August 3, 2012

Why we should listen to rapists

By now, the Reddit rape thread has spread all over the internet, at least within the circles I frequent. People have brought up rape culture, and rape apologia, and how disgusted they are about this thread (and to be fair those are important topics and some of it was disgusting) but what I find most interesting is what we can learn from these accounts, particularly from the perspective of a college student.

The thing that stood out the most to me is that the men in this situations didn't realize what they were doing was rape. They didn't check in with their partners during the sex and when they did, some of them realized that the women actually didn't want it. This particular account stood out to me the most:
Now, I remember exactly what I was thinking at the time. This girl gave me "the look" earlier, she invited me into her bed. What teenage girl would pass up the oppertunity to be with a 22 year old guy? She MUST want it. I tried again, and slid my hands over her body.
It was then I looked at her face. She was petrified. I at that point pulled myself together, rolled off her and apologized. My hormones were RAGING. I asked her why she didn't want to. I told her what I thought above. She started to cry.
These men don't seem themselves as rapists. They see themselves as misreading the signals, and this guy, thankfully, stopped before he completely forced himself on the young girl.

I think a large part of the problem and the reason sexual assault is so common, is the narrative of sexual assault. By and large the stories that I read on that thread were men who crossed lines they didn't realize they were crossing. Women initiated a certain kind of contact and then he pushed it into a realm they didn't want, lots of misread signals, and often far too much alcohol. But while this type of sexual assault is the most common, that is not the way rape is framed in our society. Sexual assault is something that happens when you walk home alone at night and some guy jumps out of the bushes, or its perpetrated by an abusive boyfriend, or its a girl getting roophied at a party, or its slimy guys who know exactly what they're doing when they coerce a girl into having sex. While rape is definitely all of those things, its also very frequently some guy who doesn't understand what consent means or how to obtain it, and that is the crux of the problem. We need to reframe the discussion about sexual assault so that we're not talking about avoiding being roophied or out late at night or the creepy guys, but what consent is, how to get it, and how to be sure you have it.

When I was freshman coming into the University of Michigan, I lived in the dorms. Once we got on campus and moved in, The Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center had a meeting we were all required to attend where they talked about consent and sexual assault. It was about an hour or so long and they had a brief presentation and then we were allowed to ask questions. SAPAC is a wonderful organization and does really important work on campus and I'm very glad that they are available to run presentations like this. The problem with these programs is that they're an hour long and then the students never have to think about it again and likely never have thought about it before, even if they're already having sex. Conversations like this need to happen early and often, but they're not. I'm going into my senior year now and I have never seen another presentation like the one we attended freshman year. Clearly we are not teaching people enough about sex and consent when we have men (and women) sexually assaulting others and coming away with "I didn't realize s/he wasn't into it."

While I've personally had enlightening discussions about consent and gender differences when it comes to sex with both men and women, those discussions are product of my own personal interest. I find consent a fascinating topic and so I enjoy talking about the issues surrounding it. The reason I find it so interesting is precisely because it is such a complicated topic, especially when you throw in alcohol, or people who like to experiment with consensual non-consent role playing, or power dynamics. As is made obvious by the reddit thread, we are not doing enough to inform people about the issues surrounding consent. We need to start focusing on proper, comprehensive sex education in this country, and one that includes how to give and get consent, which is something that these guys clearly don't understand. We need to listen to the things they have to say in order to best address the problems at their source (the rapists) instead of the victims.

August 1, 2012

Phone Etiquette

Something that makes me completely crazy is people's lack of cell phone etiquette. There are certain things that are just polite behavior when you're dealing with a cell phone. Here are my five rules:
  1. Do not call after 8pm! In some instances, such as a professional setting, you may even want to push that back to 6pm. If you are not on good terms with someone and if you don't know their habits well enough to know that they don't mind taking calls after 8pm, (and its not an emergency) don't call them. Period. Whatever you have to say will just have to wait until the next day.
  2. If you get an important call in a crowded area, don't shout into the phone. No one around you wants to hear your reaction while your doctor tells you you have gonorrhea. Try to keep your voice down.  
  3. Text message sounds should be short. My mother in particular makes me crazy with this one. Your text message sounds should never last anywhere near as long as a phone call would.
  4. If you're having a conversation with someone over text message in a public area, turn your phone on vibrate. This should not be difficult and yet I hear it constantly. No one else in the restaurant (or wherever) wants to hear your phone go off repeatedly, particularly if you're not following rule number 3.
  5. Don't leave a voicemail unless you have something important to say. This one is simple and yet many people don't seem to understand it. Your cell phone has this awesome feature that lets you know when you have a missed call! That means that voicemails which say "Hi, is me. Call me back" are a complete waste of time for both of us.

July 11, 2012

Rape is just sooo funny!

Edit: I've since had my mind changed about rape jokes. Jezebel has a great little write up about how to make a rape joke and it made me think about it in a different light. I still think Tosh was way out of line and his joke wasn't funny but I can now understand how rape jokes can be appropriate such as when you're using them to make fun of rape culture, or perpetrators and not victims. The Ever Mainard joke at the end of the post was particularly hilarious.
Can someone please explain to my why in the world anyone finds rape jokes funny? I genuinely do not understand how anyone can find anything remotely humorous about such an intense and horrible invasion of another person's body, and I mean this regardless of their gender. Prison rape jokes are still not funny even though we're talking about a man instead of a woman.

Recently, a woman went to a comedy show that included Daniel Tosh. She said she didn't know who he was, but when he started making rape jokes she stood up and said rape jokes aren't funny. Then something worse happened:
After I called out to him, Tosh paused for a moment. Then, he says, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…”
Because gang rape is just hilarious, amirite guys?! You can read her full account of the incident on her tumbler. The post went viral and people are now calling Tosh out for what happened. He apologized. Sort of. 

He sounds super sincere, right?

Honestly I'm not sure I'm surprised at this behavior from Tosh. I used to really enjoy his show, tosh.0, until a particular episode involved Tosh doing a lot of victim blaming and slut shaming in regards to rape. I can't seem to find the clip of that episode but needless to say, this type of behavior isn't out of character for Tosh.

April 5, 2012

Casual Sex

So at the last Secular Student Alliance meeting our topic was sexual ethics. The first portion of the meeting our discussion was about relationships and casual sex among college students. Much of the discussion focused on the argument that a "friends with benefits" relationship was not sustainable because at some point one person would develop feelings for the other and end up hurt. More than one person brought up that it’s a biological fact that sex creates an attachment and so while we might be able to resist the attachment for a time, at some point our biology would catch up with us. The argument then being that the people we know who have maintained these types of relationships are the exception not the rule and we should accept the untenability of “friends with benefits” relationships.

I agree with the premise that sex creates an attachment. One of the functions of sex is bonding so it makes sense that the resulting attachment one feels toward his or her sexual partner is simply a biological reality. However, it seemed to me last night that people were equating "attachment" with romantic love and on that I disagree wholeheartedly. There are a lot of different types of love. I would say I love my family and friends and I have a deep attachment to those people. Developing that attachment to someone doesn't necessarily mean you're "in love" with them. If I choose to have sex with a friend, the attachment could grow and become deeper but again, a deepening attachment doesn't automatically mean I'll fall in love with that person and then be hurt if they don't fall in love with me. You can have a non-casual relationship with a person while having sex that remains casual.

Now certainly some people can't have these types of relationships. Many people aren't capable of separating sexual pleasure from romantic love. But is that a result of biology or societal constraints on love and sex? When people talk about romantic love you frequently hear ideas about "soul mates." This clearly implies that you can only love one person. We grow up with these assumptions. It’s a figure in the plot line of damn near every mainstream movie, book and television show. But why do we think that is true? Is love a finite resource? If a woman has three children can she love only one or does she somehow has less love to give to each subsequent child? Does the love I have/had for an ex somehow mean I have less love to give to a future relationship? I think the answer to these questions is clearly no. So then why does sex complicate it? If I replace children with lovers/partners and say if a woman has three lovers, can she only love one or does she somehow have less love to give to each subsequent partner, why is it suddenly more complicated than the love a mother has for her children? Why is romantic love considered to be a finite resource while motherly or familial love is seemingly infinite?

I think the answer is because as a society we hold that proper sexual relationships are those that are monogamous and romantic. If that's the case, then clearly sex with people you aren't in love with is a problem. If you are having sex with a friend it must be the case that you've either cheapened the relationship/sex or you will fall in love with them and promptly have your heart broken. Similarly, having sex with more than one person is a problem too. The fact that successful friends with benefits and polyamorous relationships abound cannot be reconciled with the ideas society has about monogamy and the nature of romantic love. The cognitive dissonance between these two ideas forces us to reject one. In this case, I think we've chosen to reject casual sexual relationships in favor of serious monogamous relationships. Maybe that makes sense given the inherent risks attached to sexual relationships (STDs and pregnancy). But with the advent of birth control, condoms and regular STD screenings, we have the means to minimize this risk to the point where I'd argue it is pretty much negligible as long as you’re taking care of yourself. Unfortunately, monogamy has become so deeply ingrained in our conceptualization of a romantic relationship that we're trapped with these silly ideas about the way relationships simply must function. Now don’t misunderstand me, I’m not knocking monogamy. There is certainly nothing wrong with monogamous relationships and if that is what you like and what works for you, great! I’m happy you’re happy. My problem is with the idea many people have that romantic monogamous relationships are somehow inherently better or more proper. To be honest, I think it’s pretty clear that non-monogamous/“friends with benefits” relationships are not for everyone. They require a shift in the way you look at relationships and a rejection of social norms. Neither of those two things are necessarily easy to do. (Although I think the results of doing so can be very worth the effort.) They also require a lot of communication. Given the taboos in our society about sex, communication about relationships can be a very difficult thing to do. Just look at all of the issues surrounding consent. You'd think it would be easy to make sure you have some sort of verbal consent before a sexual activity but even that is difficult for some people and we have silly arguments over things like “is it my fault if she didn’t say no but also didn’t say yes” (Short answer: yes, it’s your fault, but that is another blog post.) The guilt people feel about sex can be enormous and can be a huge hindrance to communication in relationships, even though communication is incredibly important.

In fact, I'd argue that relationships which violate social norms require a great deal more communication that "normal" relationships. When you're operating inside a standard relationship, the boundaries of your relationship are fairly well defined based on societal pressures and normal social behaviors. Obviously it’s going to vary from person to person but I think it allows you to be a little lax on communication since your conceptualization of relationships and the way they function comes from a common place and thus you have a rough sketch of what a relationship should be. On the other hand, when you're in a relationship that goes against social norms, communication becomes paramount because you have to learn what the relationship is for both of you. It’s going to vary vastly based on the people involved and so making sure you're clear about your needs and boundaries and listening to your partner(s)' needs and boundaries becomes incredibly important because you're not able to use the rough boundaries sketched out by society. I think there is comparative problem when people enter a relationship with someone from a drastically different culture. The culture you are raised in plays a large role in the way you conceptualize all types of relationships. In order to have a successful relationship with someone whose culture is different, it’s very important to have good, open communication. Obviously communication and clearly defined boundaries are important for all relationships, including ones inside the range of normal social relationships. The foundation of healthy relationships is communication. However, as I said, I think you can stumble along with less communication in a relationship that follows social norms.

Having these types of relationships requires two things - maturity and a good sense of yourself. It is incredibly important that you be able to approach these topics with maturity. You can't have a discussion about your sexual and emotional needs and boundaries without a high level of maturity. If you're not able to discuss your needs, you won't have them met. When needs aren't met, relationships fail. In that way, it’s also very important to have a good sense of yourself. You need to recognize and understand what you want, what you need, and what you can and cannot handle in relationships before you can convey those desires, needs and limits to a potential partner. In the same way, in order to explore your boundaries and desires you need to be capable of and comfortable with expressing your desires and I think all of that comes with experience.

So ultimately maybe it is true that people who can maintain friends with benefits relationships are the exception to the rule, but I don’t think that is because a biological imperative. Instead, it’s largely a result of society’s constrains on sexual relationships and the emphasis placed on monogamy. I think once you break free of that perception, maintaining casual sexual relationships can be relatively easy or at least as easy as any other type of relationship. I also think once you get rid of the clearly defined roles and expectations that society places on relationships you can have relationships that are much different and much more rewarding since your relationship is exactly what you want it to be instead of you twisting yourself into a pretzel trying to fit your needs and desires into the box of what is socially acceptable.

February 27, 2012

Sex Education

It blows my mind that we're still having a problem getting proper sexual health education in this country. The Utah house of representatives recently passed a bill that says if a school is going to have a sex ed program, it must be an abstinence only program. Otherwise it gets to drop sex ed completely.

Abstinence only programs don't work. I don't know how many times we need to say this or how many studies need to confirm these findings before people will start paying attention and stop wasting money on programs that are proven to be ineffective.

This information was taken from the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. Researchers from the University of Washington analyzed data collected in 2002–03 through a nationwide survey conducted by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics and came to the following conclusions:
  • Young people who received comprehensive sex education were significantly less likely to report a teen pregnancy compared to those who received no sex education.
  • Abstinence-only programs were not significantly associated with a risk reduction for teen pregnancy when compared with no sex education.
  • In comparing abstinence-only programs with comprehensive sex education, comprehensive sex education was associated with a 50% lower risk of teen pregnancy.
  • After adjusting for demographics, abstinence-only programs were not significantly associated with a delay in the initiation of vaginal intercourse.
  • Comprehensive sex education was marginally associated with reduced reports of vaginal intercourse.
  • Neither abstinence-only programs nor comprehensive sex education were significantly associated with risk for an STD when compared to no sex education.
This isn't news and yet we are still promoting these programs and dedicating funding to these programs while people call for funding to be cut from programs like Planned Parenthood, an organization which actually provides good information and services that are useful and necessary.

Hopefully this Utah bill will get shelved in the state senate but given that more than half the senators are republican, I'm not going to hold my breath. The religious right has absolutely no desire to prevent teen pregnancy, STDs, or abortions. If that was ultimately their goal, they would support effective, fact-based sex education programs and readily available, inexpensive contraceptives. Instead they're much more concerned with having a useless discussion about the morality or contraceptives and shaming those people who make the decision to be sexually active instead of providing them with the resources they need to remain healthy.

February 7, 2012

Susan G Komen For The Cure

By now everyone has heard about Susan G Koman for the Cure bowing to pressure from the anti-choicers and revoking their funding for Planned Parenthood. News spread and the outrage people felt quickly caused them to change their mind and say oh, my bad. You mean groups that claim to support women's health should support organizations that support women's health? Who would have thought?

Now news has come out that one of the women who had a hand in killing the funding for Planned Parenthood, Karen Handel, the charity's vice president for public policy, has resigned. I say good riddance. Go take your anti choice rhetoric back to Georgia where they can once again not elect you for governor. In her resignation letter she maintains that the discussion of stopping funding started before she got her position. She goes on to claim that she feels stopping funding to Planned Parenthood "was the best one for Komen's future and the women we serve."

I'd be very curious to hear how exactly refusing to fund an organization that provides cervical cancer screenings, breast cancer screenings, birth control, STD testing, and yes abortions, to those who need but cannot afford these services is best for any woman's health.

If people like Handel and the rest of the prolifers were really concerned about abortion they'd be focused on improving sex education and providing birth control to those who need it instead of wasting their time promoting useless abstinence only education programs and denying people proper contraceptives like condoms and the pill.

PZ Myers points out that Komen had lost its way before this.

Komen has lost sight of the cause, and has become more of a money-raising machine, for one thing. This is one of those awkward compromises they made to tap into corporate interests: they sold their identity and their label to anyone willing to cough up the cash. One correlation with the incidence of breast cancer is dietary fat — yet Komen went into a commercial promotion with KFC, selling big pink buckets of greasy fried chicken.

It was this national nonprofit education and advocacy organization that coined the term “pinkwashing” to describe the situation where a company purports to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink-ribboned product, but manufactures products that are linked to the disease.

This latest campaign between KFC and Komen is “simply pinkwashing at its worst,” Barbara A. Brenner, JD, executive director of BCA, told Medscape Oncology. “This is just so wrong on every level. . . . This is so much more about KFC’s bottom line than about curing breast cancer,” she said.

Needless to say, even though they've attempted to back pedal, they won't be getting anything from me and anytime I see something that's pinkwashed, I'll be steering clear.

(Associated Press & Pharyngula)

January 4, 2012

Oh How Sweet It Is

Michigan beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl last night and it was amazing. Amazing in the sense that these seniors got the 11-2 season they deserved after so much struggle and adversity.

As for the actual game, we got lucky. VaTech out played us. Plain and simple. They had 377 yards to our 184 and 22 first downs to our 12. It's a testament to our defense that we hung in this game while our offense sputtered the whole night (Raise your hand if last year at this time you thought everyone would be talking about how awesome our defense was all season while our offense stalled. No one? Yeah, thats what I thought.) We had good field position all night, some fortunate penalties and turnovers and we took full advantage. The overturned touchdown has been covered. It sucked, but it was the right call. Blame the rules about ball control, not the officials.

Michigan deserved this season. Maybe I only feel like that because I'm so devoted to my football. One of the things that I love about Coach Hoke is he is constantly talking about the seniors and ultimately that is what matters -- the kids on the field working day in and day out. These seniors in particular played their hearts out under 3 different head coaches, stretching-gate, two years without bowl games, 7 year losing streak to OSU, fractured fanbase proving that The Michigan Difference isn't really all that different, etc and they stayed. They continued working their asses off and they came out on top and they deserved it. Their dedication is inspiring. I'm so happy that team 132 gets to go out with such a wonderful legacy that the following teams can build off of.

December 7, 2011

Religion and LGBT Rights

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke yesterday at a United Nations event in Geneva Switzerland and said the following:
Now, raising this issue, I know, is sensitive for many people and that the obstacles standing in the way of protecting the human rights of LGBT people rest on deeply held personal, political, cultural, and religious beliefs.....
The ... perhaps most challenging, issue arises when people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate or not to protect the human rights of LGBT citizens. This is not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation. Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition. But violence toward women isn't cultural; it's criminal. Likewise with slavery, what was once justified as sanctioned by God is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights.
In each of these cases, we came to learn that no practice or tradition trumps the human rights that belong to all of us. And this holds true for inflicting violence on LGBT people, criminalizing their status or behavior, expelling them from their families and communities, or tacitly or explicitly accepting their killing.
Of course, it bears noting that rarely are cultural and religious traditions and teachings actually in conflict with the protection of human rights. Indeed, our religion and our culture are sources of compassion and inspiration toward our fellow human beings. It was not only those who’ve justified slavery who leaned on religion, it was also those who sought to abolish it...
It's very exciting to see a high ranking US official standing up for LGBT rights in such a clear and decisive way and I think this is a big step that is hugely important in the struggle for gay rights and I encourage everyone to go read the full speech. It is long, but it is wonderful and very powerful.

I think that honor killings and female genital mutilation were great choices to compare to crimes against LGBT people because they are something that isn't a part of our culture and so we tend to immediately reject them without any consideration for culture or religion. This is the proper response not because we should reject culture but because once something crosses into a violation of human rights, you immediately lose the ability to defend it based on culture, religion, or tradition. This is the same reaction we should be having towards the terrible and destructive beliefs many people in this country hold about LGBT people.

My one problem with this speech (and this may be a bit nit-picky of me given the over all message) is the final paragraph of the quote above. Clinton says that "rarely are cultural and religious traditions and teachings actually in conflict with the protection of human rights. Indeed, our religion and our culture are sources of compassion and inspiration toward our fellow human beings. It was not only those who’ve justified slavery who leaned on religion, it was also those who sought to abolish it..."

On this I wholly disagree. Yes, religion can be sources of compassion for some religious people but people were using it for support to slavery because it does. In the same way it supports the oppression of women, the stoning of disobedient children, and genocide. Not just tacitly, but actually. People who draw their compassion from the bible are cherry picking and they choose to follow the things that match up to their morality and ignore the things that don't. Then they pretend that their morality comes from the Bible and thus God.

A lot of religious people level the cherry picking argument at Atheists, Agnostics and Secularists. To which I say yes! we are! But here's the thing, we're cherry picking with the assumption that if someone shows us we're wrong and offers valid arguments for picking a different cherry, we'll change our minds. Religious people are cherry picking with the certainty that their beliefs stem from the word of an all powerful and supremely moral being which means that they have to be dragged kicking and screaming into 21st century morality (which I think we can all agree is much much better than bronze age morality seeing as we oppose stoning people, burning witches, killing infidels, oppressing women, slavery, etc.) On this I say either own up to what your holy book says and start following it, or admit to the idea that you choose your morality, which means admitting that Atheists, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and purple people eaters all can be moral or immoral based on the choices they make, not the god(s) they (dis)believe in.

I think the idea that Clinton is espousing here is detrimental. Specifically in regards to the LGBT community, religion is not rarely but frequently in conflict with civil rights. I've never once heard a purely secular argument for opposing LGBT rights and never met an Atheist, Agnostic, Secularist or Humanist who didn't support LGBT rights (thought I imagine it is a small possibility and I'd be curious to hear their arguments.) By saying that religion isn't in conflict with these rights she is ignoring the reality and perpetuating the idea that religion is ultimately moral and virtuous and that people who use their religion to justify violations of human rights aren't True The reality is quite the opposite. For just as many people who do good things with their religious beliefs there are those who use it as justification to oppress and hurt others. Christians who support LGBT rights are moral in spite of their religion, not because of it.

(Source: Religion Clause -- Religious Objections Don't Trump Human Rights )

December 2, 2011

Thug Football

I absolutely deplore the thug mentality that some football players, coaches, and teams seem to have. Its unnecessary and it should be unacceptable. Period. I've been waiting for the decision about the suspension of Ndamukong Suh and I saw today that it has been allowed to stand. This is the right decision and I'm happy to see it.

Things like this should not happen.

I love football, as anyone who knows me can tell you. I follow college football more closely than the NFL, but the Lions are my team and I support them as much as any Michigan-born girl. The reality is that football is a rough game, and I recognize that. People get injured. People used to die -- they still occasionally do. But the entire point of having rules and regulations about personal fouls and unnecessary roughness is to limit the number and severity of these injuries. It is appalling to me when I hear people laugh off behavior like Suh's (among many many others) and claim "well it happens. Its just football and everyone plays dirty."

I was happy to see Suh suspended for two games and fined over 100K. He deserved the suspension and the fine probably should have been more. ($100K is chump change when you're guaranteed $40 mil.) There is never an excuse for stomping on another player or slamming their head into the ground. I was very irritated when I saw that he was appealing the decision. It's very clear in the video what he was doing and he should have owned up to his mistake, and sat out his two games with humility.

It's made clear in the above video that this is not a one time issue with Suh but something he has done repeatedly. I'm pleased to see that the responses I've heard about this issue have largely been that this behavior is unacceptable. I would hope that this would change Suh's behavior but given his immediate response to the incident, I'm not holding my breath. If this pattern continues, he needs to be removed from the team.

I couldn't care less if that hurts our chances at winning.

We in America (the world?) put our athletes up on pedestals and its not okay. While there is nothing wrong with valuing athletic ability, that value should not be place above values like common decency. Suh is a talented football player, but it does not give him the right to run over people and break rules this way. It's dangerous for the players and until we as a collective decide that the behavior and safety of our players is more important than winning football games, it won't stop.

(Sun-Times article)

Third time is a charm?

So after attempting to start a blog several times now, first with random thoughts, then with cakes, I'm trying again. Third time is a charm, right?

The cake blog is still up but I simply don't bake enough to run a cake blog, as much as I enjoy it. When I started the first blog I quickly realized I didn't have anything to say but lately I feel like that has changed. They say writing is a person's way of working out what they actually think and so my intention now is to do exactly that. I have lots of thoughts but I'm horrible at articulating them in conversation, hence the blog.

There will probably be lots of football, atheism, college life, feminism, books, baking and linking to other bloggers who are legitimate bloggers.