On Divisiveness in Activism

With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, I have heard a lot of accusations of activists being “divisive” by asking white protesters to take a back seat at rallies. This is not a new thing; in feminism there is a long history of white women telling women of colour to stop talking about race, that the movement is about ALL women and that they should stop being divisive by pointing out that women of colour have a different experience that goes ignored in feminist circles.

However, accusing people of being divisive is a dangerous thing to do in activism, as it is silencing and can veer into mimicking the very sexist or white supremacist oppression that we are trying to destroy. The problem seems to be that there is a mindset that goes like this: I am taking part in anti-oppression activism, therefore my intentions are clearly good, and we should all just focus on doing that good instead of picking on each other and destroying the movement from within.

But what this mindset fails to acknowledge is that just because you are anti-oppression, does not mean you are magically immune to perpetuating systemic oppression. The fact is that we have all grown up in these oppressive systems, and just because we are aware of them and are attempting to fight against them does not mean we do not still replicate those dynamics within our activist spaces. This is clear in feminism when men like H*** Sch***** (typing his name would inevitably attract his vitriol) become spokesmen for the movement and are considered more legitimate and relatable and a great asset to the movement. Oppressive systems are so pervasive in our lives that we model them without even realising it.

Thus, a huge part of activism is not just to protest against systemic injustice. It is also to constantly look inwards and analyse our own motivations and roles in a movement, to recognize when we are perpetuating an oppressive dynamic that we have learned. That is a huge amount of work, and not something everyone is willing to do; however, it is an integral part of being an activist. This is why activism is someone’s entire work and life – it is hard work. Activist spaces are constantly trying to unlearn oppressive behaviours and systems and create new ones; because if you do not know how to undo oppressive dynamics in your own life and spaces, how could you possibly know how to undo it on a societal level? You cannot come into an activist space, claim to be an activist, and then wonder why other activists are asking you to do the hard work that activism involves.

White people at a Black Lives Matter rally yelling the chants that do not represent their own experiences, acting as if they are affected the same way as their black co-protesters are not practising activism. Viewing people who ask these protesters to step aside and leave room for black protesters as being “divisive” is a dangerous viewpoint to hold – it is usually held by white people. White people do not get to decide where the lines are drawn in activism around racism, just as men do not get to decide what is important or necessary in feminist activism. We as privileged people do not get to define the oppression that we may perpetuate, and we do not get to ignore the voices of the people who are marginalized by a system we are part of. Telling us to take a step back is not a petty demand for people to be utterly perfect; it is a plea for us to take our activism deeper and heal the wounds we have carved into our own activist spaces.

Why “Her” Will Never Appeal to Me

Wow a blog post! That’s right! In the middle of a busy semester I figured I’d take a short break from thinking about important things and instead shower you with trivial and disjointed thoughts about movies! Yay! Buckle up, we’re going for a trip!

 

When I saw the trailer for Her in theatres before Catching Fire, I couldn’t help but sigh. My feelings for the admittedly brief glimpse of the film that the trailer provided are more than just the usual passing annoyance, disinterest, and general sense of disillusionment with a film about yet another straight white man. Don’t get me wrong, that’s certainly part of it; straight white men, I am sick of hearing your stories all the time. Sorry, not sorry. But no, it was more than that.

“Her” makes me angry.

That’s probably pretty confusing for a lot of people. Most people who are uninterested in the film are just that — uninterested. Not actively angered by it. Certainly not enough to write a blog post about it. So why is this particular film eliciting a reaction like that from me?

Well, in short, “Her” rubs me the wrong way because it presents a concept that goes against my core understanding of human relationships. Maybe that’s like a “yeah well duh but that’s what it’s about!!! It’s supposed to make you question what love truly is!!!” Yeah well no, let me tell you why. It’s a long road and there are many facets to my distaste for this film concept, so bear with me.

What, do YOU think, is the fundamental aspect of being human? Apparently someone was arguing that like, when AI can have “flaws” just like humans then “how is it so different” or whatever; I don’t know, the usual stuff that’s thrown around when talking about AI. So is it that, the presence of “flaws” (and whatever that entails exactly)? Is it the ability to love or feel emotions? Not in my opinion.

What really defines humans is free will. The 100% completely free ability to choose. Because what that entails is totally arbitrary, nonsensical decisions. We don’t understand what exactly free choice entails. Even for mundane things like “what makes us like music”. Boy I could talk about that all day, I’ve been doing my research. There are all sorts of theories from all sorts of fields as to what influences our tastes. And there are some damn good theories. But they only explain general trends in our taste. They are completely unable to account for each individual decision.

Each of those theories holds some solid arguments; maybe they are all right. The human brain is vastly complex, and our decisions are affected by vastly complex experiences. Emotions. Memories. Social context. Specific situations we happen to be in at the time. What makes us love someone but not someone else? If we can’t pinpoint exactly what influences our decisions and how much, how would we be able to duplicate that with AI?

Because free will sometimes makes no sense. Humans are not computers. Sure our brains seem like a big huge complex computer system, with neurons firing in specific patterns, etc etc. But we haven’t figured out exactly how our decisions are made, and I don’t think we ever will. The decisions humans make are sometimes arbitrary. Sometimes we will make one decision one day, and a completely contradictory decision the next. They do not follow a clear-cut pattern.

You can’t duplicate the way our brains work without understanding it first. And we clearly don’t understand it. So AI may seem to imitate free will, but I don’t believe they are or will ever be truly duplicating it. Our entire life’s experiences seem to go into each decision we make, along with our emotions at the time, and that’s something that’s hard to replicate. Throw in other factors that we’re not even entirely sure about, and there’s pretty much no way you can really, actually copy it.

So problem number 1 with these movies for me is that they go “imagine if robots become just like humans!” and I pretty much feel that just. No. Sorry.

Okay, we get it, shut up Jenn, why does that even matter? Did you hate every single sci-fi movie about AI as much as this one? No, definitely not. There’s more wrong with it.

When we love a human, (hopefully) we love them in part for their humanity. We love the essence of their being human. Part of loving someone is loving their ability to be 100% their own complete person who makes their own decisions and has their own life experience. I mean, people who want their partner to no longer have the ability/desire to make decisions is abusive, we can all agree on that. But if AI can’t fully replicate free will, their ability to make decisions the way humans do is lacking. So if someone loves an AI the way they would love a human (instead of, for example, a pet; in which the importance of complete human free will isn’t as much of an issue)… aren’t they missing something integral in a relationship?

And here we get to why the concept makes me angry: maybe that’s the point. If someone who otherwise is attracted to humans finds themselves in love with an AI instead of a human… is it because that AI is missing the essence of humanity? No offense to our imaginary future AI brethren, but I’m pretty sure with 7 billion people on the planet you can find a human who’s just as awesome as that AI (I mean, there isn’t even only one person on earth we find awesome, so there’s no way an AI replicating human-ness is going to be like so totally way more awesome than any human ever), so what makes the AI so attractive? I’m not talking about people like the woman who fell in love with and married a bridge, or the man who’s dating his car. That’s a different kettle of fish. I’m talking about the people who are convinced their one true love is this almost-but-not-quite-human. But it’s more than that. It’s the story that’s being sold to us.

It just seems too… convenient.

In a society where women are constantly dehumanized, objectified, belittled and attacked for having opinions, a man being in love with a woman who is quite literally objectified and not human hits a little too close to home. Wow you’ve happened to fall in love with the one woman who doesn’t quite have free will! You lucky bastard! Yeah, but this is a movie, not a true story.

Which kind of makes it worse for me. It’s a movie; it’s trying to sell us this idea. Everything about it just squicks me the fuck out.

There are far more men in movies than women (especially when it comes to white men vs. women of colour). The past three years have actually seen a decline in representation in blockbuster movies. This movie doesn’t even have to have a real female lead. Convenient!

We live in a society in which we see women turned into objects, and women are told constantly to be quiet, to be smaller, to take up less room, to not rock the boat, to not step out of line, that their “no”s and “yes”es (but especially “no”s) aren’t quite as important as men’s. And now hollywood is selling us a story all about a white man and his little computer girlfriend who literally isn’t quite human, in a way that is sort of weirdly the ideal for women? Convenient!

In a movie that is trying to sell us on relationship dynamics that I consider to be incredibly iffy at best, I can’t help but feel there’s a reason it’s about a man and not a woman.

The Quick Fix: Disability in Media

It’s July 2011 and the teaser trailer for the final instalment of Nolan’s Batman trilogy has just been released. Theories fly from every corner of the internet. There is a brief moment in the mini-trailer in which Bruce Wayne is seen with a limp and a cane. Are we seeing the after-effects of his back being broken on Bane’s leg? people wonder. Will the movie spend a portion of its screen-time focusing on Wayne’s life after his ordeal with Bane? Does he have a cane for a completely different reason, a mark of passing time and changing bodies that will complicate the plot arc of his return as Batman?

Now it’s 2013 and we all know that none of those theories were correct. We see Wayne limping around with his cane for a few scenes before Alfred tells him he needs to suck up all his angst (and mobility issues) and be Batman again. Wayne slaps on a ~~**MAGICAL KNEE BRACE**~~~, his mobility issues disappear, and are never mentioned again.

Oh, and then of course he gets his back broken. But don’t worry guys, he’s put in a prison-pit-thing and in a montage of working out and grunting and pained expressions, he’s all good again! But it was HARD! It did take WEEKS! Maybe even MONTHS! Wait, some of you were sort of expecting it to have some kind of lasting impact? Pfft, sure OKAY, yeah we’re going to make Batman disabled YEAH RIGHT GUYS THAT’D JUST BE STUPID.

Let’s go back in time a little more. Avatar was by no means a groundbreaking movie in any sense other than its computer generated imaging and special effects. But it most certainly was a very popular movie. A movie in which the main character is disabled, but spends the vast majority of screen-time trying to escape from his disabled body. Despite his disability, the main character still manages to spend most of the movie in not only a totally-abled body, but a super-abled body. As the main protagonist, we are of course meant to relate to him and be sympathetic to his feelings. If we were in his place, we think to ourselves, we would want to escape too. We don’t blame him for running off wearing his avatar. After all, we’d do the same, wouldn’t we? A whole lot of people saw that movie. A whole lot of people were supposed to sympathise with those sentiments.

In the fifth season of Supernatural, Bobby is paralysed from the waist down and becomes wheelchair-bound for basically the entire season. The fact that his disability wasn’t fixed by the end of the episode, or even the next one, gave me hope for the potential it presented. We got to watch Bobby coping with and working around the necessary changes in his life that came with being disabled, and at times it even made us think about accessibility as he struggled to do the things he used to be able to do and go places he used to go with ease. But in the end, with a wave of Crowley’s powerful demonic hand, Bobby literally gets up and walks out of his wheelchair, perfectly healed.

Supernatural does, of course, have a smaller audience than either of the aforementioned blockbusters. And in each case, the way the plot point of disability is dealt with and the way the character responds to their disability makes a lot of sense. After all, Batman is supposed to overcome anything, a soldier WOULD understandably hold a lot of resentment towards his body becoming wheelchair-bound, and Bobby is a similar personality type to that of a soldier. Many disabled people in the real world voice frustration with their bodies and even feelings of being betrayed by their bodies, etc. Those feelings are real, and they are valid, and they are legitimate.

But the fact is, these are not the only movies and TV shows portraying disability in this way, and they do not exist in a vacuum. Disability is repeatedly portrayed as an obstacle for the character to overcome, a burden for them to bear with great reluctance until the writers save them with a totally convenient magic cure. Characters are repeatedly portrayed as wanting to escape from their disabled bodies, and we are meant to sympathise with those feelings. When a type of body is constantly portrayed as being a disadvantage, as being something less-than-perfect, something that people strive to escape, that has real implications for people who have those bodies in the real world.

The use of the “quick fix” for disability in these media means that the long-term effects of living as a disabled person never have to be dealt with. It means TV show writers and movie makers can wash it off the whiteboard and carry on with the plot without a hiccup and without having to factor in a new aspect of plot or character. It means the makers of these shows and movies never really have to deal with the realities of having made a character disabled, they don’t have to deal with the complicated issue of yes there will be accessibility differences now and other uncomfortable, inconvenient, but totally important plot and character changes.

If Being Disabled isn’t like, totally the character’s entire identity and their entire point of existence, then it seems to be considered a barrier and an annoyance that should be swept away as soon as possible. But it severely limits the plot and character possibilities when we never get to see a person honestly and realistically portrayed as disabled. When disabled people are only ever either A Lesson to Be Learned or quickly fixed before it makes anything complicated, that’s an entire group of our population being completely erased and overlooked. And, as we should all know very well by now, that is a dangerous thing to do.

I am in no way an authority on disability rights and issues, and I in no way intend to be one. I have only recently started learning about disability; over the past year I have started following blogs and other online media regarding both mental and physical disability rights and justice. Because of my place of privilege as an able-bodied and neurotypical person, I have unfortunately had the option of not thinking about disability rights for the majority of my life. I am now making the effort to learn about my privilege, and share my awareness with other able-bodied people. I find that voicing my basic understandings of new concepts, flexing my writing muscles, giving a new topic some air-time in my writing, helps me to develop my understanding of said topic. Thus, this post is not meant as some Look I Know Everything About Disability Issues Aren’t I a Cool Ally kind of strutting, but as an exercise to help my little seedling of awareness sprout some more leaves.

If you want some help sprouting your own little seedling, here are some of the blogs I’ve been following (some are about physical disability, some are about being non-neurotypical) and of course a Scarleteen article for good measure:

http://icedteaandlemoncake.wordpress.com/

http://blog.cripchick.com/

http://feministsonar.com/

also just this whole tag: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/disability+rights

http://www.scarleteen.com/article/politics/no_big_deal_sex_disability

Doctors Aren’t Always Right and Other Life Lessons That Never Get Learned

It seems an unfortunate truth that a lot of us learn how-not-to-be-an-asshole far too late in life. So I have compiled a list of resources and some discussion on the lessons I’ve learned in mine, and hopefully this will help other people on their way to not-being-an-asshole, too. Even if you think you’re not an asshole, you may be surprised. I know I have been surprised to learn that I was an asshole (and very well still may be about something I am currently unaware of), so don’t assume that you know whether you’re being one or not.

First and foremost is the strangely prevalent idea that our doctors (and professors, anyone with a “Dr.” in front of their name) know EVERYTHING EVER and are not possibly biased at all, or are not possibly behind the times in certain areas. Doctors are weird superhumans that are infallible, and if they say something is true, then it absolutely must be, no questions asked, and if you disagree then gawd you’re so stupid thinking you’re better than your doctor. But doctors are HUMANS, and they most certainly DO have biases. Say, for example, perhaps one of the most prevalent biases in the medical community today, fat stigma. WAIT, DON’T POST AN ANGRY COMMENT TELLING ME HOW FAT HAS BEEN *PROVEN* TO BE A DISEASE AND STUPID FATTIES NEED TO LOSE WEIGHT FOR THEIR OWN GOOD BECAUSE THEY ARE *KILLING THEMSELVES*.

I find the idea that doctors know better than everyone else — and if they say something is a medical condition then by golly it IS and who are you, stupid music major, to think you know better than DOCTORS — particularly strange because doctors do not focus on social justice. And receiving sensitivity training is in no way comparable. Doctors are not experts in issues of discrimination, so they can be just as thoroughly unaware of their biases as anyone else. These biases, as with any other human, can affect their research, their diagnoses/treatment of patients, everything — biases affect our view of the world, that’s the point. And since doctors are not immune to this, having studies that “prove” something does not make it True Solid Facts Totally Infallible Shut Up. Even if the data collection for a study is conducted properly, the studying of the data and trying to form conclusions, cause-and-effect, correlation, etc, can be coloured by our prejudices. That’s why there are some studies that support one side of a debate, and there are some that support the other side. It’s not that one side is just totally making shit up. But people can come to different conclusions and even get different data if they have underlying prejudices directing the way they’re approaching their research.

And even if we are unwilling to let go of the “doctor knows all” mentality, there are doctors who don’t believe that fat = UGH SO UNHEALTHY YOU ARE GOING TO DIE EARLY IF YOU DON’T LOSE WEIGHT. So why do we all believe the ones that do?

Health At Every Size
Health at Every Size Blog
21 Things to Stop Saying Unless You Hate Fat People
My Fat Body is ME
The Fantasy of Staying Exactly as I Am
Fat Stigma at the Grocery Store

On top of that, there’s a current social trend to be as totally frickin’ culturally insensitive/ironic-racist as possible. This ugly creature rears its head in the form of the trendy “Navajo” clothing at, oh say, every major retailer ever. Hipster headdresses and warpaint, comebacks of racist team logos, and the ever beloved COMPLETELY BLATANTLY-BUT-SOMEHOW-NOT-BLATANTLY racist halloween costumes. And of course popular media, but we all know that’s not a new trend. People have all sorts of reasons as to why any of those things are actually a-okay, but they never seem to stop to ask themselves why they feel the need to come up with such strong defences. Why is it so hard to just stop doing whatever it is?

Racism has always had the fiercest defence, and people seem to raise their hackles pretty quickly as soon as the term “racist” comes into a conversation. But I know I have learned to really think about who something is coming from, and who I am in relation. As in, I am a white middle-class girl. Who the fuck am I to know better than anyone else whether something’s “really” racist or not, having never been on the receiving end of that form of oppression? I don’t mean that white people can never tell when something is racist. But if you don’t think something is racist and someone who is part of a group that experiences racism — who knows first hand what oppression looks and feels like — is telling you that something is racist, you bet your ass they have a better idea of what racism looks like than you do. So maybe ask yourself why you are so unwilling to hear what they have to say.

Because chances are, they’ve already heard what YOU have to say. White people get their voices heard all the time. But how often do we hear the voices of people of colour, not silenced, not stifled, not interrupted?

The Angry Black Woman
Native Appropriations

But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress?
Racebending
The Danger of a Single Story (video)

In the same vein, I STILL hear jokes about “Justin Bieber is a girl!” haha, super funny. Not at all. Considering the vast amounts of violent crimes against trans* and other non-gender-bindary folks that are still occurring, IN OUR COUNTRY, HERE AND NOW, I would expect people to stop with transphobic jokes already but hey, that’d be not-asshole-y. And if everyone was not-an-asshole, cissexism wouldn’t be a problem to begin with. Feminism isn’t immune to this shit either; some feminist circles are also transphobic — some very blatantly, and others through constantly equating/linking women with vaginas (vaginae?). Hey, newsflash, not every woman has a vagina. Why is that still news? And another newsflash-that-shouldn’t-be, making jokes about male-identified celebrities really having vaginas is transphobic, plain and simple. Cut that shit out already.

A Conversation With Isis King and Janet Mock (video)
Gender Bitch
Genderbitch on Tumblr
Not Your Mom’s Trans 101
Art of Transliness
My Genital Affirmation (video)

Obviously there are many, many more lessons in how-to-not-be-an-asshole that everyone needs to learn. But alas, I must save it for another day, as the words pass 1000 and the night grows old. So I will leave you with this information for now; the many links will hopefully bring you hours of joyous self-assessment and/or just some interesting stuff to read if you’re already down with all this. And some day hence, I shall return, with more lessons that I have learned and want to share with you. Until then, adieu!

Books That Shaped My Life

I was a pretty avid reader as a child. In fact, I still would be if it weren’t for good ol’ university getting in the way so much; now I just read avidly, when I get the chance. So, lately I was thinking about how my understanding of the world has been shaped by the books I’ve read. And I realised that a lot of my feminism and social-justice-ism has stemmed from the books I read when I was young.

The formative years for my ideology seems to have been when I was 13-17 years old. Which is when I read the most books, yay! And I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the following books actually really shaped my life, they influenced who I have become today. This is not to say that they are all 100% awesome and don’t have any kind of problems in their portrayal of characters/etc; but there’s nothing major — or often, even minor — that I noticed, and they all have very positive messages overall. So here they are, in order of most influential! I have included the age at which I read each book, and a link to each amazon page so you can take a look inside :D

I call this my Pretty-Much-Mandatory Booklist for Raising a Social-Justice-Type Kid

Stargirl – Jerry Spinelli
Age: 12-13
The Lesson: Don’t be afraid to stand out
Amazon: Linky!

This book was like my freaking Bible. I read it in 7th grade, it was actually a mandatory book to read for our English class. The teacher and class all agreed, during the group discussion, that I was very much like Stargirl; though I would actually say I’m more like her now than I was then. Stargirl is about being free to be who you are, about people needing to open their minds to people who are “different” or “whacky”. You know, typical “yay be yourself!” message, but it is a really well-written YA book with a character who may seem unbelievable to some, but to me it was like a shining beacon of “hey, being silly and whacky is actually awesome!” I also always loved that part of Stargirl’s fearlessness for being herself also included not being afraid to be incredibly kind. And I think that was a major point (if not THE major point) of the book; in all this conformity, this wanting to be cool, your humanity and kindness can sometimes get lost.

Fire’s Stone Tanya Huff
Age:14-15
The Lesson: You are all freaking awesome, no matter what.
Amazon: Linky!

I still go back and re-read this book. It’s one of my favourite EVER. It’s an older-YA book, so the messaging is a lot more subtle and underlying to an otherwise not-message-y storyline, unlike with Stargirl. This is a fantasy book (not sci-fi, shut up Amazon) about a sort-of-middle-ages-y-esque world with wizards and magic-ness and monsters and sword fights and YAY! The three main characters are: A woman of colour with shit tons of awesome attitude, a white gay(? though possibly bisexual or fluid-in-sexuality) man who has been exiled, and a white bisexual man who is the third son of a king so he sort-of-has-power-but-sort-of-doesn’t. And what’s awesome about this book is that they are all AWESOME. None of them are stereotypes even though at first they seem like they will be.

They are all fully-realised characters whom you grow to love equally, depicted as *gasp* HUMANS! And their “different”-ness is not portrayed as some kind of novelty; the relationship that develops between the two men is written just like a straight relationship is written in any other book. It’s not “LOL THEY’RE GAY FOR EACH OTHER LOL!” It’s “this is a human relationship developing! Yay!” And the WOC character rocks my socks. She’s powerful but flawed (as are all the characters), and although at first she’s considered to be the “bitchy” character, the reader and the other characters gain insight and realise that she’s not at all a bitch. She’s awesome. And the author is Canadian, by the way. SO READ IT :D

Whale Talk – Chris Crutcher
Age: 14-15
The Lesson: Racism of all kinds and calibre is hurtful and damaging to people’s lives and society.
Amazon: Linky!

I only read this one once, and don’t remember much from it… but man, does it still haunt me. It deals with racism, and though if I recall correctly there maaaaay be a bit that could be taken as “White Saviour”-ness (though I took it, at the time, more as just the father wanting to protect his son), it deals with it really well. There’s this one scene, in which a little black girl, whose white father is a racist shithead, tries to scrub her blackness away with a brillo pad. I don’t think I will ever forget this scene, because of just the starkness, that this IS a reality for people. What I got from the book when I read it at age 14 was that even for people who don’t try to scrub away their skin, the ever-present racism in our society can make you fucking feel like doing it sometimes. And us white people don’t know the half of it.

You Don’t Know Me – David Klass
Age: 14-15
The Lesson: Life can be really shitty, but it’s usually worth living. It gets better.
Amazon: Linky!

This is another book that I only read once, and a while ago, but I remember how it made me feel. It covers depression, abuse, thoughts of self-harm and suicide. It deals with the reality of many teenagers’ not-so-awesome lives. It made me consider that I actually had a pretty fabulous life, as well, with a good support system. The book deals with how important it is to have a support system of people who you can trust and who really love you, and that sometimes the people who you think don’t care really truly do. It’s written as if we were in the main character’s mind, a character with whom pretty much anyone can relate even if they’ve never suffered the abuse that he has. It was really eye-opening for me to think about the reality of some people’s lives, as well as to finally have a book that deals honestly with internal turmoil that teens can have, without blowing it off as hormones or just a phase.

Flipped – Wendelin Van Draanen
Age: 13-14
The Lesson: Don’t be an asshole.
Amazon: Linky!

This one is kind of surprising for me, and if you’ve read the book, you might find it surprising too. The main plot is about a girl obsessed with a boy who doesn’t like her back. It follows their lives growing up, and their interactions with each other. Each chapter alternates between characters’ narration, so you get each persons’ perception of the interactions between the two. And although it’s mainly a love story, this narrative style actually worked really well for the main lesson I learned from it. It was one particular scene and each characters’ feelings around it that taught me this lesson. The main female character has a developmentally disabled uncle whom she loves dearly and spends time with as much as possible. In the particular scene, she overhears the main male character laugh at some ableist joke that a friend of his made about her uncle. Seeing it from the two different characters’ perspectives, it becomes really clear that doing or saying things just to try to fit in — even if it is simply laughing at a joke nervously when you don’t know what else to do — can make people feel just as awful as saying those things totally earnestly. Being a bullying jerk is shitty even when you’re just laughing along. Enabling bigoted and prejudiced thought can be incredibly damaging and hurtful. So. Don’t be an asshole.

Extra Bonus Books That I Read Too Late But They Totally Would Have Shaped Me If I’d Read Them Earlier On!

Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson
Age:18 (but suitable for 14-16 year olds, I’d say)
The Lesson: Rape is terrible and terrifying, and healing from it takes time, and just surviving with the reality of it every day takes incredible strength.
Amazon: Linky!

This is a pretty famous book that also got turned into a pretty decent movie (starring Kristen Stewart? Zomg no wai). It’s about a 14 year old girl who is raped by a schoolmate, and it deals with aaaaall the social SHIT around rape. It follows the beginning of her journey towards healing from her assault, and it’s a very real and honest story that is easy to relate to. It takes all the things we “know” about rape and brings it to us on a personal level, making the reader not only know, but understand.

When She Woke – Hillary Jordan
Age: 20 (but suitable for 15-17 year olds)
The Lesson: Autonomy is an incredibly important thing, and the reality of not having it would be horrifying.
Amazon: Linky!

I read this book just a few months ago, and I think it’s pretty awesome. It’s more politically-minded than any of the other books, so I think it’d be for an older age group than the others. The book is about a dystopian future (which is creepily similar to what’s going on in the states right now, actually) in which abortion is legally considered murder and people who have had abortions are socially exiled. It deals with what the reality of what taking away reproductive rights would mean for individual people. It shows how utterly important a person’s autonomy is, and how devastating it can be to have that taken away. It is, of course, wildly pro-choice, so yeah, some people would say it’s “political propaganda”. However, it’s about the personal relevance of the politics. It’s about how, if fundamentalist Christians were to really get what they want, individual people would be affected by their autonomy being taken away. It’s a reality that people who are pro-life often don’t seem to consider; I think it’s a reality that everyone NEEDS to think about, and this is a pretty well-written and interesting introduction to thinking about that reality.

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So, that’s my list! Even though I read the books when I was younger/I think the other two would be appropriate for younger readers, I’d still say everyone should read all of those books. Even though they will be a pretty easy read, they’re still really freaking awesome. And really freaking awesome books are great to read at ANY age! In fact, I’m going to go and re-read all of them RIGHT NOW.  You should go and read them too. DO IT.

I’d also really love to hear about books that other people have found to have the most impact on their ideology and mindset. What would YOU say is the book that influenced you most, and what about it was so influential?

The Enemy

What is the deal with (usually older) adults – of every background – getting so worked up about teenage sexuality. I mean, it seems to particularly be parents who are also republican/conservative (unsurprising), but it’s not at all limited to that. I’ve heard adults who are not even parents getting all tied in a knot over teens having sex, or even just teens’ romantic relationships. I’ve seen even some pretty-damn-liberal parents getting all uncomfortable about it.

When are they going to get over it?

I quite often hear adults minimizing and trivializing teenagers’ feelings when it comes to sexuality and sexual or romantic relationships – I hear over and over again things about “puppy love” and “it’s just a phase”. Teens seem to particularly hear “it’s just a phase” about sexual orientation, but it’s not just limited to that. In the past, my long-term relationship (that lasted three years) was sometimes treated by adults like it wasn’t really that serious. Because teens are so fickle and don’t know anything, amirite?

Adults – who, in this situation, tend to be about 40+ years old – seem obsessed with the HORRORS of children learning about sex. They seem to think that if we just cover children’s and teens’ ears and shout LALALA, we’re protecting them. Even though studies have shown over and over again that with more sex education, teens are more likely to put off their first sexual experiences, and/or to be much safer about them.

It’s pretty much taken for granted that republicans are freaked out about teens and pre-teens learning about sex and sexuality – but they’re not the only ones. And even when it comes to the republicans, I really want to know why exactly it is. Why do they think that teens having sex is the END OF THE WORLD? Although they’d probably never admit it, they likely started having sexual encounters when they were relatively young, too. And even if they didn’t, when they did start having sex, the world didn’t end, now, did it. So why are they so convinced that it will for present-day teens?

So, let’s take a second to think about this. The average age of people having intercourse for the first time is between 16 and 17 years old and has been for quite a while (this is a 2002 study but I’ve seen more recent studies that gave a similar average age [excuse me for not having any links, I hadn’t started the blog at the time so I didn’t think to keep track of studies]) But how many of those teens get pregnant/an STI*/flunk out of school/something else that is apparently life ruining? The majority do not. The vast majority of people have perfectly satisfactory lives after having sex, and golly gee, that includes people who first had sex when young. Which really, if you are relaxed and really thinking about it, isn’t surprising. Sex doesn’t ruin most people’s lives?! Who’da thought.

I consider the fact that perhaps a lot of these adults did start sexual activity when they were quite young, and ended up regretting it for various reasons. And they just don’t want their kids to go making the same mistakes. But I don’t think trying to stop/dissuade your teen from having sex is the way to go about stopping them making the same mistakes. Because sex usually isn’t THE mistake – it’s usually the context in which the sex took place that is the problem.

Perhaps these parents, when they first started sexual activity, weren’t really ready for it because they hadn’t learned what it meant to be truly ready for sex both physically and emotionally. Maybe their early sexual activity resulted in an unplanned pregnancy – because they weren’t properly aware of their options when it came to contraception, were not realistically prepared to deal with the potential outcomes (didn’t have money set aside in the possibility of needing emergency contraception, etc), or any of the vast array of reasons. Maybe they did know about contraception but just didn’t take it seriously. Whatever the reason was, none of them are reasons to just try to dissuade teens from having sex altogether, or to try to cut them off from knowledge about sex as “protection”.

The solution to all of these problems is to talk about sex more.

The way to make sure people make as informed, as right a decision as possible, is to give them as much information as possible. So they can weigh the reality of the situation, of their decisions, so it is not some big mysterious mystical thing that they are Totally Rebellious and Grown Up for doing. So that they can know what they’re getting into and can be smart about it and make decisions that they feel are right for themselves based on good solid information. That’s true of anyone at ANY age.

Because after all that, if a teen knows how to be safe around sex – physically as well as emotionally – and are open to having discussions and know enough to make informed decisions… then why does it matter if they do have sex? They have all the equipment necessary. Hell, it’s stuff that not even all adults have. If someone knows all the right stuff and is making a decision they feel good about, the chances of it ruining their life is very, very slim.

Sexuality is just one facet of a person’s life – sexuality goes the same way as any other aspect of life. If teens are given the skills and knowledge required to smartly handle sex, they’re as likely to screw up majorly as they are in any other part of their life. And since most people survive their teenage years… not only survive, but thrive and succeed, it becomes pretty clear that this isn’t a huge issue. Yes, sometimes, especially when young, people make decisions they decide weren’t so great later on, but if someone is as informed around sex as they are around other areas of their lives… the mistakes are going to be of the same calibre, have the same level of implications, as mistakes in those other areas. Which is to say, rarely huge.

And which is also to say, if you’re freaking out this much about the possibility of them screwing up around sex even if they have all the info about it in the world, you’d better also be freaking out the same amount about the possibility of them screwing up in any other aspect of life. Otherwise you’re just not making any sense.

Parents often seem to think that “banning” their teens from doing something will actually… work. Parents “ban” their teens from having sleepovers with opposite-sex friends, or from going to parties with opposite-sex friends, or from going on trips with opposite-sex friends, or from being in their rooms alone with opposite-sex friends or blahblahblah. But banning people from doing things never works. I don’t mean just for teens because hurhur teens just loooove to rebel. This is true of most people at most ages. If you don’t give someone a good reason not to do something, why on earth would they actually listen to you? People are not drones. They don’t just do as they’re told “BECAUSE I SAID SO!” If someone wants to do something, and feels they are ready for it and have all the knowledge necessary, they will do it whether they have been “banned” or not.

“Banning” teens from certain situations that MIGHT POTENTIALLY RESULT IN SEX only closes the door on very important discussions that a parent should be having with their teen. Banning someone from something lets them know that you are not open to having reasonable conversation about it, so they’re not even going to bother. It lets them know that you are not willing to actually give their feelings and thoughts any weight, and you’re not willing to give them the information they need. Which leaves them on their own, to find the information out for themselves – or not, and end up making a bad decision that they wouldn’t have made if you hadn’t closed that door.

What it comes down to is this. Teens are humans. I know, seriously, wow surprising. Teens are not stupid. They can and often do make good decisions. When they make bad ones, it’s usually because they don’t have good information or good support**. And lo and behold, there is an easy fix to this.

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*hey guess what, the high levels of STIs among teens has been linked to abstinence only education. STI rates are lower among people who received good sex ed. Sex ed 1, Ab-only 0

http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/publications-a-z/597-abstinence-only-until-marriage-programs-ineffective-unethical-and-poor-public-health

More resources (referenced in the advocates for youth link):

Kirby D. Emerging Answers: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy. Washington, DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2001.

Bearman PS, Brückner H. Promising the future: virginity pledges and first intercourse. American Journal of Sociology 2001; 106:859-912.

Brückner H, Bearman PS. After the promise: the STI consequences of adolescent virginity pledges. Journal of Adolescent Health 2005; 36:271-278.

** having discussions around sex/sexuality can and should include discussions around peer pressure. If parents are supportive and open to having discussions and giving information freely, it absolutely will have an impact on how affected by peer pressure a teen will be. http://psychcentral.com/news/2011/06/16/o-canada-survey-finds-more-teens-model-sexuality-on-parents/26987.html

If you want any more information on any of this kind of thing, the kinsey institute is an amazing resource.

http://www.kinseyinstitute.org/resources/FAQ.html

And you are exactly the reason feminism exists…

apparently this fairly famous satirical list of “sexual assault prevention tips” is “by far the most sexist thing I’ve read tonight” according to someone on a facebook friend’s link to the aforementioned article.

Why?

” I’m just tired of feminist bullshit that assumes that because i’m a man, i’m going to rape peoples. It’s just annoying”

Which is fucking rich, considering it’s coming out of the mouth (well… fingers…?) of someone who sexually assaulted me and several of my friends.

Dear sir. You are the very reason the people you hate exist. I like to think that with every ignorant, bigoted, privilege-dripping sentence people like you spew, another feminist is born. Keep up the good work.