It’s a breezy mid-May morning up in Northern Utah, and I’m standing at the edge of a wheat field enjoying bird calls and fresh air smelling of green growing wheat stalks. I’m waiting to meet up with a client for work to conduct their annual inspection. I’ve never met the main contact for this company, just corresponded by email before meeting here in what is basically the middle of the nowhere most of the way to the Idaho border.
I hear the rumble of an engine and turn toward the end of the road to see a truck coming to meet me. In it are two men. One introduces himself as my contact, and he introduces the other as his brother. I get in the truck and we begin a tour of the farm.
So much has been written about Mormon purity culture in Utah, and it’s almost difficult to know where to start unpacking and explaining what’s going on in this meeting. Most commonly we talk about the purity culture in Utah from the standpoint of keeping students ignorant of their own bodies and sexuality or just flat out slut shaming women. Those are important elements certainly, but what is at play here is both uniquely tied into Mormon sexual culture and very, very old.
Simply put, I represent the medieval demonic temptress who wants nothing more than to destroy men’s vulnerable souls. My very presence is read as sexually contaminating the morality and reputation of the man I’m here to meet for business. And that is why he brought protection: another man to chaperone and preserve religiously based moral authority and honor.
When I return to the office a female coworker asks me who the client brought with him. Because she knows. Because he did it to her last year, as have many of our other clients. Another customer I met with last week also made sure I wasn’t alone with him. They don’t bring along chaperones to meet with our male inspectors. It’s always about our presence being dangerous, so they’ll defend themselves in ways no one talks about or acknowledges.
A couple years ago, a male inspector was in training to do these kinds of inspections and needed to shadow someone experienced on an inspection. That inspector refused to carpool in a fleet vehicle with my female coworker for a commute that was over an hour long because “he is a bishop.” Her potential sexual availability him (despite being married and being universally professional) is taken as a given, one that has to be protected against because his reputation can’t survive it. There is no question of what seems obvious to people unfamiliar with the overwhelming influence of Mormonism on Utah question: that men and women can work together professionally without sex being implied.
His religious misogyny was given accommodation and two vehicles were allocated to send two employees from the main office to the site. His religious authority allowed him to refuse to work following the same rules as everyone else and let him implicitly state my coworker was a sexual threat to him. By allowing this, management reinforced that my coworker’s dignity and professionalism are beneath his comfort.
The truly exhausting and angering part of this from my point of view is that there actually is an issue of potential risk and safety at play when I meet with clients out in the field, and it is given no consideration or value whatsoever by these Very Concerned men. Mine. The gender safety gap is something inextricably tied into male privilege and rape culture, but it’s impossible for me not to factor the potential vulnerability of driving far into empty spaces without so much a nearby occupied house to meet with a man I have never met alone. My feelings or comparative vulnerability weren’t even considered at this appointment. The client decided not just to meet me on his land far away from anywhere with indeterminate cellular reception, but to meet me with another man I don’t know and didn’t know was coming. If he had considered it, would he have made the same decision to bring another male stranger?
I’m not actively afraid and don’t think I’m likely to be harmed, of course. But that initial hesitation is still here. It’s the same reason I make sure before I go out in the field I tell my spouse where I’m going to be, even if I say it halfway as a joke. The same reason I text to check in at lunchtime afterward. Just to be safe. Because in Utah, one of the crime rates that’s universally higher than the national average is sexual violence. I can’t forget that when I’m living my life here in Utah. It colors everything I do in subtle ways.
When I initially talked about this on Twitter, a man outside of Utah was confused why the chaperone the client brought along wasn’t a woman. Elizabeth Mitchell (@Pixelfish on Twitter) replied first, explaining that this would mean he would be alone with the female chaperone before and after meeting me. Which is true, although it’s also more than that as well; in a lot of ways, bringing another man along for when you’re going to be alone with a women is an extension of companionship on an LDS mission.
Adult men in the general congregation in Mormonism are considered to have religious authority purely due to their gender. Men who would be considered laymen in other religions are considered to have priesthood and that is also part of what’s happening here. Bringing along a male peer is bringing along someone with moral and religious authority who watches your behavior to help you behave righteously. If you brought a woman, you wouldn’t have that aura of upright & moral behavior to counter any sense of sexual tainting by working with a woman.
The most frustrating thing about this is I’m not even surprised anymore when this happens to me. This is my life as a woman in Utah. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to quietly accept sexist garbage as inevitable.
Whether it’s when we’re demanding our right to control our own bodies and fertility, including full abortion rights, or we’re asking those who proclaim themselves our allies to recognize how important it is they always recognize our rights, autonomy and agency without debate, it’s become clear that the problem we face is on a basic level, they don’t recognize that we are the sole owners of our bodies, our time, our energy and our feelings.
Now, those who claim they’re our allies and offer the most insipid & milquetoast kind of pro-choice attitudes insist they’re not like those bad people who’d force us to give birth against our will. They respect us and our choices. But must we always be so adversarial about it? So dogmatic? What’s so horrible about allowing debate or other viewpoints about abortion? It’s not as clear cut a secular advocacy issue as equal marriage rights, after all.
Because every time they tell us we have to support and endorse movements that include and welcome those that devalue us, they are telling us we have to defend our most basic rights of self over and over again. It means that our supposed allies don’t respect our rights to own our time.
They are displaying the same toxic underlying male privilege assumptions they claim to denounce. They are saying with their actions that they do feel they or others are entitled to our time. And that our justifiably angry response to that imposition is wrong.
Let me be clear if you do not consistently support or respect the basic bodily rights and autonomy of people who can become pregnant, I don’t care if you are nominally pro-choice. You may think standard medical care like abortion care should be legal, but you haven’t shown you any respect for my agency. You have shown what you truly think is important, and it is you and your comfort above me and my actual life.
This week has been so packed with important, groundbreaking and openly discriminatory news that is has been overwhelming. But there is one underreported thing from the start of George Zimmerman’s trial on Monday that leaves me so angry, outraged and sad that it bears mentioning.
Many places have reported with shock that Mr. Zimmerman’s defense counsel included a knock-knock joke in his opening statements. And it was offensive bullshit, so it’s understandable that people are talking about it alongside Don West’s shitty treatment of Rachel Jeantel in an attempt to make the super white jury think she’s not worth listening to.
But what still makes me feel ill when I think about it is the assertion West made in opening statements that the murdered teenager was not actually unarmed. Dead high schooler Trayvon Martin purportedly “armed himself with a concrete sidewalk and used it to smash George Zimmerman’s head.”
George Zimmerman, we were told, was simply a helpful citizen who was savaged by an out-of-place black kid. He had no choice but to shoot and kill this minor. This idea makes me so angry still that I want to smash things into little pieces.
I cannot believe anyone could be so transparently dishonest to try to contort the simple concept of weaponry and being armed in such a way that no one can ever be “unarmed” because there is always something that can be claimed as a weapon, including the ground you stand on. This is not just insulting, but asks us to throw out any legal standards of proportional response. It asks us to use the self-defensive, desperate tactics of victims as an excuse for their attack or murder.
This asks the jury to ignore the vast differentials in power and physical threat that exist here. Mr. Zimmerman used his vehicle, his age, his assumed justification as a neighborhood vigilante to intimidate and frighten a young man who will now never see adulthood. He’s now using the claim of injuries after he stalked and harassed Trayvon Martin to excuse his murder.
I desperately want to be wrong, but I have strong suspicions that Mr. Zimmerman will not face conviction and prison for profiling, stalking and murdering a minor. This makes me so helplessly angry it brings tears of rage to my eyes. I want to be wrong. I want there to be justice for Trayvon.
On Monday, Texas Representative Louie Gohmert made a deeply disingenuous argument to ensure that having sex remains as shameful and risky as possible to continue a long standing history of backing up religious hang-ups with healthy sexuality with intentionally created risk.
His statements on the conservative radio show, WallBuilders:
You don’t have to force this sexuality stuff into their life at such a point. It was never intended to be that way. They’ll find out soon enough. Mankind has existed for a pretty long time without anyone ever having to give a sex-ed lesson to anybody.
This got me thinking about all the things that humans have existed without for “a pretty long time” and which of these important modern developments Representative Gohmert thinks we don’t really need either. Of course, the obvious answer is that we’re only supposed to follow shitty antiquated levels of ignorance and suffering when it comes to the sex, but I’d really like to get him to own up to that.
Here’s is a extremely incomplete list just off the top of my head of things that humans as a species have done perfectly well without.
- air conditioning
- safe potable water
- modern sanitation
- safe surgical procedures
- injectable insulin
- blood transfusions
- washing machines
- formalized education
- domesticated animals
- representative government
- birth control
BREAKING NEWS EDIT: Turns out that husband’s department is already funded through June 30th, leaving them unaffected by the shutdown. Why they were unable to figure this out before and announce it is mystifying, though.
It seems more or less certain now.
On Monday, when someone calls my husband’s office, emails him or checks the department’s website, they will not be able to get information on the programs that feed children in Utah. Instead, there will be a message along these lines:
Due to the shutdown of the Federal government, this office is now closed.
I have no idea what the full ramifications will be on school districts, poor schools and neighborhoods, and the children who rely on these programs for healthy nutrition, but it is sure to be ugly.
And while most of the news media I see insists on talking about this mainly as a true good-faith negotiation between the parties about cuts to avoid a shutdown, I find I’m really starting to agree with Rachel Maddow on several points.
- Speaker of the House John Boehner is either bad at his job or confused about what his job actually is*
- Many within the Republican party actually want the government to shut down and are working very hard to make sure that negotiations fail**
- Conservative lawmakers don’t care about hurting women, if they can appease the anti-abortion donors by cutting non-abortion services in the name of a pro-choice ideology
I’m tired of people being allowed to lie about the games being played when they’re holding my husband’s job along with millions of others hostage. I’m tired of people pretending that defunding Planned Parenthood is about abortion (given the already heavy regulation of where funds can be used) instead of providing medical services like cancer screening, pre-natal care and contraception in communities with no other option. I’m tired of the hyper-conservative wing of the Republican party (including our own Mike Lee, Jason Chaffetz) pretending they don’t represent the whole of their constituency (me).
* Hint: it’s providing leadership to conduct the affairs of government rather than shut it down through games, it’s passing a budget since minding the purse-strings are pretty much the main job of the legislative branch, it’s making sure that you keep your separate party interests molded into a solid agenda rather than being ruled by divisive elements in your own party, it’s making sure you actually show up to work on a regular schedule and work to pass real legislation and not empty gestures of defiance. Whatever your opinion of former Speaker Pelosi, she ran bills through that body like nobody’s business. The Speaker’s constitutional job is to run the House, not to be obstructionary in order to prevent the current President from winning re-election.
** Evidenced by the cheers at news of failed talks as well as Representative Ryan’s remarks that his odious, Medicare-killing budget wasn’t a budget, but a cause.
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.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, fucking dipshit assholes who care nothing about women’s dignity and freedom. I have to get that out of my system first thing.
I wrote a nice, sensible, sourced post about some distressing trends in a rational and calm way. I’m done with the calm measured response because there is no reason to give any benefit of the doubt to states that are so fucking preoccupied with controlling women’s reproduction that they give an implicit okay to murder.
I talked about South Dakota previously, but now Nebraska and Iowa have decided to push similar measures that go a step further. (No really) These proposals do not limit the excuse to blood relatives (and similarly attached persons) of the fetus, but extend this to any third party. Which would theoretically have excused Mr. Roeder’s heinous crime in Wichita.
Claims that these laws are merely to protect the pregnant women are bullshit distraction tactics. Laws already exist to allow self defense to prevent bodily harm to yourself (which falls under the category of attacking women whether or not the intension is to terminate their pregnancies). In essence, if this were truly how the bills were written, it would merely make illegal things illegal again.
This is a favorite tactic when proposing laws intended to do much more than their stated scope (see the recent U.S. House’s actions aimed at “preventing tax dollars from funding abortion” which was handily taken care of long before my birth through the Hyde Amendment in 1976.) The whole point of these recent actions in state legislatures is to put such fear and uncertainty into physicians that they stop offering necessary and (theoretically) legal services to women altogether.
I hope these measures fail to become law, but that’s not the point. That individuals who are state officials and representatives dare to imply justifiable murder toward their brave, law abiding medical personnel, we have a fucking problem.