On the Weakness of Slurs

I was surprised to find I didn’t have a version of this on my blog. I’ve certainly said it often enough elsewhere, though the earliest I’ve found was in response to “critics” of Hillary Clinton.

We don’t use gendered, fat-shaming, homophobic, etc. insults not because they have to be reserved for the worst of bad people but because they say you think there’s something wrong with the everyday people they apply to.

“Ugh, that—I don’t usually say this—bitch!”

I see this or a version of this using another slur remarkably often. It reflects such a strange misunderstanding of how language works that I boggle every time.

If you say this, you’re trying to tell me that only “bitch” works in this context because it’s the only insult that’s strong enough for you. Weaker, lesser insults just won’t convey how terrible this person is. But that isn’t how slurs work.

Contrary to your assumption, slurs are among the weakest insults. That’s why they can be reclaimed. No one stands up with fire in their eye and says, “Yes, I’m a poopyhead.” There are a lot of proud bitches out there though.

The power of a slur doesn’t come from the insult. It comes from the reminder that we exist in a system ready to put bitches back in their place. That’s not an insult but a threat. And the power of reclamation comes from facing that threat and persisting anyway.

Any insult inherent in a slur is merely a statement that the person you’re using a slur on doesn’t know “their place”. That you want them to, because you can’t win whatever conflict you have on equal ground. And that’s just not particularly insulting, at least not to them.

On the Weakness of Slurs
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Living Our Secular Values

Earlier this month, I spoke at the Minnesota Atheists Day of Reason event at the state capitol. The theme for the day was secular values.

Last month was the 100th anniversary of the birth of American Atheists founder Madalyn Murray O’Hair. O’Hair had something of a reputation for being a difficult person. Yes, really. She would have that reputation even correcting for the smaller leeway we give to difficult women, but part of her reputation was almost certainly due to her militant feminism. Among the many fights she took up was her fight against the idea that women were created for men’s pleasure.

As atheists, we understand that women weren’t created at all. We evolved. And I hope that after so many years of fighting for good education on evolution, we understand that evolution is not directed. It has no end goal. So any discussion of our secular values must be informed by the knowledge that women, like men, exist for themselves, not in service to others.

You can read the whole thing on the Secular Woman site.

Living Our Secular Values

Making Me Safer

The mosque shootings in Christchurch aren’t about me. I’m not Muslim. I’m not an immigrant. I’m not a brown-skinned other. As much as my heart embraces the dead and injured as my fellows, I don’t live with that target painted on me. I have no business that would take me into a mosque during worship.

The rhetoric that got us here, though? That is about me. It’s about me as a white person doomed to see “my race” die out. It’s about me as city-dwelling possible target of terrorism. It’s about me as a woman facing religious sexism. It’s about me and the threat I present as an atheist. It’s about me as a sinner where the cost of sin is death.

I’ve lived for nearly 20 years being told we must talk about the “unique dangers” of Islam to keep me safe.

I’ve lived for nearly a decade with atheist movement leaders who tell me I can’t talk about their racism and sexism because I need them to keep me safe.

I live with increasingly unstable international politics and diminishing civil rights in the name of keeping me safe.

I live with grifters coming to my beautiful frozen city and lying about being threatened, because how else are they to keep me safe?

I live with terrorists from out of state making road trips to blow up my neighbors. You’ll never guess why. Oh, it’s to keep me safe?

None of this makes me safer. I mean, I don’t really have to say that to you, do I? It’s obvious that fewer rights and more violence don’t make me any safer, isn’t it? Isn’t it?

Yet here I am. Again. Not directly threatened by the violence, but still less safe than I was. Again. And still being told it’s all being done for me.

To make me safe.

It doesn’t. If you say these things, you are the threat to my safety. Not the Muslims. Not the immigrants. Not the black and brown people. You. If you say these things, you make me less safe.

So stop acting shocked when I treat you that way. I’d just like to be safe.

Making Me Safer

Policing Self-Defense

[CN: on top of all the Nazi stuff, talk about the threat of sexual assault]

Black-and-white photo of a large monument consisting of a stone fist atop a stone pedestal. An unreadable sign is taped to the fist.
“Fist of Freedom” (a monument to Nelson Mandela) by sacks08, CC BY 2.0

Yesterday I asked whether the people still telling me not to punch Nazis after Charlottesville were telling me to be martyred or to stand aside while someone else is.

Mostly I didn’t get any answers. I expected that. That’s what happens when “Just say ‘no’ to violence!” runs into situations where violence is inherent and inevitable. Ironically, the act of making an option unspeakable makes the pro-rational discussion with Nazis crowd unable to discuss current events rationally. Weird. (Not at all weird.)

I also ran into a couple of people yesterday who would prefer martyrdom to enacting any violence. That’s fine. I can’t relate to it in any way, but I don’t have to. It’s a personal choice. But it being a personal choice means you don’t get to impose it on me or anyone else. You don’t get to choose that someone else dies in the name of nonviolence.

I did get one response that boiled down to “Well, it’s okay in self-defense. No, I mean immediate self-defense.” Continue reading “Policing Self-Defense”

Policing Self-Defense

The Myth of the Pay Gap Myth

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In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama had this to say about the U.S. gender pay gap.

You know, today, women make up about half our workforce, but they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment.

Women deserve equal pay for equal work.

You know, she deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship. And you know what, a father does too. It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode. This year let’s all come together, Congress, the White House, businesses from Wall Street to Main Street, to give every woman the opportunity she deserves, because I believe when women succeed, America succeeds.

Now, women hold a majority of lower-wage jobs, but they’re not the only ones stifled by stagnant wages.

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, and this year marked a slight shift in the celebrations. While humanity hasn’t completely abandoned “When is International Men’s Day?” Day, this year included significant celebrations of Pay Gap Sea-Lioning Day.

Photo of one pan of a balancing scale covered with coins against a backdrop of more coins.
“Money” by Dun.can, CC BY 2.0

A day dedicated to women’s equality wouldn’t be complete without discussing the pay gap, and, as usual, this brings the apologists out of the woodwork. We don’t need to do anything about the pay gap, they imply, because it isn’t discrimination. There is no shortage of men on social media ready to tell you that “leading feminists” say Obama’s 77-cent figure specifically is a lie.

Which feminists? In particular, self-proclaimed “equity feminist” Christina Hoff Sommers has dubbed the gap a “myth”, a claim that, being short, is perfect for the Twitter debate club and drive-by commenters to haul out whenever people address pay disparity.

Even the head of a skeptics organization has claimed in the past that the pay gap isn’t real.

Even private-sector sex discrimination is more relic than reality. The so-called pay gap, the “73 cents for every dollar a man makes,” one hears recited like a mantra by feminists and politicians, doesn’t exist. When true cohorts are compared — men and women with equal education, seniority, duties and hours — the pay gap shrinks to a couple of pennies.

But does this “pay gap myth”, which Sommers continues to recycle in widely read publications, hold up under scrutiny? Is it true that the reason women are paid less is because they choose to go into different fields and work different hours than men do? And if choice does play a significant role, should we stop talking about the pay gap? Continue reading “The Myth of the Pay Gap Myth”

The Myth of the Pay Gap Myth

Serious Answers to Sloppy Questions, Part 3

Finally, an end to these questions! This is the last batch. If you haven’t, see Part 1 and Part 2.

  • In your version of equality, will white men ever have a voice in society, or will white men always be too privileged to participate in discussion?
Photo of about a dozen and a half questions marks stenciled onto black pavement in white paint. Alternating right-side up and upside down in three rows.
Crop of “What?” by Véronique Debord-Lazaro, CC BY-SA 2.0

This isn’t one of the most coherent questions in this bunch, but I’ll still give it a go. I’ll assume “ever” here means “Will they still get to talk then?” not “Will they come to be able to talk then?” since the latter is ridiculous. White men still have far more say in our halls of power and in our cultural touchstones of movies, television (pdf), and publishing than their numbers would account for. Not to mention YouTube.

Since equality and being privileged are contradictory, I’ll also give this questioner the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn’t mean for this question to be taken literally. I would assume, then, the question actually means “Aren’t you just trying to grab all the power for yourselves and push white men into the crappy positions you’ve all been in for ages?”

The answer is no. Whatever you yourself might do in my position, that’s not what I and the people around me are going for at all.

  •  What makes you think that the power of censorship that you are so desperately trying to establish now will at no point be used against you?

On the short list of things that have been done in an attempt to shut me up: Posting my employer information online, contacting my (then-former) employer, petitioning the wrong people to have me removed from a book, complaining to a board that I hosted their radio show, complaining to a group that had me speak at their event, complaints to groups I do activist work with, and several years of continual background harassment including threats.

If you start from the assumption that “SJWs” have never met any attempts to censor them, you’re starting by being wrong. This is the world we already live in. It’s just unequal.

In fact, this is one of the things that makes it so hard to combat the relatively small portion of harassment and threats that do come from SJWs. When the stuff coming at them is constant and pervasive, it gets much harder to persuade people that it isn’t a valid tool. People think they need it because other people do it to them. So if y’all could stop pointing your followers at SJWs without being clear that pile-ons and threats aren’t just part of the fun, that would be very helpful. Continue reading “Serious Answers to Sloppy Questions, Part 3”

Serious Answers to Sloppy Questions, Part 3

Serious Answers to Sloppy Questions, Part 2

Another day, another nine questions rendered largely impenetrable by having bounced around the alt-right echo chamber for so long. Still, I’ll give them a go. In case you missed it, Part 1 is here.

  • What do you hope to gain by bringing back racial segregation?
Photo of about a dozen and a half questions marks stenciled onto black pavement in white paint. Alternating right-side up and upside down in three rows.
Crop of “What?” by Véronique Debord-Lazaro, CC BY-SA 2.0

Racial segregation has never gone away. It’s gotten better in many places, but the U.S. remains highly segregated long after the Jim Crow laws that enforced that segregation were taken off the books. White suburban flight, informal hostilities, the need of those in poverty to live close to services, redlining and other practices that haven’t gone away just because they’re illegal all make racial segregation an ongoing reality.

It doesn’t make much sense for you to be asking me about wanting to bring back Jim Crow laws though. That’s just not a position that’s taken among “SJWs”. So I assume you’re asking me about groups or policies that involve spending resources specifically on marginalized populations. Those resources might be money, attention, or time. The simple answer here is that people who do this expect to be able to get more for those resources by aiming them where they’re most needed. It’s certainly reasonable at least in theory, though it does sometimes have unintended consequences, often as a response to white people being unhappy about the allocation of resources.

  • When my granduncle was dropping bombs on London, did your grandparents get out of their bunkers to protest with signs that read Not All Nazis?

This is vague and strange. If I weren’t trying to seriously engage with these questions, I’d just invoke Godwin’s Law. But I am, so let’s see what I can suss out of the assumptions behind this one. Continue reading “Serious Answers to Sloppy Questions, Part 2”

Serious Answers to Sloppy Questions, Part 2

Serious Answers to Sloppy Questions, Part 1

Photo of about a dozen and a half questions marks stenciled onto black pavement in white paint. Alternating right-side up and upside down in three rows.
Crop of “What?” by Véronique Debord-Lazaro, CC BY-SA 2.0

Niki transcribed the latest video of “unanswerable” gotcha questions. No, this isn’t another one aimed at atheists by Christians, though it’s about as effective and as grounded in real attempts to understand another person’s position. This one is aimed at social justice warriors by the status quo warriors.

Niki’s answers were mostly snark. I love them. You should read them. But it’s also worthwhile to have a few people answer even questions like these seriously, so I’m going to take a stab at that. I’m technically a social justice assassin, so not all the warriors want to admit I’m in the guild, but whatever.

It’s going to be long and tedious, since there are plenty of assumptions to unpack along with the questions themselves and the list itself is long and repetitive. But if we’re going to adopt this kind of tactic from the Christians, we might as well gallop while we’re at it, right? In order to keep it from getting unreadable, I’ll break it into thirds.

  • Do you realize that your war on language through political correctness has made you bedfellows with true rape culture? In other words, Islam, the world’s most misogynistic ideology.

Let’s start with your assumptions. Continue reading “Serious Answers to Sloppy Questions, Part 1”

Serious Answers to Sloppy Questions, Part 1

Not Looking Away

Oh, man. 2016. Fuck this year. It can’t end soon enough.

Or was that 2015? I distinctly remember people saying that about 2015. Maybe 2014 too. Huh.

Yes, 2016 has its unique challenges. Presidential elections don’t happen every year, much less close nomination races. Major parties imploding under the weight of their own racism, sexism, and fascism happens rather less frequently than that. The rock stars who sustained us as teenagers frequently fade away instead of becoming institutions before they die.

Many of this year’s stresses, however, happen all the time. Refugee crises brought on by sectarian violence and climate change have been a regular part of my decades on this Earth. I’ve watched too many national governments fall apart to count. Violent pushback to civil rights gains has been a constant, alongside the erosion of those rights. Sexism, racism, homophobia, and other forms of bigotry–they’ve all been a constant drumbeat.

So why has 2016 been so bruising? Continue reading “Not Looking Away”

Not Looking Away

Your Reaction Is Normal

Yesterday saw one hugely traumatic event in Orlando and another event in Los Angeles that would be considered very traumatic if it hadn’t happened in such close proximity to the Orlando shootings. This trauma mostly affected a set of communities with a high exposure to trauma already.

As I watched my friends in these communities react to these traumas, I was struck by how many people were evaluating their own responses, often negatively. I’ll keep saying this individually to people in the words they need, but it’s worth saying generally as well. As someone with both a substantial personal and an academic background in how people react to traumatic events, I’m here to tell you that your reaction is normal. Continue reading “Your Reaction Is Normal”

Your Reaction Is Normal