I want to take a moment to talk about why we publicize these accusations. Tl;dr: We do it because we’re trying to make the community safer.
Those of us who talk about sexual harassment and assault, and other problems in the organized secular movement (and everywhere else, for that matter), are often accused of doing it for our own gain. We’re accused of doing it to increase traffic and boost our careers. And we’re accused of doing it to bring down people we don’t like. I’ve already addressed the first accusation: today, I want to speak to the second.
Richard Carrier was a friend of mine, as well as a colleague. We weren’t close friends, but we had a good social relationship and a good professional relationship. He’s been to multiple parties at our house (a fact that now gives me the creeps: I hate the thought that I may have exposed my friends to his behavior). We worked together at Freethought Blogs for a long time; we collaborated; we promoted each others’ work. And he was a public advocate for feminism and social justice within organized atheism. I was extremely distressed when I started hearing these accusations, and at first I didn’t want to believe them. But I heard more than one accusation, and some of my own conversations with Carrier made me uneasy about his sexual ethics. That’s when I began distancing myself from him, personally and professionally.
I’m not publicizing accusations against him because I don’t like him. I stopped liking him because I started hearing these accusations.
I’m going to say that again, in large boldface capital letters, since it seems to be all too easily overlooked:
To any cis/het people who are wondering why queer people, and especially Latinx and African-American queer people, are responding so strongly to the attack on Pulse in Orlando:
Did you grieve over 9/11, even if you didn’t personally know anyone who was killed? Did you feel frightened, angry, in shock? Did you feel that the attack was an attack on all of us? Did you realize it could easily have been you, or people you knew? Did it make you fear for your own safety? Did you wonder if there would be follow-up attacks, copycat attacks, or simply more attacks by people who hate us? Did you feel rage and bafflement at the idea of people having that much hatred towards you and people like you?
If so, you need to SIT THE FUCK DOWN and listen.
Note: I am not going to be patient in the comments.
CLAIM: Hillary Clinton purchased a $12,000 Giorgio Armani jacket to deliver a speech about income inequality.
FACT: Women’s bodies are treated as public property, and women in all professions and walks of life receive unsolicited judgements on our appearance as part of our everyday lives. And it is literally impossible for female public figures to get this right. Female public figures will be criticized for look frumpy, for looking expensive, for looking stylish, for looking out of date. Our bodies are treated as public property, and our appearance is relentlessly judged in a system we can’t possibly win.
Okay, no, that’s not what Snopes said. What Snopes actually said was, “Outrage over an expensive Armani jacket worn by Hillary Clinton was peppered with inaccurate details.” Details are at the link. I’m just saying, is all.
COMMENT POLICY FOR THIS POST: This post is not a place to discuss Clinton versus Sanders. It is a place to discuss the sexism of how women’s bodies are considered fair game for public commentary. Violators will be dealt will harshly. Thank you.
Comment policy: In addition to my usual comment policy, I’m going to add this one for this post: DO NOT comment here on the election itself, or the merits and terriblenessess of the candidates. Please keep comments narrowly focused on the topic at hand. Thanks.
Tl;dr: If you’re saying “Hillary,” please also say “Bernie,” “Donald,” and “Barack.” If you’re saying “Sanders,” “Trump,” and “Obama,” say “Clinton.” Don’t call Hillary Clinton by her first name and other candidates or political figures by their last.
It’s fairly common — in many arenas, not just the political one — to call women by their first names and men by their last. And yes, this is a problem. First names imply casualness, friendliness, some degree of intimacy. Last names imply professionalism, respect, some degree of distance. Traditionally (in much U.S. culture, anyway), adults call children by their first names, while children call adults by their last.
So when people use first names for women and last names for men, it positions women as less professional. It reinforces the stereotype of women as the friendliness-makers, the doers of emotional labor, whose job it is to be nice to everyone. It treats women as less deserving of respect. To the extent that it treats women as children or childish, it’s patronizing. All of this sucks in any situation — but it especially sucks in the political world. In the political world, all of this sends the message: Women are less capable, and less fit for office. Continue reading “Hillary Clinton and First Names”→
The Humanist Disaster Recovery Drive is raising funds to help victims of the recent Ecuador earthquake. On Saturday, April 16th, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit about 17 miles (27km) from Muisne, Ecuador at a relatively shallow depth of 11.9 miles (19.2km). Shallow earthquakes create more damage because of their proximity to the earth’s surface. On Sunday evening, the government reported that 246 people had died and 2,527 were injured.
With estimates of at least $100 million dollars in damage, a state of emergency has been declared and the casualties and damage reports are expected to rise as the rescue effort is ongoing. Disaster relief organizations such as Team Rubicon, UNICEF, and International Medical Corps are watching the situation and are expected to mobilize soon, and the Ecuador Red Cross has already mobilized in the affected region.
But there was one particular piece of this willfully ignorant, laughably hateful dreck that jumped out at me:
And yes, I know Persepolis started as a graphic novel – and very good it is too. But it’s an exception to the general rule that if you need to shave, you should be reading books where you have to make the pictures in your own head.
Really? Are we still, in 2016, seriously considering the question of whether comics and graphics novels are a serious form of literary art?
No. We’re not.
Mr. Rigby, I have a memo for you from 1992. That’s the year Maus won the Pulitzer Prize. It was the first graphic novel to do so. Maus is widely considered a watershed — not so much within the comics world itself, artists and fans had known this was an important art form long before that, but in the mainstream recognition of comics.
There was a time when comics were considered silly and childish, and artists and fans had to fight for critical recognition. But that time is long past. That time is so far in the past, it’s old enough to drink. The list of counter-examples is so long, you could spend a lifetime reading nothing else and still not make a dent. Comics and graphic novels have had widespread critical recognition for decades. Maus won the Pulitzer Prize in 19-freaking-92.
So when you start rambling about how childish comics are, you’re not making comics look foolish. You’re making yourself look foolish. You aren’t just undercutting your opinions about comics or pop culture — you’re undercutting your opinions about culture, period. You’re making yourself look willfully ignorant, willfully out-of-date, unwilling to consider the possibility that your personal aesthetic tastes do not constitute a substantive social critique. And you’re not going to be taken seriously by anyone other than the rest of the Old Men Cloud-Yelling Society.
Quick summary, for the six of you who were vacationing on Mars and may have missed it: Hillary Clinton recently said this utterly fucked-up thing about how Ronald and Nancy Reagan had “started a national conversation” about HIV and AIDS, and praising Nancy Reagan’s “low-key advocacy.” The Internet exploded with queers and others screaming about how this not only erased the reality of the many AIDS activists who actually did start the conversation about AIDS, but rewrote the history to laud the very people who had ignored AIDS, perpetuated the shame and silence about it, and caused the deaths of millions in the process. Clinton issued a brief apology on Twitter: the Internet exploded some more, with queers and others screaming about how this was nowhere near good enough, how Clinton’s historical revisionist bullshit needed a much stronger and clearer response than a 140-character apology. Clinton finally issued a more thorough statement, spelling out that the Reagans did not start a national conversation about HIV and AIDS, acknowledging the activists who did start the conversation, and discussing the history of AIDS and AIDS activism in the U.S.
After the first apology, during the second round of the explosion, a number of people expressed bafflement and even disapproval at the exploders. “Why do you have to keep talking about this?” they asked. “She apologized in her tweet. What else do you want? You’re giving Donald Trump and the GOP ammunition. Why don’t you let it go? Why do you keep pressuring her? What do you hope to accomplish?”
Speaking for myself, and for some others but not all: What we hoped to accomplish was the second statement.
We got Clinton to learn some important history that matters to us, and to use her sizable platform to educate others about it. We got millions of other people to learn this important history. We got the actual national conversation about AIDS that she’d claimed the Reagans had started. We put a serious dent in the disgusting, revisionist Reagan hagiography — and we got Clinton to help us do that. And we got her to realize that we are not to be fucked with, and that she cannot take us for granted.
The second statement was not perfect. I wish she had explained how she made this ghastly mistake in the first place; I wish she hadn’t praised herself and her platform (that definitely undercuts an apology); I wish she had actually said “I’m sorry” (she did in her tweet, she didn’t here). But there were things about the statement that were surprisingly good. It was a pretty good brief summary of the history of HIV/AIDS, and the points it addressed about the current U.S. epidemic and what needs to be done about it were very on-point: a number of people I know who work in public health or HIV say it could have been written by one of them. And she gave a shout-out to ACT UP, which was surprising and awesome. I’m not sure any serious Presidential candidate has done that before.
We would not have gotten any of that if we hadn’t kept pressing.
There’s something important about this incident that I think some people may not be tracking on. It’s almost impossible to convey what it was like to be in the LGBT community during the worst years of the AIDS pandemic, when your friends and community were dying in huge numbers, the government was ignoring it at best, and most of the world was laughing, scolding, shaming, shunning, or worse. The scars from those years run deep (here is an extraordinary piece of writing about it by Tim Kingston on the Grief Beyond Belief website). And there were so many people who had to put a lid on their grief when it was happening, who had to just put their heads down and cope. When people saw the Reagans being lauded as heroes of the epidemic — the very people who were arguably most complicit in what can fairly be described as a genocide — the lid came off. When you saw the Internet explode, you weren’t just seeing a Presidential candidate criticized for a dreadful gaffe. You were seeing over 25 years of pent-up grief and rage.
I’ll be honest and clear: It wasn’t just straight people, or people who didn’t live through the worst years of the pandemic, who were trying to convince us to quit screaming. LGBT people, people who were around during those days, were saying it as well. There is, of course, a huge variety among our community, including a variety of responses to AIDS and the way people speak about it. And when it comes to an issue that’s this emotional, this traumatic, this loaded with personal grief and political rage, it can be hard when other people who went through it are responding differently; when other people are more pragmatic or more ideological, more diplomatic or more hard-assed, more willing to forgive or less. My own general rule is that, within some obvious broad limits of ethics and legality, people get to speak about their own marginalization any way they like, and people get to decide for themselves who they forgive and when. When emotions are running high, though, I get that this can be hard.
But speaking up makes a difference. Demanding accountability from the people who represent us, or who are asking to represent us, makes a difference. Do not tell people who went through a genocide how to speak about it.
(Note: Please DO NOT turn this into a Sanders/Clinton election thread. I will enforce this, possibly without second chances.)
“If you’re such a feminist, why didn’t you say anything about this particular incident? If you care about social justice, why weren’t you willing to debate that guy? A major news event happened this week — why were you just writing about pop culture?”
It occurs to me that this is just another way to trivialize and silence. The expectation that every writer address every topic that’s even vaguely in their wheelhouse — it’s ridiculously burdensome. If that’s the bar for participating in public discourse, it’s so high a kangaroo couldn’t jump it. And it’s another way to control the conversation. Privilege includes getting to decide which topics are important and which ones aren’t — whether that’s telling people to calm down about things they’re upset about, or telling them what to aim their anger at instead.
So because I’m tired of answering this question, and other people are tired of answering this question, I’m writing this all-purpose reply we can link to any time it’s asked.
Why didn’t I write about (X)? The reason could be any of the following:
I was busy writing about something else.
I was on deadline writing about something else.
I was recovering from the really hard work I put into writing something else.
I’ve been writing about that topic a lot lately, and decided I needed to change it up a bit.
Lots of other people were writing about it, and I didn’t feel a need to add my voice this time.
I didn’t hear about it soon enough for my contribution to be timely.
My ideas about it are complicated and still developing, and I didn’t want to think out loud on this one.
I knew it would spark a firestorm of controversy, and I didn’t have time or energy to handle it that week.
I was sick that week.
I was taking care of personal business.
I was on vacation.
I was taking a mental-health break from heavy topics.
I was writing about some other heavy topic.
Finally, and most importantly:
I was writing about cats or chocolate pie or Steven Universe, and it’s none of your damn business what I write about. I am not a public utility: I am not a fire hydrant of insightful commentary for you to point at any issue you’re interested in. The people who get to do that are the editors who pay me money. And I am not the New York Times: I don’t even pretend to write all the news that’s fit to print. I write all the news that catches my attention at a moment when I have time and energy to write about it.
If there’s an issue you think I might be interested in, by all means send it my way: just don’t do it with a sense of entitlement. If I have a pattern of missing a particular issue that would normally be in my wheelhouse — like there’s a form of marginalization I consistently overlook when I write about social justice stuff — please do let me know about it. And if a writer or publication does aspire to be the Progressive Times, the Feminist Times, the Atheist Times, it’s worth looking at holes in their coverage. But even the Feminist Times couldn’t address every single incident of sexism and misogyny. It’s transparently laughable to insist that this makes everything they say irrelevant.
If you like my writing and are interested in what I write about, read it. If not, don’t. But do not try to shame me out of writing by setting an impossibly high bar and berating me for not clearing it. I write about plenty of weighty topics, and you don’t get to tell me which ones. My voice, my right to decide.
In December 2015, world leaders are convening in Paris soon for the critical U.N. climate talks. The Letters to the Future project is collecting letters written to future generations of their own families, predicting the success or failure of the Paris talks and what came after. (The letters will be sent to targeted delegates and citizens convening at the Paris talks.)
Are you living in a reasonably healthy world? I don’t imagine you’re in a Utopia: I know human nature too well. But are you okay? Is there enough water, food, power, medicine? Is your daily life manageable, even joyful?
Or is it too hot, too dry, to sustain human life in any tolerable way? Is the world overrun with famines, mass migrations, epidemics, wars? Does my beautiful city of San Francisco even exist, or have the waters risen and drowned it? Are you not even reading this letter, because the world has disintegrated so badly that “reading letters from the past on the Internet” is not a priority, or even an option?
Did we fix this in time?
I think about social change activists of my day, and I often wonder if we’re all fools. If we don’t fix global warming, every other fight we’re fighting — for fair housing and voting rights, against misogyny and racism and plutocracy — will be a moot point. If we don’t fix global warming, now, today — game over.
I know that’s not fair. I know we all need to do the work that inspires us. And I know all these struggles are connected. Part of the reason I work so hard for a more rational, evidence-based world is that I want more people to acknowledge that global warming is real, and to take it seriously. But I often wonder if all of us — not just all activists, but all humans — are foolish beyond description to work on anything but global warming, with every scrap of power we have.
I’m an atheist and a humanist, and I have no notion that there’s another life, another world, where everything will be okay. I accept that this life is our only one, this planet the only home we have. If we don’t fix global warming, it’s game over. And I love this game. I love life. As terrible as it can be, as much as it’s filled with suffering and brutality, I love life, and humanity, and the world. So I’m working to get this right. I’m persuading as many people as I can to get this right.
In July 1938, when polled on their attitudes toward allowing German, Austrian & other political refugees to come into the US, two-thirds of Americans said we should try to keep them out. Another 18% said it would be okay to accept them, but only if it didn’t mean raising our immigration quotas. Less than five percent said we should encourage them to come.
This is one of the greatest shames in U.S. history.
Let’s not repeat it.
There are already people rushing to explain why these situations are not the same. There are already people rushing to insist that the Syrian refugees are part of ISIS or Al-Qaeda (“the Jewish refugees are dangerous anarchists and communists!”); that the Syrian refugees won’t be able to assimilate because they have low IQs (seriously?); that the two situations can’t be compared because reasons, or no reason given at all. Of course the situations aren’t identical: no two situations are. But they are damn well similar enough that we should be paying attention.
The Syrian refugees are not ISIS. The Syrian refugees are fleeing from ISIS, and from conditions created by ISIS. Let’s not repeat one of the most shameful mistakes in our history. Let’s not have to explain to our grandchildren why, in one of the greatest humanitarian crises faced by our generation, we let fear and willful ignorance overcome compassion.