Over the weekend, Thrack and I attended the wonderful “mini-con” Sextravaganza put on by the local Secular Student Alliance affilitate, Secular Humanism Inquiry and Freethought (SHIFT) at the University of Utah. It was awesome and I’m glad we went. I do wish there had been more people there, but as Greta Christina put it, it was competing with the “biggest football game in all human history.” (Rivalry between the University of Utah and Brigham Young University is too deep to be ignored here.)
For an event that was expected by religious conservatives to be somewhere between vile orgy and pushing “erotic whimsys,” I fear that permanently offended religious people seeking shocked titillation, Sextravaganza would have been a terrible disappointment to them. I’m almost sad that no such huffy people showed up to protest or express their displeasure. But I suspect deep down they feared learning something too much to come and glare at us all disapprovingly. And there was so much they could have learned.
Of the three speakers at Sextravaganza, I had only heard of one. In fact, if I wasn’t already such a big fan of Greta Christina, I might have missed this event altogether and that would have been a shame.
As SHIFT and other SSA affiliate groups handed out the programs, the first thing that Thrack noted and pointed out to me is that organizers took the time to put a clear and simple harassment policy where everyone would see it right on the back. After the months and months of willfully ignorant shitstorm surrounding the simple request that atheist cons take sexual harassment seriously, it was refreshing and delightful to see the issue handled easily with no fuss. Contrast that with the adversarial and secretive approach at this year’s TAM when victims were surveilled without their consent following any problem. It’s wonderful to show that even for a small event with three speakers and a panel discussion, people can to do it right:
What’s more it was wonderful to see that women’s voices were not only considered but valued; you could tell by the panel composition (two women one man) and the fact that the audience had slightly more women than men. The whole purpose was to give a contrasting secular view to sexual ethics and you couldn’t differentiate yourself more clearly in a year when an all-male panel of (partially-celibate) religious leaders was considered experts by congressional leadership.
Dr. Lisa Diamond
The first speaker, Dr. Lisa Diamond, is a professor of psychology here at the University of Utah (in Utah, it’s usually just referred to as “The U” as if there were only one). Dr. Diamond specializes in sexuality and relationship development in adolescents. Her book, Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire (which Thrack bought at the event) followed women over ten years from adolescence to adulthood to study how sexual identity and relationships develop. As a speaker, Diamond was funny, and jovially self-deprecating as she recognized that she was much newer to the discussion than her fellow speakers. And although she acknowledged she is a non-believer, her focus was far less explicitly atheistic.
“I do want to slowly poison and destroy the marriage institution.”
Instead, Diamond wanted to talk about how we have allowed conservative religious ideals about relationships and families to dominate how we present our case for equal rights for same-sex couples. She argues, quite rightly, that by presenting a clean and conservative looking gay couple with kids as the public face, we are buying into the idea that certain types of people and relationships are worthy of protection. Now it’s a strategy that is working and has parallels with other movements, but it has some troubling implications for the long-term because it excludes and marginalizes members of the queer community by default.
Free Range Parenting, It’s almost skeptical.
For a long time now, I’ve really wanted to like Lenore Skenazy. She dares to speak up against the ridiculous and crippling bubble wrap we put around kids growing up and point out that we should be basing our decisions about risk/benefit to kids based on the actual evidence. Skenazy pointed out that crime rates are at historic lows nationally and in individual states, and yet the policies that govern parenting, play and schooling have gotten ever more restrictive. There are social norms at work, although they vary by region, that ostracize parents who allow their children opportunities to learn and grow independently while building confidence and useful skills.
She calls it “Free-Range Parenting.” Sounds like a good start toward a skeptical worldview, right? Turns out, not so much.
Then the problems start to show up.
Along with the evidence based ideas of letting kids play outside without adults hovering a foot away and allowing mature kids to ride on public transportation to see friends or hit the library and not immediately characterizing men near children as probable pedophiles, she also comes off as a denialist about things we do have evidence of risk and harm. I would not have known the extend to which she endorses some of these things had I not followed her on Twitter for a while.
I had a bit of a ragegasm in January when she seemed to side with a systemic anti-medication approach to ADHD that made my life misery as a kid. She linked to a poorly done bit of research on exercise for kids with ADHD credulously agreeing with the overstated conclusions, saying it was “unsurprising but significant.” I feared for all the parents who followed her seeing this and deciding that their kids don’t need medical treatment or coping strategies after all, they just need to run around a bit more during the day. I feared they could face non-treatment (which is fucking hell) because of the I-heard-about-this-alternative-treatment-on-Oprah effect.
Since then, it appears that she has made her healthy and positive stance toward medicating those with ADHD more clear, which I appreciate. However, she seems to think that since the rash of known bullying related suicides doesn’t match an overall decrease among most students (meaning it doesn’t affect lots of straight and cis kids, in my opinion), there is no epidemic of systemic abuses. She seems to say that bullying is sad but normal and decreasing, so we shouldn’t look to see if there are greater influences of bullying, even anti-gay bullying, as the nation becomes more conservative and polarized about LGBT equality.
She claims that “No one is shrugging off the real crime of bullying. But to pretend there’s an epidemic when in fact things are getting better is to both over-react AND sell our kids short.” Has she even looked at what places like Tennessee legislature or the Anoka-Hennepin school district have said and done on the matter? If Skenazy had been paying attention at all, she should know that religious conservatives are lobbying for the right to verbally crush LGBT youth all in the name of religious freedom. Some conservatives have even argued that bullying kids abusing LGBT students are displaying natural revulsion, rather than ingrained prejudice. Is this really the argument she believes is supported by evidence?
But for a while, I continued following her because she generally has sane things to say about kids being allowed to be kids and parents not being perfect. Then she did something that I think is unforgivable. She claimed the recent CDC rape and sexual violence survey was an example of “overdefining” crime while linking to some of the most hateful straw analysis of the survey I have seen.
I think I understand why she did it. Skenazy has long argued that our sex-offender laws are screwed up, and punish teenagers and adolescents for bad judgement. And that much is true; it is one thing for someone to be convicted of statutory rape when xe is old enough that the power differential is inherently harmful. It is another when a couple of years separate boyfriend/girlfriend and the elder spends the rest of xir days labeled on a registry, having future life options eliminated without good cause.
Why I No Longer Trust Lenore Skenazy.
But what Skenazy has done is conflate these Romeo & Juliet scenarios with the real and statistically huge risk of rape and sexual assault that women face and spit on victims. By endorsing the views of someone actively trying to undermine more comprehensive study of sexual violence, she has become a rape apologist. It was at this point I could no longer follow her or endorse her advocacy because it’s tainted by someone who interprets facts to suit her hypotheses. Consent is really not that hard (no matter how “where is the line/I’m just asking questions” assholes try to muddle the issue). Skenazy is talking about instances of free and enthusiastic consent without inherently broken power dynamics, and then endorses the most vile denial and rape apologism without even thinking. That she could not see the difference means that I can no longer trust anything she says to be objectively measured.
So you can understand why I am so angry, I’ll talk about both the article she endorsed “How to fake sexual violence rates and produce scary numbers“ and the CDC survey it references. I’ll start by talking a little bit about the CDC violence study, but honestly, it has been parsed and discussed in so much depth that it’s mostly just so I can explain just how wrong the opinion piece is.
The politics of land ownership in the intermountain west seeps into so much of the culture we experience that even avowed liberals like me find themselves torn over ideas of who should control the lands in our state. The sense of a greater outside agent controlling so much of what is yours can be a powerful pull. I might even say that this sense of ourselves as outside, separate and independent is nearly as powerful as the importance of water* here.
The idea of the west here is one of freedom, openness and above all, great space. There is a wildness to the spirit of the west I love and which is an important part of my identity. The people and the land here reflect one another; this place in all its untamed, sometimes desolate beauty will always be part of who we are. So while those outside this place may look at the posturing and demands that our land be returned to us as truly insane examples of extreme state’s rights rhetoric, they cannot know the connection we feel with this place. Federal ownership of our lands is an issue that often transcends other political differences here, although as always, the reasoning and tone does reflect political leanings. Some merely question fairness, but others want to revive the Sagebrush Rebellion.
But much as I understand these ideas, I fear the outcome of allowing local or even state governments in the intermountain west to have unilateral control over these glorious places we call home. Hell, sometimes I’m even frightened by the way that federal control of our lands works:
Now, no matter how our local politicians will ask for control of federal lands in Utah, no one would dare suggest in a million years that we sell our national parks. They are not called our crown jewels for nothing. Utah has a greater share of these places than nearly any other state. And if I may be excused for the judgement, I believe it takes a person from a place with minimal charms and glories to think that our national parks are without value, as we see here with Florida Representative Cliff Stearns.
When I see this man compare something unique, precious and irreplaceable to a mere mass-manufactured car such as you find everywhere, it becomes clear that he has no experience with or ability to judge these rare treasures we have set aside. It does no good to ignore these treasures in our nation and claim that rather than look for reasonable sources of revenue to solve budgetary issues (ensuring the rich can no longer avoid paying a fair share, for example) we should risk these places being lost to us and all those who will come after us.
I fear the same from my own legislature, truth be told. There is so much talk of energy production opportunities in our wild places to boost local economies in the short or middle term, that I often despair of finding a happy balance.
Wallace Stegner once said,
It is a better world with some buffalo in it, a richer world with some gorgeous canyons unmarred with sign boards, hot dog stands, or superhighways. If we preserve as parks only those places that have no economic possibilities, we will have no parks.
That is the truth of it and has been for the history of our country. The competing interest of financial concerns and preservation of wilderness as intrinsically valuable have ever been at odds, and are often found in the same person. The drive to both make use of what we have and to pass on something of value to our children is central to public lands and their management. For those who call the West home, there is often great love for wild country but also the desire to use what it has for our benefit, and seeming outside interference can feel an unnatural intrusion. (Personally I feel that part of why so much of our wilderness is under federal management is such a large percentage of it is so beautiful it deserves protection.)
Ken Burns has described America’s national parks as our best idea, one that allows access to wonder and transcendence. I agree. (Although I should note that the film does include a lot of tape of the head of the Sierra club. And I do not by any means support much of the Sierra Club’s agenda, but that’s a whole other issue.) I can’t imagine my childhood or my life without experiencing the vastness of nature here. Living in Utah means I have ready access to any number of incredible places with surprising variety of scenery, climate and wildlife.
I believe a decent part of what makes the argument that we should be allowed to control what is ours so compelling is the love that we have for this place. There is a great deal of pride that we call this lovely desert home, and it feels like no more than common sense that we should own the land that is ours. There is also this a rationale that we are owed lands promised to be returned to Utah once we achieved statehood that hinges on basic fairness.
I fear that the deeper motivation is purely financial. We may get tangential benefits from tourism, but funds such as cattle grazing leases administered by the BLM have no effect on state coffers. And it is the financial arguments that make me fear allowing the state to gain control; I don’t want to see these beautiful places I love irreparably harmed to obtain resources, and I know that the argument for economic development is given greater weight here than risk of harm in their extraction. We already make policy decisions based on what users want over what is healthiest and most sustainable. On Saturday our governor signed bills to yet again reduce the numbers of natural predators, appeasing deer hunters by funding a coyote killing program.
But the federal government doesn’t always show respect for the sometimes fragile beauty here either. It says a lot just how much of the state is owned by the nation’s military, marked as without value except as a nice open place to test artillery. Utah’s federal holdings a mix of national parks and monuments, forests, wilderness areas and expanses of bombing ranges. Our deserts are either filled with beautiful sculpted red rock or useful only as a place to use; the number of times I’ve heard people from other parts of the country proposing we cover the Utah or Nevada desert with solar panels makes the focus of usefulness very clear.
Among locals, there is also sensitivity to financial arguments relating to land ownership and tax potential. Many Western states are hamstrung in building a strong and supportive budget by the fact that we own a minority of the land the state. When such a large section of the state is permanently out of the equation, it is hard to feel like you are getting a fair shake. In Utah, we have public trust lands, which exist to aid education and are the only source of new private land. It’s understandable to want to have more options, although there are a thousand different viewpoints on how or if we should get access to these places.
Then you have my state legislature, which routinely throws tantrums at the federal government over land. This year most of the legislators decided that if they can’t convince the federal government to turn over land it controls willingly, they will simply take it. The bills that passed both houses would open up 30 million acres, including the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument up to state controlled drilling, mining and development. It would eliminate much of the areas set aside as wilderness in our state as well, all without regard to the fact that Utah forever renounced claim to the lands held in federal control over a hundred fucking years ago.
The anger I feel at an obvious fucking waste of taxpayer money to defend a message-bill challenge to the federal government when there are dozens of necessary public benefits the funds could otherwise aid is difficult to articulate. Instead of actually doing something productive, we are stuck with yet another unconstitutional challenge to the federal government that makes us look like backward idiots who couldn’t pass basic civics.
I’m from the Intermountain West and share a certain kinship with these ideas, but my sympathies don’t erase the fact that the law passed in February is incredibly dumb and will cost us.*This may not seem obvious to people in non-arid places, but water is very, very, very important.
I was an unusual child of the ’80s, enough so that Thrack at times insists I didn’t actually grow up with everyone else in my peer group, but rather in some odd time-isolation bubble of my family’s creation. I confess I have some significant gaps in knowledge and experience that continue to flabbergast or surprise others, but I sometimes feel like not having the same nostalgia for cultural elements allows me to look at them objectively and that can be fun too sometimes.
Over this weekend during my continuing skin disaster and Thrack’s badly timed respiratory infection (which I do. not. want.) we watched a couple of movies. (Yes, we’re kind of movie people, somewhere between somewhat-artsy-circuit films and people who sneer at Oscar-bait films as snooty intellectual masturbation.) For the first time in my life, I watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
I am aware enough this and other John Hughes films to know of them a definitive slice of film history and culture (and of greater American popular culture as well) but either because my parents weren’t of the right age/temperament to share them with me or because they perhaps knew I’d resent gender themes in say, Sixteen Candles or Pretty in Pink, I simply skated past them in happy ignorance. The type of coming of age film that arguably defined the generation half a step before mine was lost on me except in very fuzzy theory. I am now a little less ignorant of that whole element.
I don’t have a lot so say about the actual movie itself; it’s a film that has been parsed, analyzed and generally beloved for being a happy and life-affirming statement. It was more interesting to me as a starting discussion point about coming of age films and the perennial cultural role they play, rather than as a specific example to be dissected.
Odd as it sounds, I feel like this movie helps me understand a larger arc of film history I’ve seen play out in my lifetime. I think I’ve figured out a second set of films now, as basically a follow up to the fairly optimistic coming-0f-age lesson film that Hughes did so well. I call it the Nick-Hornby-Grow-the-Fuck-Up-and-Deal-With-Life film.
Now it doesn’t necessarily have to be based on a Nick Hornby book, but I feel like the timing his books and subsequent film adaptations (and others that have similar themes) suggest that they are in large part a reaction to what we are told by the ultimately optimistic coming of age narrative of the 80’s. It turns out that despite what you were led to believe, life after high school doesn’t just fall into place the way you think it’s supposed to and you have to come to grips with disappointed hopes, complicated (real) relationships, uniquely personal ideals of achievement, happiness and success. The Hornby-Grow-the-Fuck-Up movie came from this idea and is highly relateable because it is at its core attempting to address the idea of finding meaning and fulfillment as an adult, and how to deal with the reality shock that sets in when you figure out that daily life can be great, but it’s basically always going to be hard work to get what you really need and want.
The first film that popped into my head as the reactionary post-coming of age movie was unsurprisingly High Fidelity. It’s one of my favorite movies, and I can see where it borrows from some of the same cinematic elements that were characteristic of Hughes’ films. It casually and routinely breaks the fourth wall, uses a similar narrative tone and cadence, and contains a celebration of the arts (music rather than fine art as in Ferris Bueller) in daily life. But it differs significantly in the message. If the 1980’s coming of age film asks the question, “What do you need to learn about self-discovery for becoming an adult?” then the reactionary Hornby-Grow-the-Fuck-Up film asks “Now that you’ve figured a few things out about what makes you happy, what are you going to do about it?”
I could have probably called this category a “Clerks II-Grow-the-Fuck-Up film” and been just as accurate, as we see in Kevin Smith’s films both the dissatisfaction with allowing daily drudgery to dictate self worth and satisfaction as well as the vague anxiety of expecting that being a grownup means you finally have your shit together. And Smith’s work itself references the nostalgia of Hughes’ films, even to the point of having characters attempting a trip to the mythical Shermer, Illinois. But the fact is that while I like Kevin Smith’s films, I find Hornby’s style a bit more to my taste in humor and unapologetic openness in the thoughts and feelings of characters.
Put another way, while Dante and Rob are both flawed but basically charming and good people, I find Rob a bit more appealing and applicable. It may also be that I relate more to High Fidelity because of the way that it deals with relationships. Clerks and its subsequent sequel are as much about the importance of platonic friendship and self identity as they are about life partnerships, while High Fidelity is often (I believe unjustly) categorized simply with “romantic comedy” because it very directly deals with romantic relationships past and present and how we often fuck up good things because we expect them to fit in socially defined fantasies.
It is one of my favorite lines in High Fidelity when Rob says that there is always some new pretty girl and idealized fantasy that doesn’t play out, and ultimately can never be substantial enough to deliver what most of us really need in companionship: something comfortable. Someone who we can be at home with.
I’m tired of the fantasy, because it doesn’t really exist. And there are never really any surprises, and it never really…
Delivers. And I’m tired of it. And I’m tired of everything else for that matter. But I don’t ever seem to get tired of you.
I suppose I’ve always liked movies that are romantic and realistic all at once. So much of romantic comedy trades in new relationships and what’s exciting/unattainable that it is nothing more than fairytale. I like when films really recognize what intimacy and love actually look like most of the time; High Fidelity circles around this idea as much as it does around Rob figuring out that if he’d get out of his own way, he has a path to being happy and satisfied with life achievement.
I find the follow up to the coming of age movie a more satisfying film. And I wonder if the way that new coming of age films are made now is changing precisely because so many people found the films of the 80’s a bit to rosy-glassed. When I think about a couple of newer films that have a coming of age narrative, Life as a House and The Wackness, it seems like they try to merge both these types of film and have a story that deals both with the transition out of adolescence and real world dissatisfaction and realism.
Seriously, after reading about how NYPD officers are responding to a rash of stranger rapes in Brooklyn, I just want to scream at them in frustration, hurt and anger.
Society has a bunch of misconceptions about sexual assault and rape, tangled up in old sexist attitudes that continue to harm women and make it harder for us to discourage and prevent attacks. A whole host of them is rooted in victim blaming/ slut shaming.
The idea that you can decrease your risk for assault or rape by hiding your sexuality, and cutting down your choices of where to go and when, with whom is not only not supported by evidence, but it’s actively damaging to women’s basic dignity. Moreover, it creates opportunities for the actual bad guys to hide behind public censure of a woman who “wasn’t careful enough” instead of holding the violent man responsible.
Things are getting better in general: men are no longer legally able to rape their spouses, public movements like the great “slutwalks” organized around the U.S. help raise consciousness about rape culture, and in general, it seems like rape jokes are less acceptable than they once were. But it is often difficult to stay optimistic that we’ll continue to achieve gains in equality when I see old slut shaming tactics at work in NYPD behavior toward a Brooklyn neighborhood.
Good for them!
I’ve finished the Ken Burns series, Jazz. Expectedly, the majority of the figures profiled were men, as men historically have been the most celebrated and publicized musicans. The cultural biases in which jazz evolved would certianly be reflected in the representation of famous artists and innovators. But I found I was disappointed with the way that the documentary itself deemphasized women’s importance selectively as well. Greater screen time was given to the male musicians of their fields in general (for example, much more attention was given to the brilliance of Thelonious Monk than the earlier pioneer, Mary Lou Williams) and Ella Fitzgerald, a woman with incredible skills for rhythm and the improvisational elements implicit in jazz was mentioned only briefly in two short snippets.
They gave greater importance to the talented Sarah Vaughn than any other woman beside Lady Day (Billie Holiday). And while I don’t begrudge the value they placed on Vaughn, I feel they should have given equal recognition to Fitzgerald, who was not even mentioned when they discussed the beginning of scatting or scat singing. Ella was more or less dismissed as being unimportant because unlike Mary Lou Williams or Sarah Vaughn, she did not play any instrument but her own voice. (I belive she was also downplayed because she, like Louis Armstrong, also did popular tunes and was famous across demographics.) Vocalists in jazz were more or less reduced to mere entertainers or performers rather than the “real” craftsmen of the art, who played instruments. Not a single male vocalist (that is, someone known only for their voice, not voice/instrument) was even mentioned as a jazz performer.
It pissed me off.
My grandfather played the piano, the organ, the accordian, the guitar, but always told us that the most difficult instrument to learn and master was the human voice. He was an accomplished local musician and instructor, who played with a number of (now elderly) musicans I’ve met over the years. He was the type of pianist who had that rare skill of modifying his play dynamically to make his fellow performers sound better; he could transpose songs to another key on the fly. And yet after all this accomplishment, he respected the skills of a great vocalist and considered them every bit a real musician. He had said that the human voice was in fact the most difficult instrument to master.
Would that the organizers of the documentary felt the same.
There is a cultural predisposition that when a rape is reported in the news or discussed in any public forum, inevitably, someone (sometimes multiple someones) will decide to demonstrate the Just-World fallacy and want to discuss the actions, behaviors and appearance of the victim. And while ostensibly claiming to only blame the rapist for raping someone, all choices made by the victim are evaluated for how “risky” they were. These people will often say that they’re not saying the victim was responsible, per se, but that maybe we should make sure that women know what social rules and mores they should follow to prevent the absolute rarest of rapes, the stranger rape. (As if women weren’t already deluged with these sorts of rules and guidelines; believe me, women already fear rape even if they don’t logically examine whether their fears are rational.)
Sickeningly, not even 11 year old girls are immune. And after yet another example on Skepchick of how this sort of discussion can be derailed into “rapes are going to happen, so shouldn’t women be more careful” I wanted to make clear how vehemently I disagree with this shit. Rape “prevention” advice is not only not helpful (because it doesn’t protect women from the most common type of assault), but it supports the idea that there are circumstances where rapes are more likely, more normal and implicitly, more acceptable.
I want people to stand up and say that rape is never normal and never the victim’s fault.
The ease with which individuals attempt to ascribe some burden of responsibility to the victim of a rape makes me absolutely crazy. I would like to shed some light on why you cannot ascribe any degree of responsibility to rape victims without ending up encouraging the climate wherein rapes are excused.
The arguments of “prevention” always center on seeming like reasonable rather than extreme precautions to avoid an unpleasant result (i.e. rape). However, what these pieces of advice actually do is severely limit the choices, freedoms and dignity of women by tightening the confines within which we are allowed to operate. They create a framework of fear that we should live our lives in to avoid the unlikely event of a stranger rape.
It comes down to risk/benefit, how we all live our lives. Is there a risk in taking medication to cure illness? Is it worth commuting on the freeway to a better job even though driving is risky? Is it worth the incredibly small risk of stranger rape to pursue joys, individuality and life experiences as you choose? Or is it worth living in a cage of fear when you are far more likely to be hurt by those you know and love?
It is not.
To claim that rules governing behavior (just because you have the misfortune to be born into a less privileged group) to prevent the evil, free actions of another is the rankest kind of sexist crap. Women are not entitled to less of life’s fullness because of assholes.
Moreover, when you try to make these “prevention strategies” public, you signal to rapists and would-be rapists that those women who do not follow these rules are more vulnerable, more “reckless” and that these victims bear some burden for what you can do to them. That you will have more sympathy for their attackers because of the “temptation” to rape they experience.
When you promote these “rape prevention” tools, you are supporting the system rapists rely on to excuse their crimes. You are not being pragmatic.
So the next time someone starts to tell you about how women just need to take precautions, don’t let it slide. Help break down the attitudes that allow this sort of rationalization and rape apologetics by speaking out.