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Why Saying “I’m Not a Feminist” is NEVER an Okay Thing To Do

Posted in Ramblings, Rants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2014 by KarenElizabeth

There are a lot of misconceptions about feminism in the world.

There are many different reasons for this, of course.  Feminism is a complicated topic.  It’s hard to look at approximately 50% of the world’s population — women of all races, all nationalities, all ages, all sexual orientations, all income brackets, all political affiliations, all education levels, etc — and define a simple, clear message that everyone can agree upon.  Especially since the advent of 3rd wave feminism, there are countless splinter and “niche” groups working under the greater feminist umbrella, and often working directly at cross-purposes to one another, or talking about completely different topics.  In an age where information is readily accessed with the click of a mouse, we’re faced with an overwhelming glut of information regarding feminism, and very little of it is concise or clear or speaks with a single voice representing all of us.

But when it’s stripped back to the bare essentials, feminism *does* have one simple, easily expressed goal:  gender equality, and the elimination of sexism.  We disagree (sometimes vehemently) on how best to *achieve* that goal, of course, but the goal remains the same for all.  And when you strip it back to that — when you say, “gender equality” instead of “feminism” — there are very few people who’ll argue against it.

And this is why the way we express ourselves about feminism, and the way we self-identify, needs to see some serious change.

If you believe that sexism is a bad thing, and that a person’s gender does not determine their worth, then you’re a feminist.  You may not agree with *every* feminist group (no one does — there are simply too many of them out there) — but you’re a feminist, of some description.  That’s all there is to it.  Saying “I’m not a feminist”, then, is a lie — and worse, it’s hurting feminists (and people) everywhere.

When most people say “I’m not a feminist”, it’s because they’re misguided about what feminism means.  They’ve bought in to a harmful stereotype — the man-hating, (often) lesbian, radical feminist who burns bras, thinks men should be slaves, and considers all penetrative sex to be rape.  This is a stereotype that was created by (and has been largely perpetuated by) the oppressing class, as a way of discrediting the perfectly logical claim that women are people and should be treated as such.  It’s a caricature, designed to make feminists look laughable and ridiculous and unfeminine, and unsexy, and unlovable, and criminal.  So when you characterize all feminists this way, it’s no different than characterizing all Scots as “cheap”, or all Irishmen as “drunks”.  You’re buying in to a bigoted stereotype, rather than learning about the individual people.

And when you buy in to that bigoted stereotype, and say “I’m not a feminist”, you’re also lumping yourself in with the people who actually ARE bigots.  You’re aligning yourself with the people who believe that women’s rights should be taken away so we can go back to the “good old days”.  You’re aligning yourself with sexual predators and rapists who don’t want their victims to have rights or be treated as people.  You’re aligning yourself with the Taliban who shot Malala Yousafzai in the head for wanting an education.

Do you really want to be on the same side as those people?

I’m not saying that you should blindly help any cause that identifies itself as “feminist”.  There’s no “supreme guiding council of feminist elders”, and no peer-review process, to determine the validity of any particular group’s claim to feminism.  There are plenty of self-identified “feminist” groups out there who have views that may not, in fact, be particularly helpful ones.  There are radfem groups who call themselves feminist but believe in the subjugation of men (I happen to strongly dispute their use of the term “feminist”, since by definition any group that advocates sexism is not, in fact, feminist — but that’s an issue that’s still considered up for debate in the broader feminist community).  There are feminist groups who are anti-choice, or who align themselves with religious organizations, or who are sex-worker exclusionary, or trans-exclusionary, or classist/racist/etc in their aims, and I disagree vehemently with all of those things.  And there are many feminist groups advocating for very specific, niche causes that may or may not be relevant to a particular person’s life — for example, a group dedicated to eliminating sexism in the medical profession might have a very good point, but not be relevant to me personally, as I’m an arts worker, not a doctor (dammit, Jim!).  So just calling yourself “feminist” doesn’t make you right, and it’s still important to research the motivations and background of any group you’re looking to join up with or support.

One of the biggest groups who commonly say “I’m not a feminist” are, unfortunately, men.  They’ll say, “I believe in women’s rights and equality, but I can’t be a feminist ’cause I’m a guy”.  And that’s just ridiculously misguided.  Not only is it perfectly possible for a guy to believe in gender equality (thus making him a feminist), it’s supremely important for people who are NOT women, who are NOT a part of the oppressed class, to take up the banner of feminism and make a conscious choice to support feminist aims.  Because it’s the oppressing class (in this case, males) who has the majority of the power — and thus, it’s males who have the most power to change things.  It’s been proven time and again that it’s easier for men (and especially white men) to get top positions at most jobs — they’re the bosses, the ones in charge of salaries, the ones in charge of hiring, and the ones in charge of policy.  They’re the majority of the politicians.  They’re the educators at universities.  They’re the police and the lawyers and the judges who enforce and influence the laws.  So if they’re working with feminist aims in mind (ie, a CEO who implements fair hiring policies, or a politician who fights for women’s reproductive rights), they’re in a position to do much more to help the cause than almost anyone else would be capable of.  They’re the ones who, by and large, have the ability to tip the scales and start the workings of a fair society.

Another group that commonly denies feminism is people of colour.  This is a more problematic issue — people of colour are already a part of an oppressed class, whether they are female or male or anything in-between.  They’re already fighting for fair wages, fair representation, and fair application of the law.  And many feminist groups are, unfortunately, very whitewashed.  Because it’s white people who have traditionally had more education & wealth, it’s white women who largely spearheaded the early feminist movements, and it’s white women who have remained at the forefront.  Many feminist groups are blatantly racist (or at least racially insensitive), and when you bring religion into the equation (people of colour are traditionally more attached to their faith, for a variety of reasons not worth going into here), it gets even more difficult — many feminist groups actively attack religious organizations, without regard to the people who worship that particular god, and this can be a massive turn-off for otherwise pro-gender-equality types.  And because feminism has historically been white, it’s difficult for people of colour to break that barrier — too many, already exhausted from spending a lifetime being oppressed for the colour of their skin, walk into a feminist meeting only to see a sea of white faces and no one who looks remotely like themselves, and they feel automatically excluded.  It’s hard to blame people for feeling that way.  In the end, though, we’ll never be able to make feminism more POC-friendly without having some people of colour standing in those rooms.  Some are going to have to break down those barriers, and walk into those rooms full of white faces, and decide they’re going to stay.  And those of us who *are* white need to recognize this difficulty, and welcome such people with open arms, so that more of them will feel comfortable saying “I’m a feminist”.

What I find, personally, the most painful, are those women who believe that identifying as feminist will make them seem unattractive.  They’re victims of fear — fear of being hated, fear of being spurned, fear of being alone.  These are the people who media depictions of feminists are directly attacking, and directly oppressing.  I just want to take those women and say, “It’s okay! What they said on TV was a lie — you can be a feminist and still be beautiful, and feminine, and a stay-at-home-mom, and people will still love you”.  And they tell me that they’re “not as strong” as I am, or that they “don’t belong”.  And that’s so wrong, because you don’t have to be an exception — or an exceptional person — to be a feminist.  You just have to believe in equality.

In most media depictions, it’s the loudest and most strident voices who get the most airtime.  These are the people who are easy to pick out of a crowd, and they give entertainment and good sound bites.  They’re also the people who are easiest to ridicule and discredit.  So we need more of the “normal” people, the ones with perfectly rational and moderate views (the ones that the majority of us espouse) to stand up and say clearly, “I’m a feminist”.  We need to drown out those radical voices, and get voices of reason to be standing at the forefront.  Because until we can “normalize” feminism, it’s never going to be fully successful.

And it really should be perfectly “normal” to believe that all people should have equal rights, right?

Rape Fantasies: Why Consent Isn’t Sexy, and Why You’re Not a Bad Feminist for Enjoying It

Posted in Ramblings with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2013 by KarenElizabeth

TRIGGER WARNING – obviously.  Don’t read this post if you’re upset by analytical discussions of rape.

 

I’ll admit it:  I’m a fan of smutty literature.  Romance novels, Internet slash-fiction, even just regular old books with well-written sex scenes thrown in there.  I started swiping my mom’s Harlequin romances in my early teens, keeping favourite ones hidden in between the mattress and the bedframe for late-night reading.  Female friends and I would find books at the library with good sex scenes and share them, often reading the steamiest passages aloud and giggling at our own fascination with sex.  As I got older and became sexually active, those books served as guides — how to touch, how to talk, what to expect.  They taught me the words for what I wanted, how to ask my partners for things, and how to enjoy myself doing it.  In many ways, romance novels were what taught me to be a feminist, because it was from them that I learned the sex-positive and body-positive attitudes that my adolescence would not otherwise have provided.

 

But there was always one thing that puzzled me.  Why did so many of these books contain — and even romanticize — rape?

 

 

It’s a question that’s come up a lot in recent years, especially with the popularization of Twilight, Game of Thrones, and 50 Shades.  These are things marketed to women, popular among women, and yet they show women accepting, and even sometimes enjoying, being raped and abused.  It’s not a new phenomenon — I can remember Game of Thrones being among those books my friends and I found at the library, and heck, even 3onguochildhood fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty contain questionable ideas about consent — but it leaves a lot of us conflicted.  At least 50% of women will experience sexual violence at some point in their lives.  I’m certainly not the only one of my friends who has experienced sexual assault and rape.  And yet many of us still find something attractive, something undeniably sexy, about scenes like the ones between Danerys and Drogo in GoT.  While the reality of rape is abhorrent and terrifying, there is still something about the fantasy that has the power to turn us on.

 

What really got me thinking about it, though, was when one of my friends called herself a “bad feminist” for enjoying that fantasy.  And I immediately felt like she was wrong.  But it took me some time to define exactly why I feel that rape fantasies are not, inherently, an “unfeminist” thing to have.

 

Why We Enjoy the Fantasy

The first thing that I had to question, of course, was where this fantasy comes from, and why we have it.  In the end, I decided that there are a multitude of factors in play, here — and that’s really not surprising.  Culturally, we are pretty obsessed with sex, and both sex and gender play a huge role in almost every aspect of our society.  These are deeply ingrained things that we’re dealing with, here.  And there are likely more reasons than just the ones that I’m listing (feel free to bring up others in the comments, if you like).

  1. Puritanical attitudes towards sex.  If we believe that sex is bad or “dirty”, as many of us have been raised to think, then saying “yes” is an impure act.  This is especially true when you’re talking about premarital sex, casual sex, or pretty much any sex that is not purely for the purposes of procreation.  Women, especially, are often told that good girls don’t have (or at least, don’t enjoy) sex, and that we must always be careful to not act “slutty”.  Women who do openly enjoy sex are often punished by society for doing so.  As a result, saying “no” seems like a virtuous, positive thing to do.  The rape fantasy then becomes, somewhat perversely, a way of indulging in a sexual fantasy wherein you don’t have to say “yes” (thus becoming a “slut” and damning yourself).  In such a fantasy, you can maintain your “purity” while still engaging in the act.  Of course, such a fantasy is problematic — and it doesn’t line up with reality.  Victim-blaming and the idea that rape victims somehow “asked for it” means that in reality, a woman who has gone through rape is usually stigmatized as a “slut” anyhow.  But a fantasy world where you can escape from such stigmatization and abuse, and enjoy sex without feeling guilt about it, is actually a pretty sex-positive thing, when you get right down to it.  Especially for younger women or those from particularly sheltered, puritanical upbringings, the rape fantasy may actually be an avenue towards more sex-positive attitudes in their lives in general.
  2. Conventional ideals of “manliness”.   The knight in shining armor.  The dashing pirate/outlaw.  The lone wolf, or the rebel who plays by his own rules.  The millionaire playboy.  The mystery, wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a vest.  What do all of these “romantic ideals” have in common?  Power.  Whether it be money, fame, good looks, the power of the unknown, or just raw muscle and steel, men are expected by society to wield power if they want to be attractive.  And that, of course, is what rape is all about:  it’s about power.  This is why rape occurs across all demographics, and doesn’t depend on a victim’s attractiveness or age or place within society.  And so for women, having been raised being told that the best man to have is the most powerful one — well, what’s more powerful than a rapist?
  3. The other side of power and control.  Jumping off from #2, we come to the other side of power:  being powerless.  A lack of control.  It’s something that many of us seek out quite actively, as a form of escape from our daily lives and the demands of mature adulthood.  We enjoy getting “swept up in the moment” and being able to just go along with things, no decision-making required.  We escape into books and media, into drunken nights with friends, into cruise vacations where the biggest choice you have to make is “chicken or fish?”.  Sex can be a terrifying thing to be in control of, especially if you’re inexperienced or not confident in your abilities.  The rape fantasy takes away the need to be “good” at what you’re doing.  It takes away the responsibility of pleasing your partner.  It allows you to simply receive, without having to give anything back.  For the neophyte, this sort of fantasy can take away some of the anxieties surrounding sex, actually encouraging more sex-positive attitudes because it frees them up to simply enjoy, without worrying about their skill level.
  4. A female sort of power.  There is another way to interpret the power relationship in rape fantasies:  in the concept of the male as a stupid, insatiable animal, unable to resist a woman’s sexy wiles.  This particular fantasy stems from right-wing, conservative attitudes towards rape, which are unfortunately quite pervasive in our society.  When victims are blamed for being raped because they were “acting slutty” or “dressed inappropriately”, and when rapists are excused because “boys will be boys”, it’s an incredibly sexist and sex-negative thing.  But if you take that particular fantasy, and examine it purely as fantasy, it becomes the victim who holds the power.  For women, raised in a society where power tends to be tied to male privilege, the idea of being able to drive a man to unspeakable acts just by looking really, really good?  That’s a pretty cool power fantasy right there.  And it’s also a body-positive sort of fantasy, too, because it requires that the victim be not just desirable, but VERY desirable.  It lets you feel wanted, and in a world where the media regularly tells us that our body is not good enough just as it is?  That can be a very positive feeling.
  5. Exposure.  Like me, many women had some of their first encounters with the concept of enjoyable sex through romance novels.  And a lot of romance novels contain depictions of rape — maybe as many as half of them.  Most such depictions aren’t terribly realistic (usually the men involved are ridiculously good looking and are experienced sexual gods capable of giving multiple, mind-blowing orgasms, and the sex itself isn’t in any way violent or taboo — just non-consensual, because the woman is protesting even as she enjoys it).  We also see depictions of rape in plenty of other media — mainstream TV, movies, books, and porn all contain it with some frequency.  With such fuel for our imaginations, it’s not surprising that our fantasy lives also contain depictions of rape.
  6. Fear.  There’s a fine line between fear and excitement.  It’s why we enjoy roller coasters, horror movies, and skydiving.  Fear gets your heart pumping and your adrenaline rushing.  It does, in some sense, turn you on.  The fear associated with the idea of rape can do exactly the same thing — especially when, just like with a roller coaster or a horror movie, we know we’re in no real danger.  When it’s all a fantasy, you can experience that fear in a controlled and safe fashion.  This is also a common theory as to why some victims of actual rape may afterwards enjoy rape fantasies, while still hating and fearing what truly happened to them:  it’s a way of controlling and “taking back” the power of the experience.
  7. Exploring the taboo.  This one links back to #1 in many ways, because we live in a society with a lot of taboos — especially when it comes to sex and sexuality.  A part of figuring out your own sexuality is in exploring those various taboos, and finding out which ones are fun and which are scary.  Rape is a taboo that most people would never want to explore outside of the realm of pure fantasy, but considering it as fantasy can definitely be a part of healthy sexual exploration, because doing so can help you to define your limits and your desires.

 

Why it’s Not “Unfeminist” to Like It

I touched on a few of the reasons in my list up there — depending on the context of your particular fantasy, rape fantasies may include aspects that are decidedly sex-positive and body-positive, and they can certainly be a part of  a healthy fantasy life.

 

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More important, though, is the fact that rape fantasies are just that:  fantasies.  And fantasies, by their very nature, really can’t be non-consensual.  The one doing the fantasizing is always in control, and can stop things whenever they want to.  This is why in BDSM, “rape play” or “consensual non-consent” can be enjoyed:  because the “victim” in this case has a safe-word and can stop things at any time if it becomes too frightening or painful.  They are completely in control, even if it seems to be otherwise.  And of course, taking back control of traumatizing, terrifying things like rape is a part of what feminism is all about.  It’s about taking and enjoying your individual power as a human being.

 

Of course, finding an actual partner to engage in such fantasies with is a problematic thing in and of itself.  Fantasizing about being raped is a very different thing from fantasizing about being a rapist.  So taking this kind of a fantasy from your mind into the bedroom is something to be done with a lot of caution, and only with a partner who you very deeply trust.  Someone who’s immediately eager to try it probably isn’t the safest person to play with (better to choose someone who’s uncomfortable, but willing to do it because it’s something you want), and while it may be a very private and intimate fantasy, it’s something perhaps better kept to a public dungeon or play space, where there will be others around to ensure that your safe words are heeded if they must be used.  It wouldn’t be fun for “play rape” to turn into the actual thing.

Public Tragedies and How to Move Forwards: the Sandy Hook Shooting

Posted in Ramblings, Rants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2012 by KarenElizabeth

Like most everyone else, I’ve been reading the news the last few days with a mix of shock and horror and deep sadness as the details of exactly what happened at Sandy Hook elementary school emerge, and the public responses to the event occur.

There are some terribly hard questions to be asked when tragic events like this take place.  Why did it happen?  Why did no one see it coming?  Who is at fault, and what could we have done differently?  In the midst of grief and shock and horror, we have a tendency to point fingers and assign blame, desperate to have it be someone’s fault.  Because if there’s not a clear, easily-defined reason for the tragedy, then we don’t know when or where or how or why it might happen again, which is (of course) the most terrifying thing of all.  The unknown.  The fact that if there’s no one directly at fault, there might be nothing we can do.  And then we might be the ones at fault.  Terrifying.  So we point fingers, assign blame, aim to punish the “guilty” and the “wicked” for the salving of our own consciences.

But all this rapid-fire blame-flinging (some of it blatantly self-serving, some just misguided and being hurled out of fear and ignorance) does little to help the situation, either.  We can rail against violent video games just because of a suggestion that the shooter might have enjoyed the odd LAN party.  We can rail against the NRA because the shooter lived in a home where guns were owned.  We can rail against the shooter himself for being “troubled”, or his mother for raising him wrong.  We can rail against the mental health care system for not “fixing” the shooter.  We can rail against feminists and pro-choice activists for “denying God” and allowing evil to take place in the world.  We can rail against the police for not showing up faster, the school for not being locked down in an armored and guarded complex, or the victims for not learning to duck.  None of it helps.  What has taken place is in the past, and what we now need to do is face up to it like mature, rational people, and find ways of moving forwards and addressing what has occurred.  Instead we get mired down in yelling at each other, in blaming one group or another, instead of asking “what can I do to help?”

First of all, you can stop sensationalizing and romanticizing murder.  Like the quote in the above image says, you’re just planting the seeds for another attention-starved person to plan a copycat killing, without honouring the dead or those who are suffering right now.  Don’t focus on the killer, focus on the victims.  Focus on efforts to help the bereaved families, to rebuild a shattered community.  Focus on ways to help your own community and family deal with what has happened.  Focus on love, and the heroes who gave their lives to save the lives of others, and all of the positive things that have been done and are being done.  Focus on remembering the names of the victims.

Do not insert yourself into the tragedy.  Do not make this, somehow, about you and your struggles.  It isn’t the time.

Be loving.  Share with other people.  Include other people in your grief, rather than hiding away from the world.  Because if you include other people, if you talk and communicate and share and give and love?  You’re creating a support network that can help victims and protect from further harm.

Resist the temptation to point fingers and blame. No matter what your personal feelings on issues like gun control, this is not the time to air your personal grievances.  There are others with deeper griefs just now.  This isn’t to say that we can’t use this event as a lens through which to view issues like gun control, mental health care, security measures in schools, and the like — it’s important to analyze and dissect things from a political perspective — but when you do so, separate it from the emotionally charged language of the tragedy.  Focus on facts, statistics, numbers:  things that are quantifiable.  Avoid speculation and unsubstantiated rumours.  The more logic that we can bring to bear on the situation, the better and more well-founded our conclusions will be.

This is a logical time for people to be questioning gun control regulations and whether there need to be changes made.  This is a logical time for people to be looking at whether the shooter could have been helped by a differently organized mental health care system.  This is a logical time for people to be looking at how security in public schools is equipped (or not equipped) to deal with these sorts of events.  We should be talking about these things, and many others.  But no one has an absolute answer that will “fix” the problem, and anyone shouting that they do is just pushing an agenda.  There hasn’t been enough time to assimilate all of the information and dissect it carefully & thoroughly.

Be as logical as you can be.  Because irrational, emotional responses?  Those only cause more harm, in more far-reaching ways that you can possibly imagine.

 

I remember when Columbine happened.  I was in the 6th grade, and I was what was defined as a “troubled” kid.  I had few friends, was considered “antisocial” by my teachers.  I dressed differently from other kids, listened to loud music, and yes, I owned a long trenchcoat-style jacket.  In the weeks and months following, I had everyone from fellow students to teachers to my own mother express concerns that I might be “just like those Columbine shooters”.  I was treated like a dangerous menace, a ticking time bomb, because of the media hype surrounding how the Columbine shooters wore trenchcoats and listened to metal and were outcasts without many friends.

The media hype surrounding that event almost drove me to suicide, because I was so afraid of what might be “wrong” with me.  I’d been profiled as a killer, lumped in with people who’d done something so awful that my mind couldn’t even totally comprehend it.  And I still feel a lot of that same anxiety as an adult, when I see murders blamed on people’s mental health issues or their turbulent relationships with their mothers or their introverted natures.

 

It took me years to realize that people’s reactions to that event, and to me in its aftermath, were the product of fear.  They wanted, desperately, to have some sort of control over an event that had seemed utterly unfathomable right up until the moment when it occurred.  They grasped at straws, seeking to connect the dots in any possible way, hoping to protect themselves and instead furthering a witch-hunt that unfairly categorized not only me, but thousands of other kids like me, as dangerous and scary.  And instead of reaching out to people like me, instead of making us feel more included, more loved, less like outcasts in the first place?  They drove us further away.  The people who made me feel so awful, so worthless, were not asking “what can I do?”  They were asking, “who’s fault is this?” and pointing blame at the people like me.

Don’t let that happen.  Don’t give in to that temptation.  Live with love, not with fear, and see how much farther that will take you.

Online Identities: Navigating the Minefields of Trolls, Bullying, Privacy, and the Lack Thereof

Posted in Ramblings, Rants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2012 by KarenElizabeth

The Internet is aflame this week (even more so than usual) in the aftermath of two very high-profile incidents which have once again thrown the spotlight on issues of online privacy.  I’m sure you all know what I’m talking about:  Amanda Todd’s suicide and its aftermath, and the “outing” of Michael Brutsch (a.k.a. Violentacrez).  Even Mittens’ latest social blunders haven’t distracted us entirely from the discussion and debate that has ensued.

The real question, the one that has kept people talking (and it’s something that’s come up before, and will certainly come up again), is this:  what expectation should we have of online privacy, and how does one preserve one’s anonymity in the face of a world where all of our online doings can be traced and collected?

The short answer, of course, is that no one gets to be anonymous.  Every action, every word: whether online or in “real life”, we must own our own behaviour and be answerable for our own actions.  What we do and say can always come back to haunt us, and on the Internet everything is recorded — it’s like living your life in front of a video camera.

Of course, on the Internet we do have the privilege of anonymity, to some degree, simply because so much of the time?  Absolutely no one is watching what’s being recorded.  What websites we visit, what we search on Google, what porn we download — most of the time, nobody really cares.  The information is recorded, there to be found by anyone who searches, but searching takes an effort, and for most of us?  The fact that looking us up takes work is enough to maintain our fragile anonymity.  The same is true in real life — while someone easily could be following our every movement, watching our every action, does anybody really want to go to so much trouble?  Unless you’re some sort of mega-celebrity with the paparazzi hounding your steps, the answer is very likely “no”.

There are ways to increase the difficulty factor involved in that search, of course.  Using pseudonyms, shielding your IP address, protecting your passwords and Internet behaviours from people you know in real life, taking care that the online identities you use from one website to the next are not immediately traceable to each other.  You can be discriminatory in what information you talk about or share at all online (for example, by never posting photos that show your face) — these are all legitimate strategies.  They take additional effort on your own part, and are not insurmountable obstacles (nothing can completely shield you all the time), but increasing how hard it is to trace you can be enough to deter a casual searcher with not much to prove or to gain by figuring out just who you are and what you do on the Internet.

There are those, of course, who believe that nothing should be hidden.  On this point I have to disagree:  while I am an advocate of honesty in most every sphere of life, I also understand that concealment and deceit are not necessarily an indication that you are doing something wrong, and there are things that we all keep private (most of us probably don’t detail our sex lives to all and sundry, for example, or tell all our friends about the intimate details of the bout of diarrhea we suffered through, or tell the people at work what we really think of them and their stupid and annoying little habits).  We all have personal lives and private feelings.

But we’re not entitled to them.

Privacy is not an unalienable right.  It’s a privilege, one maintained mostly through a general sense of social propriety and politeness.  And it’s something that we can lose at any time, often through no fault of our own (try having a serious medical issue some time: an extended hospital stay will let you know just how much of your life is *really* private).  We have no legal protections from those who might choose to seek us out and invade our most intimate secrets, because knowledge cannot be copyrighted or owned.

Unfortunately, knowledge can also be used to harm.  While I have no sympathy whatsoever for someone like Michael Brutsch, who has reportedly lost his job (among other things) in the wake of his being “outed” as the man behind such Internet horrors as the “creepshots” and “jailbait” subreddits, I can still feel disgusted at humanity when the man is facing threats of death and violence.  He deserves to be ostracized, judged harshly, and treated accordingly, but violence is never a justifiable response to anything, and the people who would make such threats are truly no better than he is.  But at the same time, he at least can be said to deserve the negative reactions to his actions — he has admitted to deliberately “trolling” for negative reactions, and shouldn’t be surprised that those reactions have been extreme, because extremity is exactly what he aimed to provoke.

Where I feel a lot more sympathy is with people who need Internet anonymity in order to be able to speak safely about the topics they tackle.  People like Orac, Bug Girl, and other pseudonymous bloggers:  they are required by their jobs to maintain separation between their Internet personas and their professional ones, and a pseudonym allows this (even while it does not provide 100% protection for their identity, and determined searchers are still able to — and sometimes do — find them out).  Others use pseudonyms for more concrete forms of safety:  those who criticize certain political or religious groups, for example, may be putting their lives at risk by doing so, and an extra level of difficulty in finding out one’s identity may be a very prudent step to take in that sort of scenario.

The other facet to the current discussion is, of course, just how easy it has become for a bully or a troll to ruin someone’s life by spreading false information through the medium of the Internet.  Something as simple to create as a phony Facebook account can cause a person untold amounts of social strife, and how do we protect against this?

Well, the same way we always have.  There are already laws against character defamation, libel, and slander.  There are laws against harassment, and against uttering threats.  We don’t need new laws to police the Internet — we just need to educate people on their rights and on how to deal with such attacks.  If a troll or a bully is harassing you, you can report them to the police.  If someone is saying false things about you, you can sue them.  Even if someone is using true information (as in the Amanda Todd case), but they’re doing it in such a way as to harm you, you can take legal action against them and stop them being able to attack and hurt you.

Don’t know who the person is?  That doesn’t matter.  Because as we’ve already established, everything on the Internet is traceable.  Even if you’re not computer-savvy enough to hunt down a troll, other people are.  The authorities have resources in this regard, and they can find out a person fairly easily.  Lack of anonymity is a double-edged sword, and when you’re the victim?  You can use it in your defense, as well.

In the end, the best thing a person can do to protect themselves from losing their online anonymity is just to simply be blameless.  Don’t do things online that you wouldn’t do in real life, or draw attention to yourself through bad behaviour.  Don’t use anonymity as a shield, because it’s a very flimsy shield — like Wiley Coyote hiding under a tiny umbrella to ward off a falling boulder.  If you’ve got serious concerns about hiding yourself (if you’re using the Internet as a medium to distribute a message that might get you shot in the head by the Taliban, for example), seek real-life ways of protecting your person and your safety, as well as using the tactics I outlined above (pseudonyms, hiding your IP, no photos, etc), because to rely solely on Internet anonymity is foolhardy.

My Personal Artistic Manifesto – Updated June 2012

Posted in Ramblings, Theatricality with tags , , , , , , , , on June 14, 2012 by KarenElizabeth

When I first started univeristy, I was introduced to the concept of the “artistic manifesto”.  It was something that struck me as immediately useful, whether for a company of artists or for a single person: a document to which you could return, time after time, to review the reasons why you started out on a particular path, and to examine whether those goals are still valid, whether you’ve remained true to them, and whether some of your practices need to change.

I sat down to writing almost immediately, and after several drafts I had a starting place.  An artistic manifesto that I was proud to put my name to — something to build the beginnings of my career from.

Every so often since then, I’ve sat down and re-read the document I wrote.  I’ve updated it a few times — even re-wrote it entirely, at one point — but certain things have carried through.  Even as the world changes, and my life changes, and my knowledge grows, I like having something that I can go back to.  Something that says, “this is what I want from my life”, so that when I’m facing a choice, or an obstacle, or just feeling unmotivated, I can read my own words and feel inspired.

I spent part of my day, today, updating and re-writing portions of my manifesto.  Not because it had become less valid, but because it’s been about two years since I’d last done so, and some things in my life have changed since I last took a serious look at this.  And when I was finished, I thought:  I want to share this.  So here it is, in its entirety.  My personal artistic manifesto, in its current iteration.

—-

1.

I believe in art.

I believe that art is not merely a pastime, or a hobby.  Art is a necessity for human life, as important as food, and safety, and shelter.  A life devoid of art is not worth living — indeed, cannot even be called “life”.  To live without art is merely to exist, in a sort of existential limbo, awaiting illumination and enlightenment.

I believe that art is the purest of human endeavors, beginning as it does with the most basic of human qualities, the thing that separates intelligent beings from mere animals:  the need to communicate.  When early man painted on cave walls, told stories around the fire, and learned to create music, the purpose was to communicate.  To share, with other intelligent beings, a bit of their knowledge and experience.  And this was not mere entertainment, a simple way to pass the time:  important knowledge was passed on, bonds forged between individuals, and the advancement of the human species was fostered by this great variety of communication.

I believe that art has more power than science, or religion, or politics, because none of these things would prosper without art to support them.  No idea, however grand, can be realized without communication.  If it is not shared, and spread, and accepted into a culture, an idea dies.  Kings and empires have been brought down by the stroke of a pen; revolutions sparked by the notes of a song.  It is our responsibility, as artists, to use and shape this power wisely.

2.

There is no art that is not political.  Art is an expression of the culture from which it comes, whether in support of or against the status quo.  To dismiss art as merely entertainment is to ignore its true nature and power, and the artist does this at their peril.  It is when we engage the power of our chosen medium that we can truly shape the message we convey, and create the most powerful end product.

There is no art that is not collaborative.  Every artist is shaped by the people and the culture and the world that surrounds them, so that even if they create in absolute isolation, they are still bringing the world in with them.  And when the art is shared with an audience, then there is collaboration as well:  the audience’s thoughts and feelings and reactions will shape the art in different ways, so that one piece may touch every single person in a slightly different place.  Thus, art is never static, never “finished”:  it is always living, changing, existing in the present tense for all who encounter it.

There is no art which is “good” or “bad”, for these absolutes cannot apply to the basic need to communicate.  There are, however, different levels of skill with which a piece may be executed, and some art is therefore more effective.  Then, too, there is art that effectively serves its purpose, but lacks any relevance:  this art does not speak to an audience, or does not share anything worth saying.  It is the artist’s responsibility to use the power of their art to its fullest — to always execute a piece to the best of their ability, and to make sure that their message is a thing worth saying.

3.

I believe that artists should always aim to communicate something meaningful.  Without passion, art rings hollow, and quickly becomes irrelevant.  What is meaningful to each particular artist may be different, but what is most important is that passion be the thing at the beginning.

Art is a great motivator for change, and should always be used for promoting action.  Art which supports the status quo is ineffective, as it only promotes inaction.  It is the responsibility of the artist to create that which communicates a need for something to be done.  A participant in art — whether they are the creator or an audience member — should be left changed by their encounter with art, and motivated to go out and do something about it.

4.

I believe that theatre is one of the most effective forms of artistic expression.  Theatre is highly collaborative, to a degree not seen in many other mediums, requiring many different people with a great variety of skill sets to realize a production.  The involvement of the audience is live and immediate, with their presence and feedback providing the opportunity for the same production to be different on every single night.  This immersion and involvement of the viewer places them into a state where they are ready to be impacted and changed by the message being communicated through the art.

5.

It is my aim to create art which is effective and relevant, and to shun that which supports the status quo and inaction.  I will create art that effects the changes I wish to see within the world.

Theatre is my chosen medium, although I am not exclusively a theatrical artist.  I will work to promote the creation of theatre and to advance the craft of the stage.

I believe that art is more effective when it is created with the audience in mind.  Thus I will focus my creative energies on art that is specifically relevant to the people who surround me and who will be my audience.

Art is meant to be shared with others.  I will share my knowledge of my craft and work to create opportunities for other artists, as well as for myself.

I will keep learning, and seeking to learn.  I will never consider myself “finished”, because a piece of art is never finished as long as there are people to interact with it.

I will not give up, no matter what obstacles stand in my way, because to live without art is not living.

I will change the world.

Beauty vs. Brains

Posted in Ramblings with tags , , , , , , , , on November 5, 2010 by KarenElizabeth

There’s a bit of a flame war going on over at Christie Wilcox’s blog over on ScienceBlogs, and it has inspired me to sit down and write a quick post in response.  For those who don’t keep up with SB, I’ll summarize what’s happening:  Christie is currently competing for a $10 000 blogging scholarship, and her closest competition in the race is a makeup blog called Temptalia.  Intrigued by the juxtaposition of two blogs with such very different content, Christie wrote a post about some of the biological reasons why makeup is effective.  Flames ensued, as Temptalia readers became enraged at the perceived slur against their passion for makeup (although I honestly have to say, I don’t see where they’re getting the impression that Christie is bashing them — she’s just looking at it from a different angle, not saying that her take on it is somehow “better”).  The flames were, of course, fanned by many SB commenters, some of whom have been very lacking in tact in their dismissals of Temptalia’s content.  SB commenters are often lacking in tact when it comes to non-science topics and non-scientist commenters, so no surprise there.

Anywhos.  All of this shit-flinging has gotten me thinking about a topic that often intrigues me: the western perception that brains and beauty cannot exist within the same person at the same time (especially if that person is a woman).

There are a few stereotypes that we all know.  The “dumb blonde” is one that I run up against pretty regularly — it’s one of the reasons I prefer to keep my hair dyed, instead of its natural shade, because people do treat you as though your IQ is lower when your hair is blonde.  The “sexy librarian” is another:  the woman who looks dowdy and bookish, but then removes her glasses and becomes a bombshell, defying all expectations.  The “damsel in distress” is beautiful, but totally incapable of taking care of herself — same goes for the “princess”, who needs the support of a prince to give her happiness.  The media rarely gives us a female protagonist who is both drop-dead gorgeous AND incredibly brainy (sci-fi is probably the best genre in that regard, with thanks going out to Star Trek and Nichelle Nichols for starting the trend, but I’d argue that us smart-and-pretty types are still kind of underrepresented).  Beautiful actresses and models who have brains and minds of their own are often encouraged to hide the fact (how many people know that Lisa Kudrow has a biology degree, or that Natalie Portman went to Harvard, has a graduate degree, and speaks 4 languages?), playing unintelligent or subservient characters who require constant help and support from more intelligent (or male) individuals.  Women who are more in-your-face about their braininess, like Sigourney Weaver, are often criticized for being “butch”, “bitchy”, or “feminazis”, and their beauty is downplayed.

Being both beautiful and brainy is, apparently, a difficult combination.  And if you do happen to possess both of those traits, then you can’t possibly be a nice person, too.  Having all three would just be too much. [/sarcasm]

It’s this stereotype, I think, that underlies the hostility going on over at Christie’s blog.  Women who enjoy science and technology get sick of being treated like butchy/bitchy girls, while women who enjoy makeup and beauty get sick of being treated like superficial, brainless princesses.  Defensiveness ensues, creating even more hostilities between the two groups, despite the fact that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying both sides of the equation.  I’m a biology/physics nerd, I have a passion for arts and literature, and I’m also (if I do say so myself) pretty damn good looking.  Dying my hair and wearing pretty clothes doesn’t detract at all from my knowledge, nor does knowing lots of facts about a variety of topics make it more difficult for me to apply makeup or make gorgeous jewelry.  Nor does any of that stuff make it more difficult for me to be friendly and kind to other people.

So yes, when I put on makeup I do understand that I am playing on ancient and hard-wired biological pathways in the human mind that determine what is healthy and attractive.  My background in theatre also tells me a lot about the psychology of masks and how the face you put on creates the character you portray, and how that affects social interactions.  I don’t wear makeup every day (frankly, I’m lazy, and I don’t like cleaning it off), but I don’t look down on those who do.  It’s a personal choice, like wearing t-shirts and jeans as opposed to dress slacks and blouses.

In the end, people (and especially women) need to just stop finding ways of dividing ourselves, and instead focus on what we have in common.  And when we’re voting on which blogger should get a scholarship, we shouldn’t dismiss any blog solely because of its subject matter: it’s the actual content, the writing style, and the understanding of the subject matter that should be on the table here.  Deciding that a blog about makeup is automatically inferior to a blog about biology (or vice-versa) is judging a book by its cover.  And considering that all of us, whether we wear makeup or not, would prefer to be judged on who we are as opposed to how we look — well, I guess the end of that statement is kind of obvious.

Pride, and why I’m not sure I have it.

Posted in Ramblings, Rants with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2010 by KarenElizabeth

Last weekend was Gay Pride Weekend, and of course the annual Toronto Gay Pride Celebration.  I skipped the parade, but did end up going down to Church St. for a few hours in the evening to meet up with some friends.  I’m glad that I decided against spending the whole day there, as even a few hours of it was somewhat depressing.

Don’t get me wrong; the weekend is always full of fun events.  When I’ve attended Pride celebrations in the past, I’ve always had a pretty good time.  But it just seems more and more that Pride has lost touch with its roots, becoming a mass-media fueled circus of stereotypes.  And in the places where glimpses of those authentic roots can be seen, they’ve stagnated, not keeping up with the times of a changing world and society.

My biggest problem with Pride, as it exists today, is that I’m no longer sure whether it’s helping with the cause of acceptance and integration.  Pride arose out of the oppression of the 1950s and 60s, when there were no laws protecting against sexual discrimination, and being openly gay (and especially cross-dressing) could get you arrested as a “sexual deviant”.  One of the driving forces behind the formation of Pride Weekend, in particular, was the Stonewall Riots, when violence erupted following a particularly brutal police raid on a well-known gay establishment.  And so in the beginning, Pride was about being confrontational and in-your-face.  It had to be.  Gay people were facing violence, and were tired of just lying down and taking it — they wanted and needed to fight back, in a very real and physical sense.

It’s that sort of confrontational behaviour, though, that I worry is no longer helping.  Laws have changed, and while homophobia is still a definite problem in the world, it’s no longer overtly enforced by the system (in this country, at least — I know there are still places where being openly gay can get you arrested or killed, but I’m talking about Canada at the moment).  In the 60s and 70s (even into the 80s), marching nearly naked and screaming “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” involved taking a huge personal risk.  You could get arrested.  You could lose friends, family — even your job, since anti-discrimination legislation was still being developed, and it was still considered socially acceptable for a parent to disown their gay child.  Now the Pride parade is full of those sorts of displays — it’s considered quite acceptable behaviour during the celebrations — and it just comes off as people who’ll take any excuse to get naked and yell things.  It’s not a statement, it’s not risky; it’s not even risqué.  It’s just public indecency for its own sake.  And public indecency for its own sake probably isn’t helping.

One of the greatest challenges facing non-hetereosexual individuals today is the conception that being gay is inextricably linked to promiscuity, STIs (especially HIV/AIDS), and extreme sexual behaviours.  Gay people are “abnormal”; they lack values which are common to heterosexual society.  This is the gay that is most often seen in the media: party animals who can’t settle down with just one partner, who are obsessed with the superficial (how many fictional gay characters are hairdressers, makeup artists, or designers?), and who are ineffectual, especially when it comes to tasks usually assigned to their biological gender (gay men who can’t play sports; gay women who lack emotion and interpersonal skills).  Above all, gay people are different from straight people in very noticeable ways.  Pride plays into this stereotype, especially when the participants are waving their junk around, wildly partying, and labeling themselves (often literally, with stickers or buttons or the like that loudly and proudly proclaim “GAY”, “TRANS”, etc; more often in symbolic ways, such as by wearing rainbows or behaving/speaking in stereotypical manners).

I can’t help but feel that in the face of such stereotypical images, non-heterosexuality hasn’t been accepted by the general public … it’s just been shoved into a convenient and comfortable category.  Gay people are harmless.  Just let them have their parties and their hair gel and they’ll be happy.  And so people tolerate gayness … but they don’t accept it.  It’s kept separate from them, hermetically sealed off away from their “family values”.

But then we come up against questions like gay marriage, and the right for non-heterosexual couples to adopt children, and whether gay people should be able to become elementary school teachers.  These things don’t fit into that comfortable stereotype.  These things scare people, because now they have to re-define their definition of what a gay person is — and people hate uprooting their preconceived notions.  They’d rather continue to assume that we’re all fun, ineffectual, and sexually depraved:  not ideal people for beloved socio-religious institutions like marriage, and definitely not the sort of people who should be raising or teaching children.

In the face of these new challenges, these new steps along the road to normalcy, Pride should be changing as well.  Couples should march together, holding hands, dressed professionally.  Those gay individuals who have children (adopted or biological) should bring them along.  Displays of public indecency should be viewed as indecent, not as an expression of one’s sexuality.  Amid the celebrating of who we are, there should also be mention of what we want — petitions circulating in the crowds, and speeches being given on street corners about necessary social change.  People shouldn’t label themselves with pins or stickers that say “GAY”; they should blend into the crowd, so that gay and straight people cannot be told apart and mingle freely.

Sometimes, I think, the most radical thing you can do is to defy people’s expectations.