Notes and Comment Blog

Guest post: The sense of entitlement to a “good job”

Jun 8th, 2016 5:34 pm | By

Originally a comment by Screechy Monkey on Now he faces of lifetime of struggling for decent work.

Reading the references to Turner “struggling for decent work” and saying “Goodbye to becoming an orthopedic surgeon” reminds me of something else that really irks me: the sense of entitlement to a “good job,” i.e. well-paying, white-collar, high-status.

If I may quote a different judge, Caddyshack’s Judge Smails, “the world needs ditchdiggers, too.” Smails, of course, was being an asshole snob to the working-class caddie Danny Noonan, in response to Danny’s concern about not being able to afford college without the caddie scholarship that Smails controlled.

But the world does need “ditchdiggers” — well, maybe not literally ditchdiggers, but people who do similar unglamorous, not-terribly-well-paid, work. And it has them. Millions of Americans do those kinds of jobs every day. And most of us more privileged folk — and I’m including myself — maybe talk once in a while about getting them a higher wage, or better health care, or something, but for the most part we just shrug. They make a living; they get by; they’re part of the background of America. Maybe they made some bad life choices, or didn’t work hard enough in school, or maybe just had bad luck, but what can we do about it?

But when one of the privileged is faced with the possibility of losing that privilege, and the prospect of having to gasp struggle for “decent” work…. suddenly the life that is good enough for millions of fellow citizens is just a Fate Too Dire To Face. What if poor Brock Turner has to live a life as an ordinary working person? Oh, the humanity!

I had the same reaction to the attempted rehabilitations of Stephen Glass and Jonah Lehrer. Both committed pretty much the worst professional sin a journalist can: intentional fabrication. And they covered it up and lied about it and lashed out at their accusers and denied it until finally they couldn’t deny it any longer. Then Stephen Glass shows up a couple of years later applying to become a member of the California Bar. Gee, wonder if there’s a problem with his “moral character”? And the letters in support of Glass’s application were full of bemoaning about how gosh, we’ve got to let the man earn a living. Ditto for Lehrer, who barely was out of the limelight for a couple of months before he was being offered five-figure speaking fees. But gosh, we were told, what do you expect? The man’s gotta live!

The unspoken implication always being that people like Glass and Lehrer, and Brock Turner, can’t possibly be expected to live the life of a janitor or sales clerk or whatever. People who violate the ethics of their profession, or even violate another human being, are still entitled to a “good” job. People who live those lives already, because they couldn’t afford college, or maybe they screwed up in high school and didn’t work enough, or made some bad decisions that didn’t hurt anyone other than themselves — well, we don’t shed any tears for them. Somebody’s gotta dig them ditches. Just not one of us.

Archbishop says talk more about his special subject

Jun 8th, 2016 4:35 pm | By

Another religious mouthpiece tells us that religion must be taken more seriously, by law, and that it must be forced on everyone whether they like it or not.

The BBC should be legally required to treat religion on a par with politics, sport or drama, the Archbishop of Canterbury is to say.

I thought it already did treat it that way, but if it doesn’t, so what? I can think of a lot of reasons the BBC might prefer to keep its distance from religion, and I don’t see why it should be legally required to take it as seriously as politics.

A recent Government White Paper includes calls for the BBC to be required to reflect the “diversity” of the British Isles.

But in a speech at the annual Sandford St Martin awards for religious broadcasting at Lambeth Palace, he will call for it to be required to treat faith issues with “the same seriousness as other genres like sport, politics, economics or drama”.

That’s a hell of a mixed bag. Is sport treated with the same seriousness as politics? Is drama treated with the same seriousness as economics? How is Welby measuring seriousness anyway?

“The promotion of religious literacy should be a specific duty for the BBC across its broadcasting services,” he will say.

“BBC charter renewal, and questions about the ownership of Channel 4, have focussed to some extent on the diversity of people who make up our islands and who constitute the audience of our great broadcasting institutions.

“But if diversity is to mean anything, it must mean more than differences in ethnicity or personal tastes… True diversity also means paying proper attention to religion.”

Or perhaps it means setting religion gently aside, knowing how ready people are to get agitated about “diversity” in religion. It’s not obvious that more attention to religion would be helpful for “diversity.”

The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Rev Nick Baines, who chairs the Sandford St Martin Trust, which organises the awards, said: “Religion is a prime motivator of individuals and communities, inspiring and informing their political, economic, ethical and social behaviour.”

Including extremely horrible behavior. We could talk about that more…

Now he faces of lifetime of struggling for decent work

Jun 8th, 2016 11:47 am | By

The Guardian publishes samples of the many many letters urging Judge Persky not to sentence Brock Turner to prison.

The father’s letter, however, is just one of dozens of testimonials that Turner’s supporters sent to Persky – letters that the judge said he seriously considered in his decision to allow the former swimmer to avoid the minimum prison time of two years prescribed by law.

The Guardian has obtained copies of all the letters Persky received – statements that defend Turner’s actions, blame the victim for being assaulted, and decry the consequences the swimmer has faced while ignoring the suffering of the 23-year-old woman. The letters, along with Turner’s own statement, provide a window into a culture that critics say devalues victims, minimizes the seriousness of campus sexual assault, and fails to hold perpetrators accountable.

And treats people less white than Turner very differently.

Some examples from some letters:

Carolyn and Richard Bradfield, grandparents

Brock is the only person being held accountable for the actions of other irresponsible adults. He raised a right hand, swore an oath and told the truth.

Brock is a good 20 year old young man who has never been in trouble. Brock has essentially served a 14 month jail sentence while awaiting trial. We beg the court to grant time served and no additional time to our grandson, Brock Turner.

I guess the grandparents think Emily Doe should be held accountable for her own rape? Turner assaulted her, so she should be held accountable just as he is? Or maybe more? The fact that she didn’t assault anyone is beside the point?

Carleen Turner, mother

He will live a lifetime of scrutiny, he lost 2 jobs just because he was accused of this, now he faces of lifetime of struggling for decent work. Can he be on a college campus? I don’t know … I beg of you, please don’t send him to jail/prison. Look at him. He won’t survive it. He will be damaged forever and I fear he would be a major target. Stanford boy, college kid, college athlete – all the publicity. This would be a death sentence for him. Having lost everything he has ever worked for his entire life and knowing the registry is a requirement for the rest of his life certainly is more than harsh. His dreams have been shattered by this.

His dreams. Never mind about her dreams.

Caroline Turner, sister
A series of alcohol-fueled decisions that he made within an hour timespan will define him for the rest of his life. Goodbye to NCAA championships. Goodbye to the Olympics. Goodbye to becoming an orthopedic surgeon. Goodbye to life as he knew it.

It’s almost as if Emily Doe raped him, not the other way around.

Jeff Coudron, family friend
The verdict hurt because we knew he was a great kid that in the matter of a few hours, made a few bad decisions that have changed his life forever. The media never mentioned the girl’s name to protect her, but they plastered Brock’s everywhere, even before he was tried.

There’s a reason for that. It’s because she is the victim and he is the rapist.

Meghan Olson, assistant swim coach for the Dayton Raiders swim club

In spite of one night of alcohol-induced poor decision making, Brock is still the same intelligent young man that enrolled in Stanford University in the fall of 2015 and can unquestionably make a significantly meaningful contribution to society.

It was just bad decision making, that’s all – no, not even bad, just poor. It was poor decision making. Or maybe mediocre? Let’s call it mediocre. It was mediocre decision making. We don’t punish that. End of.

Judge Persky was not moved

Jun 8th, 2016 10:52 am | By

Amy Goodman talked to Michele Dauber on Democracy Now yesterday.

MICHELE LANDIS DAUBER: So, we are a group of Democratic and progressive women here in Silicon Valley who have come together to put together an actual recall campaign. So there are a number of petitions online, but those are not the official California recall effort. To participate in that, viewers and listeners should go to, where they can sign up for information updates or donate to the effort. And we will be collecting signatures, getting this on the ballot and working to replace him with someone who understands violence against women.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Judge Persky’s handling of the case? Explain what happened in the trial.

MICHELE LANDIS DAUBER: Well, Turner was found guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt, by a jury for three felony sex crimes—two counts of sexual penetration of an intoxicated or incapacitated person, and one count of assault with intent to commit rape. And that’s a very serious charge that has a minimum, as you said, two-year sentence, and is presumptively not eligible for probation or a jail, you know, stay less than that two years; however, the judge really bent over backwards in order to give this defendant a very light sentence.

AMY GOODMAN: In his sentencing, Judge Persky seemed to sympathize with Turner’s assertion the encounter was consensual. He said, quote, “I take him at his word that subjectively that’s his version of his events. … I’m not convinced that his lack of complete acquiescence to the verdict should count against him.” Judge Persky also said, quote, “A trial is a search for the truth. It’s an imperfect process.” He said his sentencing decision took into consideration the defendant had no significant prior offenses, he’d been affected by the intense media coverage, and, quote, “There is less moral culpability attached to the defendant who is … intoxicated.” Judge Persky also said, “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. … I think he will not be a danger to others.” Your response, Professor Dauber?

MICHELE LANDIS DAUBER: Yeah, this is the kind of talk that really has outraged the community, I mean, really, across the world, but here in Silicon Valley, in particular. Under the law, the judge had to make a finding in order to grant probation. The state Legislature requires that the judge make a finding that this is a, quote, “unusual” case and that the interests of justice require him to grant probation. And to do that, he found that because he was previously a very successful young man and a good swimmer, you know, with all of these accomplishments as an athlete, and that he was intoxicated, that that would be—make it unusual. And the problem with that is that that basically describes every sexual assault at Stanford.

As has pretty much jumped out at us. Yes, he was drunk, he’s a jock, he said she’d consented, he would dislike state prison – what is unusual about any of that?? The judge might as well have said well clearly this guy is an entitled asshole therefore let’s give him a medal and let him go.

Goodman asked how Stanford had dealt with the whole thing. MLD replied:

And I think it’s important for viewers to understand that Stanford has a long history, really, of not treating these offenses particularly aggressively. For example, up until at least last year, Stanford had only ever expelled one student in the whole history of the university for sexual assault. And they have not, say, for example, as Harvard President Drew Faust has, taken on the fraternity culture of sort of toxic masculinity and the sexual assault that comes along with that, you know, sort of more directly. Harvard has taken some very strong measures against fraternities. And Stanford has—our provost, John Etchemendy, has really not stood up to the fraternities. And I think that, you know, in some ways, you can see that this is the kind of situation that you can end up with when you have a culture of elite, male, athletic privilege.

Which describes the national culture to a great extent. The national culture makes a big deal of male athletics, including violent ones like football, and it grovels to elite males who have privilege. The US is a big frat house in many ways.

Then Goodman reads more of the victim’s statement, and MLD says she found it hard to maintain her composure while Goodman read it.

It’s incredibly powerful. And it really has, I think, caused a lot of women who have been sexually assaulted, or other individuals who someone close to them has been sexually assaulted, to really understand the pain. But I really want your viewers to understand that she—although this has really inspired so many people, she didn’t write it for that purpose. She wrote it for the purpose of persuading the judge, Judge Aaron Persky. And unfortunately, unlike, you know, the millions of people who have been moved around the world, Judge Persky apparently was not moved by this, but was instead persuaded that he needed to have a lot of sympathy and solicitude for Brock Turner.

Which is astounding to me. Just simply astounding.

The free market in lies

Jun 8th, 2016 9:32 am | By

Media Matters has a depressing report on the way cable news in the US talks about abortion.

A Media Matters study of 14 months of evening cable news programs found that discussions of abortion were weighted toward anti-choice speakers, which resulted in widespread misinformation on the topic. Of the three networks, Fox News aired the largest number of inaccurate statements about the most prevalent abortion-related myths, and MSNBC was the most accurate.

Media Matters analyzed the following four abortion-related misinformation claims:

1) Government funds given to Planned Parenthood through Medicaid are illegally used to pay for abortions;

2) Birth control acts as an abortifacient;

3) Planned Parenthood “harvests” or “sells” or is “profiting” from fetal tissue; and

4) The Center for Medical Progress’ work or videos are “journalism” or fair depictions.

But it’s not as if people get their “information” from watching tv news oh wait yes it is.

All findings about statements relate to the four abortion-related misinformation claims on qualifying segments:

  • 705 statements containing inaccurate abortion-related information aired on Fox News;
  • 158 statements containing accurate abortion-related information aired on Fox News;
  • 70 percent of Fox News appearances* were by people — including hosts, correspondents, and guests — who either identify as anti-choice or who consistently or mostly made anti-choice statements;
  • CNN had three times the number of anti-choice guest appearances as pro-choice;
  • 49 percent of MSNBC appearances were by people — including hosts, correspondents, and guests — who either identify as pro-choice or who consistently or mostly made pro-choice statements;
  • 6 percent of MSNBC appearances were by people — including hosts, correspondents, and guests — who either identify as anti-choice or who consistently or mostly made anti-choice statements;
  • 40 percent of all appearances on all three networks were made by people who either identify as anti-choice or who consistently or mostly made anti-choice statements;
  • 17 percent of all appearances on all three networks were made by people who either identify as pro-choice or consistently or mostly made pro-choice statements;
  • 62 percent of all appearances on all networks — including hosts, correspondents, and guests — were male; and
  • There was one appearance by a group that represents and advocates for reproductive rights for women of color.

Well it’s not as if disinformation can cause any harm…

Guest post: “Sex work” and child labour

Jun 8th, 2016 8:22 am | By

Originally a comment by Bernard Hurley on The myth that it is possible to commodify consent.

The great genius of the neo-liberalism is that it can commodify anything.

Once there is general acceptance of this philosophy, terms like “sex worker” tend to get a free pass. If you take it as axiomatic that a so-called “free” market enhances the agency of all involved then it might seem draconian to interfere with the “sex market” and take away the agency of all involved.

The arguments advanced for the full decriminalisation of the “sex market” bear a striking resemblance to those advanced in favour of child labour in nineteenth century Britain. We are told “sex work is work like any other work”; I don’t know if any of the defenders of child labour actually said “child labour is labour like any other labour,” but they said plenty of things that suggest they would concur with this idea. Just as it is argued that some women could not survive without prostitution and others became prostitutes out of choice, so it was argued that some children could not survive without factory work and others worked out of choice; just as you can find ex-prostitutes who will tell you how liberating their “sex work” had been, so you could find adults who looked back fondly at their time working a child in a factory; just as some prostitutes go on to become brothel keepers¹ so some child labourers went on to become factory owners.

It took a lot of struggle to ban child labour. The 1833 Factories Act is often seen as a landmark victory in this struggle but by modern standards it is woefully inadequate²; however it is worthy of note that it criminalised factory owners not child labourers, similarly we criminalise slave owners not slaves. There are clear precedents for legislation along the lines of the Nordic model not only working but working well.

But there are other worrying aspects of this. A card-carrying neo-liberal could respond to the claim that “sex work” cannot be carried out in line with normal health and safety regulations with “So much the worse for health and safety regulations.” Indeed I fail to see how it could become normal work without a substantial dilution of such regulations.

Beware what you inflict on the weakest in society for there are those who would inflict it on you.


[1] I have heard this fact used as an argument for the legalisation of the “sex market;” after all, if prostitution were so terrible would someone who had experienced it inflict it on others?

[2] It made it illegal to employ children aged under 9 in factories and restricted the hours of those under 13.

The myth that it is possible to commodify consent

Jun 7th, 2016 6:10 pm | By

An extract from Kat Banyard’s new book Pimp State:

The steady creep of “sex work” into 21st-century vernacular is neither incidental nor accidental. The term didn’t just pop up and go viral. The Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), an organisation that openly campaigns for brothel-keeping and pimping to be recognised as legitimate jobs, credits itself as largely responsible for “sex work” replacing “prostitution” as the go-to terminology for institutions such as the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

“More than mere political correctness,” the NSWP proudly states, “this shift in language had the important effect of moving global understandings of sex work toward a labour framework.”

Oh yeah? Then where are the health and safety regulations? Where is the safety equipment? Where are the sexual harassment classes?

The whole point of the sex industry is that it offers men the chance to buy sexual access to women who do not want to have sex with them – otherwise they wouldn’t have to pay. Masking its fundamental purpose thus becomes the primary PR challenge for the prostitution, pornography and strip club trades if they are to survive – maybe even thrive – in a society that has decided, at least in principle, that women are not subordinate sex objects and rape is a bad thing.

Perhaps the single most effective strategy hit upon so far is to pump out the myth contained in the term “sex work”: the myth that it is possible to commodify consent.

How can sexual consent be a thing that can be bought and sold, yet we can still talk with a straight face about there being such concepts as healthy sexual relationships and meaningful consent? If, while having sex with someone, you feel repulsed by them touching you, afraid of what they might do, degraded and humiliated by the sexual acts, hurt by the hateful words they’re whispering in your ear, sore because he’s the fifth man you’ve had sex with today, exhausted from it all, traumatised, abused – the fact that you’ll get a bit of cash at the end does not change anything. There is no invisible hand in the prostitution market that magically disappears the lived experience of sexual abuse.

And a minority of privileged prostitutes who have a pleasanter lived experience doesn’t change that, any more than a handful of comparatively humane slave-owners made slavery acceptable.

Trades weave themselves into the fabric of society. We know this. We place all kinds of restrictions and prohibitions on markets precisely because of this. Because the risks, particularly to the most vulnerable and marginalised in society, are just too high. Commercial exchanges that people may agree to participate in without a gun being held to their head – such as sales of human organs, voting rights, bonded labour contracts – are nonetheless deemed legally off limits. It’s the line in the sand that societies draw to say that the harm to those directly involved, to third parties, or to the bedrock principles necessary for equal citizenship, is simply too great. Some trades are too toxic to tolerate.

A basic principle that is utterly indispensable to ending violence against women, not to mention to our fundamental concept of humanity, is that sexual abuse is never acceptable. Not even when the perpetrator has some spare cash and the person he’s abusing needs money. Cheerleaders of brothels, porn sets and strip clubs would have us believe that the sex trade levitates above the level of social values and cultural beliefs. But no one can opt out of its effects. A market in sexual exploitation, accepted and tolerated, influences who we all are as individuals, and who we are as a people.

A society that acts in law and language as if men who pay to sexually access women are simply consumers, legitimately availing workers of their services, is a society in deep denial about sexual abuse – and the inequality underpinning it.

Pimp State: Sex, Money and the Future of Equality by Kat Banyard (Faber & Faber, £12.99). To order a copy for £10.39, go to or call the Guardian Bookshop on 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of £1.99.


Jun 7th, 2016 4:52 pm | By

There’s a new way of being shitty: the [[[echoes]]] symbol.

Updating to say: those brackets should all be parentheses, as should all the brackets below, including in the quoted passages. Pretend you see three curved vertical lines facing right plus three curved vertical lines facing left.

In the early days of the social web, putting someone’s name in multiple parentheses was meant to give that person a cute virtual hug. Today, it’s something far more sinister.

Neo-Nazis, anti-Semites and white nationalists have begun using three sets of parentheses encasing a Jewish surname — for instance, [[[Fleishman]]] — to identify and target Jews for harassment on blogs and major social media sites like Twitter. As one white supremacist tweeted, “It’s closed captioning for the Jew-blind.”

Jonathan Weisman, deputy Washington editor for the New York Times, wrote about his experience as a victim of this harassment in a May 26 story.

Hello [[Weisman]]” it began after Weisman tweeted a Washington Post article about Donald Trump titled “This Is How Fascism Comes to America.”

Weisman asked his harasser, @CyberTrump, to explain the symbol. “It’s a dog whistle, fool,” the user responded. “Belling the cat for my fellow goyim.”

The squalor we are living in never ceases to amaze me.

With the parentheses, @CyberTrump had alerted an army of trolls. The attacks that followed were sudden and unremitting. “The anti-Semitic hate, much of it from self-identified Donald J. Trump supporters, hasn’t stopped since,” Weisman wrote.

The origins of the symbol [[[]]] can be traced to a hardcore, right-wing podcast called The Daily Shoah in 2014. It’s known as an “echo” in the anti-Semitic corners of the alt-right — a new, young, amorphous conservative movement that comprises trolls fluent in internet culture, free speech activists warring against political correctness and earnest white nationalists.

That last is one of those sentences that demonstrate why the “Oxford” comma can be so necessary. I stopped to try to figure out why free speech activists were warring against both political correctness and earnest white nationalists, which makes no sense. Then I realized it was bad punctuation. But I digress. The point is, yes, we’re all well familiar with that new conservative movement and its enthusiasm for harassing people.

Last week, Mic staffers became the target of anti-Semitic trolls a day after Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, who has a large following of conservatives, tweeted a Mic story about Trump.

So now I know why I’m seeing people with [[[]]] on their Twitter handles.

If your son were unconscious behind a dumpster

Jun 7th, 2016 11:57 am | By

Jen Gunter asks a very pertinent question about Brock Turner’s father that I wish I’d thought to ask myself.

And as for Brock Turner’s father who feels that his son doesn’t deserve jail for one 20 minute period of bad behavior (or an “action” as he called it) in a life of otherwise “good,” I guess I’d say if your son were unconscious behind a dumpster and an otherwise “good man” were caught raping your son would you think the injuries not serious and what punishment do you think that man would deserve?

And how deeply would you mourn for that man’s lost ability to enjoy a good ribeye steak?

Tortured to death for saying no

Jun 7th, 2016 11:36 am | By

Oh fuck.

ISIS on Thursday executed 19 Yezidi girls by burning them to death, activists and eyewitnesses reported.

The victims, who had been taken by ISIS terrorists as sex slaves, were placed in iron cages in central Mosul and burned to death in front of hundreds of people.

“They were punished for refusing to have sex with ISIS militants,” local media activist Abdullah al-Malla said.

“The 19 girls were burned to death, while hundreds of people were watching. Nobody could do anything to save them from the brutal punishment,” an eyewitness said in Mosul.

We’re a mistake. Human beings are a mistake. We must be, or we wouldn’t be capable of that kind of thing. All that brain power, and it’s not enough to prevent us from doing things like that.

The Independent also reports the story as do other news sources.

Where is the Milton of ableism?

Jun 7th, 2016 9:48 am | By

From the “this must be parody” file, Yale students launch a petition telling the English department to stop requiring English majors to read Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton.

The prestigious Connecticut university requires its English majors to spend two semesters studying a selection of authors it labels the “major English poets”: “Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, and John Donne in the fall; John Milton, Alexander Pope, William Wordsworth, and TS Eliot or another modern poet in the spring”.

Now, if I were in charge of that course I might swap Spenser for someone else – like, maybe push Milton back into the first semester and add Keats to the second. I can see quibbling over which “canonical” poets to include – but I can’t see saying “no ‘canonical’ poets at all!!” English majors read English literature – that’s what the major is.

It would be fabulous if there were comparable women poets from those centuries, but there just aren’t, for the familiar obvious reasons – most girls weren’t even taught to read, let alone encouraged to futz around with writing down words. It’s a huge historical injustice, but that’s not a reason to skip reading Shakespeare.

But students have launched a petition calling on Yale to “decolonise” the course. They want the university to abolish the major English poets requirement, and to refocus the course’s pre-1800/1900 requirements “to deliberately include literatures relating to gender, race, sexuality, ableism, and ethnicity”.

I’m betting Yale already does include courses that do things along those lines, to the extent that one can with regard to literature that was unfamiliar with most of those categories; it’s not clear why students think it should get rid of major poets from the curriculum altogether.

The petition says that “a year spent around a seminar table where the literary contributions of women, people of colour, and queer folk are absent actively harms all students, regardless of their identity”, and that the course “creates a culture that is especially hostile to students of colour”.

Setting aside the tiresome didacticism of the language for the sake of argument, that’s true in a way. It’s true that it can be depressing (at least at intervals) to immerse yourself in a literature that someone like you could never have had a share in creating. The students aren’t completely wrong to say that. But…they are wrong to say that the thing to do then is throw out Shakespeare and Wordsworth. The cure is far worse than the disease.

One student, Adriana Miele, told the student newspaper that change was needed in the English department “because it openly rejects the very legitimate scholarship, criticism and analysis that many other academic departments at Yale embrace”.

In April, Miele wrote a column in the Yale Daily News in which she criticised the course because while students “are taught how to analyse canonical literature works”, they “are not taught to question why it is canonical, or the implications of canonical works that actively oppress and marginalise non-white, non-male, trans and queer people.”

No. Shut up. Don’t be schewpid. The works don’t “actively oppress” anyone. Maybe if Miele read a little more poetry she would manage to wean herself off language like that, with its combined staleness and dishonesty. It’s true that no one in the 16th century took the trouble to recruit non-white, non-male, trans and queer people to write poetry so that it could be taught to Yale students in the 21st century – but that by itself is not oppression, and it doesn’t makes the poetry that was written “actively oppressive.”

“It is possible to graduate with a degree in English language and literature by exclusively reading the works of (mostly wealthy) white men. Many students do not read a single female author in the two foundational courses for the major. This department actively contributes to the erasure of history,” Miele wrote.

They don’t read a single female author in the two foundational poetry courses because women don’t loom as large in English poetry as they do in the English novel. I hope Emily Dickinson is one of the alternatives to T S Eliot, but other than that – the supply is thin.

Slate writer Katy Waldman, who studied English literature at Yale, advised students that “if you want to become well-versed in English literature, you’re going to have to hold your nose and read a lot of white male poets. Like, a lot. More than eight.”

“The canon is what it is, and anyone who wishes to understand how it continues to flow forward needs to learn to swim around in it,” writes Waldman. “I am not arguing that it is acceptable for an English major to graduate from college having only read white male authors or even 70% white male authors. But you cannot profess to be a student of English literature if you have not lingered in the slipstreams of certain foundational figures, who also happen to be (alas) both white and male.”

It is what it is. Women can be poets now. In the past? Not so much. Affirmative action doesn’t work well on the past.

The defendant is youthful

Jun 6th, 2016 5:19 pm | By

The judge who had so much sympathy for Brock Turner is facing a recall campaign.

The light sentencing, along with comments from Turner’s father, who said his son is paying a “steep price” for “20 minutes of action”, have sparked global consternation.

In a brief phone interview with the Guardian on Monday, the victim, whose emotional testimony has since gone viral, said the positive responses to her statement have been moving. “I’m worried that my heart is going to grow too big for my chest,” she said. “I’ve just been overwhelmed and speechless.”

The Guardian can also reveal that the judge who gave the former Stanford athlete the light sentence will now face a recall campaign led by a law professor at the elite university who argues the jurist took extraordinary measures to allow the student to avoid prison.

That is, by Michele Dauber, whose tweets I shared this morning.

Further scrutiny on the judge’s remarks at sentencing appear to suggest he concluded the defendant had “less moral culpability” because he was drunk, and that a light sentence would be an “antidote” to the anxiety he had suffered from intense media attention on the case.

Michele Landis Dauber, a Stanford law professor who has been outspoken about sexual assault policies on campus, said she is launching the recall campaign against Aaron Persky, Santa Clara County superior court judge.

Persky, a Stanford alumnus, was captain of the lacrosse team when he was an undergraduate.

Ah. Was he. So it’s bros sticking up for bros because hey, skill at sports is that important. Sport builds character – the kind of character that prevents athletes from ever bullying or harming other  people oh wait.

“He has made women at Stanford and across California less safe,” said Dauber, who attended the sentencing hearing and is also a family friend of the 23-year-old victim. “The judge bent over backwards in order to make an exception … and the message to women and students is ‘you’re on your own,’ and the message to potential perpetrators is, ‘I’ve got your back.’”

The message to women is “you don’t count, only men count, and athletic white men count triple. Slut.”

Turner could have faced a maximum of 14 years in state prison, and in order to allow the defendant to avoid prison time altogether, the judge had to determine that this was an “unusual case where the interests of justice would best be served” by a lenient sentence.

Which is weird, because what’s unusual about it in a way that makes it a good idea to give him a lenient sentence? Is there some stipulation in the law that if the victim drank too much before the rape then it becomes only sort of kind of rape, friendly rape, nice rape, humanistic rape?

After the victim delivered a detailed account about how the assault and ensuing trial traumatized her and her family, the judge issued the light county jail punishment and justified making an exception with a speech that onlookers said was unusually sympathetic to the defendant.

“Obviously, the prison sentence would have a severe impact on him,” Persky said in court. “The defendant is youthful and has no significant record of prior criminal offenses.”

That was his response to her statement. It’s mind-blowing.

Persky also noted that news coverage of the case had significantly impacted Turner, saying: “The media attention that has been given to this case has in a way sort of poisoned the lives of the people that have been affected. … The question I’ve asked myself is … ‘Is state prison for this defendant an antidote to that poison?’”

What about her? What about her? What about her?

The judge seemed to show some sympathy to Turner’s perspective. “I take him at his word that subjectively that’s his version of his events. … I’m not convinced that his lack of complete acquiescence to the verdict should count against him,” he said.

Dauber said she was further shocked to see Persky minimize the significance of the guilty verdicts, which came from a jury of eight men and four women. The judge said at sentencing: “A trial is a search for the truth. It’s an imperfect process.”

Persky also appeared to rely heavily on letters that Turner’s friends and family sent and read an excerpt from a former classmate who told the judge she couldn’t believe the assault allegations.

“To me that just rings true,” the judge said. “It sort of corroborates the evidence of his character up until the night of this incident, which has been positive.”

The letter in question, however, includes a lengthy rant that places blame on the woman for being attacked: “I’m sure she and Brock had been flirting at this party and decided to leave together … I don’t think it’s fair to base the fate of the next ten + years of his life on the decision of a girl who doesn’t remember anything but the amount she drank. … Where do we draw the line and stop worrying about being politically correct every second of the day and see that rape on campuses isn’t always because people are rapists.”

Persky repeatedly emphasized the effect the case has had on Turner, at one point saying: “The character letters that have been submitted do show a huge collateral consequence for Mr Turner.”

You’d think it was vandalism or a parking violation or returning a library book late. The guy grabbed a human being who was unconscious and raped her – where is the judge’s sympathy for the huge NOT SO collateral consequence for her? What about her??

In her letter to the judge, Dauber wrote that Stanford’s surveys have found that 43% of female undergraduates have experienced sexual assault or misconduct, and that more than two-thirds of them said perpetrators took advantage of intoxicated victims. But only 2.7% of students who experienced assault or nonconsensual sexual contact reported it to the university.

Turner’s sentencing only does further damage, Dauber added, noting that she has observed nonviolent drug offenders receive much harsher treatment by judges.

“Aaron Persky is telling these women don’t bother calling police. Even if you get through a trial and even if you manage to get a conviction, I will not impose a serious sanction,” Dauber said.

Because you’re just a woman. Women don’t matter.

Guest post: Blaming the woman already has the structure in place

Jun 6th, 2016 10:48 am | By

Originally a comment by iknklast on Not blaming her directly.

Another thing about the DUI – it is very possible, and in fact happens every day all over the driving world, that people who drive drunk may get safely home without hurting anyone (this doesn’t make it OK, mind you). A person who rapes drunk cannot, by definition, get safely home without hurting someone, because in rape there is always another person involved. Yet society is harder on someone who is driving drunk who has not hit a tree, a car, or a person, but who has just weaved in and out and can’t walk a straight line, than on a young man who uses his drunkenness as an excuse for sexual activity with a woman against her will.

Part of this is the force of things like M.A.D.D. which has focused on the children that might be hurt if you drive drunk, and the innocent young things that get killed by drunk drivers while they are playing in the yard or riding their bike. Campus rape, on the other hand, happens to grown women, women who are in college by choice, and by definition have given up the right to be considered innocent young things simply because they are on a college campus, and therefore behaving in a manner not suitably womanly.

Promising young woman raped in the prime of her life, perhaps depression or pregnancy prevent her from completing her degree and reaching her full potential because someone else chose to violate her rights. Versus. Promising young athlete jailed and suspended, unable to finish his program and compete in the Olympics because (a) he chose to commit a heinous crime; or (2) promising young woman took a drunken revel too seriously, and ruined his life by going into hysterics and refusing to acknowledge her own role in the crime action that was committed against her person. Which story does society prefer? The second, of course.

If we acknowledge the ongoing reality of the first, and the ubiquitous nature of rape culture, we will be morally obligated to change our own behavior to help prevent such horrible things from happening. That’s real work. Blaming the woman already has the structure in place. We don’t have to change anything, just shrug our shoulders and accept that, in some way, she was asking for it, and maybe she even liked it.

Society can make those changes. It just doesn’t want to.

Promising young athletes

Jun 6th, 2016 10:01 am | By

Clementine Ford has some thoughts on Brock Turner.

Turner did not present to the world as the archetypal monster dwelling in shadowed alleyways. He was attending Stanford on a sports scholarship as an accomplished swimmer with aspirations to one day compete at the Olympics. He is from a privileged white background, with enough family money and support to hire the kind of expensive lawyers who usually appear on behalf of the of well taken care of privileged white sons defending themselves against rape charges. It has been suspiciously difficult to track down the police mugshot taken after his arrest; instead, media reports throughout the trial have been littered with smiling photographs of what is no doubt an attempt to portray a ‘promising young athlete in happier times’.

These tactics are employed deliberately. Not, as you might think, in an attempt to humanise a rapist – but to massage that niggling impulse to associate rape with certain traits. A promising young athlete with friends, teammates and well-to-do parents can’t possibly be a rapist! There must be some other explanation – alcohol consumption, perhaps, and poor reasoning skills. Misread signals. A life-altering mistake.

Being a promising young athlete does not provide a protective charm against criminal activity, but this is the message that has been all too often sent by judges, lawyers and community members intent on protecting young men from the consequences of their violence and entitlement.

Indeed. But I would go beyond “being an athlete isn’t a defense” and “being an athlete doesn’t magically rule out being a rapist” to make it an affirmative thing – being a promising young athlete may well encourage rapey ideation. Why wouldn’t it? At least, why wouldn’t it in cultures that overvalue male athletes and undervalue women?

What’s true about promising young male athletes? That they get masses of social validation, not to say hero worship. That they spend a lot of time with other promising young male athletes, who all get masses of social validation / hero worship. That these tribes of promising young male athletes tend to be very macho, and very contemptuous of all things female. (How do they provoke each other? By saying things like, “You need to take the tampon out of your pussy.”) That all this adds up to a sense of entitlement coupled with contempt for girls and women. You do the math.

Not blaming her directly

Jun 6th, 2016 9:10 am | By

More from the Brock Turner file. Via Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, who attended the trial, on Twitter:

A reference letter to the judge.

I don’t think it’s fair to base the fate of the next 10+ years of his life on the decision of a girl who doesn’t remember anything but the amount she drank to press charges against him. I am not blaming her directly for this, because that isn’t right. But where do we draw the line and stop worrying about being politically correct every second of the day and see that rape on campus isn’t always because people are rapists?

I know, right? It’s so annoyingly politically correct to think that fucking an unconscious woman behind a dumpster is rape. It’s not rape at all: it’s post-dancing alcohol-lubricated joyous sexy fun times!

The problem is, the letter-writer goes on, universities encourage this party atmosphere and all this drinking. It’s all their fault, not the fault of the innocent boys who drink a lot in this party atmosphere and then totally accidentally rape some bitch behind a dumpster.

This is completely different from a woman getting kidnapped and raped as she is walking to her car in a parking lot. That is a rapist. These are not rapists.

There you have it, wims. Rape is when a stranger jumps out at you and pulls a knife. End of definition. Rape is not when a stranger finds you drunk and pulls you outside and behind a dumpster, at least not when that stranger is a very nice clean-cut white boy on the swim team at Stanford – I mean duh. Who wouldn’t want to have sex with that boy? If some slut drinks so much at a party that that nice clean-cut white boy can pull her outside behind a dumpster, then she deserves whatever he does to her, and he is in no way at fault. She’s a slut and a sloppy drunk and if she presses charges she’s a bitch besides. It’s political correctness run mad to say otherwise.

Not even a little unique

Jun 6th, 2016 8:09 am | By

An incident:

In the interest of privacy, this person chooses to remain anonymous. Please keep it that way. But feel free to share the hell out of this.

“Today, I talked back to a catcaller. I do this often, and when I say I’m putting myself in physical danger when I do this, I’m laughed at. I’m told to stop overreacting. I’m called overdramatic.

Today, I talked back to a man who touched me in the street without my permission. It doesn’t matter what I said. What matters is that he grabbed me by the back of the head, called me a whore, and threw me into a wall. Because I stood up for myself after he put his hands on me.

The details are irrelevant. I will tell you that this happened in the middle of the afternoon. I will tell you that there were onlookers who did nothing to help. I will tell you that as I crawled around on the sidewalk, feeling for my dropped glasses, nobody came to help. I will tell you that as I walked away, shaking, bleeding from my mouth, nobody offered to walk me home.

I will tell you that I sobbed in the arms of a friend, and asked him to help me invent a story to tell the rest of my friends, because I was so ashamed. I will tell you I blamed myself for being too mouthy. I will tell you I’m still crying.

I will tell you this isn’t the first time. That I anticipate it will not be the last. I expect to get hurt again. I expect to be hit by more men in my lifetime. I expect to be called names and threatened. I anticipate it. It has happened enough for me to anticipate it. And still, I was not prepared.

I will tell you I was terrified to post about this for fear of being called more names. Things like “overdramatic” and “attention whore”. I was terrified to even tell anyone what happened. Because I assumed I would be blamed. I will tell you that I’m a tough cookie and a badass woman, and I still can’t help but blame myself.

This is 2016. I was attacked by a man, and I am preparing myself to be asked what I did to deserve it, and told what I should have done to prevent it. This needs to be talked about. My story is not even a little unique. ‪#‎notallmen‬ helps no one, when ‪#‎somemen‬ are all it takes.”

A steep price to pay

Jun 5th, 2016 5:56 pm | By

Oh, this is disgusting. I know, I blog about so many disgusting items, but the moral squalor on display here…

The father of Brock Turner, the convicted Stanford rapist, wrote a letter to the judge about his sentence.

Dan A. Turner, Brock Turner’s dad, wrote a letter to Judge Aaron Persky before his son’s sentencing Thursday. He said that since his son was found guilty of sexual assault, he isn’t eating much and is full of worry and anxiety. It’s “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life,” he argued.

Well that could explain a lot. If Brock Turner’s father thinks fucking an unconscious woman is “action” then that could be why Brock Turner felt entitled to fuck an unconscious woman.

Turner Senior tells the judge he used to love to get the Brockster a nice manly ribeye steak to grill, but now the puir lad takes no pleasure in his food any more; he eats only to exist.

These verdicts have broken and shattered him and our family in so many ways. His life will never the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That’s a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.

It wasn’t 20 minutes of action, it was 20 minutes of rape. There was another person involved, a human being, with her own life and dreams and work. She’s the one who paid a steep price, and she paid it for going to a party with her sister, and drinking too much too fast, and being female – none of which is criminal or unethical or harmful to other people.

That level of narcissism and entitlement is hard to credit.

Meeting Orwell in the break room

Jun 5th, 2016 12:16 pm | By

Another one who claims to be both femme and afab but also non-binary – or did claim, since this is from 2014, and with any luck there has been some maturing since.

So, what with being called out for being fake and a pretender by both myself and others, I sometimes get the desire to prove myself as non-binary. Especially since I am someone who was both assigned female and birth, and presents as largely female.

I did go through a phase where I tried to present as androgynous. I failed hopelessly at it. Why? Two reasons.

1. I’m a 34DD. Let that sink in. Try to hide that under a binder. It doesn’t work. A sports bra flattens them down a bit, but they’re there, and they’re always going to show.

2. I’m a feminine person. I just am. I like pretty earrings and make-up, which is something about me that has nothing to do with my gender identity, but when paired with an afab (assigned female at birth) body, distinctly marks me as female. I didn’t like having to give up being pretty, wearing make-up, wearing clothes and accessories that weren’t all bland muted colours.

So why the perceived need to “prove myself as non-binary”? Why all this struggle over a superfluous label? Why not just get on with life? Why not rejoice in the greater freedom women have to wear all different sorts of clothes (while still if you like working to make it so that men have more of that freedom too) and just be a woman with a varied wardrobe?

The truth is, you can’t win at being androgynous. Not unless you’re willing to give up your own personal style to fit into society’s incredibly narrow and limited idea of what androgyny is. So fuck it.

Hm. I’m not sure society has any idea, narrow or broad, of what androgyny is. I’m not sure society thinks about it enough to have an idea of it. It’s not a mass-popular subject.

Yeah, I wear make-up, and earrings and breasts. You know who else does? Drag queens who still identify as male. And that’s the real point here: gender identity and gender presentation are two completely different things. I am a non-binary person who presents as female because it fits with my style, and because it’s convenient for me, but that doesn’t change the fact that I am non-binary.

What fact? What fact is that, exactly? What fact are you talking about? How do you know it?

I don’t think there is such a fact. I think there are lots of facts of the type “X doesn’t like to be confined by silly arbitrary rules about what women / men can wear” but few if any facts of the type “this person who was assigned female at birth and presents as largely female is non-binary.” What this blogger is calling a fact is actually a decision – and that’s fine, people can decide to be non-binary or gender nonconforming or whatever they like, but a decision to be something doesn’t always translate to a fact that one is that something. It’s a complicated verb, that one – Bill Clinton wasn’t only ducking and weaving when he pointed out that “is” can mean different things. The blogger is non-binary if she / they wants to be, but that’s all for her / them to decide, it’s not a separate fact that can’t be changed by external reality.

Or to put it another way, it’s not clear what the blogger means by “I am a non-binary person who presents as female” when all these labels seem to depend so very heavily on getting confirmation from others. It’s also not clear what the point is.

I go to work every day as a female. I’m read as female, and I introduce myself as a female, and it’s fine. Then I come home and I take off my costume. I go back to being myself. But the breasts won’t come off. I go online and present myself as non-binary –

Ahhh yes, now I know where we are. Of course you do. Online is like that. I present myself as non-grumpy, non-boring, non-sullen, non-all sorts of things that show up in meat space but don’t online. Don’t we all. And that’s just it: we all do, to varying degrees. It’s not a new discovery of Today’s Kids that what the world sees does not perfectly match up with our sense of ourselves. It’s a newish or intensified discovery of everyone who lives partly online, one that people just didn’t have a medium to make before the internet. Maybe a few people did – I bet George Orwell felt a difference between the self who wrote the essays and the one who had colleagues at the BBC.

So that’s how it is – we all go back to being ourselves. It’s not so much non-binary as non-public or non-social or non-external.


Their family duty

Jun 5th, 2016 11:24 am | By

A school in India for girls who have escaped sex slavery.

More children are sold into prostitution in India than in any other country. In villages such as Simraha, it is not uncommon for girls as young as 12 or 13 to be sold.

At this school, many of the children playing games, doing homework, helping with dinner and making crafts are the daughters of prostitutes. They are members of a marginalized caste known as the Nat community, which is trapped in a system of hereditary prostitution.

Their school, not far from the border with Nepal in the Indian state of Bihar, is part of a national program of girls’ boarding schools called Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya, intended specifically for minority groups. Founded by the nonprofit organization Apne Aap, its supporters and the Bihar state government, the school aims to break the bonds of caste and inequality.

“The school keeps them safe and away from the home-based brothels that they were growing up in,” said Ruchira Gupta, Apne Aap’s founder. “Otherwise, they would join their mothers in prostitution.”

They’re still subject to pressure though.

A few graduates of the school are even heading off to college — with ambitions of becoming lawyers and doctors.

But many struggle to achieve a much smaller ambition: avoiding being caught up in systemic prostitution.

At the school, fathers regularly put pressure on the girls to do their “family duty” and start working as prostitutes. Some fathers have tried to snatch the girls back.

What loving parents.

The LA Times piece has many photos from the school.

All the arts and wiles of our sex

Jun 5th, 2016 9:58 am | By

I’ve been thinking about this word “femme” – which, it seems to me, an awful lot of straight people have “appropriated” from lesbians, but that’s a slightly separate issue. What I’ve been thinking about is the fact that it’s a substitute for the word “feminine” but sounds hip and knowing, while “feminine” just sounds dopey and last century. Maybe the appropriation isn’t a separate issue after all then, since people tend to appropriate words and gestures and the like for increased hippitude.

Anyway, “femme” is a cooler way of saying “feminine,” but the trouble with that is that erases the political aspects of the word “feminine”…and that’s not a good idea.

What do you think of when you hear or see the word “feminine”? Graceful, fragile, dainty, pretty, delicate, weak – you see where I’m going with this? From dainty and delicate and weak you get to subordinate, powerless, compliant, second class. It’s not just random that that’s what feminine means; it’s political. What it means isn’t hip at all. Calling it femme instead makes it sound rebellious instead of compliant.

I’ve been thinking about the word because of something I saw on a blog that made me laugh incredulously –

________ is not safe, especially for femme women and femme AFAB non-binary people.

Say what? Femme AFAB non-binary people? Aren’t those just…um…women? If they’re both “assigned female at birth” and femme aka feminine, then how are they non-binary? How is this not, again, appropriation? How is it not appropriating a hipster label in order to seem less boring than tedious yawny ol’ women?

I think the hipsters are making a mistake thinking they can make “feminine” no longer political by changing it to “femme.” The word “feminine” has creepy overtones for a reason, and that shouldn’t be brushed aside.

Have some Virginia Woolf on The Angel in the House:

What could be easier than to write articles and to buy Persian cats with the profits? But wait a moment. Articles have to be about something. Mine, I seem to remember, was about a novel by a famous man. And while I was writing this review, I discovered that if I were going to review books I should need to do battle with a certain phantom. And the phantom was a woman, and when I came to know her better I called her after the heroine of a famous poem, The Angel in the House. It was she who used to come between me and my paper when I was writing reviews. It was she who bothered me and wasted my time and so tormented me that at last I killed her. You who come of a younger and happier generation may not have heard of her–you may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it–in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others. Above all–I need not say it—she was pure. Her purity was supposed to be her chief beauty–her blushes, her great grace. In those days–the last of Queen Victoria–every house had its Angel. And when I came to write I encountered her with the very first words. The shadow of her wings fell on my page; I heard the rustling of her skirts in the room. Directly, that is to say, I took my pen in my hand to review that novel by a famous man, she slipped behind me and whispered: “My dear, you are a young woman. You are writing about a book that has been written by a man. Be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the arts and wiles of our sex. Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own. Above all, be pure.” And she made as if to guide my pen.

A pox on all the arts and wiles of our sex.