Marginalisation and Anger

Last week Several months ago because half of this post got buried in my drafts folder for ages before I decided to resurrect/finish it this week, Patrick RichardsFink published a post called Dear Straight People. It was about, among other things, microaggressions and the reaction of straight people to queer anger and frustration- which is, of course, something that can be expanded to speaking of any relatively privileged person reacting to the anger of any relatively marginalised or oppressed person. It sparked off a long and involved conversation over on Facebook, and, to be honest.. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. I feel a lot of things about it. It seems to me that when we talk about this- and this is not the first conversation I’ve had this month on the topic- we talk past each other. We all speak from our own pain, reacting to the unfairness that we experience, and it’s tough to listen to others. Especially when, as we’re talking about anger, people are on edge. This post won’t be a conclusive statement or a manifesto on how we should all act towards each other forever. It’s about exploring what I see as some of the different threads and conversations going on, and trying to get to a place where we’re talking about the same things at the same times. I’m bringing in quotes and perspectives from earlier, not because I necessarily agree with all of them, but because I want them to be part of the conversation. Oh, and one note, before we start: Please don’t assume someone’s orientation or identity from what they write, unless it’s specifically stated in the text.

Do marginalised people get to express anger?

This is the most obvious question. Nobody disagreed with this: everyone accepted that marginalised people (we were largely talking about queer people but some referred to other experiences they have) get to feel upset, frustrated and angry, and that attempts to force us to be constantly polite are damaging and oppressive. Here’s Mona:

This actually applies to lots of minority issues, on different levels. (And I hope it is not perceived as disrespecting the original topic to mention this.) Many minority language cultures, for example, would do well with a bit of rightful anger, but all too often they are expected to remain polite in the face of everyday contempt and ridiculing.

And Maria:

This. I have a right to be angry. My anger is a perfectly natural and reasonable reaction. Why do my friends think I’m ‘too involved’ in something I literally cannot avoid, something I live every single day? I am allowed to be angry!

Okay. So we get to be mad. We get to have real feelings- that aren’t always pretty- about things that, as Maria said, we are forced to live with every single day. And as Mona said, it’s not just that marginalised people are expected to be polite. We’re expected to be polite when others are not. It is not okay that others get to ridicule us, hold us in contempt, spread lies about us, and make simple parts of our lives significantly more stressful, without backlash. Anger, then, isn’t just something that is ‘okay’. It’s a predictable response to intolerable situations. Constructive anger is fuel for our efforts to change things. And as for the anger we don’t or can’t channel into something productive, right then? I’ll leave you with Aoife B (yes, by the way, there are more Aoifes. Ireland is full of us):

People hurt, people get angry, people say things that they don’t mean, or don’t mean in that way. That’s being human. And we’re all human.

With that, let’s look into anger when it’s not necessarily constructive: anger as venting, anger as outbursts. Uglier kinds of anger. One thing before we go on: this is about anger. Not abuse. Not violence. Just anger and frustration. At no point am I going to condone any form of abuse by anyone. I don’t care how oppressed you are, you don’t get to be abusive, and you don’t get to use any kind of nonconsensual physical violence. Ever. End of story. Before we move on to the next question, let’s take a look at microaggressions, because this is where things start to become tricky. RichardsFink’s original post was about microaggressions and our responses to them, so let’s start from there for a little context:

Part of the experience of being marginalized is microaggressions — ambiguous situations where discrimination happens in ways that are not cut and dried. It’s been shown that these situations have a serious negative effect on us. It’s like walking around with the top layer of your skin abraded away, where something that wouldn’t bother you if it happens once in a while stings like a yellowjacket precisely because it keeps happening, over and over, and if you react to it, people who don’t deal with it all the time wonder “what’s their problem?” …People need to vent. People need to blow off steam. People in marginalized populations sometimes say things about the dominant culture in less than perfectly tactful ways. Say things like “many straight people suck, man.” Some even say things like “I hate straight people.” …if you say something like that in public, it makes straight people uncomfortable. And God forbid we should do anything that makes you uncomfortable, even for a moment, even if there is absolutely no way that anything we say can possibly cause you any damage whatsoever beyond that instant of minor discomfort.

Let’s summarise that: If you’re in a marginalised group, then you are likely to have to deal with all sorts of things every day that, taken individually, are fairly minor. When they don’t happen once, but ten or a hundred times, though? They become a big deal. If you’re wondering about the kinds of things I’m talking about, read a few of these. And then read a few more. And a few more. And more. If that doesn’t work? Picture yourself at work. You have something to get done. Someone pops to your desk for a moment to ask a question- no big deal. You answer and get back to your work. Now imagine that someone comes to ask you a simple question every five minutes for your entire work day (yes, I know this isn’t exactly far-fetched). A bit different, eh? Let’s move on to a tricky question.

Do marginalised people have a responsibility to ensure their anger is always proportional, directed at the right people, and fair?

Microaggressions can wear you down. They don’t call it the straw that broke the camel’s back for nothing, y’know? If someone has been dealing with microaggressions- be that constant questions at their desk, or constant comments about their appearance from strangers- all day, it’s not unheard-of for the 10th (or 100th) person to get snapped at. Even if they’re doing something entirely unrelated. And if you’ve been getting hassle almost exclusively from people of one group- say men, or straight people, or white people- it’s not uncommon to lash out back. Is this fair? Is it okay? Honestly, I don’t know. Katie says absolutely not- that while you need a space to vent, you’ve got to keep innocent bystanders out:

basically ….just because every person who has come into the office today has been rude to me. This does not mean I get to shout at the next person who comes in to the office and if all of those people just happened to be Men .. I am not going to assume that all of mankind are to blame I know they are not but some are the select few who were in the office today. When I go to vent about it later on de interwebs it is important to make that distinction for myself and others. Everyone has anger and I am not saying the authors anger is not justified I just don’t like the way they have chosen to deal with their anger by using it to defend their sweeping generalisations.

Lucy has a similar perspective:

While I fundamentally agree with the idea that the minority group has every right to be angry, I disagree that this fact gives anyone a free pass to say hateful things about another group. I am queer. I would never say that I hate straight people. I might say “I hate when people do XYZ, which tends to go along with straight privilege,” but I’m not going to say I hate a group of people, and I can’t support those who do say things like that.

It seems that for both Katie and Lucy it’s important to acknowledge that even when acting in a particular oppressive way is associated with membership of a certain group, group membership isn’t destiny and we need to point out that privileged groups aren’t oppressive monoliths.

This ties into a closely related point: oppression is not a thing perpetuated solely by the people in a powerful group against those in a marginalised one. Oppression is a thing perpetuated by society as a whole. It is internalised by people regardless of group membership. Sexism, for example, is not defined as a system in which men and only men oppress everybody else. It is a system where men are privileged above not-men due to both overt and subtle ubiquitous forces and tendencies. The patriarchy isn’t men. It’s all of us. That’s one hell of an academic distinction, though, when you’re the one dealing with the patriarchal (/kyriarchal) bullshit.

I think that there are two conflicting responsibilities here. Most of us are marginalised people in some way. We’re going to get angry. While it is not always possible or practical (anger is messy!), channelling that anger towards worthy targets is a good aim.

Expressing anger, however, does have another function.

Anger as Visibility

Anger is visible. Remember how I said that oppression is a thing perpetuated by all of us? One of the ways this happens is by our common denial that we have anything to do with it. Homophobes are the WBC, and I’ve never stood on the street telling queers they’re going to burn in hell. Racists wear white sheets, and the only white sheets I have are on my bed. Sexists are… you get the picture. Extreme forms of discrimination are easy to see. We’re nothing like that.

Except, of course, that extreme forms of discrimination have to be nurtured somewhere, and I’m afraid that that somewhere is, to one extent or another, everywhere. When the status quo is oppressive (it is), then staying neutral just keeps things as they are.

The status quo needs shaking up. Anger- even messy outbursts of I CAN’T FUCKING DEAL WITH THIS SHIT ANYMORE WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU PEOPLE DOING- shakes things up. Anger is a sign that someone’s been stressed to a breaking point. Anger reminds us that something is rotten. It knocks away a little of our complacency.

Of course we all should try to direct our anger in productive ways as much as possible. It’s not a disaster, however, when that doesn’t happen. And remember: this kind of anger doesn’t come from nowhere. It’s a response. As for dealing with that response..

What are the responsibilities of allies?

Let’s get one thing out of the way: I despise the word ‘ally’. Don’t like it. I’ll go into why in a lot of detail in another post, but in short: supporting marginalised groups you’re not a member of is a thing you do, not a thing you are. That said, (almost) all of us have some privilege, and if we’re working against that we’re likely to encounter anger sometimes. Ugly, messy, lashing-out anger. Let’s not sugarcoat this. Receiving anger hurts. But that hurt doesn’t happen out of context. Sean had this to say:

Someone from a minority making claims about white, straight, able-bodied men might still do emotional harm but it’s not very likely to contribute towards further discrimination. I admit I do get offended when people make sweeping claims like “I hate straight people” because I do my best to be open-minded and inform myself on issues that minority groups face but I guess at the end of the day I can put up with the odd comment like that because society isn’t exactly oppressing me. (Italics are mine)

While as oppressed people it’s often a good idea to focus our anger at appropriate targets when we can, when we are privileged it’s our responsibility to.. deal with it. Take some breaths. If we need to stew and simmer (we’re only human!), be careful about where we direct that hurt. Understand that whatever anger we’re receiving is magnified many times by the other crap the person has had to deal with. Accept that it’s not fair. It’s not fair for anyone involved. Understand that the hurt and outrage you’re feeling is happening because of all the unacceptable things that the person lashing out at you has to deal with. Direct your hurt and outrage there. The more privilege you have in a situation, the more responsibility you have to not lash back. On this one, I’ll leave you with Ernest:

Immediately reacting to an understandable-if-hyperbolic-and-ill-considered outburst of “AAARGH GROUP X ARE REALLY ANNOYING TODAY” by immediately asking “you don’t mean me?” or “not ALL…” pretty much means that you are now included in the subset of Group X who are annoying them today. If The Generic You feels it’s necessary to pull someone up for something they’ve said while angry, do it when the urge to strangle has died down. If for no other reason, they’re much more likely to listen.

Let’s get intersectional

This is where it gets complicated. If the world were divided neatly into privileged and oppressed, we could all portion out how much anger we can take (and from who) and how much venting we get to do. It’s not, though. It’s messy- messier than our anger, messier than the hurt that leads to that anger or that results from it.

As people who are hurt and angry, intersectionality, I think, reminds us that other people could be dealing with things as opaque to us as our experiences are to them. There’s no such thing as the Last Acceptable Prejudice. All prejudices are the Last Acceptable Prejudices. While they all hurt us in different ways, the fact of that harm is always there. Vent if we need to, but understand that not-in-my-group doesn’t equal never-hurt, that not all things are visible to bystanders, and that this person might have a load of microaggressions of their own tipping them over an edge you never knew existed.

But I think that can be a positive thing, as well. If we accept both the specificity of our own experiences and the almost-universality of forces that grind away at our edges, it makes absorbing the righteous anger of others easier. We know what it’s like to need to lash out, and we can use that understanding to respond with empathy, solidarity and support.

Most of the time, anyway. I hope. It’s complicated.

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Marginalisation and Anger

She Blinded Me With Linkspam

Literacy Privilege: How I Learned to Check Mine Instead of Making Fun of People’s Grammar on the Internet

Some kinds of checking your privilege are more difficult than others.  Accepting that I get shedloads of unearned advantages because of being white, Western, cis and middle-class, and that I should do something about that? Not a bother. Coming to terms with the fact that my beloved Eats, Shoots and Leaves might be a bit on the problematic side? IT IS KILLING THE KITTENS OF MY BRAIN. But here you have it:

It’s one thing to take an erudite journalist or grandiloquent blogger (don’t know any of those, myself) down a notch, although there are valid arguments against even this; grammatical exactitude can suffocate creativity and clarity, and many prescriptive rules were totally fabricated by Latin-centric snobs. But when a poor newbie on a discussion forum introduces himself with “hi im jonny n i like wachin x facter” and gets linguistically skewered by someone because they personally hate the pants off of Simon Cowell – well, that is a different kind of problem.

It’s like they got right into my brain. Damnit.

Empathy for the Devil

This one is similar in brain-breaking but with far more trigger warnings, for bullying and rape. TW for the following quote as well:

You and I might be appalled by the idea of being a rapist dear reader, but we can’t understand rapists unless we leave open the door to the possibility that they do it because they like it, and feel good about it afterwards. In the original article that triggered a Twitter storm and aroused the writers at Feministe, Alyssa Royce sought to explain why nice guys commit rape, but for whatever reason she sought to exclude the possibility that rapists pass themselves off as nice guys. If we want to empathize with rapists we have to be able to understand, at a visceral level, that they might be enjoying themselves, that it might be the culmination of every wank they’ve had since puberty.

Returning to Mel Greig and Michael Christian, we have to be brutally honest. They might be nice people who got sucked into doing someone else’s dirty work, or they might just enjoy being bullies. We don’t know. Empathy is not sympathy, and if you wish to empathize with the devil, you have to consider the possibility that people do the devil’s work not because they have fallen, but because he has all the good tunes and they like to dance. (emphasis mine)

I Learn So Much from Twitter: Why Marriage Matters

The ever-awesome Dusty Rose over at Tutus and Tiny Hats talks about marriage, practicality and the dodginess of being more-radical-than-thou.

[D]espite Jenn’s insistence that marriage is inherently linked to capitalism,  ”people get married in socialist countries, communist countries, tribal cultures that have no monetary system.”

I think this is a really important distinction. Marriage can definitely be a vehicle for consumerism, but it doesn’t have to be, any more than it has to be a vehicle for sexism. It seems sort of…closed-minded to assume otherwise.

The Space We Need

One of the things it has triggered a lot of thinking about lately is how those of us with fat bodies negotiate our way through the physical spaces of the world.  I got to thinking about just how conscious I am of the space my body takes up, and how I have to negotiate my body in a world that marks me as “abnormal”.  The more I paid attention to it, the more I noticed that almost every aspect of my life is framed around this process of moving my body around in the world.

On a similar (yet more fabulous) note, check out awesome Irish fatshion blogger Haute Proportions! And throw her a ‘like’ over on Facebook while you’re at it.

Surviving the Holidays as Queer People of Colour: Give the Gift of Media

I discovered Saving Face, a film drama-comedy about two lesbian Chinese-American girls navigating family expectations about career and marriage. That film was the closest I had to reflecting the complexities of my identity as a queer person of color who was also an immigrant — another narrative that is also missing from mainstream media.

I remember making my sister watch the film, and noticing afterwards–even though she may not have–how it changed our conversations and relationship for the better. She loved the film so much because she could relate to the immigrant-in-America theme, the plight of the main character, who was torn between following  family tradition and making her own choices. After watching the film, my sister saw my own circumstance in a new light, making her my biggest advocate and ally within my family.

And finally, I rediscovered an oldie-but-essential from Crommunist: You’re Not A Racist, You’re Just Racist

Racism is best understood as the product of ideas, both conscious and unconscious, about other people, and our tendency to try and reduce people to convenient labels (like… oh, I dunno… ‘a racist’). I can certainly understand why people like to use this term, because it allows them to preserve their self-concept of being a good person and scapegoat racist activities as the product of “racists”. Once blame has been assigned in this way, then the speaker can dust her/his hands off and say “it’s not my problem – I’m not a racist.” However, that simply means the problems never get solved, because the only people whose self-concept allows them to brand themselves as being “a racist” are proud of that appellation.

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

She Blinded Me With Linkspam

Callout culture, tone trolling and being the Perfect Ally

This morning, I was linked to a couple of interesting articles, Liberal bullying: Privilege-checking and semantics-scolding as internet sport at the Offbeat Empire, and Pyromaniac Harlot’s The Unicorn Ally. As social justice, communication and the idea of being an ally have been on my mind a lot lately, these provided food for thought. Both authors are people who, like me and like most people, intersect on both sides of the oppressed/ally fence. Both raise some important questions to which I don’t have any easy answers. I’d love a conversation.

Callout culture versus tone trolling- How important are semantics?

In Liberal Bullying, Ariel Meadow Stallings argues that callous culture has become a form of bullying. She sees callout culture as having become a

“new form of online performance art, where internet commenters make public sport of flagging potentially problematic language as insensitive, and gleefully flag authors as needing to check their privilege”

Stallings continues:

“It’s a kind of trolling, with all the politics I agree with, but motivations and execution that turns my stomach. It’s well-intended (SO well-intended), but when the motivations seem to be less about opening dialogue about the issues, and more about performance, righteousness, and intolerance for those who don’t agree with you… well, I’m not on-board.”

There’s so much to unpack here. For one thing, where do we draw the line between tone-trolling and legitimate expressions of anger? People in marginalised groups are often pissed about their marginalisation, and rightly so. Where do we create spaces for safe expression of that anger, and where do we create spaces that are safer for (potential) allies who might need a bit of 101? Whose comfort matters, and where?

I feel uncomfortable expecting perfect behaviour from marginalised people at all times. Holding people to a higher standard is, after all, itself a mechanism of marginalisation. Marginalised folks are expected to be exemplars at all times, to avoid ‘letting the side down’ and showing up the entire group. Additionally, marginalised people are generally subject to far more punitive sanctions for any misbehaviour than their more privileged counterparts.

This doesn’t mean that someone should be let off the hook if they turn out to be a member of a marginalised group. But it does mean that I’m a little uncomfortable with statements like this:

“This is where it starts to feel like the “GOD HATES FAGS!” sign-wavers. While the political sentiments are exactly opposite, the motivations are remarkably similar.”

You don’t get to compare people to a vile hate-group just because you don’t like how they’re acting in your comments section. Doing so feels like godwinning the entire thing.

But I can’t deny that we have a major problem with bullying online. And I can’t deny that internet-pile-ons can get incredibly ugly and disproportionate. If we want to grow our movements and welcome allies among the relatively-privileged, which every movement needs to do, we’ve got to make spaces where people can figure things out.

The ‘Perfect Ally’?

This is where Pyromaniac Harlot’s article comes in. Harlot writes about having a difficult time navigating allyhood and being under immense pressure to be perfect the entire time- something which she feels has been constructed as an impossible standard:

As an ally, my job is to not impose my own beliefs of what’s ‘right’, but instead amplify the voices of the oppressed people that I’m trying to be an ally for. Except that I shouldn’t bug them about educating me, because that’s not what they’re there for. And it’s my duty to talk about the issue of oppression in question, because it’s the job of all of us, rather than the oppressed people, to fix it. Except that when I talk, I shouldn’t be using my privilege to drown out the voices of the oppressed people. Also, I should get everything right, 100% of the time. Including the terminology that the oppressed people in question themselves disagree on.

Should we be really trying to be perfect allies? If there’s one thing that intersectionality teaches us, it’s that things are complicated. We don’t get a nice simple world with easy definitions of right and wrong, privileged and marginalised, ally and enemy. If someone wants me to be their perfect ally all the time, then I’m sorry. It’s not going to happen.

On the other hand, these are questions I ask myself all the time. When I’m working as an ally- which I try to devote a reasonable amount of time to- I’m incredibly conscious of all of the above. I don’t take it personally, though. I don’t choose to be privileged in some respects any more than I choose to be marginalised in others. Things like disagreeing while being an ally are always going to be complicated and difficult.

Privilege and allyhood

A thing I hear a lot is that even if dealing with being called out on privilege sucks, it sucks a hell of a lot less than oppression. A truer statement has rarely been said. But many of our allies also come from marginalised groups. How do we call out people who are relatively privileged but who might also be tired from dealing with their own oppressions, without either being assholes or censoring ourselves? Pyromaniac raises this question:

“I happen to be educated enough to understand varying levels of heavy jargon. I don’t have any conditions that prevent me from reading for hours. I happen to have the luxury of sufficient free time in which to do this. So telling me to go read up on something is kind of ok. But you know what? Most people don’t have that level of luxury. People are busy, you know, surviving themselves. They don’t necessarily have laptops, broadband, and ample time in which to make use of those things.”

This seems like one hell of a question to me, and possibly the most important that I’ve seen in these posts. If our allies are- like most people- oppressed/marginalised themselves in other ways, how do we deal with expectations of perfection or call-out culture? How do our obligations change? This isn’t something that I have any easy answers for.

How about you? What do you think about allyhood, about callout culture, about tone-trolling, about navigating intersections of privilege and oppression in our activism(s)?

Callout culture, tone trolling and being the Perfect Ally

Eilis O’Hanlon’s definition of equality

Yesterday I asked Eilis O’Hanlon precisely what equality means to her, in response to her claim that she is “in favour of full equality” for trans people. My query was in response to a rather vile article she published recently. TW on all those links above, btw, for transphobia.

I have yet to receive an answer.

One thing I’m pretty sure that equality doesn’t mean to her, though, include being treated with equal dignity to others. It also doesn’t include not being singled out, mocked, and stereotyped because of one’s membership of a particular group. It doesn’t include having equal access to cultural and legal institutions as others.

So, Eilis. I’m going to ask you again: If equality is not about equal rights, equal access, equal dignity, or the right to not be singled-out and derided because of your membership of a particular group, then what exactly does it mean?

 What, precisely, is left?

Eilis O’Hanlon’s definition of equality

This Is How You Do It: words, privilege, and the stuff you don’t know.

Full disclosure: I think Tim Minchin is great. Massive fan. The guy can make me righteous, giggly, and teary pretty much on demand. All three at once, with White Wine In The Sun.

He’s also straight and cis and male, so it’s not terribly surprising that every so often something a bit ignorant will come out of his face. It happens. Foot-in-mouth disease is one of the more embarrassing symptoms of all forms of privilege. Fortunately, it’s also eminently treatable- even if the treatment involves a little bit more self-awareness and humility than most people are willing to shell out for. But just in case you’re in this situation, here’s a good timeline on how to clear up the vast majority of foot-in-mouth infestations:

Find out that you’ve done something ridiculous, ignorant, and offensive:

It’s quite likely that you won’t have realised it at the time, but you’ve just Screwed Up Royally. Oops! If you’re unlucky, then you’ll never find out. However, if you’re very very lucky, then someone will point out to you that you did a thing and now you’ve a giant foot hanging out of your face:

Chances are, your first reaction is going to be somewhere between denial and disbelief. For the sake of that foot not lodging itself permanently halfway down your esophagus, let’s hope it was closer to the latter.

Acknowledge it

By now you’ll have realised that you’ve Screwed Up. Again, you’ve two choices here. You can keep with the denial, or you can begin the process of dislodging that foot by, well, acknowledging your screwup.

And look at that, some of that foot’s coming loose already. This is where many people stop treatment. However, unbeknownst to you, you still do have a few toes between your teeth. It’s okay, treatment for this is very straightforward.

Try not to be too defensive

This is the hard part. You see, nobody likes being told they have a giant foot sticking out of their face. They probably think they have a perfectly lovely face with just a nose and maybe some glasses sticking out of it. A little bit of defensiveness is, unfortunately, almost inevitable. Just try and tone it down a bit, or you’ll run out of feet.

Oh, and you might want to do a bit of accepting that there are bigger issues at stake than your own ego also.

Prevention is better than cure

Foot-in-mouth can be a recurring condition, and it only gets worse with repeated exposures. Fortunately, there’s a reasonably effective method of vaccination! Vaccines are great, aren’t they? And just like a quick jab or three can prevent you from coming down with the pox, a little bit of knowledge can keep your feet firmly attached to your ankles where they belong. This kind of vaccine is also cheap ‘n’ easy to mass-produce and to spread throughout the population, and doesn’t even need a visit to your GP. Nifty, huh?

And there we go! Foot pretty much reattached to leg.

Now, I’m not saying that Tim did everything right here. However, engaging with the people who you’ve offended, listening to what they have to say, doing a bit of research, being public about what you’ve learned, and a commitment to changing future behaviour? Is pretty frickin’ awesome, as far as I’m concerned.

Also, have a video:

What do you think? I’m very aware that I’m a cis person pontificating on how to not be an ass to trans people and am a bit on the privilegey side myself here, so would be very very interested in hearing other perspectives.

This Is How You Do It: words, privilege, and the stuff you don’t know.

A spectacularly middle-class kind of broke.

“Some people are money-poor and time-rich. Some people are time-poor and money-rich. Some are rich in both. Some are poor in both” – The Statistician, in the pub, the other day.

I am broke. Broooooke. Super-trendy-recessionista-broke. Paying the bills for the next couple of months is gonna be tight. I am forced to learn to budget with an iron fist, and I don’t like it one bit.

At the same time, my quality of life has gone through the roof.

I may be broke, you see, but I’m simultaneously privileged up the wazoo in so many little ways that make this possible.

Let’s start with time. I have a job four days a week. This, once I start getting paid for it, will give me just about enough money to pay the bills and have nice things every so often as long as I’m careful. I also have a bicycle. I can get to and from work for free and in a reasonable amount of time. I have three days off every week.

I live in a city where I have easy access on that bike to fresh, tasty produce. As long as I keep it seasonal, it’s also incredibly cheap. I have tupperware and a (small) freezer. I have access to the internet, and I’ve had access to this kind of fresh food all my life, so I know how to make it delicious. I can spend a tiny amount of money and eat very, very well.

I used to have more money than I do now, so I have things. I have my laptop. I have a couple of nice cameras. I have a giant pile of yarn, an e-reader, a ukulele. I have stuff. It may not be incredibly new stuff, but it’s the kind of stuff that I can have fun with.

My job may not be in my field, but I was able to get it. I was probably able to get it so easily because I was able to go to college, and because I look and act like the middle-class arts grad I am.

If push came to shove and I wasn’t able to pay my rent, I have a stack of family and friends who have enough resources that I know I could call on them to help me out if I needed. I know that I could get that help from somewhere, if I needed it. I have no need to fear being homeless or destitute. I sleep well.

Being broke sucks. However I’ve gotta say that this spectacularly middle-class, urban kind of broke-ness? This kind of broke-ness that means I’ve gotta be careful with money and I only have an old Xbox to play video games on? As broke-ness goes, it’s pretty fuckin’ sweet.

A spectacularly middle-class kind of broke.

Learning to stop worrying and love my bum. Also, privilege. Damnit.

Don’t you hate it when everything you do seems mired in some kind of foggy maze of constantly messing up somehow? I know I do. You know where it really gets me? Body image.

Yes, body image. That one. What I would call an Achilles’ heel, if it weren’t that Achilles seemed to have a pretty darn good image of himself and didn’t spend much time worrying over whether anyone was noticing the dry skin on his heel, and whether his heel was too knobbly or not knobbly enough.

Working out a way to feel happy in your (okay, my) own skin is notoriously difficult. We’re all supposed to want to lose 10 (or 100) pounds, to be darker or lighter, to detest every stray hair or uneven skin tone or boniness or squishiness or muscliness or… I could go on. But I won’t be the first, and you’ve all heard it too many times before.

I’ve tried a lot of different strategies to be okay in my skin, with varying success. Once, I even tried dieting and exercise. At once. That was not a good, er, fortnight*.

So instead, I work on accepting myself as I am and working on showing myself the same kindness that I would others. I look at my body not as something to be perfected, but a canvas on which my experiences are written- from the squishiness of my thesisbum, to the stories that come with scars. To the way that my eyes wrinkle when I smile in exactly the same way as my relatives do. These things are who I am. They are where I come from.

But the thing that’s done the most for me in terms of feeling good about my body? Was a complete paradigm shift. I started to Exercise More (and also eat more. Because nothing makes a girl hungry like actually working up an appetite). Gradually, my body stopped being a thing which was there to (fail to) look a certain way. It became a thing that did things. A thing that would run this far- just a little further than before. A thing that could pick up a thing just a little bit heavier than the thing it could pick up before. Get a little further up a wall. A few weeks ago I walked a couple of hundred kilometers, and my body became a thing that hurt like hell and kept going.

And I stopped caring too much what it looked like. And then I started really appreciating what it- what I- looked like. I used to hate showing my legs- all knobbly knees and too-pale skin. But I’m not going to be ashamed of legs that walked me for miles and miles and miles. Legs that held up me, my backpack, and litres upon litres of water. Legs that dragged us uphill and hurt like hell and kept on walking. Those aren’t just plain good legs. Those are bloody brilliant legs. Hell yeah, I’ll wear skirts and shorts. Who cares about pale skin, knobbly knees and more bruises than you can shake a stick at? These legs rock.

And feeling that- feeling that sense of power and purpose in my body- I get angry. As women, we’re told too often that our bodies are there to be pretty. To look a certain way. There’s barely any mention of how wonderful it is to have a body that does things. In fact, there’s a whole lot of shame even there. How many people do you know with not-socially-considered-ideal bodies who don’t feel even a little self-conscious at a gym? Or going for a run, or a swim? How many people don’t do those things, and therefore lose out on the joy of having bodies that slowly but surely can do more and more things, because of the censure- internal and external- for simply being open about the shapes of our bodies? For being seen to be ourselves in public? For daring to not be ashamed?

Of course, here’s where you get to privilege. Not just the kind where it’s safe- physically, at least- to be embodied in public. Or the kind where you’ve managed to scrape together the gutsiness to brush off whatever’s going to come your way. The more basic kind. If the only way I’ve been able to be happy with my body is by making it stronger, isn’t that a wee bit ableist? Isn’t the very idea that bodies need to be somehow redeemed- either through excessive prettiness or physical ability- ableist as all hell?

Having a body that’ll run, climb, swim, row and pick up heavy things is one hell of a (temporary!) privilege. Having a body that’s gender/size-normative enough to pass without comment in a swimsuit (god I love swimming) is one hell of a privilege. Then again, existing as a (queerish, femme-but-not-the-right-kind-of-femme) woman trying to navigate my way into being happy with the body I walk around in sure as hell ain’t a privilege.

And this is the thing. Here’s the thing where we inevitably fuck up, because there’s too many cards stacked against us from too many damn directions.

Bodies shouldn’t need to be redeemed. Bodies don’t need to be redeemed. They’re fine just the way they are. But all of us walking and rolling our way around in them are living in a society that demands we redeem our bodies. That we make up for taking up space by being pretty, by being capable, or by being decently ashamed of our very shape and our very skin. Ideally, all of the above.

And we deal with that any way we can.


*The large quantities of cake and cheese afterward, on the other hand, made a very good evening.

Learning to stop worrying and love my bum. Also, privilege. Damnit.

A Linkspam To The Past

Since I disappeared from the internet for a while, the first few links here are going to be ancient history. Things which are multiple weeks old. Several decades, in internet time.

I still think they’re worth sharing. And want to do so before everything in this post becomes truly paleolithic, so it’s going up today instead of on schedule, next Wednesday. Because it’s my blog, and I can.


Geekery and the Humanities: A defense of the humanities, of subjectivity, and why they’re as much a part of geek culture as the STEM fields. Also, why Sheldon is a dick.

I’m not anti-logic or anti-science; I do think these things are valuable, but they can only be convincing and powerful when they take into account emotion and the humanities (for lack of a better term). None of these things work best on their own. Which brings me to my real argument: the idea that the humanities are less important than STEM is an idea that geeks need to drop, because the humanities are constitutive to geek culture, just as much as science, technology, and math are.

Why Does She Stay With That Jerk? TW for domestic violence. Holly Pervocracy looks at reasons why people she met through her work in the ER stayed in abusive relationships. I’m not going to quote anything specifically, so I can keep the TW at the other side of the link. It’s essential reading, though, if you’ve ever wondered why people stick out relationship abuse. On a similar note is autumn whitefield-madrano’s post over on Feministe,  “I Can Handle It”: On Relationship Violence, Independence, and Capability. This post is a lot more personal- it was a lot more difficult for me to read, because of this. It’s her story of what it felt like for her, from the inside of an abusive relationship.

Cisgender News is the best. If you’ve ever facepalmed at how trans people are discussed in the media, you’ll love it. If you haven’t, then you should probably read it anyway to get a snarky, snarky feel for how messed-up it is. Then you too can facepalm!

Rebekah Wade – a cisgender woman who has now quit as News International chief executive – not only conquered the macho cis world of tabloid journalism to become its queen but did so with astonishing speed. What was behind her rise to power?

Rebekah Brooks – as she started to call herself following a second marriage – courted power but avoided publicity.  She started receiving female hormones via her ovaries during her first puberty, and intends to continue with them.

And now for something a little more current.

I’m an atheist. Is that a problem? Kate Hilpern writes about being an atheist godparent. What does being a godparent really mean? Is it as much a purely religious role as the church would have you believe? Is it okay for atheists to participate in religious baptisms?

some will say I have no integrity. As its name suggests, a spokesperson from the Church of England points out, at the heart of the role is a commitment to support someone in the journey of faith. An atheist can be a wonderful influence in a child’s life, but being a godparent is to be a representative of the religious community and an example of godly living (which is why they should be baptised and preferably confirmed), in addition to supporting them socially.

I’m an atheist. I’m a godparent as well. When I was asked to be a godparent I was still technically a member of the Catholic Church, not having yet registered my apostasy, but was a nonbeliever. The reasons why I happily went into a church, crossed my fingers behind my back and took part in that ceremony? Because I was incredibly honoured to be asked. Because my own relationship with my godparents has always been about love, not doctrine. Because there are very few people who I’ll engage in Catholic ceremonies for- and my godkid’s dad is one of them. Am I entirely happy with that decision? I have no idea.

Finally, today’s Awesome Person Of The Week is Sally. Who has a thing or two to say about being described as a precious pearl. Or a lollipop. And also a few things to say about preventing sexual assault. (Hint: not assaulting people is a good start).


A Linkspam To The Past

All is full of linkspam

Johann Hari says that peace in Ireland depends on ending educational segregation. I couldn’t agree more.

PZ Myers takes some time to remind us why his day job involves teaching. Dear Emma is an (unsent) letter to a child being coached my creationists to undermine science. Ever wanted to know how to explain radiometric dating to a nine-year-old? With a side-order of the wonder of scientific inquiry? Without talking down or patronising? Now you know how.

Michael Barron compares the smear campaign against David Norris, and similar attempts to discredit BeLonG To.

With the recent palaver surrounding ElevatorGate, a very-frickin-useful piece on what privilege means: On the difference between good dogs and dogs that need a newspaper smack. Also Nahida at the Fatal Feminist has responded to my response to Dawkins, from a Muslim feminist perspective. Check it out!

And finally, Rachel Rabbit White talks to sex workers about questioning anti-trafficking organisations.

For your entertainment while you’re reading all of those, check out this video. In honour of the last Shuttle launch, and all the (fictional) women in space. I don’t know about you, but I’ve watched it about six times already and I can’t get sick of it. I love how the ways these women are depicted changes throughout the video- how much more we have become in our imaginations.


All is full of linkspam

Weighing in on ElevatorGate: Perspectives and Privilege.

  1. Before I start: Trigger warning for talk of potential sexual assault and misogyny. Oh, also orientalism and Islamophobia and talk of FGM. Also describing the opinions of MRAs, PUAs, and an immensity of mansplaining, so even if you don’t need TWs, you might want to affix a small pillow to your forehead.

Also, if you happen to be my mother, than I’m warning you that I use several different swearwords here. If you’re Richard Dawkins, then you’re not my mother and you don’t get to complain if I swear.

If you’re lucky enough to not have been in the more skeptically and atheistically inclined corners of the internet this weekend, you’ll probably not have heard of ElevatorGate. Here’s a summary of events. For those of you who are already well aware of what’s been going on, I’ve popped some headings up so you can skip the summary, if you like.

What Happened at the Convention

Last month was the World Atheist Convention here in Dublin. One of the speakers was Rebecca Watson. Rebecca spoke on a Communicating Atheism panel. Her talk focused on her experiences as a female atheist activist- particularly her experiences of misogyny and inappropriate sexualisation. That night she went to the hotel bar with other attendees. Stayed up chatting till 4am, at which time she said to everyone that she was exhausted, that she’s had enough and was going to bed*. She gets into the elevator. A man follows her in to the elevator, says that he finds her very interesting, and would she like to come back to his room for coffee. She declines, goes to bed.

A few weeks later, Rebecca puts up a vlog in which she talks about the things she’s been doing, including this. If you don’t fancy looking through all of it, she talks about the afternoon panel from about 2:30, and her comments on Elevator Guy start at about 4:40.

Here’s her criticism of Elevator Guy:

“Just a word to the wise, guys? Uh, don’t do that. You know, I don’t really know how else to explain how this makes me incredibly uncomfortable. But I’ll just lay it out that I was a single woman, in a foreign country at 4am in a hotel elevator with you. Just you. And I.. Don’t invite me back to your hotel room, right after I’ve finished talking about how it creeps me out and it makes me uncomfortable when men sexualise me in that manner. So.. yeah”

That’s it. She didn’t call ElevatorGuy a rapist. She didn’t say that this was the worst thing that has ever happened. She didn’t say anything, in fact, about the intentions of ElevatorGuy. She said that a thing had happened, that in that context it was highly inappropriate and made her feel uncomfortable, and she advised people to not do things like that in future. She then, by the way, goes on to say that loads of other people- both men and women- at the conference were awesome.

What Happened Next.

I’d love to say that what happened next was that the internet said “oh, right”, and toddled on about their business with just a little bit more of an idea of how to not make people feel incredibly uncomfortable. Maybe that some people asked for clarification on what had happened, got it, and than moved on. Because this? This should not have been a big deal.

But these things are always big deals.

Accusations fly of how Rebecca hates men. Of how she’s a feminazi who doesn’t want men to ever be able to talk to women. About how men can do nothing these days without being accused of being rapists. Of how she’s making a big deal over nothing** and should Get Over It. Of how she’s villifying poor, innocent ElevatorGuy*** who was probably just a shy, socially awkward chap who wanted nothing more than a cup of coffee. Of how she’s some kind of big-headed vanitybot who can’t accept that obviously an offer of coming back to someone’s room for coffee and a chat at 4am is hardly ever an invitation for sex, and how dare she think that anyone could be attracted to her.

All because, by the way, she said that a thing made her feel uncomfortable and that people should probably not do things like that.

But then things got worse. So, so much worse. Because here is where Richard Dawkins got involved. Yes, that Richard Dawkins.

What Richard Did Next.

Richard Dawkins commented on this. Fortunately for me, Jen McCreight has done a marvellous job of covering this one, so I don’t have to. But because I’d like to keep at least one or two readers here for the moment, I’ll quote RD’s original comment (as posted in Pharyngula):

Dear Muslima
Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and . . . yawn . . . don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.

Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so . . .

And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.


If your forehead’s all bruised from the headdesking, don’t blame me. I told you you’d need that pillow. I wouldn’t be surprised if RD finished this screed with an entreaty to Watson to finish off her vegetables because there are poor hungry kids in Africa**** who’d just love a plate of mushy, overcooked broccoli.

There are a few things I’m not going to even start with here. The lumping of all Muslims into one big, amorphous blob. The assumption that no Muslims are, in fact, Americans. The equation of a religion with a billion or so incredibly diverse followers and the actions of assholes who choose to interpret that religion in a very particular, very narrow, very fucked-up way. Because those things? Those things are important. They are big deals. They are not things that I wanted to leave unmentioned here. But they are also things for another day, and another post. Because here I want to focus not on the ways that the skeptical community can be prejudiced against other groups. I want to focus on the ways in which we have just treated one of our own.

What RD did was not unique, or special. It was not particularly different to what many other people had done. All it did, really, was fan the flames. And oh, what flames there were! Flames and flames and flames and flames and flames. And flames. And that’s just the flames on my own little RSS feed.

Wherein I get to the point.

And here is where I get to what I would like to say about this. What I’m talking about is mainly about how the discussion of this has gone- which is, in turn, a thing which mainly exists in the comments of the posts I’ve linked to so far in this post.

I want to talk about how what happened has been framed. And what that says about who is and is not privileged in our society.

Let’s go back to those accusations against Watson that I mentioned earlier. They tend to fall into a certain small number of categories.

  1. Rebecca is, herself, privileged. Loads of worse things happen to women every day and she needs to get over herself.
  2. ElevatorGuy wasn’t a rapist! Why are people being mean to ElevatorGuy? Can’t a guy catch a break around here? Why did Rebecca call him a rapist?!
  3. Rebecca wants to outlaw flirting. If a man can’t approach a woman in a suggestive manner, then nobody will ever have sex with anyone, ever.
  4. This is totally just another way that women make false accusations against men. Just like those false accusations of rape that happen all the time. ALL THE TIME, DOODZ.
  5. So, yeah, women get raped. But what about the poor non-rapist men who feel uncomfortable being associated with rapists?
  6. …yeah, I’m just expressing my opinion. You want me to not express my opinion now, huh? Fuckin’ feminazis, trying to silence men.

Okay. So I’ll admit that I’ve taken a liberty or two with phrasing here. Guilty as charged. But the concepts are reasonably true to form. And here’s the thing about them:

They’re almost all talking about how men feel, and how ElevatorGuy felt.

This is a problem of framing, and one of perspectives. You see, Watson didn’t actually accuse ElevatorGuy of any terrible intentions. She just said that a thing had happened, and how she felt about it, and that people shouldn’t do those kinds of things if they don’t want people to feel uncomfortable. Particularly if the person in question has specifically stated that they don’t want that kind of interaction.

The responses don’t talk about that. The responses don’t talk about Watson’s perspective. They don’t frame the issue as one which is about her. They frame the issue as something she said, which is about men. Men are the people who are relevant, in these responses. Men are the ones whose feelings we should worry about, and think about, and consider.

A woman mentions a thing that made her feel uncomfortable, and the discussion surrounding this is all about how the men felt to hear about it.

This is systemic privilege. A group of people are so accustomed to having discussions be framed around them, that even when the thing being described is mainly about a non-group member, they are able to alter the discussion to be about them.

A woman mentions a thing that made her feel uncomfortable, and is immediately villified and told that her concerns are unimportant.

This is systemic privilege. A group of people are so accustomed to having discussions be framed around their needs, their issues, their comforts and discomforts, that they are unable to see a thing from an outside perspective.

A woman mentions a thing that made her feel uncomfortable, and her concerns are brushed off and compared unfavourably to a relatively-marginalised group.

This is systemic privilege. A group of people are so accustomed to their privilege that any marginalisation that is not incredibly extreme is invisible to them. So accustomed to their privilege that they cannot imagine anyone can walk in the same circles they do, exist in the same society, and not share it.

There are many, many more things that I could say about this. About why ElevatorGuy acted inappropriately. About the contexts in which this happened. But this post is about framing. About who gets to talk, who they talk about, and what that means. About whose perspectives are seen as worthwhile.

* Can’t fault her on this one, since I, lightweight I am, had begged off about three hours beforehand.

** She wasn’t the one making the big deal here. A minute or so of talking on a vlog? Not. Making. A. Fuss.

*** Did you see anything in that quote where she says ElevatorGuy is a bad person? Because I didn’t. She says that he did a thing, that she felt uncomfortable, and that people shouldn’t do that thing. I’m not a bad person because I ate the last of your cookies. I just owe you a damn cookie and should probably not do that again.

**** Just Africa, of course. And all of Africa. Because Africa’s a country, not a continent, and everything is the same there and everyone knows that all the kids in Africa are poor and hungry, and all the kids in Europe and the US are rich and full. (yes this is snark)

Weighing in on ElevatorGate: Perspectives and Privilege.