Suggested reading — insightful sites that are currently on my reading list

Blogrolls are supposed to be a sort of promotion of other stuff one reads and stuff that’s interesting, but I feel like my reading is never that stable and I’d have to update the blogroll once a month to have it representative. There’s really only maybe 3 sites I visit regularly, and it’s often not for the reading but for the socializing. Maybe instead I should do occasional “what blogs/sites have I recently been reading” posts instead, pointing out interesting blogs I’ve discovered. Today, I’d like to feature the following sites for that purpose:

1)http://tressiemc.com/ written by Tressie McMillan Cottom (@tressiemcphd). From her bio:

Woman. Friend. Daughter. Scholar. Armchair activist. Hell-raiser. Intellectual Catfish.* Not particularly in that order.

I am also a PhD student in sociology at Emory University where I study education, inequality, and organizations. My research has surveyed for-profit students and the organizational mechanisms of the for-profit college sector. . My questions are less who and what and more why and how. Why are so many black students enrolled in for-profit colleges? So many women? How do status competition and stratification processes intersect with labor and economic structural change to produce these patterns?

As of Fall 2013 I am a Graduate Fellow at the Center for Poverty Research at UC-Davis. I am examining poverty policy and credential seeking. I cover highered debates at Slate and write about inequality, race, gender from time to time.

2)http://www.gradientlair.com/ written by Trudy (‏@thetrudz) From her bio:

I’m a 34-year-old Black woman who identifies as Jamaican Black (yes, Black is the noun, H/T to Nikki Giovanni). I am cisgender and identify as an ace; asexual, heteroromantic to be exact. I am a Womanist who includes Black feminism and intersectional feminism in my social justice work and writing, but Womanism most accurately speaks to my collective sociopolitical framework for anti-oppression praxis. (I reject the use of “social justice” as a dismissive label when I happen write about my personal life.) Politically, I identify as neither Republican (barf) nor Democrat (Zzz). My political leanings are very Left, but that includes intersectionality and a plethora of perspectives, not solely raceless conversations about class. I identify as an agnostic atheist but still very connected to Black culture in most ways though zero interest in monotheisms and I try to have nuanced perspective on non-Eurocentric, Afrocentric theisms and deities. Though I am an atheist, I am not interested in White supremacist atheism either.

I am college-educated. I have a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice and I completed 2 years of additional graduate work in Psychology and Mental Health Counseling. I studied race, gender and adolescent mental health/education and I have a lot of interest in how media/culture impact this. I studied Behavioral and Social Sciences at the baccalaureate level. (It’s a NO on pursuing a Ph.D.)

3)http://criticalspontaneity.com/ written by Suey (@suey_park). Short bio: “Freelance Writer. Organizer. Graduate Student.”

4)http://nataliereednewblog.wordpress.com/ newly started by Natalie Reed (@nataliereed84). From her bio:

Natalie Reed is a queer trans grrl, (…)-survivor, former addict, writer and activist currently living in Vancouver, BC. This is a space for thoughts and writing on feminism, gender theory, trans and queer rights, rape/abuse issues, addiction and drug issues, other social justice concerns such as sex worker and prisoners’ rights, and also pop culture, comics and other stuff, as it occurs to her. Intersections of various political and cultural issues are a particular interest.

5)http://colorlines.com/ which is a news site “where race matters, featuring award-winning investigative reporting and news analysis. Colorlines is published by Race Forward, a national organization that advances racial justice through research, media and practice.”

Reactions to Nelson Mandela’s death

Nelson Mandela died yesterday. This prompted reactions pretty much everywhere, because if nothing else, the whole media-accessible world agrees that he’s a memorable and comment-worthy man. The most frequent reactions so far seem to fall roughly into three categories: right-wingers who hate his guts; right-wingers trying to appropriate him; and liberals trying to appropriate him.
This is where, usually, the “the liberal appropriation is worst” or”at least the right-wingers are honest” sort of stuff goes, but that’s crap. These are all crappy reactions to the death of Mandela. Yes, the right-wingers are the least wrong when they scream about what a communist and terrorist he was, since a)he worked closely with communists and believed freedom from poverty was a human right; and b)was the leader of a “terrorist”*/guerrilla organization before his arrest. But lauding them for that is a bit like lauding the fucker who smeared shit all over the bathroom for getting some of that shit into the toilet as well: the right-wing calls everyone they hate a terrorist and communist, sooner or later they were bound to hit someone who actually can be labeled like that with decent accuracy.
I’m not gonna bother saying much about right wing politicians appropriating Mandela. Because what exactly can I say about e.g. Santorum using his name in his battle against healthcare for poor people that doesn’t just speak for itself? I’ll just leave this handy list here, and also this UK-themed text-image**, and move on.
As for liberals appropriating Mandela? That has two parts. The first is people like Bill Clinton “remembering” Mandela as a friend, when he was still on the terrorist watchlist during Clinton’s presidency; when his administration did a lot to harm the new South Africa. I’m not saying Clinton didn’t think of himself as a friend, but you know… he was probably that kind of a friend; the kind that makes enemies superfluous; and now? Now he gets to bask in reflected glory. Swell.
In the long term, the second part is even worse. The second part is where the owners of history re-write Mandela’s biography as more palatable, squishy, cuddly, liberal-friendly. Now begins the same process that scrubbed all radicalism from the memory of MLK; the kind that takes the fact that after release from prison he chose not to be an agent of vengeance but of reconciliation and extends it beyond all reason to calling Mandela a symbol of “the power of peaceful resolution in even the most intractable conflicts” as a New York Times piece just did. No. As a note circulating the internet said:

Nelson Mandela used peaceful means when he could, and violent means when he couldn’t. For this, during his life they called him a terrorist, and after his death they’ll call him a pacifist — all to neutralize the revolutionary potential of his legacy, and the lessons to be drawn from it.

And his Unwillingness to reject the sometime need for violent resistance “when other forms of resistance were no longer open” is not the only part of his legacy that’s being erased. His left-wing politics, his anti-imperialism and anti-Americanism*** are all being erased (which gets us back to the part where a man like Bill Clinton gets to remember his version of Mandela; in public, for the public memory), smoothed out to make him more palatable as a hero for the still-existing kyriarchy.

There’s a 4th kind of common reaction to Mandela’s death: the people who are trying to set the record straight. Writers and commenters reminding people of the “radical histories of Mandela and MLK”, reminding them that “Mandela Was No Care Bear”, that he was an Unapologetic Radical, that he “will never, ever be your minstrel”, that “Conservatives Can Own Reagan, But You Don’t Get Mandela”, that “leadership knows how and when to follow and how and when to be unpopular; that resistance can not always be non-violent; and that perseverance is the cornerstone of revolution”. A few of the people doing these corrections do so because they think his radicalism and acceptance of sometime violence was a flaw that must be remembered; far more (I hope) will point out that sometimes oppression cannot be ended solely by non-violence, solely by clinging to civility and a moral high-ground built entirely to favor the status-quo in maintaining itself.

P.S.: A Mandela Reading List I didn’t manage to stuff anywhere into the body of this essay.

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*in the sense it’s often used, meaning private persons or organization using violence and/or property-destruction as methods to fight against established governments
**if you can’t see the UK-themed image, it says

Mandela will die soon. Today, tomorrow, this week, next week. It won’t be long. Remember this.
When Cameron latches on the Mandela bandwagon this week remember that in 1985 he was a top member of the Federation of Conservative Students, who produced the “Hang Mandela” posters.
In 1989 Cameron worked in the Tory Policy Unit at Central Office and went on an anti-sanctions fact finding mission to South Africa with pro-apartheid Lobby Firm that was sponsored by P.W Botha.
Remember this when he tells the world he was inspired by Mandela

***in the Cold War, the USA was on the side of the Apartheid regime; the USSR on the other hand sided with the ANC. Such are the vagaries of history.

A TERF not-pologizes

The well-known and influential radical feminist Gloria Steinem has written an apology (of sorts) about her past anti-trans writing.

On the one hand, she’s AFAIK the only well-known TERF who’s ever bothered to do even that much; on the other hand, the apology follows a notpology script just a tad too well*: she blames any harm caused on the internet, devotes most of the essay to explaining why she didn’t mean harm, and phrases the apology-line as very close to the standard “I’m sorry you were offended” notpology, saying “I’m sorry and sad if any words floating out there from the past seem to suggest anything other than support, past and present”. And then there’s the problem noted by activist Janet Mock in a tweet earlier today:

[Janet Mock ‏@janetmock
Not once in the op-ed does @GloriaSteinem write "trans women." Doing so would recognize the fact that trans women are women. #girlslikeus]

Further, Toni D’Orsay points out that Steinem did more than write an essay. She actively contributed to the inclusion of TERFs into a feminism that had until then accepted trans individuals**:

IT wasn’t until Daly and similarly like minded lesbian separatists started getting really loud, really angry, and really offensive that trans people became an issue.
They did that at first from outside the mainstream of radical feminism.
[...]
Steinem was one of the people who helped to bridge that divide. Who worked to secure that change so that lesbian women could be included, and one of the ways she did that was to bring in Daly’s work and Raymond’s work into the awareness of mainstream readers through the vehicle of MS magazine and the New Yorker.

Monica Roberts at TransGriot similarly expands on Steinem’s actual contributions to cissexism:

Because you referred to SRS surgeries multiple times as ‘mutilation’, it gave credibility to the 1980 paper that Raymond wrote to Congress that led to SRS being eliminated from Medicare and Medicaid coverage and the insurance company medical exclusions on trans related health care.
It co-signed the anti-trans attitudes in feminist circles that have led to the suffering and deaths of far too many trans people. It led to trans people being cut out of desperately needed LGBT human rights legislation in the 80s, 90′s and early 2k’s.

Still, she said something that wouldn’t come out of the mouth of a dedicated trans-exclusive feminist; she said that “transgender people, including those who have transitioned, are living out real, authentic lives. Those lives should be celebrated, not questioned. Their health care decisions should be theirs and theirs alone to make.” That is a big admission. An admission that she will, however, have to follow up with real deeds to undo the damage she’s caused and use her influence in feminism and in society as a whole to fight for the rights and acceptance of trans people; including trans women. Probably the simplest thing to do right now (for example) would be to sign the Statement of Trans-Inclusive Feminism and Womanism. And Monica Roberts provides another (non-exhaustive) list of actions for Steinem to take:

Lobby with the trans community in Washington DC for a trans inclusive ENDA. Call out the trans exclusionary radical feminists and help us get the Southern Poverty Law Center to declare them as a hate group. Declare there is no room in feminism for anti-trans hatred and bigotry. As a Smith alum you can help us ensure that your alma mater puts admissions policies in place that allow qualified trans feminine students to enroll there.

Then, of course, there’s the other toxic effects of her paricular flavor of feminism. She’s yet to even do this kind of acknowledgment in the context of her anti-sex-work activism. She’s still promoting the Rescue Industry, and just today she tweeted support for a petition to get the UN to alter its stand (which is based on research and on listening to sex workers) on the decriminalization of sex work:

[Gloria Steinem ‏@GloriaSteinem
United Nations: #ListenToSurvivors -- don't jeopardize efforts to prevent #sextrafficking http://tinyurl.com/m8chxo5 ]

Overall, I’d say this is a babystep in the right direction. Not something she should be given any ally-cookies for, since it still fails to acknowledge the entirety of the harm done as a result of her anti-SRS work and her promotion of TERFs in feminism, and doesn’t so much as acknowledge that there’s anything wrong with any of her sex-work-prohibitionism. At this speed***, she’ll likely be dead before she arrives at a genuine apology for all of it; and even if not, many trans people and sex workers are going to suffer and die before she ever gets around to undoing the damage she helped/helps cause to them.

***Trigger Warning: TERF reactions to Steinem’s op-ed***

However, even this microscopic step forward has pissed off other TERFS. Maybe if they’ll now spend their time sniping more at each other, and less at trans women and trans rights activists, that would be an improvement [/wishful thinking]. Examples:

[Incendiary Lover ‏@incendiarylover
absolutely devastated & pissed that @GloriaSteinem has opted to erase women & lesbians w/transjacktivist sell out #radfem #cottonceiling]
[Actual Dykes ‏@ActualDykez
As Lesbians, we feel @GloriaSteinem has no idea what is happening to Lesbians under Transgenderism #cottonceiling http://fb.me/6CR6zgeZT ]
[E. Hungerford ‏@ehungerford
Gloria Steinem adopts #neolib identity politics as a means to end oppression against women. WHAT? GENDER hurts women http://goo.gl/XkcFTO ]

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*also, I’m thinking “twin-spirited” is a mangling of “two-spirit”, the term adopted by North American tribes to describe gender minorities. It bugs me that she didn’t bother to even do a google-search to get this right (I did, to make sure “twin-spirited” isn’t an accepted alternative, or some other concept I hadn’t heard of).

**please do read the entire essay, it’s eyeopening if you’re not familiar with the history of and current actions by TERFs in feminism! the linky again. And also read the TransGriot piece in its entirety: linky again

***the text in question**** was written over 36 years ago, and supposedly she only now realizes that it’s criticism of SRS might get interpreted as being anti-SRS, even though it was part of the discourse that led to SRS (and other even vaguely transitiony medical treatments) being dropped from public aid and private insurance, as Monica mentions in her piece. Snails and glaciers would be insulted by a comparison.

****which also describes mutilation of intersex babies as “rescue”. Jesus Fucking Christ. Has she apologized for that yet?!

Intersectional look at some of the Free-Amina protests

A few things upfront:
a) This is a post about FEMEN. Therefore, there will be boobs. Don’t do what I did, and look at the below pictures while in class. :-p
b) FEMEN has an undeserved reputation as sex positive because they call themselves “sextremists” and are using their naked bodies to protest. However, apparently they don’t think that the right to do with your body whatever you want extends universally: they are supporters of the Swedish Model, for example. In fact, at least one of the Free Amina photos on their site is against the background of a self-portrait-mural in which one woman holds up a sign saying “not a sex toy” and has “no prostitution” written on her chest. So yeah. Fail on that account.
c) A lot of the comments on FEMEN’s site are assorted attempts at dismissing the protesters as sluts, whores, etc., which gets mostly ridiculed and aggressively defended against on their page; that I think shows that their “sextremism” style activism has a place, in the same way that the aggressive New Atheist style of defending the right to be openly atheist does. But that doesn’t mean that either is unproblematic, or that either fits every issue and every context.
d) There were other noteworthy instances, posted in other places on the internet, but I really just wanted to work with the images FEMEN had on their facebook, and pull out a couple interesting examples. Otherwise, this post could have gone on forever.
e) All pictures are from the FEMEN facebook page.

Alright, let’s get to the actual point of this post:

1) Activists got into a closed conference at the Institute of Arab Culture in Paris, where the president of Tunisia was giving a presentation:003The target here is directly relevant: The Tunisian government is absolutely co-responsible for Amina’s disappearance, and is part of the problem she was protesting against in the first place. On the other hand, none of the pictures I’ve seen showed the activists having anything Amina-related written on their bodies, making this appear far more generically anti-Islam, and not primarily pro-Amina.

2) Free Amina protesters in Berlin climbed a fence and took photos of themselves in front of a mosque, holding signs:003Muslims make 5.4% of Germany’s population. Anti-Muslim xenophobes make anywhere from 21% (wouldn’t want to have Muslims as neighbors) to 58% (believe that Muslims’ rights to practice their religion in Germany should be considerably limited). So I’m thinking a bunch of Germans trespassing on private property of a targeted minority might not exactly send the right message; plus, what did that random mosque have to do with Amina?
One of the women in this action is of Arab descent, and had “Arab Women Against Islamism” written across her front. A number of the other protesters had directly Amina-related things written on their bodies. That reads like solidarity with Amina, and with Arab women in general.

3) A large group of activists protested near the Tunisian embassy in Paris, got arrested for their effort:003003Two pictures this time, because the visuals of that protest were amazingly evocative of suppression of women’s right to speak up (especially the first one). Images like this are why I think the FEMEN style of protest can be quite powerful; but primarily, it is powerful in exactly this way: speaking to the right of women to express themselves.
The protesters gathered near the Tunisian embassy, a clearly understandable connection to Amina’s plight; they also had Amina-related things written on their bodies, and a number of them had stylized portraits of Amina in her now-famous photo on their backs. This could be very easily read as solidarity with Amina.
The wider context of having this protest in France could potentially muddle some of the clarity of the message. Protesting for the right to naked boobs in public spaces in a country that banned veiling in public spaces might not read as “freedom” so much as “freedom to be like us”; not quite the same thing.

4) Many Middle Eastern/North African women also participated in the Free Amina protests (pictures from FEMEN, grouped together by me for easier viewing): five pictures of middle eastern women in face-veil, showing their nude chests with pro-amina messages written on themThe women in the pictures are Egyptian, Iranian, Moroccan, Algerian, and Bahraini; at least one of them is a Muslim. All their messages refer to Amina. In all these cases, their actions directly attack a form of oppression they themselves are subject to.

5) One more from France. French-Arabic women protest in front of a mosque, burn Salafist flag. Two topless women flipping off everyone; burning flag in foreground As with the German protest… why this particular mosque? That point aside, this protest of Arab women, including one Tunisian FEMEN member, standing up against their oppressors is a powerful statement; that image is a powerful visual of that fight against one’s oppression. This too looks less like a pro-Amina rally, but given the context, it’s noticeably in solidarity with her: Arab women fighting together against common oppressor.

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bonus screenshot — a piece of advice: if you don’t want to look like you’re just being ignorantly islamophobic, it would help to do a basic google search before going out to protest:screenshot of FEMEN facebook status showing protester, claiming Hagia Sopia is a mosque

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;

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

Paula Kirby wrote stupid shit

This is how Paula Kirby tweeted about her essay* in re: the Harassment Policy discussion:

I’ll wait until you’re done laughing and/or rolling your eyes.
Done? Alright, let’s get on with this blogpost**. And btw., I’m ridiculously late to the game. Others have competently dismantled large parts of that ridiculous essay about Teh Ebil #FTBullies, but there’s just so much incredibly ignorant and untrue crap in this essay, I figure I’ll have a stab at it, too. But do read the other commentary on it, if you have time. Like I said, there’s so much crap in this, a single essay doesn’t do it justice: atheist logic, Ophelia Benson pt. 1, pt. 2, and SUIRAUQA (there’s probably more, but those are the ones I know about)

First, since I gather this has touched a nerve in some quarters, I shall deal with the terms “feminazi” and “femistasi”. As a general principle, I oppose the use of any kin dof name-calling. But sometimes an apparently rude term is doing more than being rude: it is conveying a meaningful point in shorthand form. For the record, I am categorically NOT suggesting that the people I have applied these terms to are, in fact, Nazis or Stasi members, or would ever have sympathized with either of them.There are many of us who are proud to be called Grammarnazis and who know perfectly well that no aspersions are being cast on our intentions towards either Jews or Poland. It might be considered distasteful that the suffix -nazi has come to be used simply to mean “extremist” or “obsessive”, but nevertheless, it has come to be so used, and The Sisterhood of the Oppressed cannot legitimately chalk it up as yet another example of their alleged victimization.

This is the first paragraph of the essay, and it’s already complete crap. And here’s why:
1)To be “proud to be called Grammarnazis”, and even to refer to oneself like that, is an act of Reappropriation; something that was used as an insult to try to shut someone up by making them feel bad for doing what they do by calling them -nazis is now being worn proudly as a banner, in a way similar to the way the Queer community has reapppropriated the term “queer”. And, in fact, in exactly the same way that many of Teh Ebil #FTBullies have for years now worn the worst epithets thrown at them as titles behind their handles, including the word “feminazi”.
2)A reappropriated word is still an insult/slur though, and so when it is used negatively against someone else, it is not used in the reappropriated, positive (or at least, non-negative) sense, but in its original, negative sense. Therefore, comparing being proud to be called a Grammarnazi to calling someone else a Feminazi in order to compare them to Nazis*** is worse than comparing apples to oranges (at least, apples and oranges are both fruit, and are both good for you).
3)The main difference, of course, between something like “Grammarnazi” and “Feminazi” or “Queer” is that being called a Grammarnazi is not an act that flows down a power-gradient, nor is it used to shut down anything too particularly important****. As such, you wouldn’t even be able to reasonably compare the insult-use of Grammarnazi to actual slurs used as insults, since they perform entirely different kinds of cultural work.
4)Regardless of any truth value to claims that the suffix -nazi has merely come to mean “extremist” or “obsessive”, this is obviously not true for the suffix -stasi, since that suffix doesn’t have a culturally acquired meaning other than the literal one, since it’s not in common use. As such, points 1-3 aren’t even necessary to establish the BS in that paragraph, since even if everything she said about the suffix -nazi were true, she didn’t just use that one. Calling someone a Femistasi is actually literally comparing someone to the East German Homeland State Security.

In both “feminazi” and “femistasi” the allusion is to certain totalitarian attitudes and the intolerance and suppression of dissent. Indeed, it was this, and eminently not their politics, that the Nazis and the Stasi had in common, which further underlines my point that no comment about anyone’s wider political views is being made.

This is part of the previous line of thought, but it’s crap in a different way, so I’m quoting separately. Paula here seems to imply that running a totalitarian state is not politics. Because a form of government is not political? I’ve complained in the past about such incoherent restrictions on what can be considered “political” so I won’t get into that here, but really. Suppression of political dissent, being part of a totalitarian state government, and being often the enforcing arm of the politics of the government is not political?

In the case of the -stasi suffix, it draws attentions to behaviours associated with the thought police, for whom anyone who dares to hold non-approved attitudes is automatically persona non grata and to be treated as an enemy of the people. I am referring, of course, to the unfailing response on certain blogs whenever someone has had the temerity to challenge the claims that have been made there. Any suggestion, no matter how mildly phrased or how in keeping with the principles of skepticism, that The Sisterhood might not be automatically and wholly right by default has been met with torrents of abuse, and a pot-pourri (actually, dung-heap would seem a more appropriate metaphor) of accusations ranging from troll at the lower end, through slimebag, douche etc, right up to misogynist or even rape-apologist.

“Thought police” is an Orwellian term. Originally, it referred to an actual police actually making sure that no unapproved thoughts happened, since people caught thinking the unapproved thing were brainwashed to “fix” the problem, and ultimately killed. Obviously the Stasi couldn’t quite achieve that level of efficiency, but they certainly tried, by arresting and/or killing people they’ve found expressing unapproved sentiments, even in the “privacy” of their own homes. So, what does Paula compare this to?
To argument. To people disagreeing, often with long-winded explanations and links to evidence, and doing so while liberally dispensing invective. In writing. On their own blogs, as well as in comment sections on other blogs. Most of these “oppressed” dissenters aren’t even banned from commenting on these blogs, and they certainly are free to express themselves in the privacy of their own public blogs without any repercussions (other than maybe having someone disagree with you (publicly even! *gasp*), or say that they don’t like you anymore, and maybe won’t give you their money) or restrictions. That’s stasi-like behavior. But apparently only when Teh Ebil #FTBullies do it, since the antiFTB contingent indulges in exactly the same behavior (plus occasional threats and extensive use of bigoted slurs; minus the evidence), but when they do it it’s just “calls for balance” and “challeng[ing] the claims”.

Good heavens, we have even seen Ophelia Benson describe DJ Grothe’s call for more balance in the discussions as “sticking a metaphorical target” on her!

This “call for balance” btw. was Grothe’s silly-ass, evidence-free claim that talking about harassment has caused a drop in female attendance at TAM, and therefore talk about harassment should stop. I fail to see “balance” here, except in the “Fair And Balanced” sense (more details about this, from Ophelia herself).

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.

Elevatorgate is never going to die is it? Also, Paula is in business, not science… but really. It has never been a bad thing for a speaker to analyze and criticize an attendees public writing. Most of the time, this bit of whining is some sort of “the internet isn’t real” luddism. In this case, it seems more generic hypocrisy in the service of “when we criticize, it’s just criticism; when you criticize, it’s ‘picking on’ and being the thought police”, as noted above. Also, she’s just plain bullshitting when she claims Stef McGraw was “picked on” for her “attitudes”. She had a publicly stated written argument deconstructed. An argument is not an attitude, by any definition of the word.

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.

Yeah, let’s consider this. And by “this”, I don’t actually mean the historical inaccuracies in this paragraph, because they’re not relevant just now. For starters, as Paula herself reluctantly admits in a later paragraph, it’s not actually a case of the Nazis “telling the German people they’d been treated abominably”, since the German people were well-aware of that fact (and a fact it certainly was), Nazis or no. But let’s consider the political situation in 1930′s Germany. Here we have an abysmally poor, systematically oppressed people, who end up becoming radicalized and a totalitarian state results. Happens all the fucking time. What’s the solution to the problem?
Well, according to Paula, it seems to be “Oh you silly Germans. Stop feeling oppressed and pull yourself up by your own bootstraps”, and “Don’t talk about systemic oppression, don’t try to eliminate oppression, and don’t ever dare publicly and openly argue with those who say there isn’t any. Because if you do, you’ll be propagating a victim mentality and also being Nazis yourself.” Where in the goddamn universe has being silent about systemic oppression and telling people to instead fix themselves ever worked?
The real solution to the existence of systemic victims is not cries of individualist empowerment, but deconstruction of the oppressive system. The French learned this lesson, which is why WWII was followed by the creation of the Council of Europe and the EEC instead of another oppressive Treaty of Versailles.

So is the Sisterhood’s sense of victimhood also justified? No.

Fuck the evidence from years of social science*****. Paula says there’s no oppression of women, therefore there isn’t.

In my experience (and I’ve attended and organized a lot of conferences in my time)there’s a sexualized atmosphere at all conferences involving an overnight stay:people are away from home, probably drinking more heavily than they would at home, *cough* networking, surrounded by people who share a common interest, whether that’s in secularism or buttercups or ball bearings, and who are equally letting their hair down and out for a bit of fun, and, moreover, with hotel rooms conveniently located right above their heads.

What a sorry world Paula lives in, if she’s never experienced collegiality not laced with sex. It’s a bit like eating all foods drenched in Ketchup (or any other condiment of your choice).
Well, I have experienced plenty of friendly, collegial drunkenness, fun, and “letting your hair down” while away from home, too. Some of it involved sex and an atmosphere that could be described as “sexy”. Some of it however was just hanging out with awesome people and shooting the shit, without sex appearing anywhere on the horizon. It’s awesome (it also oddly seems to be clustered around Poland). Why, last October I spent an entire weekend in mixed company away from home, sleeping in the same room with two dudes, and somehow no one got propositioned. We must be all prudes; or asexual. Or, maybe, we prefer some variety in our life, and are therefore capable of sometimes not thinking about getting laid. Seems there aren’t that many people like that in Paula’s life, if she’s never experienced anything like that.

Anyway. What do you want to bet that most, if not all, of these conferences has sexual harassment policies (after all, this is what this latest “ZOMG Stazinazis” is about)?

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.

This is quoted just to laugh at it. Because really, she just finished saying that this happens at all conferences and that anyone can find themselves propositioned. Which I guess means “how to avoid getting into this situation” = “not going to conferences” :-p

And, of course, she’s being very disingenuous when she implies that we say people don’t know how to deal with propositions (or harassment; because let’s remember, this is about harassment policies, dissembling on Paula’s part notwithstanding). but you know, knowing how to deal with stupid shit because you’re constantly exposed to it is not actually a valid reason for stupid shit to exist.

Note that I am talking about normal, non-violentsituations in which no assault takes place. I am talking about the kind of normalinteraction that, whether you like it or not, goes on wherever you get a group of adults letting their hair down while away from home.

False dichotomy which denies the existence of harassment which is not assault.

but to give the impression that such assaults are commonplace is to do a disservice

Boring lie is boring, but at least explains why the preceding false dichotomy exists.

To tear a movement apart, [...] over something that is just a feature of life in general and not specific to the movement itself

Translation: atheists and skeptics shouldn’t strive to be better. Average is fine. Doesn’t matter that average is pretty fucking horrible.

I did a sociology module as part of my degree many years ago: I know the arguments about socialization and normative values, and structural discrimination and all that malarkey.

This was hilarious the first time, and it’s never stopped being hilarious. Paula knows better than social scientists with years of work and experience and science to back them up. Because she took one sociology module. Is there any better demonstration of the Dunning-Kruger effect?

So there is an alternative, and it is this alternative that I would urge women to seize with both hands – whether we’re talking about how we interact in our jobs, in our social lives or in the atheist movement. And that alternative is to take responsibility for ourselves and our own success. To view ourselves as mature, capable adults who can take things in our stride, and can speak up appropriately. To really start believing that we can do whatever men can do. To stop seizing on excuses for staying quiet and submissive, stop blaming it on men or hierarchies or misogyny or, silliest of all, “privilege”, and start simply practising being more assertive.

And the way to fight poverty is to stop “externalizing” the causes of poverty, and instead tell people to stop being so goddamn lazy and to view themselves as “mature, capable adults who can take things in our stride” and stop blaming their poverty on rich people or hierarchies or classism or “privilege”.

Libertarianism is such tiresome bullshit.

Anyway, she’s repeating the bullshit trope that non-libertarian feminists are saying that women aren’t capable of doing what men do. This is of course bullshit. Women are just as capable as men, and they are often far better able to deal with adversity since they don’t get shit handed to them on a silver platter and have to constantly fight against stupid sexist bullshit. Men faced with even a fraction of the shit a woman who shares their other social statuses has to face tend to dissolve into incoherent puddles of self-pity rather quickly (see: MRA), because they lack the practice and have never acquired the requisite hardened skins. However, as noted above, being able to deal with stupid shit is not actually a good reason for stupid shit to exist. Plus, as everyone should realize, two people with identical ability but different stressloads will rather obviously not perform equally at the one task they have in common. All we’re trying to do is a)undo some of that damage of the extra stressload in the short term, and b)equalize the stressload.

But I am saying that we women do ourselves no favours by assuming that the system is malevolently weighted against us

And here Paula says that women shouldn’t know the truth, because it does us no favors. And she says we’re belittling women?

Yes, there’s the occasional Neanderthal, in any walk of life. But it’s up to us whether we let him put us off doing what we really want to do. Let’s not give him that power over us! We can choose to rise above him (or sidestep him) and continue pursuing our own goals.

Here Paula is being anti-scientific, because this comment basically amounts to “willpower is an unlimited resource”, which we know isn’t true.

In almost any fieldyou care to consider, the women who have made it to the topare generally not sympathetic to the view that men or the system were desperately trying to hold them back. They havesimply adopted the tactics I am describing here, and have refused to let anything stop them.

Women who mold themselves to and make bargains with a patriarchal system are more successful within the patriarchal system than those who try to dismantle it for the benefit of all women?

Shocking.

They certainly haven’t diverted their focus from their goals to worrying about how men are treating them, and they haven’t waited for men to give them permission to succeed.

indeed not. Other women (and their allies) have done this for them and done something about some of the structural barriers that exist so that these exceptional women could succeed. How is this an argument for not continuing to dismantle these barriers, so that even more women can succeed?

Activism is by definition controversial: we don’t need activists for causes that are already widely accepted. This means that conflict comes with the territory. Activists need to be able to cope with that, we need to be able to deal with people who really do want to silence us and discredit us at any cost. It can turn nasty.

I quote this specifically because it’s so fucking hilarious that this comes from the woman who whines about feminazistasi oppression because she and others are being criticized. As I said before, she’s basically saying that other people mustn’t speak up when they’re mistreated and instead they “need to be able to cope with that” and “need to be able to deal with people who really do want to silence [them] and discredit”. But she and the other antiFTB-whiners should be totes encouraged to whine all day and night about Teh Ebil #FTBullies, because they apparently don’t need to learn to cope. Not even with the much smaller amount of unpleasantness that they are receiving, as compared to what they’re dishing out.

Look in the pages of any self-help book you care to pick up.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Self-help books. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Paula is advising skeptics to read the quackery that is self-help books. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

What we have seen endlessly on the pages of the worst of the blogs over the course of the last year-plus is just a tedious, counterproductive, alienating, divisive, pointless self-indulgence.

Don’t care to argue “alienating” and “divisive”, but the fact that WIS happened, WIS2 will happen, and harassment policies are being adopted, is boringly obvious refutation of the claims of “counterproductive” and “pointless”.

How many of those speakers [at WIS] were not already well established in the movement? [...] Talk about “Four legs good, two legs better”!

This is hilariously incoherent. A conference that previously didn’t exist and doesn’t cannibalize other conferences in terms of speakers can by definition not provide less exposure to these speakers (and the group they belong to) than its nonexistence. Also, it should be noted that Paula doesn’t actually know what these women who spoke at the conference talked about (other than the speeches they gave; she might know that, but I doubt she’s seen all the videos), and what kind of networking happened at the conference.

Far from encouraging new women to get involved, all this hysterical and unjustified insistence on how dangerous our conferences are for women, how hostile our movement is to them, the indignities and humiliations they will be exposed to should they dare to set foot over the skeptical threshold could have been calculated to scare them away.

I note she provides precisely zero evidence for any of this. Also, bonus point for using “hysterical”.

Ophelia Benson herself wouldhave us believe she’s been scared away from attending a conference because of the exaggerated and over-the-top messages she got about the terrible risks she’d face if she went.

Another boring lie. Paula here is basically claiming that “nice business, would be a shame if it burned down” is a warning about fire hazards.

- – - – - – - – -
*Incidentally, posted on scribd by hoggle. Nice allies she’s got.
**After sufficiently complaining at the fact that the link in her tweet can only be accessed with a google account**. because really, wtf? (in case you’re wondering, a previous tweet had the link to the scribd document. still a dumb format, but at least it doesn’t require anyone to log in anywhere to read it)
***she’s actually lying when she’s saying she’s using the suffix to mean “extremist” or “obsessive”, since she DOES compare FTB to actual, real, 1930′s Nazis later in the essay.
****being a stickler for the use of grammar where it actually helps communication, I still very much acknowledge that knowing the difference between you’re and your, and knowing when to use the word “whom”, is piddly bullshit compared to social justice activism.
*****a sample this, as well as other scientific articles and essays, are of course collected in the comments of this post

An ally by any other name…

The recent, aggressive fights over who is or isn’t an ally, and who can or cannot call themselves or others an ally made me really think about what the word means, and how it has been used.

Traditionally, “allies” are two (groups of) people aligned for one common cause. Such allies are, in theory if not always in practice, equals in terms of investment in the common cause and power/privilege at least in regards to the issue at the core of the alliance. It is a word that designated collaboration, the co-working of different and maybe even otherwise opposed groups and individuals on a particular common cause. There’s however a newer use of the word now. I don’t know where that particular usage originated, but personally I blame the naming of the Gay Straight Alliance for its propagation. In any case, such an alliance is completely different from the traditional one. An alliance of gay and straight folks on the issue of gay rights, to stick with that example, is not an alliance of equals. It’s an alliance of, on the one hand, people for are the cause, i.e. people who are directly affected and oppressed by the axis of oppression being allied against; and, on the other hand, people who have privilege on that axis and thus aren’t directly affected. This new “alliance” contains a power-imbalance as well as what I’d call a salience-imbalance, which doesn’t exist in the traditional meaning of “ally” and “alliance”. This is a significant difference, and I think that the non-differentiation between these two meanings can even make the difference worse, because it erases the imbalance and the completely different dynamics that are a consequence thereof. And, it gives the privileged “half” of such an alliance more power without acknowledging that it does so (by using a word that implies equality).

A word that would more accurately describe the Gay Straight Alliance kind of ally is actually “supporter”. “Supporter” acknowledges the difference in salience: I can support someone in their fight for their rights, but it’s obviously wrong to say they support me in my fight for their rights; allies, on the other hand, support each other in the fight for a common cause. “Supporter” also addresses the issues of power imbalance, because it relegates the privileged groups/individuals to a supporting role by definition, reserving the center stage for those whose issues are actually at stake. Without that, you end up with “allies” who feel that, because of the nature of alliances, they get to speak for their allies, and that they have the same rights to leadership positions in the movement as all the other members of such an alliance. Which is a nice, liberal idea right up there with being “colorblind”, and with the same effect: pretending equality when an obvious power imbalance is present hands more power within such an alliance to the already privileged. “Supporter” is also a word that’s more evaluative, and specifically evaluative of actions: someone who is “for” a particular social justice issue, but doesn’t do anything to make it happen is at best a cheerleader or bystander, or at worst a de facto supporter of the status quo. In order to gain the title of “supporter”, one actually has to be doing some supporting. Allying on the other hand is simply aligning onelself with a cause, which requires no further action. This part especially, I think, has been the cause for some of the drama recently: I can declare my alignment with a particular cause, issue, or movement freely, and being told that actually I’m not thusly aligned can feel like mind-reading and invalidating one’s feelings and agency. But it doesn’t make sense to declare oneself a supporter unilaterally, even when the people I claim I support are telling me that my actions are not supportive but counterproductive. Hence the blowups about the “you’re not my ally” type comments: they’re generally meant in the newer sense of supporter-ally, indicating that the person’s actions are less-than-supportive. but the privileged person to whom such a comment is generally addressed perceives it typically in the older, common-cause-ally meaning, and will thus assume that a counter-supportive intent or alignment is being implied, and their right to self-identify by naming their alignment is being trampled.

Now, I’m not asking for people to stop using the word “ally” in the newer meaning. I can’t, not being that kind of influence on social justice movements everywhere, and not being able to command other people’s use of words. That ship has sailed. But I do think it’s fair and reasonable to demand that people distinguish between common-cause-ally and supporter-ally when using and hearing/reading the words, to avoid pointless arguments. And it’s not like it’s difficult to know which of the two meanings is used at any given time, since the common-cause-ally is bidirectional (for example, a black gay dude and a black straight woman are both each other’s allies in the fight against racism) while supporter-ally is unidirectional (The same dude can be an ally of the woman in fighting for women’s rights, and the woman can be his ally in fighting for gay rights; but it’s incoherent to say that a gay person is an ally to a straight person in the fight for gay rights, or that a woman is an ally to a man in the fight for women’s rights). Making this distinction in conversation and argument, I think, is quite important. Because without it, you get things like this article from Stephanie Zvan, which is an excellent description and analysis of the traditional common-cause-alliance, but completely fails to note that the word now also means “supporter of someone else’s cause”. Her article is an excellent description of alliance if it were about how atheists of different backgrounds can work together for the atheist cause; or how liberal atheists, liberal Christians, and liberal Muslims can, despite their differences, ally to fight against environmental destruction or for better education in public schools. But when it’s about straight people being allies to LGBT people in fights for LGBT-rights; white people being allies to people of color in the fight against racism; etc., then the old model of alliance fails: if your support is conditional on not having your fee-fees hurt; if your support amounts to a libertarianish “I already see/treat all people as equal”; if your support, because it’s based in the ignorance that comes with privilege, actually ends up counter-productive; then the people you claim alliance with absolutely get to point out that you’re not being much of a supporter-ally to them.

And just to make this very clear: while I think it would do good if everyone were more careful and conscious of this dual meaning, it’s primarily the privileged halves of such alliances I want to see take greater care in seeing the distinction, so that we can avoid dealing with pointless flailing about hurt pride when someone points out that one’s behavior hasn’t been very ally-like (read: has not been supportive of the people one claimed such an alliance to).

EDIT: one more important point about the difference: when someone uses the “you’re not my ally” line when it’s clearly about supporter-allies, it also makes no sense to assume that this is a statement about all alliances of the common-cause-category the two people in question may be in. I’ve seen people make the much stronger statements that social justice movement X isn’t for them because it’s insufficiently intersectional; I’ve seen people make statements claiming that a particular individual can make potentially harm a movement by making it less appealing to people on other axes of oppression because of their behavior, political position or whatever; but both of those are distinctly different than pointing out that a person with whom one is common-cause-allied in fights about X, Y, and Z is not an ally in the fight for one’s own rights.