On the reclamation of the word “slut”

What is revolutionary in one time and place can become reactionary in another. 100 years ago suffragettes engaged in protests, civil disobedience, and even arson in their struggles to win the vote. Today the only people who talk about women having the vote are anti-feminists who are trying to make a case that there is no longer any discrimination against women in our society, and that the wage gap is down to personal choices and supposed biological differences. In the 70’s feminists fought for “No means no”. Today feminists are trying to bring the concept of active, enthusiastic consent into the mainstream, while “She didn’t say no, so it wasn’t rape” is the cry of many a rape apologist.

It’s hard to think of a word with more hatred and social control packed into it than “slut”. This one little word makes every woman’s sexuality into a source of shame, invites society to scrutinize and judge all women, erases our sexual freedom, and excuses rape. The Toronto police officer who said “if women don’t want to get raped they shouldn’t dress like sluts” wasn’t using even a trace of irony, he wasn’t being “edgy”, he was just stating what he considered to be the common-sense truth. Women’s choice of clothing is constantly up for scrutiny, and any deviation from the norm will rightly be punished by rape, which will be considered to have been caused not by the rapist, but by the woman’s outfit choice. This is straight-up Patriarchal control of female sexuality.

I’m ambivalent about Slutwalk. I agree with the critique that the word “slut” is irredeemable, and that it would be better to do away with it altogether, rather than inviting it to hang around with its inevitable stink of hatred, violence, and control. I’m really glad to hear some feminists making this critique.

But I also think you have to look at where you are. “We reject the social control and punishment of womens’ sexuality” doesn’t make a very catchy slogan, and most people wouldn’t understand it. Most people would agree that “slut” is a nasty word, but at the same time accept unquestioningly that women who are perceived to be sexual or to have many partners are looked down upon and treated with hatred. Rather than thinking that we should stop calling women “sluts” altogether, most people think that women should carefully keep their behaviour in line with society’s (constantly shifting) expectations of modesty in an effort to avoid being labeled as such.

I think “Slutwalk” does a good job of meeting people where they are. The word is a slap in the face. The average person lacking a feminist critique might not understand all the ideas behind it, but there is an element of resistance that almost everyone will recognize on some level. After hundreds of women have walked through your town under the “Slutwalk” banner, it will sound just a little bit different the next time you hear someone say “to be honest, she’s a bit of a slut”, in an attempt to socially stigmatize a woman.

In a world where women actually had freedom and equality, the word “slut” wouldn’t be able to exist. Of course we could still have that syllable, but the collection of meanings that “slut” has attached to it in our time and place would be unimaginable. In the meantime, anything we do about it is going to be a bit of a compromise. If Slutwalk comes to my town I’ll probably participate, though I admit the whole thing seems a bit too fun and cheerful to me, dour rageful feminist that I am. I would be worried that people watching and other participants might not realize how psychotically angry the word “slut” actually makes me. I suppose I would probably be able to solve that by making a suitably unpleasant placard, though.

I look forward to the time, perhaps 20 years from now, when I get to hear the young whippersnappers saying:

“I can’t believe we still do Slutwalk every year. It was relevant in its time, but these days it’s just a chance for all the old third-wavers to get together and socialize.”

“Yeah, totally, who even calls women sluts anymore? The real issue today is Floopercheets.”

I’m looking forward to the Floopercheets.

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Conservative MP threatens teens with abstinence-only sex “education”

I was horrified to hear that Conservative MP Nadine Dorries has tabled a motion for abstinence-only sex education for girls aged 13-16, which has passed its first vote in the House of Commons.

Why does this even happen? In 2011, why do we have adults, members of parliament even, proposing a return to a model of sex-education which is based on shame and fear and which has been proven over and over not to work?

In the bad old days before Feminism, there was a double-standard of sexual morality whose real purpose was to control women and ensure the continued dominance of men. In this double-standard an unmarried woman’s entire value rested with her virginity, and if she got caught having sex she lost all social status, lost the chance to marry in future, and was outcast by her family and friends. In short, her life was ruined. By contrast a man who committed the exact same infraction was considered to have behaved somewhat badly, but did not face any real consequences.

In the days of the double-standard very little distinction was made between consensual sex and rape. Men were considered to be incapable of restraining their sexual urges, and thus the entire responsibility for preventing both sex and rape lay with women. Women who were raped were often blamed for it and punished just the same as if they had had consensual sex. The distinction between sex and rape was further blurred by the fact that women were not supposed to enjoy sex; married women were supposed to see sex as a duty which they were required to perform for their husbands. Women who did enjoy sex were considered to be morally deviant, and had shame and hatred piled upon them.

The consequences of the double-standard were dire: women’s lives were ruined for no good reason, women were denied opportunities for education, women got sick or died as a result of unsafe abortions, all for doing something that men could do anytime they wanted, consequence-free. Women were continually told to feel ashamed of their sexuality, while heterosexual men were taught that their sexuality was healthy and normal, and even a source of pride.

To most people today the ideology of the sexual double-standard sounds laughably old-fashioned. Most people think that women and men should be treated equally, that it is normal to have sex outside of marriage, and that it is normal and desirable for both women and men to enjoy sex. But there are still a few right-wing extremists around who want to bring back the double-standard. They know that their ideas would sound either ludicrous or dangerous to most people if stated baldly, so tone down their message to make it sound more reasonable.

I’m going to quote Dorries’ blog post:

“I am not seeking to diminish sex education as taught at present, but to include the empowering option that young girls can just say no. In school, children are taught to base the decision whether or not to have sex on their feelings and wishes. I don’t believe young girls under the age of 16 have consistent feelings and that they can change from day to day. My bill was about making boys wait being an empowering and cool thing for girls to do and that it should be taught as a viable, if not preferable option for girls aged 16 and under – especially as sex at that age is unlawful.”

This all sounds very reasonable, but the premise is false. She is strongly implying that modern, comprehensive sex-ed doesn’t include “the empowering option that young girls can just say no”, but in fact this is the option that is most stressed in all sex-ed courses.

“…making boys wait being an empowering and cool thing for girls to do and that it should be taught as a viable, if not preferable option for girls aged 16 and under”

This is an eminently reasonable idea that practically anyone would agree with, including, I imagine, most girls under 16. But this very reasonable idea is already being taught in modern courses of comprehensive sex education. It is not a unique innovation being introduced by Dorries, as she seems to imply. Furthermore the use of the words “empowering” and “option” here is dishonest. Giving young people comprehensive sex-ed is “empowering” and gives people “options”. Abstinence-only sex-ed does not “empower” or provide “options”, rather it tells young people that they are only allowed to do one thing. The clue is in the name.

Abstinence-only education is about giving girls fewer choices and less information, and making it harder for them to make their own decisions about relationships, sex, and sexual health. If you read between the lines, it is about telling girls that they should be ashamed of their sexuality. Furthermore, sex-ed aimed at girls only sends the toxic message that boys do not need to learn to make responsible decisions regarding sex, birth control, and contraception.

Teenagers need more comprehensive sex education, not less. They also need access to a variety of methods of birth control and contraception, and high-quality medical care, including abortion. They need to be taught to ask for consent, and to treat their partners with respect. They don’t need to be used as pawns to further a sexist and misogynistic ideology that was already looking dated 100 years ago.

There is a great write-up about this at Abortion Rights.


Keycon code of conduct appears

I’ve already written a couple of posts about Keycon, a Winnipeg scifi convention where there have been incidents of sexual harassment and rape in the past. One attendee put quite a lot of effort into writing gathering info about incidents and asking for a policy to stop more incidents happening in future.

For me, the change I wanted to see was simple: I wanted Keycon to clearly acknowledge the problem and say that sexual harassment is not acceptable and would result in people getting banned. I wanted them to do this in a way that would result in all Keycon-attendees seeing this message.

What I ideally wanted was for Keycon to write a message about sexual assault very clearly on the website front page. They haven’t done that exactly – the phrase “sexual harassment” doesn’t appear on the website front page – but there is a very prominent link “letter to Keycon members” on the front page near the top, which states that sexual assault has been a problem and talks about changes that have been made to the Keycon code of conduct to address this. There is another prominent link “Keycon code of conduct” which says that harassment is not acceptable and specifically says that anyone who has experienced sexual assault can report it to any member of the convention staff at any point.

I’m really happy to see this. To me the important elements were making it clear that a problem exists, and making it clear that sexual assault is not tolerated. While I don’t believe that simply having a policy will prevent sexual assault from happening altogether, I do believe it will tend to make sexual assault less likely. Unfortunately there are some individuals who believe that sexual assault is acceptable behaviour. They may have carried out sexual assault in the past, maybe even in public, and gotten away with it, which would strengthen their impression that sexual assault is generally acceptable. I think the new policy shows leadership and goes some way towards creating a community in which it is clear to everyone that sexual assault is not accepted.

I would like to thank the Keycon organisers, and I would like to especially thank succubus_esq for putting effort into this. Talking about sexual assault can be very disheartening and thankless and can result in a lot of push-back. I think a lot of the people involved found this to be a very negative and painful situation. But I think the new policy does create greater safety for Keycon attendees and I’m truly grateful for that.


Ad situation

I’ve been apprised of the situation that this blog has ads. Sexist, racist, horrible ads.

I read about the ad situation with wordpress.com. It turns out that they add ads to blogs in order to pay for their servers and keep providing a free service, along with a steady stream of exciting new plugins. This all sounds very reasonable and good.

Except that we live in a Patriarchy, and Patriarchy is a thing which reaches its terrifying tentacles into every tiny corner of our lives, and turns things that would otherwise be perfectly reasonable into horrifying nightmares.

Can you think of a single ad you have seen that didn’t contain sexism, racism, or some other form of bigoted hatred? If you can, I’m willing to bet its because you are so deeply marinated in the various forms of hatred that are endemic to our culture that you don’t even notice them.

The particular ads that were pointed out to me were of the “mail-order Asian bride” variety. Wow. “Women are commodities”, “Asian women are passive, not to mention exotic”, and a whole bunch of other scary colonialism I don’t even know how to unpick. Orientalism meets Patriarchy and they collide like two positrons smashed together that explode to release showers of spiraling Wrongness.

A bit of Googling has revealed that it would cost 0.08c per day, or in the neighbourhood of $30 a year to get rid of the ads. Even after converting my squids to USD, well, shit, I could just buy my own domain and install my own WordPress blog for that. So that’s what I plan to do.

I’ll get around doing that sometime when I’m not drunk, i.e. not now.


I wrote another email to the Keycon chairs

The story behind this is that someone called succubus_esq has been trying to get something done about the large amount of sexual harassment and sexual assault that has happened at Keycon, a Winnipeg scifi and fantasy convention.

The first email I sent them is here. I haven’t posted their reply, but it’s pretty much summarized in the paragraph of my reply-to-their-reply, which I’m pasting below.

————————–

Thank you for your email. However, this email, while extremely polite, did not address any of my concerns. Your sole response to my questions about your policy on sexual harassment at Keycon was to offer to send me a copy of your program, which will be back from the printers in May. Since you have sent this document to the printers you clearly have an electronic copy of it, so could you please email me a copy now? Any file type will be fine.

I have two major concerns about your as-yet-unseen policy. The first is its invisibility. You say that there will be mention of your anti-harassment policy in a printed program which will be handed out to conference attendees. However in this day and age most people expect to get their information from the Internet. I find it very hard to understand why there is no mention of an anti-harassment policy on your website, not even so much as a simple statement that sexual harassment at Keycon will not be tolerated.

My second concern is a suspicion that your anti-harassment “policy” will consist mainly of telling people who have been harassed or assaulted to go to the police. As you are probably already aware people who have suffered sexual assault sometimes do not wish to talk to the police for a whole variety of reasons. In the case of more minor sexual assaults (such as groping) everyone knows that these cases are not investigated or prosecuted, so talking to the police can seem pointless. Furthermore, unfortunately police officers sometimes treat the victim with an attitude of blame, suspicion, and disrespect, and a traumatized person may not feel capable of dealing with this. Sometimes a traumatized person does not feel capable of talking about what happened to them at all. Furthermore in the case of more serious sexual assault such as rape the victim may know the perpetrator and be unwilling to go to the police because she does not want this person to go to prison. In any case any victim of harassment or assault should be offered support and treated with respect whether or not she chooses to go to the police. Some action should be taken with regard to the perpetrator or accused perpetrator whether or not the victim chooses to go to the police (even if the action taken is simply that a pair of volunteers go up to the perpetrator and tell them that harassment is unacceptable).

It has become clear that at past Keycons there has been a dangerous culture of impunity, in which some individuals expected to be able to carry out consequence-free sexual harassment and sexual assault. Adding a clear notice to your website and to other publicity materials that sexual harassment will not be tolerated at Keycon would send a message to these people that harassment is not acceptable behaviour. Having a policy where people who are pointed out as having carried out harassment are challenged, told that such behaviour is unacceptable, and if appropriate banned from the event, would reduce the overall amount of harassment taking place and make the event safer for all attendees.

Being silent about this won’t stop the problem. Doing nothing won’t stop the problem. Treating victims with distrust, and telling victims that no action can be taken unless they go to the police, won’t stop the problem, in fact being silent and distrusting victims creates the perfect set of conditions for assault and harassment to flourish.

Please take real action on this.

Sincerely,
[NAME]

P.S. These problems are in no way specific to Keycon. Just Google “scifi convention harassment” or “fantasy convention harassment” or “comic convention harassment”, and you’ll find pages of links to other cons that are grappling with similar issues of sexual harassment and assault.


“Pro-life”

Pro-lifers claim that they consider a zygote to be morally equivalent to a human being, and thus consider the destruction of zygotes to be murder. They don’t really believe this. They can’t, because it’s too stupid. Pro-lifers may possibly be stupider than the average human being, but they are still not stupid enough to believe that a bundle of cells is the same as a person.


This is a zygote. If it has a soul, then so do my fingernail clippings.

The real motivation behind the pro-life position is to punish women for having sex. That’s all. These people believe that women should be subservient to men, that a woman should only have sex with her owner/husband, and that women should only have sex for the purpose of creating children (children who will, incidentally, also become the property of the owner/husband). Pro-lifers believe that a woman should not have control over her own uterus because, in their view, a uterus does not belong to the woman it is attached to, it is the joint property of her owner/husband and God. To these anachronistic douchebags a woman having sex for the purpose of her own pleasure, and a woman who seeks to control her own reproduction, has committed a sin against God and Patriarchy and needs to be punished.

It really annoys me when feminists are all nicey-nicey towards pro-lifers, addressing their supposed concerns about zygotes as if these concerns had any merit. Pro-lifers hate us. They want to take us back to the days of coat-hanger abortions. They want to enforce rape within marriage while making consensual sex outside of marriage punishable by enforced pregnancy and possible death. They want to reduce the status of women from “human beings” to “expendable baby incubators”.

This stupid proposal to force people to undergo compulsory counseling in order to be allowed to have an abortion is part of a larger plan. It’s real purpose is to chip away at our autonomy, to drag us a few rungs down the ladder from “human being” to “expendable baby incubator”. If this goes through I promise even more, even stupider amendments will follow. If a woman can be forced to undergo counseling, she can be forced to undergo other ritual humiliations as well: such as forcing her to get permission from the father, or forcing her to apply for an expensive license. The pro-lifers will be back to try to reduce the 24 weeks limit, or have women who miscarry charged with murder.

We’re at war, people. Deal.


Rape culture in action at Winnipeg’s Keycon scifi and fantasy convention

Keycon is a scifi and fantasy convention in my home town of Winnipeg. The events include a “Board game blitz” and “bedoiun-steampunk belly-dance”, all of which sounds pretty awesome.

But there’s a sinister side to Keycon, which isn’t advertised on the website: a culture of frequent sexual harassement and sexual assault. This was documented by succubus_esq on the Backup project community, it’s pretty horrifying. The organisers have so far responded by refusing to talk about the problem, and a planned meeting on womens’ safety at Keycon was recently cancelled. Succubus_esq has received anonymous rape and death threats.

I’ve sent an email to the Keycon organisers asking for a better response to the situation. Feel free to do the same: the relevant email addresses are along the right-hand side of the Keycon website.

There is also a Twitter hashtag #rapecon, if you’re on Twitter please take a moment to send a message demanding safety for all convention participants.

I’m pasting below my email to the Keycon organisers. If I get any response I’ll post that as well.

Dear [names],

I’m writing to express my shock and concern upon hearing that numerous incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault occurred at last year’s Keycon. It appears that certain predatory individuals consider Keycon to be an environment in which they can carry out harassment and assault with impunity. I am sure that you are as horrified by this situation as I am, and therefore I was surprised that there is no mention of an anti-harassment policy on your website. I ask that you immediately add a prominent message to your website and to all other publicity materials, stating that harassment and assault are completely unacceptable at Keycon and that any person committing harassment or assault will be banned. While such a policy would not guarantee that harassment and assault can never occur, it would send a clear message that these crimes will not be tolerated, and thus would likely lower the rate of harassment and assault at Keycon.

It is important for you to create and publicize an anti-harassment policy ASAP, since a policy that was created at the last minute likely would not be well-publicized, and volunteers and organizers would not have time to familiarize themselves with it. If you are having trouble drafting an anti-harassment policy, you might find the Con Anti-Harassment project helpful.

Please reply to let me know the status of your anti-harassment policy, and what other steps you are taking to ensure the safety of Keycon attendees.

Finally, I was very disturbed to hear that a woman who was raped shortly after a previous Keycon, and who has been in contact with you regarding safety issues, has received death and rape threats from an anonymous email account. It is reprehensible that someone should attempt to silence this brave young woman with threats of violence, and unfortunately it seems very likely that the person responsible is in some way involved in Keycon. I trust that you’ll join me in condemning this cowardly and illegal act.

Sincerely,
XXX