Normalcy

This morning I checked my blogs (which I realized recently was the modern equivalent of reading the paper) and I came across this remarkable post from Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters about an article posted on NOM’s blog arguing that gay couples and infertile women are “the new sexual predators”.

I could probably go into excruciating detail about why the author of the original piece, Alana S. Newman, is pretty disgusting as a human being, or even why we’re likely to hear more whining from NOM that not everything they publish on their blog is something they endorse (despite publishing the worst things with no comment to indicate that). Instead, I wanted to focus on one specific aspect of the piece.

There are new characters eager to exploit our daughters’ bodies, who enjoy unsullied reputations, passing detection even as they blatantly hunt for eggs and wombs with checkbooks in hand. And historically they have been the people women should fear the least. These new players vying for access to young women’s bodies are older or infertile women, and gay men—quite often our friends and members of our family.

This got me thinking of normalcy and what we, as a society, have become used to. I’m especially disturbed by this segment because it’s such a blatant attempt to Otherize people, but it does so in a way that is still acceptable. You can’t really get away with just saying that LGBT people (and, I guess, older women) are sexual predators (though people imply it all day long), but you certainly can draw a new line in the sand and say that they shouldn’t be allowed to have children. It plays on our fear of that which is not fully normal, that which we don’t have a time-tested set of behavioral responses to deal with immediately. I’ll give another example.

A high school student, Gaby Rodriguez, faked her own pregnancy last year as part of a social experiment. Hiptip to the fabulous Laci Green for pointing out this one. Essentially, shortly after Homecoming she announced that she was pregnant. Very few people actually knew what was going on or that it was a ruse.

It’s important to know that she was a straight A student, well-liked and well-behaved, not particularly a problem or on students’ radar for hatred. Yet hatred she got, and not just from students. Many of her teachers started treating her differently because they thought she had made some terrible error in judgement.

How about another one? Last Thursday, Skepchick’s Afternoon Inquiry was about Michael Vick, who most of you know as the dog fighting guy. It asked the question of whether anything the guy does will ever actually get people to forgive him. He did serve time in prison and has spent most of his fortune trying to make amends for what he did. On the other hand, there’s a certain sense of hesitancy to let that aspect of his past go, since it’s fairly indicative of his character that he ever would do something so amazingly awful. Is there really any punishment that can fix the part of him that would have ever even considered that a dog fighting ring was a good idea?

Which brings me, inevitably, to my post last week about Justin Vacula, which has become my most viewed post of all time and still is getting pretty heavy traffic. John Loftus, a former FtBlogger and big name in the atheist movement, came over to post a link to a piece he had written basically asking people to forgive and forget the things Justin has done. Loftus, ever the peacemaker, wants us to focus on the good stuff and ignore the bad things, and while I respect his position, I’m afraid until Justin makes an actual effort to make amends (and stops lying about things like Surly Amy’s address being on her business page), then I can’t simply let the things he’s done go.

What we have here are a lot of examples of reactions to breaks from the usual. Sometimes the reaction is ridiculous, sometimes fairly understandable, and even somewhat ambiguous, but still we see that the immediate reaction to a break from established norms is to recoil from it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying not to recoil. We should recoil from certain things. However, we also need to ask ourselves why we find one thing or another particularly abhorrent. It’s important that we don’t avoid things for the simple reason that we are not comfortable with them, but rather that there’s a material reason to avoid them. Newman’s piece is awful because she’s inventing a problem and confirming pre-existing fears on the authority of her own fevered imagination. Gaby Rodriguez, though? All she did was violate the weird social concept of “purity,” which likely means that she was caught having sex rather than simply doing it without it being public knowledge.

One of the reasons I like skepticism is that it reminds me to step back and look what my assumptions. Often that means that I have to throw out social scripts that I had been using for years or decades (I only have a few decades, granted, but some scripts get learned very early in life), which can be disconcerting. However, it’s important if we are both to be better people and approach reality in a more accurate fashion.

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