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I’ve mentioned before that I could tone troll Amanda Marcotte on every third or fourth post she writes. I generally don’t because, while I believe her job mainly consists in voicing the outrage of her readers rather than enlightening or informing them, I’m usually in broad agreement with her. At some point, if I spend my time tone trolling other feminists, I have to ask myself what my priorities are. Don’t I have bigger fish to fry?

However, a couple of days ago, she put up a post with which I disagreed in substance, not in tone. The more I think about it, the more I think it is a subject I should address. By now, I think many people are aware of the scandal that has been swirling around the magazine Rolling Stone. In December, they published a story, “A Rape on Campus”, by Sabrina Rubin Erdely. She was assigned to write an article about sexual assault on college campuses, a subject that has been of growing concern in the United States. She sought out an “emblematic college rape case.” The story she chose to write was centered on the University of Virginia and the alleged gang rape of a first year student named Jackie. The veracity of the allegations were brought into doubt. Rolling Stone retracted the story. Recently, a group from the Columbia School of Journalism released a report about the failures in the story.

Back when I was a college freshman myself, in the early 1980s, I took an introductory women’s studies’ class. For one assignment, I wanted to write a paper, not about the crime of rape itself, but how a fear of being raped affected women’s daily lives, what they did or did not do in order to avoid being raped. Having grown up in a sheltered environment where crime was almost unknown, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to write about rape on campus. At that point in time, I had only the vaguest awareness that it happened. As word spread that I was writing a paper “about rape,” other students started to come up to me to tell me about something that happened to them. I was in no way, shape or form prepared for what I was about to hear and it shocked me profoundly. Almost every story started with a similar phrase, “I don’t know if it was rape or not…,” and almost every story I would personally have considered rape. Clearly, they wanted to tell someone, and clearly they had no one to tell. One involved large amounts of drugs and alcohol. Most did not. One involved enough violence and bodily harm that the woman had to be treated at the local hospital, but most did not result in serious injuries. The amount of force varied. The degree to which the victim knew her assailant varied. It was readily apparent that it could happen to anyone, both the cautious and the reckless. This affected me greatly and I’ve taken the subject of rape very seriously ever since. At the time, the stories were shocking because I was naive. Now, older, I look back and I can say that they were almost all undramatic, anti-climatic and banal. None of the women had gone to the police. As far as I know, they put the episode behind them and got on with their lives. I add that last part, not to minimize the seriousness of the crime, but to try to reduce the sensationalistic aspects. The days when a woman was “ruined” by rape, when it was a “fate worse than death,” were the days when women had few economic options beyond marriage, and marriage was unthinkable unless one was a virgin.

The lack of drama in the stories I heard has a particular interest to me in light of Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s article. Erdely considers herself a “true crime” writer, and she writes with all the luridness that might imply.

Trust between a doctor and patient is never more fragile than in a gynecologist’s office. For many women, there is no indignity greater than lying supine and vulnerable, being touched with gloved fingers and cold metal instruments in the most private of places. At best it is an uncomfortable and highly charged situation to begin with – even more so if the gynecologist is male – never mind if something goes wrong.

I have great difficulty reading stories about rape, however, when I decided to write this post last night, I read the original article, “A Rape on Campus”, which I had avoided, I also read the report by the people from Columbia about the original story’s failures, several Washington Post articles criticizing “A Rape on Campus,” as well as a few other articles, including some in the University of Virginia’s student paper. There has been quite a bit more written about this scandal. I also read some of Ederly’s earlier work. That previous paragraph came from an article, “Intimate Intimidation,” that appeared in Philadelphia magazine in 1996. I’ve been going to doctors for gynecological examinations for over thirty-five years now, and I have to say that I can in no way relate to this lurid, sensationalistic description. In this case, the gynecologist was in fact convicted of molesting his patients in a court of law, but it is worth noting Ederly’s style. “Never more fragile.” “No greater indignity.” “Supine and vulnerable.”

Admittedly, I read “A Rape on Campus” with a far more critical eye than I would have had it not been retracted. Still, the first thing that jumped out at me was this description:

A chatty, straight-A achiever from a rural Virginia town, she’d initially been intimidated by UVA’s aura of preppy success, where throngs of toned, tanned and overwhelmingly blond students fanned across a landscape of neoclassical brick buildings…

Overwhelmingly blond? It was such a strange descriptor I looked up pictures of students online. The university is one of the country’s better schools and the students are certainly clean cut, but I don’t know that I would describe them as overwhelmingly blond. However the atmosphere described at the school is integral to the story. Erdely continues to play upon the contrast established in that early sentence. The innocent, dark haired, country girl from a modest background and the rich, entitled frat boys. Although my own sympathies tend not to lie with rich, entitled frat boys, I couldn’t help the feeling that she was distorting the reality to make her case. The fraternity where Jackie said she was attacked was an “‘upper tier’ frat” that “had a reputation of tremendous wealth, and its imposingly large house overlooked a vast manicured field, giving “Phi Psi” the undisputed best real estate.” The University of Virginia is described as “genteel,” lacking in radical feminists, not “edgy or progressive.”

Prestige is at the core of UVA’s identity. Although a public school, its grounds of red-brick, white-columned buildings designed by founder Thomas Jefferson radiate old-money privilege, footnoted by the graffiti of UVA’s many secret societies, whose insignias are neatly painted everywhere. At $10,000 a year, in-state tuition is a quarter the cost of the Ivies, but UVA tends to attract affluent students, and through aggressive fundraising boasts an endowment of $5 billion, on par with Cornell. “Wealthy parents are the norm,” says former UVA dean John Foubert. On top of all that, UVA enjoys a reputation as one of the best schools in the country, not to mention a campus so brimming with fun that in 2012 – the year of Jackie’s rape – Playboy crowned it the nation’s number-one party school. Students hold themselves up to that standard: studious by day, wild by night.

The story reported that Jackie’s friends discouraged her from reporting the assault because they were concerned with their social status.

A recent article in the Univeristy’s student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, takes exception with the way the school was portrayed in the article.

For University students, Rolling Stone did not just get one story wrong. It presented a skewed perspective of our student body; it vilified administrators without adequately explaining the constraints of federal law regarding these issues; it reduced the significance of organizations like One Less and One in Four, as well as the work of many students; it selected egregious elements of University culture — such as the “Rugby Road” song and the phrase “UVrApe” — and treated them as ubiquitous when they are not.

This portrayal interested me because it reminded me of another school that many people felt was inaccurately portrayed by Erdely in another Rolling Stone article, “School of Hate.” The school in that article, the Anoka-Hennepin school district which is located in Minnesota, experienced a suicide cluster. Several of the students who killed themselves were, or were presumed to be, gay. At the same time, the school district was experiencing an internal struggle between a religiously motivated conservative group and the rest of the community. The suicides and the political conflict had been previously covered by Mother Jones and The New York Times, both of which noted that people have drawn a link between the anti-gay conservative activism and the suicides. However, it was Rolling Stone article that some people from the town felt portrayed them unfairly and inaccurately. Again, it seems the drama was heightened at the cost of accuracy.

The errors in Erdely’s UVA article have been picked over by quite a few people and I might not have written about it myself if it hadn’t been for Amanda Marcotte’s post.

The various reporting and investigation that was released prior to this paints, I think, a fairly solid picture of what likely happened, which is that Jackie was telling a tall tale and even seems to have invented the guy who she claimed was the ringleader in a gang rape. (He seems to have been a composite character, constructed out of  pictures of one guy and biographical details from a couple more.) Her friends suggested to the Washington Post that this was a habit of hers, as they suspected her of making up a date with an imaginary friend in order to try to get the interest of a guy who rejected her. Whether or not she made the rape up whole cloth or embroidered/fictionalized a real event remains unknown, though either way, what she did was very wrong.

Strangely, Marcotte decides to be hyper-critical of T. Rees Shapiro, the reporter from the Washington Post who interviewed people at the University of Virgina and found the discrepancies which discredited the story. Shapiro reports that Jackie told him that she asked to be taken out of the story, a part of the article that Marcotte quotes. She continues:

They did reach out to Erdely for comment about this and she didn’t respond, so that’s on her. But the report from the Columbia investigators suggests that this was yet another lie from Jackie. But the fact that this accusation was printed gives me some pause. Unlike Erdely, T. Rees Shapiro seems to have gone into his conversations with Jackie with a suspicion that she was lying about the rape. Under the circumstances, it seems more suspicion was warranted that Jackie would make up more lies to make herself look better. The irony here is that Erdely is the only flesh-and-blood human being that Jackie appears to have falsely accused of anything.

Marcotte misunderstands the nature of the criticism of Erdely’s article. In her style, which the Colombia team called “narrative,” Erdely presents much of Jackie’s story without attribution, leading the reader to believe that many of the events were corroborated by other people. Shapiro, however, notes clearly that Jackie told him this.

It is important to note that Jackie never approached Erdely with the story. The team from Columbia that examined the failures in the reporting note that one thing that caused Erdely to not question Jackie’s friends or seek out the alleged perpetrator was because she was afraid that Jackie would pull out of the story.

Jackie proved to be a challenging source. At times, she did not respond to Erdely’s calls, texts and emails. At two points, the reporter feared Jackie might withdraw her cooperation. Also, Jackie refused to provide Erdely the name of the lifeguard who had organized the attack on her. She said she was still afraid of him. That led to tense exchanges between Erdely and Jackie, but the confrontation ended when Rolling Stone‘s editors decided to go ahead without knowing the lifeguard’s name or verifying his existence. After that concession, Jackie cooperated fully until publication.

Unlike Marcotte, I am far less sympathetic to the notion that a forty-something journalist with approximately twenty years of experience was manipulated by an undergraduate who was a compulsive liar without feeling that there must be some underlying problem in her approach to journalism.

I am personally so opposed to the political views espoused by the founder of the site Red State that I find it actually embarrassing to quote an article from the site. However, Leon H. Wolf makes an excellent point when he notes that:

One of the painful things the New Republic was forced to undertake when it first came to light that reporter Stephen Glass had fabricated certain details of his stories was to go over all his stories with a fine toothed comb to determine exactly how systemic the problem had been with Glass’s reporting. After all, a reporter who faked details in one or two stories might well have done so in others. To TNR’s credit, they promptly performed an exhaustive, line-by-line review of each of Glass’s stories over the years and laid bare the gruesome results for the world to see, exposing that the infractions for which Glass was eventually caught were only the tip of the iceberg, and that fabulist reporting by Glass was the rule, not the exception.

By way of contrast, in the wake of a damning CJR report on the reporting practices of Sabrina Rubin Erdely and the editorial and fact checking practices of Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone has shown absolutely no inclination to engage in a similar soul searching over whether Ms. Erdely might have engaged in similarly shoddy reporting in the past, and whether such shoddy reporting (if it exists) might have slipped through their fact checking and editorial system. Ms. Erdely by all appearances has not been professionally disciplined at all for her blunders and the Rolling Stone brass is acting as though this is an isolated incident in which they were blameless victims of an exceptionally clever con artist.

By coincidence, the Stephen Glass scandal was fresh in my mind because, a few days ago, I was about to throw out my old copies of The New Republic when I decided to go through them to see if there were any interesting stories I’d overlooked. There was one about Stephen Glass.

Before I came across the Red State article, I’d already looked up the Wikipedia page on Erdely. On her Wikipedia page, there is information about another article she wrote about shocking sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, including information about a boy who alleged that he had been gang raped by priests. According to Wikipedia:

Ralph Cipriano wrote in Newsweek that “Erdely didn’t know or bother to find out … that Billy had already told his story to the archdiocese, police, and a grand jury, and would subsequently retell it to two different juries in two criminal cases. And every time he told his story, the details kept changing.”

The Red State article by Wolf is concerned with yet another article about a sexual assault written by Erdely, “The Rape of Petty Officer Blumer.” All the articles I can find criticizing this piece by Erdely are unfortunately from websites with an acknowledged conservative agenda. Where is the soul searching on the left? Her work needs to be examined without the defensiveness. It needs to be gone over with a fine toothed comb, just like the work of Stephen Glass.

In “What Went Wrong,” Coronel, Coll and Kravitz write:

The story’s blowup comes as another shock to journalism’s credibility amid head-swiveling change in the media industry. The particulars of Rolling Stone‘s failure make clear the need for a revitalized consensus in newsrooms old and new about what best journalistic practices entail, at an operating-manual-level of detail.

Unfortunately, they fail to note what some of those “head-swiveling” changes might be. One thing that had changed in recent years is a changing attitude towards journalistic objectivity. From Media Ethics:

The past two decades have witnessed a conscious push away from the traditional journalistic value of objectivity, often deeming it an impossible goal…. Scholars have noted that advocacy journalism promotes societal change. Thus it tends to advocate more for “leftist” causes, serving as a progressive counterweight to the intrinsically conservative nature of objectivity. And advocacy journalism as a whole—including much “rightist” activity—is growing.

Research has shown that members of the press have a strong, widespread politically liberal orientation. At the same time many scholars and journalists argue that, despite this inherently progressive attitude, the ethical value of objectivity exerts a powerful moderating influence and that liberal bias in the media is for all intents and purposes non-existent…. A highly partisan press corps cannot produce politically unbiased journalism without respect for the value of objectivity….

Despite scholarly findings of “balanced” political news reporting, the public increasingly views the media as politically partisan, with nearly half of poll respondents specifically citing a liberal bias in the press. As charges of bias have risen, media credibility and trust in journalism have plummeted. While this is prevalent among Republicans, independents have also shown a substantial drop in trust of the media with ratings much closer to Republicans than to Democrats (Morales, 2012). More than three-quarters of the respondents in a 2011 Pew poll indicated belief that the media favored one side. With some journalism organizations continuing to enshrine “objectivity” in their ethical codes and others, such as the Society of Professional Journalists, are moving away from it, one can understand the public’s confusion about the place of objectivity in journalism.

… Some scholars have found evidence supporting the idea that perceived bias drives audience members away from use of traditional media as a common source of news, and toward alternative outlets, exacerbating partisanship. For example, Hollander (2008) found evidence that partisan viewers were migrating to media that reflected their own viewpoints, while casual news consumers were moving to entertainment rather than news programming. … As distrust in the media increases, voting becomes correspondingly more partisan. Malone (2008) and others have suggested that this represents a danger not only to the future of news organizations but to the American democracy.

Conclusion

This essay is not meant to suggest that objectivity is the only laudable goal of ethical journalism. Nor should it be taken as an assault on either the ethical or practical merit of advocacy journalism. It is instead intended as a call for the re-evaluation of objectivity and advocacy as ethical values in journalism. As a practical matter, perceived objectivity has a demonstrable impact on journalism. Some have asserted that a lack of objectivity has been responsible, at least in part, for journalism’s reputational decline. Others declare that objective journalism has grown stale and that advocacy journalism offers an opportunity to make it fresh and relevant in a society overloaded with information. News organizations need to understand what members of the public mean when they express a desire for the press to be objective, the extent to which the public is aware of the advocacy movement within journalism, and their reaction to the virtues of both objectivity and advocacy. Media ethicists should assert a central role in furthering our understanding of these vital concerns.

Which leads me to why feminists in particular are obligated to speak out against the work of Sabrina Rubin Erdely.

The best predictor that a person will believe in a conspiracy theory is that he or she already believes in another conspiracy theory. While belief in conspiracy theories affects women as much as men and, in the U.S., Republicans as much as Democrats, one thing that many conspiracy theorists have in common is a distrust of the mainstream media and a tendency to seek out alternative sources of news. From an article in the MIT Technology Review:

In particular, people who engage with debates on alternative news posts are much more likely to engage in the debate about false news posted by trolls. “We find that a dominant fraction of the users interacting with the troll memes is the one composed of users preeminently interacting with alternative information sources–and thus more exposed to unsubstantiated claims,” they say.

That’s an interesting result. Quattrociocchi and co point out that many people are attracted to alternative news media because of a distrust of conventional news sources, which, in Italy, are strongly influenced by politicians of one persuasion or another.

But this search for other sources of news seems to be fraught with danger. “Surprisingly, consumers of alternative news, which are the users trying to avoid the mainstream media ‘mass-manipulation’, are the most responsive to the injection of false claims,” they conclude.

If you read posts by men’s rights advocates, a picture of feminism emerges in which powerful people, in this case often professors in the academy, spread lies and propaganda. Feminism is, in short, a conspiracy. So, Erdely’s article did not just undermine the credibility of rape victims as her editor worried, but she has undermined the credibility of feminists, liberals and the mainstream media, especially leftward leaning sources among mainstream news outlets.

Many people have said that Erdely was not guilty of fabrication, but of confirmation bias. Because we are all, to some degree, capable of confirmation bias, it seems that many people are interpreting this to have absolved Erdely of the guilt that ended the career of Stephen Glass. In fact, a straight out liar presumably knows that he is lying, can repent and change, as Stephen Glass has claimed to have done. However, if Erdely has not confronted her biases, she is very likely to make the same error again. It is worth asking exactly what her biases are.

I, for one, will never again trust her or Rolling Stone.

 

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Okay, I’m an adult woman, a serious, intellectual type person. I don’t want to admit that I play games. It’s even more embarrassing to admit that I’ve paid money to play games. You know, I’m supposed to be spending my money on having my vulva waxed, or something like that. You know, paying a hundred bucks to lie back with my legs spread and screaming while a stranger who doesn’t speak English rips several hundred hairs out by their roots at a go, and does that for about twenty minutes. All that so I will be qualified to allow some stinky guy in t-shirt with a day old beard come in my mouth while he looks at pictures at younger, prettier, thinner women.

Yes, I’m getting a little obsessed with getting laid again. I know, you’re all bracing yourselves. It’s okay. I’m not depressed. I just refuse to lie about it. I want to get laid. I don’t want to spend lots of money or time worrying about my appearance. I know some guys will say, then what do you expect? True enough, but then don’t give me any of that Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus crap about how men want sex and women don’t. Don’t give me any of that crap about how nice guys can’t get laid. If you’re willing to put your cock inside a hairy pussy and will be minimally polite about a woman’s appearance while doing it, you can get laid. If you want a twenty year old starlet to dance all around you while you do nothing to even get her aroused, yeah, you can’t get laid.

Anywhooo… I thought I might distract myself from my lousy sex life by playing a game.

I had some technical problems and the game wouldn’t launch, so I went online to look for a solution. Now, I never got past this screen, but it stopped this grumpy old bitch in her tracks.

ten cartoonish images of men.Maybe I’ll go amuse myself by masturbating.

 

tl;dr: JP Morgan Chase refused to do business with a company that markets condoms to women because it’s policy of not serving “adult” businesses. The mother/daughter team who founded the company out of concern for women’s health, have put up a petition at Change.org asking Chase to reconsider their position.

Some people have a problem with the phrase “War on Women.” Mostly, people object to the hyperbole, that it is not, in fact, a “war.” However, I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that there are individuals in the U.S.A. who are waging a war on non-procreative sex. This isn’t just a war against women, although people with uteruses, most of whom are women, bear the brunt of these laws. Make no mistake about it, gents; these laws are meant for you, too.

I came across an article today, via Little Green Footballs (ht/FemNaziBitch), with the title “Chase Refuses to Process Payments for Condoms.” This sounded so over the top, my outrage was immediately put on hold by the thought, “Maybe this is the Onion.” After all, I don’t want to be one of those fools that goes all ballistic over what is to everyone else obvious satire. Right? I mean, with that Hobby Lobby case, and everything, the idea of a corporation suddenly having morals is a pretty obvious joke, right? Right? RIGHT? The link led to a site that I’ve only seen once or twice before, so I decided to type “Lovability” and “Chase” into Google’s search box to see if I could find some independent confirmation.

A little detail that you probably didn’t know about fojap, she used to be a regular reader of The American Banker, a fine, reputable periodical covering news of interest to the banking industry. They’re a sober trade paper, at least they were when I used to read it a couple of decades ago. It doesn’t look like much has changed. So, I feel that I can trust them when I see “JP Morgan, Condoms and the Problem of Reputational Risk” by .

Reputational risk is just was it sounds like, the possibility of a company’s reputation being negative in public opinion. Companies take measures to insure that the public has a good opinion of them. In the case of banks, there’s an added issue that is not simply the public’s perception of a company’s reputation, but the regulators’ perception of the public’s perception. Skowronski and Hochstein point out that “regulators have become increasingly preoccupied with who banks are doing business with.” They describe a Justice Department effort called “Operation Choke Point.” The original intent of the effort was to crack down on banks who processed payments from online scammers. According to The American Banker, other agencies joined in:

In August, New York Financial Services Superintendent Benjamin Lawsky instructed 117 banks, including the nation’s four largest, to develop safeguards aimed at preventing unlicensed online lenders from accessing the payments system. Lawsky also filed suit against online lenders that he said were violating New York’s interest-rate cap. “We’re really trying to take a shock-and-awe strategy,” Lawsky said. “We want to make payday lending into New York, over the Internet, as unappetizing as possible.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. also stepped its reviews of banks’ relationships with online lenders and other businesses that might pose heightened risk for banks.

This eventually expanded to include online lenders who were operating legally.

In another article which appeared in The American Banker last July, Peter Weinstock wrote:

So, what is happening here? Is it that the banking regulators are protecting the public from bankers that are colluding with others by providing access to the banking system to enable such third parties to take advantage of consumers? Or, are some of the bank regulators seeking to preclude certain businesses because regulators believe such enterprises provide services that are inherently harmful to consumers? In short, are the regulators seeking to ban certain products? (emphasis mine)

Weinstock cites a speech given by Sarah Bloom Raskin, a former member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System at the 2013 Banking Outlook Conference at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Raskin suggests that regulators have a responsibility to consider anything that affects the stability of a bank. Since reputational risk can influence a bank’s profitability, it is appropriate for it to be regulated.

Consider that in today’s financial institution sector, a substantial portion of a bank’s enterprise value comes from intangible assets such as brand recognition and customer loyalty that may not appear on the balance sheet but are nevertheless critical to the bank’s success.

It is clear from her speech that she is mainly concerned with how the bank treats its customers, not who its customers are.

If bank profitability is going to improve in a context of low interest rates and higher compliance costs, lending income may remain low. Profits will need to come from elsewhere. One source of profits would be products that are not interest-rate dependent, but fee-dependent.

…. The pressure to generate enhanced profits through high fees is palpable, and banks may choose to move aggressively down these paths. But when a bank already suffers from a poor reputation…, it likely will face difficulties in introducing new fee-generating products or activities without inviting further criticism and damage to its reputation. So an evaluation of the effects of the new product or activity on the bank’s reputation prior to launch is arguably necessary.

However, it seems that this logic has been conscripted to serve the purpose of forcing commercial banks to refuse to do business with payday lenders. Furthermore, that effort has then been expanded to push banks to refuse to do business with a variety of other companies.

Skowronski and Hochstein note that the FDIC issued a letter “urging financial institution to do a better job managing the risk associated with their third-party processor relationships. That sounds fine, except some of the merchant categories listed as “high risk” are obvious choices. “Debt consolidation scams” and “Ponzi schemes,” for instance, should be unbankable, while others seem to be there simply because they’re icky (tobacco sales?).”

The FDIC’s list of merchants associated with high-risk activity is as follows:

  • Ammunition Sales
  • Cable Box De-scramblers
  • Coin Dealers
  • Credit Card Schemes
  • Credit Repair Services
  • Dating Services
  • Debt Consolidation Scams
  • Drug Paraphernalia
  • Escort Services
  • Firearms Sales
  • Fireworks Sales
  • Get Rich Products
  • Government Grants
  • Home-Based Charities
  • Life-Time Guarantees
  • Life-Time Memberships
  • Lottery Sales
  • Mailing Lists/Personal Info
  • Money Transfer Networks
  • On-line Gambling
  • PayDay Loans
  • Pharmaceutical Sales
  • Ponzi Schemes
  • Pornography
  • Pyramid-Type Sales
  • Racist Materials
  • Surveillance Equipment
  • Telemarketing
  • Tobacco Sales
  • Travel Clubs

From Skowronski and Hockstein:

This type of scrutiny should have everyone – banks, businesses and consumers – concerned. It’s one thing to ask banks not to do business with Iranian terrorists. It’s even conceivable why a bank would want to avoid doing business with porn sites, given they are a high-chargeback business that large swaths of the public frown upon. And, yes, payday lenders aren’t exactly going to win any popularity contests. But cutting off a company that makes contraceptive or prophylactic products puts us in murkier waters.

Which brings us back to the incident that originally prompted this post. According to the website The New Civil Rights Movement:

Chase Paymentech, the payment processing service offered by JPMorgan Chase, has refused to process payments for Lovability, a condom company, because they consider the action a “reputational risk”.

Loveability Inc., which Facebook classifies as a “health and beauty” company, was founded by mother-daughter team Pam and Tiffany Gaines “to empower women to take responsibility for their sexual health.”

….
Daily Kos reports that Pam and Tiffany were notified this week that Chase considered them an “adult oriented product” and would not process customer payments, lest their reputation suffer from the association. It seems not to have occurred to Chase Paymentech that condoms save lives, prevent unwanted pregnancies that lead to abortions, chronic poverty and child abuse. Condoms also stop the spread of STDs.

What part of any of that is a “reputational risk” to Chase bank?

Well, when I first read that post, I thought that my own would be a fairly quick one. I wasn’t quite sure why JP Morgan Chase would consider an association with this company, Lovability a risk. Now that I have looked into it further, it has turned out to be a more complicated story. In our contemporary society where few transactions do not involve the banking system, and I’m including business to business transactions as well, keeping a business out of the banking system is tantamount to banning it.

In the meantime, I would suggest that you consider signing the Gaines’ Change.org petition asking Chase Paymentech to remove condoms from its list of prohibited items.

If you haven’t been spending tons of time reading atheist blogs, you may be unaware that the topic of abortion has been raging like wildfire. There are so many aspects to this argument, that I’m only going to discuss one paragraph I’ve read. It was “A Response to a Pro-Life Atheist and the Friendly Atheist,” by Avicenna.

I know this is a hard lesson to swallow because these things look like us and indeed all of us were once foetuses. When we think of abortion we think of what would happen had WE been aborted. About all the experiences lost and all the life unlived. We never think that we would probably not care if we had been aborted or not since we would in effect have been just cells.

This idea is not abstract for me because my biological mother was fourteen when I was born. She was never taught about her own biology and did not know she was pregnant. Her period had not yet become regular and she didn’t think much of it when she missed it a few times. Finally, it was only when she began to show in the fifth month that her aunt told her she was pregnant. Even still, she was unsure how it could have happened since she thought you had to be married in order to get pregnant. If they had found out earlier, I would have most certainly been aborted. Even though it wasn’t legal at the time, her female relatives are confident that they would have been able to find a back alley abortionist.

When I say I should have been an abortion, I’m not expressing some bizarre sense of self-hate. I’m saying that what my biological mother should have done, had she had a clue that she was pregnant earlier than she did, was to have an abortion. No one would hesitate to say that I shouldn’t have been conceived. Some people may think she should have used a condom. Others may think that she should have not had sexual intercourse. However, everyone agrees that I should have not been conceived.

My biological mother had wanted to be an engineer. This wasn’t a particular crazy thought. There are engineers in her family. Her brother is today a software engineer. Instead, she dropped out of high school and worked for a number of years as a maid. She eventually went back to school and doesn’t have a bad life at all now. Of course, a few years later, in her early twenties, she found herself pregnant again and had an abortion. Since then she got married. She got her GED, the general equivalency diploma, and she went on to take courses at a community college that enabled her to get a job that paid well. It’s hard to predict the future, but many of those things might not have happened if she had been forced to bear a second child.

She never did become an engineer and sometimes I feel a little guilty about that. If I hadn’t come along, she may very well have become one. Let’s not forget, that everyone agrees that I shouldn’t have been conceived.

I’ve been in something of a funny mood for the past few days, peaking with a strange uncomfortable feeling when I woke up this morning. Since I was diagnosed with depression, I’ve found myself engaging in a ritual that I think of as “emotional temperature taking.” Sleepy at an odd hour. Hmm, is this depression or are you just tired. Cranky? Are you just hungry or is this the sign of something worse? Most of the time, it is something more banal and not a sign of a greater problem. Still, it’s a necessary question to ask.

So, my behavior’s been odd for the past several days, irregular sleep, lack of concentration, and it culminated in feeling rather awful when I woke up this morning. There’s a few possible threads feeding into this, but I’ll stick to one for now. I’ve mentioned a few times something I’ve called my “beauty strike.” One day, I’ll have to write about this at length. Except for a couple of emotional outbursts, I’ve avoided discussing body image issues on my blog. It feels so frankly frivolous. Every once in a while, someone writes a post questioning why people would spend an effort worrying about problem B when problem A is so much more serious. Frequently, when I read this, especially as it applies to people other than myself or my own problems, I’m inclined to agree with a post Greta Christina put up, “Whatever Activism Gets them Excited.”

Are there issues in the world that are, by some objective measure if there is such a thing, more important than atheism? Yes. Absolutely. But atheism is what I’m excited about….  Atheism got me deeply involved in social change, in a way that no other issue ever did. I don’t know why that is: I don’t think it’s entirely rational, and I don’t think that decision is entirely rational for a lot of activists, atheist or otherwise. But I would rather have me — and others — getting deeply and passionately involved in atheist activism than getting half-assedly involved in something else… or not involved in anything.

So while I can get pretty excited about issues regarding sex and sexuality and feminism, both of those can intersect with issues of body image, yet that strikes me as frivolous. I know other people out there write about body image, and I would never dismiss their efforts, yet in discussing it I feel uncomfortable on so many different levels, not least of which is because it feels self-indulgent.

So, I’ve been browsing blogs which have listed things under the feminism tag quite a bit over the last few days, and I feel like I have lots of random bits in my mind which are refusing to coalesce into anything coherent, mainly around the subjects of sex, sexuality, women’s bodies and so on.

Maybe I need to paint a bit. Sometimes when I can’t figure something out logically, I turn to painting. In fact, that’s when I like painting best, when it reaches something logic can’t reach. One of the things I came across to today was a sketch that I really liked. It put me in mind of another post I’ve recently read, “Jack Vettriano – The Necessity of Misogyny” by suzimartin. As someone who has done a lot of art work with sexual imagery, which some people describe as erotica, I’m interested in people’s opinions of work which contains sexual content. I don’t know Vetttiano’s work well enough have an opinion on the post.

Anyway, that’s all the mucky stuff that’s been colliding in my head recently.

a nude woman wrapped in a snake floating through space

One of my own paintings.

Generally, I find that my memory is pretty good, surprisingly so. I’ve tried to cross check facts with my sister and, to a lesser extent, with my mother, and this cross checking has left me with the feeling that my memory’s pretty reliable. That’s a good thing since I’ve never been able to keep a diary for more than about a week. I guess this blog is the closest thing to a diary that I’ve ever had. Sometimes, I remember entire conversations or sequences of events, but mostly it’s spottier, more like a series of snapshots and the occasional sentence. If I have enough of these snippets, I can usually string them together into a coherent, readable narrative. Unfortunately, there are some events I need to cover where my memory is not good. This is one of them. I’m going to try to make it as easy to follow as possible. I also behaved very badly, and I’m going to try to not whitewash my own behavior. That’s difficult. We all want to hide our faults a little.

In the days following being slapped by Lanky Joe, the other girls behaved in a way that I can only describe as cool. No one said anything, at least not openly. The other girls, of course, continued to date their boyfriends, and Chuck E and Hazy Davy remained friends with Lanky Joe. The result was that they would all continue to get together and I became alienated from the group. There was no consequence for Lanky Joe for slapping me, but instead I was the one who was socially punished. No one thought this through, I’m sure. It was just a chain of human weakness and self-interest. The exception was Suzy Q. She was beginning to develop something of a feminist sensibility, although I’m not sure whether or not we would have called it that at the time. We were aware of feminism, but only in a childish way. The tennis player, Billie Jean King, was probably the most well-known feminist among children. Since I wasn’t athletic, I felt that it didn’t have much to do with me. Suzy Q, however, saw the idea of me being alone while the boy who hit me continued to be invited as an unjust situation.

One Saturday shortly afterward, Suzy Q and I went to the shopping mall. We went there, in part, because the others rarely did, although it was a common enough destination for kids our age. The shopping mall was laid out around a central atrium. All of the stores were on the first floor and on the second floor, ringing the atrium like a great big doughnut, was a food court. In the center, was a double height waterfall landscaped with potted plants. In my provincial little mind it was quite snazzy. Behind the waterfall were several staircases. They twisted and turned and opened out into areas with benches and then narrowed again. When the shopping mall first opened and I was still quite young, I loved these staircases. They were like a labyrinth. As I got older, they became partially hidden places to hold hands with boys and maybe even exchange some kisses. There were escalators and an elevator going to the second floor, but I always took one of the staircases and I preferred the path with the greatest number of turns.

Suzy Q and I headed up to the second floor to get something to eat. We passed a landing with a nook where I once sat with a redheaded boy whose name was the masculine version of my own and we held hands and giggled, too young to even yet understand why we wanted to do that.  Further up, there was a larger landing where another staircase joined the one we had taken. As we passed by, I heard somebody call my name. I turned to see Lanky Joe. Behind him were Chuck E and Hazy Davy. He said something. To this day, I’ve never been able to recall what he said. Suzy Q was a couple of feet behind me and didn’t hear it, neither did Hazy Davy. Chuck E would later tell me that he heard but wouldn’t repeat it. I am entirely clueless about what he said. Entirely. All I know is that I flew at him. All reason entirely left me. I have no idea what I would have done had I actually managed to reach him. There was no thought, only action. I charged like an enraged bull. Chuck E lunged forward and grabbed me. So did Hazy Davy. I caught a glimpse of Lanky Joe and he was smirking. The smirk sent a chill through me and I started to calm down. I saw that Cherry Bomb and Cat Eyes were there. Cherry Bomb was angry, “You scratched Chuck E!” Indeed, Chuck E had a faint red line across his cheek, although I didn’t remember doing it.

My mind was foggy and I felt confused. Chuck E turned to Cherry Bomb and said, “Calm down. It wasn’t intentional.” Then he took me by the shoulder and led me around the corner. I started to apologize for scratching him.

“Don’t think about it,” he said. “I know it was an accident. Look at you. Either of us could have overpowered you without even trying. It was only because I was trying not to hurt you, so I was grabbing you in a funny way. You didn’t scratch me. Your hand brushed against my face. That’s all. I don’t know why Cherry Bomb’s so upset. I’m sure she’ll calm down and forget about it.

“Do yourself a favor and keep far away from Lanky Joe. I wouldn’t care if you hit him. You’re too small to hurt him and he probably deserves it. He’s looking for an excuse to hurt you and you don’t know what he’s capable of.”

My mind was still spinning, trying to believe what had just happened had actually happened. Had I really done what I just did? Why? Can your body just go without your mind’s consent? I asked Chuck E what Lanky Joe had said. He was taken aback that I had no memory of it. In fact, my memory is spotty of everything between hearing my name and seeing that smirk. Chuck E shook his head, “Then I’m not going to tell you. Forget about Lanky Joe. Forget about everything.”

Cherry Bomb wouldn’t forget, however. She would repeat later to me that I had scratched Chuck E. If the other girls had distanced themselves from me before due to circumstance, now it was intentional. A few days later, Chuck E would seek me out after school. He emphasized yet again that he felt it was an accident. He told me that he’d be perfectly happy to have me hang out with them again and would ask Lanky Joe to not come by. He said that he tried to make it okay again with Cherry Bomb, but she wouldn’t have any of it. He seemed to feel really awkward and bad about it.

Cherry Bomb, Cat Eyes and Sour Puss didn’t stop at simply avoiding me themselves. They started putting pressure on Suzy Q to not be friends with me. Suzy Q, however, stuck by me.

 

There was a post recently on the Huffington Post website by Alexis Jane Torre titled “I’m ‘Not Like Most Girls’.”

You probably know those movies and books where there’s a female protagonist who is apparently “not like most girls.” She actually likes sports and isn’t catty. She doesn’t cause drama or stress over her appearance. She is unlike every other female character, and she is unable to befriend most girls.

Her basic point, that this trope serves to discourage women from female friendships and encourages them to not trust one another seems to be valid enough. However, I’m not so sure that many women, at least women I know, actually believe that most girls conform to those negative stereotypes.

And, this then teaches young women that they should strive to be “not like most girls.”

Trying to avoid being like the negative stereotype has inhibiting effects. I had one friend who had no problem asking men out on dates and initiating sexual contact, but once a relationship became serious she couldn’t discuss the future because she was afraid of acting like a “typical” woman who was just angling for a wedding ring. I’ve felt similar pressures. You want to ask a man, “Where do you think this is going,” but you don’t dare because you’re afraid of it being misinterpreted.

For me, talking about my appearance has always been a forbidden topic. People whose main way of knowing me is off-line would probably be shocked by the things I wrote yesterday. I almost never discuss clothes or hair and I’m known for actually scolding other women if they start saying negative things about their bodies. One of the biggest fights I’ve gotten into with my mother occurred following a dance performance. The entire time my mother whispered in my ear about my sister’s roommate, someone we both knew, “She’s gained so much weight. How could she wear those tights. I wouldn’t get on stage if I looked like that.” This was about a dancer! She was energetically jumping about on stage. We’re not talking about weight as health, we’re talking about weight as part of society’s standards of beauty.

I started this blog in part to express things that I normally don’t express, and I’ve never sat around with other women and talked about how I hate my thighs or my neck or whatever. Of course, I don’t actually hate my thighs. The truth of the matter is that I’m painfully aware that my thighs do not conform to current ideal of female beauty, but it’s no less painful for that. I’m not ashamed of my body so much as I am ashamed of my inability to live up to society’s standards. Intellectually, I understand that those standards and the pressure to conform to them are not healthy, but that only leaves me feeling ashamed of my shame. I’ve never really discussed this, not even with my therapists. It seems so superficial, so trivial. How ridiculous that some days I don’t want to leave the house because I don’t look the way society tells me I should look. Does it interfere with my life? Well, I’ve never missed anything like school or work for that reason. On the other hand, I’ve avoided social events. Maybe it’s one of the things that makes it difficult for me to make new friends when I move to a new town. It adds to my social anxiety.

Then I say to myself, “There are so many more important things in the world than this. Starving children, real injustices.” Then I feel like a self-absorbed vain asshole and I shove it all down. However, it doesn’t solve the problem and I still won’t go to that meeting to practice French or join that organization for artists. Telling myself it’s foolish solves nothing and makes me feel like a fool.

This feeling has gotten worse over the years, and I don’t think it’s simply weight and age. It seems to me that there is more pressure for women to be beautiful than there was when I was younger. We used to have pubic hair! We didn’t even know to feel funny about it. It was as normal as having hair on your head. Vagina facials? May I say that that’s just fucking nuts? (May I also so say that vagina is not the correct term, unless they’re stuffing the exfoliating cream inside you. And who the hell has enough money for this crap? Who are you? I would love just to get my gray hair professionally dyed to its old color so I don’t have to make a mess in my bathroom, but I have a hard time swallowing the cost. A facial for my vulva? P. T. Barnum would be proud.) These currents are so strong in the society that they have made their way into my subconscious despite the fact that I don’t own a television, read neither celebrity nor fashion magazines and am generally a high brow snob. Sometimes I have to stop and ask myself how I even know about them. In fact, it’s part of the reason I’ve stopped reading garbage like Salon, the Huffington Post and Alternet. I became tired of getting a dose of body shaming in with my politics.

I’ve said it before, and here I am saying it again, I feel very fortunate to have come of age in the wake of two things, second wave feminism and punk. In terms of fashion, the new wave era was great for young women because there was really no pressure whatsoever to look pretty. In fact, I would say it was quite the opposite. There was an impulse to thumb one’s nose at society’s expectations, and that most certainly included society’s expectations of beauty.

When I told my parents I wanted to attend a different college, I considered myself a radical feminist, was openly dating a woman, wore repurposed thrift store clothes and had my hair cut to the length of a crew cut on one side and shoulder length on the other. They sent me to a psychiatrist. I walked into the office to see a painfully thin woman with carefully highlighted hair and an obvious nose job. She wanted to send me to a residential drug rehab program despite the fact that I told her repeatedly that I didn’t even smoke pot. Ironically, in terms of drugs I was one of the straightest people I knew. I didn’t even drink that much.

At that time, I actually needed a lot of guidance in terms of a career and academic programs, but I wasn’t getting any because everyone was focused on my hair and my clothes. Around that time, some of the styles associated with new wave were rapidly being absorbed into mainstream fashion and women started worrying about being pretty again. I dropped out of school, went to work and started conforming.

I’m a naturally critical person. Present me with any argument, any man-made object, any work of art and one of my first instincts is to poke at it trying to find the weaknesses. Generally, being critical of a point someone makes, or part of their argument, does not imply that I disagree with everything, or even most. However, publicly, meaning on this blog since that’s my only real public forum, there are people of whom I tend to not be critical because I want to avoid potentially undermining people with whom I more or less agree. The most prominent of these groups, or at least the ones that make me bite my tongue most often, are atheists and feminists. So, with that elaborate introduction, please consider that what follows is in no way intended to be interpreted as invalidating what Jinan Younis has to say.

It’s not a coincidence that “sex” is the first word in my tag line. The sexual revolution may have happened decades ago, but there are times when it feels that sexual liberation for women is still in its infancy. One of the reasons I started this blog was to talk about sex. I have had acquaintances refer to me as a “sex-positive feminist” and in the near future I will talk about why I don’t embrace that term, but for the moment I would just like to point out that I frequently express view that causes people to put me in that category. I’ve started writing down my memories partly because I feel that I can’t speak for anyone else and, also, because concepts of sex and sexuality are so laden with stereotypes the only way to combat those stereotypes is to be highly specific, sometimes graphically so.

In “What happened when I started a feminist society at school,” Younis, recounting her reasons, says:

…I started to notice how much the girls at my school suffer because of the pressures associated with our gender. Many of the girls have eating disorders, some have had peers heavily pressure them into sexual acts, others suffer in emotionally abusive relationships where they are constantly told they are worthless.

However, she does not name denying oneself sexual pleasure as something which causes girls to suffer. Feminism’s message, that I could enjoy sex, that I didn’t have to say, “No,” when I wanted to say, “Yes,” was an integral part of its appeal for me. Admittedly, the list of how a male dominated society can harm women could be a long list and some things in a one sentence explanation will be omitted. Still, in a series of photographs of women holding a whiteboard reading, “I need feminism because…,” several of the pictures reinforce gender stereotypes regarding sexuality and, disappointingly, not one counters them.

“Groping is not okay.”

“A woman should have the power and confidence to say, ‘No.'”

“I refuse to live in a world where my ‘holes’ are considered as ‘goals.'”

Ironically, this week’s installment of my memories is tentatively entitled “Groping in the Dark.” Of course, the groping in my story was entirely consensual, and done with a boy my own age, I might add, while the groping mentioned on the sign is, I presume, non-consensual. Once, around the age of twenty-six, while crossing the street wearing an outfit k.d. lang could comfortably borrow, three men passed me in the cross walk. One grabbed me from behind, slipping his arms under my armpits, effectively rendering my arms useless and involuntarily arching my back. Another grabbed my breasts with both hands and squeezed rapidly several times. Then they let me go, they giggled stupidly and ran off. That episode stands out as one of the weirdest because it happened in broad daylight, crossing a busy intersection, with a sizable crowd watching, most of whom seemed as surprised as I was. There have been enough other episodes of this nature in my life, that I understand them to not be a isolated incidents, but a pattern of behavior which, over time, has the result of making women feel insecure. Depending on the locale where you live, this is not “groping.” It is sexual assault, albeit of a comparatively mild kind. I suppose “Non-consensual sexual contact, no matter how brief, should be recognized as being illegal and, despite the probable difficulty in prosecuting any given incident, immoral and anti-social” wouldn’t fit on the whiteboard.

Now you may, very reasonably argue that sexual assault is a more important, and more urgent, issue than feeling good about one’s sexual desire. However, I need to disagree because I see cultural attitudes as a network of connected memes, bits of received wisdom and assumptions. The dominant narrative, if I may use a phrase that makes me cringe, is: “Men want sex while women want relationships. Men have a high sex drive and value women primarily for their looks; women have a low sex drive and value men for their ability as providers. It’s acceptable for men to do whatever it takes to have sex and avoid relationships. Women will do whatever it takes to have a relationship and avoid sex.” Feminists would like men to understand that “No means no.” However, that can only be the case if one presumes that women will say, “yes,” when they mean yes.

Similarly, the woman who talks about “holes” and “goals” probably doesn’t expect, or even want to, live in a world where no men want put their penises in women’s mouths, vaginas or anuses. We understand the message on her whiteboard, or think we do, only because we bring to it a necessary set of assumptions about sexual behavior, assumptions that men seek sex while women deny it, therefore, when heterosexual intercourse occurs, the man has won, and in many circumstances the woman is viewed as having lost, especially if a relationship does not result.

The whiteboard that makes me the most sad, however, is the one that says, “I need feminism because my boyfriend thinks women are inferior.” If you are in an abusive relationship, I am probably not the friend you want, but I am the friend you need. This young woman needs a friend to tell her exactly how awful this is in no uncertain terms, probably impolite ones.

Thinking about some of the emotions and psychology that might lie behind that terribly sad sign brings me to some of the difficulties the young women are having on social media. As I found myself saying to Holly a few days ago, women are taught that their bodies have value and their affections do not. Boys are taught the opposite. As long as everyone agrees on these complementary facts, men and boys will continue to believe, as a general rule, that they have the upper hand in social media. They believe that their approbation, or lack thereof, is important. Like the existence of Tinkerbell, it’s only true as long as everyone believes in it. Speaking to the young women in question: If you think your affections, your esteem, your friendship and your company are of value, then you need to withdraw them from people who are undeserving of it. I could say the same thing to young boys as well. If you have value, then your friendship has value and you should not be friends, even Facebook friends, with people who undermine your well-being. We all know, because we’re taught by overly paranoid adults, about self-destructive behaviors regarding drinking, promiscuous sex and drugs. Befriending people who treat you poorly is also self-destructive, probably a more common form of self-destructive behavior than any of the more obvious “vices.” Nota bene: If you have confidence in yourself, other people will seek your approval. It took me a bit of being beaten up and ostracized in school to learn that one. If I can pass that on to anyone without them having to suffer the blows, I’d like to.

As someone who has called herself a feminist since the age of thirteen or fourteen, I’m gladdened to see that Younis has started a feminist group at school. I know that there’s nothing as tiring as an older person saying, “Been there; done that.” However, if I can give you a bit of hard-won advice, hold your head up! Yes, sometimes it can be hard to weather the storm, but it will pass. If you give in, the bullies will taste blood and the response will be worse the next time.

Younis wrote the article not because of the harassment online, but because of the fact that the response of her school was to suggest that the students should take down the offending photos. The rationale? For their own protection. I won’t sugar coat the situation. Standing out will draw hostile responses. However, so will standing out in any way, by being too pretty, or too ugly. Too smart or too talented. Too successful. Too feminine. Too masculine. I hardly think your school would like all of you to try for perfectly robotic averageness. Well, I originally came across the article via Shattersnipe, who handles that part better than I can.

Amina

When I last wrote about Amina Tyler, there was not much information to be had. For those who have not been following this story, the nineteen year old Tunisian woman first came to the attention of the world when she put up a photograph of herself on her Facebook page declaring herself to be a supporter of the feminist group FEMEN, a group I only became aware of when I attended a marriage equality demonstration in Paris last December. In the photograph, she was topless with the words “My body belongs to me and is not the source of anyone’s honor” written across her torso. Adel Almi, a Salafist preacher and president of Al-Jamia Al-Li-Wassatia Tawia Wal-Islah, The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, in Tunisia, called for her execution by means of stoning. On March 16th, she appeared on the Tunisian television talk show, Labes, to explain why she joined Femen. Shortly afterward, she disappeared from view for a time. Her family had kept her locked up and given her psychiatric medications and forced her to read the Koran. On April 4th, there were world-wide protests in support of Amina. In mid-April she escaped from her family and contacted the Femen website. She began to make plans to move to France where she would continue her education.

Since that time, she has continued speaking out and protesting. Acting against the advice of friends and political supporters, she wanted to continue to engage in political protests while waiting to move to France. On May 21 she appeared in court as a result of writing “FEMEN” on the wall of a mosque for which she was charged with “desecrating a grave” and “attacking modesty.” Nadia El Fani, the Franco-Tunisian film director, and Caroline Fourest, the French journalist, called the charges, which could result in six months to two years in prison, “ubuesque” in an article written in support of Amina which appeared in the French news magazine Marianne. A photograph of the graffiti in question can be found on Caroline Fourest’s blog.

Three other members of Femen, two from France and one from Germany, staged a topless protest in front of the courthouse when Amina Tyler went on trial on May 30th. According to Maryam Namazie:

the three FEMEN activists – Marguerite, Josephine and Pauline – who staged a topless protest at the court in Tunisia at Amina’s first hearing and who are now in jail and face prison terms must be freed immediately. In the courtroom, the activists bags had been put over their heads and they were covered in blankets; the judge banned photos and videos. According to human rights activist Patrick Klugman, who came from Paris to represent the interests of the FEMEN said: “I am horrified. Without giving FEMEN activists permission to speak, the court listened only to Salafi organizations which are not even the defendants in this case! Fair trial did not take place because the accused have not been released from custody, and they were not even heard.” Pre-trial is set for June 12.

I had to search multiple sources to write this up and I hope I got all the facts right. Most of the information came via Mayam Namazie and Caroline Fourest.

Frank Lautenberg

On Monday, the United States senator from the state of New Jersey, Frank Lautenberg, passed away. He was a consistent advocate for the separation of church and state. There is a very interesting article about his opposition to the conservative activist and writer of false American history books, David Barton, on Chris Rodda’s blog. It’s probably a little too steeped in the American Constitution for anyone who’s not highly familiar with our laws regarding the separation of church and state. Still, it makes for interesting reading.

A flat rock in a river speeding rough river with water flowing over it.

This week, rather than posting several links I’m just going to post one. Recently, I’ve started reading Ally Fogg’s Heteronormative Patriarchy for Men blog. Apparently, he’s had a WordPress blog for a while but he recently joined Freethought Blogs. His claim to fame is being a white male heterosexual. In other words, he writes critically about gender roles from the point of view of a straight white man. I think he’s British, although most of what he writes could apply to the rest of the English-speaking world, and probably much of the allophone world as well.

Recently, I’ve read quite a few times on blogs known to be feminist the acronym MRA. I written elsewhere about the pitfalls of activist bloggers using terms that will only be understood by a small number of like-minded activist bloggers from your own age cohort, your own social class, your own region and, probably, only your own narrow sub-culture. Finally, I figured out what MRA means. It means “men’s rights activists.” Actually, I’m not even certain of that because I’ve never seen the acronym defined, but those are the words that best fit the usage. As I wrote in an earlier blog post, I don’t assume that men who are interested in men’s rights are inevitably anti-feminist because I was first introduced to men’s rights in a women’s studies class by a male professor who was very obviously and actively supportive of feminism. That he realized that there were issues facing men that feminism didn’t address didn’t turn him into an anti-feminist.

Ally Fogg does not call himself a men’s rights activist, but he does write about gender issues from a man’s perspective and that does occasionally include issues that wouldn’t normally be taken up by feminists, like a recent blog post about the shadow health minister’s comments about masculinity being in crisis. At least most feminists would be unlikely to write about it in a way that would put men’s interests first. Fogg makes some excellent points about the shadow health minister’s speech. I don’t know how things are in Britain, but from the point of view of an American woman going on fifty, the “hyper-masculinity” that Abbot, the shadow health minister, discusses has gotten better than it was when I was younger. The rise of social media and the accessibility of porn has definitely changed some dynamics, but I’m not sure that pornography presents men and women with any greater distortion of gender roles than the average beer ad. Focusing in porn while not worrying about the myriad of other representations of women and sexuality is really not seeing the forest for the trees.

Fogg’s world view is summed up in a post entitled Welcome to Global, Inc. (The actual title is longer, but contains a period which presents me with a punctuation problem.) In it, he creates an elaborate metaphor of the world as a large company. That company has a binder full of its stated rules, but it also has unstated rules and each department has its own internal culture. “But so long as the department is doing well enough, meeting its targets and making profits, the hierarchy at Global Inc doesn’t really mind too much, and doesn’t interfere.”

I have concocted this grand and rather clumsy analogy to illustrate a key point of my political views, which underpins everything I write on this blog and elsewhere. Socialised gender roles are not there by accident. They are functional. Oppressive acts of sexism, misogyny, misandry, racism, homophobia, transphobia, class prejudice and the rest do not arise from individual weakness or venality but because we have all been induced to retain and reinforce them as essential components of our role within the company. Necessary social progress in emancipation, liberation and human rights will be indulged by Global Inc when it can be turned to the company’s advantage – the welcoming of women into the professions, for example – and fiercely resisted when it challenges the bottom line, such as union rights or decent parental leave entitlements.

It is simplistic nonsense to think of patriarchy, in particular, as a system in which men oppress women by choice and for our own interests. Patriarchy often requires men to do horrible things to ourselves, to each other and to women. Patriarchy imposes dominant roles on men whether we want them or not, and punishes us when we fail to fulfil them adequately.  It’s all there in the job description. It is equally simplistic nonsense to imagine that male suffering (on the battlefield and in homelessness, suicide rates, alienation and loneliness) is a consequence of women’s behaviour, choices or social liberation.

Anyway, I’ve been finding his blog fairly interesting, so I thought I’d put a link up to it.