Archives

The “policing” of free hate speech

This article popped up in my Facebook feed yesterday because a friend shared it. Before you click the link, be forewarned it may be highly triggering due to the transphobic language. Yes, it’s bad enough to put it in bold, red letters. The summary alone includes quotes which are so offensive that even someone ignorant of trans* issues would recognize them as hateful. I’m not joking. Unless you have an extremely strong constitution, I recommend against listening to the broadcast, which is linked in the article. The extracted quotes are bad enough.

Rochester Radio Hosts Mock Transgender People in Disturbing, Offensive Segment

It speaks for itself. There’s no need for me to say anything about how horrible those comments were. Besides, anyone local to me who has ever heard Kimberly and Beck knows that they are Grade-A Jerks. That is what they do; they’re paid to be awful. I think this one is particularly bad, given the fact that they were responding to trans-friendly local legislation. It’s also frustrating given that I live in a city that, while conservative in some ways, is better than average regarding LGBTQ issues (though there’s always room for growth, of course). But I’m not writing today to call for their heads on a platter, or even their permanent firing.

When I posted this, the responses were interesting. (Side note: Anyone who thinks people under 21 aren’t articulate, intelligent people able to hold their own in a debate does not know my friends.) Naturally, one of the things that got invoked was “free speech.” Dear God, why is that the first thing that’s trotted out in response to assholes spouting off? I mean, I would think that the first response to the article might possibly be, oh, I dunno, “Wow. It sure is crappy that trans* people have to put up with hearing that shit on the radio. Maybe I’ll go check and see if my friend/family member/stranger I interact with on the Internet  is okay and didn’t have a massive anxiety attack triggered by that.”

Besides the obvious lack of compassion, the other thing I don’t understand is why anyone would bother trotting out “free speech” in the first place. My commentary on the article when I posted it to Facebook:

This carries a very heavy TW for incredibly offensive transphobic language and commentary. Read at your own risk. Also? SCREW THEM. I already don’t listen to them (they’re God-awful and annoying as it is). But this makes it a billion times worse. And now I’m telling everyone else to not listen to them.

I never once demanded they be fired or disallowed from broadcasting. I said I didn’t like them, and I said I was going to discourage other people from listening to them. They are entirely free to spout all the garbage they like, and the rest of us have the choice to change the station. Which is exactly what I suggested doing!

Aside from the fact that I never threatened their right to free speech in any way, why are they the ones given that card to play? Do I not have just as much right to the same free speech? Just as they are (technically) free to share their disgusting views with anyone fool enough to listen, I’m also free to tell the world they are ass-hats. I posted on my own Facebook page that I don’t like them. I’m posting it on my own blog. Why? Because they spewed trash and I didn’t like it, and I’m allowed to say so. It’s not a zero-sum game. My freedom to discourage people from tuning in does not curtail their right to broadcast their nonsense.

Even if I were demanding they be fired or sending out a petition for such action, guess what? Still my free speech. Yep. Just because I say it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, and I’m absolutely allowed to say I think they should be dumped. And let’s not get into the fact that “free speech” is not the same as “consequence-free speech.” If  you violate the terms of your employment with your words, then you still get the ax, regardless of whether you had the “right” to say it in a Constitutional sense. (Also, please go educate yourselves on what is, in fact, meant by Constitutional freedom of speech.)

Whenever the “free speech!” argument comes out, I’d like to remind you all that it isn’t just bigoted radio DJs or Westboro Baptist protestors or Michele Bachmann who have the right to say whatever they want. Those of us who don’t like what they are offering also have the right to say so, loudly and often. We have the right to call them on their hate and encourage other people to stop listening to their shows, attending their churches, or voting for them.

Next time someone points to “free speech” as some kind of argument (for what, I’m not exactly sure), point out to them that you, too, have the same right.

How Plato ruined everything

All right, maybe “everything” is a bit of an exaggeration.  Still, I’m convinced that Platonic notions color so much of our culture (not just Christian religion) that it’s hard to know where to start.

I suppose a word of explanation as to why I’m thinking about this is in order.  I haven’t blogged much this fall; there are several reasons why not that I won’t go into here.  One of the reasons, though, has to do with online politics and the constant pressure to get it right.  It was a crisis of correctness, I suppose, that led to my on-and-off writing over the last three months.  I blame Plato for that, too.

In an ideal world, life would work like this: No one would ever be distracted by the appearance of another person; every act of justice would take into account every possible situation and person; and no one would ever get off on picturing themselves licking whipped cream off a naked celebrity.

We don’t live in that world.

The problem with that world is that it doesn’t exist anywhere except in the heads of would-be online philosophers.  In all things, there’s some imaginary line that Must Not Be Crossed when it comes to behavior.  It might not have overtly religious overtones, but there’s still the same message:  If you don’t do things right, you are flawed.  Broken.  Damaged.

Instead of learning respect and consideration, we end up with the same fears often instilled by our religious communities–that we are not good enough and must seek to work towards this imaginary standard to which no human can measure up.  How many seconds is too long to stare at someone’s half-undressed body?  Which fantasies are okay to have when masturbating?  How carefully do we have to phrase things to make sure someone disagrees with our views and not our word choice or tone?

There’s no answer to that outside the heads of a few people who have styled themselves the Gatekeepers of Blogging.

My husband and I had an interesting conversation the other night.  He’s been taking a philosophy class–don’t ask me the details; I’ve never had much interest in that sort of thing.  I didn’t entirely follow everything he said, but the gist of it was that some people live in the realm of ideas and some people live in the realm of practicality.  About eighty percent of people are in the latter group.  The difficulty I see is that (at least on the Internet), the other twenty percent often see themselves as being at the top, and the rest of us should conform our practical existence to fit into the theories they’ve developed.

Well, screw that.  I can’t live that way.  When I started writing, it was because I was in a religious context in which I felt that there were specific people being marginalized (namely, LGBT people) and that the church had it dead wrong in how to care for them.  I remained anonymous for about a year and a half.  When some of my Christian LGBT offline friends began sharing my writing (not knowing it was me), I told them.  At that point, I decided hiding was a disservice to people I love in my non-bloggy life.  If they were out, why shouldn’t I be public too?

Note that I never said I blogged because I had some Magic Words of Wisdom on the church and LGBT people or any other issue regarding church teachings (which I also covered).  Honestly, I just wanted those I love to know that, and I wanted anyone like me who might be an ally in enemy camp to know they were not alone.  Practical purposes, people.  Nothing philosophical.

I recently stopped blogging as much because I had started to feel the same sense of “not good enough” that I’d had for over twenty years in the church.  I couldn’t blog about LGBT issues and the church because I didn’t know enough about intersectionality.  And other people who needed my support.  And not tagging every post on social justice issues as triggering (because, realistically, every post could trigger someone for something).  And not actually being LGB or T myself.  And not criticizing progressive Christians correctly.  The list goes on.

That, right there, is Platonism at its finest: There’s a right way to blog about these issues, and you’re not doing it.  There’s often a sense that the critic doesn’t actually know what the right way is, just that one must exist.  Well, no.  There is no hypothetical idealized advocacy.  There are some things that get it decidedly wrong (go research Human Rights Campaign, for example;p see also the Good Men Project).  Most of the time, though, it’s a matter of different people wanting or needing different things.

Another serious problem with forcing advocacy into a Platonic ideal is that the vast majority of the time, the people pushing it at the rest of us genuinely believe they have it right and we have it wrong.  There’s no sense that they might also be falling short of an unnamed ideal or that their particular philosophy might not be the best version because it still leaves some people vulnerable.  It’s an unfortunate reality that there are people out there who simply do not care about hurting people they think are in the wrong.  I’ve seen things get pretty ugly when one person gently explains why they need a particular type of ally and another person says the equivalent of, “That’s the wrong thing to want” rather than, “Tell me more.”

I spent several years deconstructing my faith.  I’m now in process of reconstruction, and there are some great people I can trust along the way.  Deconstructing social justice advocacy feels pretty similar.  I’m disappointed with the online community in a lot of the same ways I was disappointed in the church.  Before someone gets all heated about it, I’m not saying that social justice movements are abusive.  But are there abusive, powerful people within them who want to control the rest of us at any cost?  You bet. (“No! I don’t want to control you!  I just want you to get it right, dammit!” is, in fact, controlling–particularly when the person saying it does not belong to the group for which they are advocating.)  Those are the people I’m trying to steer clear of.

There’s no way to know where this will end up.  I don’t want to stop writing, but some days, I think I have no choice, at least when it comes to blogging.  I do know that it won’t change anything in my everyday life; my loved ones will still know they can count on me.  As for the online advocacy police?  There’s no reason I should care about their Platonic ideals.

Ruining our kids

I was already in an irritable mood after seeing Christianity Today refer to Rachel Held Evans as having a “meltdown” because she pointed out the flaw with The Nines conference’s lack of women.  It didn’t help that this awful post on parenting turned up in my newsfeed–more than once, I might add, and not because anyone was being critical.  Nope, everyone seemed to love it.

I can’t speak for other parents, but I’m very tired of people who think that yesteryear’s parenting was so much better than today’s.  It’s like all the other times people talk about wanting to return to “the good old days.”  While there may be some good things we’d like to keep–or reclaim–there’s also a whole lot of terrible things that, unfortunately, cannot be separated from the things we like.  (And there are relationships between them that we’d prefer not to see, as is the case with “1950s values” and racism.)

In this particular post, I was most disturbed by the way that she emphasized the result of what she sees as bad parenting (coddling, apparently) without mentioning a single word about the consequences of other parenting flaws.  For example, she’s concerned that her boys won’t be able to play shoot-the-bad-guys at school, but seems unconcerned that parents might not be adequately teaching their children who is or isn’t “bad.”

There were some specific things that bothered me about what she had to say: boys will be boys (what about girls who like that kind of play?  or boys who don’t?); bullies perpetrate physical violence but claims of emotional bullying are more or less just whining; people become suicidal as a result of a single nasty remark; and college students and new graduates are going home crying over every failure and quitting (as though this didn’t already happen with people born into extreme privilege).

Believe it or not, I don’t care what you let your kids do.  Buy them toy guns?  Whatever.  Don’t buy them?  Whatever.  The reason is that it’s not in the purchase or non-purchase of a particular toy that learning non-violence happens.  Kids are not better off because they are allowed  to play cops and robbers or because they are forbidden from playing.  Ms. Metz has it wrong–boys don’t somehow magically grow up better because they were allowed to play certain types of playground games.  Not only that, boys do not grow into better men because they played those games.  That’s part of a particular view of masculinity that says there are certain Normal Things Boys Do, and anyone outside that must either have freak parents who regulate their play or else there’s something unmanly about them.  Weirdly, she seems to be blaming parents for the lack of gun play at school, when it is, in fact, the rules of the school restricting play.  She’s conflating parenting with public education and really seems hung up on this gun thing throughout.

As for bullying, I’m super happy for Ms. Metz that she got over whatever things were said to her.  Perhaps she’s just very confident in herself.  I think it’s far more likely that she simply never experienced the kind of emotional, verbal, and sexualized bullying some of us did.  Maybe she doesn’t know what it’s like to go to school and wonder how many hurtful things will be said to you that day or whether the boy who sits behind you is going to grab your ass yet again while the teacher looks the other way.  She might not understand how it feels to walk into a room to a class full of kids calling you an elephant and making “boom” noises at you while you walk, every day.  She probably doesn’t know what it’s like to spend three years trying to find a lunch table where the other kids won’t slowly slide over while you’re eating until you end up on the floor, followed by laughter and fake apologies.  I’m just guessing here, though.

I suppose because Ms. Metz doesn’t understand that kind of harassment, she’s more likely to also misunderstand being suicidal.  I do not know any person who has felt suicidal or attempted suicide or has succeeded who did it simply because some random girl called her a bitch one day.  If a single episode of name-calling sends one to such a dark place, then it wasn’t just because of the mean word–that was just the proverbial straw.  I find Ms. Metz’s words hateful, hurtful, and inappropriate.  They lack any sort of empathy.  I have no idea where she got her information that this is all it takes to make teenage girls commit suicide, either–apparently, she also doesn’t read all the way through stories about bullying and suicide enough to get the whole picture.

On the other hand, college students with helicopter parents are a real issue, so I’ll give Ms. Metz credit for spotting that one.  The way she presents it, though, makes it sound like she’s saying this is happening in dire proportions compared to the number of students enrolled in college.  She’s making blanket statements about “today’s parenting” being responsible for this.  Oh, really?  Because that wasn’t happening before.  Spoiled, bratty kids going to college is totally a new thing, right?

My biggest problem with this post is that it’s so vague.  She never actually says what she thinks is the bad parenting responsible for selfish, needy kids.  She hints that it has to do with “catering” to them, but what does that even mean?  How, exactly, is it “catering” to kids to have a philosophy of not buying toy guns or allowing shooting play?  And how are her kids better off for being allowed to do those things?  In what way does stopping verbal bullying prevent people from being emotionally healthy?  She gets at it a little with her comment about not giving in to them unless they use manners.  But if what she meant is that kids have no manners, why didn’t she just write a post about that?  She says her boys will be emotionally hurt but that she’ll cushion it as much as a mother can.  Isn’t that catering to them?  How will they learn to deal with things if she’s “cushioning” them?

Like the post about how “marriage isn’t for you,” this just smacks of self-righteousness.  The big FAIL for me is that she never once suggests that the best way to help our kids grow up to be responsible, respectful people is to teach them how to treat others.  I didn’t see even one reference to, say, the Golden Rule.  I saw nothing in there about teaching our kids about kind words, respecting personal boundaries, or helping people who need it.  There wasn’t a single word about making things right when we’ve hurt other people.

Ms. Metz claims that she “respects” others’ right to parent how they see fit.  I’m not that nice.  I think if you’re abusing your child, you are a sorry excuse for a parent, and I do not respect your “right” to harm your child.  Beyond that, I’m just not that concerned with what you do.  As for me, I’m going to worry less about whether I’m “overprotective” and more about whether I’m teaching my kids that all people have value.  That strikes me as far more important than whatever vague badness Ms. Metz is suggesting I avoid.

Humanizing the other

I usually avoid taking on Tony Jones.  Actually, I usually just avoid reading Tony Jones.  I know a lost cause when I see one.  Chances are good that on any given day, he’s going to say something I find offensive.  My time is too valuable to waste on spending it being irritated.  But he posted this, and, well, I couldn’t resist.

First of all, let me start with the very title of this piece of crap.  “Humanize the Other, because That’s the Gospel.”  Oh, okay.  Got it.  There’s no other reason to treat people with respect outside of “Jesus said it” or scoring Compassion Points with the Big Guy.  I certainly hope that’s not the only reason to show kindness to people, though the nice part about that rationale is that you get to then self-righteously claim that atheists, Jews, Buddhists, and Wiccans have no idea how to be nice to people because the Gospel.  Yay.

What really bothers me, however, is the idea of “othering” people in the first place, and the need to “humanize” anyone.  There are two problems here.  One is that, by definition, people are already human.  No one needs to be “humanized.”  I understand that what’s meant is both not dehumanizing people and reaffirming their humanity.  That sounds pretty good on the surface.  Unfortunately, that’s not how it works in practice.

The way it often plays out is something akin to “love the sinner, hate the sin” (which is so full of superiority bullshit I would need a whole post just to dissect it).  In other words, think of people as your fellow humans–ones who happen to make you feel weird, gross, creepy, uncomfortable, or whatever, but still your fellow humans.  That enables people to continue to feel that they are better because at least they’re not whatever-it-is.  Perfect example:  You can totally love your gay friends, even if you still think they’re probably going home right now to do some kind of sex thing that trips your gag reflex.  And since you are obviously not going to trip anyone’s gag reflex with your completely non-kinky, missionary-position, married (of course) straight sex, you are clearly still morally superior.  You may get it that your gay friends are human, but you still think they are morally inferior humans.

That can be applied to anything–race, ethnicity, neurodivergence, varying physical and mental ability, and so on.  It’s this pitying standpoint–that we are going to show compassion on the poor, suffering masses–that bothers me.  It isn’t giving up any of the power and privilege we enjoy, and it isn’t sharing it with someone else.  It’s a posture of reaching down rather than across.

The second problem is that “humanizing” nearly always becomes about seeing abusers as humans.  How often do we see people defend the likes of Driscoll, Piper, Furtick, Schwyzer, Yoder, and so on by saying, “Look at the good they’ve done!  And they are only human, after all.”  That’s misplaced compassion.  I agree that they are human; but that doesn’t absolve them from the harm they’ve done, particularly that which was done in Jesus’ name.  Humanizing, in this case, must always start with the people who were harmed.  We need to see the individual faces, and hear the individual voices, of the people who have been wronged rather than imagining them as, collectively, the “sin” of the people who perpetuated the damage.

Finally, specifically about Tony Jones’ post:  He used the image of the Pope kissing the man with boils to launch into some nonsense about blogging.  What a way to miss the point.  He wasn’t speaking about loving actual people who have been shamed, dehumanized, and wounded.  He was talking about Internet writers.  That says everything I need to know about where he’s coming from.

While I continue to collect stories of accomplished, amazing women who are proud of what they have done, I’m going to write about other things.  (And if you haven’t read yesterday’s post or the comments, please do.  Good stuff is happening there.)

Today, I finally had the chance to catch up with some blogs that I’ve been neglecting.  Over at Registered Runaway’s blog, I read this post (and the ones preceding it; be sure to read all 4 parts).  It made me sad.  Then it made me angry.  I still don’t understand why the way Aibird, the writer, was treated is allowed to continue.

I’ve had Christian friends try to tell me that no one still acts that way–or at least, Christians don’t.  I’ve heard the arguments that anyone threatening “curative rape” isn’t a real Christian anyway.  And yet, here is a woman telling her story, including receiving death threats from people professing to be Christians.

We can’t ignore the parts of the Church (worldwide) that hold hateful attitudes.  They are as much a part of us as any other Christian.  But that’s not actually the thing that bothers me most.  It’s the fact that we’ve chosen–as the rest of the Body–not to fight them.  I can’t help thinking that it’s because deep down, many Christians agree with the underlying beliefs, even if they don’t agree that picketing and threatening and even attempts at curing are the right answer.

It’s not enough anymore.  I have never been of the mind that it’s okay to live somewhere halfway between being an ally and being an enemy.  I’m not entirely a black-and-white thinker.  I’m open to having lots of grey and wrestling with that tension.  I’m willing to talk about what it means to have a healthy sexual ethic or whether it’s okay for Christians to watch violent movies or if tattoos and swearing are acceptable.  We may never agree on any of those things, and that’s okay.

What I’m not okay with is fence-sitting when it comes to personhood and equality.

Too many people have come to the conclusion that they can rest comfortably with the belief that they may not “agree with the homosexual lifestyle” though they would never insist on anyone trying to be “cured.”  There are far too many places where we’ve done what we seem to think is a kinder, gentler version of non-acceptance.  The thing is, though, it’s still exactly that: non-acceptance.  No more “But I have gay friends, and they know where I stand, and they are okay with that!”  Are you sure?  Because when I read stories like the one above, I get the impression that an awful lot of people aren’t actually okay with you disapproving of them, they just hide it well or have learned that it’s an off-limits topic if they don’t want to hear again about their sin.  You personally may not be holding up a “God hates fags” sign, and you may not have threatened anyone with rape or death.  You may not even have given anyone the phone number to a place where they can be “changed.”  But if underneath it you still think they’re in sin, you hold the same beliefs as the people of ex-gay organizations and Westboro Baptist.

If you do call yourself both a Christian and an ally, then why not directly speak up against people who are doing active harm?  I honestly can’t remember where I read it (or I’d link to it; maybe someone else can help me out here), but I recall reading about someone meeting with some people from Westboro Baptist and talking about how “nice” they were.  Not that I want to paint anyone as evil and remove that person’s humanity, but I fail to see how “But they’re so nice!” is in any way helpful.  I also don’t believe for a millisecond that there’s any use in simply leaving people to their own devices because everyone knows how hateful they are.  If you really think these things are wrong, why not speak up about it?  Not merely to your LGBTQ friends–who probably already know–but to the rest of the Christian community.

Things aren’t going to change.  LGBTQ people are not going away, and they’re not going back into their closets.  People who are Christians–whole denominations, in fact–have already become not just accepting but affirming.  Laws are changing.  Meanwhile, people are still being pressured and harmed.  There’s no way to be somewhere in the middle anymore.  That might have worked at one time, but that time has long since passed.

I already cast my vote.  I know that to some people, I’m irredeemable.  I’ve already been told–more than once–that I can’t call myself a Christian.  I’ve been informed that I’m leading people in the wrong direction.  Well, so what?  I don’t consider that a big deal, and I think it’s worth it.  (And let’s be honest, there are people I’m happy are out of my life because they can’t handle the fact that I’m an ally.  Think of all the wonderful LGBTQ friends I’m sparing from having any interaction with them.)

I think I understand being genuinely unsure.  I know there’s a transition between what we might have learned growing up or in some churches and a place of being an ally.  I get that.  But don’t sit there forever, and certainly don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth.  Don’t fake being in agreement with either side (or both).  It isn’t fair to anyone, even yourselves.  Take time, but make a choice–then do something about it.

If you want to know why I feel this sense of urgency (besides the immediate concern for individuals such as the woman whose story I linked above), then read this post.  It’s not just about us, about our nation, anymore.  And, like Registered Runaway says at the end of the post (though I disagree that no one is fighting here anymore),

And I’m beginning to think that instead of having a conversation, a culture war truce, with Fundamentalists and right wing Evangelicals, our work would be better focused on protecting the world from the wrath of these people. Despite the lament from many progressive evangelicals, the right wing is hardly fighting here anymore. They’ve moved on. They’re going after the rest of the world. 

How do we stop this?

How, indeed?

 

More on NALT and being an ally

Yesterday, I wrote about why I’m not making a NALT video.  I want to expand on that a little.  There are some valid concerns about the project, but from what I’ve seen, a lot of those concerns border on what the project might do rather than what it is doing and on assumptions rather than experiences.

One big issue is whether or not the people making the videos believe that’s all they need to do to be good allies.  First of all, it’s a pretty big assumption to think that those people are not already doing other things.  All we know of most of them is whatever they happen to say in a couple of minutes.  We don’t know whether they think they’ve done their part.  Obviously that could be true, but I find it hard to believe that the majority of people who make the videos are sitting somewhere feeling satisfied that they’ve completed their assignment and can now move on.  It also assumes that all of those people are straight and cisgender (hint: they’re not).

I think one of the things that frustrates me is the belief that it’s “easier” to be an ally online.  That has not been my experience at all.  I find it far easier to be an ally in real life; it doesn’t take a whole lot of effort.  It mostly consists of being a good friend–which isn’t usually about someone else’s sexuality anyway.  Sure, there are times when I need to take action.  Sometimes I vote for legislation that extends the same rights I enjoy.  Sometimes I have to ask people not to say stupid, hateful, or hurtful things.  More often, though, it’s about getting a cup of coffee together or chatting while our kids play or having our sons baptized on the same day or attending a wedding celebration.  It’s about sharing together the things that are important to us, including our identities.  It’s not complicated.

When I first started to blog, I stayed anonymous for a long time.  I didn’t do it out of fear.  I’m hardly a person who cares that some church official might decide that I shouldn’t be involved in ministry.  I did it to protect the people whom I was serving.  I wanted to stay web-silent so that I could be a safe person for youth and their families.  I know people who have been threatened and bullied for supporting their gay children, and I believed they and their children needed someone safe to talk to.  If I had been public, I would have been removed from ministry and therefore have been less available for people who needed me.*

When the time was right, I began using my real name.  It was mildly risky on my part, but that was at a point when I knew that I wasn’t putting anyone else at risk.  When people make these videos, they may be doing the same thing.  It may be a first step in being public after a time of flying under the radar.  They may be risking much more than I was in making a statement.

When I named myself, I discovered something: It’s a lot harder to be a good ally online.  It’s tricky to navigate the wide range of needs among people I don’t know anywhere but the Internet. I’ve learned a lot, including that sometimes people’s needs are completely opposite.  The NALT campaign is a good example–some people feel hopeful and encouraged while others feel angry and hurt.**  I’m an incredibly sensitive person, and I tend to absorb other people’s feelings.  That’s a good thing, except when people are expressing such vastly different emotions.  It puts me in a place where I feel like I have to choose between people I care about and respect.  It makes me want to quit the Internet and run back to the safety of doing this only offline.

Here’s the thing, though.  I think that’s as it should be.  It is hard.  If it were easy, everyone would do it.  Everyone would know all the right words and there would never be a question.  Everyone would be able to be a good ally offline and on the Internet.  We would never have to work at listening, caring, speaking, or writing.  Taking on the challenge–whether one finds it harder online or off–is important, necessary work if we ever expect social change.

Not everyone can do it on the Internet.  Maybe passing on blogging, videos, and tweets is the best option for some people.  Those who resent having to walk such a fine line are probably better off concentrating on other things.  Those who are so tenderhearted that they are slowly sucked dry by conflicting views might need to back off in order to have the emotional reserve to care for people in their own lives.

For the rest of us, though, it’s worth staying in.  It’s okay that we’re hearing different answers to the same question, because no two people are identical in their experiences.  There is no Hypothetical Idealized Ally.  There’s no perfect way of writing or talking about these things.  I think my first rule of being an ally needs to be, “Don’t tell other allies how to do it correctly.”  I don’t have everything right.  All I can do is point back at those to whom I’m an ally and say, “Ask them.”  Even then, it’s going to depend on the individual.  My default is to individually ask, “What do you prefer?”  and act accordingly when communicating with that person.

Even though I find it difficult at times, I’m not going to be silent on the Internet.  I may get pushed from different directions at times, and that has to be okay with me.  I have to go with it because it’s not about me.  When I make decisions about what I write or whether I’ll make a video, I have to go with what feels right in my heart because sometimes there’s no way to do both of two opposing actions.  I can’t both make a video and not make one.  What feels right to me at this time is not to make one, even though I know there are people who may be disappointed.  If people care so little about me as a human being that they reduce me to being bad or good depending on whether I agree with them or I’ve done exactly as they wanted me to, then those aren’t people I want to spend much time with.

Where have you found it harder to be an ally?  Online or offline?  Where have you found it harder to find allies?  What advice would you give to those who want to be allies online?

______________________________

*I know I’m being vague.  I simply can’t be more specific in order to protect people I care about.

**Or some other combination–say, hurt but hopeful.  All those feelings are valid.  The difficulty is in how to proceed when pulled in opposite directions.

It’s not about the sex

Courtesy of http://www.mirror.co.uk/3am/celebrity-news/miley-cyrus-sexual-exploitation-vma-2228134 (this was the least offensive photo I could find)

While some people are busy fretting over how they can’t let their kids watch the VMAs because of performances like Miley Cyrus’, I’m shaking my head and wondering how it’s gotten boiled down to arguments about whether her parents did their job or whether she’s just acting foolish because of her age/fame.  There are problems with her performance (which I didn’t watch live; I saw the video this morning).  None of them have to do with what she wore, whether or not she’s trying to be “sexy,” or whether or not she has gone from wholesome to trashy.

I didn’t find her performance sexy (and what was wrong with her tongue?  Does she have a condition?), but I’d be happy to chalk that up to personal preference.  That is, if not for two glaring problems:

  1. It was racist.
  2. It wasn’t empowering for female sexuality.

I’m not the best person to explain what was racist about it.  You should just go read this (and the several articles linked therein).  It explains perfectly what was wrong with Miley’s performance from an intersectional feminism perspective.  I was glad to read that; I’m not always sure that I’m on the right track, so I was happy to have confirmation that my initial reaction wasn’t off-base.  There is obviously more wrong than this, but my first question after watching was, “Why are all the back-up dancers black?”  It didn’t seem right, so I dug a little deeper.  I’m glad I did.

I can speak a little better to the second point.  Other women have performed in less clothing than Miley wore and have had equally sexual dance moves.  Why is hers somehow worse?  The short answer is that by itself, it’s not.  If it were just Miley up there (preferably minus the objectification of black women), it would have been less of an issue.  In one sense, Miley is trying to find out who she is apart from her family and her childhood.  When other child stars do the same, they are often shamed for their mistakes because they can’t screw up in private.  But there’s a special kind of venom reserved for “wholesome” girls who grow up into women with sexuality.  For some reason, the finger-wagging always seems to crop up around things like the VMAs, with parents lamenting, “What about the chiiiiiildren????”

Young men don’t seem to have this problem.  One of my friends was kind enough to point out that Daniel Radcliffe didn’t get the same treatment when he was naked.  On stage.  With a horse.  I mean, I guess parents probably figured that wasn’t something to take the kids to see, but still–he got more flak when people thought he was gay than for his performance in Equus.  Right there, that says volumes about people’s priorities.

The real problem with Miley’s performance is adding Robin Thicke into the mix.  A few years ago, I had a grad school professor who mentioned in class that he’d done some research on pornography (yes, that’s actual research, people).  He evaluated pictures in magazines based on several criteria–pose, facial expression, etc.  He discovered that in many photos of women, they were pouting and passive, and there was often a fully clothed man in the photograph.  This was in sharp contrast with photos of men, who were mostly smiling, active, and alone.  It was the last one that surprised me (and bothered me) most.

As it turns out, I wasn’t wrong about that.  The presence of a fully-clothed man feeds into the idea that women are bodies that exist solely for men’s pleasure.  Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke played that out on national television.  The excuses were strange, too–that this is his “thing” and he’s never been a Disney star are hardly important when he’s perpetuating a degrading view of women with someone half his age who’s barely an adult.  His sexual freedom and aggression are celebrated; she’s shamed for not living up to her status as a role model (which, by the way, she is not obligated to do).

The two problems (racism and misogyny) that I mentioned are linked by the fact that Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke have intentionally joined them.  This is their view of what it means to be sexual, and it hinges on exploitation and the blatant appropriation of a subset of black culture–along with a host of horrible assumptions about black women.  Combine Miley’s own admission that she wants to try on “black culture” with a man singing about “blurred” consent while a woman mimes sexually pleasuring him and you should get a good idea why this is so disgusting.

The whole thing made me feel sick, and many of the reactions have made me feel sicker still.  It was gross, and it was wrong, and we need to ask ourselves why we’re more concerned with the fact of Miley’s attempts at being sexy than how she’s trying to achieve it or why it’s so wrong.  It’s not about teaching our daughters about what’s “appropriate” when it comes to clothing or dance moves.  It’s not about another former child star “gone wrong.”  It’s about how we’ve failed as a society to stop exploiting people for profit and how we’ve failed as a society to teach our children that growing up means knowing the difference between empowering people and continuing to subjugate them, even when the line seems thin.