Something needs to be done about the sexist and malicious god, the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Please bear with me through this long post to see what I mean.
Frequently, my friends joke about what types of things I could count as tax deductions, in my work. Often, I don’t respond with a giggle or a typical response for some kind of knowing in-joke, as they often expect. Instead, I often respond with a very sober “no.” It isn’t that some of my peers don’t try to count some things as tax deductions, in their businesses. It is that many things related to our work couldn’t be counted as a deduction because proving that deduction might lead to someone questioning what we do. For example, when I use an alternate payment method to pay for advertising, I usually have to destroy the evidence of that payment method. I don’t keep it, I don’t keep a record of it. That money simply disappears. In my work, I’m not committing a crime, so you
may wonder why I would do that. Why would I destroy a tax deduction, why would I destroy evidence of a completely legal act? Well, even though I’m not committing a crime, some of the people on the websites I advertise on are. Some of the people on the sites I dwell on are doing exactly that. And, I admit, I’m not averse to their work. I think that if I could minimize the risks, if I could be safe and I could avoid worrying about jail time, I would do the same thing. My job rocks and their job can also rock. But, even with me not committing a crime, using a payment method that can be tracked back to me, on a website where crimes might be committed, could lead to serious consequences. A payment that is traced back to me could lead to an investigation that I don’t want. This was actually a problem for some of the clients that patronized adult spas in my area, which were raided last year. The media did something that most journalists would consider very unethical, and they acquired records of all the credit card transactions at a spa. Then, they published it, including the names of those associated with the transactions, making a lot of personal information public and possibly interfering with the lives of those spa patrons. The media, in that case, was not concerned with the possibility that they might cause harm to someone. Though the list was later deleted, without any reason cited by the news site that published it, the criminal trial of those involved in the raids has not yet happened, there is still a risk that there could be further records released.
Being a sex worker is dangerous, and it is dangerous because of how society treats it. The media didn’t release those names for any safety reasons. They didn’t release those names for any practical reasons. They released those names for the sensationalist nature of the whole thing. They released those names because they know that the way that society views a sex worker has an effect on the way they view the clients of sex workers. In their minds, those people deserved to be punished. In their minds, anyone who sees a sex worker is deserving of the humiliation that public ridicule brings them. Anyone from the crippled man who has no other option, to the ED sufferer who has no other way to get therapy to the guy who just has no time for relationships. In the eyes of the media, they’re all the same person. The good guys are as bad as the bad guys. Why? Because sex is bad and hiring sex is bad. Personal needs are to be ignored, in that light.
When sex workers are arrested and it makes the news, their names, including their fake names, used to protect themselves, and their real names are often made public. The fake names that most adult workers use is there to protect them. It keeps them safe from some obsessed client trying to find them and it keeps their family from learning about their work. This habit of publishing the names of sex workers endangers them, because not only can it damage their family lives, it can also enable clients of the sex worker to track them down and possibly harm them or, at least, interfere with their lives.
These are only a few points about the sex industry and how social stigma weighs heavily on the lives of sex workers.
I’m sure, by now, you’re wondering what this has to do with the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM). Well, as Kate Donovan pointed out, there are some problems with FSM lore. Chris Hall, over there at GodlessPerverts, did a good job of telling us why. The lore associated with the Church of the Flying Spaghetti monster is biased against anyone who isn’t a heterosexual male and reinforces the marginalization of sex workers by portraying them as products, mindless creatures provided for the pleasure of those who go to heaven. As good as those posts are, the subject still isn’t really gaining enough attention and many people are simply dismissing it, completely. Part of the problem is, those who are subjects of the discrimination that they are talking about haven’t really responded very much.
The FSM came out around the same time that I launched my career in the adult industry. Initially, I didn’t really have a problem with it, but at that point, I was only taking phone calls and sending “naughty” texts. Later, though, as I became more active in the adult industry, I realized how uncomfortable that people referencing the FSM made me, especially when they mentioned the stripper factories. Because, suddenly, they were talking about a factory of my peers. Suddenly, they were reinforcing the biases that my peers and I had to deal with all of the time. While the lore of the FSM had perfectly good intentions as it was created for an analogy, the dehumanization of a portion of society made me uncomfortable. And, I admit (and am ashamed that), it wasn’t until I was a part of that portion of society that I even noticed.
The people who have read Kate’s post and those who have read Chris’ post seem to have some varied opinions about them. Here are some examples:
A comment on Greta Christina’s Facebook page says,
Have I missed the point? Isn’t the entire FSM “Gospel” supposed to be satire? I’m 100% against slut-shaming and whorephobia, but I’m completely confused.
And then there is:
Oh, come on. Don’t be so politically correct!
If religion tends to have aspects which are sexist, bigoted and nonsensical, then a parody religion must have (exaggerated, illuminating, parodic) versions of them. If we clean up our parody religion to make it fit with our mores, it will fail as parody, and it will be going soft on its targets.
If we were sitting down to create a religion which we wished people to actually philosophically subscribe to, sure, as liberal minds we’d perfect it by removing bigotry, violence and hate. But by making it fit with our personal preferences we’d be undermining it as parody because you are making it less ridiculous and hateful than real life. .
FSM made it to the entrance display at my neighborhood branch library in this old Texas suburb a few years ago. Want to write your own successful, approachable atheist satire that also reflects all the best morals of the movement? Great! I’d like to read it. Until then, I’m not worried about us forming a moral code around this.
The thing that these people are missing is that this part of the “satire” isn’t satire. It is a horrible commentary on how society views sex workers. If you’re unsure about that, you only need to change the category of the subject to see it. What if the strippers were simply “naked women?” What if the strippers were (to the point of discomfort) “young women?” The problem becomes clear when you change the category of woman. The reason people see the term “strippers” as acceptable is because they are sexualized a certain way. That, itself, is not a problem, but in the context of saying they are from a factory, then they are not only sexual, but their sexuality being an element of entertainment for the patron of heaven, in this case, also makes them the “other.” Instead of being voluntarily sexualized, as most strippers are, these are a depiction of strippers being otherized. Our society accepts the discrimination because that’s discrimination of the other. It is a joke on strippers because we already see strippers as a joke, in our culture.
The same problem goes for the negligence of the pseudo-religion to recognize people of varying genders, sexes and sexual preferences. The act of making male strippers invisible to to heterosexual men is the exact same act that our society is used to doing. It is dehumanizing to them. As with changing the category to examine why the claim about strippers is problematic, changing the context of hiding male strippers can show us the very flaw in this kind of thinking, within the parody. You may accept that the FSM lore says that male strippers are invisible, because some people don’t want to be reminded that homosexuals exist, but would you still accept it if the lore said that black female strippers were hidden from racists, because they don’t want to be reminded of their existence? The reality is, black female strippers exist. Male strippers exist. Sexuality is diverse and using already existent social tropes in order to uphold your parody only reinforces those biases. It isn’t parody.
I don’t mind addressing some of the comments that I posted above. Just because something is satire, that doesn’t mean that using discrimination is OK. Just because something is a joke, that doesn’t excuse bad behavior. For the same reasons that it was wrong for Tosh to suggest it would be funny for a bunch of audience members to rape a female heckler, reinforcing a part of the damaging culture that we exist in is wrong. When your “joke” places the harmful element of society right in front of your reader and makes it seem acceptable, then you are implying that you accept that part of our culture. The way that the FSM satires religion using a social bias that is real and and really does harm is not a joke. Instead, it contains a message that anyone advocating the church of the FSM accepts that these parts of our culture are completely OK.
This isn’t about people being “politically correct,” a term that people often use when they don’t like it pointed out when a group is being marginalized. Accepting stereotypes as a norm implies that you believe them to be valid and implies that you think that this element of your society is worthy of having a continuing existence. If the trope continues that assumes prostitutes are meant to be dead, that strippers are mindless and that sex workers are worthless within the parts of your life that you want to keep, that means you’re comfortable with living in that World. You accept that World, and with the acceptance of that, you’re also accepting the consequences of that World. Those consequences are that a portion of our society are murdered and then ignored; that a portion of our society faces a greater instance of abuse; that a portion of our society are arrested and imprisoned unjustly; that this portion of our society is expendable, worth ignoring and should necessarily be nothing more than a punchline in your “jokes.” Bear in mind, I’m not saying that you want those things to happen. I’m saying that because the general attitude of society against sex work happens to be what reinforces the parts of society that treats them in those ways; because these attitudes pave the way for murders, abuse and other forms of marginalization, that if you are a part of that attitude, then you are doing something that plays a role in allowing those things to happen.
Removing these biases doesn’t make the parody less ridiculous. The premise of the religion would remain in tact and you can come up with something even more ridiculous to take its place, if you want. Hell, remember the Invisible Pink Unicorn parody? Because many religions hijack elements of another, it would be pretty funny to hijack another parody religion to fill in the gap of the FSM’s. Just as some Jews and Muslim people have accepted Jesus as a possible reality that they’ve incorporated into their religion, there’s room for the FSM to do so as well. Or, perhaps you could make something up, too. Maybe heaven needs oceans of chocolate that won’t make us fat or endless piles of legos or, if you really want to keep things sexy, why not have this religion include sex toys for everyone?! Instead of pretending that gay people don’t exist, they can have their own personalized toy kit and so can you. People can pick their own preferences, for their toys. Or, maybe any variation of sex toy will grow on trees in a grove, where the toys are the fruits of your desire and the leaves are all anti-bacterial wet-wipes. The wet wipes are not because we’re afraid of germs, in heaven, but are really because sex is still fun, in heaven, and fun sex often includes messy sex. And, for the sake of those disinterested in such things, maybe it would be appropriate to make it not just about sex toys, but maybe anything that is enjoyable and enticing can grow on trees, there.
I counsel women every week who face the consequences of how our society views sex work. From people who have lost their homes due to stigma to people who have been disowned by their families to people who have been arrested, I have encountered many, many women who fall victim to society because of these kinds of stereotypes. What’s more, I have to deal with the same microaggressions that they do. From discrimination from loved ones who still make dead hooker jokes to friends who play a “game” where they try to point out the hookers on the streets based on their own ideas of what a hooker looks like or acts like. Each act of dehumanization that I witness is not just about some generic idea of a sex worker, to me, as it is to them. To me, they’re talking about my friends; they’re talking about the women I’m working with and the women I’m helping. They’re talking about real people. It is not fun to view the world as the person in the margins, it is painful. And why would a person want to reinforce the cause of that pain by playing it off as an acceptable joke?
I don’t think that Bobby Henderson, the founder of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, necessarily intended harm, so I do hope that he’s willing to address this problem. Not necessarily because I think that the Satire needs to continue, but because I think that should it continue, which it likely will as it is still very popular, it needs a revision to address the problem of parts of the community being marginalized.