Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Queereka Tackles Myths Surrounding Trans Women

While I have, for years, considered myself an ally when it comes to LGBTQ issues, I have had very little personal experience or even exposure to transgender persons, and as such am woefully uninformed. Luckily, there are many wonderful people online who take the time to educate and eradicate misinformation.

Skepchick (Y'all read Skepchick right?) has launched a new sister site, Queereka with a focus on Skepticism as it relates to the LGBTQ community.

Natalie has written an incredibly informative article on the misconceptions surrounding trans women that is well worth the read.

13 Myths and Misconceptions About Trans Women: Part One
13 Myths and Misconceptions About Trans Women: Part Two

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Context. Context. Context

If you've spent any time around the blogosphere, and particularly in skeptic circles over the last couple of months, you would have noticed the huge shit storm that follows when a woman mentions that she felt uncomfortable in a given situation.

The usual course of the discussion goes something like this:
A blogger writes a post or makes a video saying she's uncomfortable with X in the context of Y.

Comments stating how she's too ugly for anyone to X.

Comments telling her she's overreacting and should take X as a compliment / ignore X.

Comments calling her slut/prude/bitch/other gendered slurs.
Comments threatening to rape her / telling her she deserves to be raped.
Single sane comment in a long list of crazy.

Comments accusing her of not wanting anyone to ever X.
Hopefully most people can see the problem with the gendered slurs and the threats of rape. You should also be able to easily spot that trying to dismiss her concerns based on her looks is completely invalid and implies that a woman's only value is to be appealing to you.

The problem with "you're overreacting / too emotional / overly sensitive" is a bit more subtle. However, it is used to achieve the same goal - namely to stifle her concerns and have her "shut up".Yes, you may not see X as a problem, but that is very likely because of your perspective. It's easy to look at a situation and assume that others experience it in the same way you do. For a really good analogy of this situation, go check out On the difference between Good Dogs and Dogs That Need a Newspaper. At the end of the day, even if you end up disagreeing over X, dismissing it outright and trying to shut down discussion on the topic is not the way to handle it. Maybe you should, instead, try engaging in an intellectually honest and genuine discussion, try to understand her perspective and be mindful of your own tinted view of the situation.

The type of comments I really want to talk about are the kinds expressed in the last example. It's very common, after a woman has has said that she feels uncomfortable being hit on in a given situation, for commenters to accuse her of wanting to outlaw dating/sex/flirting. They conveniently ignore the context and think it's their right to flirt with a women, regardless of what she wants. That's not to say that you have to be a mind reader, just that you have to be aware of the context and be mindful of her feelings.

Lets look at a few situations to illustrate:

Situation A

You're at work, in the kitchen making yourself some coffee, a female co-worker walks in. You decide you have to tell her that raunchy joke you heard over the weekend. Maybe you think it's genuinely funny, maybe just to see how she reacts, make her blush. She gets uncomfortable and you tell her that it was "only a joke".

Situation B

You're at a friends house for a braai (barbecue) with a bunch of people, you're all standing around having a good time, having a few drinks and you remember the raunchy joke you heard the otherday and tell everyone.

In situation A, it's fairly clear that it was an inappropriate time for a raunchy joke It gave an air of sexualisation to a work encounter and made the person feel uncomfortable. No body is saying that you shouldn't tell dirty jokes: situation B is a perfectly appropriate time to, just that you should be mindful of the context you tell them in.

Situation C

You're at a business conference. After a presentation, you go up to the speaker and tell her how beautiful she is and ask whether she'd like to join you for coffee.

Situation D

You're out with friends and are introduced to a mutual friend, the two of you spend the evening chatting, both clearly enjoying the other's company. At the end of the evening you tell her how wonderful it was chatting to her and ask if she'd like to have coffee with you soon.

In situation C, you've completely ignored the fact that she is a professional who is at a business conference, making it clear that the only worth you ascribe to her is based on her looks and your sexualisation of her. Situation D is completely different: you're engaging as equals and she's showing a mutual interest in you. Hell, depending on the exact situation, it might even be appropriate to ask her back to your place - she might also be very interested in a sexual encounter.

I've yet to meet a feminist who is against flirting/dating/fun, relationships and sex are some of the most rewarding things to experience. Just remember that your right to flirt/sex/dating doesn't trump what she wants, and context matters.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

God Needs To Take A Communications Course

Yes, yes, I know. I'm really bad at updating this blog, I'm easily distracted. So to my one reader (Hi Andrew) I apologise profusely for my lack of content and promise to punish myself later (and not in the good way).

Anyway, back to your regularly (ha) scheduled content. King Mswati III, Swaziland's bat-shit-insane misogynistic dictator, who famously advocated that HIV positive people should be "sterilized and branded", recently announced that god had miraculously communicated with him by, I kid you not, making his TV remote fall off the table.

“King Mswati claims the right to his absolute power on the basis of both Swazi culture and the biblical divine rights of kings. His brothers are on record as saying democracy and other forms of government are illegitimate because the bible sanctions kings but not presidents or elected officials.

“So it is important that the king be able to say he was given a direct sign from God, in this case the seemingly inexplicable dropping of a TV remote from a palace coffee table,” said Ndwandwe. news24

 As you can plainly see, there can be no other explanation, it must have been a sign from god. My only question is, what was god trying to tell him? "Don't watch Oprah, it rots your brain"?

My best guess is that god accidentally dropped by for a chat while the king was watching porn (Awkward!), stammered an embarrassed apology and clumsily knocked over the remote in his haste to leave.

Monday, October 10, 2011

What About The Menz?

If you've spent any time at all around the interwebs, you'll know that whenever a post is written about a problem that women face in society, the conversation is inevitably derailed by someone's cry of "OMG!!! Won't somebody please think about the menz?" This is usually not a genuine interest in discussing how the gender roles encouraged by our patriarchal society is damaging to both genders (and even if it was, a thread about problems women face is not the appropriate place to discuss it), but is used as a tactic to divert focus and get those "pesky feminists" to shut up.

The Lousy Canuck over at Freethought Blogs has a sensible take on the issue that is well worth a read.

As an aside, while writing this post, a colleague came into my office to ask if I had a nail file, and I'm embarrassed to admit that my first thought was "Why would I have that, I'm not a woman". Women in our society are typically expected to be the ones who need to take extra care with their appearances, perfectly manicured nails, make-up, always dressed up to look good. While I as a man have very few expectations lumped on me in terms of appearance, not to say that men can't/don't make an effort to look good, but that no one thinks twice when I come to work in jeans and tshirt and I've let my beard get a bit long. An excellent example of how a woman's worth is often judged by how pleasing she is to look at, while men are valued for more than just their looks.

Friday, October 7, 2011

First Cause


Jesus and Mo is one of my favourite web comics, and they really hit the nail on the head here. Its a classic non-sequitur, used often by reality deniers, make a basic argument (not necessarily a good one ie. First Cause) and then go on to conclude a myriad of unrelated things.

A recent example of this is a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal where Robert Bryce decides that the potential discovery of faster than light neutrinos throws doubt on climate change.

It's a common tactic, find something that science has yet to explain (or just ignore the explanation, see the Bacterial flagellum) and then use it to prove that the science you don't like is faulty.

  1. Science can't explain love (See Helen Fishers talk - Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love
  2. If science can't explain love then it must be wrong about other things.
  3. Gravity is a scientific theory and so shouldn't be trusted.
  4. Therefore Dumbo/Peter Pan/Superman

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tornado Kills Child, God Merciful

News 24

A tornado wreaked havoc on the East Rand on Sunday, destroying hundreds of homes, injuring many and tragically killing a young boy.
“The Lord was merciful for taking only one child. You can build houses, but not lives,” said Solpha Mkhtshkwa, whose son Xolani, 8, died when a wall fell on top of him.
My heart goes out to the family of the boy, and to everyone who has had their lives drastically uprooted due to this disaster. However, if I believed that the Tornado was due to a conscious entity, rather than a force of nature, 'merciful' would not be the way I would describe this being. It takes a bizarre twist of logic to believe that God sending a tornado, which destroyed a poverty stricken community and killed a young boy, is an act of mercy.

I can understand trying to find comfort in a difficult time, trying to assign meaning to something that is so tragic, but I would find no comfort in a being that destroys communities and kills young children on a whim. That's not mercy, that's terrorism.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Another Privileged Middle-Class White Guy

So I was milling about on the internet recently when I said to myself, "You know what the internet needs more of? More opinions from privileged middle-class white guys". Then I thought, "Hey, I'm a middle-class white guy, surely everyone wants to hear what I have to say".

The result of that internal monologue is of course, this blog. There are many words that can be used to describe me, geeky, godless, full of shit (ok, that's a phrase, not a word) but the one I wanted to talk about in this first post is one I've acquired more recently, feminist.

I've never been what anyone would call a raging misogynist, but I was very definitely blind to the privilege I enjoy as a white male, getting my back up when that privilege was pointed out and generally going through life never considering that other people around me had different experiences from my own. In short, I was a bit of an asshole. It took me a long time to learn that the people pointing out my privilege weren't insulting me. They were just trying to get me to realise that my privilege coloured the way I saw things. That it afforded me certain benefits that I took for granted, never considering that other people might not have those same benefits and might experience things very differently to the way I do. For an awesome analogy explaining privilege, go check out On the difference between Good Dogs and Dogs That Need a Newspaper Smack.

Of course, I didn't suddenly come to this realisation on my own, it took some very awesome people constantly raising my awareness of the issue before I was able to see where I'd been wrong. The following people in particular were instrumental in helping me to see beyond my own privilege:

Jen McCreight over at Blag Hag - Jen describes herself as "a liberal, geeky, nerdy, scientific, perverted feminist atheist" and is just an overall awesome person.

Greta Christina who writes amazingly well thought out and witty articles on a range of topics, including atheism, feminism and sexuality.

Rebecca Watson over at Skepchick who is hugely influential in the sceptic community having been giving talks for many years now on scepticism, atheism and feminism.

And finally, most recently, Aoife over at Consider The Tea Cosy who is wickedly funny (See The Case For Vampire Jesus for proof) and provides some fantastic views on a variety of topics.

These are amazing people who are brave enough to stand up for what is right, even in the face of things that no one should ever have to deal with, as Rebecca explains in a recent post. Even worse are the threats of rape that Rebecca gets, it's horrific! And yet, in the face of such a torrent of abuse and incredibly frightening threats, Rebecca and the other women listed here (and the even more numerous to count who are not) refuse to be intimidated and continue to stand up and fight for their rights to be treated as equals and continue to take time to educate those of us blinded by our privilege.

Of course, I've still got a long way to go, I still miss instances of privilege that I enjoy, I still say and do stupid things without realising it. But I hope that there will always be incredible people willing to stand up and point it out to me. Because without them, I wouldn't be here, standing up and saying "I am a feminist".