I don’t approve of threats of physical violence. Not even hyperbolic ones. But I absolutely know where John Waters is coming from. And while I don’t intend to punch anyone in the mouth, I completely understand – and share – his anger at this bullshit notion of “flyovercountry.”
I recently did a speaking tour of the Midwest, promoting my new book. This isn’t new for me: I’ve been doing public speaking for years, and I do it a lot in the Midwest and South.
And every time I come home from one of these trips, I bring back a huge suitcase full of respect for people in the Midwest and South – and a hearty desire to say “Fuck You” to anyone who makes snotty remarks about “flyover country” or “flyover people.”
Not all progressives do this, of course – but I hear it often enough that I need to say something.
Here are five reasons coastal progressives need to permanently purge these phrases from their vocabulary.
When a man sees two men kissing and responds by walking into a gay bar with an automatic weapon and murdering 50 people, we’re told we shouldn’t politicize the tragedy.
When a man writes a 107,000-word manifesto detailing how and why he despises women and wants to murder and terrorize us, and proceeds to murder six people and injure fourteen others, we’re told we shouldn’t politicize it.
When a hurricanehits a major U.S. city, and thousands of mostly poor, mostly black people are abandoned for days; when the evacuation plan assumes everyone has a car; when the Federal government’s emergency management agency is run by an incompetent boob, in a deliberately created political climate that holds the very idea of government in contempt; when the aftermath is rife with real estate speculation and other grossly predatory profiteering — we’re told we shouldn’t politicize it.
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 Female public figures will be criticized for look frumpy, for looking expensive, for looking stylish, for looking out of date.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”→
There’s this thing being shared a bunch on Facebook: a piece from 2015 by Hemant Mehta at Friendly Atheist, about the disproportionately low percentage of atheists in the U.S. federal prison system. Mehta himself wrote in the piece that “It would be foolish to use this information to suggest atheists are more moral than religious groups,” but some people are sharing it around, declaring it to one more piece of evidence for atheists’ morality.
No. No, no, no, no no.
Can we please, please, not equate immorality with being in prison, and morality with not being in prison?
Incarcaration in the U.S. is hugely unjust. (Link, link, link, link, link, link.) Among many, many other things: It targets black and brown people in wildly disproportionate numbers: black and brown people are arrested more, are more likely to be convicted, and are more likely to serve longer sentences. Class is a big factor in incarceration rates, including the ability to afford high-priced lawyers, and the ability to shape the laws in the first place. Poor people are regularly incarcerated for minor crimes, while white-collar thieves of millions of people and billions of dollars go free. Plus, incarceration is often self-perpetuating. The often absurd and impossible demands of the parole system turn parole into a revolving door; a prison record makes it harder to get work, get into school, etc. — and given how racist U.S. incarceration is, removing the right to vote from people with prison records contributes to the systematic disenfranchisement of black and brown people, and diminishes their ability to change the system.
And of course, ridiculously huge numbers of people are incarcerated because of the drug war — which is being pursued in racist ways, creating and perpetuating a permanent black and brown underclass. If you smoke weed or do any other illegal drugs, or have ever smoked weed or done any illegal drugs, you’re in no position to claim any sort of moral superiority on the basis of not being in prison.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. I encourage readers to give other examples of injustice in the prison system, here in the comments.
When we argue that atheists are moral because so few of us are in prison, we’re agreeing that being in prison is a reasonable indicator of morality. This is flatly not true. It’s factually inaccurate, which atheists are supposed to care about. And it perpetuates the racism and classism in the U.S. justice system. The reasoning, if you can call it that, is absurdly and depressingly circular: black and brown people are in prison in hugely disproportionate numbers, so people assume that they’re more likely to be criminals — so they’re more likely to be targeted by law enforcement, more likely to be convicted, and more likely to get longer sentences. When we use low incarceration rates as a sign of atheists’ morality, think about what that sounds like to people who have been subjected to the unjust justice system for decades.
There are good arguments for why atheists are as moral as anyone else. This isn’t one of them.
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””→
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.)
In 2013, Black Skeptics Los Angeles (BSLA), a 501c3 organization, spearheaded its First in the Family Humanist Scholarship initiative, which focuses on providing resources to undocumented, foster care, homeless and LGBTQ youth who will be the first in their families to go to college. Responding directly to the school-to-prison pipeline crisis in communities of color, BSLA is the first atheist organization to specifically address college pipelining for youth of color with an explicitly anti-racist multicultural emphasis. If current prison pipelining trends persist the Education Trust estimates that only “one of every 20 African American kindergartners will graduate from a four-year California university” in the next decade. In addition:
The school-to-prison pipeline disproportionately locks up African American and Latino youth, leaving many with criminal records and no possibility of “re-entry” to employment, housing or higher education
African American youth are severely over-represented in foster care, homeless populations, and juvenile jails
Foster care and homeless youth of color have some of the lowest rates of college transfer and graduation amongst college youth populations
LGBTQ youth of color have disproportionately high suspension/expulsion and push-out rates in U.S. public schools
Black females are consistently suspended at greater rates than ALL OTHER groups besides black males
So-called inner city schools have fewer Advanced Placement, college prep and honors courses and highly qualified STEM teachers than their white suburban counterparts
With your support, Black Skeptics hopes to award at least four youth $1000 scholarships to assist with their books, tuition, housing and other living expenses. Their 2013-2015 scholars are now at USC, UCLA, UC Riverside, Cal State University Long Beach, Babson College, University of North Texas, UC Merced and El Camino College.
I want to have a conversation, and I’m putting very strict limits on it. If you can’t abide by these limits, please don’t participate. If you violate these boundaries, I will block you or put you into comment moderation, possibly without being given a second chance (at my discretion).
I want to hear your case for Clinton over Sanders, or for Sanders over Clinton. If you’re on the fence, I want to hear why. More about election specifics in a moment: here are the discussion parameters. READ THEM CAREFULLY.
I only want to hear from people who accept that this is not an obvious choice, or at the very least understand and respect why some people would make a different choice. I want the conversation to remain civil, with absolutely no name-calling or personal attacks aimed at the candidates or the other people in the conversation. I’m even going to ask people to dial back on invective and heated rhetoric aimed at ideas and behavior: usually I’m okay with that, but here I’m not. I want a civil, calm conversation, based on the assumption of good faith. And this should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: I do not want to hear even a whiff of sexism or misogyny aimed at Clinton. If you so much as use her first name while using Sanders’ last, you’re out of the conversation.
And I specifically want to hear your thoughts about which candidate would be a better President and why. I don’t want to hear arguments based on electability. I’ve seen convincing arguments that both candidates are more electable, based on current polling, who’s traditionally likely to vote, which demographics each candidate is likely to bring to the polls, etc. I have my own thoughts on that subject, but it’s not what I want to discuss here. And I don’t want to hear arguments based on either candidate’s followers being jerks. That’s happening on both sides, and unless you can make a REALLY convincing case that this is relevant to which candidate would make a better President, leave it. I want to know which candidate you think would make a better President.
Here’s my current state of mind. I did that “I Side With” quiz to see which candidate agreed with me on more of the issues. I got 98% agreement with Sanders — and 95% agreement with Clinton. That difference is insignificant. Even if there had been a significant difference, stated positions on issues aren’t the only thing that matters (although of course they’re hugely important). A candidate’s history also matters: are they likely to go back on their word, are they effective at building coalitions, do they listen to criticism and respond well to it, are they in bed with corporate interests, and so on. And of course, not all issues show up on this quiz or others like it; this quiz skews more towards platform positions than voting records; and while it allows you to weight which issues are more important to you, it doesn’t allow you to say “Dealbreaker.”
The most persuasive big-picture argument I’ve seen for Sanders: he’s the only candidate who could potentially change the system. Clinton is on the liberal side of moderate, a business as usual candidate — and the business is broken. The political and economic system in the United States is rotten to the core, it needs radical change, and Clinton will not make that happen.
The most persuasive big-picture argument I’ve seen for Clinton: Sanders is not good at management, compromise, organization, or getting along with people generally. If Sanders is elected, he’ll be a bad President and will be unable to effect the changes he’s promising.
So — make your case. Again, SEE THE COMMENT POLICY ABOVE, and if you can’t abide by it, please stay out of the conversation. Thanks!
“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.