Sharing tables with strangers: Guest post by Donna Jay

This is a guest post by Donna Jay. Her opinions do not necessarily reflect mine, although they’re obviously sympatico enough for me to post this piece. Content note: sexism, sexualization of women. -GC

internet cafe shared table

A strange thing happened today. I asked to share a table with a man at a coffee shop. He agreed. I sat down. We arranged our items on the table. Our interaction stopped there.

Okay, maybe this requires a little explanation. You see, recently I started pushing myself to go out more rather than staying home alone, feeling sorry for myself. I had an injury that consumed my life. So I would go to the coffee shop to write or sometimes take up a stool at the local bar and grab a beer or head to the park to lie on the grass and read. While interacting with another human was a possibility, it wasn’t necessarily my goal. I was becoming homebound. The longer I stayed in the harder it would be to go out, so I pushed myself to go out.

In the course of my simple outings, something strange kept happening – men assumed I was trying to pick them up. The interaction above was remarkable for what it did not include. After I sat down I did not hear any of the following:

• I have a girlfriend
• I am married
• I am not looking to meet anyone
• You’re really not my type
• I prefer (insert size, age or ethnicity here) women

Yes, the simple act of asking to share a table in a crowded coffee shop was seen as an invitation. I was looking for the sex. Except, of course, I was not. I only asked to share if no tables were available. I was looking for room for my ass in a chair and my laptop or book and a pot of tea on a table. My desires were very simple.

Similar things happened at bars and restaurants. When I would take the only open seat that happened to be near a man I would again get informed of their relationship status. If unattached, I might get to hear how I, a fiftyish, large, white-appearing woman did not meet their fuckability standards. After all, I was neither petite nor exotic nor young nor . . . . I was once informed that I might want to try the back of the bar; there were guys there who might be more interested. Clearly back bar guys like to watch women drink a beer and read from their kindle or watch TV. The back bar guys are all kinds of kinky that way.

This happened so often I started to question how I was presenting myself to the world. Continue reading “Sharing tables with strangers: Guest post by Donna Jay”

Sharing tables with strangers: Guest post by Donna Jay

What the Bechdel Test Means — And What It Doesn’t

The Bechdel Test is not — repeat, NOT — the sole test of whether a movie (or any story) is sexist. In fact, by itself, it’s not even A test of whether a story is sexist. It is not a test of whether a story is feminist, or whether the writer or writers are feminist. It is not a test of whether a story has strong female characters, awesome female characters, or admirable female characters.

The Bechdel Test is a test of one metric, and one metric only: Does the story revolve around men, or do women have their own lives? And while it’s sometimes appropriate to apply the test to individual movies or other stories, in general it makes much more sense to apply it to the film industry as a whole, and to show persistent patterns in pop culture.

essential dykes to watch out for book cover

In case you’re not familiar with it: The Bechdel Test comes from a Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip by Alison Bechdel, later of Fun Home fame. In it, two women are discussing whether to see a movie, and one says she’ll only see a movie if (a) it has two women in it, who (b) talk to each other, (c) about something other than a man. (She says that the last movie she could see was Alien — two women talk about the monster.) Later discussions of the Bechdel Test have refined and clarified it: the usual standard now is that the two women have to be named characters (i.e., if Woman At Bar #1 discusses the overly-warm martini with Woman At Bar #2, it doesn’t count). It’s a ridiculously low bar, and yet large numbers of movies fail to clear it. The Bechdel Test sometimes gets cited as The Test For Whether A Movie Is Sexist — and in a classic straw-feminist tactic, the fact that it fails at this is given as a reason for why it should be dismissed entirely. So I come back to my point:

The Bechdel Test is a test of one metric, and one metric only. It tests whether a given story revolves around men, or whether women are depicted as having have their own lives even to a small degree. And while people sometimes bring it up with individual movies — “Why didn’t The Avengers pass the Bechdel Test?” “Does The Lego Movie pass the test?” — it’s much more a test of common pop culture patterns. When it’s applied to single movies, it’s usually in service of pointing out the pattern. And while sexist patterns of this form are often unconscious, there’s at least one report of this one deliberately being taught in film school.

Matrix movie poster
Here’s why I bring this up. Ingrid and I were watching The Matrix the other day (me for the first time since it came out in 1999, her for the first time at all). We started wondering if it passed the Bechdel Test; and rather than watch the whole movie again, we decided to go to one of the many Bechdel Test websites and discussion boards. On this particular discussion board, some people discussed whether the movie was lacking in strong female characters; or they objected to putting The Matrix in the “fail” category, since Trinity is a powerful character and therefore the movie isn’t “anti-female.”

Sigh. Yes, Trinity is a powerful character. But that’s not what the Bechdel test is testing. It’s testing whether women talk to each other about something other than men. It’s testing whether the story revolves around men.

It’s testing who the world is about.

If men talk with each other a ton about their mission, their jobs, which road to take, which guns to use, which restaurant to go to, which religion is true, which farts are funnier — and women only talk to each other about men — that tells you who the story is about. That tells you who the world is about. Continue reading “What the Bechdel Test Means — And What It Doesn’t”

What the Bechdel Test Means — And What It Doesn’t

#mencallmethings: “frigid Stygian-witch”

Content note: misogyny

Quick bit of context: There’s news that filmmaker Michael Moore wants to make a movie about atheism and atheist comedians, featuring (sigh) Bill Maher, Seth MacFarlane, Ricky Gervais, and Sarah Silverman. I posted a brief series of tweets tagging Michael Moore, saying, “Re proposed ‘Kings of Atheism’: If it happens, please, PLEASE, have it include plenty of atheist women and atheists of color.” “Media representation of atheists typically is overwhelmingly white and male. Makes many atheists feel unwelcome in our community.” “In particular, Seth MacFarlane’s repeated, unrepentant sexism makes women atheists feel unwelcome when he represents atheism.” In the ensuing discussion, which included a list of several women comedians who might be good additions to the movie, I got this response:

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 12.37.24 PM

“Why not invite Janeane Garofalo, Julia Sweeney, Kathy Griffin? Could have been a more interesting atheist/com group”

“Besides the fact that they arent funny, but probably not as reactionary as frigid Stygian-witch Greta

Right. Because if you’re trying to convince the world that there isn’t a misogyny problem in atheism and there’s no need for a major media production about atheism to have diversity of gender and race, the best way to make your case is by calling women reactionary and frigid, and insulting them for being old. (I’m assuming that’s what the “Stygian-witch” bit was about.)

#mencallmethings

Continue reading “#mencallmethings: “frigid Stygian-witch””

#mencallmethings: “frigid Stygian-witch”

Hillary Clinton and First Names

Hillary Clinton logo
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”

Hillary Clinton and First Names

Women Are Not Consumer Goods: Lessons on Modesty and Chastity

store photo

Content note: sexism, objectification of women, rape and sexual assault, victim blaming for rape and sexual assault.

Women are not consumer goods.

When women are given advice about sex and clothing, when we’re advised to be chaste and modest, a striking amount of that advice compares us to consumer goods. We’re told that we’re chewing gum, and nobody wants gum other people have chewed. We’re told that we’re candy, and nobody wants candy without the wrapper. We’re told that we’re iPads, so our manufacturer recommends using covers which protect us and make us more beautiful. We’re told that we’re diamonds or pearls, buried deep in the ground or the ocean, valuable because we’re hard to reach. We’re told that we’re shoes, and nobody wants used, smelly, second-hand shoes. We’re told that we’re apples: the best are the hard-to-reach ones at the top of the tree, the worst are the rotten ones that fall off the tree and can be picked up by anyone, and only the best of men will go to the trouble of climbing the tree for the apples that are hard to get. We’re told that we’re cars or expensive watches or wads of cash, and if we’re left unlocked, or are flashed in dangerous neighborhoods, we should expect to be stolen. We’re told that we’re meat, and if we’re dangled in front of hungry dogs we should expect to get eaten. We’re told that we’re cows and that sex with us is milk, and we’re asked why anyone would buy the cow if they could get the milk for free.

And somehow, all of this is supposed to make us feel valued, and is supposed to teach us to value ourselves. Continue reading “Women Are Not Consumer Goods: Lessons on Modesty and Chastity”

Women Are Not Consumer Goods: Lessons on Modesty and Chastity

Creepy Exes and Colonialism: Hamilton’s “You’ll Be Back”

Hamilton album cover
Content note: domestic abuse, imperialist oppression, mild Hamilton spoilers

It’s such a catchy, peppy tune. A classic in the “sad spurned ex-lover” genre, in the sub-genre of “denial about the romance being over.” The character singing the song has no self-awareness about this, but the songwriter clearly does, and the song is written with a wink to the audience. How funny and clever — to frame King George III reacting to the American colonies’ independence as if he were a bitter ex-lover, certain that his ex will miss him terribly, and determined to get them back.

Then it gets to the line about “I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love.” And everything comes into sharp focus — through a completely different lens.

If you haven’t been evangelized yet by frenetic fans: Hamilton is the enormously successful, critically-acclaimed, totally-fucking-brilliant Broadway musical, mostly in hip-hop, rap, and R&B, about the life and death of Alexander Hamilton. “You’ll Be Back” is sung by King George III in response to the colonies’ increasing shows of independence: it’s one of the few songs that’s sung by a white actor, and it’s in a different musical genre — the genre of British Invasion pop. (Lyrics; audio.)

Here’s the genius thing about “You’ll Be Back” (well, one of the genius things): It uses the pop-song trope of the creepy ex-lover as an analogy for colonialism. It uses colonialism as an analogy for creepy ex-lovers. And it uses both to critique the entire trope, to take down pop songs that show lovers or ex-lovers being creepy, controlling, patronizing, unwilling to accept breakups, stalkerish, even threatening or violent — and that present all of it as romantic. Continue reading “Creepy Exes and Colonialism: Hamilton’s “You’ll Be Back””

Creepy Exes and Colonialism: Hamilton’s “You’ll Be Back”

Problems With Consent In a Show I Love Dearly: Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation banner

Content note: consent violations, passing mentions of sexual assault, Parks and Recreation spoilers

I love the show. I want no mistake about that. Parks and Recreation is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. It’s smart and funny, entertaining and original, with that slightly-exaggerated realism that lets it touch on truth about human experience while giving it room to be ridiculous. It has lots of amazing female characters. Its core relationships include a friendship between two women and a friendship between a man and a woman, neither of them sexual or romantic. It’s better than average on diversity (although I’d be interested to see some writing about the show by people of color). It aces the Bechdel test with gold stars and extra credits. And it’s an all-too-rare example of a comedy show where most of the main characters treat each other decently most of the time. It’s proof positive that affectionate and supportive human relationships have plenty of fodder for both conflict and comedy. It’s hilarious and comforting at the same time, and that’s very, very rare. I’ve watched it all the way through about five times now, and I’m getting ready to do another round. (If you’re going to start, I suggest you begin with Season 3; if you want to test the waters with just one or two episodes, I’d recommend S4 E6, “End of the World,” or S5 E10, “Two Parties.”)

Please bear all that in mind.

Parks and Recreation kind of sucks when it comes to consent.

Chris Traeger
A few examples. Chris asks Ann out multiple times, even though she keeps saying no — and Ann says to Leslie, “He is nothing if not persistent.” No, no, no, no, no. This idea that persistence is flattering and that refusing to take No for an answer promotes jolly good fun or is an admirable romantic trait — this isn’t just annoying. It’s dangerous. It’s a pop culture trope that needs to be taken out into the street and shot. (S3 E1, “Go Big or Go Home”)

tom haverford
Tom pesters Ann to date him a second time, even though she says No vehemently and several times. She finally gives in and says Yes, saying, “Dude, you wore me down.” Immediately after, in a one-on-one with the camera, Tom says, “The four sweetest words in the English language — ‘You wore me down.'” See above. No, no, no, no, no. Again, this isn’t just annoying. It’s dangerous. It’s an attitude that can make the world an uninhabitable misery for women just trying to live our lives, and it’s an attitude that can lead to sexual assault. (S4 E15: “Dave Returns”)

Tom flat-out deceives Nadia and wastes hours of her time so he can hit on her — in his government office, in his capacity as a government official, providing a service she had paid for as a taxpayer. And when he finally comes clean (or rather, when April comes clean for him), Nadia actually considers the question of whether this was romantic or totally scary — and concludes that it was romantic. She also dismisses his deceptions, chalking them up to “weird panicky dude behavior.” (S6 E4, “Gin It Up”)

Leslie Knope
Leslie refuses to accept Ben’s unwillingness to stay friends after their break-up — and interferes with his love life with other women. This is classic creepy, stalkerish ex-lover behavior. The fact that it’s done by a woman doesn’t make it okay. Yes, she eventually realizes that this isn’t okay and she needs to back off. But her behavior isn’t presented as stalkerish. It’s presented as overzealous, but understandable and cute and funny. Ann even tells Leslie that her tendency to steamroll over what other people want is a sign of her passion, and that while she needs to dial it back, it’s not a sign that she’s a bad person. (S4 E6-8, “End of the World,” “The Treaty,” “Smallest Park.”)

There’s also a trope, repeated so many times in the show I can’t even count them or document them, where people hug someone who’s explicitly said they don’t want to be hugged — and this gets presented as a sign of overflowing affection. It’s presented as a sign that when you love someone, sometimes you just have to hug them, even if they don’t want to be hugged, have said they don’t want to be hugged, and are visibly uncomfortable with being hugged.

And I have to add this to the list, even though it puts a knife through my heart — the entire early romance of Leslie and Ben.

I love Leslie and Ben. I love their romance and their friendship, their political relationship and their marriage. I love how in their marriage vows, they say, “I love you and I like you.” (Okay, tearing up a bit now.) But when Chris disciplines Leslie and Ben for their workplace romance, he’s not wrong. There are good reasons for having a policy that prohibits sexual relationships between bosses and their subordinates. And it’s not just because of the reasons Chris gives, that these relationships can lead to fraud, corruption, and misuse of public funds. It’s because these relationships can constitute abuse of power, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. It works out well with Leslie and Ben, but that’s not a good enough reason to suspend these rules or discard them. That just means they got lucky. (S4 E9, “The Trial of Leslie Knope”)

All of these characters are depicted as delightful. Tom is something of an annoying would-be player, but he’s never seen as predatory, and everyone is shown to be warm, affectionate, caring, likeable, and generally awesome. And none of this behavior is presented as troubling flaws in otherwise good people. It’s presented as just normal — annoying at worst, charming at best.

I love Parks and Recreation. Among the many, many things I love about the show, I love how (usually) feminist it is. But I’m not going to limit my pop-culture political critiques to blatantly sexist stuff I can’t stand. Lousy consent in pop culture helps normalize lousy consent. And when that happens in an otherwise-feminist show, it normalizes it in a whole different way. If feminist icon Leslie Knope winks at troubling consent and even perpetrates it herself, it makes it seem even more okay, even more like the ordinary quirks of healthy dating and romance.

We can critique the politics of pop culture and still enjoy it. I’m not going to give my favorite show a pass just because it’s a feminist favorite — or just because it’s my favorite show.

Problems With Consent In a Show I Love Dearly: Parks and Recreation

Godless Perverts Social Club in Oakland, Thursday March 17!

Godless Perverts Social Club Oakland March 2016
Godless Perverts is having a Social Club in our wonderful new Oakland location, Thursday, March 17! 7-9 pm. We have a new location for the Oakland Godless Perverts Social Clubs — we’re now meeting at Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe, 1805 Telegraph Avenue, next to the Fox Theater (and right near the 19th St. Oakland BART station). Rudy’s Can’t Fail is a fun, friendly space that serves meals, small bites, beer, cocktails, soft drinks, and desserts. We’re meeting in the back room/ dining car, which is ridiculously cute: the dining car has somewhat limited space, probably enough for all of us, but it’s a good idea to arrive on time if you want to be sure to get a seat. The Oakland Social Clubs are on the third Thursday of the month (First Tuesdays are still in San Francisco at Wicked Grounds.)

So please join us! Hang out with other nonbelievers and chat about sex, sexuality, gender, atheism, religion, science, social justice, pop culture, and more. Community is one of the reasons we started Godless Perverts. There are few enough places to land when you decide that you’re an atheist; far fewer if you’re also LGBT, queer, kinky, poly, trans, or are just interested in sexuality. And the sex-positive/ alt-sex/ whatever- you- want- to- call- it community isn’t always the most welcoming place for non-believers.All orientations, genders, and kinks (or lack thereof) are welcome. We meet on the third Thursday of every month at Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe (we also meet on the first Tuesday of every month at Wicked Grounds, 289 8th Street at Folsom in San Francisco, near Civic Center BART). 7-9 pm. Admission is free, although we do ask that you buy food and/or drink at the venue. Continue reading “Godless Perverts Social Club in Oakland, Thursday March 17!”

Godless Perverts Social Club in Oakland, Thursday March 17!

Welcome to The Orbit!

Welcome to The Orbit!

Comet the cat with laptop

This is my new blogging home. It’s a new blogging network, specifically dedicated to atheism and social justice, co-founded by over twenty bloggers including me.

I’ll have a lot more to say about it in the coming days. For now, I mostly just want to say Welcome! I am hugely excited and happy to be here. I’m excited to be a co-builder of something new: I think The Orbit is going to be an important and valuable place for atheists who care about social justice, and I’m so proud to be part of creating it. A lot of atheists have felt increasingly disconnected from organized atheism, and we hope to give these people a home. In fact, we hope to give a home to anyone who cares about the things we care about.

If you want to find out more about us — our mission, who we are, how we’re structured, why we chose The Orbit as our name, what’s unique about us, what we even mean by social justice  — please visit our About Us page. You can also ask me questions here in the comments, but I can’t promise to answer all or even any of them: I’m a little swamped right now, as you might imagine.

The other bloggers currently in The Orbit are Alex Gabriel, Alix Jules, Alyssa Gonzalez, Ani, Ania Bula, Aoife O’Riordan, Ashley F. Miller, Benny Vimes, Brianne Bilyeu, Chris Hall, D. Frederick Sparks, Dana Hunter, Dori Mooneyham, Heina Dadabhoy, Jason Thibeault, Luxander Pond, Miri Mogilevsky, Niki M., Sincere Kirabo, Stephanie Zvan, Tony Thompson, and Zinnia Jones. I hope you’ll take some time and visit all of them over the coming days and weeks: pulling together this roster has been one of the most fun and exciting parts of this process, and I am so excited to be working with these people, I cannot even tell you.

happy Greta in colorful outfit in garden
We’ll probably be shaking out a few tech issues over the next few days. If you run into any problems, please let us know — and please be patient. And if you’re excited and happy about this, please help us out if you can — kick in to our Kickstarter campaign to help cover our operating costs (even small amounts help, they really do add up), or just spread the word about us. Welcome to my new home!

Welcome to The Orbit!

Why I Didn’t Write About (X)

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“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.

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPG
Coming Out Atheist
Bending
why are you atheists so angry
Greta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

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Why I Didn’t Write About (X)