Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. (UPDATE, UPDATE II, UPDATE III)

A couple weeks back, a woman of my acquaintance told the following story.  She was out shopping on her own when she noticed a man glancing at her.  The man saw her notice and walked away.  A few minutes later, he walked up to her and said, "I just wanted to tell you, if you're married, your husband is a very lucky man."  She said, "I am married and we're both lucky."  The man walked away.

My first thought upon hearing this life-anecdote was, What the hell is wrong with people?  My second thought was, I hope she made sure this dude-bro didn't get her license plate number.

A few months back I wrote a short piece in which I made clear that rape-prevention begins with instilling in boys and men the most basic lesson: Don't rape.  Apparently, for some, this simple message wasn't clear enough.  As I said in the very first paragraph of that post:
I was going to avoid the story, because, honestly, how is it possible to say something on the topic of rape that isn't an easy way to make oneself look good?  Like the whole kitten-burning trap, one would think it takes zero moral imagination to speak out against rape.
Across the internet, there has been a rising chorus of women's voices speaking out against the ubiquity of online rape threats women receive when they speak out on matters related to pervasive, systemic misogyny.  Writing at Feministing, Syreeta calls this "The New Normal" and insists that it be met with ongoing publicity.  The post itself concerns both racism and misogyny, and the way they are used to silence women and people of color who have the audacity to speak out against them.

I have my own Katzenjammer Kids here who somehow believe I am full of soap on the matter of violence against women; that supporting anti-slut-shaming campaigns is somehow elitist; and that women who get raped in all probability deserve their victimization, the result of their own "poor choices" or the fact that men are nothing more than mobile penises, incapable of resisting the tiny voice from down below.

The whole point of my occasional posts on the topic of violence against women has been, and continues to be, to clarify the ways in which, despite all the rhetoric to the contrary; despite the many real and substantive gains made by women here and around the world; at the end of the day, most women most of the time spend at least part of every day dealing with men who believe it is their right to intrude upon their lives in ways big in small.  Whether the creep in the grocery store who, I am quite sure, thought his action the height of politesse, complimenting a woman he did not know on her appearance; or the daily abuse heaped upon women who dare to speak out - not just verbal but all too often physical; women live with the reality that most men most of the time assume a relationship of superiority toward women, a relationship that must be maintained even with the threats and reality of violence.

That is why rape has nothing to do with how women dress (the whole point of the anti-slut-shaming movement); it has nothing to do with the irresistible call of the penis.  It is, rather, an act of violence against women as women, done because men believe it their right and privilege just to do it.  Rape is about power, not sexual attraction.  That is why date rape and marital rape and the rape of sex workers are still struggling to be recognized as real crimes.  Everyone can sympathize when, say a child or older woman is sexually assaulted.  When a woman in college wakes up in a strange bed, realizing the cute guy at the bar slipped her a roofie and had sex with her while she was passed out; when the wife rolls over crying because her husband has forced himself on her yet again, insisting she fulfill her marital obligations; when a prostitute is dragged in to the bushes and raped, she knows her assailant is quite right that no one will believe her story because of what she does; when these things happen there are far too many voices willing to insist that what happened was not rape.  Women in such situations find few defenders and far too many willing to blame them for the actions of others.  I will say it again for the slow learners who insist I am wrong: Violence against women does not have anything to do with sex, or how women dress, or how they act, or what choices they make in their lives.

Thus the simple, necessary demand that people start teaching boys at a very young age, "Don't rape."  It does seem a no-brainer.  Yet, the growing awareness of how far we still have to go - not just here but around the world - and the rising chorus of the voices of both men and women demanding change demonstrate how far we still have to go, as well as how far we have come.  It's a message that needs to be repeated no matter how simple and clear it sounds.  It's a message that more people need to hear.  Blaming women for their own victimization only perpetuates this "new normal" that empowers men (I love the description in the Feministing piece of some doofus typing a verbal assault while ensconced in Mom's basement; it's an Internet cliche but no less true for all that) to believe it is OK to attack women verbally and physically because they have the audacity to speak out in ways that threaten these men in some way.

It will stop only when all people who understand the reality that none of this is about sex or those dirty whores and how they dress but about men terrified of the thought a woman might well have at least as much power and authority as they do.  Not just demystifying rape, but deconstructing male power, needs to be done each and every time some bit of this ugliness raises its blighted head.

UPDATE:  I knew I should have waited to read Amanda Marcotte before writing this post.
I’d like to recommend a couple of interesting pieces by Paul Mason and Lindy West, who have a point that I think bears stressing: Trolls are real people and they have an agenda outside of some vague “need for attention”. They are misogynists, and as I said during the CONvergence panel on this subject, it’s important to understand that misogynists believe they are in the right. Indeed, they are incredibly dogged and self-righteous, as Mason found out when he first decided to explore online misogyny—they get really mad when you do this, by the way, because part of their self-righteous worldview includes a belief that they should be able to push their agenda without being examined or questioned too closely.
Sounds familiar to me.  When called out for being a mansplainin' concern troll, someone heads to an online dictionary to demonstrate I'm trying to shut him down.  How dare I refuse to hear his considered words of wisdom?
Mason interviews the guys who claim they’re just in it for the “lulz” and discovers to no one’s great surprise that actually, these trolls have deep hatred and resentment of women and actually do take the mission to silence women very, very seriously. They just can’t quite admit that to themselves, because part of the identity of the misogynist is to deny that he is a misogynist—he loves women as long as they know they are subhuman sex/reproduction appliances put here to serve, so how can he hate women?!—so the amount of rationalization that goes on is astounding. 
I was once ridiculed for claiming that too many men see women as baby factories.  Imagine!  Unpossible!
 There is a sea of boiling anger out there because men are taught from a young age that women are here to serve, and then they grow up and discover that women often elect not to do that. Some misogynists—the Rick Perrys of the world—calmly react to this realization by deciding that women’s rebellion is a temporary, feminism-induced insanity, and that the proper legislative pressure plus a good dose of condescension can return them to their natural state of servitude. Some men get a sick pleasure out of stripping away the “illusion” that women are equal and violently showing them exactly how inferior they are. The online troll population has these kinds of characters in it, but the dominant class is men who don’t get the level of sexual attention they feel entitled to from women, and therefore have concocted elaborate, dogged theories about how women are broken, because they cannot ever allow that women have a right not to like them personally. (Or that if they started acting like decent people, maybe they would actually be more likeable.) All misogynists get upset when women are given attention for their talent or skills; it violates their core belief that women are here to serve. This is why writing on the internet while female means getting everything from laughably delusional men pretending to “critique” your writing while barely concealing their rage to rape and death threats. Particularly if your writing is not upholding the opinion that women are inferior servant class.
Simple, clear, plain English gets to the heart of the matter.  Every word typed denouncing feminism demonstrates just how fragile these men are, how threatening a woman actually being a human being is to their shriveled sense of self.
 That’s why it’s uncomfortable to have so many people insist that there’s an easy fix for troll targets, the “ignore the bullies and they’ll go away” fix, usually spouted by people who haven’t considered for a moment that the trolls may very well be actual people who are trying to protect and perpetuate sexism.
Which is why I don't so much ignore what my twins from different ideological poles write as point out what it is and carry on.  It enrages them, but then again that is the coin of their realm - rage that some might well see through their self-proclaimed concern for the seething mass of neurosis that it really is - and the best way to win the game is not to play.
West is right; it’s time to stop thinking of trolls as idiots who are just seeking attention, and see them for what they are: Misogynists with a political agenda. These are men that absolutely do not want to live in a society where women are treated equally, and they are obsessed with silencing the women online whose writings they rightfully fear are going to help push society in a more feminist direction. They want to harass feminists into silence. If we keep this understanding front and center and discard useless theories about “attention-seeking” or “lulz”, we can begin to have a more productive conversation about what the hell to do about the problem.
I disagree slightly; I do think attention-seeking is a huge factor.  Especially when touting one's moral and intellectual superiority.  The point, however, is well taken.  Highlight it, call it out, and remain on topic.  All part of those simple instructions: Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.

UPDATE II: In case you're wondering if I'm being hyperbolic about the whole rage and violence thing, let us cruise through Wonkette to discover what hilarity a Republican Political Action Committee finds humorous:
[A] Republican superPAC, “The Hillary Project” has recycled this hilarious “Slap Hillary” game on its website. The game allows the viewer to administer a slap to a cartoon Hillary or to hear one of two brief audio clips that the producers must think are inflammatory. And as Buzzfeed notes, it was created in 2000, but the Hillary Project site “began spamming reporters to its existence Monday with the tweet ‘Have you slapped Hillary today?’” Oh, and did we mention the cartoon Hillary figure is wearing a pink pantsuit? This is cutting-edge political satire, kids.
Because nothing says "healthy" like the desire to assault someone with whom you disagree on politics, or offering others a chance to fulfill that same fantasy.

Misogyny - you're soaking in it.

UPDATE III: It isn't just adult women who deserve getting raped for their slutty clothes and poor choices.
Boy, it sure is hard to know when you can rape (or, as they say at Yale, have “nonconsensual sex” with) a kid, isn’t it? We know the Catholic Church has a hell of a time figuring it out. Like, sure, there are “laws” about how you’re not supposed to have sex with someone who does not consent to having sex with you. And there are “laws” about how a minor cannot give consent because she or he is, you know, a kid. But those are really more like suggested guidelines, aren’t they? Like, okay, yeah, you probably shouldn’t fuck a kid, but what if she’s a totally hot kid and she’s wearing make-up and she runs with a fast crowd and she’s, like, TOTALLY asking for it, you can tell, she’s got that look? Talk about a gray area!
The piece gives examples: a prison guard in Louisiana who raped a 14 year old inmate, insisting she seduced him; an English rapist who got off because the 13 year old was "egging him on";  the 11 year old gang raped, with the girl described as "dressing older" and "hanging with teenagers"; the 13 year old pressured in to sex then became pregnant, described as a "whore" by her neighbors because she became pregnant.

All of these fit neatly in to Feodor's and Art's little church-lady lecturings about poor choices and white privilege and blah-blah-blah.  The piece ends up with this bit of sage advice that Art and Feodor seem to believe is beneath them:
When can you have nonconsensual sex with someone? NEVER. Not even if she’s really hot or mature for her age. Not even if she’s wearing make-up. Not even if she has older friends. Not even if she’s “egging” you on. Not even if she’s drunk. Not even if she’s a total slutbag who has had sex with, like, a million other dudes so one more shouldn’t make a difference. Not even if you’re really horny. Not even if she only says no twice. Not even if it’s a day that ends in “y” or pigs flew by your window or you watched some porno where the chick said no but seemed to like it or your mother didn’t love you or some Republican said there are varying degrees of rape and some of it isn’t really rape or you think you can get away with it and no one will ever know.
Because if you do sex to someone who does not give you her permission to do sex to her — or cannot give you her permission because of how she is a child — you are a rapist and a bad person and if there is in fact a hell, you will burn in it. Even if a judge takes sympathy on you and the legal system lets you off the hook with a warning (or, in Yale’s case, a written reprimand). It is wrong and bad, and you are wrong and bad, and seriously, it should not be that difficult to understand that you should only fuck grown adult women (or men, whatever floats your boat, we don’t judge — UNLESS YOU’RE RAPING SOMEONE) who can and do give their consent for you to fuck them.

Monday, August 05, 2013

A Tale From The Trip

He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’ Luke 19:40

While walking through the dinosaur/extinct mammal/really old stuff exhibit at the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum, I chanced across this:
Remnants of life on Earth that are three and a half billion years old.  It boggles the mind.

Evolution-deniers are idiots.  This world of God's is far more wonderful, mysterious, and complex than anything we humans can imagine.  Reducing life and time to suit the puerile needs of the cosmically bereft and terrified mocks human intellect, it mocks God, and it mocks the magnificent creation of which we are a part.  To say that evolution "denies God" is to refuse to theologize out of the wonders around us.  It is, rather, to idolize the dead words on a page instead of worshiping and praising the God of Life, a life for which evidence extends beyond our ability to do more than form words.  Creationists are, in fact, creation-deniers, refusing to learn from the bounty around us as well as use the intellect with which we've been blessed to discover the power of Life, which is rooted in the God who created and who creates and sustains through grace and love.

A simple rock with some rings sings more praises to our God than all the creationist claptrap combined.

Sunday, August 04, 2013


When I posted this photo I took on Facebook a friend of mine who attended Seminary with me wrote, "It must have been surreal being there."  In fact, for me at least this whole vacation was surreal; from last Friday and Saturday nights' high school reunion through three and a half days in the nation's capital, it was an jarring yet wonderful time.

Of course, I've been back to my hometown.  I've followed old high school friends on Facebook, even run in to a few from time to time.  There is little to prepare a person for a gathering of folks with whom you grew up, and from whom you've since moved on.  It was really quite wonderful; it was also quite strange.  Many of the people gathered I'd met in grammar school.  There was at least one person there who was in my kindergarten class!

I have to say there is much to admire.  The gentleman who has owned his own hair salon for almost 25 years.  The DVA nurse who is also married to a United Methodist minister.  One person is setting up a support group for people raising their grandchildren.  The single father of three, far more brave than I ever could be.  The survivors of life's curve balls like cancer and family tragedy.  We've lost four through the decades, but we keep on.  A good looking bunch who have managed, somehow, to reach middle age and retain the ability to laugh together, drink together, and share both old times and new experiences with equal fervor.  Oh, and I still feel bad not recognizing a couple of you.  Hair styles were longer back then. . .

Then it was off to Washington and a whole different experience of surrealism.  We arrived and before checking in to our hotel, toured the National Cathedral.  After checking in, we walked down to the White House, then made our way back to the hotel for some sleep to ready ourselves for the week.  The National Zoo, the various museums of the Smithsonian, the Lincoln Memorial, around the Vietnam War Memorial with Miriam, through the Holocaust Memorial Museum with Moriah.  Of course, we stopped at Wesley Seminary which is undergoing a facelift.  Lisa and I took a stroll through the old neighborhood, much as we did each morning, wondering what our life would be like.

I will always cherish my time living there; our time, my wife's and my first years, first courting then our first year of marriage, will always remain among my fondest memories.  We have moved far beyond what and who we were when we were younger, poorer, and wondering what life held in store for us.  Being back, those questions surfaced and even though I know they've been answered - not always the way either of us wanted - it was nice, for a brief moment, to remember what it was like to be young, have all the answers, and be ready to conquer the world.  Settling for the struggles of life and family and the relative quiet of a small city in the Midwest has been its own reward.  I would like to think that, in our own way, we have done a small part in changing the world for the better.  Arriving home yesterday afternoon, being greeted by our St. Bernard and our cats and my in-laws who were house-sitting, that same sense of surrealism overcame me, followed quickly by the two best words in the English language: "I'm home."

N.B.: The highlight in many ways was taking Moriah's advice and heading to the East Building of The National Gallery of Art.  Along with some special exhibits and a whole room dedicated to the work of Alexander Calder, I turned a corner and there on the wall was this:
Pollock's #1 1951 is an amazing piece of work I first encountered on a high school trip to Washington in 1980.  It is stunning, arresting in its power and beauty, and was the first painting I ever saw that made me think, "Yes!  Someone gets it."  To see it again after all this time was a real treat.  I sat and gazed at it for about ten minutes.  Miriam came and sat with me, the two of us together sharing a moment with one of my favorite pieces of art.

N.B.II:  Before I forget, as we walked up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial I was gratified to find this:
The angle of the sun was wrong, but the spot where Dr. King stood and gave his speech to the 1963 March on Washington has been commemorated.  To stand where he stood . . . It gives me chills.

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