Wow. This is one of the best, most concise, and *inarguable* dissections of rape culture I’ve read.

I’m atheist and all, but: PREACH, Ms. Nelson!

Rethink the Rant

TRIGGER WARNING:

The following includes descriptions, photos, and video that may serve as a trigger for victims of sexual violence.
Please be advised. 

Someone asked me today, “What is ‘rape culture’ anyway? I’m tired of hearing about it.”

Yeah, I hear ya. I’m tired of talking about it. But I’m going to keep talking about it because people like you keep asking that question.

Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, and though there are dozens of witnesses, no one says, “Stop.”

Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, and though there are dozens of witnesses, they can’t get anyone to come forward.

Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, and adults are informed of it, but no consequences are doled out because the boys “said nothing happened.”

Rape culture is when a group…

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Rape Culture Where I Least Expected It: Slutcracker 2012

This past Christmas Eve, we began to solidify an Aydnwylde Christmas Tradition of going to the XXX-Mas Eve show of the Slutcracker (at the Sommerville Theatre in Davis Square). For those who have not heard of this eye-candy extravaganza, it is simply “The Nutcracker” re-imagined as a burlesque show.
We had gone the year before with dear friends of ours and had a marvelous time – we thoroughly enjoyed the performances and the sex-positive vibe and general awesomeness that was a kick-ass, professional, hella sexy burlesque retelling of the Nutcracker.
What a fabulous way to spend Christmas Eve – so fabulous, that we decided to make an annual thing of it. So we went again this year with some lovely, bawdy, raucous folk who appreciate the finer points of, say, the Russian Dance choreographed en pointe and with bullwhips.

There was a drastic change in tone, however, from 2011 to 2012. Maybe it’s because I’ve become so much more aware of the toxicity of our culture in general, maybe it was because some of the choreography changes were that drastic. But it left a sour taste in my mouth that I haven’t been able to wash out. I thought a long time about posting about it here, because I don’t want to unnecessarily disparage a group of people that for all I can see really do have their hearts in the right place. However.

The Slutcracker depicted and condoned rape (and rape culture) this year.

Instead of being happy and celebrating a sex-positive, slut-affirming (not shaming) giant ‘fuck you’ to rape culture, I left feeling like I had just witnessed the “progressive” version of that stomach-churning “joke” on Family Guy where the skeevy neighbor Quagmire chases Marge Simpson off the screen (out of a mock “coming up next” banner), there’s an off-screen tussle and then they both come back. Marge’s dress is ripped and she’s out of breath, and Quagmire says “See, baby? That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

First off, the most blatant depiction of rape:

At the end of the first act (where, in traditional ballets, the gingerbread army led by the Nutcracker defeats the Mouse King) there was a “battle” between the ‘square’ party guests and the “libertine” Drosselmyer and her living sex toys. The dildo “prince” is picked up by a group of dancers and that group pantomime forcible, non-consensual penetration of the party guests, who then crawl off stage in pantomimed agony.

How the hell is that OK?! How is this sex-positive? How is this not rape?

The troubling implicit endorsement of rape culture of the show as a whole can be summed up as follows:
You’re going to be forcibly exposed to and partake in (kinky, queer, non-normative) sex and you’re going to like it.

That first part of the equation – “You’re going to be exposed to and partake in kinky, queer, non-normative sex” – is something I’m so very, very enthusiastically for. I’m mildly kinky and bi myself and certainly have no qualms with non-normative sex. Bring it! Show how fun and sexy and utterly hot all of that can be – and do it while dancing to Tchaikovsky and head-to-toe in sparkles and stripping down to pasties. That’s why I come to see the Slutcracker!

But there was a consistent and problematic force that was part of that “exposure” – and it manifested most strikingly throughout in the first act, wherein Clara is dancing “No, no, no!” over and over again while Drosselmyer and company kept pressing her to accept the vibrator gift. I remember thinking – how many times does she have to say “NO” for it to stick? Since when does being “sexually repressed” (as implied by the show’s choreography) mean that a woman has no say in what she does or does not want?

“…and you’re going to like it.”
By the end of the second act, of course, she has thrown off the shackles of sexual repression and is gleefully partaking in all sorts of delightfully naughty things – and, at the very end, is successful in convincing her fiance to join her.
Hooray! The queer kinky folk have shown another poor repressed woman how to really have a good time! And it only took raping her friends and kidnapping her to another world to do it!

This kind of implict and explicit boundary crossing is something that I don’t want in my sex-positive environments. Sex should never be used as a weapon. Sex should never be forced on someone “for their own good”. Sex-as-a-coersion-tactic is rightfully called torture.

Sex-positive people, who proudly call themselves sluts and progressives and feminists, should fucking know better. And since we’re the ones leading the charge to transform rape culture – we HAVE to do better.

Bias in Language – So Far, So Good

I’ve gotten a few responses so far to Phase I of this research – I just need a few more and I can begin to structure Phase II. What’s interesting to note is that, among the responses so far, the most common positive word is “intelligent” and the most common negative word is “selfish”.

Won’t you add your $0.02? http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/G2TVRX9

Compliments and Insults Survey OPEN

Mea culpa for neglecting this blog through the holidays; I seem to have more projects than time as always.
BUT! I’m hereby embarking on Phase I of a research project examining gender bias in language – and I need your help!

It is, for all intents and purposes, a (hopefully) very large focus group that will inform the larger study.  It’s a 2-page, 6 question survey and will be invaluable in shaping Phase II of this research.

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/G2TVRX9

Many many thanks for your input.

A Senseless Death in Ireland

 THIS is why religion has no place in politics. Politics drive policy. And policy has very real consequences for everyone who lives in that society.  There is no longer room for dogmatic and irrational beliefs to frame those policies.

In case you missed it, a Hindu woman living in Ireland died of septicemia on October 28th after a week in the hospital,because Ireland’s abortion ban made it impossible for the medical staff to do their jobs and address the very real harm the dying fetus was causing the mother.

 Fair warning, this is horrific and rage-inducing:

 “Savita was really in agony. She was very upset, but she accepted she was losing the baby. When the consultant came on the ward rounds on Monday morning Savita asked if they could not save the baby could they induce to end the pregnancy. The consultant said, ‘As long as there is a foetal heartbeat we can’t do anything’.

“Again on Tuesday morning, the ward rounds and the same discussion. The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country. Savita [a Hindu] said: ‘I am neither Irish nor Catholic’ but they said there was nothing they could do.

“The next morning I said she was so sick and asked again that they just end it, but they said they couldn’t.”

At lunchtime the foetal heart had stopped and Ms Halappanavar was brought to theatre to have the womb contents removed. “When she came out she was talking okay but she was very sick. That’s the last time I spoke to her.”

At 11 pm he got a call from the hospital. “They said they were shifting her to intensive care. Her heart and pulse were low, her temperature was high. She was sedated and critical but stable. She stayed stable on Friday but by 7pm on Saturday they said her heart, kidneys and liver weren’t functioning. She was critically ill. That night, we lost her.”

 

Savita’s husband is now a widower for no other reason than someone, somewhere, decided that fetuses are of greater value than the women who bear them.

Make no mistake, harbor no illusion: Savita died because religious beliefs superseded medical expertise.

Savita’s husband is a widower for the simple reason that the law made it illegal for doctors to do their jobs.

 This is why religion has absolutely no place in politics. And it absolutely has no place in medicine.

 

Given the international nature of this senseless death – Savita was neither “Irish nor Catholic” – and the attention it is garnering, there is some hope that this tragedy will prompt Ireland to free themselves from the dogmatic grip of the viscous little man in red pajamas in the Vatican, at least when it comes to abortion. I don’t harbor the same hope, especially when shit like this is true, too:

 In a sign of how contentious the issue is in Ireland, the pro-life Youth Defence group, which campaigns against any change in the existing abortion laws, released a statement in response to the death stating that “Ireland’s ban on abortion does not pose a threat to women’s lives.”

 

You know, in a way, I can see how that logic makes sense to them– it seems that in this group’s worldview, pregnant women aren’t “women” anymore, but mysterious baby-making quasi-humans. So yeah, I guess it would make sense for them to say the abortion law “does not pose a threat to women’s lives”. Women can’t be pregnant, because if they are pregnant they aren’t women anymore, and so the abortion laws can’t harm women because abortion laws only apply to baby-making quasi-humans. QED!

 

The whole thing is stupefyingly outrageous, and reminds me only that I need to be doing more to make sure that this kind of theocratic, irrational, Dark Ages bullshit never, ever takes root in this country.

 

Starting with a big fat donation to Planned Parenthood.

Creeps and Geeks, Pt 2: Feeding the Silence

Here’s the tangled web that women by and large have to navigate in in these situations.* I think, despite many thoughts to the contrary, it’s possible that women are less safe than while in “geek culture” than while in the regular culture, and I believe that may be a result of a number of different factors.
Something to keep in mind with all of this: Geeky women, even while in geeky spaces, often have the same mainstream background noise to deal with as in any other space (ie., be nice, don’t make waves, don’t raise a fuss, minimize your discomfort if expressing it will make someone else feel bad, etc.). As women, we are trained from a very early age that other’s needs are more important than our own. In the mainstream culture, our self-expression is often limited, our intelligence is seen as threatening, our worth as human beings is often tied directly to our perceived attractiveness, and our sexuality is scrutinized by society at large and often defined solely by the desires of our (better be straight-and-male) partners.

Part of what is appealing about geek culture for many women – it certainly is for me – is the inclusiveness and subversiveness of it all. In Geekland, women (and men) seem to have much more leeway to be individuals first and objects-of-desire second. Gender roles can be more fluid, by and large. Intelligent, creative people are prized. The cultivation of an obscure hobby or talent makes you more interesting; voracious readers are seen as ideal dinner companions instead of antisocial freaks. It’s easier to be “not-normal” within a geeky subculture, and that can be very freeing and very precious.

For individuals for whom mainstream roles are confining, finding a social environment that has some wiggle room around what’s “acceptable” can be difficult to begin with. So when that social niche has been found, most people are loathe to give that up (or rock the boat) without a damn good reason.

Unfortunately, that leaves little room for error should a woman express discomfort at bad behavior. The potential that she might be the one facing backlash from the group for speaking up about bad behavior is depressingly high. So unless support from the group is known – without doubt – to be forthcoming, chances are a woman is unlikely to speak up in a situation in which she is being harassed. The stakes are usually much too high, especially when it comes to those “little” instances of harassment, to risk exile from a social environment she may otherwise view as haven from the norm.

The mental calculus that went through my mind on Saturday night – when a stranger’s invasion of my personal space and his implication that I was ‘trade-able’ was simply laughed off – is a good illustration: Is speaking up about what has been perceived as a “joke” worth the potential social cost? Is this “enough” of a transgression to be worth becoming persona non grata in this crowd? Most importantly, can I think of something charming enough to be socially acceptable yet harsh enough to get my point across? (I couldn’t.)

 

Secondly, there is a very entrenched notion in geeky cultures that “everyone’s just a little bit strange”, and that everyone’s “strangeness” is absolutely harmless, always. So if someone makes another person uncomfortable, maybe it’s just because they “just didn’t know”. Add to that a healthy dose of Geek Social Fallacies No. 1 and No. 2, and, well, it makes it really hard to call anyone out on crappy, creepy behavior. “Dude, you’re being creepy” carries a chance of being seen as “You’re just intolerant of the socially awkward”. I hate trying to run that gauntlet. Because that wail of “But you just don’t understaaannd!” is seriously grating and explaining over and over again that no, these kinds of behaviors actually ARE heinous – well, it’s kind of exhausting. And it’s one more barrier to speaking up against the bad behaviors of members of the group.

 

Relatedly, there is Geek Social Fallacy of Sex No. 3; as written by the awesome Holly over at The Pervocracy. I’m just going to quote her here, because it’s hard to improve this:

GSFS 3: Cool chicks don’t worry about sexism.
This isn’t exactly a sex thing but God does it plague some geek circles.  I know because I’ve been the cool chick.  I’ve played the “don’t worry, I’m not like those
other girls, I’m not into gossip and drama” card; I’ve played the “well, you have my permission to objectify me, because I take it as a compliment” card; I’ve even played the “that mean lady was such an uptight no-funster for having boundaries” card.

Those cards are the fuck out of my deck now.  And I’ve paid the social price for that.  There’s definitely some people in my circles who’ve put me in their “uptight no-funster” mental box since then, or who deliberately bait me about “watch out, Holly, I’m going to patriarchally oppress you!” because ahahaha she’s an angry little lady isn’t that cute.

I don’t blame a woman who sees this go on, decides she wants friends more than she wants to start fights about some abstract problem that doesn’t seem to affect her personally, and starts telling her male friends not to worry, they can be sexist around her, she’s cool.  The problem isn’t her.  The problem is all the people who made it so much easier and more pleasant for her to be a “cool chick” than a woman who gives a damn how people think of her gender.

The social cost for paying attention to this shit is steep. I’d like to think that I have some integrity, which means the bills are coming due. My unwillingness to let sexism slide will likely cost me dearly. It’s already led to some really uncomfortable IRL conversations that I wish I didn’t have to have. I wish that I could track down that POV gun and shoot anyone who says that sexism is easily ignorable and shouldn’t be a big deal.

 

Speaking of sexism, here’s another danger: the intelligent, clever people in geeky circles often think they can recognize sexism. They’d like to think they will speak out for gender equality and stand up to harassment and abuse in the group. But modern misogyny – especially in subcultures – isn’t as blatant as telling a woman they should be barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen. It’s a million little things that remind women (and effeminate men) that they are inferior and deserve to be treated as such. Those little things make up the fabric of the culture at large, and so are as acceptable as a little smog – yeah, it pollutes the air, but when you’re used to breathing it, who really notices it?

 

Lastly, there is another reason geeky women in geeky circles are (in some respects), less safe than while in the mainstream: It’s easy for everyone to let their guard down. Women may feel they are, as mentioned before, in an welcoming and safe environment which may initially feel to be less sexualized than “the world at large”.

The men, who may otherwise view themselves as feminist or on the side of social justice, may also let their guard down and may not be as sensitive to harassment or abuse because there is the perception that the women in the group are all strong, bullshit-calling, free-thinking, sex-positive feminists who would never let themselves get pushed around… right?

Add it all up and it’s no wonder the silence is deafening.

 

(Part Three will delve into the geeky social structure and systems itself; holy shit this is complicated and messy… hey! Just like real life!)

*Programming note: Yes, I am aware that men face harassment too, especially if they fall outside of any of the heteronormative boundaries they are circumscribed by. I am not about to try and characterize the male experience of this because I do not know enough about it. However, I will jump at the chance to learn.

By nature of this discussion, I will generalize, and since I am a woman I am only comfortable generalizing at all because I have my own own experience (and the experiences of other women) to inform the generalizations. Not every woman has this, or even remotely similar, experiences.

Creeps and Geeks, Part One

I know it’s not a news flash that geek circles have their share of creepy guys, just like other circles (see: “elevatorgate”). But it’s still depressing regardless.

This weekend, Elijah and I took part in a Santas vs. Zombies pub crawl/game of tag/birthday party with two of our friends and about 75 other “costume-wearing maniacs”. Elijah and I were both “Santas” – our role for the night was to avoid getting our santa hats taken by the zombie horde (you could get them back after being marked as Infected, usually by a lipstick or eyeliner Z scrawled somewhere on your face.)

The crowd seemed to me to be full of geeks, makers, punks, poly folk, steamers, etc – fundamentally an “alt-“, thoroughly geeky crowd. A crowd that I, mistakenly and probably stupidly, believed to be a (relatively safe space) in which to be a woman. Whoops.

Both of these boundary-crossings were (thankfully) mild.

The first was easily a “misunderstanding” but no less creepy even given the context of the game. Yes, while taking my santa hat is part of the game, that really does not mean you get to caress my head, hair, and back when you do so. Especially since I’ve already been marked as “zombified” and as a result am NOT expecting to be touched at all.

(Triple-plus-bonus creepy points for doing so after being way too close while we were in the bar, following me and my friend out of the bar “walking with us” to the next location, and waiting to do this until a deserted street between locations.)

The second transgression was so fantastically subtle (but still blatant) I can easily chalk up the non-reaction of the people around me as thinking it was a “joke”.

Outside of the last bar, Elijah was talking about being one of the last santas standing – ie, he still had his hat. A man, whom I do not even know his name – after walking over to me and putting his arm around my body, lightly pinning my arms –  said, “OK, you can keep your hat, but I’m taking this. Everybody wins!”

Cue laughter from the crowd while I’m tensed up and disbelieving that someone just reduced me property (“this”. Not “her”. “THIS”!… What The Fucking Fuck?!). I (literally) shrugged him off but I couldn’t think straight to call him out on it, which makes me even angrier.

 

In the first case I think it might (might!) be plain old-fashioned cluelessness as to What Makes Women Uncomfortable (because he seemed genuinely confused when he was called on it by my friends later in the evening). If so, someone should apply the Brickbat of Cosmic Enlightenment to his forehead to make sure it was genuine cluelessness and not actual predation.

The second is much more insidious – because it was laughed at, it remained unseen. It may have been something done without thinking about it’s meaning – ie, he really was “joking” – but it was condoned by the group at large with equal thoughtlessness. No one thought about what, exactly, he said and what he meant by that.

I’ve been contemplating the dynamics at work here that left me (and others!) so tongue-tied when these things happened that I did not speak up, even though I am not normally known for being shy, or withholding opinion or judgment.

 

That seems like a good Part Two.