent making babies. But despite stiff opposition from the Catholic Church, this could be about to change.

In yet another example of religion’s pre-occupation with sex; ironic, since all of these bishops and priests are celibate, the Church has taken up the cause against teaching kids things. Knowing things leads, as everyone knows, to doing things. The first thing I did when I learned about particle physics, after all, was go out and build a nuclear bomb (I named it ‘Shroom’). It’s no surprise to me, having been raised Catholic, to see the Church be wrong, yet again, both in terms of public policy and science. What does surprise me, however, is the secular response. Similar to what took place in Argentina and Venezuela, the secular authority is telling the Church to go anoint itself:

Recently, the education department decided to launch a pilot scheme introducing sex education into the school curriculum from the ages of 11 onwards. The former education secretary, Mona Valisno, who has just left office because of a change of government, spearheaded the campaign, saying it would empower schoolchildren to “make informed choices and decisions”.

Sadly, the Whore of Babylon still has some power to exert over lawmakers:

According to Mrs Valisno, there will be no mention of abortion, or even contraception, during any of the new lessons. She said the scheme was not designed to emphasise the actual sex act, but to promote personal hygiene and interpersonal relationships.

This is doing no favours at all for the poor in the Phillipines, who are the most in need of real instruction. I have no doubt that when the program, with all of the useful information taken out of it, fails to reduce unwanted pregnancies and STIs, the Church will crow about how education doesn’t work.

“Children are fragile creatures. The [education] department should be very, very careful not to teach children about matters they will imitate the following day,” said Monsignor Pedro Quitorio, a spokesman for the highly influential Catholic Bishops Conference.

The shocking hypocrisy and complete lack of human decency inherent in a Catholic spokesperson arguing to protect the fragility of childhood leaves me cold. The stupidity of not wanting children to imitate the positive things they learn in school about protecting themselves from disease and unwanted pregnancy leaves me wondering why anyone with any kind of moral instinct would listen to a single word this organization has to say about values.

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Everybody must get stoned!

Aaaaand we’re back to Iran:

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a mother of two, faces imminent death by stoning after her appeals for clemency were denied. Ms Ashtiani had already been punished with flogging for what a court called an “illicit relationship”, when she was then charged with committing adultery.

The death penalty under any form is bad enough, but stoning? As if living in a theocracy wasn’t bad enough, if you step out of line you might get bludgeoned to death with stones for having a boyfriend after your husband dies – or at least being accused of doing so. There is a debate in many cases like this (particularly with ‘honour killings’ and homophobia laws) that what we’re talking about is a secular issue dressed up in religious clothing. We can put such debate aside in this case:

Under Iran’s strict interpretation of Islamic law, sex before marriage is punishable by 100 lashes, but married offenders are sentenced to death by stoning. The stones used must be large enough to cause the condemned pain, but not sufficient to kill immediately (emphasis mine).

(Gotta love religious rules. Not only do they specify the way in which a person must be executed, but they ensure the maximum amount of suffering possible. It takes a certain license for unabashed cruelty to write something like that into law, and only religious justification allows such license.)

That should be the first clue that your society is morally bankrupt: you must find a way to kill people for having sex, and in such a way as to cause them the maximum possible discomfort before they die. This is the reason the West cringes when Iran announces it intends to develop nuclear weapons. It’s not simple arrogance on behalf of the imperial powers, as many of my arch-liberal brethren like to claim. It’s not just that we want to keep ‘the club’ small or that Iran is a threat to American dominance – this is a country of people who murder people with stones for the crime of having sex. They’ve already demonstrated that they have the desire – what happens when they have the means to punish the entire world for its “sins”?

The government did a quick back-pedal after overwhelming condemnation from the international community (gotta love peer pressure) and said that the woman would not be stoned to death, but refused to specify whether or not her death sentence had been commuted. To be fair, apparently stoning is a rare punishment meted out to only the most deserving. Clearly, a woman who tried to move on after her husband died, was arrested, whipped and tortured into confessing crimes she now denies is an exemplar of those most deserving.

The tiiiiiimes they are a-changin’!

The 20th century, which saw some of the worst atrocities in the history of the world, also saw some of the greatest social victories. India accomplished its independence from Britain after a long and bloody struggle. A world was spurred to action to halt a racist and homicidal military political machine. Here in North America we saw the women’s suffrage movement finally force the establishment to officially recognize the fact that women are people, not property. Similarly, we saw many major battles won for black civil rights in North America, particularly in the United States, but also right here at home.

The latest battle seems to be the fight for gay rights. As LGBT people struggle to establish equal treatments and protections, the social zeitgeist seems to be moving in their favour. For example, this was front page news a couple weeks ago:

Vancouver Police announced charges Thursday against four men in two separate attacks on gays in Vancouver’s downtown core in recent weeks. Both attacks are being investigated as possible hate crimes, Const. Jana McGuinness said.

The fact that Vancouver has hate crimes is not exactly news, but the part that amazed me is not only that the arrests made front-page news, but how the police were able to apprehend the suspects so quickly:

In the Holtzman-Regier case, McGuinness said police got many tips from the public, especially after video footage of the suspects was released June 18. “It is so important that people get on the phone immediately and report these crimes to police,” she said. “The arrests are coming because we are getting the support and help of the public and we have victims who are willing to report these crimes.”

It seems that the days of victims of assault actually being victims is numbered. So too are the days when the public is willing to tolerate hate-motivated crimes against homosexuals. People are not content to perpetuate the status quo of systemic prejudice against this group of people (and, I hope, any group of people).

The part that I’m not wild about is the fact that the homophobic comments the attackers made can be admitted into court as aggravating factors, possibly netting a longer sentence. Similar to hate speech, I worry about hate crime legislation. I can almost understand the need to provide additional protection to groups that are particularly vulnerable to attack, but I am not a fan of legislating peoples’ feelings. If someone can show me data that hate crime legislation acts as an effective deterrent against assault, I’ll happily sign on; however, if they’re just a feel-good way to give longer prison terms to people whose views we don’t like then I have a big problem with that.

But yes, the social landscape appears to be becoming more equal. At least, if the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court is to be believed:

Two gay men who said they faced persecution in their home countries have the right to asylum in the UK, the Supreme Court has ruled. The panel of judges said it had agreed “unanimously” to allow the appeals from the men, from Cameroon and Iran.

The two men had to appeal their initial decision to the Supreme Court, because the initial ruling they received was that they wouldn’t face persecution if only they’d stop being so gay. Like, seriously guys. Why can’t you just hide your gayness in some kind of… enclosed space? Maybe like a bedroom? No, bedrooms are too big, and they have windows so people might be able to see. Maybe something smaller… with no windows… what could that be?

To my pleased shock and amazement, the presiding judge wrote a decision that I think will become a landmark in the gay rights struggle in the same way that Brown v. Board of Education is for the black civil rights movement:

Lord Hope, who read out the judgement, said: “To compel a homosexual person to pretend that his sexuality does not exist or suppress the behaviour by which to manifest itself is to deny his fundamental right to be who he is. Homosexuals are as much entitled to freedom of association with others who are of the same sexual orientation as people who are straight.”

That’s what equal rights means. Sadly, the government of Cameroon doesn’t seem to get that. If two straight people are allowed to walk down the street holding hands, or smooch on a sidewalk, or any number of things that couples like to do, then passing a set of laws forbidding gay people from doing those same behaviours is persecution. Saying that it’s only okay as long as you don’t get caught is ludicrous hypocrisy – akin to those people here in North America who complain about a gay agenda to ‘turn kids all queermosexual’, and that if they just stopped being so… well so gay all the time then they’d be safe from persecution. The problem isn’t with gay couples, the problem is with anyone who thinks that the rest of the world must conform to private bigotry.

Iran: equal opportunity oppressors

As you’ll see this week, I am at times very lucky to have a handful of countries, without whom my job would be a lot more difficult and would require me to actually WORK to produce material, rather than just commenting on stories in the news.

But, luckily for me, Iran is still going strong:

The imposition of headscarves is deeply resented by more liberal-minded women. Now the government is tightening up on men’s hair as well. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has published a guide to men’s hairstyles. Short, neat hair is approved; ponytails are definitely not.

You’ve got to hand it to religious authorities: they are consistent in their stupidity. After passing laws essentially requiring women to dress like the Paper Bag Princess, they decided that strictly controlling only half of their population wasn’t quite enough. After all, as everyone knows, haircuts lead to talking, talking leads to dancing, dancing leads to touching, and touching leads to earthquakes.

I am reminded of a fantastic ditty from the musical Hair:

The bizarre twist of this whole thing is that this abject moronity is not coming from the government:

Strangely, it is the hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has been arguing that it is not the government’s job to crack down on people’s style of dress. For this he has been criticised by various conservative ayatollahs and politicians, who thunder against “naked’ or “half-naked” women roaming the streets. Their version of naked usually means a headscarf slightly out of place.

I lived in Toronto around the time that a law was passed permitting women to be topless at beaches. We could have had literally half-naked women roaming the streets. Do you know what happened? You guessed it – not a hell of a lot. Some women went topless, most didn’t. Now and then when you go to the beach, you might spot an uncovered boob… no big deal. Strangely enough, like prohibition of alcohol, the more illicit and forbidden you make sex, the more alluring it becomes. Iran is spiralling into itself in its own obsession with sex.

I’ve written before about religion’s strange sexual fetish. Sex is part of the human experience – it’s a thing that we do. We are fortunate enough to be smart enough that we can have sex essentially whenever we want, and if we take the proper precautions it can be virtually risk-free. Provided that both parties (or all of the parties… whatever lifts your luggage) are consenting (and capable of consent, obviously) then we should feel free to boink the night away. Religion doesn’t like that – it wants control over every aspect of our lives: our thoughts, our actions, and even our most private moments with those we love (or those we’ll love until the sun comes up). At least the religious authorities in Iran aren’t simply picking on the women anymore. That’s equality!

A remarkable article

Continuing with today’s theme, Brian has shared with me a fantastic article about the abduction, rape and subjugation of women in Ethiopia.

Nurame was in her bed when she was woken by an angry mêlée. In her family’s hut there were grown men – an incredible number, 10 or more, all in their 30s, all standing over her father, shouting. They reached for her. At night here, where there is no electricity, perfect darkness falls, and everything becomes a shadow-play of barely visible flickers. But even though she was eight years old, she suspected at once what was happening. She had heard whispers that, when a girl is considered ready for marriage, a man will seize her, and rape her, and then she must serve him for the rest of her life.

This practice has apparently (it is news to me) become endemic in Ethiopia. I spoke at length in a previous post about my feelings on female genital mutilation, and the systematic brutalization of women that happens all around the world. This article puts these atrocities into perspective, and profiles the exploits of a particularly impressive woman who has become the face of the rebellion against this practice:

When [Boge] was told this was her culture and she had to accept it, she found the argument ridiculous. “I thought – how can this be my culture, if it kills me?” she says, leaning forward. “What is culture? It is something that is constantly changing. In Europe, you burned witches. That culture changed. Every woman has a sense of her own dignity. I knew I was not a cow, a chattel, and I did not want to be treated like one. No woman wants to be abducted or cut up. This is true whatever your culture. Culture is not stagnant – it is transient.”

It makes me incredibly happy to see people reject the arch-liberal excuse of “that’s just how they do things in their culture.” It’s a pernicious lie that permits the continuation of horrible and terrifying practices all over the world.

Interestingly, the article also spends a good deal of time talking to the men, and getting their perspective:

When Boge first arrived in this area, he was sceptical. Why are these women trying to change the way things have worked here for as long as anyone can remember? What good can come of it? “I went to see the video of the circumcision taking place, and I was shocked. I didn’t know it was so violent, so bloody. That was the first time I began to think,” he says, lighting a cigarette. His wife – who was only 16 when she was seized – began to attend the KMG meetings and talk about the feelings she had long interred.

These are not bad people, these are regular people seized by a bad idea. Like pseudoscience, or religion, or any other number of bad ideas, they can be challenged and people can be convinced to abandon them. Will everyone abandon the bad ideas? Certainly not. But if enough people do, it can affect a sea change that reaches out and affects the entire society. That’s the way we have to do things in any culture I want to be a part of.

Do yourself a favour, read the whole thing.

Sexism? Only if you… y’know… LOOK for it

A friend of mine sent me a newspaper article that made my heart hurt:

A young black woman working in the medical imaging department at Toronto Western Hospital was sexually harassed and the object of racial taunts in what a hospital investigation concluded was a “poisoned work environment.”

There are three things you should know to put this story in context. The first is that Toronto is the most ethnically diverse city in Canada, and one of the most in the world (more so than Miami, Los Angeles or New York City), having a black population of about 350,000 people (7% of the total metro population). The second is that members of ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented at the lower levels of health care hierarchy (orderlies, custodial workers, nursing assistants) but are underrepresented at the higher levels (doctors, RNs, managers). The third is that while women far and away receive more undergraduate degrees in health-related professions than men do, this trend all but disappears at the graduate and professional level (while this seems to be changing, it is depressingly going in the favour of the opposite gender gap, which is no better). This information is relevant because a black woman who had the education and drive to gain the training required to be a medical imaging technologist is both remarkable and significantly important to a hospital in Toronto.

Instead of recognizing this, Toronto Western Hospital subjected Stacey Walker to months of both racial and sexual harassment, then ignored her complaints for 16 months.

I am sensitive to the fact that there is a significant grey area when it comes to what is and is not acceptable banter in the workplace. I received a text message joke from a friend, and as I was sharing it with the guy I share my desk with, I realized how incredibly sexist it was. Most of the people I work with are women, and my voice isn’t exactly quiet. While it wasn’t an overt kind of sexism, it was still not cool (although it was pretty funny). It can be tough to know where the line is. It is for that reason that there are procedures in place at any workplace to report incidents of sexual harassment and racial insensitivity – they protect both the (hopefully naive) perpetrators and the victims. However, when such reports are ignored, it is strongly indicative of a systemic environment of sexism and racism. The managers may not do it, but they tolerate it.

Of course, the immediate reaction is to blame the victim:

According to the report, the senior technologist admitted to conduct the investigators deemed was sexual harassment. The technologist is quoted in the report describing Walker as a “very troubled, insecure individual” who has “mental issues.”

‘Well sure, I did it, but it was that bitch’s fault for being so crazy!’ It doesn’t matter if she has “mental issues” (read: a uterus) or not, you violated policy, ignored warnings, and behaved not only inappropriately, but in such a way as to compromise her job performance and the safety of her patients. The fact that this kind of effect isn’t obvious to this man is strongly indicative of the power imbalance present in the hospital – it is not just an isolated incident.

As I’ve said before, when a culture of racism (or sexism, in this case) is allowed to propagate by simply masking it and pretending it isn’t there, there will be periodic incidents that are indicative of the real underlying problem. You can’t substitute cologne for bathing, and you can’t substitute “I’m not racist” or “I’m not sexist” for actual progress.

There’s a group of women in India who seem to have the right idea:

Scores of young girls and women applaud the display, and then learn for themselves how to fight back against “eve-teasing” — the south Asian term for sexual harassment in public places. Women across India are often victims of provocative remarks, aggressive male posturing and even physical assaults such as groping on the street and in crowded buses and trains.

In an attempt to combat both the perpetrators of harassment and the underlying culture that seems to permit men to objectify and systematically exploit women, Radha Sharma is instructing women in self-defense. The offshoot of knowing how to fight back is that you internalize the idea that you can fight back, and that it is not all right to allow bullies to have their way. Considering a recent case in which the suicide of a Bangladeshi girl was directly linked to this “Eve teasing” (what a disgustingly euphemistic term for such a horrible practice), such an approach is timely. It’s somewhat more socially effective than a rape-deterring program in South Africa, in which women wear condoms with spiked teeth inside their vaginas (sort of like the “bait car” idea except it maims your penis).

The way to combat sexism and racism is exactly what these Indian women and Ms. Walker have done – talk about it. Don’t stop talking about it until changes are made. Don’t stop fighting until the problem is solved. Don’t simply go along with the crowd, or accept vague promises in lieu of action. Don’t buy the lie that since most people are good, we should pat ourselves on the back and pretend the problem isn’t there. It takes consistent and assertive action to make social changes, but it is definitely possible.