Excluding the white cis hetero males isn’t oppression (but it still sucks)

The #metoo movement makes me happy. Gender equity gains make me happy. Inclusion and visibility of marginalized groups makes me happy. Reducing prejudice and discrimination makes me happy. However, as with pretty much everything else in the world, these very positive developments have unintended consequences, and those make me sad.

I just saw on Twitter a conversation in which a couple of women were talking about Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing, his probable sexual assaults, etc. A man jumped in, apparently to be supportive. He said rapey bastards need to be taught a lesson or something along those lines. He was smacked down pretty firmly; the originator of the thread (a woman with many thousands of followers) replied that he should understand that the “tone” of the conversation was for “women to speak and men to listen,” and that women didn’t need men taking over their narrative. I honestly didn’t think he had done that, though he did seem a bit too cheerful about the possibility of teaching sexually aggressive men a thing or two.

I’ve seen many Twitter, Facebook, etc. posts recently in which people from marginalized groups inform people not from those groups that they need to shut up. I’m not talking about situations in which the dominant-group people (often apparently-white men or women, or hetero/cis people) were patronizing, criticizing, or spreading stereotypes; I’m talking about situations where the more-dominant-culture folks were, apparently, honestly trying to help, or at least participate alongside the people representing marginalized groups. They were told to sit down and shut up, mostly because of the social group they belonged to.

I think I get this. I think I understand why a small and/or under-heard, underrepresented group doesn’t want help (or “help”) from anyone in the majority or dominant group. It makes sense. But it’s also exclusionary (and plays really well on the FOX News Parade of Butthurt). If you’re on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, publicly demonstrating pride in your group identity, and telling certain other people who want to join the party that they’re not invited (or only invited as second-class guests), feelings will be hurt. Because those other people are people; they’re not stereotypes of their social identities.

People want to be included in groups–groups where they can have some status. “Americans” is too big for most people to feel that. “My D&D group” satisfies part of this need; the smaller the group (maybe down to about family-size), the more a person can feel some local status, some sense that they matter to others, some intimacy with the group. Many of our most popular TV shows are fantasies about belongingness: FriendsFireflyThe Big Bang Theory, etc. are largely about imagining we are part of a group like the one we see on TV (that’s why we can watch “nothing” for hours; we’re really grooving on the idea of belonging).

The status of the group among other groups matters, too, however; “Americans” might have a lot of status, whereas “My D&D group” has very little, globally speaking. And we don’t just long to be part of a family-sized group; we long to be in a tribe, a village. So we seek out membership in a few groups that satisfy our status and belonging needs. That’s much of what I see going on with marginalized groups gaining recognition. It’s not only the politics and social justice of these issues; it’s group membership, status, validation among several people whose opinions we value, etc. When a bisexual person feels excluded from gay and lesbian groups, it’s a political/social thing, but it also really, really sucks for the bisexual person.

Life is lived (largely, at least for people from more individualistic cultures) as an individual. When you feel happiness or pain, you do so yourself. Knowing that your group is doing OK even though you have been left behind doesn’t make most people happy.

So there’s this unfortunate thing I see happening: dominant-culture people being serially excluded from the cool groups. “Cool” is partly pure cachet (in more liberal-leaning circles there definitely seem to be shifting hierarchies of “interesting” and “valid” and “important” attached to certain gender/race/ethnicity/orientation-type groups). More importantly for this piece, however, “cool” is about being a member of a group that’s the right size for individual recognition, connection, and status as a member as well as status of the group itself (especially the latter).  I have no structured data on this, so it’s possible I’m wrong about what I’m about to say next (but, by that same token, being shown I’m wrong in a convincing way would probably require structured data): I think people whose identities all (or mostly) fall in dominant social groups, with few or no generally recognized marginalized/minority/stigmatized identities, are having the experience of being excluded, repeatedly, from the groups their culture tells them are now important or interesting or “cool.” They feel they have no way in. No way to gain the status and belonging that people from marginalized groups might enjoy (might is an important word, of course).

I swear I’m not going alt-right/redpill here, but the most obvious such group might be American (or European or Canadian) white males. I’m not arguing that their lives are qualitatively worse than those of marginalized individuals just because they feel left out of the social justice revolution; I am, however, saying that that exclusion matters to them. To me, in fact, because I am a white, hetero, cisgender, educated American male. None of those identities is marginalized in any real way. My experience of Twitter is of being very careful what I say and who I say it to (despite not always being careful enough). I have been told to sit down and shut up many times, on social media. A prominent black fantasy author tore a strip off me because I suggested that, even though not all cops are necessarily racist, high-profile police racism situations strongly suggest that racism is embedded in police culture. Perhaps my comment didn’t include a pure enough condemnation of police racism. I’ve been criticized for what I honestly thought were attempts to show solidarity, sympathy, or allyship to women, LGBTQ+ individuals, and others. Often, the message is “This is our forum/conversation/topic, not yours. If you want to participate, you are permitted to do so as long as you accept a lower status than those for whom this forum/conversation/topic is most personally relevant.”

Like I said, that message actually makes sense to me. But it also sucks to be excluded, or included only as a low-status or marginal group member. One argument against my whining would be, “You enjoy plenty of status already, as a member of dominant groups.” That is, of course, true: my opportunities for education, the various other factors that made a middle-class life possible for me, my ongoing lack of concern about being beaten down by cops at traffic stops or assaulted because of my gender identity, etc. are all directly attributable to my visible membership in dominant groups.

And exclusion still sucks. My dominant-social-group identities don’t help with that in any way I can identify. White cis/hetero men make up the majority of wealthy Americans and powerful government figures. However, I don’t know any of those people, they probably feel no kinship to me, and the vast majority of white cis/hetero men are neither wealthy nor powerful. Personally, it doesn’t really fill me with much of a warm glow to know that someone who looks kind of like me is super rich. It is a major reason for my lived privilege, of course (those white cis/hetero men are good at passing laws favoring white cis/hetero men), but comfort, safety, and freedom–though critical–are not the sum total of existence, and I’m certainly not fully comfortable, always safe, or always free (those white cis/hetero men tend to be wealthy, and to make laws and customs that screw over everyone but the wealthy). There are LGBTQ+ individuals who don’t experience as much danger or discrimination as others. There are migrants, POC, and disabled individuals who, for various reasons, enjoy most or all of the privileges of dominant social groups with few of the downsides of their marginalized identities. This is a good thing; we need to strive for a world in which everyone enjoys all freedom and safety possible, and we need to make more of it possible. And I am aware that such relatively-privileged individuals can catch a lot of shit from people with similar identities who don’t have as much privilege. That dialogue is important, too. My point is that you are not your social group (at least not mostly). Your life is your own, and may vary in important ways from the stereotypes. I am not a god just because I’m white, cis, hetero, and male. Those identities also don’t make me a Senator, CEO, or police officer.

Being a member of a social group, no matter how globally important, does not exempt a person from basic social needs, like the need to have status within one or more groups of just the right size. We want families, neighborhoods, communities, and we want to feel important and valued within those groups. We want those groups to feel important and valued among other groups. If the only groups available to a person are gigantic nation-level or culture-level identities, then that person will feel serious social/emotional pain on a regular basis. This doesn’t really compare to ongoing fear of death or not being able to get a job, but isn’t that just whataboutism? Insisting that one kind of pain doesn’t matter because somewhere there are worse kinds?

Feeling excluded still sucks. Feeling a lack of appropriately-sized groups with possibilities for in-group and between-group status really sucks, no matter the reason.

A lot of dominant-group people probably just suck it up and feel lonely a lot. We know it’s not appropriate to try to shove our way into groups made of and for minorities, marginalized individuals, etc. We also know it’s problematic (or at least very socially unpopular) to form groups based on identities parallel to those of marginalized groups. “A club for people with my EEOC-approved identities! I’ll call it the White, Cis, Straight, Middle-class Male Club!” Yeah, that’s not great. You rightly note that much of our culture is a white, cis, straight, middle-class male club. True. But being part of a club with 100 million members is not particularly satisfying. None of them know you. None of them care about you. You can’t really go to them for comfort or a loan. You can’t just move to a new city and go find the white, cis, straight dudes and assume that they will welcome you into their fold just because of your shared identities.

So I think a lot of dominant-culture people are looking for groups of the right size. D&D clubs. LARPing. Bowling leagues. Churches. Middle manager clubs or whatever (I assume these exist). Sewing circles. Outdoors clubs. Those can help a lot, I think, to satisfy those needs. Some of us have other identities with hope of helping ease the social needs: I’m a professor, and that’s a pretty cool group. I have a few interests and background factors that might potentially help me connect with other subgroups of professors at some point. You know, if I get out there and do something about it. I don’t have any identities that provide me with that heady “we’re all in this struggle together” feeling, which is a little sad but mostly OK, because that would mean I was in a struggle, which sounds unpleasant.

I think a lot of straight/cis white men are in a worse predicament than I am. Cruise Twitter or Facebook or even just the news: everywhere you look you’ll see forceful messages reminding you that your gender, your race and ethnicity, your sexual orientation, etc. are very important. You’ll see hashtags or groups or networks for women in STEM, queer scientists, black journalists, Latino students, trans servicepersons, and on and on. If you’ve been paying attention, and if you have a bit of decency, you will cheer for these groups. You will celebrate a world in which at least this visibility is finally OK. You’ll celebrate and cheer quietly and carefully, however, if you don’t want to be told to sit down and shut up from time to time.

And you’ll feel very lonely because, even if you never have the “sit down, shut up” moments, even if every group allows you to participate, you are not, and cannot be, a member of these groups. Seeing these groups is the process of seeing that gender and race and ethnicity and sexual orientation are critical parts of what makes a person human, but you will understand that you will be criticized heavily if you try to celebrate your  gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. You will understand why, too, because you know a bit about history and culture and politics, and you are a decent person; but exclusion still sucks. There’s no way it can feel anything but hurtful.

An obvious fact that I haven’t touched on, yet is that there are groups that will help you celebrate your maleness, your whiteness, your cis/straightness, or all at once. They respond to “no men allowed” or “no straight people allowed” or “POC only” with their own rules excluding POC, sexual minorities, or women, or just telling those people to sit down and shut up if they dare try to join the party. Those are horrible groups. Those are white supremacists, toxic bro-clubs, Brexiters, and the Westboro Baptist Church. Do not join those groups. They represent marginalization, denigration, or even hate of others as they celebrate themselves.

So stay out of the toxic groups celebrating your identities, don’t spend too much time trying to participate with marginalized individuals’ groups trying to carve a place for themselves (unless you have secrets to doing so without regularly feeling like a redheaded stepchild), and… what? Just feel lonely a lot. Just feel uninvolved, uninvited, unconnected. Just let that human need go unfilled. Your life is mostly OK, and most of your needs are taken care of; maybe it’s all right that this one isn’t.

Or join a club. Go to church. Canvass for a local politician. Get a job you enjoy, if you can. And spend less time on Twitter, both to avoid all the nasty white supremacist, misogynist, status quo-promoting bullshit and (importantly) to see fewer messages from people with marginalized identities building communities you can never fully participate in. Try to see fewer messages telling you that the most important human identities are your gender, your race, your ethnicity, your sexual orientation, and your disability status. For a Latina grad student, it’s probably hugely helpful to be part of a group of other people with a similar ethnic heritage. For a gay government worker it’s probably very important to be part of a group of other gay bureaucrats. For marginalized identities, the dimensions of marginalization can be crucial common elements for affiliation, for group membership, for satisfying that deep longing to be part of a family and a tribe. For dominant identities, it’s different. If you are from a dominant cultural/social group, your race, gender, orientation, etc. cannot be the factors on which you base your identity, or around which you build your group memberships. It sucks, and it feels unfair (though I don’t think it actually is, in any meaningful way), but that’s the reality. Building your identity on dominant social characteristics is a direct, no-exits highway to oppressing others. At least that’s how it seems to me, at this point in my life.

I have a tiny tribe of three people; my family. We are not universally members of dominant identities, but we mostly are. I’m a member of some larger tribes that help with the social longing. And I think I need to form a good D&D group. And I need to unfollow a lot of my current Twitter feed.


On not being that cool prof

So some stupid things have happened amid some wonderful day–day things. The wonderful: DW is pretty cool. 7 is the best. No, seriously: she’s pretty much the prototype of an awesome 7-year-old. But this is going to be a whine about bad things, so on with them.

Maybe in a nutshell: This is why you don’t try to be that cool professor. I have tried, not just because I wanted to be cool or liked, but because I wanted a subset of students to have an experience where they did real research with real consequences and were treated more like colleagues than underlings. Well. My fault for trying, right?

Continue reading

Introverts have challenges but they’re not oppressed. Prove me wrong (please).

This is a reworking of something I posted on reddit last night in response to someone’s question about why introverts are the subject of discrimination.

I’m not an expert in prejudice-against-introverts research (if that exists) but a few (admittedly quick) searches aren’t turning up anything about that (link here to a google scholar search). I think it’s at least 50% probable that there is some research like this, somewhere, but until I find it the evidence I can see around me does not seem to suggest that introverts are the targets of systematic prejudice or discrimination or negative stereotyping.

On the other hand, there’s certainly a lot of assuming that introverts are a marginalized class of individuals. I should probably put “introverts” in quotes because introversion is a dimensional personality trait, not a category. Even with dimensions, of course, categories can arise; people who all have similar values on some trait might “cluster” in terms of other things, like correlates of the trait, outcomes, life experiences, etc. So that’s still possible, but I don’t have that information so I continue to think in dimensional terms: everyone has some “amount” of introversion: some people have lots, and others have only a little. I’ve included measures of introversion/extroversion in some empirical studies (N=400-1,000) and it’s a quite normally-distributed variable. Other researchers find the same. The vast majority of people have “medium” levels of introversion.

Despite the (apparent to me, right now) lack of evidence, lots of writers of scholarly and quasi-scholarly literature insist that “introverts” (OK, I made my point about dimensions; I’ll stop using the quotes, but it hurts me to do so) are marginalized, in some cases implying that they experience discrimination similar to racism or misogyny. The evidence presented by these introvexperts, (dorky label, just go with it), tends to rely heavily on lists of cultural messages (e.g., common sayings, famous quotes, familiar experiences) critical of traits associated with high-introvert personalities and demonstrations that many benefits in our society are more difficult to achieve for people with very high levels of introversion.

I don’t think any of the above adds up (yet?) to the conclusion that introverts are an oppressed social group, for at least four reasons. Details for each after the “more” link:

  1. There might not be any empirical research documenting such discrimination or oppression
  2. Alongside the lists of introvert-negative/extrovert-positive social messages it’s fairly easy to make large lists of the opposite—introvert-positive/extrovert-negative social messages
  3. Difficulties for people with a particular characteristic do not necessarily imply discrimination or oppression
  4. The overall tone of the “in defense of introverts” messaging is not totally consistent with the message that introverts are systematically disadvantaged or that equality is the motivation of the messages.

Continue reading

Trump Voters: I blame you.

Actually, I think “blame” is the wrong word. Better: I hold you responsible.

It feels like many Trump voters wish the rest of the country wouldn’t hold them responsible for the things Trump is doing, as the backlash intensifies and settles in for the long haul. I still see posts and tweets from Trump voters that seem to be saying, “why are you so upset at me?” or “Why isn’t your criticism ‘balanced’ to include [Obama/Clinton/protesters]?”. But the criticism should not be “balanced” like that, and the nation absolutely should hold you responsible for Trump’s behavior, for some good reasons (none of which are “you’re a bad person”).

  1. You are the main hope for change.
  2. You won.
  3. It’s your mess.

Explained below. Continue reading

We live in TrumpNation now.

It’s the day after Trump won the national election. Most people I know (because I know a lot of liberals) are in shock. I’m disappointed, uncertain, worried, kind of sad, but not in shock. This always felt like it would happen. Of course I can “believe this could happen.” The kind of people ultimately responsible for Trump’s win are the kind of people I grew up around, much of my childhood and adolescence. Rural Arizona, suburban Utah, rural Montana, rural Washington. Farming towns, mining towns, ranching towns, logging towns. Sarah Palin painted these places as the “real America,” and my stomach turned when she did. Populist candidates know they have to pander to rural America to get the votes they need. Sure, there are some lovely people in rural America, but when they appeal to that demographic they’re also appealing to the kind of people who made some of my childhood and adolescence a living hell. I don’t use that term lightly. I can’t really compare myself to holocaust victims or kids in Sudan or Syria, but it was 100% awful for me. At the time all I knew was my own kind of misery. I didn’t compare it to anything except memories of life without the misery, and it was infinitely worse. Continue reading

Dear LDS Church: Yes, it absolutely is punishing children for their parents’ actions

My testimony situation (i.e., lack of such) isn’t, as far as I can tell, about the LDS church’s many anti-inclusion policies or the many statements made by church leaders that can be seen as insensitive, tribal, reactionary, etc. However, I won’t blame anyone who leaves the church over this new policy change. It really is mind-boggling to me how people claiming to lead the church established by Jesus could have made these rules. I suppose, if I still felt connected enough to the doctrine to need to decide where I stood vis-a-vis the church, I might need to tell myself that the modern church, just like ancient Israel, is capable of being led by people who make really, really questionable decisions.

In typical adorable-yet-horrifying-native-Utahn naive fashion, lds.net both summarizes the issues and clarifies my reasons for being taken so very far aback, in a blog post defending the changes (note: copy-pasted on 11/7/2015, 5:45 a.m. EST):

The first change edits the definition of apostasy. The new definition adds that entering a same-sex marriage constitutes apostasy.

The second change requires that for children of same-sex couples to be baptized they must be adults, and specifically reaffirm their testimony of eternal marriage.

Continue reading

The System Of The World and How It Always Wins

There were times, as a child and young adolescent, when I spent many carefree years just being me. I was encouraged to do this, so I didn’t hold back. I wasn’t always happy doing this, and the world’s responses were sometimes negative, even brutal. But sometimes they were positive. There were people who liked how I was, or at least I thought there were.

Then I grew up. Continue reading

That’s me in the corner

I really do feel that I’ve lost my religion–lost my faith. It was precious to me, and now it’s essentially gone. I don’t feel I made any evil choices that led to this situation, or at least none that I could have done differently and still been me. In that way, I suppose it feels kind of inevitable, but I hate those implications. Continue reading

J Max Wilson, calm down and go study research methods

In a recent post on what is apparently a faith-based blog, someone named J Max Wilson purports to tell Mormons “what [they] should know” about “that Mormon gender issues survey.” This survey. The blog post has many of the hallmarks of a wagon-circling, lines-in-the-sand, us-vs-them call to arms (or at least to fear):

  • A title that hints at dark secrets not apparent to the naked eye
  • Allegations of guilt by association: the parent group of the surveyors includes a scary guy, and in case you don’t know why he’s scary, J Max Wilson will tell you: because he’s a “well-known LDS dissenter and agitator.”
  • Dog-whistle terms (for conservative Latter-day Saints) are thrown around with abandon: progressiveactivistsagitation, liberaltypical agenda, academic, propaganda.

Continue reading

Land of the Touchy

So. I’ve given up my beloved job in the very far southness of this land and taken one in its northeastness. Most things about this new job are just fine/great. However, I think there’s a larger proportion of really irritable, sensitive people in the administration and service sectors of this school. Actually, I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s what it feels like.

Here are the ways I have apparently annoyed/angered/hurt individuals so far:

  • Asking if there were any unused surplus computers available for my research.
  • Telling students to come see me personally for advice about whether X class is ‘the best choice right now.’
  • Asking whether I could hold my statistics course in a computer lab.
  • Requesting administrator rights on my office computer so I can install programs and, um, remove icons from the desktop.
  • Most recently: submitting a request to the IT department to get a VGA cable for the room I teach in, so I can connect my laptop to the projection system.

To be a bit more fair, I don’t know whether the admin rights request annoyed anyone, but I was warned away from asking by several people, and since I made the request (no answer, yet) I’ve heard from various third parties about it, as if the request were some monumental thing–it’s not, because I know others have requested the same thing… and the IT guy with the VGA cable: I have heard that he’s just irritable in general.

Still, I heave a huge sigh. I feel like any request I make, or even tentative question I ask, has about an 80% chance of being met with concerned, worried, or openly annoyed faces and phrases like, “I don’t know… we’ve never done it like that before,” or “there’s no rule against it, but I wouldn’t if I were you.”

Sigh. The adjustment continues. Luckily, my faculty colleagues seem to be pretty high-quality people, though admittedly they include a good dose of the expected diversity of faculty quirks. which mostly makes them more awesome, as a group.

Professors: Advisers to the royalty

In Olden Times, kings and queens and emperor types had advisers. Well, maybe; I don’t know–I’m not a historian. But what matters for this particular piece is that we have stories about them having advisers. We apparently like to believe they did. We have stories about kings and queens listening to their wise advisers, being used by malicious advisers, being made foolish by foolish advisers, and so on. I’ve been interested, since I was a kid, in the stories of royalty trying to use their power and authority to guarantee a certain kind of advice. They fired (or beheaded) advisers who didn’t tell them things they wanted to hear, or only selected advisers who were lickspittles in the first place, or used threats and bribes to try to ensure royalty-favorable answers to all questions. We understand that these kings and queens were letting their short-term, selfish desires override more important long-term concerns. We can watch, in the stories, as the kings and queens shoot themselves (and, of course, their subjects) in the foot when they refuse to make a place in their court for the advisers with the unpleasant messages. We want to scream at them that they need to hear–and even bankroll–the kind of thinking that makes them feel uncomfortable or guilty or confused. But they don’t listen to the audience. They fire the advisers, they burn them, they throw them in prisons, they threaten their families. Continue reading

Passion wanes

I could say “nobody tells you this will happen,” but I think I was told often. In fact, that’s one reason I never wanted to grow up. I knew things about adulthood (a few too many things–no, not those kinds of things… well, some of those, but that’s not what I mean). I had a pretty dismal picture of maturity from a young age. Right now, I’m talking about passion. Passion wanes. Not just sexual passion; passion. Continue reading

GIFS of first sexual experiences

I’m laughing at this Reddit thread, but the comments are often so crude that I don’t want to read them. So I’m just going to link a bunch of the GIFs.

“I was a natural”

 

“My name is Alex.”

“It was less than spectacular.”

(not title)

“Well, it was good for me.”

(no title):

?

(alternately…)

I’m not sure how it felt, but this was me the next morning:

(no title)

(no title)

(no title)

?

(no title)

“Oops!”

“alcohol is not always your friend”:

“[alcohol] does a good job of getting you there, but then betrays you.”

(no title)

“I had no idea what I was doing”:

(no title):

?

Um….

“This has never happened before.”

“Owww.”

(no title)

(no title)

“Who, me?”

(no title)

“Gonna have to go with this”

“Most likely this”

(no title)

“This sums it up well.”

“Trust me, I tried.”

(no title)

?

(no title)

“This pretty much sums up how I felt the minute afterwards.”

“I was a little nervous”

“…”

(no title)

“Doesn’t matter had sex”

OK, I must stop. Time for life.

Robert Crais: Ritual and Myth, not Literature

I sometimes “read” audiobooks that look interesting at my local library. I take a chance since they’re free. Well, I read Robert Crais‘s 2010 novel The First Rule. It’s “A Joe Pike novel.” Within a few minutes I had figured out that it was what I might call “tough guy lit.” It’s about a tough guy who is tougher than all the other guys and then the story’s over. As literature it was approximately as interesting to me as my dryer’s stock of old lint, but I listened (almost) all the way through because I became increasingly fascinated with this as a different kind of document, from a culture I’m not part of. Not quite ethnography, because there’s little chance this is a realistic depiction of much of anything. More like myth, or legend–something designed to communicate and reinforce shared values? Or something?

Anyway, a little about the book: Joe Pike is an ex-mercenary who is now a pawn shop owner. He’s tough. He spends his free time exercising and staying tough. He knows all about guns and how to use them, fighting and how to win. He talks very infrequently (this is pretty important) and is capable of being completely still for hours or days at a time without any indication of boredom or distress (also important). He’s intelligent, but you don’t see him using his considerable brains for eggheaded pursuits; only for winning fights. There is very little interesting about him, because he’s a one-dimensional caricature of a certain type of extreme idealized gender role. A dull character, through and through. Even the hint of a “bad” past is kind of ridiculous because his past is also perfectly aligned with an extreme idealization of aggressive maleness. Continue reading

Somebody was really mad at me for at least a year

Somebody–almost certainly an ex-girlfriend–was really, really mad at me at least from 2005 through 2006, and as new details come to light I find myself thinking of this a lot.

  • Right before my wife and I got married, someone sent a letter to her–it got delayed so she got it just after our honeymoon–alleging, in some detail, that I was a horrible person of various kinds. The letter was signed by a person claiming to be my cousin, and was postmarked from Atlanta. No return address, of course. It shook both my wife and me up. She talked to my sister and verified that I had no cousin by that name, and no relatives of any kind in Georgia. And no, she had never heard of the horrible allegations and didn’t believe them.
  • Around this time (I can’t actually remember whether it was before or after the letter) I received a couple of emails from young men–one European and one American, IIRC–threatening to come to where I lived and cause me extreme bodily harm for the horrible things I had allegedly done to their good friend, my ex-girlfriend.
  • While I was on internship in Indiana, I heard from a couple of people back in Ohio, where I had gone to grad school, that there were rumors circulating about me that I won’t even write here, on this theoretically-public blog. Vague rumors, but the source was certain they were circulating.
  • In the spring of 2005, I have just learned, some of my future colleagues at the university to which I was applying for a job received one or more anonymous emails alleging bad things about my character (I’m not sure what things) and saying that I had been trash-talking the university and department I was applying to, and possibly the people I had met during the interview. Continue reading

Pornography, Modesty, and LDS Pharisees

The teaser: maybe we should be chastising men who wear nice suits to church, drive nice cars, or demonstrate “leadership.” Okay, on with my rant du jour.

We Mormons are kind of obsessed with pornography: lamenting its terrible influence, warning about its dangers, etc. Porn is bad, no question. However, I worry that we members place too much emphasis on personal spirituality and not enough on the consequences of pornography consumption to others, and that both ends of that imbalance have bad consequences. I also worry that “personal spirituality” means, as is too often the case, male spirituality. This is going to veer right on into the modesty issue, BTW, which is kind of predictable.

The more I read, see, and think, the more I feel that our pornography-centered moral panic is problematic for several reasons (in roughly increasing order of rantiness):

1. Misinformation.

I think porn is a terrible thing, but not necessarily for all the reasons we often claim it is. There have been a lot of misleading or false claims repeated on this issue; we pile extra, often made-up “reasons” for opposing pornography use on top of the very good real reasons. To clear the air: pornography does not make people gay, and it probably doesn’t turn anyone into a rapist or child molester*. As always, I have problems with agendas being pushed using falsehoods. Now that we know these have little or no empirical support, we should stop parroting them as if they were irrefutable truths.

2. Woman-blaming and control.

It would be inaccurate to claim we’re exactly like Saudi clerics blaming insufficiently-burqua’d babies for child molestation, but when we perseverate on the modesty issue, we’re arguably dipping our toes in that pool. There’s a direct connection between our pornography obsession and our modesty obsession, perhaps best exemplified by some members’ love of repeating the claim that immodestly-dressed young women “become pornography.” I’m one of the many people currently on the bandwagon of criticizing our over-emphasis on modesty in women. I think such over-emphasis leads to bad consequences, independent of any benefits it may bestow, and no matter what motivates it. Research and boatloads of anecdotes convince me that these consequences can include increases in blaming victims of sexual abuse and in sex-based prejudice. The modesty/porn panic also leads, I think, to a subtle but real transfer of social power from women to men in the church. If women’s modesty is seen by members as causing spiritual problems, exclusively to the men of the church, then it stands to reason that the men (or other leaders) may feel entitled to regulate women’s (or young women’s, or single women’s) behavior to protect the community. The way we approach the porn and the modesty issues can lead to social control of women, backed by a feeling of righteous justification. Not too different from an ultra-conservative Muslim cleric insisting that women “invite seduction” by showing both eyes through their niqab, eh?

3. Navel-gazing Pharisaism. Continue reading

Dockers Ad: My Parody of a Parody

It’s been a while since the ridiculous Dockers “wear the pants” ad went live, but since I live under a rock I just saw it a few days ago. Posted on my FB feed by a niece. A female. She loved it, and she (and I’ve come to realize others) apparently took it at face value. It’s obviously a parody of right-wing gender-role attitudes, but I guess it’s too subtle. So anyway, I made another parody, and perhaps this one drives the “it’s a horrible, painful joke” point home (click for a slightly more readable image).

theSkirt

Breast Cancer: no redemption, no comeuppance

It’s a very unpleasant thing to realize that you are a villain in someone’s story. I find it even more unpleasant to know that former friends, as well as people I’ve never met, may hear this story about me, with no other perspective. Several years ago, I dated someone. It was, in my memory, at least, a good relationship. I loved this girl, even though she was too young for me to date (not legally; just, kind of, socially). It’s tempting to minimize my feelings so I don’t seem like the pathetic old guy wrapped around the young woman’s finger, but that’s probably who I was. Many people disliked the fact that we were dating. Her sister, for instance, though I never heard it from her own mouth. Her sister’s husband, with whom I had previously been friends, became cold and unfriendly, and told me more than once that he considered my pursuit of the relationship to be tantamount to a sin, or an overt act of aggression. Her parents–well. They were, perhaps, the theoretical maximum on the disapproval scale.

Despite my digressions to the contrary, this is about her sister. I liked her. I knew her sister first, actually. She was a very entertaining woman, and, well, I just thought she was fun, when she wasn’t on the opposite side of the relationship divide. She had her flaws, which were shown off in various ways in the brief time I knew her, but who doesn’t? Somewhere in the family, I came to believe (much later, after an initially amiable end to the relationship turned ugly), there was something really weird happening with information: I started to wonder, from subsequent events, whether my ex-girlfriend’s family (including her sister) had ever heard the story of our relationship as I knew it, as she and I seemed to live it, and as she narrated it to me. I started to doubt what seemed unarguable for a year: that the two of us were mutually concerned with each other’s welfare despite being beset by some well-meaning but ultimately irrational family members. Every part of that scenario seemed to come into question, after a while. I came to doubt, after a few nasty events, whether even the most fundamental things she had told me about her family’s words and actions were true at all, or whether she had represented our relationship to them in the way she told me she had. But that’s a cauterized, left-in-the-past mess, as much as such things ever are.

Back to her sister. Well. She died. I found out so recently that the time is best counted in hours, not days. She died of breast cancer and is survived by the husband mentioned above and at least two children. It seems inconceivable that I could have not known this was happening. Shoot, I still don’t even know how many children they had. Continue reading

Sylvia Plath: RIP 50 years ago

I guess this is (pretty close to) the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath’s death. Sigh. I fell in love with her writing when I was a teenager and never stopped being punched in the gut by it. I got a nice quotation from Paste magazine:

“Why are we conditioned to the smooth, strawberry-and-cream Mother-Goose-world… only to be broken on the wheel as we grow older and become aware of ourselves as individuals with a dull responsibility in life?”