Why I’m skeptical of efforts to criminalize the sabotage of birth control

***UPDATED to fix Tressie’s twitter handle. Cuz that was embarrassing.***

Men sabotaging women’s birth control is A Thing.
It’s a form of abuse, an act of taking control over her own body away from a woman. Women suffering from domestic violence are often additionally victim to this as well as other forms of abuse, by men trying to keep them from leaving the relationship (which for obvious reasons is much harder when you’re pregnant or have children in the house), or sometimes just because it’s another form of control and DV is all about control. It is obvious therefore that sabotaging women’s birth control and other forms of reproductive coercion need to end, victims of this need to be able to seek justice, and perpetrators need to be made accountable.
Which of course means that now that a Canadian case has made a lot of people notice that this is A Thing, they want to criminalize it, based on the argument that the sexual assault laws in the U.S. would never suffice by themselves to persecute abusers for it*. Sounds sensible: if you think that the criminal justice system works even remotely well, then it makes sense to think that if someone commits an act of violence, they need to be sent throught the CJS for it. But this really does require the assumption that the U.S. legal system is just (or at least “close enough” to just to make it work more often than not)and therefore that criminalization will work as intended.

I’m skeptical. I’m skeptical, because when I read this twitter exchange between Lauren Chief Elk (‏@ChiefElk) and Brienne of Snarth (@femme_esq), I couldn’t help but acknowledge the truth of many of the points, if not necessarily their immediate applicability to the wider U.S. culture**. I’m skeptical, because I tend to come at these things from a harm-reduction-based perspective, and I’m not convinced that this will actually reduce rather than increase harm. I’m skeptical, because cultural myths play a huge role in the ways laws actually end up being applied.
For example, the Stand Your Ground laws don’t actually allow victims greater leeway in self-defense (see: Marissa Alexander***) but rather allow already privileged people to get away with violence even more. This is because cultural myths are such that black men and women are always seen as the danger, and white men and women always as the defenders of civilization. And how does this work with birth control sabotage? Our cultural myths claim that women are baby-crazy, and men don’t actually want kids; that women are more likely to be ok with an unplanned pregnancy than men (there’s how many movies with that plot? The one where an uncomplicated het-relationship gets derailed by pregnancy that switches the woman into “settling&nesting” mode while giving the guy a midlife crisis?); that women are more invested in committed relationships than men (see: ball-and-chain), and thus more likely to use desperate measures to prevent a breakup; etc. Hell, google “tricking into pregnancy” and see how that works out. As Brienne points out in the twitter dialogue, the cultural narrative is of a woman trapping a man rather than vice versa. Even the Daily Beast article linked at the beginning of this essay acknowledges this with a link to an article discussing NBA orientation for rookie players, in which the following quote appears:

They wanted us to see the dangers out there. They warned us about groupies poking holes in condoms, having hidden cameras and stuff like that. The temptations are hard to turn down, but if you don’t, you are subject to big problems.

And remember, we live in a society in which there are people convinced that women stealing sperm out of discarded condoms is some sort of epidemic (google “spermjacking” if you really want to know more about this; I wouldn’t recommend it tho).
So what I’m saying is this: when you’re operating within an extremely unjust legal system, you have to be exceedingly careful how you use it; in this case, the question is: how likely is it that criminalizing BC sabotage will be effectively used against actual abusers, rather than against women by e.g. dudes not wanting to pay child support?
BC sabotage is going to be a situation of he-said-she-said almost always, and “he said” will be always given more weight than “she said”, especially when other oppressions like race and class also work against the woman. I can imagine this even leading to greater reproductive coercion, if a guy who doesn’t want a kid threatens the pregnant woman to either get an abortion or be accused of spermjacking or some shit like that. I can also imagine that many women won’t report BC sabotage: consider the stigma BC has in this country (Sandra Fluke anyone? And she was a very privileged woman); consider the cultural myths about who sabotages BC; consider the “bitches be lyin’” trope. Basically, all the reasons ever mentioned in #IDidNotReport will figure in here as well, and we might well be increasing the potential for legal harassment of victims of DV, by giving their abusers another tool to subvert for their own needs.

Mind you, harm reduction is not the sole reason to criminalize something. The main other uses of criminalization in justice are punishment, normalization, process, and deterrence.
I reject the idea of punishment as a goal of justice, in general. Punishment of an offender as a goal of criminalization/incarceration (rather than a means towards another goal) relies on the notion that responsibility lies solely and entirely with the offender; it requires belief in a self-causing will, in the notion that an action is entirely and solely caused by the offender’s creation of a desire and opportunity to act as they did. I don’t accept this belief, because it goes against the evidence that shows us that the world outside our heads shapes our desires, priorities, and opportunities. Punishment for the offender and only for the offender (because how to you incarcerate social structures?) is an individualist erasure of the structural causes of violence.
So while accountability for the harm caused by an action is a sensible part of justice, punishment for its own sake is not. Making someone “pay the price” for a crime to society or to the victims has to actually be of value to society or the victims, and locking someone up does not, per-se, produce any value to society/victims. It can only do so as a means to a goal. Which brings us to the other aspects.
Despite the saying “morality cannot be legislated”, a law actually is a normative statement. And the fact that plenty of people can’t tell the difference between legal and moral (nor the difference between illegal and immoral)seems to indicate that normalization happens, if not immediately than into the next generation at least. Basically, if you allow or forbid something and the world doesn’t come crashing down (or significantly inconvenience anyone with social visilibity), people get used to it and start thinking of this as the new normal. So folks saying that it would make a statement that society doesn’t condone reproductive coercion if it were criminalized do have a point. But as a main reason to criminalize it, it seems not enough, given that it would also be a weak normative statement. Not because a law is a weak normative statement per-se, but because laws that go against strongly entrenched cultural myths have their normative function subverted. E.g. rape being illegal does mean the cultural idea is that rape is bad, but it’s entirely abstract; not only do some actual rapes get defined out of the rape category, the culture also creates a lot of exceptions (the most jarring example is prison-rape: people generally don’t deny it’s rape, but they treat it like a joke or a deserved punishment). I suspect the same will happen with these situations: even if we’d achieve a normalization of the belief that reproductive sabotage is a thing and a bad thing, the cultural mythology around it will subvert it so that real instances will be treated as not-it, or as exceptions where it’s somehow ok.
Process means simply giving someone a clear, pre-set way of dealing with something. Now, I don’t think any engagement with the American CJS is easily understandable, simple, etc. but having a set process and a set of legal tools to deal with something is usually preferable to no procedure at all. This is likely the strongest case for criminalization, because it’s useful and helpful to be able to take out restraining orders, have a concrete, codified thing to accuse your abuser of, and have other rules you can lean on when it’s hard to try to think your way out of a situation. But acknowledging this absolutely requires remembering that this will be useful primarily to those with educational and class**** privilege; who don’t make up the majority of DV victims.
Deterrence is/can be an acknowledgement of the way social structures shape choices. To deter means to change the environment in which a choice is made, and introduce a desire (the desire to avoid being held accountable) to hopefully outcompete the desire that would be satisfied by the criminal action. These changes can lead to reductions in the occurrence of a harmful act, and can therefore be actually useful. As such, deterrence is not inherently flawed the way punishment is; but it needs to actually accomplish the environmental and internal changes, or else it’s bullshit. A law as deterrent tends to only work if the likelihood of getting caught & convicted is high, or at least thought of as high. Laws that have low rates of perpetrators getting caught and getting convicted make lousy deterrents: if you get away with it sometimes, you learn that you can get away with it always, even if it’s not true. Works like that for texting-and-driving, for underage drinking, for pot-smoking-while-white, and because of rape culture it also works like that on rape. My suspicion is that given the difficulty to prove sabotage and the power-disparity in literal he-said-she-said situations, arrest and conviction rates would be low. So, not an effective deterrent in the long run.

So to sum up: there are positive things that criminalization could possibly accomplish, but these effects seem to be overall fairly small and doubtful given the current cultural narratives. And the way selective application of these protective laws protects aggressors more than victims, there are potentially many negative consequences to victims. The potential for abuse, for being directed against victims of domestic violence, and for even increasing some forms of reproductive coercion is pretty big given the current social narratives. I worry that the negative effects far outweigh any positive ones.

Not that I’m saying we shouldn’t do anything about this problem, but I’m more and more thinking that putting the tools for defense in victims’ hands rather than in a severely broken, anti-woman, anti-poor, anti-PoC criminal justice system is the better approach at harm-reduction and empowerment at this time. So, some suggestions along those lines, to help free women from reproductive coercion without risking anti-woman side effects:

1)increase free and gatekeeper-free access to as many form of birth control (both the contraceptive and post-conceptive kinds): controlling women’s reproduction happens often with the cooperation of laws on birth control which make access complicated, time intensive, expensive etc, thus preventing women in DV situation from discreetly controlling their reproduction and from choosing options that would be less manipulable by a violent and controlling partner. Give women more options and access for BC, and in many cases you take away the means by which an abuser can coerce their reproduction.

2)Destroy the cultural myths that harm victims of reproductive coercion: these would the the ideas that consent to sex is consent to pregnancy; that reproductive coercion is something women do, rather than something abusive men do; etc.

3)Provide better safety nets and community support for single pregnant women and single women with children. When pregnancy and children no longer function as traps keeping the women from leaving (e.g. because there’s no women’s shelter that will accept all her kids), the utility of reproductive sabotage as insurance against leaving will diminish, and with it the value of this action to abusers.

None of those will stop all or even many cases of reproductive sabotage immediately; but neither would criminalization. I just think that the suggestions above would also have fewer negative side effects on already victimized women.

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*it’s complicated, but basically Canada has some stricter ideas about what is or isn’t legally consent than the U.S. does. The Canadian case that kicked off this interest in criminalizing reproductive coercion was one in which the sabotage was treated as aggravated sexual assault because even though the woman consented to sex, she didn’t consent to unprotected sex. Basically, at least in Nova Scotia, it’s (as the case stands now) legally true that consent to sex is not consent to pregnancy. As this legal article explains, that’s not true in the U.S. because of that nasty thing called “generalized consent”, plus legal-structural shit that went over my head because IANAL.

**the conversation includes the following tweets:

[Lauren Chief Elk @ChiefElk
Decolonizing Anti-Rape Law and Strategizing Accountability in Native American Communities via @andrea366 http://communityaccountability.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/decolonizing-antirape-law.pdf ]
[Lauren Chief Elk @ChiefElk
Decolonizing Rape Law: A Native Feminist Synthesis of Safety and Sovereignty via @sarahdeer http://turtletalk.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/deer-decolonizing-rape-law.pdf ]
The papers deal with the question of sexual assaults and tribal courts. They’re amazing and I find these immensely interesting and good material for thinking about anarchist communities, because not being able to deal with sexual violence is a major flaw of every idea (and praxis) of anarchist community I’ve ever encountered. But most women in the U.S. don’t at the moment live in the kinds of communities that would allow for analogues to tribal court justice.

***relevant and timely, on Friday there will be a discussion on Marissa Alexander and how DV laws backfire on minority women:

[Lauren Chief Elk ‏@ChiefElk
So on Friday we're going to talk about shifting anti-violence, criminalization of DV, & Marissa Alexander w/#FreeMarissa. Get ready to join.]

****class privilege is very relevant, even if you “fake” it. In this essay on poor people and expensive stuff, Tressie McMillan Cottom (@tressiemcphd) recounts the story of her mother helping people in the community with bureaucracy; and how her mother had an expensive outfit to do it which seemed to gain her “respectability” from the office folks, at least enough to make it possible to get stuff done where the people her mom was helping couldn’t.

My conversation with a female rape apologist

**TW for minimizing female-on-male rape, description of non-consent by perpetrator, and denial of realities of rape**

I didn’t think I’d ever end up having to have this conversation with anyone on my FB. But it happened. not only was the OP already not a good thing, implying that women sexually forcing themselves on men isn’t rape because erect and ejaculating penises are involved; a few comments down a woman joins with a comment describing a situation in which she proceeded to sexually touch a man despite lack of positive signals and some negative non-verbal signals, using the word rape in scarequotes. It didn’t get any better from there:
screenshot of a facebook conversation (transcript at bottom of post)
I should have left that conversation at that point (well, I should have left when I said I would). I didn’t, and it went on and got worse; at one point, she decided to interpret my second-to-last comment visible above as me asking a rape victim out of the blue whether they orgasmed during their rape, and tried to accuse me of being turned on by other people’s rapes (and when I corrected the admittedly badly phrased comment to say I meant I had listened to survivors talk about this, she accused me of lying). I did finally leave (and I’m sure the thread is still going on) after being told “Go find a rape victim to drill. Pun intended”.

I don’t know why I’m posting this, other than I guess to document this surreal experience. Because seriously, WTF.

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Person1: I still suffer a considerable amount of cognitive dissonance over the use of the term “rape” for the act of a woman forcing a grown man to have sex with her — with him becoming aroused, having intercourse and reaching orgasm.
To most young men, tales of the situation probably provoke laughter more than empathy. I have to wonder if that doesn’t cheapen the word.
That it happens, and that the men it happens to are emotionally affected, I have few doubts. But we definitely need some different terminology.

Person2: That is part of the difficulty in men reporting rape. No one believes them.

Person2: I don’t know of a better word for it. Sex without consent.

Jade Hawk: sex without consent is rape. doesn’t matter whether it’s men raping women or women raping men, it’s still rape. it’s the violation of bodily autonomy. Why should we not use the correct term for it?

Jade Hawk: oh and btw, the thing about arousal and orgasms is a common denialist trope targeted at women; because sometimes women, when they’re raped, have orgasms. That doesn’t make it not rape.
Same thing applies to men: eliciting a physical reaction from your nether parts does not constitute consent.

Person3: Yeah, I agree that it’s still rape. It is basically the same violation, even if viewed differently by most men.

Person4: I “raped” my ex at the time. We had just broken up and I was devastated. We rested in bed together after a long fight, sort of cuddling but very cautiously so. I started touching his hair and skin. Trying to be romantic, trying to.show love and change the course. He didn’t move or respond at all.
I somehow found myself giving him.head. he told me I shouldn’t and didn’t respond much other then a moan… half pleasure, half. “Stop it.” He came really hard and curled up in a ball. Moments later he cuddled me tighter and asked why he can’t ever say no to me. The power I felt was very strong and feminine, and very erotic. We stayed apart for about another year, occasionally sleeping together. I brought it up a few months later unsure if I.should feel guilty. He said at the time it felt good but.he didn’t want it, but at present it didn’t bother him. The conversation served.as a segway for some sex and roleplay.
It was wrong of me to ignore his signs even if he didn’t explicitly day no, but we’re back together now and to this day his oral rape is a fond and sexy memory for both of us. It’s the only.time I’ve done that.

Person4:file that more under poor decision making.than.actual rape.. that’s what.he meant when he said I shouldn’t.
And I.don’t.know about ant of you but I have been made very sexually uncomfortable by men and women alike. I.can’t imagine anyone, male or female being relaxed enough to orgasm during a sexual assault. Ever.

Jade Hawk: your failure to imagine something doesn’t constitute a fact or even a valid argument

Person4: I didn’t say it did. I’m speaking personally. Jeez.

Jade Hawk no, “i can’t imagine anyone” is not speaking personally, it’s projecting.
I’m done with this. rape apologia is more than I can deal with today

Person4: No. Its saying.that infant imagine something.

Person4: I can’t

Person4: And who are you to say I condone or sympathize with rape or rapiats?
Because I’m not so much of an animal that even if I’m emotionally distraught if someone touches my.junk I cant help but be turned on? Earth is not some hentai film. We are not ruled by sexual urges.

Person4: We don’t.scream in pleasure during rape. We.scream for.help. now.go.watch.la blue.girl or.some.shit. crazy woman.

Jade Hawk: victims of rape who experience involuntary orgasms are animals ruled by their sexual urges?
“yeah, you’re totes not a rape apologist. and ableist, to boot

Person4: There is no such thing.as involuntary orgasm. Orgasms are a result.of.sexual pleasure.

Person4: She needs to.enjoy.it.to.come. that simple. If it were that easy to.orgasm then.women.wouldn’t complain that they can’t.relax enough in bed to enjoy.sex.

Jade Hawk: ypou’re a rape apologist and science denialist: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1353113103001536

Person4: Jade implying a rape victim enjoys her rape enough to.orgasm is fucking offensive as hell.

Person4: Yup
And.you’re a cunt. There. All your feminist dreams about me.have.come.true.
Now.why don’t.you.go.ask.a.rape.victim if.she.came or not. Insensitive Fuck. Shit .

Jade Hawk I have that’s how I know that this happens. Denialist asshole

Person4: Wow. That’s really insensitive. And your link directed me to a page about pesticides…

Jade Hawk you’re right. me listening to rape victims is super insensitive. [/sarc]
also, if a link to sciencedirect gives you a page on pesitcides, you have a virus problem

North Dakota and the ACA

Not that a lot of North Dakotans read my blog, but this stuff is bound to be googled a lot in the near future (signups for the insurance exchange and medicaid expansion start on October 1st), and I found it very hard to find anything, so once I finally stumbled on useful information, I figured it would be good to put it all into one place.

First of all, the basics: open enrollment starts October 1st, coverage kicks in January 1st, and open enrollment ends on March 31st. Everyone who lives in ND and is either a U.S. citizen or a resident alien is eligible for the exchange.

There’s the main site for health care stuff, https://www.healthcare.gov/. Clicking on the “See your options” button will get you the standard insurance-questionnaire and lead you to possible options of what you may or may not be eligible for, and also a short FAQ with some other issues relating to changes as a consequence of the ACA (Also known as Obamacare).

If you’re looking at Medicaid, ignore the part where it says you should go to ND’s medicaid website for more info. They’ve not updated anything to reflect the coming changes yet. This will probably be the most useful bit of advice:

Starting October 1, 2013, fill out an application for the Health Insurance Marketplace. When you finish this application, we’ll tell you which programs you and your family qualify for. If it looks like anyone is eligible for Medicaid, we’ll let the Medicaid agency know so your coverage can start in 2014.
North Dakota will expand its Medicaid program in 2014 to cover households with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty level. That works out to about $15,800 a year for 1 person or $32,500 for a family of 4.

If you’re looking at reduced premiums for coverage from the exchange, there’s a calculator that can give estimates, but nothing will be “official” until October 1st and the calculator is for national averages not for ND specifically, so the quotes may be somewhat inaccurate. The calculator is at http://kff.org/interactive/subsidy-calculator/

The actual application forms etc. won’t be available until October 1st. As far as I can tell, it’ll be possible to apply online at https://www.healthcare.gov/marketplace/individual/#state=north-dakota; via mail (downloadable forms will be available Oct. 1st); and in person with the help of certain “navigators” (see below).

There will also be information sessions throughout October on the ACA: http://www.itstartswithbluend.com/sessions.php and there’s a toll free info line at 1-800-318-2596. Aside from that, four locations are meant to serve as “navigators”, meaning they are supposed to supply people with information to help with submitting applications, clarifying issues regarding the different plans etc., and also help people with applying and otherwise navigating through the application process. The information I found lists the following as the “navigators” for ND, but the sites of these places don’t say anything on the topic, so it may not be accurate:

Family HealthCare Center, Fargo – http://www.famhealthcare.org/index.html

Coal County Community Health Center, Beulah – http://www.coalcountryhealth.com/

Northland Community Health Center, Turtle Lake – http://www.northlandchc.org/

Valley health Community Center, Northwood – http://mabu-vchc.taopowered.net/

North Dakota’s War on Uteri, continued

Just got back from the Fargo rally organized by Stand Up For Women North Dakota against the ridiculously restrictive anti-abortion laws winding its way through the legislature. It was fucking cold, and I ended up standing for most of it on a 3 meter tall pile of snow and ice. Also, I was pleasantly surprised by actually getting to listen to a Republican who was a)actually one of the organizers of this rally; b)commented favorably on the importance of freedom from religion; and c)actually said that she’d expect people to hold her accountable in her office on a school board should she ever try to get religion into the curriculum. I didn’t know such Republicans even existed in this country anywhere.

Anyway, the rally (and its sister rallies in Bismarck and Grand Forks) was specifically a call for the governor of ND to veto proposed laws which have made it through both house and senate, and which should land on his desk sometime today. Three of them I’ve mentioned in my previous post on this, while the fourth one is one that had previously escaped my attention. The bills are: SB2305, a TRAP law designed to close down the last clinic in ND; HB1305, meant to prohibit “abortions for sex selection or genetic abnormalities”; HB1456, a “heartbeat” bill; and SB2368, which is the one I’d previously missed and which actually proposes to cross out the “within present constitutional limits” part and replace it with a “state’s compelling interest in the unborn human life from the time the unborn child is capable of feeling pain” line (among other shit*; basically, this is an attempt at a 20-week-abortion ban), and which also includes this last minute attempt to block the federal sex-ed grant that NDSU received and that was finally unblocked as (currently) perfectly within ND law (emphasis mine):

Except as required by federal law, no funds of this state or any agency, county, municipality, school district, or any other subdivision thereof, or institution under the control of the state board of higher education, and no federal funds passing through the state treasury or a state agency may be used:
1. As family planning funds by any person or public or private agency which performs, refers, or encourages abortion; or
2. To contract with, or provide financial or other support to individuals, organizations, or entities performing, inducing, referring for, or counseling in favor of, abortions.

As of this moment, the bills have neither been signed nor vetoed by the governor; and this morning, when asked, all he had to say on the topic was basically “blah blah flood is more important blah blah won’t comment until they’re on my desk” (audio found here. And even if he vetoes it, the same shit that just went down in Arkansas can also happen here: the veto can still be overridden. I don’t know that there’s much hope that it won’t come to that, one way or another. (UPDATE: ND Governor Dalrymple is a douche canoe)

And even if by some miraculous event the laws get vetoed AND the veto won’t get overridden, there’s still SCR4009, which also has been passed and which means ND will have a referendum on a personhood amendment in 2014.

Worst state for uterus-bearers, indeed.

UPDATE: here’s a picture, and here’s the InForum article about the rally

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*for example: they define abortions for ectopic pregnancies and to remove dead fetuses out of existence; it excludes even major psychological damage from the “substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function” which would allow for an exception to the law, and specifically excludes being diagnosed as suicidal from being a medical emergency;

What does psychology consider harassment?

Because certain entities on the web feel like redefining all forms of internet harassment and threat as “trolling” just because it happens online or via unusual media, I decided to look at what actually qualifies as harassment in psychology (rather than in law, since we’re talking about whether it affects people, not whether it’s illegal). I looked at a couple psych studies that were doing experiments on the effects of harassment, and excerpted the part where they describe the form of experimental harassment they subjected their test subjects to, as well as relevant results:

Harassment used in experiment:

For subjects in the harassment condition, scripted harassing comments were delivered on a fixed schedule, at minutes 2, 6, and 10 of the task, by an experimental assistant of the same gender as the subject. All experimental assistants (three women and three men) were trained to deliver the harassing statements in a firm, authoritative, but neutral (i.e., not angry) tone of voice.


The harassed subjects reacted more strongly than the control subjects to the stressor on all cardiovascular and cortisol measures and recovered more slowly than the nonharassed controls. In addition, several gender differences in response to the stressor and during the recovery period were observed. The harassed men exhibited the largest reactivity on cortisol and DBP indices, whereas the harassed women showed a more pronounced response on the subjective ratings of hostility and HR. The harassed groups were the only ones to show significant cortisol responses, with cortisol reactivity in harassed men approximately twice that of their female counterparts. Control groups did not exhibit significant cortisol reactivity. During the recovery period, harassed men exhibited attenuated return to baseline on cardiovascular indices and cortisol, whereas women, overall, tended to exhibit an overcompensation response on cardiovascular measures.

Harassment used in experiment:

For subjects in the Harassment condition, the procedure for the first four TAT cards was identical to that just described for subjects in the Nonharassment condition. Before the fifth card, however, the experimenter said that the last four stories had been “somewhat boring,” and that the subject should try harder to make the next few stories interesting. After the fifth card, the experimenter said “you still do not have it right.” After the sixth and seventh cards, the experimenter again indicated that the stories were inadequate, and said “I cannot see what the problem is,” and that “you should make some effort” to improve them. During the eighth story, the experimenter interrupted the subject with a critical comment.


Results indicate that the harassment manipulation affected increases in [heart rate], [systolic blood pressure], and [diastolic blood pressure]. Furthermore, among subjects in the Harassment condition, anger repressors showed greater HR reactivity than low anger expressors, but similar HR reactivity to that shown by high anger expressors. [...] among subjects in the Harassment condition, anger repressors reported levels of anger arousal similar to those of low anger expressors, but lower than those reported by high anger expressors. For subjects in the Nonharassment condition, no such effects emerged

There are other definitions, e.g. cyberbullying being typically defined as intentional and/or repeated harassment, which is ok except intent is hard to prove and easy to deny; and vague definitions that include terms like “verbal abuse”, which don’t explain anything. When studying entire organizations, there tends to be also a requirement of “creating a hostile environment” for harassment, so that even when each person only commits a harassing act once, it still counts.

Conclusion: Even mild interruption, ridicule, and criticism elicits stress responses, and all these mild stress-response-elicitors count as harassment in psychology. That doesn’t mean we should stop criticizing people, and it doesn’t mean that people who want to be skeptics, scientists and/or activists don’t need to learn to deal with a certain degree of both criticism and “trolling”. However, as with microaggressions, a constant barrage of aggression (some low-grade some decidedly less so) is typically more wearying/damaging than the occasional blatant, massive outburst. Consequently, telling a person who’s subjected for months to non-stop criticism, “satire”, parody, “trolling”, and plain old “as defined by every college campus everywhere” harassment* on multiple fronts that they aren’t being harassed is pure, unadulterated bullshit. Even the thickest skin will eventually be worn down** my months, or even years, of this sort of thing.
What this means in effect is that even harassment that doesn’t quite live up to persecutable legal standards*** still causes harm to people. Real, measurable harm.

What the pitters & their associates have been doing to certain individuals for months, even years now is definitely this kind of long-term harassment that creates a toxic environment and has negative physiological effects on people.

And the Horde isn’t entirely guilt-free here, either. The Reset rule and the Three Post rule exist for a reason, m’kay?

EDIT: more studies on this and related topic can be found at the bottom of this comment, because I’ve talked about this before.

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*for example, NDSU defines it as “unwelcome verbal or physical behavior which has the intent or effect of unreasonably interfering with the individual’s employment or academic endeavors or creating a hostile, intimidating or offensive environment. Harassment may include (but is not limited to) jokes, derogatory comments, pictures, and/or direct physical advances.”
**interestingly, the second study cited here also points out that people who repress their anger still have a hightened physiological response, but they don’t seem to perceive it (or want to disclose it to the researchers)… so “thick skinned” people may well not actually all be that thick skinned, just good at repressing their emotions. The physiological harm is still there though.
***according to USLegal.com, the legal definition of harassment in the US is determined by state, but typically includes this basic core:

Harassment is governed by state laws, which vary by state, but is generally defined as a course of conduct which annoys, threatens, intimidates, alarms, or puts a person in fear of their safety. Harassment is unwanted, unwelcomed and uninvited behavior that demeans, threatens or offends the victim and results in a hostile environment for the victim. Harassing behavior may include, but is not limited to, epithets, derogatory comments or slurs and lewd propositions, assault, impeding or blocking movement, offensive touching or any physical interference with normal work or movement, and visual insults, such as derogatory posters or cartoons.

North Dakota’s War on Uteri*

First, here’s the series Rachel Maddow did on the abortion clinics in states with only one such clinic:

Threats and traps push Mississippi to the brink of 40-year rights rollback
Last bastions of an unprotected right under attack
Women bear burden of extremist effort to undermine Roe v. Wade
GOP war on women continues to rage in the states
UPDATE: here’s another clip for that series, this time with Melissa Harris-Perry: Anti-abortion crusade misses target, hurts vulnerable women

Second, this is what’s going on in North Dakota in terms of proposed legislation:
North Dakota Lawmakers Have Plenty of Anti-Abortion Bills to Choose From, plenty meaning all these different bills: SCR4009, a fetal personhood bill which would require a 2014 vote to amend the constitustion and which was just approved by the ND Senate; SB2302, which would have banned chemical abortions and all abortions except those to save a woman’s life, which luckily seems to have failed in the senate 18 to 29; SB2303 another personhood bill, which passed the senate 25 to 22 and is now in another Committee Hearing; and SB2305, a TRAP law designed to close down the last clinic in ND, which has also passed the senate 30 to 17. Oh, and then there’s the newly proposedHB1305, which would prohibit “abortions for sex selection or genetic abnormalities” (which really just amounts to “please jump through more hoops”)
UPDATE: another one: HB1456, a “heartbeat” bill, passed by the house 63 to 28

And in addition to the anti-abortion bills, we have an anti-poor-people bill, HB1385, proposing a Fee to Get Welfare, by making welfare applicants pay for the mandatory drug test themselves (Because we all know people applying for welfare have lot’s of spare cash, amiright?); the deeply uninformative SB2175 titled “The liabilities of husband and wife” which seems to want to make separated-but-still-married folks responsible for each other’s debts; which sounds kinda dangerous.

And then there’s NDSU president Bresciani, caving in to assholes in the legislature and freezing funding two professors at NDSU have received to promote proper sex ed in this state: Sex Ed Program Provokes Fight Over Planned Parenthood in North Dakota

In conclusion, this state fucking sucks.

P.S.: completely unrelated to the topic at hand, ND is apparently also one of those states throwing a fit over federal gun laws: HB1183, a bill “relating to forbidding state governmental entities from providing aid and assistance to the federal government or any other governmental entity for the investigation, enforcement, and prosecution of federal firearms laws not in force as of January”.

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*title changed, because I just realized I was doing what I criticize other people for. So: anti-abortion legislation concerns many women, but not all, since some don’t have uteri and can’t get pregnant; and on the other hand, it also concerns some non-women because they have uteri, i.e. trans men and some genderqueer folks.

There’s a post on sex work on Feministe, and it is Teh Fail

Jill wrote a blog post titled Supporting Sex Workers’ Rights, Opposing the Buying of Sex. Reading it, I once again did that thing where I start arguing with an online article in my head, and then I realized this is blogging material. So here you go:

I am an anti-sex-trafficking feminist. I think sex work is incredibly problematic. And I also support the rights of sex workers. I think you can do all those things at once.

Sure one can. The question is really rather whether one’s actions on all these are consistent and synergistic, or whether one’s undermining one set of actions with another. Oh, and whether the actions actually are helpful, of course.

Also, sex work is “problematic” only in the same sense that manufacturing is problematic: it sits at the intersection of multiple axes of oppression and is made invisible/marginalized by the kyriarchy. And since the kyriarchy is abusive and oppressive, people who do this work are abused and oppressed (and no one cares/notices, because it’s all invisible/marginalized). But neither manufacturing nor sex work are problematic per se; their place in the matrix of oppression is problematic.

My view is basically that sex work wouldn’t exist in the feminist utopia. Why? Because sex wouldn’t be this commodified thing that some people (mostly woman) have and other people (mostly men) get. Sex would be a fun thing, a collaborative thing, always entered into freely and enthusiastically and without coercion.

That doesn’t follow. Unless Jill is a marxist feminist and wants to abolish commodities and the “selling”* of labor in addition to abolishing the patriarchy, everything that people do with other people will still be also offered as a paid service; even the fun stuff. Sure, abolishing the patriarchy would abolish the myth of sex being something women have and men want, but it would also destigmatize a lot of behaviors currently marginalized as a result of a patricular, heteronormative, patriarchal-religion-propagated view of what sex, love, relationships, etc. are. These changes would definitely shift the patterns of demand (and supply) for sex work, but it wouldn’t make it go away, any more than abolishing the class system will make the demand for mechanics go away.

As long as people in relationships have differing sex-drives, different and not-fully-compatible kinks, kinks that include sex (or watching peep-shows, or watching a stripper, or whathaveyou) with people not involved in that relationship (by yourself, or with together with your partner(s)), no-strings-attached-single-sex, etc., there will be demand for sex as a paid-for service; because amazingly enough, not everyone who wants to get laid finds social interaction pleasant enough to want to have to find a mutually interested partner in the wild, on short notice. Plus, if we got rid of the patriarchy, we’d also get rid of many stupid, shaming ideas about sex, which means the role of sex-workers could expand to workshops, counseling, private training or whatever for people interested in learning how to do different kinds of sex. Because goddamnit, sex absolutely should come with training sessions. We’d all be spared the awkward fumbling that is reinventing sex from scratch every time someone has sex for the first time.

Anyway, what I’m basically picturing here is the Licensed Sex Therapists from Beta Colony in the Vorkosigan Saga.

While that view would leave room for some types of sex work — sexually explicit performance, for example, if that performance were no longer primarily a looking-at-women’s-bodies-as-stand-ins-for-sex thing, which is what it mostly is today — it doesn’t leave room for offering money in exchange for sex

Again, unless this feminist utopia is also a marxist utopia, the service industry will still exist, and therefore the option of paying for sex still will exist too.

it doesn’t leave room for offering money in exchange for sex, especially as we see it now, with men being the primary consumers and sex being seen as something you can buy.

Well no, the primary clients might indeed not be men then. And sex wouldn’t be something one “buys”, any more than one “buys” car repair; sex is not a product, it’s a service. However, I see no reason to think that the idea of sex as a service will disappear just because the patriarchy did.

I don’t think there would be McDonalds or Wal-Mart in the feminist utopia either;

“McDonalds” and and “Wal-Mart” are not equivalents to “sex work”, or even “prostitution”. McD and Wal-Mart are specific businesses; the equivalents to “sex work” would be “food service” and “retail”. Will neither of those two types of service work exist in this feminist utopia, either? Because if so, we’re back at “marxist feminist utopia”. But if so, why single out sex work? It would be abolishing doing anything for pay, altogether.

And as a side note, the title of the post is “Supporting Sex Workers’ Rights, Opposing the Buying of Sex”, so would Jill oppose the “buying of food service” with the same methods which she’d suggest for sex work? Should we have a “swedish model” for restaurants, in which the cooks, waitstaff, etc. are not penalized, but the customers are?

Yes, of course women should have the right to do what they want with their own bodies, and of course there are many sex workers who aren’t trafficked or forced into the trade. But that smacks a bit too much of “I choose my choice!” feminism, which I find to be incredibly intellectually lazy.

There’s a difference between “I’m a woman therefore all my choices are feminist choices”, and “I have the right to navigate the matrix of oppression as I see fit”. All of us make choices that aren’t feminist, or that support and aid the patriarchy in maintaining itself, because a)most of us don’t have such options available due to external social structures, and b)our mental structures are such that what we enjoy/want/need are often entwined with patriarchy and lend it support, and it’s impossible for everyone to change all their desires. We don’t have contracausal free will (i.e. the ability to change and create desires and preferences at will), we only have agency (the ability to choose between available avenues towards fulfilling our desires). Desires change only slowly, as our character changes; and no one can rid their mind of all imprints of their society.
And lastly… as I mentioned previously, sex work is problematic because of its location in the matrix of oppression. Shift the matrix, or shift sex work out of that position, and sex work no longer functions as patriarchy-supporting, problematic work.

sex worker advocates have cast a similar too-wide net — arguing that sex work is a job like any other, that every job is coercive, etc etc. Both narratives erase the vast grey area of the entire idea of “consent” when money is involved.

Marxist feminist utopia, blah blah, this is getting boring. And in any case, that argument does make other service work different from sex work only in the degree of intimacy, not in any qualitative sense.

I too often see a similarly reductive argument — that while a small number of women and girls are actually enslaved, the rest are there voluntarily and we should support their choices.

It’s only reductive because “voluntarily” is a shitty word with too many related meanings. A better phrasing is that they are where they are because of the exercise of their agency. Social structures, both those external and internal to ourselves, are present for sex workers as much as for others. Change the social structures, and agency will be exercised differently: people who chose sex work because it’s the best of a range of shitty options might choose an option they see as better than sex work, should it become available; others however might chose sex-work if it became less marginalized, or allowed for different kinds of sex services (“training” for sex-n00bs or couples wanting to learn something new, for example) than currently exist/are in demand.
Still, even changing social structures won’t change the mind of those for whom sex-work is the best means to pursue their desires (or even, their desire itself), i.e. those who do it “voluntarily” in the sense of choosing without structural pressure or limitations**

But from a birdseye feminist view — from a sex-positive view — sex work is different because it’s commodifying something that should ideally be a basic pleasure, entered into entirely freely and at will.

That’s what the service industry is: commodifying things people do with other people; even the fun stuff. That’s what dance instructors do, too, for example. They take something people do together for fun (dancing) and that one ideally should only do with others who freely and voluntarily return the sentiment, and they provide that and related activities as a service one can pay for. Again, we’re really just talking about differences in the degree of intimacy, not a qualitative difference.

From a practical point of view, there are a whole lot of women in the sex trade who are technically there voluntarily insofar as they aren’t kidnapped and chained up, but who are coerced into sex work in ways that most of us would find intolerable — owing large sums of money to traffickers, psychologically and physically abused by pimps, cast out by their families and communities for doing sex work and believing there are no other options.

Emphasis mine. Because a)”no” other choice is often not true; only that the other choices are considered even shittier; and b)that’s the difference between “voluntarily” and “by exercising agency”: if sex work is the best option given the (internal and external) structural limitations, then changing the structures would change the results of exercising agency, but this makes sex work the same as other forms of labor in an intersectionally classist system: remove socioeconomic “pressures” that let people accept horrible work-conditions because the alternatives are worse, and the work conditions for that form of labor become worker-friendly (compare manufacturing in, say, Germany to sweat-shops in China, for example)

Putting them [economically oppressed sex workers, and economically privileged sex workers] all under the umbrella of sex work is helpful in advocating for recognition and certain legal changes, but ultimately it doesn’t mean that more women’s voices are heard; it means that the most privileged of the group dictate policy.

This is an intersectional problem, not a problem somehow inherent in sex work. Yes, if white, upper-class, sex- and gendernormative sex workers from countries where sex work isn’t illegal are the sole or even the dominant voices heard, that’s a problem in the same way that it is a problem when white, upper-class, sex- and gendernormative feminists are the only or the dominant voices in feminism. But how is that an argument for sex work being somehow qualitatively different?
Plus, many sex worker advocates ARE women who are affected by multiple axes of oppression. Whence the assumption that this isn’t so? Is it just because the voices of relatively privileged sex workers are the only voices that penetrate deeply enough into the mainstream feminist landscape? Because I find it extraordinarily easy to find the narratives of sex workers in India, the narratives of trans sex workers, etc.***

And while a small percentage are relatively privileged and fairly compensated, most aren’t. And most sex workers face very real barriers to basic rights like bodily autonomy, workplace safety, and freedom from violence.

This is true for most women in the world; it is also true for most work in the world; it is especially true for most work that women do. Again we’re dealing with sex work’s location in the matrix of oppression, with intersectionality, not with anything inherent to sex work.

There are some methods that can best serve most of these women — safer sex supplies, legal rights. But what serves a 14-year-old in a Cambodian brothel whose clients are mostly middle-aged white guys from Europe and the U.S. is not the same as what serves a 22-year-old in New York advertising on Craig’s List.

True, but once again an issue of intersectionality; something that sex work advocates are showing less problems with than mainstream feminism as a whole does; just sayin’.

And none of these issues of intersectionality (including the ones I didn’t quote, because how often can you point out the same mistake?) address the core of the supposed issue here: nothing here supports the argument that sex work (and prostitution specifically) shouldn’t exist. All of this is a good argument to not repeat mistakes of other social justice movements and make the most privileged members of the movement the sole or predominant voices in it; it’s a good argument to remember that intersectionality demands solutions suited to individual cases, based on the specifics of the intersections. It’s not an argument against sex work.

When you’re talking about sex for money, you can’t take money and international economics out of it.

That’s a strawman of epic proportions, given that sex work advocates talk about class-based oppression more than any other women’s rights advocates who aren’t also socialists/marxists/anarchists.

I’m troubled by the migration of sexual labor and what it says about who “deserves” sex and who provides it.

Right. Troubled by the class-based problems involved in sex work, and how they intersect with sex and gender based problems. Still not an argument against sex work, tho.

I do think it’s immoral and unethical to buy sex.

“Buying sex” is what men did when they purchased a wife. Anyway, contributing from a position of privilege to maintaining/reinforcing an axis of oppression is always “problematic”, and consequently I wish people would not shop at Wal-mart or procure sex services from exploitative sources; and maybe any kind of shopping or procuring of sex services contributes to maintenance of oppressive class structures. But the way to end exploitation is not to drive the victims of it underground by outlawing the purchase of their labor; rather, it can be done by giving them the tools they need to a)widen their choices within the social structure, and b)to change the social structure by attacking the forces that oppress them. Which aren’t always the individuals who pay them for their services; and which won’t end sex work, but rather end (or at least diminish) exploitative sex work.

I think it speaks to a view of human sexuality (and women’s bodies in particular, although of course there are men who pay for sex with men and boys) as purchasable;

“Buying sex” does, but like I said, that’s not a feature inherent in sex work, since sex work is the provision of services for pay, not the “selling” of sex (because selling something intangible like a service is only possible by selling the provider, and that’s slavery, not service work.) I keep repeating this distinction because the idea of buying sex is tightly coupled with the idea of the “unrapeable”: when you buy something, it’s yours to do with as you please, without the previous owner of it having a say in it. That was, and often still is, the attitude towards sex in patriarchal culture. But it’s not inherent to sex work, since the provision of a service always entails the possibility to cancel the deal, as well as the fact that it’s a one-time agreement, to be re-negotiated, and that the ownership of the means of providing the service never changes hands. It’s the equation of the provision of a sexual service with the buying of sex that’s the problem, and it’s one that must be solved without negatively affecting sex workers (i.e. not by curing the disease by killing the patient).

I’m personally a fan of capitalist marketplaces because I don’t think there’s a better system out there

So, no marxist feminist utopia, then? How then is the provision of services or the commodification of human interactions to disappear?

We can respond to the basics of supply and demand while not giving corporations outsized power; while building a social safety net; and while instituting physical, legal and financial protections for workers. We can critique the forces that establish patters of exploited migrant labor while advocating for the rights of migrant laborers. Can’t we?

Sure we can. But that’s what sex work advocates do, not what “end demand” does. The equivalent of “end demand” would be to insist on the end of demand for any industry**** in which workers are exploited. Which is all of them. Which is marxism.

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*”selling” is a misnomer, I recently realized. More like renting out, though the idea that labor is “sold” is what leads to a lot of abuses of workers, since the “buyers” of labor believe that they actually own the worker for the time they’re at work (and often even beyond that).
**Marx, species-being, etc. That’s an entirely separate blog-post tho.
***some examples: Don’t Talk To Me About Sewing Machines, Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers, Barred by U.S. Restrictions, Sex Workers Hold Alternative AIDS Summit in Kolkata, India, HIV and Sex Work – The view from 2012(pdf)
****the whole industry, not just a specific business or a specific model of providing the products or services of this industry

I want your money

This time, the link roundup is going to be tiny, and about good, current causes to donate to. That’s because I’m broke until my January payments finally deign to come in, and therefore this is the best I can do just now.

1)Black Skeptics Los Angeles have created scholarships for “college-bound Los Angeles Unified School District students in South Los Angeles. Preference will be given to students who are in foster care, homeless, undocumented and/or LGBTQ”: link

2)This trans woman is asking for donations to fund her SRS because she needs some form of reconstructive genital reconstruction, one way or the other, because she assaulted, which resulted in permanent and painful damage to her genitals; and of course the SRS route isn’t covered by insurance: link

Think Progress gets something wrong

couple weeks ago, The article Idaho Lawmaker Compares Abortion To Prostitution* appeared on Think Progress. It’s in the style of their many other “Republicans say outrageously horrible things” articles, but I think they screwed it up this time.

Mind you, saying that “Prostitution is a choice “more so than an abortion would be [...] Because (in an abortion) there’s two beating hearts. And then there’s one” is pure, unadulterated bullshit. Both are choices about one’s bodily autonomy, and consequently neither is more of a choice than another. Aside from that, these two issues have little to do with each other though, as one is a medical procedure, and another is a form of making money. So the Republican in question, State Rep. Ron Mendive from Idaho, was definitely being a fuckweasel and talking out of his ass. And being anti-choice, which one wouldn’t know from reading the Think Progress articl, because the article never mentions that rather salient point. And then, the article also buys into incredibly toxic narratives about sex work, to boot. The writer of the article, Annie-Rose Strasser, introduces Mendive’s comments as follows (emphasis mine):

Presenting abortion and prostitution as cavaler [sic] choices women make and ignoring the real danger of sex slavery, State Rep. Ron Mendive (R) elicited “audible gasps” on Wednesday during a meeting with representatives from the group, which later condemned his comparison

As far as I can tell, dude was talking about prostitution, not sex slavery. Those are two entirely different things, and conflating them like that is toxic bullshit. Besides, how does it help victims of actual sex slavery for prostitution to be illegal? How does it help to criminalize that which the enslaved folks are being forced to do against their will? doesn’t that merely criminalize the victims? Also, I don’t know about “cavalier choices”. I can’t find a good source for what the dude actually said, but he seems to have talked in general about a “double standard” where abortion is seen as a choice, but prostitution isn’t. That’s not saying they’re “cavalier choices”, it’s just saying they’re choices. And I’m afraid that he’s kind of right about this: there is a double standard. And since the Think Progress article doesn’t provide the context of this comment, it’s hard to tell whether what he said was outrageously shitty or not. If he argued for legalization of prostitution on the basis of bodily autonomy, then he’d be right. If he was trying to argue that both should be illegal, he’d be a toxic assface. But that isolated quote, by itself, is simply true.
And then there’s a quote by one of the ACLU folks about this comparison:

He was correlating a criminal action with something that is constitutionally protected. Those are two completely separate issues,

ok, they’re two completely different issues, but not because one is legal and one isn’t. Comparing legal and illegal things is how you figure out whether something should remain illegal or not (see for example alcohol vs weed comparisons). Now again, the article doesn’t provide the context of this speech**,focusing more on the outrage than on actually reporting details that would show why that comparison is supposed to be so outrageous. It simply assumes that the comparison is outrageous per se, not because it is being used in an outrageous argument that both should be illegal to undo the double standard. If he had instead argued that prostitution should be legal because it’s also about the freedom of choice about one’s body, he’d have a point***.

So my complaint about this article is twofold: for one, bringing sex slavery into this is irresponsible. It’s very similar to arguing against weed by arguing that it may lead to driving under the influence. For two, writing an article as if it should be obvious that a comparison like that would be a Todd Akin moment regardless of context is false and irresponsible. There are contexts in which arguing that there exists such a double standard is indeed perfectly valid. So the context should have been included, the context being that he’s an anti-choicer who was trying to argue that giving women choices leads to horrible things; like abortion, or prostitution.
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*the url ends with /idaho-sex-slavery/ which… um… no. O.o
**the RHealitycheck article it links to does though. Despite being much shorter, it actually bothers to show WHY his argument was outrageous, by including the context. THAT is how the article should have been written.
***granted, that would be an amazingly weird thing to argue for a Republican, but we’re supposed to be upset at what he said; and for that, you need to show why it’s supposed to be upsetting, ffs.

My Summer Vacation: A Visual Essay

I was supposed to travel to the East Coast at the beginning of the break, but that didn’t happen due to exhaustion and illness. Instead, I got to spend my money on medical bills, instead. First there was the mystery chest/gut pains, which never got explained but were either anxiety attacks or my tooth infection spreading; then, there was the tooth extraction, which the dentist called the most difficult extraction he’s ever had to perform. And then, to top it all off, this happened:
the problemthe culprit:the cause of the problem anyway, so I’ve been stuck with astronomic helthcare bills ever since, as well as having cabin fever from being stuck with these for 6 weeks now (and as a side note, that type of crutch is way more cumbersome and uncomfortable than this kind. why the fuck do American hospitals hand out the former, rather than the latter?!).
This of course also means my garden was completely overrun by weeds, since trying to do gardening with a broken foot is rather difficult.

On the positive side, I did finally manage to paint a miniature in such a way that I’m really happy with the end result:Druid Wilder
Now I’m working on these two guys, and hopefully they’ll work out just as well:

And last but not least, apparently we own three cats now. Couple days ago, boyfriend’s mom dropped of a kitteh with us (she doesn’t like it, because it starts fights with the older, sedate cat she has). we haven’t named him yet, so for now he’s “twerp” or “bouncy”:
The End