Notes and Comment Blog


Oct 30th, 2015 9:48 am | By

At the Saudi embassy in Oslo today:

Ensaf reports that Raif was not flogged today – which is a big relief after the news that the flogging was going to resume. But that’s only this week…

Family members found the child lying unconscious and bleeding

Oct 29th, 2015 1:36 pm | By

News from Delhi:

Two young girls – a toddler and a 5-year-old – have been raped in separate attacks in New Delhi, police said Saturday, in the latest incidents of sexual violence against girls and women in India.

A 2 1/2-year-old girl who was playing outside her home was raped in a west Delhi suburb Friday evening, said Delhi Police deputy superintendent Pushpendra Kumar. Family members found the child lying unconscious and bleeding in a park three hours after she went missing during a power outage in the neighborhood.

Two and a half years old, grabbed and penetrated, then thrown aside in a park like so much garbage.

The rapes occurred a week after a 4-year-old girl was found dumped near a railway track after being raped and slashed with a blade.

A series of recent attacks has renewed public fury and horror over India’s inability to halt chronic violence against women and girls.

That is gender as hierarchy.


More threats

Oct 29th, 2015 11:50 am | By

Reporters Without Borders last week:

Reporters Without Borders condemns the threats against news media and bloggers contained in a email that was sent to a score of Bangladeshi print and broadcast media outlets on 19 October, and calls on the authorities to take concrete measures to protect all those targeted.

Sent by Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), a militant Islamist group that has claimed the murders of four bloggers this year, and signed by a person identifying himself as ABT spokesman Abdullah bin Salim, the Bengali-language email constituted a clear threat to all media that fail to adhere strictly to Islamic law.

The email included a demand for news media to fire all female employees and to refrain from publishing any ads that show women or any photos that include a woman not wearing a burqa.

This isn’t “high ideals” or any kind of altruism, even a distorted kind. This is just power-crazed theocratic men doing their best to stamp women and secularists and atheists into submission or death.

Imran H. Sarker, one of Bangladesh’s most popular bloggers, with about a million followers on social networks, received similar death threats on 17 October from a Facebook account apparently linked to the Islamic State.

All of the bloggers murdered since the start of 2015 – Washiqur Rahman, Ananta Bijoy Das,Niloy Neel and Avijit Roy, the founder of theMukto-Mona discussion website – criticized religious fundamentalism and advocated tolerance, free speech and freedom of thought in their blogs.

And they can’t allow that.

Update: bdnews24 reports that a rival group faked the threatening emails.

The media was threatened in an e-mail by none other than the leaders of an Awami Ulama League faction that used the name of banned militant outfit Ansarullah Bangla Team, its rival group alleges.

A faction led by Ilias Hossain bin Helali and Delowar Hossain made the claim at a press briefing on Wednesday.

It said “truth will be unveiled” if leaders of its rival faction, led by Aktar Hossain and Abul Hasan, were interrogated.

But Hasan rejected the allegations.

“The charges are false,” he told in his reaction. “Helali is running a snide campaign against us as we speak of Bangabandhu, the Awami League and the Ulama League.”

Charge and counter-charge; totally unclear who is telling the truth.

The Sakharov prize

Oct 29th, 2015 11:34 am | By

Take that, Saudi theocrats: Raif Badawi has won the Sakharov prize.

The announcement was greeted on Thursday with a standing ovation at the European parliament in Strasbourg, France, but will be seen by Saudi Arabia as another diplomatic slight at a time when its domestic and international policies are coming under growing criticism.

What do you mean “but”? That’s an “and.”

Martin Schulz, the European parliament president, said: “I urge the king of Saudi Arabia to free him [Badawi], so he can accept the prize.”

And be free, and not be flogged, and be with Ensaf and their children again.

Named after the Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, the award was created in 1988 to honour people and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Let him go.

Yell at little kids and call them frauds

Oct 28th, 2015 3:42 pm | By

Jonathan Rosenberg has a cartoon. The protagonist looks kind of familiar…

you’re not wrong, walter, you’re just an asshole

You can support the cartoonist on Patreon.


What Greer stands accused of is thoughtcrime

Oct 28th, 2015 1:07 pm | By

Rebecca Reilly-Cooper makes an important point about the campaign to no-platform Germaine Greer:

Greer said nothing about what rights trans people ought to have or how they ought to be treated, and certainly nothing that could plausibly be interpreted as an incitement to violence. Believing that trans women are men is neither an incitement to violence, nor is it dehumanising, unless you also happen to think that men deserve violence and are not human. So the two main offences she is accused of are ones she openly admits to: not believing that transgender women are women, and not believing that transphobia – prejudice and bigotry towards transgender people – exists.

Both of these offences are solely concerned with the propositional content of Greer’s beliefs. That is, the objection is that she believes things that her opponents believe to be false, and that these beliefs are, for reasons that are never properly articulated, “dangerous”. So what Greer stands accused of is, essentially, thoughtcrime. She is guilty of holding the wrong thoughts, of believing the wrong things, of entertaining ideas and defining concepts in ways that diverge from some doctrine to which all decent people are supposed to subscribe. One must believe that trans women are women, and one must believe that trans people are subject to forms of prejudice and discrimination that others are not, and if you do not hold those beliefs, then you are by definition dangerous, a potential threat to others, and must be silenced. The possibility of reasonable disagreement on these issues is ruled out, ex hypothesi.

I’ve been noticing this for a long time, and not with pleasure. I’ve never tried to excavate and repair the beliefs of for instance the people who spend all their free time harassing feminists on Twitter. They could fake basic decency as opposed to believing in it, and the result for everyone else would be the same.

We all do try to influence each other’s beliefs by arguing or questioning or shouting, but that’s not the same kind of thing as punishing people for having Wrong Beliefs.

The response to Greer and her alleged transphobia is just one example of a creeping trend among social justice activists of an identitarian persuasion: a tendency towards ideological totalism, the attempt to determine not only what policies and actions are acceptable, but what thoughts and beliefs are, too. Contemporary identity-based social justice activism is increasingly displaying the kinds of totalising and authoritarian tactics that we usually associate with cults or quasi-religious movements which aim to control the thoughts and inner lives of their members. The doctrine of “gender identity” – the idea that people possess an essential inner gender that is independent both of their sexed body and of the social reality of being treated as a person with such a body – has rapidly been elevated to the status of quasi-religious belief, such that those who do not subscribe to it are seen as not only mistaken and misguided, but dangerous and threatening, and must therefore be silenced.

Even those who aren’t sure whether they subscribe to it or not are seen as dangerous and threatening and to be silenced.

She compares the methods and reactions of the belief-policers to “many, if not all, of the features of thought control identified by Robert Jay Lifton in his classic study of indoctrination in Chinese re-education camps” including

  • Demands for purity – dividing the world sharply into pure and impure, good and evil, believer and nonbeliever. There are people who believe that trans women are women, and there are transphobic bigots who “deny trans people’s right to exist”. No intermediate position is possible.
  • A cult of confession – individuals are required to reveal their sins and transgressions in order to be redeemed. As a non-trans person, the only way to secure one’s status as an ally is to confess to one’s “cis privilege” and to engage in repeated, performative privilege checking. (My own personal experience of this came when I publicly stated that I do not accept the label “cisgender”, which resulted in my being accused of the chillingly Orwellian-sounding crime of “privilege denial”).
  • Loading the language – the use of thought-terminating clichés and complex and ever changing terminological rules. Just try to critically examine the soundbite “trans women are women” and see how fast the accusations of prejudice and bigotry come flying in. This is a phrase intended to stop you asking difficult questions.

That all sounds so grindingly familiar to me.

It’s not healthy. Boot my antiquated butt all you want, but this situation is not healthy.

Often the face of evil

Oct 28th, 2015 12:40 pm | By

NPR asks an always-timely question: Why Are Old Women Often The Face Of Evil In Fairy Tales And Folklore?

Because everybody* hates old women.

Typecasting is one explanation. “What do we have? Nags, witches, evil stepmothers, cannibals, ogres. It’s quite dreadful,” says Maria Tatar, who teaches a course on folklore and mythology at Harvard. Still, Tatar is quick to point out that old women are also powerful — they’re often the ones who can work magic.

Well, “powerful” until they’re killed at the end. Not a particularly desirable brand of power.

Tatar says old women villains are especially scary because, historically, the most powerful person in a child’s life was the mother. “Children do have a way of splitting the mother figure into … the evil mother — who’s always making rules and regulations, policing your behavior, getting angry at youand then the benevolent nurturer — the one who is giving and protects you, makes sure that you survive.”

Veronique Tadjo, a writer who grew up in the Ivory Coast, thinks there’s a fear of female power in general. She says a common figure in African folk tales is the old witch who destroys people’s souls. As Tadjo explains, “She’s usually a solitary woman. She’s already marginal. She’s angry at something — at life, or whatever — and she will ‘eat’ — that’s the expression — people’s souls, in the sense that she’s going to possess people and then they die a terrible death. And everybody knows it’s the witch; it’s the old woman.”

As I’ve mentioned, we’re seeing a lot of that in the commentary on Germaine Greer. Even PZ – whom I would have expected to know better – went there:

My personal feeling is that Greer really is saying hateful crap, and my sentiment favors booting her antiquated butt off the campus.

Boot all the antiquated females butts off everything. Get them out of public life. They’re the face (and butt) of evil, so get rid of them.

*Everybody in the Anglophone world, that is.

Guest post: With my personhood totally stripped from me

Oct 28th, 2015 11:01 am | By

Originally a comment by iknlast on Preserving the sanctity of the big tent.

Make a new twitter account using a man’s name. Choose a picture not of a person but one with masculine bent. Use that account at least a week, but longer is better.

My son actually tried this experiment in reverse. He gamed as a woman. And as a man in the same setting at a different time. His results were predictable, and eye-opening, even to someone like my son who was already fairly enlightened about the issue. The amount of hate he got was intense – and he wasn’t even talking about feminism or the rights of women, he was just playing a game as a woman.

If people really want to know when I feel like a woman, it is when being met with blistering contempt, bored indifference, or violent hostility toward some activity I am performing or some argument I am making. I feel it in my classroom when I have my students draw a picture of a typical scientist, and they all draw men (beards are required to be a scientist, apparently), even though there is a woman standing in front of them, a trained scientist who has published scientific research, and is in the process of teaching them about science. At those times, I actually do feel like a woman, with my personhood totally stripped from me.

Preserving the sanctity of the big tent

Oct 27th, 2015 6:33 pm | By

Chris Kluwe gives SZSW hell.

This week, you announced a decision so mind-numbingly shameful, it’s a wonder that the collective spleens of everyone involved didn’t spontaneously combust from the overload of self-loathing. I speak, of course, of your Neville Chamberlain-esque choice to cancel a panel on harassment in online spaces, featuring Katherine Cross, Caroline Sinders, and Randi Harper, due to (and I can’t believe I have to type this) overwhelming harassment from those opposed to said panel — i.e., Gamergate (a group you conveniently allowed to have their own panel without following any of the listed application rules, in a fascinating display of fear-profiteering that would make Dick Cheney blush).

Then, you inexplicably tried to justify the unjustifiable, with one of the most mealy-mouthed, corporate nothing speak emails I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading; all in the hopes that this would somehow explain your craven actions.

Behold that email:

On the one hand, we are an event that prides itself on being a big tent and a marketplace of diverse people and diverse ideas. On the other hand, preserving the sanctity of that big tent at SXSW Interactive necessitates that we keep the dialogue civil and respectful — so that people can agree, disagree and embrace new ways of thinking in a safe and secure place. We have already received numerous threats of violence regarding this panel, so a civil and respectful environment seems unlikely in March in Austin. For this reason, we have also canceled other sessions at the 2016 event that focused on the GamerGate controversy. We are strong believers in community at SXSW — and a healthy community sometimes requires strong management. Preserving the sanctity of the big tent is more important than preserving any particular session.

That’s quite something, isn’t it. “Preserving the sanctity of the big tent” is so important it’s worth letting harassers harass them out of holding a panel. What about the women the harassers have been harassing for more than a year? Oh who cares about them – they don’t belong in the big tent.

First off, the panel was not on Gamergate, did not mention Gamergate, and the only tangential relation it had with Gamergate was that the odorous denizens of that particular hashtag have made it their mission to try and ruin the lives of the women involved in the panel (among others). The fact you felt the need to connect it to Gamergate shows quite clearly where the pressure to silence these voices came from.

Second, and perhaps more pertinently, you run a festival that features A-list celebrities and tech magnates worth collective billions, superstar athletes, and some of the biggest music acts in the world, and you’re telling me you can’t provide security for a panel of three women? That it’s beyond your resources to hire any sort of police presence when you shut down entire sections of Austin at a time? That the unceasing vitriol these brave individuals face on a daily basis is just too much for your tender feelings to deal with, when you’ve experienced the merest fraction of that torrent of filth they’re forced to endure?

And then he gets really angry.

It’s great stuff.

“We can’t talk about threats, due to threats”

Oct 27th, 2015 6:15 pm | By

NBC News reports:

The popular South by Southwest festival said it was cancelling two panel discussions about harassment and the online gaming community due to threats of violence.

The decision prompted some big digital media companies, including BuzzFeed and Vox Media to withdraw from the festival — known as SXSW — in protest.

The festival — known as SXSW — said it had hoped that hosting the two panels “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” and “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” would lead to a “valuable exchange of ideas.”

However, it said SXSW had received “numerous threats of on-site violence” related to the programs in the week since the March 2016 SXSW Interactive event panels were announced. It did not detail the nature of the threats.

Who would be doing that? The harassers, or the people they harass? Any bets?

The Opening Gaming Society said the “disheartening” move to cancel the panel came “as a shock.” It said that SXSW had been in touch to explain the decision — which came after receiving countless emails, phone calls and social-media messages about the panels.

“SXSW feels that both the organization and its staff have been under siege from all sides and from all parties since they announced the panels,” it said in a statement urging gamers not to attack the festival over its decision. “They want to encourage open discussions, but they don’t want to fuel a vicious online war between two sides who are extremely opposed to one another.”

Oh christ, it’s “both of you stop it” all over again. It’s not a war and it’s not two sides – it’s harassment and threats.

How pathetic.

Those fiends

Oct 27th, 2015 5:41 pm | By

Terrible awful horrifying news from Ensaf Haidar:

I was informed by an informed source, that the Saudi authorities have given the green light to the resumption of Raif Badawi’s flogging. The informed source also said that the flogging will resume soon but will be administered inside the prison.

It is worth mentioning that the same source had warned me of Raif’s pending flogging at the beginning of January 2015 and his warning was confirmed, as Raif was flogged on 9th January.

While I do not understand this decision especially as Raif’s case is still being reviewed by the supreme court according to a senior source in the Saudi Ministry of Justice and according to the statement of UK Foreign Office minister, Tobias Ellwood, who told the House of Commons in July that my husband’s case was still being examined by Saudi judges.

I call on his Majesty King Salman to gracefully end my husband’s ordeal and to pardon him. I also appeal to his Majesty to allow him to be deported to Canada to be reunited with his family and children, who have been deprived of their father for more than four years.

I take this opportunity to remind Mr. Justin Trudeau, the new Canadian Prime Minister, of his promise to support Raif badawi and ensure his release. I plead with him to give Raif a White Passport to enable him to be reunited with his family in Canada.



A politer way of saying “witch”

Oct 27th, 2015 11:25 am | By

Helen Lewis has a brilliant piece at the New Statesman about the attempt to no-platform Germaine Greer. Read every word.

It’s interesting that it is Greer’s views on gender that are the flashpoint, because she has been flat wrong about many things in her career – FGM, for example, which she has defended given its “cultural” element – without anything like the same backlash. Put simply, trans issues are the new dividing line for progressive activism; the way for younger activists to kick against their foremothers in the feminist movement.

And by god they do, with loathing and contempt.

Think about that for a second. Young feminist women – not all, obviously, but depressingly many – loathe and scorn old feminist women.

Well what does that say about the prospects for feminism? Feminism isn’t going to work if it applies only to young women, you know. If even feminist women hate old feminist women, then what hope is there that misogyny will ever fade away? If misogyny is that available and that pervasive and that irresistible…what hope is there?

I’m not sure there is much.

With gay marriage now legal in America, there is also the sense among online social justice communities that trans rights are “the new civil rights frontier” (as Time magazine wrote next to a photo of Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox). Social media has acted like an accelerant on this fire: sites like Buzzfeed and Huffington Post’s LGBT section offer uplifting tales of transgender children’s achievements and famous adults coming out, alternating with occasional three-minute hates for “TERFs” (trans exclusionary radical feminists), a group who are said to be inciting violence against trans women by refusing to accept them as women. Sharing such articles has become a badge of progressive correctness. The word “TERF” is sprayed around like confetti, with very little understanding of what it means. I’ve been called a TERF, even though I think trans women are women and absolutely have a place in feminism. I think it’s become a politer way of saying “witch”.

And what is a “witch”? An evil old woman that we have a license to hate. We see her plastered against utility poles and trees everywhere at this time of year, having ridden her broomstick into one and crashed. All women are future old women, and we all hate old women, so how can we agree with feminism? We all reserve the right to hate women, dammit.


Trans  activists, tired of being treated as objects of curiousity, fear or pity by outsiders, have decided to seize control of the discourse and develop their own ways of talking about how they feel. This is understandable, but it also means that everyone is constantly making mistakes. This would be OK – in everyday life, people slip up and get corrected, and the world keeps turning – but because it’s happening in the crucible of social media, where women’s opinions carry a higher cost, censure for those mistakes is distributed unfairly. There are phrases that a man could say – “female socialisation” springs to mind – with no comeback, but would be read as Deep TERF Code coming from a feminist’s mouth. I’ve lost count of the number of times that male friends have expressed surprise that their normally quiet, polite Twitter experience suddenly turns into a hornet’s nest if they chat with me about a controversial divide in feminism.

It’s not men who get demonized and hounded out, it’s women. It wasn’t two men that Improbable Joe “warned” me about on Twitter DM, it was two women – Helen Lewis being one of them. There are no outcries or “warnings” about TEMRAs – as far as I know TEMRA isn’t even a thing.

Even trans people who do not have the “correct” opinions feel worried about broaching the subject; I know a group of “gender critical” trans women who are castigated regularly as “TERF tokens” and “Uncle Toms”. (Putting paid to the flatulent piety so often circulated on social media: “Why don’t you just listen to trans people?” Because it turns out, O Wise One, that minority groups are not homogenous.)

Ok so it has to be “Why don’t you just listen to the right trans people?”

In my Pollyanna-ish way, I hope that all of these questions can be resolved with respectful negotiation; but there will have to be compromises between competing interests. It’s not – as many people on Twitter seem to believe – as simple as identifying the group you feel is most fashionably oppressed and sprinting to shout: “Solidarity!” And God save us from all the progressive men who will never face the sharp end of such questions – who have never had to think about rape shelter policy, for example – using this issue to show how right-on they are. Come on, feminists, they chirrup without self-awareness. Stop being so uptight!

Be like us: not talking over the marginalized!

But here is a list of things which can get you called a TERF, if you are a woman with a public profile: a) believing that biological sex is different from gender, ie that the penis is a male sex organ, even when attached to someone who identifies as a woman; b) believing that being raised as a boy gives you a different experience of life to anyone raised as a girl; c) believing that you need to transition using surgery or hormones to be trans (a recent Buzzfeed piece was headlined “This Trans Women Kept Her Beard And Couldn’t Be Happier”) d) believing that someone who transitions at 45 has not “always been female”.

I’d argue that those positions are far removed from the hateful, discriminatory behaviour and speech which most of us would accept is transphobic. And it is entirely possible that some or all of them will seem completely outdated in 50 years as our ideas about sex and gender move on. But they don’t seem to me to be in themselves vile or beyond the pale.

From the trans perspective, I can understand the feelings that the gains the movement has recently made are both recent and fragile, and the desire to set the terms of the debate after so long being treated as objects of pity or ridicule. After all, the challenges of transition are a daily task for many people, not a theoretical debate. But the subject has become part of a society-wide conversation; to move on, it must be something that ordinary people, outside the charmed circle who know that trans no longer takes an asterisk, can have an opinion on.

It also needs to be something that’s not a pretext for attacking feminist women.

This battle against Germaine Greer is driven, at least in part, by sexism. After all, the world is full of academics with bad opinions, happily going about their business. Richard Dawkins, for example, is obsessed with proving that a teenage Muslim American boy suspended for bringing a clock to school should not be an object of pity and is instead a cunning hoaxer. David Starkey went on an extraordinary rant on Newsnight a few years ago about how “whites had become black” (i.e. were getting involved in street violence). No one is trying to ban him from talking to British universities.

The same students who tried to stop Julie Bindel from talking about free speech (the irony) at Manchester university this autumn did not simultaneously attack her fellow speaker Milo Yiannopolous, even though his views on transgender people are more extreme than hers. (He believes they are mentally ill and should be denied surgery.) Brendan O’Neill writes almost weekly on the Spectator website that transgender politics is “hocus pocus”. Where’s the NUS motion condemning him?

Exactly. Why is it women? Why is it feminist women? Why is it people who see themselves as progressives leading the charge?

It is ironic that this debate has focused around the idea of accepting trans women as women, because it also seems to me that we have a problem accepting non-trans women as fully human – a mixture of good and bad, wrong and right. Because, of course, Germaine Greer wasn’t even booked to talk about trans issues at Cardiff: the title of her lecture was “Women and Power in the 20th Century”. As with other feminists, it is assumed that her bad opinions on one subject render her persona non grata on everything else.

Tell me about it.

But in better news – she has an update at the end:

Cardiff University have been in touch to say they have subsequently spoken to Greer’s representatives, and the event is still scheduled to go ahead next month.


Settled or not settled

Oct 27th, 2015 10:40 am | By

There’s a sub-conversation about “double standards” in the comments on A matter of simple semantics. That’s a conversation that’s basically going on all the time, with just about anyone who has moral or political views on things. The putative double standard boils down to: You think Question X is settled, while you think Question Y is not. You think there is room for discussion on Y but not on X. You think anyone who denies or disputes X is reprehensible, while you don’t think that of people who deny or dispute Y.

Well, yes. I do think some Question Xs are settled, or should be treated as settled.

Consider the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for example. That’s a charter for establishing certain basic Xs as settled, for everyone.

I consider genocide a settled question. Slavery; forced “marriage”; judicial punishment for “blasphemy”; murder; rape; child abuse. I could go on.

It’s not surprising or shocking to consider some things more contentious than others. It would be strange to think of all things as exactly equally contentious.

Or to put it another way, this is the old “yes or no” issue again. Some questions can easily be answered with a yes or no, and others can’t. That too is not surprising or shocking.

Bodies are for peasants

Oct 26th, 2015 5:28 pm | By

Glosswitch has thoughts on Germaine Greer and the hatred of old women.

She starts with bodies, and how vieux jeu it has become to take them seriously.

Once upon a time, people thought that there were bodies that gestated new life and bodies that did not. That there was a way in which you could tell – not always accurately, but generally so – which did which. This led to people being given different names on account of which of the two categories their bodies appeared to fall into, categories not based on any complex chemical or neurological detail, but just on the question “does your body look like the kind of body that can get pregnant or doesn’t it?” Because reproduction – the mechanics, the ownership, the ideology – matters, or at least it used to, back when bodies were a thing. Back when we understood gender as power – patriarchy/matriarchy, paternity/maternity – and not as each individual’s private domain.

Today we know that to be old-fashioned nonsense. Who thinks it still? Old people. Old women, to be precise. Creaky, decaying second-wavers like Germaine Greer, who, the righteous legions of Twitter inform me, will in any case be dead soon enough.

I’m always curious about people who look forward to the deaths of women they dislike, so I clicked the link. It’s a Twitter “activist” I’ve seen before, who calls herself Germaine Queer haw haw.

Germaine Queer ‏@infurioustoo
True fact, Germaine Greer is 76 and will therefore be dead sooner than most of the rest of us.

Activism at its finest.

Old women who refuse to think themselves beyond the body. Watch out, younger women. Stay vigilant, don’t mention those vile secretions, don’t mention the work, or this could one day be you.

No no. Today’s wonderful young people will be the first generation in history to not age. They will be 24 forever, and perfect forever, and more right than anyone else forever.

“Biological life,” note Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, “impinges directly on the group activities of production and play.” To lay claim to having a female body is to be behind the times. Didn’t you get the memo? Don’t you know that they don’t have to make women like that anymore? Mother Nature is, as the Tampax advertisements remind us, a creature to be outsmarted. Don’t be the girl who leaks rust-coloured blood on her new white skirt. Don’t be the employee who gets pregnant, the carer who falls outside the markets that matter, the woman who dares to have pubic hair and odours and wrinkles, all those things that might make you more than an idea.

Barbie dolls forever.

One more disaster

Oct 26th, 2015 11:22 am | By

Massive earthquake in Afghanistan.

More than 200 people have died, mostly in Pakistan, after a magnitude-7.5 earthquake hit north-eastern Afghanistan.

Tremors from the quake were also felt in northern India and Tajikistan.

At least 12 of the victims were Afghan schoolgirls killed in a crush as they tried to get out of their building.

Facebook has a Safety Check where you can look for your friends. I see from mine that Gulalai Ismail, Kunwar Khuldune Shahid, Lauryn Oates, and Emmanuel Enoch are safe.

Buildings in the Tajik capital Dushanbe were damaged by the tremors.

Local media report that a staircase at a school in Tajikistan’s Yavan district collapsed, injuring 14 children.

There are also reports of injuries in a stampede at Khorog state university in Tajikistan, as a building was evacuated.

They felt it in Delhi, too.


A matter of simple semantics

Oct 26th, 2015 10:42 am | By

Hilarity on Twitter today, from a familiar source.

Where it began:

Richard Dawkins ‏@RichardDawkins 5 hours ago
Is trans woman a woman? Purely semantic. If you define by chromosomes, no. If by self-identification, yes. I call her “she” out of courtesy.

Ah you know that’s not going to go well. Not good enough. You’re not allowed to have a “no” anywhere. You’re not allowed to have an “if” anywhere. You’re not allowed to make distinctions.

And then his unfailing clumsiness – to put it politely – makes it all the worse. “Out of courtesy” might as well be “to humor” her.

So, of course, the next tweet was the inevitable

Richard Dawkins ‏@RichardDawkins 5 hours ago
@partimetroll Why? What could anyone possibly object to in my tweet? Please tell. I’m sincerely curious.

And on they went:

@RedKaye1 How can you be so wantonly stupid as to suggest that I would suggest such a thing?

@Reverend_Banjo How could that possibly piss anyone off? I’m simply trying to clarify a matter of simple semantics.

@hemantmehta I don’t understand. What’s your problem?

@GenericGooner I am on their side. What makes you think I am not? Do you deny what I said about chromosomes? It’s a matter of simple fact.

@bcaton2 Again that would depend on semantic definition. Do you choose to define by brain or rest of body? Matter of semantic choice.

@TheGayChrist By your definition, which it is your privilege to adopt. I adopt it too for all purposes that matter.

Now I’m getting hate because I stated a wish to be courteous. It means “polite”, “respectful”, “considerate of people’s feelings.” Terrible!

@Miss_Violet2014 Why? You obviously agree that they have Y chromosomes. So IF somebody were to define “woman” as XX . . . that’s all I said

@thebrainofchris English is my native language. I speak and write it competently. The implication you suggest is parsecs from my intention.

Jan Morris’s book, Conundrum, is a beautifully written account of what it’s like to feel you’re a woman trapped in a man’s body.

It’s absurd to use the word “really” to criticise trans people. “Really” means nothing, since the definition is semantic. That was my point.

@HPluckrose Yes, but I didn’t say that. I said IF you define “woman” by chromosomes you’ll get one answer. I didn’t say I did, did I?

Well, who would have believed “courtesy” was a dirty word? Never mind, I intend to continue to be courteous. Sorry if that gives offence.

@VincentGrey1 Perhaps you’re not accustomed to thinking logically and clearly? It takes practice.

@BrookeTLarson OK, that’s fine. I only said IF you define “woman” by chromosomes. I never said I did. Did I? No I didn’t.

It will be in the Guardian and the Independent within hours.

They all contain interpretive traditions

Oct 25th, 2015 5:52 pm | By

Jonathan Sacks is all wrong part 2.

He goes on from his wrong assertion that religion can provide meaning to say that religion (being so good at providing meaning) has returned.

The religion that has returned is not the gentle, quietist and ecumenical form that we in the West have increasingly come to expect. Instead it is religion at its most adversarial and aggressive. It is the greatest threat to freedom in the postmodern world. It is the face of what I call “altruistic evil” in our time: evil committed in a sacred cause, in the name of high ideals.

Well isn’t that just like him. It’s not remotely altruistic; that’s entirely the wrong word. Altruism is concern for others; as a technical word it means concern for others at one’s own expense. It’s concern for other human beings, and if extended, for other animals and the planet. It’s not “high ideals” and it’s not about “a sacred cause.” The evil done by adversarial and aggressive religion is not altruistic, it’s goddy. The two are not the same. Religion is about doing what god wants, not what fellow humans need. It’s misdirection, it’s displacement behavior; it’s not altruism. It’s so annoying the way religions try to corral all the virtues for themselves when in fact they have no truck with most of the important ones.

Yes, there are passages in the sacred scriptures of each of the Abrahamic monotheisms that, interpreted literally, can lead to hatred, cruelty and war. But Judaism, Christianity and Islam all contain interpretive traditions that in the past have read them in the larger context of coexistence, respect for difference and the pursuit of peace, and can do so today. Fundamentalism—text without context, and application without interpretation—is not faith but an aberration of faith.

That’s such an easy out. Yes, all the monotheisms are cruel and bloodthirsty, but hey, just ignore the actual words, and interpret them to mean something completely different. Obey god, follow the good old religion, and pretend that all that murderous violence is just a mistake of interpretation.

Not credible.

The frilly dress she wore

Oct 25th, 2015 4:52 pm | By

Mariya Taher writes about FGM among Asian immigrants in the US:

Female Genital Cutting (FGC). Some refer to it as Female Circumcision; others call it Female Genital Mutilation. As a child, I knew it as khatna. No matter the name, it is the process of removing part or all of the female genitalia. Within the Dawoodi Bohra religious community, a ritual performed on girls. I never knew it violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, let alone was a practice criminalized in the United States by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.

According to the United Nation’s Children Fund, more than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in Africa and the Middle East. As many as 30 million girls are at risk of being cut over the next decade.[i] Within the United States, the Center for Disease Control, found that in 1990 an estimated 168,000 girls and women were living with or at risk for FGC. In 2000, it was found that an estimated 228,000 women had undergone the procedure or were at risk, resulting in a 35% increase from 1990.[ii]

The practice is categorized as violence against women, yet the community I was raised in, often praising themselves for emphasizing women’s education, practiced it. In graduate school, for my thesis, I sought to answer the question of why FGC continued in this day and age.

When she started her research she was dismayed to find that reports on FGM [I don’t like to call it cutting, which obscures that it’s cutting off] included only women from African countries.

Excluded from statistics were women like me, born in the United States, growing up in a community whose origins were from Asia and knew FGC to be an important tradition. Further, few qualitative studies, depicting the stories of women, American women, who had knowledge of the practice within this country existed. Here then is my story and the story of six women interviewed for my thesis, who live in the United States and underwent khatna.

Her story:

The summer before I began second-grade, my family visited relatives in India. One morning, my mother and aunt took me to an apartment inside a run-down building located in Bhindi Bazaar, a Dawoodi Bohra populated neighborhood in south Mumbai. Inside the apartment, several elderly ladies dressed in saris greeted us. Initially there was laughter and much chatter. Then I was asked to lie on the bare floor. The frilly dress I wore was pulled up to reveal my midriff and my underwear pulled down, revealing parts I had been taught were to remain private. I couldn’t see what it was, but something sharp cut me and I began crying out in pain.

Once the procedure was complete, my mother embraced me and the elderly ladies, trying to be friendly, handed me a soft drink called Thumbs-Up to chase away tears streaming down my face. We then left the dilapidated building and I hid the memory from my conscious[ness] for the next several years.

It is just part of their specificity

Oct 25th, 2015 12:25 pm | By

The student newspaper of New York University Shanghai did an interview with Catherine MacKinnon last March (scroll way down).

Have your views ever changed over the years? Have you ever had to uphold a viewpoint that you do not necessarily believe in for the purposes of achieving some form of legal reform?

CM: My views have certainly developed. They develop every day, with everybody I talk to, everything I hear and everything I see. I don’t know of something I thought in the past that I don’t agree with today…

Certain things that I have had an inkling about have grown over time, for example, concerning transgender people. I always thought I don’t care how someone becomes a woman or a man; it does not matter to me. It is just part of their specificity, their uniqueness, like everyone else’s. Anybody who identifies as a woman, wants to be a woman, is going around being a woman, as far as I’m concerned, is a woman. Many transwomen are more feminist than a lot of born women who don’t much want to be women (for understandable reasons), who don’t really identify with women, some of whom are completely anti-feminist. The fact that they’re biologically female does not improve things.

To me, women is a political group. I never had much occasion to say that, or work with it, until the last few years when there has been a lot of discussion about whether transwomen are women. I discovered I more or less have always had a view on it, developed through transwomen I know, and have met, including prostituted ones, who are some of the strongest feminists in opposition to prostitution I’ve ever encountered. They are a big improvement on the born women who defend pimps and johns, I can tell you that. Many transwomen just go around being women, who knew, and suddenly, we are supposed to care that they are using the women’s bathroom. There they are in the next stall with the door shut, and we’re supposed to feel threatened. I don’t. I don’t care. By now, I aggressively don’t care.

Simone de Beauvoir said one is not born, one becomes a woman. Now we’re supposed to care how, as if being a woman suddenly became a turf to be defended. I have become more impassioned and emphatic as I have become more informed, and with the push-back from colleagues who take a very different view. Unfortunately some people have apparently physically defended their transition, also. This kind of change develops your views is a further in response to a sharpening of developments in the world. But the law Andrea Dworkin and I wrote gives “transsexuals” rights explicitly; that was 1983. We were thinking about it; we just didn’t know as much as it is possible to know now.

H/t Silentbob.

The three questions

Oct 25th, 2015 11:49 am | By

The Wall Street Journal has an essay by Jonathan Sacks adapted from his new book that says religious violence is not god’s fault.

Predictably, he says some things that I find irritating.

What the secularists forgot is that Homo sapiens is the meaning-seeking animal. If there is one thing the great institutions of the modern world do not do, it is to provide meaning. Science tells us how but not why. Technology gives us power but cannot guide us as to how to use that power. The market gives us choices but leaves us uninstructed as to how to make those choices. The liberal democratic state gives us freedom to live as we choose but refuses, on principle, to guide us as to how to choose.

The first thing that jumps out at us is how stale that is, how automatic, how deadened by repetition. “Science tells us how but not why” – recite clichés much? But setting that aside – you can tell from “What the secularists forgot” (and from previous knowledge of Jonathan Sacks) where he’s going – it’s religion and religion only that can “provide meaning.”

But can it? The “meaning” it provides is the kind of “meaning” a box of tools has – “somebody made me.” That’s not really more meaningful than being a product of natural selection over millions of years, and it can be less so. Who wants to be a hammer or a car or even a lovingly crocheted blanket? What’s meaningful about that?

Sacks continues the banal litany:

Science, technology, the free market and the liberal democratic state have enabled us to reach unprecedented achievements in knowledge, freedom, life expectancy and affluence. They are among the greatest achievements of human civilization and are to be defended and cherished.

But they do not answer the three questions that every reflective individual will ask at some time in his or her life: Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live? The result is that the 21st century has left us with a maximum of choice and a minimum of meaning.

That’s not necessarily true. Plenty of people find meaning from science: from doing it, from learning about it, from what it tells us. Sacks is correct that science doesn’t give us a bronze plaque with our Meaning inscribed on it, but who wants that anyway? It’s more interesting and more meaningful to create our own over time.