Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

Access to distant, remote associations

Aug 23rd, 2012 12:48 pm | By

The cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman says there’s research that seems to indicate that social rejection fuels creativity.

I’ve always thought so. (Also that it works the other way too. Dreamy imaginative kids probably aren’t great at social skills, so they get social rejection, so they do even more fantasizing and pretending and nerding out. Loop loopy loop.)

By definition, creative solutions are unusual, involving the recombination of ideas. Unusual, divergent ideas and access to distant, remote associations are hallmarks of creative thinking. Perhaps those who like to distance themselves from others are more likely to also recruit associations from unusual places and think beyond conventional ideas.

Plus they have more time alone, plus they have brain space freed up from worrying about what Polly said to Sally about Molly and how to respond when all three bring it up at the lunch table.

Research supports this idea. The need to be seen as separate from others within a group enhances both nonconformity and creativity. In contrast, an interdependent mindset has been shown to extinguish the spirit of independence that is optimal for producing creative solutions. What’s more, those who report a high need for uniqueness make more unconventional word associations, show a greater preference for complex visual figures, and produce more creative drawings and creative stories.

Which raises an intriguing idea: maybe those with a high need for uniqueness are less sensitive to social rejection. Maybe social rejection even fuels their creativity! Indeed, some of the most creative minds of all time have faced very high levels of social rejection and isolation. Of course, it’s also possible that the unconventionality of creative people causes them to be social outsiders. The direction of causality is not clear.

My research-free guess (or opinion extrapolated from experience) is it’s both.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

A marked increase in outright misogyny and thuggery

Aug 23rd, 2012 11:05 am | By

Another great post in Amy’s series, this one from Phil Plait.

What the hell is going on in the online community?

If you’ve been reading or paying attention at all to any of the online cultures like skepticism or general geekery (scifi, gaming, convention-going, and so on), you’ll have seen astonishing and depressing displays of sexism. That’s been true for a long time. But recently some sort of sea change has occurred, and what we’re seeing now is a marked increase in outright misogyny and thuggery.

The examples are so distressingly ubiquitous I hardly need point them out. A woman gamer wants to make a documentary showing misogyny in video games, and she gets rape and death threats. Rebecca Watson calmly and rationally tells men not to hit on women in enclosed spaces and reaps a supernova of hate and irrational vitriol. And now we’re seeing death threats, rape threats, all kinds of violent threats, against women who are simply trying to improve the way they are treated at meetings as well as online.

This. Must. Stop.

I second that!

There was also Michael De Dora’s last week, which I never caught up with.

If you are among the people who have been the target of criticism for supposedly making sexist remarks or acting in a misogynistic manner, think about all of this. Have you rejected arguments simply because they are coming from a woman? Have you disrespected women? Was it simply because of their sex? Have you afforded women the same respect you feel you would afford all human beings? Have you tried to put yourself in any of these women’s shoes? Have you treated women as you would treat yourself? Have you let sexism and misogyny slide when you could have tried to stop it?

These questions represent a crossroads for the secular and skeptic movement, as many good people are questioning their involvement. I understand and sympathize many of their points of view, and direct this message to those who consider themselves on some other “side” of the argument: imagine the message it would send and the potential consequences both within and outside the movement if secularists and skeptics finally collectively stood together against sexism and misogyny, and for equality of the sexes and fair treatment. I dare say it could be historic.

Women have experienced and to continue to endure social oppression and harassment at the hands of men – even within the secular and skeptic communities. It’s time for us all to condemn this unacceptable behavior. It’s time to articulate as a community why the sexes, and indeed all people, should be treated fairly and equally. And it’s time for us to act in accordance with this thinking, to treat one others with kindness and empathy. Otherwise, not only will women continue to face poor treatment, but we might also see the end of the already fragile secular and skeptic movements.

Which is the idea behind Atheism+, as I understand it. It’s not to exclude and shun allies, it’s to inspire allies to declare themselves allies. Yes, granted it is to exclude and shun proud vocal misogynists, but how is that a bad thing?

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Knowing what people want for them

Aug 22nd, 2012 6:22 pm | By

Richard Carvath, a “Conservative political activist” in the UK who hopes to be an MP, has written a rebarbative piece on Tony Nicklinson.

Tony Nicklinson shouldn’t have done it, you see. He was being a selfish baby doing it. Carvath knows, because he once fell off a mountain and spent weeks feeling like crap – and then got better. That’s totally comparable to Nicklinson’s life being locked in without the ability to talk and with no prospect of getting better.

Poor old Tony Nicklinson.  His wife wants to kill him, his family want to kill him, his barrister wants to kill him, the mainstream media want to kill him, the euthanasia lobby want to kill him and a vociferous mob of Twitter followers want to kill him.  It’s enough to depress anyone to the point of despair.  In a recent tweet, Cheryl Baker (yes, she of 1981 Eurovision Bucks Fizz fame) seemed to sum up the general attitude of the misguided ‘Kill Tony’ mob when she wrote: “My heart cries for Tony Nicklinson.  If he was a dog there would be no ethical or moral decision to be made, just whatever is best for him.”  But Tony is not a dog.  Tony is a human being.  Last week, thankfully, Tony failed in his attempt to change the law which serves to protect us all from murder.  The upholding of the law was applauded by champions of justice and pro-life defenders of the disabled – and rightly so.  Tony Nicklinson isn’t terminally ill; he is severely physically disabled but he is not dying; Tony has a life to live.

A horrible life, of being totally dependent, unable to do anything but watch tv, unable to scratch an itch or make a point in a conversation. He didn’t like it, and he wanted to know he could end it if it got unendurable. The fact that he wasn’t dying was part of what worried him: he didn’t want another twenty years of that emptied-out life.

The first day that I stood up after the accident was Day 33, and it was many more weeks before I was able to proceed with learning to walk again.  Wheelchairs, frames and sticks were my lot for a long time.  To be severely incapacitated for several weeks was painful, humiliating and unpleasant – but despite it all I had peace, hope, purpose and the will to live.  My memory of being completely incapacitated is such that I can reasonably claim a better insight than many able-bodied observers into what it feels like to be trapped unable to move in one’s own body.  Tony Nicklinson’s epic trial of years of paralysis is greater than my few weeks and months of incapacity, but unlike many I can claim to have had a taster of his torment, and hand-on-heart I say there is no suffering so great that it cannot be endured when we know the source of the courage to conquer our worst fears.

Sanctimonious piece of shit – he doesn’t know that, his experience isn’t comparable because he knew all along it would end soon, and in any case it’s not up to him to decide instead of the person whose life it is.

Let me make it plain: anybody who wants to kill Tony does not want to care for him.  Nobody murders another person they claim to love and are committed to caring for.  Nobody who loves and cares for a disabled person thinks or speaks in favour of putting that disabled person to death.

Okay that’s it, that makes me so angry I’m not going to read any more of it. That’s a wicked thing to say.

A bad bit of work, Richard Carvath.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

She wrote it three times and deleted it twice

Aug 22nd, 2012 5:36 pm | By

Laurie Penny, motivated by the Assange-Akin confluence of the past few days, has written a long, wrenching piece about being raped. It was a “nice guy” liked by everyone, including her; it was at a party, where she felt ill and went to sleep. She woke up to find him raping her (although she didn’t call it that at the time).

I asked him if he had used a condom. He told me that he ‘wasn’t into latex’, and asked if I was on the pill. I don’t remember thinking ‘I have just been raped’. After all, this guy wasn’t behaving in the manner I had learned to associate with rapists. Rapists are evil people. They’re not nice blokes who everybody respects who simply happen to think it’s ok to stick your dick in a teenager who’s sleeping in the same bed as you, without a condom. This guy seemed, if anything, confused as to why I was scrabbling for my things and bolting out the door. He even sent me an email a few days later, chiding me for being rude.

He thought it was a romantic interlude, perhaps, with him poking her while she was passed out. How tiresome of her to be grouchy and in a hurry in the morning.

Everybody else in that social circle seemed to agree that by going to that hotel room and taking off my nice lace dress I had asked for whatever happened next, and so I dropped the issue. They were right and I was wrong. The man that we all knew and liked would never take advantage of anyone,  and suggesting such a thing made me a liar and a slag. Did I go to the police? Did I hell***. I thought it was my fault.

My experience was common enough, and it was also seven years ago. Looking back, being raped wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened to me, although the experience of speaking out and not being believed, the experience of feeling so ashamed and alone, stayed with me for a long time, and changed how I relate to other humans. But I got over it. I rarely think about it.

She got over it, but it had changed the way she relates to other humans – so in fact she hadn’t gotten over it.

Being raped by a man who you liked and trusted, even loved – thirty percent of rape victims are attacked by a boyfriend, husband or lover -  is an entirely different experience from being raped by a stranger in an alley, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less damaging. Particularly not if others go on to tell you you’re a lying bitch. Sorry if that hurts to hear.

You know what also hurts to hear? People telling you that your experience didn’t happen, that you asked for it. That you have no right to be angry or hurt. That you should shut up. That you hate men. That you’re against freedom of speech. That’s what hundreds of thousands of women all over the world are hearing when they hear respected commentators (I’m not talking here about Galloway or Alvin, although I’m sure there are a great many people who respect their opinions, god help them) saying that the allegations made against Julian Assange “aren’t really rape.”

And when they hear Todd Akin talk about “legitimate” rape.

I didn’t report my rape. It took me months even to understand it as rape. I stopped talking about it, because I was sick of being called a liar, and I got the shut-up message fairly fast. I tried to stop thinking about it.

But this week brought it all up again. The vitriol being spewed across the internet, the discussions in every car and cafe I’ve stepped into about what rape really means, the acknowledgement that yes, lots of women do lie and exaggerate, they’ve made me feel infected all over again. Another friend told me she felt “psychologically poisoned, sick more than angry,” I’m definitely not the only one who’s been revisiting those scenes in my head, playing them over like old CCTV footage. I’m probably not the only one, either, who went quietly back to a few friends from the old days to talk again about what happened, to clear things up. And what one of those former friends told me was: I wish I’d taken you more seriously, because I think it happened again, to somebody else.

So that’s why she wrote the piece. She wrote it three times and deleted it twice – and now it’s out there.

…this vitriol, this rape-redefining in the name of conscience and whistleblowing and Wikileaks and Julian Assange, it has to stop. It has to stop now. Non-consensual sex is rape, real rape, and good guys do it too, all the time, every day. Sorry if that hurts to hear, but you’ve heard it now, and there are things that hurt much more, and for longer, and for lifetimes. Those things need to stop. Together, if we’re brave enough to keep on speaking out even we’re told to shut up, told we’re liars and bitches and we asked for it, we can make them stop.

I hope so.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

You learn something every day

Aug 22nd, 2012 4:00 pm | By

Well here is something I did not know – that in 31 states in the US, rapists have parental rights.

Shauna Prewitt was raped and got pregnant (pipe down there in the back, Mr Akin), and had a daughter, and then found out something she did not know.

You could say she was conceived in rape; she was. But she is also so much more than her beginnings. I blissfully believed that after I finally had decided to give birth to and to raise my daughter, life would be all roses and endless days at the playground. I was wrong again.

It would not be long before I would learn firsthand that in the vast majority of states — 31 — men who father through rape are able to assert the same custody and visitation rights to their children that other fathers enjoy. When no law prohibits a rapist from exercising these rights, a woman may feel forced to bargain away her legal rights to a criminal trial in exchange for the rapist dropping the bid to have access to her child.

Are you fucking kidding me. Rapists can assert custody and visitation rights to the child they conceived through rape?

What country is this? What century is this?

Having fought this injustice for the past several years, I have come to believe that ignorance is to blame for this legal absence. Opponents argue no woman would ever choose to raise the child she conceived through rape. The only two studies to analyze the choices made by pregnant raped women indicate otherwise — at least 30% of women who conceive by rape make this choice.

Others argue that no rapist would ever seek parental rights. Not only does my experience and that of others I know prove otherwise, but it is not surprising that a man who cruelly degrades a woman would also seek to torture her in an even more agonizing way, by seeking access to her child.

What did I do with that sick bucket…

H/t Roger Ebert

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

A living nightmare

Aug 22nd, 2012 11:01 am | By

What a horror.

Tony Nicklinson last week lost his court case to be allowed to have help in ending his life. He had a stroke in 2005 left him paralysed from the neck down.

So he stopped eating, and died. That’s a nasty way to die. If the court had ruled in his favor, he would have been able to relax, knowing he could have a less nasty way to die at a time of his choosing.

He explained this for the BBC in June.

I have locked-in syndrome and it makes my life a living nightmare.

I cannot speak and I am also paralysed below the neck, which means I need someone to do everything for me.

For example, 90% of itches have to be endured because by the time someone comes to scratch it and I have laboriously explained where it is, the itch has gone. Now I just put up with them.

Or there is the screaming frustration of wanting to make a point but knowing that the only way I can express my opinion, by the board or computer, are useless in normal conversation…

However, all these things are physical and arguably one can learn to live with them. What I find impossible to live with is the knowledge that, unlike you, I have no way out – suicide – when this life gets too much to bear.

The reason for this mess is, apparently, adamant refusal to think.

Many opponents of assisted dying object because they think it is wrong to take your own or another’s life. Recently I asked such people if there was anything I could say to make them change their mind. They both replied there wasn’t.

I even suggested to one some safeguards for his approval or otherwise. He totally ignored the question. Clearly any discussion with them is a complete waste of time.

Much has been said about the part care plays in assisted dying and the argument is essentially that better care and more of it will expunge all thoughts of taking one’s own life.

This was said of me on a prestigious national radio programme back in February. I invited the speaker to visit so that she could tell me to my face what I am missing. So far all she has come up with is a number of excuses not to visit. Draw your own conclusions.

It’s a horror.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Mercy all around

Aug 21st, 2012 5:14 pm | By

It’s not just the Catholic church that is more concerned to protect its own sweet self than it is to prevent child sexual abuse or help the victims of child sexual abuse.

An evangelist Christian preacher from East Sussex urged a victim of sexual abuse not to report the man responsible to the police, the BBC has learned.

Ian Jackson told Lina Barnes he would not support her if she reported that Gospel Hall Brethren preacher Allan Cundick assaulted her at the age of 12.

Mr Jackson, from Eastbourne, said he was only concerned for her progress.

But Ms Barnes, 33, who sought advice from him last year, said he wanted to protect the Church.

“Only concerned for her progress” – god that’s disgusting, not just treating her badly but also pretending to be a decent chap while doing it.

Ms Barnes, who has waived her anonymity, said: “I’d confided a lot in Ian Jackson about what I had suffered and here was this man now telling me that I just had to be merciful to my abuser, not to involve the police, and it just caused a lot of hurt, a lot of heartache.”

She added: “I believe he [Mr Jackson] didn’t want it getting out.”

Ms Barnes added: “In his email, he said to me it was important that Christians keep the testimony of the Church and therefore protect the institution.”

And not important that the institution do right by the people abused by its own employees.

Imagine if a restaurant served you food that made you sick, and then told you it was important that diners keep the testimony of the restaurant and therefore protect the institution. Sod the institution! What about the victim?

Last year, Ms Barnes told Mr Jackson she planned to report her abuser to the police.

But in an email on 24 May 2011, Mr Jackson wrote to her: “I am not prepared to give you any support in relation to the involvement of the police and court proceedings.

“I think it is a wrong decision that you have made.”

He said: “There is a better way. ‘Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.’”

So there should be no law enforcement at all, yeh? Just mercy all around, except of course for the people who get killed or beaten up or raped.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The phenomenology of harassment

Aug 21st, 2012 12:51 pm | By

Stephanie has a post about whose is the liberty in “libertarian” on sexual issues, which follows up on a comment she made here on the temperature post.

The proof comes when women start going after what they want.

He wants the freedom to hit on me at any time and any place? Fine. Liberty in action. Maybe a little crass, but….

I want the freedom to call him a disgustingly selfish piece of shit? I want the freedom to determine whether I want to deal with him based on whom he treats well and whom he doesn’t? I want the freedom to use tools under my personal control to keep him from interfering in my projects? I want the freedom to gather with people who share my values rather than his?

That’s when I’m abusing my power. That’s when I’m “Talibanesque” or “femistazi” or “Orwellian”.

In a comment smhll suggests this is partly a matter of not sharing the experience of being harassed. 

Anyway, I think quite a few arguers who haven’t dealt with sexual objectification as a near constant part of their own lives had some serious trouble “getting it”.

Due to elisions, (which I think you posted about), and inaccurate paraphrasing, and sloppy reading comprehension working in tandem, we end up in EGate debate with anti-policy-having people thinking “Men wanting to have sex with women is not misogyny.”

I think it is difficult to put across the annoyance of sexual objectification, especially to people who desire to have more (positive) sexual attention. I think the idea is well understood by women and people who’ve done a lot of feminist reading, but I’m not sure the last year’s debates were effective at conveying this point to a more general audience.

I think that’s an important point, and my awareness of the issue is sharpened by the fact that I had partly forgotten my own experience of harassment. Sophie Peeter’s film brought it back to me in a rush, and writing about it yesterday brought it back some more. (This isn’t like “repressed memory,” which is completely untrustworthy. It was never “repressed.”) I hadn’t forgotten the fact of it, but I hadn’t spent any time remembering what it felt like, and the film reminded me of what it felt like. Watch it and you should be able to get a sense of what it feels like.

So now I have this awareness of the gap between knowing (or remembering) what it feels like, and not knowing. It’s a big gap. What it feels like is horrible – because you feel totally at the mercy of other people, total strangers, people – men – who simply will not leave you alone. I kept telling them to leave me alone and they just wouldn’t do it. That in itself is an incredibly disconcerting and bad feeling, at least if you haven’t grown up with it, which thankyoujesus I didn’t. You just can’t have what you want. You just can’t have the freedom to walk around outside without being hassled.

I’ve always harped on this, you know. Always. In that sense my Paris experience wasn’t forgotten. I knew that I knew what it felt like not to have that freedom, it’s just that I didn’t have the active memory of the phenomenology of it.

So if any of you don’t know: listen up: it is a nightmare.

This is the exact opposite of what jeerers call “victim feminism” or anything like that. It’s helpless rage at being made a victim when you don’t want to be. It’s not clinging to victim status, it’s furious thrashing demand to be released from it.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

As communal tensions continued to rise

Aug 21st, 2012 11:48 am | By

Can’t we all get along? No. Not in Islamabad, for instance, after that 11-year-old was accused by her neighbours of burning a few pages of a Koran.

As communal tensions continued to rise, about 900 Christians living on the outskirts of Islamabad have been ordered to leave a neighbourhood where they have lived for almost two decades.

One of the senior members of the dominant Muslim community told the Christians to remove all their belongings from their houses by 1 September.

What an oddly respectful way of wording that – it makes him sound like a prime minister instead of a thug. If some male neighbor told me to get out of the neighborhood, I wouldn’t be thinking of him as one of senior members of the community. I do wish journalists would learn to stop dressing things up in that way. This isn’t some legitimate authority telling people what to do, it’s just criminal intimidation.

The other point of general agreement is that “the law should be followed”. Unfortunately, the law in question is Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which has a proven track record of ensnaring people on the flimsiest of evidence and being cynically used to intimidate communities or settle quarrels over money and property.

Even though no one has yet been executed for blasphemy in Pakistan, long prison terms are common – one Christian couple was sentenced to 25 years in 2010 after being accused of touching the Qur’an with unwashed hands.

There have also been cases of people killed by lynch mobs demanding instant punishment. Daring to criticise the law is incredibly risky and few do it.

In 2011, Salman Taseer, the former governor of Punjab province, was gunned down by his own bodyguard after he spoke out against the case of Aasia Bibi, another Christian woman accused of blasphemy.

Humans: finding absurd reasons to make each other miserable for 100,000 years.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Prior to each insertion

Aug 20th, 2012 5:42 pm | By

George Galloway is certainly being disgusting on the subject of the rape allegations against Assange.

In a thirty minute podcast, the controversial anti-war MP said it was “an extraordinary coincidence that public enemy number one, Julian Assange, somehow gets inveigled with two women with incredibly complex political backgrounds who just, at the right time, come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against him”.

Bitchez be lyin.

“But even taken at its worst, if the allegations made by these two women were true, 100 per cent true, and even if a camera in the room captured them, they don’t constitute rape.

“At least not rape as anyone with any sense can possibly recognise it. And somebody has to say this.”

The Bradford West MP suggested one of the women had claimed she invited Mr Assange back to her flat, had consensual sex with him and then “woke up to him having sex with her again – something which can happen, you know”.

On the issue of whether this would constitute rape or not, Mr Galloway suggested that “not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion”.

Well, people who don’t need to be asked before each insertion are free to stipulate that to their partners. “Don’t mind me, honey, if I’m asleep or passed out just go ahead, what’s mine is yours.” But people who haven’t made such an arrangement? They still need to be asked prior to each insertion. It’s not optional. It’s not Galloway’s role to say that it is.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Rape, legitimate and illegitimate

Aug 20th, 2012 5:04 pm | By

Round 873 of “there’s rape and then there’s just getting a little frisky.”

Naomi McAuliffe lays it out.

Yesterday, US Representative Todd Akin reinvented female biology by telling us that we can’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape”. But there is a rich history of rape being redefined to suit the occasion; whether it is former Presidential candidate Ron Paul’s concession that victims of “honest rape” can get an abortion or the Roman Polanski rape of a 13 year-old which wasn’t “rape-rape”.

All of these manoeuvres have an ulterior motive – either to outlaw abortion in all circumstances or to exonerate an accused celebrity. What they can all draw on and feed is the belief that there is “bad rape” and “excusable-under-the-circumstances-well-not-really-very-rapey rape”. While we roll our collective eyes on the issue of abortion and say “Well that’s the Christian Right in America for you”, the defence of some Grand Men uses the same intellectual dishonesty.

It is dishonest because it is 50 years since the sexual revolution and yet some still relegate women’s rights at the first sign of trouble.

Don’t they though. That’s where we came in. “Uh oh – you’re saying I can’t ask a woman to hook up whenever I get the opportunity?” Women’s rights relegated! “Uh oh – Richard Dawkins thinks this is a fuss about nothing?” Women’s rights relegated! ”Uh oh –  women are saying skeptic gatherings can be shitty for women?” Women’s rights relegated! ”Uh oh – women are criticizing things DJ Grothe said?” Women’s rights relegated!

We know that myths propagated globally about condoms which in turn contribute to high HIV/AIDs rates. We know that women not being able to insist on condom use leads to higher STI infections and unwanted pregnancies. We know that women and men should be able to insist on when and how they have sex without coercion. And yet when a woman alleges that a request to use a condom was refused in Sweden then, well, it’s not treated as a credible rape allegation.

Assange supporters need to deploy mind-bending feats to dismiss these allegations. They need to forget everything they know about sexual rights, about sexual equality, about due process, about the rule of law and about justice.

And they have to name one of Assange’s accusers on Newsnight, as Craig Murray just did, even though that’s…against the law.




(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

What we say when the temperature goes up

Aug 20th, 2012 1:29 pm | By

A little more about this one crux in Jean’s argument about two types of skeptics-about-feminism (or particular feminist claims), because I think it is one place a lot of wheels came off, so better understanding might help…at least with understanding.

To rehearse the claim again:

The respectable skeptic may be on board with all substantive feminist goals, but they lean very liberal on sexual issues and libertarian-ish on rules and codes. They may also have distinctive positions on purely empirical matters, like how often harassing incidents occur, and what the impact is of discussing them at blogs. Their views on what will advance the status of women may also be distinctive. It strikes me as inflammatory and distorted to accuse these people of misogyny, or even of being anti-feminists.  Even if some of these people dress their views in provocative clothing, underneath it all they do not have troubling attitudes toward women. 

One (I didn’t go into this in yesterday’s post) – a skeptic who leans very liberal (in the sense of free-to-X) on sexual issues and very libertarian on rules and codes can seem to be bordering on misogynist, or if not misogynist at least rudely indifferent to what other people want, which, when the other people in question are women, is hard to distinguish from sexism (if not misogyny).

I’ve had arguments about this. I had some with James Onen of Freethought Kampala, and (as I think I’ve mentioned) it was kind of a friendship-ender (which I considered unfortunate). He’s adamantly libertarian about when and where it’s ok to ask a woman for sex. I tried to suggest a sufficiently absurd example, but he was consistent – yes, he would simply go up to a woman at a supermarket and ask her to come home with him.

Ok here’s the thing about that: that describes life in places like that neighborhood in Brussels in Sofie Peeters’s short film. It describes my experience in Paris at age 17. It describes life in Cairo. It describes places where women (young desirable women) can’t go out in public without being pestered by men demanding sex. It’s hellish. Absolutely hellish. I pointed that out to James, and he was content with it.

That feels sexist to me. It feels like men saying “what I want is more important than what women might want.”

So that’s one part of the problem. There’s not a clean break. There’s not a place where you can think the skeptics are just talking about principles of liberty as opposed to their own inclination to be able to demand sex whenever they feel like it. It feels hostile and callous.

So that all by itself makes it very very hard to think of that kind of skeptic as an ally really but there’s just this disagreement on this one thing.

The other I did mention yesterday, but I’ll go into it a little more. It’s this business of the way the sexist jokes or taunts or allusions come out when tempers rise.

It’s this: if that’s what happens when tempers rise, then you have to think that means something. If I started using anti-Semitic epithets when I got angry at a Jewish friend, that would mean something. Men who suddenly lapse into what looks startlingly like very ordinary bar-room jeering at women when they get angry at perceived feminism…well they kind of give the game away. They kind of reveal that they are at least a little bit misogynist. So I can’t join Jean in her confidence that “underneath it all they do not have troubling attitudes toward women.” I’m not at all sure of that. I wish I were, I wish I could be, but I can’t and I’m not.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

If women have choices

Aug 20th, 2012 11:33 am | By

What do you do when women attain not only equality but, in some areas, numerical superiority?

Well if those areas are things like doing most of the domestic work, or low pay, or getting hassled in the street, you do nothing. But when those areas are desirable things like university education?

You slam the door on them, so that they won’t have any numerical superiority any more. You make sure there won’t be more women than men graduating from universities by not letting so god damn many women in in the first place.

In Iran,

36 universities have announced that 77 BA and BSc courses in the coming academic year will be “single gender” and effectively exclusive to men.

It follows years in which Iranian women students have outperformed men, a trend at odds with the traditional male-dominated outlook of the country’s religious leaders. Women outnumbered men by three to two in passing this year’s university entrance exam.

Senior clerics in Iran’s theocratic regime have become concerned about the social side-effects of rising educational standards among women, including declining birth and marriage rates.

Yes, that is a worry. Always. If women have choices about what to do with their lives, many of them will not get married very young, many of them will not start having children very young, many of them will have one or two children instead of five or ten. Some will not get married at all, some will not have children at all. That’s how it is when people have choices – many of them will decide for themselves what kinds of lives they want to have. (Many, not all. Some will do the expected thing, or submit to pressure, or make mistakes that commit them to lives they never actually chose to have.)

Theocrats, naturally, think that’s an outrage. They think god wants people to have the kinds of lives that god thinks they should have, and they also think they know that, and they also think they know that what god wants should be binding on humans.

So they move to stunt and truncate the lives of women, and to take choices away from them, so that they will revert to marrying young and having children young and often, because of their lack of choices.

Under the new policy, women undergraduates will be excluded from a broad range of studies in some of the country’s leading institutions, including English literature, English translation, hotel management, archaeology, nuclear physics, computer science, electrical engineering, industrial engineering and business management.

The Oil Industry University, which has several campuses across the country, says it will no longer accept female students at all, citing a lack of employer demand. Isfahan University provided a similar rationale for excluding women from its mining engineering degree, claiming 98% of female graduates ended up jobless.

Shirin Ebadi has written to Ban Ki Moon and to Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights.

Ebadi, a human rights lawyer exiled in the UK, said the real agenda was to reduce the proportion of female students to below 50% – from around 65% at present – thereby weakening the Iranian feminist movement in its campaign against discriminatory Islamic laws.

“[It] is part of the recent policy of the Islamic Republic, which tries to return women to the private domain inside the home as it cannot tolerate their passionate presence in the public arena,” says the letter, which was also sent to Ahmad Shaheed, the UN’s special rapporteur for human rights in Iran. “The aim is that women will give up their opposition and demands for their own rights.”

However, the science and higher education minister, Kamran Daneshjoo, dismissed the controversy, saying that 90% of degrees remain open to both sexes and that single-gender courses were needed to create “balance”.

Because if women ever have more of a good thing than men do, that’s “imbalance.” This principle does not hold true in the other direction.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

There will be unicorns in Ecuador next

Aug 20th, 2012 10:00 am | By

I’m watching this episode of The Point  on atheism.

The first item was a clip of James Randi, who started by saying there are two kinds of atheist, those who say there is no god, and those who say they can’t find any evidence for god. My version of the second one is different: it’s that I don’t know of any good reason to think there’s a god. That includes evidence, but it’s more than that.

Seen it?

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Underneath it all

Aug 19th, 2012 6:06 pm | By

Jean Kazez has a good post on the backlash against feminism today. She warns against exaggerating the size of the backlash specific to atheism, and says the issues boil down to skepticism about various claims. She then makes a distinction between two types of backlasher.

The respectable skeptic may be on board with all substantive feminist goals, but they lean very liberal on sexual issues and libertarian-ish on rules and codes. They may also have distinctive positions on purely empirical matters, like how often harassing incidents occur, and what the impact is of discussing them at blogs. Their views on what will advance the status of women may also be distinctive. It strikes me as inflammatory and distorted to accuse these people of misogyny, or even of being anti-feminists.  Even if some of these people dress their views in provocative clothing, underneath it all they do not have troubling attitudes toward women. 

The second group is another matter. These are people who are seized by a desire to attack women when there’s the least hint of a question about male behavior at blogs and conferences. The notion of codes being imposed on their behavior sends them into a rage.  These are the people whose existence you have to find surprising … and very disturbing.  At the very least, they’re seriously lacking in empathy. Some of them even seem to feel an awful lot of hatred. I don’t know how numerous they are, but too numerous–and their ranks seem to be growing too.

She thinks it’s important not to treat group 1 as enemies, because they’re not, and because doing so inflames group 2. I’m not sure about that second claim – I think group 2 are kind of self-inflaming. But the first one is right. But there’s a problem…

It’s the bit about the provocative clothing. Let’s call it provocation, for short, so as not to confuse it with the more familiar meaning of “provocative clothing,” which is obviously not what’s meant.

When provocation is repeated enough, or strong enough, or done at a turbulent enough time…Well it’s a problem. Endless jokes about coffee and elevators at a time when Rebecca Watson is being systematically trashed don’t seem like just casual harmless jokes – in fact what they feel like is, precisely, buried misogyny coming out of hiding. Maybe that’s not what they are. But how is one to know? By the same token, swapping jokes and taunts with group 2 also feels like misogyny coming out of hiding. Calling disagreed-with feminists Feminazis and Femistasi does too. So does endlessly tweeting and retweeting blog posts by people in group 2.

Group 1 doesn’t come across as quite as different from group 2 as Jean describes them. Now, this is in large part because they started small but took flack anyway – in short, they got pissed off. They got pissed off so they threw in their lot with group 2. They’re now quite entangled with group 2, although they’re certainly not identical with it.

So, I see what Jean is getting at, but I don’t know what if anything can be done about it at this stage.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Legitimate rape

Aug 19th, 2012 3:11 pm | By

Trending on Twitter right now: #legitimaterape. Why? Because Missouri Representative (R) Todd Akin, who is running for Senator, thinks there is such a thing.

Representative Todd Akin of Missouri, who also happens to be the state’s Republican senatorial nominee, has some important information for women everywhere:

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview posted Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Now, what is the difference between legitimate and illegitimate rape? Akin, who is somehow a member of the House’s science and technology committee, did not explain.

Now, to be fair, it was in an interview, and he says he misspoke. But the way he misspoke is…kind of telling. Bitchez always be lying about rape so that people will give them stuff, amirite, so there’s lots of illegitimate rape where actually she totally wanted it but then lied afterward so that people will give her stuff, or to explain that inconvenient pregnancy, or something like that. It’s science. And technology.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

A new dawn

Aug 19th, 2012 12:12 pm | By

Jen’s post about the need for a new wave of atheism is everywhere, and rightly so.

I’ve become used to being called a cunt or having people threaten to contact my employers because a feminist can’t be a good scientist. Rebecca Watson is still receiving constant rape and death threats a year after she said “Guys, don’t do that.” And mentioning her name is a Beetlejuice-like trigger for a new torrent of hate mail.

Groups of people are obsessively devoted to slandering Freethought Blogs as a whole because many of us have feminist leanings. They photoshop things to try to humiliate us, they gain unauthorized access to our private email listserv. And anyone associated with us feminists are fair game. People have tried to destroy Surly Amy’s business, and Justin Vacula has publicly posted her home address with a photo. One blogger who describes their blog as “rejecting the watson/myers doctrine” ridiculed skeptical teen activist (and feminist ally) Rhys Morgan for flunking his exams because he had severe physical and mental illnesses.

Deep rifts, in short. Gnu atheism turns out to have a misogynist faction.

I don’t want good causes like secularism and skepticism to die because they’re infested with people who see issues of equality as mission drift. I want Deep Rifts. I want to be able to truthfully say that I feel safe in this movement. I want the misogynists, racists, homophobes, transphobes, and downright trolls out of the movement for the same reason I wouldn’t invite them over for dinner or to play Mario Kart: because they’re not good people. We throw up billboards claiming we’re Good Without God, but how are we proving that as a movement? Litter clean-ups and blood drives can only say so much when you’re simultaneously threatening your fellow activists with rape and death.

It’s time for a new wave of atheism, just like there were different waves of feminism. I’d argue that it’s already happened before. The “first wave” of atheism were the traditional philosophers, freethinkers, and academics. Then came the second wave of “New Atheists” like Dawkins and Hitchens, whose trademark was their unabashed public criticism of religion. Now it’s time for a third wave – a wave that isn’t just a bunch of “middle-class, white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied men” patting themselves on the back for debunking homeopathy for the 983258th time or thinking up yet another great zinger to use against Young Earth Creationists.

I don’t mind if they pat themselves on the back, really, as long as they don’t bash me in the head while they’re at it. They can be pleased with themselves, but they can’t use me (by which I mean women in general) as a tool to do that. “Part of my extreme greatness is that I’m not a stupid feeble bitchy cunt of a woman.” That’s got to go.

But the reason I’m not throwing my hands up in the air and screaming “I quit” is because we’re already winning. It’s an uphill battle, for sure – in case you’ve forgotten, scroll up and reread this post. But change is coming. Some national organizations accepted anti-harassment policies with no fuss at all. A lot of local or student groups are fabulous when it comes to issues of diversity and social justice. A number of prominent male leaders have begun speaking out against this surge of hate directed at women. I’m working with others to hopefully start an atheist/skeptical organization specifically focused on issues of equality. And although the response from the haters is getting louder and viler, they’re now vastly outnumbered by supportive comments (which wasn’t always true). This surge of hate is nothing more than the last gasp of a faction that has reached its end.

And the comments on Jen’s post were overwhelmingly favorable – much to her surprise.

There is reason for optimism.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The cardinal snubs the government

Aug 19th, 2012 9:44 am | By

BBC headline: Cardinal Keith O’Brien snubs gay marriage talks with Scottish government.

Snubs? The cardinal snubs? Talks on same-sex marriage with the government? Is Scotland a theocracy? Why was the Scottish government inviting the cardinal to discuss legislation in the first place?

Scotland’s Roman Catholic leader – Cardinal Keith O’Brien – has suspended direct communication with the Scottish government on gay marriage.

The move is in protest at the Scottish government’s support for the introduction of same-sex marriages.

The cardinal has turned down an invitation to discuss the issue, leaving any talks to officials.

This is all backward. It assumes that the normal and good state is that the Scottish government and the Catholic church collaborate on legislation, and that that normal good state is disrupted when the cardinal protests the governments plans by refusing to collaborate.

That’s wrong. The normal and good state would be if cardinals concerned themselves with church affairs and the people who care about them, and refrained totally from interfering with the duly elected government. Cardinals are not elected by the citizens (or even the members of their church), and they are programmatically anti-secularist. They think they have instructions from god, and that fact makes them very unfit to interfere with governments.

So it’s good news that the cardinal is not interfering with the government.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Bishop Paglia blamed the pursuit of individual rights

Aug 18th, 2012 5:26 pm | By

Surprise surprise – the Vatican says French bishops are totally right to hate Teh Gayz.

The French Catholic Church is right to defend traditional family values, a top bishop told Vatican Radio yesterday, a day after rights groups criticised a prayer focused on families and children as homophobic.

The prayer, read out in French churches to mark the Assumption holiday, said children should “fully benefit from the love of a father and mother”, underscoring the Church’s opposition to a commitment by French President Francois Hollande to allow gay couples to marry and adopt children.

“French bishops are right to insist that children ‘grow up with a father and a mother’,” Bishop Vincenzo Paglia, head of the Vatican’s families committee, told Vatican Radio.

So that they will understand that one sex is inferior, and subordinate to the other. You can’t get that with same-sex parents. It’s seriously important.

Bishop Paglia blamed the pursuit of individual rights on a “cultural trend that idolises the rights of the individual”.

Because that interferes with the Vatican’s ability to tell everyone what to do.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

“Satan’s representative” on the Michigan Student Assembly

Aug 18th, 2012 4:32 pm | By

More detail on the Andrew Shirvell case, because CNN has more.

Shirvell was fired from his job in the attorney general’s office in 2010 after targeting the student leader online and in person — then lying about his actions to investigators, state Attorney General Mike Cox said at the time.

Shirvell “repeatedly violated office policies, engaged in borderline stalking behavior and inappropriately used state resources,” Cox said, referring to Shirvell’s activities during his work day.

Asked for specifics about Shirvell’s conduct, Armstrong lawyer Gordon said, “He said (Armstrong) had an orgy in a dorm room and sex in a park and that he had liquored up underage freshmen to recruit them to the ‘homosexual lifestyle.’”

Shirvell also referred to Armstrong as “Satan’s representative” on the Michigan Student Assembly, she said.

Why? All out of sheer hatred of gayitude because god?

Shirvell, himself a University of Michigan alumnus, told CNN that he is “100% confident that the verdict will be overturned on appeal.”

“I think the jury award is grossly excessive,” he said. “It’s absolutely outrageous. The jury’s verdict was a complete trampling of my First Amendment rights.”

His First Amendment rights to defame someone? Ain’t no such.

 He told CNN in 2010 that Armstrong “is a radical homosexual activist who got elected … to promote a very deep, radical agenda at the University of Michigan.”

Uh huh – the same way I have a deep, crazed, radical agenda to convince people that relentless contempt for women is not a good thing for human flourishing.

Gordon [Armstrong's lawyer] said that Shirvell’s claim is without merit. “It’s really simple,” she said. “Defamation refers to statements that are false that you say about another person. If you say my neighbor is having sex in a park with children, which is literally kind of what he said here, that is defamation. That is not First Amendment-protected. It’s not opinion. It’s provable as false. You can be held responsible financially.

“He wants to put all his crap — which is nothing but a bunch of fabricated lies — under the umbrella of the First Amendment. Shame on him.”

Especially since he was once an assistant attorney general.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)