I just finished reading a post on skepchick.org about IQ elitism within the skeptic community. I think carr2d2 did a great job of highlighting the problem, so I thought I’d elaborate a little on elitism and how it affects us, because I run into elitism in many ways, including ways in which it relates to my work and my attempts at activism (in all my favorite topics). This is a topic that relates to everything I do, not just in the sex industry and not just in my small involvement with the skeptic community and my advocacy of science. I see this problem everywhere, in all of those categories. Thus, no matter which group you come from, I hope you will read this, because this pertains to you.

Elitism is a specific kind of prejudice that is specific to people who feel their qualities are better than those of others based on traits that are less innate and are considered more acquired characteristics that they feel gives them a better standing to provide information, make decisions or otherwise hold a position of better social standing. The following are some short descriptions of examples:

It is, perhaps, not well known that Madame Curie was in love once before she would meet her dear Pierre Curie. Her first love was a more youthful kind and happened at a time when she was known as Marya Sklodovska. At the age of 19, Marya, known as “Manya” to her family, was working as a governess, aiding in the education of the three younger children of a family in Szczuki who had an older brother named Casimir. Casimir wanted to marry young Marya and told his parents who made it known that Marya’s position as a governess made her completely unsuitable for marriage, despite her extreme intellect and good family. Marya’s shattered dream disallowed her to experience that kind of romance again for years.

The story of Pygmalion, while not being a specific, real example, is a story that revolves around the problem of elitism. The character of Eliza Doolittle was a theme for her time that highlighted the different views that society had of the lower class and under-educated in comparison to the upper class and articulate people like the character Henry Higgins.

As a final example, I’m going to use myself, because I’m narcissistic like that. I have the most pleasant opportunity these days to communicate with people from social groups that I never would have dreamed of just a few years ago. Just by nature of being myself, I’ve been able to make friends (and acquaintances) with people in science and skepticism, some of them are prominent and some are not.  Of those, I have found that interesting experiences happen just because of my work. Some of this is due to elitism and some of it is due to them not wanting to get into trouble with their peers. I’m aware enough of context to have the ability to tell which is which so I don’t mind the latter so much as I do the former. My work and my personality are things that people have a tough time not building stereotypes around and people naturally shove me down onto another social rung as a result. To illustrate how just being me does this, let me highlight something that was in another carr2d2 skepchick post that carr2d2 linked to in her post, which quoted another blog:

Just as an example, one woman (I would guess her age at about 20yo) wore a dressy black blouse with extremely tight cut-off denim short-shorts, thigh-high fishnet stockings, and 2-inch patent leather strappy spike heals which were at least 2 sizes too small. No kidding.

I strongly suspect that this woman was describing me. Though I’m 31 and what I was wearing wasn’t fishnet stockings, they were criss-cross designed tights (easily confused with fishnet, a subject which was mentioned in a conversation I had with a friend of Heidi Anderson’s as we waited outside a restaurant for a table to open so we could have a nice, Thai dinner on one of the evenings of TAM), my shorts were not cut-offs (I may dress like a slut, but I admit to being picky about my clothes) and my leather shoes fit just fine (I have to dance in them and were they too small, I couldn’t do that), the description is a pretty good match to some of the clothes I wore at TAM7, even a specific outfit I wore. That’s the style I dress in most of the time. I don’t recall seeing anyone else at TAM dressed similarly and while I could have missed seeing it, I know that if I had seen someone dressed similar to me, I would have noticed and remembered. So while it is possible that there was some fashion clone of mine at TAM, the odds seem pretty fair, to me, that this woman was discriminating against my clothes (although exaggerating or misremembering minor details of them). That being said, what is important to note is the fact that she highlighted the clothes in order to separate me (or my fashion clone) from the types of women she expects to see at a conference.

I run into another form of elitism when I interact with other people in the sex industry who are trying to do activist work. There is a clear division between the under-educated sex workers and those who are well educated and many of them are trying to educate. I’ve seen a few people who do their best to try to bridge this gap and I’ve seen them struggle with it. Tara Birl is the first person who comes to mind (I admire her, I really do, anybody in any part of the sex industry should be casting her a red rose full of gratitude).  Even I have been mildly guilty of the aforementioned bigotry, not in the sense that I want to belittle or be cruel to people based on their intellect, but in the sense that I am keenly aware of when someone’s educational background is so different than mine that I have to intentionally steer myself to react to them in the most productive, friendly way that I can so that we can both gain from the experience instead of suffering at the hands of my own biases.

Elitism is prejudice. It is a form of bigotry that stems from in-group/out-group behavior that set our ancestors against each other from the beginnings of our known history and probably even farther back than that. As far as evolutionary history is concerned, this kind of thinking unifies a group, deeming the out-group as less valuable, and so, less worthy of assistance in survival as the members of the in-group. This kind of thinking is one of the key players in most forms of bigotry, making room for classism, racism and most other forms of prejudice. It is this kind of behavior that allows us to shove others out of our own circles and which we use to justify any form of malicious treatment of them.

For those of us who want to change people’s minds for the better, this can be a particularly large problem. If we, either accidentally or on purpose, set ourselves apart from some of our peers by classifying them differently, we risk making them feel like they’re so much of an outsider that they don’t belong. This problem can easily be reinforced by our peers and theirs, people who might reinforce the same stereotypes, shutting down those that we need the most in our efforts to simply make the world a better place.

So how do we solve this problem? Well, to the same tune that I always sing, education. Carr2d2′s post does a good job of highlighting the problem for people, but people really need to make an effort to find signs that this is going on. We have to try to look for the signs that we might be reinforcing this behavior in others or that we might be displaying it ourselves. Instead of noticing, first, our differences with others, we need to search for similarities that we can acknowledge with those differences and then decide if the differences really matter or if we need to build some sort of sensitivity to those differences; we can then build relationships from there. I may be a sex worker and someone reading this may be a scientist, but we both have an interest in educating others and when I step into a conversation about quackery, the facts about my job are irrelevant. Likewise, my job as a phone sex worker should not be seen as important in a discussion with my peers about their work as prostitutes unless it is applicable to the discussion at hand (which happens sometimes, but rarely). Noticing these faults of ours can take a lot of work, we have to actively ask ourselves if we’re reacting to someone appropriately and if we’re expressing ourselves in such a manner that we’re not driving a wedge between ourselves and our peers.

If you are not into posts with TMI (too much information), don’t go any farther. This post is graphic. This post is also a story, not really educational. If you like a good story and you don’t mind the extra information, please read ahead.

Once upon a time, I had a really cheap, but pretty awesome pen. This pen was about four inches long and big and fat and could write in ten different colors. It had a hard, green case and a nice, smooth shape. You could see the colors that it offered you by the color of the sliders on the end that you could push down in order for that particular pen tip to come out of the end. I liked this pen, but I had a friend that liked this pen way too much.

After I got my divorce, times were pretty tough as far as my sex life went. My sex life hadn’t been great before, but I could tell that I clearly didn’t like lacking any sexual stimulation at all. Of course, the cure for this is masturbation. I had never masturbated before. I was educated, I knew more about sex than most of my peers and yet I hadn’t ever progressed that far sexually. I had been taught as a child that masturbation was wrong and that horrible things would happen to me if I did it. So I never did (I was a horribly obedient child). So it was that at the age of 25, I needed to learn to masturbate. At this point, though, I didn’t have any masturbatory toys and I was afraid to buy any because there were too many people that would hang around my house that I didn’t want discovering a random dildo or something.

My sex drive is the true queen of invention. I had to become a MacGuyver of toys. I was the gadget-woman and I was my own super-heroine. I could make temporary toys and use them safely and then dismantle them and/or throw them away without anyone figuring out what I was doing. It was wonderful. My favorite material was clay. The thing about clay, though, is that it is a long process in order to make it toy-worthy. Also, you can either have a soft toy or a hard toy using clay, but if you want a hard one, you have to find something that will safely serve as a base. Typically, I could just use a fat dowel.

Around this time in my life, I also had a very odd friend (someone who was more odd than myself). Like my family and the rest of my immediate peers, she was somewhat under educated and she was very redneck. Unlike my family and the rest of my peers, though, she was quite liberal and open about anything sexual. And so it happened one day that my friend and I had a conversation about my problem and how I had solved it. Wanting an example of how this whole thing works, I mistakenly told my friend that, for example, I could “wrap clay around something like that pen and it would serve to support the toy.” I soon would learn that it is rarely a good idea to tell someone you might do something that you wouldn’t actually do. My friend, apparently not completely understanding the context of what I had said, immediately became fascinated by my pen. Right at that moment, I had a guest come to the door. It was the Schwan’s man. Ice cream! I conveniently had a freezer on my porch, too (it was my dad’s freezer and I didn’t have a choice about it being there, don’t make fun of it), and so I took the time to make my order, leaving my friend inside to do whatever it was she liked. This was my second mistake for the evening.

I couldn’t have been talking to the Schwan’s guy for longer than ten minutes and putting stuff into my freezer wasn’t exactly a difficult task, but all kinds of things can apparently happen in ten minutes. Once finished, I went back in to my living room to talk to my friend more and I discovered her squatting over a mirror, her panties down, with a horrified look on her face and the bottom half of my pen in her hand, the innards of the pen sticking out of it like so many stripped bones.

This situation was unprecedented territory. I know that people walk in on people they know doing unexpected things all the time, but it isn’t like there’s a social etiquette about how you handle those times when it is you doing the walking in. So we sat there for a while, staring at each other, the shocked look on her face frozen in time for several moments, not moving or even adjusting her obviously uncomfortable position, even her breath was shallow and almost still, until she finally broke the silence by saying, “I’ve got to get it out.”

That, of course, was the moment when it all came together and I really knew what had happened. The part of my pen that was missing was lodged in her vagina. Perhaps this was my fault, having told her about my own masturbatory adventures and forgetting, for a moment, that she wasn’t operating at the same level that I was. I wasn’t really sure what to do at that point. There is a huge difference between knowing human anatomy and knowing how to dislodge a pen casing from someone’s vagina. On top of that problem, I wasn’t ‘out’ as a bisexual yet and didn’t really want my first experience sticking my fingers into someone’s vagina to be in search of a non masturbatory device. So, instead of sticking my fingers into her, I instructed her on what to do.

This took an unexpectedly long time and I ended up learning way too much about my friend’s anatomy than I cared to know, without even touching her. Her vaginal canal was crooked and the pen had become lodged just behind her pubic bone on a ridge that was in her crooked vagina. The walls of the barrel of the pen were so thin that there wasn’t really a way to maneuver it in a convenient direction unless she pressed the inside of it against the back of her vagina and then pulled downward. That sounds easier than it was for her to do, as the whole time she was crouched down over my mirror with her body hunched forward as she tried to get it out. Sometimes, out of frustration, she would bounce up and down, apparently expecting the force to bring the object down further. It had the opposite effect. I’m pretty sure I mentioned that we should go to the Emergency Room at least five times during the whole process, but my friend didn’t want to explain the situation to the hospital staff. I didn’t blame her. At some point, complaints in a hospital stop becoming complaints about a health issue and start becoming a confession that whatever got you there was the stupidest thing anyone on the planet was doing in that moment. Right about the time I was calling a cab to take us to the emergency room anyway, my friend finally yelped, “ouch!” and the barrel of the pen tinked down on the mirror, covered in girl goo, with a tiny amount of blood. After giving birth to my pen, my friend scooped up the its parts, pulled up her panties and left, without saying anything more. She left the mirror for me to clean.

I don’t buy multicolored pens anymore.

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