July 31, 2011

Whose Health Is Important?

Approximately 28 years ago, a single mother raising three children far from their abusive father had a small work accident. She fell from a short height and landed badly on her heel. She ended up with a bone spur, then one on the other foot from compensating for the first. Because her job involved standing all day, she needed a new job.

She became an independent contractor, taking a job that allowed her flexibility for her feet, then for her volunteer job facilitating support groups, then for her volunteer job running the nonprofit that sponsored those support groups, then for her granddaughter when her son wasn't able to effectively parent, then for her town government, then for her county libraries, then for her father in his last days. Working as an independent contractor gave her the opportunity to give and make the world a better place for many people. What it did not give her was affordable health insurance.

That single mother is my mother, and a couple months ago, she surprised me with some news.

So, it's been over two months now since I got health insurance and started setting up appointments. Much has happened since then, and much not. Most has been written about, but one thing not. Yet.

The allergist diagnosed my dermatographism as a symptomatic expression of underlying allergy(-ies), tested, and found a bundle of things to avoid. Some of that is possible. Most, not so much. After some thought, I decided to go for the allergy shots, which actually start tomorrow morning, and go Monday and Thursday mornings for a while. Three shots per visit. Wheee.

They cause their own "little" side effect, and I'm not talking about the possibility of reaction to the shots, or even my decreasing availability for work causing lessening of income. After ordering having them made up, I was discussing with their office how much individual shots would cost if the ever-looming possibility of a government shut-down becomes fact on July 1st. My insurance is, after all, sponsored by the state. (An alternative scenario is I could get kicked off any insurance if the legislature budget goes through as written.) She thought about thirty bucks a piece, which is a strain but doable, especially if any shutdown is brief. Then she threw the zinger at me: it's formulating the shots themselves that costs thousands.

Thousands!?! Oooohhhh. Ummmm, maybe it's time to check how much of my $10,000/yr. insurance budget I have left. I figured this was one of the two things this year that I could take care of. There are already enough dead ends.

Getting the fibroid evaluated cost a visit to the OB-GYN, an ultrasound, having a radiologist read the scans, and an option for shrinkage treatment with surgery to follow in a few years when Medicare kicks in. The main problem with that treatment is that it is standard for it to require an overnight stay in the hospital, a very sensible precaution in case the wrong arteries got blocked somehow, but all by itself busting my budget. So, no go there. Keep carrying that football around, watching it grow. Meanwhile, a nice chunk out of that ten grand.

Oh, hell. Not only was there her health to worry about, but there were decisions to be made about money. At least with my cancer scare, I had the luxury of focusing on my health. For the woman who has put in almost three decades of unpaid (or barely paid) public service, there is a constant calculation of how much attention she can afford to pay to hers.

It's almost funny how everybody else freaks out by the word "cancer". I think folks fear it more than another 9/11. Me? Not so much. It's just not something that's been on my radar. Even a request for a repeat mammogram for better detail doesn't phase me. I don't worry about it. I know people who've had breast cancer, died from it. I know people who've died from liver cancer, and I'm aware that my years in the dry cleaners puts me at elevated risk. But, so? I'm just thinking finances.

Well, I'm also wondering what I'll do with my "hair" for the wedding if I'm bald from chemo or radiation. C'mon, something to think about.

There's grim irony in finally having health insurance but with such a limiting cap, and such narrow qualifications regarding my income level. Suppose I cash in some of my IRAs to help pay the bills. The money then counts as income, puts me over the amount to qualify for my insurance, and off the plan I go. So, pay my bills, and wind up losing the house or the insurance or both. Don't pay, declare bankruptcy... another undesirable end. Can we make it not be cancer or not grow fast enough or metastisise so that it can be ignored for two more years? I can afford it better then.

OK, dream on.

I made two phone calls this morning. The first was to my insurance plan, asking just how close to my annual cap I was. There was good news: the $10 grand limit is for inpatient treatment, and since everything I've done so far has been outpatient, I still have $10 grand left! Plus, I can still keep on with the other things I'm dealing with, like the allergy shots and the diabetes.

Whew! It's not a complete solution, but takes care of a chunk of the bill. It's enough that I feel better, irrational as that is. There'll still be tens of thousands of bill to pay afterwards.

A biopsy was good but insufficient. She can't wait until she can retire from work so it won't matter that she doesn't get disability insurance. She can't wait for the Medicare that her taxes have paid to support even as she supported others. She has to do what she can do now and figure out how to pay for it later.

I was the only one in the waiting area when I arrived. Another woman showed up and was quickly escorted back, and then three people came in together. They were there "for _____", who apparently was the woman just sent back, and were told to wait a few and they could go back and talk to the doctor. When it was my turn, among the long list of questions I was asked was whether I was (actually!) there on my own? It was said in such a concerned tone of voice that I gathered it was usual to bring a cheering squad/support group to these visits. Hadn't occurred to me. Been doing my own doctors' visits since, what? forever? Well, adulthood, anyway. Apparently I was supposed to be overwhelmed, distraught, incapable of digesting information, whatever. This was supposed to be scary.

Oh shucks, sorry to disappoint. Scary is facing the bills, and I've developed a plan, including checking myself back out of the hospital after two days to keep the costs down. There are enough healthcare professionals wandering through my house on a daily basis these days. I'm sure they can change a dressing, note inflamation, reassure me whether symptoms are normal, etc., if needed. Scary was not going to be something the doc said that day about what I was carrying around, since I already knew what it was or could be, and there would be no real news until after the surgery when my "football" was examined by the pathologist. That might or might not be scary then, but it'll be dealt with on an outpatient basis, and the insurance kicks in again.

What's your choice of "-oma"? I heard about five different terms, or at least I think there were five. He rattled them off so fast. It could be a myoma, a jargon-jargonoma, a jargon, a jargon-jargonoma, or carcinoma. I caught the first and last for sure. Actually, it helped that he wrote them down. The myoma is what this started out as: another word for fibroid, the "my" part of the word referring to smooth muscles, what the uterus is. Carcinoma, of course, is the worst possible case, and is exactly what you think it is. There are other levels and varieties in between of what stage it might be. They won't pull any lymph nodes until they get the pathology report requiring it, and that means I'll be "open" on the table while they wait. Hope they pick soothing music. Just not too soothing. I shouldn't have any problems with lymphodema (fluid buildup) if they do pull them, but on the rare occasions that happens (you hear about it with mastectomies) it's usually in combination with radiation therapy.


After he examined me, I asked him how much weight he thought he'd be cutting out. Since I'd just lost a bunch, may as well take advantage when I can to lose more. He thought 10 to 15 pounds. See? That's another good thing. Of course, I may have to throw out more pants that'll suddenly become too big to stay up. Or just sew in darts and wear them out. Not like I'll have money to burn for a while. He said I can be out in 2-3 days - I told him 2 - and can drive again in 2-3 weeks. That will also be 2. There'll be weight restrictions for lifting at first, till I'm fully healed. Doable.

Surgery is early tomorrow. How strange it is that anesthesia and surgical complications are the least of our worries. How bizarre is it that we have taken all her service over the years and repaid her with this? How does any society survive by treating its useful members this way?

July 30, 2011

Saturday Storytime: Ponies

The nominees for the World Fantasy Awards have been announced. This very short story by Kij Johnson, is not your average award nominee, but it is entirely obvious why it deserved to be nominated.

“Where are you?” Barbara asks.

“I’m outside,” TopGirl says, so Barbara gets a Crystal Light and three frosted raisin-oatmeal cookies and follows her. TheOtherGirls outside are listening to an iPod plugged into speakers and playing Wii tennis and watching the Ponies play HideAndSeek and Who’sPrettiest and ThisIsTheBestGame. They are all there, SecondGirl and SuckUpGirl and EveryoneLikesHerGirl and the rest. Barbara only speaks when she thinks she’ll get it right.

And then it’s time. TheOtherGirls and their silent Ponies collect in a ring around Barbara and Sunny. Barbara feels sick.

TopGirl says to Barbara, “What did she pick?”

Sunny looks scared but answers her directly. “I would rather talk than fly or stab things with my horn.”

TopGirl says to Barbara, “That’s what Ponies always say.” She gives Barbara a curved knife with a blade as long as a woman’s hand.

“Me?” Barbara says. “I thought someone else did it. A grown-up.”

Keep reading.

July 29, 2011

Talking About Leadership

Prior to the start of Skepchickcon, the skeptics track at CONvergence, Skepchick hosted a workshop on effective activism, led by Desiree Schell and Maria Walters. If you get a chance to attend this workshop in another venue, do it. It's the most productive couple hours on the topic you're going to find. If you don't have the chance to attend, at least read the manual (pdf) they put together on the topic. Then use it when you're planning some kind of action.

Before the workshop started, I had a chance to talk with Debbie Goddard, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at last year's Skepchickcon. Debbie is the campus outreach coordinator for the Center for Inquiry and the director of African Americans for Humanism.

Debbie and I spoke about skeptical leadership, and it was a particularly interesting time to do so. Rebecca's post on naming names in her talk at the CFI leadership conference had just come out. This was a conference that Debbie had organized and run. Also, earlier this year, I had expressed some criticism of CFI Michigan's leadership for their promotion of an evolutionary psychology speaker and their reactions to my post and Bug Girl's dissecting the speaker's research.

Debbie and I had a good talk, and I've been meaning ever since to write up a few thoughts on leadership. Note that these are my thoughts, not Debbie's, although I'm comfortable saying that Debbie and I agree on a few things:
  • Leadership is largely a set of skills that can be taught.

  • Due to the nature of skepticism and atheism, leaders in these movements may emerge from the ranks based on skills other than leadership. That's natural and expected.

  • Skepticism and atheism, as broad movements, need to find a way to reliably instill these skills in their leaders to create stronger movements.

  • We need to provide support for leaders independent of the groups that they're leading. That is to say both that pooling talent and knowledge is more effective and that it isn't healthy for an activist organization's leader to receive all their social support from within the organization.

  • We're only in the beginning stages of treating leadership skills as important, but we're already making good strides.

  • Moving this quickly, as with any kind of change, is going to produce some pain.

Now, speaking only for me, I think there are some lessons on leadership to take home from the events of the past few months. I will also be naming names here, but I should note that my intent is to provide concrete examples and to draw something good out of painful events, not to shame anyone. None of what I'm about to say is or should be transparently obvious to everyone. These are things we need to learn.

Why should you pay attention to me on the topic? Well, maybe you shouldn't. My experience with successful leadership is mostly secondhand. However, I grew up with a mother who ran a nonprofit and eventually served in a number of public offices, including as mayor of her small town. I was constantly privy to these considerations as a teenager, and the topic has continued to be something the two of us discuss. In my professional career, I've worked very closely with management for over a decade, mostly crafting communications but also acting as a sounding board for all sorts of leadership decisions.

Probably just as importantly, I've failed miserably at leadership. It hasn't happened because I don't understand the principles and responsibilities (which is why I've been given the job more than once). Meetings I run accomplish their goals and end early. Discussions I moderate stay productively on topic. But anything more sustained than that? I fail because the requirements of leadership grate very hard on this particular slightly disabled introvert. I know what kinds of jobs I'm not suited to and why. And that brings me to the first lesson of leadership.

Who's in Charge Here?

There's a bit of folk wisdom that gets passed around that the last person you should want elected to political office is someone who wants the job. Being represented by Al Franken and Keith Ellison, I have to dismiss this as unworkably cynical, but there is a small grain of truth to be found in it nonetheless.

The advantages of leadership are generally improved status and a greater ability to push through your own agenda. Neither of these advantages should be indulged indiscriminately. Authority doesn't make one inherently any more likely to be right, so it's important to remain approachable and to encourage challenges to your ideas. Also, among atheists and skeptics in particular, an authoritarian leadership style is less likely to be desired or tolerated.

If you're leading a healthy organization, you will constantly be dealing with people who want to improve it. You won't be in a position to pull your group along in your wake, because your organization will be vigorous enough to push you in the direction its members already want to go. You'll be able to steer and to make sure nothing goes off the rails, but the momentum won't be yours. High status in this scenario simply means that you're the person everyone comes to with their ideas.

This is a great position for an organization to be in, but it means that the perqs of leadership largely disappear. The downsides of leadership do not.

What Have You Done for Me Today?

As a leader, you help to set the goals and priorities of your organization. Unfortunately, you don't really get credit for those. As the incident with CFI Michigan's promotion of the evolutionary psychology event showed, you get the credit and blame for what actually happens at any given time, whatever your intent.

Comments from the leaders of CFI Michigan said that they wanted people to ask questions at events and to challenge speakers. However, neither the email notifying people of the event nor their calendar suggested people be prepared to ask questions or pointed them to the resources they would need to challenge the speaker on the controversial parts of the talk. They also said that they didn't in any way endorse the speaker or the material, but at least one group leader put out a communication supporting the speaker in the days following my criticisms and Bug Girl's.

No matter how much work CFI Michigan put into maintaining impartiality toward the events they promoted, no matter how often they told the members who showed up at their events that they should be challenging speakers in the Q&As, for this particular event, their website and their behavior didn't support those goals. For all the work they do, they were still on the hook for what happened during this one event.

Hands Off

Before you rise to the level of leadership in your organization, you have the luxury of concentrating on the organization's mission. You can, personally, get an awful lot done. In fact, this may be what propels you to leadership, where a cruel surprise awaits you: It's time to say goodbye to that kind of productivity.

Once you become a leader, you have a lot more to pay attention to. Do these members or factions need someone to negotiate their differences? Does this member need some extra attention to contribute fully? Does someone need to produce and file paperwork? Does this meeting need to be kept on track? Do new members need to be recruited to fill various jobs? Does someone need to figure out where you're going to meet while your normal venue is closed for renovations? Does someone need to research your group's legal responsibilities in some new situation?

You may not have to do all of these personally, but as a leader, you're responsible for making sure they happen. This leaves you less time to write or otherwise personally get your group's message out, less time to build relationships for their own sake, less time to sit down and enjoy the purely social aspects of your group's activities.

Instead, you get to make things easier for everyone else who is doing what used to take up all your time and motivate you to keep going. Delegation isn't always fun, because it means giving up the place and activities you originally chose for yourself, but it's critical to the success of your group.

Say Goodbye to Privacy

This isn't entirely true, but it's worth thinking about. When you gain disproportionate influence, everything you say and do becomes a little more important. For example, D. J. Grothe has a large number of friends in the skeptical community. He believes in his friends, and naturally, he wants to offer them his personal support. However, he is also the president of the JREF, which means that when he does something like comment on Lawrence Krauss's defense of a convicted statutory rapist, people sit up and pay attention.

As he discovered in that particular circumstance, he no longer has the luxury of simply saying, "I'm sure my friend is a good guy." When he comments on that or any other contentious issue, he--and by extension, the JREF--is seen to be taking a side, whatever his intention. His position of leadership meant that he had to bring himself up to speed on all the details of the situation and make a more formal, informed comment. To his credit, he did just that.

This is also the trap in which Stef McGraw found herself unenviably caught in her disagreement with Rebecca Watson. From the way she has responded, she expressed what was intended to be a personal opinion about Rebecca's video. However, she did so on her organization's blog. And even had she restricted her opinion to a personal blog, her position as Director of Activities for the University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers and Inquirers means that official notice had to be taken of her position. When the number one reason women give for not continuing to attend atheist and skeptic meet-ups is that they're treated as though they're only there as potential dates, there is no option for the larger community to ignore her opinions on what women in the movement should consider normal and expected.

Expressing a personal opinion in public as an organization's leader is a fraught proposition, no matter how much separation you attempt to maintain. This is one of the reasons we need to find better ways to provide social support for these leaders, venues in which they can air those first, half-formed opinions about current events and get feedback before they wade into the public fray.

You're All Alone Up There, or You Should Be

Another reason we need to encourage leaders to exchange ideas and support each other behind the scenes is that groups of freethinkers shouldn't ever be placed in the position of "My group/leaders, right or wrong." We have some justifiable pride in our organizations and their leaders, but if that pride becomes tribalism, we're undercutting our own mission.

There will be mistakes made by the leader of any group. Even if most of our leaders weren't fairly new to leadership, this would be true. Similarly, there will be differences in groups' priorities and missions that will result in disagreements between individuals at the leadership level. People will not always agree on how to work together.

This is understandable and inevitable. It can, and will, also generate frustration and misunderstandings. The ratio of reward to annoyance will sometimes become ridiculously tiny. A leader in that position needs a safe place to vent all those negative feelings.

That leader's organization is the wrong place for that. Social media is often the wrong place for that. Why? Because as a leader, you've lost the ability to make public personal statements on official business. You are speaking as your group, and people will respond to that.

If someone disagreed with you, they will be seen as having disagreed with your group--and the people in it. If someone insulted you, they will be seen as having insulted your group--and the people in it. And if they didn't do either of these things, because you misinterpreted what happened, they will still be seen as having done so because you have put your authority behind your interpretation. Then you will have, not two people who need to straighten things out, or simply decide whether joint goals are more important than bad feelings, but two groups of people who need to do that. That is a significantly larger proposition.

Leaders need confidants who are not invested in the leader's organization, people who are not in a position to be led, preferably people who also have leadership experience. They also need to exercise discretion in what conflicts they treat as matters that concern their entire group.

Final Thoughts

This isn't as coherent a whole as I'd intended when I decided to write about it, which is part of why it's been a month between the conversation and this blog post. I expect I'll be revisiting the topic as I dig into it further. I also hope to engage Debbie in further, more public discussion on leadership.

In the meantime, however, I'm interested in others' thoughts on the matter. What leadership lessons are particularly important to broad, only loosely organized movements like the skeptics and atheists?

July 24, 2011

Vacation Over

But oh, it was lovely while it lasted.

July 16, 2011

Saturday Storytime: The Water Museum

Nisi Shawl is cowriter of the highly useful Writing the Other: A Practical Approach. She is also an award-winning author of short stories. An excerpt:

Came a low, unmistakable growl and he jumped back. I went around to his side. “Don’t worry, I’ll get it out for you,” I said. “Girlfriend!” I bent over and grabbed one green canvas corner of my assassin’s duffel bag and pulled. This is Girlfriend’s favorite game. We tussled away for a few minutes. “She’s small, but she’s fierce,” I commented as I took a quick break. “You got any food in there, a sandwich or somethin?”

“No. Why?”

“I just noticed she had the zipper open some.”

The hitchhiker got a little pale and wispy-looking when he heard that. He stayed that way till I retrieved his duffel and gave it to him to rummage through. He took his time finding his jean jacket, and by the time he’d dug it out and put it on he looked more solid and reassured.

So now I knew where his gun was. Should I let him keep it? He’d be a lot easier to handle without a pistol in his fist. Then again, the thing might not even be loaded, depending on how soon he’d been planning on meeting up with me; simpler for him to explain an empty gun to any cops stopped him hitching rides. And I’d be able to get him relaxed faster if he was armed.

He threw the bag over his shoulder and I locked the car. Girlfriend had already started up the trail. Of course he wanted me to walk ahead of him, but Buddy just looked at him with his dark, suspicious eyes and Mr. Man decided it would be okay if this time he was the one to go first.
Keep reading.

July 08, 2011

The Comments You Didn't See

A few days ago, I posted a letter to Richard Dawkins from some atheist and skeptic survivors of sexual assault. I noted in the introduction to the letter that people other than Dawkins who wanted to argue should go somewhere else, and I gave them somewhere to go with an open and active comment thread.

To the best of my knowledge, Dawkins has not left a comment on that post. Plenty of other people, however, were unable to follow directions. Or perhaps they were unwilling to acquiesce to the wishes of a sexual assault survivor giving a space to other sexual assault survivors. Those comments have been, as people were warned, moderated.

They're still in place, though, so people can see how much was moderated. They're there because it was inevitable that some idiot would think "There, not here" is silencing of dissent. It's a complaint that's been leveled at the Skepchicks as well.

So, for those of you desperately curious to see what the "other side" looks like or how I've quelled discussion, have some comments. First, all of mine, then a couple to show you what the Skepchicks are keeping from you.

Saucy Lark, 7/5

I am a victim of sexual assault, I was raped by one of my mom's many boyfriends, and I'm siding with Richard on this. Sorry ladies.

Anonymous, 7/6

You guys are pretty ridiculous, I hope you know that. Labeling a man a rapist just for asking a girl out. Dawkins was exactly right on this one, thousands of people are being raped this very moment and you criminalize a guy TALKING to a girl? Pathetic.

Anonymous, 7/6 (This one Blogger sent straight to spam.)

Professor Dawkins did not denigrate victims of actual assault, he denigrated the non event that is now the elevator debacle.

The horrible violations of females human rights, have nothing to do with the event that happened in the elevator, as nothing did happen, that deviated from talking to a person.

If you want to perceive all men as potential rapist, you can do that, but this is not worthy of rational thinkers let alone feminists.

You are deliberately misrepresenting what Dawkins was actually saying and what actually transpired in that elevator. How someone perceives a situation is not the same as what actually happens! What actually happened was an unfortunate flirting attempt that ended as soon as Rebecca declined the offer. No threat, no further attempt.

Things like this happen, those are normal human interactions, not near miss rapes. I can understand that rape victims or victims threats by men, are especially sensible, but this does not justify to distort a non event in such a manner and to misrepresent the comment of someone who points it out.

I have been proposed for sex by a homosexual male once, when i was still very uncertain of my body and very shy and sexually totally inexperience. It was the most awful situation i had ever been in, since all my insecurities went straight to my head. After declined, the other guy left. It was a non event, i felt awful, but those where my feelings and my responsibilities.

I really hope you get some perspective and don't confuse the Event , with your horrible experience you had with some man. Most man are not rapist and there is no gender guilt as there is no female responsibility to prevent rape by not being attractive to man.

Gender equality arises from us all being human, and if you look at the Elevator event through the Rawlsian Veil of Ignorance, you will see that it was not a near miss rape, not even close

Misaki, 7/6

Does having your country raped count?

Misaki, 7/6

I might as well paste this here as well.

"Hi everyone, I found out what the problem is!

This is a conflict between people who think that atheist and skeptic organizations are ways to meet new friends and interesting people, and people who think that the purpose is to improve the world by fixing problems.

The former now dislike Richard Dawkins. The latter think that the former are stupid, and accordingly they should read http://pastebin.com/Q86Zhgs9 on how to address that stupidity in a very roundabout way.

To clarify, the first type of person wants to eliminate poor behavior by males who attend atheist and skeptic conferences. The latter type of person puts priority on problems that affect the entire world, not just the social environment of a particular movement."

Misaki, 7/6

"If you are a survivor and wish to have your name added to this letter, let me know, either in the comments or by email."

Someone I know might have been. But I won't tell you her name.

Anonymous, 7/7

Wow, this is incredible. You´re all over'reacting horribly and this is bullying behaviour! Obviously you don´t realise how offensive, discriminatory and hypocritical you´re all being. You bullies!

Anonymous, 7/7

So did any of you survive politely being offered a cup of coffee and left alone after saying "no"? Pathetic...

Anonymous, 7/7

You delete perfectly reasonable comments. That's pathetic. So Rebecca Watson is a rape survivor now for being offered a cup of coffee... Okay, moonbats, I'm gonna leave you alone now... bye!

Anonymous, 7/7 (Apparently Phyraxus, who complained about being silenced after I identified him because he left the same comment elsewhere.)

Just to let you know, Richard Dawkins is also a victim of sexual assult.


"Happily I was spared the misfortune of a Roman Catholic upbringing (Anglicanism is a significantly less noxious strain of the virus). Being fondled by the Latin master in the Squash Court was a disagreeable sensation for a nine-year-old, a mixture of embarrassment and skin-crawling revulsion, but it was certainly not in the same league as being led to believe that I, or someone I knew, might go to everlasting fire. As soon as I could wriggle off his knee, I ran to tell my friends and we had a good laugh, our fellowship enhanced by the shared experience of the same sad pedophile. I do not believe that I, or they, suffered lasting, or even temporary damage from this disagreeable physical abuse of power. Given the Latin Master's eventual suicide, maybe the damage was all on his side."

And now for a sample of moderated comments from Skepchick:
zumb, 7/8

Dear Rebecca

Please don’t take this wrong. But you’re sick. Really, no kidding.

Please contact a shrink to find out why instead of been flattered you get offended if a man proposes you. That’s really weird.

Unless, of course, you are a lesbian. But even then, all you have to say is NO, I don’t like man. That’s all!

whitehetreosexualman, 7/8

Oh, wow.

“Thanks, wealthy old heterosexual white man!”

This is the ultimate proof that no matter how much you educate a woman. She’ll always be irrational, hence the ad hominem. As G.W.F. Hegel once said, “Women are capable of education, but they are not made for activities which demand a universal faculty such as the more advanced sciences, philosophy and certain forms of artistic production… Women regulate their actions not by the demands of universality, but by arbitrary inclinations and opinions”.

What’s sickening reading this is that you’re complaining about sexism against women, but it’s okay to hate white heterosexual males. I bet in your world for everything that badly happens towards us it’s our fault. Like how we are being killed in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Also, I’m tired of pseudointellectual feminists who continue to rant about oppression. You’re no longer oppressed in the western world. You can sleep with all the men and be a dirty little slut all you want without being stoned to death. Now most men are accepting that a virgin wife is most likely impossible, unless you want to kidnap a 6 year old girl and marry her in Saudi Arabia. You can go get an education and get a job. You might make a tab bit off as a male would, but other than the last example you’re not oppressed, but you’re indeed stupid.

adammorva, 7/8

Dear Rebecca,

I don’t know how to put this, but.. Are you FUCKING RETARDED?

Somebody invited you to his room for a coffee (or sex or whatever) and you dare call him a male chauvinist, women objectifying dirtbag?
When Richard Dawkins points out that you are whining about ABSOLUTELY NOTHING you dare to say that you are looking forward to see him crash and burn?

I feel sorry for you, kiddo. Something seriously damaging must’ve happened to you to have such a poor mental health.

You are giving women and skeptics a bad name. You are disgusting.

rianmacker, 7/7

In other words: If you have a penis shut up because women are always right (and men sometimes when they agree with women).

Obviously, someone doesn’t get it and that would be you.

notsureifserious, 7/6

First off, you’re a terrible writer. Give up your dreams of ever becoming a journalist.

Second, people like you are the reason men never want to approach women.

miscmanismiscing, 7/6

Good job reinforcing the ‘all feminists are ugly’ stereotype girls.

phyraxus, 7/6

Schrodinger’s rapist argument is very unconvincing.

Just because every male MIGHT be a potential rapist doesn’t mean they are. Just like every female MIGHT be a cum-bucket, money-grubbing, bitch doesn’t mean they are.

In other words, don’t accuse your allies of misogyny unless you want to be accused of misandry (hatred of men [LOL it is such an unknown word, spellchecker doesn't recognize it]).

Anybody still feel they're missing anything important from the discussion? Then maybe you want to head to Twitter, where nobody feels they'll be censored:

Or this little "joke":

Or the YouTube comments about how she needs to be anally raped, which I won't post here.

So, yeah. That's what you're missing, folks. A whole "side" to the argument being woefully repressed because they're not getting the same forum from me or from Skepchick that they are elsewhere. What do you think, should we open the discussion up more?

July 05, 2011

A Letter to Professor Dawkins from Victims of Sexual Assault

Thank you to Bug Girl for suggesting this. If you are a survivor and wish to have your name added to this letter, let me know, either in the comments or by email (see the sidebar for my address). If you wish, you may reprint this letter in full elsewhere, as long as you link back to this post for the full list of those who have signed.

If you need background on this,
try this post. If you want to argue about this, and you are not Richard Dawkins, go there or get your own blog. Comments here will be moderated as I see fit.

Dear Dick:

At your request, we write to you to tell you what it is that you do not understand about elevators, invitations, and sexual assault. Who are we, and why are we in any position to tell you anything? We are atheists and skeptics, but more relevantly, we are victims of sexual assault.

There are two important things to note about Rebecca Watson's experience. The first is that she had spent much of her evening telling the people around her, "Please don't hit on me," and finished by saying she was done talking and wanted sleep. This was ignored by the man now widely referred to as Elevator Guy. (Yes, it's been established that he was in a position to hear her. Yes, it's been established that he followed her out of the space in which she'd been saying this and got on the elevator with her.)

She had said, by unequivocal implication, "No." He ignored this and did what he wanted to. This is important.

The second important thing to know is that her response was to say publicly, one more time, "Please don't do that. It makes me uncomfortable." That's it. That was her entire response to Elevator Guy beyond telling him she wouldn't go to his room.

For that response, Rebecca came under considerable fire. This is also important.

The entire drama-filled discussion came about because Rebecca asserted her right and the right of other women to say, "No," and be heard. It happened because she asserted that men, as well as women, have a role to play in maintaining that right.

Then you spoke. Then you, widely regarded as one of atheism's leaders, one of the Four Horsemen, decided you needed to say something about this.

You didn't have to do that. If you felt, as your comments seem to indicate, that too much attention was being paid to this event, you could have simply declined to add yours.

However, that wasn't what you did. Instead, you said that Rebecca, who was voicing our concerns, was thereby telling other women with other concerns that they were whining. Or perhaps that the rest of us who supported Rebecca when she was criticized for expressing her preferences were accusing these women of whining.

Even if you had stopped there, this would merit an apology. Not only has Rebecca spoken out loudly against female genital mutilation (drawing the ire of those who told her she wasn't paying enough attention to the boys) and other religion-driven wrongs against women and girls, but her demand that women's self-determination be respected is exactly what needs to spread in order to prevent the ills you mention. If this is an issue you care about, instead of a distraction from Rebecca's point, you should be thanking her for her work instead of emphasizing the "chick" in the name of her organization, diminishing her stature.

Then, in response to complaints about that, you told us all that what happened to Rebecca--having her clearly and repeatedly expressed preferences about being hit on ignored--was "zero bad." It should be clear by now why that requires a correction from you. It also calls for another apology, whether or not you knew the facts above when you wrote your comment. If you didn't know, you weren't in any state to lend your position and reputation to any characterization of what happened, much less the mischaracterization you used.

That is where you injured us, the victims. You have made one more space blatantly unsafe to us. We don't mean safe as in free from any kind of sexual interest. We're not asking for that, and we don't want it. We mean that you, a leader in our community, made free with a woman's experience and rewrote it to suit your own ends.

You decided you knew better than she did what had happened, and you were comfortable explaining it to everyone else. That is part of how communities are ruined and ultimately shaped to support sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. That is how offenders operate and how they are excused. That is how the world that hurt us was built. And you have added to that.

That is why you owe us an apology as much as you owe Rebecca. When may we expect it?


Stephanie Zvan, survivor of teen sexual assault
Bug Girl, survivor of a date rape in 1980
Abigail Marceluk Parker
Chris Tucker
Elyse Anders, rape survivor
Dana Hunter, raped at age 18
Megan Wells, survivor of teen sexual assault
Tracy Walker, raped at 15
Danarra Ban
Paul Mannering
Andrea Gatley, sexually assaulted at age 14. In an elevator in a hotel.
Carol Levesque
Anneliese Bowman
Debbie Hadley, lucky to have fought off two sexual assault attempts by men who didn't believe no means no
Cori Frazer, survivor of childhood sexual abuse
Leilah Thiel, sexually assaulted at age 16
Helen Krummenacker, victim of repeated schoolground gropings
Edie Howe, assaulted at 7, 9, early teens, by both husbands, by strangers three times
BeardofPants, survivor child sexual abuse, age 7
Julia Heathcote, survivor of sexual assault by her PhD advisor
Rebecca Dominguez, survivor of sexual assault and date rape
Monado, survivor of groping (age 13), rape threats for refusing one of those innocent invitations to go for a ride (age 16), partner rape (age 35)
Doubting Thomas, gang raped at 18
Anarchic Teapot
Amanda W. Peet, date-raped at age 25
Alice, raped at 16, assaulted at 19
Melanie Mallon
Susan Silberstein, survivor of husband and stranger rape
Stephanie Zierenberg, victim of acquaintance rape at 24
Janice Clanfield
Kelly Sexton
Lynn Wilhelm, date raped in the 80s
Robin Buckallew, victim of childhood sexual assault, age 7
Catherine Ann, date-raped at age 30
Shoshana Kane, biologist, atheist, skeptic, rape survivor
Solvei Blue, survivor of sexual assault at age 19
Dr Fiona Wallace MB BS(London), MA, assaulted age 14 when babysitting - by the child's father
Nicole P., repeatedly raped by ex-fiance
Dorothy M., victim of kidnapping, assault and rape, daughter of a victim of child molestation, mother of a victim of date-rape
Sandy H., survivor of childhood sexual assault
Anne Marie Newman, victim of acquaintance rape, sexual assault by a "friend," and sexual harassment at work
Alianna B., stalked and sexually harassed for 3 1/2 years
Calebandrew, rape at the age of 15
Catherine Schneider, sexually abused by father from birth to age 14; raped by teen boyfriend age 15-17; gang raped by acquaintances age 22
Skepticalbunny, date rape survivor in 1982
Emily Dale, raped at age 16
Professor Anonymous_Female_Voice_Specialist, BS, MA, first sexually assaulted at age 3 or 4 and several times thereafter, at various ages
Nichole Filbert, sexually assaulted and raped in the process of leaving abuser
Nikoel Stevens
Carolyn, raped on 30th birthday
Maggie Champaigne
Sarah Killcoyne, sexual assault survivor
Emily F, rape survivor
Dianne K, molested at age 9, groped on the bus at 14
Kate W., molested at age 14, groped by multiple strange men, assaulted at age 25
WMDKitty, survivor of domestic assault
Jan Bunten
Bethany Baker, sexually assaulted at age 14
Wilma Janssen, assaulted multiple times, first time at 17
Chris Rhetts
Lee Ruby, survivor of childhood sexual abuse
ChristineCCR, raped, stalked, and sexually harassed
Jennifer Forester, raped by multiple partners
Lynne, raped and multiply assaulted
Cafegirl1995, raped at 13, assaulted at 14
Gwen Olson RN, sexually assaulted by a coworker
Lia C., molested at age 10, groped and ejaculated upon while riding the train at age 19, and date-raped at age 26
Katherine Ann B., survivor of multiple partner sexual assaults, two assaults by strangers, and kidnapping and assault by ex-partner
P. Adams, date raped at age 18
ephymeris, raped and molested repeatedly as a child, raped as a teen
CathyC, survivor of childhood sexual abuse and multiple sexual assaults
Sue Williams, date raped at 20, assaulted multiple times
Jennifer Haden, molested as a child and recently drugged and assaulted
Alexandra B, drug-raped at 18, other various sexual assaults
FranW, raped at age 25 by partner's contrivance
Jafafa, sexual abuse victim ages 11-14
Mrs. Carol King, first sexual assault at age 7 with more following
StarsEnd42, sexually assaulted on very first date ever, sexually asaulted again at a conference
PixelFish, sexually harassed, verbally and physically, by fellow students and coworkers
Cripdyke, incestuous rape at age 10, domestic sexual assault ages 21-22
Rune C. Olwen, survivor of a Catholic abuse family and repeatedly attacked since;
one of the women who invented women self-defence
Whiteman, sexually abused by father from the ages of 12-15
Rebecca G., survivor of childhood molestation from 5-7, date rape at 16 and at 17, and sexual assault by a colleague in grad school
Nepenthe, repeated partner rape at age 20
Claire D, survivor of repeated and regular rape and gang rape between the ages of 12-15 and date rape at ages 16 and 18
Kate A., survived rape at 19 & multiple assaults
Jenny W, raped at age 14
Ellid, assaulted twice by her own husband in her own home
Sarah, survivor of molestation at 3 & 5, rape at 5, and threats of sexual assault from classmates from 8-17
Aimee McDowd, survived rape at 8, 12-13 repeated molestation and rape again at 15, escaped attempted abduction at 16
Can'tSayWho, raped by friend of 10 years
Kristin, survivor of sexual assault, age 4 and 20
Cynthia Wood, groped by a teacher at 12, raped by a boyfriend at 15
Kay, raped by a partner, groped countless times
Brigitte Hentschel, raped twice, once by a casual acquaintance, once by an ex-boyfriend; sexually harassed and groped countless times
Margaret L, sexually assaulted at 13, raped by a coworker at 22
Elizabeth C., molested as a child
Sarah Rean, molested from infancy, raped at age 18, and assaulted
Michelle, sexually abused by grandfather 4-12
Juliet, sexually assaulted at age 17
Rae, stalked by someone everyone insisted was harmless until he stabbed a stranger
Dr. Dory Green, sexually assaulted at 21 by a casual acquaintance in an encolsed space after politely turning down his advances
Jessa, drugged and raped at age 12
Tamsin, sexually harassed in elementary school with the help of a teacher
Alumiere Sg, sexually abused age 13 - 17, raped as an adult
Melissa Faulkner, sexually abused by stepfather for almost a year, age 12
mouthyb, BA, MFA, PhD (in progress), molested at age 9, raped multiple times
Allison, molested ages 13-14, raped at age 22
Sarah J., molested at age 7, assaulted in 2009
Rob, raped at ages 11-13 by a school official
Kathi, raped at age 12
Faith L., sexually assaulted at 11 and 12, raped at 16, assaulted at 18
Gayle Peterson
Jane P., sexually abused at age 6, raped at 8 and 13
Marley, raped at age 16
Heidi H., raped age age 16
Anonymouse, sexually assaulted at age 17 and groped by a college professor age 18
Demetria, survivor of sexual assault July 10, 2009
Joey Nichole Thomas, survivor of child sexual abuse between the ages of 5 & 6
Ms. Lilithe, sexually assaulted at age 6
Melissa Gay, drugged and raped at age 18
Erica Nash, sexual assaulted by acquaintances and repeatedly raped by ex-boyfriend
KateSi, raped at 18; harassed, groped frequently even now
Grace Feldmann, survivor of attempted rape at age 17 and acquaintance rape--in hotel--at gunpoint age 18
Kendra, assault and rape survivor
G Davy, assaulted at 13

July 04, 2011

Rebecca Watson Sucks at Reading Minds

Oh, dear. Rebecca Watson dared to tell guys who claimed to want a movement more welcoming of women that being hit on after giving a talk about being tired of being hit on isn't very welcoming. She dared to say that a guy asking her back to his room for coffee after she just announced her desire to get some sleep--while she's trapped in an elevator with the guy--is creepy. Then she dared to point out--at a leadership conference--how one student leader's remarks help contribute to an atmosphere that is more welcoming to this behavior than it is to women.

Oh, Rebecca, how could you?

No, really, I'd like your formula, so we can get more people to do the same thing. Or to do what Surly Amy did, or Jen, or Rorschach, or Ophelia, or Barbara, or Kylie, or PZ, or Greg, or PZ again, and again, or Jen again, or Greg again, or Ophelia again, or Greg again, or Matt [ETA: or Amanda, or Phil, or CJ, or more from Rebecca, or Greg again]. We need more of that. Really, truly. That list of links is not enough.

Why? Because we've really only begun in the comments to explore the real problem here, which is that Rebecca just isn't as good at reading minds as everyone else. We know this because it only took three comments on her video for someone to point it out.

Not sure the guy in the elevator thing was an instance of sexualizing you, just an example of a bad way to approach someone.

He explained more in further comments, but just in case she didn't understand how bad at it she was, there were more people willing to point it out.

But we, as non-participant watchers of the tale can never be sure either way unless we want to assume that all men who ask women to their hotel rooms for coffee, whatever the hour, are always predatorially sexalising all women to whom they ask the question. I can’t buy that. Change either Rebeccas gender, or the guy’s gender, and we have a very different set of assumptions.
Now of course it is probable that even being tired, and feeling threatened, Rebecca’s observations of body language, eye contact, etc., provided her with evidence to support her claims and assumptions about the guy’s intent. But we don’t know that do we. We weren’t there.

Fortunately for the rest of us, they didn't confine themselves to Skepchick.

I, however, think that she is following the stereotype that every man that talks to a women at early light is A. hitting on her, B. soliciting sex, and C. a sleazebag. There is a double standard at play here that I think is as unfortunate. Next time, It may be prudent not to jump to conclusions based off of absolutist “observations” and decline the offer like a rational thinker. Maybe even suggest a better time to meet, in a better place than someone’s sleeping quarters. All parties were to blame in this little mishap.

Luckily for Rebecca, there are some real mind readers out there to show her how it's done.

What Watson did was extremely dickish, and contained a large dose of spite. She went for public humiliation over what was, by any reasonable assessment, a pretty minor faux pas in a private situation.

The issue is not that Watson brought up a brought up a posting she thought illustrated a damaging attitude. The issue is that Watson, knowing that McGraw was at the conference, decided to attempt to publicly shame her from her privileged position at the podium.

And one more, from Jerry Coyne:

The concentration on the word “bullying” here, and the assertion that it didn’t happen, simply distracts from the real issue: the obvious fact that Ms. Watson used the occasion of a talk that was supposed to be about something else to air a personal animus against a student, and to lump that student together, implicitly, with other people who had abused Ms. Watson and threatened her with rape. That whole digression was irresponsible and unprofessional, a solipsistic interlude that did not belong in the talk.

Clearly, as all these comments show, Rebecca needs to beef up her skills. Maybe if she just listened more to these guys, she'd figure out how it works. Oh, wait...guys. All these people reading her mind are guys. So are the ones telling her she's doing it wrong. Shit.

I'm sorry, Rebecca. Your sex may have doomed you on this one. You might just have to stick to daring instead.

Which, really, I'm totally okay with.

July 02, 2011

Saturday Storytime: CONvergence Double Feature

I failed to post a story last weekend for you to enjoy. As penance, or perhaps just because I can, I post two today instead. Both of these authors are guests of honor at CONvergence, which is where I'm spending my weekend. They are also SF Squeecast members.

Seanan McGuire is one of those people who do everything. Really, that's most of what you need to know about her. If you meet her, ask her about cobras. Or Ebola.

"Good Girls Go to Heaven" is part of Seanan's story cycle based on the legend of the vanishing hitchhiker. An excerpt:

There's something not-right about one of the truckers, a barrel-chested man with a neat little goatee and the hands of an artist. Those artist's hands are wrapped around a coffee mug, stealing heat through the porcelain like a small child stealing cookies from the cookie jar. Most of the eyes in the diner skitter right off me, frightened mice catching the scent of a cat, but not him. He doesn't look at me for long, but when he does, he sees me. That, even more than the scent of ash and lilies that lingers in the air around him, tells me that he's the one I've come here for; he's the one that called me, made me give up a perfectly good ride westward to come to this middle-of-nowhere dive with nothing but the coat on my back and the frostbite in my fingers. I know him, or at least, I know his kind. He's in the process of sliding into the space between two Americas, this one, where the air tastes like apples and the jukebox plays Top 50 country hits, and a quieter, colder America, one where the kisses pretty girls sometimes give never taste of anything but empty rooms and broken promises. He's falling into my America, and there's not a damn thing to be done about it--that's not the sort of trip that you recover from.

The record on the jukebox changes as I walk toward the counter. Blue Oyster Cult, "Don't Fear the Reaper."

I hate it when the inanimate pretends to have a sense of humor.

Keep reading.

Catherynne (Cat) Valente can't be described in mere bloggy words. She's a novelist, short story writer, poet, and one of those con panelists who tells you up front you're in for an experience. Unlike many of those, she means it.

"The Days of Flaming Motorcyles" is not your father's zombie story. It is, however, a zombie story about someone's father.

To tell you the truth, my father wasn’t really that much different after he became a zombie.

My mother just wandered off. I think she always wanted to do that, anyway. Just set off walking down the road and never look back. Just like my father always wanted to stop washing his hair and hunker down in the basement and snarling at everyone he met. He chased me and hollered and hit me before. Once, when I stayed out with some boy whose name I can’t even remember, he even bit me. He slapped me and for once I slapped him back, and we did this standing-wrestling thing, trying to hold each other back. Finally, in frustration, he bit me, hard, on the side of my hand. I didn’t know what to do-we just stared at each other, breathing heavily, knowing something really absurd or horrible had just happened, and if we laughed it could be absurd and if we didn’t we’d never get over it. I laughed. But I knew the look in his eye that meant he was coming for me, that glowering, black look, and now it’s the only look he’s got.

It’s been a year now, and that’s about all I can tell you about the apocalypse. There was no flash of gold in the sky, no chasms opened up in the earth, no pale riders with silver scythes. People just started acting the way they’d always wanted to but hadn’t because they were more afraid of the police or their boss or losing out on the prime mating opportunities offered by the greater Augusta area. Everyone stopped being afraid. Of anything. And sometimes that means eating each other.

But sometimes it doesn’t. They don’t always do that, you know. Sometimes they just stand there and watch you, shoulders slumped, blood dripping off their noses, their eyes all unfocused. And then they howl. But not like a wolf. Like something broken and small. Like they’re sad.

Keep reading.