Dear Less Famous Feminists: Language Miss!

Harriet J has a largely brilliant post over at RH Reality Check.  In it she makes a passionate plea for famous feminists to stand up to Naomi Wolf’s execrable defense of Julian Assange.  (Before we get started, I want to make clear that there is a difference between believing the charges against Julian are politically motivated – which I do – and failing to take the issue of rape seriously).  The issue at hand is how we talk about consent, and that is a very important conversation to have.  However on reading her post I was jarred by running into the unfamiliar terms “Zhe” and “Hir”. Had Harriet become a lolcat? No, it turns out she was simply using gender neutral terms.

This is a problem.

The English language badly needs gender neutral pronouns, this is true.  However Harriet’s use of them in her post were counterproductive for a few reasons:

  1. She does not use them consistently.  This is confusing for the reader.
  2. To the uninformed they are obstacles to understanding.

The consistency issue is self explanatory.  If you are going to make use of new pronouns you need to do so consistently, not haphazardly.

It is the obstacle they create that is crucial.  The issues of consent and the Assange case specifically are both hot button issues.  Communicating clearly is essential.  Given the relative obscureness of gender neutral pronouns (and lacking any introduction), they appear as typos and function as the sort of specialized language one might find in a term paper – jargon.  Jargon serves a useful purpose – it can form a mental shortcut of sorts – a method for passing larger amounts of information in a shorter amount of space.  However technically specific language is the domain of the specialist – not the layperson.  The use of such language alienates potential supporters.

As for her point, it is well made.  Naomi Wolf’s comments on rape need to be answered by someone who can concisely convey that there is more to rape than overt physical violence.

Its Hard to Say Rape

Its hard to say rape, nevermind talk about it.  Yet talking about rape is the surest way to fight it.  Leaving rape as an unspeakable part of our discourse leaves victims and criminals out of the public consciousness, and only serves to aide rapists and rape-apologists.  The more we talk about rape, the less they have to stand on.

I’d like to talk about the date rape scene in Observe and Report, as well as Lil Wayne’s interview on Jimmy Kimmel.  They both provide an opportunity to discuss one of the more problematic and persistent aspects of rape apologetics: the notion that the victim deserves or wants the rape to occur.  (Trigger Warning).

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Movie Idea! A Proposal

Movie idea!  A man is about to be deported to Canada, and to keep his high powered job, orders his assistant to marry him, or he’ll fire her.  Afraid of losing her job, she complies, and through a series of endearing mishaps falls in love with her boss.

Switch the roles and its an instant romantic comedy staring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds.

There’s no way a movie where a man forces a woman into marriage would sail through the sea of public opinion unscathed.  Strangely I doubt that  “The Proposal” is going to offer a revealing deconstruction of gender stereotypes and the role power in social and professional relationships.  Its become vaguely acceptable in mainstream culture to write in jokes about rape, assault, and harrasment as long as the its a woman doing it to a man.

What do you think of this?  I wonder to what degree it forms an overton window.  If female on male abuse of power/sexual crime moves past acceptable discourse into mainstream culture, does male on female abuse/crime tag along into acceptable discourse?

Researchers Still Studying Virginity Pledges

Its 2008, and somewhere out there a researcher is thinking:

“By Golly, I wonder if virginity pledges work?  Better start another study.”

We could deprive teenagers of all but 4 hours a day for sleep, remove their sense of sight, and send them to school in chastity contraptions that would make Houdini shudder, and they’d still find a way to have sex.  The sooner we start from reality rather than a fantasy fueled by a fervent desire for “purity” amongst the young, the faster we’ll be able to ensure teens have healthy, safe sex.

the results, published in the journal Pediatrics, suggest that virginity pledgers are less likely to protect themselves against pregnancy or disease when they do have sex.

This is directly in line with studies on the various forms of abstinence education.  I’m sure a similar study on kids who attend “chastity balls” with their parents would yield the same results.  We get it.  The point has been made and proved.  Additional studies won’t be worth a damn against the religious right, who will continue championing the ideal of purity at the expense of teenage sexual health no matter what kind of research comes out.

GodTube: Sex Before Marriage

The video itself isn’t remarkable.  It compares marrying someone who has had pre-marital sex to getting an order in a restaurant a previous patron has already eaten.  Would that make marital sex like eating the same order over and over again?  While the endless cycle of regurgitation and ingestion hinted at does provide some mirthful moments, the comments section is a fascinating read.  Most of the comments express disgust with the video with a few “yay let’s be holy and chaste” shout outs sprinkled throughout.  This one comment really stood out (emphasis mine):

Just so you know, this vid is circling the net right now, garnering ridicule and outrage from folks who are intelligent, compassionate Christians. No, the circulation of this vid will not help you “spread your message”…if anything it will harden even more hearts, and probably turn more hearts against God. We are fortunate that one of the creators of this has explained himself (comments below) and is even intelligent enough to understand the flaw of his work. He even sums up the major problem with most “Creative Arts Ministries” in America; There is too much interest in condemnation and reinforcing negative prejudices. It is created solely for shock value (the “shock” aspect being questionable at best, and regarded by most young people as “lame” at worst). There is little or no interest by the people using the creative arts to present God’s message in showing/exploring the teachings of love, the railing against hypocrisy, and the values of compassion…these are the cornerstone of Christ’s teachings. Instead, these folks capitalize on kid’s fears and insecurities. The more intelligent young people who view this vid will see it for what it is: a desperate attempt by people who claim to “get it” to maintain the status quo. Your arrogance will drive them away. The more easily swayed will, sadly, take these values more to heart. They will take a condescending stance towards those they can easily label as sinners. They will place themselves higher than others, because you teach them it is right to do so. I ask you: If call yourselves Christians, how do you have ANY right to judge others?

I keep the reactions to videos like this in mind when considering national politics.  There’s always that segment of the population who could care less what specifically a candidate says so long as they believe in Reagan as their lord and savior.  For them the concept of truth boils down to “does it reinforce my beliefs?”.

Posting this again for “cooket” since he is so “high and mighty” This video was done for our youth group a couple years ago and was for total shock value. The message was covered with Grace and love and truth. Looking back, I don’t think I would have changed anything about the video, but I think I would have make a part 2 showing the Grace side. Blessings, Vince

In addition to turning people off to the compassionate activist side of Christianity, the thinking exposed by the reactions to this video show a very watered down concept of truth and identity.  How many of the children in that youth group who tone down their faith to sane and have sex before marriage will internalize the video’s message?  If their concept of self and correct action always comes down to an argument from authority, its no surprise the religious right is cannon fodder for this nation’s fascist tendencies.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention I got wind of the GodTube item from my friend Brad.  Doh!

Bullshitting Against Feminism

In an otherwise sharp post (a professor suing students?  wtf?), hairybeast let’s loose some really smelly bull:

Back in the 1980’s, feminists ran into a scientific wall. Their assertion that the genders were equal in all things (aside from certain surface physical abilities) began springing leaks when science departments on campus (who had originally been recruited to prove the truth of this) started collecting data that belied this article of feminist faith. Like a series of underground A-Bomb tests, the controversy rumbled below the surface for years. The controversy pitted geeky science profs against hairy-legged feminists (neither likely to get laid by the opposite sex) and became so toxic that womens studies departments even picketed their own science departments. But most of the battle was conducted in faculty meetings, with feminists flexing their political muscle to squelch research projects they now knew were likely to produce results inimical to their faith, or throw heretics out of the bunker (*Cough! Larry Summers!). But the truth eventually leaked out.

Gah.

The sexes (sex being physiological, gender being pyschological) do have differences.  Women have a slightly larger corpus callousum.  They don’t have a smaller forebrain.  They don’t have a shriveled husk of a hippocampus.  In short, the idea of a biological basis for any observable differences in the performance of men and women in particular fields isn’t supported.  Not by science anyway.  But pop science might have a few pointers for desperate anti-feminists.  Speaking of desperate, what’s with the hairy legged feminist stereotype?  Seriously, you’re breaking that out hairybeast?  And they have trouble getting laid?  Nice.  Way to imply this professor just needs to get laid.  Haven’t heard misogynistic tripe like that before.  Very original sir.

The only truth about differences between the sexes is the very real barriers our society constructs and heavily reinforces.  And that is a truth far too many people refuse to acknowledge, let alone tackle.

Having taken classes where a professor considered disagreement with his politics evidence of lack of effort on the part of the student, I think what this professor did was incredibly stupid and shitty.  Why couldn’t hairybeast have pointed that out without trotting out an irrational hatred of women and liberals?  (all while accusing the same of irrationality with a deeply seated irony.  Bonus.)

Natural Relations and Fear

Sush has posted a really thoughtful thread on what meanings one might find behind the phrase Unnatural Relations (emphasis mine):

In that way I’ve always thought of human sexuality as transcending “natural relations”, because we have made sex about more than fulfilling a lust or procreating. Sex, to me, is about two people learning to be one. It is about give and take, sacrifice and dominance, learning to be in control and out of it, giving of yourself and taking of another. That is far more than simply nature, it is a metaphor for all things real and spiritual. It is the dance of creation itself- not because it makes life but because it IS life.

So what is unnatural? Is it unnatural to have sex in a way that doesn’t lead to procreation? Is it a sin to use birth control? Is it a sin when a married and committed couple engage in mutual masturbation or anal sex? Where exactly is the line between natural and unnatural? Is the only holy sex that which is done in the dark with socks still on and both feeling a little embarrassed afterwards?

Shush has a really beautiful way of putting how we approach sex as a society.  In many ways we are socialized to feel shame about our bodies, and sex involves expressing our bodies a most intimate and messy way.  Breaking through that socially induced fear and experiencing sex as the “dance of creation” is, I think, a vital part of experiencing a full and healthy life.  It is also central to the worldview that validates rather than punishes the sexual act, and accepts different expressions of it between two consenting adults.

The spiritual path is one that teaches one to overcome and eventually eliminate fear.  It should never, ever instill new fears and anxieties.  As a society we might take a good hard look at what the politics of sexual fear and shame that crops up in organized religion does for us, and what it takes away.  Upon inspection we won’t find an equal trade.