Category Archives: Sex

How Prevalent is Rape Culture?

EDIT: After publishing this, I realized that with my focus on the comments section, I really managed to ignore the fact that the whole article I was pulling comments from was, itself, actually focused almost exclusively on the feelings of the rapists rather than the victim. So… yeah… not just a problem with the comments, but actually a huge issue with the way the verdict is being reported on by the media. And it’s not unique to the one article I was using, although CNN does seem to be at the centre of it. Kate Donovan sums up the problem well.

So I was having an argument on Facebook the other day about this article discussing how to combat rape culture by training men not to rape, and the guy I was arguing with was rejecting the idea that rape culture existed, or at least that it was widespread. After I provided a list of examples of victim blaming and rape culture he said the following:

[…] that’s another small group of people, I want to see where society as a whole condones rape. I can’t believe that the majority of people in the world are cool with rape, I just don’t think we’re generally bad people.

Which in a sense I get. If you haven’t been exposed to it, it’s hard to imagine that there are people out there who are generally happy to blame rape victims for their own rapes, or to excuse rapists. You don’t want to face it because it really sucks when you realize that it’s out there. But realizing the extent of the problem is an important step to solving the problem. So with that in mind, I want to present one little demonstration of rape culture and victim blaming at work.

You’ve probably heard about the Steubenville rape trial. If you haven’t, you should read more about it, but I don’t want to get into the details of the case here. What’s important for my purposes here is that it’s A) a recent news item that B) involves rape and C) is fairly high-profile.

So what I did was find an article about the recent verdict in the case. Literally any article. In fact, I went with the very first article that I stumbled across. I didn’t even read it. I just skipped to the comments to see how many examples of rape culture and victim blaming I could find. While trying to ignore anything that triggered my troll sensors, as well as trying not to take more than a few examples from any one username, I managed to screenshot 80 comments from 54 unique users before my browser crashed.

Obviously not the most scientifically-rigourous experiment, but that’s also not what I was trying to do. All I want is to give one little example of rape culture at work in one spot. What I do think makes this a powerful statement that demonstrates a wider problem is that I didn’t wade through a bunch of different articles until I found one with some horrifying comments. I didn’t have to. It was literally the very first article I found. And we’re not talking comments from some niche rape-apologist or MRA website. This is fucking CNN.

One last note before we begin, I should point out that there are also a lot of comments trying to fight rape culture and arguing against the apologists and victim-blamers in the comments. This does not defeat my point that there are still a lot of people who are quick to blame the victim. With a few hundred unique commenters in the couple thousand comments I read, I found more than 50. That is not an insignificant number.

So let’s begin. (Trigger warning for rape below the jump) Continue reading

Advertisements

My New Game

I have a new game I play. I don’t really have a name for it yet, but I would like to encourage all the men reading to give it a shot.

Next time you see an attractive girl, either on the street or public transit or in a shopping mall, don’t check her out. Instead, pay attention to all the men around her and watch to see how many of them are looking at that girl: either a fleeting glance, or a long awkward stare.

Do it with a wide variety of girls, dressed in a wide variety of ways and in a wide variety of settings.

Now ask yourself: how comfortable would you be walking down the street knowing everyone you went past was looking at you.

Please Keep Making Calendars (if you want to)

Argh. This is tough. I love Rebecca Watson, but I think this is literally the first time I’ve disagreed with her about something. And strongly.

Rebecca Watson has posted a blog in response to (I assume, due to the timing of it) Secular Woman, Inc.‘s creation of a nude atheist calendar project. In it, she lists several reasons why she wishes atheist and skeptic organizations would stop making nude calendars. Hemant Mehta from Friendly Atheist also posted a blog in support of Watson. I’d really just like to take a moment to address the first two of Watson’s criticisms:

1. Regardless of the intent behind the calendars, regardless of how much fun we had making them, regardless of how empowering we found them, regardless of the racial and age diversity we showcased, and regardless of the fact that they were run by a woman and benefited women, pin-up calendars added to an existing environment in which women were seen first as sexual objects and maybe if they’re lucky they’d later be seen as human beings with thoughts and desires of their own. Back in 2005, I thought skeptics weren’t affected by the patriarchy and that misogyny was something left to the religious. In a community like that, a pin-up calendar of women would be absolutely fine. I learned that a community like that does not exist and it was naive of me to assume otherwise.

2. Adding a calendar of men did not balance out the calendar of women. In a perfect non-patriarchal world, it would, but what I realized was that the women in the calendars were not being seen in the same way as the men in the calendars. The women were objectified on a level unmatched by those viewing and commenting on the men. This was something difficult for me to objectively evaluate at the time and was just a hunch based on my casual observations, but that hunch was confirmed last year when I had shitlord after shitlord emailing me to tell me that I have no right to complain about being groped or propositioned at conferences because I posed in a calendar for skeptics (see my filthy slut photo as the featured image on this post). If Phil Plait ever complains about a woman grabbing his crotch at a conference, I’m confident that no one will forward him his entry in the 2007 “Skepdude” Calendar and tell him to stop being such a whore if he doesn’t want that kind of attention.

First off, if the intent behind the calendars is good, and the people making them both had fun and were empowered by it, then that’s all you should need right there. If you want to pose nude (or semi-nude) for a calendar (or anything else) go right ahead. The whole point of feminism is that nobody but you gets to tell you what to do with your body. I realize that Rebecca isn’t saying otherwise, but if you want to make a nude calendar then you should. Don’t let anybody else tell you not to.

The problem here isn’t that women are being sexualized. If you’re posing for racy photographs with the intent to distribute them, then I would hope that you realize that being sexualized is inevitable, if not the whole point.

The problem is when assholes fail to have the ability to see someone in a sexual context for a few seconds (or, I guess, a month) and then treat them normally in any other context. The problem is when these people objectify women, rather than recognize that sexuality is only one small part of an entire person.

So what’s the solution? I don’t claim to be smart enough to know for sure, but I suspect that the following things will help:

  1. More nude calendars with more diversity: Everyone get naked! Let’s try to create a culture where people can be sexual and still be taken seriously. We need more men to strip for the cause because, as Rebecca points out, nobody takes nudity as a mark against men. Maybe, just maybe, we can normalize nudity to the point where it’s not something that people can hold against women. The Atheists Breaking Through calendar is doing awesome in this regard as it has a mix of men and women, including a trans woman. That’s great! Let’s do more.
  2. Don’t give in to trolls: If we let the solution to “dumbasses don’t know how to deal with nudity” be “get rid of all the nudity” then you’ve basically let win kind of people who think that a woman who has appeared naked in a photo once can no longer be taken seriously. If you want to express yourself by appearing nude, then stopping yourself because of negative reactions you get is letting people silence you. And you know what? If that’s a barrier to you expressing yourself that you don’t want to put in the time and energy to traverse, that’s fine too. But what bothers me about Rebecca’s suggestion to get rid of the calendars is that she’s adding to that barrier rather than fighting against it. “If you think that ignoring assholes and bullies makes them go away, you are wrong”.
  3. Stop being an asshole: If you’re the kind of person who can’t take a woman seriously if you’ve seen her boobs, then kindly fuck off. I honestly wonder how you can even have relationships with women. I imagine most of you would actually love to see some boobs, so how do you deal with that in real life? Do all your relationships (romantic, sexual, or otherwise) teeter precariously over the brink of seeing the other person naked? If you have sex with someone do you magically become unable to have a serious conversation with them? How do you operate in life? I honestly don’t get it. But regardless, don’t be that guy. Just… don’t.

Posing nude can be fun. It can be sexy. It can even be empowering.

Although it sucks that there are people in this life who will try and take that away from you, if you decide that your desire to do it outweighs the drawbacks, then great. Go for it.

I did some nude modelling for a friend’s photography art project in university. It was awesome. I am so proud that I did it, because I do have body image issues and being able to be open like that was a huge deal for me. I would do it again in a heartbeat. JT Eberhard, who will be appearing in the Atheists Breaking Through calendar, said it beautifully:

As a recovering anorexic, taking those pictures was extremely difficult, but it was worth it.  This is what flooded into my mind when Bridget asked me to be in this calendar.  It will be scary, but ultimately I think it will be good for me.

I think the human body is beautiful.  After those pictures, there were times when I thought mine was as well.  After years of coming to loathe reflective surfaces but being unable to resist looking at them, that feeling was like breathing oxygen for the first time.  I suspect that participating in this project will allow me to recapture that sensation.

So yeah. If you want to pose naked, then do it. If you want to publish the photos, then do that too. Hell, if you like looking at the photos of other people naked, there’s nothing wrong with that either. You just need to be able to go back to treating the people in those photos normally after you’ve looked at them. Don’t objectify them just because they have tits or a dick.

Sisterhood of the Oppressed – A Critique

Paula Kirby is a writer whose work I have never read who, this weekend, posted an essay called “Sisterhood of the Oppressed” criticizing (no, wait, go on… guess) the segment of the atheist/skeptic movement who think that harassment is bad and we ought to do something about it. While this should be a pretty non-controversial point, apparently it is not and the internet has exploded in a firestorm of rage over the last few weeks. I’m not familiar with Kirby’s work at all, so without any context other than what she wrote in her essay, here we go:

(Incidentally, if you’re new to this discussion, Jason Thibeault over at Lousy Canuck has a decent timeline of what’s been going on in this conversation in case you need a little bit of background.)

We start off with a defense of the term “feminazi”. Now I don’t really have a problem with namecalling when you’re trying to make an emotional appeal. I don’t have an issue with terms like “anti-choice” or “idiot” when you’re just trying to get in a quick jab at the person you’re arguing with. But when it comes to “nazi”, can’t we at least agree that that’s a little extreme? You don’t win argument points by pointing wildly at something bad and saying “YOU’RE JUST LIKE THEM!” (complete with caps-lock). Nazis killed millions of people in an attempt to exterminate entire segments of the human population. Kirby is arguing against a group of people whose “crimes” are literally things like saying “Guys, don’t do that“, or that sexual harassment is a thing that happens sometimes. The thing about analogies is that they should scale properly. Comparing people saying words to other people killing millions is more than a little bit out-of-sync. On top of which, 99% of the time that you compare your opponent to Nazis, you’ve already lost the argument: it’s just not a point that people tend to respect.

But! (says Kirby) we’re not comparing them to actual Nazis, but rather to a general notion of Nazisim “used to simply mean ‘extremist’ or ‘obsessive'”. While this is still a stupid rhetorical point, let’s look at what Kirby considers totalitarian”

Hysterical, bullying overreaction to dissent? Attempting to make it so unpleasant for anyone who dares to oppose them that others are deterred from trying it? Utter conviction that their own ideology is absolutely right and just, and that no questioning of it can therefore ever be permitted?

So, hyperbole aside, we’re talking basically about conviction towards an ideology that you feel compelled to defend. You know, like the Republicanazis and the Democranazis. The Christinazis and the Athenazis. Don’t forget about the GLBTN with their totalitarian gay rights agenda. Look, if that’s your definition of a “Nazi” extremist is someone who has and defends an ideology, then you’re going to get caught in your own trap. But maybe I’m wrong, maybe the “hysterical, bullying overreaction to dissent” really is over-the-top enough to warrant the label. So with (what I imagine would have to be) a world full of examples of how the feminazis are suppressing dissent, surely Kirby can find us three REALLY good examples.

Let’s not forget the abuses of speakers’ “privilege” at certain conferences, where audience members holding “the wrong attitudes” have been picked on by the speaker from the platform.

For those not aware, this a reference to Rebecca Watson giving a talk at the 2011 CFI Leadership Conference regarding the “elevator incident” where she mentions a particular comment about the incident:

So apparently “publicly disagreeing with someone” is suppressing dissent. There’s a valid argument to be made that what Watson did was bad form in that it wasn’t the proper forum to call someone out over a disagreement by placing her next to comments advocating that Watson be slapped or raped. But this is a far cry from “silencing dissent”. Disagreement with people happens, and sometimes people are going to be hurt by it. But there’s a difference between “here’s what a person said and I disagree with them and here’s why” and over a year’s worth of telling someone that you’re going to rape them, or that they’re too ugly to rape, and using the name “Rebecca Twatson” as though you think you’re being clever when really it’s impossible to be clever by repeating the same insult for OVER A GODDAMNED YEAR.

Saturday saw someone on Twitter being harassed by one of the Sisterhood for having had the temerity to simply follow the decidedly unapproved @AngrySkepchick. Not even your “Follow” lists are now safe from the prying eyes of the Sisters, and be sure you will be subject to interrogation if your choices appear to deviate from the required standard!

This second example, I actually hadn’t heard about and it took some Google digging to figure out. I guess on Saturday, Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) of Skepchick fame challenged one of the speakers at the upcoming TAM 2012, Sharon Hill, over the fact that she was following a twitter account called @AngrySkepchick that was mocking Rebecca Watson (people’s hatred of whom always seems to enter into these things…). As a public figure, her tacit endorsement of an insult campaign versus Watson could be viewed as a inappropriate, and Roth called her on it by saying that she would no longer follow Hill on Twitter. At its core, that’s pretty much it: A woman on Twitter unfollowed another woman on Twitter over something she felt was inappropriate… Ergo, FEMINAZI SILENCING OF DISCUSSION AND OPPRESSION OF DISAGREEMENT!

As for Kirby’s third example of silencing dissent:

the blogs, of course.

Specific as that is, I’m not really sure what to say to it. Maybe she’s talking about comment policies? I’m not really sure. So these are (one assumes) the best examples of how radical feminists are oppressing discourse on issues: publicly addressing comments and unfollowing people on Twitter. And blogs.

But fine, let’s assume that they are radically suppressing the voices of those who disagree with them. Let’s look at the point that’s actually being disagreed upon:

  • Some women at conferences feel harassed.
  • Women who feel harassed at conferences are less likely to go.
  • Such women have said that instituting an anti-harassment policy would make them feel more comfortable.
  • An anti-harassment policy would not negatively affect the experience of anyone who wasn’t harassing women.
  • Therefore, institute a fucking harassment policy.

Honestly, this battle is pretty much won. American Atheists, Dragon*Con, CFI, SkepchickCON, Skepticon, SSA Con and more all have instituted harassment policies. Even TAM, at the centre of all the controversy, had a harassment policy last year, which one assumes will be carried over seeing as how last year’s TAM was the largest turnout of women they’ve ever had (ie: anti-harassment policies get more women to come).

That’s it. That’s all there is to it. Some people want a harassment policy and feel don’t comfortable coming without one. Anyone who doesn’t care won’t be affected and anyone who actively opposes a harassment policy should think long and hard about what exactly their reasons are for opposing it. Do you think it’s because such policies are anti-sex? Then you should check out the anti-harassment policy of a goddamned sex-based conference: OpenSF.

This should be such a non-controversial point that anyone defending it has the right to treat their opponents like idiots. Harassment bad. Don’t do it.

Kirby, however, would rather continue comparing feminists to Nazis.

Let’s consider 1930s Germany for a moment. How did the Nazis gain popular support? By exploiting a sense of grievance post-Versailles, by continually telling the German people they’d been treated abominably, had their noses ground in the dust, been unfairly penalized, that they were the victims of an international, Jew-led conspiracy, that they needed to rise from the ashes and gain their revenge and their proper, god-ordained place in the world.

(snip)

Change the terminology a little and you have the poor, oppressed, victimized, unfairly ignored women being urged to rise up against the evil conspiracy of those men, women-haters, sister-shamers and gender-traitors who are responsible for all their woes.

Except that there was no Jew-led conspiracy out to keep the German people down; whereas the effects of misogyny can be felt by how any woman who dares speak up against it gets threats of rape and violence. Even if the two situations were comparable, Nazis went on to kill millions of people and the feminists are simply saying “hey guys, don’t harass women”.

Speaking of harassment, did you know that it’s not actually a problem?

Absolutely anyone can find themselves being sexually propositioned at any conference at all if they hang out in the bar long enough, and late enough at night. (snip)  For those who engage in the propositioning and those who respond positively to it (and many do), it is presumably one of the fun bits of life. I simply do not accept that any reasonably mature, rational adult does not know exactly how to avoid getting into this kind of situation if he or she would prefer not to, or how to deal with it if it occurs.

Nobody other than the concocted strawmen in the heads of those who oppose the anti-harassment policies actually has a problem with this situation, in principle. Some people like to have sex at conferences. That’s great! They should go out and have a blast. But some people like to go to bars and hang out, and they should be able to enjoy themselves too. The point is, don’t make sex the primary thing. If you’re having a conversation with someone and one thing leads to another, then you’ve lucked out. But if you’re just having a good conversation and it doesn’t lead anywhere physical? Guess what, you still lucked out! You got to talk to some cool people and maybe make a few new friends. Heaven forbid that you not get laid after all your hard work of making conversation with people. Find yourself in a conversation with someone who you don’t think wants to sex you up? You’re free to leave and talk to someone with more similar intentions. If the people who want sex can get it, and the people who just want to hang out can do that EVERYBODY WINS. All you have to do is not start out your conversations with “Want to go back to my room?” and a wink.

I am talking about normal, non-violent situations in which no assault takes place.

Well you know what? Some of us are. Because in addition to the issue of constant but non-violent string of sexual propositions from certain attendees there are other issues of women being groped, or stalked or possibly having upskirt photos taken of them that need to be dealt with. An anti-harassment policy does this too. It gives conference staff the explicit ability to throw people out harassing women when they’re doing things as extreme as this. It’s not an admission that this sort of thing happens all the time. It doesn’t. But it also doesn’t have to in order to have a negative effect. We don’t want to hear that sexual harassment never happens at conferences, because that’s probably not true. We want to hear if  it happens what does the conference plan to do about it.

Kirby then attempts to address the criticism that there aren’t enough female speakers at conferences by spending a few pages talking about how men don’t keep women from speaking out, women just naturally don’t speak out. She does this by talking about her time organizing events or meetings for business people, and how the women would always stay silent.

My background is in business. I have lost count of the number of times I have been present at meetings when the women said nothing and left it all to the men. I’ve been guilty of it myself, many a time. Was it because the men weren’t willing to listen to the women? I don’t think it was. Did the men dismiss our comments if we made them? No, they didn’t. Did they try to stop us making them? No, they didn’t do that either. Were the women lacking in ideas? No, of course not. We just didn’t speak up. Crucially, many of us didn’t speak up, even when openly invited to do so.

It’s their own fault, dammit!

Let’s put aside the notion that maybe, just maybe, women stay silent because often when the speak up about an issue, they’re met with a backlash that is either because of their gender or focused on their gender. For a recent example of this, check out the story of Anita Sarkesian who started a project critiquing the depiction of women in video games. Before she even started working on the project (having merely announced it) she was called a bitch, whore, slut, feminazi (of course) and cunt, told to get back in the kitchen, make a sandwich and show her tits.

Let’s put aside the notion that this is not an uncommon occurrence.

Kirby is trying to make the argument that women don’t actually have an interest in speaking up and presenting at conferences. I’ll admit, I don’t know much about the business world. Maybe this is true there (I doubt it), but the atheists and skeptic movement is a much different place, and there’s no shortage of women available to speak at conferences. This list includes:

  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali
  • Ophelia Benson
  • Susan Jacoby
  • Jen McCreight
  • Taslima Nasrin
  • Christina Radd
  • Natalie Reed
  • Greta Christina
  • Maryam Namazie
  • Sikivu Hutchinson
  • Amanda Marcotte
  • Rebecca Watson
  • Tracie Harris
  • Jen Peeples
  • Ashley Paramore
  • Julia Sweeney
  • Jessica Ahlquist
  • and Paula Kirby, herself!

Not to mention the Women In Secularism conference which took place a couple months ago, which only goes to show just how many great female speakers are out there who could be invited to speak conferences. Since this issue has started coming up, conferences have started focusing on exactly this, with a greater and greater percentage of female speakers (and, consequently, attendees). But Kirby somehow views it as ironic that these women would have a place to speak, rather than giving it up to “new names” or “fresh new women secularists” but this ignores a huge aspect of conferences: the networking. It is about getting new faces to come out to conferences, and whether or not you’re up on stage, you’re now involved with the movement just by being there. And when you reach out to women (by, for example, instituting the anti-harassment policies they ask for) you (surprise!) get more women to attend. TAM, of all places, were the ones who proved this last year.

So if you say that women being invited to be speakers means there’s not a problem, you’re an idiot. It simply means that we’re winning.

Celebrity Sexy Time Photos

I have a bone to pick. In the past week there’s been two stories I’ve seen about celebrities having nude photos leaked. One was about Christina Hendricks and Olivia Munn and one was about Glee’s Heather Morris. I’m not going to link to the pictures. In the first story, the two women had their phones hacked which is how the photos got out. In the Heather Morris’ case, I don’t know how the leak came about, but it doesn’t really matter.

Here’s my problem: so many people I seen keep saying the same thing, which amounts to “if you’re a celebrity, why would you take these photos knowing that they would be a target for hackers.” To the people who ask this question, I would like to say:

Fuck you.

The women in these stories (or any number of other celebrity nude “scandals”) haven’t done the slightest thing wrong. Technology has become such a key component of our every day lives and the fact of the matter is that it has also become a normal part of people’s sex lives. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I imagine that a lot of non-famous folks engage in the exact same behaviour. It’s exciting, it’s risqué, and if (consensually) sending someone a photo of your naked body gets you off, then more power to you.

So here’s the issue. You have this class of people (celebrities) who are somehow not supposed to engage in a particular form of sexual behaviour, who receive criticism for this exact behaviour. How is this anything other than slut shaming? Sure, these women are higher-profile targets, but still: the problem here isn’t them, it’s the hackers who keep invading their privacy. I don’t really think I’ve seen anyone come out and condemn them, at least nowhere near as often as I’ve seen the women chastised for having taken such photos in the first place. It’s a little to close for my taste to the people who accuse women who dress provocatively as being at fault if they’re raped. The problem isn’t them, it’s the people who are engaging in illegal activities in the first place.

So how about next time this happens, instead of saying “Well, they should have known better than to take nude photos of themselves” we come together and say “Man, those hackers sure are assholes for invading someone’s privacy, especially in such an extremely intimate way.” Imagine how it would feel to have pictures of your naked body plastered (unwillingly) all over the Internet and ask yourself whether you would be more mad at yourself for engaging in normal sexual behaviour, or mad at the douchebags who did it to you.