5 Things I Learned After My Partner Was Sexually Battered at an Atheist Conference

When you’re ethically non-monogamous, you end up engaging in a lot of meta relationship conversations. When you’re polyamorous and dating someone you met because you were both speakers at the same secular event, you end up discussing the potential effects of your relationship, likely and unlikely alike, on your respective careers. This is especially true when one of you has strong feminist values and works for the advancement of secular causes and the other is a loudmouthed, keyboards-a-blazin’ firebrand-in-waiting.

What I didn’t think to discuss was what actually ended up happening.

Continue reading “5 Things I Learned After My Partner Was Sexually Battered at an Atheist Conference”

5 Things I Learned After My Partner Was Sexually Battered at an Atheist Conference

Throwback Thursday: Stop Telling Me to Stop Saying “I Have a Boyfriend”

This Throwback Thursday entry is brought to you by the fact that the original article to which it was responding, Stop Saying “I Have a Boyfriend”, has been making the rounds again. The original title for this piece is I’ll Stop Citing a Boyfriend When My Consent Starts Mattering; it was published on September 10, 2013. I have shortened it and added in the sentence about cause and effect.

Before I started dating, I listened to a lot of men. One of their biggest complaints was that women aren’t straightforward enough. “Why don’t women just say no?” they lamented. “I waste all this time pursuing women because I don’t know for sure that they don’t want me.”

I have always believed in honesty and directness, so it seemed absurd to me that all these women weren’t just saying “no” when “no” was what they meant. Sentiments like those found in this article could’ve been snatched from my lips in those days.

I think the solution is simple — we simply stop using excuses. If a man is coming on to you […], respond with something like this: “I’m not interested.” Don’t apologize and don’t excuse yourself. If they question your response (which is likely), persist — “No, I said I’m not interested.”

Just be honest and all will work out, right?

Continue reading “Throwback Thursday: Stop Telling Me to Stop Saying “I Have a Boyfriend””

Throwback Thursday: Stop Telling Me to Stop Saying “I Have a Boyfriend”

Anti-Rape Device Locks Out Women Most Vulnerable to Sexual Assault

[Content Notice: sexual assault, rape, transphobic violence]

A few days ago, an Indiegogo campaign came to my attention. Called “AR Wear – Confidence & Protection That Can Be Worn,” the product is basically underwear that attempts to thwart rape by being… impregnable? impenetrable? (I can’t seem to think of terms that don’t sound like bad wordplays here).

The two women behind the project claim that they do not endorse victim-blaming:

The only one responsible for a rape is the rapist and AR Wear will not solve the fundamental problem that rape exists in our world. Only by raising awareness and education, as well as bringing rapists to justice, can we all hope to eventually accomplish the goal of eliminating rape as a threat to both women and men. Meanwhile, as long as sexual predators continue to populate our world, AR Wear would like to provide products to women and girls that will offer better protection against some attempted rapes

While it’s wonderful that the makers have taken these factors into consideration, the product remains unquestionably problematic — and the fact that its very existence will likely be used to victim-blame despite its makers’ ideas is just the start.

Practically speaking, three issues to come to mind. In the first place, sexual assault is not a crime that requires access to vaginal or anal openings. Next, in order for AR Wear to provide any even limited level of protection against forcible vaginal or anal penetration, it would have to be marketed as all-day every-day wear, not just for situations that neatly fit into the myths surrounding stranger rape (clubbing, travel, and so on). Thirdly, the studies cited in the campaign are about fighting back during attempted sexual assault, not the use of restrictive clothing. Other well-meaning devices designed to help women, like the RapeaXe “condom,” haven’t been shown to reduce rape rates.

More troubling than the practical concerns are the exclusionary ones. Colorlines calls out the marketing’s reinforcements of rape myths and Alexandra Brodsky has a dozen excellent questions for the makers of AR Wear, but I have just one.

Why is it being advertised using only white-seeming, thin-bodied, presumably adult cis women or adult trans women who have had genital surgery?

In the United States, the country in which this project originates, women of color, particularly black and Native American women, are more likely than white women to be sexually assaulted. There are some women of color shown in the stock photos near the beginning of the video, but none are shown wearing any of the garments in question.

Furthermore, women of color are less likely to be thin. From what I see of it, the garment is only for women whose bodies fall within a certain narrow size range. There is no data showing that being overweight decreases the risk of sexual assault.

Genital configuration is also an issue. Trans women, especially those of color, are more likely than their cis counterparts to be sexually assaulted, especially if incarcerated. Some trans women are barred from access to desired genital surgery by economic factors while others do not wish to have bottom surgery; the garment does not seem to accommodate AMAB anatomy. For that matter, it seems pointless to pay lip service to men in the preface when the product is clearly not intended for their use if they are cisgender.

view of prison walls with barbed wire

To return to the issue of incarceration, being imprisoned carries with it the high risk of sexual assault. I somehow doubt that AR Wear is going to be approved to become part of standard prison garb.

Cost is another barrier. People living with less socioeconomic privilege are not only more likely to be incarcerated, they are more likely to experience violence in general; this includes an increased risk of sexual assault for women.

Anything allegedly designed to help and empower women against a problem should probably look at the concerns of the women most at risk for said problem. For women who fall under one or more of the above categories, i.e. categories that place them at higher risk for sexual assault, the marketing of AR Wear is another way by which their struggles and pain are erased from the discussion of sexual assault and rape.

Anti-Rape Device Locks Out Women Most Vulnerable to Sexual Assault

Guest Post: Sexual Assault By a Medical Provider Is Not a Big Deal… Until It Is

[Content Notice: Sexual Assault, fatphobia]

The following is a first-hand account of mistreatment on several levels at the hands of a medical provider via Ania of Scribbles and Rants, a blog where she, along with her partner Alex, sheds insight onto matters as diverse as skepticism, feminism, disability, and the relationship between being an atheist and a person of color. I had the pleasure of meeting her at Eschaton last year and was impressed with her courage, passion, and intellect. I am even more impressed now.

When I was 18, I was assaulted by a doctor at the university clinic.

I had gone in to get tested for bacterial vaginosis. I was in love and wanted to make sure that I didn’t smell strange if the chance to have sex ever came up. The first doctor at the clinic was very kind. She opted not to use a speculum since I was a virgin, just like every other doctor I had seen for a vaginal issue until that point. I got a call a few weeks later to come in to get my results. The doctor who saw me then was someone I had not seen before. Before she even got to the test results, she began laying into me about my weight. She told me I was morbidly obese, that diabetes must be causing the smell. I was maybe 40 lbs. heavier than my optimal weight for my height. I didn’t know what fat shaming was then, but I tried standing up for myself, letting her know that my cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels were all perfect.

The facts didn’t matter to her. She had decided that I didn’t meet her standards of fitness and that the best way to deal with it was to make me feel horrible about myself. Finally, we got to the results: I did not have BV. She asked me why I had come in to check on it, and so I told her. Unexpectedly, she offered to take a look. I was shocked, but I accepted her offer. I was worried and she was a doctor. She had to be professional, right?

As I sat on the table, getting ready for the exam, I looked over at her and asked her not to use the speculum. I was a virgin, I told her, and the other doctor said it wasn’t necessary. Then, I lay down on the cold table. There is vulnerability in that statement. Everything about the doctor’s office is about power. You sit, while the doctor stands above you. You are naked, while they are dressed. You are in pain, afraid, vulnerable, and they hold the answers. Everything about the doctor-patient relationship reinforces that power dynamic. I was vulnerable on that table, exposing my private parts to a doctor who had already wounded me. She had already established her power over me, so I knew that my request was a supplication. It was her power to grant it.

But she didn’t.

a plastic speculum with a red screw

As I lay there exposed on the cold table, worried about whether or not I was normal, the doctor violated my request. She shoved an unlubricated speculum inside me and opened it to its widest setting. I can’t even remember what came next. I do remember the pain. I don’t remember walking out of the clinic. I do remember trying to rush back to my dorm; I didn’t want to cry in public. I looked for the room of the person I trusted most on campus but he wasn’t home. In my search for him, I ended up in a room with some people I vaguely knew. I broke down crying. I told them what had happened. I was bleeding, I was sure of it. I felt torn. But I was crying about the fat shaming, had every instance of it having happened flying through my brain.

I was lucky in some ways. The people I barely knew, who comforted me as I cried, said all the right things. They told me what happened wasn’t my fault. That what she had done was wrong and that I was right to be upset. Not everyone is so lucky. But I didn’t want to listen. I wasn’t prepared to face that what happened to me was assault, so instead, I concentrated on the fat shaming. I convinced myself that the assault was no big deal.

Years later, when I lost my virginity, I postponed getting a pap smear for two years. Normally, you are expected and encouraged to get one within a year of becoming sexually active, but I didn’t want to be in that vulnerable position again. Moreover, I became more sensitive to fat shaming. I lost my temper more quickly whenever my weight was mentioned. It tinged all my interactions with doctors. If they brought up my weight, I found it more difficult to trust them or found myself reacting negatively to the rest of the appointment. Every time a doctor failed to listen to me, it felt like another betrayal.

Everything came to a head when my GI made the decision to send me to the weight management clinic. The morning of the appointment, I woke up in a panic. My heart was beating like crazy. I was sweating. I couldn’t focus my mind. I found myself sitting in a corner, rocking back and forth and crying. I couldn’t understand why.

All I could think about was that doctor, her cold hands, the pain of the rough plastic edges as the speculum entered me, the stretching-tearing feeling of it being opened. I couldn’t get the feeling of betrayal, of being violated, out of my mind. Superimposed over those feelings was every instance when a doctor refused to listen to me, all the times when I’d had to be vulnerable with a doctor and had that vulnerability rewarded with pain and betrayal.

When I realized what was going on — a panic attack — I took some anxiety medication and tried to calm myself down. I spent my day curled around myself, trying to hold myself together, as I watched the clock tick down to my appointment. I was terrified. I didn’t know what would happen when I went into the clinic.

a blurred room

Throughout my struggle, I realized that what I had thought was no big deal had actually been affecting my interaction with doctors for years. Suddenly, I was facing the truth: What had happened to me was a big fucking deal. I had been assaulted. By a doctor. By a member of society that I was supposed to be able to trust implicitly. By a person that everyone expected me to trust. Not only had my body been violated, so had my ability to trust that doctors had my best interest at heart. What’s more, the violation brought on the realization that I was very much a member of a vulnerable population: people with disabilities are among some of the most at risk for sexual assault.

Sexual assault is about power. It is about the perpetrator feeling like they have power over the victim. It is not about sex. The inclusion of my genitals in this assault was incidental. The doctor in question wasn’t trying to get any kind of sexual thrill or fulfill a sexual desire. Who I was didn’t matter. She just needed to assert her own power over someone else, and I was the lucky victim.

If you asked her, she probably would have no idea that what she did to me was assault. She might make excuses about how she thought that the use of a speculum was necessary. She might say that she is a doctor and I am not, and that she knew better than I did. It doesn’t matter what she would say. The simple truth is that I made my boundaries clear and she violated them. The fact that she did so without even the courtesy of using lubrication (standard in those types of medical procedures) is just icing on the cake. To her, it didn’t matter if I felt pain. I wasn’t a human being in that moment. I was at her mercy. She was the one in charge and she could do whatever she wanted to me without fear of consequences. To her, what I wanted didn’t matter. And that is what makes it assault.

Assaults by doctors, unless sensationalized and existing on a large scale, rarely get talked about — and are sometimes even trivialized. We as a society put great faith in doctors. We don’t want to face that the people responsible for our health and well-being might be as human as the rest of us. We don’t want to address the fact that power dynamics that are enforced as severely as those between patients and doctors puts everyone at risk of abuse. We especially don’t want to talk about doctor abuse, because in doing so, we risk being lumped in with conspiracy theorists that take things too far and condemn the medical profession altogether. As an advocate of evidence-based medicine, it’s difficult to draw attention to abuses perpetuated by doctors and still defend medicine as a profession.

And yet, drawing attention to this abuse is very important. When someone is hurt so personally by a doctor, it can be easy to lose faith in the entire industry. Being violated by a doctor does more than affect you psychologically, it can also put your health at risk. It can make you afraid to be vulnerable with doctors again. It might mean that you try to protect yourself by keeping things to yourself that the doctor should know about. But more importantly, talking about doctor abuse is essential to help victims know that they didn’t do anything wrong and that they are not alone.

Whenever I discuss what happened to me, someone always feels the need to mention that the doctor might not have been thinking about consent but might have simply decided that using a speculum was necessary. Who was I, as an untrained patient, to decide what equipment the doctor needed or didn’t need, they ask? I have questions of my own. If doctors know better, does that mean they have the right to ignore the boundaries I set for myself? Does that mean that I have no say in what happens to my body? And if so, is my body really mine? What about your body? And where do we draw the line?

Guest Post: Sexual Assault By a Medical Provider Is Not a Big Deal… Until It Is

Please Don’t Try Again Later

TW for Sexual Assault & Sexual Coercion

If you haven’t yet heard, Kickstarter was used as a platform to launch a so-called “seduction guide.” Not long before the Kickstarter ended (and funded well above and beyond its goal, to boot) some of us started to notice that there was something very, very wrong with what was being said by the author of the work. The feminist blogosphere blew up with posts on the matter and outrage pervaded, especially as the project ended. While the calls to Kickstarter to cancel the project were not heeded in time to prevent the project from funding, Kickstarter issued one heck of an apology.

The book is happening, which is what the author and his defenders want, but Kickstarter made steps towards bettering itself as a platform, which is what the pro-consent side wants. As an added bonus, he’s working with anti-rape orgs to ensure that his book is less rape-y than his posts made it sound. That’s that, right?


Apparently, the idea of grabbing someone’s hand and placing them to your genitals is perfectly okay “in context.” Furthermore, some people started to defend him against charges of writing a rape manual thanks to this gem:

If at any point a girl wants you to stop, she will let you know. If she says “STOP,” or “GET AWAY FROM ME,” or shoves you away, you know she is not interested. It happens. Stop escalating immediately and say this line:
“No problem. I don’t want you to do anything you aren’t comfortable with.”


Memorize that line. It is your go-to when faced with resistance. Say it genuinely, without presumption. All master seducers are also masters at making women feel comfortable. You’ll be no different. If a woman isn’t comfortable, take a break and try again later.


All that matters is that you continue to try to escalate physically until she makes it genuinely clear that it’s not happening. She wants to be desired, but the circumstances need to be right. With some experience, you will learn to differentiate the “No, we can’t… my parents are in the next room… OMG FUCK ME FUCK ME HARD” from the “SERIOUSLY GET THE FUCK OFF OF ME, YOU CREEP” variety of resistance.


Of course if you’re really unclear, back off. Better safe than sorry.

Hold the fucking phones. This, to me, is way worse than advocating the moving of a hand to a dick (in almost any context), since it’s an obvious ploy. This was someone straight-up advocating trying again after being very clearly rejected, i.e. not leaving someone alone who had just told him to do so. When I talked about how appalling the Kickstarter was, I was most focused on that notion, not the hand-on-dick line. It plays into the woman-as-other narrative that poisons male-female relations and leads to pick-up artistry as a phenomenon on the first place. Women are mysterious bizarre creatures who lie and deceive so men have to figure out formulas and tricks and coercive strategies to make sense of them, dontchaknow.

it's not like they have facial expressions or distinct features or anything
it’s not like they have facial expressions or distinct features or anything

Except I don’t. What I do know is that enough men don’t take no for an answer that many women I know completely ignore or shut out most men who attempt to make any kind of contact with them because they fear that a “no” or any other kind of resistance will be read as a challenge. Better to give no response, they reason, than any that might be used against them. PuA guides like this one prove their point: any kind of interaction with a man is apparently fair game for him to try all kinds of non-consensual things.

It’s hard to say “yes” to anything at all when you know that a single “yes” you issue can be taken to be a “yes” to anything and everything at all. More frighteningly, it’s hard to say yes when you know that any “no” you issue, even one as dramatic and clear as a “STOP”, “GET AWAY FROM ME,” or a shove, would be taken seriously. That’s the world in which we live and it sucks. It sucks for women and for men. I’d like to imagine we can build a better world than one where straight men and straight women are pitted against each other in some kind of epic battle where one side thinks the other doesn’t want them while the other feels it has to constantly fend off unwanted advances.


So yes, Esther Tung, I did read the actual posts on Reddit. They disgusted and appalled me far more than the hand-on-dick thing. I’m just glad that, despite having so many defenders, this guy is revising his wording and the strategies he advocates. As cliche as it had become now, it bears repeating: yes means yes and no means no.

Please Don’t Try Again Later