Why Do You Want To Be on Team Rapist?

CN: Rape/rapists

I’ve been mulling this over for a little while now, and I think I have an idea of what’s going on with the Team Dickwolves thing: these people think they’re funny.

But let me set this up a little bit:

In the 1980s, Gary Brodsky, son of longtime Marvel comics executive Sol Brodsky, started Solson Publications. Solson specialized in black and white books with even more ludicrous premises than most comics, stuff like Reagan’s Raiders and The Bushido Blade of Zatoichi Walrus, but that wasn’t the end of it.

You see, Brodsky is an MRA. While he failed miserably at comics, he has made a killing consulting with pathetic men on how to get laid more often. However, that propensity for ubermench dickishness came out in Solson books as well, most notably with titles like Sultry Teenage Super Foxes, a book about scantily clan women living on an Air Force base with their high-ranking fathers and, despite having many conversations, still can’t pass the Bechdel Test because they used an alchemy machine to give themselves superpowers for the express purpose of attracting the hot, young airmen.

Now, I’m going to put up an ad here for Sultry Teenage Super Foxes, and I want you to pay attention to what the disembodied MRA head is saying.

Stupid ad for Solson Publishing

Even “grating” is an aspect of “personality,” I suppose.

You see, Gary Brodsky and his publishing house aren’t incredibly sexist. They have personality. In fact, they’re the only comic publisher who does.

Getting back to the relatively recent past, after Mike made his…well, fairly standard dumb statements at PAX Prime, my friend and guest blogger here, Lisa, texted me with a really good question: why would you want to be on Team Rapist?

Seriously, that’s an excellent question. Those who freaked out about not being able to buy shirts that said “Team Dickwolves,” where Dickwolves=rapists (so much so that @TeamRape was created on Twitter just to harass people who don’t like rapists), were basically saying that they want to walk around proclaiming their allegiance to rapists. Not to the idea of rape or the thought that rape is somehow a joke, but within the context of that shirt, of actual rapists.

Lisa also pointed out that while it’s nice that they’re identifying themselves so that they can be avoided, it might not be worth the triggering on people who can’t really handle walking around with people loudly proclaiming their support of non-consensual sex.

The funny thing is, these are the same people who likely react to concepts like Schrodinger’s Rapist by claiming how sexist it is to assume all men are rapists. I’d be curious to know if it’s ok to assume that the people walking around with t-shirts claiming support for rapists might be, or if that would be sexist as well?

Alex Lifschitz has an amazing piece on the nature of apologies and why it’s so important that we continue to be vocal about why it’s a good thing to not sell shirts that say, essentially, that the wearer supports rapists, and not some action that further embroils you in controversy.

Outright identifying as “a dick” or getting angry with a critic does not unshackle Mike from the personal responsibility of tempering his outbursts, like some discoursal equivalent of the Stand Your Ground law. He doesn’t get to be a dick anymore if Penny Arcade want to be perceived as a positive industry force. His thumb-fingered morality has become the trough feed of tens of thousands of up-and comers in the game industry. And as long as he spews it, he will have high-minded, conscience-stricken people to be his personal pains-in-the-ass until he gives things a second thought.

Do I think Mike cares about the comfort of people at his conference? Yeah, I do. But apparently, his desire for everyone at PAX to feel safe does not outpace his lack of understanding regarding why anyone would feel unsafe in the first place, nor his improvised intertwining and decoupling of his identity with his station in game culture to more effectively skirt the accusation du jour.

The problem with Mike and with Brodsky and with the people who really, really want shirts that say “Team Rapist” is that they sincerely think that rape can be funny. They think that merely stating an absurdity (because obviously none of them are racist or sexist) is funny, like they’re the Monty Pythons of rape jokes.

Now, I’ve studied comedy for most of my life and I can assure you that even if there was some way to tell that you weren’t a rapist just by looking at you, it’s still not funny just to misidentify something. Remember when Prince Harry thought that it would be hilarious to wear a swastika armband to a Halloween party? I have less of a reason to think that Prince Harry is a Nazi sympathizer than I do to think you’re a rapist, and it still isn’t funny.

Absurdist comedy is really difficult, and it’s more than just putting a sign on a chair that says “cat” and calling it a day. It’s more than drawing not very smart, underaged girls fighting crime for the sole purpose of getting men’s attention. It’s more than walking around proudly proclaiming your love of rape because everybody should know that you don’t actually love rape.

As the old showbiz saying goes, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” So, let me be perfectly clear: you’re not funny. I know you’ll dismiss me as some Feminist killjoy, but saying that you support rapists is simply not funny.

So don’t feel sad that you can’t proclaim to everybody who sees you how awesome you think rape is. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to not be a giant douche while simultaneously not telling the world that you think sex with unwilling partners is just the bestest. You’re welcome.

Update: Just looking through @Teamrape, and here’s exactly what I’m talking about:

Pull List of Justice: September 2013

pulllistofjusticeRegular readers of my stuff will know that I am a comic book fanatic and have argued many times that comics have historically been at the forefront of social progress, often addressing issues that television and other mediums have been unable or unwilling to. Yes, they can also be problematic, but I contend that finding the right book with the right author can lead to a wealth of fantastic characters representing all sorts of diverse types of people and ideas.

So welcome to the beginning of what will hopefully be a monthly feature in which I describe the wonderful things that are happening in the comics I read that send a positive message in the social justice arena. I should point out that I can only really write about the comics I actually read, so if you have a book that you think would be great that I don’t cover, mention it in the comments. Otherwise, all comics and characters are the property of their respective companies and are being reproduced in part here under Fair Use guidelines.

Now, let’s jump right in.

_____________

Thus begins my latest piece for Queereka. I hope that this will become a regular thing and get more people reading some of the amazing and socially progressive comics out there.

Comics Leading Society

I know this is a little late, so please excuse me, but I just couldn’t let this go without saying something.

You might have heard that some serious heavyweights in the comics industry dismissed accusations of sexism, while also saying that comics are usually following, not leading, social change, so that makes it totes ok if they were sexist, which they aren’t. Their arguments read like a greatest hits of privilege apologetics (e.g. “We objectify men, too!”, “Why don’t they make their own comics?”, and the suggestion that superhero comics, like skepticism, are more of a guy thing), and include a digression that touches on race by arguing that actively pursuing diversity automatically means not creating a stand-alone good character.

The people in question are Len Wein, most famous for creating Wolverine, Gerry Conway, who invented The Punisher (and gave what was to me the most baffling and infuriating quote, that “…the comics follow society. They don’t lead society.”), and Todd McFarlane, who developed a comic book as an excuse to sell toys.

Before we get too into this, I think it’s important that we have some context for these guys’ careers, because they are not lightweights in the industry, and all of them have had significant impacts on the way we experience comics to this day, for good and for ill. But by examining where they came from, we might be able to understand why they are so horrendously wrong.

Let’s start with Wein. While Len Wein is best known for his creation of Wolverine, he actually created a number of the X-men that are incredibly popular, including Nightcrawler, Storm, and Colossus.  He revived the book from five years of hiatus in 1975 and his tenure on the title set the stage for the team most non-comic readers would become familiar with: the 90’s animated series composition. Wolverine was introduced to the team in this book, but the fuzzball was introduced to the universe over a year before in Incredible Hulk 181, touted as “The World’s First and Greatest Canadian Super Hero”. However, unlike his predecessors and, to an extent, his successors, X-men under his direction wasn’t as socially conscious, preferring to focus less on the place of mutants in the world and more on super-powered people beating up on one another. Wein eventually became Editor-in-Chief at Marvel.

It was under his leadership that a man named Gerry Conway would be writing The Amazing Spider-man. Conway started at Marvel around the same time as Wein. In fact, 1970’s Daredevil #71 was Wein’s first comic at Marvel, and Daredevil #72 was Conway’s. Conway took over Spider-man at the tender age of 19, after a couple of years of writing duties being passed between Roy Thomas and Stan Lee. Again, we saw a move away from making any statements (ironic, only a year after Amazing Spider-man #96-98, which was not given a Comics Code Authority label because Lee wouldn’t abandon a plot thread about the dangers of drug use), and the eventual introduction of Punisher in issue 129. He would also script “The Night Gwen Stacy Died“. Punisher wasn’t given his own book until the early 80s, but stood out for his willingness to kill, a function largely of his antagonists being the mob and it being easier to mow down scores of faceless goombas than to have to create a new Doctor Octopus or The Vulture every couple of issues because you keep killing off unique villains.

Finally you have McFarlane. It’s hard to count him among the other two since he didn’t make his money or his fame from comic books directly. Rather, he created a comic, then marketed the hell out of toys for the comic. Yes, he did work on Spider-man as well, but really his success came from his founding of Image comics, an exercise in remembering why artists don’t just write their own stuff, and the creation of Spawn, who has limped along in comic fandom with some hard core followers but no lasting impression. I’m sure there are some Spawn fans out there, maybe even a couple that can name a Spawn villain off the top of their head that isn’t Clown, Satan, or Martin Sheen, but when your supporting characters are so incidental (BTW: Spawn had a supporting cast) that they can be cannibalized by your former company in an ill-advised continuity-merging event, you haven’t created a lasting property. Ultimately, McFarlane’s influence would probably be felt less as a creator and more as one of the people most fueling the Speculation Bubble that was one of the main reasons 90s comics were so awful.

The reason why I go into this digression is two-fold. The first is to point out that asking Todd McFarlane his opinion on comic books is a lot like asking Uwe Boll his opinion on movies. Sure, he’s made a few, but they’re not very good and usually a means to an end. McFarlane is much better equipped to answer questions about character design, much like Boll is better equipped to answer questions about just barely avoiding committing fraud.

The second point is that while McFarlane, who drove the Liefeldian testosterone-fueled 90s overeaction to body shape and human behavior (hello Youngblood, Cable, Doom’s IV, and Hardcore Station, to name a few), could be excused for thinking that comics never did anything he wasn’t interested in doing, Wein and Conway know better.

As I mentioned above, Conway, who gave the damn quote, took over Amazing about a year after Stan Lee specifically bucked the industry trade group in order to publish an incredibly timely comment on drug abuse and its dangers. Wein revived a book that had a really respectable seven year run as a metaphor to the Civil Rights movement while it was going on. Both of them started at DC and worked there during Denny O’Neill and Neal Adams’ incredibly well done and successful Green Lantern/Green Arrow crossovers, which were specifically designed to address social issues because those were the books that were popular at the time (as a side note, they were also astounding and dealt with issues from a really balanced, but hard-hitting way).

Conway and Wein were executives at Marvel when X-men: God Loves, Man Kills was published in 1982. They were part of the industry and even could have grown up reading Archie Comics, which has always presented Riverdale as progressively accepting of other people, being one of the first comics to have regular appearances by characters of color, fairly recently introducing gay teen Kevin Keller, depicting Keller’s future marriage to a same-sex partner (after coming home a war hero), and this month showing him kissing his boyfriend on the cover of his title book.

Wein and Conway both should be aware of William Marston’s opinion that women should be in charge of the world, and how his feminism guided the creation of Wonder Woman. They might have even heard of Truth: Red, White, and Black, X-men: Magneto Testament, or Pride of Baghdad. You’d think they would have been familiar with Iron Man’s continuing battle with alcoholism or the decades of thoughtful fallout from Hank Pym’s abuse of his wife. Or with the importance of the introduction of characters like Black Panther, Luke Cage, and White Tiger. It’s possible they haven’t seen how well Batgirl has been doing since the launch of the New 52 under Gail Simone’s leadership.They almost certainly have heard of the Marvel Civil War, which is my favorite crossover event of all time because it dealt with the question of how much liberty we can sacrifice for security at the height of the War on Terror.

Even if all of those things escaped their notice, they might be peripherally aware of this comic about an immigrant boy who comes to be raised in middle America and becomes a hero. In fact, the popularity of this comic is attributed as one of the reasons why many immigrants joined the war effort in the early 1940s, despite immigration being a very sore subject during the time of that comic’s popularity.

Comics have consistently been ahead of or right in the middle of social change. They are often overlooked as a significant mover of social progress, mostly by people like Wein, Conway, and McFarlane who have never and will never have to worry about whether a character is like them at all: most characters are in a number of ways. They will never care about seeing people dealing with the problems that affect their lives, because the problems that affect their lives are not the kind of problems that need heroes.

But to suggest that comics are behind the curve is to project their own apathy onto a medium that has spoken directly about issues that have had to be tiptoed around in other places. It has been in front of so many social movements, and that we see it lagging behind on women’s issues in many significant ways is more disappointing because they have been a positive voice on so many other things.

Comics can be a catalyst for change, especially super hero comics, even from the Big Two publishers. That’s why it’s important that we push back against these types of attitudes, and demonstrate that the books that we want are the ones that are not only well written, but make a point to be inclusive and allow characters to be something other than wish fantasy fulfillment for straight white cis teenage boys.

Persecution Should Empathize With Other Persecution

You have no idea how hard it was to find one of these that wasn't actually racist.

You have no idea how hard it was to find one of these that wasn’t actually racist.

A couple of weeks ago, Bob Chipman had an excellent video on The Escapist about the rise of geek culture and how its journey into the mainstream has increased a very specific set of negative traits that always existed but are often mythologized away.

It was always an open secret, you see, that for all the pretense of refuge for those who were different, geek culture was always thought of and built around only one classical nerd archetype: white, male, heterosexual, cis gendered, first world, with enough disposable income to afford their hobbies.

 

And while it was common for idealized depictions of the culture to imagine that welcoming and understanding were the rule (after all, persecution must empathize with other persecution, yes?), in reality sexism, racism, and other forms of clique-ish and exclusionary behavior were often the ugly underbelly of the whole scene…

 

A culture that built so much of its sense of self around resistance to persecution and oppression has no moral or logical rationale to become an oppressor itself when it attains a seat of power.

I could quote the whole second half if I’m not careful, so go watch the video.

I think this speaks not just to geek culture, but rather any culture that has gone from an embattled position to a gradual acceptance into the mainstream. It’s not too difficult to apply much of what Bob said above to gay culture instead of geek culture which is still largely focused on the white, upper middle class, cis gender gay male. To an extent there is more acceptance of lesbians as well, though often in the sense that straight men find the idea titillating and therefore there must be more women having sex with women to watch. However, it’s still ridiculously difficult to be a bisexual in a gay space even if we are technically allowed there, and even closer to impossible by a long shot to be a transwoman in a scene largely dominated by gay men who may see crossdressing as a form of play, but certainly don’t accept that somebody may in fact be a woman, though they were born with a Y chromosome.________________________

Thus begins my latest piece over at Queereka. Go over and take a look at the full article.

Link Parade 6/30/13

Here’s a collection of things I wanted to talk about but don’t have a full post in me for.

1. Apparently, Ohio is also passing an abortion ban, presumably to create the jobs they keep saying is their priority. Miri has the details and is encouraging people to call John Kaisich and tell him to line-item veto that provision from the budget bill. I encourage you to go over there and get the details on how. I just did, and I don’t even think modern Republicans ever give a shit about public opinion, but it didn’t hurt me. The part that gets me, however, is this bit:

Doctors must inform patients seeking abortions exactly how much money the clinic made from abortions within the past year, and how much money the clinic stands to lose if the patient chooses not to get an abortion. In case it’s unclear, the point of this is to warn patients that there is a “conflict of interest” involved in providing abortions because clinics can make money from them. This is ridiculous because any medical procedure can make money for doctors and hospitals.

You’ll notice that with the advent of 501(c)4s and the GOP’s favorite Court ruling, Citizen’s United, that the opposite is true of them. If I were a principled Democrat in Ohio, every bill will have a proposed amendment that you cannot submit a bill in the state legislature without it saying how much you have received from the relevant special interest group and how much you stand to lose in campaign donations if the bill doesn’t pass.

2.Will Wilkinson talks about why Republicans would bother standing against immigration reform when it’s clear that even 86% of Republican voters think a “pathway to citizenship” is a good idea. And the answer is that they have a hard core base that really is dedicated to identity politics.

The energetic ideological base of the Republican Party is a nationalist, identity-politics movement for relatively well-to-do older white Americans known as the “tea party”. The tea party is interested in bald eagles, American flags, the founding fathers, Jesus Christ, fighter jets, empty libertarian rhetoric, and other markers of “authentic” American identity and supremacy. That America is “a nation of immigrants” is a stock piece of American identity politics, but the immigrants that made America America were, well, not Mexican, and spoke English, or at least Pennsylvania Dutch. Sorry Mexicans! Even if each element of immigration reform, taken in isolation, is agreed to be a good idea by a solid majority of Republican voters, Republican politicians must nevertheless avoid too-enthusiastically supporting this package of good ideas, lest they fail to project sufficient appreciation for the importance of keeping America American and putting Americans first.

This is where I think there is an element of cognitive dissonance present in a lot of GOP voters. They don’t think of themselves as hurting immigrants, they don’t want to hurt anybody, but they also want to feel more authentic, more American than somebody, and immigrants are a traditional target. They prioritize their desire to feel superior, better than, over their desire to help people who may have been raised in this country, entirely unaware that their parents brought them here illegally as babies. They aren’t entirely unfeeling toward other people, which is why they support parts of the bill, but a whole bill threatens their feeling of supremacy and that cannot happen.

3. This is the boy I wish I was when I was 13. In fact, this is the boy I wished I was when I was 13. Will Phillips has been a social justice activist since he was 10 years old. Matt Barber has questioned his motivations and suggested he’s been “brainwashed” (which is wingnut speak for “taught that other people matter”). He initially got famous for refusing to say the Pledge because he didn’t feel that we did have “liberty and justice for all.” Most recently, he spoke at the Northwest Arkansas Pride Parade. This kid is amazing and has a bright future ahead of him. Go read about him now.

4. TW: cults, murder, homophobia. “Lord” Pete Moses is the leader of a Judaism-based cult. And he has just been found guilty of murdering two of his followers, one of which was a 4-year-old boy who was killed because Moses thought he was gay. At the very least he will be going to jail, the sick fuck. Sentencing is next Friday.

5. If you have small children, you should fill out this form saying you would be interested in getting them this awesome toy to teach your youngsters about evolution. Even if you don’t have kids you should fill it out. This is not buying the product, they are gauging interest in it, and filling out the initial form will not ask you for credit card information, but will give you an opportunity to give comments.

6. If you remember me talking about Joe Klein and how he apparently doesn’t understand that atheists help people, there have been multiple updates. First, Klein himself tried to weasel his way out of his comments by claiming that he only meant organized atheist groups, which is still incorrect. Now Time has come out with its own statement, and basically they’re supporting Klein, which is why I highly suggest that you contact Time and let them know that this is utterly unacceptable, that inaccurate reporting has no excuse, and that you intend to cancel your subscription if you have one.

On a side note, I was helping my friend with her baby yesterday. Funny how Joe Klein wasn’t there to help.

7. This baby duck was born with a deformed leg. So, rather than give him a peg leg or letting him suffer, science has found a solution. Using a 3D printer, people made a mold for a silicone prosthetic leg and foot for Buttercup. All the feels for this one.

8. I was torn about this for a whole 3 seconds before recognizing the problems with it. Basically, it’s a website that is encouraging a movement for “Christian Domestic Discipline” which we are told is a consensual arrangement that includes male domination and punishments like spanking.

Christian Domestic Discipline is not BDSM. It is not a game. While we do not deny its sometimes erotic nature, it is ultimately not for erotic purposes. It is often much different than the domestic discipline you will find outside of the Christian faith.

The thing is, it sounds a lot like BDSM. However, my experience has taught me that I can’t trust that Christianists aren’t lying when they say stuff like “consensual”, and there is a question of whether a lifetime’s worth of being told that this is the natural order of things leaves a person in a position to meaningfully consent or not. However, giving the women involved in this the benefit of the doubt, I see nothing on their website about wives who want to exit this “consensual” arrangement, or merely drop that aspect of it without getting a divorce. I also see no mention of safe words and very little in the way of safety instructions to keep husbands from going too far (I suppose god will stop them?), which means it is very, very, very not BDSM. Essentially, as a Dom/sub relationship with a religious play component, this could be really hot. As a lifestyle with no escape routes, no safety instructions, and no apparent care for the lives of women who get into this other than value paternalistic nonsense, it sounds both dangerous and abusive, despite claims that it is not (because saying that something is not abusive/racist/homophobic/otherwise awful totes makes it true).

9. #4 on this Fred Clark link list. Just go read it.

I think that’s everything for now. Oh, if you haven’t, please go vote on my new tagline. It’ll only take a second and be really helpful.

Punish the Girl First

Very few things frustrate me more than one person having to suffer for the crimes of others. Part of the reason why I have a problem with Christianity is that it is based, primarily, on the idea that one person can suffer in exchange for another and, further, that this is good.

In this case, the person suffering is 12-year-old Maddy Blythe who was previously allowed to play football on her middle school team. However, administrators at Strong Rock Christian School seem to be very afraid of her magical girl powers to create “lustful thoughts” in the boys on the team. So instead of the boys having to control themselves, she has been cut from the team.

Now, keep in mind, I am not really entirely on board with the “teach the boys to control themselves” idea in this case since the concern isn’t even for their behavior, it’s for their thoughts. Yes, they should learn about how not to give into those thoughts on an unwilling person, but this bullshit thought-policing does nothing but cause these boys to be steeped in shame on an incredibly regular basis since it doesn’t take a whole lot to give a 12 year old lustful thoughts. But, as Darrel Ray points out quite often, sexual control leads to control in other aspects of life, and religious organizations like Strong Rock love to control people. Make them afraid of their entirely natural and uncontrollable thoughts, then give them a cure for the made up disease in the form of obedience.

There is nothing good about this situation. All you see is kids being abused for being in the first case a girl, and then in the boys for being on the edge of puberty. When I first read this I was angry, but the more I think about the enforcing of purity myths and the inevitable pain that will be suffered by any child who buys into this claptrap, the more nauseated I get.

Strong Rock Christian School is harming children with this policy. They’re taking one girl who not only enjoys football, but is reportedly very good at it, and telling her that she must be the one to be punished because the administration can’t trust the boys. The boys on the team are being told that they can’t be trusted because they might be thinking things that haven’t been approved by Jesus, and their very thoughts can send them spiraling into the very depths of hell. On top of that, they are being told that if they do have a problem, it’s not their job to fix it, it’s somebody else’s job to make things easier for them.

There are no good lessons here. There is no hidden meaning that makes this anything other than fanatical devotion to absurdity and unthinking obedience to social structures that undoubtedly give all or most power to the people making these decisions. It’s sick, it’s sad, and I feel for these kids. I recommend going to the Let Her Play Facebook page and showing your support.

CFI Shows Zero Backbone

I’m a liberal Democrat, so I’m rather used to the leaders that ostensibly support the things I care about backing down in the face of a fight. It’s frustrating as all hell, but you eventually come to expect it, at least politically.

Still, I am fairly new to the wider atheist/skeptical movement, and I’m still getting used to which groups hold the same values that I do. I remember when the Secular Coalition of America (what I call the “other SCA”) hired a Republican lobbyist who basically spent her career up to that point getting people elected that stood against everything the other SCA does to run the organization…and that hasn’t turned out horrible.

CFI originally attracted me because I thought that Melody Hensley and Debbie Goddard were pretty damn awesome. Michael De Dora does a really tough job as well, and so do many of the other staffers who work there. In fact, though people will say otherwise, there has been very little blowback against the Center for Inquiry since its CEO, Ron Lindsay, decided to lecture a bunch of feminists on what feminism is and isn’t.

That is until they released the result of their discussion on the matter which is…less than stellar.

The mission of the Center for Inquiry is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.

The Center for Inquiry, including its CEO, is dedicated to advancing the status of women and promoting women’s issues, and this was the motivation for its sponsorship of the two Women in Secularism conferences. The CFI Board wishes to express its unhappiness with the controversy surrounding the recent Women in Secularism Conference 2.

CFI believes in respectful debate and dialogue. We appreciate the many insights and varied opinions communicated to us. Going forward, we will endeavor to work with all elements of the secular movement to enhance our common values and strengthen our solidarity as we struggle together for full equality and respect for women around the world.

I’m sorry, but this is a fucking joke. Seriously, what could have possibly been going through the heads of the board of directors when they drafted this? Did they think that it would be accepted?

The fact of the matter is that they are making it perfectly clear that they have no interest in maintaining the confidence of the social justice-minded among the atheist movement. This is a shame since Women in Secularism is a great idea and one that can really do a lot of good for the movement, but not if it seems as if they’re doing this to check off a box. I believe that members of the staff are passionate about getting women involved in secularism, but it seems like the leadership sees it as a nuisance.

Greta Christina and Rebecca Watson have both pulled their support from the organization, which probably means very little to those in charge. We’ve also started to see the emergence of the predictable distortions, such as this signable open letter which reads in part

We are aware that the silencing tactics, accusations, shaming and/or smearing campaigns employed by influential representatives of the Atheism Plus movement – particularly certain bloggers and speakers associated with Skepchick and Freethought Blogs – have included calls to interfere with the careers and personal lives of valuable contributors to the secular/atheist/skeptic movement. We are witnessing an effort to purge supposed undesirables from the movement, based on personal and political agenda. We do not condone this. Some of us have been directly targeted by these tactics, and others of us are afraid to use our real names online, let alone attend conferences, because we fear we may be targeted next.

We are aware of a campaign, headed by Amanda Marcotte and others, to remove Ronald A. Lindsay from his position as CEO of the Center for Inquiry. We do not support this effort.

Where? Where has anybody, Amanda Marcotte or otherwise, lead a “campaign” for Ron Lindsay to be fired? Everybody I have read has asked for an apology, either from him or on his behalf. And who is calling to interfere with the careers of people? This is completely made up nonsense, a collection of hyperbolic ghost stories told by anti-feminists to justify their harassment tactics. The point of this letter is just to tell the world that the undersigned don’t have any problems with people treating others horribly. They’re fine, so why should they give a shit about anybody else?

Basically, this is weapons grade projection.

The thing is, I am entirely unsurprised by this. Seriously, I’ve already seen how this mythology is built. First the statement comes from CFI that is so ambiguous that it says absolutely nothing but tries to shift blame away from itself and its CEO, then people pretend that there is some horrible campaign to get people fired (that they will refuse to support or support with comments on blogs that go against the things the blogger has said), then it’s all about how hateful we A+ers are because we’re stifling free inquiry and a false equivalence is made between the right to free speech and the fictional right to be given a platform.

This is an old script. We have new elements (let’s see how long it takes the Vacula to get Ron Lindsay on his radio show), but ultimately it’s the same thing. Anti-feminists will pretend that they care about free speech so long as you’re loud enough to yell over them and embellish the truth because that’s how good skeptics win arguments, apparently.

*sigh* At least there’s still American Atheists. Dave Muscato and Dave Silverman seem to understand that just because something doesn’t make you personally uncomfortable, that doesn’t mean you should stand by and let other people be harassed. That’s really what this boils down to: CFI has stated clearly that they’re good, so what does it benefit them to be concerned with somebody else? That’s a sad attitude to have.

A Lady Doctor and Trans* People

As we all know, at least the people who have heard of both the internet and have no fewer than one Whovian friend, Matt Smith is leaving Doctor Who. I am disappointed like so many others, but I have learned that as a Doctor Who fan, I need to roll with the regenerations. I remember being a kid and watching the switch from John Pertwee to Tom Baker in reruns on PBS and being very, very disappointed. So disappointed I ran over to my dialup modem, put it on the cradle, and hit every local BBS until I found one with somebody who knew what the fuck just happened. Did I mention I’m old?

However, I believe this presents a good chance. Let’s get a female Doctor.

Seriously, it wouldn’t be any less strange than anything else on the show, and there is precedent for it with both Romana (that there are Time Ladies, at least), and also with the non-canonical and absolutely hilarious The Curse of Fatal Death where the Doctor at the end is played by Joanna Lumley.

But I was being foolish. As Aiofe over at the Tea Cozy points out, Russell T. Davies himself, though no longer running the show, came up with the hitch in this plan.

While I think kids will not have a problem with a female Doctor, I think fathers will have a problem with it.

That’s because they will then imagine they will have to describe sex changes to their children.

How did I not think of that! Fathers (not mothers) will have to explain to kids about sex changes!

Obviously, this fails on a number of levels, and I will give Davies some credit that his wording implies that fathers are not justified in this opinion, merely that some will “imagine” this to be the case. But let’s look at these fails as if this is the case and some dads are this delusional.

The first is one that Aoife points out: we went through this 20 years ago with another character. Her name was Jadzia Dax and she was on the masterful Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. To quote Aoife,

Dax- or Jadzia Dax, as she is when we meet her- is a joined Trill. Trills are a species who, in their joined state (most Trills aren’t joined) are composed of two parts- a humanoid host who lives and dies like other humanoids, and a wormlike symbiont who can live for many centuries and who holds and preserves the memories of its hosts. When a host dies, the symbiont is transferred into a new host to begin another life. A joined Trill individual is therefore a blend of the current host, their symbiont, and all of their past lives. Trippy, eh? Where the Doctor rarely refers to the past, Dax doesn’t have that luxury. Jazdia Dax lives and works among people who knew her when she was an old man. Her boss, closest friend, mentor and mentee (life is complicated when you’re a twentysomething with a centuries old mind) calls her “Old Man” and reminisces about old times. She encounters people of many species who she knew in past lives, deftly negotiating complex terrains of age and gender, owning both who she is and all of the other people that she was. She’s also, by the way, a badass science officer, wicked smart, and manages to gamble with the Ferengi and win.

DS9 is my favorite Star Trek series. I remember very clearly laying on the floor of my family room with two uncles, two cousins, my grandmother, and my parents all sitting around together watching the premiere of the show. We didn’t always watch it as a big family, but my father and I have seen it several times all the way through together. We quote Garek to one another often as an inside joke. Mine is no casual fandom, and neither is my dad’s, which is why I also remember asking him once why Dax is referred to as “Old Man”.

And I remember my father explaining to me that she has a symbiont inside of her that is passed from host to host, some of them are men, some are women. And that was it, because I was 11 years old and “that’s how Trills work” was perfectly acceptable. No discussion of sex or gender required.

And you know when else we didn’t discuss sex or gender? During the episode Facets when Jadzia has her friends embody the personalities of her previous hosts as part of a Trill ritual and has Quark embody one of the female hosts without telling him. Yes, violation of his consent, misplaced femininity played for laughs, but it was at least mildly funny and in no way required my father to explain that some people legitimately feel that way all the time and can take a number of steps to correct the problem. You know why? Because I was less concerned about why there was a woman inside of Quark and more concerned with whether Nog will pass the practical test to get into Starfleet Academy because priorities.

The other part of this fail to has to with why this is a problem in the first place. Trans* people exist, so why is it so difficult to explain that some people change their gender in a variety of ways and to a variety of degrees? This is not a difficult thing to explain, and it shouldn’t be held to a special level of scrutiny because fathers might not be comfortable with it.

And that leads me to the point that I think is most important.

I don’t give a fuck what you tell your kids.

Seriously, why the fuck is it my responsibility, or the BBC’s, or Steven Moffat’s to avoid certain topics? Trans* people exist. If your desire is to prevent your children from realizing that, that’s your prerogative, but nobody else is under any obligation to help shelter your children from reality. In fact, I will outright say that my objective is to introduce your children to reality if you are trying to deny it to them, because your child deserves to be able to handle the actual world around them when they are no longer under your thumb.

Also, hi kids of parents who don’t want you to know things! Hope you’re enjoying reading my blog with all the dirty words and talk about TV shows!

On a related note, Mike Huckabee shares with us his incredible sad that he has to actually see gay people on TV. This was his example of how downtrodden and oppressed Christians like him are: they might have to change the channel or accept that gay people exist someplace. This was prompted by Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America saying that conservatives on college campuses were “bullied” and had a hard time expressing their views on issues like same-sex marriage, completely ignoring that they have that trouble because their views are horrendous and there is no good way to phrase them.

And I have basically the same reactions: I don’t give a single fuck. Before the 5th century CE you couldn’t accurately represent how many fucks I give because the number zero hadn’t fully developed yet, and all of those fucks were merely a placeholder or deciphered from context.

Also, the Doctor is not LGBT. And if he regenerated into a female presenting body, she may or may not be LGBT, but not because of that. The Doctor is Gallifreyan. Thought we should clear that up.

There is a perception from people, especially on the right, that it is the responsibility of the wider world to raise their kids for them, or at least don’t put them in a position where they might have to talk about something that makes them uncomfortable. And you know what? It sucks to be them because this is the world that their kids live in, and they really need to get used to it young, or those kids will grow up as stunted and ignorant as their parents, bewildered by the very thought of some people’s mere existence and afraid that they might turn on the TV and actually see some of them.

So, with that objection out of the way, can we maybe look at a possible Lady Doctor this time around? And perhaps even get more than one female writer while we’re at it? I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

UPDATE: More from the “don’t mention gay people” news. Apparently the Duma  just passed a bill, unanimously, to make it illegal to even mention that gay people exist. And Mike Huckabee secretly pines to be in Mother Russia.

SFWA Sounds A Lot Like the Atheist Movement…

and not in a good way.

Basically, two authors for the SFWA Bulletin wrote an article about “lady writers” and “lady editors” that focused on… how they look in bathing suits. After that, there was a seriously sexist cover on the next issue. Then the next issue had an article written by a man telling women to “emulate Barbie” and “maintain [their] quiet dignity as a woman should.” And finally we come back to the original two morons this month complaining about, you guessed it, being “censored” and “suppression of ideas” and “trying to get [people ] fired”. One even points out that Romance novels have shirtless men on them, and we all know that the pirate Captain Dashing McManlypecks is exactly the same as an accomplished woman who is also an editor.

I knew Vox Day was a member of SFWA, but with such sexism on display it looks like the Vacula would fit right in. The two sexist authors in question make the same intellectually bankrupt arguments and hyperbolic claims of martyrdom that women in secularism hear all the time.

Follow the two links in the second paragraph for a complete idea of what is going on. Credit to Scalzi who took responsibility as president of the organization, though I don’t think it was a decision he actually made.

EDIT: I realized after I published this that I am not being precise in my comparison. I am saying that both groups have great people, but are made less by the vocal presence of people who’s solution to sexism is “Don’t take everything so seriously. Tu quoque!” Hope that is a little clearer.

Paying Attention to the Experts

In March 2013, the Oxford English Dictionary invented the following words: boccio, podium, and whip-smart. They also created an entirely new definition of the word “blue,” so you may want to consider looking it up so that you don’t mis-use it.

What’s that you say? The OED didn’t invent those words? Well, my good fellow or female version of the word “fellow”, you would be mistaken. You see, Richard Dawkins is quite emphatic on this point, though I’m not sure he understands that implication of his recent Twitter-splosion.

Ok, first thing’s first. Can somebody, anybody, when speaking to Richard Dawkins in person, try to talk him out of his weird insistence on trying to discuss deep, meaningful questions in 140 character bursts? I mean, this seems like a lot of fun at a party of philosophers (especially if you add a strip component), but when you are looking to actually address a situation, the intentionally limited nature of Twitter makes for more confusion than anything else. If it were simply useless, that would be one thing, but it is actively confusing, and that can be a problem.

What Dawkins actually did was claim, essentially, that it’s so unfair that people who point out white male privilege aren’t consider racist or sexist because of it.

Now I will give him some credit, this didn’t come out of nowhere. He started by talking about what had happened in Woolwhich and discussing the murderer’s words, specifically how he both seemed to consider the British to be Other to him and how he considered Britain to be “our land”. It’s a weird dichotomy that I think bears exploration.

Then somebody said this.

NadiaNouiMehidi Nadia Noui-Mehidi
@RichardDawkins you do the insufferable smug white male making snide comments in loafers thing well, but maybe stick to biology.
I’m not quite sure where this came from, but again, Twitter. Context is the first thing to go. However, I don’t think that can explain Dawkins’ response.
  1. @NadiaNouiMehidi Why is it permissible to be racist & sexist, just so long as you attack white males?
  2. “insufferable smug white male making snide comments in loafers.” Racism & sexism are fine, so long as they point in the right direction!
OK, what the fuck just happened there? Suffice it to say that it goes on and Dawkins continues to insist that pointing out his privilege is racism and sexism because the dictionary says that that’s what those words mean.
RichardDawkins
Richard Dawkins
Some people here think you can’t be racist against white people! Look it up in dictionary. Needless to say, no power asymmetry is mentioned.
RichardDawkins
Richard Dawkins
@rachelmack @CabbagetownMatt Really? By whose dictionary? Certainly not the Oxford Dictionary. Dictionary of sociology perhaps? Ah yes.
This poses two major problems.
The first is his immediately going to the dictionary, which is where I started this blog. Dictionaries are not authoritative arbiters of words and their meanings, they are reflections of the state of language. The writers of the Oxford English Dictionary did not invent a single word placed in it, and when they change the meaning of words that’s not where the change originates. The words that are added and the changes made reflect a long-term change in how a word is used in actual conversation for a long period of time.
The last part is key. It takes quite some time for dictionaries to update their definitions of things, because they’re trying to reflect an accurate and stable definition of words. It’s part of the reason why the definition of “radical” didn’t change to “expressive of the best potential in life; awesome; gnarly; tubular” in the 1980s and early 90s. This was unquestionably what a huge proportion of the population (myself included) used the word to mean during the period, especially with the popularity of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but OED is careful about changing the definition of words in their publication to avoid fads. However, that does not change that that is precisely what that word meant in certain contexts during the time, even if the OED says that “radical” means, “relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.” I suspect that’s not what Raph was talking about, at least.
The second problem is that Dawkins shows a pretty extreme contempt for sociologists throughout this exchange. This is absolutely baffling, since sociologists are the people who dedicate their lives to studying this sort of thing! For a guy who spends a good portion of his life arguing with people who think they know more about biology than him despite having never studied biology, you would think that he would be a little more accepting of other people’s expertise in various fields. To quote Aoife over at the Tea Cozy,
People who have never taken a sociology class in their lives, who know nothing about social theory, research, methodologies (and the reasons behind them), who figure that they somehow know more about it than, well, the entirety of sociology and sociologists. And anthropology and anthropologists (lovely bunch).
I think what Dawkins is saying here is even worse than just that sociologists aren’t qualified to talk about society and social science. He is actually saying that while sociologists aren’t qualified, dictionary writers are. Seriously, he’s saying that the definitions of racism and sexism that were written at the OED offices are somehow more accurate than the one used by people who spend their lives advancing scholarship in the field that studies those phenomena. It’s one thing to entirely dismiss a field of study with centuries of research and data that accurately predicts societal trends and advancement, but it’s quite another to say that the people who figure out how to explain the way that people use certain words should be more trusted to answer questions related to that field.
Today, Cracked.com wrote a followup to John Scalzi’s famous “Lowest Difficulty Setting” post, which was reposted at Kotaku. Basically, Luke McKinney went into the comments of that Kotaku post and found examples of exactly the kind of privilege that Scalzi was talking about. Dawkins fairly often exhibits four out of five of the ones McKinney points out, but #1 is the most applicable to this situation. Let me quote, emphasis his.

Apparently, being a straight white male is actually the hardest difficulty because of political correctness. People can’t mock anyone else, so they mock the poor straight white man! Listen: If the people victimizing you are affected by political correctness, you have never been victimized.

Political correctness only stops the kind of people who use a thesaurus to get away with being snide. “Political correctness gone mad!” is how you announce to the world that you have no real problems but don’t appreciate the fact and should be harvested for organs as soon as possible.

Dawkins has a habit of digging in and dismissing expertise that isn’t his own. Basically, unless you happen to know a lot about things Richard Dawkins knows about, your knowledge is considered useless. I think part of this is that Dawkins has a lot of respect for his field, and part of it is that because he knows so much about evolutionary biology, for example, he is less inclined to be hyper-skeptical because he can more readily evaluate the worth of a given argument.

This is important. It’s pretty easy for me, with a degree in English, to determine whether a given interpretation of a text is valid. I’ve had years of training to be able to do so. Even if it’s an interpretation that goes against what I would normally consider to be correct, I am able to, with the knowledge and resources I have readily available, determine almost instantly whether I should give it credence, so I’m less inclined to be hyper-skeptical about it because I have a basis on which I can make a determination. This wouldn’t be true of evolutionary biology, which I know very little about, especially in comparison to somebody like Dawkins.

However, what often ends up happening is that Dawkins will hear something that violates his pre-conceived notions of a subject he knows very little about, and when somebody who knows more than him points out that he’s saying something entirely incorrect, he’ll dismiss the more experienced and knowledgeable person because… he knows a lot about evolutionary biology, I guess. It’s like when he had an argument over Twitter with Ana Mardoll in which he claimed to know more about the purposes of gene testing embryos for IVF (i.e. it’s about testing for potential to survive pregnancy, not for creating designer babies) than she did, despite her having done so and he having not. Mardoll clearly knows more about this than Dawkins, yet he refuses to accept that, so much so that at the end he points out that he always says exactly what he means, and people who misinterpret his words are the wrong ones, basically insisting that language is a solitary activity, not the most efficient way of transferring data between two or more parties that we currently know.

Dawkins has always had an ego. Some people consider it charming, I find myself more and more irritated by it every day. It’s not that Dawkins is a bad guy and I recognize his contributions to atheism as a movement, but given the choice I would rather hear Julia Galef, Melody Hensley, Dave Silverman, Darrel Ray, Jen McCreight, or JT Eberhard speak than Dawkins. I can be sure with them that they haven’t stopped exploring a topic because they think they have an answer, that they recognize the world is more complex than can be expressed in 140 characters, that they are willing to listen to people who might know more than them about a given subject, and, most of all, that they know how dictionaries work.