“Honesty is Hard”, indeed

Yesterday I got a pingback on the social context post from this blogpost. Didn’t think much of it, except then the same pingback showed up on Almost Diamonds, and I got curious. The first half was blandly uninteresting, but when I got to the second half, my SIWOTI Syndrome was triggered. So, here it is, taken apart Marjanović-style:

[...]I’m bothered by two (somewhat related) themes I keep seeing crop up in these discussions:

1) It’s wrong to want sex from people without being interested in getting to know them

Well, that’s off to a bad start. It’s not wrong to want sex with anyone* and I highly doubt anyone said that. What’s been under discussion is not “want” but “ask”. There’s a lot of people I want a lot of things from, but I only ask them for it if/when it’s appropriate. So this “theme” that this writer is bothered by doesn’t even exist. So here it is, with corrections:

1) It’s wrong inappropriate to want ask for sex from with people without being interested in getting to know them sufficiently well to establish whether such asking would be appreciated

Moving on.

This is generally couched in reasonable-sounding language like this from PZ Myers:

I have a simple suggestion. Think of sex as something two or more friends do; but also keep in mind that most friends don’t have sex together. When you’re at a meeting, plan to make friends promiscuously, but remember: the purpose first and foremost is friendship, not sex partners.

At first glance, this seems like a reasonable suggestion. Most people prefer to get to know people before having sex with them, and most people would rather have sex with someone they like for nonsexual reasons also. But some people just want sex, and there is nothing wrong with that. [emphasis mine]

And this is where the “honesty is hard” part starts to come in. This writer quotes PZ talking about doing sex, but then answers as if it were about wanting sex. So: is this writer too stupid to accurately read the very bit they quote, or are they being dishonest?
I should also note that this quote from PZ is about atheist conferences, the main purpose of which is indeed friendly socializing, not fucking. Hence, his advice about priorities is quite accurate, given the social context.

It’s not up to us to tell people what their goals should be in a social interaction.

This is another inaccuracy, since PZ didn’t say fuck-all about goals. The quote is about methods and general priorities for socializing at atheist conferences. If your first-priority goal is to find a zipless fuck with someone you don’t want to have to talk to, there are meet-ups for that, but atheist conferences ain’t it.

Denigrating anonymous men for wanting to “bag a young hottie” (which is Jen McCreight’s paraphrase, not an actual quote from anyone) at each speaking gig sends the sexnegative message that desiring sex with a person you find attractive (which is how I would have phrased it) is WRONG and CREEPY.

And again we’re in “honesty is hard” territory, since plucking that phrase from Jen’s post without context is pretty fucking close to quote mining**. Jen wasn’t “denigrating”. This quote is from the post in which she retells how women had started sharing stories about speakers’ behaviors towards women (themselves or others) with her. And of course, she and the women who shared these stories with her are absolutely entitled to feel uncomfortable with any of these behaviors and thus want to avoid the men thusly described. Just like dude can want/try to fuck a young woman at every speaker event, so these women can want to not be targets of these advances and stay the fuck away from dude and warn other women, in case they also don’t want to be targets. It’s not sex-negative for women to decide that they do not wish to be targets of this dude’s depersonalized*** agenda, nor is it sex negative to share that information with others. In fact, using “sex-negative” in this sense implies that women having individual boundaries and personal preferences is “sex-negative”; a rather problematic implication, to say the least.

In addition, speaking about it as something that only men do…

More BS. Jen didn’t say it was something only men do. As it happens, she was warned by other women about men. Likely there simply aren’t enough lesbian/bi/pan speakers for the entitled douchenozzles to have made an appearance, and thus women were warning other women about sexual behavior from men. Should they have made up shit about being sexually objectified by women, for the sake of equality? And if any straight female speakers were behaving inappropriately towards other male speakers, why would Jen know about this? It’s not like dudes knew about the warnings circulating amongst women, so why would these women know if similar warnings about women circulated among men?

And in any case, when the conversation expanded to sexual harassment as a whole (i.e. not just inappropriate behavior from speakers), a female entitled douchenozzle appeared rather promptly (See Elyse’s encounter with the swinger-couple. The straight, and therefore woman-including, swinger couple). Like I said, it’s bullshit to say people are claiming only men behave like this.

In addition, speaking about it as something that only men do contributes to the myth of men not being hot.

I would like everyone to read this, and think about the incredibly fucked up assumptions this one simple sentence contains. Apparently, being propositioned inappropriately is a sign that you’re hot, and not getting unwanted sexual propositions from strangers in inappropriate contexts means you’re fugly; instead of, you know, the fact that some groups of people feel, because of socialization, more entitlement to ask sex “from” people, especially if those people are members of the Sex Class. Therefore, I guess, women shouldn’t complain about inappropriate, unwanted sexual advances (they’re a compliment), and we shouldn’t ever point out that men are more likely to act on their sexual urges regardless of whether signals of interest are present and regardless of the appropriateness of such a proposition given the context (because that would imply that men are ugly, not that there’s a difference in privilege/entitlement and differences in the way men are seen (as people) and the way women are seen (as members of the Sex Class)). wow.

McCreight puts desiring sex with attractive women in the same category as talking only to a woman’s chest, nonconsensual groping, and following a woman to her hotel room.

Again, the conflation of wanting with asking. Is this writer comprehension-challenged, having a hard time being honest, or actually incapable of telling the difference between wanting something and actually acting on that want?
and anyway, if all those things are “things Jen doesn’t want to experience from other speakers”, then they are in the same very broad category. The category of “Jen does not want”, and apparently also the category of “things other women told Jen they didn’t want, but experienced from speakers anyway”. What the writer seems to be trying to imply is that Jen equated these things as equally bad, and I think that claim is a stretch.

There is nothing wrong with desiring sex for purely physical reasons.

More conflation of wanting and acting. Blah blah, moving on.

Resorting to slut shaming is not necessary to discuss harassment.

Slut is a gendered term, a slur against women and women’s sexuality. Claiming “slut-shaming” against men is like claiming racial discrimination against whites.

2) Dishonesty is expected, and even encouraged, where sexuality may be involved

This is a direct lie related to my “social context” post. I’ll explain below, when we get to the specifics.

This is related to Point 1 by virtue of the fact that if wanting sex is wrong…

Blah blah wanting acting blah blah.

…then people who want sex are going to be encouraged to hide that fact until the socially appropriate time.

Interesting phrasing. It implies that there is something wrong with putting a filter between your wants and your actions, by using the word “hide” (as opposed to simply not acting on something), and by connecting it to the previous claim of sex-negativity, as if the demands for filtering between wants and actions was a special case because it was sex. By that logic, it shouldn’t be considered rude to eat or talk loudly in a theater if I want to; it shouldn’t be considered inappropriate to drop my pants and piss whenever and wherever I feel the urge to; it shouldn’t be inappropriate to tell other people that I think they’re ugly, smelly, dumber than a moldy avocado, have no sense of how to dress, their voices are annoying, et cetera; lie down to nap wherever and whenever I feel like; et cetera ad nauseam. In reality of course, basic filters between wanting and acting on those wants is expected of every neurotypical person over the age of 5, and of all adult people considered fit for socialization with other adults. Sex is no exception.

People who just come out and say they want sex (even in the least coercive and lowest pressure way I can think of) are disrespectful, objectifying, and should be ashamed of themselves.

This refers to Elyse’s encounter, and is therefore a lie of omission, since the disrespectful, objectifying part was not the “just come out and say they want sex” part, but the “while I was at work, from complete strangers, in violation of the convention’s policy” part.

Asking for sex is not seeing a person “as your plaything.” It’s just asking for sex.

There’s no such thing as “just” asking for sex. Nothing is “just” anything when it comes to human communication and interaction. Most actions involving other humans have subtextual and contextual meanings beyond “just” the surface-message. And so, me asking someone to dinner is not “just” asking someone to take in nourishment in my physical vicinity, and nor is asking a convention speaker you have no acquaintance with and no reason to assume they’re into your kink to sex “just” asking to touch bodies for physical pleasure. this is once again the denial of social context that pissed me off when JT was doing it, except here it’s even worse. The last two quotes taken together read as if the writer despises the existence and insistence on acknowledgment of social contexts in general. The writer, in other words, is starting to sound like Holden Caulfield.

Objecification only happens if you see the other person’s desires as irrelevant.

not irrelevant; merely less important that your own desires. Which breaking a conference-policy and asking for sex from someone while they’re at work absolutely is.

As long as you are genuinely seeking enthusiastic consent, if you want sex, you ought to ask for it!

yeah. I should totally ask my hot, monogamously married prof to have sex with me. Because fuck social context, my ability to always act on my wants is more important than making other people deeply uncomfortable and disregarding their desire to be seen as professionals instead. *rolleyes*

Hiding your intentions is just being dishonest, not respectful.

Also, desires are not intentions. Intentions are intentions.

As one commenter on this blog put it:

I too find smart, interesting people who think about things quite sexy, yet am generally skittish of strangers. I’m also alternately oblivious to and skeeved out by the way flirting (in most mainstream venues) happens most times. Still, I’d far prefer for someone to tell me they think I have great boobs and would like to make out with me than to just hint at it, assuming they are respectful of my possible “no thank you.” I like transparent, respectful asks, and people who ask for consent frequently and sincerely.

because social interaction in general is a game of lowest-common-denominator, where if one person doesn’t mind socially inappropriate behavior, we must all abandon our own boundaries and definitions of socially inappropriate behavior.
Wait, no. In reality, to behave like a civilized social being, you should behave as is considered appropriate to the given social context, and only when you learn someone’s personal preferences do you get to move on from there. since that’s tricky for socially inept people, we made buttons. Use them, if you prefer bluntness, but don’t force bluntness on others. Your desires for bluntness do not override my desire not to have my boobs commented on constantly, when the social context is such that my boobs are not considered an appropriate subject (now, if I entered a “best boobs” competition, that would be different).

In addition to those desiring of sex being encouraged to remain silent

This is, incidentally, another dishonesty. Behaving in a socially appropriate manner given the social context, and (if your primary goal is fucking), finding social contexts in other people’s primary goal is also fucking is not silencing, it’s modulating. It’s telling you to not scream but whisper while in a movie theater.

women who are objects of such desire are also encouraged to be dishonest about their refusals.

this includes a link to my social context post. The writer here claims that my social context post is about encouraging women to be dishonest. As mentioned above, this is (self-evidently, to anyone who has actually read my post) a blatant lie.

The (true) observation that rapists ignore refusals is used to suggest that women shouldn’t be encouraged to clearly communicate their own desires.

More lying. The social context post suggested that women are being quite clear, using socially understood means of “letting someone down easy”, and that certain men simply choose to ignore them. The writer conflates “clear” with “blunt”, even though the mythcommunication link explains quite well that women’s communication is quite clear and understandable even when it’s not blunt.

The (also true) observation that women are socialized not to clearly communicate a refusal is used to suggest that we should not be encouraging women to break free of that socialization and be more honest about what they want.

This is also a lie, since I have in fact included a suggestion of how to encourage women to be willing to be more blunt.

This is confusing the “is” and the “ought.

This is just confused. The “ought” in question is to ask women to break through socialization-pressures for the benefit of men. I reject this as a valid ought because of the realities of the “is” of the consequences to women of breaking through this socialization, which are greater than the consequences of them not breaking through or (as I suggested) of them demanding that first, the dudes put some effort into changing the dynamic that reinforces the socialization.

The undeniable state of mainstream heterosexual flirting is that men are expected to be the aggressors, that clearly communicating a desire to have sex is disfavored, and that a clear refusal is often met with hostility. None of this is an argument that the status quo is the way things ought to be.

Well, good thing then that I didn’t make that argument, eh?

We should all be encouraged to be more open and honest about what we want from a social interaction, even if the we may be subject to negative social consequences.

Who’s “we”? And if the writer had paid any attention to the post they’re criticizing, I actually suggested means by which women can be encouraged to be more blunt. However, demanding of disprivileged strangers one doesn’t know that they should subject themselves to social punishment for the benefit of the privileged class is an asshole move. How about the privileged ones put pressure on each other to lessen social punishment, instead?

The exception, of course, is when physical safety is in question.

Because emotional harm is just hysterical whining, amirite? Besides, women should all want to spend their leisure time being made to feel like shit for the greater good, eh?

Of course, the flipside of this is that we should stop punishing women for being blunt. A woman who clearly communicates a “no” is not being harsh, she’s being honest. A woman who says she’s not interested in someone (even if s/he hasn’t made any advances) is just being communicative. Hurting someone’s feelings through deception is a dick move. Hurting someone’s feelings by telling them the truth is a brave and awesome thing to do, and we should encourage people to do it.

This is just repeating what I said as if it were some clever thought the writer themselves came up with.

However, the danger of social disapproval is not a good reason to be dishonest.

Communicating in a clear but non-blunt fashion is not dishonesty. Claiming that subtlety is the same as dishonesty on the other hand is dishonest.

If the object of your affection will see you as creepy for being clear about your sexual interest, that’s not a reason to hide your interest.

Actually, yes it is. If you can’t proposition someone in a non-creepy fashion, don’t proposition until you learn how to interact appropriately to the given context, or find social contexts in which your behavior is seen as socially appropriate. Your horniness is not a right to sleaze on other people any more than my full bladder is a right to pee on a bus.

It does not follow that dishonesty is justified. If flirting should be about creating intimacy, then it relies on both parties behaving in a trustworthy way (i.e. not lying to each other).

More equating of tact with outright lying. Our Holden Caulfield is morphing into Gregory House now.

Jadehawk disagrees:

You can’t remove the social context because the social context is what determines how women will respond. they’re not flirting with you in a social vaccum, and pretending otherwise is just fucking stupid. We have to fix the social context first (i.e. not punish women for being above-average-assertive, and instead shut down those why try to punish women for blatantly and “rudely” setting boundaries and even taking initiative themselves), before you can seriously expect women to consistently “help” socially inept guys at flirting by being blunt with them.

Not a word in that quote about how lying is good. And the stuff in the brackets is exactly the same as what the writer just proposed themselves, except without the use of the gendered expletive. Shocking. Who knew this champion of honesty would be such a blatant liar?

I agree that it’s unrealistic to expect anyone to completely go against their socialization, but that doesn’t mean that we should not ask them to do so

Will the writer explain why we should ask women to deal with social punishment to make men’s lives easier, instead of asking men to stop the punishment to make everyone’s lives easier?

Society socializes us to do many things that we reject. Dishonesty could be one of them. Jadehawk’s view is that women are just brainless products of society’s conditioning, and have no choice in how to act.

More lies. Women have a choice, and most of them, in the risk-benefit analysis of “being blunt, risk punishment, but make d00dz lives easier” vs. “behaving averagely, not getting punished, not caring whether some inept d00d won’t get laid”, most women will rationally chose the second. A rational person would then of course work to diminish the risk of punishment, not bullshit about how explaining and defending women’s right to do so is somehow calling them brainless.

I think we all have a choice, regardless of what we’re told, or how we’re taught. I don’t think “the social context is what determines how women will respond.”

Five bucks says our writer has libertarian leanings. Belief in Counter-causal free will is, of course, a given.

I think women will respond based on their own individual choices, in light of the social context.

This, as if it were somehow a contradiction to what I said. Precious.

If you intend to send the message for someone to back off, do it clearly. Don’t use subtle social cues that are open to interpretation.

And here the writer shows that they either didn’t read or didn’t understand the “mythcommunication” essay, since it makes it very clear that what women’s forms of rejections are actually clear. And than men chose to pretend that they’re open to interpretation. It also makes clear that this writer has no fucking clue how human interaction and communication work, demanding that language be stripped of half the work it does****. Whether that’s only in the case of sex, or whether the writer actually wants people to blurt out all their feelings and opinions and desires in crassly blunt language regardless of context is unclear.

If you want to get to know someone, do that. If you intend to communicate sexual interest, do it clearly. Don’t do it by pretending you want to get to know someone.

This goes back, I think, to the earlier quote by PZ. If so, it shows clearly that the writer completely misses the point of the quote, because PZ suggested that a)atheist conferences aren’t a good place if your primary goal is getting laid, and therefore b)that people should come to these with the expectations to socialize and make friends, not get laid (as I said, if you want to get laid, there are meetups for that). But beyond that, it’s posing a false dichotomy, in that, unless you’re in a darkroom (and therefore already know the intentions of the other people there explicitly), you always need to get to know a person you have the hots for at least well enough to know whether they’d be interested in your proposition (and often also to let them get to know you enough to decide whether you’re someone they want to fuck). Cold-propositioning in a not explicitly sexual context is being an entitled douchenozzle, noting more, nothing less.

And don’t pretend you’re interested in sex if you’re only interested in getting to know someone.

Nobody actually does this, but it’s a common stereotype about women that they “string guys along” or are “being a tease”. Propagating bullshit, sexist stereotypes falls under “honesty is hard”, too.

My only problem here is dishonesty about one’s intentions.

Not actually true, since it’s evident that the writer’s problem is actually impulse control and/or distaste for the social norm that requires people to have impulse control. Also, inability to not lie about other people’s writing; that also seems to be a problem.

Flirting is not easy. But if we try, we could make it a little easier.

Rejecting the notion of impulse control and the existence of appropriate and inappropriate contexts for sex and flirting won’t make any of this “easier”; it will however make for an even chillier climate for most women.

- – - – - – - – - – - -
*wanting sex from people is an… interesting phrasing, however. Sex is not something you “get”, nor do you get it “from” people, because it’s not a service or good (unless we’re talking about prostitution). sex is something you “do”, and you do it “with” people; because it’s a form of social interaction.

**also, I don’t know why this writer assumes to know that “bag a young hottie” is not a quote? Maybe the person who told Jen that particular story actually used the term. Maybe that person even quoted the dude in question. Point being, the lack of quotation marks doesn’t allow for the degree of certainty the writer espouses on this point.

***it’s absolutely inarguable that wanting to “bag a young hottie at every event” is depersonalizing, since the “young hotties” are interchangeable. This is comparable to “I want to get married” before you ever meet someone you might feel like marrying: it’s a depersonalized goal into which you then try to stuff the people you run into, as long as they fit the qualifications.

****Steven Pinker to the Rescue ;-)

Tracy McMillan tells women why they aren’t married

I have not the faintest clue actually who Tracy McMillan is, but I ended up following a link-trail that ended up at her recent article at HuffPo. While reading that epic pile of excrement, I had an answer-commentary running in my head. And now I feel like sharing parts of it, so you can get equally pissy.

Before I begin, a disclaimer. You see, I’m seven years too young to be allowed a rebuttal. Once I find myself on the other side of 35, I’m sooooo totally going to agree with her, and won’t that make me feel stupid for having posted this. Or something. Anyway, here it is (my comments in red):

You want to get married.[I do?] It’s taken a while to admit it. Saying it out loud — even in your mind — feels kind of desperate, kind of unfeminist, kind of definitely not you, or at least not any you that you recognize.[actually, what it sounds like is like I've just changed my mind. Is changing one's mind unfeminist?] Because you’re hardly like those girls on TLC saying yes to the dress and you would never compete for a man like those poor actress-wannabes on The Bachelor. [might that be because I think men are people, not trophies?]

You’ve never dreamt of an aqua-blue ring box.[of course I haven't. "aqua-blue" isn't a color, it's a restaurant]

I’ve been married three times. Yes, three. To a very nice MBA at 19; a very nice minister’s son at 32 (and pregnant); and at 40, to a very nice liar and cheater who was just like my dad, if my dad had gone to Harvard instead of doing multiple stints in federal prison. [then maybe you're not the right person to be giving advice on marriage. Oh... wait... I forgot. This isn't about marriage, it's about getting married, which is completely different and so much more important. Right then, carry on]

But I won’t lie. The problem is not men, it’s you. Sure, there are lame men out there, but they’re not really standing in your way. Because the fact is — if whatever you’re doing right now was going to get you married, you’d already have a ring on it.[well, she's got that one right, anyway. Insisting I don't want to be married tends to result in not getting married. What that has to do with the lameness of men I don't know] So without further ado, let’s look at the top six reasons why you’re not married.

1. You’re a Bitch.
Here’s what I mean by bitch. I mean you’re angry. You probably don’t think you’re angry. You think you’re super smart, or if you’ve been to a lot of therapy, that you’re setting boundaries. But the truth is you’re pissed. At your mom. At the military-industrial complex. At Sarah Palin. And it’s scaring men off.

The deal is: most men just want to marry someone who is nice to them. [how is being angry at my mom/the military-industrial complex/Sarah Palin preventing me from being nice to a guy? I'm fairly certain any guy I'm interested in is neither my mom nor Sarah Palin, and not in the MIC either] I am the mother of a 13-year-old boy, which is like living with the single-cell protozoa version of a husband. Here’s what my son wants out of life: macaroni and cheese, a video game, and Kim Kardashian.[you're taking your clues as to what men want from a 13-year-old?] Have you ever seen Kim Kardashian angry? I didn’t think so. You’ve seen Kim Kardashian smile, wiggle, and make a sex tape. Female anger terrifies men.[didn't you say earlier the problem is not with men?] I know it seems unfair that you have to work around a man’s fear and insecurity in order to get married — but actually, it’s perfect, since working around a man’s fear and insecurity is big part of what you’ll be doing as a wife[worlds best argument for not ever getting married].

2. You’re Shallow.[I thought I was angry at the military-industrial complex? besides, aren't I supposed to be more like Kim Kardashian?]
When it comes to choosing a husband, only one thing really, truly matters: character. So it stands to reason that a man’s character should be at the top of the list of things you are looking for, right? But if you’re not married, I already know it isn’t. Because if you were looking for a man of character, you would have found one by now.[wait. I thought this article was about why I'm not married, not about not finding a man with character] Men of character are, by definition, willing to commit. [isn't this article predicated on the hypothetical me only just realizing I want to get married? What does men's willingness to commit have to do with it, if I wasn't, until now?]


3. You’re a Slut.
Hooking up with some guy in a hot tub on a rooftop is fine for the ladies of Jersey Shore — but they’re not trying to get married. You are. Which means, unfortunately, that if you’re having sex outside committed relationships, you will have to stop. Why? Because past a certain age, casual sex is like recreational heroin — it doesn’t stay recreational for long. [[what the fuck does that even mean? that casual sex is addicting? and if it is, why would I want to get married? or at least, married to someone who isn't poly or a swinger?]

That’s due in part to this thing called oxytocin [oh, I know where this one is going. fundagelical chemistry FTL. I spare you the rest of that pseudoscience]


5. You’re Selfish.
If you’re not married, chances are you think a lot about you. You think about your thighs, your outfits, your naso-labial folds. You think about your career, or if you don’t have one, you think about doing yoga teacher training. Sometimes you think about how marrying a wealthy guy — or at least a guy with a really, really good job — would solve all your problems.

Howevs, a good wife, even a halfway decent one, does not spend most of her day thinking about herself. She has too much s**t to do, especially after having kids. [wait. I thought this was about how to get married. No one said anything about spawning]This is why you see a lot of celebrity women getting husbands after they adopt. The kids put the woman on notice: Bitch, hello! It’s not all about you anymore! After a year or two of thinking about someone other than herself, suddenly, Brad Pitt or Harrison Ford comes along and decides to significantly other her. Which is also to say — if what you really want is a baby, go get you one. Your husband will be along shortly. Motherhood has a way of weeding out the lotharios. [soo.... I have to spawn or adopt before finding a husband? This is the best reason not to ever marry]

6. You’re Not Good Enough.
Oh, I don’t think that. You do. I can tell because you’re not looking for a partner who is your equal. No, you want someone better than you are: better looking, better family, better job.[I guess that explains my redneck boyfriend. wait, no, it doesn't]

Here is what you need to know: You are enough right this minute. Period. Not understanding this is a major obstacle to getting married, since women who don’t know their own worth make terrible wives.[looking to hook up with someone better is a sign of thinking yourself not good enough for an equal? You might want to rethink that piece of pretzel logic] Why? You can fake it for a while, but ultimately you won’t love your spouse any better than you love yourself. Smart men know this.


Alright, so that’s the bad news. The good news is that I believe every woman who wants to can find a great partner. You’re just going to need to get rid of the idea that marriage will make you happy. It won’t. Once the initial high wears off, you’ll just be you, except with twice as much laundry. [wait... if it's not going to make me happy, why am I wanting to get married, again? why would anyone?] Because ultimately, marriage is not about getting something — it’s about giving it. Strangely, men understand this more than we do. Probably because for them marriage involves sacrificing their most treasured possession — a free-agent penis[but what about my free-agent vagina?] — and for us, it’s the culmination of a princess fantasy so universal, it built Disneyland.

The bottom line is that marriage is just a long-term opportunity to practice loving someone even when they don’t deserve it. Because most of the time, your messy, farting, macaroni-and-cheese eating man will not be doing what you want him to[then what use is he? and why am I supposed to be nice, and cook and do his laundry, if he doesn't return any of those favors?]. But as you give him love anyway — because you have made up your mind to transform yourself into a person who is practicing being kind, deep, virtuous, truthful, giving, and most of all, accepting of your own dear self — you will find that you will experience the very thing you wanted all along:

Love.[for the third time, I thought this was about getting married? I already have love. and without pretty much having to turn myself into a hybrid of Rosie from the Jetsons and Roxxxie the sexbot]

Non-custodial parents, the numbers

In arguments about the fairness of family law, most of the time the argument centers on anecdotes, or, at best, around partial, cherry-picked statistics, so I decided to look into what the numbers say as a whole about divorce, unmarried parents, custodial parents, non-custodial parents, and their socioeconomic situation.

So. For starters, most studies done on divorce show that women end up economically worse off, while men end up economically better off after a divorce. Now, this data skews a bit because the further into the past you go, the stronger the effect is, and most of the studies I was able to find were old. The most frequently reappearing study is one done in the 70′s (here is a re-evaluation of said study, from 1995), and most other ones are longitudinal studies written up in the 90′s (if someone has more recent data on this, I’d be grateful), or are studies about Europe. The last paper I link to cites non-divorce-related discrimination as the source of this impoverishment of women. This discrimination, while diminished from the 70′s and 80′s, still exists, and so a base difference in divorce outcomes very likely still exists*. The question then would be whether family court decisions are making up or even inverting the effect of this discrimination and thus lessening or reversing the impact divorce has on the people involved. And since this post is specifically about parents, whether and how divorcees with children are affected.
A study from Washington (the state, not the city) shows how the economic situations differ for joint households vs. single-parent households, and how the economic situations of parents change after a divorce. In most cases, everybody is worse off uncoupled, but the mother is worse off than the father regardless of whether she’s the custodial parent or not. Custodial mothers experience a smaller reduction than non-custodial mothers (42% vs. 48%), but custodial fathers experience a greater reduction than non-custodial fathers (14% vs. 11%). The situation looks somewhat different in Title IV-D cases(pdf link!) in which the father is the custodial parent, where the noncustodial mothers actually end up with an increase of economic well-being from a shared household, while the custodial fathers end up with a large reduction (31% for divorcees, and a drastic 85% for all cases). Despite what MRA’s claim though, custodial mothers are not better off than non-custodial fathers in any of the scenarios, both in absolute and in relative terms.
What those statistics seem to tell us that child custody does not impoverish fathers and enrich mothers, and that the only situation in which men end up worse off than women are custodial fathers in IV-D cases (but the divorced custodial fathers are still better off than the divorced custodial mothers, so I’d REALLY like to know how large the cohort of unmarried single fathers in IV-D cases is, and what causes the DRASTIC departure from all the other statistics). But the demographic most bemoaned by MRA’s, the non-custodial fathers, end up on average getting the best economic deal out of living in a separate household (meaning the least reduction of economic well-being), be it because of divorce or being unmarried, only second (and only in relative terms) to the much smaller cohort of non-custodial IV-D mothers.

The other thing that MRA’s often argue is that the Family Courts are biased because mothers are more likely to get custody than fathers, and more likely to get sole custody than have a shared custody. Apparently this was true in the 90′s, when 75% of all cases resulted in sole custody for the mother(in 40% of which the father didn’t even have visitation rights). That number however includes the 1/3 of all fathers who wanted the mother to have sole custody. When custody had to be decided by outside sources (trial or mediation), sole custody for the mother only happened 44% of the time. Still more than joint custody or sole custody to the father, but evidently it was possible for fathers to gain at least some access, if they wanted it. 70% of fathers still reported not having as much access to their children as they wanted, though (interestingly, no one compiled that statistic for women, even though 25%-56% of them might theoretically feel the same).
So, yes, at least in the 90′s there was discrimination against fathers in custody agreements. Prejudiced attitudes of fathers and mothers against the need for the father to be involved seem to have figured very heavily into this, and probably this also reflected the attitudes of the courts. How this has changed over the last 15-20 years I don’t know, but neither complete parity nor a lack of change is likely (the former because social change doesn’t happen that quickly, and the latter because attitudes towards fathers’ involvement in parenting have been changing significantly). One thing that has been happening is an increasing demand for joint custody, and some states even made joint custody mandatory, at least temporarily. That would improve the situation of the non-custodial parent in terms of access to the child, but it is not at all clear that it improves the situation of the child. Certainly, in cases where a couple chooses joint custody (or for that matter, intra-marriage co-parenting, since a lot of studies simply focus of father-involvement in raising children), the children are better off; but comparing that to cases in which joint custody wasn’t voluntarily chosen and then mandating it is a bit like saying that because children of married couples are better off than children of divorced couples, we should ban divorce. In both cases, the conflict and antisocial behavior most likely responsible for the problems won’t disappear just by removing the most obvious indicator of problems. In fact, it can make things worse.
From my personal perspective, then, joint custody mustn’t be mandatory, but it should be the default assumption of courts unless evidence is present that another arrangement is better for the child (i.e. evidence of harmful and antisocial behavior of one parent, as well as evidence for high-conflict between the parents).

In conclusion, there does seem to be some discrimination against fathers in family-court, but it’s not at all what MRA’s claim it is. Non-custodial fathers come out of a separation a lot better off than anyone else, even if they have to pay child-support. The discrimination that IS present seems to be focused on the good-oldfashioned sexist assumption that men pay and women do everything else, which means fathers who want more involvement in their children’s lives won’t necessarily get it. However, forced joint custody, while certainly better taking into account the rights of the fathers, might well be trampling on the rights of the children, and is therefore not necessarily the best solution to the problem, either. Getting away from patriarchal attitudes and patriarchal child-care assumptions would probably make it more possible to see to the welfare of a child on an individual basis.

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* originally, I’d thought to point out that this might have changed during the current recession, which resulted in a greater loss of traditionally male jobs than traditionally female jobs, but while this is true, the losses between 2007 and now were from 88% to 81% for men, and from 73% to 69% for women, and I’m not going to just assume that all these non-working women are trophy wives and voluntary SAHM’s, though I’m sure some are. And apparently, women are starting to catch up, and unlike men, they’re not just becoming unemployed, they’re leaving the labor force altogether.

No, it’s not my job to teach you

“It’s your job to teach me about feminism. Now do it.” is a square on the sexist-bingo card, and it’s a trope that pops up in just about any other subject of the culture wars, be it racism or evolution (think of all the e-mails PZ and other famous atheists get that basically demand that the whole universe be explained to the writers of the emails, personally)or any number of other topics. When being a n00b, the attitude of feminists/atheists/etc of linking to previous discussions, suggesting reading material, or just flat-out refusing to get into the discussion can be frustrating*, and look very arrogant, cowardly, and generally off-putting. But it is a necessary tactic, since one’s free time is a limited resource, and having the same conversations over and over, for the benefit of just one individual, is neither an enjoyable nor an efficient use of one’s time.

For that reason alone, places like Pharyngula are so very precious and important. It might be the culture of valuing evidence-based discussion, or the knowledge that the discussion there is read by many people (so that any argument can inform more than just that one individual being adressed), or something else entirely, but a place where many knowledgeable people are willing to share their knowledge in personal discussion, and where these discussions are archived for posterity, is a very valuable resource. Similarly, places like the feminism101 blog, or the TalkOrigins Archive make it possible to shortcut many conversations by simply referring the person to already existing, laboriously collected, answers to their n00b questions.

What I really wish we had were similar repositories for links to, and summaries of, various scientific papers that support many of the feminist points (the name-on-resume study, various scholastic achievement studies, etc.). I used to have a vast collection of links to such studies, but I misplaced a lot of them, and sometimes finding them again is impossible, or at least very time-consuming. A nicely alphabetically sorted archive of feminist causes and the science to explain/support them would be epically useful, and linking to the whole archive would be a nice little “I’ve got science, what have YOU got” Fuck You to those who insist that feminists argue from emotion alone.

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*I admit freely to feeling that frustration as well. For example, I would not be opposed at all if SC just stopped doing anything else and taught me everything she knows. But unfortunately, I’ll have to do it myself, and just be grateful for the book suggestions :-)

Feminists telling women what to do, Western Edition

Over at pandagon there’s yet another conversation about women taking their husband’s name when getting married. In general, I support their effort at making it socially acceptable and common for women to keep their own names, but I think going to the point of claiming that women must keep their name is compete bullshit. The current discussion started with a post that made fun of women who claim that they made the change because they either had difficult to spell/pronounce names, or because they want to distance themselves from their own families, because 85% of women change their name, while virtually no men do (hence the “only women have hard to pronounce names and horrible families?!” joke), thus making it look like a mere excuse. The argument at one point went so far as to support the banning of name-changing upon marriage (based on a slight misrepresentation of the law in Quebec, which bans immediate name changes, but allows one to change their name if they’ve used a name different from their birth-name for 5 years or more IIRC), which in my opinion goes way too far and qualifies this as a minor version of the “let’s tell women what to wear” idiocy.

So, here’s my detailed opinion on this name-changing issue.

As a tradition, it’s completely stupid and patriarchal, and I have personally experienced that taking a husband’s name can lead to feelings of having your own identity erased. The social pressure on women to take their husband’s name can be overwhelming, as well, and for women who marry when they’ve already have a professional record established under their birth-name, the name-change can cause career problems. For that reason, I very strongly support the movement to abolish the tradition and let women keep their names easily, without pressure to do otherwise.

But I also support the movement to make it easier for men to be able to adopt their wife’s name, and generally make name-changing easier for everyone, at any point. Why? Because I don’t really feel like one’s birth-name is one’s own name: the last name is usually the father’s name and the tradition of taking it is just as patriarchal as taking the husband’s name. And the first name is whatever one’s parents liked, and can feel entirely wrong for oneself. And then there’s the fact that indeed some people have names that are a pain in the ass to them, some people have horrible families that they want to dissociate themselves from, and some people are just weird and OCD and want to be able to have a name that, for them, is aesthetically pleasing and fitting. And all of those are perfectly good reasons to change one’s name, but it can be a massive pain in the ass to do so (or even impossible, if the bureaucracy decides your reason just isn’t good enough) in all but that one instance.

And so, women who for some reason or another aren’t that thrilled with their name, use that one instance when it’s easy to make a change, because all people are, at heart, lazy :-p . And they get lambasted for it because men don’t do it just as often. This ignores that men who might not like their name for the same reasons have a completely different social conditioning (being told they should be proud of their name, that they’re responsible for continuing the family, etc blah blah) that for one may result in a name-change not even occurring to them as an option, and two making it more difficult for them to go through with it: getting married doesn’t make name-changing easier for a man the way it does for a woman, so there isn’t really this opportunity to get it done easily.

So anyway, in Jadehawkworld, everybody would get a naming ceremony at some point of their choosing in their 20′s to chose “their” name themselves, and for married couples I’d adopt a version of the Peruvian (and Spanish?) naming tradition, in which a married woman would add a usage-optional “de [husbandslastname]” to her own; except I’d have husbands do the same, and adopt a “de [wifeslastname]“; children would get a hyphenated name until their naming ceremony.

Why not?!

a couple examples of how people don’t understand the concept of “happy right now” instead of “happily ever after”:

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conversation at boyfriend’s work, a couple weeks ago:

co-worker: “are you really moving to Fargo with your girlfriend next year?”
boyfriend: “yep.”
CW: “so, does that mean you guys are gonna get married?”
BF: “nope.”
CW: “why not?”
BF: “cuz we don’t want to.”
CW: “uh… ok. so are you guys gonna rent an apartment, or what?”
BF: “nope. I’m actually gonna try to buy a house there.”
CW: ?!?

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conversation yesterday at the coffee-shop, with a person I used to work with there*:

barista: “so how long have you and your boyfriend been together?
me: “about three years? no, about two an a half now.”
barista: “so, when are you guys gonna get married.”
me: “uh… probably not at all actually.”
barista: “why not?”
me: “why would we? there’s really no reason to.”
barista: . . .

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*hey, at least this time it wasn’t the Christian nurse at the OB/Gyn; now THAT was awkward.