Sophie Hirschfeld

So, when I ranted on facebook about something I run into pretty much all the time, someone drew my attention to this blog post, by M. K. Hajdin, about how feminists should have a right to use playground bullying tactics against those who are pro-sex work. The arguments that she makes are actually a pretty common set of arguments and I feel that most feminists from that angle are often just unaware of a lot of things. So, I’m going to go through this article piece by piece and address most of the points that she makes. So, be sure you have a snack, because while I’m sure this will be interesting, we’re heading out for a very long ride:

Someone objected to my use of the word “funfem”.  This abbreviation of “funfeminist” is a “slur”, I was sternly told, and I am not to use it. Continue reading »

I’m having an emotional day, for no apparent reason. It is probably my body, being rebellious. The downside of this is that when my skewed hormones decide that a day is an emotional day, I have the misfortune of experiencing that emotional day in terms of where my brain takes me, which is usually on a ride through PTSD symptoms-land. One of the things a counselor taught me to do, years ago, was to write my thoughts down. According to Richard Wiseman, in the book 59 seconds, when you’re hurt, you should write about it and then write about the good things that have come from that. In other words, it helps to force yourself to be a glass-half-full kind of person. Though, I do wonder how far that approach to psychology goes. Sometimes, writing about it is a big enough struggle, especially when there are endless layers of horrible things that contribute to your pain. Finding the positive aspect of those endless layers can be pretty damned tough, and what do you do when there are things that, honestly, there are no positive aspects to?

I promised to make an effort to write more about my experience with mental illness to help raise awareness about it. So, when I wrote about what came to mind through this morning’s ride on the emo-coaster, I thought I would post it here, but first I’ll give a little context for you.

This morning’s emotions feature the-feeling-of-alone-ness, which is a common feature of PTSD. That’s right, even though I’m well-loved and have a great life, right now. I feel alone, sometimes. This isn’t because I am alone, though. Alone-ness, for those who experience it because of PTSD or depression is not telling us that we’re all alone in a literal sense. Instead, it is more like our brain has used our experiences to build a glass room for us. We exist in this glass room of alone-ness with all of our experiences and we meet people through the glass walls. We can see out at what seems like an accurate portrayal of the world around us, but that world around us has trouble getting in. Everything around us seems like has the ability to get in, but it can’t. To others, it looks like they can enter at any time, but they can’t or don’t. When encountering others in their own glass rooms, the relationships are even more complicated, because you find yourselves trying to enter each other’s glass rooms in an endlessly complicated labyrinth of glass-puzzle-y-alone-room-ness. For each person existing in one of these alonerooms, the way inside is unknown. There’s no lock and while there may be pathways inside, those can be long and convoluted and since you have no way of measuring distance, you have no way of knowing how close you are to the person inside or what direction to go in. To the outsider, the person in one of these alone-boxes looks like they’re right there. You can see them, touch them, but you just don’t know how close they are. A person trying to get in can somehow move closer or more far away at any given moment and that distance doesn’t depend on their actions. That doesn’t even depend on the actions of the person inside. That distance is uncontrollable and unknowable. The glass aloneroom is subject to some kind of Heisenberg-type theory of mental proximity. The barrier is invisible and the distance is unknowable and deceptive.

Meanwhile, while in this headspace, the main option that someone like me has is to work our way through it. Many of us have been through this routine before. We each have different strategies. For me, it is all about finding what comforts me and sticking with that. If I have the emotional energy, I sew. If not, I might turn to gaming or reading. Another dysfunctional element of the glass aloneroom is that it often doesn’t inspire us to fix the feeling of being alone by being social. In fact, it is often just the opposite. Confusingly enough, deep feelings of being alone often lead to a desire to be left alone. For me, this creates a really stupid inward struggle where I try to decide if I’m going to force myself to be around people or if I’m going to just ride this emotional ridiculousness out on my own. Today’s strategy is to go it alone.

As I mentioned, with PTSD, these feelings are often associated with life events. It isn’t that these memories of these events necessarily led to the brain going on an emotional bender at that particular moment, but some psychologists seem to think that these memories are actually brought back to light because of the emotions, and sometimes other factors. Which is why, in this case, I was already feeling pretty down, but then someone else’s actions actually led to me attaching a memory to today’s emotions. When taking the if it hurts, write about it approach to this problem, that means writing about the memory attached to the emotion. Below, you’ll find the results of today’s write about it approach, for the most part, but I have excluded the part about what good has come from this. I wrote some things in there that I don’t feel like sharing.

So, basically, here’s a depressing bunch of information from my life. Enjoy!

A question asked by a friend about adoption was a weird reminder of how screwed up a part of my life was. It seems so weird, now, and I see the full scope of crazy, in retrospect, but at the time these things were happening, it seemed like what was happening was how the World was supposed to work. Now, I sometimes notice how people behave around me or what they say and I realize how much my past creates a sense of distance from other people, because to them, my past is just another story. It is just another thing they heard about on TV that happens to other people.

In this case, a conversation about adoption reminded me of some really messed up things that happened after I was raped and discovered I was pregnant. My mother and a church bishop tried to get me to have my mother adopt my baby. My mother wanted to pretend it was her baby, to protect me from social stigma and because she believed I wouldn’t be able to find a husband and get married if I already had a child. She also wanted to hide that I was pregnant and planned this bizarre and elaborate cover up. Anyway, in the process of all of this, I had insisted that if I took that option, it wouldn’t be someone I know that would adopt my baby, so spent some time reading about adoption.

But, it didn’t even end quickly, even after I told them that I wanted to keep the baby, my mother conspired to do things that could lead to her adopting the baby. She was constantly talking about adoption and encouraged me to wear clothes to cover my growing belly (not that she needed to, I was a baggy-clothes kind of person, back then). She had the bishop talk to me about the church’s stance on things and while she ultimately decided to support me, I was probably seven or eight months into the pregnancy before she gave up on mentioning adoption.

But, that’s the kind of thing people read about happening in the past, before I was born. That’s the kind of thing people hear about happening in other communities, or before the 1970s. People don’t hear about that happening as much in my generation because my generation was one where teen pregnancy was out in the open and people had started to recognize how we ignore fatherless children. But, in the environment I was in, no matter what happened, my value as a person, as a marriable person, as a worthwhile person, was directly connected to me having a baby. I was damaged goods, in my community.

But my mother’s attempt to adopt my daughter wasn’t the only way she tried to get out of the social problem we were in because of my pregnancy. A friend of mine, who apparently was fond of me but didn’t want to tell me, asked my mother if he could just say the baby was his, and could marry me. When my mother brought that up, we had a huge argument over it. The pressure to get married was stronger after I got pregnant than it had been before. Marriage is a major goal for most Mormons, because it is written into the religion as a part of the path to eternity. I was terrified of men, but my mother was constantly trying to get me to interact with them. At the store, at church, at the doctor’s office. It pretty much didn’t matter where we were. I think some of this effort was to try to force me to be OK again. She wanted the version of me back that I had been previously. The version of me that I had become after I was traumatized was scary to her. I pretty much stopped talking to most people for a really long time and my mom was concerned. But, some of her behavior was to protect how others viewed me and my family. There was often talk about how to “make things right” by finding someone to get married to and my mom would say that I couldn’t do that if I didn’t talk to people. It took me nearly two years to begin to function again, socially. The first time I said someone I saw was attractive to me, after that, my mother literally cried. We were in a car, on our way home and I saw someone from one of my classes at school. I pointed him out to my mother and said that he sat near me in class and that I thought he was attractive. My mom pulled over the car and burst into tears.

Sometimes, on the rare occasions that I talk about all the things that happened in my childhood and young adult life, I think people think that my family are all some sort of twisted villains. I sometimes think that, too. But I do realize that what they have done and what they do, as messed up as it is, isn’t because they’re malicious. It is because they literally think that they’re doing the right thing for someone that they love. In abusive situations, that’s one of the biggest problems that the victim has to face. What people say, that abuse isn’t love, is only partly true. It is a distortion of the reality of the experience of abuse. Abusers typically do love their victims, but their actions they use to express that love are wrong. To the victim, they often are aware of both of those things. They know that the abuse is wrong, but they also know that the abuser might want them and they sometimes know that the abuser loves them. That’s why, even though it was really messed up, my mom tried to adopt my daughter and hide my pregnancy and expressed shame in me being pregnant. That’s why, even though it was really dysfunctional, my mother didn’t respect my privacy and when it was clear she couldn’t pretend the baby was hers, she told most of the women in our church what had happened to me. That’s why she tried to get me to talk to men all of the time. It was in that environment that I ultimately met my ex-husband.

My older daughter was a year old when I met my ex husband – for almost two years I had refused to go to church dances or to put myself in any situation where I would be overwhelmed by people, especially men. I could deal with events where everyone present were women, that happened all the time. But, I didn’t like being around men. That night, though, my brother, a returned Mormon Missionary, took on the same tone that my mother had about me socializing. In order to eventually get married, I had to talk to men, and what better place to do that than a church dance? For them, marriage was the ultimate fix-it. Marriage would make my situation better. Marriage would make our family look right. My brother believed I had to be at that dance and that I needed to be more social. This doesn’t make sense, when you think about it. I wasn’t a social butterfly before I was sexually assaulted, either. After being sexually assaulted, I just withdrew from society even more. I’m not sure how my brother thought sending me to a dance would make me more social. Continue reading »

Image from deviantart. Click on image to get there.Warning: This talks about sexual violence, but is not explicit.

This is the start of a series that addresses the questions that many people have surrounding rape. Beyond the very public statements that have come out against rape, where it is highlighted that rape is, indeed, awful and the stories that have highlighted the various types of rape that people experience, there are a lot of questions that are also coming to light. Many of those questions are tough to answer, especially for myself and my peers, because those questions can be triggering or they can seem confrontational. But, in many cases, some of those questions are asked out of honest curiosity and ignorance and some are asked because our culture simply hasn’t gotten around to giving a significant answer for them. I’m going to attempt to cover as many of those as I can. Some of these articles aren’t necessarily going to be built around a specific question, but might be written about a specific concept or a myth or something like that which is wrapped up in many rape experiences. I’m going to not only answer questions that have been asked of me, but I’m also going to address things that I might see as common responses to people talking about rape. Please bear with me, as the hardest part of this project is likely going to pretty much be everything about it. Continue reading »

I’m going to say something that is going to be a bit new and difficult for some feminists to understand: Objectification is not always bad. Think about that for a minute. Let it turn around in your brain. Some of you might be getting angry, but bear with me for a little while and I’ll walk you through it. Imagine situations that you think involve objectification. Imagine sexual as well as non-sexual moments where you think that objectification is involved. Pick up the idea and slowly turn it in your head. For each example you think of, put yourself in the place of the observer and then put yourself in the place of the objectified. If you can’t really grasp it, that’s OK, because I’m going to try to help you through it as best as I can. Continue reading »

Firstly, let me make you aware that I write this as a cisgendered woman. Since my trans peers have talked about these things, but aren’t being listened to adequately enough (or, some of them don’t want to be public with their opinion), I’m going to do the best I can to convey what I have interpreted from what they’ve taught me. If you’re a trans person who sees a mistake, here, please let me know.

Back when the investigation was ongoing, some statements that Chelsea Manning had made in a chat with someone had indicated that she felt she was a woman. She conveyed ideas that are pretty much right in-line with what many trans people go through and this conversation was later presented to all of the world, without her consent. As a result, many people felt that she should be recognized for who she is, but others pointed out that she hadn’t consented to the publication of that information and that her privacy should be respected. Thus, she was referred to by her legal name until she came out and made it known that she is Chelsea. Continue reading »

There’s a really fantastic documentary that I saw a couple years ago called The line, it was by a woman named Nancy Schwartzman and it was about her journey to confront someone who had raped her. Her experience fell into a grey area that is actually really, really common for most sexual assault cases. The lines of consent were unclear and as a result, something horrible and painful happened to her. At the same time, as you learn in the documentary, the person who assaulted her seemed to have no idea that he had done something wrong. He didn’t acknowledge that there was no consent and this created an even more uncomfortable and confusing experience, for her, in her effort to seek closure. Her documentary raises a lot of questions about dealing with sexual assault cases and the experience of being a victim. It highlights the most common problems faced in assault cases.

  1. Victims are always in pain, no matter how their view of an experience compares to the view of the person who hurt them.
  2. People accused of sexual assault often think of themselves as innocent and often don’t know they caused harm or won’t confess to it.

These two problems seem to conflict. Here in the united states, we live by a concept that is written into our laws: Innocent until proven guilty. This was never intended to speak to the reality of innocence, so much as it was intended to protect the innocent from the risk of false accusation. But, it is also based on a very real problem with humanity: We like to blame people for horrible things when horrible things happen and when we do that, we are often vindictive about it. This law was designed to help prevent vindictive actions through unjust trials and mob reactions to accusations.  In case people haven’t caught on, I’m actually trying to address the very complicated issues surrounding the sexual harassment incidents that have been talked about within the skeptic and atheist community. This is actually a very difficult task, because I actually think most people are looking at it in the wrong way and I think there are very few, if any, people who have malicious intentions when they talk about it.

Quick note: I’m using cis-normative terms, from here on, because every case that I know of, within this community, involved a male hurting a female. If there are others, please feel free to let me know. If you have suggestions for avoiding the gendered language in regards to any of these incidents, your input is also welcome.

I have the unique experience of being a peer counselor and advocate for victims and I also have gotten to study the law and why the law is presented as it is. I have also studied social issues related to law, crime and ethics. This kind of education has given me the ability to look at people who have been victimized and have the ability to help them while also minimizing the risk of doing any injustices to others. I don’t want to highlight any of the specific incidents that have been talked about publicly, because I don’t feel that is my place and I don’t want to cause more suffering for anyone. However, I do think that people need to do a bit of a thought experiment. So, just imagine that there is a case where a woman has been with a man and when she leaves their interaction these two things are true:

  • She has been raped.
  • He is satisfied after having sex.

This is the really hard reality of a large portion of rape cases. It is the kind of thing that makes people like me want to thump rules of consent into the brains of pretty much everyone I ever encounter and it is the thing that makes me hate the way the world reacts to trauma. It confuses the victims. It confuses the public. It is what allows countless rapists to go free and it ruins the lives of countless victims. It also confuses the accuser, has the potential to ruin their life and forces them into public scrutiny that they didn’t expect (or, even more upsetting, it glorifies them). For the accused, they often can’t see the pain of the victim because they are often preoccupied with whatever is going on with them and no matter if they are or are not guilty, they almost never think of themselves as guilty.

That isn’t to say that we should take sides with the accused, nor is it to say that they are excused of any wrong doing. But, some understanding that there is absolutely no way that a public trial can be objective, that the accused may not be aware of how they did wrong and that the accused is at risk of losing more than even the victim intended, putting them on trial by public opinion is certainly not justified. Meanwhile, there is a set of people who have been absolutely horrifying in how they have approached the victims, too, if not even more so. These people really are hurting. There is no reason to accuse them of lying. There is no reason to publicly hang them, either. They need empathy, they need help and understanding. They need us to listen. Because no matter what your uninformed opinion is of what happened to them, they’re still hurt.

As we turn these discussions over in our heads, there is no side of it that is not sticky and messy. I have spent days trying to figure out the best way not to publicly hang people who I can’t prove are either guilty or innocent while still supporting the people who are suffering the most. Like many of you, I have friends on either side of this debate, and it hurts.  The fracturing of the community, right now, is not without reason. I’m not the only one who is facing this problem.

As with any public revelation about sexual abuse, many of the same misunderstandings have come up. The same accusations that we’ve seen tossed out in the midst of the Catholic scandals and other famous sexual abuse scandals have come out, this time. Added to the pain of seeing fellow community members suffering as well as the pain of seeing the in-fighting, we also have to experience the pain of learning that our own community is not immune to the same kinds of flaws that harm other communities. I’m going to address some of those bad arguments, now.

  • There is a common argument that people who accuse others of sexual assault are somehow crazy, damaged or otherwise worthy of dismissal. A few people have even implied that the group of people online who have been discussing things like sexual assault are, themselves, somehow victims and that because they were once victims, they must see rape EVERYWHERE. There are no facts to back up that kind of claim and the claim is used to minimize the need to examine a person’s experience, much less examining that experience within the context of a greater social construct. But, it also creates a kind of bizarre paradox. If all of those who talk about sexual harassment and rape are doing so because they’ve all been raped and, as has been described in some places as being an experience that leads to them accusing everyone of rape, wouldn’t that imply that anyone who was raped had previously been raped? Not only is the argument not backed by science, it makes no sense. It’s turtles all the way down. It is also an argument that distracts us from larger issues, such as the fact that there are people who are suffering because they were violated.
  • Accusations of needing restraint may seem useful, but are really useless after the fact. Most people will agree that there is no context in which rape is acceptable. However, that doesn’t seem to keep people from commenting on the influence of alcohol when someone has been raped. When someone reports a rape, it doesn’t matter if she was drunk. Talking about how she might have gotten that way or even offering suggestions about drinking is likely to do more harm than good. Coming from a background of well-meaning, protect-your-sexual-parts education, I know that most people who offer this kind of advice are not trying to actually do harm. But, I think it is important that they know that it does hurt, because the harm is already done and they can’t walk back through time and utilize your helpful advice. As a result, the advice that you think is being helpful ends up just making them feel worse because it implies they didn’t do the right thing and that not doing the right thing played some role in them getting raped.
  • People need to stop throwing tantrums when people within the community take breaks because of this. People are in pain and it is 100% reasonable to step away from something that hurts.
  • While talking about this, we need to avoid becoming a justice mob. I know, it is absolutely tempting to take the people that we have heard about harming others and have them quartered and drawn in the public square. I have felt similar urges with pretty much every rape case I have ever counseled. I think most peer counselors, counselors and advocates have felt the same. I wish that I could banish people who do harm to places where they can no longer, ever do any harm again. But, I don’t have that kind of power, and I acknowledge that is probably a good thing. I’m not omnipotent. I am not capable of making the best decisions for everyone’s well being, all of the time. I can’t have all of the facts, when I am trying to help people. Neither can any of you. It is painful to know that because of this, horrible people might walk free, and horrible people may end up having decent lives. In order to have the safest community as possible, it is important to encourage investigations, but to also understand that most people don’t get to be the jury, judge and executioner.
  • With that being said, there’s also a need to accept that people are going to react strongly. No matter where you stand, there’s a sense of betrayal by those who you trusted as members of your community and if that betrayal leads to people you care about having an opposing view, it is likely to make it hurt even worse. That is when it might be important to accept this divide. For many people, seeing the damage done by sexual assault happen within your community is, itself, likely to lead to thoughts about horrible things that might have happened to them. For others, they might see some very real fears coming to life. Then, there are going to simply be those who have a strong opinion based only on what they’ve supported before. Extreme emotions are OK, but it is how you react to those emotions that is going to matter the most.
  • Don’t blame the discussion on sexual harassment for these sexual assaults. That makes no sense. Just talking about how to deal with the problem of sexual assault is not likely to retroactively have caused a sexual assault to have happened in the past. As far as we know, spacetime doesn’t work that way.
  • Don’t treat every report of sexual assault as being the same. Right now, there are multiple people coming out with stories and every single story is different. There’s no greater agenda or conspiracy to come out with them. To assume as much without evidence is really absurd.

Those are my thoughts, for now. I tried to be as careful as I can be to not call out individual people and to try to address things in general terms. I have no interest in humiliating any victims or in putting anyone in a position where they might be vulnerable simply because of something I wrote.

 

Over the last couple of years, the skeptic/geek/science culture (as well as other subcultures) have been exposed for sexist tendencies

Click for the source of this image, on deviant art

Click for the source of this image, on Deviant Art

that occur within them. As more bad behaviors surface, people become more outspoken about their experiences and we find even more horrifying things underneath. The conversations that I have with my peers are no exception. The more I work toward raising awareness and addressing sexual rights issues within the community, the more I hear about more injustices.

I’ve been given permission to write about my friend’s experience. Her story is the third one that I have heard that is like it. This particular friend was getting ready to game with a new group, one she was connected with via another friendship, and within the group were people she trusted. She went to their first session and rolled up a character to her liking. Much like myself, her characters are pretty atypical. She likes to break stereotypes with her characters. Thus, this character was of a squishy background, but somehow came out of it equipped for ass-kicking. She had skills for battling and weaponry suited to the task. During the second session that she went to game, though, she quickly learned that her new gaming group, one that was all men, other than herself, was actually not so trustworthy afterall. The Gamemaster of her group had arranged for her character to get separated from the group, to lose her weaponry and to get sexually assaulted by the creature that the group was to battle that day.

This friend is not the only person that I’ve heard of this happening to. She’s the third person I’ve heard about experiencing this in only one year. Another girl who had an experience similar to that, in gaming, was told by her GM that he was “advancing her story.” Gamers usually create their story on their own, within the context of the game and story-making in gaming is a group effort. So, his explanation is fucking bullshit. These cases are not about someone advancing a story, this is about someone taking a fantasy that they are supposed to build and turning it into an expression of their own personal, real-world fantasy. If it were about advancing a story, why would it be that the only female in the group was the only one who experienced this? No man in the group was forced into this situation, not even the man who had a female character. This incident was one that targeted the only female gamer in the group who also had a female character. It wasn’t about the story, it was about her. For people who already have experienced real-world sexual assault, this can hurt pretty badly. Of the three stories I mentioned, two of the women were previously victims of sexual assault and at least one of them was triggered by the experience.

In the gaming world, the GM is generally a person who is entrusted with your own fantasy. They are supposed to entertain, help you along with your own story and build the world in which you are adventuring. However, along with that trust comes the belief that the GM will respect your boundaries. One of the women that I talked to was already aware of the problem of games going that way and she explicitly told her GM that she wouldn’t tolerate sexual violence in-game. The very next gaming session, he had her character sexually assaulted.

The thing is, there is nothing about sexual assault that makes it necessary in order to make a story good. Lots of fantastic stories are created without having to include sexual violence. That doesn’t mean that all sexual violence is banned from all creative acts, either. But, the whole point of gaming is to cooperate to make a story and forcing your own sexual fantasies onto another, without their consent, in one of these cooperative efforts indicates that you completely forgot about the cooperation part. Any person who takes on the role of Game Master or Dungeon Master is put in a position where all those present are trusting him with their character’s future, and they’re also trusting them to provide entertainment and guidance. They aren’t expecting that person to spring something damaging onto them, they aren’t expecting to be forced into being victims, even in a virtual world. It is important that gamers understand that this is also a form of sexual harassment. It is a sexual interaction without consent. It is not OK.

The fact that this seems to be some kind of trend makes it even worse. This is a problem that is driven by the same attitudes that led to a comic book artist acting like a dick to female cosplayers, people sexually harassing cosplayers, the problem of putting female characters in the refrigerator and the issue of harassment in online RPGs, within online activist groups and for female scientists (examples are also here, here, here and here). This isn’t just a problem for women to deal with through complaining, either. This is a problem that those who perpetuate the harassment are responsible for and it is your job to help change it.

I didn’t know very much about Ohio’s history until just last week. When I learned that some atheists were protesting the Ohio Holocaust Memorial because it featured a Star of David, I remembered enough of my history to think that was pretty strange. In the context of the Holocaust, the Star of David wasn’t used as a religious designation, alone, it was an ethnic label. When we refer to most things as Jewish, we often have to clarify, because we might be referring to a culture, an ethnic background or a religion. With the Star of David, the same is true. It appeared to be the case that some of my atheist peers were unfamiliar with this problem, but their lack of knowledge didn’t end there.

The commentaries around this issue seem to reflect this idea that Ohio is a strange place to put a Holocaust Memorial. At least, that seems to be the case for people outside of Ohio. Within Ohio, the memorial makes sense. In the three main cities, in Ohio – Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus, there are 126,000 Jewish people out of 1,487,463 people. That’s nearly 9% of the population. There is enough of a Jewish influence in Ohio that it was considered a possible demographic that could change the 2012 presidential elections. As a cultural influence, in Ohio, the Jewish people are pretty important. Their history in Ohio is over a century and a half old! Even within this historical context, the Jewish people weren’t only a religious influence, they were also an ethnic/socio-cultural influence, as well. Their presence in Ohio was responsible for some of the earliest schools there, including secular schools. Most of their participation in the development of Ohio reads like many other settlements across the United States, with them simply being another culture settling in. Their livelihood focused on skilled trade and they were founders of various charities in the region, even before the first World War. New immigrants who came to Ohio in order to escape persecution would later be met with helpful organizations founded by the Jewish people who were already settled there. This turned Ohio into one of the many safe havens that refugees could turn to in order to escape as well as become used to American culture. That makes Ohio pretty important in terms of the history of Holocaust survivors in the United States.

Of course, that summary doesn’t really do their history justice, so I do hope that readers will follow the links and learn some interesting things.

Most of the debate over the memorial focuses on the Star of David. While the historic significance of the Star of David is that it is a religious symbol, that all changed when the Star became the label for any kind of Jewish person who was persecuted in the events leading up to and during the Holocaust. Much like the swastika went from a general religious symbol to a symbol of a political affiliation and what we now understand as a sinister institution, the Star of David was sent in the other direction, going from a religious and often cultural symbol to a symbol of the victims of these horrific crimes. To some, the Star of David is a symbol, also, of the survivors and a symbol of those who perished. The Star of David is, itself, used as a remembrance of one of the saddest moments in human history. The Star of David is a kind of homonym. Sure, sometimes it is a religious symbol, but sometimes it is not. Sometimes the star is a reference to a culture or a history or a ethnicity. The Star of David is not only about religion, and that is where The Freedom From Religion Foundation and the American Atheists have gone wrong.

Another argument against the memorial is that other groups suffered during the Holocaust. This point is not untrue, but it is also misleading. The holocaust targeted the Jewish people more so than any other demographic and, in fact, if the successful persecution of the Jews had not happened, those other social groups would not have been likely to have been placed in the concentration camps with the Jewish people. It is one thing to acknowledged that other people suffered, and it is a whole other problem to point out that other people suffered and use that fact to minimize the suffering of the people who are being discussed. As pointed out by Orac, the proposed inscriptions are inclusive.

From the memorial website:

Inspired by the Ohio soldiers who were part of the American Liberation and survivors who made Ohio their home.

If you save one life, it is as if you saved the World.

In remembrance of the six million Jews who perished in the holocaust and millions more including prisoners of war, ethnic and religious minorities, homosexuals, the mentally ill, the disabled and political dissidents who suffered under Nazi Germany.

“Every human being who chooses to remember this chapter of history and to infuse it with meaning is thereby choosing to struggle for the preservation of the bedrock moral values that alone make possible the existence of a well-ordered society. This is a commitment to uphold human rights, above all, freedom and the sanctity of life, and the opportunity for people to live side by side in harmony.”

There is also an inscription that tells a story about two survivors of the holocaust.

Yes, it is important to maintain a separation of church and state, even when it comes to topics such as what should be present on public land. But, when history is the topic, sometimes religious imagery is necessary. We can’t use the argument of separating church and state to rip apart our history books, why would we use it to tear apart an acknowledgement of the suffering of masses of people?

I also heavily encourage you to hop over to Orac’s posts on the matter, as he says a lot of things far better than I ever could.

Burdensome

Billy needed to be needed, but Suzie didn’t have a need.
They battled out their conflicts over gender-bent greed.
Suzie had a job and a desire to feel love,
Billy felt it burdensome to not be burdened of.

And so this confusing battle, it raged throughout the years,
A romantic comedy, of sorts, damaging these gender-divided peers.
Billy’s needs were met so that Suzie’s also seemed to be his own,
And her need for control of herself was Billy’s Sisyphus stone.

Needs are not universal, though, and Suzie and Billy need different things,
So Billy assumed what Suzie needed were houses and children and rings.
Suzie wanted fulfillment, she wanted entertainment and freedom.
And Billy cast off all her desires, saying, “but you don’t really NEED them.”

It’s a problem with their social roadmap; with what they’re expected to be,
While Billy’s needs are not invalid, they ignore Suzie’s autonomy.
Attention should be given to their resolution because it might apply to you:
Billy had to learn independence so Suzie could have hers, too.

-Sophie M. Hirschfeld

Continue reading »

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

If the world were different, sure. 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!

And:

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. .

And:

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 A picture of any other recategorization would have been disturbing and inappropriate. Use your imaginationsex 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.

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