Ferguson Link Round-Up, or Intersectionality, You’re Doing It Right

Let’s get this out of the way. Racial bias in the prison-industrial complex we call the criminal justice system is real; the story is written in the statistics. Legislation is not and never has been enough to achieve true and lasting equality. Martin Luther King Jr. was not some hippie who sat quietly and never raised his voice; neither did he magically end racism nor ignore classism and structural issues.

What’s going on Ferguson is awful. I can’t view coverage of it without my throat tightening in sympathetic fear and grief while my fists ball in rage. It’s the same feeling I got when I attended a vigil for Trayvon Martin, the same feeling I got when I wept with every other member of the audience as I watched Fruitvale Station. I’m not sure what I can directly to help other than to continue to raise awareness and fight misconceptions.

In that light, it has really been heartening to see sites that aren’t primarily focused on racial issues — or, in once case, even news — covering what’s been going on. Feminism hardly has a history of inclusivity on matters affecting people who aren’t white middle class cis women. Intersectionality sounds like a buzzword, and people use it as an identity, but it’s really an approach to thinking and acting that helps to improve feminist thought. The following four feminist-ish sites, in the past few days, have been demonstrating what intersectionality in action means. I’m ordering them from most to least generally problematic.

Continue reading “Ferguson Link Round-Up, or Intersectionality, You’re Doing It Right”

Ferguson Link Round-Up, or Intersectionality, You’re Doing It Right

Fellow Atheists: Quit Bragging About Our Prison Underrepresentation

Dan Arel’s piece on atheists and the prison population has been making the rounds, along with the seemingly inevitable assertion that the statistics prove that atheists are no less (and perhaps) more moral than theists.

I understand the impulse. Truly, I do. But that doesn’t make it any less problematic.

Continue reading “Fellow Atheists: Quit Bragging About Our Prison Underrepresentation”

Fellow Atheists: Quit Bragging About Our Prison Underrepresentation

For Hire: Jerkface Detection Services

The first time I spoke up, it wasn’t because I had a political agenda. I was vaguely feminist, sure, but I wasn’t one of those over-sensitive types who whined about everything and said “privilege” a lot. It wasn’t because I wanted attention, either. As a matter of fact, it was because I didn’t want the attention in question. I wanted to define myself, including my experiences, my life, and my labels, on my own terms, not in response to inappropriate, ignorant, and/or callous individuals who didn’t know how to deal with a mouthy brown chick in their midst.

Continue reading “For Hire: Jerkface Detection Services”

For Hire: Jerkface Detection Services

What Do You See? The Blinding Whiteness of Feminism

I have been a self-identified feminist for longer than I have been a self-identified [insert any other label with which I currently associate myself here]. I also am of the belief that, in those immortal and eminently quotable words from Tiger Beatdown, my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.

Just as can be case with  “anti-racism” and “social justice,” “intersectionality” can be something of an intellectual facade, a word that people use without actually working to actually integrate it into their worldview. Here is a quick and easy test to see if you actually think in intersectional terms.

[redacted image of a nude woman covering her genital area with the Quran]

Is it a picture of a depersonalized, headless female nude? Yet another representation of the exploitation of the female form? An example of a misguided attempt by a woman to use her sexuality to promote feminist ideals? And what of the caption as well as the placement of the Quran? Do they promote a unilaterally negative view of Islam? Indicate a Western woman bashing Islam instead of working on fixing gender issues in Western countries?

From the commonly-held white feminist perspective, i.e. one lacking in intersectionality and that focuses on Western gender issues to the detriment of all others, the answer is yes to all of the above. In that view, the picture represents a wrong-headed if well-meaning attempt at best and a hindering of feminist progress at worst. No doubt that a headless nude would rub someone from a Western gender context the wrong way. After all, out here, nudity is common and often presented in a way that robs agency from the person whose body is on display.

On the other hand, the Western constructs and problems around gender are not the only ones in existence, and this particular instance of nudity is tackling issues of gender that originate elsewhere.


The image is of a person who is, like me, a female ex-Muslim, and was both captioned and posted by her. Unlike me, she was born and raised in Pakistan. As such, she has been in real danger ever since she went public with her deconversion. At the time the photo was taken, she chose to crop out her head for her own protection. To personalize her nude form by including her face for the satisfaction of the white feminist sensibilities regarding bodies would have put her very life at stake. People are frequently killed in Pakistan for far less in the way of what is considered to be an offense to Islam.

In terms of the nudity itself, with regards to the male gaze, her body is not presented in a particularly “sexy” pose: she is sitting fairly casually on the floor with no arched backs, bitten lips, or twisted hips in sight. To assume that her form is sexualized merely by not being covered by clothing speaks more to the viewer’s understanding of what female bodies are for than of the picture itself, or the woman in it, for that matter. Indeed, as she comes from a background where any hint of feminine shape or skin is considered seductive enough to drive men into a violently lustful frenzy, those who consider this picture to be pandering to the male gaze are aligning their views with the patriarchal oppression from which she hails.

Translation: "You won't be able to stop them, but you can protect yourself. He who created you knows what's best for you!"
Translation: “You won’t be able to stop them, but you can protect yourself. He who created you knows what’s best for you!”

Her critique of gender in Islam comes not from ignorance of it, but from immersion in a culture that defines itself by that particular religion. While other countries are “Muslim” or “Islamic” because they just so happen to have a large Muslim population, Pakistan was founded by Muslims as a Muslim country in rather deliberate fashion. Those promoting sexist laws and action there will invariably claim that what they do is in the name of Islam as justified by the Quran. If anyone has the right to say that Islam is misogynistic or the Quran problematic for women, it has to be a woman who has dealt with said sexism first-hand.

What of the nuance that I advocate as an ex-Muslim feminist atheist? It goes both ways. All Muslims aren’t sexists, but quite enough of them are that taking and posting a nude picture is an incredibly radical act for a Pakistani ex-Muslim woman, as it was for Aliaa Mahdy and, more recently, for Amina Tyler.

The problem with the lack of intersectionality in feminism has a long and deep history, from Ain’t I a Woman to The Feminine Mystique to Slutwalk. What are often framed as “women’s concerns” or “feminist issues” are, more accurately, the concerns of white women, especially white middle-to-upper-class women. Most attempts to broaden this focus are met with concerns regarding the of “dilution” of feminism, as if gender were the only issue that affects women.

Women of color don’t have the luxury of focusing on issues of gender without facing the related issues of race, religion, culture, class, and so on. Many of us live at the intersection of multiple oppressive forces. Depressingly, two entire decades after Audre Lorde‘s death, one of those forces originates with well-meaning, hand-wringing, pearl-clutching white feminists who want to claim us as part of their sisterhood without being truly inclusive about it.

True inclusivity would have meant that any feminist looking the image would consider who made it, to what it was responding, and why it appears the way it does before declaring it an example of a woman doing feminism wrong.

What Do You See? The Blinding Whiteness of Feminism

So You Want to Talk About Eugenics

It is a truth universally acknowledged via various classifications of fallacy (ad hominem, guilt by association, and so on) that one cannot discount an argument or premise solely due to its origin. On the other hand, to argue that a concept is meritorious because a hypothetical version of it that has never existed in reality would be a lovely thing (especially if the concept has, thus far, in practice, wrought far more harm than good) is incredibly disingenuous.


Among atheists, those lovers of yelling out “fallacy!”, both these errors of reasoning are often called out, and rightly so. The first is usually in the form of theist’s oft-cited — and untrue — claim that Hitler was an atheist, or that those murdered under various manifestations of Communism represent victims of atheism (or, even more bewilderingly, secular humanism). As for the latter, its most common form is when a religious person engages in NALT-ing or a form of One True Scotsman where they will claim that any negativity stemming from religion is a result of a lack of “true [insert religion here].” When it comes to discussing ideologies that are not religious among those without religion, then, it makes sense that the patterns established by critically discussing religion would show up again. The ideologies with which the atheist in question disagrees might be, for example, lampooned as dogmatic and arguments in favor of it dismissed as citing a hypothetical version of it that doesn’t actually exist.

The problem comes in when the first line of reasoning is the default when the second deserves at least some consideration. Not all concepts that began in infamy stay that way, and not all concepts with negative associations are wholly negative, but forgetting origins and associations is to lack any modicum of consideration for reality.

More than once, I have heard some atheist incredulously declare that they, often a well-educated white person, cannot comprehend why a person of color would view science with suspicion, often to the mocking laughter of those around them. “How silly,” they all nod, agreeing that science’s objectivity is not contingent on those engaged in it. In one particular instance, a young STEM student (link unrelated, but cool) I met at a conference flippantly remarked that a woman of color had (“hilariously”, according to him) made connections between evolutionary/medical science and problematic matters of race.

He also mentioned eugenics and expressed his annoyance at the resistance he faced when discussing the concept. “People who think like that lose the argument,” he concluded, “because of Godwin’s law.”

If you have ever had that thought, or anything like it, you may, instead of being ashamed, consider the next paragraph to be rife with links hand-selected for your personal benefit and growth as a human being

It isn’t Godwin or Hitler that comes to mind when many American people who are not white and/or poor and/or have disabilities, especially women, contemplate the word “eugenics.” It’s the history, legacy, and reality of the country whose eugenics program inspired that of the Nazis: the good ol’ US of A. Oppression is born when prejudice meets power, and in the case of American (and, later, German) eugenics, it was “white” prejudice against the “non-white”* paired with medical science, done under the auspices of the scientific method and afforded all the respect that science commands.


It may come as a shock to many, but the phrenology speech from Django Unchained was uttered not by a man who believed that he used the auspices of the scientific method to confirm his prejudices, but by a man who believed that he arrived at his beliefs in a respectable, scientific fashion. Phrenology might be considered laughable today, but it wasn’t then.

Think about that for a moment. Then think about how male scientists didn’t even consider studying female ducks when trying to figure out the penis shape of the aforementioned fowl. Then think about evolutionary psychology as it currently exists.


This by no means discredits science in general or suggests that science or all scientists are cesspools of racism, or sexism, or any other form of oppression. The beauty of science is that it, unlike religion, has self-correcting mechanisms built into through the scientific method itself as well as the peer review process. There is no doubt that medical science, despite any darkness in its past and present, will continue to move away from its oppressiveness and into a far more egalitarian future. Indeed, it’s our best hope to move towards that future.

In order for science to become more objective, more people of more types need to be in science to check any biases; mocking and dismissing science’s checkered past won’t exactly attract people from among the groups oppressed by it into it in recent memory. To forget its past and present wrongs will accomplish exactly nothing in the way of helping it not only to progress socially, but to advance as a discipline, one made closer to objectivity through its self-awareness of its own shortcomings.

Eugenics, as a word and concept and in practice, has only existed as a Very Horrible Thing for the populations most targeted for forcible action. There would need to be a major PR overhaul before anyone can use the term and not bring to mind white male doctors forcibly sterilizing the poor, the disabled, the non-white, and anyone they deemed unfit. To use the term without considering its implications is an ill-founded move for anyone who wants as many people as possible to become more and more accepting of science.


Especially if you’re a prominent, powerful white male scientist admonishing everyone to calm down about Nazis after you say something about eugenics.

*Addendum: Many people who would, in modern times, be perceived as “white,” would have been persecuted under eugenics programs. Indeed, many of the main groups that suffered under eugenics programs were Eastern European. Modern definitions of “white” do not apply here. The Nazis defined white as “Aryan” or “white with non-Jewish elements.”

So You Want to Talk About Eugenics