Phat Pipes: Critique of Cybersexism by @PennyRed

41xcA9y7fVL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_Introduction

Myself and Laurie Penny share a fairly conterminous experience of the internet, but a very different viewpoint. Here I try to address the main thrusts of the book and to give my alternative experiences.

This is For Everyone

My life with the internet starts a little earlier than Laurie Penny’s. I started up visiting BBS boards and playing Avalon over dial-up with a modem about the size of five, stacked, iPads. Via those early BBS systems it was sometimes possible to get email and to access ‘the internet’ though we never really understood what that meant until the real thing became available to everyone.

This was back when phone calls cost a lot more money, there was no broadband and using the modem would tie up the line. It was a far cry from the Neuromancer fantasies that beckoned the early pioneers (I was a NetGoth) but in the MUD virtual realities and the thrill of text-talking to strangers (this was even before mobile texting took off) there were flickerings of what was to come.

I’d used to escape into books, films and role-playing games. Those were my VR and the internet came in as an extension of that. Adopting different ‘fictionsuits’, avatars and handles came easily to us in a way that the current generation of ‘let it all hang out’ social media junkies can’t really understand. The avatar/alias culture only really still thrives amongst us oldies, roleplaying, trans and troll communities. The loss of the old guard in the Google NymWars pretty much put paid to that old culture and represents the victory of FaceBookism where your offline and online identities become the same.

Like Laurie, we swallowed the idea that the internet was a freeing medium. An opportunity to mix and meet and share information. To form communities that weren’t linked by petty geography and for a while it was glorious. You would get to know people via their mind and their writing, not the superficial realities of ‘meatspace’ and it didn’t matter. It was a consequence free, free-mingling ‘wild west’ utopia with a natural gatekeeper in the form of the technological capability needed to get online.

‘No girls on the internet’ was almost true back in the day and thus the origin of many internet proverbs, besides that one. ‘Tits or GTFO’ for example was a demand for proof. Why was this? Nerd culture – early adopters – was, and remains, stubbornly male. Tech culture even more so. Computers weren’t as ubiquitous as they are now and consoles didn’t hook up to the internet. Schools weren’t linked up either and so by a process of simple demographics access was limited to the relatively well off, technically minded and nerdy.

For many, men, women and all points in between this was rather freeing. You couldn’t genuinely know what or who anyone was and that meant people were largely treated the same, based on the ‘content of their character’ rather than the ‘configuration of their meat sack’. Not that this meant people weren’t still arseholes, but it gave cover to early adopters, especially women, that some benefited from.

I have the same, or more, degree of experience of the internet as Ms Penny has, yet my conclusions – despite coming from the same root – are very different.

ngYfSh2_No Girls on the Internet

Ms Penny suggests that the idea that the internet was for everyone was somehow untrue. That it was really for boys. This statement is both true and untrue. The internet was – and is – for everyone but by the nature of its genesis and the groups that were interested in it it became a male dominated space by simple virtue of emergence. The majority of users were men and so the spaces that developed – usenet, email lists and so forth – were ‘male’ spaces.

This was not a deliberate or exclusionary measure by any means and in the early days the few women you did encounter were generally given kudos for getting online. They’d proved their worth and their chops simply by the fact that they had managed to get online and access a community. As internet access broadened this began to change, both in terms of people able to prove yourself and in the need to even do so in the first place.

Where Laurie presumes – given her background – that this is down to misogyny or hatred of women, or a desire to exclude them, I have a different hypothesis which we’ll call This is What Equality Looks Like, TWELL for sake of typing ease.

One of Germaine Greer’s best known phrases is: “Women have very little idea of how much men hate them.”

Which is catchy, but a little uncharitable, especially if you’ve ever had the misfortune to overhear women on a night out complaining about their husbands and boyfriends with equal, if not more, viciousness than men do about their wives and girlfriends.

However, I think Germaine’s commentary is germane to TWELL, with a subtle twist.

“Women have very little idea of how horrible men are to each other.”

The presence of a woman in a social context tends to lead men to be considerate, toned down and to consider her feelings and upset. Language is often softened, opinions remain unexpressed and people make more of an effort to be pleasant – until they know where the boundaries are.

Why? Well, we can argue about natural proclivites and culture, but upsetting people in person is generally frowned upon and men and women are solicitous of each other more (generally speaking) in a meatspace environment.

Online the context is different, consequence free and gender truly doesn’t matter. Men – and women – no longer moderate their behaviour in the same way that they do in person. This doesn’t seem to have been much of a shock for men (again we can have arguments about culture, upbringing and nature here) but it does seem to have been a shock for women.

Stripped of the usual societal cushioning women are often afforded, the female of the species seems to have recoiled in horror from the kind of nasty – if not always serious – behaviour that men and boys have been putting up with since the first days of kindergarten.

TWELL is not intended as a flip response, but to underline that the difference here is in reaction, not content.

I think my first social online experiences were with Usenet and email lists, but like Laurie I migrated to Livejournal and some other abortive social networks in the following years. I primarily used Livejournal for RPG material and blogging about the LARP group I was a part of. It was a vital communication tool back then for both purposes and much more connected and hooked up than having your own website was. This was also my first real introduction to ‘internet drama’ and this was a direct consequence of more ‘normal’ people using it. This was the first clue that the defences were down and the barbarians were at the gate.

It wasn’t the ‘internet people’ that were the problem. It was the normal people.

If I describe Livejournal as being the prototype for the excesses of Social Justice Tumblr, many of you reading will shudder in horror and know what I mean. Let’s just say that in former insular, echo chamber cliques it began the radicalisation of internet activism that would reach its – hopeful – peak of awfulness this year with Suey Park and #CancelColbert, with it’s spectacular, po-faced, failure to understand satire.

Here, again, is where my experience begins to diverge from that of Ms Penny. She describes an online world of routine misogyny and hatred as being exclusionary, while I – for my sins – experienced no less amount of hate, challenge, vitriol and bile, just not what one might characterise as ‘misogyny’.

I am not convinced misogyny is even the right word. Misogyny is an irrational hatred of women and disagreeing with, arguing with or trolling women doesn’t seem – to me – to fit the bill. We both seem to have been subjected to hatred, and I’ve seen much of the disgraceful and horrible abuse Ms Penny gets, but I see little difference in the scale or nastiness of that hatred between us. Just our reactions. So it goes for all these pseudo-controveries throughout the last ten years or so of the internet. What is striking to me as an internet hate veteran, every time, is the difference in reaction.

Tits_or_gtfoPictures or it Didn’t Happen

The selfie culture isn’t something I really understand and I get the sense that despite more experimentation than me in this arena, Laurie and I share a degree of incomprehension about the total lack of privacy embraced by Generation Y. I occasionally participate in things like #NoPantsFriday and have succumbed to using my actual image as an avatar but to do either, to have ‘pictures of me on the internet’ still feels rather uncomfortable and somewhat silly.

This is old fashioned of me, I know.

At the same time I don’t think anyone should be shamed by photos, or indeed old posts and blogs that people like to drag out. People mature and change, their views alter or become more nuanced, they do silly things. Whether it’s Laurie’s boobs, my cock or some lightweight covered in vomit on his eighteenth birthday with a knob drawn on his forehead we should be able to laugh it off as indiscretion, accept that everyone does it and move on.

The trouble is, we don’t live in a world that has adapted to this yet. The people in power are forty and over. The generation below that, including people like me and Laurie are still somewhat uncomfortable with letting it all hang out, even with libertine political views and even the Millenials aren’t all sold on the idea of living a scandal free public life. One need only look at the difference between Belle Knox’s resilience and Alyssa Funke’s suicide to see that even the younger adult generation is struggling to adapt to the Mutual Surveillence Society we find ourselves in.

While I’m sure there’s some truth to what Laurie says about the minority of men online who harass women doing so out of hatred, I don’t think it is as true as is stated. Time and again I see reports of harassment of women online and go looking into it only to find many more bad-taste jokes and incidences of trolling than I do genuine abuse.

A case in point being Caroline Criado-Perez whose high profile campaign to replace Darwin with Jane Austen on British bank notes gave her a position of public awareness which, inevitably, drew the trolls. She received a lot of – apparent – hatred, a lot of trolling and, also, a great deal of genuine criticism and advice. To which she reacted – universally – poorly.

It’s important here to both define what a troll is and to introduce a new concept in trolling which has only recently emerged.

As originally used on Usenet, and perhaps etymologically connected to ‘trawl’ was to make the kind of comment or post that many, many people would react to and post on. One that would provoke arguments and chaos. You could almost ‘score points’ by how many replies it got or how many extra threads it spawned. The more controversial or ridiculous the statement, the ‘better’ it usually was as a troll. Hardy perennials of the art were posting religious nonsense in an atheist forum, Satanist nonsense in a religious forum, or mentioning abortion anywhere.

To an extent much has remained the same. Trolling is still about scoring a reaction. It is now a little more nasty though. It is about upsetting people, provoking a ‘rage quit’, or creating an enormous fuss – the bigger the better. This is why the advice on trolls has always been ‘don’t feed the troll’ and why it remains the best advice. Reporting, complaining, let alone writing huge media articles on the topic is the very opposite of this advice and will only excite the troll.

In an unguarded moment I compared this to ‘grinding your rapist’ and while the analogy is crude, its force serves to convey the point. By paying attention to the troll, by getting upset, you are giving them exactly what they want. So why would anyone even dream of doing it?

In the case of Criado-Perez we need to consider a new concept. That of the synergistic or symbiotic troll. Why would someone give a troll what they want in terms of media exposure, public melt-downs and notoriety? Perhaps because doing so also gives the victim something they want. If your ideology is centred around the idea that the world is male oriented and horrible to women then playing up to trolling, taking it seriously and presenting it as a genuine problem and an example of cultural misogyny both reinforces your belief and helps contribute to a moral panic in which ‘something must be done’.

I don’t know if Criado-Perez and others are doing it deliberately, but the consequences stemming from it certainly seem to be deliberate and, strangely for feminist concerns, seem to run concurrent to conservative politics and legislation.

The vast majority of abuse online seems, to me, to be insincere trolling. Though there are exceptions using this to claim an overall culture of misogyny and woman hating – when it happens to everyone regardless of gender – seems disingenuous at best. Studies presented by Ditch the Label and Know the Net have both suggested that men receive equal abuse to that of women online, perhaps more, and that 19 year old men are the peak target of online abuse and bullying.

We need to grasp that trolling is an internet problem, not a gendered problem and that it’s a hard one to tackle while preserving a free internet.

Where myself and Laurie perhaps agree is in that the culture of shame and sin needs to change. There should be no more Alyssa Funke’s and while part of that must come in attempts to change the broader culture it is still worth reminding people to be cautious and teaching them internet survival skills and that there’s support available if they do get ‘outed’. Lest we get swept up too much in thinking this is a uniquely female problem though, we should remember that boys have been similarly shamed, particularly those of alternative sexuality and that under stress it is men who are far more likely to complete a suicide attempt. Girls are also pressuring boys for pictures, the stereotype that it is only boys or the sad reality of the unsolicited cock pic should not get in the way of us remembering that all are vulnerable.

Laurie loses me again when she gets into discussion about women being used to surveillance of their behaviour. Certainly, as man and boy I feel and felt the pressure of being watched for behaviour very keenly. Where it is more, but not exclusively, authoritarian when imposed on girls it does still exist for boys where it is more, but not exclusively, mutual.

Girls might be mean, but boys are cruel and one’s adolescence is one long attempt to fit in, to never give a hint that you’re not a regular heterosexual, rough and tumble, football loving lad. Boys also succumb to the system, constrained and held, especially in education where many end up drugged so that they’re compliant and less boisterous. There’s also huge pressure to demonstrate one’s sexuality by losing ones virginity. Something which I think we’ve all been reminded recently can cause a psychotic break and a lack of feeling of self worth.

As such it is, again, disingenuous I think, to compare our increasing surveillance society with feminist interpretations of social pressure and culture. Men have felt it in a similar but different way. Outrage at CCTV, NSA surveillance etc comes from a concern over privacy, rather than public reaction, and political ramifications. If surveillance were more of a concern for women, one wouldn’t expect to see higher approval of CCTV and other surveillence measures by women than men.

Business surveillance, presenting the right image and ‘behaving oneself’ outside of work is not a uniquely feminine issue either. This also happens with men and it’s also completely unfair. An unguarded comment over a beer down the pub would not, in the past, have been picked up and formed grounds for dismissal. The internet is both instant – like a conversation – and eternal – like a book. As a result every little indiscretion is available in eternity, even if intended to be private and so we’re forced to endure any number of pointless or insincere apologies and to see people get fired as PR stunts to appease the howling mob.

aldpost1It’s for Your Own Good

In talking about online sex I think we must return back to the beginning of Ms Penny’s book and the idea that we can be anyone or anything online. Sex drives technology and always has but this is especially true of the internet. The moment there were chatrooms and email people were trading erotic stories and engaging in cybersex. ‘Tits or GTFO’ and ‘There’s no girls on the internet’ were, in part, calls to prove one’s gender status as a prelude to cybersex. So strong is the male prohibition against homosexuality that even in an entirely fantasised encounter it is desirable that ones partner at least be of the opposite sex. Meanwhile, other people WERE playing opposite gender roles, genderbending and even pretending to be things other than human.

All sex takes place, ultimately, in the mind.

To see Laurie’s view on pornography, which I hope is still in flux, is somewhat depressing. Someone who is intimately familiar with artists, comic book creators and writers of fiction would – I would have hoped – have had a better understanding of the divide between reality and fantasy. While she, at least, is not blaming pornography for misogyny, she is blaming misogyny for pornography. It is true that a great deal of pornography is rough, violent or ‘degrading’ but given that some 40% of women admit to enjoying rape fantasies (note – fantasies, not actual rape) is it really any surprise? It’s also notable that female use of pornography is slowly approaching parity with that of men and that best-selling book 50 Shades of Grey is an enormously problematic bundle of abuse masquerading as BDSM that has set that entire community’s teeth on edge. It has sold primarily to women.

One can blame this on internalised misogyny or some such I am sure, but again this seems to be disingenuous and kink-shaming, as well as ignoring that divide between reality and fantasy. What turns one on, one might not necessarily want in real life. Increasingly, also, one must recognise that pornography is consensual and a great deal is being produced by amateurs as piracy renders conventional production non-viable.

We do have a problem when it comes to pornography and censorship. As Laurie rightly points out, concern over pornography has been co-opted by governments seeking to control the internet as a whole (mingled with ‘blasphemy’ concerns in some other countries and political concerns in others). This is where we find strange bedfellows like mainstream feminism in bed with the UK’s coalition government and in favour of criminalisation of ‘extreme’ porn and the imposition of a compulsory filter.

Like trolling, this isn’t an especially soluble problem. If we want a free internet with all the benefits it brings, we have to maintain anonymity and relatively unconstrained content.

Sex and romance and everything else can, indeed, be online. I met my wife online as have many other people I know. We know, from leaked logs intended to embarrass people that a hell of a lot of human beings are typing obscenities to each other, writing explicit love letters and masturbating wildly to each other’s pictures. Sex is ultimately in the mind and so is love. It’s possible to fall for someone a world away, whom you have never met and as borders tighten that’s going to lead to a lot more tragedy.

odd_skirt_viralA Woman’s Opinion is the Short Skirt of the Internet

Yes, Ms Penny and many other opinionated people on the internet get hate messages, such as she has related in her book and online. Yes, many of these are graphic, sexual and/or violent. You know who else gets hate, threats and horrible messages online?

Everyone.

This is something I have a great deal of experience of and while my experience, like Larie’s, is anecdotal I’ll refer you to the reference I made earlier that men suffer equal or greater abuse and cyberbullying.

Personally I have been threatened with beheading, that my wife would be raped, I have petitions organised to try and prevent me being able to work – I have been cost work. I have been called every kind of bigot under the sun without justification.

There’s some differences though. I haven’t taken it as seriously. I have not presented it as a problem for my entire gender. The people attacking me have included trolls, but also ‘true believers’ who weren’t hiding behind anonymity. People who consider themselves to be ‘social justice’ activists and aren’t at all ashamed of what they say and do. It’s also true that far less of these threats have been sexual, though many of them have been violent.

The concern with the abuse of women online and the great seriousness with which it is taken is erasing the online harassment and bullying of men. Men are also erasing it by not taking it as seriously as women do (though this may be a healthier approach, all things considered). Men are also erasing their own negative experiences by brushing them off or not talking about them, ceding the public debate to concern over the abuse of women in the public sphere, which has only allowed this toxic and incorrect concept of a misogynistic online reality to emerge when it is truly a universal problem.

Anyone expressing an opinion on anything in the online sphere can expect to get abuse for it.

Where there is a difference is in the nature of the abuse.

As a woman Laurie is more likely to get abuse of a sexual nature while I am more likely to get violent abuse or to have my sexuality questioned.

Why is this?

I humbly submit that the reason women get targeted with this kind of abuse, especially women, is because it is a fairly reliable bet that they will be upset by it or rise to it, while threats of violence or aspersions about my sex partner preference are more likely to get a rise out of me, because I’m male.

Trolls will go after whatever they think will get you going. Those who troll religious forums will ‘blaspheme’ or try to outrage their morals, trolls who troll computer forums might get into PC Vs Apple, trolls who target homosexuals will use homosexual slurs. Your status as a woman is only important in that it highlights some obvious ways to cause upset.

Trolls rarely, if ever, mean what they say.

Terminology Ms Penny uses starts to lose me at this point. Misogyny is being used in a way other than I understand the term (pathological hatred of women), ‘gender violence online’ strikes me as an oxymoron, since violence can’t be done to you online. Structural sexism is over with equality laws, leaving only individuals and their increasingly outdated views.

She characterises these things as a ‘backlash against misogyny’ yet many of the complaints seem as petty as those found on sexismbusters while others seem valid but outside the framing of a misogynistic society. This backlash via things like Everyday Sexism or – more recently – the #YesAllWomen tag do not appear as a backlash, but rather a lashing out at all men, an outpouring of misandry against crimes that are unrecognisable and for which the overwhelming majority of men are not responsible.

#YesAllWomen is differentiated from trolling by sincerity. The sheer hatred found on #YesAllWomen (and #KillAllMan) hits home precisely because it is sincere as much as it seems invalid, stemming from a victim mentality and a paranoia of men which simply does not seem justified. It seems like a whole generation of women is growing up unjustifiably terrified of, and hateful towards, all men.

I had to stop following the tag as it began to trigger my depression, but I doubt things have improved in the interim.

Penny goes on here to talk about Anita Sarkeesian, a common mistake of late which I had hoped Laurie would not fall into. Sarkeesian has been exposed as a fraud with links to shifty practices like pyramid schemes and handwriting analysis, she has failed to produce the material she said she would and seems to have essentially soaked up the money and called it a day.

Sarkeesian attacked gaming, as has so often been done, by trying to bleed fantasy and reality together. Studies in the 80s on RPG players demonstrated that gamers have no problem differentiating between the two and there’s little reason to think things are any different when it comes to computer games. Nor has Sarkeesian’s treatment been any different to any that of other shallow, narcissitic critics of gaming. Jack Thompson was widely ridiculed for his attempts to link games with violent acts and, like Sarkeesian, had games made about him where he could be mutilated and otherwise disposed of.

The difference then? Sarkeesian’s a woman who has been subjected to exactly the same treatment as a man. TWELL.

Perez is covered next, but I believe I’ve addressed that instance above, a case of symbiotic trolling.

Ms Penny rightly bemoans governmental censorship but fails to grasp the implications of private censorship and social censure. For the internet to be free we need to accept that people are going to say and do things, hold opinions, have fantasies that we personally do not like. If you cede the moral high ground and accept censorship and the erosion of anonymity you not only remove the trolls but you also remove the capacity for political dissidents to communicate safely, for protests to organise, for people in violent relationships to seek help and so it goes on.

At the time of writing more and more worrying instances of private censorship are coming to light. Blacklisting of erotica on Amazon – vital to self-published authors, Paypal and other online money transfer groups holding or confiscating money belonging to perfectly legal adult performers. Credit card processors doing the same. The internet, increasingly, is at the mercy of a very few choke points, especially if what you’re doing involves money and people are too quick to tightly define censorship as a governmental activity in order to excuse this.

The concerns of feminist groups over ‘cybersexism’ and pornography are empowering and making politically acceptable the kind of broad brush censorship that Laurie herself bemoans.

There is no hypocrisy here. Trolling and abuse can’t make you stay offline, the choice is yours. Censorship and restriction via private and governmental action, however, can. When protests alter EULAs or policies they harm everyone. When you censor a nipple, you block pictures of breast feeding.

On the internet we have an option we do not have in real life. We can erase abusers from our existence by using ‘block’ or ‘ignore’. Again, don’t feed the trolls is the best advice. The abusive messages you get? Well, TWELL.

Laurie repeats Ally Fogg’s analogy of a woman on a soap box in a public square being shouted down by 5,000 angry people yelling abuse, but this analogy doesn’t only break down under close examination, as all analogies do, but right at the start.

Online your soapbox speech cannot be interrupted or drowned out. Everyone can hear you. The abuse can be ignored. They can’t force you, shove you, drown you out, you can ignore them but they retain their right to object and their ability to do so. In real life you can end up with stifling activities to ‘no platform’ people, but on the internet – even with DDOS attacks – this never sticks for long. You can’t end a recorded talk by pulling a fire alarm or chanting, you can’t turn the water cannons on a forum, you can’t tear-gas a chatroom.

Freedom of speech absolutely does include the right to criticise, call out and oppose others. You can’t silence anyone and the abuse is ultimately petty, pointless and harmless if you block and ignore it – especially in the case of trolls. Comparing the online situation to almost any real life situation is invalid from the get go.

Anyone can speak online. EVEN straight white males, though you’d be forgiven for thinking they were the exception sometimes.

Dts_news_bill_gates_wikipediaAnd the Geek Shall Inherit the Earth

This section of the book is, perhaps, the most important and the one where some understanding from, rather than towards, the online feminist is required. Laurie believes geeks are sexy, and I agree wholeheartedly and without reservation.

The nerdy boyfriend mentioned in this section could easily be me (without the jedi robe, but with the comics and the glow in the dark dice) and while I’d put it differently ‘Some people are just butthurt that girls get to come into our special club’ is a valid and meaningful observation.

The universal, rooted, geek experience of my and Laurie’s misspent youth no longer really exists for the current generation, where everyone plays computer games, where there are cosplay shows on TV and where the ‘tribe’ is large enough to look out for itself. Geeks today genuinely do have it easy and I’m envious of them and I hope they never have to go through the same hellish childhood experiences me and Ms Penny seem to have shared.

There were no nerd girls at my rural school and the small number of geeks that there were, were universally looked down on. There were a couple of goth/metal girls with a bit of crossover with the nerd squad, but they held themselves apart, even from us. There were nerdy girls elsewhere of course, there always have been, but they’ve been fewer and further between. Nerd culture used to be utterly dominated by men – completely unintentionally – and it still is, even though there’s been a seismic shift since then.

‘Geek misogyny’ is a term I am extremely hostile to. Geek culture is extremely vulnerable to political interference precisely because it is so accepting and so willing to please and accomodate anyone who wants to join in, up to a point. The problems with female ‘intrusion’ into geek spaces is twofold.

  1. Girl-related ‘PTSD’.
  2. Geek loyalty/fandom.

The older generations of geeks suffered immensely at the hands of dominant school/college/uni cultures. Especially – being predominantly male – at the hands of women. Endless rejections, total lack of romantic success, being outcast. Rightly or wrongly they associate that pain with women as a whole and want to be sure they’re safe and aren’t going to be ridiculed and treated like shit again. Hence the hazing.

Is this OK or rational? No. It is, however, understandable and deserving of empathy.

An analogy in the feminist sphere might be the argument over whether transwomen should be allowed access to feminist spaces and what sort of gate-keeping might be required.

When it comes to geek loyalty, geeks are fiercely loyal to their passions, whatever they might be. In previous years accommodating geek girls was less of a ‘problem’ because they seemed to be into what was on offer, passionate about the same things. Now barely a day goes by without some controversy related to a nerdy TV show, game, comic or similar and people wanting to change everything.

To a nerd this can be hugely confusing. Why would you even get into a hobby if you hate everything about it and want to change it all?

There’s also the fact that nerd culture has been under constant attack by fear-mongers and moral panics since forever. From Seduction of the Innocent to Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons to the Heavy Metal trials and Jack Thompson, there’s a context to the attacks on hobbies, a history. In this narrative the attacks from the Anita Sarkeesians of this world are just the latest in a long line of hateful attacks on hobbies and to be resisted with the same scorn and strength as before.

This whole argument would be completely avoidable if those who want to see something different and changed set about doing it themselves rather than trying to force people to alter what they love. That’s where the resistance comes in.

Understanding that many of these places have been ‘male safe spaces’ is important to understanding why the intrusion is unwelcome in many quarters. Just as women need their spaces men need theirs, but men will be condemned for creating those spaces while women will be celebrated. It’s a contradiction predicated upon the idea that somehow only men can be exclusionary and only male presence can be unwelcome. This is why mens clubs are being forced to open their doors to women while women are permitted to close men out of their gyms and other places, to ‘protect’ them.

Why are there less women working in information technology despite massive efforts to get women into STEM fields? That’s a puzzler given the investment in promotion and the fact that women are, generally, doing better in education than men and have been for some time. Ms Penny seems keen to pin the blame upon sexism but some of the problems she states are economic and practical, relating to the control factors that have virtually eliminated the pay gap myth of late. The demands of the job are the demands of the job and if that is less suitable for a woman who wants a child and/or wants to be the primary caregiver to that child then this isn’t sexism so much as biology and choices. Again, the best way to prove them wrong is to do it yourself, just as it is with comics etc and women like Cindy Gallop or Nica Noelle show how that might turn into success. ‘More things!’ more than ‘Change things!’

Paradoxically, greater gender equality might well be the reason less women are going in for these fields. Norway is one of the most gender equal countries on Earth yet as its equality has increased, so ‘gendered’ work has become more gendered, not less. It seems that when ‘women’s work’ is as valued as men’s women choose those lines of work even more.

I am glad Laurie seems to accept and understand the ‘origin story’ of the pained male geek and shows some empathy, but we need more, not less, of that and to stop talking past each other. ‘Fake geek girls’ need to understand why they are placed under suspicion and geek men need to understand why that suspicion is hurtful – and they will if it’s explained sensitively and related to their own experience, rather than as a way to further judge and bully them.

Ms Penny quotes David Wong on Crackd talking about how so much of what men do is for the sake of women, or impressing women. In particular:

“You’re all we think about and that gives you power over us. And we resent you for it.”

He’s speaking generally, on a societal level and he’s not wrong. At all. This breaks down at the individual level but female hypergamy is a great deal of what drives status and power seeking in men. It’s the biology stupid.

Criticising the tolerance that geek circles have for people of many different stripes has long struck me as… silly. Geek circles were places that were open to anyone regardless of race, gender, politics, creed etc and tolerated and accepted people with behavioural and socialisation issues. In gaming circles I’ve seen tabletop RPGs help people on the autism spectrum come out of their shell and that acceptance and patience was a definite virtue there.

Accepting people with opposing or ‘nasty’ views also serves a valuable purpose, it exposes them (and you) to alternative points of view and in a world plagued by polemical ‘news’ and the fracturing of people into insular echo-chamber social groups that normalise extreme points of view, this mixing is even more important.

A call to ‘clean house’ is potentially very dangerous in that it will both further isolate people with dangerous points of view and remove their exposure to contrary arguments.

The shaming going on at conventions via ‘free bars of soap’, the infamous Magic Tournament buttcrack shots and more recently Posthuman Studios banning ‘MRAs’ from being fans of their games is not a good development.

Dismissing neuroscience, genetic, behavioural and psychological differences between the sexes (as overall demographics) out of hand seems, to me, to be on dangerous ground. The politicisation of the field means we may be unable to find out the true scale of gender differences until some point in the far future but that doesn’t mean that they do not exist. Indeed humans would be virtually unique if our sexes were truly that identical. That’s not to say that one gender is superior to the other, but rather that our behavioural cues and adaptations might well be as variant as our upper body strength or body fat distribution.

Science should never be discarded on political grounds. It’s as unsafe as climate change denial or creationism. If evolutionary psychology and sexual dimorphism is to be debunked, let it be with good science, not with bad ideology.

Watch_Dogs_box_artThe New Cyborgs

Ms Penny sketches out a conversation she had with some Pirate Party members in Iceland about feminism and gender politics. It sounds like a good discussion, though with a slightly ‘matronising’ aspect (What they ‘think’ patriarchy means etc) but the meat of it comes when one of the men there questions the validity of claimed experience of gendered violence.

The discussion – as described – has many of the same pitfalls and problems that I’ve had in trying to get to grips with the feminist paradigmal lens. While I accept that I don’t necessarily have all the information and am constantly seeking that information (geek impulse to ‘fix things’) it seems virtually impossible and there’s almost no reciprocal effort from the other ‘side’. The parochial and insular language used by feminism doesn’t help things, nor does the presumption of ignorance that one is constantly labelled with. It seems inconceivable to many that one might examine the information and come to a different conclusion.

Many of the concepts and ideas in feminism – and more broadly in social justice – have the air of dogma. Patriarchy seems patently absurd to claim in the west in anything approaching its broadly understood definitions. ‘Misogyny’ seems to have a very different meaning in feminist circles. ‘Privilege’ is no use whatsoever in the discussion of anything and another abuse of terminology and so it goes on through ‘rape culture’ and all the rest.

The existence of cybervigilantism that Ms Penny underlines here, the likes of Anonymous etc, sharply underlines the points that I have made earlier about the insincerity of trolls. You can bet that those who hunt down animal abusers, child pornographers or those that have bullied the likes of Amanda Todd into suicide also contain amongst their number trolls and the kinds of people that spam Goatse into people’s Twitter timelines. Is that a contradiction? No. They know that one is sincere and the other not and they’re outraged by genuine arseholes, just as they always have been.

Conclusion

While a good summary of ‘where we are now’ the work betrays Ms Penny’s presuppositions about society and the world, or rather feminism’s presuppositions. The interpretation is, therefore, slanted and really only half the story. Well, perhaps 65% of the story as there’s some empathy and understanding here and there of the male experience of cyberspace.

So what’s the answer to the genuine and universal problems underlying all this? I’m not sure, but I have a few ideas.

  • Feminism needs to butt out: Trolling is not a gendered issue, abuse is not a gendered issue, it is just that the male suffering is comparitively invisible. Coming into spaces and trying to destroy or overturn them will only be read as abuse and authoritarianism itself and resisted. The unique history of the internet and the nerdosphere needs to be understood – along with TWELL.
  • Equitable Whining: Either women need to ‘man up’ or men need to ‘girl down’. Taking the problems less seriously seems to be a viable coping/survivial strategy but, as things stand, men’s issues are not known or understood and when they are raised are treated like a laughing stock.
  • Empathy: As a result of the above strands, both ‘sides’ need to make an effort to listen to each other. EG: When women engage in #YesAllWoman they need to listen as to why men reject and object and understand it, not just reject it, especially not as ‘not all men’.
  • Internet Skills: We need to teach people to cope with the internet, from selfies to permanence of commentary to identifying and ignoring trolls and abuse.
  • Cultural Change: Some of us are living in the 21st century and some in the 19th. Shaming culture and holding people accountable for flip comments needs to end. Society needs to be more forgiving and to come to understand the dangers of mutual surveillance.

 

Mean What You Say, Say What You Mean

White people. Never the victims of racism.

White people. Never the victims of racism.

Welsh marble trunk. Ink’s irascible tumble wanker moose telegraph ant thug wobble star antelope undulate orc water toucan Muppet salt tortoise wench carbolic cardboard. Introvert web dick bumblebee archer oomph whist wind monkey, tingle whiff horseradish mangled constable.

Did that make any sense to you? Of course not. Here’s what it meant though, in my head. I substituted a different word with a different meaning for each word used:

Words mean things. It’s important that words mean things and that we share an understanding of what they mean so that we can communicate. If we don’t broadly agree on what words mean, then we can’t have a meaningful conversation. This has become a source of infuriating annoyance when trying to hold any sort of meaningful discussion with the Antisocial Injustice Warriors of Twitter and Tumblr.

You see, they have their own meanings of words that bear little or no resemblance to what they actually mean. We’re familiar with this problem when it comes to the term ‘theory’ due to tangles with creationist who use the colloquial meaning whereas we mean the scientific meaning. Still the scientific meaning is sufficiently well known and established that it is a specialised meaning of the word and one acknowledged by dictionaries, encyclopaedias and can be identified by context or by prefixing the word with ‘scientific’.

This is not the case with social justice terminology which is parochial and seemingly an exercise in willful abuse of language, engaging in a fallacy of redefinition.

Examples, just from today, would be redefinitions of racism and sexism (and *ism in general), privilege, patriarchy and – a new one on me – ‘majority’.

*ism

Pick a dictionary, any dictionary and you will find a definition of racism, sexism, ageism etc along these sorts of lines:

Prejudice on the basis of race/sex/age.

Pretty straightforward and this is what the vast and overwhelming majority of people understand an *ism to mean, an irrational prejudice towards a type or group of people.

Not your Social Justice Warrior.

Within gender and race studies *ism has been redefined to mean prejudice plus power. This is clearly absurd once you give the problem a moment’s thought because racism is in great extent found within a powerless white underclass of under and unemployed people who have no institutional power and, in fact, feel threatened, slighted and disempowered by what they see as preferential treatment being given to other races.

Similarly it’s ridiculous to excuse the racism of the Nation of Islam and their crazy racial beliefs or that of the New Black Panther Party (criticised by members of of the original Black Panthers for their racism) on the grounds that they’re black and therefore, somehow ‘can’t be racist’. More recently the racist bile flung around by Suey Park or on the twitter hashtag #creepywhiteguys provides glaring examples of ironic racism and sexism on the part of people who claim to be fighting against it.

We already have a term for the powerful acting on their racism, and that’s ‘institutional racism’. It is utterly unnecessary to redefine ‘racism’ itself, especially when so doing is used to excuse the vile racism flung around by many people who just happen to be members of racial minorities.

The same applies to all these other forms of *ism as well.

Privilege

The actual meaning of privilege that you’ll find in dictionaries and encyclopaedias will be something along these lines:

A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.

Let’s pull out a few of the sections of that to emphasise them: Special, advantage, ‘only to a particular person or group’.

What we have in society is a baseline level of treatment that we expect when it comes to our status as a citizen of that country. You could easily rephrase that as rights. As a British citizen I am entitled to various things such as access to the NHS – free at the point of use, access to a social safety net, the right to a fair trial etc, etc.

Some people have privilege, which puts them above the basic line, some people are underprivileged but at no point can that baseline be considered privileged.

If you don’t make a great deal of money you might be underprivileged. If you make a great deal of money you might be privileged. This can be both direct in terms of social status accorded to the rich, or indirect in terms of what that wealth can get you (better lawyers, bribes, entry to certain schools etc).

Everyone has areas in which they are advantaged and disadvantaged to a certain degree, but this is not necessarily privilege.

As the term is used ‘check your privilege’ or ‘you’re a white male’ this term is used to poison the well and as an ad hominem in order to shut up dissent. It has no place in a discussion where the arguments, not who is making them, are important. Ironically (and there’s a LOT of irony in these discussion) the person using the term may well be trying to establish themselves as an authority by their self-identified minority status and thus the privilege of being the only ones allowed to speak to it.

Patriarchy

What is a patriarchy? According to some we live in one, but when you look to the definition you’ll find something like:

A system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.

Unarguably there are and have been patriarchies but do we, here, in the modern western democracies live in one? I’d say not. Men do not hold all the power. Women are not excluded, they can vote, hold office, make laws and can participate at every level of government and business. That they don’t necessarily do so is another issue that’s hard to disentangle from a huge bunch of other things, so beyond the scope of this.

As such, patriarchy technically retains meaning but where we run into problems is when the term is used.

Does something hurt women? Patriarchy.

Does something hurt men? Somehow, also patriarchy.

Does something hurt both men and women? Again, somehow patriarchy.

In the hands of Social Justice Warriors the word has become meaningless. Society does not favour men in a huge number of regards from military service to medicine, welfare, sentencing and – most contentiously and obviously – family courts and reproductive rights. Yet even where women are favoured by the system this is somehow patriarchy as well. Women win most custody cases? Must be because society only sees women as mothers, patriarchy. Men are sent out by their millions to die in wars? This is somehow a privilege and women being insulated from that, spared the mass murder of industrial warfare is patriarchy, as is men claiming the glorious right to be ground to paste in some Flanders field.

It’s meaningless in the mouths of people who will bend anything to fit it just as conspiracy theorists will bend any and all information to fit their pre-existing paranoia.

Majority

This was a new one on me. Majority as far as I’m concerned, and the dictionaries and encyclopaedias agree with me, means:

The greater number or part of something.

If I eat the majority of the cake, my wife has good reason to be pissed off. If whites are the majority racial demographic in the UK, that means there’s more of them than every other racial designation.

Apparently not.

Now, if a group is a minority but holds the majority of positions of power, they’re not a minority with power, but a ‘social majority’.

So the apartheid governments of South Africa weren’t a powerful minority, they were transformed by linguistic gymnastics into an oppressive majority (social majority). Of course, they were a majority of the government while being a minority and minorities with genuine advantages are able to dominate majorities who lack them. British Imperialism was – in part – based on the fact that small, well trained groups of soldiers with advanced weapons could hold large swathes of less advanced territory (especially backed by trade and collusion with local powers).

To redefine majority to mean minority just ends up confusing the matter and seems to be an ideological attempt to reframe domination by minorities into the preferred narrative of majority domination of minorities.

***

Such misuses of language are, to use another abused word ‘problematic’ and get in the way, repeatedly, of clear communication and the advancement of the, supposed, aims of Social Justice Warriors.

As ever, I’m open to informed and respectful discussion on this and related topics, but not if you’re going to refuse to provide evidence to back you up on grounds of ontology and epistemology and that logic, reason, evidence and the scientific method are somehow biased and sexist.

Atheism Isn’t Awful

There seem to be a string of stories lately about various ‘schisms’ or ‘problems’ within atheism. Part of this is inevitable backlash to the ground that New Atheism has won – and is to be expected. If just not-being religious is enough to upset people then it’s hardly surprising that being critical of religion will elicit an even stronger reaction. This reaction isn’t, of course, only limited to the people that follow a religion but the people who are averse to criticising it because its rude or who, patronisingly, think it’s ‘good stuff for other people’.

This article is symptomatic of the problem. A laundry-list of non-controversies, misunderstandings and manufactured arguments that have amounted to very little in the greater swing of things. It then proceeds to blame entirely the wrong people.

Harris has been a target for some of his comments, mostly because he treats Islam without the kidgloves that have come to be expected and because some people are incapable of separating criticism from Islamophobia and Islamophobia from racism. Not that I’m sure a religion with as many problems as Islam can truly be considered to be a feared irrationally. Fear can be a rational response when something is genuinely terrifying.

Dawkins is blunt and grumpy but that – and his wit – is what makes him so effective. Put anyone’s ideas and statements under the level of scrutiny that he is put under by the tumblrgh crowd and they’ll find something to get upset about. The absolute worst interpretation is always put upon anything he says by those with an axe to grind and it’s rather dishonest.

Dennett’s avoided many of the same issues, largely – I think – by being ill and looking like Father Christmas. His criticisms of religion are no less powerful and forthright, he just doesn’t seem to have grabbed the same attention.

Hitchens is, of course, dead – sadly. He, however, exemplifies the ‘angry prick’ stereotype so repetitiously hammered home in the article. However, being an angry prick is what made Hitchen’s career and what made him such a powerful critic of religion, so quotable and so useful in the debate circuses that normally favour the folksy, nice-seeming creationists and religious apologists.

What atheism means is not difficult. It’s simple absence of belief in god/s. If you want to get into atheist activism we can go a little further, but not much. That would be ‘because there’s no good reason to believe in god, religion should not influence education, politics, health’.

It’s really not that hard to grasp. All the schisms that have come in, mentioned in the article, stem from people trying to hitch various other causes to atheism’s wagon.

Being a Dick: We need people willing to be dicks and others who don’t act like dicks. Dennett and Harris – softer spoken types – got through to people that Dawkins and Hitchens did not and vice versa. It’s a cliché, but sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind and the kinds of people we often deal with as atheists are not amenable to logic and reason. Engaging them, getting them going, on an emotional level will sometimes reach them in a way that simply being logical and right will not. It can also force someone to defend the indefensible, something that can cause reflection later on or show up hypocrisy to the peanut gallery. This isn’t a problem in atheism, it’s a problem with trying to tie behavioural policing and ‘social-justice’ rhetoric to atheism.

The Soft Left: Criticising Islam is not racism nor bound up in fear. Yes there are right-wing groups using the criticism of the horrors of Islam to stir up hatred but while they’re racist pricks that doesn’t mean criticism of Islam and concern about it are racist or invalid simply because the BNP has ‘poisoned the well’. We’re now in the bizarre position where many soft-left talking heads who claim to be against misogyny, violence and all these other things are giving Islam a free pass and exposing themselves as hypocrites. This isn’t a problem with atheism. It’s a problem with conflating other political issues – such as race – with religion and criticism thereof.

Sexism: While there are almost certainly genuine misogynists in the broad, atheist movement (keep in mind it also contains libertarians, Randroids, diehard Marxists and other oddities as well as people that just don’t believe in god) it doesn’t seem to me that it is a particular problem and – indeed – that it is a much lesser problem than elsewhere. What it does have – not unlike other arenas such as gaming, SF&F etc – is a much higher degree of concern and activism by certain parties within it, making the problem seem like it is more prevalent, present or endemic. Again, all that unites atheists is not believing in god and atheists as a whole tend to be rather skeptical. Expecting them to swallow highly politicised and poorly supported gender theory without question is a bit much to expect and treating any questioning or skeptical rigour as hatred is going to attract scorn.

Atheism just means we don’t believe in god and it means we are free to examine things with a more skeptical eye and one that can look to genuine solutions rather than ones that rely on dubious authority. People like the – much praised in this article – Rebecca Watson are not engaging in that, rather they are placing their own unfounded prejudices and biases upon the pedestal that others have placed religion. She’s the poster child for everything we shouldn’t be and the failure of A+ is a heartening example that there’s still hope.

All these issues are not issues with atheism. They are issues where someone has assumed that just because we both agree that the idea of a god is stupid and has no place in public life that we must therefore agree on whatever pet cause they have and have internally wedded to atheism. Atheism and secularism are one thing, hooking other things to that wagon such as radical feminism, over-extended race politics or whatever else narrows the appeal and causes divisions. If you decry ageism, classism, racism and sexism in one breath, then condemn or ignore someone out of hand for being old, middle class, white or male in the next then you’re an obvious hypocrite and should expect to be treated as such.

We need to re-separate the various causes, not combine them. Atheism is just one kind of activism and as atheists we don’t all have to agree on every point past that, singular one. Follow your other causes on your own time, subject them to the same level of skepticism and reason and don’t expect to set up new sacred cows in the place of the one we just knocked over without a fight.

As to the honey, doesn’t it just bring home how fucking stupid the security precautions have gotten?

The only dick here is the linkbaiting @mjrobbins

Male Slut Shaming II

fetish-bettiepage

In a comment in the previous blog on this, I got a rather long reply. Which I’ll address here as a separate topic.

While I agree that men should feel comfortable buying sex toys, etc, I find this part problematic:

“If a man likes violent pornography, rough sex or rape fantasies the expectation is different. The alarm triggers go off and it is going to be thought they’re a risk. It’s going to be thought that because they enjoy the fantasy they’re going to want to do the deed. They are not afforded the same understanding of the difference between reality and fantasy that a woman is.”

and

“You know Christian Bale isn’t Batman. Right? What’s the difference? He beats up the Joker for our gratification, Jenna Jameson takes a facial for our gratification. The entertainment doesn’t define the person.”

1.) I would question what part of a supposedly benevolent, kind, and empathetic man fantasizes about raping women – this is a direct contradiction. If a man fantasized about killing people, beating people, etc, I would feel the same way. The only way you can reconcile this contradiction is if you admit that these fantasies don’t come out of the kindness of a person’s heart; why should I see a man who wants to degrade me as laudable? Utterly illogical.

This is the very point addressed in the previous blog. Not only do critics seem unable to disentangle reality from fantasy in a way that would be  worrying in a consumer of ‘problematic’ media, but they seem to not understand that nice, wonderful people can have dark fantasies. Have you never been cut up in traffic and imagined, in your mind’s eye, pulling a trigger on the steering wheel to machinegun them James Bond style? It’s not a nice thought when you actually consider it, is it? Yes it is arguably a common fantasy.

It’s not laudable, but it’s also not something to be condemned either. It’s neutral, it’s fantasy, it isn’t real. What we do have here is a marked gender difference. While such fantasies aren’t  necessarily accepted by some women, it is a lot more acceptable for a woman to have rape fantasies than it is for a man to express the counterpart.

This seems a little, well, sexist.

If we can understand that a woman’s forced-sex fantasy is only a fantasy and doesn’t reflect a genuine desire to be attacked, then why can’t we accept and understand the same for the other sex?

Prejudice.

There are psychological studies demonstrating a link between violent porn and sexist and rape apologetic attitudes. It’s also fascinating to me how one can try to entirely obliterate the fact that fantasy is influenced by reality. For instance, women aren’t called sluts, whores, bitches, and hoes in porn because of a fantasy. Women are called these terms because these terms (that have no male equivalent with the same connotations) are applied to sexual women in day-to-day life and because we live in a still-sexist society. Nothing fantastical about it.

There are also psychological studies showing the opposite and that porn etc provides a useful and societally beneficial outlet for sexual tension and frustration. If you think there’s no equivalents to these terms, I suggest acquainting yourself better with gay porn, male prostitution and the world outside your front door. There is sexism in society, yes, but it runs both ways. You demonstrate it in your assumptions about men, about talking dirty and in your readiness to uncritically accept evidence that suits your conclusion.

A summary of some of the research showing this within the last five years or so is found here.

This seems to be a similar issue in many ways, oddly, to the abortion one. Countries with the lowest rates of abortion have easy access to it, easy access to contraception and good sex education. Yet, if you look at the US the anti-abortion crowd are against all of these things which, ironically, is pretty much guaranteed to increase the number of abortions and teen pregnancies. For them, the trouble is that it goes against their political orthodoxy, so they resist the unquestionable data.

It’s much the same with decriminalisation and legalisation/regulation of drugs.

With pornography the problem is that feminist dogma cannot accept that it can contribute to a lessening of harm, so an irrational opposition based on politically justified personal distaste rules the day.

2.) Jenna Jameson authored a book called “How to Make Love Like a Porn Star” that was quite critical of the porn industry. The difference is that Christian Bale isn’t actually beating up the joker (and hopefully people aren’t actually getting pleasure from another’s pain from a film), while that girl in a porno may or may be enjoying it for your pleasure. One thing worth mentioning is why porn has gotten increasingly more violent and degrading; facials didn’t used to be common at all. In fact, there are pornographers themselves who have gone on the record about needing to produce more shocking porn in accordance to the viewer’s taste, and yes, most of this porn is violent against women. It’s easy to say there’s nothing wrong with it, and I do believe porn portrays sexual acts that aren’t intrinsically degrading as needlessly degrading, but when many men are leaving comments along the lines of “make that bitch take it” and “cum on that fucking whore’s face” on porn videos, it makes me wonder.

And yet she worked in it for a long time, consensually, and made pots of money. As have many others. It’s their bodily and creative autonomy at stake but again, political orthodoxy apparently requires that women who make the ‘wrong’ choices (adult work, homemaking etc) must be criticised and demonised – like they didn’t already have enough.

Bale might not actually be beating up the Joker, but stunt men and fight coordinators are engaging in dangerous physical acts for our enjoyment. It’s really not so different as you have tried to unravel it to be.

I wouldn’t take comments on porn videos any more seriously than I take comments on Youtube or newspaper articles. Again, I think you’re not really understanding ‘talking dirty’. New and more exciting – or less familiar – content is  sought in any and all media. Why would porn be any exception? It also serves, rather than creates, a market per se. Facials are thought to stimulate ‘sperm competition’ and hence arousal. What you need to reconcile is that women are increasingly consuming and enjoying porn – even extreme porn – and not only in the form of 50 Shades. For a great look at this I suggest reading A Billion Wicked Thoughts, which, while already out of date explores this – amongst other themes.

You aren’t addressing any of the negative effects of the porn industry which, sorry to say, exist.

For instance:

http://jiv.sagepub.com/content/7/4/454.abstract

http://www1.umn.edu/aurora/pdf/ResearchOnPornography.pdf

You also may find this interesting:

http://journals.democraticunderground.com/Anti-Porn%20Activist/4

http://www.heyepiphora.com/2011/02/porn-degradation-and-khan-tusion/

While I don’t believe in censorship and think people should be able to do as they please, you don’t recognize intricacies and while I may agree that there’s nothing wrong with finding women attractive, porn is another issue altogether that goes far beyond that. If analyzed, it’s often a sociological study in society’s sexism, and even racism and classism, as evidenced by porn that scorns “white trash” women and utilizes negative racist stereotypes. I don’t believe porn needs to be sexist, either, and there is absolutely porn that isn’t problematic out there.

If you don’t see any issues with porn, deeper issues lie with you.

I believe the first few I’ve addressed. As to the last one, there are shitty people in any and every industry and type of work. Where I used to work my boss embezzled money, ultimately causing me and several others to lose our jobs due to the missing money. I work in publishing now and there’s some real shits who don’t just pirate, but pirate, steal art, reprint and sell books.

To further wear out a tired old phrase, the plural of anecdote is not data.

We live in an apparent age of neo-puritanism that threatens to stifle creativity, sexuality and to fuck up an entire generation or two of men by convincing them they carry around some sort of ‘original sin’ for the crime of having a penis. It’s entirely possible that some of this dominant and aggressive porn is a reaction to that, an outlet. These scare stories about pornography have been around before about comics, Dungeons & Dragons, heavy metal music and computer games. In every case there’s been no good data to support the idea that the media causes the behaviour and there’s no reason to think porn is any different.

There’s room for fantasies of all sorts, including ‘problematic’ ones. Variety is good in all things, but that’s going to include things that you don’t happen to like. If there’s no demonstrable harm, then why try to interfere in people’s sex lives? Real or fantastical? Why try to deny or interfere in women’s ability to choose a career in adult work? Why judge the consumer and try to shame him in the same way evangelicals do with homosexuals?

Where I have some agreement with you is on the racial thing. I just don’t ‘get it’, but I recognise my cultural and political biases in relation to it. The racism against blacks in American pornography is, frankly, weird to me as a Brit, but it seems to be a powerful fetish there for some reason and the black actors are doing the work willingly so despite my disquiet I have to notch that up to ‘Who am I to judge?’ as well.

Who is really the progressive here?

Skeptical About Misogyny

2010-02-28-sexist-pig

Context is everything.

This Slate article from last year by Rebecca Watson is doing the rounds again and is being treated as gospel by some people. The issues and problems raised in and by the article are relevant to various things going on at the moment in various spheres I’m involved in. Some of the tactics are reminiscent of the rhetoric around the government porn ban, similar groups of radical feminists and other disruptive influences are trying to use the same sort of arguments and tactics in nerd/geek/gaming culture and this is worrisome.

I’ve been horribly mean about Watson in the past, not because she’s a woman but because she seems to me to be a dishonest opportunist. Still, I’ll try and keep this relatively level-headed and civil to make the necessary points.

So using quotes from the article as prompts…

When I first started finding a large audience on my skepticism website, on my podcast, and on YouTube, I wasn’t terribly bothered by the occasional rape threat, sexist slur, or insult about my looks. There was something downright amusing about a creationist calling me a cunt while praying that I’d find the love of Jesus. The threats were coming from outside of my community. Outside of my safe space.

At this point in Watson’s career she was properly focussed on skepticism and atheism. These were the things she presented and these were the things that were attacked. Some of it by trolls, some of it by people who genuinely opposed her – probably from the religious and woo communities. We all get this, we skeptics, the death threats, the sexual threats, the rape threats. We get told we’re going to burn in hell forever, or that people will beat us up. Muslims threaten to behead us. It’s not like this is limited to skeptics either. Post an opinion, any opinion, on a political forum and see the abuse you get. Identify yourself as gay, bisexual, transexual, black, Asian, whatever and someone is going to use that to try and attack you. Basically, the rule is, if you say something somewhere on the internet someone is going to take loud and obnoxious issue with it. Show a weakness, someone is going to troll you.

It wasn’t until I started talking about feminism to skeptics that I realized I didn’t have a safe space.

Why would a safe space to be a skeptic and atheist necessarily be a safe space to talk about feminism? Why would someone like Watson think that skepticism wouldn’t also be extended to her ideological beliefs about gender? I wouldn’t expect a knitting circle to necessarily share my views about free expression when it comes to pornography so why would someone expect a skeptic space to be automatically welcoming and accepting to feminism? Why would Watson think that her ideological faith wouldn’t be examined by skeptics in the same way that religion, political extremism or homeopathy is?

I felt we were doing important work: making a better, more rational world and protecting people from being taken advantage of. At conventions, skeptic speakers and the audience were mostly male, but I figured that was something we could balance out with a bit of hard work and good PR.

There’s a whole bunch of factors as to why there’s a fairly big gender gap but this is at a societal level more than at a conference or group level. Still, despite that The Amazing Meeting had gotten up to a creditable 40% female attendance rate off their own backs. The first sentence is a little ironic, since that is how many of Watson’s dissenters feel about her and those like her, like Atheism+ etc. We feel we’re trying to make a better, more rational world and protect people from being exploited – by the ideas Watson et al are promoting and the scaremongering they’re engaged in. The irony is that Watson et al screwed up what had been vast improvements in gender parity, 180 degrees from what she claimed to want.

Then women started telling me stories about sexism at skeptic events, experiences that made them uncomfortable enough to never return. At first, I wasn’t able to fully understand their feelings as I had never had a problem existing in male-dominated spaces. 

As a skeptic, she should know that claims are not evidence. There’s no reporting of these alleged incidents, no evidence, so how can we accept them as true? If it was so bad why haven’t there been any significant reports of such since and why was there only one at one TAM and none at the following two TAMs? (Or since, IIRC). How would this compare with the general community outside conferences?

Why would you expect anyone, let alone skeptics, to take action on nothing but hearsay and rumour?

I started checking out the social media profiles of the people sending me these messages, and learned that they were often adults who were active in the skeptic and atheist communities. They were reading the same blogs as I was and attending the same events. These were “my people,” and they were the worst.

Individuals are not the community, Youtube is a trolltastic pit of scum and these claims are also not substantiated. We’re supposed to simply nod our heads and agree and if you don’t, apparently you’re excusing and encouraging abuse. ‘With us or against us’ (false dilemma).

Thinking the solution was to educate the community, I started giving talks about the areas where feminism and skepticism overlap. I encouraged audiences to get involved with issues like ending FGM, fighting the anti-woman pseudoscience of the religious right, and aiding those branded as “witches” in rural African villages.

And these are, indeed, areas of overlap and things that skeptics rightly oppose but the issue for skeptics is not that these are anti-woman, but that they are bullshit. That it’s anti-woman bullshit is just a nice bonus reason to fight it. However, that doesn’t mean feminism is free of bullshit or immune to skepticism just because it shares some goals and causes.

As I got to the elevator, a man who I had not yet spoken with directly broke away from the group and joined me. As the doors closed, he said to me, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting. Would you like to come back to my hotel room for coffee?” I politely declined and got off the elevator when it hit my floor.

Oh noes.

Unsurprisingly, this met with a collective eyeroll by the majority of the atheist community as being utterly inconsequential. No-one is disputing that it may have made Watson feel uncomfortable, rather they are disputing that it was anything even approaching an actual problem. The collective response was largely ‘so what?’ and thus the ‘wars’ started. Watson etc got more entrenched and ended up showing what has been seen as their ‘true colours’ in wanting to clamp down on social interactions, ‘sanitise’ debates, not be questioned, not be asked for evidence and it all seemed rather too familiar to people who are used to arguing with the religious faithful.

It began to look very much like dogma, irrationality and faith.

Question it? You’re a misogynist. Dawkins weighed in and while I don’t agree that X being worse than Y makes Y acceptable, when Y is nothing at all the man has a point. The response? Racism ‘What do you know, you’re white?’ Sexism ‘What do you know, you’re male?’ Ageism ‘What do you know, you’re old?’ slurs, hatred and the kind of thing Watson herself has described as being terrible when it happens to her and par for the course from the faithful.

It exposed a certain wing of skepticism that was not at all skeptical towards radical feminist beliefs and had no problem being prejudiced towards the rest of ‘their’ community. Understandably, this pissed a lot of people off and the well publicised drama drew trolls like flies to a particularly delicious cowpat.

Dawkins’ seal of approval only encouraged the haters. My YouTube page and many of my videos were flooded with rape “jokes,” threats, objectifying insults, and slurs. A few individuals sent me hundreds of messages, promising to never leave me alone. My Wikipedia page was vandalized. Graphic photos of dead bodies were posted to my Facebook page.

Why is Watson presuming this is ‘her community’ rather than ‘sick individuals’ or trolls? She made herself a target, identified the things that would wind her up and the trolls struck. Having been attacked by trolls before she should know better. I’ve seen many of the anonymous threats etc myself, I was active at the time. They’re so obviously trolling (at least the vast majority of them) I can’t see how anyone would think otherwise. The more articulate objections have been ignored or had mud flung at them, rather than being engaged with, which also fuelled frustration. When a demand for evidence is treated as a personal attack by someone claiming to be a skeptic, something has gone very wrong.

121018_DX_Tweet.jpg.CROP.original-original

 

Whatever you think about this Tweet, it’s fairly obviously a joke (albeit in poor taste) but then the skeptic/atheist community often uses mocking, jokes and disrespect as a tool in debate and argumentation. Watson’s position equating being asked for coffee to harassment or abuse was ripe for satire, not all of it well executed.

Given that Watson’s reaction to the ‘Elevator incident’ had been so utterly disproportionate to what actually happened, maybe what followed was predictable.

The organizers of the conference, the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF)—the organization started by the person who first introduced me to skepticism—allowed the man to attend the conference and did nothing to reassure me. I attended anyway and never went anywhere alone. This past year I finally stopped attending TAM when the organizers blamed me and other harassed women in our community for driving women away by talking about our harassment.

To a (bad) jokey tweet that’s another overreaction and, given Watson’s history with the elevator, a certain amount of ‘She’s crying wolf’ seems perfectly understandable. Why would they bar someone over a bad joke? Since there were already mechanisms in place to deal with problems at the meeting why would they feel a need to reinforce or change them (especially since there hadn’t been any harassment reports)? Other than economic issues the only identifiable reason there might be less women from one conference to the next is the scaremongering Watson et al have engaged in. This annoyed and angered organisers because it worked against all they had been managing to do to bring more women to conference, something sabotaged – ironically – by ‘feminists’.

Other skeptical organizations have been more compassionate. Center for Inquiry (the umbrella organization for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry), American Atheists, and several humanist organizations have enacted anti-harassment policies for their conferences. But still, there are leaders in the skepticism community who refuse to accept that there is a problem, and those who play the “both sides are wrong” game, insinuating that “misogynist” is just as bad an insult as “cunt.”

I’d argue it’s worse. Admittedly I’m British and we use fucking swearing like fucking punctuation but still. One is simply an obscenity, the other is a direct attack on someone’s conduct, being and character. An unfounded accusation of misogyny (and frankly, that word gets tossed around far too liberally) is far worse than calling someone a cock or a cunt.

Anti-harassment policies are a problem because:
a) They’re unnecessary – the law of the land and a conference’s reserved right to toss people out for any reason already cover the issue.
b) They’re overreaching – anti-harassment policies have become trojan censorship policies, they’re trying to police normal, healthy, of age human behaviour and they’re trying to be extended beyond the reach of the conference itself.
c) They’re ripe for abuse, especially in the context of RadFem ideas about burden of proof and presumption of guilt.

Thunderf00t on Youtube tackles some of these issues head on.

Of course, being against these unnecessary and potentially dangerous harassment policies has been mischaracterised as being pro-harassment, something that’s now happening in tech and geek communities. One can be both against genuine acts of harassment, and against dangerously overreaching harassment policies at the same time.

Meanwhile, other skeptical women are being bullied out of the spotlight and even out of their homes. My fellow writer on Skepchick, Amy Davis Roth, moved after her home address was posted on a forum dedicated to hating feminist skeptics. In September, blogger Greta Christina wrote that “when I open my mouth to talk about anything more controversial than Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster recipes or Six More Atheists Who Are Totally Awesome, I can expect a barrage of hatred, abuse, humiliation, death threats, rape threats, and more.” And Jen McCreight stopped blogging and accepting speaking engagements altogether. “I wake up every morning to abusive comments, tweets, and emails about how I’m a slut, prude, ugly, fat, feminazi, retard, bitch, and cunt (just to name a few),” she wrote. “I just can’t take it anymore.”

I’m not a participant at the Slymepit but I know people who are and it’s about far more than ‘hating on feminists’. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander and the community as a whole is ruthless with bad ideas, nonsense ideology and faith beliefs. RadFem ideas are no exception and nor should they be. Demanding they be treated with some level of extra respect is not so far removed from anti-blasphemy rules.

I’m not completely au fait with the accusations of ‘Doxing’ but there’s been plenty of that on all sides.

Trolls are going to troll and there’s little we can do about it while still maintaining a free internet. Presuming these threats and slurs are meaningful or anything more than simple trolling is disingenuous. Of course, it supports their contentions to take the trolls seriously, so they’re not actually motivated to identify incidences of trolling.

I know that this article will only rile up the sexist skeptics. I’ll hear about how I’m a slut who deserves whatever I get, about how I’m a liar who made everything up, about how I’ve overreacted, and about how I should just ignore the trolls and they’ll go away. I’ve written this article anyway, because I strongly believe that the goals of skeptics are good ones, like strengthening science education, protecting consumers, and deepening our knowledge of human psychology. Those goals will never be met if we continue to fester as a middling subculture that not only ignores social issues but is actively antagonistic toward progressive thought.

Kafkatrap. If this riles you up, you must be sexist. Oh, it couldn’t possibly be that you disagree or find things to object to. No, it must just be that you’re sexist.

Yes Rebecca, you are going to be trolled – and I’m sure you were. We all are, pretty much constantly, if we have any profile and we speak up about anything. This is not a special plight of women. It’s damn near universal on the internet. Women get it worse – in some quarters – simply because being a woman is a big red flag that ragging on you about it and using sexist insults is very likely to get a reaction.

Watson did overreact.

Yes, the best way to deal with trolls is indeed to ignore them. Take them seriously, write articles like this, you just feed them and you get more and worse.

Atheism and skepticism is concerned with atheism and skepticism. That sometimes crosses over with other goals but the more extra goals and beliefs you include the more you whittle down that community and make it less effective. It’s not ‘progressive thought’ or feminism per se that the wider skeptic community is hostile to, it’s the same things it has always been hostile to. Fallacious reasoning, poor research, lack of evidence and faith beliefs.

For some reason, some people, take that as an attack

Mirror, Mirror

Sinfestfixed

Clicky for original

I’ve been weighing the point of making a post about the SFWA fuss over on Grim’s Tales but in the meantime I had a brief exchange on Twitter which I think illustrates the problem inherent in many of these sexism discussions. The responses of the other party (anonymous and somewhat paraphrased because I bear them no ill will) were almost exact mirror images of the kinds of replies that whip feminists into a frenzy of opprobrium when men reply to them or ask questions. They also show the problem will ‘call out culture’ and how debate is stifled rather than continued in a meaningful fashion.

The exchange began with a retweet:

“Thank god there are men to explain what sexism is to me because as a women I certainly would not know anything about that”

Now, I take offence at that. I’m not saying nobody should be able to say such things or that my offence has any special power to it – nobody has any right not to be offended. What I find ‘problematic’ though is the sexism inherent in the comment. If you are claiming to be against sexism or to be complaining about it, it strikes me as being rather unhelpful if you’re sexist yourself in so doing.

The reason I find this statement problematic is that, implicit within it, is the idea that men, somehow, can’t ‘grok’ sexism or that the experience of sexism is somehow something that only women suffer. I’ll spare you the details, but I find this to be bullshit through direct and indirect experience and through statistics on aspects of both men and women’s lives.

We’re told we should call out sexism when we see it. So I did. Not to the original source – I figured they wouldn’t be open to discussion based on past experience – but to the retweeter, someone fairly new to me but within the Venn diagram of a few of my interests which made me wonder why they retweeted it.

I kept it mild, to the effect that ‘Men suffer sexism too’.

In reply I was told:

“But I doubt you have it mansplained to you.”

‘Mansplained’ is a deeply sexist term and I’m sure there’s barely a man in existence who hasn’t had something ‘womansplained’ to them. When you’re discussing these topics it usually isn’t long before someone with a semester in gender studies pops up and starts telling you all about ‘patriarchy’ or something else. ‘Mansplaining’ is the equivalent of dismissing anything a woman might say as ‘chatter’ or ‘nagging’. It would not be considered acceptable the other way around and frankly I don’t see the problem in trying to understand and explain something in any case or to offer another point of view. It is through exchanges we get to truth.

I explained, as well as one can in a tweet, that this was a sexist term and that even worse, sexism against men is dismissed, explained, excused or even claimed not to exist.

“I hope I’m misinterpreting your intention, because it read as a dismissal of the OP as minor compared to UR suffering under sexism.

Which wasn’t what I said at all. That men can suffer sexism in no way diminishes the fact that women can suffer too. That someone has something worse doesn’t mean the other person isn’t also suffering. Dawkins was – rightly – called out on his ‘Dear  Muslima‘ comment to Rebecca Watson (though I must qualify that by saying I don’t think Watson had anything worthwhile to complain about) on this basis but it seems that isn’t the case the other way around, for some reason.

I pointed out that there is often outright hostility and open-mouthed disbelief when men treat any accusation of sexism, no matter how thin, with skepticism and asked how they would feel if the situation were reversed.

That wasn’t replied to. Though I got this:

“Interesting choice of things to be offended by. Your claim of victimhood is duly noted.”

Oddly enough, calling female sexism caller-outers professional victims is not even remotely tolerated or accepted, even if there’s past form.

Then I was accused of doing exactly what the OP was posting about:

“You have schooled me on what real sexism is, since I apparently don’t understand. Strangely enough, exactly what the OP was about.”

Of course, I did nothing of the sort. I assumed we both knew what sexism was and I called out the sexism I saw in the OP and the later replies. I hoped – rather than expected – to have my concerns treated with the same degree of respect as an accusation of sexism from a woman would be taken. It was not.

Now, I bear this person no ill will and unlike many I don’t think they’re being dishonest. I just think the attempt to have any debate at all on these issues is poisoned beyond virtually all hope of resolution. Discussion is, essentially, not permitted and neither MRAs nor feminists seem willing to accept that the other side may have any valid points whatsoever. As a guy stuck in the middle I seem to get it from both sides (though worse from the feminist side because I have a penis) and view the whole thing as exasperating.

In the wake of the SFWA nonsense this struck a particular nerve and I think it helps illustrate that both sides engage in similar, damn near identical, dismissal of each other.

Shut Up & Listen When I tell you about ‘Check Your Privilege’.

0Xo8hfvI want you to ‘check your privilege’ about the phrase, ‘check your privilege’.

If someone is arguing with you, you should address their points, their reasoning, what they’re saying. When you tell someone to ‘check your privilege’ you are, essentially, engaging in an ‘ad hominem‘ fallacy, an ‘argument to the person’. For example:

“I don’t think that statement qualifies as sexist.”
“That’s because you’re a man, check your privilege.”

Simply because one is male (or white, or rich, or whatever else) doesn’t render one’s arguments invalid, it doesn’t mean you lack empathy, sympathy or imagination, it doesn’t even mean you haven’t experienced racism, sexism or whatever else yourself.

I’m sure in some ideal world ‘check your privilege’ is meant to mean ‘I say old chap, have you considered that your socioeconomic, racial and other statuses might affect your point of view?’ In practice however it means ‘Shut up you white male oppressor, you don’t know shit’ which is – in and of itself – quite startlingly sexist and racist.

I’m hardly the only person to note this.

Add to this things like ‘mansplaining’ (another horrifically sexist term) and the fact that some people think they can’t be *ist simply because they’re members of a self-identified oppressed group (riddle me this Batman, is the Nation of Islam racist against whites or not?) and its not hard to see why the perceived hypocrisy on display costs feminism and other activists a lot of support from people who should be natural allies – such as myself. The problems between the sceptic/atheist movement and skepchick/Atheismplus provide ample example of the problem here.

If your task is to communicate with people outside echo-chamber activist groups and their unquestioning hangers on then you have to listen to the experience and perception of the people you’re talking to. You also CANNOT presume that simply because a person agrees with you on one topic (say, atheism) that they must agree with you on another topic (feminism).

Questioning and challenging are vital to scientific enquiry and rational thought, challenging your claims about X,Y,Z doesn’t make the person challenging them *ist, it means they’re looking for evidence, testing your ideas to see if they’re robust and accurate. When you write these people off you’re harming yourself and your cause which would be much stronger if it did stand up to scrutiny and came out the other side unscathed.

We have all become very sensitised to sexism. I suffered a huge amount of unwarranted abuse over written works making fun of sexism and over a blog article defending what Neil Gaiman would call ‘icky speech‘. That has hyper-sensitised me to much of the hypocrisy I see in the ‘social justice’ movements, many of whom – to me – seem to have become the very things they hate.

In my experience many of these groups and their members are amongst the most obnoxious, bigoted and horrible human beings it has ever been my misfortune to come across – ironically as blind to their own bigotry as they claim others are to their own privilege.

If you’re a feminist and you’re calling out what you consider to be misogyny or sexism you want to be taken seriously and not dismissed, yet all too often this is exactly what happens if a man calls a woman out on misandry or sexism. Rather than acknowledging that men can suffer from sexism – or whites from racism – or anybody else from another other form of prejudice, this is dismissed, mocked, derided in exactly the same way as would not be considered acceptable the other way around.

This is a missed opportunity. We have a whole generation that is now very aware of unfairness on these sorts of bases but rather than going ‘You know what? You’re right, lets fight all forms of sexism together!’ it instead becomes a fight over who is more oppressed than who.

You don’t need to think the discrimination and prejudice is even or equal[1] to acknowledge that its bad and wrong and worthy of opposition.

Prejudice on the basis of sex/race/class/whatever is wrong, whichever direction it passes. Don’t be a hypocrite about it, it’ll cost you.

***

While I’m here I also want to pass comment on another thing that’s been going on lately.

Between the death of April Jones and ill-informed policy makers knee-jerking and Facebook drawing ire over ‘hate groups‘ along with policy signal shifts in the UK and the US the free internet is once again being chipped away at. I’m not saying that these rape joke or bad taste groups aren’t awful, but they are also legal and there’s nothing to suggest they actually harm anyone. After all, a picture of a person isn’t actually a person, its a picture and shock humour gets its ‘sting’ from being shocking, not being acceptable and beneath comment/reaction.

Of particular irony is the objection that these should be removed being on the basis of offence, often by the same people who were up in arms about images of breastfeeding being censored (also on the grounds of people being offended[2]). Personally, my opinion is that as long as it’s legal and age/membership restricted anything should go.

I am particularly worried about the ‘hate group’ reaction ending up being applied to kink/bdsm groups which given previous overreactions is nigh certain.

[1] – While I consider Watson’s ‘Elevatorgate’ fuss to be ‘a huge fuss about nothing’ I also consider this to be on occasion where Dawkins was wrong. That there are greater evils than lesser ones doesn’t mean the lesser ones aren’t also evil – and worth fighting.

[2] – And over-sensitive algorithms. 

The difference between racism and sexism is…?

Subway_Mugger

Read these and then guess which one is the unchanged – and acceptable one.

My black, adopted son is at University. He came down this weekend with his girlfriend to visit and to bring some stuff down from his Residence Hall before finishing up this year and moving back for the summer. He related this story to me;

He was walking home from his girlfriend’s Residence Hall at about midnight. A pretty fast clip, but just walking. Another guy, white, came down some stairs and started walking in front of him. He was probably 12 feet or so behind him at this point. But realize, he was already on the sidewalk – he turned in front of him.

As they are going along he notices that he speeds up considerably. Eventually pumping up the speed to a jog. Simply because he was a black guy, walking behind him. He felt terrible. He told me he didn’t want to say anything to him to assuage his fear because he might get even more spooked.

He is finishing up a semester in Race Studies – he is one of two blacks in the class. He said this experience bothered him so much that he wants to spearhead a chapter of Blacks Against Mugging at his University next year. It may happen, it may not; but this mom couldn’t be prouder of her son.

When he finished his story, all I really said was, “This is white people’s reality.” I could see how that impacted him even further.

***

My son is at University. He came down this weekend with his girlfriend to visit and to bring some stuff down from his Residence Hall before finishing up this year and moving back for the summer. He related this story to me;

He was walking home from his girlfriend’s Residence Hall at about midnight. A pretty fast clip, but just walking. Another girl came down some stairs and started walking in front of him. He was probably 12 feet or so behind her at this point. But realize, he was already on the sidewalk – she turned in front of him.

As they are going along he notices that she speeds up considerably. Eventually pumping up the speed to a jog. Simply because he was a man, walking behind her. He felt terrible. He told me he didn’t want to say anything to her to assuage her fear because she might get even more afraid.

He is finishing up a semester in Women’s Studies – he is one of two men in the class. He said this experience bothered him so much that he wants to spearhead a chapter of Men Against Violence at his University next year. It may happen, it may not; but this mom couldn’t be prouder of her son.

When he finished his story, all I really said was, “This is our reality.” I could see how that impacted him even further.

Sexual_Assault_Rape_Stalker_generic_Image_722

Would we ever see black men, despite the disproportionate statistics and prison numbers (yes, there are reasons for this including racism and disproportionate poverty), tacitly accepting that people are afraid they’re thieves and muggers? Internalising this as somehow their fault and that they should act passively and show concern for people who are scared of them because they are black? Of course we wouldn’t. That’s an example of prejudice, despite the way some statistics can be spun to rationalise the ‘threat’ that they represent. Quite rightly we object to and reject this kind of stereotyping just as we do racial profiling for terrorism threat assessment.

Change race to gender though and suddenly we’re supposed to tacitly accept that we’re scary and nasty. That simply because we’re male we’re a threat and deserve to be treated as though we’re guilty before we’ve even done anything. This is just as unacceptable and yet unlike the example above men are willing to line up to agree that they should be treated with prejudice, with fear that they somehow deserve it just because of their Y chromosome.

This was a real post, made by an otherwise reasonable human being and supported by people who are otherwise reasonable human beings, including men. It was a public post and I have stripped out names etc so hopefully this isn’t overstepping any marks but it was jaw-droppingly insensitive and prejudiced. Any solution to these problems is not going to be met by simply reversing the direction of prejudice.

Racism, Feminism, Eroticism & Porntellectualism.

HERE‘s a link to a really interesting podcast by We Are Respectable Negroes (WARN) which is a prolonged interview with Nica Noelle. It ranges about a lot of interesting issues about the interface between erotic and mainstream culture and issues of feminism, stereotyping, shaming and race which are all topics that interest me as a writer and a game designer of some small notoriety within my niche.

This blog is about atheism and reason but also about the application of rational thought to contentious subjects. So I think it best fits here.

I have come to know Nica Noelle via my friend and colleague Satine Phoenix who is working on the art for Machinations of the Space Princess. Nica is a porn actress, former stripper and current director who is trying to take porn in a different direction with plots, stories, emotions and integrity. What you might call ‘visual erotica’ as opposed to porn per se. She is “beautiful, charming, devastatingly intelligent” and well worth following on Twitter so long as you can stand the occasional naked selfie along with self-deprecation, dog pictures and intelligent meanderings.

This is going to be a long blog post as there’s lots to talk about from this podcast, which lasts over an hour. So it’s going to be a long read. No apologies, but I’ll try to break it up with the occasional picture and I’ll reference the point on the podcast timeline I’m talking about as I go along. I found the whole thing quite thought provoking and drew parallels to culture-wars in nerd culture, games, the trials and tribulations of erotica writers and so forth. I hope you find it as thought provoking and if you can carve out the time, listen and read along with me:

***

keyhole-742659[4.00] Chauncey brings up the fact that going into interviews and appearances, most of the time anyone who works in the sex industry at any level – pornography or otherwise – is usually facing judgement and stereotyping. Immediately the interviewee is placed on the assumed defensive because of the prurient interest or agenda of the interviewer. Nica’s fascination with the sex industry mirrors my own fascination with it. People have such mixed feelings about it, it has such a powerful effect on people, there are such contradictions and paradoxes in people’s consumption/condemnation/views on it.

The stereotype which they talk about [5:50] is that of the ‘broken toys’, that something must have gone wrong, that someone must be damaged to get engaged in the industry. As Nica points out this may have once been more true – though never universally true – but it’s becoming less true over time. Like everything else – it seems – porn and erotica are going somewhat mainstream and people don’t have to be broken or fucked up to get involved. It is gaining some small amount of acceptance.

I’ve known people involved in the sex industry in some manner or another for getting on for 15 years and yes, a lot of them are damaged and as Nica points out, being damaged in some way allows some people to break boundaries in a way those with more conventional backgrounds may not. In my experience though many get involved as a way of defining and controlling the sexual aspect of themselves that they didn’t have in their past. Commodifying and selling their sexuality brings it back under their control. Agency, as Chauncey puts it. There’s weight to what Nica says as well though, owning your stigma gives you power and identity – something that’s also very true of the nerd/geek culture. This is what you identify as, it becomes you. You are a ‘Star Wars fan’, or ‘A stripper’ or ‘A porn diva’.

[9:50] The idea of a ‘porn intellectual’ seems funny or amusing and I suppose, in a way, it is. We’re used to seeing people approach erotica and pornography from the view of literary or cultural analysis, from a feminist perspective particularly but an actual ‘porn intellectual’ seems somehow comedic. It isn’t and it shouldn’t be. It’s a medium – and a powerful one – that deserves genuine academic study that doesn’t come from axe-grinding or distancing but from a genuine desire to understand, analyse and improve. The argument that ‘it’s just porn’ is the same as ‘its just a game’ or ‘they’re just comics’. One shouldn’t lose sight of the fun aspects or the purpose, but an intellectual examination of any medium can throw up useful ideas and methodologies to improve that form.

masks_by_morgan[10:40] Chauncey talks about his experience with meeting the porn star Sierra. He overheard a conversation she was having about having both a ‘porn me’ and a ‘real me’. This is, perhaps, something that people might not have been able to identify with particularly in the past but now we all have an ‘internet persona’ and a ‘real life persona’ to some extent. Is this distancing oneself from what one does? Not necessarily. Porn is a performance as is writing, painting etc even at a remove. Our performance personalities are part of our work – an important part. Meeting an author, artist or game designer can often be a surreal experience because we form a mental image of that person before we meet them, via their work. The ‘real them’ can be completely at odds. The horror writer might be a quietly-spoken butterball of a person, all affection and gentleness in person, despite the image their work creates. I know that I come across very differently in person.

With a porn star, camgirl or whatever else the experience is reversed. We may be intimately aware of their physicality but the ‘real them’ that we must adjust to is their real personality and mind and that – I think – can be even more jarring, possibly because it takes work to figure someone out and trust for them to let their guard down. Certainly I know that once you get past that shell adult workers are some of the most genuine and bullshit-free people it has ever been my pleasure to know. Perhaps this is because those who survive and thrive there or have the strength to get ‘out’ when they want to have to be resilient and genuine and to ‘own their shit’ to work there in the first place.

The other side is that the construction of an ‘alter-ego’  [12:20] allows one to disassociate one’s ‘true self’ from what you do. That’s an aspect of shame or in better-case-scenarios modesty. Its a reason for pen names in erotica (or even in Science Fiction! Look at Ian M Banks Vs Ian Banks) and for ‘porn names’. I’m not entirely sure that’s healthy though I can understand the desire to shield yourself from the condemnation and judgement of others in any way you can. It can be harsh.

[15:10] It’s interesting to hear Nica talk about how devastating the tube sites and piracy have been to the adult industry and it’s interesting to compare that with how it has impacted other industries. Porn is disposable. People pirate or free-view porn with fewer – if any – moral quandries than they would about anything else. Porn is shameful, using porn is shameful, buying porn is something you have to justify and explain to yourself – and potentially your partner. The porn industries have a public image as being exploitative and ‘evil’ which makes it easier to justify ‘stealing’ from them. A subscription to a porn-site on your account is something that will make you red faced. If you can get your smut hassle free and without having to break anonymity in any way you’re going to take the path of least resistance. So this means porn is particularly hard hit by piracy in a way music, books etc are not.

Nica’s mode for tackling this, consciously or unconsciously is to tap into fandom and, in a way, the distributed patronage model. This chimes with the zeitgeist formed from Kickstarter/IndieGoGo and Amanda Palmer’s TED talk. The quotable Nica here is: “People like to be fans of things” and they do! If you have a strong personality, a strong product, if you do things in a way that stands out in some fashion you will attract fans and the 1,000 True Fan model – while not new any more – still seems to be the way things are going.

Nica puts a lot of effort into engaging with and talking to her fans. She spends a lot of time on Social Media, she reveals her true self, she is almost endlessly nice to people and available. She is a living defiance of so many of the stereotypes about adult workers. She’s doing well on the back of that and on the back of taking a risk in having a product that differs from what else is available by going emotional and romantic, by having story rather than – necessarily – going full on hardcore.

What is frustrating, terribly frustrating to me, is that Nica could go so much further if the tools were available for her to do so. Since crowdfunding took off I’ve been looking at it and thinking that it could be an incredible boon for the adult industry in the wake of the problems it is having with piracy. People do seem to form strong attachments to particular studios, particular porn stars, particular directors in much the same way as they do in the mainstream for particular writers (look at Warren Ellis or Alan Moore for examples from the comics/literary world) and they will go out of their way to support people they care about.

400censorshipUnfortunately for adult work it is often banned from these crowdfunding sites, even IndieGoGo which has an otherwise much more liberal political slant than Kickstarter does. There is – as yet – no platform I’m aware of that provides the necessary crowdfunding tools for adult workers in that it has security, accessibility, credibility and a high enough profile for it to work. Just imagine, though, if the money to make adult films and pay those involved could be raised from the fans, freeing those involved much more to choose who they work with, what they do and to meet the expressed needs and desires of their fans. Exploitation would no longer stick, financing would be in place with no up-front risk and there would be the capacity for Nica and others like her to experiment and push the boundaries more.

Part of the reason this hasn’t happened yet is the desire of these sites to maintain a ‘positive brand image’ but part of it is also the shaming and shunning of sex in our culture. Even with erotica we had this – and campaigned against it at Bannedwriters. Payment services, credit card processing, all of them seem to deem it acceptable to slap on extra surcharges and additional hoops to jump through if you’re doing something ‘naughty’, supposedly on the basis of increased risk to them. Are you more likely to return a sex toy or an adult video? I don’t know. We’d have to study that. Our reticence to argue and expose our peccadilloes allows the companies, meanwhile, to screw adult workers, writers and content providers over.

[26:00] The idea of ‘being yourself with the volume turned up’ resonated and I think that’s true for creators and performers across the spectrum. Interesting that the idea apparently came from wrestling!

[26:30] Nica and Chauncey go into a bit more detail about the different eroticism of The Random Encounter versus the Emotional Context and how each have their own appeal. Nice produces material with emotional context while most other pornographers seem to produce mechanical fucking but, as they both point out even a random encounter has some connection, even if its pure animal lust, which is most often missing from adult material. The nuances that make it work. There’s a fallacy, I think, that men are purely visual/physical and don’t crave intimacy in the way that a woman does and while that main contain a kernel of truth men absolutely do crave intimacy it’s just that acknowledging that is ‘unmanly’ and a ‘sign of weakness’ and – thus – to be avoided. That isn’t to say the purely physical or lusty can’t be great, but it doesn’t meet EVERY need. Many men who hire prostitutes do so as much for female company and conversation as physical relief and the same is often true of women who hire male escorts.

[27:20] This section talks about how porn people are funny. About how they’re hilarious and always joking around. This seems frivolous but I think it’s a hugely important point. We all know about the porn parodies and their (often) silly names which are funny, but not necessarily that sexy. Certainly from my experience in writing ‘adult’ game material it is much easier to sell the idea if you sell it as comedy. Humour is another distancing tactic, like euphemism or persona-creation that somehow makes it more acceptable to talk about sex (or death, or drugs, or cancer or whatever else makes people uncomfortable). This is a shame. I know I was terribly frustrated working on some of the stuff I did for Mongoose because I wanted to examine the material in a more serious vein but there just wasn’t the option. The later work suffered because it ended up confused between ‘Lol’ and ‘Hmm’.

[33:00] Nica and Chauncey start to talk about the impact of pornography for couples but also on teens and kids growing up today where porn is much more accessible and only a Google search away from satisfying your curiosity. I think it’s a bit arse-backwards to say porn creates fetishes and behaviours when it is more about fulfilling people’s desire to see certain things and exaggeration of those already extant desires. It’s hard to convince people they need a product they don’t want, it takes a lot of effort and the only example I can think of, off hand, is the invention of halitosis as a term by Listerine and the promulgation of the paranoia over it that they brought about. In other words, people are turned on by cumshots so they seek pornography that includes it, rather than pornography creating the desire to see cumshots. There are all sorts of complex psychological and evolutionary reasons why such a thing might turn us on despite seeming counter intuitive and for that I’ll refer you to the excellent book A Billion Wicked Thoughts.

[35:00] They touch on the idea of exploitation and the exploitation of women in porn when talking about the hardcore ‘gonzo’ material. This is where I part ways with Nica a little in that I still see such material as being non-exploitative because its fantasy and because everyone involved is paid and consenting and that there are people, men and women, who genuinely enjoy such acts. The lack of connection and meaningful power-exchange makes this material less engaging, interesting and causes it to part ways with such behaviour between consenting adults in real life and that’s where there’s a ‘problem’ with it but really this stuff is scratching a similar itch to BDSM.

I’m glad that Nica goes on to point out the shaming that goes on. That women aren’t supposed to enjoy certain kinds of sex and that this pressure most often comes from other women, telling them that they’re being exploited and used for something that they have agency over. I agree with Nica that such judgement is a way to oppress women and to try and enforce a party line. Certainly for me, growing up, it was a revelatory experience in and of itself that I – as a man – could be desired and pursued rather than the other way around and that a woman might want and desire sex rather than it being some sort of ghastly male imposition. This seems, to me, to be an extension of that.

[37:00] ‘Different strokes for different folks’ is something that needs to be understood across all entertainment genres. Something weird happens in education that you don’t normally see elsewhere, say in food. If someone doesn’t like the taste of coriander or (in my case) courgette then they happily go about their lives pushing it to the side of their plate or avoiding it altogether. When it comes to entertainment though, whether it be porn, games, books, comics, whatever else they seem to want to dictate their personal taste upon others and to justify their dislike beyond ‘this isn’t for me’ by turning it into some moral or social issue.

Historically one found this behaviour on the right-hand side of the political spectrum, generally stemming from religious beliefs. A personal distaste (or shame) would dictate that someone would condemn something on religious or moral grounds. This still goes on but increasingly one sees it from the political left as well. A personal distaste for something will be dressed up in the clothing of feminism, sexuality or other activism in order to justify that personal distaste and to portray the thing being targeted as societally harmful. Whatever side of the political spectrum this comes from it is harmful and shaming and needs to step back and think a little more.

tumblr_mairczhrc01rf10qjo1_500[38:00] Inevitably the discussion gets around to 50 Shades of Grey and how BDSM and erotica has abruptly and suddenly (yet again) popped up into the mainstream. Is 50 Shades giving women ‘permission’ to explore their kinkier or more submissive side? That goes back to the shaming culture that surrounds women who enjoy sex, particularly politically incorrect sex and the necessity of having a means to bypass or avoid the judgement of others. 50 Shades is, of course, awfully written and portrays the BDSM community in an appalling light and a manner in which it has reacted to very badly. This happens to every subculture that gets dragged into the mainstream glare whether it’s punk rock, roleplayers, comic fans or Trekkers and its going to be no different for kinksters. Awful or not, it does raise consciousness and does get people to experiment and explore which – in my opinion – is a net plus. Even if it creates some weird ideas in some people.

[39:00] I self-identify as being sexually dominant (don’t laugh) and briefly flirted with the BDSM scene for a while back in the day, in secret, ashamed of myself and terrified of both my own desires and of being ‘found out’. I still identify that way even if I’m not a ‘practising dom’ in much the same way as Stephen Fry used to identify himself as a celibate homosexual. I still find erotica and pornography along these themes the most intriguing in every sense, including artistry and what Nica says at this point about your sexual proclivity and identity not having to carry over into the rest of your life almost made me applaud the computer.

There are way, way, way too many doms (and dommes) who confuse being sexually dominant with being a jerk or a bully. That domination requires one to be an arsehole. That the power exchange is one-sided. That’s simplistic, stupid and ruins people for the BDSM scene much as it did me. Equally on the other side there are plenty of submissives who think that they have to be meek and useless all the time, to have no spine or desire of their own whatsoever, to defer on everything. There are those subs who forget that there’s no small amount of joy in ‘resistance’ before surrender – for all parties concerned and again, equally, this can be massively off-putting. Reconciling a respect and concern for women with the desire to dominate and control a partner sexually was – and is – incredibly shaming and difficult to process. Especially when people are telling you constantly how monstrous it is to have these desires and that, even as pure fantasy, they are somehow dangerous.

[45:00] Back to 50 Shades again and again about how the writing is awful. Nica and Remittance Girl seriously need to be friends and trade notes as they’re both intellectuals in similar arenas striving to better the craft.

Picture_1[46:00] The discussion gets into race in pornography and honestly this is something that has always really confused me and made my brain itch. I think that’s because I don’t have quite the same cultural cues and history as Americans do. That’s not to say race isn’t a big issue in the UK its just not as big an issue and not as woven into the warp and weft of British society as it is in America. Americans are seriously fucked up about race and this has one of its most open expressions in pornography to a degree that you don’t see elsewhere, perhaps because porn is already seen as problematic and shameful and so racial issues on top of that don’t seem like a big deal.

Part of me sees this issue as just another aspect of taste and fantasy. There are evolutionary reasons for us to be drawn to (and repulsed by) the different and the exotic and there are racial archetypes and cultural trends as well as physical aspects that do tie in – however loosely – to things that attract us. There’s nothing inherently wrong in being attracted to black women, Caucasian women, Hispanic women, Asian women, South Asian women or Arab women (or men) though you may find some of these itches harder to scratch than others, again for cultural reasons.

On the other hand, as Nica points out, often the person is there – at least in the adult film – to be nothing but ‘the black guy’ or ‘the Japanese schoolgirl’ and that is their entire and total character. At the same time I wonder why minority actors and actresses go along with it and that’s where I think it gets even more complicated, especially with African Americans and especially with African American men. The ‘thug’ stereotype seems, to me, to be as much a defensive stereotype, one of pride and masculinity, of threat and power as it is an offensive stereotype. The rapper, the pimp, the gang banger, these are shitty, two-dimensional things but they can be a source of strength. If you scare and threaten someone you have power of some sort over them that you may not, otherwise, have. The other stereotype being the super-hung black, the ‘mule’ (Is twoo is twoo!) which is simultaneously insulting but also affirming of dangerous, powerful masculine agency.

The dynamic in the states is such that many people are threatened by these black stereotypes and cultures and are simultaneously drawn to and repulsed by it. There’s an element of humiliation and despoiling in the interracial pornography, especially when it’s a black man (or men) and a white woman. Its a weird, charged mix and one that porn doesn’t shy away from while in other media this is pretty much unacceptable.

It is still a fantasy though and as Nica talks about there are those actresses who refuse to work with black men in movies, but who date black men in their ‘real lives’. They cannot, then, really be called racist but they know (or at least believe) that such a performance might damage their prospects or change their image with their fans. Equally those who make the films are exploiting a fantasy and a fetish that pre-exists.

Its the kind of problem that really bakes your noodle and needs discussion, discussion which doesn’t happen enough. My visceral reaction is disgust and its definitely ‘problematic’ but at the same time it is still fantasy, at a remove from reality, as much as BDSM fantasies are removed from ‘patriarchy’. To me, I think, after consideration it acts to illuminate just how messed up Americans are about race in the wider culture.

[48:00] As a grumbling old left-anarchist I think that a lot of these problems of white, male, middle class dominance are down to economics rather than race and that makes me realise why, in part, what passes for the American Left is so vitriolic and why it turns to blaming privilege in terms of race/gender etc so much. The argument on socialism versus capitalism is 99% lost in the US. It is not really part of the political conversation. The inability of immigrant and racial minority groups to climb the social ladder to the middle classes and nouveau riche on anything like an equal basis cannot be down to economic failure because freemarket, laissez-faire capitalism and trickle-down economics go virtually unquestioned in the American political conversation. If you work from that assumption then the issue must be down to black indolence (if you’re a conservative) or entrenched racism (if you’re white) and nothing to do with money at all.

From my perspective as a European and a leftist, that is (almost but not entirely) bollocks.

[50:00] Nica has proven her point and increased diversity in pornographic representation not by attacking or trying to eliminate the things she doesn’t like but by creating the things that she does. She has ‘made good art‘.

african-metalheads-in-botswan-pics-3047-1304170176-22[56:00] Chauncey brings up V.M. Johnson and, obliquely, the problems and surprise that racial minorities can encounter in the kink scene. This echoes what one finds in the gaming, science fiction and fantasy scenes where the problem is not necessarily the people who are already part of that tribe but rather those around the atypical person who finds themselves liking, loving, adoring something that is seen as ‘white boy stuff’. Certainly the goth and metal scenes have very few members of racial minorities in them and that’s not so much to do with racism within those scenes but rather the pressures upon minority kids to conform to the community into which they’re born. Owning and identifying with their stigma in a way similar to that Nica described for porn stars.

[57:30] Quoting V Chauncey says – to paraphrase – “That’s the politics of it, but whatever gets you off”. This resonates with my with regard to fan/geek culture, despite being focused on race, in that the assumption is so often that if you like cheesecake art in your fantasy games or comics, if you like to rescue the princess in a computer game that this necessarily says something about your feelings towards women. Merely not condemning such material sufficiently for those who hate it is also grounds for you to be branded a misogynist or whatever else. Sexuality is far more primal and powerful and yet V can make the distinction, even when it comes to so bitter an issue as black slavery, that the one thing is fantasy, the other is reality and the two don’t necessarily have anything to do with each other.

[58:00] Alongside the brain-itch from out and out racial issues in porn there’s also issues that come up with playing into the idea of ‘Americas enemies’. Mexicans crossing the border being caught and sexually used and humiliated or Arab (or Arab) women being the target of gonzo porn in the wake of 9/11 (fascination/revulsion at play again). This is no different to how wrestling brings in a ‘heel’ who is Iraqi – or whatever – when there’s a war on.

[60:00] Nica again reiterates about not judging people for their personal kinks and desires, however dark you might think they are or how harmful you might think they are. As she says, people can be exploring these things in a safe environment. I have known more than one woman who, as a victim of rape, sought out rough sex and rape play as a way to play out, process, deal with and work through their issues after the fact. A way of having a safe harbour where control was there if needed. Where they were reclaiming their own sexual autonomy through exploring these things.

From [64:00] to the end is important and valuable, I think, for challenging people’s stereotypes about adult workers and certainly meshes with my experiences and friendships with people who have worked across the spectrum of adult entertainment.

I found this whole ‘cast interesting, intelligent and it provoked the thoughts I’ve set out above. I think its worth listening to and I think people like Nica are worth supporting. I hope you’ve found it – and my thoughts – the same way. I’m going to end with a link to the brilliant Alyssa Royse talking about sexual shame and how its a load of bullshit.