Archive for August 1st, 2009

samharrisI’ve identified as an “atheist” for most of my life now, mostly because I feel evasive when I refuse to apply a label to my lack of faith.  Sam Harris, however makes a very good point in the following video, about the traps we fall into when we hang a banner over our ideas and the ideas of others.  After watching his speech I indentified the following traps as the most important:

1) It gives your antagonists the ability to thoughtlessly label yours views as “fringe” or “extremist.”  Sam Harris explains how his constituents suffer from this, but it also applies to those involved in the cause or gender and racial equality.  Every time some one shouts “racism” or “sexism,” someone else will shout “reverse racism” and “reverse sexism.”

2) when the devil is in the details, the thesis can be the enemy of an argument.  When nonbelievers argue that religious texts condone violence and prejudice, the counter argument is often that these books are, on the contrary, engines of peace and enlightenment.  When specific text is cited as condoning violence, however, the religious person or institution is forced to address the details of that text.  Again, this can be applied to us.  I have seen pundit after pundit dodge the issue of racial and gendered prejudice by appealing to people’s patriotism.  “The United States is not racist or sexist.  The most basic American values are those of equality justice.”  No pundit, however, can deny that women and nonwhite racial groups (particularly women from nonwhite racial groups) are underrepresented in government, that they  disproportionately belong to the lower end of the economic scale etc.

3) The inevitable, narrowing effect of the label.  Sam Harris talks about how the “atheist” labels puts nonbelievers in a place where they cannot distinguish between different religion.  That this label forces them to address religion “as a whole.”  Since I started learning about racism and sexism, heteronormativity, ethnocentrism, etc., I’ve realized that each thing can occur in a million different ways, that they often intersect, and that they don’t always come from a place of deep hatred (in fact, sometimes they come from what is considered a loving place.)  There’s no way these labels cover all this shit.  There’s no way a person can associate all that is “racism” or “sexism” with the two measly syllables.  I can’t recall exactly how many times I’ve told someone they were being sexist or racist and heard, in response “I’m not blankist!  I LOVE blanks!”

For these reasons, it might be beneficial to apply sam harris’s thinking.  Instead of labeling the beliefs of ourselves and others, maybe we should go “under the radar” and use that positioning to “destroy bad ideas.”  I’d just like to clarify that this point that I’m in no way implying that we should speak or act with any less passion, or that we should not be organized.   But people with common beliefs and frustrations tend to organize whether they label themselves or not, I think.  The banner, it seems, is merely a favor to the people watching, and as I’m arguing here, it might also be a favor to those who want us gone.

I’m about to post sam harris speech (it’s a long one, but I personally can listen to this guy for hours) but before I do…

…a note on understandable distractions:  There no way to put this lightly.  Sam Harris has an AXE TO GRIND with Islam.  I really disagree with him on the distinctions he makes between Islam and Christianity for reasons I won’t get into because they’re not relevant to this post, but I have no doubt that they’re going to leave many of you fuming.  Also, I think he shows real ignorance about media coverage of race politics.  So, while I’ll understand if you guys want to vent about these things in your comments, I ask you not to let his tangents overshadow his “big point.”

I think this clip includes the Q&A section, which features some good opposing views to his thesis.

This is an idea I’ve been playing around with for a while.  I’ve tested it on virtually every ideological label I’ve been introduced to, so I’m excited to hear what you guys think.



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First of all, hey everyone! I’m a new addition to the blog. 🙂 Aida, from Puerto Rico, rising junior at Brown, found this blog through Irene. Hopefully I’ll be contributing steadily. Anyway–I also wanted to let y’all know that I added two websites to the blogroll: Genderfork and Sociological Images. Now, for my first contribution–cross-posted from my personal blagh, found here.

In response to this (blog entry that just has an embedded video) and this:

The author here grosses me out.

That guy isn’t real. Somebody decided to make him up so they could write the “write fuck me on your chest and smile” line, claiming female = victim and that somehow, if only men would understand and be sensitive to this, it would be okay.

Most men aren’t anything like this guy, and for the rest of us the author has done nothing to improve our understanding of “what it’s like to be a woman.” If the author were listening, I’d respond: “Being a grownup means taking the fuck me sign off your chest and telling people ‘no’ or ‘piss off’ whenever necessary.”

Giving a reality check to a straw man, kind of annoying.


I see where the commenter is coming from, but I think it’s a *very* shallow reading of that clip. The message I got from this video/scene was different. Writing “fuck me” on his chest would be about drawing a parallel between the symbolic gesture and the reality of inhabiting a woman’s body–a body that is unfortunately read by some as “willing” just by virtue of being female. If the guy had actually gone out with the FUCK ME on his chest, it wouldn’t have been the same thing/feeling…but it wasn’t about him actually doing it. It was about showing the parallel between that and walking around with an INVISIBLE (yet oh so visible) marker of “oh yeah, sure, fuck me, that’s great, I really want it from you, thank you.”

A man walking naked with FUCK ME on his chest would be seen as abnormal, whereas a woman just walking around would not be. Violence against women is perpetrated because it’s, in a way, normalized. This is the narrative that we’ve been given; people assuming a naked man with FUCK ME scrawled on his chest wants and is ready for sex is not realistic, but people assuming a woman walking down the street wants and is ready for sex IS realistic. This whole scene is about the psychological impact; it’s about the female character trying to show this man how it feels by creating a “story” that APPROXIMATES that feeling. Taking that story to reality wouldn’t work, but THINKING about it and thinking about what it MEANS would certainly make an impact.

Woman is not inherently “victim,” but the truth is that in society, many times there is a strong correlation between the two. And if it’s not “victim,” it’s still the receiving end of violence, be it symbolic, physical, or both. And that being said…yeah–if only men could understand and be sensitive to the realities of living in a body marked as “female,” we would probably have less scenarios like this. A man would be way less likely to invade a woman’s privacy like what happened on The L Word if he understood how that shit felt. A man would be less likely to leer at a woman and think it’s okay to grab her ass if he understood how that felt. Obviously it would only be a start. Someone’s knowledge doesn’t predict what they will do with it.

But the thing is, there’s no real way to understand, FULLY understand, unless one has lived through it. Anything else is just an assumption, removed to a certain degree, or a sympathetic thought. No one can TRULY and wholly understand or “feel” what someone else is feeling. We have approximations, yes, and a “common language,” yes, but these are only approximations. Still, these approximations are valuable–very valuable. They’re the closest we have to the real thing, and they are important. And even if we can’t feel exactly what someone else has felt, there are probably huge overlaps, and we can sympathize and find solidarity.

Finally, the “…telling people ‘no’ or ‘piss off’ whenever necessary” comment? Telling people “no” or to “piss off” when necessary is a right (and sort of one’s duty to a certain extent), but to have that right respected? A totally different ballgame. Women usually don’t have the privilege of not having to worry that their “no” may not be respected or even taken seriously. Saying “no” doesn’t necessitate or equal a respect of that “no.” Just because a woman screams NO and fights back, does that mean a rapist will stop raping her? Just because we say NO, does that mean a mugger will suddenly return all our money and leave us alone? Just because a NO is necessary doesn’t mean it will WORK. There are various situations when saying NO just isn’t enough.

And sure, most men aren’t like the guy in the video, who will set up cameras all over your house…but that’s not the point. Most men aren’t rapists, or murderers, or robbers–but we still have to talk about those that are, and represent them in the media, and show that they exist. We still have to show that women are hurt, not to normalize that violence, but to show the realities of the world and that they are NOT ACCEPTABLE. We have to put these things in the forefront so people cannot ignore them, so people have to acknowledge them and get educated and DO something about it. The fact that a (presumably) Average Joe (whatever that is) cannot relate at all to this clip and feels that it provides NO insight into how it feels to be a woman is VERY distressing to me.

Addendum: By this post, I don’t mean to say that ALL women are a certain way or feel a certain way. No monolithic understandings of men and women apply. Kthx.

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