Words Mean Things: “Out of Context”

We’re introducing a new feature on this blog called “Words Mean Things.” It’s where I explore various phrases that have come to be used in pop conversation as defensive or offensive rhetoric, but are completely divorced from any substantive meaning.

The inspiration for this feature and today’s entry comes in the comments for yesterday’s post about Dawkins. Quoted partially.

Way to take on [sic] paragraph out of context and write an essay condemning him. Do you have too much time on your hands?

I have since asked James for the context that makes his statements better and have received no reply, so I assume he’s merely been too busy.

However, there are many people far less scrupulous than James who don’t realize that “out of context” has a meaning and is not code for “thing that makes somebody sound bad.”

Let’s explore.

“Context” refers to the information surrounding something. Data is rarely clear in a vacuum, and is rather influenced by other data surrounding it that gives you, the observer, a sense of perspective by which you can accurately determine meaning from what you are seeing.

This is an aspect of science that particularly confuses Creationists. You see, when we discuss the mountains of evidence for evolution, we are talking about context. We understand how gravity and time work, for example, so we know that things on the bottom of piles got there first and are therefore older, so when we find a fossil that appears to be in an earlier stage of development for various traits buried deeper in the ground, we can draw a provisional conclusion that it may be a transitional fossil to something we found higher up from something that will be found lower. Keep in mind that this is a highly, highly simplified example.

Now, let us take that same fossil discovery and put it to a Creationist. Whether they want to admit it or not, for that discovery to not be consistent with evolution, either time or gravity would have to work differently in order to deposit fossils someplace in the ground that they wouldn’t otherwise be if they were consistent. So, Creationists often try to pick apart the validity of the find itself (often referring to Piltdown Man), rather than addressing that it was found exactly where we predicted it would be. That is taking out of context.

How about another example?

Out of context things are often used in the service of comedy. For example, one of my favorite Tumblrs is Archie Out of Context, which takes one or two panels from Archie comics and separates them from the rest of the comic, letting you draw your own, mostly sexual, conclusions. Here’s twenty that are absolutely hilarious, including a few of my favorites (“Oh! So Jesus is a giant Aspirin tablet!!!”).

One could also argue that the humor in comedies of errors results from taking things out of context. The Life of Brian is a great example, where we have poor Brian of Nazareth who is assumed to be the much hoped for messiah, despite nothing in his life indicating that this is the case. He’s a fairly unremarkable guy who has his every action re-written in order to fit the new context that others have developed for him, such as in this, one of my favorite scenes:

The “context” of the scene that we see is that Brian is running from a mob of fanatical devotees who want him to lead them, and he loses his shoe in the process. However, the zealots don’t understand that he is a normal guy with no wisdom to impart. They have taken the event out of the context of his life and inserted it into the context of a messiah giving them guidance. The shoe stops being a mistake caused by being in a hurry and is now The Sign.

Now that we know what “context” is, let us see how “out of context” is abused.

Remember this ad from the last presidential campaign that seems to have President Obama saying, “If we talk about the economy, we’re going to lose”?

It was the first Romney ad that came out for the general. But when we took at look at when and where that line was actually said, we see that Obama was actually referring to a quote from a John McCain staffer in the presidential election before that. He was trying to summarize the attitude of the McCain campaign at the time, which was suffering from its party identification with the president and Congress that helped put us in what we were just realizing would be one of the worst economic disasters in American history. In this case, context demonstrates that what is being implied is the exact opposite of what was said.

On the flip side of that, last June Rep. Trent Franks from Arizona commented that, “The incidents of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low,” in order to justify having no rape exception in his 20 week national abortion ban. When he was hit from the left for the statement, he claimed he was “taken out of context.” In this case, that is nothing but a dodge, because nothing he said around that statement in any way changes that he was basically ignoring the 32,000 pregnancies that result from rape every year, nor would it make his statement any more relevant (i.e. even if only one woman got pregnant from rape, shouldn’t she not be forced to carry her rapist’s baby?).

It is in this second vein that I am taking claims about Dawkins being “taken out of context.” Maybe there is more to the article that I am missing, but so far it doesn’t look like anything that was said around those quotes changes that he appears to be speaking for his classmates regarding whether they were affected by their molestation, that he recognizes degrees of molestation, or that he thinks that you can’t judge people in earlier generations for their horrible behavior based on social expectations of the time. And taking in further context of previous statements he’s made, it’s directly in line with a demonstrable callous indifference to people who are not just like him or capable of serving his interests.

And that is what “out of context” means.

That Flash of Fear, or How I Became Schrodinger’s Rapist

CN: Rape, rape culture

I was reading my gReader feed today and came across this re-post from a friend of mine.

Men, are you worried for your own safety because misandry?

You need to accept that misandry happens in the real world and take some precautions.

Take a self defense class, they’re only a couple hundred dollars a month.

Don’t go out after dark unless you have a woman to chaperone you. Misandrists are less likely to attack if they see you are with another woman.

Don’t wear anything too douchey. If you’re wearing a fedora or a sexist t-shirt, etc. you’re pretty much asking to get attacked. Misandrists can’t control themselves when they see a man in a fedora, their instincts kick in and before they know it they have a dead male corpse in their hands. Just be a good boy and don’t tempt them, okay?

Don’t ever invite a woman into your home. Misandrists will interpret this as you consenting to physical violence.

Drinking increases your risk of being attacked by a misandrist. They target drunk men because their inhibitions are lowered.

Never leave your drink unattended. Misandrists are notorious for poisoning men at parties and bars.

If a misandrist does attack you, be quiet and just let her finish or you might anger her further and you are liable to get murdered instead of just mutilated. But also, be sure to put up a good fight because a lot of men say they don’t want to be attacked by misandrists but deep down, they really like it.

And remember, accusing a woman of abusive misandry is worse than being abused by a misandrist. So before you make accusations, make sure it wasn’t all just a silly misunderstanding.

The joke, obviously, is that there is no such thing as “misandry,” and these are all actual, real things that are told to women in order to “prevent rape.” I use “joke” here loosely as it’s actually rather frightening that all of these ridiculous and contradictory rules are put in place basically as an excuse to blame women for their own rapes, but obviously it’s meant to make a point humorously. As Witchy Weaver (all nicknames subject to change based on the desires of the nicknamee) pointed out after the re-blog, this is a daily reality for women, and the wording of this post is based on a serious warning to women from a few years ago.

Which brings me to a few days ago and for the first time I realized that I was, at least briefly, Schrodinger’s Rapist.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, the idea is that in a culture that minimizes the occurrence of rape, that engages in a constant, low level misogyny, that blames victims and makes their sexual history, clothing, etc., the focus of any rape accusation, and that makes it nearly impossible to actually get a rapist convicted, women are put in a position where they must, by necessity, assume any unknown (and often known) man that they encounter may be a rapist. In most cases, they aren’t, but if women aren’t prepared for the possibility and do get raped, odds are heavily in favor that they will have to jump through all sorts of unnecessary hoops to not only prove that they were raped, but also that they didn’t somehow deserve to be due to wearing a short skirt, having had a drink, not being escorted by trusted men, or any of the other ridiculous excuses we make. In other words, because of rape culture, all men must be suspect.

In my case, I was out at Old Town with a friend. It was early evening and we were in a shop there, wandering around, me reading blogs while she looked through strings of beads that she could use for embroidery that I am informed were an incredible price. Bead work is not my craft, so when I wasn’t reading, I was people watching, and that’s when I noticed a woman wandering around alone. I also noticed that her fly was down and thought somebody should tell her.

At first I said nothing, but eventually I leaned close and quietly informed her about her pants. I didn’t think I was too close, but it seems I was since she jumped back. This was not me startling her, I had said excuse me from further away and made sure she acknowledged me before approaching, but I saw the fear in her eyes. She was afraid of me, an avowed feminist who writes about rape culture and discovered a few days before in a BDSM scene that I can’t top a serious masochist, even in an entirely consensual scene, because the sound of crying that I caused makes me cringe and want to comfort the person. I may be verbally confrontational, but I’m not a violent person and have never even considered rape for a moment.

And you know what? She has no way of knowing that, so none of it matters. To her I was only the weird guy who probably hadn’t shaved recently enough that was coming very near her to discuss her pants.

I took a step back, apologized, and moved on.

I’ve been in this game long enough to have been familiar with the concept, and I have no doubt that there have been several times in the past when some woman has thought that I may be a potential rapist and prepared herself just in case, but never have I seen it so very starkly.

Keep in mind, this is not a “poor me, some woman though I was a threat when I totes wasn’t” post, but rather a reflection on how serious this problem is and, hopefully, an example of how to handle it. I backed off because I don’t take personally a woman’s reaction to a culture that does not want to protect her, that holds her immediately suspect and treats her sexuality as common property.

We can also look at the other side of that, though. On the execrable A Voice for Men, we see an example of the whiny, privileged, self-entitled bullshit response that stories like this often provoke. No, I won’t link to that rotting cesspool, but you can Google the quotes if you really would like to see the full context.

First thing’s first, the perpetuation of the “making themselves victims” myth. Emphasis theirs.

I’ll say it again so I’m absolutely clear: it is abuse of women. How so? Because it helps reinforce and ingrain an enculturated fear of men. In other words, even though all available evidence shows that men are as likely if not more likely to be the victims of violent assault, including sexual assault, and despite the mountain of data on women’s violence against men and boys, this essay sends a relentless message that women should live in fear.

I didn’t remove any links to supporting studies or documentation. Dean Esmay, the MRA who wrote this, simply neglected to provide any support for his assertion that “all available evidence shows that men are as likely to be the victims of…sexual assault.” Most likely he didn’t provide citations because the claim is absolute bullshit, unless somehow “one in four” has started equaling 3% (MRA math!)

But more to the point, this little excerpt demonstrates pretty thoroughly the rape culture narrative that the problem is never rape, it’s talking about rape. You see, if you are raped, it’s important to get over it as quickly as possible, lest you “make yourself a victim”. If you are ever on guard against rape, you’re victimizing yourself and telling the world that men can’t be trusted. Of course, if you are raped, you should have been more prepared. This is the world that MRAs like Esmay live in, and it’s one where women can’t win.

Esmay then goes on to post a transcript of a video done by the fairly useless John the Other. John, in his infinite wisdom, spends several minutes whining about how unfair it is that he’s suspect when he and most men have never raped anybody.

Here, you have exceeded your rights. Obviously, as a merely possible man, my potential is open, my self undefined. But it is mine to chose, not yours. Who or what I am, when realized, when observed, when I transit from probability to reality, that is mine. I will decide, you will not. I may, when I’ve done so, tell you who and what I am. However, I also might not, that is my choice as well.

Do not presume to trespass on my identity.

It is my own.

Boo fucking hoo, John. The man is so upset because women are “defining” him, even in their own minds, and that’s so very not fair. And, as we know, rapists are generally very clear about their identities, though often the way they share that little factoid makes its disclosure too late. As we also know, women don’t have the right to their own thoughts. John the Other will tell them wimmez what they should think about him. Not being a woman, I suppose I’m free to define him as an asshole.

What the self-styled martyrs at AVfM want you to believe is that there is a matter of principle involved here, that the very act of holding strange men suspect is an unspeakable offense that somehow takes away their agency. Again, this is absolute bullshit.

I was very briefly Schrodinger’s Rapist earlier this week. I knew my intentions, but the woman I spoke to did not, and while I have never done nor ever will do such a thing, I accept that we live in a culture where it’s not worth taking that risk. As a decent human being, I backed off to make another human being more comfortable because it was literally the very least I could do. This random woman wasn’t “making herself a victim,” she was avoiding being made a victim in the best way she could, which means eternal vigilance. Until such time as we live in a world and a culture that holds men and women of equal value and takes rape seriously, I am going to have to live with the fact that I will be considered a potential rapist until such time as I am not. It’s a world worth fighting for, and one that will never be won so long as speaking up is considered a perpetuation of victimhood.

UPDATE: The Sewing Goddess brought up a good point: in this case, I probably should have asked my female friend to inform the woman in the store about her fly. Will have to remember that for next time.

Dainty Lady Pens

Content Note: Sarcastic discussions of rape, women’s issues, aimed at satirizing misogyny. Also brief mention of home abortion.

So, the Sewing Goddess pointed me to this, and I have to say, I was about to lose my mind before reading the reviews.

BIC For Her Amber Medium Ballpoint Pen (Box of 12) – Black

That’s right, ladies! Those terrible, useless ballpoint pens that you used to fumble about with have been replaced by the BIC For Her series.

I really wish they had a picture of these pens, because I’m curious what they considered so significant that a female-targeted line of pens would be necessary. What pressing need did this address? What niche did it fill?

Fortunately, we have some comments that might explain it.

“Oh. My. God. I’ve been doing it all wrong. There was me thinking I didn’t need to worry about whether my writing implement sufficiently reflected my gender. Thank you so much Bic for showing me the error of my ways. Perhaps Bic will also bring out a new range of pink (or purple) feminine spanners, screwdrivers, electric drills and angle grinders so that I can carry out my job as a bicycle mechanic without further embarrassing myself? Luckily my male colleagues have managed to keep their disapproval of my use of their masculine tools to themselves. I’m so ashamed. And re-educated as to my place in society. Thanks again Bic!” – Butch McCassady

“Before I bought this product I couldn’t write but now I’m an engineer. Mind you, I only design pink, flowery bridges, motorways and sewers. Blue ones would be wrong wouldn’t they.” – I’m a Private Person…

“Practical and effective tool for hasty at-home abortions. I highly recommend this item, especially for women in the Southern States.” – JGerz13

And even some men showed their appreciation for this wonder of modern gender-specific information preservation.

“My mother, a hard-working woman who raised twelve kids single-handedly whilst doing all the ironing (as nature intended), was furtively abashed by her illiteracy. Long would she gaze upon her husband and sons’ scrawlings and would dedicate five minutes a day (which she really should have spent making sandwiches) to pray that one day she would be granted the ability to create such scribbles of her own. She’s still a little slow on the uptake, but this product has definitely helped start the ball rolling. We tried to give her men’s pens but she used to rip the cartridges out and drink the ink. Typical woman.

“Anyway, it’s good that BIC are finally doing something to aid the plight of women. Hopefully a range of ‘for her’ paperclips is on the horizon – my wife has an awful time keeping her recipes together.” – jonny

There are plenty more. Read them.

But now that we’ve solved that problem, how do we solve the problem of women themselves? Fortunately, the National Review is on this!

It is a curious scientific fact (explained in evolutionary biology by the Trivers-Willard hypothesis — Willard, notice) that high-status animals tend to have more male offspring than female offspring, which holds true across many species, from red deer to mink to Homo sap. The offspring of rich families are statistically biased in favor of sons — the children of the general population are 51 percent male and 49 percent female, but the children of the Forbes billionaire list are 60 percent male. Have a gander at that Romney family picture: five sons, zero daughters. Romney has 18 grandchildren, and they exceed a 2:1 ratio of grandsons to granddaughters (13:5). When they go to church at their summer-vacation home, the Romney clan makes up a third of the congregation. He is basically a tribal chieftain.

Hear that, ladies? You’re slowly disappearing among the ranks of the wealthy and powerful. Oh, the irony that Bruno Bic is probably contributing to the disappearance of his special lady-pen demographic! And there’s no way for women to fight it because Evolution Says.

From an evolutionary point of view, Mitt Romney should get 100 percent of the female vote. All of it. He should get Michelle Obama’s vote. You can insert your own Mormon polygamy joke here, but the ladies do tend to flock to successful executives and entrepreneurs.

Hear that, ladies? In the National Review’s authoritative scientific opinion, you should totes be voting with your lady parts. Women love powerful men! So much so that they don’t much care what those men believe. Evolution Says you girls will vote for the dreamiest candidate so you can spend four years having chaste fantasies about holding his strong, executive hand. Presidential elections have basically just been a huge, extended game of Mystery Date since 1920.

And speaking of mystery dates, have you girls ever considered that your beauty routines are too not extensive enough? That perhaps it could be a problem that you’re maintenance level is sometimes never what would be really convenient for us guys? Or that we would really like it if you could naturally look the way we want you to all the time without having to use makeup? We’re not saying that you should be ugly, just that you should not engage in a beauty routine that takes any time or requires any cosmetics. At least, that seems to be the opinions of the 15 Great Male Authorities (we don’t tell you, but men decide every year which 15 men will represent our collective opinion) that were asked by Yahoo! News.

Now, I know, a lot of those bits of friendly advice are mutually contradictory, sometimes in three or four directions. It might imply that men are as diverse as women (also, that women are diverse, but that’s really stretching things) and we all might have our own opinions about what we’re looking for in a partner. This is, of course, foolishness. Things seem contradictory because your inferior lady brains are incapable of understanding the subtly of male thinking, which is also entirely instinctual when it comes to sex.

You’ll notice, I’m sure, that a lot of things have been said about you girls lately, mostly from us well-meaning men who only want the best for you and the incubator hidden in your body. Yes, it is increasing exponentially lately, a direct result of you not taking the hint over the past few decades that the freedoms you were given were really just to shut you up. Nobody expected you to actually do any of that stuff! Nobody thought that if we pretended to treat you like men at work that you wouldn’t just play along, for example.

But now we’re here to help. That’s why the 112th Congress has attempted to restrict abortion rights 33 times (more than any other Congress) and, in fact, made the third bill they considered an anti-abortion bill. That’s also why we need to make sure that when you say you were raped, you’re not letting your emotions get in the way or possibly lying. It’s why some of you even agree that occasionally some smacking around keeps you from acting like “chimps“. It’s why Congressional Republicans are holding up the Violence Against Women Act renewal as I type this, but that’s because it covers icky gays, foreigners, Native Americans, and students.

So no need to worry your pretty little heads. We’ve got this. If you want to do something, though, you can take your special lady pens and write your congressperson. Send in your favorite recipe. I bet he’ll love that.

“Let God Be the Judge”?

Excuse me?

This is still a developing story, so I’ll try to avoid commentary on the facts of the case, but today a 34-year-old woman accused the chief of Guyana’s National Police force of rape. His response, “Let God be the judge.”

I’m sure he would absolutely love that, too. You’ll notice there are no denials, no attempt to claim that that wasn’t the case, only a vague call to let a being who, if it exists at all, has a pretty spotty record on human rights and justice when it can be bothered to intervene at all, weigh in on his actions.

Please. Mr. Greene may or may not be a rapist, but he certainly is a coward for responding by hiding behind God’s skirts. This isn’t much different than when Joe Paterno, after hiding child rape, called on people to “pray for the victims,” as if that somehow absolves him of his feckless response.

There is a chance that a guy who was barred from the US for drug trafficking (those allegations he denies at least) isn’t also a rapist. Maybe that pushes one too many moral boundaries for him. However, if I were a betting man, I’d put my money on rapist.

I have an even better idea than letting God be the judge. How about we let people be the judge and if there’s compelling evidence they can decide what to do with you? It’s a shame that the odds aren’t in favor of that happening since you’re rich and powerful and this woman doesn’t seem to be, which is an even more pronounced hurdle to overcome in the third world than it is here, but this nonsense obfuscation about letting “God” judge you is pathetic; a meaningless dodge that does little to inspire confidence either in you or in a system in which that seems like a good response to you.