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.
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.
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.
- Victims are always in pain, no matter how their view of an experience compares to the view of the person who hurt them.
- 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
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.
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