Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mythology

So, a recent thread over at Sociological Images has turned into a rather nasty referendum on religion. There's lots of rhetoric about how religion is all about turning people into mindless sheep. Given the numerous atrocities perpetrated in the name of religion, this is understandable. However, I can't help feeling that folks are over-generalizing just a tad.

Religion is an incredibly diverse phenomenon. So much so, in fact, that any blanket statement about religion is likely to be wrong. When I discuss religion with progressives, the same false generalizations come up over and over again. And frankly, I'm tired of it. If you want to critique religion, that's fine. Actually, that's awesome, and can make for some really good debates. But don't use any of these arguments, because they don't hold water.


  • Religious people are sheep.


  • Sure, some of them are. And some aren't. Because religious people are diverse. Imagine that!

    That being said, this generalization isn't entirely baseless. Most major religions expect their followers to take certain propositions on faith. And this is often seen as regressive, full stop. Frankly, I kind of agree.

    At the same time, it's important to remember that many religious people do not follow the dictates of their faith indiscriminately. As a Jew in the contemporary world, I constantly question my religious beliefs and practices. My worldview is informed both by the Jewish tradition, and by progressive values. When the two come into conflict, I do some pretty intense soul-searching; in almost every case, progressivism has won.

    Moreover, not every religious denomination emphasizes complete, passive obedience. Not every religion has a universal creed, or a common set of rules which must be obeyed.

    During my Jewish education, I was taught to value doubt and dissent. I was taught that two opposing views could each have merit. As the Talmudic saying goes, "These and those, both are the words of the living God." Yes, it's true that I take certain things on faith; that I accept the existence of God without direct, empirical evidence. But that doesn't mean that I'm a puppet of some nebulous Jewish conspiracy.

    From a progressive standpoint, the entire notion of faith is legitimately suspect. I understand that. But it's disingenuous to pretend that religious people are all mindless sheep, eager to do the bidding of the nearest religious figure.

  • Have you even read the Bible!?


  • Yes, yes I have. The Hebrew Bible, anyway. And there's some f*cked-up sh*t in there. I completely agree. But here's the thing. The vast, vast majority of Jews and Christians in the contemporary world are not biblical literalists. Many Jews and Christians believe that the Bible is not, in fact, the word of God. Some view the Bible as simply a historical document; others--myself included--believe that the Bible was written by human beings who were divinely inspired.

    In any case, there are plenty of progressive religious people who are willing to reinterpret or reject the portions of the Bible which are--by today's standards--unquestionably horrific.

  • Religious people are racist, sexist, and homophobic (and atheists aren't).


  • Yes, it's absolutely true that religion has been used to justify untold oppression. Yes, that's a bad thing. And yes, there are some deeply problematic ideas woven into the fabric of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But that doesn't mean that all religious people are necessarily tools of the kyriarchy. And it certainly doesn't mean that prejudice is an inherent or necessary part of religion.

    Nor, by the way, are atheists exempt from bias. One of the most hateful human beings I have ever had the displeasure of encountering was--as it happens--an atheist. People of ill-will can--and do--create "rational," non-religious justifications for hatred, faster than you can say "God hates fags."

    It's comforting to think that prejudice is just an artifact of humanity's silly superstitions. If I truly believed that we could do away with baseless hatred, simply by stamping out religion, then I'd be an atheist too. But sadly, that's not how things work.

Monday, November 15, 2010

So, this happened...

I have officially been sucked into blog drama.

As a result, I received one of my first vicious, ad-hominem attacks. Apparently, a fellow commenter thought this was a reasonable response to my telling Fat Acceptance blogger Atchka Fatty--whom I like quite a bit*, as it happens--to check his male privilege.


Fuck the bitches, they can get over themselves. You [Atchka] say things that I don’t agree with all the time, and I respect your right to say so. I’m sure there are things that I say that you don’t care for, we are adults and can deal. So fuck them for the dried up bitter titty babies that they are.


I think my favorite part of that comment is the phrase "we are adults." Interesting, too that my telling someone to respect other bloggers' boundaries by reading their comment policies means that I don't respect the rights of others to hold opinions different from my own.

There's a lot more I could say about my little showdown with Atchka, but I won't bother, at least not right now. I have an exam on Wednesday, and I really need to cram.

However, I will say this.

And I am going to embrace the term "dried up bitter titty baby," which I think describes me quite nicely.

*Update: whom I liked. Atchka's comments on his own blog have been a bit...disappointing today. To my genuine sorrow, I am now putting Atchka and Co. on my list of people with whom I just don't engage. This isn't about flouncing off in a huff, it's about protecting my right not to be treated like sh*t. Atchka joins a number of notable trolls on this list, as well as Dan F*cking Savage.

Update the second: Eh, scratch that. Atchka's pretty cool. Check out his response in the comment below.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sleep-Deprived Ramblings and a Mesh Vagina

Okay, so we all know that American Apparel is a fairly disgusting company which uses disturingly objectifying images to sell their oddly-shaped clothing. Jezebel has documented their hijinks extensively, and it's a pretty appalling saga.

Anyway, I thought they'd taken their "sex sells" strategy to its absolute limit.

Apparently, I was wrong.

This girl is actually dressed up as a giant vagina.

The only possible use for this garment is as an epic vagina costume. And while there's nothing inherently wrong with looking like an epic vagina, I have to wonder: who actually wears this stuff in their everyday lives?

Then again, it could just be me. One of the things that made me realize I was queer is that I started finding yonic symbolism in everything. Like this commercial.

Make of that what you will.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Women in Mathematics Bingo!

Inspired by the glories of the Evolutionary Psychology Bingo Card, found at Punk Ass Blog, I have created the Women in Mathematics bingo card!



Click to enlarge.


For the record, I think the underrepresentation of women in math is a complex and fascinating issue. I don't think that there's a vast conspiracy of sexist male professors, who are actively working to keep women out of mathematics. Nor do I think gender parity is necessarily a good or attainable goal, in mathematics or in any other field.

On the other hand, I've had some pretty frustrating conversations about gender and mathematics, mostly with young, male mathematicians. I'm tired of the casual misogyny, the intellectual laziness, the blatant male privilege, and the spurious references to evolutionary psychology. This bingo card is my response.

Incidentally, I'd like to point out that the evo-psych bingo is not really mocking evolutionary psychology, per se; it's mocking the ridiculous, self-serving, ignorant ways in which "evolutionary psychology" arguments are often used.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Only Verdict is Vengeance

Progressive bloggers have coined a number of terms for the reactionary trolls that sometimes invade our spaces. Thanks to bloggers such as the inimitable Melissa McEwan of Shakesville,, we have the use of such colorful terms "concern trolls," "mansplainers," and "dudebros." Right now, I would like to propose a new addition to this ever-evolving lexicon: the "Perseus." Allow me to explain.

I am an avid reader and commenter on the blog Sociological Images. This fascinating site features thought-provoking images from around the world, with commentary on their sociological significance. Officially, Sociological Images is not a feminist blog, or even a progressive one. However, many of the posts have a definite progressive slant, which reflects the authors' political orientation. And the comment section is typically a relatively progressive, feminist space.

Recently, however, Sociological Images has been discovered by a number of determined trolls, most of them anti-feminist. These folks swoop down on certain threads--usually the ones dealing with gender issues--and instigate long-running flame wars that derail any actual discussion.

Now, I love a good debate, and I also love having the last word. As a result, I have a tendency to get sucked into lengthy arguments with these anti-feminist trolls. Recently, I've been involved in a couple of skirmishes with a fellow who goes by the handle "Perseus."

A few days ago, Perseus posted some sexist crap in a thread about women and modesty. In response to concerns that elaborate modesty codes might be oppressive to women, he wrote, "You are only as oppressed as you want to be."

I am not making this up.

I posted a brief response, politely informing him that his argument was both inaccurate and offensive. In response, he asked me if I was replying to his posts simply because I had a "vendetta" against him.

So apparently, I have a vendetta against Perseus, of which I was previously unaware.

As my next act in this vendetta, I hope to vanquish this venal and virulent vermin by adding his name to my typology of internet and real-life trolls. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the definition of a Perseus.

Perseus
-n
The Perseus is a particular breed of of self-styled intellectual, often encountered in the comments sections of feminist or progressive blogs. Like the mansplainer, the Perseus is always male; a female troll with similar characteristics may be termed an Andromeda.

The Perseus is characterized by his compulsion to debunk any and all feminist arguments. When he cannot accomplish this goal through logic, he resorts to sophistry and derailing.

A typical Perseus is usually quite civil. However, he will periodically indulge in a blatant show of disrespect toward one of his female interlocutors. These performances are usually completely unprovoked.

The truly fascinating aspect the Perseus is that he views himself as a champion of rational discourse. His most vociferous attacks are reserved for women whom he accuses of non-rigorous thinking. Invariably, the Perseus fails to see the painful irony of his attempts to raise the level of discourse through bullying and puerile insults.


Now, this may seem like a weirdly specific definition, which would only apply to Perseus himself. However, I have personally interacted with several individuals who fit this definition to the letter. It seems that the Perseus is indeed a distinct variety of troll, and that I'll be putting my new word to some good use.

The Perseus is not necessarily malicious, stupid, or mentally unbalanced. If anything, he is smarter than most, and reasonably well-intentioned. And yet it seems pretty much impossible to engage him in a serious discussion of gender issues. Which, frankly, makes me sad.

And now, my gentle readers, I'd like to know: have you met a Perseus type, or some variation on the Perseus theme? Do you think it's possible for a feminist woman to debate with a Perseus in a productive way? Or is the Perseus just a troll, pure and simple?

Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose. So, let me simply add that it is my very good honor to have you on this blog, and you may call me...Simone.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I Wrote a Guest Post on Female Sexual Dysfunction!!!

Hello Feminist Rebels,

I am honored to have the opportunity guest post for one of my favorite blogs,
Feminists with Female Sexual Dysfunction.

Female sexual dysfunction (FSD) is often taboo even in feminist spaces. The author of Feminists with FSD, who goes by the handle "K," tackles this difficult subject with rigor, wit, and irreverence. Her blog has been a wonderful resource for me personally, during my ongoing struggle with FSD.

Previously, I've written about my experiences with FSD, and how they have influenced my views about defining sex. In my guest post, I discuss my fruitless quest to get medical help for my FSD. In particular, I reflect on the various attitudes I've encountered from doctors, and how these attitudes may reflect certain stereotypes about women with sexual problems.

Check out my post here!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Women Owe You Nothing, Part 1

So, I've been participating in a pretty heated discussion over at Sociological Images about gender, dating norms, and the bar scene. In light of this, I want to talk a bit about how men can pick up women, without being disrespectful.

It's no secret that lots of women have problems with the "meat market" atmosphere of most bars and clubs. But, judging from the comments on the socimages thread, it seems that men are just as unhappy. The unhappy men seem to have two major complaints. First, they feel that women are too quick to view harmless flirting as harassment. Second, they feel exploited by women who happily accept free drinks, and then split.

In this post, I do my best to address the first concern: the fear that feminists are trying to ban men from hitting on women. I'll do another post soon about the phenomenon of women "trolling for drinks"--and why men should cut them some slack.

My goal here is not to be anti-male in any way. Instead, I want to open up communication between genders, by explaining how things look from a woman's point of view--and how guys can respond.

Guest blogger Starling wrote an excellent post on a similar topic over at Shapely Prose. In this post, I rehash much of the same material, though with a different emphasis. I don't agree with all of Starling's arguments, but I highly recommending her post.

Let me also say: I recognize that my post here is incredibly heteronormative, and I'm sorry. Given my own life experience, it's the best I can do right now. I would love comments about how these or similar dynamics play out in same-sex flirtation.

Yes, We Know "Hello" Is Not Harassment



Whenever there's a discussion of gendered dating norms come up, some guy inevitably complains that feminists are trying to ban male flirting. In practice, this concern is usually misplaced. Most feminist women don't want to stigmatize harmless flirtation. What we do want is for men to show us some basic respect.

Let's say you're a guy at a local pub. You walk up to a woman and say, "Hi, my name is Joe, can I buy you a drink?." This is a perfectly innocuous behavior. Most of the time, no one will judge you for it.

There are some caveats here, but they're mostly common sense. It's important to be sensitive to the woman's social cues. If a woman is clearly deep in conversation, or if she's brought her laptop to the bar (yes, there are women who do this), then you probably shouldn't approach her. If you do, you're sending the message, "I am more important than whatever you are doing right now!" Women, understandably, may react to this with annoyance.

In a similar vein, If you're too drunk, too stoned, or too tired to read a woman's social cues, even at the most basic level, then this is not the time to approach a new woman. When your judgement is impaired, it's easier to make the a thoughtless mistake that will get you a slap in the face.

With that in mind, there's usually nothing wrong with trying to strike up a casual flirtation at a bar. Typically, how men go wrong is not by approaching a woman in the first place; it's by approaching a woman, getting a reaction they don't like, and then failing to respond appropriately.

If you're going to approach some stranger in a bar, you have to be willing to accept that she might turn you down. Maybe she'll ignore you outright. Maybe she'll respond to your attempts at conversation with monosyllabic grunts. Maybe she'll accept a proffered drink, but her voice will convey unmitigated boredom. As before, pay attention to her signals. If she's clearly disinterested, take that as your cue to move on.

A woman may give you the cold shoulder for any number of reasons. Maybe she doesn't want to flirt because she thinks you're creepy, or because your deodorant isn't working as well as you think. Or, maybe she's busy writing a symphony in her head, and she doesn't want to be interrupted. Maybe she's in a relationship. Maybe she doesn't date men. Maybe she just doesn't feel like socializing on this particular night.

If a woman rebuffs you, don't take it personally, and don't get indignant. You have no reason to think that her behavior reflects negatively on you, or on her. She is simply asserting her right to decide how, and with whom, she spends her evening. Accept this and move on. Do not, under any circumstances, try to pressure her into paying attention. Don't track her down later and try again. The woman has made it clear that she wants you to leave her alone. Honor her wishes. It's a matter of basic human courtesy and respect.

Remember: the woman you've approached owes you nothing. Yes, you were "nice" to approach her, flirt with her, and offer her a drink. But she didn't ask for any of those things. Expecting her to reciprocate your "niceness" is completely absurd. Doing so puts you in the same category as those squeegee men who swoop down on cars stuck in traffic, wash their windows, and then demand payment. It's extortion, pure and simple.

Women don't owe you their attention--even if you're handsome, and charming; even if you offer them drinks. When you refuse to honor a woman's desire to be left alone, you are denying her fundamental right to personal autonomy. You are failing to treat her like a human being, who deserves your full consideration and respect. And that is always, always wrong.

Feminist women are not trying to outlaw harmless flirting. We understand that trying to buy us drinks is not harassment. But we do want is to be treated like full human beings, even in the club, at 1:00 am.