feminist issues

Trans women, and women-only spaces: some general comments

sisters cistersIn the posts in this series, refuting the various justifications given for excluding trans women from women-only spaces, I’ve done my best to take the arguments at face value. The thing is, though (and I’ve touched on this a little bit already), it’s pretty clear to me that all of these arguments are after-the-fact justifications for the decision to exclude trans women from spaces, a decision that is generally based entirely in people’s visceral response to the issue.

Although I think that it is very important that we have arguments ready to refute these points when they are thrown out to try and justify discrimination against trans women, I also really feel that I have to acknowledge that all of these arguments have their foundations in plain cissexism. They are not reasoned arguments to begin with, and don’t really even deserve the time I’ve given them, except that by refuting them, there is some small chance that we can force changes to be made.

Ultimately all four of the arguments against including trans women in women-only spaces boil down to “but they’re not really women!”, or more directly “we don’t want to include them, because they’re men!” Which is absolutely untrue, and is the complete misunderstanding of trans identities that lies at the root of pretty much all anti-trans bias and trans erasure.

I touched on this point in some of my refutations; however, I think it is worth repeating the ways in which each of the four arguments ultimately boils down to this most basic unwillingness to accept trans women as women.

Trans women were raised as male and therefore possess male privilege.

As I pointed out in the original post (linked above), this argument is fundamentally based in the false attribution of manhood to trans women. Considering trans women to be men is rank cissexism. Nuff said.

Trans women have penises, which can be triggering for rape survivors and other women.

When women are triggered by the (presumed) presence of penises as a part of trans women’s bodies, this trigger is fundamentally rooted in the equation of penises with men, and thus in seeing trans women as men.

We aren’t equipped to fulfill trans women’s needs!

This one is a few more steps removed from the idea that trans women are really men. However, I think that the sense that it is somehow justifiable to refuse to provide services to trans women because of their (supposed) unique needs is rooted in the idea that men are not in need of the same kind of support as women are. I honestly don’t know how else someone would justify ignoring the needs of an exceptionally marginalized population, unless it is because they refuse to acknowledge that marginalization (see, we’re really just back to that whole “male privilege” idea again).

Considering trans women to simply be women reinforces the gender binary, and ignores the nuances of their unique identities (I wish I was making this up, I really do.)

Ok, this argument is I guess slightly better than the others in that it clearly accepts that trans women aren’t men. The problem is that it simultaneously asserts that trans women also aren’t really women either. Which, I mean, there are people who are neither men nor women (Hi there!), but trans women do not belong in that category. They’re women. This shouldn’t be this difficult.

Yeah.

I really, really wish that getting people to accept trans people as members of the gender they identify as (a.k.a. the gender they *are*, y’know) wasn’t as difficult as it apparently is.

So, while I hope that this series has been useful and/or enlightening, I don’t think I’ve even begun to address the real root of the problem at hand. And… I’m really not sure what I can say that will convince other people to stop being biological determinist, gender essentialist assholes. So, what I’d like to do here is just make room for other voices. Here are some people who are saying awesome and persuasive things about the trans experience that (I hope) will help people unfamiliar with transgender realities to approach these issues with more compassion and understanding. In no particular order:

Myths and Misconceptions about Trans Women

I really hope that y’all have found this series enlightening/interesting/useful. I think it’s been my biggest project on this blog to date! Thank you for reading.

Brief thought: Stereotypes

One of the things I try to do when referring to something that is a stereotype is to acknowledge that I am talking about a stereotype, rather than about actual characteristics of real groups of people. So, my conditioner doesn’t smell like old lady, it smells like “stereotypical old lady”. If I wanted to be really precise (since the phrase “stereotypical old lady” suggests that there are a group of people who are stereotypical old ladies), I should really probably be saying that my conditioner smells “like what we stereotype old ladies as smelling like”, but that’s a little too cumbersome even for me.

Anyway, I was thinking about this in the shower today (hence the conditioner example, natch) and I’m now wondering if this trick I have of acknowledging my use of stereotypes isn’t problematic in itself. I mean, as long as I’m still depending on stereotypes to help me describe real things in the world, I’m still perpetuating those stereotypes – my description of the scent of my conditioner a “stereotypical old lady” is only meaningful as long as I am in a society that stereotypes older women as having a particular smell, and by conjuring up that stereotype, I reinforce it to some extent.

This just brings me back to a larger frustration that a friend of mine was recently voicing: so much of our everyday language and the ways we talk about the world are steeped in racism, sexism, ageism, and -ism you could possibly think of. And yes, it can be tiring to try to avoid phrases that you know will make your meaning quickly and easily understandable to your audience, but that are also rooted in bigotry. And I get that it can be frustrating, or jarring, or otherwise unpleasant to be informed that a phrase you use, whose origins and meaning you’ve never really thought about, is in fact, racist. (Common examples are talking about getting “gypped”, which is an aspersion on Roma people, or gypsies, and using “cotton-picking” as a place-holder in situations where swearing is inappropriate – seriously, considering the history of cotton-picking and cotton-pickers in North America, using “cotton-picking” essentially as a synonym for “bad” is just not cool, you guys).

And I get it. I get the frustration, and I get the feeling of being limited – the proportion of commonly used language that is problematic is pretty huge. But here’s the thing; it doesn’t make sense to be frustrated with the person who told you that thing you said was messed up. It doesn’t even really make sense to be annoyed that now x phrase is tainted for you – it was already tainted, the only thing that’s changed is that you know it now, which is really a good thing. The real target of your frustration should be with the generations who came before us who infested the language with phrases bred in an atmosphere of casual bigotry, where describing things with respect to supposedly essential characteristics of groups of people seemed reasonable and right. That energy doesn’t have to be bottled up solely in censoring and altering your modes of expression; it can be directed at the systems and hierarchies that continue to persist in our society and continue to make this kind of language use ok (I mean, a generation ago, “gay” wasn’t really used in the pejorative way it is today – the language is still being used in new casually bigoted ways all the time).

We need to realize and consciously acknowledge that these instances of casual linguistic bigotry are symptoms of a much larger problem. We need to work on helping people to stop thinking about in each other in these rigid categories, with defined sets of characteristics applied to each. Only then will these casual instances of bigotry start to fade away. Only then will such dumb, seemingly innocuous phrases like “old lady smell”* cease to have any real meaning (“What do you mean, old lady smell? Doesn’t everyone smell different?”)

I want to live in a world where phrases like “old lady smell,” “throws like a girl,” or “that’s so gay” have no material meaning, because people don’t walk around thinking that there’s only one narrative that goes along with being old, or a girl, or gay. I want people to really understand that each individual’s experience is made up of so much more than their group allegiances and labels. I want there to be room for people to define for themselves what it means to be [insert label here].

Is that really so much to ask?

You know you want to talk to her.

You know you want to talk to her.

*Seemingly innocuous, yeah. But I mean, really, characterizing older people as smelling gross or cloying does an incredible disservice to a whole lot of badass, intelligent, and accomplished people. The idea of old person smell in general contributes to a culture that devalues the collective experience and wisdom of the older members of its population, and deprives younger people of amazing relationships.

Cleavage-Shaming

There is something in particular that bothers me about people who insult or shame women (usually, mercifully(?), behind their backs) about shirts that show cleavage. It’s been something I’ve seen a lot more of since I started working retail – I’m working with a lot of generally perfectly lovely, but not exactly social justice-oriented, people. And it’s Toronto summer, so our customers aren’t always wearing whole lot of clothes. And sometimes slut-shaming happens.

And I mean, for starters, I’m bothered by the fact that I am apparently expected to be complicit in my coworkers’ “complaints”. Because, you know, it’s not like *I* dress that way, clearly. Most of the time at work, I’m wearing men’s jeans and loose t-shirts. But there’s another thing that really, really bothers me.

Without fail, if I look at the woman who’s being shamed about her cleavage, I know for a fact that if I wore the exact same shirt as her, I would not be met with the same judgement. I simply don’t have much of a chest; I’m quite possibly incapable of showing an inappropriate amount of cleavage. Which is another way of saying that I don’t *have* an inappropriate amount of cleavage, while some women just plain do. In some cases, it won’t even matter what they wear; women with large breasts who dare to be seen in public are almost by definition sexually inappropriate in our society.

“Oh, but what about just having some decency and enough self-respect to cover yourself up?” you might say. As I just finished explaining, it’s not about coverage. If it was about coverage, the same shirt would be considered inappropriate on me, and it’s not. It’s about women’s bodies. And no, I don’t think it’s ok to insist that women who have done nothing more than have large breasts should be held to some higher standard of “modesty” than everyone else on the planet. This isn’t a case of some natural challenge caused by genetics. Women with large breasts shouldn’t have to suffer more in hot weather simply because awful people insist on sexualizing their bodies. That’s not the women’s problem. It’s a problem with every person who is incapable of looking at a woman without evaluating her as a sexual object.

Seriously, though, when people shame women about their cleavage, it’s really, really not the shirt that they have a problem with. It’s the presence of large breasts that they just can’t handle. And nothing about that is ok.

“Bitch”

These days, I don’t think I ever use the “bitch” unless I am characterizing some of the standard sexist attitudes expressed in the mainstream culture.It’s simply no longer part of working vocabulary. And I’ve so successfully excised it from my thought patterns that I’m honestly taken aback when people I’m close to use it in earnest. It’s a fucking useless word, people! Or rather, its only uses are pretty fucking terrible.

Seriously folks, this word and its usage in our society is such a powerful tool for the reification and binarization of gender. It’s fascinating and horrible and sometimes I just can’t look away.

When we call a woman a bitch, at its heart, the insult is usually criticizing her for being aggressive. To be clear, the underlying accusation of aggression may or may not be reasonable, and certainly sometimes women are called bitches when they do things that are worthy of being called out. But here’s the thing: whatever the very specific quality is that renders women to be seen as “bitches”, it’s very clear that it’s a very particular kind of aggression we’re talking about, in that men seem to be immune to the particular character flaw in question – I’ve never heard of a man being called a “bitch” for being too aggressive (though men are sometimes called out on their aggression, it doesn’t take this form).

So, really then the word “bitch” is specifically employed against women to put them in their place with respect to aggression, and mainstream society, in using the word in this lopsided way, implicitly tells us that aggression in women is specifically wrong in a way that aggression in men is not.

Clearly and blatantly sexist.

But wait, sometimes men do get called bitches!

Yes, this is true. I’ve only said that “bitch” in the sense of “overly aggressive” is an epithet used only against women. But bitch has another meaning, too; one that’s used against men.

When a man gets called a bitch, he is usually being criticized of being weak, submissive or passive. But, that’s the opposite of what it means when it’s applied to women. And this is where it gets really interesting for me.

When we call a woman a bitch, we are calling her out for trying to exercise some form of power, but when we call a man a bitch, we are calling him out for relinquishing some form of power. The way that we use the word “bitch”, then, implies the following social power taxonomy:

1) Men. They the most powerful.
2) Bitches. This group contains the weakest men and the strongest women.
3) Women. They have no power?

So implicit in the dual meaning of bitch, we have the idea that all women are weaker than all men, except for those perverted dudes who relinquish power, who might be weaker than some women, but even the bitchy men aren’t weaker than real women.

For reals, when you use the word “bitch” in either of these gendered senses (the word can of course be correctly use to refer to female dogs; this is not problematic), you are implicitly playing into a picture of gender that is exactly this extreme.

– If you use it against women, you are policing them for not being feminine enough.

– If you use it against men, you are policing them for not being masculine enough.

– When you use it in either sense, you’re reifying the idea that the differences between men and women really are absolute, and black-and-white.

There is literally nothing good about any of this.

So, if you’re a person who uses the term to call out legitimate abuses of control or over-aggressiveness, the next time that you find yourself thinking of a woman as a bitch, remind yourself that in fact that woman is really just an asshole (just like you would think a man in her position was).

And honestly, I’m not sure that the way “bitch” is lobbed at men is ever based in a legitimate criticism. So, the next time you think about calling a dude a bitch, maybe remember that it’s not cool to be an asshole who looks down on people who don’t fulfill the masculine ideal all the time?

KTHXBAI!

Marriage and surnames: All right, I’ll bite

So the topic of name changes associated with marriage is making the rounds, with a bunch of really strongly articulated opinions and perspectives that I feel like I’d like to deconstruct a little bit.

We’ve got Jill Filipovic writing at the Guardian about how most of the reasons that people women give for changing their names when they get married don’t make any sense (to her, anyway – Melissa over at Shakesville takes down Jill’s dismissal of the reasons pretty soundly). Her article is very focused on the idea that one’s name is one’s identity, which I simply don’t buy. Or at least, I don’t buy that as an argument not to change your name.

Jill’s argument on this point is as follows:

…Jill Filipovic is my name and my identity. Jill Smith is a different person.

That is fundamentally why I oppose changing your name (and why I look forward to the wider legalization of same-sex marriage, which in addition to just being good and right, will challenge the idea that there are naturally different roles for men and women within the marital unit). Identities matter, and the words we put on things are part of how we make them real.

There’s a number of issues with this. The most glaring is her opposition to anyone changing their name being justified by her own personal feelings of identity around her own name. Newsflash: we don’t all have the same relationship with our names as you do with yours, Jill. Further, all of her anti-name change arguments are systematically weakened when she makes points about how she’d like to see man changing their names, and how the existence same-sex marriage will ultimately help straight women escape the patriarchal nature of marriage. I’m not going to probe too far into this, but Jill does seem to argue two contradictory positions throughout the article, wherein she points out problematic nature of the prevalence of women changing their names to match their spouses, and the lack of other viable options (which I generally agree with) by giving reasons why no one should ever change their names (to which I say, wait, what now?).

Ok, but she also points out that the way we label things, and what we choose to call ourselves, are important and meaningful ways of constructing identity. Absolutely, this is true. The words we choose to apply to ourselves, and the ones we eschew, are important. But I don’t think that my last name, in particular, is as important as Jill has made it out to be here. The fact is that if I introduce myself to someone new as Firstname Lastname, regardless of which last name I use, they aren’t going to know whether I am married, or whether my last name is the same as my husband’s. Yes, people who already knew me before I changed my name will note the change, but I would hope that the things they actually know about me and my identity are more important to those people than my damn name, which since I didn’t choose it in the first place, never had all that much to say about me, really. It never identified anything about me other than “this is the name my parents chose to give me”. And it doesn’t carry meaning in the way that other labels that I actively identify with (queer, poly, nonbinary, etc.) do.

But this isn’t even my core objection to Jill’s argument that names shouldn’t be changed because they are tied to identity. Even if I accepted that this tie existed, quite frankly, my identity isn’t static. It’s constantly fluctuating in all kinds of ways. My online personae are multitudinous, dependent on the time of my life when I joined various communities, and many other factors – I only use my real name on the facebook. Thus, the fact that I’ve changed my name before, and I’m toying with doing so again, simply doesn’t make me feel like I’m risking losing my identity.

Ultimately, I think that names are very important to different people for different reasons, and changing your name can be a great way of claiming control over your identity and expressing yourself.

Of course, I don’t really think that it’s valid to say when women change their last name to match their husband’s, it’s a great act of self-expression and control. It’s not, really. It is, in many ways, a great act of acquiescence and conformity to traditions that are inarguably based in fucked up ideas of women as property, of a woman’s identity being truly and entirely contained in first, who her father is, and then later, who her husband is. I mean, that’s pretty not okay, and the degree to which this “tradition” has stayed strong as we’ve managed to change and redefine so many other aspects of how marriage works is baffling and disturbing to me, truly.

Not least because it’s so often men that are so strongly attached to the idea of the women they marry changing their names. Confidential to the dudes out there: if you’re the one who cares so damn much about you and your future wife having the same name, you should fucking well be willing to go through the effort and sacrifice of changing your own damn name. If you’re unwilling to consider this option, either a) it’s not actually that important to you, or b) you think it’s really important to have control over that aspect of your wife’s identity, which is creepy and misogynist, and indicates that you actually don’t see her as your equal.

That said, I have the same last name as my husband (a cis man, no less!), and I’m the one who changed my name to make it so. It’s never been a choice I’ve been 100% comfy with, because, yeah, I know all of the above to be true. I’m also not entirely sure where I fit in this conversation, as a nonbinary person, but for the purposes of this post I’ll have to admit that in general, my husband and I benefit from het cis privilege, even though neither of as are straight, and only one of us is cis. We just do, and even though I carry classic queer guilt about, I’m not going to give up what we have on the basis of that guilt (nor do I think any reasonable people would actually suggest I should).

And knowing all of that, I changed my name. For a lot of reasons, really. But at the heart, it came down to something really prosaic and simple: it happened that I had been wanting to shed my existing last name anyway when we decided to get married (for reasons that aren’t important here, but suffice to say for Jill’s sake, that due to the nature of my name, I’ve always felt my identity was more strongly tied to my fairly unique first name than my surname). And where I live, you can change your name to match your spouse’s really easily (and for free!), while the process of changing your name in any other way, for any other reason is far more laborious, involves a lot of hoop jumping and paying some fees. And I am damn lazy – even taking the easy route, it took a couple of years to get most of my IDs updated, and my passport is still in my old name (and I’m still registered at school under my old name, with no plans to change that. I have reasons!).

Yup, I bought into the tradition because institutional sexism makes it easier to make that choice than to exercise any of the other options Jill presents (all of which I think are valid, I should say. I particularly love the idea of a newly married couple picking their own surname and both changing their names – I’m just saying that these options are not as easily exercised, and generally involve getting your birth certificate altered). And it really is as simple as that.

So my point here is that if we want to change the choices people are making, we need to change the system. We have to make all of the choices equally accessible, and we have to acknowledge that the whole name-change-upon-marriage phenomenon is not just about buying into societal biases, and taking the easy route in terms of not pushing back against societal norms, it’s about taking the easy route institutionally as well.

Despite (and also because of?) all of this, I am still considering a brand new name change – though my existing first name is rare enough that I occasionally get people who don’t immediately assume a gender when it’s the only information they have on me (the fact that it’s technically a surname probably contributes to this), most people who see the name associate it pretty strongly with the gender I was assigned at birth. And in fact, everyone I’ve ever heard of with the name has been of that gender.

That said, as I noted above I’m actually quite attached to my first name as a part of my identity, so if I were to change my first name to something more gender-neutral, I’d also make my current first name into my new surname (I’d be Kasey [current first name], which I kind of like).

The idea of changing my surname in this way really intrigues me, actually. I was given the name I have because the patrilineal surname tradition was going to kill off a branch of our family. There were no male heirs to the name, and since there’s clearly no other way to pass on a surname, (no matter how important it is to the family to keep the name alive, apparently) the name was totally necessarily changed into a first name, and bequeathed to me. To change the name back into a surname, as it should rightfully be, would be a wonderful, mildly subversive, feminist act for me, especially if it were combined with passing the name on to my child/ren. And it would totally make up for the guilt I’ve felt about my prior name change, at least.

But, as I say, I am lazy. So this is a thing I’ll probably be sitting on for a while. We shall see!

Abortion *is* a personal moral choice

After putting up yesterday’s post on abortion, I wound up having some interesting discussions about it with friends. Interesting, because halfway through, I realized that despite my contestation that I didn’t really buy it, I was arguing the “abortion is a personal moral choice” line to a tee. It suddenly made perfect sense to me that the choice of what to do with any individual fetus has to be made, and can only be made, by the person who is pregnant with that fetus (and cannot be scrutinized or judged by anyone else).

In a nutshell, here’s why:

The ethical question that is abortion, when you get down to brass tacks, is about two things. One the one side, there is the fetus, a living thing with some sort of undefinable moral/ethical value (and while we can debate about that value, I hope we can agree that it exists). On the other side is the pregnant person, and their right to bodily autonomy, and the fact that in order to preserve the life of the fetus, that person will have to make some equally undefinable set of sacrifices in their life. And in any decision about abortion, these two things are weighed against each other.

The thing is, though, that while we all have approximately the same capability to parse and consider the value of fetal life, there is only one person in the world who can fully understand or know the extent of the sacrifices that are required of an individual pregnant person should they choose to carry the fetus to term, and that is the pregnant person themself.

For better or worse, when it comes right down to it, the only person who even understands the values that are being balanced in any individual decision to abort (or not) is the individual person faced with the decision. The rest of us do not, and cannot, ever know what is in the balance, and thus we cannot reasonably claim to be able to judge that decision. And that’s it.

Pregnant people are people, too

I am pro-choice. 100%. Under all circumstances, and for any reason, I believe that the decision of whether or not to continue hosting a fetus inside of their body lies with the person who’s body is being inhabited by the fetus. And mostly, I leave it at that. But I also think it can be useful to explore the actual ethical quandaries that can be wrestled with in coming to this conclusion. Because I do think that a lot of people struggle with this issue, and that’s legitimate, but I also feel like there’s not always a good space to talk about it in a debate where one side tends to shut down any discussion of morality and the definition of life, and the other simply calls abortion murder, no discussion.

But I think that both of those positions are reductionist. it’s completely unreasonable to say that fetuses aren’t living things; quite simply, they are. And I also think that late-term fetus may even count as people (at least, they’re as much people as newborn babies are). And I wanted to actually put in words the reasons why I can hold these views and also still be 100% pro-choice in every instance.

Because I actually don’t fully buy the “well it’s a personal moral choice” argument, and the “right to privacy” grounds on which abortion is legal in the US have never made even the slightest bit of sense to me. If, in fact, abortion were tantamount to murder, these arguments would imply that murder shouldn’t be illegal on the grounds of privacy and personal moral choices, which is ridiculous.

The thing is, I don’t think that the question of whether a fetus is a person (or when a fetus becomes a person) has any real bearing on whether abortion should be legal or not. It’s not news that every fetal “personhood” argument ever made has completely erased the personhood of the person that the fetus is living inside the body of.

Because, for me, this is the crux of the whole thing. I don’t care if the fetus is a person or not, because no person should ever have the right to live inside of another person against their will. In this model, the death that results from abortion is self-defense, (or possibly a mercy killing, since removing the fetus intact and simply letting it die would be comparably cruel) and not murder. This is not a difficult moral issue for me, but I’ll play along and try to anticipate some of the objections to this.

But the fetus can’t live outside the womb! It’s not deliberately invading your body! it just needs you to survive!

This is just completely irrelevant. Bodily violation is bodily violation regardless of intent, regardless of the whether the person (or fetus) violating someone’s body knows or understands that they are doing so. The person being violated is being violated regardless, and they have the right to stop the violation.

We are never legally required to sacrifice our bodies to save other people’s lives in any other circumstances. We aren’t even required to do so for our own children after they are born. I would be legally within my rights to deny a kidney, or even my blood, to my child, even immediately after birth. But for some reason people still insist that I should be required to carry the thing around for nine months inside my body. The inconsistency here is unfathomable. My right to bodily autonomy is not changed by the fact that I happen to be pregnant.

But you brought it on yourself! I mean, I can see a reason why abortion should be legal in cases of rape and incest, but you gave implicit consent for the fetus to take up residence in your body when you chose to have sex, (you slut)!

Um, no. That’s not how consent works – meaningful consent can be withdrawn at any time. Even if I have sex with the intent of creating a fetus in my body, if I later decide that I do not want said fetus in my body, I can kick it the fuck out.

That’s not even how natural consequences work. By the logic above, there’s a bunch of other conclusions you would have to come to that are patently ridiculous. We don’t, for instance, tell people that chlamydia is just a natural consequence of sex, and that to take antibiotics is to kill the chlamydia is wrong. (Again, even if for some reason I decided to have sex with the express purpose of getting chlamydia, I would be well within my rights to seek treatment for the consequent chlamydia.)

Or let’s look at other things relating to bodily autonomy. I’m registered on the list of bone marrow donors where I live, which means that if someone turns up requiring bone marrow that matches mine, I may be contacted to donate. Being on this list has positive consequences for me – it makes me feel good about myself. Maybe not as good as sex, but still, it’s a thing I chose to do of my own free will and for not much other reason than because it made me happy to do so.

And yet.

If I were called on to donate marrow to someone, I would not be obligated to follow through. Similarly, just because I enjoy having sex sometimes does not mean that I am morally obligated to carry a resulting fetus to term. There’s just no logic by which this could possibly follow. Just no.

This is the logic that is so often used to control women’s bodies and actions – you shouldn’t be out alone at night, or drunk, or dressing outside of certainly narrowly defined and contradictory “rules,” or rape is a direct consequence. You shouldn’t be pretty at work, or getting hit on by your boss is your fault. You shouldn’t be ugly at work, or getting fired is your fault. You shouldn’t try too hard to be conventionally attractive, or harassment is your punishment. You shouldn’t stray too far from conventional attractiveness or harassment is your punishment. You shouldn’t have sex with other women, or corrective rape is your punishment. You shouldn’t have no sex at all, or someone will have to rape you to teach you that sex is good. But you shouldn’t enjoy sex too much, or babies are your punishment.

And yes, I do fully analogize the bodily violation of rape with the bodily violation of being legally forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy. That shit wreaks havoc on your body and on your mental health. Birth is not a simple thing, it’s painful and exhausting and ugly.

Fuck. That. Noise. Consenting to sex does not imply consent to anything other than having sex in that moment.

But isn’t it the nice thing to do to let the innocent fetus use your body? And the nice thing to do is the right thing to do, after all.

Um, yeah, I guess it might be the nice thing to do. It would also be the nice thing to do to donate half of my income to charity, but most people would understand that weighing the hardship that would befall me if I did such a thing outweighs the desire to be nice. Once again, choosing to carry a fetus to term is a very big commitment, with far-ranging impacts on quality of life, ability to work, mental health, and many other things. Sure it’s nice, but it’s grand gesture nice, and not common courtesy/moral obligation nice.

…So, have I missed any of the big arguments?

Guest Post! Stranger on the train

So I’m standing in the subway yesterday, listening to music, reading a friend’s blog post about moral relativism. I’m engrossed because it’s an interesting topic, and I like to hear his opinions, and I’m weaving threads of thought together in my head and making note of things I want to comment on, whether on the blog or when we go out for beers next time. The subway goes over the Bloor bridge, the one place that gets reception, and I quickly hit the comments link to see what other people have written and how it fits into what I’m thinking.

I’m watching the little loading circle, hoping the page will load before we go into the tunnel again, trying to remember whether moral relativism refers only to temporally disparate cultures or if it’s applicable cross-culturally in the same time period, when I notice the guy next to me trying to get my attention.

I pull one of my earbuds out. “Sorry?”

He mumbles something again, but my music is too loud in the other ear and I can’t make out a single word he’s saying. I pull out the other earbud, apologize again, and ask him to repeat himself.

“how are you today,” he says.

…oh.

I see. You want to make conversation. Not even about anything specific or interesting; you just want words to come out of our mouths and be directed toward each other. I immediately fill with righteous rage; I was having such interesting thoughts, I was listening to good music, and he pulled me out of my rich internal world for… what? So he can ask me uninteresting questions?

The rage washes over me quickly, and I know to ignore it until it passes. I had a similar encounter with someone a few weeks ago and I regretted how I dealt with it, and decided that I would handle it differently next time. The time a few weeks ago, I was sitting on a bench, listening to music, reading a book, when the guy sitting next to me asked me for the time and immediately followed it with “where are you from?” and after a few more questions asked for my phone number. I had acted curt and cold toward him, and while I don’t think that was wrong of me at all (if someone’s listening to music and reading a book, it’s a pretty clear sign that they don’t want to be interacting with the outside world at the moment, and you should probably leave them alone unless you have a good reason to pull them out. And a good reason is not “I want to talk to them.”) I still think there was probably a more effective way to talk to him (or rather, to get him to stop talking to me, and to not do the same to other women in the future) and I would like to find that way.

So anyway, back to the subway. I’m reminding myself of the guy from a few weeks ago, and that I wanted to handle it differently, and that this is an opportunity to do so with this new guy. Is my rage helpful at the moment? Maybe, if I can think of exactly the right thing to say, and exactly the right intonation to say it with, to make it clear to him that there are certain social cues which indicate that a person doesn’t want to be bothered, and that I was exhibiting several of those, and that I am uninterested in speaking with someone whose first order of business is to disregard and disrespect the reasonably clear cues I was presenting. Can I think of the exact right thing to say and the exact right way to say it in this moment? Not really. So, can I use this rage for something useful? Probably not. I could display it anyway, and hope that his reaction is “gosh, I should probably not bother someone who is so clearly doing something else,” but the more likely reaction would be “what a bitch. I can’t catch a break.” I’m making a lot of assumptions about him, but I’m okay with those assumptions.

Is my rage about him, anyway? Well, kind of. He did something which I fucking hate strangers doing. I have every right to be annoyed. But if he were the only person to ever do that to me, I probably wouldn’t be anything more than annoyed. My visceral reaction to his disrespect isn’t really about him, but about all the times this has happened before. Would it even make sense to vent that rage at him, when he is simply the latest in a string of similar experiences I’ve had all my life? Is it him that I’m angry at, or the biker dude who hit on me when I went to the store for cookies when I was 14? Or the man who rubbed my thigh on the bus when I was 16? Or the man who sexually abused me when I was 6?

The rage isn’t really about this guy after all. It’s about me and the experiences I’ve had and the way that this is supposed to just be an expected and normal part of life. This guy’s sin is that he disregarded my social cues because they were inconvenient for him. A shitty thing to do, but I can’t ask him to answer for the sins of all the predatory men I’ve encountered before him.

These thoughts pass through my head in less than a second, and the rage washes over me and gets replaced by idle amusement. I don’t know how to properly get across what I want to get across to him, but I can at least collect data for the next time this happens.

So I tell him how I am today. No, I’m not coming home from work, I’m going to a friend’s place. I work in software. Yes, I’m pretty good at it. No, I haven’t seen any good movies lately. No, I don’t watch sports. No, I didn’t grow up in Canada. I came here when I was nine. No, I would not like to see you again. Have a good day.

It’d be great if I could say that I now know exactly what to say to simultaneously get someone to stop talking to me and get them to understand why. It’s not the “getting them to stop” that’s a problem. I have absolutely no issue with telling a stranger to leave me alone. I’ve done it several times in the past, to great success (it seems people are thrown off when someone blatantly tells them “please leave now,” so they end up doing so). It’s the fact that getting him out of my hair does nothing for the bigger issue. It just pushes him off to be someone else’s problem. I have very little interest in doing that.

I wonder what his thought process was. He clearly knew the right questions to ask to get to know someone better – he was just missing the vital first ingredient, that the person you’re talking to has to want to talk to you as well, and that this is as much about their own current internal state as it is about making yourself seem like someone worth talking to. Did he read books about how to talk to girls? Get shitty advice from his friends? Does he have social anxiety and doesn’t understand how to properly relate to people? Is he lonely? Why me, as opposed to someone else on the train? Was it just my turn, or was there something specific about me that made him want to talk to me? I need to get some sort of handle on the answers to those questions before I can know how to get through to him. I need to find some way to piece together the similarities between the men (I would say “people”, but it’s really just been men) who have bothered me in this way, without lumping them all together and making the next poor guy pay for everyone else’s sins. And I say “poor guy” without any hint of sarcasm. I can’t imagine that anyone who is that poor at picking up social cues can live a happy and fulfilling life. That guy certainly didn’t seem happy or fulfilled. Is it directly his fault, or is he a product of shitty life lessons? It’s not really him I’m mad at; it’s the fact that he’s a product of our culture.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the most effective ways to communicate with people. I suppose it would be more accurate to say that I’ve spent my whole life thinking about it, but that sounds pretentious. But I’m fascinated by people’s thought processes, and by figuring out how to wedge new ideas into their thought processes. As far as I can tell, the only way to do that is to truly try to understand the way that person’s mind works. You can throw facts at someone all day long and get nowhere if you haven’t figured out how to actually get those facts to stick with them. If I actually care about getting through to people, then I need to do it on their own terms, not my own.

I’m not particularly keen on interacting with someone like him again. But it’s going to happen, so I ought to at least try to make it into a productive interaction.

The “asking for it” narrative

No one ever asks to raped. No one ever asks to be abused. Physical violence is not an appropriate response to anything other than someone else initiating physical violence (or threatening to do so). The person who initiates it is in the wrong, always.

There. Done. Nothing more needs to be said on the topic, right?

That would be nice.

I’m not going to get into the bullshit ideas that if a woman has the audacity to be attractive to someone, that somehow constitutes consent to any and all activities with any and all people who find her attractive. It’s not even worth addressing. It’s just wrong. And I really think that even most of the people who say it know it’s wrong.

I want to talk here about one of the kinds of interactions that can arise in long-term abusive situations (whether abusive “romantic” relationships, parent-child relationships, or any other form of bullying over the long term) that may legitimately confuse some otherwise well-meaning people.

I know that for myself, when I relationships I have been in have fallen into abusive patterns (i.e. when I have been abused), I have been known to play in to those patterns. Because I knew my father’s hot buttons, and what would result irrationally angry reactions from him, I could choose to “set him off”. And sometimes I did.

Because the thing is that it was much easier to take whatever he had to throw at me if I was prepared for it. Setting him off unintentionally was far more painful and left deeper and more lasting emotional scars. I was living with him; it was always inevitable that another outburst would occur at some point – the only thing I had any chance of controlling was when it happened.

With my abusive partner, it was slightly different. It was the tired old story of not taking no for an answer, but not in a physically forceful way. Any time I did not want to have sex would trigger a wave of emotional blackmail, whining and begging. Early on, this could go on for hours before I could “convince” him to accept my initial no. But I could only do this so many times, and eventually I lacked the energy to fight for that long, and instead I inevitably give in from pure emotional exhaustion. I saw no other choice – I just couldn’t argue any more.

As time went on, my energy for trying to stand up for myself waned, until eventually I reached a point where I wouldn’t bother to say no in the first place. I agreed to whatever he wanted, because having things done to my body that I didn’t want was preferable to being emotionally shredded for hours, or being emotionally shredded for a while and *then* having things done to my body that I didn’t want. And when I was in it, in that horrible gaslighty mindspace that emotional abusers can back their victims into, I didn’t seem to have any other options.

But I never, ever “asked for it”. And it wasn’t my fault.

So, when someone tells you about an abusive situation they were in that seems like they “should have known what would happen” if they did the thing they did the “provoked” the abuse, please remember the following things before opening your fool mouth:

1) whatever they did, it did not call for violence, or any other kind of abuse, nor did it force their abusers hand. The abuser is responsible for their own actions. Always.

2) Even if it doesn’t seem like it to you, in the abused person’s mind, what would have happened if they had not “incited” the abuse would have been worse and more painful than what happened. This doesn’t discount the horrific-ness of what did happen, but remember that an abused person spends a good amount of their time feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place, and sometimes the only thing they feel like they can control is when the abuse will escalate, since they cannot choose whether it will happen again – it will happen again and again as long as they are in that abusive situation. And none of it is their fault.

—-

More on the psychology of people in abusive situations, and the kinds of considerations that colour their decisions:

“Why Does She Stay With That Jerk?”

One of Cliff’s answers is particularly pertinent to what I’m talking about here:

6. “I reached out once, and was rebuffed.”
In a rare moment of courage, he–with shaking hands, summoning all his strength–told someone he thought he could trust what his wife was doing to him. They told him to think about her point of view for once, to not use big drastic words like “abuse,” and to take care of his own damn problems without airing his dirty laundry. He just knows that if he reaches out again, it’s going to be the same thing. He’s lucky she didn’t find out about that time and doubts if it’s worth taking the risk again.

Seriously, don’t be the person who makes people feel this way.

Also:
Why I didn’t call the cops