Monday, August 27, 2012

Belaboring the obvious

Just a follow-up thought on my last post-- you know, even if everyone's personality matched their appearance exactly, and all beautiful people were good and wise while all ugly people were stupid and nasty, that wouldn't justify being anti-feminist. Being good, wise, and beautiful all at the same time doesn't make a person any more likely to appreciate being treated as though because she is also female, her primary job is to be sexy. Indeed, I think we could safely say that the more virtuous and intelligent she is, the more likely she would be to resent this.

Greta Christina made a post yesterday that could hardly be more illustrative of the futility of making being sexy the primary goal of your life. Someone actually posted on her blog that he couldn't take her seriously because she once posed nude for a calendar. He said that made her a whore, and he "separates whores from women I take seriously." And he said this while freely acknowledging that he had masturbated to the image of her. Now, Greta Christina is a lesbian, so I think she could hardly give less of a damn about whether any man got off looking at her naked. But this particular man made it very clear-- because he found her sexually desireable, enough to masturbate to, that makes her a "whore" and her thoughts not deserving of any regard.

You sort of have to be happy when people admit that they think this way, because it's like waving a nice bedsheet-sized red flag letting you know to give them a wide berth (because, as we know, a person's appearance does not tell you his/her character, or every man who thinks this way would resemble an upright warthog). Literally-- I'd like to be aware of this person while walking down the street, so that I could cross to the other side if I saw him coming. I'd like him to move to some other country, actually, such a perhaps Saudi Arabia where it's acceptable to believe that men wanting to have sex with women is a flaw of womankind, permissable grounds for viewing them as lesser. But actually that's not a good idea, because Saudi Arabia has enough people who think that way. I wouldn't want to inflict any more upon the women who live there.

Greta Christina has balls of steel, by the way. I really should use a more appropriate expression, but that's the one that evokes the proper reverence. There are all kinds of reasons to admire her, but that nude pic in particular is a reason to give respect, not deny it. Because she had to know that it would mean a future of periodically encountering douchebags like that guy, and she did it anyway.

And again, the fact that he found her photo arousing is only significant in that it conveys the fact that being arousing to someone does not earn his respect. Once that is understood, there's an enormous freedom and power to be found in not seeking it.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Thanks for the confirmation

So you may remember a couple of weeks ago when I wrote about a particularly ridiculous blog post which claimed that the popularity of the GIF of Australian hurdler Michelle Jenneke doing a little warm-up dance before competing was due to the fact that men-- in general, men-- do not love feminists. How did the author of this post, Matt Forney, know this? Well, because he could see that Jenneke is a) attractive, b) apparently happy, and c) has accomplished something, all of which together indicate that she is the very opposite of a feminist. Because feminists are ugly, miserable, and do nothing aside from bitch.

I was very careful in my reply to note that there is absolutely nothing wrong with finding Jenneke attractive, but that my suspicion is that men do not, in fact, "love" her-- that contrary to Forney's suggestion, men who drool over Jenneke do not do so to the exclusion of enjoying porn, and almost certainly have not given up even a moment of porn viewing fun in favor of watching Jenneke bounce around suggestively-yet-innocently. They simply added it to their stable of wank material, alongside that GIF from several years ago but still going strong, French singer Alizee frozen in a single arousing dance move. And she (Jenneke, but also Alizee actually) achieved such status not because an ideological objection to the Bechdel test or a refusal to support the establishment of sexual harassment policies at conferences came shining through to all viewers of a four second GIF, but because because that GIF gets them hot. It's as simple as that.

After noticing a number of hits here that came from Forney's blog, I returned to see that he had written a follow-up post which talked about my post. Want to guess what it said? I'll make it a multiple choice question:

A. You know what? I am actually reading too much into this, and should go with the simplest explanation rather than making other men's attraction all about my particular ideological agenda.

B. You know what? I don't think I was given a fair shake-- there are actually differences in the appearance of feminists vs. non or anti-feminists, and while I didn't go to much trouble to articulate these or why they should exist, that's a factor that should be taken into account here.

C. You know what? It's really weird that I didn't bother to make any distinction between "attractive" and "attractive to me," since I can only speak for myself, and since (as with everybody, whether they admit it or not) my own perception of what I consider attractive is shaped by my ideological convictions.

D. You know what? Gretchen's ugly. And probably autistic.

I'll give you a moment to think before answering.

Done? Yeah, I didn't think it would take long. The answer is....D!
The idea that feminists/MRAs might be socially retarded first came to me when I read this feminist response to my Michelle Jenneke post. In particular, it was this passage that lit me up:
The best thing about this long discussion of how feminine, how confident, how accomplished, and how generally wonderful Jenneke is, is that Forney has no idea whatsoever if anything he’s saying about her character is true. All he knows, based on this commentary, is that she’s an athlete who looks graceful and happy. That’s it. Oh, and that she’s hot. [...]
Now, in a strict sense, she is right: I’ll likely never meet Jenneke and thus I’ll never get to find out what she’s like. But she’s really pulling the tired “you can’t judge a book by its cover” line that fatties, uggos and other weirdos use to defend themselves. At our deepest levels, we all know it’s bullshit: a person’s outward appearance is a reflection of their soul in nine out of ten cases. A well-dressed businessman, a filthy bum, a scantily-clad woman; if you use your instincts to make snap judgments of people according to their appearance, you’ll be on the money most of the time. 
What got me thinking is that feminists may not simply be using that line as a defense mechanism: it might be that they legitimately can’t tell what people are like from looking at them. One of the defining characteristics—hell, the defining characteristic—of autism and Asperger’s is an inability to understand social cues. When Gretchen Koch watches that video of Michelle Jenneke’s “sexy” dancing, it may be that she honestly cannot read the social cues that Jenneke is inadvertently telegraphing through her behavior, cues that I and millions of socially adjusted men instinctively pick up on. 
To further drive the point home, Koch has a picture of herself on her blog’s sidebar. There are no good-looking feminists for a reason: when was the last time you met a good-looking person with autism?
Actually if you read through the literature, one of the oft-repeated descriptions of people on the autism spectrum is that they are unusually attractive. Something to keep in mind there is that autism is primarily a disorder of the male brain, and by that I mean both that it predominates in males and that it in females, it tends to make their brains more masculine, that is to say their minds are more focused on structures and organization and less on empathizing with other people (Simon Baron-Cohen writes about this extensively in his book The Essential Difference). Bear in mind that this attractiveness is a description of observers of people on the autism spectrum and seems to reflect a trait that people with autism have naturally, through no deliberate actions of their own. So if Forney doesn't find people with autism attractive (something I'll posit even though it's a stretch to assume that Forney has actually seen many people on the spectrum), it's quite possibly because a) most of them are male, and b) they are not as likely, male or female, to care about their appearance.

But they generally care somewhat. It's fair to say that most of us-- autistic or not, feminist or not-- care about our appearances. Asexuals, who have no interest in sex with either gender, and ascetics, who have given up sex in favor of celibacy, probably are the most likely to not give the slightest damn whether someone finds them attractive. But the rest of us do, to varying degrees. We all have our particular limits for what we're willing to do-- the energy we're prepared to exert, the money we're prepared to spend, the pain we're willing to endure-- in order to appear sexually attractive, and some people's limits are higher than others.

This may be because they want to be attractive more than others do, but it also may be because they just enjoy being sexy. Don't ask a man driving a Maserati to quantify how much he's doing it for it his own pleasure, and how much he's doing it to attract smokin' hot chicks. Don't ask a woman wearing five inch heels how much of it is because she just loves looking smokin' hot, and how much she's doing it to attract the guy who drives the Maserati. For both of them it will be a blend of the two, and neither one is doing anything wrong. Here's an important point, though-- the guy not driving the Maserati and the lady not wearing the five inch heels? Also not doing anything wrong. Maybe he's poor and she has ankle problems, maybe both of them just don't get enough pleasure out of doing those things to make it worth it to them. It's probably true that if you're a feminist, doing things that make you more conventionally attractive to men are not going to be as important to you, especially if they require exertion or expenditure. This is because feminists, as I will loosely define them for the purposes of this post, are people who believe that women don't exist for men. That their greatest ambition in life does not lie (ultimately) in their reproductive potential, or (proximately) their sexual appeal. Misogynists are people who do think in these terms, consciously or unconsciously-- men who think the most important thing about a woman is whether she is sexually appealing to him constitute the lion's share, but men and woman who see life as primarily about making babies, above and beyond what the woman involved wants for herself, also count.

I care about being perceived as attractive. Feminists generally care about being perceived as attractive. We just don't see it as the end-all and be-all of our existence, or in the case of male feminists they don't see it as the end-all and be-all of womens' existence.

Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls recently blogged in response to a journalist claiming that she's either a non-feminist or a bad feminist because she was observed "cooing and gazing adoringly" at her "bestselling fantasy author husband [Neil Gaiman] for two hours in public." As you might guess, Palmer was not pleased. She wrote
i’m not even sure what the journalist MEANT by this statement. did he mean “real feminists shouldn’t show open affection for their husbands?” or did he mean something else? the fact that i’m “internationally adored” and neil is “bestselling” seems to be part of the point he’s making, but….what’s the point? that if i were a real feminist i’d stand there screaming “I KNOW YOU THINK YOU’RE HOT SHIT, GAIMAN, WITH YOUR BEST-SELLING MAN-PENNED NOVELS AND ALL THAT CRAP, BUT I AM FAMOUS CABARET WOMAN! FUCK YOU MAN! I ALSO MAKE AN INCOME! I STAND HERE, EQUAL TO YOU, AND SHOWING YOU AFFECTION WOULD CLEARLY BE A SIGN THAT I KNOW I BELONG TO THE WEAKER SEX.” 
what? . . .
as far as i’m concerned, the most powerful feminist can do WHATEVER SHE WANTS.
this includes: wearing heels, wearing combat boots, wearing nothing, sporting lipstick, shaving, not shaving, waxing, not waxing, being political, being apolitical, having a job, being homeless, gazing at men, gazing at women, gazing at porn of all sorts, glamming up like a drag queen, going in man-drag, being in a five-way polyamorous relationship, being childless, being a stay-at-home parent, being single, having a wife, having a husband, and gazing/cooing adoringly at those wives or husbands anywhere they fucking choose, including elevators, restaurants, puppet shows (well, maybe keep it g-rated if there are small children present), ….or on theatrical stages at fringe festivals. are we getting the picture here?? the most powerful feminist can do WHATEVER SHE WANTS. the minute you believe you’re a “bad feminist” because you said the wrong thing/wore the wrong thing/got married/chose to have children…or otherwise broke some unspecified ”code of feminism”: DON’T BUY IT. THERE ISN’T ONE. you can do ANYTHING YOU WANT. ANYTHING. THAT’S THE POINT.
Indeed. If feminism is fundamentally about empowering women, then it's about empowering them to act, look, and think however they want. "Including anti-feminism?" my interlocutor would obviously ask here. Yes, although of course what that person is doing should be allowed by feminism, but not called feminism. As a free speech proponent I am occasionally accused of being (for example) racist because I advocate for the freedom of people to say racist things. I endorse the freedom, not what people might choose to do with the freedom. Likewise if feminism endorses freedom for women to make their own choices, it must do so in spite of not necessarily approving of those choices. The behavior of any individual within a group cannot be perceived as justifying stereotypes of that group-- not if you agree that individuals are free to behave as they choose, and stereotypes are an error, an instance of sloppy thinking imposed on those individuals by virtue of their membership in that group.

It's not clear whether Forney thinks I'm ugly because I fit his stereotype of a feminist, or whether because I'm a feminist he has decided that I'm ugly. But the good news is, it doesn't matter because it's irrelevant. As irrelevant as Forney's own appearance (albeit ironic, in the sense of Rush Limbaugh calling someone fat).

I don't have to agree that a person's appearance tells you everything about them in order for it to tell you some things about them, and being unwilling to declare that the "some things" includes her position on whether being sexually attractive to men is a foremost concern in her life does not make a person autistic. It make them honest. Of course we women know that it's hard to parse whether a particular guy is being a disrespectful asshole because he genuinely thinks that our sexual attractiveness and availability is the most important thing about us, or if he's just... you know, a disrespectful asshole. And there's no particular incentive to discern the ultimate truth-- we just want him to go away. And sometimes, on the basis of such behavior, women are known to make grossly prejudiced statements about all mankind, which is wrong. Equally as wrong as it is for men to do the same. But nowhere near as wrong, I think, as treating a woman as though she only matters insofar as her sexual attractiveness and availability to you, and then when she (quite naturally and rightly) reacts badly to this, expand that judgment to feminists in general.

Which is, I can't help but guess, precisely what happened here.

In her #mencallmethings posts in which she catalogs the various epithets and threats used against her, Greta Christina generally takes great care to suggest that her readers not bother reassuring her that she is actually a physically attractive person, because that amounts to buying into the myth that her appearance is more important than what she's actually saying. That's an admirable position to take, because it means voluntarily giving up the warm fuzzies she might get from people saying "You're actually beautiful!" in favor of pressing home the point that an ad hominem fallacy is always an ad hominem fallacy. Attacking the person rather than their position is always a non-argument, even if the person is female and even if the topic is feminism. Yes, really.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Review: Hope Springs

I went to see Hope Springs this afternoon with my mother, who has been married to my father 44 years. Kay and Arnold, Meryl Streep's and Tommy Lee Jones' characters respectively, have only been married for 31 years, a fact which Arnold slings around throughout the film in order to justify his opinion that nothing's wrong with his marriage.

If you've seen the previews, you know why-- as could be expected without seeing the previews, he is the unwilling half of the couple. He is, frankly, an asshole. Not a charming curmudgeon, though the packed audience (we'd intended to see the film earlier in the day, but that showing was sold out) with a mean age of about 50 years laughed at his antics in shock that he could be that much of a...well, asshole. And Kay is a smiling doormat of a wife, before she decides to fund a trip to Maine with her own money so that the two of them can go through "intensive" marriage counseling with Steve Carell's character, Dr. Feld. And then she actually returns to doormat status for a good portion of the film after that.

Also as you might expect, it's a tough job to condense a "we have to fix our marriage" story into 100 minutes and the movie does fail at that, although Streep, Jones, and Carell do so well in their roles that you almost don't care. I am rather bitter about a couple of fully clothed sex scenes-- not that I wanted to see a full-on nude sex scene while sitting right next to my mother, but because it reeked of "We don't trust our audience not to be grossed out by showing people older than 40 or so having sex." This is a movie with extensive conversation between those people about sex, but apparently including so much as fallen trousers on Jones or bare shoulders on Streep would be just too squicky. That actually means that the sex scenes are no less uncomfortable in the way that sex scenes can be uncomfortable; they just come accompanied by the bizarre conclusion that the reason the sexual aspect of Kay and Arnold's marriage has been so abysmal might just be that they insist on all sexual activity be performed while covered well enough to gain admittance to a Hasidic business in Brooklyn.

I'd gone into the movie thinking that Steve Carell would be playing the marriage counselor comically, and was very glad to find that wasn't the case. When Arnold makes fun of him late in the move by impersonating him, it's difficult to tell at first who he is pretending to be and what he's trying to mock...but that gives you a further indication of Arnold's character, which is a refreshing change from the "severely grumpy for no apparent reason" state that he inhabits for most of the film. Don't get me wrong; Jones is excellent at that...I just wish he'd been given more to do, more evident motivation for what he does. Really that's a small quibble, but it does make Kay's dogged devotion to him seem mysterious. The power imbalance that exists between them when this story begins clearly wasn't there when the relationship began and the interactions between Kay and Arnold don't really explain it, though they do focus a spotlight on various places along the way where things went wrong, where one party didn't make his/her intentions and devotion clear to the other, with unfortunate consequences to come.

In that regard, Kay and Arnold's relationship is quite generic-- their problems are commonplace, even old-fashioned. When "forced intimacy" (Arnold's term) is prescribed by their counselor, they are more awkward than the most unpracticed couple of teenagers, which is hard to believe even of a husband and wife who have slept in separate bedrooms for years. Most of the audience laughed at these instances, a blend of humor and sympathy, but not too much empathy I would guess. The score is cloying and at times very heavy-handed, but it certainly does its job. All of the supporting actors are wonderful-- and all are given names and categorizations even if those things are never stated in the film. Elizabeth Shue is Karen, The Bartender. Ann Harada is Ann, The Happy Wife. Damian Young is Mike, The Innkeeper. And so on.

In sum? I'd say-- see it, with your parent(s). Or with your children, depending. It might not be the most original of stories, but that could actually be a strength given how expertly it is told. See it, if you're older and married or ever plan on being so. It's a view on life that is worth gazing through, especially if it has never occurred to you to do so before. As Arnold notes at one point, a lot of things change in a relationship over time. New elements arise, and others disappear. This movie is a reminder to pay attention.

How not to be creepy

I listened today to the inaugural episode of the podcast for one of my favorite blogs, Dr. Nerdlove. The podcast is called Paging Dr. Nerdlove, hosted by Harris O'Malley, and the first episode is about how to avoid coming off as creepy when meeting new people-- specifically, how nerdy males can avoid creeping out females they meet, for example at Dragon Con, PAX, Comic-Con, or other nerdy gathering.

I think it's helpful-- or it could be. As with the blog, the advice given on the podcast will only benefit people who want to hear it; who acknowledge that they have some difficulty which needs to be addressed. When the difficulty is avoiding freaking out the person you're talking to by coming off as threatening, however, it seems like it's an all-or-nothing deal-- either you care about not coming off as creepy and therefore you don't do it, or you don't care about seeming creepy and therefore would not even listen to advice on how to avoid it. The people in the latter group might recognize that sometimes chicks do not respond to them well at all, but their next step will be to 1) blame the chicks, 2) read up on how to become a PUA (pick up artist), and then 3) join a Men's Rights group.

That's how it would seem to me, that is, and the advice given on the first episode of Paging Dr. Nerdlove is very, very basic. If you genuinely do want to avoid seeming creepy yet are not quite sure how to go about accomplishing that, this is the podcast for you! I do genuinely hope it helps a lot of people. I guess I've just been informed too many times that if a woman feels creeped out by a man's behavior, it's her fault because she chooses how to feel. He didn't make her feel anything, so he has no obligation to alter his behavior and how dare she demand that of him. So long as he's not actually sexually harassing her, he's not doing anything wrong!

Yeah, this is one of those cases in which the normal human conception of free will tends to fly right out the window-- you can make someone laugh, but you can't make someone feel creeped out apparently. That's an instance in which a person's behavior has absolutely no bearing on how the person who was the designated recipient of such behavior ends up feeling. It's a sort of creepiness apologetics, designed to allow creepy people to go on being creepy without having to admit that that's what they're doing. I'm skeptical about the chances of such people ever bothering to listen to this podcast.

But hey, not everyone is like that. Loads of people read Dr. Nerdlove the blog, which includes a lot of suggestions on a regular basis that assume they're doing something wrong and recommend how to fix it. That's what an advice column/blog/podcast is for, after all. Let's hope that just as the blog reaches so many of the right eyes, this podcast reaches the corresponding ears.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Memo to Tony Perkins

You do not get to operate a hate group without being called a hate group. Sorry.

Yes, when your group says that homosexuals are "destructive to society" and should be "exported from the U.S.," it's a hate group. When it says that we should return to having criminal sanctions for homosexuals, it's a hate group. When it assigns general responsibility for pedophilia to homosexuality, it's a hate group.

I'm sorry that it hurts your feelings that the Southern Poverty Law Center accurately describes your group, the Family Research Council, as promoting an anti-gay ideology. But complaining about that makes you look exactly like a KKK grand dragon complaining about being accused of racism. It would be laughable if it wasn't so cruelly ironic in this particular instance. Because you see, what you're doing is claiming that in labeling the FRC a hate group, the SPLC is somehow responsible for the shooting of the building manager at that group's headquarters. And yet I don't see you taking the slightest hint of responsibility for every instance of gay bashing that occurs-- the murder, torture, and imprisonment of men, women, and children for simply being perceived as homosexual.

It actually says a lot about your twisted mentality if you think that describing the FRC as a hate goup-- even if it wasn't true-- legitimizes shooting someone associated with it. If it did, we would see members of the SPLC out attacking members of the FRC, wouldn't we? Instead of writing online and in newsletters about how the FRC relies on pseudoscience to legitimize its claims that homosexuality is a threat to society and characterize homosexuals as immoral in order to hamper their efforts to gain equality, members of and sympathizers with the SPLC would just be waging a literal war on you! But they're not. And no, this one guy does not count.

People who aren't doing anything wrong-- people who are actually doing important, necessary, brave things-- are occasionally shot. George Tiller was one of those people. Members of your group are not, and pointing this out does not amount to justifying shooting them. See, I understand a general reluctance to say that people who speak out against something are giving "license" to people who take it upon themselves to go out and physically attack practitioners of that thing. I get it-- we don't want to equate condemnation, even strenuous condemnation, with violence. But here's the funny thing-- you are expressing no such reluctance! You are claiming that condemnation amounts to license to harm-- I took that word directly from you-- and yet you don't hold yourself and your own group responsible for attacks against any homosexual! You know, the people who have actually campaigned for such people to be attacked!

How can this be? Are you an idiot as well as a bigot?

Of course not. You're a bigot who is also a transparent hypocrite. This has always been the case-- your name is right up there with Brian Fischer in terms of people I don't even bother to read about anymore when I come across a headline. It's always a story about something said in which the hate and the hypocrisy compete for dominance. But now you're in the spotlight because someone unfortunate enough to work for you received the focused rage of an unstable person against your odious organization, and some people might be in danger of taking you seriously. Which is why I'm writing this post.

I've always liked that (apparently disputed) Gandhi quote, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." But it's a problematic thing to say, because you can count on anyone who is being ignored, laughed at, or fought using it to understand that eventually they will win. This is the slogan of authentic victims of oppression, but also of oppressors with a martyr complex because they do not realize they're oppressors. When you're lying about a group of people in order to make them seem dangerous or immoral when in fact they're nothing of the sort, and advocating that their behavior (which you're lying about) should be criminalized-- guess what? That's a good way of knowing which group you fall into! You can't be ignored, because you have power. You can be laughed at, but only because it beats crying or screaming. You can be fought, but this lone shooter is the only one trying to do so with force-- and I bet you're over the moon about that.

I wonder how Leo Johnson feels to know that you're capitalizing on his attack in order to claim glorious underdog status, probably regretting only the fact that he wasn't killed. I have not the slightest doubt that you would welcome more such attacks, in order to double down on the irony of a group which promotes violence against gays instituted by government shrieking about violence perpetuated against them by vigilantes. It must leave a perversely sweet taste in your mouth to preach hate against a group for nine years and then denounce them and their supporters when someone on your side is attacked. Poor, poor, persecuted bigots. The world is so unfair. When George Rekers got caught with a male prostitute, that was a tragedy (because he got caught). But this-- this is an opportunity! An opportunity to do what you do best-- paint yourself as the real victim in a battle against those evil people who think there's nothing wrong with being gay. That's getting harder and harder as the obviousness of this position becomes ever more prevalent, but for now, at least a bone has been thrown-- a juicy, beefy bone of martyr complex opportunity, and you've leaped on it with jowls a'drooling.

Enjoy, I suppose. At least allow Johnson a sliver or too-- he earned it-- and cherish it while it lasts. You're a dying breed, but not because someone's going to come and shoot you. Because hateful crazies like you don't come into power very often, and once they lose that power society is reluctant to give it back again.

ETA: The Southern Poverty Law Center published a statement on Perkins' remarks. Excerpt:
Perkins and his allies, seeing an opportunity to score points, are using the attack on their offices to pose a false equivalency between the SPLC’s criticisms of the FRC and the FRC’s criticisms of LGBT people. The FRC routinely pushes out demonizing claims that gay people are child molesters and worse — claims that are provably false. It should stop the demonization and affirm the dignity of all people.

Monday, August 13, 2012

PAX panels on harassment in gaming

From an article in Slate this morning, What It's Like For a Girl Gamer, I learned that there will be at least two panels on harassment in gaming at the upcoming PAX convention in Seattle-- Ending Harassment in Gaming and Harassment and Bullying in Online Games: Technical Solutions v1.0 (Elisa Melendez, author of the Slate piece, is on the panel for this one). Excellent! Hope they have some fruitful discussions. And, of course, wish I could be there.

Here's PATV's Extra Credits episode on in-game harassment. Check it out.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Oh, on that sexism in atheism/skepticism topic...

If you only read one thing about it-- or, more likely, if you've read plenty about it and are either borderline overwhelmed or so overwhelmed that you can hardly see "whelmed" from where you stand-- read Natalie Reed's post from a couple of days ago, "All In." It's long, but definitely worth reading in its entirety.

If you need some further explanation of the Thunderfoot thing, read this, but it really isn't the central focus of Natalie's post. More of a catalyst. I may not come down where she does on every issue, but can't find a single thing in that essay that I out-and-out disagree with. And she lays it out with a depth and feeling that makes me ashamed of how glibly I summed up the problem in my last post.

There's harassment going on in the X community. I'm an Xer. Now what?

The topic of sexual harassment in video games has received attention in Forbes, the New York Times, and NPR's "Talk of the Nation" recently-- if you've been actively following the topic at all you probably won't hear anything new, but it's good to see it being discussed in publications and programs like these. If you listen to the BBC's "Assignment" on the topic of "Guns, Girls, and Games" you can get the added benefit of actually being able to hear what in-game sexual harassment sounds like, and it's every bit as simultaneously disturbing and stupid as you might expect. The program also includes interviews with Grace of Fat, Ugly or Slutty and Jenny of Not in the Kitchen Anymore, two sites devoted to compiling experiences of in-game harassment, who describe (with a tone of "Can you believe this?") how unprovoked and frequent it can be.

What Grace and Jenny talk about is mainly comments heard in voice chat while playing FPSs (first person shooters) online as well as private messages sent during or after playing these games, mostly but not entirely on Xbox Live. I don't typically play these games, and when I do it's only with people I know, so I've never personally had these experiences. It's hard to imagine dealing with the simple awareness that you're female being taken as permission to unload sexist abuse on you, again and again, and they do describe it as incredibly fatiguing-- people play video games to relax, to escape from their everyday life, and the everyday life of a woman can include a lot of sexist nonsense that is the last thing she wants to encounter in her recreational time (not that there is a time when she wants to encounter it). But Grace and Jenny point out that this isn't the norm for them-- it's regular and unending, but not the majority of what they have to listen to while gaming. I suppose that would have to be the case, in order to retain some sanity.

There's an identity issue here-- a lot of people play video games, and there has been some sniffing at the stated statistic of 47% of video game players being women because the classification is "so all-encompassing as to be meaningless, bundling Solitaire alongside Diablo III." The people who just play games like Solitaire or FarmVille probably do not think of themselves as "gamers," but the people who play Diablo III or Cross Assault almost certainly do, and almost certainly play other video games as well. I really like what The Mary Sue's Becky Chambers has to say about what this discussion has done to her concept of herself as a gamer:
A lot of people (mostly men, it seems) have said that this sort of behavior makes them ashamed to be gamers, or that they want to stop calling themselves gamers altogether. A friend of mine — a man I met through a game, and who I have continued to be friends with thanks to multiplayer games — echoed this same sentiment last week. Though it’s encouraging to see that so many people won’t stand for harassment in any form, I don’t think that separating ourselves from the community as a whole is the answer. 
On some level, it doesn’t matter at all what label you give yourself. I don’t care if you call yourself a gamer, or a fan, an enthusiast, or whatever. What concerns me is not the label itself, but the underlying implication that the community behind that label is not one that people want to be associated with. This then further implies the bullying and harassment we’re witnessing is the gold standard for how gamers are supposed to behave. Yes, the guy who threatened me in WoW was a gamer, but so, too, were the guys who supported me afterward (and so am I, for that matter). The only commonality any of them had was their hobby. Their respective actions were markers of personal character, not of the pastime they all shared. 
To be fair, there are a few assumptions I will make about you if you tell me you’re a gamer. First, I will assume that you get excited about games, and that you will be happy to talk about them with me. I will also assume that there is at least one game that we both like very much. We will then be able to converse about this game, probably at length and with great enthusiasm. If by some rare occurrence we haven’t played any of the same games, then we’ll each recommend some of our favorites to the other. If we both play a specific multiplayer game, or at least play on the same platform, and if we’re getting along really well, we’ll probably exchange usernames. If the exchange doesn’t progress that far or if we don’t hit it off, we’ll have enjoyed sharing some geeky pleasantries with a kindred spirit. 
And that’s it. 
I see some useful similarities and differences between the discussion going on here and the one about sexual harassment at skepticism conferences.


1. In both communities, women are a minority in terms of pure numbers as well as degree of power and influence.

2. In both cases, there are people who aren't defending sexual harassment per se so much as claiming it's just part of the atmosphere and reacting as though trying to remove it will destroy or at least damage this special community where people aren't PC and you can say anything. They like things the way they are, don't care if others are bothered, and fear what will happen if the people who are bothered obtaining any kind of power to change things because they think it will lead to the creation of a language police state where simply joking around will get them punished or banned.

3. In both cases, aspersions have been cast on the gaming/skepticism community as a whole because of incidents of harassment. Some people embrace this criticism with a sense of guilt or at least a feeling discomfort by association, while others angrily resent the suggestion that they have anything to do with it.

4. In both cases, there are status quo supporters--male and female-- who think that the complainers are complaining over nothing and should either a) shut up or b) go away or c) shut up and go away. This includes "chill girls"/"cool chicks" who think "It was just a joke" means something (something vindicating), believe any kind of attention is good attention, and/or don't believe that anyone else has been harassed because it hasn't happened to them.


1. Skepticism/atheism is a cause, a movement, whereas gaming really is not. Gamers generally would prefer that the world look more positively upon them and not assume that they're pathetic basement dwellers at best or serial killers and terrorists in training at worst, but they don't really have a political battle to wage. And they don't really have a PR problem on the scale of the majority of the country considering them immoral and untrustworthy people, the last minority they'd support for president.

2. Gaming is a community of consumers-- the majority by far do not design and create games; they purchase them (and of course those who design and create games purchase them as well). Inevitably articles about sexual harassment in gaming will also include sexual harassment about gaming (such as that which Anita Sarkeesian received) and then address measures that game makers can take to make it more difficult to harass people in-game, and sometimes whether the game is itself designed in such a way as to encourage harassment. These are interrelated but distinct issues that deserve independent consideration, and too frequently I see the ball being dropped there. Gamers can be nasty, but that isn't the fault of game designers. There's a line between participants and creators that exists in gaming which isn't nearly so much the case with skepticism/atheism. The discussion about what objectionable content there might be in a game should really be held separately from that of how players act, and are allowed to act. The "get more female speakers" discussion with regard to skepticism conferences is not the same as the "get more female developers" discussion in gaming.

3. Again when we're comparing an interest (gaming) to an ideology (skepticism/atheism), the latter is going to have cases of people arguing against harassment from the ideology whereas the former isn't-- generally speaking, anyway. There is nothing in particular about enjoying video games which makes a person more egalitarian, more considerate, more generous, etc. even though participation in online gaming gives people who do have these traits endless opportunities to express them, as any social occasion would. People argue that a person who presumes to be a skeptic has an obligation to reject bigoted thinking, or claim that since there is so much sexism in religion then an atheist has a responsibility to repudiate that along with faith, though I'm not sure these arguments are actually convincing to anyone who doesn't already agree. With gaming that proposition is basically a non-starter, and this will be pointed out by gamers who see absolutely no sense in having a discussion about harassment or sexism in gaming at all-- "We're having fun here. That's the point, right? End of story!"

There are plenty of other things to compare and contrast that can be pointed out, and I couldn't hope to list them all right now. But given that these two enormous discussions are going on in both community-specific and now in big name general publications, I think it's important to see whether people engaged in these discussions in either community could perhaps learn from each other's experience. There's a lot of geek/nerd overlap between atheism/skepticism and gaming, and it would be cool to see more celebrities of both cultures speak out-- and to each other-- on this topic. Phil Plait and Wil Wheaton, I'm looking at you! "Don't be a dick" could hardly be a more applicable message.

What we need is more conversation. Smart conversation, with both talking and listening. Given what I've seen so far, I'm optimistic.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

I don't exist for you

Ian Cromwell, aka Crommunist, tweeted a link today to this: Why Men Love Michelle Jenneke. You know, the 19-year-old Australian hurdler who was recorded doing a little warm-up dance before her event? Who isn't even an Olympian, but somehow everybody in the world has seen this video of her? Well, apparently the fact that this rather ordinary, casual manipulation of her toned and attractive body for her own reasons is titillating enough to allow men to drool over a bit of sports footage-- apparently that is best used by the blog's author, Matt Forney, to illustrate how feminism is horribly misguided and women who want to be appreciated for anything at all, ever, more than they do for their sex appeal are not only delusional, but...well, cunts.
So what’s the big deal? Jenneke’s not hot: she’s cute yes, but not stunning. Her “sexy” dancing is barely PG rated. In a world where videos of superhot, plastic-titted bimbos getting triple-fisted while gagging on horse cocks are just a click away, why would men rather watch an Australian 7 jumping up and down while fully clothed? UTB’s got the answer: 
…Michelle Jenneke’s high-octane femininity triggers an instinctive male hormonal response vastly different from the one seeking stimulation via streaming clips of themed interracial gangbangs. No matter how far one strays from nature, what’s intrinsic is undeniable. Michelle Jenneke is undeniable. She is the scent of grilled meat in the nostrils of a dying vegan. Upon sight, every fiber of the male being tells him it is imperative to deposit his seed in her. In a world of entitled chubbies and pornographic lies, Michelle Jenneke, without saying a word, speaks truth to penis. 
That’s the operative word: femininity. Michelle Jenneke oozes with it. Her youthful beauty, her exuberance, her aura: these aren’t things that can be faked. Hundreds of thousands of years of evolution have honed men’s tastes for sweet, submissive, complimentary women. As much as feminists and their betaboy clit-suckers wail about “social conditioning,” when it comes down to brass tacks, all men want the same thing
Not only that, Michelle Jenneke has something else that few American/Western women possess: confidence. 
I’m going to keep harping on it until I’m blue in the face, but what most women think is confidence is actually cuntiness. The standoffish, arrogant attitude common to “strong” and “independent” women is a pose they adopt to hide their insecurities. The louder someone crows about having something, the less likely they actually have it. The Anna Assmasters and Jen McCreights of the world pose and front out of fear that people will see them for the neurotic headcases that they are. 
Michelle Jenneke, in contrast, looks at ease in her own skin. Unlike the aforementioned bittergrrls, she’s accomplished something real: training long hours and countless days to compete in a demanding sport on an international level. 
And yet, at the same time, there’s not a cunty bone in her body
She smiles like a normal person, radiating joy and happiness. Her movements are graceful and energetic rather than sulky and surly. Does she look like the kind of woman who would make cheap sarcastic quips or start arguments over leaving the toilet seat up? It’s inconceivable. 
McCreight, her fanboy castrati and feminists in general want young women (and men) to believe that you can’t be successful and confident without being an unlikable, combative harridan. Michelle Jenneke puts the lie to that claim, and that’s why men love her. 
Before feminism, just about every woman was Michelle Jenneke, or at least aspired to be. She’s the kind of girl I’d make sweet, tender love to, then dive in front of a bullet for with no regrets. Femininity soothes the savage male beast. Take note ladies: if you want a “real” man, you better be a real woman. Skip getting your master’s degree and go to charm school instead; you’ll be happier for it
Now, you might be thinking "This is transparent idiocy. Why even blog about it? There are plenty of people who can and do catalog transparent idiocy in their blogs on a regular basis, so why not let one of them tackle it?" Well, mainly because I think it's funny. Yes, partially in a "You have to laugh or else you'll cry, not from hurt feelings but from the stupid" way, but partly just on its own. It's funny to see someone attempt to translate what arouses his boner into an assessment of character, and then turn around and use that assessment to try and shame people who are insufficiently stiffy-stimulating for whatever reason. I know this is obvious, but heterosexual woman-- do not buy this. It isn't even true for him.

There's nothing wrong with thinking Michelle Jenneke is hot. Nothing at all. What's wrong-- crazily, obviously, hilariously wrong-- about this particular commentary is how much it attempts to make out of that attraction. That basic, banal, generic tug of the loins is apparently not only the most important thing in the world, but sums up the entirety of what it means-- or at least, what it ought to mean-- to be a woman.

Wow, right? Who knew?

The best thing about this long discussion of how feminine, how confident, how accomplished, and how generally wonderful Jenneke is, is that Forney has no idea whatsoever if anything he's saying about her character is true. All he knows, based on this commentary, is that she's an athlete who looks graceful and happy. That's it. Oh, and that she's hot. From this, we are expected to understand that she must also be The Anti-Feminist, because she is attractive to our author and our author hates feminists. Feminists are "cunts," so Jenneke is simply confident. Feminists do nothing except complain, so Jenneke is accomplished (accomplishment as an athlete is fine, but don't go getting no master's degree!). And Jenneke "smiles like a normal person," and her moves are "graceful and energetic rather than sulky and surly," whereas feminists are...cave trolls, I guess?

Kill the conveniently all-male collection of
hobbits, dwarves, and humans!
What would be even funnier as well as satisfying, of course, would be if Jenneke turns out to be a raging feminist. The kind of person to respond like 18-year-old Olympic weightlifter Zoe Smith did when Twitter trolls complained that she doesn't look feminine enough:
As Hannah pointed out earlier, we don’t lift weights in order to look hot, especially for the likes of men like that. What makes them think that we even WANT them to find us attractive? If you do, thanks very much, we’re flattered. But if you don’t, why do you really need to voice this opinion in the first place, and what makes you think we actually give a toss that you, personally, do not find us attractive? What do you want us to do? Shall we stop weightlifting, amend our diet in order to completely get rid of our ‘manly’ muscles, and become housewives in the sheer hope that one day you will look more favourably upon us and we might actually have a shot with you?! Cause you are clearly the kindest, most attractive type of man to grace the earth with your presence. 
Oh but wait, you aren’t. This may be shocking to you, but we actually would rather be attractive to people who aren’t closed-minded and ignorant. Crazy, eh?! We, as any women with an ounce of self-confidence would, prefer our men to be confident enough in themselves to not feel emasculated by the fact that we aren’t weak and feeble.
Zoe Smith is not, by the way, a cave troll. She's not even hulking or behemoth-like in the way that a weightlifter would have every reason to be. A Google image search shows her smiling most of the time, and I bet she's at least somewhat graceful though I haven't seen her perform (yet). It doesn't matter, of course-- smiling is not an obligation, and grace and energy are lovely traits to have but they sure as hell aren't the end all and be all. Sarcastic quips? Sounds like she's full of 'em...but cheap, they are not. At least not if "cheap" means "easily made and without value."

Fellow weightlifter Sarah Robles is smiling, graceful, energetic, and likewise in possession of some sarcasm:
Because you see, Robles-- in addition to being the strongest woman in America-- is 5'10" and 275 pounds, which makes her not conventionally attractive, with the tangible detriment of not being able to obtain the kind of sponsorships and endorsements she otherwise might:
“You can get that sponsorship if you’re a super-built guy or a girl who looks good in a bikini. But not if you’re a girl who’s built like a guy,” she says. The 23-year-old from California became the highest ranked weightlifter in the country last year after placing 11th at the world championships, beating out every male and female American on the roster. On her best day, she can lift more than 568 pounds — that’s roughly five IKEA couches, 65 gallons of milk, or one large adult male lion. 
But that doesn't mean much when it comes to signing the endorsement deals that could pay the bills. Track star Lolo Jones, 29, soccer player Alex Morgan, 22, and swimmer Natalie Coughlin, 29, are natural television stars with camera-friendly good looks and slim, muscular figures. But women weightlifters aren't go-tos when Sports Illustrated is looking for athletes to model body paint in the swimsuit issue. They don’t collaborate with Cole Haan on accessories lines and sit next to Anna Wintour at Fashion Week, like tennis beauty Maria Sharapova. And male weightlifters often get their sponsorships from supplements or diet pills, because their buff, ripped bodies align with male beauty ideals. Men on diet pills want to look like weightlifters — most women would rather not.
I think the title of Forney's post-- "Why Men Love Michelle Jenneke"-- is self-evidently ridiculous, because it clearly isn't love he's talking about, however he might have deluded himself of such. But can you imagine him writing the exact same post about Robles? Neither can I, and it has nothing to do with whether she's a feminist or not, how much she has or hasn't accomplished, whether she's upbeat and cheerful or sarcastic and argumentative. It has to do with a) being able to interpret what a conventionally attractive woman does publicly for her own purposes as b) somehow being for him personally by virtue of appealing to him sexually. Does Jenneke care in the slightest whether Forney would "make sweet, tender love" to her, much less "dive in front of a bullet for [her] with no regrets"? Almost certainly not, and just thinking of it turns the stomach (Guys? This is why the "I'd hit that" discussions are really about you, not the women you're presumably discussing. And they're gross) because it doesn't take her perspective into account at all.

Crommunist replied to me saying:
Probably. There are women who don't mind being "complimented" by the suggestion that they are attractive because their appearance is agreeable enough to a male observer that he's able to construct fantasies about how she must be "feminine" (defined here as sexy but not overtly sexual, not powerful or attempting to gain power, smart and capable but no more of either than he is, and never disagreeable) enough for him, based on the most superficial of knowledge about her such as a few seconds' worth of footage from a warm-up before a hurdle race. But nevertheless, I think this post would cause even the most flattered object to recognize that she's being treated as just that. 

Objectification-- that tired old feminist complaint? Yep, I'm going to go there. I kind of have to, having read all three parts of an article on the topic recently. The part that specifically comes to mind here is:
1) Stop seeking male attention.  
Most women have been taught that heterosexual male attention is the Holy Grail and its hard to reject this system of validation, but we must. We give our power away when we engage in habitual body monitoring so we can be visually pleasing to others. The ways in which we seek attention for our bodies varies by sexuality, race, ethnicity, and ability, but the template is the “male gaze.” 
Heterosexual male attention is actually pretty easy to give up when you think about it. 
  • First, we seek it mostly from strangers we will never see again, so it doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of life. Who cares what the man in the car next to you thinks of your profile? You’ll probably never see him again.
  • Secondly, men in U.S. culture are raised to objectify women as a matter of course, so an approving gaze doesn’t mean you’re unique or special, it’s something he’s supposed to do.
  • Thirdly, male validation is fleeting and valueless; it certainly won’t pay your rent or get you a book deal.  In fact, being seen as sexy hurts at least as much as it helps women.
Lastly, men are terrible validators of physical appearance because so many are duped by make-up, hair coloring and styling, surgical alterations, girdles, etc. If I want an evaluation of how I look, a heterosexual male stranger is one of the least reliable sources on the subject. 
Fun related activity: When a man cat calls you, respond with an extended laugh and declare, “I don’t exist for you!” Be prepared for a verbally violent reaction as you are challenging his power as the great validator. Your gazer likely won’t even know why he becomes angry since he’s just following the societal script that you’ve just interrupted.
This is why I said earlier "It isn't even true for him." Even Forney wouldn't be happy with a woman who satisfied his every criterion for being the ultimate in femininity, not that any woman should want to. When someone (male or female) honestly believes that the most important thing a woman is her ability to be sexy, that person will never be satisfied with any woman. It is never possible to be sexy enough, and the sexiest person in the world cannot maintain it for long. That doesn't mean there is no point in trying to be attractive, much less that women who try to be sexually attractive are somehow traitors to feminism.

I don't exist for you. That's the important part. Everyone in a relationship exists in part for the other person in that relationship, regardless of what kind of relationship it is. People who want to be in a relationship exist in part for the person they want to be in a relationship with. But Zoe Smith does not exist for people who care less about any of her accomplishments or her actual character than whether she's sexually appealing to them personally. Neither does Sarah Robles. And neither, I hope, does Michelle Jenneke.

We choose the people for whom we exist. It's just fine to exist for plenty of other people besides ourselves, and all of us will in many different ways, but we must exist for ourselves first. And the ability to do that is awesome, right?

ETA: From John Scalzi's post today on how not to be a creeper at conferences:
4. Acknowledge that other people do not exist just for your amusement/interest/desire/use. 
Yes, I know. You know that. But oddly enough, there’s a difference between knowing it, and actually believing it — or understanding what it means in a larger social context. People go to conventions and social gatherings to meet other people, but not necessarily (or even remotely likely) for the purpose of meeting you. The woman who is wearing a steampunky corset to a convention is almost certainly wearing it in part to enjoy being seen in it and to have people enjoy seeing her in it — but she’s also almost certainly not wearing it for you. You are not the person she has been waiting for, the reason she’s there, or the purpose for her attendance. When you act like you are, or that she has (or should have) nothing else to do than be the object of your amusement/interest/desire/use, the likelihood that you will come across a complete creeper rises exponentially. It’s not an insult for someone else not to want to play that role for you. It’s not what they’re there for.

Looking back

I maintained a Livejournal account from March 2002 through November 2009 and am now trying to decide what to do with it. Looking back through, I really wish I'd kept an actual blog instead, or at least in addition-- it's a mix of personal things that wouldn't be blog-appropriate and comments on current events and my studies that absolutely would, and it definitely would have been a good idea to separate those out and put the latter group somewhere else. Somewhere like...well, here. I guess I thought that if I didn't put everything I had to say into entries that would pop up in people's LJ friends feeds, they wouldn't read it. But now I've either realized that that's not true, or don't care if it is. Briefly in 2005 I had a separate account called Gretchen_study which was specifically about religion and evolution, but I didn't maintain it.

Oh, and all of the photos are gone because I hosted them at which then shut down. Yes, I had copies, but those were kept on a laptop which was later stolen. Let that be a lesson-- back up your stuff, in several places.

If you have an interest in hearing what it was generally like to move in England and do an MA on religion and culture in 2003, here's where that starts. If you want to read what it was like to move to Denmark in 2005 and do a PhD on religion and cognition, that begins here. If you don't want to do either one, I don't blame you in the slightest.

Reading through old entries, I see that I was a vastly more upbeat, optimistic person then. I expected things to turn out well, and was disappointed when they didn't. That is a tendency which has, shall we say, diminished a bit.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

What's a "bad atheist"?

Ian Murphy has a piece on AlterNet called The 5 Most Awful Atheists, the title of which can be read a few different ways. He could be talking about people who happen to be atheists, who are awful. Or, he could be talking about people who are awful at being atheists. His subheading-- Many notable atheists believe in some powerfully stupid stuff, thereby eroding the credibility of all atheists-- suggests that he might believe that you can be awful at being an atheist by being an awful person, or at least being a person who believes awful things, or who believes things for awful reasons. Murphy's article actually conflates all of these things, which is precisely the problem with it. It does, however, work admirably as an illustration of why they shouldn't be conflated.

In short, Murphy contends that Sam Harris, Bill Maher, Penn Jillette, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali are "awful atheists" because they are awful people-- in his opinion. Specifically, they hold personal and political stances that he finds repulsive, which means (to him) that they aren't rational. And as we all know, "rationalist" and "atheist" are the same thing.

Wait, they aren't? Could've fooled Murphy:
The thing about the so-called “rationalist” movement in America is that disbelief in gods seems to be the only qualification to join the club. Disbelief in a supernatural creator, especially as the movement becomes more popular or “hep,” as I'm pretending the kids say, in no way guarantees rationality in matters of foreign policy or economics, for example. Many notable atheists believe in some powerfully stupid stuff—likely owing their prominence to these same benighted beliefs, lending an air of scientific credibility to the myths corporate media seeks to highlight, and thereby eroding the credibility of all atheists in the long-term. In other words: The crap always rises to the top.
Here's a thought: From here on out, criticize self-proclaimed rationalists for dropping the ball when it comes to being rational. Say that people who declare themselves to be skeptics are "awful skeptics" when they fail abysmally at applying skepticism in their outlook. Disbelief in a supernatural creator-- or more accurately, a deity generally-- is all it takes to be an atheist. So saying that Harris, Maher, Jillette, and Hirsi Ali are "awful atheists" because of something you dislike about their thinking which is not a lack of belief in a god or gods is incoherent. They have not failed at being atheists. They may have failed at being rationalists, skeptics, humanists, non-bigots, or just decent people generally, but not at atheism.

Why have I excluded S.E. Cupp from this consideration? Well, because I think she might actually have failed at atheism. I really don't know much about her-- less by far than any of the other people Murphy criticizes-- but he describes her as being "self-loathing" as an atheist: "She recently said, 'I would never vote for an atheist president. Ever,' because she thinks religion serves as a 'check' on presidential power." The only time I am likely to think of someone as a "bad atheist" is when they don't appear to actually be an atheist, and/or can't seem to get his or her mind around the concept. The most recent time that happened was Christopher Beha's review of recent books by atheists in which he counts himself amongst the "disappointed disbelievers" whose only recourse is to seek simple pleasure in recreational drugs (!) or other transient entertainment in order to avoid or ignore the nihilism to which non-belief logically, inevitably leads. Atheism: you're doing it wrong.

Hemant Mehta wrote of Murphy's piece:
Here’s a summary of his list:
  • Sam Harris: He thinks religious profiling might have merit and defends torture in some instances.
  • Bill Maher: He’s misogynistic, condescending, and anti-flu-shots.
  • Penn Jillette: He’s a libertarian.
  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali: She’s practices “neoconservative lunacy” and is excessively anti-Islam.
  • S.E. Cupp: She’s a self-loathing atheist
I’ll give him S.E. Cupp. When it comes to atheism, she’s pretty embarrassing, talking about how she openly wishes she were religious and how she refuses to vote for an atheist. It’s arguable that her atheism, true or not, is more of a schtick she uses to get attention. 
But the rest of them? Please.
Mehta goes on to discuss the validity of Murphy's individual objections, and evaluates whether these five people in terms of how much they have done to convince other people to become atheists, which I'd say is more a measure of their individual respective knacks for evangelism. It doesn't specifically address how good they are at being atheists, because that's fundamentally silly-- you can't be "good" at not believing in something. Lack of belief has no merit badges, no ranks, no authorities, no governing organizations. There are certainly organizations of atheists, but rising in power and influence within those organizations is not about how strongly you disbelieve (what a bizarre thought), but how good you are at....well, making it more comfortable to disbelieve. Easier. More acceptable. Less like something you'd feel the need to snort a line of cocaine to escape from, or openly disdain in order to curry favor with believers who require the myth of the self-destructive and nihilistic non-believer to be maintained.

It is, by the way, to the benefit of atheists to clarify these distinctions rather than blur them, intentionally or otherwise.  If we don't pretend that rationalism, skepticism, secularism, humanism, and atheism are all the same thing, then people won't mistakenly think that pointing out downfalls in one is the same as refuting them all, especially when the downfalls they're pointing out are restricted to an individual person-- intended for some reason to not only represent the entirety of one (non)ideology, but of all of them. That's an absurd move, one that shouldn't receive any help from the people it seeks to vilify. So don't give that help. Pay attention to the distinctions. Recognize that people aren't packages-- they can be exemplary at one thing you admire while failing abysmally at another-- and adjust your need for spokespeople accordingly.

Reject them when they don't speak for you. Don't let other people assume they do, and then hold you accountable for their failings. And for god's sake, don't assume that a person failing in any way somehow reflects on an entire body of people whose connection to that person really has nothing to do with whatever flaw you found. That's called prejudice, and the people unfairly slandered by it are not the ones at fault.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

But what was it actually like?

Now that I've made my strident post for the day, here's one that will be much less so. I personally didn't see any, but apparently there was some real misbehavior going on yesterday at Chick-fil-A restaurants, by both supporters and opponents, in various places on Mike Huckabee's Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.

A CFO/Treasurer at Vante called Adam Smith no longer holds that role, having been being fired from the company after filming himself berating a Chick-fil-A drive-through employee.

Gay and lesbian employees at Chick-fil-A have had a rough time of it from all directions-- they were hit with a barrage of homophobic speech from supporters of Dan Cathy, as well as accusations of supporting it themselves from customers/protesters/protesting customers who assume that working for the company means accepting the beliefs of its owners wholesale. Cathy himself has expressed how very much he would like for this to be the case, but it isn't. And it isn't fair to punish workers, especially low-level workers, for what Cathy's family has said and done:
One gay employee who works at Chick-fil-A headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., and asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job, says he is getting it from both sides. On the one hand, there is the customer who came in and said he supported Dan Cathy and then "continues to say something truly homophobic, e.g. 'I'm so glad you don't support the queers, I can eat in peace,'" the employee, who is 23 and has worked for Chick-fil-A since he was 16, wrote in an email. On the other hand, he continued, "I was yelled at for being a god-loving, conservative, homophobic Christian while walking some food out to a guest in a mall dining room." 
He disagrees with Cathy's views, but the reaction from the public has been just as hard to swallow. 
"It seems like very few people have stopped to think about who actually works for Chick-fil-A and what those people's opinions are," he wrote. "They are putting us in a pot and coming to support us or hate us based on something they heard and assume we agree with." 
Gabriel Aguiniga, a gay employee at a Chick-fil-A in Colorado, also said the hardest part hasn't been hearing Cathy's comments. Instead, "[it's] constantly having people come up to you and say, 'I support your company, because your company hates the gays,'" Aguiniga, 18, wrote in an email. "It really takes a toll on me." . . .
"Now, anyone that works there is stuck with a stigma of being homophobic, even when many of us are far from it," K said. One of her coworkers, who supports same-sex marriage, has had people say things like, “Don’t give me that hate sh*t,” and “I hope you choke on that chicken," while she was handing out samples. 
But for K, the hardest part hasn't been the actions of customers and protesters, it's the money the company gives to anti-gay groups. 
"At the end of the day part of our profits still go towards Dan Cathy, and subsequently, all the organizations he supports," she said. K is now actively searching for work elsewhere. Many of her coworkers, she said, are looking for new jobs, too.
And then....we have this:

I always say I admire Ed Brayton for his ability to document so much political lunacy that requires actually hearing and seeing the words come from the horse's mouth, because I can't do it. It's some combination of horror at the words themselves and a general sympathy for people who embarrass themselves publicly, perhaps, but it makes videos like this one extremely hard to watch. But at least I got to laugh at 5:22-5:30.

ETA: At the Daily Beast, A Gay Chick-fil-A Employee Speaks Out. Excerpt:
We were so busy we nearly ran out of food. We did run out of some things, like nuggets, strips, lemonade, and waffle fries. Though we didn’t have to close early like we feared, by 10 p.m., we barely had anything left. Never before have I been so grateful that I have tomorrow off. 
Customers sang “God Bless America” in the dining room. They vocalized their support for “family values” in a way that made me want to vomit. We had two protestors outside, and I took five minutes to run out, hug them, and tell them: if I weren’t working here now, I’d be out here with you. 
They said, “It’s okay, we know what it’s like to have to work for a paycheck.” Hearing that was ten times better than hearing from my acquaintances on the other side of the coin: “How do you work there and still sleep at night, knowing their stance against equal rights?”  I sleep with a roof over my head, which is about all I can ask. 
I can’t tell you much more about the customers today, because of my limited contact with them. I work in the kitchen, so I don’t see much of the clientele.  What made today so difficult—more difficult than always being behind on food, running out of one thing or another, needing to be in two places at once, etc—was the attitudes of the other employees. 
No one really stopped talking about the reasons why today was as busy as it was. The people I work alongside kept going on and on about how powerful it was to be part of such a righteous movement, and how encouraged they were to know that there were so many people who agree with Dan Cathy. They went on at great length about how it was wrong not just for gays to marry, but to exist. One kid, age 19, said “I hope the gays go hungry.” 
I nearly walked out then and there. That epitomizes the characteristics of these evangelical “Christians” who are so vocally opposed to equal rights. Attitudes like that are the opposite of Christ-like.
ETA 2:  I have no comment on this, because nothing needs to be added. But do give it a read.

Bigotry Appreciation Day

Some photos from the event near me yesterday:

Some 200 people were standing outside in line, and I have no idea how many cars...they were winding around the block. Police officers were directing traffic. I parked across the street and walked over to have a look around, and noticed several people with the same idea-- not just walking away with bags of Chick-fil-A food, but multiple bags. Each one looked like he or she was getting food for an entire family. My own appetite was gone-- the sight of so many people happily, gleefully showing up to support the donation of over $5 million to groups that not only want to prevent gay marriage but make homosexuality illegal again turned my stomach. I'd thought I might go somewhere else and have a chicken sandwich, but even that didn't sound like a good idea anymore. 

Every last person I saw was white and rather affluently dressed, and arrived in a nice car. Nobody looked as though a lightness of their pocketbook was forcing them to come here-- quite the opposite, in fact. Poor Chick-fil-A has been "attacked" by people who believe in marriage equality choosing not to eat there anymore, so by golly it's time to eat some chicken and show those non-homophobes what's what! 

Two of my favorite tweets from yesterday:

But my favorite explanation of why the word "bigot" is appropriate for the people in those pictures above comes from Jen McCreight:
So you were just called a bigot 
I know your feelings are hurt. No one wants to be called a bigot, right? But before you do something silly like scream “FREE SPEECH” or say I’m the bigot, let’s rewind a bit. 
Chick-Fil-A has funneled millions of dollars toward certified hate groups in order to fund campaigns that depict gay people as pedophiles, fight against “gay behavior” and the legalization of same-sex marriage, and support dangerous “pray away the gay” programs. They also used their profits to support Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill. When I first found out about these atrocious things a couple of years ago, I stopped eating at Chick-Fil-A (despite how much I love their delicious chicken sandwiches). I did not feel right knowing my money could ultimately be used to hurt GLBT people. 
I could originally understand why someone wouldn’t boycott an organization that they disagree with politically. I bet there are things I buy that support things I hate, mostly because I don’t know any better, partially because I can’t financially afford to boycott everything. But now that Chick-Fil-A has been in the public eye, you know better. And if you drove to a Chick-Fil-A today to show your solidarity with the organization, you’re not just some random apathetic person who likes a chicken sandwich and doesn’t care about where their $5 goes. 
You are a bigot. 
You are saying “I agree with Chick-Fil-A’s anti-gay stance!” And your irrational hatred of gay people is bigotry at its finest.
No, it stemming from religion matters not at all. Religion-based bigotry is still bigotry.

No, Dan Cathy didn't simply express support for marriage between members of the opposite sex (as if it needs supporting-- who is trying to get rid of that, now?). His company has condemned gay marriage and actively fought against gay rights in general.

No, nobody said he doesn't have the right to believe and say that. If you ate at Chick-fil-A out of some misguided belief that they did, and his right to free speech needs to be supported, your money would have been more appropriately donated to the ACLU.

No, you aren't standing up for freedom, justice, and equality. You're buying fast food to support a multi-million dollar corporation which opposes those things. Congratulations.