Posts Tagged ‘rape’

A propos of nothing much:

We (as in, people with similar social and political views to myself) don’t tend to think too highly of people who are opposed to abortion in all instances.

It seems both uncaring, to insist that a woman forefeit her right to make decisions about her own body, and scientifically illiterate, to assert that a barely fertilised zygote is not significantly distinct from any other “human”.

When someone of this disposition is willing to make some allowances, though – for cases of rape, say – that tends to mollify us a little bit. They’re not wholly dogmatic about their ideas. They’re willing to give a little bit of ground.

But surely what we’re doing, when we encourage anti-abortionists to make this exception, is congratulating them for betraying their principles. Or, rather, we’re giving tacit support to an implied set of principles that’s even more obnoxious and inhumane.

Start with the basic concept that terminating a pregnancy is always, unequivocally immoral. This is a frankly uninformed and irrational idea when taken to the extreme positions that some people hold, given the nature of a barely fertilised embryo in the earliest stages of gestation. If a tiny cluster of cells carries the same moral weight to you as a fully developed infant, then what you value can’t be called “human life” in any way I would recognise the phrase. I am strongly against this position.

But there’s some consistency there. People with this view are opposed to what they see as murder of defenseless innocents. That part I can follow, even if the logic behind their classification of “defenseless innocents” is ideologically inane.

If you’re willing to allow for the possibility of abortion in cases of rape, though… what is the guiding principle behind your moral judgments?

A fetus is no more or less deserving of protection based on whether its mother was being physically assaulted against her will prior to its conception. So if abortion would be “murder” in normal circumstances, why should it be different here?

One obvious answer that might present itself involves compassion for the mother. Some anti-abortionists just can’t bring themselves to insist that a rape victim bear her rapist’s child against her will. It seems unconscionable to them, so they allow for an exception. On the face of it, this seems like human kindness breaking through an ideological wall.

But it’s not really. Here are some other circumstances which have no significance to the condition of an unborn child, but in which we’re told abortion is an unacceptable abomination:

  1. A woman has consensual sex without using contraception, and becomes pregnant.
  2. A woman has consensual sex, uses contraception, it doesn’t work, and she becomes pregnant.
  3. A woman gets drunk, has sex, regrets it soon after, and becomes pregnant.
  4. A girl hears from her friends at school that you can’t get pregnant the first time you have sex, doesn’t have this misconception corrected in any kind of sex education class, has consensual sex with her boyfriend, and becomes pregnant.
  5. A woman has consensual sex with her husband who has had a vasectomy, but she becomes pregnant.

Of the many possible contexts to a woman becoming pregnant, rape is the only one in which some anti-abortionists are willing to make an exception… and also the only one in which it’s entirely out of the woman’s control.

People who are against abortion with no exceptions are at least consistent in their concern for the innocent human life they perceive to be at risk.

People in the “except for cases of rape” camp aren’t as concerned about the welfare of the child as they are about whether it’s the woman’s fault.

The implicit message is that, unless a woman was sexually assaulted against her wishes, the responsibility for the pregnancy lies squarely with her… and that’s what makes abortion immoral. If you were raped, then okay, you’re off the hook – but if you just weren’t careful, or you were stupid, or you’re the kind of slut who actually has sex willingly and enjoys it, then you deserve to be stuck with this.

The fetus’s welfare doesn’t come into it. The one determining factor is whether the woman deserves to be “punished” (which is effectively what it amounts to) for being insufficiently sexually puritan and abstinent.

If you asked them, they probably wouldn’t agree that they think this way. They probably don’t even think they do. But underlying, deeply engrained hang-ups and presumptions about sex are pernicious and ubiquitous, and are one of many things harmfully exacerbated by a religiously based sense of morality.

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I don’t really have the combined time, energy, and enthusiasm for the subject to analyse Jen McCreight’s latest post in much depth. It’d take hours I don’t have or could be spending on better things to fully lay out the interesting points she raises, the problems she highlights, the ways in which I take issue with how she sometimes addresses them, and so on.

If I were also to go into everything Rebecca Watson’s ever done which I’ve strongly agreed with, strongly disagreed with, or which has provoked a reaction from other people about which I have strong feelings, I’d be here all day. Ditto Ophelia Benson. They write a lot, and people write about them a lot, and it gets complicated and intricate. (Greta Christina’s still pretty much unqualifiedly awesome.)

So, since I don’t have the time, the energy, or the enthusiasm to hammer out all the fine details, I’m going to have to continue covering things with inadequately broad strokes, and acknowledging the shortcomings of my own approach.

Broad strokes time: There has been a lot of vicious, creepy, unpleasant, unnecessary verbiage on this part of the internet lately. The above named female skeptics have been the objects of direct and deliberate abuse – language intended to demean them, mock them, and cause them emotional pain – significantly more often than they have been the initiators of any such negativity towards others. It’s by no means been a one-sided issue, but it’s clear to me where the balance lies so far.

I can’t think of anyone else who’s spent as much time trying solely to make another specific person feel bad about themselves via insults and belittling, as that elevatorgate blog has with Rebecca Watson. She gets called a cunt a lot. Replacing her own name with a slur makes it easier for some people to dehumanise her, so that they don’t have to worry so much about how else they treat her. And I don’t even know what the hell this is. The most egregious stuff in this debacle has been the invective hurled at a number of women. So that’s where most of my anger and attention is.

There are, without question, numerous blogposts which could be written about occasions when Rebecca Watson has been overly harsh with someone, or snapped aggressively, or been curtly dismissive of a point which might have been valid. But to place all your emphasis on that, without comparing it against the hundreds of specific, personalised rape and death threats other people have sent her, would be like starting a site about male victims of rape without ever acknowledging that women can be sexually assaulted too. There are unquestionably real and important issues to be raised, but your emphasis can make you seem oblivious to the context into which you’re wading.

And if I had the time, energy, and enthusiasm, I might try raising those issues, and providing the context to them in such a way that I could bring these things up without being an ass. But I don’t. And, given how much downright hateful shit some of the above named have faced lately, they deserve some of that context before I go ladling on any more public criticism.

Thus, while Rebecca Watson et al. are certainly not blameless paragons of virtue, they have my general, conditional support, on the broad-strokes issues. If I had to “pick a side”, because I had so little time and energy that I wanted to really oversimplify things, it’d be theirs. I wouldn’t be entirely content with that solution, but it’d be the least repellent choice open to me.

My next post will be about something which really does interest me. And no, it’s not how all police are bastards.

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This right here is what I mean about the police.

If you’re a cop and you sexually assault a kid in Texas, you will serve less time behind bars than if you are a woman who has consensual sex with adults; you’re better off having a badge and a rape conviction than a vagina and consent.

It’s not that the police are all terrible people who do bad things. The fact that a particular police officer sexually molested a young girl is, I suspect, largely independent of his career choices.

But the police, as an institution, have a role of particular power and privilege in society which isn’t questioned enough. The prevailing attitudes around them seem to be such that they get off lighter for serious abuses of trust and power than the rest of us would.

Their authority makes it harder for accusations to be made against them, and for prosecutions like this to be successfully brought. There needs to be a sea change in the relationship between cops and everyone else. Part of that change is saying fuck the police, without losing our humanity.

Hey, remember when I was mostly just interested in how a lot of other people believe in God?

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– People often talk of the “culture of silence and shame around rape” – but is hounding accused perpetrators into perpetual silence really a useful goal?

How not to respond to a scientific follow-up study that fails to support your original conclusions.

101 Reasons For Having Children! Listed on a site which proudly takes its name from one of the most patronising Bible verses I’ve encountered.

– A guy let police know when he found some illegal pornography on his computer. He’d been trying to download music, there’s no implication here that child porn is what he was after, and he’s not been arrested or charged with anything. But he’s still been told by social services that he’s not allowed any unsupervised access with his child. Oh, and they’re keeping his laptop.

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– “God’s work” is replaced with “Miracles” in a governmental slogan, and some petty idiots are throwing a fit. Phil has it right: Religion in the military IS the dangerous precedent.

– America’s getting some more nuclear power.

– A group of people using violence to enforce their political will. No, not Occupy; they’re called the State.

– Oh, women. Did you honestly think you could try being soldiers like all those big manly men and not be raped? How precious.

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– Hey, remember that film from last year, Carry on Camping, about the crazy old man who convinced a bunch of people the world was ending? They made a sequel.

– I don’t want to minimise any woman’s traumatic and invasive experiences, but Kim Novak was not raped. This seems like an excellent example of that low redefinition thing I was talking about the other day.

“You’re a fucking feminist. Deal with it. Don’t do feminist shit if you don’t want to be called out.” These are among the things said by feminists which makes me not want to be one.

– And the detainment facility at Guantanamo Bay has now been holding captives outside of legal US jurisdiction for ten years. By this point, Gitmo is as much Obama’s thing as it ever was Bush’s.

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So, this Reddit thing. (The internet’s mostly moved on from this by now, but I can still has opinions, even if it’s taken me too long to get around to expressing them.)

Reddit’s this place on the internet where people talk about stuff. I don’t really go there, so I don’t know much more about it than that, and you don’t need to. Anyway, in one bit of Reddit that’s set aside for talking about atheism, a 15-year-old girl posted a new thread about the Carl Sagan book Demon-Haunted World, an awesome primer on skepticism and critical thinking. Her “super religious” mother had bought her a copy of the book for for Christmas, and this girl posted a picture of herself holding the book up and smiling.

Which is pretty neat, as most of the internet’s atheisty bits agree. It’s a great book, which has meant a lot to a lot of people and helped them come to appreciate rationalism, and it’s great that someone young has been pleased to discover it. It’s also pretty awesome that, even though at least one of her parents is a religious believer, they’re still nurturing a healthy sense of enquiry and scientific interest in their child. Too often we hear of stories ending rather differently.

All of which was splendid, until some of the comments veered off in a different direction. Namely, the direction of how physically attractive some commenters found the girl in the picture, and how much they wanted to have sex with her.

The results ranged from banter about anal rape (“Blood is mother nature’s lubricant”) to contrived cosmology-themed double entendres (“I’d occupy her habitable zone”). There were many comments like this, and many more “upvotes” of those comments (Reddit’s system of determining which comments people find entertaining or worthwhile.)

Rebecca Watson was, it’s fair to say, particularly dismayed about this course of events, not least because the 15-year-old girl in question later posted elsewhere of her concerns that she’ll “never be taken seriously in the atheist/scientific/political/whatever community” because of her gender. Given a substantial chunk of the internet’s reaction to the girl’s attempt to interact with a community she wants to feel connected to – i.e., a number of them made references to her as a sexual being and nothing more – it’s easy to sympathise with her feelings.

Rebecca’s frustration has been shared by Hayley Stevens, Christina at WWJTD, Ed Brayton, Greta Christina, and many others. These are all writers I admire, and none of them is wrong to be concerned. Their criticism of these comments at Reddit is by no means illegitimate.

But there are some things emerging from the discussion which I don’t think are optimal.

Now, already I’m at odds with Greta’s post. Her whole point was about the tiresome inevitability of the “Yes, but” response to discussions of sexism or misogyny, in which serious problems are tacitly swept away by the reminder of some other complaint, which then takes dominance over the actual subject under discussion. For instance, when a bunch of men joke together about the hypothetical rape of a 15-year-old girl, and I come along and start complaining about the feminist response.

And to quite an extent, she’s right. It’s a truly problematic way in which people’s (often women’s) complaints are neglected, and it’s something that’s easily done inadvertently. I don’t want to do that, so I want to re-emphasise the importance, and the primacy, of the concerns raised by Rebecca and others.

There are other points, however, which I think are also worth mentioning – not to the exclusion or detriment of the points already made, but not wholly negligible either. I do believe that Greta’s condemnation of the “Yes, but” form of argument can be something of a thought-stopper, which people resort to before determining whether the purported change of subject actually does any of the things she’s concerned about.

It’s not that her concerns aren’t real and serious. And it’s a cliché that “I’m not a racist, but” is shorthand for “I’m about to say something massively racist”, so a lot of the “Yes, but” responses will inevitably amount to little more than a defense of unacceptable misogyny. But I don’t believe it’s never okay to bring up a tangential point in a “Yes, but” manner. It’s just something which merits very great care, when, say, you’re disagreeing with the people condemning those who joked about raping a 15-year-old.

None of this is more important than anyone’s original point. You should read all those posts I linked to above, and then consider this post of mine as a side note, an addendum, which neither overrides nor supplants anything that’s gone before. I want the place of my comments in the discourse to be very clear. Particularly when other people’s disagreement reads like this:

Go fuck yourself with a knife you irrational cunt.

We will continue to act as we please and you can continue to bitch and moan, but it’s just going to antagonize us.

That was genuinely directed at Greta, seemingly without irony. I don’t care how much you disagree with her point; that comment is unequivocally, totally wrong. In fact, this attitude and its ilk are the wrongest thing about any of this. You might disagree with the way someone argues her case, but if dehumanising abuse is the only response you can muster to someone’s sincere concern about misogyny in the face of rape jokes directed at a 15-year-old… well, I can’t even begin to relate to such a lack of empathy.

But here’s what I’m not supposed to say in the wake of Redditgate. All men don’t deserve to be hated because of what happened on Reddit. All atheists don’t deserve to be hated because of what happened on Reddit. Maintaining “nothing but contempt” for the “sickos” in question may blind us to the possibility of alternative approaches to something that does still need to be addressed.

The problem Greta was anticipating with facts like these isn’t that they’re untrue. It’s that they’re too often employed to supersede the original concerns about misogyny. I don’t mean for that to happen here, and you don’t have to let it. If it feels like the fundamental problem is being brushed aside, go back and read Rebecca’s and JT’s and Ed’s posts again, and consider my basic support for their concerns and frustration re-affirmed. I’m not trying to make any point so important that it overrides any of what they’re saying.

But. I reserve the right to say “but”. To suggest amendments, at an appropriate volume. Some people would do better to keep their contrary ideas to themselves, but not every tangential opinion needs to stay quiet for the sake of a proportioned discussion.

The internet will make a joke out of everything. You only need to check anyone’s Twitter feed after the news of a celebrity’s death is announced to learn that. And anal sex is by no means an exception. It’s become a cliché for comedians to refer to pedophilia to give a joke a certain shock impact, and a similar thing is going on in this Reddit thread. People are deliberately crossing bounds of good taste, and referencing memes, and making puns, and being “meta”, and doing all the things people on the internet do when they want other people on the internet to think they’re funny.

The important fact they’re missing, of course, is that they’re responding to a 15-year-old girl who didn’t ask for any of this. The possible negative impact, beyond providing their own peer group with amusement, is something they’ve reprehensibly chosen to ignore. But just labelling them all as monstrous scum is too easy a response, and ignores the more interesting questions about what makes people think saying these things is a good idea. Why, in this context, has wanting to have sex with a child become the focus of one-up-manship?

Remember, that’s what was going on there. A bunch of guys telling internet jokes on the internet, not wanting to be left out of the group by failing to break a taboo with a hilarious description of child rape. Nobody was making any serious threats to do anything to her for real. The fact that nobody was every going to physically harm anybody should have some impact on our assessment of what happened.

But, of course, it doesn’t mean there was no harm done. To clarify once again: the minor ways in which I think people have misinterpreted what went on here are not nearly as severe as the way certain Redditors missed the point, when the fact that a 15-year-old girl was reading all this stuff being said about her, and likely feeling increasingly disturbed and uncomfortable, got completely forgotten about amidst all the fun they were having. They might have known they meant no harm, but she can’t see inside the heads of random strangers on the internet, and her discomfort ought to trump whatever was motivating anyone else in that discussion.

They were just making jokes, but that’s not meant as an excuse. It’s a problem that they seemed to think the “just a joke” defense would excuse it, rather than – at the very least – deciding to save the overtly sexual humour for a more private context, where it wouldn’t have any kind of a negative impact on an innocent audience.

So. When you’re on the internet discussing things like rape, or how much you want to have sex with children, you really need to be careful to place that kind of thing in a context, and consider whether lashing out furiously when somebody protests is really something that a non-asshole would do. And although I’ve mostly used this post to take up opposition to some of the things they said, Greta, Rebecca, et al. are much less wrong about everything than people who joke about raping 15-year-olds. And far less wrong again than those people who respond to their understandable frustration with inane personal abuse.

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